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Entries in Action (55)

Friday
Jan182013

The Last Stand

It’s not unreasonable for those with fond memories of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic action films to expect something special from The Last Stand. With marketing that highlights its campy humor and over-the-top action, a lead star action fans are dying to see back on the big screen and a competent director known for some fantastic foreign films, including A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil, all signs pointed to something fun. Those moments of fun occasionally shine through, but they’re not prominent enough to make the film more than a mildly pleasant diversion. Aside from his expanded role in last year’s explosive The Expendables 2, Schwarzenegger hasn’t been in a big action movie since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. His more than welcome comeback should not have been The Last Stand.

Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, an ex-Los Angeles narcotics officer. After seeing enough bloodshed to last a lifetime, he moved south to a small town called Sommerton County where he now works as the local sheriff. It’s a pretty quiet place that enjoys being tucked away from the rest of society. Further north, a vicious cartel boss named Gabriel Cortez, played by Eduardo Noriega, is being transported to death row by the FBI, led by Agent John Bannister, played by Forest Whitaker. However, with the help of some friends, he escapes and he begins to make his way south, hoping to cross the border safely into Mexico. Ray is warned of the impending danger and instead of running away, he decides he’s going to stop Eduardo at all costs.

There’s a fine line one must walk when making an action movie such as this. Without a true understanding of what makes something camp and what makes something just plain stupid, it’s easy to veer off in the latter direction when the former is intended. The Last Stand doesn’t quite know what it’s trying to be, so much of its would-be camp that one would want someone to laugh at instead becomes something that causes eyes to roll. There’s a balance the film tries to strike between seriousness and ridiculous fun, but the contradictory parts don’t play off each other. One minute the film is cracking jokes and the next, it’s killing off a character that the film obviously thought we would care about more than we actually do, uncomfortably ramping up the drama to excess (complete with a manipulative soundtrack).

None of these moments work, only managing to highlight the confused tone the film unintentionally presents. The Last Stand is at its best when it’s at its most violent. When it stops screwing around and gives the audience exactly what it wants, it hearkens back to Schwarzenegger’s glory days, when he protected the innocent by slaughtering literally anything around him that moved, and boy is it fun. Nothing brings the nostalgia of 80s and 90s action films back like good old Arnold fearlessly walking into the line of fire brandishing a shotgun. Not surprisingly, that’s when he appears most comfortable onscreen and when he suddenly makes his appearance in the first shootout, mowing people down with a car and firing out the side of his window, you may have to fight the urge to stand up and cheer.

Granted, Schwarzenegger was never a high caliber actor, but what little he did possess seems to have withered with old age and cinematic inactivity. Some of this could be due to the ill-advised dramatic angles he’s forced to play with, but his line delivery is nevertheless stilted and unconvincing. Couple that with an unintimidating villain, who sends his unnamed lackeys to do his bidding more often than himself, and you have both a protagonist and antagonist that aren’t compelling enough to make the story pop. Worst of all, the film shoehorns in a late, uninvolving car chase that doesn’t highlight Arnold’s physical prowess. Simply put, the build to this moment promises more than it delivers.

I suppose it should be clarified that The Last Stand isn’t a particularly bad movie—it has some stylish action, some fun supporting performances (mostly from the underutilized Johnny Knoxville) and one excellent one-liner that’s guaranteed to earn a place in the pantheon of Schwarzenegger one-liners—it’s just disappointing, certainly not the return to form many will expect. With at least six more projects down the pipeline for the aging action star, fan hope for Schwarzenegger to reattain that glory isn’t dead yet and I suppose in the meantime this will do. But lower those expectations now.

The Last Stand receives 2.5/5

Friday
Oct192012

Alex Cross

Tyler Perry has a niche audience that flocks to anything he has his name attached to. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it limits his appeal. His involvement in this week’s new release, Alex Cross, extends only to his onscreen persona—he didn’t write or direct this as he does his other work—so it makes me wonder if Perry is looking to branch out and try something different, something that doesn’t involve dressing up in a dress and wig. If that’s the case, he better look elsewhere. This movie is a train wreck, a disaster that I imagine even die hard Perry fans will hate. From the opening scene where a fleeing bad guy shoots what may be the slowest bullet ever shot to its banal and unbelievable (meaning stretching the limits of credibility) ending, Alex Cross does a grand total of zero things right.

Perry plays the titular character, Dr. Alex Cross, a Detroit detective who has an affinity for calling people “maggot” and who is tasked with tracking down a murderer nicknamed Picasso, played by Matthew Fox, who is running amok in his city. Along with his partner, Tommy, played by Edward Burns, Cross sets out stop him, unaware of the tragedies about to befall him.

I would say Alex Cross is your standard action/thriller, but the word “standard” implies some level of competence. It implies that the film is adequate, if unremarkable, and though it may not push the boundaries on what the genre can do, it serves its purpose well. That isn’t the case here. From lackadaisical direction to some of the most poorly edited sequences in a movie this year, like when Picasso seemingly transports from the top of a high rise building to the sewers without breaking the onscreen timeline, the film is a complete and utter mess. It’s so bad, I felt embarrassed for simply watching it; I can only imagine how the filmmakers must feel.

Director Rob Cohen, the man behind such classics as xXx and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, directs Alex Cross like someone looking to mature, but not knowing how. It’s a darker, sadder film than his previous efforts, or at least it tries to be, but he fails to make his actors bring it to life. It has long been said that a movie is only as good as its villain. If that’s true, Alex Cross is one of the worst movies to grace the screen in many a moon. Picasso is as boring as villains come and Fox, despite having already proven himself as a talented actor in his past works, plays him so over-the-top as to be unintentionally laughable. For the majority of the movie, he does little more than bug his eyes out and move with a twitch. Fox seems to forget that villains are supposed to be menacing, not comical.

It must also be said that the pairing of Perry and Burns is the worst buddy cop pairing since Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in Kevin Smith’s 2010 disaster Cop Out (which Alex Cross is actually funnier than, though it’s not supposed to be). Perry and Burns strike up no chemistry and don’t feel like longtime partners. Their scenes are so bad, particularly when they’re trying to strike up witty repartee (“I’d rather take advice from a ham sandwich,” Perry says at one point), that you can still feel the awkwardness between the two actors, as if these scenes were the first ones shot and they hadn’t yet gotten comfortable with each other. To be fair, it’s not just their scenes. When the movie is littered with lines like “I didn’t get you pregnant by talking,” any attempts at legitimacy fly out the window.

Alex Cross is one of those master sleuths we see so often these days. You know the ones, the ones who can solve a crime in a matter of minutes with simple observation and who are so hard to believe or take seriously. If the whiz kids at NCIS can solve their crimes in 45 minutes, Alex Cross can do it in 20, which, coincidentally, is the maximum amount of time you’ll want to spend with him (if that). Of course, you’ll have figured out the mystery long before the characters onscreen—the film’s visual clues and expository dialogue are anything but subtle—so that inconsequential and uninteresting narrative twist at the end (that perfectly complements the inconsequential and uninteresting movie it resides in) doesn’t shock as much as I’m sure was intended. If you mistakenly decide to subject yourself to Alex Cross, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult movie to sit through; the desire to get up and leave will be a constant inner struggle. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about it and it fails on every level.

Alex Cross receives 0/5

Friday
Aug102012

The Bourne Legacy

Movies are a business. It’s as simple as that. Most movies that make money are going to get at least one sequel, regardless of whether or not the story warrants one. Rarely, however, does a movie feel as much as a cash grab as The Bourne Legacy. The Matt Damon starring Bourne movies had their fair share of problems, but none were as cumbersome as this. The Bourne Legacy isn’t as fun, interesting or exciting as the original trilogy and it coasts by on name alone. Separate this movie from the franchise as a whole and it becomes an instantly forgettable and banal thriller.

The protagonist this time is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a genetically engineered black ops agent similar to Jason Bourne. Due to Bourne’s events in the previous movies, the government has cancelled its black ops programs and has decided to dispose of all their field agents, a task assigned to Retired Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton). However, Aaron escapes and eventually meets up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist who worked on the program who is also in the government’s crosshairs. Together they set out to expose the government’s crimes.

The story isn’t complicated—it’s actually fairly straight forward—but The Bourne Legacy (and indeed, the previous films) needlessly convolutes it with too little explanation and too many location jumps. The movie starts at a training site in Alaska before jetting to Reston, VA, Washington DC, London, New York City, Chicago, Korea, Pakistan, Thailand and back again. While some jumps are necessary, others are not, existing only to show agents in other parts of the world as they are taken out one by one. Such obvious inclusions are unnecessary. We know what’s happening, why show it? The film includes many moments like these that do nothing but muddle up the picture and take away from the story at hand.

It’s moments like these that truly prevent The Bourne Legacy from finding a rhythm. Pakistan, Korea and many other locales in the film are visited as if their inclusion will be setting up important future scenes, but they never do. This tedious globetrotting is broken up by nothing more than random scenes of violence that are interspersed throughout. Like the original trilogy, this movie suffers from excessive close ups and nauseating shaky cam. Although there is some fluid camerawork, including one impressive sequence when, in a matter of seconds, Cross scales a house and jumps through a window to meet an intruder at the top of the stairs, much of it is too hectic to keep up with. The camera moves so gratuitously at times that it often feels like you’re watching an overproduced Tony Scott film. Cross may make for a good protagonist, but he’s not fleshed out enough for us to care and the clunky action doesn’t make up for it.

Renner is a capable actor, so this movie’s failures certainly isn’t his fault. It just appears that the Bourne series has lost its luster. Those not already over the franchise most likely will be after witnessing one of the most unsatisfying endings to grace the big screen this year. Just as the film finally begins to gain the momentum it so desperately needs, it ends. The ending isn’t quite a “non-ending” like January’s The Devil Inside, but it’s just as abrupt and inconclusive, no doubt due to the studio’s desire to continue the franchise. It leaves many doors open, but you likely won’t care.

The Bourne Legacy refers to the franchise’s hunted down black ops agents with the tagline, “There was never just one,” which may be true within the world the previous films created, but their stories are largely the same. We’ve seen this before and it was more interesting the first three times.

The Bourne Legacy receives 1.5/5

Thursday
May242012

Battleship

A movie based on a board game with no real discernible story is clearly the last sign of desperation from Hollywood studios that are bankrupt of ideas. With Candy Land, Monopoly and even a Ouija Board game on the horizon, cinema lovers can’t help but feel like their passion is on a decline. When I first heard of this week’s board game turned movie adaptation, Battleship, I, like so many others, thought, “There’s no way this will be good.” But I never imagined it would be this bad. There isn’t a single moment of Battleship that works the way it’s intended to. It’s an aggressively loud, utterly incompetent film without a single redeeming factor. If the film isn’t a stone cold lock for a Worst Picture Razzie nomination (along with a handful of other equally deserving category nominations), then I don’t know what is.

The film, in as far as a departure from its source material as it could possibly go, follows Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a former slacker who was coasting by on the generosity of his brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard). However, after meeting and falling in love with Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), he cleaned up his act and joined the Navy. Old habits are hard to break, however, and his rambunctious behavior eventually gets him in hot water. He has just head out to sea to participate in the Naval War Games, but because of his transgressions, he is told that once he arrives back on shore, he’s going to be kicked out of the Navy. While out there, though, the participants in the game see a fleet of spaceships crash into the ocean. Upon closer examination, the ships fire upon them and the planned war games turns into an all too real war against intergalactic space travelers who are planning on wiping out the human species.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because this same exact story has been told so many times, it’s practically ingrained in our heads. Only the most cinematically ignorant will be unable to map out what’s going to happen far before it actually does. But the derivative path it takes to the post-movie credits is so clumsy, hokey and nonsensical that other similar (arguably terrible) films suddenly look like picturesque masterpieces, including Michael Bay’s Transformers series. Yes folks, the definition of “suck” has been redefined.

Battleship is a movie that doesn’t just fail in what it’s trying to do, however; it actually manages to achieve the exact opposite of its intention. For instance, when it attempts to be funny, it fails and when it attempts to be serious, it’s funny. Any and all laughs to be had in this void of mental bankruptcy are of the unintentional type, but they make the film no more enjoyable. Its staggering inaptitude isn’t isolated, though, and spreads throughout every facet of its production, including the performances. Taylor Kitsch, in his second bomb in only a little over two months, is lifeless and boring, completely incapable of carrying a film. Liam Neeson, who’s barely in the thing in the first place, looks bored. One can only imagine he received the offer for the part after a long night of drinking and was coaxed into accepting. The most egregious offender, though, is first time actor Gregory D. Gadson. A real life soldier who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Baghdad, he plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a war veteran who is struggling to cope with his disability. And boy is he awful. While certainly worthy of praise for his selfless actions and sacrifice for our country, he nevertheless has no business starring in movies. Despite the cornball dialogue he’s forced to recite, his performance is one of the worst (starring or supporting) I’ve seen in a big Hollywood movie in a very long time, maybe ever.

The film, perhaps because it felt obligated to, forces in some nods to the classic game. The most obvious comes in a scene where the characters measure water displacement from computer monitored buoys to determine where the ships are. Shaped like a “Battleship” grid and marked with letter and number coordinates, the characters stare at a screen and fire missiles at the most likely location of the ships (“E-11!” someone shouts at one point, to which a response comes, “It’s a miss!”). It’s both clever and contrived; clever because it actually pertains to the story at hand, but contrived because there’s no logical reason to keep the alien invaders tied to the ocean. If you’ll remember, these are spaceships that crash into Earth, not marine vessels. They can fly wherever they want, but instead “jump” from buoy to buoy. It’s a gap in rationality that simply can’t be overlooked.

Then of course there’s the alien species’ motivation. Despite their supposed desire to destroy all life (which is helpfully and unnecessarily deemed an “extinction event” through expositional dialogue), they tend to attack manmade structures more often than they do actual men, which includes bridges, cars, ships and more. When they have the chance to dispose of one of us, like in a scene where a scientist wanders directly into the middle of their camp and comes face to face with one of them, they instead leave us alone. The reason behind their actions is left hazy, not that you’ll care one way or the other while watching. They could kill all humans or the humans could discover their weakness and bring them down; whatever will end the movie quicker. Battleship is a waste of money, resources and theater screens. Watching it is a waste of life. It’s lose-lose no matter how you cut it.

Battleship receives 0/5

Friday
Apr272012

Safe

To once again quote the late film critic Pauline Kael, “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.” That, in a nutshell, is the approach one should take when viewing the new Jason Statham action movie, Safe. It’s so bad on so many levels that one can’t help but appreciate it. It features a hackneyed script, downright terrible acting and so many laughable lines of dialogue, it manages to reach the “so bad, it’s good” level. Great art it isn’t, but Safe is one of the most entertaining pieces of trash I’ve seen in a long time.

Luke Wright (Statham) is down on his luck. He’s an ex New York cop who is hated by the current police force for snitching on them back in the day and he is now relegated to cage fighting to get by. He has just won a match after one punch, but there’s a problem: he was supposed to take a dive. He didn’t think one punch would knock his opponent out. Now he has the Russian mob on him and they’re angry about the money they lost. They strip him of everything and explain that if he gets close to anybody, they’ll kill them. He’ll never be happy, so he decides to end it all. While standing on the edge of a subway platform, however, he spots a young girl named Mei (Catherine Chan) hiding from some pursuing Russians. It turns out she’s actually a genius, able to memorize anything by looking at it for a few seconds, and she has a string of numbers in her head that, when deciphered, give the combination to a safe with lots of money in it. Deciding he’d rather fight than give up, Luke rescues Mei and decides to take them on, along with the Triads and a corrupt police force that are also looking for the girl.

Good bad movies are no phenomenon. We had one only two weeks ago with the absurd Luc Besson produced Lockout, but the difference between the two is that Lockout had some amount of polish to it. It sported some moderately clever writing, decent performances, snappy dialogue and some witty one-liners. Its laughs were intentional and its thrills calculably ridiculous. It knew it was stupid. Aside from the self parodying ending, Safe doesn’t. It thinks it’s cool. It thinks it’s smart. It thinks it’s clever. It thinks its story is full of interesting twists and turns when, in the back of the viewer’s mind, it’s hard to understand why the Triads would go to so much trouble of having Mei memorize that number when they could just write it down and perform the task of grabbing the money themselves.

Although the action is solid and likely to put a smile on the average adrenaline junkie’s face, the bulk of the film’s entertainment is unintentional. The humor comes from scenes with a serious intent that simply fail and the juxtaposition of a supporting cast who overact every scene they’re in working opposite Statham’s understated “hardly trying” approach. These moments lead to some hilarious dialogue exchanges and macho posturing that tries to be cool, but is really just silly.

Safe is one of those movies that’s better seen than described, because it’s hard to describe a movie that fails in nearly every regard, yet is still fun to watch. The cinematography is ugly, complete with poor framing and shaky camerawork, the acting is weak and the story is inconsequential drivel, but it’s enjoyable drivel. Safe feels like a B-movie, one that probably should have gone straight to DVD, but wound up in the theater due to the lead star, so one should accept it as such. There’s no need to overanalyze what you’re seeing; just go with it. You might not respect yourself when it’s over, but you’ll admit you had a good time.

Safe receives 3.5/5