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Entries in anne heche (2)

Friday
Feb242012

Rampart

A great performance does not make a great movie. People tend to forget that sometimes. The best example in recent years is The Wrestler. Although still a good movie and certainly recommendable, its story wasn’t as captivating or as complex as it thought it was. Mickey Rourke was breathtaking and deserved to be standing on that stage during awards season clutching an Oscar just as much as Sean Penn was for Milk, but the movie that surrounded that performance simply wasn’t up to his level. The same can be said for this week’s expanding release, Rampart. Woody Harrelson is terrific in the lead role, even as the movie struggles to find what it is it wants to say. It’s good, but given its lack of awards recognitions, it fell far short of film glory.

The film takes place in Los Angeles in 1999, during the famous LAPD Rampart scandal where more than 70 officers were charged with misconduct that included everything from covering up evidence to unprovoked murders. Harrelson plays David Brown, one of the cops suspected of unethical behavior, who, after being caught on tape violently beating a fleeing motorist after an accident, goes under investigation for his behavior.

All of that is fine and dandy and it creates a perfect backdrop for what could have been a wonderful drama. There’s corruption, violence, cover ups and all kinds of struggles, both internal and external, that the character has to face. With a clear idea of what it was going for, Rampart could have been a intriguing character study, but as is, you never truly get a sense of Officer Brown’s personality, despite Harrelson’s gripping performance (which is one of the main reasons this movie still succeeds), because you never get to see it. Instead, most of his personality traits are simply read off in passing dialogue. At one point, his daughter calls him homophobic, yet he has no interaction with a gay person throughout the entire film. She also calls him a racist, but as far as the viewer can tell, he’s only called a racist because the person he’s caught beating up on camera is black (and you get the feeling he would have done that no matter the person’s race). She even goes so far as to label him as sexist, but no scenes support that claim. In fact, the only four people in the entire world he cares about are female. Sure, when he picks women up at bars, he’s a little forward, but sexual aggression does not equate to sexism.

The only thing she gets right is when she calls him a misanthrope. As he expressly states, he hates everyone equally and, although this fact negates nearly every other label attached to his character, it provides for the most interesting sections of the film. His cold demeanor and brutal tactics don’t seem to stem solely from his reckless disregard for the rules. They seem to have evolved from the practices of those he works with. For instance, after making the news for beating that motorist to the edge of death, he is greeted with cheering and applause by his fellow police officers. Only a select few, mainly the ones investigating him, seem to have a moral compass. His brutal behavior reflects the culture of his job and those around him. As time goes on, his past actions begin to look more like inevitabilities than poor decisions.

Nevertheless, the meaning of all this is left vague. Whatever Rampart is trying to say about Officer Brown, the Rampart scandal or simply police corruption in general gets lost in its own maze of contradictions, but Harrelson keeps the movie afloat, even though his supporting cast isn’t the strongest in the world, especially Ice Cube, whose proven ineffective screen presence is that much more noticeable when opposite a veteran such as Harrelson. One could make the argument that the potency of the supporting characters is what makes a character study, especially one like this where the protagonist’s line of work forces him to interact with others. It’s a completely valid point and a suitable critique of this movie, but Harrelson is so good, he makes you forget all that and appreciate the film for its strengths rather than its weaknesses.

Rampart receives 3/5

Friday
Feb112011

Cedar Rapids

Every year there are terrific screenplays that go unproduced. While garbage like Season of the Witch invades theaters, true talent gets overlooked. In an attempt to rectify this situation, a list was created, dubbed the Black List, that contains a record of the most popular overlooked screenplays. The newest Ed Helms indie comedy, Cedar Rapids, was on that list. Well, something must have gone wrong from script to screen because “average” is the best compliment it can be given. If this is one of the shining examples of original screenplays coming out of Hollywood, we’re in for a bumpy few years.

Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman for BrownStar Insurance. His company has been the recipient of the Two Diamond Award, a prestigious award showing clout within the insurance industry, for many years running. They are expected to win this year as well, but when the star of the company, the man who had won the previous years and was going to do so again, accidentally kills himself from autoerotic asphyxiation, the sure-to-win presentation he was going to give at the local insurance convention is passed off to Tim. But what seems like a simple task becomes a lot more difficult when he meets Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a loud, foul mouthed party animal, and Joan (Anne Heche), a sexy salesman who begins to put the moves on Tim.

Cedar Rapids does nothing you wouldn’t expect it to do. It’s simple, short (clocking in at under 90 minutes) and missing a personality. It attempts to have some heart, but ultimately fails. And its two biggest stars step into roles they’ve been running through for years now. Ed Helms basically plays the same clueless simpleton he’s been playing as Andy in The Office since 2006 and Reilly is the crazy eccentric who swears like a sailor like his character in, well, pretty much every movie he’s ever been in. The good news is that the two are so good at what they do that, though exhausting, they are fun to watch and keep this movie flowing even when it looks like it’s going to tumble off the edge.

Their years of practice in similar roles pays off, but that doesn’t always save the clumsy hit-or-miss humor. Indie comedies, for some reason, tend to be drawn toward unconventional humor, perhaps in an attempt to stand out from the pack. Cedar Rapids, though downplayed in comparison, is much the same. The jokes are quirky, weird and terribly inconsistent. It tries to capture that same type of awkward humor that television shows like Modern Family and the aforementioned The Office do so well, but instead of being funny, it sometimes comes off as simply uncomfortable.

Despite its short runtime, Cedar Rapids becomes an endurance test to sit through because it begins to recycle old jokes and clichés from numerous other films. How many times must we see a non-drug user use drugs before we realize that it just doesn’t work anymore? It isn’t funny. It’s overdone. Let’s move on.

But in the end, regardless of any quibbles I may have, the fact of the matter is that I laughed enough for a recommendation. You can pick apart comedies as much as you want, but if you’re laughing, even the most poorly constructed films become something worth seeing. Cedar Rapids is not a poorly constructed film per se, but it’s certainly nothing special either. It’s worth seeing once, but a year from now, you’ll forget it ever existed.

Cedar Rapids receives 3/5