Latest Reviews

Entries in Arnold Schwarzenegger (4)

Friday
Oct182013

Escape Plan

For fans of 80s action movies, there’s nothing more exciting than the prospect of seeing Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen together. We were lucky enough to see them tear it up in the finale to last year’s “The Expendables 2,” even if the movie itself was a tad bombastic when taken as a whole, but their time together was limited. In their newest, “Escape Plan,” they’re best buds. In fact, once Breslin (Stallone) finds himself locked in a seemingly inescapable high security prison, he and his muscular counterpart are practically inseparable and, naturally, they attempt to break out together. A warning to those 80s action fans: this isn’t the action extravaganza you might be hoping for and, frankly, if you want to see a breaking-out-of-prison movie, you should probably stick with 1979’s masterful “Escape from Alcatraz,” but if you find that movie to be too realistic and crave something a little bit faster, louder and dumber, this will suffice.

The set-up is fairly simple, if a bit absurd. Breslin has a unique talent. He has an uncanny ability to break out of prisons. His job, in a sense, is to incarcerate himself in high security prisons around the country, supposedly inescapable ones, and find their flaws. However, he has just taken on a job that may be too risky even for him. After being drugged and flown to a secret location, he finds himself locked up in a prison unlike anything he’s ever seen. After realizing he was set up to spend the rest of his life here, held captive by the evil warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he gets determined to break out, but not without the help of Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).

Other characters in the film, who serve mainly as Breslin’s consultants, are played by the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent and Amy Ryan in a “what in the world is she doing in this?” role. Aside from some minor moments and a late movie twist, these characters are all throwaway and are there for nothing more than forced exposition. They’re missing for such a large chunk of the movie that by the time they pop up again near the end, you’ve nearly forgotten about them completely. Their inclusion is indicative of a movie with some neat ideas, but no real way to write them in, which is to say, the script is a mess, the dialogue simplistic and the story rote.

But “Escape Plan” is more than the sum of its parts. When it works, it fires on all cylinders, offering up some surprisingly exciting moments, including one slow motion “Arnold moment” that will have all classic action movie fans cheering. It’s with these moments that the film excels, when it throws out any notion of believability or proper storytelling (neither of which are its strong suits) and decides to ham it up—like Stallone’s “Expendables” movies, only less explosion-y.

Where “Escape Plan” falters most is in its careless handling of its two primary villains, the warden and a mystery character I’ve not named. While both actors do what they can in their roles, particularly Caviezel, who chews the scenery in a delightfully campy way, it’s the screenplay that ultimately lets them down, never really giving either much of an identity. Even worse, their send-offs are anticlimactic, amounting to nothing more than disappointing fizzles in a movie that promised more.

When all is said and done, “Escape Plan” will be one of those movies that will be enjoyed, but never watched again by the vast majority of those who see it. It’s a fun enough diversion while it lasts, but it doesn’t do enough to justify repeat viewings. It’s a welcome return for Schwarzenegger, if we can forget about the lackluster “The Last Stand” from earlier this year, and Stallone bounces back nicely after the dreadful “Bullet to the Head” from around the same time. This is not the movie a Stallone/Schwarzenegger crossover should be, but it’s worth a look nevertheless.

Escape Plan receives 3/5

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
Aug032012

Total Recall

The Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Total Recall, from 1990 didn’t have high aspirations. It was a campy movie full of hilarious one-liners, explosive, gory action and oddly intriguing sexuality, like the now infamous mutant woman with three breasts and a midget hooker. It was off-the-wall fun and it knew it, fully embracing its silliness from beginning to end. This week’s high octane remake, also titled Total Recall, follows a similar narrative path as the original, but somehow manages to be its exact opposite. Camp is replaced with seriousness, gore is replaced with PG-13 scuffles and the three breasted woman is…well, she’s still there (even if they do cut away before you’re allowed a good look).

By the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare brought on by a third World War has made our planet practically uninhabitable. Earth has been divided into two superpowers, the Resistance and the oppressive Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), which are in a battle for supremacy in a world gone awry. Most citizens are lowly factory workers who spend their days building police robots for the Chancellor in his efforts to stop the Resistance. One of those citizens is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). He’s married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he nevertheless needs some excitement. One day, he decides to go to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories into the heads of their customers, essentially allowing them to live out any type of fantasy they wish. While there, something goes wrong and the police force busts in. Next thing he knows, Quaid’s wife is trying to kill him and he’s on the run from the very machines he helped build. The strange thing is now he’s now being told he’s actually a secret agent; he just doesn’t remember it.

Those familiar with the 1990 original will both be in for a treat and a disappointment when watching this update. With plenty of sly references to the original, including a redheaded woman passing through a security gate (“Two weeks” she says when asked how long her trip will be), there is no shortage of little Easter eggs to be found. But sometimes those finds aren’t for the betterment of the film itself. Many of the lines (or at least variations of them) from the original are spoken here as well, but their tone is significantly different. While lines like “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” were played as humorous before, they’re played depressingly straight here. All the fun has been sucked out in favor of telling a darker story, but one that lacks substance.

That’s not to say the original had much substance to it, but it then again it never claimed it did. Both are so packed full of action that they hardly have time to tell a particularly engaging story. The difference, however, is that the original was knowingly silly, so it was easy to forgive. This Total Recall, on the other hand, tries to make you care. It wants the conclusion to be something you cheer for, but most cheers will be coming simply from the fact that it’s over rather than because the story has grabbed hold of you. With its over-stylized action scenes and constant forward motion, the characters hardly get breathers and their relationships are never built like they need to be. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t care about what happened to them that bugged me, but that the movie wanted me to, but provided no justification as to why I should.

Much like the original, the big question at the end is whether or not what we saw actually happened or if it’s just a byproduct of the Rekall implant. The question isn’t necessarily a hard one to answer in either movie when you consider certain things (that I’ll leave for you to figure out), but at least the answer had some slight ambiguity in the original. In the remake, it’s more or less cut and dry, despite trying to force that ambiguity in right at the end. The larger question outside the context of the films is: does it even matter? The answer in regards to this remake is a resounding no. This weekend, when you’re thinking about heading to the theater to see it, don’t and watch the original instead.

Total Recall receives 2/5

Friday
Aug132010

The Expendables

Those that know me will tell you I like to joke around. Maybe they’re pity laughs and I’m just too full of myself to notice, but I think I amuse people. As my screening for The Expendables approached, I joked that I would fall into a deep depression if it were bad. I stated how its failure would only be evidence as to the nonexistence of a god. Others said the film was so manly that if you went in clean shaven, you’d walk out with a full beard. With a cast that includes Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and more, these statements are more than jokes. They transcend into fact. So it’s with a happy heart that I say I’m not depressed, there is a god and my beard is awesome.

Barney (Stallone), Lee (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Hale (Crews), Toll Road (Couture) and Gunner (Lundgren) are the Expendables. They’re mercenaries for hire and when we meet them they are in the process of overtaking a Somalian pirate boat and rescuing their captives. However, Gunner goes a little berserk, prompting his removal from the team prior to their next mission where they are tasked with overthrowing the island of Vilena's evil dictator, General Garza (David Zayas). But things get complicated when they learn that Garza isn’t actually the prime target.

The Expendables, more than anything, is a love letter to action fans. It has runaway helicopters, car chases, fisticuffs, gun battles and all manner of explosions. Its whole reason for being is summed up in one late shot, directly after destroying a helicopter, where fire and carnage encompasses the entire screen. It knows what we’ve come for and it gives it to us.

Plain and simple, The Expendables is tons of fun. If 2008’s Rambo is any indication, Sylvester Stallone knows action. He’s the type of guy who should be handling these types of movies. He has lived and breathed them throughout his career and, although he’s no master behind the camera, he knows what gets the adrenaline pumping and pushes it to its limit.

But let’s be honest. It’s not a particularly great film. The idea behind The Expendables is a novelty at best—combine the best action stars of today with those from years past and make things go boom—but really, that’s all we need. I grew up with Dolph Lundgren (I must have watched Universal Soldier 50 times as a kid). I’ve missed Arnold Schwarzenegger and, although he’s only in the movie for a brief time, I loved seeing him back onscreen. The dialogue is basic and the story is routine, but I didn’t come for that. I came for the action and the nostalgia. That’s why, despite all its problems, it works.

As a fanboy, I can overlook those problems, but my requirements as a film critic say I cannot, so allow me to deviate from my textual nerdgasm. There are many side plots in The Expendables, all which feature exhaustive dialogue inconsequential to the overall narrative, like Lee’s girlfriend’s infidelity and pretty much any scene with Mickey Rourke, but my biggest reservation comes from how poorly the characters are juggled. It’s called The Expendables, but it seemed like it should have been called Sylvester Stallone and Friends because it sometimes felt like a vanity project for the aging star, focusing too much on him and not nearly enough on everybody else. Stallone brings together this legendary group of guys and then splits them all apart, taking the potential of the opening scene where they all work together and squandering it in favor of aloof admiration.

Could The Expendables have been better? Absolutely, but it delivered exactly what I expected: blood, bullets and lots of stuff blowing up. Based on those descriptors, you know whether or not this movie is for you. All I can tell you is that it was for me and I ate it up.

The Expendables receives 3.5/5