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Friday
May242013

Fast & Furious 6

The most appropriate answer one can give when asked if the new “Fast & Furious 6” is any good is a simple one: “It’s another ‘Fast & Furious.’” It doesn’t sound like a great response, but it tells the asker everything they need to know. It’s no better or worse than any other middling installment in this bizarrely lucrative franchise and if you’re a fan, you’re bound to enjoy this one as well.

After the events of “Fast Five,” Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and their crew are rich. However, they’re also internationally wanted criminals and are unable to return to the US. Soon, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) tracks them down and because he’s unable to extradite them, he asks them for their help in capturing a former British special forces officer turned criminal mastermind named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). But there’s a twist. Dominic’s thought-to-be-dead girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has been spotted alive and working with Shaw.

It’s one of those stories of an inconsequential nature, much like every story told throughout this franchise. It would be hard for even a fan to argue that the writing is solid, given its ridiculous dialogue, laughable scene set-ups, undeveloped side stories and thin characters. “Fast & Furious 6” follows suit and little is actually explored or discussed. Even when Dominic and Letty cross paths for the first time, the scene lasts all of five seconds (which is not an exaggeration), despite their relationship being the primary narrative supposedly pushing this thing forward. But when these scenes begin and end in the blink of an eye, like the opening moments when the crew requires little coaxing to once again put their lives on the line, it’s not necessarily due to bad writing, but rather a desire to bypass the fluff and get to the action, showing a firm understanding that story structure is not what these movies are about.

The reason the franchise succeeds as much as it does, despite its vapid stupidity, is because it knows exactly what it is. It has a goal, however shallow it may be, and it delivers exactly what it promises. This series is about action—and lots of it—and the crazier it gets, the more enjoyable it becomes. What began as a franchise with smaller, more contained action scenes that took place during street races has become a full blown extravaganza with planes, tanks, death defying stunts and bodies flying through the air and landing unscathed. Even its subtitles zoom on and off the screen in an adrenaline fueled panic. This is absurdity to the nth degree.

But it’s once again that self-awareness that makes it work, never losing its surprisingly solid sense of humor, despite some overbearing dramatics spoken in muted seriousness about “making things right,” as if any of what’s going on actually matters. What’s perhaps even more surprising, however, is the technical expertise behind the film. Although director Justin Lin may not know how to flesh out a story or wring out performances from his actors that exceed anything above “average,” he knows how to stage an action scene. Responsible for the last four films (and one of the best episodes of the underappreciated television show “Community” called “Modern Warfare”), he knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat, even if you don’t really care about the consequences of said action. His fluid camerawork, even during the film’s most hectic moments, allows for a good view of what’s going on. Implementing the shaky cam technique most action movies rely on these days would be doing a disservice to the fantastic action on display.

Yet the fact remains that this is still overly loud and exceedingly dumb. There’s no real substance, no interesting story and its runtime of two hours and ten minutes is unnecessarily bloated. Many will have likely checked out far before the credits roll around out of sheer frustration for a movie that doesn’t know when to quit, but that’s the series in a nutshell. For better or worse, this is exactly what you expect. From the rap infused soundtrack to the explosive finale that takes place on the longest runway ever, this is indeed a “Fast & Furious” movie, and for fans of the franchise, that news couldn’t be any better.

Fast & Furious 6 receives 3/5

Thursday
Mar282013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

One mustn’t expect much when sitting down to watch “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” It’s based on a silly Hasbro toy meant to portray the fighting spirit of the American soldier and as such, one should expect nothing more than mindless entertainment. In this case, the film nailed the “mindless” part, but forgot about the “entertainment.” Having seen the original movie only once, it’s hard to say which is worse—they appear to be equal in terms of quality—but this is action at its most basic. Only junkies of the genre will find anything to enjoy and even they might be put off by the lousy script, horrible puns and desperation seeping through this thing. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is an early contender for one of the worst movies of the year.

According to franchise lore, the Joes are an elite covert special mission unit operating under the supervision of the US military. They’re given all the difficult jobs, the ones where a lesser group of soldiers wouldn’t make it back alive. However, they’re about to be set up and most of them are about to be put into retirement for good. After a successful mission with no casualties, an air attack comes by and wipes them out. Only a few survive, including Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), the new leader of the Joes. Along with his remaining comrades, he sets out to discover who double-crossed them and bring them to justice.

Of course, other prominent franchise characters play their roles as well, like Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), though keeping track of them all is a daunting task for the uninitiated. So many characters appear, some of whom look similar enough to be indistinguishable from each other, that it’s sometimes difficult to tell who is on whose side. To blame this entirely on the existing franchise would be unfair, however, as it’s primarily the screenplay that does such a poor job of establishing them. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has the most hackneyed screenplay of the year so far and it’s filled with so much expositional dialogue that you’d be playing the odds if you bet that the rest of this year’s movies combined wouldn’t equal its amount.

It’s insulting, quite frankly. Characters, motivations, schemes, places, all are explained almost entirely through exposition, as if the audience is too dumb to figure it out for themselves. When so much of that exposition is interrupted with some of the lamest jokes this side of “Jack and Jill,” it becomes difficult to handle. One attractive woman introduces herself as a reporter for Fox News. “That must be why you look so fair and balanced,” the man says in reply, as if that somehow makes sense. Early on, one Joe tells another to prepare for extraction and he replies, “Extraction? What are we, teeth?” The villain even refers to himself as the “quicker blower-upper,” a clear play on words of Bounty’s paper towels.

These moments will make you roll your eyes so far into the back of your head, you may put yourself into a catatonic state. The only thing that could have saved “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” from total irrelevance is its action scenes, but they’re hardly exciting. Aside from one impressive, though CGI-fueled, battle on the side of a mountain, what is presented here is generic of dozens of other shoot ‘em ups that have come before. To make matters worse, the action scenes are too short and too few while the narrative sections are unnecessarily stretched out, despite their simplistic nature. One example of this simplicity comes fairly early on (so this can hardly be considered a spoiler) when the Joes figure out that the President isn’t actually the President. “Last week, he said soda. Now, he says pop!” one Joe proclaims. “When he crossed his fingers together, the right thumb rest on top, but now it’s the left!” she follows. If this is all the deduction it takes to uncover a terrorist plot, we would all be super soldier sleuths.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is awful, yet it doesn’t even realize it. It doesn’t play off its own obvious deficiencies with a playful wink and nod. To the contrary, it actually thinks it’s good, but its dramatic moments are flat, its humor is desperately unfunny and its action scenes are unimaginative. Let’s hope next time someone double crosses the Joes, he takes them all out so we won’t have to sit through another one of their movies.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation receives 0.5/5

Friday
Apr292011

Fast Five

It’s hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast and the Furious is now ten years old. It’s even more difficult to understand how that movie sparked a franchise. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how that franchise reached its fifth installment. Was anyone asking for even one sequel, let alone four? I suppose it’s a moot question because here we are with the alliteratively titled Fast Five, which for all intents and purposes is no better or worse than the rest of the franchise. Take that as you will.

There’s some type of story here that has something to do with a corrupt businessman who has the whole Rio de Janeiro police force in his back pocket and stores his riches in a high security vault inside the police station. And of course, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) are going to rob him. It’s a loose premise that is negligible at best, but if you’re going to see Fast Five for the story, boy are you going to be disappointed.

Like previous incarnations, Fast Five is poorly written and it fails to tie its scenes together. It spends its whole middle section with the characters preparing and concocting an elaborate plan to break into the safe, but then that plan changes almost entirely. The final action scene, as thrilling as it is, only goes to show the pointlessness of everything that came before. It’s like the writers wrote the closing sequence first and then couldn’t come up with a way to get the characters to that point.

What the writers didn’t seem to understand, however, is that it doesn’t matter. Fast Five is a turn-off-your-brain action flick whose viewers demand very little (that this shoddy story has now gone on for five movies is telling of that fact). They want explosions, fast cars and gunfights. Unfortunately, the film spends far too much time talking and foolishly skips over would-be action scenes, like when Dominic agrees to go car for car in a race. After a dialogue exchange, it cuts back to the hideout where it’s evident he won. I imagine this was done to lower the runtime of the film, but at an already exhausting 2 hours and 10 minutes, what’s another few ticks of the clock?

Boredom may set in at certain points in Fast Five, but when the film moves, it moves fast (natch). The action scenes become cases of “enough is not enough.” Take the opening, for instance, which sees our boys robbing a moving train. As they take their loot, there’s a double cross which breeds a fist fight that causes a string of events that plants a car in the side of the train. Naturally, the car begins to leak gas, which causes an explosion and then…well, I suppose I’ll let you experience the rest for yourself. With ample supplies of machismo and crazy action scenes like that one, there’s enough testosterone in this movie to make a eunuch grow a pair.

Fast Five tries so hard to be exciting even its subtitles zoom on and off the screen with a sense of urgency. It’s admirable in a way, but it’s also perplexing because you begin to wonder where things went wrong. The pairing up of Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (playing an FBI special agent) should have been an epic showdown, a battle of fisticuffs as brutal and bloody as any put to screen, but instead it’s merely adequate, an adjective that more or less describes the entire film.

Fast Five has all the pieces to make a great action movie, but forces them into spots they don’t belong. While I am recommending it because, yes, I did have some fun with it, it’s nothing more than another derivative rehash. At this point, the most interesting thing about the franchise is what stupid title they’re going to attach to each film.

Fast Five receives 3/5

Friday
Jan222010

Tooth Fairy

Dwayne Johnson is a bucket full of unrealized potential. The man made a name for himself with his WWE persona, "The Rock," marking himself as a bad ass and paving the way for a huge action movie career. So what, pray tell, is he doing in these fluffy family friendly kids movies? Did he learn nothing from The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain or his recent voice work in the atrocious computer animated picture Planet 51? Evidently not, because he seemed more than willing to make a fool of himself in his latest monstrosity, Tooth Fairy. Outside of the inherent comedic value of seeing The Rock flutter around in a pink tutu, this movie has little to offer.

Johnson plays Derek, a minor league hockey player who was sent there from the NHL after hurting his shoulder. He's known on the ice as "The Tooth Fairy" because he has a knack for knocking out his opponent's teeth. He's nothing more than a sideshow on his team, having not taken a shot on goal for nearly ten years. He is dating a pretty woman named Carly, played by Ashley Judd, who has two children, Tess, played by Destiny Whitlock, and Randy, played by Chase Ellison. One night, Tess loses a tooth and places it under her pillow hoping the Tooth Fairy will come and give her money. Derek is babysitting and agrees to humor her, but instead uses the money he has to gamble with his buddies. When she wakes up, freaking out from the lack of cash, Derek decides to tell her the Tooth Fairy isn't real, though he is quickly interrupted by Carly who gets angry with him. That night back at home, he wakes up to find a summon under his pillow. He has been accused of killing dreams and is forced to live as a real live Tooth Fairy for two weeks.

I like Dwayne Johnson. He's charming. He's good looking. He's even pretty funny when he is provided quality material, as evidenced by his role in the hilarious Get Smart. And I must stress, there is nothing funnier than seeing him wear a tutu and looking like an idiot. Laughter is the desired intention in Tooth Fairy, but the problem here is that we're not laughing with it. We're laughing at it. This is merely another in a recent string of awful kids movies with no imagination, intelligence, or bite. Much like the notion of an actual Tooth Fairy, this movie is complete nonsense and as soon as it's out of your head, the better.

However, I can see a good children's movie in here somewhere, but it's saddled down too much by writing that meanders all over the place until it has nowhere to go. Like the posters that promote it, the film is loaded with plays on words like "You can't handle the tooth" and "The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth," all of which are as grating as you'd expect them to be.

The film also lacks a decent sense of direction, probably due to the fact that director Michael Lembeck's most prized titles on his resume are the last two Santa Clause movies, which God knows is nothing to write home about. The only shining light in this otherwise abysmal experience are a handful of decent jokes, mostly coming from the talented Billy Crystal, who plays a role similar to his fantasy turn in The Princess Bride. He is delightful and manages to drag a few guffaws out of the inanity.

Everybody knows that January is dump month, but this year seems to be extra dumpy. Limited releases aside, the only film I would recommend from it is Daybreakers. Since that film, I've sat through dreck like Leap Year, The Lovely Bones, The Spy Next Door, and now this one (with the inevitable stinker When in Rome rounding it out next week).

Still, kids may enjoy this, specifically the ones that still believe in the Tooth Fairy, and it was nice to hear the word "fairy" get thrown around without some derogatory connotation attached to it, but for those above the age of belief, Tooth Fairy is not worth your time.

Tooth Fairy receives 1/5