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Entries in Video Game Movie (3)

Thursday
Mar132014

Need for Speed

With the popularity of franchises like “The Fast and the Furious,” it was only a matter of time before a film adaptation of the popular video game racing series “Need for Speed” blasted its way into theaters. Coming from a series that features only the thinnest of stories (certain installments had none at all), it should come as no surprise that the film of the same name is similarly thin and meaningless. But while thin stories can be forgiven in a video game if the gameplay is solid, it’s hard to look past it here. “Need for Speed” features a capable leading actor with the former “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul, but the movie he’s in is near disastrous.

Tobey (Paul) is a down-on-his-luck mechanic. He owns a shop, but also owes his bank a lot of money. Unless he comes up with a substantial amount soon, the shop will be taken away from him and his crew. As luck would have it, along comes Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), a rich entrepreneur who offers him a job: to build a fancy car worth millions of dollars. Once it sells, he’ll receive a quarter of the profit. It’s an easy job and the car is quickly sold, but clashing ideas lead to macho threats and the two, along with Tobey’s buddy, Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), end up racing. Dino, who will do anything to win, ends up killing Pete during the race and frames Tobey, who is put in jail for two years for manslaughter. Upon his release, he sets out to win a spot in an underground street race called De Leon, which he hopes will clear his name and prove that Dino isn’t the person he pretends to be.

“Need for Speed” does something that is very hard to do: it brings together parts that are individually very good and mashes them into something that barely functions at all. Aaron Paul, for example, is a better actor than the typical meathead you get in these types of movies and he manages to give the emotional scenes some validity, but those scenes are so overwrought that they’re hard to take seriously. This vendetta Tobey has against Dino is nothing more than a flimsy excuse for high octane car chases. You see, the De Leon race he wants to participate in is actually in California. The problem is he resides in New York, so he has to make the long trek across the country, all while cops chase after him for breaking his parole and street punks try to take him out at the behest of Dino. There’s a proper narrative beginning and ending, but no arc in between. It’s essentially one long car chase.

Tobey also has a passenger, Julia (Imogen Poots), the assistant to the guy who lets Tobey borrow his car to drive across country, which leads to a number of narrative problems. Never mind the obvious question of why this man would let a recently paroled felon borrow his multimillion dollar car to travel cross country to an illegal street race. The biggest fail that derives from this forced companionship is a half-baked romance that falls flat on its face, despite the two spending the majority of the movie together in that car.

Much of this is to be expected, of course. Films like those aforementioned “Fast and Furious” films too suffered from many of the same issues, but that franchise eventually found its footing by realizing its absurdity and embracing it. Despite reaching a sixth installment in what amounts to a pretty thin premise, the popular franchise has only gotten better because of this self-awareness. Conversely, “Need for Speed” is oblivious and takes itself far too seriously. Even its score fails to realize the nature of the film it’s accompanying. By itself, or in another, more appropriately epic film, the score is majestic. It’s a sweeping, beautiful score that fits this film like an adult trying to squeeze into a baby sized onesie. When the score builds and hits a crescendo during such trivial moments like when Tobey and his crew gas up his car without stopping, the realization suddenly sets in that “Need for Speed” has absolutely no clue what it’s doing.

Some visual trickery is the only pleasure one can derive from the film outside of its far too lengthy car chases and races, but even that feels out of place. Its over-stylization is most notable in the random “Vertigo” tunnel shots and when it takes a page out of Tony Scott’s “Book of Manufactured Excitement” with rapidly rotating cameras during otherwise quiet conversations.

But while the film is easy to look at, it’s not easy to watch. The things that work on their own don’t fit within the context of the film, so all it has to fall back on is fast cars, loud engines and macho posturing. That may do it for some, primarily car enthusiasts and those easily amused, but it will undoubtedly bore those who wish for something a little meatier. Isolate certain aspects and you’ll find something worthy, but bring them all together and you end up with the absolute mess that is “Need for Speed.”

Need for Speed receives 0.5/5

Friday
Sep102010

Resident Evil: Afterlife

There isn’t a film series under the sun that perplexes me as much as the Resident Evil franchise. Having seen each multiple times, I feel differently about them after each viewing. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them and sometimes I land somewhere in the middle because, as poor as they are, they’re amusing. With that said, I fear my feelings for the newest installment, Resident Evil: Afterlife, will always be the same. It continues the poor production trend of the previous movies while forgetting all about the fun.

Milla Jovovich plays Alice, a former employee of the Umbrella Corporation, a company that practically destroyed the world. Years ago, a virus known as the T-virus escaped the confines of their laboratories and slowly turned everybody into zombies. Now there are only a handful of survivors left, but Umbrella continues in their studies. The movie begins with Alice infiltrating the Umbrella headquarters in Tokyo and taking out everybody inside with her recently discovered powers (which apparently include cloning herself at will), including Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who looks and sounds suspiciously like Agent Smith from The Matrix. But before doing so, Wesker injects her with something, stripping her of her powers and making her human again. Now, years later she is in search of an uninfected area known as Arcadia and finds it. The problem is she’s surrounded by zombies with no viable route to get there. So she, along with Claire (Ali Larter), Chris (Wentworth Miller) and a handful of others, come up with a plan of escape.

Resident Evil: Afterlife feels as much like a Resident Evil video game as the previous movies, which is to say not at all. Rather than emulate the games, known for their tension and scares (the earlier ones, at least), where the characters carry a limited ammo supply to fend off the zombie horde, the films amp up the action and are more like mind-numbing shooting galleries where things like ambiance mean very little.

Coincidentally, the script seems like it was ripped from a generic shoot-em-up video game where the cutscenes exist solely as a bridge to the next gun battle, complete with synthetic music, a general disregard for coherence and stupid dialogue (after seeing a ship—“It’s a ship!”). There’s even what you could call a boss battle with an unexplained and random axe wielding monstrosity that feels more like Pyramid Head from Silent Hill than anything that should be appearing in something called Resident Evil.

It’s hard to believe that this franchise has made it to a fourth entry, but with relatively low budgets and millions of video game nerds willing to see movies based on their favorite games, I shouldn’t be surprised. After three movies, however, something needs to change, but those changes merely consist of borrowing heavily from other video games (like a set piece eerily reminiscent of the flooded staircase in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty) and films like the ones previously mentioned (as well as a new breed of zombie that look exactly like the Reapers from Blade II). Paul W.S. Anderson seems incapable of writing a good, unique script. In fact, his two best directorial efforts (Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon) were not written by him.

What’s really left in Resident Evil: Afterlife is the 3D, of which does nothing to enhance the experience. It doesn’t detract much either, however, because it’s hard to detract from something that has so little to detract from. If you’re a gamer, I’m sure you’ll be interested in seeing what they’ve done with the franchise (as I regrettably was), but take my word for it and don't.

Resident Evil: Afterlife receives 1/5

Friday
May282010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Video game movies are no stranger to cinema. Ever since they became popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s, movie studios have been dying to get their greedy little paws on their licenses. Many have been made, but few have been worthy. Some argue none have been. Not a single video game movie ever made sits fresh on the aggregate movie critic score website Rotten Tomatoes. Yet many of those critics aren’t gamers themselves. I am. Not that it means I’m more qualified to judge, but I feel my dabbling in the video game culture has benefited me when looking at some films. Take Hitman for instance, a movie whose central character confused many, but whom I completely understood based on my knowledge of the video games. The latest game adaptation to hit the screens is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and is based on the long running series begun in 1989 and it's a fun romp, regardless of what the naysayers may preach.

In an opening that’s more likely to elicit memories of “Assassin’s Creed” than “Prince of Persia” from gamers, we meet the king of Persia, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who adopts a young boy after his valiant effort to save another kid from soldier cruelty. That young boy grows up to be Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has no wishes for the throne, but only to protect his family and do what is right. A neighboring city, led by Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is believed to hold weapons and Dastan, along with his friends, infiltrates it and begins the siege. After the victory, Dastan gives the King a customary present, a robe that he immediately puts on. But it’s laced with poison and the King dies right there. Dastan, accused of murder, flees with Tamina and finds himself in possession of a mystical dagger that can turn back time, which could disrupt the very fabric of time and space if put into the wrong hands. He must find out who killed his father while also protecting the dagger.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is dopey and meaningless. It’s a monumentally absurd movie with a nonsensical plot, goofy costumes and laughable dialogue. It’s trashy, but it’s the right kind of trashy. It’s a summer action blockbuster that solidly mixes its campy writing with its high flying action. It’s what last summer’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra tried to be, but failed.

The action, as computer generated as it may have been, is hard to not have fun with. Watching the Prince hop across rooftops to elude capture and slide down a mountain of sand while crumbling structures fall all around him is a blast. The swashbuckling swordplay comes with benefits too. In all its over-the-top glory, the clinks and clanks and flying daggers make for a serviceable distraction from the troublesome story that doesn’t bother with development, but rather says every plot point matter-of-factly so it can move on to the next outlandish action scene.

This amusing stupidity would be for naught without Jake Gyllenhaal, however, who expels just the right amount of charm, wit and good looks to fit the role. He looks like he’s having fun and never seems to take the sometimes flat dramatic story turns too seriously. Couple him with the beautiful Gemma Arteron, who holds her own around the Prince with an even faster tongue and trickier sleight of hand, and you have a hot potato match where the dagger changes possession so many times you may lose track of it yourself.

Saying that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time succeeds on its brainless action and enjoyably stupid plot is faint praise. Even fainter praise would be to say that it’s one of the best video game adaptations ever made. But faint praise is still praise and any at all may come as a shock to many. Maybe it’s because I’m a gamer and have played the games it spawned from, but I liked this movie and if you can get past its faults and find the awesome B-movie hidden underneath, you might like it too.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time receives 3.5/5