November 21, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Paul Haggis, Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson?? COUNT ME IN! Oh wait, you mean there is more to making a quality movie than just gathering together a bunch of talented people? Well if you need proof …

Maybe my expectations were too high. Paul Haggis has proved himself to be a remarkable writer (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) and an excellent director (Crash, In the Valley of Elah). Russell Crowe is one of the finest actors working. Elizabeth Banks is a stunning talent – both highly comedic and full of range. Liam Neeson adds a touch of class to every film he is in (this one’s no exception). The film is watchable, but an unnecessary stretch from the real world.

The best part of the film is the scene with Crowe and Neeson. Neeson’s character has escaped from SEVEN prisons and Crowe needs some tips so he can bust out his wife (Banks) who has been wrongly (maybe, maybe not) convicted of murder. The scene plays awfully close to an infomercial on “How to Break out of Prison” hosted by Liam Neeson. OK, I didn’t say the scene was believable, just the best in the film. Try not to wonder how a guy that breaks out of prison SEVEN times (and finally surrenders because he is tired of looking over his shoulder) is actually a free man able to meet Crowe for coffee.

What I am most disappointed in is the manner in which Crowe’s college professor frump of a man transforms into an action figure after meeting with Neeson and getting his rear-end kicked trying to buy fake ID’s. Suddenly he is out-gunning drug dealers and driving the world’s fastest Prius in reverse down a dark alley … and then going head to head with strategy against some near-clairvoyant detectives. Wow.

Certainly not going to tell you if Crowe’s plan actually works or if somehow he masters the art of flexibility while on the run. Whatever happens, I would have preferred him to remain true to his character early in the film. Every viewer could relate to his frustration with the system and his desperation to free his wife – just not the quick transformation to modern day Gladiator.  A movie pet peeve I have is when a movie purposefully misleads the viewer in an effort to have the story come across as more complex than it really is.  The black & white “flashbacks” in this one are a prime example.  Don’t misinterpret … I live for the complex plot twists that challenge me as a viewer.  But outright fraud from the filmmaker ruffles my feathers no end.

The supporting cast in the film is given very little to do. Olivia Wilde (Thirteen from “House”) is wasted as the mother of a friend to Crowe’s kid. Daniel Stern has one scene as Banks’ attorney. RZA plays an unscrupulous drug dealer (redundant?). And while it’s great to see Brian Dennehy on screen as Crowe’s father, it is unfortunate he is reduced to being near silent and all-knowing.

The movie would make a fine diversion on one of those sleepless nights once it hits cable, but right now, I am just annoyed at the waste of talent and the lack of effort to make a better film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you need a quick “how to” on breaking a loved one out of prison

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think dropping your kid off at a birthday party two hours early is acceptable behavior – especially if the reason is to break your spouse out of prison