September 3, 2015

transporter Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood loves the sequel, spin-off, and re-boot because the required level of creativity drops significantly when the characters, ideas and audience already exist. This “safe” approach to filmmaking doesn’t work so well when the franchise heavily depends on a particular actor. You might be able to find a new Superman (that cape absorbs much of the burden), but it’s much riskier to replace Jason Statham in the role that led to his breakout in 2002.

Game of Thrones” fans (and no one else) will recognize Ed Skrein. He left that hit series to take on this starring role as the skilled driver Frank Martin, who never changes a deal and always delivers the goods (and beats the crap out of people, and destroys fleets of police cars). Late in this film, we do notice that Mr. Skrein must have quietly lifted some GOT props, as one of the more preposterous fight scenes features Viking-type weaponry aboard a multi-million dollar yacht. For most films, that would easily rank as the clear jump the shark moment, but director Camille Delamarre seems to have no regulator on his appetite for outlandish stunts and scenes.

Mr. Skrein is very clearly one fit young man. However, his slipping into Statham’s driver’s seat leaves a void in charm and street cred. We never buy into his ability to go up against nasty Russian mobsters, though he does strikes the necessary fashion poses in scenes with the four rebellious prostitutes … led by Anna (Loan Chabanol). Unfortunately, Ms. Chabanol’s character looks like a knock-off of Gina Gershon and is performed at the level of Ms. Gershon’s Showgirls co-star Elizabeth Berkley (insert groan and dread here).

The highlights of the film are Ray Stevenson, who plays Frank’s dad; the French Riviera locale; and the over-the-top action and stunt sequences – many with (I choose to believe) purposefully humorous touches. Mr. Stevenson furnishes the only personal charm and wit, while also being easily the most interesting character – one we wish we knew more about. The France backdrop is not utilized to its fullest, but there are enough beautiful shots that prevent us from ever feeling ‘soundstage syndrome’. As for the action sequences, two of the most fun include a jet bridge and jet ski … unrelated, but both elicit audience reactions. If the airport scene isn’t quite far-fetched enough for you, perhaps this sequence will impress you: girl gets shot, nearly bleeds to death, is saved by spider-webs, joins in threesome.

There is an ongoing attempt to tie this to “The Three Musketeers” story, but the gag mostly falls flat, as does most of the story. And by “story”, it’s defined here as: car chases, big booms, fight scenes, fancy clothes, sex scenes, car crashes (the effects of car chases), wigs as disguises, dance club girl-on-girl kisses, gun shots, fancy yacht and private jet. One thing that stands out … all of the female characters are prostitutes, albeit victims of sex-trafficking by the Russians. It’s their plan for revenge that drives the story – moreso than the actual driver (of the title). Luc Besson was behind the first three Transporter movies, and he co-wrote and produced this latest. He clearly loves the character, as he has already announced plans for the 5th and 6th entries into the franchise.  One may assume that I’ll park elsewhere.

watch the trailer:



LUCY (2014)

July 28, 2014
lucy Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director Luc Besson has a track record of mixing stylistic visuals with more traditional action: La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element. This time he tries to mix those components with fantasy, sci-fi and neuroscience. His hope was that Scarlett Johannson in a snug t-shirt and Morgan Freeman as an on screen narrator (guiding us through the maze of info) would sufficiently distract viewers from the international drug-muling mess.  Scarlett’s new found expertise as action hero (thanks to The Avengers) has her cast here in a role that previously would have gone to Anjelina Jolie.
We have all fantasized about expanded brain power, and many films have touched on this: Transcendence (Johnny Depp), The Matrix franchise, and Limitless (Bradley Cooper) to name a few. Omnipotence may not be everyone’s goal, but it sure seems to be difficult to pull off in in movies. This time around, there is a Korean drug syndicate led by Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) who has synthesized a drug that takes the human brain to a new level. To buy into this, you have to accept the premise that humans only use 10% of their brain … a claim long ago disproved.  Still, it’s a movie, so let’s roll with it.
There are some nice moments in the film, but the pieces just don’t fit smoothly together. Circumstances are such that Scarlett finds herself experiencing the effects of the drug – first by dancing on the ceiling ala Lionel Ritchie or Linda Blair (your choice), and then with the most awkward phone call to mom in film history. Soon enough her telekinetic powers are so advanced, she mows down the heavily armed bad guys with a flick of the finger. If that makes no sense to you, you’ll have to follow along with Professor Morgan Freeman’s charts and graphs. His lecture spells out each of the steps that Scarlett will go through and the interconnected scene cuts makes sure all movie goers can keep up … even those who don’t use 10% of their brain.
My biggest complaint is that if a movie about extraordinary intelligence is to be made, then the movie itself should at least be  smart … or witty. What the movie tells us is that expanded brain access allows us to medically diagnose our friends through a hug,  instantly change hair color while strolling through the airport, and create invisible force fields to trap our enemies. We also learn that really smart people drive the wrong way on one-way streets. In Dallas, we typically refer to those people as idiots … or at least horrible drivers. Evidently the joke is on us – those are the enlightened ones!
This movie should have been a lot more fun than it was. A tip of the cap to Mr. Besson for casting Choi Min-sik and Amr Waked (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), and for the global trek from Taipei to Berlin to Paris to NYC … and finally two things rarely seen in the same movie … a dinosaur and a flash drive. It was kinda nice to see the script attempt to make the point that smart people use their minds, while lesser beings resort to violence … though it could have been interesting to see good vs bad while ON this fancy new drug. Although Scarlett’s character remembers the taste of her mother’s milk, I expect the memory of this film will fade quickly.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: a couple of impressive Scarlett action sequences and some Besson visuals are enough to carry you for 90 minutes
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have difficulty buying Scarlett’s vacuous facial expression as an indication of extraordinary brain power
watch the trailer:

TAKEN 2 (2012)

October 21, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Four years ago Taken was a huge, surprise hit filled with heart-pumping action and a thrilling plot. The sequel boasts a budget more than three times the size of the original, the same key cast members (especially Liam Neeson), the same screenwriter (Luc Besson), and a similar type story. So why doesn’t it work this time? The answer is inferior direction, a lack of surprises, and too many absurd moments to count.

Liam Neeson returns as former CIA-stud Bryan Mills, father to Kim (Maggie Grace) whom he previously rescued from Albanian sex-traffickers in Paris. Famke Janssen also returns as Leonore, Kim’s mother and Bryan’s ex. Somehow, Leonore and Kim think it’s a great idea to surprise Bryan with a visit while he is on a security job in Istanbul. Yes, right next door to Albania (note sex traffickers). Since the film opens with a mass funeral depicting the burial of all the guys Bryan killed in the first movie, and Rade Serbedzija vows revenge, it comes as little surprise when Bryan and Leonore are “taken”.

 What is surprising is that the filmmakers attempt to turn Maggie Grace into an action hero. Yes, gangly Maggie Grace who we saw hiding under the bed in the first film. This time, unable to pass the driving test to obtain her license, she transforms into master stunt driver and Olympic rooftop sprinter … while deploying grenades with Swiss perfect timing. I should also mention that in real life Maggie Grace is 29 years old. She was supposedly 17 in the first movie and 18-19 here. Yes, one of my movie pet peeves.

In a film like this, we can always hope the action sequences cover-up the ludicrous script (see most Jason Statham movies). Unfortunately, we are abused with chopped up, hyper-kinetic camera work that we often can’t tell who is punching who are whose gun is firing. These action shots make the fight scenes in Batman Begins or the Bourne movies appear slo-motion. It’s a waste of Liam Neeson and a potential stellar bad guy in Mr. Serdebzija (The Saint). The final irritant is Janssen’s role as Leonore. She is reduced to sobbing and passing out (sometimes while wearing a hood). Just another waste. The director of this mess is Olivier Megaton, who also directed Columbiana and Transporter 3.

There are two types of sequels: those that build on the best points of the first and those that simply cash in. Clearly, this one falls into the cashing-in column. Don’t expect any long-lived quotes from this sequel. It has no particular set of skills.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are addicted to action films, no matter the quality OR you enjoy macho man Liam Neeson when he is in full assault mode

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a smart, crisp action thriller in the same vein as the original OR you prefer to avoid the goofyness of Maggie Grace, action star

watch the trailer: