Due to school, work and laziness I’ve written far less than I’d like to recently. I have, however, managed to see a number of films over the past couple of months and unfortunately, unlike last year which featured some very high quality films (such as The Grey) released early in the year, this year’s offerings have been rather bland and abysmal. Here’s my take on the latest films I’ve seen:
Snitch ** (out of 4)
The Rock plays the owner of a small trucking company who is on his second marriage. His life is abruptly interrupted and thrown off the rails when his son knowingly accepts a package of drugs shipped to him by a friend, who then rats him out turning him into the victim of a DEA operation. In order to save his son from serving a lengthy mandatory prison sentence, he agree to infiltrate a network of drug dealers as a mole. Despite a solid cast including Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Jon Bernthal, and Benjamin Bratt, the movie is a bit of a let down. It tries to be a serious drama while delivering a message about the US justice system and drug laws, but due to a very unbelievable plot, weak script, and poor character development, its difficult to take the film seriously. Rather than leaving the theater contemplating US drug and justice policy, I left it thinking about how utterly silly it is to try and run an 18 wheeler off the road with a sedan.
Safe Haven *
Yet another lame and hamfisted adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks book. The two leads in the film (Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel) have zero chemistry and screen presence together. Cardboard cut outs of each actor could have potentially provided better performances and more chemistry than the two leads do in this dreck. The film starts out with a troubled young woman (Hough) fleeing from a couple of detectives – she narrowly gets on to a bus which leaves just in the nick of time, before the cops are able to find her. She eventually turns up in some perfect sleepy southern town in Georgia and is able to find a job at a local diner, catch the eyes of a widowed single father who owns the local general store (Duhamel), and find a cute little house that is in need of some tender love and care. Will she be able to leave her troubled past behind? Will she be able to move on and let a new man into her life? Will you even care by the end of the movie about the logic-defying plot twist? If you’re like me, you wont; you’ll laugh out loud as the credits roll and will quickly try to forget about this vapid and empty waste of time.
Broken City *1/2
This is one of those movies where you look at the cast and think “Hmmm, this cant possibly be that bad of a movie” – and then you watch it and wonder what well known actor/actress was thinking when he/she agreed to do said film. Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe star in a ludicrous film that resembles a prime time soap opera more than it does a major Hollywood movie with an A-list cast. Russell Crowe plays a sleazy mayor and Mark Wahlberg is an ex-cop with baggage turned private investigator (there’s an original character) who gets sucked into some dirty municipal politics. The mayor is running for re-election, so naturally in a film like this, his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is sleeping with the mayor’s opponents campaign manager. There are also murder, sketchy backroom land deals, document shredding, oh, and Mark Wahlberg’s everyman of a character is having a tough time keeping his 2 person PI operation open. By the end of the film, it becomes rather difficult to keep track of everything that was going on. The film is one preposterous plot twist on top of another until you are simply sitting there rolling your eyes wishing the film showed some form of restraint which would have resulted in the movie keeping a tiny amount of plausibility. The only thing redeeming about the whole mess is Russell Crowe’s unrestrained performance of a unrepentant crooked mayor - I only wish it had been in a better film.
Dead Man Down **1/2
An intriguing film from the director of the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (not the Daniel Craig-David Fincher remake) that ultimately stalls towards the latter part of the film. The movie stars Colin Farrell and takes some time to get going; slowly the audience is able to piece together the plot as it slowly begins to emerge as the film unfolds. Farrell appears to be a gun for hire for a local crime syndicate, which is managed by Terrence Howard (who does a good job as the villain here). The film seems to get its wires crossed halfway through as it morphs from an intriguing crime drama into a romantic redemptive tale. Ultimately, it becomes a stalled anticlimactic affair that could have been a stronger film had the script gone through another rewrite and some polishing. I loved the opening of the film and the steady buildup, but was let down by the weak romantic subplot and third act of the film.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone **
Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, and Jay Mohr in a comedy? I’ll definitely be seeing that…and I did….and I was rather underwhelmed. Carell and Buscemi star as lifelong friends who have had a successful magic act for years that is starting to falter. Jim Carrey plays an up and coming “magician” who undertakes stunts that resemble Jackass more than they do magic. Carell is in airhead mode, which he plays well -particularly opposite Carrey who is in zany mode. The film isn’t bad, but its not as funny as I’d hoped – the supporting cast is somewhat underutilized although Jay Mohr is particularly funny in his scene stealing role as a lousy lounge-act magician.
Identity Thief *1/2
Oh what a waste – what an utter waste this film was. Two very funny leads (Jason Bateman and Melissa McCartney) are wasted as this film attempts to be both a slapstick goofball comedy and a serious emotional drama at the same time – it fails. There are a few funny moments but those moments become less and less funny the more and more the film tries to be a serious drama. If anything, the film does show how talented the leads are - but their antics are spoiled by a movie that ironically has an identity crisis.
A Good Day to Die Hard **1/2
I hope to goodness they keep making these movies; not because they’re good, but because the titles and how they incorporate Die Hard into them just amuses me to no end. Bruce Willis stars again (have to wonder how many more action films he has left in him) as John McClane, who heads over to Russia to get his son (who he hasn’t spoken with in years) out of jail. However, he ends of screwing up a CIA operation while on “vacation” to rescue his son and shenanigans, explosions, and one-liners ensue. A pretty typical Die Hard movie, which is a bad or good thing depending on your point of view. The only thing rather disappointing was a lack of a particularly snarky and devilish villain which, until now, had been a staple of the series.
Side Effects ***1/2
Steven Soderbergh is a very talented director and his habit of making extremely entertaining and high quality films continues with Side Effects. Going into the film – based on the trailers – I was expecting yet another movie where the villain is some nameless, shadowy, nefarious corporation (in this case, a pharmaceutical); boy was I wrong. Instead, we are treated to a smart and sordid tale full of twists and turns that don’t push the realm of believability like the aforementioned Broken City. The film begins with the release of Channing Tatum from prison – he has just finished his sentence for insider trading. His wife (Rooney Mara, very stellar in a nuanced role) has waited very faithfully and patiently and is wanting to get life back on track. However, she is depressed and after an event (which I won’t spoil), she seeks the help of psychiatrist (played by Jude Law). This film develops from there and is so well executed, there were times where I was questioning the motivations of all the main characters. Side Effects is a smart and skillful thriller well worth the time.