Thursday, July 03, 2008

Film Review - WANTED: Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane!

Have you ever see a film that, early into the viewing, had you shaking your head in incredulity? They don’t really think I’m dumb enough to enjoy this, do they? But then, lacking the will to walk out and demand a refund, you surrender to the inanity and slowly begin to enjoy yourself and even, dare I say, feel an increasing glow of admiration for whoever concocted the bizarre clap-trap of ridiculousness before you?

Well, I had such an experience watching the hyper-violent Wanted, the 129th graphic novel adaptation to be released this month alone (I kid!). It raised my awareness of a secret group of assassins who have been covertly working right under our noses, corrupting societal order, for the last thousand years. I know! I was as surprised as you are!

Equally as shocked is young Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a corporate drone in near-suicidal Dilbert mode. His life just plain sucks. He’s broke and he hates his job, where his shrewish boss sadistically emasculates him. Even worse, his conniving girlfriend is cheating on him with his loser best friend. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, a mystery woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie) shows up in a pharmacy and saves him from the deadly killer Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), who apparently offed Wesley’s super-assassin father. Before long, our young hero is persuaded to join The Fraternity, a secret assassin squad run by Morgan Freeman (Aren’t they all nowadays?). Despite having to go through a strict regimen of facial beatings, stabbings and gruesome bodily mutilations, Wesley is soon a bad-ass gunman who can “curve the bullet”, which is a pretty nifty skill and even groovier special effect. Given the assignment of taking out Cross, Wesley soon finds the metaphorical tables turned, and then must decide who to trust, who to kill, and exactly how many stray rats to blow up. I’m not making that last part up, either.

Look, it’s clear from the get-go that Wanted has very few intelligent ideas in its pretty little head. The film’s secret weapon though, is Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch) who has never found a shot he couldn’t improve through sheer kinetic loopiness. There is a car chase early in the picture, with McAvoy driving a red Ferrari and Jolie laying across the hood unloading multiple firearms, which ups the ante on outrageous car-chases. My other favourite moment, a smaller one, is a scene where Wesley smashes a keyboard across an opponent’s face and stray keys fly towards the screen in slow-motion, spelling out an obscenity. While the overabundance of hyperactivity grows a tad stale by the end, I can always find respect for an action movie that shows me something new.

James McAvoy proves himself to be a surprisingly effective action hero. I’ve been unimpressed with most of his prior work, but his commanding presence here has me hoping that’ll he’ll apply this new charismatic approach to future work. Angelina Jolie plays the male fantasy version of Angelina Jolie, beating the snot out of people and looking devilishly seductive at the same time. Morgan Freeman does the umpteenth variation on his typical mentor role, but at least gets to toss off some F-bombs which are actually more shocking than the film’s creative carnage.

I suspect most thrill-junkies are going to have a great time with Wanted. It’s almost two hours of mindless stylized death that leaves you giggling as you walk out of the theatre doors. However, it’s done skilfully and with a level of originality that earns it a recommendation. Now I’d really like to see what Bekmambetov can do with a script that doesn’t involve detonating vermin...

3 out of 5

Film Review - HANCOCK: A Truly Flaccid Blockbuster... Heehee.

As I sit here, trying to sort through the scattered details of my experience watching Hancock, I’m left with a simple question: What happened? We have Will Smith, arguably the biggest movie star on the face of the planet, playing a conflicted superhero. We have a solid supporting cast featuring the always engaging Charlize Theron and comically gifted Jason Bateman as a husband and wife team who help the mighty-louse achieve respectability. There’s even an emerging hot-shot directorial talent, Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) running the show. So why is Hancock such an incomprehensible mess? No really, I’d like to know.

It can’t be blamed on the script being hopeless, because it has been a hot property in Hollywood for a fair number of years. Sold and produced under the title Tonight, He Comes (*tee-hee*), then given the slightly less porn-centric moniker Hancock, the film was initially intended to be a blackly humorous deconstruction of the superhero genre with a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. My guess is that that’s where the Hollywood heavies stepped in and made some drastic changes in the name of the kid-friendly PG-13 rating and the guarantee of summertime dollars. The hell with logic or narrative focus, not to mention artistic integrity!

As it stands now, the Fresh Prince’s titular character isn’t even that much of a scoundrel. He’s more of a surly alcoholic with a bawdy streak and a penchant for leaving bedlam and destruction in his wake. After saving nice-guy Public Relations executive Ray Embrey (Bateman) from a train-wreck (Ironic, much?), the struggling professional decides to take on Hancock as a project. The drunken crusader, initially resistant, humours Ray and allows himself to be incarcerated for his numerous crimes against the city’s architecture. After a montage of therapy/prison life scenes, he’s in reluctant hero-mode, uneasily helping the police stop bank robberies, and donning a goofy black costume. However, hidden complications soon loom, and when they come into play, Hancock and Ray’s lives are irreversibly altered, and the film itself veers off into Looney-land.

The plot synopsis above really only covers the first half-hour of this ninety-minute snoozer. Whatever impressions you’ve gotten from the movie’s marketing campaign should be dismissed, as Hancock is not the comedic hero flick you’ve been expecting. Each of the three acts manages to take the film into a different genre: The first section is a foul-mouthed comedy in which the word “asshole” is uttered, perhaps, more than any film in the history of cinema. Then there is a clunky transition, and we’re suddenly in action-thriller territory, with a predictable surprise development and a truly dismal attempt at a superhero battle. Finally, after we’ve grown frustrated and tired from being jerked around, the movie develops into a tragic romance that is so overblown it’ll likely draw titters from the peanut gallery and mass watch-checking from the everyone else.

Through it all, Will Smith stands tall and strives valiantly to entertain. He’s actually quite good here, fearlessly kidding his family-friendly image and being pretty darn winning in the process. Jason Bateman is equally on par, essentially holding the film together with his well-executed straight-man routine. On the other hand, I don’t really know what to say about Charlize Theron. Half of the film consists of her giving ridiculously over-the-top reaction shots in the presence of Hancock, hammering home that a “Big Plot Twist” is on the horizon. I half expected her to jump off the screen and plop down into the seat next to mine, where she could then nudge me knowingly in the ribs every ten seconds. Her work in the latter part of the film, when she is actually given dialogue, is passable, but was overshadowed by the story sending my Preposterousness Meter screaming into the red.

By all appearances, Hancock wreaks of the work of a desperate studio who, needing a July 4th tent-pole film, have taken an edgy comedy and cut and slashed it into something resembling bland family entertainment. When one observes the abundance of plot-threads and ideas shoe-horned into such a scant running time, you know something is rotten in Tinseltown. If anyone ever decides to assemble a detailed behind-the-scenes expose on the backstage politics going on during Hancock’s production, it’ll be a worthwhile Amazon purchase.

Hancock is a complete belly-flop of a film that lacks a single justification for its own existence. This season has already seen two superior super-powered epics in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and with the impending Dark Knight and Hellboy II, Hancock is utterly outclassed. At this point in the game, the super-hero film bar is at such a lofty level that franchise hopefuls have a zero margin for error. The people behind Hancock shot themselves in the foot the second they fired it out of the gate half-cocked.

1.5 out of 5

P.S.: Imagine what Bad Santa's Terry Zwigoff could have done with this project... *Sighs*.