15 posts categorized "action"


Taking 'The Mechanic' out for another spin

Slick, explosive and packing a revved-up cinematic Hemi, the redesigned "Mechanic" is ready for the showroom wall.

But what's under the substance hood?  How does it stack up against the original?

Not too many people will probably even recall the 1972 original with Charles Bronson as the tough-as-nails hit man teaching a young, perhaps faster gun the assassination ropes.

Those who do will consider the elder version a clunker compared to the new fire-breather putting British tough chap Jason Statham in the killer-for-hire lead.

This time around, exciting actor Ben Foster ("The Messenger," "3:10 to Yuma") takes on Steve, a loose cannon protege.  Steve claims to want to learn from the master, but all he really has on his enraged mind is revenge.

Anyone looking for a bombastic action-thriller with more kills per screen inch than most blood-splattered video games will find the desired adrenalin rush.

Statham, the former British diver, came along at the right time to inherit action audiences from aging tough guys like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis.  He has no problem shooting first and asking questions later, if anyone alive is still around to question.

British director Simon West whipped up action sequences well enough in "Con Air" and "Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider."  Mainstream Friday night popcorn munchers looking for cheap thrills will find plenty here.  Explosions and gunfire are guaranteed to rattle the walls enough to disturb the art film audience in the adjoining auditorium.

From this aisle seat, though, this "Mechanic" is mostly about Foster.  He may not be a bona fide movie star yet, but Foster's got something special.  And plenty of nerve.

How else can we explain actual acting in a blow-everything-up-real-good actioner like this?


'The A-Team': On the rogue again

Welcome to '80s Reboot Week at your neighborhood movie house.

Film-goers might just feel like they're in a time warp as they stroll multiplex hallways and see the re-imagined "Karate Kid" in one theater and a reconfigured "A-Team" in another.

It should surprise no one that "The A-Team" is a B-movie.

The campy TV action series that occupied NBC prime time from 1983 to 1987 provided an action fix, not logic.  The redux tones down the campy nature a little.  You'll never hear B.A., Mr. T's old character, growl, "I pity the fool," for instance.  Audiences are more sophisticated these days, according to the "A-Team" words of wisdom spun in the film's press notes.

This time we get nuance, if you'd like to call it that.  The first time B.A. batters bad guys with his fists, we notice the word "Pity" tattooed on the fingers of one hand and -- don't get ahead of me -- "Fool" on the other.

Mixed martial artist Quinton "Rampage" Jackson steps in as B.A., the A-Team wheel man who's in the wrong line of work to have a serious fear of flying.  At the center, though, is Liam Neeson as cigar-chomping leader and tactician Col.  John "Hannibal" Smith (the George Peppard role).  

Rising star Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover," "All About Steve") is Face, designated ladies man and sm-o-o-o-th talker.  Sharlto Copley, who sprang to the forefront from nowhere as Wikus in last year's "District 9," steps into the role of crazed-genius pilot "Howlin' Mad" Murdock.

Co-stars include excellent actor Patrick Wilson ("Watchmen") as mysterious CIA weasel Lynch, Jessica Biel ("The Illusionist") as Capt. Sosa, a former love of Face's, and somewhat laughable lines like this:

Face to Capt. Sosa during a heated confrontation:  "I forgot how beautiful you are."

"The A-Team," lensed north of the border with the Vancouver area of Canada doubling for Mexico, Baghdad, Germany, Los Angeles and other locales, rattles the theater speakers and singes the screen with plenty of fast-paced adrenalin-pumping explosions and near-cartoon-like action.

These special ops experts survived combat in Middle East conflicts.   The '80s quartet cut their teeth on napalm and treachery of the Vietnam War era.  Both sets of misunderstood soldiers of fortune were wrongly accused of walking off with war booty (robbing the Bank of Hanoi on TV/ stealing $100-bill U.S. currency plates from Baghdad in the current skirmish).

Director Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces," "Narc") co-wrote this screenplay with actor/writer Brian Bloom (who plays Black Ops leader Pike) and Skip Woods, who co-wrote "X-Men Origins:  Wolverine" and penned the sly action-crime saga "Swordfish."  

There's just a hint of retro in this adventure that culminates in a big, explosive finish at the L.A. harbor.  Anyone who saw "MacGruber" recently might have slight "MacGyver" flashbacks.  The "A-Team" is plenty adept at warrior arts and crafts at a moment's notice and at grabbing odds and ends for parts to homemade weapons of mass destruction.

Quickly forgettable, "The A-Team" is like a carnival ride that briefly thrills and is fun, but won't linger long in the brain.


'Prince' is a pauper compared to the masters

Audiences settle for so much less at the movies these days.

By today's milquetoast standards, "Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time" provides adequate action-adventure swashbuckling in the sands of 6th century Persia.  It's the wink-at-the-audience comic tone that pales in comparison to previous rollicking adventures, though.

For anyone who remembers "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the first Indiana Jones action, comedy and romance frolic of 1981, or perhaps the fun-filled soldier-of-fortune saga "Romancing the Stone" in 1984, a weakly imitation grown out of a video game compares rather poorly.

This is an era when so-so is often hyped into super-duper.  At least in this gimmicky tale (Come on, a dagger that can reverse time?) popcorn munchers in the dark are treated to above average acting, decent special effects and lead actors easy on the eyes.

Jake Gyllenhaal, an Oscar-nominated actor looking a little self-conscious about playing a joystick-driven hero, takes the title role.  A street urchin taken in by the king (ho-hum), Dastan (Gyllenhaal) follows his heart to do the right thing after storming a castle in the fictional holy city of Alamut and, quite by accident, mind you, stumbling upon the aforementioned magic dagger handed down by the gods.

The screenplay, bearing more hand prints than a newborn kitty in an orphanage, may be pedestrian.  But at least versatile British director Mike Newell ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Mona Lisa Smile")  knows how to make the most out of what he's got.

And what he's got here is a one-dimensional, yet flashy yarn that moves fast.  In fact, it only slows down for alluring love/hate glances between Gyllenhaal and his ingénue, budding actress Gemma Arterton as "Come hither, no don't" princess Tamina.

To tell you the truth, I had more fun concentrating on the support players.  Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (remember "Gandhi"?) looks like he's enjoying himself as sly, beloved Uncle Nizam.  And you can't help but like Alfred Molina ("An Education," "Spider-Man 2") as Sheik Amar, the devious, ostrich racing entrepreneur who'd probably be running Goldman Sachs if he could operate in today's market.

Gyllenhaal, on screen most recently in "Brothers," makes a better dashing sword-swinger than I thought he would.  That's because the rising star who drew his Oscar nomination opposite the late Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain" ( 2005) makes the audience believe he is a prince with a heart of gold who'll use his back-to-the-future dagger for good, not evil.

Arterton, Agent Fields in the Bond adventure "Quantum of Solace," still has some work to do as the sometimes pouting woman hiding true grit until the right time to expose it.  It's an old formula that generally still works, though, and the two leads do stir up a little screen heat in the desert.

"Prince of Persia," no doubt the first in a sword-and-sandal franchise if it flexes muscles at the box-office, is adequate, if not extraordinary weekend movie entertainment.  It's got solid elements, just no spark to ignite something magical.

Since it comes from video game source material and doesn't thrill, amuse or tug the heartstrings like the previous masters, let's just call it a token effort and be done with it. 


Time to get Kraken, but in 2-D

Release the Kraken again?

Yeah, why not?  Just know there's no real need to spring for the extra three or four bucks for the 3-D glasses.

"Clash of the Titans," you see, was not shot in eye-popping 3-D, as was "Avatar."  Like Tim Burton's recent retooling of "Alice in Wonderland," it was shot in traditional 2-D and converted to 3-D to cash in on the swelling trend of three-dimensional viewing.

No matter which route you go, there's plenty of enormous scorpion battle action, visits by Hades himself (Ralph Fiennes) and, of course, the Kraken, ancient Greece's version of a shock-and-awe weapon of mass destruction.

Here's a phrase I never thought I'd be writing:  "Clash of the Titans" is based on an old Harry Hamlin fantasy action flick.

It's true, though.  There's no source material for the remake that fills the screen with silly dialogue, decent acting and adequate special effects except the original "Clash of the Titans" of 1981.  That one featured Hamlin as demigod Perseus and the late Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Perseus' god daddy.

In the revamp, Sam Worthington, the Aussie actor who romped with the Pandorians as Jake Sully in "Avatar," takes on Perseus, while Liam Neeson holds court on Mount Olympus as Zeus.  

Perseus, like the god-rejecting seaside citizens of Argos, would rather fight the gods than join his father.  He's especially ticked at Hades, who drowned Perseus' Earthly family in retaliation when the riled-up citizens chunk  a huge statue of Zeus into the sea.

"Collateral damage," Hades tells Perseus.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't exactly sound like 200 BC dialogue to me.  Also, Worthington (perhaps with "Avatar" on his mind) doesn't appear fully invested emotionally in this performance.  Gemma Arterton injects some spirit as Io, Perseus' magical mystical guide, though.  That helps.

"Clash of the Titans" hits all the hot plot points.  Perseus and a small band of determined soldiers battle the giant scorpions, hop the ferry to Hades to take on snake-like Medusa (Natalia Vodianova) and, encounter the winged black stallion Pegasus.  Of course all of this is just a prelude to the finale, which is launched when Neeson's Zeus bellows, "Release the Kraken!"

At the screening I attended, several fanboys down front felt it was necessary to scream the line along with Neeson.  (No one told me this was a sing-along screening.)

From this aisle seat, "Clash of the Titans" draws a split vote.  It ranks high enough on the monster-mash entertainment meter to be worth a look, especially if you like creature features.

The drawback, however, is that director Louis Leterrier ("The Incredible Hulk") and visual effects supervisor Nick Davis (an Oscar nominee for "The Dark Knight") use modern advancements in technology to squeeze the cheesy wink-at-the-audience fun from the production.

That was the beauty of the original.  It was stilted and imperfect, but a hoot.

For lack of a worse description, let's call the original "Hamlin on wry with cheese."


'District 13,' the French connection

Very few sequels hold my attention throughout.

"District 13:  Ultimatum" is one of them.

In French with subtitles, the follow-up to the 2006 French import  "District 13" moves the basic story along well enough.  That's a must for any successful sequel.

The real appeal, though, comes from reuniting two charismatic actors, Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle.  Chances are you've never heard of them.

Raffaelli and Belle are martial arts experts and stuntmen first and actors second.  In the "District 13" stylized action crime-thrillers, they combine all their skills in a manner that must make Jackie Chan proud and jealous at the same time.

Comedy arises out of the mayhem.  But director Patrick Alessandrin, calling the shots on his first action film, never lets it become overly silly (as Chan often did).

Elite French police officer Damien Tomasso (Raffaelli) and reformed vigilante Leito (Belle) went their separate ways at the end of the first "District 13" adventure.  The ultra-violent Paris ghetto District 13 was finally under control.  Government officials vowed to maintain the peace.

They lied.

When the sequel begins and quickly leaps a few years into the future, an unscrupulous businessman (Daniel Duval) who has the president's ear wants to destroy the walled den of killers, druggies and thieves and build a profitable towering skyscraper.   To speed things up, his goons frame ghetto residents as cop killers and even plant dope in Damien's kitchen to send him to the slammer (and presumably out of the way).

Fate throws Damien (seen first in drag) and free soul Leito together once again.  Frankly, you'll need to be a little patient at the beginning of this fast-paced actioner.  Director Alessandrin, working from a script by French filmmaker Luc Besson, gets carried away with speeding up jerky footage to set the mood of an unsettled Paris of the near-future.

The good news is that it's not necessary to have the original in your viewing past to enjoy this smorgasbord of martial arts majesty, sneering bad guys and gifted athlete-actors who perform most of their own stunts in a manner you might find quite amazing.

Raffaelli and Belle are masters of parkour, the art of basically running through objects (by finding openings others might not) rather than going around them when someone is in hot pursuit.  In fact, many credit Belle with inventing the discipline.

Outlandish and wildly paced, parkour fits perfectly into the "District 13" scenario.  Also, Raffaelli and Belle bring cool confidence to their characters; men of action but few words.  If you can conjure up a magical combination of a tough, young, tight-lipped Clint Eastwood and a young kung-fu fighting Jackie Chan, you pretty much have the picture of what transpires here.

This is a film that might not appeal to everyone.  If you thrive on inventive highly entertaining martial arts action and super-cool characters, however, look past the subtitles and pay a visit to "District 13:  Ultimatum."


Rounding down the usual suspects

Well, at least they got the title right.

"Cop Out" is just that, a lazy, clichéd excuse for a buddy cop action comic-drama.

Bruce Willis and TV comedian Tracy Morgan are the unfortunate actors out front.

I was the unfortunate film critic sitting in the dark wondering why time was standing still.

The only thing that kept my mind occupied (a little) was wondering how much longer director Kevin Smith can ride his "Clerks" success.

Willis (the "Die Hard" franchise), a talented big-screen vet who should know better, and Morgan play -- sort of -- Brooklyn cops with pressing agendas not necessarily related to police work.

Paul (Morgan) is convinced that his wife Debbie (Rashida Jones of "Parks and Recreation" on TV) is cheating on him.  Jimmy (Willis) needs to somehow come up with almost 50,000 bucks to pay for his daughter's wedding.

In between, screenwriting brothers Robb and Mark Cullen (TV writer-producers trying the big screen) send the 21st century Keystone Kops on a quest to reclaim a rare 1952 baseball card.  Ho-hum.

Along the way they'll rescue the ingénue, befriend a likable cat burglar (talented Seann William Scott) and, if you're like me, make you ponder why you're in the theater for this piece of buddy-cop toxic topic waste.

Smith has made a couple of interesting films since "Clerks," his only real knockout, of 1994.  The fact that Hollywood continues to green-light projects with the creative free spirit in the director's chair shows faith, if not dogma.

"Cop Out" has no chance to become anything more than a cliché of successful buddy-cop comedies like the "Lethal Weapon" franchise featuring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

Willis and Morgan are no Gibson and Glover, although they aren't given much of a chance to really give it a comic-action go.

The film's opening scene, an embarrassingly lame affair where Morgan chants movie cop lines while overplaying the interrogation of a suspect, arrests any real forward comic movement before "Cop Out" gets out of the opening blocks.

If I've seen a less entertaining buddy cop comedy, I've buried it so deep in my subconscious I can no longer retrieve it.

Sorry, "Cop Out."  Looks like you're it.


Eli's coming, hide your hate now

We've seen action-adventures with heart before.  The "Star Wars" sagas, for instance.

"The Book of Eli" packs an additional element:  soul.  Not the rock 'n' roll kind, either.  We're talking spiritual depth I've never seen in such a brutally violent near-future setting.

Denzel Washington is well-suited to play the soft-spoken Eli, a man (or something more) who walks among the falling ash of a seared, post-war Earth with a single purpose; to stay on his mysterious path west.

Washington, an Oscar winner as the ruthlessly corrupt cop in "Training Day" (2001), is equally at home on both sides of the integrity fence.  That helps one of the finest actors of his generation fit so effortlessly behind the sunglasses as a man (or perhaps more) who tries to avoid trouble, but is lightning fast with a machete when he's unable to avoid conflict.

That happens a lot in "The Book of Eli." It unfolds in a post-apocalyptic world of survivors and killers 30 years after "The War," or "the flash" as Eli sometimes refers to a conflict so brutal "that it blew a hole in the sky and the sun came down and burned everything up."

An enigmatic lone warrior, Eli's not unlike "Mad Max," the Australian futuristic wasteland warrior that launched Mel Gibson's career in 1979.  And there are similarities to Viggo Mortensen's character simply called Man in "The Road," which is currently on screen in some areas.

Eli is not looking for revenge as Mad Max was or even to protect a frightened son like Mortensen does in "The Road," however  He's got a book in his backpack that inspired this 30-year trek west.  

When the loner in sunglasses happens upon a lawless town ruled by a despot who controls the thieves, murderers and possibly worse who hang out in his saloon, Eli meets Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man as determined to get his hands on "the book" as Eli is to keep it.

Oldman, who appeared as Bob Cratchit, Marley and Tiny Tim in the recent  rehash of "A Christmas Carol," is an exceptional actor like Washington. And Oldman absolutely convinces as an egomaniac with power.

Despite the pleadings of his blind wife (Jennifer Beals), Carnegie sends his own step-daughter Solara (Mila Kunis of "Extract" and Jackie on "That '70s Show" on TV) into Eli's room to, shall we say, "charm" him into revealing all the tight-lipped mysterious traveler knows.

"The Book of Eli," while routine at times as the latest entry in the post-apocalyptic genre, also ventures where I didn't expect it to go.  That's a good sign.

Solidly directed by filmmaking twins Allen and Albert Hughes, who have built a reputation on gritty urban dramas like "Dead Presidents" and "Menace II Society," "The Book of Eli" opens up a new chapter in grisly action-adventures.

Here we have murder and corruption, for sure, but with an effective spiritual side that offers at least some hope of redemptive healing.

For lack of a better term, let's call it New Age Old Testament mayhem.


'Holmes' for the holidays

Who let the hounds of the Baskervilles out?

British director Guy Ritchie, that's who.

Ritchie may push stylized filmmaking to the brink of over-indulgence in wildly entertaining crime-thrillers like "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch."  But when he's not catering to the whims of the lady of the house, now ex-wife Madonna, in a sultry, boring remake like "Swept Away," Ritchie knows how to fill a movie screen with explosive action worth watching.

"Sherlock Holmes," the umpteenth big screen or TV rehash of the adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's revered consulting detective, is a visit to London's late 19th century 221-B Baker Street like never before.

With brooding Robert Downey Jr. in the lead as Holmes and Jude Law as collaborator Dr. John Watson, Ritchie's take on Holmes is to turn the keen observer, bare knuckles boxer and master of deduction into -- are you ready? -- an intellectual superhero.

Shocked?  Don't be.  It's an elementary 21st century movie character makeover, my dear movie-goer.

When I read the Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels in my youth, I found them intellectually fascinating for a kid of 12 or 13, but a little, shall we say, dusty.

With Ritchie behind the camera and a screenplay-by-committee (three screenwriters, working from a story conceived by two others), "Sherlock Holmes" is a mad dash with equal parts wit and truly special special effects.  In layman's terms, that means that Ritchie blows stuff up real good.

Ritchie doesn't cater to Holmes' signatures, such as the old fogy deerstalker hat and the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson."

The filmmaker does, however, cater to his own signatures.  Slow-motion leads to sped-up action a couple of times (one too many, from this aisle seat).  I must admit, though, it's an effective way to showcase Holmes' thought process as he prepares to take out an oversize goon or bare knucks boxer.

What I like best about this "Sherlock Holmes" is the performance of Downey.  That shouldn't surprise anyone.  Downey, a two-time Oscar nominee ("Chaplin," "Tropic Thunder"), is an immensely talented and versatile actor.  Case in point, his temperamental inventor of war tools and anti-hero in "Iron Man" and the upcoming sequel.

Downey's Holmes, though also a superhero of sorts of his time, cares more about the intellectual challenge when "the game's afoot."  In this case it's Mark Strong  (also on screen in "The Young Victoria") as Lord Blackwood, a deviously worthy dark arts-loving adversary who warrants Holmes' full attention.

Law ("My Blueberry Nights"), who'll appear soon in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" along with the late Heath Ledger, handles his role as Holmes' almost-equal partner with style and ease.  And Rachel McAdams ("The Time Traveler's Wife") plays the sultry femme fatale role quite well as Irene Adler, a character mentioned briefly in Doyle's short story "A Scandal in Bohemia."

I'm not sure how the Holmes' expert devotees, the Baker Street Irregulars, will feel about their hero out front in a new-fashioned action thrill ride that, for the most part, delegates the deducting to the backseat.

I know this, though.  This "Sherlock Holmes" is one hell of a stylized entertainment ride.


'Avatar' reignites Cameron's epic movie magic

James Cameron doesn't simply make movies.  He relentlessly innovates and pushes the art form forward.

"Avatar," the Oscar winner's first narrative feature since "Titanic" in 1997, fills the screen as the first perfect blend of computer-generated special effects, animation and meaningful human acting in the history of cinema.

We can add the most effective use of 3-D as well.  Although "Avatar" will be available in both 3-D (for a slight premium, of course) and standard 2-D, I highly recommend spending the extra buck or two in this instance.  The added dimension makes sense for a futuristic sci-fi fantasy adventure that unfolds in 2154.  That's especially the case when the action unfolds on a vegetation-filled lush moon called Pandora 4.4 light years away from a seriously energy depleted Earth.

If you've been anywhere near a television set or movie theater in the past month or so, you already know that "Avatar" features 10-foot-tall blue-skinned indigenous natives who don't take kindly to Earthlings bull-dozing their precious rain forest.  The unwelcome interlopers are in search of a rare mineral that might hold the key to Earth's dire 22nd century energy crisis.

What you might not know going in is that the script, written by director Cameron, very smartly uses all the innovative gadgets, but only as elements of what Cameron calls his "tool box."

The motion capture filming process, where actors perform with sensors all over their body, but enhanced here to include intimate facial expression,  effectively inserts key actors under the alien skin.  Animation makes their tails sway in sync with the bodies, and 3-D -- never, ever used as a jump-out-at-the-audience gimmick -- makes an exotic, animal-filled, vividly colored, computer-generated alien world appear to actually exist.

The story itself is a bit of a pulp fiction sawhorse.  The filmmaker admits as much.  This time, though, when the newcomer (Sam Worthington) rides into a foreign land and mingles with the locals, it's not Kevin Costner going native with the Sioux in "Dances With Wolves), it's a wheelchair bound ex-Marine whose mind is inserted into a lab-created Na'vi body.

Jake Sully (Worthington), or Jakesully as the natives refer to him, is on a scientific mission headed by Grace (Sigourney Weaver) to learn the secrets of communing with nature.  That would make a fascinating little story.  But it that would also deprive Cameron the fun of bombastic conflict, and perhaps some not-so-veiled comments on this country interloping on other lands for precious resources.

Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephan Lang of "The Men Who Stare at Goats," "Public Enemies") and the greedy bottom-line-profit-driven corporate project leader Carter Selfridge (excellent actor Giovanni Ribisi, also in "Public Enemies") set the stage for mortal combat quite effectively.

At the heart of "Avatar," however is a totally believable love story.  And it doesn't merely involve a former Marine who gets a second chance at movable legs, albeit long and skinny and alien, who falls hard for Na'vi princess warrior Neytiri (Zoë Saldana of the "Star Trek" remake).  Saldana deserves an Oscar nomination for a superbly human performance in what amounts to an alien body.

A film this creative, this spectacular, this perfectly performed comes along once in a blue moon, or whenever Cameron gets the itch to innovate on the highest creative scale again.

I hate to be the one to say it, but if "Avatar" catches fire at the box office, Cameron could be headed for another one of those embarrassing Academy Award night outbursts at the winner's podium:

"I'm the king of the other-world, too!"


Flying first class with 'Amelia'

"Who wants a life imprisoned in safety," cavalier aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart says in the soaring historical adventure "Amelia."

Luckily for director Mira Nair ("Vanity Fair," "Salaam Bombay!"), Academy Award winner Hilary Swank is in the pilot seat as the fearless, free-thinking aviatrix.

Filmmakers forging screen biographies that end in tragedy, whether they profile ill-fated singers Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline or politicians John or Robert Kennedy, know the appeal must be in the journey, not the conclusion.

For the most part, "Amelia" navigates that tricky plot territory well.  Drawing on a couple of Earhart biographies (Susan Butler's "East to the Dawn" and Mary Lovell's "The Sound of Wings"), able screenwriters Ron Bass (an Oscar-winner for "Rain Man") and Anna Hamilton Phelan ("Gorillas in the Mist") hone in on 10 key years in the unbridled adventurer's life.

Many who take their seats for "Amelia" will already know, of course, that Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (as a disgruntled passenger) in 1928.  Who doesn't know that the daring aviatrix perished in the summer of 1937 trying to become the first woman to fly around the world.  

What you might not know, however, is the freedom-at-all-costs woman who had three great loves in her life.  If "Amelia" unveils the true Earhart, husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) and lover Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) both had to line up behind Earhart's sense of freedom and adventure.

This is the Amelia Earhart that Swank reveals so well  in layers.  That's nothing new for the actress known for diving far enough into her characters to reveal the intimacies of a stranger's soul.

Twice Swank has walked away from the Academy Awards ceremony with a Best Actress golden statuette in hand for doing just that; as Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Dry" (1999) and as a determined boxer in Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" (2005).

She could very well put herself in the Oscar race again as this woman of tremendous spunk and courage, but also one who's a little goofy at times and foolishly in love with humanity.

Gere, toned down a little by Nair, is a good choice to portray Earhart's dream weaver.  Putnam, a pioneer himself, can be thanked -- if you're so inclined -- for navigating uncharted promotional and public relation waters.

Amelia was the daring one flying the plane.  But it was Putnam who came up with clever product endorsements and speaking tours to finance his wife's itch to explore above the clouds.

McGregor seemed oddly cast as "the other man" to me at first.  Thankfully, the Scottish actor of the "Star Wars" prequels and "Trainspotting" fame dispelled any concern by diving into his character as well.

If there's any disappointment in this lavish production, it's the unavoidable letdown when fate and history step in to spoil the party.