17 posts categorized "crime"

02/26/2010

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.

12/25/2009

'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.

11/25/2009

A whole new meaning to 'cracking' the case

Filmmaker Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage, a talented actor who thrives on taking chances, are volatile enough in separate projects.

Put them together in a violent crime-drama like "Bad Lieutenant," however, and it's like holding a stick of dynamite with a very short, fast-burning fuse.

Frankly, "Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans" (the full title) might be too jolting for the unsuspecting.  Cage, as daring as any actor I've seen in about 30 years, plays the title character like he gets a rush from living down to that "bad" rap.

A back injury on the job in very recent post-Katrina New Orleans leads to pain killer addiction, then a desperate descent into what can best be described as a male version of a crack ho.

Rogue, out-of-control cop Terence McDonagh (Cage) doesn't just sell his body to get the smack he so craves, however.  Terence gives up something that cheapens not only himself, but his fellow officers:  justice.

"Bad Lieutenant" plays like the ugly flip-side of Al Pacino's "Serpico." Terence isn't just a dirty cop arresting dope dealers and doing buiness with them on the  side.  He wallows in it.

Terence is so consumed by "gotta-have-it-right now" that when he's away from his call girl girlfriend (Eva Mendes as Frankie Donnenfield) Terence is very likely to "arrest" a young women to grab what might be in her purse.  He's always thinking sexual, too, and demanding "favors." 

With Herzog in the director's chair, we get a filmmaker versatile enough to turn out a bone-chilling documentary about a bear lover who pays the ultimate price ("Grizzly Man") and an actor who'll stop at nothing to slither under the skin of even the seediest character.

Herzog ("Rescue Dawn," "The White Diamond"), working from William Finkelstein's sledgehammer of a screenplay,  gives Cage a very dark cinematic alley to venture down.  The result is a performance a rivet or two beyond riveting.

Cage doesn't always make wise project choices.  "The Wicker Man" is a good enough example of that.  When he's acting on his front burner, as he does here and as he did in "World Trade Center" and "The Weather Man," though, Cage is as good as any actor out there.

He shows that here.  We don't just feel Terence's shaky, hair-trigger desperation.  We can almost taste it.  "Bad Lieutenant" isn't a pleasant cinematic destination, of course.  People merely on extreme edge would be considered middle-of-the-roaders in this harsh environment.

It's impossible not to admire Cage's frantic, caged-animal performance, however, and Mendes ( "The Spirit," "We Own the Night") is equally up to speed, if you know what I mean, as the prostitute gal-pal.

10/02/2009

Mob-order bride

What extreme would you go to in order to own a snack bar?

In "Lorna's Silence," the award-winning drama from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the title character marries a junkie for the money and arranges a future marriage with a Russian mobster in hopes of securing her business dream.

In French and Albanian with subtitles, "Lorna's Silence" magnifies a young Albanian woman's drive to succeed and the soft heart that threatens to derail Lorna's plans.

Serious film fans should make a special effort to seek out "Lorna's Silence."  In addition to a dazzling, almost hypnotic performance turned in by Arta Dobroshi ("Magic Eye"), this matter-of-fact, gritty tale of lives for trade and sale is another strong addition to the Dardenne list of films.

Who are the Dardennes?  The critically acclaimed filmmaking brothers from Belgium won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) top prize at the Cannes Film Festival for "Rosetta" (1999) and "L'enfant" (2005).  "Lorna's Silence" took Best Screenplay honors at Cannes last year, where the film was also nominated for the Palme d'Or.

The Dardennes belong to a rare group of filmmakers.  Bille August, Francis Ford Coppola, Emir Kusturica and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are the only filmmakers to win the Palme d'Or twice.

We first meet Dobroshi (discovered in her native Republic of Kosovo) as Lorna as she's returning to the small Liège (Belgium) apartment she shares with her "husband" Claudy (Jérémie Renier).  Lorna pays about as much attention to her Belgian husband as she might a stranger on the street.

We soon learn it's an arranged marriage.  Once Lorna gets her Belgian citizenship papers, she has agreed to marry a Russian mobster anxious to obtain Belgian citizenship himself.  That'll provide the money she needs to open the coveted snack bar.

The intrigue comes from the way the Dardennes stir the plot pot.   Claudy is a heroin addict.  In fact, a pleading needy one who begs Lorna to help him kick the junk.  Though Lorna, defiant even to mob bosses at times, wants to take the time to get a traditional divorce before marrying the Russian, even though that'll mean waiting longer to open her dream business.

Cab-driving local mobster Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), who has brokered the deal for Lorna, is equally determined to assist Claudy in an overdose to ice the deal quicker.  Will Lorna go along? 

Moving away from their usual 16 mm camera, the Dardenne brothers embrace more conventional 35 mm for the first time.  The camera, less mobile than before,  lets the characters come to it for a change.  That, combined with the filmmakers' knack for gritty intrigue, ups the ante on the mysterious, hypnotic tone.

09/11/2009

The guy who killed people out in the cold

"Whiteout" is a dramatic thriller that pulsates -- through its deliciously cheesy tone -- to the beat of a horror creature feature.

Don't expect "The Thing," or even "'The Thing' without the monster" as a colleague described (before viewing) this starring vehicle for cinematic tough gal Kate Beckinsale, however.

And there are no warring vampires or werewolves here, as in Beckinsale's popular "Underworld" fantasy series.  Just howling wind, temperatures at minus-120 degrees and, more often than not, whiteout conditions.  That occasionally makes for blurred confusion spotting the bad guy.

The first thing Beckinsale's U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko does after coming in from the body-numbing cold is strip and hop into the shower.  I warned you it was going to be cheesy and provide nods to horror flick sleaze.

Set in the South Pole frozen tundra of Antarctica (but actually shot in Canada), "Whiteout" gets down to the grisly and frigid business of tracking down a killer with a pick ax.  But not until an action-packed pre-credits set piece featuring gunfire aboard a Russian transport plane and a crash that occurred years before.

A quartet of screenwriters and director Dominic Sena waste little time setting the whodunit theme and dangling red herrings (bad guy decoys) amid the growing anxiety of an approaching storm.

Marshal Stetko has her bags packed.  She's ready to end her self-imposed purgatory she began after an arrest got very ugly in Miami when Antarctica's first murder victim is found stuck to the ice.  The clock is ticking on the last flight out for six months.  So time, as they say, is of the essence.

"Whiteout" is more entertainment structured than thriller based, although that bone-splitting ax is sure to figure prominently near the frenzied finale.

Frivolity (Antarctic beach party anyone?) definitely mixes in with the serious stuff.  That's why I chuckled under my breath as the lights went down that they might as well toss The Surfaris' "Wipe Out" into the mix.

Sure enough, "Ha ha ha ha ha wipe out" (not "Whiteout" as I had hoped) shows up as whiskey flows during the beach party scene, but it's a new version by Steve Isles.

This is the kind of thriller you can let your mind wander and have that kind of fun with.  After all, the plot plods its way to a fairly predictable conclusion.

Beckinsale, a qualified enough leading lady, drew a Screen Actor's Award nomination channeling screen legend Ava Gardner in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator."  She barely has to fire up her emoting engines in this one. 
 
There are a couple of scenes of decent dialogue between veteran actor Tom Skerritt as good ol' Doc. And Beckinsale gets in some spirited almost romantic banter with Gabriel Macht ("The Spirit"), whom she may or may not need to be wary of.

Director Sena ("Swordfish," "Gone in 60 Seconds") called the shots on "Kalifornia" (1993), a dangerous road crime drama I admired.  This one's good for a chilly thrill or two, especially for the mainstream popcorn crowd.

07/01/2009

The dulling of Dillinger

I'm not "Public Enemies'" No. 1 fan.

I wanted to be.  But even with Johnny Depp in the lead role as Great Depression-era "gentleman bandit' John Dillinger -- in fact, especially with Depp out front -- "Public Enemies" is a very long yawner of a gangster movie dressed in blood and guts.

For the life of me, I can't figure out how director/co-writer Michael Mann turned one of this country's most compelling, explosive and folklore-ridden tales into nap fodder.

Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, is known for completely immersing himself into his roles.  I mean, come on.  The enormously talented actor has dissolved into a pirate (Jack Sparrow) based on a theme park ride character three times now.  He can't get excited enough to really explore a legendary figure like Dillinger?

For whatever reason, Depp glances off Dillinger's persona without really digging under the famed bank robber's skin.

Even though I generally abhor re-imagined movies, Dillinger's brief, bloody and often-gentlemanly bank robbing spree of the mid-1930s seemed ripe for a redo. 
 
I am a fan of John Milius's "Dillinger" with the late Warren Oates in the title role.  But that gangster yarn hit screens in 1973, more than 35 years ago.

Certainly with today's unlimited special effects, an explosive story and some really good actors, Mann should be able to keep us riveted to the edge of our seats.

The filmmaker ("The Insider") has given fans some solid crime-thrillers in his past.  "Collateral" splattered the screen with decent acting and action.  And Mann is the guy who put Robert De Niro and Al Pacino across a table from each other for some A-list actor steam with "Heat" in 1995.

That old screen magic just never gets rolling in "Public Enemies."  And that's despite some impressive acting pedigree.  Christian Bale, who's been very busy as The Caped Crusader in "The Dark Knight" and as John Connor in this summer's "Terminator Salvation," puts on a clinic in stoic poses as FBI agent Melvin Purvis.

French actress Marion Cotillard, an Academy Award winner for her flawless portrayal of legendary French songbird Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," puts a welcome edgy spin on Billie Frechette, Dillinger's true love crime moll.

Unlike in "Dillinger," though, Mann fails to provide character depth via the screenplay he co-wrote with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman or visually, except in brief spurts.  For whatever reason, Mann chooses to portray Dillinger right-hand man Homer Van Meter (played by Stephen Dorff of "World Trade Center") without Van Meter's well-documented trait of clowning around.

That's another reason I couldn't keep from thinking about "Dillinger" while watching this technically adequate but otherwise pale incarnation.  Harry Dean Stanton was funny, edgy and scary as Van Meter in the 1973 version.

Even signature Dillinger moments seem to come and go without emphasis or emotion.  Depp's crooked smirk-smile when he rests his arm on the shoulder of a future prosecutor looks more like he's pondering what's for lunch.

Despite a great story to tell, "Public Enemies" just goes through the motions.  I never thought I'd think of blazing tommy guns and "ho hum" so close together.

Let's put it this way.  If this gangster thriller had been playing instead of "Manhattan Melodrama" at Chicago's Biograph Theater on that fateful night in 1934, John Dillinger might have just stayed home.

05/29/2009

Gloom, 'Bloom' and kaboom

"The Brothers Bloom," written and directed by emerging filmmaker of note Rian Johnson, is one of those intricate con-man comedies full of quirks.

If you liked "The Sting" and especially "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," there's a good chance you'll at least be intrigued by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con men siblings who agree to pull off one last sting operation.

Johnson's screenplay lives in a lower tonal octave than either "The Sting" or "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," however. This one's all about gloom and, come to think of it, boom. Things blow up real good at times.

Stephen (Ruffalo) is the mastermind. He makes up elaborate scenarios and -- usually after much prodding -- convinces younger brother Bloom (Brody) to go along.

Bloom has had it with the game playing for profit, though. He reluctantly agrees on one last big job and, wouldn't you know it, he falls in love with the mark. She's an eccentric, bored, wealthy New Jersey heiress portrayed without a flaw by Oscar winner Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener").

Once he's entrenched in her life, Bloom asks Penelope (Weisz) what she does to occupy her time.
"I collect hobbies," she replies in monotone before demonstrating a dozen or so of her acquired skills (skateboarding, ping pong, etc.).

Ruffalo, who had the misfortune to co-star in "Blindness," and Brody, an Academy Award winner for his fine work in "The Pianist" in 2002, are believable enough as brothers. And certainly Weisz can only improve almost any movie she graces.

"The Brothers Bloom" comes close, but it never quite blossoms into a globe-trotting con game you're likely to be enthralled by all the way through.

I must say, though, Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for her work as the deaf teen in "Babel," is a load of fun as the usually silent Bang Bang, the gang's demolition expert.

Johnson took a Sundance Film Fest prize for originality for "Brick," his first feature. He shows here that he hasn't quite reached his full potential as a filmmaker. But it's coming. I'm sure of it.

"The Brothers Bloom" bogs down in its own gloom at times.