The Fate of the Furious (***): Don’t think. It’s Meat

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The Fate of the Furious – 2017

Director F. Gary Gray
Screenplay Chris Morgan
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron

Don’t think that I don’t know that this series is as dumb as anything I have ever seen.

Don’t think I don’t want to see someone beaten like a Cherokee drum.

Don’t think that I don’t know that there is some serious man crushing going on between The Rock’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard.

Don’t think that it isn’t kind of cool to see all those cars fall from above in NYC.

Don’t think that it isn’t cool seeing Dom turn heel when they run out of story-lines.

Don’t think for a minute I can’t tell you’re trying to make Scott Eastwood a star eventually. And I hope it works well enough to give him a personality, too.

Don’t think I buy for a second that anyone who dies in this series is really dead. And the one guy who died outside the series will ever be shown as dead.

Don’t think I am any less tired of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman than I am of Dom “Meathead” Torretto.

Don’t think I don’t miss Sung Kang and Gal Gadot.

Don’t think I don’t know it’s not random choice that Theron’s Cipher makes when doling out punishment. It’s about as Random as Gadot dying just before her boyfriend Kang in part 6.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching The Rock kicking ass.We always need more Statham.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching Luda as a techno Wiz. I would buy anything he’s selling.

Don’t think that the snow chase isn’t as dumb as it is cool. More submarine, please.

Don’t think I can ever get enough of Helen Mirren.

Don’t think the laws of physics on this or any planet will apply.

Don’t think I don’t want to hear Roman stop yelling.

Don’t think any of this will ever make sense.

Don’t think that the grand master antagonist isn’t working for some other grand master antagonist in another movie down the line.

Don’t believe there won’t be a full immunity or full reinstatement at the end of every film.

Don’t think I don’t want to see Hobbs beat down Torretto.

Don’t think. It will all be better that way.

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Spy (****) is tailor made for McCarthy

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Spy – 2015

Written and Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz

Melissa McCarthy is unique in the world of comedy. If you don’t know why, then you haven’t viewed any sort of social media – or media even – since Bridesmaids. The challenge for her is avoiding the gross out humor that is beneath her skill level but right in the wheelhouse of every person who thinks that the 4th of July is a holiday to celebrate a country called ‘Murica. Word around the campfire is that Paul Feig, who directed her in the Bridesmaids and The Heat, had created the perfect vehicle for McCarthy.

McCarthy is Susan Jenkins, a CIA agent who works behind the scenes with a partner agent, Bradley Fine (Law) who takes the field. A botched mission leads Fine into a trap of Rayna Bayanov (Byrne). Since all the identity of the other field agents have been compromised Jenkins volunteers to step into the role of reporting on Bayanov from a distance.

Rick Ford (Statham) is a hot head field agent who refuses to accept the circumstances. Going “rogue” despite the odds. He provides a humorous wild card that wreaks havoc with his prototypical role, as well as Jenkins plans. Susan has her own challenges. After being granted a series of absurd identities, she ends up as Bayanov’s bodyguard. This sounds ridiculous, but McCarthy’s gifts make it all work on a hilarious scale.

That this is the most effective use of McCarthy’s talent, there is no doubt. Feig has honed his gifts for the absurd and scaled back his use of fat clichés that hampered his earlier efforts with McCarthy. It is a delight to see her progress from desk jockey with certain physical gifts into a surprisingly adept and skillful agent. Byrne is equally entertaining as the antagonist. It is a role she should have embraced a while back because she is a natural. Serafinowicz also deserves recognition as the films 2nd most delightful surprise performance.

There is nothing in the way of genius in the plot or its twists. The execution is excellent, however. Feig is as talented a comedy director as there is now. Even so, watching this film makes me question his and McCarthy’s decision to take on the hulking mess of the Ghostbusters franchise which registered almost no interest before Ramis died and left Akroyd holding the “Will work for food” sign. They should take their talent and find a new Harold Ramis; a female one, preferably.

(**** out of *****)

Furious 7 (***1/2): Meatball Hallmark Card

Furious 7 – 2015

Director James Wan
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham
Screenplay Chris Morgan

If one could sum up the entire Furious franchise in 3 phrases, it would be:

I don’t have friends. I got family.

I live life a quarter-mile at a time.

One last ride.

At this point, the gang is on their 3rd consecutive last ride. This time it was made especially poignant in the untimely death of co-lead Paul Walker. The filmmakers made the wise choice to re-shoot parts of the film as an impromptu tribute to a person who had become a key figure in the lives of the cast and crew of this most uniquely enduring franchise. To think it all started as Point Break in fast cars…

In a strange twist often mentioned in the past, the movies went to the edge of American Pie Presents Band Camp status, backed up and headed right into Italian Job and then James Bond. To say this was planned would be disingenuous. Most of the actors, including Diesel, have tried and failed to come up with outside franchises. Fast and Furious, though, is like the really big fuel injected engine that could. The success of the franchise has made many fans that were casual into looky loos. And even if each film produces as many cringe-inducing moments as awe-inspiring ones, it is a tribute to the people involved that they have made it into the Juggernaut we see today.

This time around finds the group looking down the barrel of Deckard Shaw. Deckard is the brother of Owen, the antagonist from the last film who now is resting comfortably under maximum guard at the hospital. That is until Deckard obliterates the guard and most of the hospital just to tell the staff to take good care of Owen. This is ridiculous of course, because by destroying the facility, he has negatively affected the chance of his brother getting said good care. As if that is not enough of a reminder, we then see more of what we ended the last film with; the death of Han (featured in 3 films now), the explosion of a package that has arrived from Deckard (seen in two) and the maiming of Hobbs (Johnson). Apparently, the creative staff think the viewers have short memories.

Dom goes to visit Hobbs in the hospital, then goes to pick up Han and gathers the team together for Han’s funeral. If you can’t guess what will happen at the funeral, you get no Parmesan for your meatball. Dom gets acquainted with the new antagonist, and then gets to meet the new covert ops guy, Petty (Russell). That this meeting prevented the conclusion of the movie from happening 30 minutes in is not lost on either Dom or Petty, but that’s okay, we have another 1.5 hours to fill. Petty tells Dom he and his team need to get a MacGuffin called God’s Eye from some bad guys, capture the person of interest that has something MacGuffinish to do with God’s Eye and get them both back to Petty. Then, Petty says, Dom can use the God’s Eye to track down Deckard, who was just in front of him minutes ago, until Petty interfered. That’s okay, though, because Petty is a professional who was smart enough to hire an amateur for…one last ride.

Or three last rides.

Now the real jet setting begins. Dom and company go from the Los Angeles Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and then back to Los Angeles. They drop in cars from a military cargo plane, crash down a mountainside multiple times, dress up and sneak into a party, crash, jump, crash, jump and crash again through the Etihad Towers, fight it out in an old abandoned warehouse, and then tear the hell out of downtown L.A. before they approach a conclusion. There is literally more damage in this film than the last Godzilla movie. If you think I have ruined any part of this for you, you have not seen the rest of these movies. Literally the only surprise they’ve ever had was dragging the safes through town in Fast Five.

It’s completely taken for granted that whenever they arrive in a new country, they will immediately arrive in a row of expensive cars. What is also a given is no matter how much damage they cause, no one will ever question them and they will never have a problem walking out of that scene and driving into the next in another bunch of expensive cars.

All of this ridiculous action is augmented by the fact that they have collected a group of characters that we have learned to care about through sheer force of the will of all involved in making the film. They each have a few moments to shine in each episode, along with many requisite scenes that hammer the limitations of their characters into the story. This would normally be for the uninitiated. Until I brought my friend Binage, I had not met someone who hadn’t seen at least one of the films who started with in the middle somewhere. He enjoyed it though.

I enjoyed it too, despite all the belly laughs of incredulity. Through all the explosions, all the crashes, the litany of bullets, and the absolute defiance of the concept of gravity, this film really works. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the film is how all of the characters (and the people who play them outside of Bridges, Russell and Johnson) completely lack any sort of self-awareness. It’s almost like a joyful, loving Bronson film. Were it not for Walker’s tragedy, perhaps the defining point of the series would have been when Diesel stomps on a parking garage roof as it is cracking…and a large part (perhaps a quarter-mile) of the concrete  actually breaks away! We should never think of Vin as a short guy again.

The glory in lacking an understanding of who you are results in other great moments, like when, in a flash back scene, we see two characters get married. My friend Binage, until now caught up in the action, leans over and says:

“What kind of guy wears a wife-beater to his own wedding?”

Through it all, the acting is consistent, if not Shakespearean. Walker gets a fitting tribute for the simple fact that they did not take the easy way out. It’s a beautiful statement that choose to alter the formula of the surprise mid-credits scene to set up the next film to give the character the kind of closure he did not get in life.

Throughout the story, however, one gets the sense of déjà vu. Brian is in the midst of fatherhood, now driving a mini-van. He’s frustrated, saying he misses the bullets more than he misses the cars. His woman, Mia (Brewster), hems and haws much like she did last time and tells him over the phone that they are expecting another kid, this time a girl. So if one kid didn’t make him want to retire, the second should do the trick. What would they have done if he’d been around for the next few films? I get the feeling that 5 kids would not be enough to prevent him from taking yet another last ride.

Despite it’s flaws, or maybe because of them, Vin Diesel and company have created a memorable franchise out of ashes. And I am sure this “family” will be around for a while more. In the haze of bad dialogue and forced dramatic tension, there is a brilliant line delivered by Dom that steals the show and demonstrates the draw that the little lug has on the heartstrings of ‘Murica. In a tender moment shared with Letty, she asks him why he had not revealed more of their past together before she recovered from her 3 movie amnesia spell. With complete sincerity, he looks at her an says:

You can’t tell someone that they love you.

Right about now, I think everyone involved with this unlikely saga knows that they are loved.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Expendables 3 (***1/2) – Holy crap! It’s not bad!

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The Expendables 3 – 2014

Director Patrick Hughes
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

The first two episodes of this series went down the toilet bowl. The first was a decent attempt at creating a story with some bad dialogue and some (mainly Rourke’s) good. The second one was so horrible, I thought it was a vengeful stab at the Amurica (read: Michael Bay fans). There were no plans to even watch this film. Until I stared at the cover and I saw Harrison Ford. Then Mel Gibson – playing the bad guy, no less. I had to see if, at the very least, their moments were worth watching, like Rourke’s had been.

What I discovered was a genuine surprise. There is an actual competent story here, and it’s executed with some skill. The acting, on the whole, is the best of the series, with the standouts being the aforementioned Ford, Gibson and Kelsey Grammer as well. The new team is actually fun to watch, too, especially Lutz and Powell.

The actual intent of the series has always been presented as a bunch of action legends having some fun on the screen. That is all well and good, but Burt Reynolds and his friends were having some fun on the Cannonball Run films and Sandler and his pals too, in the Grown Ups series. Those movies suck because no one really gives a crap about a story or even competent camera work. Stallone’s first two Expendables were the same kinds of crapfests. It’s one thing to make a movie that’s really a paid vacation for your cast and crew. It’s another thing to make that vacation an agonizing labor for your audience.

The basic premise is the main team, (meaning the one with guys over 40, including Statham, Lundgren and Snipes) has a bad outing, almost getting Crews killed. Stallone’s Barney decides after all of these dangerous missions, this one, where he goes up against his old Expendables partner Conrad Stonebanks (played up by a scenery chewing Gibson) is too dangerous for his buddies, so he puts them on the shelf. Then he goes to visit Grammer to recruit a new team, because…inexperience helps?

The new team actually captures Gibson, but before one can say “tracking device” the tables have turned. Barney escapes, shoots a few bad guys with his tiny gun, and then he begins the process of preparing to save the new guys, when lo and behold, the old team shows up to help bail him out. Dumb as it seems, Hughes direction is so crisp the movie actually works.

The action scenes are almost entirely thought out with a thread of logic to them. There are several Gimli / Legolas back and forths that are well done and add personality to all the fighting. Seeing Lutz on a motorbike taking on tanks works better than you’d imagine.

It also helps that the dialogue is not terrible, for once. Or maybe it is, but Grammer, Ford, Gibson and even Banderas have such personal cache, it feels smoother. Stallone doesn’t even bug me, and we get not one, but two “Choppa” references out of Schwarzeneggar.  Even one complete “Get to the choppa!” What took them so long?

As for the film being PG-13, it’s done well enough that it doesn’t even matter. Sure, no trip wire decapitating for all the guys on top of the train at first, but I’d rather have dialogue approaching reality than more blood.

If you don’t like action, don’t see this. It won’t change your mind on the genre. If you have, like me, been generally disappointed with the first two films in the series, but like many of the actors contained herein, give this one a shot. I think you’ll like it.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Homefront – Statham gets the “benefit” of Stallone’s experience

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Homefront – 2013

Director Gary Fleder
Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Rachelle Lefevre, Frank Grillo, Clancy Brown, Izabela Vidovic
Screenplay Sylvester Stallone based on Homefront by Chuck Logan

Stallone’s film formula has been the equal to “he punched me first” for as long as I can remember.  Statham has been doing the same stuff since he stopped working with Guy Ritchie.  It was only natural that these two would get together.  The first couple of times it was the dumb and dumber The Expendables and its Godforsaken sequel.  So I suppose this is Stallone giving back tot the guy who helped revive his career for a few weeks.  If this is help, Statham should be an unknown in about 6 years.

Where else but Stallone can one see a tough guy kick three idiots’ assess in one scene using a variety of tools, and then show the same guy “concerned” about being called a liar by his daughter in the next.  It’s masochism with a heart.  If they really wanted to screw with us, they’d give us a theme song by Kenny Loggins.

Statham’s Broker is the one guy trying to do right in every scene, only to be countered by some guy named “Gator” (Franco) who has a hold of the seedy underbelly of the town. That’s right.  Gator.  To the script’s credit, though, at least they don’t pretend Franco can beat up anyone.

The problem with Stallone scripts is they can’t tell whether they want to be sickly sadistic or sweetly sentimental, so they straddle the line and end up at a stupid approximation of the U.S. Male.  This thing should have been done in the 80’s, but if people keep going to Stallone for “ideas,” this crap could go on until he dies.

(** out of *****)

Parker, like Statham, is precisely blunt

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Directed by Taylor Hackford
Starring Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Bobby Cannavelle, Patti LuPone, Carlos Carrasco, Emma Booth
Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin based on Flashpoint by Donald E. Westlake

Someone’s always done Parker wrong.  As many of the different iterations of the Donald Westlake character as there have been, whether Lee Marvin in Point Blank, Jim Brown in The Split, Peter Coyote in Slayground or Mel Gibson in Payback, Parker is always on his way through a bevy of bad guys who screwed him over in some way.  Usually there is loot from a heist involved…and a woman or two.  He always seeks vengeance, and only due to principle.  The same could be said about most Jason Statham movies these days.  So in this case, we have a pretty understandable match.

This time, the heist is the Ohio State Fair, which somehow ends up being around 1 million.  Michael Chiklis leads a team of doofs and rejects that think they have knocked him off, but if they had, then there would be no movie.  When he barely escapes his fate, he begins to work his way up the chain of bad guys that “leads to Chicago.”  Every step of the way he is warned against going further.  He does not heed these warnings.

Jennifer Lopez plays a struggling Real Estate Agent…badly.  It is truly distressing to think of her as the same person who graced the screen in My Family or Out of Sight.  I actually thought she was an actress then.  Her performance here is on par with Maid in Manhattan or, perhaps Monster-in-Law.  She plays the down-on-her-luck thing with as much pluck as she can muster, and tries to gather as much comedic value out of her home life with her mom (LuPone) as possible.  It’s in the range of, say, Full House, the early years.  But when the jokes are over, her mother is there to pat her on the back and lament the loss of her leased car and her inability to get a full commission.  First world problems…

Meanwhile, Parker wants exactly what he’s owed.  Statham gets to try on different accents, including his native English.  He does exactly what Statham does in these films: precise action, very dry humor, very little chemistry with the women and a reluctance to put up with wacky hi-jinks.  The scene featured in all the trailers is his demand for Lopez to undress so he can check for wires.  This is done, of course, to add more of Lopez’ real estate to the large screen.  It’s dispassionate and lacking in humor: not exactly a home run.

So the real estate agent and the revenge seeker join forces, mainly so the former can tell Parker about the local history and exasperate him over various things like an old lady’s jewels and asking him if he’s been in jail.  If you don’t know how it all ends, you have never seen a Westlake story or a Statham movie before.  Its bloody, but not the extreme that Gibson’s film was.  Lopez takes away from the serious tone, and Statham’s countenance will not bedented by dumb American comedy, so in that respect, we have a stalemate.  Otherwise, it’s passable action with good pacing, so long as you discount the time the two stars share on the screen.

Chiklis is annoying.   The other bad guys come across as tweakers.   Nolte is looking haggard and near death, as usual.  Only Emma Booth exceeds the limitations of her role as Parker’s girl.  This may be due to the fact that she is not Deborah Kara Unger.  She just looked like an ashtray in that one.

To say Hackford is not at the level of Ray, Delores Claiborne and An Officer and a Gentleman is an understatement.  The movie is on par with most of the rest of his career, though, even if it wont be mentioned first in his retrospective.  Most decisions to watch this film won’t be predicated on his involvement, either.  Or Westlake’s. Most people watching this film want to see Statham stab blunt things through people.

(**1/2 out of *****)

The Expendables 2: Roll another number

The Expendables 2 – 2012

Director Simon West
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger,Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claud Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth
Screenplay Richard Wenk, Stallone

The first thing I noticed about The Expendables 2 is that I can’t understand what it is that Stallone or inexplicably, Lundgren, are saying without subtitles.  Stallone has been hard to decipher since he made it big with Rocky.  Just last year, however, I heard an interview with Lundgren on The Dan Lebatard Show, and he seemed every bit the Fulbright Scholarship guy with a Masters in Chemical Engineering that he is.  He was completely understandable.  Why the change for this movie?  According to dialogue, it’s the booze.  What in the hell is Stallone’s excuse?

The Expendables 2 is the equivalent of a 13-year old nephew at a family function.  The muscles are bigger than he had before, and all of a sudden, he’s funny, but not in the way he thinks he is.

“You wanna man up?” Stallone’s Barney Ross says nearing a climactic fight, “I’ll man you up.”

Huh?

Just as in the first movie, there is an appropriately named bad guy (JCVD as “Vilain”) surrounded by a bunch of guys who can’t shoot straight.  He has one guy who can, but that guy is reserved for Statham’s Lee Christmas.

The plot is a mashing of elements from a 13-year old’s idea of Bond, Indiana Jones and The Dirty Dozen.  There are almost no memorable shots in the film, which was strange to me, because I thought I remembered Simon West as a better director than that.  Looking up his movies, I discovered that while he had directed Con Air, he’s done nothing else memorable on the big screen.  The big surprise came when I realized that it was Simon Wincer who had directed the classic TV mini-series, Lonesome Dove.

There are more forced cameos with bad dialogue this time, as Willis, Norris and Schwarzenegger creak their way onto the screen with a thud.  Norris’ entrance is particularly bad, as he and Stallone swap Chuck Norris jokes, without using the name, Chuck Norris.  This is funny to somebody.  This is not funny to the people who started the Chuck Norris Facts internet phenomenon.

All of this old flesh means less time for the guys who were in the first film.  The best character, Rourke’s Tool, is not mentioned, because he bailed this time out.  Jet Li’s Yin Yang makes a nominal appearance at the start of the film.  Those were the smart ones.  The rest of the guys, except Statham and Lundgren, are barely there.  Very few lines, and what lines they have are cut off by Stallone.  It’s a thankless job.

There is one more addition, Liam Hemsworth as Billy “The Kid.”  Billy’s a sniper.  And he’s got a girl in France that he’s saving up to marry and live with.  Guess what’s gonna happen to him.

Van Damme’s role is a waste.  The talent that he has as a martial artist is compromised when he is forced to wait for Stallone to lumber across the screen towards him, throw a slow left, then a slow right and so on.  Then he gets to kick butt for a while, and then lose.  Supposedly Nic Cage is waiting in line to die next.  They’ve made overtures to Eastwood and Harrison Ford, too.  Great.

Stallone is a stone-faced relic by now.  He only seems to be putting the bare minimum effort at being understood.  The script is just a pile of bad one liners, often between him and Statham.  Watching Stallone run is almost as funny as watching him shoot those tiny guns he insists on carrying here, as part of his “character.”  Statham fares better with the knives  and his martial arts skill.  Neither man can list this as their best work.  Not even close.

If the first one was a collection of friends surrounding an action star past his prime, what was this one for?  Money, plain and simple.  And this one made more than the last one. This will never end.

(*1/2 out of *****)

Five People that Make a Movie a Must-See

Hello all! To introduce myself into the community I thought I’d start by discussing five of my favorite people in film/tv right now:

1. Quentin Tarantino

This man is one of the most brilliant film makers out there. He writes stories that take characters with ginormous moral flaws and make you care about what happens to them. You feel bad over the betrayal of Mr. White. You’re sad when Vincent dies on the toilet. You get satisfaction from The Bride’s revenge. And, you delight in Lt. Aldo’s way of dealing with Nazis he doesn’t kill. Beyond his ability to write these stories, he manages to direct actors to bring them to life. He leads the actors to his vision, which unfortunately many writers cannot. Sorry M. Night Shyamalan, let someone else direct your stories. My favorite thing about his movies—the music. I want him to pick music for every movie. He chooses songs for scenes you don’t instinctively put together. Once you experience them, you don’t ever separate them.

2. Jason Statham

The new Bruce Lee! Not only is he a great acrobat and martial artist, he is also a great actor. Whether it’s a supporting role like in Italian Job, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and the Expendables, or a leading role as in the Transporter movies, the Mechanic, and the Bank Job; Statham makes every movie he’s in better.
 

3. Simon Pegg

This guy makes movies better. His comedic timing is perfect. He brings levity to movies like Mission Impossible and Star Trek without adding the Jar Jar Binks effect. You know, that feeling of I need this character to die. He can do comedies like Paul, and be villainous like in Doctor Who. When he, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright get together on a project, it defines movie magic. This team brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Their next project will be just as amazing. And, I don’t care what anyone says; I liked Run, Fatboy, Run.

4. Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the most underrated actor in Hollywood. Trapped in campy roles (that he pulls off amazingly, I might add) like Brisco County Jr., Autolycus, and of course Ash. He can bring so much more to a role. Watch him as Sam Axe and tell me I’m wrong!
 

5. Will Ferrell

The best comedic actor of our day. Only he can go from the brazen raunchiness of Frank the Tank to the naïve innocence of Buddy the Elf. He plays his silly characters like Ricky Bobby, Chaz Michael Michaels, and Ron Burgundy. He also has the ability to pull off a normal guy and make him humorous. If you say you don’t like Will Ferrell, my challenge to you is to watch Stranger than Fiction. That movie truly shows what he is capable of as an actor.

Those are some of my favorites. Who are some of yours? Please post in the comments.

Safe for nobody, except one

Safe – 2012

Written and Directed by Boaz Yakin
Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Anson Mount

Mob war with bad cops in the midst.  An ex-cop, ex-boxer and rumored garbage collector.  A little Asian girl who is a math prodigy.  If it were any more improbable, it would be the letter John Candy wrote to Penthouse in Splash.  It takes 30 long minutes to set up, and from there, we get a good dose of fighting, maiming, and killing.  It’s everything we’re used to seeing from the man who replaced the rest of The Expendables (except the wily Bruce Willis) while co-starring with them.  Statham has acting ability, even if he parses it out conservatively.

The person Statham is looking to protect, Mei (Chan) is a genius with the numbers.  She has an adoptive father (Lee) that is the “Flaming Dragon” guy that Cruise’s Les Wiseman yells at in Tropic Thunder.  That movie is better than this one, but it’s not Statham’s fault. Well, he did choose to work with this script.

The good thing about Statham is that he never appears to be all that smart, but he rarely seems dumb.  It’s pretty convincing to see him solve things that it was obvious that the meat heads from the ’80’s and ’90’s would discover coincidentally or through plot contrivance.  The only times the movie makes any real headway is the times that he and Chan converse.  The rest of it is bullets and ass whippings.

A movie like this is only as strong as its bad guy.  Chris Sarandon’s last effective turn in that role was in the original Fright Night.  The guy playing Robocop 3 (Burke) is a faceless captain.  Then there is the guy behind them.  Whoopee.

It’s the kind of movie that works hard to be clever, harder to be sentimentally stoic, and even harder to show that one life is worth more than all the bodies it stacks up on the floor.  Who lives and who dies is not as essential to the plot as it tries to indicate.  In the end, the chemistry and substance needed to make Safe anything special leaves the moment the two protagonists separate.  By the time they get back together, (even if that moment is clever) the movie is long over.

(** out of *****)