Death at a Funeral (2010)


Death at a Funeral (2010)

Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence wonder if they should have remade Four Weddings and a Funeral instead.

(2010) Urban Comedy (Screen Gems) Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Loretta Devine, Danny Glover, Peter Dinklage, James Marsden, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana, Ron Glass, Columbus Short, Regina Hall, Keith David, Kevin Hart. Directed by Neil LaBute

A funeral is a time for somber reflection, to celebrate the life of someone who’s passed on. It is not a time for hi-jinks, which is why a movie about such tomfoolery is ripe to be funny – and was, in a 2007 British movie on which this was based.

The patriarch of an African-American family has passed away and his son Aaron (Rock) is organizing the funeral at the family home per daddy’s instructions. Aaron has dreams of being a writer, like his successful brother Ryan (Lawrence). Aaron’s mother (Devine) wants a grandchild, the lack of which she attributes for her husband’s death. His wife Michelle (Hall) is with mom, but she also wants to see Aaron give up on his dream and get to reality.

There are others coming to the funeral. Cantankerous Uncle Russell (Glover), Norman (Morgan) the hypochondriac, Elaine (Saldana) who has accidentally slipped her nervous white boyfriend Oscar (Marsden) a powerful hallucinogenic, and Derek (Wilson), Elaine’s ex who would love to get her back.

Throw in Frank (Dinklage), who had a homoerotic affair with the deceased and now wants to get paid (which astonishes Aaron that his brother is upset about it – not that Daddy’s butt buddy is short but that he’s white) and a mix-up regarding who’s in the coffin and you’ve got hi-jinks at a funeral, which is pretty much what a good comedy pitch would be.

Director LaBute has some of the most accomplished comics of our generation working in this movie; in all honesty, this should have been way funnier than it was. The problem here is not with the talent but with the energy – it seems to be more shtick than inspired. There are plenty of bits and some of them are rather funny – Marsden nearly steals the movie with his spaced out yuppie. Mostly the problem is that the characters are just so one –dimensional; they seem to exist to fill spots in the shtick, rather than to be living, breathing people for the viewer to relate to.

Rock, who is one of the funniest men on the planet when he is doing his own material, seems curiously subdued and even bored. He goes through the motions to my mind, and in many ways that’s the most egregious disappointment here. I really like Rock as a comedian and a comic actor but this seemed to lack energy and focus. I suspect he found the role to be so underwritten that he kind of just decided to phone things in.

Lawrence fares a little better but only a little bit. He has a bit more manic energy than the others, which helps him stand out. At the end of the day, however, his character is a bundle of clichés that never really gels into a cohesive whole. He does his best with it but by the end of the movie you can scarcely remember who he was playing or what motivated him.

Other than Dinklage and Marsden, most of the supporting cast is equally as forgettable and that’s a bloody shame. There is enormous talent here and it’s almost criminal that it was squandered so miserably. The movie that this was based on (and re-written by the original scribe) had some issues as well – that movie went for stuffy a little bit more than it needed to. Somewhere in between that movie and this one there is a comedy classic, but sadly it never really manifested itself in either movie. There are moments here that underscore the potential, but not enough to make you wish that the movie was the one in the coffin.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some great comedians in this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: They don’t really have a lot to work with.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug use as well as a fair bit of foul language and a bit of sexually based humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Peter Dinklage is the only actor to appear in both the 2007 movie and the remake in the same role.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a gag reel and on the opposite end of the spectrum, a featurette in which the cast gives their thoughts on death and grieving. Huh?

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49.1M on a $24M production budget; the movie was slightly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Jane Eyre (2011)

Accepted


Accepted
Lewis Black explains to Justin Long…well, he’s forgotten what he’s trying to explain.

(2006) Comedy (Universal) Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Lewis Black, Adam Herschmann, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Mark Derwin, Ann Cusack, Hanna Marks, Robin Lord Taylor, Anthony Heald. Directed by Neil Burger.

Our country is entering a phase in which young people are being put in a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, employers are increasingly valuing college degrees when time comes to hire. On the other hand, we’re doing less and less to prepare our young students for college. What is starting to happen is that young people with ambitions for an institution of higher learning are being put under increasing stress to perform from an early age, which goes against the natural teenaged tendency to goof off.

Bartleby Gaines (Long) does just that throughout most of his high school career. A slacker by nature and a con artist by preference, he spends his time talking his way out of situations and creating new ones by running some scam or another. Like many kids his age, his parents are putting intense pressure for him to get into a college. The problem is, Bartleby spent more time creating fake IDs than he did using his actual one in the school library. As a result, his college applications are being met with rejection after rejection. 

After his last hope, Harmon College, turns to ash, Bartleby gets inspiration; as a stopgap measure he can create a fake college – the South Harmon Institute of Technology (check out those initials for a clue to the kind of humor you’ll be getting) – complete with letterhead acceptance letter and a professional-looking website. His friends Hands (Short), who lost a football scholarship after an injury, Rory (Thayer) who pinned all her hopes on getting to Yale to the point where she applied nowhere else and Glen (Herschmann) got a zero on his SATs because he forgot to sign his test, all either assist or ask to be “admitted” to the non-existant institute of higher learning.

His best friend Sherman Schrader (Hill) did get into Harmon, largely because the three generations of Schraders preceding him attended there. Bartleby’s dream girl, Monica (Lively) is also attending Harmon, having already hooked up with a frat boy Nazi. 

This being a comedy, obstacles begin to crop up to threaten the wild scheme. Bartleby’s parents (Derwin and Cusack) want to drop him off at school, so the conspirators convert an abandoned mental hospital into the semblance of an academic institution. Dad wants to meet with the dean, so Bartleby recruits Schrader’s Uncle Ben (Black). 

Unfortunately, they’ve done their job a little too well. Other students who’d learned the sting of rejection somehow found the South Harmon website and had applied, complete with submitting $10,000 checks for the first semester. Unwilling to crush their dreams the way his had been crushed, Bartleby decides to make an unusual institution of higher learning – one in which the students determine their own curriculum, learn on their own and teach each other the skills they already bring to the table. Against all odds, the students nobody wanted begin to learn. They also begin to party big time, since that’s also what college is all about. 

The presence of a competitor doesn’t sit too well with the supercilious Dean Van Horne (Heald) of Harmon, which covets the land South Harmon sits on for expansion. Of course, the established school resorts to underhanded tactics to get what they want. When it all unravels as surely it must, Bartleby finds that he will have to be smarter than he’s ever been in order to save the cause he has now adopted, and incidentally to get the girl. 

Da Queen and I differed wildly in our opinions on this one. She found it to be so formulaic that it became boring. While I certainly agree this follows established Hollywood comedic procedures as established in such movies as Revenge of the Nerds, Back to School and Old School, it works well enough to feel safe and comfortable for me. I didn’t necessarily go into this looking for groundbreaking comedy, nor should you. 

She also saw it thematically as an attack on higher education, while I looked at it as a suggestion for alternatives to current university structure which admittedly can be rigid and hidebound. Her most grievous complaint, however, was that she just didn’t find it all that funny because it was so predictable. I understand her dilemma; most of the best parts of the movie could be found in the trailer, and while our son (who saw it earlier with friends) found it very quotable, it just isn’t all that mature in the humor department.

Still, I found it to be fairly harmless. Justin Long, an actor I wasn’t fond of in his signature role in Ed does a pretty good job here. Jonah Hill, as Schrader, is even better; nearly every line he delivers is perfectly timed. He has since become a star in his own right. 

This isn’t the best comedy you’ll find out there. However, it isn’t all that bad either. If you are looking for light comedy, you could do worse than this. I can recommend it, but not without reservations; there are plenty of great comedies out there that are worth your attention before this one is.

WHY RENT THIS: Sweet and charming. Long does some of his best work here whereas Hill shows some of his potential in his role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Could use  a few more laughs and the premise is awfully formulaic.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sex, a lot more bad words and still more drug use and alcohol abuse.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Most of the computers used in the movie were Apples. Star Justin Long had just become a spokesman for Apple prior to filming.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a “mockumentary” about the making of the movie shot by actor Adam Herschmann, as well as a couple of music videos and an easter egg leading to an extended version of the hazing scene with Jonah Hill.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $38.5M on a $23M production budget; the film lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: No One Knows About Persian Cats

Quarantine


Quarantine

Jennifer Carpenter is just glad it's not Dexter who's stalking her.

(2008) Found Footage Horror (Screen Gems) Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Columbus Short, Greg Germann, Steve Harris, Dania Ramirez, Rade Sherbedgia, Jonathon Schaech. Directed by John Erick Dowdle

There is a certain horror of being trapped in an enclosed, locked space with flesh-eating lunatics. However, the possibility of becoming one yourself only heightens the terror.

Cub television reporter Angela Vidal (Carpenter) has a relatively soft assignment; to spend a shift with the night crew of a Los Angeles fire station. She flirts with the handsome paramedics Jake (Hernandez) and George (Schaech) and banters with her cameraman Scott (Harris). She goes with them on what appears to be a routine call; an elderly resident of an apartment complex has been injured and is acting erratically.

They go on the call only to find something extraordinary. The elderly resident is far from a helpless old lady; she attacks them with nails and teeth, seriously injuring one of the firefighters and killing a police officer. When they call for help, things get even weirder – the house is locked down by the CDC and anyone who tries to leave is shot, as in dead.

It turns out that there are more infected than just the old lady and soon the residents, including the landlord (Sherbedgia), a vet (White) and a badass (Short), are fighting for their lives and trying to find a way out – if there is one.

This is the remake of a Spanish film called [REC] and is similar to films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield in that it is filmed with a single hand-held camera and purports to be “found footage,” raw footage of an actual event. The appeal of these to audiences is that they create a certain buzz and people are fascinated with the concept of footage of events that have been kept secret from them; the appeal to studios is that they’re incredibly cheap to produce and can be extremely profitable.

Dowdle, who did a similarly-themed film in The Poughkeepsie Journal, does a great job in making the tension high throughout the film, basically from the time they arrive at the apartment complex. The issue is that if you watch [REC] as I did you will see that the movie is virtually a shot by shot remake in most of the important aspects. Many of the best parts of Quarantine were lifted whole cloth from [REC]. I would have liked to have seen a little more creativity on that score.

Of course, it can be argued that this just shows the good taste of the filmmaker and I can’t argue that. I will also grant you that the changes that Dowdle did make were all improvements, without exception. The main problem with the film is that other than Schaech and Hernandez, the cast is pretty bland. Carpenter, who was excellent as the sister in “Dexter,” is miscast as the reporter. She doesn’t have the vanity or the look of a local television reporter; she is more tomboyish. The role requires her to become terrified to the point of panic and she’s never really convincing in that light. That may be a little bit of “Dexter” holdover; I will willingly cop to that.

Still, this is a nice example of a found footage horror film. It’s a little more slickly made than [REC] but to be honest, I liked the Spanish film better (the cast was far more convincing although the explanation in that film for the events bordered on the ridiculous) and would recommend that above this one; however it’s a given that it’s much more difficult to find so if all you can locate is this one, you won’t be disappointed.

WHY RENT THIS: Tension is nicely executed here. Horrific images are over-the-top and well done.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A nearly shot-for-shot remake of [REC]. Although Schaech and Hernandez make fine firefighters, the rest of the cast is mostly forgettable.

FAMILY VALUES: Extreme violence and gore, along with a good deal of profanity. There’s also an extremely tense and terrifying atmosphere that may be too intense for the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There is no musical score in the movie, highly unusual for a Hollywood film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41.3M on a $12M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Treeless Mountain

Whiteout


Kate Beckinsale

This is Kate Beckinsale looking concerned. Later, she'll look perplexed.

(Warner Brothers) Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt, Alex O’Laughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel Keller, Jesse Todd, Arthur Holden, Erin Hickock. Directed by Dominic Sena

In space, no one can hear you scream; by the same token, at the South Pole, nobody can see a maniac coming either. At least, not in this movie.

It all starts with a plane full of Soviet Russians circa 1955 transporting a mysterious box over the South Pole to God knows where (Ummm…not to make too fine a point of it, but isn’t the USSR closer to the North Pole? Just asking…) when a gunfight breaks out on the transport plane. As anyone who knows airplanes can tell you, a gunfight on an airplane in midflight is usually a very bad idea. This scene would bear that out – so remember the next time you feel the urge to shoot someone on a plane, no matter how irritating they are.

Fifty years later another body turns up, and like the Russians, this one was killed on purpose but nobody knows who it was or what the body was doing all the way to Hell and gone. U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) has maybe the cushiest and worst job in the U.S. Marshall service – the most she ever has to deal with are a couple of geologists arguing about whose theory about igneous rocks is more accurate. Now, she has to deal with a murder – and only two days to solve it before the researchers fly north for the winter.

She will be aided by the wise, kindly Dr. Fury (Skerritt) who has nothing to do with Nick Fury other than they both originated in comic books, an FBI agent (Macht) who shows up conveniently, a wisecracking pilot (Short) and umm…other guys. As other bodies start turning up and an investigation of the original crime scene turns up that Russian transport plane from the prologue, it appears that the murders have something to do with whatever was in that mysterious box. What was so valuable that people would be killing for it fifty years later? The Ark of the Covenant maybe?

The movie started out life as a tautly written graphic novel that was way more suspenseful than this mess. The fact that it was shelved for nearly a decade before it was made, then sat on the studio shelf an additional two years after it was made should have told you something; well, obviously you took it to heart because this bombed at the box office in a hailstorm of negative reviews.

Part of the movie’s problem is endemic to the location, which is ironically one of the things that sets this movie apart from other thrillers. The whiteout conditions at the conclusion of the movie make it nearly impossible to tell who’s fighting who, or see what the characters are doing. I’ve seen plenty of movies so underlit that you can’t make out what’s going on; here, the action is obscured in a blizzard of studio snow.

The other problem is that much of the tension that made the graphic novel so enjoyable is largely missing here. Beckinsale, who can be a strong actress when given the right material (see Snow Angels), has been given absolutely nothing to work with here. Oh, there’s a backstory about a near-death experience while working for the Marshall Service in Miami that Haunts our Heroine Even Now, but largely she is given no personality and spends most of the movie looking perplexed, surprised, bundled up beyond recognition in fur jackets or stripping down for a gratuitous shower.

Likewise, most of the other characters are given no personalities and all kind of blend together with the exception of Skerritt’s Doc Fury who comes off a bit like a skinny Wilford Brimley. As such, you’re given no reason to care a whit about any of them, even after the maniac with the pickaxe comes calling.

There were four writers credited with the screenplay, which makes for patchwork screenwriting. This was a difficult graphic novel to translate to the motion picture medium at best for the reasons outlined above, but it basically had no chance with so many fingers in its pie. Hopefully, the studios and producer Joel Silver will have learned a lesson; avoid action sequences in a snowstorm and focus on character development if you want the suspense to really go off the scale and in the future, try to inject a little suspense into a suspense movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Kate Beckinsale is a beautiful woman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of suspense and quite frankly some of the action is hard to see.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence but not to excess, some rather grisly images and a bit of nudity. Probably not for the kids, unless they’re crazy mature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Lake Manitoba exterior location was occasionally colder than the South Pole it was doubling for.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Expendables

The Losers


The Losers

Jeffrey Dean Morgan knows that two sub-machine guns are ALWAYS better than one.

(Warner Brothers) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jason Patric, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Holt McCallany, Oscar Jaenada, Peter Macdissi, Ernesto Morales, Peter Francis James, Tanee McCall, Krissy Korn. Directed by Sylvain White

When you want to send in a fighting force, you send in the Marines. When you need a tougher job done, you send in the Navy Seals. When you need the impossible done, you send in the Losers.

The Losers are one of those elite fighting forces who can get just about any job done. They are commanded by Hannibal….err, Colonel Clay (Morgan) who is a cool customer except when it comes to the ladies. His right arm is Roque (Elba), a lethal weapon on two legs. Their technology expert is Jensen (Evans) who has a mouth that just won’t stop, while Cougar (Jaenada) is their quiet and intense sniper who is as deadly with a rifle as anyone you’re likely to find. The man who gets them from place to place is Pooch (Short) whose wife is about to give birth. He gets his name from the Chihuahua bobble-head he takes with him for good luck on the dashboard of every vehicle he drives or flies.

They’ve been sent to South America to paint the home of a drug dealer with a laser target so that it can be targeted with a missile. It all seems pretty routine, although Roque wonders why a team as elite as they are would be sent on a mission that nearly any reconnaissance team could do. Then, as the jet with the missile is approaching, a busload of school children arrives at the hacienda. Clay gets on the radio to abort the mission, but a mysterious voice identifying himself as Max (Patric) tells the pilot to deliver the payload as instructed, then blocks the communications of the Losers. The team goes down to save the day and does, but not before Clay kills the drug dealer (Morales) they were sent to take out. Unfortunately, when the helicopter comes that is meant to fly them to safety, there’s not enough room for all of them. Without hesitating, Clay puts the kids aboard. Then, before the horrified eyes of the team, the copter is shot down and everyone aboard is killed.

Clay realizes that they were meant to be on that chopper and that the world believes they’re dead. In order to avoid becoming that way for real, they need to let the rest of the world go on thinking that. Of the team, only Pooch and Jensen have families although in Jensen’s case its siblings and a niece whose soccer team he follows like he’s got money on them in Vegas. The team is working  menial jobs trying to get back home when Clay is approached by a mysterious but beautiful woman named Aisha (Saldana) with an offer he can’t refuse – she’ll get the team back to the States as long as they help her take out Max. Clay is more than willing to accept the offer, but he quickly realizes that Max has a more insidious agenda on his mind and Aisha’s own motivations are questionable. It will take a good deal of firepower and skill to get out of this situation alive but then again, they were dead to begin with.

This is based on a DC/Vertigo comic series of the same name and yes, there are more than a few similarities to the A-Team and other movies of that ilk; in fact, I can think of three like it coming out this year alone (besides the A-Team feature there’s also the all-star action flick The Expendables coming out later this summer) that have a similar plot. Frankly, I didn’t realize there were that many elite teams being sent to South America only to be betrayed and forced to fight powerful forces in order to clear their names. It would sure make me think twice before joining an elite fighting unit eh?

I really like Morgan in his role as Clay. He’s tough as nails but not without character flaws. His relationship with Roque and the triangle that is formed with Aisha is at the heart of the movie and with Elba, another excellent character actor the heart is beating nice and strong.

Evans is making a career out of the smart-talking team member (he plays Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies) and will be Steve Rogers in the upcoming Captain America movie, which just means he’s comfortable with comic book adaptations. He is one of the highlights here.

I liked Patric as Max, although Da Queen disagrees with me strongly here – she felt Max was the weak link in the movie. I think the character is way over-the-top but let’s face it, the movie really needs someone like it, someone so obsessed and drunk with his own power and sense of rightness that he can casually shoot someone for stumbling while holding the umbrella that was shading him. Now that’s just evil, you know?

Director White has little experience with action movies, but showed himself to be more than capable here. The action sequences are well done, but most importantly paced so as not to give the audience a whole lot of time to catch their breath. There’s enough quirky humor to balance the testosterone-fueled action sequences and there’s a style that gives homage to the film’s comic book roots and makes it a little slicker than the average bear.

Clearly this is meant to be the starting point for a franchise but the opening weekend box office numbers were disappointing so there’s little chance of that happening, which is a crying shame but in some ways perhaps inevitable – as I mentioned earlier there are far too many movies with similar plot points in the pipeline and far more that have come out in theaters and on television over the past five or six years. Still, this is one of the better representatives of the genre and those of you who turned away from the movie last weekend would do well to reconsider, particularly if you’re out for a little mindless entertainment, because this so fits the bill on that score.

REASONS TO GO: It’s big, it’s dumb, and it’s a whole lot of fun. No real new ground is broken but the characters are well-drawn, the action is spiffy and the pacing is breakneck.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is kind of old hat and while the characters themselves are well-thought out, they are nonetheless a bit on the cliché side as elite Special Forces teams go.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of shooting, a good deal of things blowing up real good and one scene that’s on the sexy side. In other words, pretty much what you’d find in your standard broadcast TV show.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The story is somewhat loosely based on the arc published in the comic book series’ first six issues, collectively called “Ante Up.”

HOME OR THEATER: Sure, there are some big bangs and action films tend to work better on the big screen but quite frankly I think it would be just as swell on a good home theater system.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Shotgun Stories

New Releases for the Week of April 23, 2010


April 23, 2010

Don't be fooled; those fingers are loaded!!

THE LOSERS

(Warner Brothers) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Holt McCallany, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric. Directed by Sylvain White

An elite Special Forces team that gets the job done when nobody else can is betrayed by a high-level government functionary and left for dead. Thought to be out of the picture, the Losers plot their revenge against a man they know only as Max. They are joined by Aisha, a lovely but deadly operative who may have her own agenda. Working as only they can, they must stop Max from dragging the world into a new kind of global high-tech war.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and language)

The Back-Up Plan

(CBS) Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Laughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Michaela Watkins. Zoe is a veteran of the dating wars and has yet to find the right guy. Still, her biological clock is ticking and the noise is getting louder. She decides to go to Plan B, artificial insemination and it looks like the procedure is a success. Of course, life being what it is, that’s the time when Mr. Right shows up. Can the relationship grow properly with a baby on the way, one that’s not even his?

See the trailer, featurette and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including references, some crude material and language)

Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D

(Hot Ticket/Sony) Kenny Chesney. 3D footage shot from the country singer’s Sun City Carnival tour last summer will give viewers a unique concert film experience, experiencing more closely than ever what it’s like to be there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D Special Engagement

Rating: Unrated but suitable for general audiences

Mother

(Magnolia) Hye-ja Kim, Bin Won, Goo Jin, Yoon Jae-Moon. When a feckless young man is convicted of the vicious murder of a young girl, his mother sets out to prove her son’s innocence and is instead drawn into something far darker than she ever expected to be. From the award-winning director of The Host.  

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use)

Oceans

(DisneyNature) Pierce Brosnan. From the filmmakers who brought you Earth comes the second in the new Disney nature documentary series. Opening on Earth Day, the film will take us below the waves to see, for the first time, some of the wonderful and strange creatures that live there.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: G

A Prophet

(Sony Classics) Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi. A young illiterate Frenchmen of Arabic descent is imprisoned and attracts the attention of a powerful Corsican crime lord who gives the young man an ultimatum; kill a fellow inmate or be killed himself. This turns young Malik down a path that will change him forever. This film swept the Cesar awards (the French Oscars) and has won acclaim everywhere it has been shown.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material)

Armored


Armored

Matt Dillon finally gets around to reading the script. "That's how it ends? SERIOUSLY?"

(Screen Gems) Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Columbus Short, Fred Ward, Skeet Ulrich, Jean Reno, Milo Ventimiglia, Amaury Nolasco, Andre Jamal Kinney, Lorna Raver, Nick Jameson, Glenn Taranto. Directed by Nimrod Antal

There’s no such thing as the perfect crime. Technology has made it increasingly more difficult for criminals to ply their trade. If professionals can’t come up with a perfect crime, what kind of hope does an amateur have?

Ty Hackett (Short) is a decorated war veteran who has fallen on hard times. After the death of his parents from long illnesses, he has become legal guardian of his teenaged brother (Kinney) who is more interested in tagging than attending classes. Ty has gotten a job as an armored car security guard through family friend Mike (Dillon). He’s the new kid on the block in a tight crew that includes Baines (Fishburne), Quinn (Reno), Dobbs (Ulrich) and Palmer (Nolasco). They stage a fake heist to haze the rookie.

Except that it wasn’t just a prank, it was a run-through. You see, the guards have decided that they want a piece of the pie and they’ve come up with a foolproof way to do it. They drive their two trucks to an abandoned factory that is a radio and cell phone dead zone, unload the $40 million that they are carrying during a particularly busy period and torch the trucks, claiming that they’d been jacked. No witnesses, and after some initial suspicion if they are disciplined and don’t spend their money unwisely, the money will be theirs once the heat dies down. Nobody gets hurt.

Mike presents the plan to Ty over chili dogs and at first the straight-arrow Ty wants no part in it, but with the house in foreclosure and now child services sending a caseworker (Raver) to investigate his brother’s infrequent class attendance could potentially split the brothers up lead Ty to finally agree to the plan.

Unfortunately, nobody thought to scout the factory and make sure nobody was there. A homeless man (Jameson) who was apparently living there observes what’s going on and the crew of professional security guards panic. Guns are fired, the homeless man is killed and Ty makes a decision to lock himself in one of the armored cars (which still has half the loot in it) rather than continue on with the robbery which he agreed to participate in. The guards huff, and they puff but they can’t blow the doors down. Things are further complicated when an inquisitive cop (Ventimiglia) hears the commotion in the abandoned factory and gets critically injured by the trigger-happy Baines put further pressure on the conscience-stricken Ty.

Director Antal has a couple of terrific films in his background (Kontroll, Vacancy) and the reboot of the Predator franchise in his future but something tells me this won’t be remembered as a highlight of his filmography. It’s not badly directed – the action sequences are in fact very well done – but the script is poor.

Frankly, I find the behavior of every one of the characters to be a bit out of whack with reality. I believe the intention here was to show the pressure cracking the bonds of the thieves from within but quite frankly, we get behavior that’s just inexplicable. Baines turns out to be a trigger-happy lunatic – who knew? – which would probably come as a shock to the security transport company that hired him. Apparently that little detail escaped the rigid interview and probationary process that armored transport security personnel undergo in order to be allowed to have access to the kind of money these guys have access to on a daily basis. And it seems to me that for trained professionals, they fell apart rather easily when the homeless guy shows up.

Worst of all is Ty, who has the most motivation of all to want the cash; he’s on the verge of losing his home and his brother. He is also a trained and decorated soldier, yet time and time again he puts other people in jeopardy after it is clearly demonstrated that his former crew is willing to kill. Not a very smart soldier, apparently. Also, none of the trucks have GPS devices in them, something that even pizza delivery cars have. A point is made that the trucks are to get them shortly, which is what makes the timing of the heist crucial.

Still, Short is likable enough as Ty which is a good thing, because when he makes his moral stand logic and real human emotion seems to go out the window. Any person who is risking his family would probably at least have some sort of second thoughts but there are none displayed at any time by the young ex-soldier. And while I won’t reveal the movie’s ending, it comes very abruptly and is not terribly satisfying. You are left staring puzzled at the screen mumbling “Really? That’s all?” in a dazed voice into your empty tub of popcorn.

Armored isn’t a bad movie but it isn’t a good movie either. The actors are solid, particularly veterans like Fishburne, Dillon and Reno. If the script had matched their efforts, this might have been entertaining. Unfortunately, this is barely passable in that regard.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are pretty intense. Short is extremely likable in the lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Ty’s not always entirely believable in his actions. As a matter of fact, the script has a lot of logic issues.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bang bang, a little bit of oozing wounds and a crapload of f bombs.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The last time Dillon and Fishburne were in a film together was Rumblefish in 1983.

HOME OR THEATER: This has rental written all over it.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Public Enemies