Scorched Earth


Unlike Jesse Ventura, Gina Carano has time to bleed.

(2018) Sci-Fi Action (Cinedigm) Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins, Stephanie Bennett, Dean S. Jagger, Patrick Gilmore, Luvia Petersen, Patrick Sabongui, Nathan Mitchell, Alisha Newton, Daniel Bacon, Sarah Troyer, Bart Anderson, Kailey Spear. Directed by Peter Howitt

 

I’m all for B-movies, so long as they’re reasonably entertaining and have at least a scrap of originality or at least some imagination to them. Scorched Earth, a post-apocalyptic ecological action western (that’s a mouthful) probably doesn’t qualify for either and if it does only barely but I found myself giving it a fairly mixed review.

Bounty hunter Attica Gage (Carano) wanders the wasteland following a global ecological disaster (take that, climate change deniers!) after an event known as Cloudfall permanently polluted the planet with toxic chemicals leading a need for re-breathing devices that use powdered silver to work properly and tiny chemical pellets that purify the polluted water. In her era it’s a capital crime to drive a fossil fuel-burning vehicle and she collects bounties on offenders of that law, for instance Chavo (Petersen) who wears a cowboy hat with a couple of aces in the hatband. That’s what passes for eccentricity among the mass murdering set in the future.

Gage is one of those bounty hunters who always gets her man (in that case, woman) but she has a run-in with the sheriff of New Montana (population 24) whose sheriff (Gilmore) has misplaced her bounty until Gage “finds” it for him. Her only friend is Doc (Hannah), the town medic and a former bounty hunter himself until a knee injury did his bounty hunting days in. He tells her of the biggest bounty ever offered for Thomas Jackson (Robbins), the mayor of the town of Defiance – wait, wasn’t that the name of the town in a SyFy post-apocalyptic Western? – and warns her she won’t be able to collect it by herself as Jackson has a crew of ruthless killers. Of course she sets out on her own after him, confident she can impersonate Chavo by wearing her hat. Of course nobody really sees anybody’s face that often due to the re-breathers which are taken off regularly.

Anywho, it turns out that Gage has a personal connection to Jackson as well as his bar chanteuse and occasional plaything Melena (Bennett) who bears a passing resemblance to Gage’s dead sister Beatrice (Newton) who was kidnapped by Jackson years earlier. Jackson and his flunky Lear (Jagger) have plans to work an abandoned silver mine near Defiance but needs manpower to do it; what better way to get manpower than to kidnap slave labor from surrounding towns and caravans passing through? You know all this is going to lead to a reckoning between Gage and Jackson and let the best man – or woman – win.

It’s hard to believe that Howitt also directed the superb Sliding Doors but he did; this is definitely not his finest hour. The script is loaded with elements borrowed from other films and has little originality in that regard. That would be okay if the elements were handled in an original way but they’re not. You’ve seen this movie before kids, even if you haven’t seen it yet.

Carano was at one time thought to be a rising star in the action field in Haywire never really fulfilled the promise she displayed in that movie (which was not as good a movie as most people at the time thought) despite a couple of high-profile roles. Direct to home video seems the next step for her; I can’t imagine that this film will get her decent roles in future films. It’s not that she’s bad, she just has cringe-inducing dialogue to recite and most of her hand-to-hand combat is done with guns which is a failure to utilize her skills properly. At one point she tells Melena “Head to New Montana; it’s a better way of life” which sounds more like a slogan the Montana tourism board might utilize than something an actual human being might say.

For some reason Howitt has chosen to stop everything dead in its tracks by having Melena sing the blues in his saloon every so often. The music isn’t really all that scintillating and the tone is jarring enough that it takes the viewer out of the film. Worse still, the singer – who is obviously not Bennett – doesn’t lip-synch very well to the actress, or vice versa.

 However, Howitt does handle the action sequences with aplomb and they flow nicely. Also the deadly cloud effects with plenty of CGI swirlies and lightning are pretty cool in and of themselves. Those however don’t a great movie make and quite frankly watching Gage get up and walk away after being thrown over a cliff in a coffin that’s been nailed shut is the kind of taking-leave-of-their-senses logic that the screenwriters display all too often in this mildly entertaining but ultimately not really worth seeing film.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are handled pretty nicely. The cloud and storm effects are also pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The musical interludes are jarring and disruptive. This film has a definite case of the indestructible heroes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, adult themes and profanity herein
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gage was initially written as a male character with Sean Bean being considered for the lead; when that fell through, the part was re-written for a female character and Carano was eventually cast for the role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/18: 13% positive reviews: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Book of Eli
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up the Day Job

21 Jump Street


21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill prepare for the next Tour de France.

(2012) Crime Comedy (MGM/Columbia) Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, DeRay Davis, Jake Johnson, Johnny Simmons, Johnny Pemberton, Dakota Johnson, Ellie Kemper, Holly Robinson Peete, Dax Flame, Caroline Aaron, Joe Chrest. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

 

Those of you who might remember the late 80s undercover cops in high school drama might mostly remember it for the presence of Johnny Depp, who used his appearance in the show to catapult himself into movie stardom. Most don’t remember that it took on issues of drug abuse, child abuse, teen sex, gang violence, school violence, racial tension and teen drinking, among others things. Sure, it was mostly formulaic and doesn’t hold up well over time (it was very much a child of the era) but it had its good points.

This film version, co-scripted by Hill, takes little of what originally comprised the series and kind of turns it for the most part on its ear. Schmidt (Hill) was a nerd in high school,  a sweet-natured kid who due to his girth, social awkwardness and braces was the butt of a large number of jokes. Jenko (Tatum) was a popular jock, not too bright unfortunately but all about fitting in. The two couldn’t have come from more different viewpoints if they had been born on different planets.

Yet they share something in common; both of them want to be police officers. What went on in high school seems to be continuing at the academy; Schmidt aces the written exams but does poorly in the physical training while Jenko rules in the physical aspect but fails the written exams. The two realize that they can help each other and thus an unlikely friendship is formed, leading to their graduation from the Police Academy.

They are immediately assigned to park duty on bicycles, which causes Jenko to muse “I thought there’d be a lot more car chases and explosions and less homeless people doo dooing on the sidewalk.”  They catch a lucky break when they find a bike gang loitering around in the park with drugs on them. They make the arrest but it’s immediately thrown out because Jenko fails to read the Miranda rights to the suspect; in fact, he does not even know what they are.

Both Jenko and Schmidt are exiled to a program that had been shelved since the ’80s; a high school undercover group headquartered at an abandoned Korean Christian church at 21 Jump Street. There they are given their assignment by Captain Dickson (Cube), the stereotypical black captain with anger management issues. They are joined by fellow officers Hoffs (Peete) among others who look at the two newest additions as losers.

The two are assigned to find the supplier of a new designer drug at Sagan High and are given new identities as brothers staying with Schmidt’s parents (Aaron, Chrest). One is supposed to be a nerd and the other popular, but because they are knuckleheads they mix up which one is supposed to be witch so Schmidt winds up being the track star/popular guy and Jenko the science nerd.

That’s just as well because things have changed considerably since they were in school. Compassion and ecological awareness is more what makes you popular these days and the two quickly find out  that the dealer is Eric (Franco), a sensitive sort who quickly bonds with Schmidt who finds that his second go-round in high school is far more enjoyable than his first. Jenko struggles at first with the learning but thanks to helpful science geeks he suddenly finds he has an aptitude for it.

The two have to put up with overzealous gym teachers (Riggle), an oversexed science teacher (Kemper) who’d like nothing more than to get inappropriate with Jenko and a sweet cheerleader (Larson) who has developed a bit of a crush on Schmidt. However, finding the supplier proves to be a tougher challenge than they thought and soon Jenko and Schmidt are facing being drummed out of the force if they can’t stop the tide of HFC flooding the school.

This isn’t a remake but more of a re-imagining and to nearly every critic’s surprise it actually works. This could easily have been just another big, dumb movie (which many remakes of classic television shows have been) that adds nothing to the mix but it actually is quite entertaining. It manages to balance the line between action and comedy nicely and even if Jonah Hill isn’t who you’d think of as the next action star and Channing Tatum the next big comic actor, they acquit themselves nicely in fish-out-of-water roles.

In fact, the reason the two do so well is that they play to their strengths and avoid doing things that are beyond their capabilities. Tatum has been busy of late (and will continue to be) with roles mostly in romances and action films but he relies on his not-too-bright character to generate most of the laughs, playing on cop show (and cop movie) clichés and becomes part of the joke rather than having the joke be on him. Hill isn’t a great physical specimen (although he lost 40 pounds for the role) and the likelihood that a pretty high school-age girl would fall for him are pretty long, he makes his character pretty decent at heart (although he does show some dick-ery during the second half of the film when he is trying to fit in with the popular crowd).

Larson is not only easy to look at, she’s also got a good deal of talent and does a pretty good job here; she’s one of those actresses who have a great deal of promise if she can get the right sort of roles and this one is one of them.

The action sequences aren’t super-exciting and they don’t particularly give you any gee wow moments, although they tend to focus on Schmidt’s complete lack of competence in the physical aspects, which adds to the comedy nicely.

I’d just like to go on record as saying I wasn’t a particular fan of the show when it aired and thus I had no expectations going in. I will say this is mighty entertaining although there are plenty of other films out there that are just as good. Let’s just say this is better than average and not a waste of time and in fact there are plenty of people out there who are REALLY going to like it. Do check it out and not just for the cameos.

REASONS TO GO: Credible action comedy that blends just enough action with just enough laughs. Plays to the strengths of the lead actors.

REASONS TO STAY: Nothing groundbreaking here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of drug content as well as crude humor and sexual content, some teen drinking, a bit of violence and pretty much non-stop swearing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tatum’s character Jenko is named for the first captain on the series, Capt. Richard Jenko who was played by Frederic Forrest and was killed off after the first season.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100. The reviews are strongly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starsky and Hutch

ORIGINAL SERIES LOVERS: Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise make cameo appearances near the end of the movie as their original characters from the series; Peete is present throughout the film as her original character and Dustin Nguyen shows up on television several times when characters in the film are watching TV and the original series is always on.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Hanna


Hanna

Soairse Ronan should get away from this movie as fast as she can.

(2011) Avant Action (Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jessica Barden, Martin Wuttke, Michelle Dockery, Tim Beckmann, Vicky Krieps, Mohamed Majd, Christian Malcolm. Directed by Joe Wright

Nature versus nurture, an age-old debate about the power of parenting. In some cases, a little bit of both can go a long way.

Hanna (Ronan) is a young girl who lives in Finland above the Arctic Circle with her father Erik (Bana), a former CIA operative who has a beard and talks with a German accent. He has taught her how to survive in nearly any situation – and how to kill in nearly every situation. She is an efficient little killing machine, whether out hunting for dinner or being hunted, which in fact is happening.

She needs to be efficient because there are some really bad, bad people after her. Chief among them is Marissa Viegler (Blanchett), a CIA operative slash ice queen who has a past with Erik. She is canny and paranoid – after capturing Hanna she sends in a look-alike (Dockery) whom Hanna proceeds to dispatch with almost comical ease. Once that’s done, Hanna goes on the run in Morocco and Europe.

She is also being chased by some outside contractors that Viegler has hired, led by the effeminate Isaacs (Hollander) who likes to whistle while he works. She also runs into a family of British hippies, whose father (Flemyng) is a bit of a curmudgeon and whose mother (Williams) has a case of terminal political correctness. The daughter Sophie (Barden) becomes Hanna’s friend, perhaps the first she’s ever had who didn’t have a beard and talk with a German accent. Not realizing Viegler isn’t dead, she heads for a rendezvous in Germany with her dad, unaware that those who want her dead are closing in on her.

There is a really good story in here. It’s a shame that the director, whose resume includes Atonement which netted Ronan an Oscar nomination, chose to do it like Baz Luhrmann might have. While it looks great visually, endless music video-style conceits constantly remind us that this is a movie being directed rather than a story being told. When that happens, it’s hard to get too involved in the story and the movie just becomes a collection of images. There are some nicely done sequences, such as a chase scene in a shipyard; however the climactic scenes, set in an abandoned Grimm’s Fairy Tales theme park, seems rubbing our faces in the allegory a little bit.

Ronan is actually very strong in the title role; she has to be very physical here and she looks quite lethal which is difficult enough for an adult actor to do let alone a teenage one. She can spout off facts memorized from her father about all kinds of esoterica but she has trouble negotiating even a basic conversation with ordinary people. It’s a winning performance, one that is sympathetic and kicks ass at once.

Blanchett is one of the best actresses of her generation, an Oscar winner who can be forceful and who can also be subtle. Here she plays Viegler wound so tight you half expect for her eyes to pop out of her head and her breasts to shoot out like missiles to detonate on target at the slightest touch of her red hair. There’s not a lot of humanity in the role – she’s ambitious and paranoid, someone well versed in both the high tension of field work as well as the politics of the agency bureaucracy. I’m still debating internally whether this was the right approach to the role and due to Miss Blanchett’s credentials, electing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Bana is a leading man who is on the verge of being “A” list material. He has the charm and charisma to do it; what’s keeping him out of that rarefied air is the right role. He needs a blockbuster to cement his reputation and this is just frankly not it – and in any case his role is a supporting one to Ronan.

Something has to be said about the score by the British trip-hop band the Chemical Brothers. It’s intrusive, it’s abrasive and at the end of the day it detracts from the movie rather than enhance it. I’m fairly open-minded about alternative types of scores but I’m a bit old-fashioned in this regard – if you’re noticing the score to the point where you’re taken out of the movie by it, then it’s not a good score. This happens time and time again throughout the movie.

Critics have been falling all over themselves to praise this movie, including several that I respect a great deal. This is a case where the public actually gets one more correct than the critics; the box office has been tepid at best and quite frankly, deservedly so. I really wanted to like this movie too – the trailers were compelling and the story idea solid. Sadly, this is the type of film that belongs more projected on the wall of a European disco than on the screen of a multiplex.

REASONS TO GO: A fresh take on the cold war-style action espionage thriller.

REASONS TO STAY: Wright takes viewers out of the film far too often by reminding them he’s there. Worst. Score. Ever.

FAMILY VALUES: Quite a bit of sometimes intense violence, not to mention a bit of foul language and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Seth Lockhead wrote the original script on spec back in 2006. It appeared on the Black List (the annual list of bet unproduced Hollywood screenplays) that year and again in 2009.

HOME OR THEATER: You won’t lose anything by seeing this at home.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Conspirator