Killing Them Softly


Brad Pitt hits the streets looking for people to go see his new movie.

Brad Pitt hits the streets looking for people to go see his new movie.

(2012) Crime Dramedy (Weinstein) Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola, Max Casella, Trevor Long, Sam Shepard, Slaine, Garret Dillahunt, Bella Heathcote, Linara Washington. Directed by Andrew Dominik

 

Tough economic times make people a little harder. They grow skittish at any sign of trouble; they are unforgiving of mistakes, even those not of your making. When people get scared, their tendency is to go into self-preservation mode with most decisions made on pure self-interest.

In an indeterminate American city (but looks somewhat like New Orleans), a poker game gets robbed by two masked men. These things happen, even while the 2008 Presidential election rages and speechifyin’ is underway from candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, while President George W. Bush tries to calm people down as the economic meltdown strikes, crippling our nation and casting doubt on our future.

Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in to investigate. You see, this poker game wasn’t just a poker game; it was run by the Mob and they don’t take kindly to being robbed. Driver (Jenkins), the go-between for the committee that runs the Mob in New Orleans and Jackie, is glum. Examples must be made but a bloodbath isn’t necessarily welcome.

It soon turns out that there are four people involved in the robbery; Johnny “Squirrel” Amato (Curatola), the dry-cleaner and low-level thug who masterminded it, Frankie (McNairy) – who is Squirrel’s choice to execute the robbery (yes, Frankie and Johnny – cute, no?) – Russell (Mendelsohn), the Aussie heroin addict that Frankie brings in to assist and Markie Trattman (Liotta) who runs the game.

Now Markie is completely innocent; his problem is that five years earlier he had arranged to rob his own game. This is common knowledge and even though he had nothing to do with this robbery, the clientele think he does and they don’t want to play anymore. While the mobsters in charge would be satisfied with a beat down of Markie (and a fine beating is administered to him), Jackie contends that Markie has to be whacked. With all due haste.

Jackie is not keen on getting all of these hits done himself so he brings in Mickey (Gandolfini), a hitman who is having some personal issues not the least of which is alcoholism and sex addiction. He proves to be worthless so Jackie is on his own, having to carry out all the hits himself.

The movie is based on a book by George V. Higgins called Cogan’s Trade which was set in Boston in 1974. Dominik chose to bring the action to New Orleans in 2008 and there are some compelling reasons to do that – the economic hardship thread is one of the main issues in the movie. I haven’t read the book to be honest so I don’t know if that’s something that was part of the original novel (it may well could have been) but it certainly is something that the filmmakers hit you in the face with quite regularly.

This is a fine cast and Pitt does a pretty good job with the enigmatic Jackie Cogan. I like that you don’t get a sense that Jackie is invincible and smarter than everybody else. He makes mistakes. He screws things up. However, he thinks quickly on his feet and takes care of business and is ruthless as they come.

Gandolfini, a fine actor who tends to be cast in roles that aren’t dissimilar from his Tony Soprano role, has a couple of really nice scenes here. Jenkins and Liotta are essentially wasted in roles that they shouldn’t have accepted (yes, further career advice to professional actors from a blog critic – just what they needed).

The big problem here though is Dominik. He consistently throughout the film reminds you that there is a director and that he has an Artistic Sense. From the most annoying opening credits ever through a slow-mo death scene of which Sam Peckinpah would have said “Didn’t I do that already?” in scene after scene you are given odd camera angles, unnecessary montages, and other little tricks which is a director inserting himself into the film. Word of advice to any aspiring directors out there – stay the heck out of your movie. If you must insert yourself, do a cameo. Or cast yourself in a role. Otherwise, let your actors and crew do their jobs and trust them to tell the story without your help.

This is frankly quite a mess. It is destined to be Pitt’s lowest grossing movie of his career to date and for good reason; this is the kind of film that people walk out on, as several folks did at the screening we attended. Da Queen and I hung in there but we were frankly dissatisfied when we left. I like a good neo-noir as much as the next guy but sometimes, simpler is better.

REASONS TO GO: Pitt gamely does his best. There are a couple of terrific action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: A fatal case of “Look Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome. Distracting continuity errors.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a ton of bad language,  a surfeit of drug use, plenty of violence and gore as well as a few sexual references; fun for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Richard Jenkins character is never seen standing up in the movie. He is always seated in a car or at a bar.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/12/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100. The reviews are surprisingly strong.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Burn After Reading

BARACK OBAMA LOVERS: .The film is set during the 2008 Presidential Election and features a number of speeches by the recently re-elected President.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

NEXT: Color Me Kubrick

Crank: High Voltage


Crank: High Voltage

You can't say that Jason Statham doesn't get a charge out of life.

(Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez, Clifton Collins Jr., Bai Ling, David Carradine, Art Hsu, Corey Haim, Gerri Halliwell, John de Lancie. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Some action movies are high octane. Others, nuclear meltdowns. The first Crank was one of the latter. Would this one measure up?

You wouldn’t think so, given that the hero of the first movie (SPOILER ALERT) falls from a helicopter to his apparent death on the city street below. (CONTINUE READING) But in the universe of Crank: High Voltage, Asian gangsters come along with a snow shovel to scoop up the wide-awake Chev Chelios (Statham) with a snow shovel to bring him to a back room operating room, where his seemingly indestructible heart has been removed for transplant into an aged Chinese mobster (a nearly unrecognizable Carradine).

He has been given a cut-rate artificial heart powered by a car battery to keep his body alive before other organs (including his, ummm, manliest) can be harvested as well. Instead, Chelios awakes to wreak mayhem, havoc and otherwise kick the crap out of things. He goes on yet another rampage around the Los Angeles area to find his heart so that he might get it back, stopping periodically to recharge his dying battery. He rescues his girlfriend Eve (Smart) from a life of exotic dancing, gets together with his incredulous doctor (Yoakam) and picks up Venus (Ramirez), the effeminate twin brother of Kaylo (also played by Ramirez) from the first movie (and Venus has a rather unusual affliction by the way), and Ria (Ling), a goofy prostitute who becomes smitten with Chelios.

Further explanation is unnecessary, redundant and superfluous. If you loved the cinematic video game that was the first movie, this will be right up your alley. Neveldine/Taylor, the directing team responsible for the first one, has amped things up a notch, shooting the improbability factor to 10 and letting loose their guerilla filmmakers onto an unsuspecting city.

This is the kind of movie not meant to be taken seriously, yet most of the reviews I read of it seemed downright huffy. Look guys, this was never meant to be a Merchant/Ivory production. This is going to appeal to the crowd that plays Grand Theft Auto for 36 hours straight, hyped out on Mountain Dew, Hot Pockets and testosterone. The heavy metal soundtrack should tell you that this is meant expressly for young males.

Yes, Virginia, there is some stereotyping, nudity, sexuality and a whole lot of violence, but so what? The stereotyping is done so broadly that it’s fairly obvious it’s meant as satire. The nudity and violence are so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take it too seriously, and the script so ludicrous that it becomes understood that this is meant to be Jackass on steroids high on angel dust.

Statham makes Chelios as fun as it is possible for a hit man to be, poking fun at his own image in the process. He is a masterful action hero, looking convincing in all the fight sequences and running around with a perpetual scowl on his face that invites the good citizens of Los Angeles to stay the frack out of his way if they know what’s good for them.

There are constant little homages to B-movies of the past, from The Brain that Would Not Die to El Mariachi as well as to the pop culture of the digital age – videogames and things like Red Versus Blue. Again, this moves at dizzying speed, so much so that you feel like you’ve sprinted through a marathon by the time the movie comes to an end.

This isn’t Shakespeare folks; it’s just a good time, and Crank: High Voltage succeeds wildly at that. This is the kind of movie that you put on, turn off your brain and let the energy drinks flow as you pound your chest and shout an occasional ”WHOAAAA!” at the screen. You’ll need to go through detox after seeing this one.

WHY RENT THIS: If you liked the first movie, you’re gonna love this one – all the frenetic oddball action, only amped up another notch.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The nudity, the violence, the ludicrous plot…if those things bother you, you’re better off watching the next edition of Masterpiece Theater.

FAMILY VALUES: Oh, c’mon…you’re not honestly thinking of letting your kids see this are you? If you are, your kids are going to need therapy, man.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The home video edition is entitled Crank 2: High Voltage although the theatrical release didn’t have a number in the title.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray has a Crank’d Out Bonus View mode featuring the cast and crew, as well as a featurette on the wrap party for the movie, something we rarely get to see.  

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Drag Me to Hell