Cold Blood (La mėmoire du sang)


Jean Reno is hunting for an audience.

(2019) Action Thriller (Screen Media) Jean Reno, Sarah Lind, Joe Anderson, David Gyasi, Ihor Ciskewycz, François Guėtary, Samantha Bond, Robert Feldman, Kateryna Buriskova, Anna Butkevich. Directed by Frėdėric Petitjean

 

The mountains of the Pacific Northwest are a cold place, as cold as an assassin’s heart. With so much desolation, there are plenty of places to hide – hide from civilization, hide from society, hide from life. Most of all, to hide from one’s past.

A young woman crashes her snowmobile in a desolate part of the mountains. Badly injured, she manages to crawl to a cabin where a middle-aged man finds her. The woman is Melody (Lind) and she’s far from everything. The man is Henry (Reno) and he has a particularly bloody past. He nurses the woman back to health, but she is remarkably evasive when he asks her “What are you doing out here?”

In the meantime, Spokane police detective Kappa (Anderson) – recently transferred in from New York – is obsessing over the death of a wealthy industrialist, murdered in a sauna. Coincidentally, he was buried in Spokane where he was originally from. The trail for his killer has gone cold and all that is known is that he used a special kind of ice bullet that melts after impact, effectively wiping out any ballistic evidence there might have been.

It soon becomes clear that Henry was the ice bullet-wielding killer but what part does Melody have to play in all of this? Is she just the innocent traveler she claims to be, or does she have a hidden connection to Henry? I think you all already know the answer to that.

This Franco-Ukrainian co-production harkens back to the hitman action films of such genre geniuses as Luc Besson and Renny Harlin. As a matter of fact, one of the movie’s big problems is that it leans too hard into action films of the 80s and 90s, being absolutely infected with cliché dialogue and rote action sequences. As for plot, this is paint-by-numbers screenwriting with the big twist being impossible not to figure out well in advance of the big reveal.

Jean Reno deserves better. He is a terrific actor whose role in Besson’s Leon: The Professional essentially defined the role of the ice-cold hitman. Henry is essentially Leon; a little more grey in the beard, a little more paunchy but just as dangerous. Reno sleepwalks through the role with an expression that just screams “How the eff did I end up in this film?” I have to wonder the same thing. Nothing in the script gives me reason to suspect that this was something Reno really wanted to do. I imagine the money must have been right. That or he had a mighty yen to see the Carpathian Mountains, where most of this was filmed. Still, even when he is not at his best, Reno remains very watchable.

There are lots of plot holes here (the snow is a couple of weeks from melting but there are still football games on TV, for example) and small towns in Washington state are apparently full of people who speak with heavy French and Ukrainian accents. It is missteps like these and many others that characterize the film and make it a lot harder to watch than it needed to be. There are some decent suspense sequences and Anderson gives a performance that reminds me a bit of Tim Roth. The cinematography is mighty pretty if you like your woods snowy.

This is a forgettable movie that is one you are unlikely to want to see twice, even if you indeed are persuaded to see it once. This doesn’t even have the gift of being so bad it’s good – it’s just a movie that you will likely watch for 20 minutes before switching it off and looking for something else to watch unless you’re one of those optimistic sorts who are sure that it’s bound to get better. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Still, even a bad Jean Reno film isn’t completely unwatchable but I suspect only the most diehard of his fans are going to be eager to see this one.

REASONS TO SEE: Reno is at his best when he is in full-on grumpy mode as he is here.
REASONS TO AVOID: There are way too many plot holes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marked the first time in 14 years that a Wes Anderson film didn’t feature Jason Schwartzman in the cast (he did co-write the script).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 10% positive reviews: Metacritic: 27/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Leon: The Professional
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Catcher is a Spy

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New Releases for the Week of July 18, 2014


The Purge: AnarchyTHE PURGE: ANARCHY

(Universal) Frank Grillo, Michael K. Williams, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Keith Stanfield, Edwin Hodge. Directed by James DeMonaco

Has it been a year already? Oh, right, it’s time for the annual purge, a single night where the New Founding Fathers allow the people of the United States to run wild in the streets, where all crime is legal including murder and sensible people lock themselves in their fortress-like homes in order to survive the night. Not that it will help you if you aren’t wealthy enough to afford the very best protection, or if your car breaks down on the way home…or if you have some purging of your own to do. Happy purging, people.

 

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong disturbing violence, and language)

Aftermath

(Image) Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, William Baldwin, Andre Royo. Nine survivors of a nuclear holocaust as World War III rages gather at a farmhouse in rural Texas to await their fate. Radiation sickness, hunger, desperate refugees and their own bickering threaten to do them all in.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR

Le Chef

(Cohen Media Group) Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier. A great French chef who has become a brand name in France has found inspiration lacking as of late. The capital partner who essentially owns his restaurants is threatening to install a new chef in his own restaurant. Salvation may come in the form of a mule-headed, opinionated young chef who is brilliant and creative but impossible to get along with. A favorite at this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review of the movie here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Planes: Fire and Rescue

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dane Cook, Julie Bowen, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook. After a damaged engine puts Dusty Crophopper’s racing career in jeopardy, he decides to put his talents to good use. He joins the aerial firefighting unit guarding historic Piston Peak National Park. However, he soon finds that it isn’t all that he imagined it would be.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for action and some peril)

Sex Tape

(Columbia) Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Rob Lowe. A couple whose marriage has been in the doldrums for some time decide to liven things up by making a sex tape. It works and they find their relationship clicking on all cylinders for the first time in years. However, the video – which was supposed to have been erased – ends up on their cloud which is connected to a bunch of devices they’ve given out as presents. Getting those devices back will be the easy part – keeping their sanity and their marriage together will be harder.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, premiere footage and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

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

Wish I Was Here

(Focus) Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad. A 30-something husband and father comes to a point in his life where he realizes that he needs to get serious about his responsibilities and grow up but that’s not an easy proposition in his family.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a clip and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Le Chef (Comme un chef)


In France, chef = cool.

In France, chef = cool.

(2012) Comedy (Cohen Media Group) Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agogue, Julien Boisselier, Salome Stevenin, Serge Lariviere, Issa Doumbia, Bun-hay Mean, Pierre Vernier, Santiago Segura, Genevieve Casile, Andre Penvern, Rebecca Miquel, James Gerard, Henri Payet, Franck de la Personne, Celine Caussimon, Jeanne Ferron. Directed by Daniel Cohen

Florida Film Festival 2014

Sacre Cordon Bleu!! If there is one thing the French love more than….well, love, it’s cuisine. Those Michelin stars are a really big deal in France.

Just ask Alexandre Lagarde (Reno). He has parlayed his three star status into a lucrative career with several restaurants, a television show and a frozen food line to his name. However, life isn’t rosy for him; he’s lost his fire and inspiration. His restaurants are owned by a corporate mogul whose snarky son Stanislas (Boisselier) would like nothing more than to see Alexandre, whom he considers old-fashioned and out-dated, retired to the Gulag of the French countryside and his golden boy Cyril Boss (Gerard), a devotee of molecular gastronomy, installed in the flagship restaurant Cargo Lagarde. Alexandre of course is livid about this; how humiliating it would be to be forced out of the restaurant that he built and bears his name.

The guidebook reviewers will soon be checking out Alexandre’s spring menu and both Stanislas and Cyril are confident that the more modern-thinking guidebook critics will strip Alexandre of at least one of his stars which would contractually allow Stanislas to fire Alexandre from his own restaurant. The great chef’s troubles are also extending to his home life; his daughter Amandine (Stevenin) is getting ready to deliver her thesis on Russian literature, a subject Alexandre cares about as much about as he cares about the spring menu at McDonald’s. Things are tense with Amandine who resents her father for caring more about his restaurant than he does about her.

Jacky Bonnot (Youn) doesn’t have any Michelin stars yet but he is sure he deserves at least a few. He’s got tremendous talent and a flair for vegetables; they whisper to him. Unfortunately, he’s insufferably mule-headed and arrogant, never a good combination in the kitchen, and is fired from job after job. This exasperates his pregnant girlfriend Beatrice (Agogue) who moves back in with her parents who encourage her to get back together with Jacky because he’s such a good chef. Realizing that she’s serious, he gets whatever job he can, in this case painting the exterior of an old folks home.

Through a fairly serendipitous set of circumstances, Jacky catches the eye of Alexandre who gives him an unpaid internship at Cargo Lagarde. Jacky’s talents get him the position Alexandre’s right hand in the kitchen and his prickly personality and stubborn refusal to compromise earn him the enmity of the other chefs. Jacky at last has his shot but is it on a sinking ship? And will Jacky torpedo his own chances at achieving his dreams?

It’s hard to find comedies like this these days as it seems that most Hollywood comedies rely on star comedians (i.e. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Melissa McCarthy), all-out raunch, going big on outrage or just throwing as many jokes at the screen as possible and seeing what sticks. Le Chef tells its story honestly and while the plot may not be anything extraordinary it is told well and manages to make us laugh along the way at fairly regular intervals.

Reno is intensely likable even when his character is being a bit of a jerk. Reno is one of the most versatile actors in the world, being equally comfortable in action films, dramas and comedies and adept in all three. His presence is welcome in any film whether it’s made in Hollywood or France and he’s one of those actors that will motivate me to go see whatever movie he’s in even if it is in a supporting role.

Youn is a well-known comedian in France and while I’m not personally familiar with his work, I’m told that his performance here is fairly typical for him. His Jacky has a fine dining soul in a fast food world and therein much of the comedy of the movie’s first third arises. Jacky is a prickly bastard but you still end up rooting for him despite his arrogance and stubbornness. Hey, nobody’s perfect, right?

The film utilizes some really clever moments nicely and while it occasionally descends into low comedy unnecessarily by the film’s end I was more than satisfied. Comedies are difficult to pull off properly and rarely make the kind of splash at festivals that dramas do but this was one of the better narrative features at this year’s festival and a welcome relief from the angst of the dramatic features.

REASONS TO GO: Reno is incredibly likable. Funny where it needs to be. Will give you a hankering for French food.

REASONS TO STAY: Descends into silliness occasionally.  

FAMILY VALUES:  Some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ratatouille

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Last I Heard

Alex Cross


Alex Cross

Matthew Fox wishes he was still “Lost.”

(2012) Suspense (Summit) Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, Jean Reno, Giancarlo Esposito, Carmen Ejogo, John C. McGinley, Cicely Tyson, Chad Lindberg, Yara Shahidi, Stephanie Jacobsen, Warner Daehn, Bonnie Bentley, Ingo Rademacher. Directed by Rob Cohen

 

America loves mystery franchises. There are dozens of them from talented writers like Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Robert Parker, Jonathan Kellerman – and James Patterson. Patterson is the creator of Alex Cross, an African-American forensic psychologist who has already made two appearances in film – Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in both films.

Now he’s back and this time instead of a federal agent he’s a Detroit cop (this takes place much earlier in his career). Cross (Perry) is the head of a crack team of detectives who are routinely given Detroit’s nastiest crimes to solve. His childhood best friend Tommy Kane (Burns) is his right hand man, along with Monica Ashe (Nichols) who has a relationship with Tommy on the QT – if it got out the two were romantically involved, they could lose their jobs.

But things are going pretty well for Tyler. His pretty wife Maria (Ejogo) is pregnant and his grandma – henceforth referred to as Nana Mama (Tyson) watches the kids and growls folksy disapproval at her son and his ideal children Janelle (Shahidi) and Damon (played by Shahidi’s brother Sayeed).

One night, Alex gets a call that there has been a particularly grisly “four roses” murder. The victim, Fan Yau (Jacobsen) who happens to be the CFO of a multi-billion dollar global corporation, was brutally tortured before being executed. Although a number of bodyguards were also killed, Alex divines that this was the work of one man and indeed it is – a man the cops will soon call Picasso (Fox) for the Cubist drawings he leaves at the scene.

After an attack on Erich Nunemacher (Daehn), the next highest person on the executive ladder of the same corporation that Fan Yau worked for is thwarted by Cross and his team, Cross realizes that the real target is Leon Mercier (Reno), the CEO of the company. But Picasso has other plans for now – Cross has made this personal and before things are all played out there are going to be casualties and perhaps in the form of losing someone that Cross may be unable to bear.

This is a far different tone and type of film than the first two Alex Cross movies were – those were a bit more cerebral and much less action oriented. To the good, Cohen – whose got the Fast and the Furious franchise under his belt among other things – knows his way around an action sequence and there are some pretty nice ones in Alex Cross. Also to the good, the bi-play between Alex and Tommy is pretty natural and yields some of the best moments of the film, much of it due to Burns’ comedic timing and the wisecracking nature of Tommy.

Perry, best known for his Madea series as well as having become something of a brand name for urban comedies and romances, tries on strictly acting for size (until this film, the only movie he has appeared in that he didn’t direct himself was a brief cameo appearance in Star Trek). He has a future as an action star, being ruggedly handsome and athletic, although chances are for the time being he will stick to his extremely profitable directing gig. Unfortunately, he didn’t convince me as Cross, partially due to the short shrift the script gives his character. He’s supposed to be brilliant, a sort of Sherlock Holms of Detroit with keen observational skills and a talent for getting in the heads of criminals.

Those things are there but those aspects are written lazily, showing Cross’ talents as more or less big dumb luck rather than the result of intellectual reasoning and because we’re not shown that side of Cross, he loses much of the vitality that his character has in the books. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this film’s primary flaw is the writing. The dialogue is, simply put, embarrassing. The characters say things actual people would never say and there’s no way even the talented actors in this movie can pull it off although Fox comes close.

Fox, who caught the national fancy as Jack in the “Lost” series not that long ago, is absolutely the highlight here. He is a charismatic villain, one of the best performances in a villainous role so far this year (take that Tom Hiddleston and Tom Hardy!) His shaven-headed gaunt Picasso looks twisted and sadistic and although Fox occasionally takes it over the top, Picasso is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the movie.

The endgame revelation is going to be painfully obvious to anyone who has even a lick of cinematic sense. Although I’m giving it a pretty generous rating, that’s mainly for the action sequences and not the script. Alex Cross is a pretty smart guy but Alex Cross isn’t a smart film and in a crowded release schedule it could have used some smarts.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Perry and Burns. Fox is a demented villain.

REASONS TO STAY: Perry is unconvincing.  End twist is a yawner. Dialogue borderline incompetent.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and a whole lot of bad language. Some of the images are pretty gory and even gruesome. There are some drug references, a bit of sexuality and an even smaller bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Idris Elba was initially cast to replace Morgan Freeman as Cross but had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Perry who is starring for the first time in a film he didn’t direct. Ironically, Elba starred in Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100. The critics have pretty much given it a beating.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bone Collector

MMA LOVERS: There’s a scene in which the Matthew Fox character participates in an underground MMA match. Fox shows some pretty impressive moves.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Edge of Heaven

Hotel Rwanda


Hotel Rwanda

Even all these nuns couldn't pray Don Cheadle into the Oscar he well-deserved.

(2004) True Life Drama (United Artists) Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Sophie Okonedo, Desmond Dube, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Joaquin Phoenix, Antonio David Lyons, David O’Hara, Lebo Mashile, Jean Reno, Cara Seymour, Thulani Nyembe. Directed by Terry George

 

The thing about human beings, is that even when you hit us in the face with a two by four, we still don’t get it. Many of us read the history books about the Holocaust and the Nazi Final Solution, Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jews, Gypsies and millions of other people he didn’t like. We read about how many people turned a blind eye to the horrors of the 1930s and ’40s and we comfort ourselves by saying, “I’d never do that.”

And yet we do. The same thing happened in Rwanda in 1994, and nobody seemed to notice. It’s happening now, in Darfur, but few speak up. The consequences of silence can be terrible. Ask the Tutsis of Rwanda, if you can find any. There are significantly fewer of them now.

Paul Ruesesabagina (Cheadle) lived in Rwanda in 1994. He was the assistant manager of the swank Hotel Des Milles Colline, and a good one. Calm, efficient and competent, he used bribery, flattery and an impeccable sense of style to please his guests and grease the wheels of a corrupt system in the former Belgian colony that is now Rwanda. He lived a life of quiet comfort with his family.

But there are storm clouds on the horizon. The Belgians, while they occupied their former colony, had arbitrarily divided the people into two “tribes” — the lighter skinned, smaller-nosed were dubbed Tutsis and were given the authority to help them run the country. Inexplicably, when the Belgians left, they gave power to the Hutus. Animosities over years of oppression boiled over into a genocidal hatred, whipped up by a radio announcer/importer named George Rutuganda (Kae-Kazim).

Paul, a Hutu, is unconcerned at first. When his brother-in-law comes to warn him of impending disaster, he dismisses the warnings as hysteria. Then it begins, suddenly, brutally, given the excuse of the murder of the Rwandan president, ostensibly by Tutsi rebels, with whom a peace treaty has just been signed under the good auspices of the UN and the commander of their peacekeeping forces, Colonel Oliver (Nolte).

Now, Paul is faced with friends, neighbors and employees who are at risk because they are Tutsis. Paul’s wife Tatiana (Okonedo, previously seen in Dirty Pretty Things) is also Tutsi, as are his children. His safe world crumples amidst anarchy, chaos and brutal violence. Men, women and children are slaughtered by machetes, hacked to pieces by the hundreds. Paul and his family barely escape the carnage and make it to the hotel, where white European guests are panicking, trying to get out of a country gone berserk. Refugees, orphans left by a Red Cross worker (Seymour) begin to pour into the hotel. Paul, realizing that turning them away would be tantamount to a death sentence, takes them in, confident that he can wait out the storm until the west sends help.

But help is not forthcoming. The Americans, stung by their experiences in Somalia, don’t wish to walk into another hornet’s nest. The rest of the European nations follow suit. As the foreign nationals are all evacuated, Paul realizes that they must save themselves. And in order to do that, he must maintain the illusion that the Hotel des Milles Collines is still a five-star resort, a place of style where even the generals and butchers who preside at massacres can go to feel civilized.

Hotel Rwanda is harrowing. There are many irrational men with guns committing acts of unspeakable horror, and Cheadle, as Paul, is our eyes and ears. There is a scene where he is driving down the River Road in the early morning fog on the advice of the monstrous Rutuganda, when the car begins to hit a very rough road. Paul, fearing they have gone off the road, orders the driver to stop. He gets out of the car to see if they are still on the pavement and is met with the sight of hundreds of bodies lying in the road as far as the eye can see, children whose faces are grimaces of terror and pain. After returning to the hotel, he goes to change his shirt, which has been stained with the blood of the corpses on the road in the employee locker room. Attempting to tie his tie, he at last gives in to the overwhelming emotions of what he has witnessed and breaks down. It is a powerful, powerful scene, performed by a brilliant actor.

Don Cheadle earned an Oscar nomination for his performance here, and there are a lot of compelling reasons why he should have won, instead of Jamie Foxx. Rather than making Paul a perfect hero, he humanizes him and becomes the audience’s surrogate. Like all of us, sometimes he just doesn’t know enough to get out of the rain, even when the thunder is booming in his ears. He is in nearly every scene and carries the movie. Cheadle characterizes Paul as a kind of African Oskar Schindler, which in truth, he was. Okonedo is also magnificent, for which she was duly recognized with a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

There is no denying the power of this film. You are immediately sucked into the situation, and affected by it. You may wonder, as I did, “Why the hell didn’t I know this was going on? Why didn’t my country do anything about it?” As an embittered reporter, played in a cameo by Phoenix says, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say ‘Oh, my God, that’s horrible.’ And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.”

While I found Kinyarwanda to be a much more authentic and moving film (also about the Rwandan genocide, but more about how that country is moving towards reconciliation), this is certainly the most acclaimed film of the two and thus the easiest to locate for viewing/streaming/renting. Hotel Rwanda also boasts the performances of Cheadle and Okonedo, which are both outstanding and worth the rental fee alone.

This should be required viewing for every American and every European. We should see this powerful movie, not to feel bad about ourselves, but for us to look at the images of genocide and say “Not again. Not in my lifetime.” And, above all, to take action, to demand our leaders take action. We may feel safe and secure in our world. I’m sure the real Paul Ruesesabagina did. So did many German Jews in 1936. The storm clouds can gather anywhere – at any time.

WHY RENT THIS: Intense Oscar-nominated performances by Cheadle and Okonedo. A story that up until this movie was little seen or remembered in the West. Powerful and horrifying.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Is a bit Hollywoodized.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a good deal of violence, some foul language and some extremely disturbing images. While it got a PG-13 rating on appeal, do consider very carefully the sensitivity of those viewing it before renting it for your family, although it is certainly something teens should see.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a featurette on the real Paul Ruesesabagina returning to Rwanda almost a decade after the genocide, and to specific locations depicted in the film (including the hotel and the site of the school massacre).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.9M on an unreported prodution budget; I’d be willing to guess that the movie broke even or made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

Flushed Away


Flushed Away

Roddy St. James wanted a couple of slugs with dinner, but this isn't what he had in mind.

(2006) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Shane Richie, Kathy Burke, David Suchet, Miriam Margolyes, Rachel Rawlinson, Susan Duerden, Miles Richardson.  Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell

It is no secret that a life of privilege and ease and a life of work and stress are as worlds apart as can be. Night and day doesn’t even begin to describe it. We all aspire to be in the penthouse, but generally most of us have to settle for scraps floating around in the basement.

Nowhere is this allegory more succinct than in Flushed Away. In this animated feature, a pet mouse named Roddy St. James (Jackman) lives in pampered gentility in the fashionable Kensington district of London. His home is a magnificent, plush cage with all the amenities a rodent could aspire to. Better still, when the human inhabitants leave the house, as they do frequently, Roddy gets free run of the house. Being a refined and sophisticated mouse, he looks for the right outfit for the right occasion, be it volleyball at the beach or fine dining. He has a wardrobe – well, it belongs to the dolls but it fits him nicely – and prefers the studied elegance of a tux to just about anything else in his closet.

With England gripped by World Cup fever – the finals are just a few days away, and the plucky Brits are taking on the Germans – Roddy finds there is one thing that he doesn’t have in this existence of plenty – company. He is a pampered pet, but a pet nonetheless and it is a cage where he sleeps, no matter how gilded the environment.

That all changes when the plumbing backs up a bit and out jumps Sid (Richie) from the depths below. He is a sewer rat with a cockney accent and a foul leather jacket. Sid takes one look at the new digs and decides he wants to stay permanently. Roddy is aghast at the concept, but plots to get rid of the unwelcome guest. He escorts Sid to the bathroom and offers him a nice Jacuzzi bath. Sid, being a worldly rat, is not fooled by Roddy’s weak scheme. Instead, he gives Roddy a nice push into the “Jacuzzi” and pulls the lever to activate the bubbles. Of course, Roddy is flushed down the toilet.

He winds up in the sewers, far from his beloved home. Everything is strange and unfamiliar, especially the slugs who are everywhere, squealing in high-pitched terror. Then, Roddy finds himself in a city…a copy of London made out of garbage and debris, inhabited by rats. It is a wondrous place, with peg-legged salts (whose wooden legs are made of pencil stubs) selling fish and chips…well, fish…well, it looks a lot like fish…from the harbor side. Roddy wants nothing to do with all of this, however. Like Dorothy before him, he just wants to go home.

The only ship captain brave enough to travel the dangerous waters of the sewers to the world above is a lady named Rita (Winslet), captain of the “Jammy Dodger.” She is plucky and brave, but suspicious. Seems there’s a nefarious criminal after her – one Toad (McKellan). She has something of his – well, it was hers before it was his but that’s not the way he sees it – a ruby. Roddy arrives just as a couple of his nastier henchmen – Whitey (Nighy), an ex-lab rat, and Spike (Serkis), a street-smart hooligan – come to retrieve the Toad’s property.

They wind up capturing the pair, especially since Roddy, who doesn’t care how he gets home as long as someone gets him there, sells Rita down the river. However, when Toad (as most criminal masterminds will) decides to deep-freeze them both, Rita rescues the both of them, taking a critical item that Toad wants even more than the Ruby (which is just glass, by the way) since it is central to his plans of taking over.

Once Spike, Whitey and their fellow henchmen are unsuccessful at recapturing the pair, the disgusted Toad calls in the big guns; the French super-criminal Le Frog (Reno) and his group of miming, prone-to-surrender French Frogs. In the meantime, Roddy meets Rita’s family and begins to realize just what he is missing. Still, he has to get back home and promises Rita real jewels to get him there. She may not trust him, but she is loyal to a fault, particularly when a bargain has been struck. Still, with the villainous amphibians on their trail, can they make it to the penthouse once again?

Aardman Studios, the creators of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit are responsible for this. It is their first foray into computer generated animation – they are known for their stop motion animation, which doesn’t work very well with water, which much of this movie is set on or near. They brought in veterans of Shrek to help them, and so this has the look and feel of an Aardman film without the thumbprints – although the software written for the movie actually digitally inserts imperfections into the characters to make it look more like a traditional Aardman movie.

Like most Aardman movies, Flushed Away skewers British life and frailties (although they go after other nationalities, with the ugly American tourists and the supercilious French) and carries a tremendous amount of in-jokes. For example, when Roddy is going through his wardrobe, he finds a yellow spandex outfit that looks suspiciously like what Wolverine wears in the comics (Jackman, of course, plays Wolverine in the X-Men series). A cockroach is seen reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Roddy encounters a Nemo-like clownfish in the sewers.

The real attraction here are the slugs. Although at first it looks like they’re going to be a one-joke occurrence, they settle into a role as a kind of Greek chorus, singing popular songs to emphasize various points during the movie. They never fail to amuse; in fact, every time they came onscreen, I wound up laughing, many times out loud. They’re by far the best part of the movie, not unlike Scrat the Squirrel in Ice Age. If the movie does well, don’t be surprised if we see a lot more of the slugs over the next couple of years.

The movie is well-cast, with Jackman bringing a kind of dorky charm that he displays from time to time onscreen (see Kate and Leopold). His chemistry with Winslet is surprisingly good, and Reno has a great time lampooning a character he played in Leon: The Professional. The problem I have here is a minor quibble; the story is a bit unnecessarily complex. They have this whole subplot with the ruby and then cast it aside very abruptly when Toad sets his eyes on something else. That left the ruby kind of superfluous; they’d have been better off without it and just have Toad go for the thing he really wants from the get go, instead of having to contrive for Rita to steal it. I guess they must have needed to pad the running time a bit.

Still in all, this is real entertaining for kids and their parents alike. The slugs are some of the funniest characters this year, and to my mind this is right up there with Cars and The Ant Bully as the best kids movie of the year. Considering this is an Aardman production, that’s not surprising at all.

WHY RENT THIS: Like all Aardman productions, this is big time quality all the way, and plenty funny for both kids and adults. The slugs are hysterical.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the British in-jokes may not necessarily play well outside of the U.K.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a bit crude and a few bad words, but otherwise suitable for most kids and certainly all teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robert DeNiro and William Shatner were also considered for the part that eventually went to Andy Serkis.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of extra slug songs. There is also a pipes maze in a fair-to-middlin’ kids section.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $178.1M on a production budget of $149M. The movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Ninja Assassin

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