3 Days to Kill


Kevin Costner isn't going to let anyone stop his career re-invention.

Kevin Costner isn’t going to let anyone stop his career re-invention.

(2014) Thriller (Relativity) Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Marc Andreoni, Bruno Ricci, Jonas Bloquet, Eriq Ebouaney, Joakhim Sigue, Alison Valence, Big John, Michael Vander-Meiren, Paolo Calia, Eric Naggar, Alexis Jacquin, Frederick Malahieude, Patty Hannock, Marie Guillard, Mai Anh Le. Directed by McG

The ties that bind are often stretched, if not severed, by the needs of our careers. Success requires a certain amount of attention that is usually stolen from that which we turn on our homes and families. It is from there that we rob Peter to pay Paul.

Ethan Renner (Costner) has been living that life longer than he can count. It has cost him his wife Christine (Nielsen) and his daughter Zoe (Steinfeld) who live in Paris and rarely speak to him and find no real reason to seek that kind of thing out. Of course, Ethan has a somewhat unusual career – he’s an assassin for the United States government.

He has been sent to take out the Albino (Lemarquis), the right hand of a German arms dealer nicknamed the Wolf (Sammel). However, the meticulously set up hit goes sideway when the Albino recognizes one of the agents (Le), dispatching her in a particularly gruesome fashion. Ethan himself gives chase and has the Albino in his sights but collapses, nose bleeding and barely able to breathe. He manages to put a bullet in the leg of the Albino before passing out.

It turns out that Ethan isn’t well at all. He has a brain tumor that has spread into his lungs because, you know, the brain and the lungs are connected. He doesn’t have much time left to him; a few months at most. Faced with his own mortality, Ethan decides that killing for his country doesn’t have the same appeal and decides to spend what time he has left reconnecting with his wife and daughter.

While he tells his wife about his condition, he keeps that information from his daughter. Zoe is a typical teenage girl; sneaks out to go party with friends, check. Underage drinking, check. Argues with her mom like cats and dogs, check. Dresses inappropriately, check. Subject to wild mood swings that defy logic and reason, check. Yup, typical teenager girl.

Ethan is doing his best but it’s not a smooth integration into their lives. However, when Vivi Delay (Heard), a fellow assassin, shows up with an offer of an experimental drug that might give him a significantly longer life span in exchange for finishing his job and taking out the Wolf and the Albino, he leaps at the chance. He goes after the Albino’s driver Mitat (Andreoni) and finds him to be a family man who commiserates with Ethan’s dilemma with Zoe.  Through the hapless Mitat Ethan looks to work his way up the chain until he gets his man.

Unfortunately, the miracle cure has a few side effects that always seem to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune moments. Ethan, who’d distanced himself from his own family so that the ugliness of his job doesn’t touch them, finds that they are being drawn in anyway. The whole point of taking this cure was so that he could have more time with Christine and Zoe but it only takes one well-placed bullet from one of the Wolf’s men. A bullet through the brain still has no cure.

This is fairly pedestrian espionage stuff. We’ve seen similar things with Jackie Chan, Vin Diesel and the Rock in the lead and with similarly mixed results. Costner isn’t really known for being an action star, although he has done a few films in his career that have required that element and to be honest, he can be quite good in that kind of role.

In fact, Costner is really the best thing this movie has going for it. He’s likable and down to earth, so we get a spy/killer who isn’t suave, who isn’t refined but is kind of rough around the edges. He’s had to reinvent his career to a certain extent, becoming more of a character actor as of late rather than a leading man but make no mistake, he’s still one of the most likable leading men in Hollywood history and he remains so here. His relationship with Steinfeld as Zoe is one of the movie’s high points – it’s genuine and most parents of once and present teenagers will tell you holds some of the same ups and downs that real life parents of teens are all-too-familiar with.

Heard is a terrific actress who is thrown into a part that is just misconceived from the get-go. She appears periodically in different wigs and looking like she just got off the runway at Milan, chain-smoking with a sardonic grin and far too young to be a master spy yet here she is. In fact, she oozes competence so much that one wonders that with her skills why does she need Ethan at all (the answer is that Ethan is the only one who’s actually seen the Wolf and might recognize him). Still, while I get the sense she had fun with the role, it’s just so badly laid out that it becomes distracting for all the wrong reasons.

The hallmark of a Luc Besson movie is well-done action sequences and there are several here that will keep action fans if not happy, at least not walking out of the theater. There’s nothing here that’s overly imaginative or challenging but it at least is professionally done so there is entertainment value throughout. The Wolf and the Albino, while having nifty monikers, lack any sort of menace. They both scowl a lot and other than the one scene where the Albino executes a female agent, you don’t get a sense that they pose any threat to Ethan or anyone else in the movie. They’re more or less just goals for Ethan to achieve and it’s more of a game of hide and seek rather than spy versus spy.

REASONS TO GO: Costner and Steinfeld are solid. Some decent action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Heard fares poorly. Villains not menacing enough.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action, a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming in Belgrade, Costner was given an audience with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: From Paris With Love

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Non-Stop

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This Means War


This Means War

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine mistakenly believe they're trying out for the next Men in Black movie.

(2012) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Abigail Leigh Spencer, John Paul Ruttan, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Clint Carleton, Warren Christie, Leela Savasta. Directed by McG

 

When guys bond, it’s a beautiful thing. Guys will take a bullet for each other; guys will give you the shirts off their back. When a woman comes between two best friends, all bets can rapidly become off.

That’s especially true for Franklyn “FDR” Foster (Pine) and John “Tuck” Harrison (Hardy). Both of them are elite field agents for the CIA and their partnership in the field has led to the kind of friendship that is as close as family (in fact FDR regularly brings Tuck to the home of his Nana (Harris) for family functions). They are working a case in which two German weapons dealers (and actual brothers) are in the midst of pulling off a scam in Hong Kong. The operation goes south and one of the brothers winds up taking a doozy of a last step. Naturally Heinrich (Schweiger), the terse surviving brother, vows revenge.

The debacle lands the two field agents in desk jockey-land. Bored out of their skulls, they begin to talk about their love lives (and if you know how bored guys have to be to discuss their love lives with one another…) leading Tuck, recently divorced and missing his son Joe (Ruttan) to sign up with one of those online dating services.

Lauren (Witherspoon) is a product tester and she loves her job. She had moved to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend who wound up cheating on her, sending her into a romantic tailspin from which she’s not yet recovered. Her best friend Trish (Handler) signs her up for a dating site and she promptly lays her peepers on Tuck’s profile and is very interested.

So is Tuck but FDR knows that he’s rusty at the whole dating thing, so he arranges to hang out at a neighboring video store just in case he’s needed to rescue his friend. Tuck and Lauren hit it off right away so Tuck sends the “all clear” signal to FDR. FDR, a big-time movie buff, decides to find something to rent for the night. Of course he stays long enough to bump into Lauren after her date with Tuck. Not knowing who she is, he flirts with her and long story short, manages to connive her into a date.

The two men find out that they are both dating the same girl and as it turns out, both have strong feelings for them. At first they set up ground rules of a “may the best man win” sort but soon enough the “all’s fair in love and war” corollary sets in and they are both using all the high-tech means at their disposal to keep an eye on each other as they put the moves on poor Lauren. Will she choose either one of them, or will the evil Heinrich show up and spoil the party?

McG has made a reputation that isn’t necessarily the greatest among critics. In all fairness, he doesn’t seem to be aiming to create films that are as memorable so much as they are entertaining. There’s a lot of bright colors, lots of things that go boom and lots of eye candy for both sexes, all of which are elements regularly seen in McG movies.

That this movie has gotten critically spanked is no surprise – that this is much better than what the critics are letting on isn’t either. What is a surprise is that the audience, generally better arbiters of this kind of film than the critics, haven’t picked up on it yet.

There is good chemistry between Pine and Hardy, essential to make this movie work. These are two up-and-coming stars, both who show signs of being destined for bigger and better things. Their byplay is natural and realistic; they act like a couple of guys who have been friends for awhile. The chemistry with Witherspoon is a little bit more forced. Mind you, Reece Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she seems uncomfortable with the slight sluttiness her character displays.

This isn’t smart entertainment by any means. It’s a big dumb dog lying in front of a fire on a rainy afternoon; familiar and easy to deal with, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This breaks little or no new ground and doesn’t really want to. The whole aim here is to entertain and if that’s all the filmmakers are after, mission accomplished – and not in the George W. sense either. I can be picky and take issue with the somewhat choppy pacing which is less than seamless going from comedy to romance to action sequences but while it’s a little annoying it isn’t a dealbreaker.

There’s far worse out there at the moment and there will be far worse available when it comes out on home video/streaming. If you’re looking for something mindless and fun, this could be your huckleberry. If you’re looking for something that isn’t just empty calories, well, you might want to check your art house listings.

REASONS TO GO: Good ol’ empty-headed entertainment. Some nice action sequences and good chemistry between Pine and Hardy. Witherspoon is awesome to look at.

REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a bit choppy; feels like you’re driving a car with a bad transmission.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of bad language, some action-style violence and a lot of sexual innuendo. .

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At one point in the film, FDR is waiting for Tuck to show up at his home to join him in a “CHiPs” marathon. Actor Chris Pine’s father Robert Pine was a regular on that show.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100. The reviews are poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: True Lies

STAR TREK LOVERS: Both Pine and Hardy have appeared in Star Trek films – Hardy as Shinzon, the clone of Capt. Picard in Star Trek: Nemesis and Pine as Capt. Kirk in Star Trek. In fact the reference to Pine being a cruise ship captain throughout the film is in reference to this.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Kung Fu Panda

Terminator Salvation


Terminator Salvation

The sad fact of the matter is that T-800s suck at hide and go seek.

(Warner Brothers) Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Jadagrace Berry, Michael Ironside, Linda Hamilton (voice), Arnold Schwarzenegger. Directed by McG.

The thing about the future is that it is largely unwritten. It is in many ways the undiscovered country that we all travel to together (sounds catchy, no?). Some of our biggest mistakes are made when we think we know what it holds.

John Connor (Bale) has every reason to believe he knows what’s going to happen. His mother Sarah was visited by a soldier from the future whose mission was to protect her from killer robots, called Terminators, from the same future who wish to kill her before she can give birth to a son, who will lead the human resistance to eventual victory in a war against Skynet, the sentient machine that murdered most of the human race in a nuclear horror known as Judgement Day.

Now, it is 2018 and the war is not quite going according to plan. Connor has a large following who believe he is a cross between the Messiah and a kicker of mechanical ass. He also has many who believe him to be delusional, such as the de facto resistance leader General Ashdown (Ironside) who leads the fight from a submarine.

Connor leads his team on a fairly routine mission to take out a Skynet research facility. He is supposed to retrieve a case that has a chip in it – or some such thing – and return it to the Resistance. However, in an unexpected twist you can see coming a mile off, a nuclear device detonates inside the facility, wiping out all of Connor’s crew, or most of them – some of them are back at camp. I think. Anyway, only one person gets out alive besides Connor (although he doesn’t know it at the time) – Marcus Wright (Worthington), a convicted murderer whose last memory was of his death by lethal injection. Now he’s awake and puzzled. He’s not the only one.

While Connor heads to the sub to yell at his superior officers about what was worth risking the lives of his men, Marcus walks towards Los Angeles across desolate roads covered with sand and dead cars. When he gets to L.A. he meets a Terminator who doesn’t take kindly to Marcus. Fortunately, Marcus meets the L.A. chapter of the resistance – a teenaged Kyle Reese (Yelchin), who is the soldier who will someday be sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (are you getting all this?) and, not coincidently, become the father of John (the pain is getting worse) and a silent young girl (Berry) named Star whose sole reason for being in this movie is to be silent.

It turns out that the thing the Resistance needed from the research facility was a signal code that when broadcast turns the machines off. This could come in handy when trying to win the war. It also turns out that Skynet is collecting humans for some as-yet-undetermined purpose, and it captures Reese and Star, although Marcus gets away. He runs into fighter pilot Blair (Bloodgood) whose life he saves at least once.

Finally, it turns out that Marcus is a cyborg himself, whose purpose is as yet undetermined. It also turns out that General Ashdown wants to use the signal to turn off Skynet long enough to bomb the area into the stone age, which Connor objects to because he doesn’t want Daddy deep-fried before he can sow his wild oats in the past. What’s a Messiah to do?

As it turns out, yell quite a lot. Or talk in a strained whisper, as if channeling Clint Eastwood. If you had told me that the most one-dimensional portrayal of John Connor in the franchise would be delivered by Christian Bale, I wouldn’t have believed you but here it is. The mechanical terminators display more range than Bale here, which is surprising because he’s demonstrated that he is a terrific actor in other roles.

Of course, he doesn’t really have much time to display much of anything between action sequences. Director McG and writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris try not to dwell too much on story, instead relying on one action sequence after another. Granted, some of these action sequences are eye-popping, but by the end of the film they get a little bit overwhelming. I would have liked to have seen more balance between plot and action.

Sam Worthington does a reasonably good job as Marcus, which is a good thing although he is sometimes indistinguishable from Bale. Worthington, a veteran of Australian TV, has a high-profile lead coming this holiday season in James Cameron’s ambitious epic Avatar so judging from his work here, we can expect Mr. Worthington to be a big star. This is a good role for him to catapult into the limelight. There’s a pretty decent cast here otherwise, but quite frankly they don’t have a whole lot to do except to dodge explosions, yell a lot and look worried about the whereabouts of John Connor.

I’d be the last person to complain about too much action normally. I love great action sequences, cool special effects and big honking explosions. I also love the Terminator franchise, although I have to admit the last movie was less awe-inspiring than the first two. However, compared to this, Terminator: Rise of the Machines is much superior. That’s a shame because I had high hopes for the latest entry into the franchise. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver. I honestly hope that the movie does well enough to justify continuing the franchise. I just hope they put a little more effort into the plot and characters and a little less emphasis on the pyro and CGI.

WHY RENT THIS: If you love action sequences, this movie is chock full of them. Worthington is a big star in the making. Some of the CGI here is breathtaking.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Bale’s performance is one of the least successful of his career. Emphasis on action comes at the expense of character development and plot.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of gruesome violence and scary monsters will make this too intense for young impressionable sorts.  

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This is the first Terminator film without Earl Boen, who plays the cynical psychiatrist in the first three films.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The single-disc DVD has no extra features. Nada. None. There is a 2-disc DVD edition which is only available at Target which has 30 minutes of special features, undoubtedly some of which are on the Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray is in Maximum Movie Mode which utilizes the Blu-Ray features better than almost any other Blu-Ray on the market, with interactive access to nearly every featurette and info piece on the disc.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Miami Vice