Pain and Gain


Mark Wahlberg is surrounded by chaos.

Mark Wahlberg is surrounded by chaos.

(2013) Action Comedy (Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub, Rebel Wilson, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Ken Jeong, Michael Rispoli, Keili Lefkovitz, Emily Rutherfurd, Larry Hankin, Tony Plana, Peter Stormare, Vivi Pineda, Ken Clement, Yolanthe Cabau, Persi Caputo. Directed by Michael Bay.

We all have some sort of version of the American dream – success, and the rewards that come with it. Not all of us have the tools to achieve it on our own, however – particular in these rough times when achievement is seemingly less attainable than it’s ever been.

Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), a body builder in Miami, is a big believer in physical fitness. In fact, the only thing he believes in more than keeping in shape is the aforementioned American dream. He believes that he deserves it. But working at it isn’t always easy. He’s charming and is able to draw lots of new customers – younger customers – to Sun Gym, which pleases owner John Mese (Corddry).

But Lugo isn’t pleased. He’s frankly tired of building up the bodies of wealthy douchebags like Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub), one of the most unlikable people…well, ever (see below). His protégé Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) concurs. Adrian has to work at a taco joint in addition to his full-time job at the gym in order to make ends meet. Adrian also has erectile dysfunction, which requires some expensive treatments. A sympathetic nurse (Wilson) at the clinic hits it off with Adrian.

Lugo wants his share and he thinks Kershaw has too much as it is. In fact, he despises Kershaw. He decides that he is going to take everything Kershaw has. His plan? Kidnap him, torture him and get him to sign his assets over to Lugo and his crew. But they’re going to need a third partner and they find it in Paul Doyle (Johnson), an ex-con who found Jesus and is trying to stay on the straight and narrow but soon finds that he can’t afford the straight and narrow.

So these three knuckleheads, roughly on the same intellectual level as the Three Stooges, go about pulling off their crime of the century. They kidnap Kershaw who’s so unlikable and such a horrible human being that nobody reports him missing even though he’s gone for weeks.

They finally get him to sign but typically they mess things up. Adrian blows all of his share on a house which he pays for in cash (the realtor, when asked about the unusualness of this snaps “He’s black. I figured he was a rapper, an athlete”), leaving him with an operation to get his erectile issues resolved to pay for. Paul falls off the wagon like it was the Brooklyn Bridge and puts almost all of his share up his nose. They decide to go for one more score.

Meanwhile, Kershaw has seen the police who react with absolute disbelief. Nobody believes him – except retired cop and private eye Ed DuBois (Harris). DuBois knows what he’s doing and it won’t be long before these ee-dyots will mess up but he is concerned that others will get hurt before then. He doesn’t realize just how right he is.

This is one of those stories that is so bizarre that it has to be true, and it is – and apparently pretty dang close to the truth. There is one scene so outrageous, so unbelievably dumb near the end of the movie that Bay feels compelled to remind you that this is a true story, even though it is announced early on and often.

Bay is often criticized for his big overblown productions, and with a $20M budget (actually it’s a bit less than that) that won’t be the case here. In fact, I think this might be his best movie to date. It’s snappy, has a real terrific sense of humor. I laughed out loud as much here as I have at some of the better-known and better-received comedies in recent months.

Wahlberg and Johnson are two of the most engaging stars in Hollywood and both are quite willing to poke fun at themselves. They can utilize their huge likable personalities to offset the fact that they’re playing some truly despicable people who do way despicable things.

It doesn’t hurt that they have a particularly engaging cast. Shalhoub, best known for his portrayal of the neurotic Monk gets to play a real jerk and he does so with great relish. Harris, one of the steadiest and strongest actors in the business, plays it pretty straight but every so often you catch an expression that lets you know that DuBois is ready to bang his head against whatever wall might be available that these clowns might actually get away with it (although they didn’t in the end).

The crimes that are depicted here are horrible. I understand that some of the family members of those involved are somewhat upset that the story was essentially a comedy. In all fairness however I think that the tale is well-served by humor and it should be remembered that while the movie is funny, the suffering depicted is not and that the victims aren’t being made fun of. At least, I never got the sense they were – mostly the ineptness of the criminals is what is being held to scrutiny.

And that’s kind of the point here. Criminals by and large aren’t a bright lot – all Hollywood romanticizing to the contrary. For the most part, they’re effin’ dumb. Criminal jobs rarely are pulled off smoothly and more often than not, they wind up imprisoned. Pain & Gain isn’t really a cautionary tale so much as it is a reminder that while any idiot can get lucky, generally speaking their luck runs out pretty darn quickly.

REASONS TO GO: Surprisingly funny. Terrific performances from all the leads.

REASONS TO STAY: Maybe a bit too gruesome in spots. As things spiral out of control for the main characters towards the end of the movie, the sense of the surreal becomes a bit too much.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a lot of violence, some of it quite brutal and graphic. There’s also some nudity and sexual content, a fair amount of drug use and pretty much non-stop foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wahlberg bulked up to 213 lbs. for the film, essentially using his own body building supplements to do it. While his sons loved their new muscular dad, his daughters reportedly hated his over-the-top physique.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/7/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100; fairly mixed but trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bank Job

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Informant

Advertisements

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters


This isn't your grandparents' Hansel and Gretel.

This isn’t your grandparents’ Hansel and Gretel.

(2013) Fantasy Action (MGM/Paramount) Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Pihla Viltala, Derek Mears, Robin Atkin Downes (voice), Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Joanna Kulig, Rainer Bock, Bjorn Sundquist, Zoe Bell, Kathrin Kuhnel. Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Even after I outgrew them, I always loved fairy tales. You know, the sort in which brave heroes outwit fiendish foes, beautiful princesses await rescuing and fantastic creatures exist in a kind of idealized Renaissance Faire-like environment which is free of disease, the commoners were well-treated by their land-owning nobles and nobody starves, living a simple life in which everyone is basically good. You know, Fantasyland.

Certainly it never existed in real life. Still, we all know the story of Hansel and Gretel, a brother and sister who wandered into the woods to find a cottage made of candy – what child wouldn’t investigate that. But then they meet the owner of the cottage – a witch who uses the candy to attract children whom she imprisons, fattens up and then cooks. Sort of like Gordon Ramsay on estrogen. Of course the kids trick the witch and shove her into her own oven. And there the tale ends.

But in a marvelous idea of what-if, a 15-years older and wiser Hansel and Gretel are posited. They have evolved into professional witch hunters, travelling from village to village to rid them of the witch menace while collecting the bounties offered. Hansel (Renner) ate too much candy at the witch’s cottage and now must inject himself periodically or die. Think of it as fairy tale diabetes. Gretel (Arterton) is a kick-ass ninja who while beautiful and desirable doesn’t seem to have any takers. Hansel, on the other hand has attracted the comely Mina (Viltala) whom he rescued from being burned by the overzealous Sheriff (Stormare) who resents the bounty hunters incursion into his territory. It seems that children have been disappearing in great numbers in the village as of late.

Notwithstanding, the Mayor (Bock) insists so the pair go after the kids and find the witch responsible. Which happens to be Muriel (Janssen), who has it in her head to perform a ritual in a few days during the blood moon that will let her create a potion that will permanently make witches immune to fire. Muriel also has a connection to their late mother (Kuhnel) and Gretel herself has in turn a connection to this ritual.

So they need to stop this thing from happening but they will have to get past an angry sheriff (whose had his nose broken by the no-nonsense Gretel), a monstrous troll (Mears, voiced by Downes) and a coven of very nasty witches who have a broomstick up their butts about the whole thing.

Wirkola, best known for Dead Snow, the zombie Nazi ski resort horror film of a few years back, has a great concept to work with. Unfortunately, his writers (of which he is one) do nothing creative with it. This is a generic fantasy action film with nothing unusual to recommend it.

Oh, Renner is good. Renner is, in fact great. He has a kind of sardonic grin throughout as if he is saying to the audience “Yeah, I know it’s crap but it’s a paycheck and I’m gonna have a great time making it.” He’s a terrific action hero as he showed last summer with The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. He’s a star and time will tell how big he’ll be. This movie unfortunately won’t help.

It might help Arterton though. She’s had some pretty good performances in films that ranged from good (Tamara Drewe) to not-so-good (Prince of Persia) and here she continues that streak. She’s due a movie that is worthy of her talents and one in which she’ll get enough fans where she can be a star herself. She’s not quite there yet though.

As you might guess, there are a lot of effects here much of which have to do with witches getting eviscerated by Hansel and Gretel (a sentence which sounds kind of crazy on its own merits). There is the troll who is well realized with some very evocative facial expressions; there are also tons of fire effects some of which looks none too realistic. It’s pretty much hit and miss. The 3D incidentally is pretty miserable; there really isn’t much reason to have made this movie in 3D other than as a cash grab; that they pushed back the movie nearly a full year in order to retro-convert it is even worse.

This is a major disappointment. They had a great idea but could think of nothing good to do with it. There are some humorous bits – drawings of the missing children on the milk bottles for example but not enough of them. The anachronisms – the swearing, the machine guns, the magic bullets – simply don’t work. They remind you that you’re watching a movie instead of being part of a mysterious. The reason that a movie like this works is that you feel a part of the experience. The reason that it doesn’t is that you’re constantly reminded that you aren’t.

REASONS TO GO: Renner and Arterton are pretty damn good. Janssen makes an effective baddie. Edward the Troll is nicely realized.

REASONS TO STAY: A great concept poorly executed. Too many anachronisms.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a good deal of violence albeit mostly of the fairy tale variety although there is a goodly amount of gore i.e. heads exploding, heads being hacked off, heads being stepped on etc. – this isn’t a good movie to be a head. There is also some brief nudity, a bit of sexuality and a lot of bad language – who knew there were so many f bombs in medieval Germany!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was already in pre-production and was to be about the unsuccessful hunt for Osama Bin Laden when the news broke that Bin Laden was dead. Immediately the screenplay was re-written to turn the movie into the story of the successful hunt for Bin Laden.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100; the reviews are miserable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Van Helsing

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Pearl Harbor

New Releases for the Week of January 25, 2013


Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS

(Paramount/MGM) Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann, Rainer Bock, Thomas Scharff, Zoe Bell. Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Fifteen years after nearly being cooked alive at the hands of a naughty witch, brother and sister Hansel and Gretel have taken up the mantle of witch hunters, using ingenious weapons to battle the evil creatures. However, their success has made them a target and their past is about to catch up with them in a malevolent way. This is most certainly not your mom and dad’s fairy tale.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Fantasy Horror

Rating: R (for strong fantasy violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language)

Holy Motors

(Indomina) Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Green, Kylie Minogue. A man steps into a limousine and heads out into Paris for a series of appointments. The man changes with each appointment from a captain of industry to a gypsy crone, to an assassin to the melancholy father of a teenage daughter. The movie changes to from drama to action film to science fiction to melodrama. Experimental French cinema at its finest.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Movie 43

(Universal) Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Richard Gere, Emma Stone. An ambitious ensemble piece from some of the most deliciously twisted minds in comedy, including the Farrelly Brothers, Steven Brill and…Brett Ratner. Okay, the last was sarcastic but there really are some talented guys here. Just ask them. But don’t ask them what happened to Movies 1 through 42, okay?

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for strong pervasive crude and sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use)

Parker

(FilmDistrict) Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte. Parker is one of the best thieves in the world. He can afford to live by a code of ethics that he sticks to no matter what. He’s not the sort of fellow you want to cross. So when a group of fellow thieves do just that, Parker aims to get his own sort of justice. Even if he has to use Jennifer Lopez to help him get it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Action

Rating: R (for strong violence throughout)

Quartet

(Weinstein) Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay. At a retirement home for opera singers, an annual concert commemorating Verdi’s birthday has been a major source for fundraising, which this year is particularly crucial because the home is in hot financial water. When a diva joins the home and refuses to sing in the concert even though her presence might mean the difference between the home surviving and all its residents being thrown out into the street, an uproar ensues. This is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, by the way.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and suggestive humor)

Race 2

(UTV) Saif Ali Khan, Anil Kapoor, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone. After his partner and lover dies in a car bomb explosion, Ranveer vows to bring her killer to justice. To do that he’ll have to navigate through the criminal underworld of India and through the corrupt corridors of power where betrayal is always an option.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of January 18, 2013


The Last Stand

THE LAST STAND

(Lionsgate) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Genesis Rodriguez. Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

The Governator’s first starring role in a decade puts him as a disgraced L.A. cop who now lives a much more peaceful life as sheriff in a small, quiet border town. When a vicious drug cartel kingpin escapes from a convoy taking him to jail, a small army of mercenaries and thugs are insuring that he gets back to Mexico. Unfortunately, their route will take him right through Arnold’s town. Big mistake.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, and language)

Broken City

(20th Century Fox) Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper. A former NYPD cop, stripped of his badge because of a shooting scandal, is hired as a private eye by the popular mayor of Noo Yawk to investigate his wife. However, much more is going on than meets the eye and he finds himself in a fight to bring the truth to light and to keep himself from going to jail.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

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

Mama

(Universal) Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nellise. Two young girls who’d disappeared five years earlier when their mother died are discovered living in the woods, having survived on their own against all odds. They are brought to live with their only surviving relative – their uncle – and his girlfriend. Soon it becomes apparent that they might not have been quite so alone as everybody thought – and that they brought their companion/protector into their uncle’s home. Not so good for Uncle.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements)

A Royal Affair

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Trine Dyrholm.  In the 18th century, King Christian VII was absolute ruler of Denmark and rumor has it, was quite deranged. His Queen embarked on a passionate affair with a German physician, putting the both of them in extreme danger.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content and some violent images)

Rust and Bone

(Sony Classics) Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenarts, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette. A homeless, friendless and penniless man takes refuge in his sister’s home in the South of France with his five-year-old son who barely knows him. After he gets a job as a nightclub bouncer, he encounters a beautiful whale trainer at the local marine park. When a tragic accident leaves her disabled, the unlikely couple learn to heal each other. Cotillard has received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her work here.

See the trailer and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language)

Janie Jones


Janie Jones

Alessandro Nivola gives Abigail Breslin some lessons in rock star cool.

(2010) Drama (Tribeca) Abigail Breslin, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Shue, Brittany Snow, Peter Stormare, Joel David Moore, Frank Whaley, Frances Fisher, Rodney Eastman, David Lee Smith, Michael Panes, Guy van Swearingen, Jessica Joy. Directed by David M. Rosenthal

 

Reaping what we sow is an American pastime. It is easy when you’re young to go out and have a good time and think yourself consequence-free. Sooner or later though, those pesky repercussions come storming back into our lives, sometimes with devastating effect.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the rock star industry. Musicians tour from city to city, often with a groupie at every port. They party, they live for the moment and then their inspiration dries up. That’s exactly what’s happened to Ethan Brand (Nivola), once a promising talent who is on the downward slide of his career. Once a young lion of the alternative rock movement, Brand goes from one dump to another, each one getting progressively dump-ier.

At one such dump-o-rama a groupie named Mary Ann Jones (Shue) makes her way backstage where Ethan and his band – drummer Chuck (Whaley) and bassist Dave (Moore) are celebrating as bands do the end of another successful gig. Mary Ann has had some substance abuse problems and is going off to get clean. However, before she goes she wants to leave her precocious child Janie (Breslin) with her daddy. That would be Ethan.

Ethan and his bandmates react with guffaws. No way they can take it seriously, right? Wrong. While the band is loading out their equipment, Mary Ann moseys, disappearing into the sunset (were it not 2am) and leaving Janie with nowhere to go. Ethan just wants to dump the kid in whatever hellhole they can find but a friendly police officer (Smith) convinces Ethan that the best thing for him to get out of the state un-arrested would be to take the girl on tour with him.

At first Ethan doesn’t want the girl anywhere nearby – a rock tour isn’t anywhere for a 13-year-old girl to be. But a funny thing happens; the two begin to bond over music. Janie has a surprising amount of talent (surprising to Ethan anyway) not only at singing and playing guitar but writing some pretty nifty songs (which were written for the film by Dutch power pop legend Eef Barzalay) which interests Ethan’s manager (Stormare) and the two get closer which irritates Ethan’s girlfriend (Snow).

But Ethan’s got a streak of self-destruction a mile wide. He is often irritable and egotistical; even his bandmates are beginning to weary of his diva-esque attitudes. Fueled by drugs and alcohol, Ethan’s world is spinning into wreckage and the only thing that might save him is a 13-year-old girl.

Fans of films like Crazy Heart will find the territory familiar here. Fading star with demons galore on the rock and roll/country/blue road trying to reconnect with family and finding that connection after a series of disasters. It’s almost like an Afterschool Special version of rock and roll.

Nivola has been the star that wasn’t. He has plenty of charisma and acting chops but he tends to choose material that’s more cerebral than mainstream audiences tend to look into and he lacks the kind of blockbuster to build on that Viggo Mortensen has. You can see it here – not Oscar-winning material to work with necessarily but at least something with a bit of bite to it.

Breslin is simply put one of the greatest juvenile actresses of our time. The kind of depth she puts into Janie is rare in an actress twice her age. Janie is not merely some precocious child who is going to save her dad in spite of himself by the end credits, she is wounded and wary, having been stuck with parents who were far too busy indulging their own needs to worry about those of a young girl. Not many actresses could pull off a role like this without resorting to cliché tricks, let alone one not old enough to get a driver’s license (when it was filmed).

The music (with Breslin and Nivola both singing their own parts) is actually pretty outstanding. It’s a little bit on the folky-rootsy side of adult alternative – a helping heaping of Ryan Adams, a little more Tommy Keene and a dash of Howie Day. It’s got that singer-songwriter vibe that can be a little pretentious but let’s face it – Ethan’s a bit of a jerk and that vibes fits perfectly with his character.

Now, this is kind of a romanticized version of life on the road and quite frankly, it’s beginning to be a bit outdated given the realities of the music business. Still, the grin of a small time tour full of fleabag hotels and cheap fast food grabbed quickly and economically between point A and point B is all here in spirit if not onscreen.

While I’m not sure any self-respecting cop would allow a 13-year-old girl on a rock tour with musicians who may not necessarily be the best of role models stretches credibility a bit far even for a movie, for the most part the movie feels authentic. With some good music and fine performances starting with the two leads, this is really one of those dark horse movies that you wind up going in not knowing much about it and leaving it happy you saw it.

WHY RENT THIS: A cut above these sorts of movies; nice performances throughout. Breslin is outstanding. The music is surprisingly good

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there, done that. Stretches credibility.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drinking and drug usage, a whole lot o’ foul language and a teensy weensy bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writer-Director Rosenthal based the movie on his own experiences learning at age 30 that he had a 13 year old daughter – in fact, the film is dedicated to her.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6,840 on an unreported production budget; looks like the film was not a winner at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Somewhere

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Six Days of Darkness 2012

Henry’s Crime


 

Henry's Crime

Henry looks at life through a constant haze of befuddlement.

(2010) Dark Comedy (Moving Pictures) Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, Judy Greer, James Caan, Fisher Stevens, Peter Stormare, Danny Hoch, Bill Duke, Chris Cardona, Rosemary Harris, Mark Anthony, Carlos Pizarro, Currie Graham, Audrey Lynn Weston, David Costabile. Directed by Malcolm Venville

There is a saying that goes “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” It has to do with taking risks. Of course, the opposite may well be true – if you’re gonna do the time, you may as well do the crime.

Henry Torne (Reeves) is the kind of man who is blown by the wind. He rarely gets angry and stares at life through the glass of his toll booth on the New York Thruway with an expression of a man who isn’t quite sure how he got to that point. His wife Debbie (Greer) has made it clear that she is kind of disappointed in him but he doesn’t seem disposed to changing things and frankly, neither is she – he’s a decent enough fellow.

One day his friend Eddie Vibes (Stevens) asks for Henry to give him a lift to the softball game he and a friend were playing in – Joe (Hoch) was supposed to drive them but had come down with a stomach ailment so they needed a favor. Henry, ever accommodating, agrees to do this not realizing that there’s no softball game; in fact, Eddie is going to rob a bank and needs Henry as a getaway driver.

Of course such well-made plans are bound to go sideways and both Eddie and his accomplice are fouled up by an off-duty security guard named Frank (Duke) who manages to capture Henry, who is then tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Being the kind of guy he is, he doesn’t finger his friend Eddie for the caper, so he goes to jail alone.

There he meets Max Saltzman (Caan), a con artist who acts as a kind of father figure and mentor to Henry. It is he who plants the idea in Henry’s head  that if he was going to pay the penalty with jail time, he might as well commit the crime. The two form a quiet bond.

Eventually Henry serves out his sentence and is released back into the world. In the intervening time, Debbie divorced him and married his friend Eddie Vibes, who has gone legitimate and has become, well, successful. Henry’s stuff has been relegated to a bunch of boxes which he collects and takes to a cheap apartment which is all that he can afford.

His friend Max has also been paroled and has come into the information that the bank that Henry was convicted of robbing was once connected by a tunnel to a theater next door. That tunnel is sealed off today since it led to the vault but it wouldn’t be too hard to knock down the wall and access it again. The two of them come up with the brilliant scheme of getting Henry a job there, and then during his off hours dig their way to riches.

It so happens that the theater is putting on a performance of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard which is being directed by the temperamental Darek Milladragovic (Stormare) and stars Julie Ivanova (Farmiga), who Henry has become quite taken with. She had been featured in a lot of state lottery commercials and Henry had already had a bit of a crush on her. When the leading man is fired by Milladragovic, he casts Henry, who had been the janitor, in the role and Henry seemingly against all odds catches the bug, so to speak. Being onstage lights him up.

However, Max is counting on him. Can he get the loot and play his onstage part? The show must go on after all, but can it when so much is at stake?

This is a low-key laid back kind of movie with elements of both a crime caper movie and a bit of black comedy thrown in for good measure. For the most part, the film is pretty well-written with some nice dialogue and  a bit of a quirky nature that isn’t so much indie-quirky as it is just a little bit offbeat.

Reeves has never had a reputation for being a really emotional actor. However, he comes pretty close to it here, particularly during the scenes when he’s assaying Chekhov. He also has some of his best chemistry ever with Farmiga; his character’s attraction to her is very well-portrayed and you get the feeling that these two actors genuinely like each other offscreen.

In fact, the acting is pretty uniformly good and most of the main players get at least one scene to shine. My favorite was one where Duke tells Reeves and Caan the reasons why he is doing what he does. It’s a heartbreaking scene delivered by a reliable actor who doesn’t get the opportunities to show what he can do often and takes advantage of it here. Caan also delivers another winning performance; of late he has perfected a certain kind of role that can best be described as a tough guy with a heart of gold. He nails that here.

The movie’s drawbacks lie in its pacing, which is quite slow, and it’s ending which is a little bit preposterous. I don’t mind laid-back but I do have an issue with comatose. A little more liveliness and passion might have done the movie some good. Still, it’s worth seeing just to watch Keanu Reeves perform a little bit differently than he has previously which isn’t always a bad thing for an actor.

WHY RENT THIS: One of Reeves’ better performances. Kind of a nice dark comedy angle. Fine supporting performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks verve. Sometimes too low-key for its own good.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The building used as the bank is an actual bank; it was built in 1901 and is currently home to a branch of M&T Bank.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $204,940 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Maiden Heist

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Italian Job (2003)

Lockout (2012)


Lockout

There can never be too much fog on a space station.

(2012) Science Fiction (FIlmDistrict) Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Lennie James, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Jacky Ido, Tim Plester, Mark Tankersley, Anne-Solenne Hatte, Peter Hudson, Nick Hardin, Dan Savier. Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger

 

When the President’s daughter is stranded on a space station full of psychotic criminals, that can just ruin your whole day, especially when you’re a top government agent falsely accused of espionage and murder. Or at least, so goes the popular thinking.

That’s the kind of day Snow (Pearce) is having. No first name by the way – just Snow. He’s got a briefcase that the CIA wants badly, particularly director Langral (Stormare). He’d watched Snow murder a friend and fellow agent with his own eyes and take a briefcase of secrets away for sale to the…well, whoever the Americans are battling with in 2079.

He manages to get it in the hands of Mace (Plester) before getting arrested. He gets a nice beating from a thug named Rupert before finding out he’s got a one-way ticket to MS-One, the maximum security low Earth orbit prison where prisoners are kept in cryogenic sleep for the duration of their sentences.

Now, the President’s daughter Emilie Warnock (Grace) happens to be on MS-One at that very moment on a fact-finding mission to determine the validity of rumors that prisoners are being abused which when you think about it is kind of bizarre – how do you abuse someone who’s frozen?

As it turns out, a somewhat overeager Secret Service agent (Ido) disobeys prison rules and brings a gun into an interview with a prisoner who’s been awakened just for the purpose and of course he manages to secure it from the agent and get free, setting loose all the other prisoners in the process.

Alex (Regan), a Jeffrey Dean Morgan look-alike, is the leader of the little revolt (his little brother Hydell (Gilgun) is the scumbag who set the others free) and he doesn’t realize that he has the president’s daughter at first being a little bit out of touch with the political landscape. Cryonic suspension will do that to you. That’s an advantage the powers-that-be know won’t last forever. They need to send someone up there to fetch her – but the prison is well-defended. An army couldn’t get in there without killing everyone in it – but one man…one man…

Guess who that one man is? Just call me Snake…I mean, Snow. Yeah, remember him from three paragraphs ago? That guy. His boss Shaw (James) doesn’t believe a word of the whole espionage and murder thing, thinks that the only guy for the job is Snake…I mean Snow. So why not send him in there? Of course, he’s got a prison full of psychotic rapists, murderers and psychopaths but that’s not unlike a session of Congress no? Anyway, he agrees to go when he discovers Mace has been caught and sent to MS-One…sounds like  Microsoft app doesn’t it? Anyway, Snake…I mean Snow has another reason to head up there other than to rescue the progeny of the man who is sending him to jail. Well, figuratively.

This is the latest from producer Luc Besson (whose The Lady which he directed is in limited release even as we speak) and more along the lines which he’s traditionally associated with – taut action films with genre leanings. This is on the sci-fi lines. Besson came up with the idea and turned it over to St. Leger and Mather who make the most of it.

One of the brightest ideas was to cast Pearce. He is clearly having fun with his role as the wise-cracking Snow, delivering quips as easily as a sci-fi James Bond. Snow is more of a Snake Plissken type – that just keeps coming up doesn’t it – he’s not nearly as suave as the British superspy, but he makes up for it with easygoing self-confidence. This could easily be a franchise character, although the box office numbers don’t really justify it to date. However, since the movie was so inexpensive to produce (only $40 million at the box office gets it to profitability and it hasn’t been released in many overseas territories yet) being shot as it mostly was in Serbia, well, could still turn out okay.

The movie borrows liberally from a number of sources, including the aforementioned (well afore-referred to) Escape from New York as well as dozens of other prison break movies and sci-fi actioners. There is even a clever underhanded reference to Escape director John Carpenter’s early cult film Dark Star (kudos if you get what it is) near the end of the film, making this a semi-homage to Carpenter; if Michael Myers had popped up in a mask among the prisoners it might have made for a perfect Carpenterama.

That’s all forgivable. IF you’re going to steal, steal from the best I always say. However the plot makes some pretty laughable leaps in logic, defying physics and common sense (who would have a gunfight in a space station? one stray bullet can really suck). The infuriating thing is that with a little imagination, the writer/directors could have easily stuck to their internal logic and made for a more exciting movie – or even a movie that made more sense.

Don’t get me wrong though – the reason to see this movie is because it’s fun and action packed and this one is those things. It has a terrific lead – who knew that Guy Pearce could be a great action hero? – and an attractive Maggie Grace in the heroine role. It won’t make any top ten lists and it might not even stick to your memory for more than an hour or two, but you’ll have fun while you’re watching it and that’s really all you can ask for from a movie like this.

REASONS TO GO: Pierce has great fun with what could easily have been a cliché role. Fun and entertaining.

REASONS TO STAY: Some terribly long leaps in logic. Borrows a little too heavily from other films.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a lot of violence and a fair share of bad language. There are a few sexual references but nothing sexual per se.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The brothers are named Alex and Hydell. Lee Harvey Oswald used the alias Alek Hidell at one time.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The reviews are pretty poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fortress

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION LOVERS: The Space Station gets its own cameo appearance in the film which may cause a bit of consternation.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Salt of Life