This is Ethan Hawke's career going up in flames.

This is Ethan Hawke’s career going up in flames.

(2013) Action (Warner Brothers) Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Rebecca Budig, Bruce Payne, Paul Freeman, Ivailo Geraskov, Dimo Alexiev, Slavi Pavlov, Deyan Angelov, Kaloian Vodenicharov, Danko Jordanov, Velizar Peev, Peewee Piemonte, Esteban Cueto, Kiril Todarov, Georgi Dimitrov, Lena Milan, Silvia Ranguelova, Maria Bobeva. Directed by Courtney Solomon

Some filmmakers accept their limitations and try to work within them. There are directors who specialize in certain types of movies and seem fairly content to making those sorts of films year after year, churning out films that are right in their wheelhouse. Others prefer to challenge themselves.

I’m not sure which kind of director Courtney Solomon is. What he has delivered to us here is basically a 90 minute car chase through the streets of downtown Sofia, Bulgaria with little thought given to plot or logic. The reason for that may be that Solomon is good and filming car stunts – or perhaps he isn’t and wants to get better at it.

Either way. Here we witness Brent Magra (Hawke), a former race car driver now living in Bulgaria after his career went belly-up and he’d turned briefly to a life of crime. Now married to a Good Woman (Budig) with whom he can start over in Eastern Europe, he is working a legit job. It’s Christmastime. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot. He comes home and finds his apartment trashed and blood on the floor. He receives a call on his cell from a guy with a German accent (Voight) who informs him that they have his wife. Just for good measure, pictures are sent to prove they mean business. Brent is to steal a car – a tricked out Shelby Mustang with all the latest gadgets including surveillance equipment inside and out, armor plating and a hands-free phone. It even comes with its irate owner, a Kid (Gomez) who is the daughter of a bank executive who happens to be a brilliant computer hacker and happens to have a gun. Brent is ordered to take her along and drive throughout downtown Sofia causing all manners of mayhem, like driving through a crowded park and ramming police cars.

Soon the entire Bulgarian police force is after him and the Kid and Brent need to figure out what the Voice wants; it’s clear to both of them that once the real deed is achieved the many and various thugs will kill Brent, the Kid, his Wife and a small village in Bosnia. Think of the Voice as a walking talking Monsanto.

It’s hard to know where to begin here. The acting is wooden and Gomez is horribly miscast. I get that she wants to scuttle her Disney Channel reputation and move on to more adult roles but she is about as convincing as a street-wise punk as De Niro would be as Tinker Bell. Hawke, who has done some fine work in the past, seems to be distracted throughout; maybe he’s thinking about how to invest his paycheck.

The big crime here is not the one being committed by the Voice and his gang but by the writers. There are incredible lapses in logic and continuity that are simply beyond amateur. For example, one of the tasks Brent and the Kid are given to do is to blow up a power plant by uploading a virus that overloads the system, causing a shower of sparks. We see the lights go out in Sofia. Cut to the very next scene and all the lights are on. Every. Last. One. When was the last time that your power went out and your lights came on within five minutes? Exactly.

Brent is chased by the cops and the thugs and none of them can shoot very well. Apparently there’s bullet proof glass in the car, but they are seen rolling down the windows on several occasions. Not with bullet proof glass you can’t. The Shelby is smashed and bashed by multiple collisions yet all the delicate electronics continue to work. Even given the armor plating, isn’t it likely a wire or two might be jarred loose?

I could go on and on but frankly this isn’t worth it. Those of you who think Hal Needham was too highbrow for your tastes might be happy as a pig in slop with this mess. For the rest of us, move along. Nothing here to see.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent car stunts.

REASONS TO STAY: Gomez is miscast. One trick pony.  Severe lapses in logic.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action and general mayhem throughout, a few choice words here and there and a few rude gestures to go along with them.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: 130 cars were wrecked in the making of the movie; the wrecked cars were stored in an on-set junkyard.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 2% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100



NEXT: Kick-Ass 2


Remote Control

It’s just a job. Any trained monkey can do it. I sit in a room and watch security monitors. That’s it. I don’t even have to get my ass out of my chair other than to head to the vending machine to grab some Mountain Dew.

I’m not even anywhere near the place. Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital is in rural Maryland. I’m in Vancouver, part of a security company that monitors large abandoned buildings in the hopes of keeping out squatters and vandals for the property owners until such time as they either restore, rebuild or demolish. Since the State of Maryland is responsible for Collingwood, I doubt if any of the three are going to happen anytime soon.

The State installed our security cameras after a TV crew disappeared while filming there in 2011. An extensive search of the building and grounds failed to find anything of them except for traces – a cooler full of rotting sandwiches, camera and audio equipment and a woman’s shirt. They haven’t turned up a trace of their bodies.

Night after night we watch, myself or other employees. We all rotate on different buildings – that way we keep fresh eyes on things. Tonight I was assigned Collingwood. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Sometimes weird shit happens – cameras blank out for no reason then just turn back on as if nothing had happened. It’s annoying as fuck. Also there are instances of pixilation in the feed. Digital distortions – ghosts in the machine my supervisor calls them. We’ve repaired and replaced the cameras there several times over with no improvement. We think there might be some sort of magnetic rock vein in the bedrock, but so far nothing tangible has been turned up.

Usually there are a lot of people here at night – that’s when we do most of our monitoring. However today was a little different. We’re moving into a new building near Stanley Park which suits me just fine. However not all of the stations were moved in time – some sort of scheduling fuck-up – so I’m alone in the old building. They haven’t moved the day shift’s stuff there yet – they won’t until the weekend – so I’m thankfully not in an empty office – but it’s still kind of creepy.

I stretch, looking at the various camera positions. All quiet on the Western Front. Part of me wants to find a place to curl up and sleep but if someone discovered me I’d be fired on the spot. So I just stretch and yawn and drink Mountain Dew, eating Snickers bars and Hot Pockets and texting my girlfriend on my iPhone. A 20th century job for a 21st century life.

I’m looking down at a particularly racy nude pic she’s sent me (she’s lonely, the little minx) when my eye is caught by some movement on the edge of my vision. I look up at the monitors. Nothing. Nothing on Camera 1. Nothing on Camera 2. Nothing on Camera 3. Nothing on Cameras 4,5,6,7,8….hell nothing on any cameras.

I stare for a bit then go back to perving on my baby’s picture. Then movement again. Like an itch I can’t scratch. I look up annoyed. Nothing. I keep my eyes on the monitors. Nothing happens. Nothing moves. Finally with a sigh, my girlfriend awaits me. I look down.

A door slams shut. Not like it was shut slowly – it was slammed. I saw it. No breeze through the hallway would have shut a door like that. It was like an angry child flinging the door shut. No way that was air pressure. I saw it.

I peer at the cameras. I see nobody. Nothing. Some digital distortions start to pop up. Then dozens . Then hundreds. I could hardly see the interior of Collingwood there were so many. Then, abruptly they were gone.

Everything was quiet again but I had an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like this was the calm before the storm.

I hate it when I’m right. All the doors on all the cameras started to open and shut, open and shut, banging against the jams. They’re flapping like wings on some hideous bird. I stand up, my chair pushed back and rolling away. I think I might have even screamed. I’m not one to believe in ghosts but what else could be causing this? I go to my alert phone to call my boss and the line is dead. Figures. Just my luck that it’s going to get worse.

I saw them. Hideous humans, or maybe once they were human but they aren’t that now. Impossibly thin and spindly with legs that went on and on. Dead black eyes. Mottled skin. Open mouths, impossibly wide. And teeth. And teeth.

One comes right up to the camera I’m looking at, grinning at me maniacally. The eyes are wild and knowing, impossibly wise and incredibly old – and evil beyond measure. He reaches out and I am a deer in the headlights, unable to move. Unable to scream. My phone drops to the floor from nerveless fingers.

Hand reach through the monitor and grab me. Now I find my voice but it’s too late. I’m dragged closer to the monitors, closer and closer. I struggle, I dig in my heels but these hands are incredibly strong. He drags me closer and closer to the edge. I scream again in despair. I don’t want to go to Collingwood. I don’t want to go there. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. Mommyyyyyyyyyyyy and it all goes dark.



Don Cheadle and Jeff Daniels are moving at cross purposes.

(Overture) Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough, Archie Panjabi, Alvy Khan, Said Taghmaoui, Raad Rawi. Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Our government uses the term “war on terror” despite the fact that from its outer trappings, its not so much a war as it is a guerilla action. In this fight, boundaries blur and it is not always possible to tell who is innocent and who is not. In the war on terror, the casualties are not always easily apparent.

Samir (Cheadle), as a young boy, saw his father killed in the explosion of a car bomb (who set the bomb and why is never explained in the film). As an adult, we see him in Yemen, attempting to sell plastic explosives to a terrorist group. When that group is captured by the Yemeni police, Samir is thrown in a Yemeni prison along with Omar (Taghmaoui), a high-ranking soldier in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Samir is questioned by Agents Clayton (Pearce) and Archer (McDonough) of the FBI. They’re anxious to make a deal with the soft-spoken, highly intelligent Samir but he demurs. They basically throw up their hands and leave him in prison to rot.

In prison, Samir and Omar develop a bond as Omar witnesses Samir’s devotion to Allah and when the Brotherhood stage an escape for Omar, he takes Samir with him. They flea to Marseilles, where the former army demolition expert Samir helps develop a remote-controlled device to use to detonate a bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Nice. Eight people are killed in the explosion, the news of which apparently disturbs Samir – he had been hoping for a higher body count, he tells Fareed Mansour (Khan), their Pakistani handler.

As it turns out, Samir had been hoping for a certain body count that had been lower – the bodies had been planted at the Embassy by security advisor Carter (Daniels), who was Samir’s real handler. Samir is actually an undercover agent looking to get to Nathir (Rawi), one of the highest ranking terrorists in the world. He is also trying to find out what large-scale operation the Brotherhood has in mind on American soil.

But is Samir really an American operative, or does he have his own agenda? Time is running out; the operation is taking place soon, Samir is wanted by police organizations world wide for his part in the embassy bombing and Clayton and Archer are closing in. Who will protect the innocent when the lines are so very blurred?

Director Nachmanoff has delivered a taut, well-paced thriller that keeps you guessing as to Samir’s loyalties despite the fact that they tell you he is working for Carter early on. The fact that you’re never quite sure whose side he’s working on til near the end is a tribute to Cheadle the actor, and his performance is the primary reason to seek this movie out.

Everything in this movie is about motivation and the fact that the motivation for so much is unclear. What drives Samir – be it the boyhood tragedy we see in the first frames or the prejudice he encountered in America – is never fully explained. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions, mostly from Samir’s actions.

Other than those playing FBI agents, the driving forces behind the characters remain foggy in them as well, particularly the Muslim characters. The exception is Omar, who seems to be simply driven by the convictions of his faith. Omar doesn’t hate the Americans he wants to kill so badly; he is merely a soldier in a jihad doing Allah’s will. If those he follows tell him it is Americans he must kill, then so be it.

The movie travels from location to location with dizzying speed (done on a relatively modest budget so kudos to the producers) and keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next. While the scenes taking place in the Middle East are vivid with color, there is a grainy, washed out aspect to the scenes taking place in Europe and North America I found intriguing. I’m not sure what the filmmakers intention was in terms of message – it could well have been that the weather was bad while they were shooting on location. It is a bit annoying, at least to my sensibilities.

There is an authenticity to the movie – Nachmanoff, who also co-wrote the movie, consulted with several intelligence community professionals to try and get the procedural and political aspects right and this pays off. He also succeeds in humanizing terrorism, putting a face on what we sometimes tend to characterize as mindless fanatics. While there is certainly fanaticism within the radical jihadist movement, these are also human beings with an agenda, a plan to achieve it and the patience to see it through – patience from an unshakable belief that God is on their side.

While there are several twists and turns that I thought a bit too unnecessary (the last one regarding Carter is a particularly hoary cliché and could have been excised from the movie), this is still worth giving a look to. After all, in the war on terror the ultimate casualty has been the truth.

WHY RENT THIS: Cheadle’s performance is rock-solid, as is Guy Pearce’s. A very different look at the war on terror and its (unintended) casualties. A nicely-paced, taut thriller.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Needlessly twisty, plot-wise. Much of the movie looks grainy and washed out, particularly when the setting is in Europe and North America.

FAMILY VALUES: Some very violent imagery and raw language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally going to be made by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, but after a management change there the property was dropped, allowing Cheadle to take it to Overture Films, the big screen subsidiary of the Starz premium cable channel..



TOMORROW: The Simpsons Movie