Neil Jackson shows Djimon Hounsou that he's a rising star.

(Summit) Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Ming Na, Joel Gretsch, Maggie Siff, Neil Jackson, Scott Michael Campbell, Corey Stoll, Colin Ford, Xiao Lu Li, Paul Car. Directed by Paul McGuigan.

It is said there is no limit to the potential of the human mind. It is also true that there is no limit to the human desire to control and exploit anything with the potential of limitless power, and no limits to how far some would go to gain that power.

There have always been humans with special abilities. Telekinetics, called Movers. Precognitives, called Watchers. People who can exert control over others, called Pushers. People who can sense the location of others, called Sniffers. These are controlled by a sinister government agency known only as Division. One of the most fearsome agents of Division is a pusher named Carver (Hounsou).

A mover named Nick Gant (Evans) has been eking out a miserable existence in Hong Kong, far away from Division. He’d watched his father (Gretsch) murdered by Carver ten years earlier. His powers have never really developed properly. His disastrous attempts to influence dice games have landed him deep in debt to the sorts of people who aren’t about installment plans. On the positive side, Division hasn’t really felt a need to go after him seriously.

However, two Division sniffers (Stoll, Campbell) are waiting for him in his apartment after a run-in with some dice players. They’re looking for Kira (Belle), a pusher who escaped from Division’s medical labs with a syringe filled with a formula meant to increase the abilities of the psychically endowed, but usually winds up killing them. In fact, Kira is the only one who has survived the shot and could be the key to Division’s plans of assembling an army of enhanced psy-soldiers.

After the sniffers leave, Nick is visited by a precocious little watcher named Cassie (Fanning) whose mother remains captive in a Division facility, drugged into a stupor. She informs him that the syringe is the means of bringing down Division and to freeing Cassie’s mom. Oh, and the two of them are doomed to die. However, the good news is that the future is constantly changing and Cassie isn’t always accurate. The bad news is that a Chinese gang led by a much better developed watcher (Lu Li) is also aware of the syringe and what it could mean, and they’re gunning to find Kira and her precious cargo. Carver and Victor (Jackson), a mover far more advanced than Nick, have arrived in Hong Kong to personally supervise the operation.

Nick assembles a team of friends and rogue psychics to try and help save himself, Cassie and Kira from what is increasingly looking like a fatal ending. The odds are overwhelming, but the stakes are high…and time is ticking inexorably towards a conclusion.

This is a nice looking movie, which takes advantage of its Hong Kong milieu nicely. There are kinetic action sequences with plenty of CGI lighting effects and wire work. There is also Fanning, who tends to elevate every movie she’s in.

The problem here is that the script is overly complex and hard to follow. I consider myself a fairly savvy moviegoer and I had problems keeping up with who is able to do what and where they stand. The movie is based on a Wildstorm comic series, for which this material is better suited. The world created by McGuigan and the other filmmakers is over-the-top and convoluted, which works in a four-color medium but not so much on the big screen.

Evans, best known as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies (he must have a thing about comic books), is an attractive enough lead but Nick Gant is essentially Johnny Storm without the libido – or the flames, for that matter. While his powers progress nicely through the course of the film, his character changes wildly without a whole lot of explanation. Either far too much was left on the cutting room floor, or the script was not as well-written as it should have been.

The rest of the cast – many of them veterans of the Hong Kong action movies – range from competent to forgettable. The most surprising of them is Hounsou. He plays the movie’s main heavy with an odd lack of energy or fire. I think he’s going for menacing in a quiet way, sort of like a cobra ready to strike. However, he comes off merely wooden and bored and not nearly an object of fear that he should be.

I tend to be far more forgiving of comic book movies than most because I do love comic books, and I do love movies that are made from them. After 2008 gave us Iron Man, Wanted and The Dark Knight, I was looking for comic book movies to become more of a serious art form. This isn’t the movie that’s going to accomplish that. What McGuigan has crafted, however, is an unnecessarily convoluted but good looking movie that I can recommend with reservations, but looks to fall below the radar of the vast majority of the movie-going audience, and it doesn’t take a watcher to see that coming.

WHY RENT THIS: Exciting action sequences reminiscent of some of the better Hong Kong-made action films. Dakota Fanning is a solid actress who delivers a performance better than this movie deserves. Scenes filmed in and around Hong Kong are fascinating.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Convoluted plot that’s hard to follow. Script occasionally ignores it’s own internal logic. Hounsou isn’t nearly menacing enough as a villain and comes off as surprisingly wooden.

FAMILY VALUES: Somewhat violent, although no worse than most comic book movies. There is also some teen drinking here. Otherwise, suitable for most teens and above.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: In order to deal with the bustle of the Hong Kong locations, director McGuigan decided to film guerilla style, out of peepholes and in the back of vans. In fact, during a scene where Kira is kidnapped at gunpoint with no crew members visibly in sight and no prior advertisement that there would be filming there that day, passers-by didn’t react or move to help.



TOMORROW: Slumdog Millionaire



Nicolas Cage is irate - not because the plane crashed but because he was forced to fly coach.

Nicolas Cage is irate - not because the plane crashed but because he was forced to fly coach.

(Summit) Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alethea McGrath, Danielle Carter, Adrienne Pickering, Alan Hopgood, Ben Mendelsohn, David Lennie. Directed by Alex Proyas

We are all of us curious to one degree or another about the future. It is the infinite unknown, and yet we are all touched by it. After all, we are all meant to live in it, although sooner or later our future comes to a halt, and then we die. While we are curious about our future, we are less curious about the nature of our own demise. After all, who wants to know how and when they are to meet their maker? Would knowing make any difference whatsoever?

It is 1959 and the William Dawes Elementary School has opened its doors for the very first time. Miss Taylor (Carter), a teacher there, is pleased and delighted that one of the students in her class was responsible for the idea that was selected to mark the occasion; a time capsule to which all the students would submit drawings of what they thought the future would look like. The winning student, Lucinda (Robinson), is an odd sort; quiet and distracted, she is tormented by the sound of whispering voices which only she can hear. While her classmates are drawing rocket ships and robot, she is furiously, almost mechanically, writing a sequence of seemingly random numbers. A little unnerved, Miss Taylor puts her sheet of numbers into an envelope, and along with all the other envelopes, into the time capsule where it will remain sealed in the ground.

It is 2009 and young Caleb Koestler (Canterbury), a student at Dawes, is preparing for the anniversary celebration the next day. His father John (Cage), an astrophysics professor at M.I.T., is grieving the loss of Caleb’s mother (Pickering) in a hotel fire the previous year. While he appears to be functioning, he’s numbing himself out with alcohol and musing on whether the universe is orderly, marching along to a plan, or is simply a random sequence of coincidences which ultimately has no meaning.

When the time capsule is unearthed and the contents removed, it is young Caleb who receives the sequence of numbers. He takes it as a possible math puzzle, but when his father sees it, he finds that it is something far more chilling. It is a list of every major disaster in sequential order for the past fifty years. Asian tsunamis, Mexican earthquakes, 9-11, they’re all there with the date of the disaster and the exact death toll. There are, however, three events that haven’t happened yet. The last of them indicates a disaster of global proportions.

Director Proyas has been responsible for some of the most innovative and interesting movies of the past ten years, including The Crow and Dark City. This is one of his more mainstream efforts. The premise is intriguing, to say the least, but the execution is a little bit disappointing. From a technical standpoint, this is a very well-made film. The effects are spectacular bordering on terrifying, but at times they seem to be the reason the film was made to begin with, never a good thing.

The problem here is a script ponderously heavy with coincidence and contrivance. For example, how does John Koestler deduce that the sequence of numbers is all about disasters? Believe me, it’s a pretty impressive string of numbers but to randomly pull a few numbers from the string and determine it refers to 9-11 stretches credibility past the breaking point. Throw in a group of eerie strangers who watch in unnerving silence and you’ve got Armageddon meets Dark City meets Close Encounters. It’s unnecessarily complex, and yet you feel like you’ve seen it all before. By the time you reach the film’s godawful ending, you’re convinced you’ve already seen it before.

I’d pay ten bucks to watch Cage gargle with Listerine, but he doesn’t have much support – okay, make that any. Rose Byrne is hideous as the grown daughter of Lucinda who doesn’t have much to do beyond getting hysterical and acting not so much as a mother fighting for the safety and well-being of her child, but basically like a panicked hysteric. She’s a mom, but without a maternal instinct. Da Queen found her thoroughly unbelievable, but that was more the fault of the script. However, she did chew the scenery ever so thoroughly. 

Much of the movie rests on the shoulders of the child actors playing Caleb, Lucinda and Abby (Lucinda’s granddaughter, played by the same juvenile actress who plays Lucinda), and for the most part the kids are alright, particularly Robinson as the tormented Lucinda. However, the screenwriters turn Caleb into one of those preternaturally mature children who don’t really exist in real life. It’s a Hollywood mistake and it takes you out of the movie early and often.

The movie is not without some merit – Proyas is an outstanding director with a great hand for science fiction. Unfortunately this movie is a bit of a mess, a concept that looked great on paper but became unwieldy in practice. It’s a great looking mess, and Nicolas Cage is in it so it’s at least a palatable mess, but a mess nonetheless.

WHY RENT THIS: The disaster sequences are riveting, and often terrifying. Nicolas Cage is one of those actors whose presence in a movie will motivate me to see the movie regardless of plot or anything else. The whole concept is rather intriguing.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is poorly written in places, relying too much on contrivance and coincidence. Once you get past Cage, the acting becomes a bit rocky. The ending strains credulity and there are too many unnecessary plot threads.

FAMILY VALUES: The disaster sequences may be too intense for those who are sensitive about mayhem. Children are placed in jeopardy, which is offensive to some. Otherwise, this is pretty much fine for all members of the family except for the very young and impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The equation on the blackboards during the classroom sequence are actually clever mathematic predictors of the events that take place at the end of the movie.

NOTABLE DVD  EXTRAS: An interesting feature on the apocalypse, exploring the origins of the concept and scientific thought on how it might actually occur.


TOMORROW: Man on Wire