The True Memoirs of an International Assassin


Kevin James, badass!

Kevin James, badass!

(2016) Action Comedy (Netflix) Kevin James, Andy Garcia, Zulay Henao, Kim Coates, Ron Rifkin, Maurice Compte, Rob Riggle, Leonard Earl Howze, Yul Vazquez, Andrew Howard, P.J. Byrne, Kelen Coleman, Jeff Chase, Katie Couric, G-Rod, Daniel Zacapa, Al Hamacher, Jordi Caballero, Lauren Shaw, Emilie Ullerup. Directed by Jeff Wadlow

 

Some things in life are less likely than others; Donald Trump having an extramarital affair, for example – with Rosie O’Donnell. Or PETA opening up a barbecue restaurant.

Right up there with those is Kevin James morphing into an action hero, although he has done a few action films in his time. The portly sitcom star is actually fairly fit for a man his size, but he certainly doesn’t fit the mold of a classic action hero.

Still, he has a very likable screen persona and plenty of charisma on both the big screen and small. He hasn’t always gotten great movies and good roles but he has always been a trooper and does his best even when the material is less than scintillating. Here he plays Sam Larson, a cubicle cowboy who dreams of being a bestselling author, but unlike most of us with such ambitions he’s actually doing something about it. He’s writing a James Bond-meets-Die Hard spy story in which the hero, Mason Carver a.k.a. The Ghost is his own alter ego. Sometimes when Sam gets stuck for inspiration, Mason Carver and the other characters in the scene stand around, twiddling their thumbs and waiting expectantly for direction – which may be a metaphor for what the actors in this film were doing.

His energetic and somewhat conniving E-Publisher (Coleman) thinks she’s got a winner on her hands when he submits the manuscript and promises not to change a word. In fact, she doesn’t – she adds one to the title though, changing The Memoirs of an International Assassin to The True Memoirs of an International Assassin and marketing it as biographical.

This infuriates not only Sam but his buddy Amos (Rifkin) who has been advising him on some of the finer points of international espionage and had urged him not to print certain aspects of Mason Carver’s exploits. During an interview with Katie Couric (herself) on Yahoo, Sam gets cold feet and runs out of the studio – and straight into the arms of kidnappers who turn out to be agents of El Toro (Garcia), a Venezuelan revolutionary. He wants the Venezuelan president (Coates) dead, and essentially tells Sam – who he believes is really The Ghost – that if the president isn’t murdered, Sam will be.

Of course, Sam gets arrested and brought before the President who also believes Sam is The Ghost – and urges him to kill drug kingpin Anton Masovich (Howard) who then kidnaps Sam and suggests he murders El Toro. Maybe Sam should just nuke Venezuela and be done with it, no? Well, that wouldn’t make for a very long movie so Sam, with the help of comely DEA agent Rosa Bolivar (Henao) he figures out a way to get out of this with his skin more or less intact but not everything here is on the up and up.

Incomprehensibly, this script ended up on the Black List of unproduced screenplays a couple of years ago, which leads me to believe that either this was extensively rewritten or the standards for quality of Black List screenplays has taken a serious hit. The plot is pretty pedestrian and has been done before and better in other films; in fact, this feels throughout like you’re watching a sitcom in which the Fonz plays an international spy. Or Ray Romano. Or Doug Heffernan (James’ character in King of Queens) for that matter.

The movie also suffers from really poor CGI throughout, from the explosion to the blood splatters. It all looks fake. To make matters worse, there are several running jokes – like various characters musing “Maybe he really is The Ghost” about Sam, or in the third act for some incomprehensible reason the filmmakers chose to pepper the soundtrack with Spanish language version of pop hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Once or twice is okay but it was a good five or six occasions. Brevity is the soul of wit; repetition doesn’t make a joke any funnier in general. Just sayin’.

Don’t get me wrong – there is some entertainment value here but it’s mainly due to James’ work. And let’s face it; compared to the Adam Sandler comedies that Netflix has released thus far, this is Mel Brooks-level work (and believe it or not, Sandler’s production company Happy Madison had nothing to do with this which was surprising to me considering how close Sandler and James are). Still, this is little more than a 90 minute time-killer that will have little more value than that to you. Me, I’d recommend that you wait for a movie that is more worthy of Mr. James’ talents.

REASONS TO GO: Kevin James is always engaging and likable.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a sitcom-like feel to this and some of the running jokes are pretty damn annoying.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of violence and some rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is a remake of the 1973 French action film Le Magnifique.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spy
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Passengers

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Love in the Time of Cholera


Love in the Time of Cholera

Touching and yet not touched.

(New Line) Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber, Fernanda Montenegro, John Leguizamo, Laura Harring. Directed by Mike Newell

There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. The same argument cannot be translated to romance and love; sometimes, love delayed is love deepened.

Florentino Ariza (Bardem, played as a teenager by Unax Ugalde) is a well-read clerk and messenger in Venezuela in the last decade of the 19th century. He comes from a poor family but does not carry himself that way. One day, while carrying a message in the crowded marketplace, he catches a glimpse of the beautiful Fermina Daza (Mezzogiorno), daughter of a wealthy mule trader (Leguizamo).

He is smitten from that very moment. He falls deeply and hopelessly in love with her and vows to court her. His efforts are met with a gentle but firm refusal from the father, but a sympathetic aunt smuggles heart-rending, bodice-ripping love letters from the lovesick Florentino to the overwhelmed Fermina – until her father discovers what is happening and ships his anguished daughter far away until she can come to her senses. Dear old dad wears away at her until she eventually comes to believe as he does – that Florentino is beneath her. Instead, she turns her attentions and affections to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Bratt), a handsome, charming and sophisticated medico who nurses her to health after a bout with a stomach ailment that her overprotective father had feared was cholera, a serious health hazard in 19th century Venezuela.

She ends up marrying the good doctor, leaving Florentino heartbroken. He vows to wait for his beloved to become free again, even if he has to wait 50 years for the doctor to die. Of course, the doctor takes his time in doing so. In the meantime, Venezuela crosses into the 20th century (kicking and screaming in many ways) and suffers through civil war, cholera epidemics and a host of dramatic social changes. Dr. Urbino turns out to be a bit of a playa, which devastates his naïve wife but in all honesty wasn’t unusual in Latin America at the time.

Florentino occupies his time by taking a job as a clerk for Don Leo (Elizondo), an importer of goods and eventually Florentino takes over his business when Don Leo retires. He also discovers the thrills of recreational sex thanks to the urging of his buddy Lothario (Schreiber) and embarks on a series of meaningless sexual escapades, all the while proclaiming himself a virgin because he is, as far as he is concerned, a virgin until he makes love to the woman that he loves. Still, time passes on and when the moment appears that Florentino may finally get what he has been waiting for, the question is will Fermina still want him?

This is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel and those who have read Marquez know that it is a daunting task to adapt his work. He writes primarily in Spanish and one of the compelling things about his work is its lyricism, which often doesn’t translate well to English. Filming this in English was a tactical error on the part of the filmmakers; this is one of those movies that would have been better served by subtitles.

Another thing that doesn’t translate well is the Latino mindset. The rigid and puritanical mindset of the Latin American culture of that era made the contemporaneous Victorians look like free-love hippies by comparison, especially in regards to how young women were regarded. Men were expected to have sexual conquests and frequented prostitutes and other women of easy virtue, but women were more or less treated like possessions that were expected to arrive at their owner in pristine condition. It’s as foreign a concept to us as eating insects is.

Still, director Mike Newell has managed to make a gorgeous-looking film that captures the era nicely. Haciendas and marketplaces are chock-a-block with the colors of the tropics and the gentility of the era is also portrayed accurately. One can lose themselves in the beauty of the images here, and you might get an urge to do some exploring in the part of the world that this is set in.

The flaws of the movie are not the fault of the actors, certainly. Bardem, who would win an Oscar that year for his work in No Country for Old Men, manages to take a role that American audiences would have difficulty getting behind and making him a sympathetic, romantic figure. While we might scratch our heads about his sexual proclivities, we wind up admiring his loyalty nonetheless. The international cast has some very distinguished figures in it, such as Oscar-nominated Brazilian actress Montenegro as Florentino’s sympathetic mother. Generally, this is very well-acted.

This winds up being a movie with great intentions – to bring a work of literary genius to the screen. The story itself is as timeless as love, and just as heartbreaking. What is also heartbreaking is that the movie doesn’t succeed in its grand intentions and it really isn’t anyone’s fault, unless you want to count that Marquez is such a magnificent writer that his work doesn’t really translate well to the medium. They might have had a chance if they’d filmed it in Spanish, and perhaps an enterprising filmmaker who is used to that language might give another go at bringing this classic love story to the screen once again.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a lush, beautiful-looking film that captures the look and atmosphere of the time and place in which it’s set. The actors, particularly Bardem, do a wonderful job.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow-moving and a bit archaic, the motivations of Florentino may mystify modern audiences. None of the lyrical poetry of Marquez’ original novel translates well to English.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of nudity and sexuality, so keep moving if that kind of thing offend you.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno found an owl’s nest in her rented home during the shoot in Cartagena, Columbia and named the two owls after the lead characters in the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Driving Lessons