(On Cable TV, November 2014) By now, anything with Luc Besson as a screenwriter should come with its own warning: “Stupid stuff within.” The problem isn’t that Besson’s name is usually associated with dumb scripts: it’s that the same issues keep coming back: dumb anti-establishment rants, moronic plotting, blatant misogyny and a striking lack of tonal unity that has the films jumping all over the place. With 3 Days to Kill, writers Besson and Adi Hasak end up reprising the worst aspects of From Paris with Love: no skill in blending comedy with violence, dim-witted characters and plot-lines that would have been laughable thirty years ago. Here, a CIA agent suffering from a fatal disease is manipulated in executing “one last job” while caring for his estranged daughter. What follows is an unlikable blend of torture played for laughs, uncomfortable comedy, fish-out-of-water parenting and a portrayal of espionage that makes James Bond movie feel sophisticated. The film hits its worst moments when it asks us to believe that a character would forget about violent torture in order to help his torturer bond with his daughter… moments after being electrocuted. Such uneasy blend of jokes in-between deathly serious violence show the tone-deaf sensibilities of either the screenwriters, or fallen-from-grace director McG, whose Charlie’s Angels heydays are nowhere reflected in his recent work –it’s not this or stuff like This Means War that make him look better. While 3 Days to Kill does briefly come alive during its action sequences (in particular, a chase sequence besides La Seine), much of the film is just inert, flopping aimlessly and failing to get its audience’s sympathy. Surprisingly enough, Kevin Costner doesn’t emerge too badly from the ongoing train wreck –he’s able to display a certain weary stoicism through it all. Once really can’t say the same about Amber Heard, playing dress-up as a would-be femme fatale when she’s got the gravitas of half a beach bunny. (Her character may be badly written, but the way she plays it make it seem even worse.) It’s refreshing to see Connie Nielsen in a motherly role, but Hailee Steinfeld may want to re-think playing such unlikable brats flouncing without reason. 3 Days to Kill redefines “scattershot” in the way its scenes don’t seem to flow along in the same film, and how it usually privileges the dumb answer to just about any plot question. The predictable plot twists, stomach-churning “comic” violence really don’t help… but what else have we come to expect from Luc Besson?
(In theaters, October 2011) It’s a good thing that I’m a certified fan of Hunter S. Thompson’s work, because otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Rum Diary as much. It’s already a trying experience even for those who have absorbed Thompson’s life and work: Thompson’s bottom-of-the-drawer “first novel” was a triumph of atmosphere over plot, as it followed a young journalist as he made his way throughout 1960s Puerto Rico and lost much of his illusions. Blending fiction with autobiography, The Rum Diary offered a more melancholic view of Thompson’s early years than you’d expect. The movie version has a hard time trying to put a plot where the novel doesn’t have one, and the result is a bit of low-key comedy interspaced with more serious plotting about corruption and unbridled development. Many of the anecdotes are amusing (although it speaks volume about the film’s pacing that the trailer has a far clearer sense of comedy), but the dramatic narrative of The Rum Diary peters off in a “nothing worked out, but we all learned a lot so… to be continued…” fishtail of a conclusion. The film works best as an affectionate homage to Thompson himself, as it clearly feels like a romanced “birth of an author” narrative: If you don’t know what Thompson would go on to write after his own Puerto Rico transformative experience, then the ending of the film will be more frustrating than anything else. Fortunately, Johnny Depp is wonderful as a young Thompson (it’s a performance clearly meant to lead into his own work in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), while Amber Heard finally makes an impression in a paper-thin role. As a drama for people who haven’t read Thompson, it’s a hit-and-miss film with a strong Puerto Rican atmosphere… but frankly, this one is for the fans. And even they may feel that the two-hour film runs a bit long.