(On Cable TV, June 2016) This may sound ungrateful, but I’d expect a disaster movie about climbing the Earth’s tallest mountain to be a bit more … impressive. It’s not as if Everest is entirely missing in thrills: After reading a lot about Himalayan mountain-climbing, it’s fascinating to see a big-budget production head over to Nepal (even if only for a small portion of the shoot) and show us how it’s done. The capable group of actors assembled for the film is impressive, starting with the ever-impressive Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal as duelling climbers/entrepreneurs. Part of the film’s middle-of-the-road impression may be due to its insistence on sticking to a true story, the disastrous 1996 Mount Everest disaster spectacularly chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Interestingly enough, Everest is not based on Into Thin Air, while Krakauer shows up as a non-heroic character. There’s a limit to the amount of drama (or, perhaps more accurately, audience-friendly dramatic structure) that can be generated from a film intent on sticking to facts, and Everest finds itself limited to the real story. Direction-wise, Baltasar Kormákur has fun with some set pieces, even though the story itself treads familiar ground. What’s often missing, though, is a sense of scale: For such a big mountain, Everest is too often glimpsed from too close and the film rarely delivers on the awe of the mountain-climbing experience. Regrettably, Everest’s strengths only highlight its limits: While it’s a decent travelogue, it should have been a more absorbing experience. I may, however, revisit this film in a few years to see if I’m being too picky.
(Video on Demand, January 2014) Sometimes, subtlety or originality be damned, simple and straightforward is the way to do it. So it is that 2 Guns doesn’t need much more than a premise re-using familiar genre elements (in this case, two undercover agents teaming up against drug cartels after accidentally stealing far more than they expected and discovering that the other is not a hardened criminal) and two solid actors doing what they know best. Mark Whalberg is up to his usual average-blue-collar-guy persona as a Navy agent caught hanging in the breeze, while Denzel Washington is all effortless charm as a DEA agent close to going rogue. Both actors work differently, but here they get a good chance to play off each other, and the result feels more than entertaining. They really don’t stretch their persona, but 2 Guns is a breezy film that doesn’t requires brave performances. (Case in point: Paula Patton looking good and Bill Paxton acting bad, stretching a bit but not too much.) Director Baltasar Kormákur ably follows-up on his previous Contraband by delivering an average but competent criminal action thriller with clean set-pieces and straightforward narrative rhythm. It’s hard to say much more about 2 Guns: Who needs a new classic when the same-old can be done so well?