(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?
(On Cable TV, January 2014) “It starts snowing… and never stops” is a particularly Canadian nightmare, so it’s no surprise if low-budget Canadian SF/horror film The Colony starts with that premise as an excuse to justify its post-apocalyptic premise. There is some intriguing world-building in depicting self-sufficient underground bunkers, and some of the underlying universe surrounding the Colonies would have been fascinating to explore. Unfortunately, The Colony eventually degenerates into nothing more than a zombie cannibal schlock-fest: couldn’t anything been more interesting than yet another one of those? And yet, The Colony isn’t to be dismissed entirely, mostly for the way it stretches its budget and for the chilling atmosphere it sustains from beginning to middle. Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton are the featured actors and do fine work, although their screen presence is more limited than you’d think. Otherwise, there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy here: the meagre plot is dull, derivative and barely manages to be stretched over to nearly 90 minutes. The thrills are familiar, and the conclusion could have used a ray of sunshine. Direct-to-VOD fodder it is.
(Second Viewing: On DVD, July 2011) At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised if movies I dimly remembered as being hilarious end up just on the amusing side of funny. Unfortunately, Weird Science goes to join the ranks of eighties comedies that just aren’t as good as they should have been. The central idea in seeing two nerds create “the perfect woman” thanks to some modern hocus-pocus is still potent (albeit maybe a bit less amusing nowadays given the age difference between the actors) and the film does have a few good scenes. But the connective tissue between those scenes… and the mismatch between the possibilities of the premise and what’s up on the screen is just annoying. Part of the problem, especially for viewers schooled in fantasy fiction, is the film’s very loose adherence to a coherent imaginative framework: everything seems possible in the film, and while this carries its own reward (let’s face it: the Pershing missile thing is still one of the film’s finest moments), it also unmoors the film and sends it in fantasyland where the stakes are low because everything’s possible –it’s far, far better to file Weird Science under “teen comedy” rather than “fantasy” or “science-fiction”. Both the plot and the characters are underdeveloped, and don’t go much beyond “two good kids learn a lesson”. The overacting in the film is a bit surprising twenty-five years later. Weird Science, seen from 2011, doesn’t quite hold together, and definitely seems like a minor John Hughes teen comedy when compared to the rest of his eighties filmography. Still, the film still warrants a look today for a couple of reasons: It has aged reasonably well, turning itself into an unabashed time capsule of the mid-eighties in their weird Reganian splendour. (Mid-riff shirts? Why???) It also remains one of Kelly LeBrock’s defining performances: being asked to play “the perfect woman” to two horny teenagers is a tough order, but she manages to make it look easy. The film also features early roles for Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr., and a catchy theme song that eighties kids probably still remember. Weird Science certainly isn’t perfect, but in the right mood it’s a charming throwback to another time –a perfect movie for a quiet evening.