(Video on Demand, July 2016) It’s been increasingly difficult not to notice that Bruce Willis shows up in a lot of straight-to-video movies lately. He usually shows up playing the chief bad guy, mumbles aimlessly for a few scenes, then is dispatched by the hero and goes back home to collect what I presume must be a substantial and much-needed paycheck. His performance in Precious Cargo is up to his newest standards. Fortunately, he’s only a small part of a film that focuses on a professional thief (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, wisecracking merrily) who gets recruited by an ex-lover (Claire Forlani, who seems to have belatedly gotten Angelina Jolie’s looks from non-natural means) to get herself out of some trouble. For a low-budget film (and the key to appreciating Precious Cargo is half in remembering the film’s limited means), Precious Cargo does a few things well: there are a few good action highlights (including a boat chase that looks as if it cost half the film’s budget), the characterization and wisecracking elevates the film from many other similar thrillers, and for all of its sins, it doesn’t try to be dour or downbeat. As the ending plays, everything is fine and thieves get their money. Roll the credits, don’t expect much more and the result is just good enough to warrant a viewing when you’re all out of other options. I’ve seen worse.
(On DVD, July 2015) It’s rare to squarely point at length as a film’s main point of failure; usually, if the film is good then a few lulls won’t damage it; conversely, if a film is bad it will feel long even at 85 minutes. But Meet Joe Black is something else: A film with pretty good moments, marred by interminable subplots and, thanks to director Marti Brest, a shooting style that never makes a point in five seconds if thirty will do. A very young-looking Brad Pitt starts as Death incarnate, taking a holiday among humans to understand how we act like we do. Opposite him, Anthony Hopkins plays a Hollywood rarity: a wealthy man with some innate decency, a genuinely good guy who nonetheless escape caricature. Finally, Claire Forlani has never looked better than she does here as the daughter of the wealthy man, seduced by Death’s innocence. (Which leads to a pretty funny scene in which our businessman comes to realize that Death, nominally there to get him, has ended up sleeping with his daughter.) The film does have an understated poignancy, as death and his target negotiate the terms of our businessman’s death over a few days, timing it to ensure a small triumph. And while the film does have a few unintentionally hilarious moments (That shot of Pitt’s character being hit by two cars plays beautifully as a looped gif), it’s generally earnest in its musings. But, as stated previously, the film is fatally wounded by its pacing. There simply isn’t enough plot to justify the three-hours (!) running length –in fact, the pacing issues are glaringly obvious on an individual scene level as there is no snappiness to the editing and sequences always run longer than you’d expect. Lop off an hour (from the script, not in the editing room) and you’d have a far more potent film. As it is, though, Meet Joe Black will repeatedly put anyone to sleep.