(On DVD, October 2017) Even at a time when we think we’ve seen it all with vampire movies, there’s a curious energy at play in The Lost Boys, which improbably blends comic tropes with a theme taken from Peter Pan in order to deliver a rather good horror-comedy. The idea of an idyllic Californian-coast town being home to a small group of vampires and becoming “the murder capital of the world” is amusing enough. But then there’s the protagonist falling in with bad influences, his brother getting acquainted with wannabe vampire killers who do end up being right, the mom hooking up with a suspiciously menacing shop owner … there are a lot of spinning plates here, and they all seem to belong to a slightly different genre. Surprisingly, it works—although there’s some freedom in clarifying that the film is not meant to be scrutinized too closely. Under Joel Shumacher’s direction, The Lost Boys is fast-paced, stylistically moody, generally enjoyable and, at times, an intriguing time capsule of mid-eighties conventions. The opening act is great, the middle act is good, but the third act does get a bit conventional, although still enjoyable in its own way. Jamie Gertz plays a convincing love interest, while Corey Haim and Jason Patric each have their own movie as brothers. Still, the highlight is a very young-looking Keifer Sutherland as the leader of the vampire pack. The themes are slight, but at least there’s something there that goes beyond the usual conventions of vampire movies until then. For the rest, The Lost Boys is a movie that has, through sheer daring and genre-blending, aged very well. It’s still worth a look, long after the vampire boom has come, gone and come back again.
(Netflix Streaming, September 2016) I really like Chris Rock as a performer, so seeing him alongside Anthony Hopkins in the middle of an espionage comedy should have been interesting. But while Bad Company has its moments of inspiration, it doesn’t rise to much more than a middle-of-the-road action comedy. Unlike some similar film (and there are plenty of similarities between this one and its 2002 contemporary I Spy), Bad Company doesn’t have much in terms of action, focusing rather on the verbal sparring between Rock and Hopkins, as well as a plot that could have served as a basis for a much more serious film. Here, Rock plays a gifted street hustler who is recruited by the American government to impersonate his long-lost twin brother. Street meets high society with a big splash of undercover intrigue—you can imagine the predictable laughs that the street-smart protagonist gets once he confronts both the CIA, upper-class friends of his brother and eastern European terrorist villains. Thanks to Joel Shumacher’s competent direction, the film moves at a good clip and nearly always looks good. Still, the most memorable sequences have more to do with comedy (such as Hopkin’s lame attempt to bring him back into the fold, or whenever Kerry Washington shows up as his brother’s exploitative girlfriend) that with suspense, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As a vehicle for Rock, Bad Company isn’t bad, but it doesn’t rise much above that.
(On Cable TV, March 2012) It’s hard to watch Falling Down (a movie which, for two weeks in 1993, dominated the North-American box-office) without reflecting on the evolution of movies over the past twenty years. Director Joel Shumacher’s film has become both a period piece of life in Los Angeles during the early nineties, and a reflection of the kind of films we don’t really see in big cineplexes any more. As Michael Douglas plays a proverbial “angry white male” driven mad by the pressures of modern life, Falling Down targets annoyances but does not indulge in the glorification of vigilantism. The lead character is to be pitied more than to be admired, something that the conclusion makes sadly clear. The indictment, in-between on-the-nose symbolism and a little bit of speechifying, is equally spread between victim and aggressor. Douglas’ clean-cut character is a relic of the fifties unable to cope with the chaos of the nineties, but his downfall is party his own fault. Not entirely interested in being thriller but a bit too action-packed to be pegged as a pure character study, it’s hard to imagine Falling Down being released widely in 2012 and earning strong box-office success. The past twenty years, after all, have seen Hollywood shift gears from movies to spectacles: The big screens of the cineplexes, now that alternate distribution mechanisms are well-developed, are for overblown thrills and sure commercial bets: A modern-day Falling Down, absent a wildly popular star as once was Michael Douglas in 1993, would most likely be an independent feature, released on DVD after some success on the film-festival circuit. On the other hand, things have also changes for the better the moment you stop talking about movies: Los Angeles doesn’t have as big a smog problem as it did in 1993, and its gang violence problem is quite a bit better as well. Thankfully, much of the film still resonates now thanks to interesting flawed characters and an endearing outraged earnestness. Who’s to say that only one bad day is the only thing standing between our normal selves and falling down?
(Video-on-Demand, December 2011) Once upon a time, maybe in the mid-nineties, a thriller directed by Joel Schumacher and featuring both Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman would have been a sure-fire box-office draw. But this is late 2011 and the most noteworthy thing about Trespass is how a very limited theatrical run was followed barely two weeks later by a wide DVD release. So does the film best compare to theatrical thrillers or direct-to-video efforts? From a visual perspective, it’s clear that this is an A-list effort: Shumacher’s direction is effective, the cinematography is striking and even as the film focuses on house-bound action from dusk till dawn, the filmmakers are able to get a lot of visual energy from limited locations. Much of Trespass, in fact, feels like a theatre production as a well-off family is threatened by a small gang of home invaders. But the criminals aren’t united, and everyone has secrets to hide: by the film’s twentieth-minute mark, they’re already shouting at each other in trying to figure out what’s happening. Nearly hidden behind over-sized glasses, Cage gets a typical “Cage flip-out moment” early on by trying to negotiate with people who aren’t expecting negotiations. The intensity of the psychological drama can’t be sustained over 90- minutes: by the third act, the action diffuses itself back to B-grade movie levels by going out of the house and a few repeated plot beats while we’re waiting for the various elements previously set up to be used in rapid succession. Once the shouting is over, it’s a bit easier to see the generic nature of the plot and the plot cheats used to constrain it. Still, Trespass is a clear notch above much of what’s meant to go quickly from theatres to video –more of a comment on the changing video landscape in the age of instant home video consumption than a particular reflection on the film itself. If nothing else, it’s an average thriller made by above-average filmmakers and stars.