(In theaters, May 2011) It’s not a good sign when you can feel the film’s final act locking itself into position, think “Already?”, look at your watch and find out that the film’s barely past the 65-minutes mark. There may not be all that much to say about Priest, but at least it has the decency to wrap things up in less than 90 minutes. Anything more would have been wasted, mind you: Even though the film seem very loosely adapted from a presumably richer Korean graphic novel series, there just isn’t a whole lot of plot here to gnaw upon: Setup, two dramatic confrontation and we’re already on to the third act. At least there’s a bit of eye-candy to contemplate during that time: The techno-grunge atmosphere is a bit tired, but it’s reinvigorated with the somewhat less usual industrial-western feel of the film’s middle section. Paul Bettany also gets a good role as priest with quasi-supernatural ass-kicking powers: After seeing him in so many dramatic roles (including Charles Darwin in Creation), it’s entertaining to see him re-team with Legion’s director Scott Stewart for action-movie credentials. Otherwise, well, Maggie Q is fine as another renegade Priest, Karl Urban chews scenery like he enjoys it and Christopher Plummer earns a pay-check as the face of the shallow-but-oppressive Church. But it’s all flash and pretty visuals here: no depth, little originality and even less substance. That doesn’t make it a bad film as much as it makes it a very forgettable one. The future for Priest is clear: an unceremonious DVD release, and then onward to cultural oblivion.
(In theaters, April 2008) The only thing worse than a bad film is a pretentious bad film that assumes that its audience has never seen another thriller in their lives. What starts out as an intriguing erotic drama featuring an exclusive club for professionals looking for unattached sexual relations turns out to be yet another coincidence-laden blackmail drama. The disappointing deception leaves a bad taste, especially when the film starts going through well-worn plot “twists” in a self-important ponderous fashion that can quickly sour anyone’s good intentions. Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams are capable actors that can do much better, but even their contribution can’t match screenwriter Mark Bomback’s trite script and director Marcel Langenegger’s leaden touch. The film is never worse than at the beginning of its overextended third act, when it dawdles for almost ten minutes while waiting for a not-dead character to come back in the story, spinning its wheels even as everyone with half a brain knows what’s going on. By the end of the film, I was muttering the litany of “I hate you. I hate youuu…” that I keep in reserve for specially flawed films that make me loathe the filmmakers, the cinematographic art form and the universe in general. Once past Maggie Q’s smoldering appearance, there’s nothing entertaining left about Deception, and a whole lot of drawn-out torture in the hands of people who shouldn’t be allowed near a film script ever again. This is not even straight-to-video fodder: this is straight-to-video trash that’s convinced of its chances for the Oscar.
(In theaters, June 2007) The good news are that the fourth instalment of the Die Hard series is a very enjoyable return to the roots of the good old action film: explosions, dastardly villains, a wisecracking hero, spectacular action set-pieces and things we haven’t yet seen. The not-so-good news are that it falls short of being a good Die Hard film. Over the long run, I suspect that it won’t matter: the two previous Die Hard sequels initially disappointed moviegoers who then grew fonder of them as time went by. At the very least, an older “John McClane” is back, fighting terrorists who are really robbers and trying his damnedest to save family members from consequent harm. The story is a pack of silliness (Hackers! National infrastructure! Turning all traffic lights to green!) with more logical howlers than you can imagine (including a convenient absence of traffic when needed), but at least it gives Bruce Willis something to do and plenty of opportunities to look good with an increasing number of cuts and bruises. Though the villains are a bit wasted (Timothy Oliphant’s villain never projects too much menace, while Maggie Q is wasted as a sidekick who can’t help but go “yah!” as she’s kung-fu fighting) and the direction is too scattered to be truly inspiring, there are a number of really good action sequences here and there. There’s a bit of parkour, a wall-smashing gunfight, at least one flying car, some hot jet-on-truck action and a crumbling symbol of American power. Good stuff, though I’d like a cleaner look for the action than the fashionable CGI-boosted shakycam stuff. More globally, it’s fascinating to see a mainstream American action thriller take on a plot-line that would have been pure science fiction (in concept and execution) barely twenty years ago: our heroes use cell phones, shrug over memories of 9/11, do some social engineering via OnStar and stare intently at webcams even as McClane is derided as “a Timex in a digital world”. It’s too bad that this is a different McClane than the one who starred in the first Die Hard, but I won’t complain: Fast-paced action movies are rare enough that I’ll take what I can get.
(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2008) I’m shocked: This film actually works better the second time around. Free from the initial impact of silly plotting and logical howlers, this fourth Die Hard installment surprises by how well it understands the mechanics of the character, while the direction is a cut above the jerky style commonly used nowadays. The pacing is steady and the climax delivers on its promise. The bare-bones DVD version still includes a fairly entertaining commentary with Bruce Willis and director Len Weisman (who redeems himself after the two Underworld movies): it explains a fair bit about the conception and the making of a project that was a long time in the making. I didn’t actually expect this film to hold up to a second viewing, but it does do quite well.