(Video on Demand, June 2015) There is something almost interesting in the themes that Kidnapping Mr. Heineken develops in its last third, once past the conception and execution of a rich man’s kidnapping: the idea that crime destroys friendships and that it’s hard to know where things will stop once you’ve decided to break the law. Perhaps unfortunately, though, those themes come as afterthoughts and are explored superficially. What’s left is a dreary European crime thriller, featuring interesting actors (most notably Anthony Hopkins and Sam Worthington) but restrained by the facts of the true story of beer magnate Freddy Heineken’s kidnapping in 1983 by a small group of unexperienced friends trying to get fast money through a ransom request. Things don’t go as planned, especially once they do get the ransom and the group splits apart on ideological differences. Worthington is the solid (maybe bland) anchor of the piece, with Hopkins providing a better performance than the film around him. Otherwise, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken does blur into a generally lifeless crime story, aside from a bit of a twist toward the end. It’s not bad, but it’s more ordinary than it should have been.
(On Cable TV, January 2013) The sad news is that Wrath of the Titans doesn’t have the arch melodramatic tone that made its predecessor so much fun to watch: “Release the Kraken!”, anyone? The good news is that this sequel to Clash of the Titans remains a relatively entertaining action/fantasy film: the bare-bones plot serves handily as an excuse for well-choreographed action sequences involving grander-than-life fantastical creatures. Director Jonathan Liebesman shows a good eye for flowing action sequences, and the film has a few gorgeous continuous shots in which the action plays out beautifully. Tons of fiery special effects add more interest, especially when dealing with the skyscraper-sized end boss. Sam Worthington holds the film together as no-nonsense reluctant hero Perseus, but Bill Nighy has a bit of fun as a half-mad god while Liam Neeson also makes an impression as a bound Zeus. Thematically, there’s a flicker of interest when we realize that the story is taking place at the twilight of the gods’ influence over human affairs: there’s a last-hurrah atmosphere to the plot that interesting in its own right. Still, let’s not kid ourselves: this is pure spectacle, the fantasy elements being excuses for bigger action set-pieces. Wrath of the Titans works well in this context, and delivers the high-gloss entertainment factor that viewers of the first film expected. That first entry wasn’t all that good, but this follow-up best succeeds at what it tries to do, and that’s already quite a bit better than many recent action/fantasy hybrids.
(On-demand video, August 2012) There’s a comforting familiarity to genre exercises that makes it easy to forgive them for, well, being genre exercises. Man on a Ledge may benefit from an unusual premise (man goes on a ledge as a diversion for a heist), but it quickly becomes just another thriller with the usual palette of elements: clever virtuous thieves, corrupt cops, framed hero, rapacious journalists, and so on. To its credit, Man on a Ledge plays its thriller cards well, especially in the first act of the film while all of the plot strands are being set up. It’s the second third that hits a bit of a lull as the same situation is re-threaded for about 15 minutes: thrillers live or die on narrative energy, and there’s a sense, as the thieves goof around their target, that time is being wasted. At least the last act of the film speeds up again, leading up to a nice appropriate moment of stunt-work. Some dynamic camera work helps keep up interest throughout, but some thanks must be given to the good cast assembled here for the film: Sam Worthington as a scruffy protagonist, Ed Harris as a rail-thin villain, up-comer Anthony Mackie as a partner working at cross-purposes, Elizabeth Banks as a damaged police officer and Genesis Rodriguez as a wise-cracking rogue. It plays reasonably well as a genre thriller, and that’s fine if that’ all you really want to see. Where it falters is in comparison with other better movies of this kind –specifically Inside Man, Spike Lee’s far-better “New York crime thriller” entry which felt as if it had some connections to contemporary reality rather than just being a somewhat showy thriller. The far-fetched nature of Man on a Ledge’s plot could have used a bit more grounding (so to speak, ahem) and that’s probably when genre exercises can go astray, by being more focused on their own plot convolutions rather than spending just a bit more time on making it feel even more credible.
(On DVD, August 2010) I have no particular fascination for giant crocodiles, but I’m always interest in a a well-made monster movie. So it is that Rogue, despite having been released straight-to-DVD in North America after a successful theatrical run in its native Australia, is a surprisingly efficient horror movie pitting humans against one particularly vicious croc. The first pre-horror section of the film, ironically, may be its best as directory Greg McLean gives us a gorgeously photographed guided tour of Northern Territory nature, complete with so many dangers that our boatful of tourist characters should really start to worry. Things don’t remain as credible as a series of mishaps shipwrecks our protagonists on a small island in the middle of a giant crocodile’s habitat. Sam Worthington has a significant early role as a cocky redneck, but it’s Michael Vartan who becomes the thinking man’s action hero as the tide rises and their options grow smaller. Never mind the obvious objections and plot-holes in stranding characters on an island twenty meters away from relative safety: Crocs seemingly can’t walk on land in this film, and the reward in suspending our disbelief is seeing a few good suspenseful sequences. It doesn’t work as well late in the film as the action moves to a studio-built lair in time for a straight-up man-against-nature fight. But Rogue is sufficiently successful by then that it doesn’t matter as much as you’d think: It’s meanly efficient most of the time, and enjoyable for the rest of it. Tourists heading to the Australian wilderness may think twice before seeing the film and adding to their worries, though.
(In theatres, April 2010) Sword-and-sandal epics are worthless without an overwrought sense of melodrama, and that’s the single best reason to recommend Clash of the Titans despite a weak script, inconsistent directing and lacklustre performances by actors who should know better. Three words from Liam Neeson to convince you: “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!” (Thesis: All movies are improved by a character shouting “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!”) I don’t recall the 1981 original in enough detail to make useful comparisons, so let us consider this remake on its own terms: a mishmash of Greek mythology, action-movie sequences, and blockbuster fantasy trappings. Among several better actors playing the pantheon, Sam Worthington doesn’t have much to do drama-wise as Perseus (he gets a team and loses it almost as quickly), but after Avatar and Terminator: Salvation the film should do fine in polishing his niche as the guy to play non-entirely-human action heroes. He gets to run around in a tunic, fight scorpions, cut the head of Medusa, and all the other things a demigod is expected to do. Direction-wise, Louis Leterrier’s action scenes are uneven: The scorpion fight takes place in clear sunlight with decently long cuts, but the Medusa and Kraken sequence are a bit of an overcut mess even though the CGI feels a bit better than average. Still, the fun of the picture lies in the arch leaden quality of the dialogue and the fact that everyone seems to be playing the material as straight as possible. It’s not great art, it may not even be great entertainment, but it does what it has to do, and that should be enough.