(On Cable TV, January 2019) I ignored Odd Thomas for years, working from the conviction that it couldn’t be more than an average film if it had been adapted from a Dean Koontz novel. (I once read twenty-some Koontz novels in the span of a single year, and liked only one of them.) But as it turns out, this movie adaptation is something different from the usual Koontz. Introducing us to a small-town California psychic, this is a film that makes use of chatty protagonist narration, a fast-paced plot and some off-beat details to tell a story with a well-rounded execution from familiar elements. I suspect that much of the fluidity of the result comes from director Stephen Sommers, a capable sfx storyteller who had a few high-profile movies between 1998 and 2009 but seems to have been sidelined of the industry since then. The plot has something to do with preventing a mass shooting, but the way we get there is far more interesting than expected with plenty of humour, suspense, ingenious use of fantastic tropes and good actors in key roles. The late Anton Yelchin stars as Thomas, with an early role for Gugu Mbatha-Raw and a supporting turn from Willem Defoe. The hook is interesting, and while there is something slightly off about the overly cute banter as well as some of the individual moments along the way (including a far too dark romantic conclusion), the execution is generally above average and the film is a bit of an unassuming surprise. Even though it’s more of an underrated B-movie than anything else, I probably shouldn’t have waited so long to see it.
(In theatres, August 2009): Nobody expected much from a summer action movie adapted from toys and directed by Stephen Sommers. Still, is it too precious to ask for an entertaining experience from start to finish? G.I.Joe is occasionally fun and amusing: Elements of the first act dare to include over-the-top outrageousness (including a mysterious force relying on government-grade high technology) while the middle-act Paris sequence is an extended rollercoaster of an action sequence. For guys, it’s hard to be left indifferent by a bespectacled Sienna Miller as sexy-evil Baroness, or (to a lesser extent) Rachel Nichols as Scarlett. Meanwhile, Dennis Quaid is obviously having fun chomping on General Hawk’s cigars, and there’s at least one crazy/cool shot of an elevator ride through the G.I.Joes’ HQ. But even those simple pleasures fade fast when the film seems obsessed to sabotage its own assets: The action highlight of the film takes place in Paris, but even that sequence fails to fully engage with the audience when it runs at a continuous high speed with concordant CGI overload. The entire third act, despite enough CGI to cost twice the price-tag of two District 9 put together, is dull enough to put anyone to sleep, with only its own dumbness (“They’ve blown up the iceberg! It will sink to the bottom of the ocean!”) to provide comic relief. Worse; the Baroness character loses a lot of interest when she’s revealed to be brainwashed and, as such, really a good girl. Boring. The movie as a whole is classic Sommers, but the latter-day incoherent Sommers from Van Helsing rather than the genre-savvy Sommers from The Mummy. Enjoy the ride, but don’t be surprised if you end up asking when it will finally end.
(In theaters, May 2004) Whew! Logically, I should hate this film; its disregard for simple narrative coherency (full moons, chasm-running roads, oh my!) only matches its ignorance of physics (Jumping horses! Exploding coaches! Conveniently-placed ropes!) and muddled sense of narration. Yet unlike The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, you can sense an underlying method to this madness; writer/director Stephen Sommers knows that he’s being silly and isn’t being shy about it. (Heck, there’s even a reference to MAD magazine thrown in the mix!) Also, maybe more importantly, this film is seldom boring; while it runs too long (there should be a “only one massive castle fight” rule for movies like this), there’s rarely a dull moment. As a respectable film it’s a disaster, but as a homage to the whole monster-movie genre (with more than a bit of superhero action thrown in for good measure), it’s pretty darn spiffy. Special-effects-wise, some are great and some aren’t, but there’s certainly a ton of them! As if that wasn’t enough, Kate Beckinsale looks amazingly hot. (Hurrah for anachronistic hair!) Yes, I feel guilty for even thinking about getting the DVD, but too bad; it’s fun and I wasn’t asking for much more.