(On TV, October 2015) The nice thing about viewing films of a certain vintage is that they can often capture qualities that even skilled admirers can’t quite get. 1997 is now far away enough from 2015 to accumulate a nice patina of historicity, and viewing thrillers of the era can bring back great memories… especially middle-grade examples of the form such as Murder at 1600. I still remember the over-the-top tough-guy trailer narration (“An address that changes all the rules.”) and seeing it today, the silliness of its best/worse moments (as in: shooting at a helicopter with a handgun and actually managing to hit it) is more charming than infuriating. Wesley Snipes is, bluntly, not the best choice as the tough cop who gets to investigate a murder at the White House: He’s got the machismo down pat for the action sequences, but it’s hard to actually believe him as a top-notch detective. But if you think that’s a problem… then you don’t understand the panache of the film. Murder at 1600 is ridiculous, but unapologetically so, and more than fifteen years later this becomes endearing. I’m not sure, though, that I would have said the same had I reviewed the film back in 1997.
(On Cable TV, September 2012) I’m constantly amazed at the number of decent films that fly under my radar. I had years where I saw more than 70 movies in theaters, and will probably see that many even this year when I’m deliberately avoiding theaters to stay at home watching on-demand movies; I keep up with the trade news and have a fairly reliable mental database of whose in what; I like Jason Statham a lot… why is it that I completely missed seeing Chaos when it came out in 2005? I can’t explain it… but I can enjoy it, because even on the small screen, Chaos is a decent middle-of-the-road crime thriller. Featuring Jason Statham, Ryan Philippe and (briefly) Wesley Snipes in one of his last roles before his 2006-2009 eclipse, Chaos has the advantage of a strong opening and a decent middle section before turning repetitive and overlong in its final act. There’s playfulness in the way the opening crams a film’s worth of plot in a credit sequence, and then in the way is plays along with traditional genre elements during its first half. Chaos’ biggest problem is that it doesn’t quite know how to deliver a third act –although, fortunately, it manages a good final scene as a kicker. Statham is as reliable as always in a solid policeman role, whereas Philippe plays a familiar but ill-fitting young-wunderkind protagonist. (Snipes, meanwhile, shown up for a while and disappears except when the film needs a scare or two.) Still, there’s a lot to like about some of the film’s thematic content: As a big fan of James Gleick’s Chaos, I was overjoyed to see the non-fiction science book get a prominent role in a crime thriller. Still, I think that Chaos will work better for viewers who are receptive to crime-thriller genre elements and the ways they can be blended, recombined and subverted. It may not be a film for the ages, but it’s good enough at what it does, and it confirms that few actors can be as effective action heroes as Statham.