(On TV, March 2015) I’m not sure how you can go from a videogame with a rich mythos to a film adaptation that barely qualifies as an action film, but there is Hitman, an instantly-forgettable generic thriller that doesn’t have much going for it. I’m not familiar with the video game, but the mythology described on Wikipedia doesn’t sound uninteresting. Alas, the film itself can’t be bothered to do much with the elements it has at its disposal, presenting a generic east-European assassination story that feels as if it’s been done a dozen times before. There isn’t much here to distinguish the result from countless direct-to-video low-budget thrillers. Pressed for anything nice to say, it’s possible to recognize Timothy Oliphant’s screen presence, occasional visuals and maybe the four-way hitman brawl. But that’s pretty much it for a script that revels in clichés and familiar tropes. It’s best not to look too closely at the premise (for assassins trained to be inconspicuous, bar-coded red-tied suited skinheads may not be the best choice) nor the actual plot (assassinating a body double for… what, exactly?) The film is just dull, and doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere where there are actual stakes. As usual, excessive violence in the middle of a bad film makes the violence seems even more irritating. Compared to The Divide, Hitman is not the worst film I’ve seen from director Xavier Gens, but that’s not much of a compliment either.
(On Cable TV, September 2014) Every so often, the jaded reviewer that I am is pushed out of his complacency by an extraordinarily dislikable film. Lately, I’ve been feeling increasingly irritated by nihilistic horror films: I can’t see their reason to exist, and having to go through 90 minutes of bleakness to be told another variation on “they all died” at the end is infuriating when even freeing up half an hour of my time to watch movies is a challenge. This, obviously, brings us to The Divide, a pointless post-apocalyptic horror film in which unpleasant characters do terrible things to one another until only one is left. To be fair, the opening sequence is pretty good (as residents of a Brooklyn apartment building see nuclear destruction rain down and force their way to a basement bunker) and the first half-hour suggested a much bigger film opening up. But as The Divide turns inward after an unexplainably early jaunt outside the bunker, things get less and less interesting as torture, rape and murder come to dominate the proceedings. Our heroine is one by default, being the only one not actively trying to inflict harm on others. Not that there are any credible alternatives, given the way nearly everyone turns cartoonish psychotic. Successive deaths come as a relief to the viewer as they hint at a film that will end out of lack of characters. While Xavier Gens doesn’t do all badly as the director, there are some very dumb decisions baked into the script, from a first-act escapade outside the bunker that is then ignored for the rest of the film, unanswered questions, limp characters and an ending that doesn’t resolve anything as much as it stops out of bodies to ruin. Intense? Perhaps –although my attention wandered during the increasingly bleak second half. (How bleak? Well –and there’s no nice way to put this– a character is raped to death.) I’d rather call it meditative, although not in the sense that the filmmakers intended: As the onscreen ugliness intensified, my attention wandered to all that is good and beautiful about our world. Life’s too short and beautiful to suffer through nihilistic trash like this. I’ll take any meaningless romantic comedy over a second viewing of The Divide.