Archive for the Action Category

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Posted in Action, Sequel, Thriller with tags , , , on May 23, 2017 by The Confused Critic

(** out of ****)

 JR2

Plot: The trials and tribulations of stoic Major (ex-Major, actually, as he will remind you countless times throughout the film) Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) continue as he innocently stumbles his way into a nefarious conspiracy involving the military, Taliban, missing guns, and an endless supply of private security firm goons. Teaming up with (current) Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) and a young teen who may or may not be his daughter (Danika Yarosh), Reacher must uncover the truth beneath this ghastly plot before he can peacefully return to his brooding drifter lifestyle.

Review: The first Reacher movie was a mildly amusing, if not mindless, attempt to bring the character to life on the big screen. There was nothing outstanding about its plot, characters, or set pieces, and it mainly served as reminder that Cruise can secure an impressive budget for even the most unremarkable of projects. It was a chance for action-hounds to whoop and holler over a few broken bones and growled one-liners. Never Go Back, the second in the series, fails to move on beyond this simple blueprint, instead turning the movie into one long chase scene. Its story is silly, simple, and implausible – factors that can usually be ignored by all but the most refined cinephiles when a film is willing to demonstrate at least a modicum of self-awareness.

Despite the presence of a talented cast, there is nothing interesting or unique about any of the characters in Jack Reacher II: The Search for More Masculinity. These no-nonsense archetypes deprive the film of the bombastic excitement and winking humor that would enable its success. The sparseness of the story saps them of backgrounds, pathos, or relatability. Likewise, the action sequences are carried out with such an indifferent ho-humness that the proceedings are rendered bland and pedestrian. Only an all-too-brief sequence involving a New Orleans Halloween parade gives 2 Jack 2 Reacher any sort of color or pizzazz.

What we are left with is a tedious slog through routine mediocrity. Cruise misses the opportunity to exhibit the charismatic thrills that have made his Mission: Impossible franchise so successful over the years. Unlike Ethan Hunt, Reacher is an overly serious bore that tries too hard to embody the quintessential cinematic badass. Unfortunately, these films have neither the stylish flamboyance of John Wick nor the over-the-topic, exploitative glee of Taken that could excuse such flaws. Given Hollywood’s inability to curtail Cruise’s omnipresence, do not be surprised if we see another one of these in two years.

Confused Take: I have never read any of the books by Lee Child, so it is tough to say whether or not this film faithfully captures its source material. While my review may be overly harsh, this movie is not the worst way one could spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. Stream this one or catch it on cable when it rolls around, but refrain from spending your money if possible.

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted in Action, Sci-Fi, Sequel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2016 by The Confused Critic

(**1/2 out of ****)

Synopsis: After traversing the vastness of the galaxy for an indeterminate period of time, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the USS Enterprise gang seek retreat and relaxation on the Yorktown space station. Upon landing, they are approached by Kalara (Lydia Wilson), an alien being requesting the crew’s help in rescuing her ship, which is currently stranded on a planet within an uncharted nebula. As would be expected at this point, the rescue mission is not as straight-forward as initially suggested and the Enterprise soon finds itself up against its newest foe, Krall (Idris Elba).

Review: Is third time a charm for the Star Trek franchise? For the most part – yes. Star Trek Beyond eschews the shamelessly familiar plot points that its predecessor, Star Trek into Darkness, insisted upon. This time around, we get a livelier script that smartly breaks the crew of the Enterprise into a handful of subgroups in the second half of the film. Such plotting allows the actors a greater opportunity to give their characters range and distinctive personalities. The film’s best moments occur between a bickering Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), while the lost in translation relationship between Scottie (actor and co-writer Simon Pegg) and series newcomer Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah provides much needed lightness and comic relief. Beyond succeeds best in its quieter, more character-driven moments that punctuate its lengthy and bombastic scenes of chaos and destruction.

As could be said about the previous two entries in this series, the likability of the cast and their comfort with one another elevates this movie above standard summer action movie fare. Their ability to embody the core qualities of their original series counterparts without completely aping them remains a strength of this franchise. Quinto’s gentle, if not slightly aloof, Spock continues to be a standout, as does Urban’s Bones, who provides a majority of the laughs in the film. As far as antagonists go, Elba does what he can in his portrayal of the vindictive Krall. Like other actors who have portrayed villains in this series (Benedict Cumberbatch and Eric Bana), his acting is undermined by his character’s convoluted plans and motivations. Ultimately, Krall is an average, mostly unmemorable threat to our heroes.

Unlike the previous two entries in the series, Justin Lin has assumed directorial duties in place of J.J. Abrams, who is now heavily involved in the new Star Wars trilogy. Lin employs the same hyperkinetic direction that he utilized to reenergize the Fast and the Furious franchise to mixed results. While it is hard to deny that he has injected some serious adrenaline into the picture, this may not have necessarily been the missing ingredient in the first two Abrams movies. The camerawork here is overactive and dizzying, making it difficult for the viewer to comprehend the visual geography of a fight scene or space battle. Furthermore, though many criticized Abrams use of lens flares, Lin’s constant barrage of Dutch angles and upside down camera shots is far more distracting. That said, both the cinematography and the decision to mix practical effects and CGI whenever possible allow for a visually pleasing experience.

It still feels as though this series wants to be a viable Star Wars alternative rather than a true Star Trek franchise. The cerebral concepts and ethical debates that made the original series and (most of) its ensuing films so memorable are nowhere to be found here. Instead, viewers are given endless action sequences that dull the senses and seriously detract from the more human aspects of the story. Although this film does an admirable job of further developing a few of its characters through its dialogue-driven scenes, it also introduces some character side-plots (e.g. Spock and Uhura) that it is unwilling to explore beyond a surface level. All in all, the studio does not seem to have much faith that audiences will buy into a character-based Star Trek film. Like its reboot predecessors, Star Trek beyond skates by on a likable characters, a passable story, and nostalgic callbacks to the legacy of the original series.

Confused Take: Have you ever sat through a movie and enjoyed it well enough, but then struggled to precisely articulate what exactly it was that you liked about it? That was what happened to me here. Although I generally liked the action of the movie and laughed at its humorous bits, the whole viewing experience felt like a bit of a blur. As the story took a serious backseat to overblown action sequences, I numbed out and, perhaps, shut down the critical process that are normally at play in my brain when watching a movie. There was nothing I particularly loved or hated about this film. Going forward, it would be great to see a Star Trek movie that is heavier on story and character development, as this is truly where the fun of the series lies. It would also be nice to switch things up and have a smaller scale threat with more-focused and comprehensible action sequences. Not every movie in this franchise needs to center around a planet-destroying, world-shattering plot device.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Posted in Action, Comedy with tags , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(**** out of ****)

Hot Fuzz

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 4/23/2007)

What’s this? An original comedy that does not rely on crude humor and gross-out jokes? Where are Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn? Surely we are are not ready for a comedy without these overused actors, right? OK, enough smugness for now. Let’s take a closer look.

Hot Fuzz tells the story of Sergeant Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg), one of the best cops in London. Unfortunately, his determination and success leads his jealous superiors to transfer him for being too good at his job, which had inadvertently made the rest of the force look bad. Angel is sent to Sandford, a small English village where everything is seemingly quiet and safe.

Upon arriving in Sandford, Angel immediately arrests the town drunk who attempts to drive home after a long night of celebrating life. The next morning, he learns that the man he arrested is none other than Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), his new partner, who also happens to be the son of Sandford’s police chief, Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent). Danny is an avid fan of films like Point Break and the Bad Boys movies and treasures the fact that he is finally getting to work with someone who has seen real action in the line of duty.

Initially, everything appears to be fairly dull and monotonous for Angel. Arresting underage drinkers and retrieving a local citizen’s goose is the extent of the action he sees. This boredom is suddenly interrupted by a series of grisly deaths. Angel is convinced that there is a serial killer on the loose, but the rest of the inept police force is comfortable with writing each death off as a common accident. As Angel and Butterman begin to investigate these crimes, a startlingly dark secret about the town of Sandford comes to surface.

Much like director Edgar Wright’s previous film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz neglects to tie itself down to one particular genre. American buddy cop films, murder mysteries, and slasher flicks are all respectfully spoofed and effectively integrated into the plot of the film. Of particular interest is what director Edgar Wright describes as “hard R-rated deaths out of an Agatha Christie novel.” Without giving too much away, this film revels in its ridiculously gory deaths, which are more humorous than exploitative.

What makes Hot Fuzz work so well is the chemistry between the two leads. Friends for over a decade now, Pegg and Frost display a uniquely comfortable interaction on screen. The audience realizes how much fun the two are having together and can’t help but feel that they are part of the inside jokes. It is clear that this is a film made by a group of people who hold a legitimate respect and appreciation for the films that they are satirizing.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about the film is the substantial roles that the secondary characters play. Although Pegg and Frost could carry the movie alone if necessary, actors like Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, and Billie Whitelaw create equally funny characters that add an extra dimension to the film. Timothy Dalton, one of the less remembered actors to have portrayed James Bond, manages to steal several scenes with his perfect sense of comic timing and irony.

Hot Fuzz is one of the most enjoyable comedies since, well, Shaun of the Dead. Director Wright and co-stars Pegg and Frost have laid a solid foundation for the future of their respective careers. Collectively, the three recognize why they love certain genres of film and convey their elements so well that audiences remember why they enjoy going to the theater. Although it might be too early to tell, it is possible that the trio could become the Monty Python for today’s generation

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Posted in Action, Sequel on March 7, 2013 by The Confused Critic

(*½ out of ****)

A Good Day to Die Hard

Halfway through the magnum opus of chaos and destruction known as A Good Day to Die Hard, John McClane asks his son, “What’s my thing?” after being told that discussing feelings has never been his forte. “Fucking killing bad guys! That’s your thing!” bellows his precocious son in the midst of a gun fight. Such eloquent dialogue reminds us that this is what happens when you hire the screenwriter responsible for penning the A-Team and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Where is Family Matters’ Reginald VelJohnson (aka Carl Winslow) when you need him? I’ll even settle for Justin Long at this point…

The latest profit-seeking endeavor in the Die Hard franchise finds tireless Mr. Clean understudy McClane (Bruce Willis) venturing to Moscow to locate his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for assassinating a high-ranking Russian government official who we learn nothing about. In order to reduce his sentence, Jack, an undercover CIA agent, agrees to testify against Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a political prisoner being forced to stand trial by a corrupt politician. Naturally, the elder McClane shows up right as terrorists blast their way into this hackneyed mess and force the father/son duo to reunite in a partnership for the ages. “Some kind of vacation…” and “I’m too old for this shit” jokes, a jaunt to Chernobyl, and boring CGI carnage ensue for 97 teal and orange lens tinted minutes.

The fifth in the series, A Good Day to Die Hard lacks all of the charm, excitement, and suspense of its predecessors. Essentially one long continuous chase sequence, it fails to establish a creative story or characters that draw us in. Whereas past entries in the series had notoriously hammy villains portrayed by the likes of Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons, we get nothing of the sort here. Rather than establish one head honcho, the film delights in an endless stream of reveals as to who the “true” villain is. Unfortunately, the script fails to provide enough character development for any of us to care or even feign a sense of surprise.

What truly dooms this sequel is the fact that the character Willis plays no longer bears any significant resemblance to the John McClane in the original film. Sure, he is still sarcastic, surly, and rough around the edges, but the original McClane reacted with fear and self-doubt in the harrowing scenarios he faced. Here, instead, we get an indestructibly cocky robot that seems rather ho-hum about blowing away hoards of terrorists with an oversized machine gun. Gone is the flawed family man who would walk barefoot across a floor littered with shards of glass to protect his loved ones. Conversely, we get a McClane who taunts his son after he is impaled by a metal beam in his side, mockingly asking him if he’d like to cry. Rather than being the self-deprecating protagonist who once infamously questioned how the “same thing can happen to the same guy twice,” we now find a jaded character who appears to have bought into his own legend and turned into a generic, one-note superhero.

Willis has reportedly stated that he would like to do one more Die Hard sequel before retiring the series for good. Whether he made this decision after viewing the disappointing final cut of this movie is unclear, but let’s hope that the people over at 20th Century Fox devise a better game plan the next time around. For starters, don’t hire a director whose credits include Max Payne. Second, develop believable stunt sequences that provide an actual sense of exhilaration rather than the notion that you are viewing a videogame cut scene. Lastly, make the entire cast and crew watch any of the first three films in the series so that there is a better understanding of why people wanted to see these movies in the first place.

The Confused Take: Despite all the negative press that this movie has been receiving, I went into the theatre feeling optimistic that I could at least find some redeeming qualities that others had missed. After all, I was sufficiently entertained by the oft-maligned Live Free or Die Hard, so I thought that perhaps this entry would provide an equivalent level of brain-dead enjoyment. Unfortunately nothing here works. The overblown, nonstop action quickly becomes dull, especially when it is soon apparent that none of the characters are going to be subjected to any real injury. Not even a shoe-horned Mary Elizabeth Winstead cameo as McClane’s daughter can bring any integrity to this mess. As a faithful fan of the Die Hard series, I sought out this movie for a sense of completion but left wondering whether Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head would have been a more productive use of my time.