Thursday, July 22, 2010

The A-Team - Zero Stars

In the new front-runner for The Most Unnecessary Film of the Year, The A-Team, we see the team assemble and plan some of the most outrageously complicated missions imaginable, sequences that are so impossible that director Joe Carnahan is unable to trust the audience to accept them playing out on their own. The film pretty much consists of about four of these missions, which are edited down to dullness, not being allowed to play out coherently. Instead each action sequence is inter cut with the planning of each step of the mission, and burdened with some hokey voice-over narration to further convince you that these long series of perfectly timed coincidences involving their enemies' reactions or the bending of the laws of physics could ever be planned at all... which would be fine... if they were the slightest bit entertaining. Besides being cut down to nothing, whenever any of these sequences is allowed to breathe a little and play unbroken, they are shot so close to the action and edited so rapidly that you can't even decipher what is happening. It's all very tiresome.

The A-Team also suffers from its simultaneously strict and loose adherence to its source material. Why would you ever have someone act like Mr. T? The charm of a guy like Mr. T is his sincerity, so when you have an actor reprise a role originated by Mr. T, the worst thing you can do is make it ironic, which is pretty much what's on display in this incarnation of The A-Team. The film tries to replicate the kitsch of an 80's hit while at the same time making it a modern big-budget action film, which only ends up dissolving any of the charm that was there to begin with, and lands the film somewhere in between taking itself way too seriously and not seriously enough.

And that's not even mentioning the abysmal CGI that blankets the film. At best it looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, which would be good if I were watching Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner, but bad when it's live-action and I'm watching the A-Team try to fly a free-falling Army tank by rotating its barrel the right number of degrees and shooting a shell to propel it a certain distance in a certain direction at the perfect time, so that they can land safely(?(!)) in a small lake in Germany. That cartoonish scene might sound too ludicrous to not be fun and enjoyable, but it's really not. Or perhaps, in the words of a real action film, I'm too old for this shit.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Marmaduke - *1/2

Chalk this one up to that rare group of films that are bad enough not to be good, but weird and absurd enough not to be awful. Marmaduke is a talking animal film in which the main character is a pet dog who frequently breaks the fourth wall in a way that wouldn't be at all charming if it weren't Owen Wilson voicing the most awkward-looking animal in recent memory. We see him run, jump, and surf his way into the hearts of the California dog park pedigree circle while bumbling the romance between the prissy girlfriend of the Top Dog (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), and his real love, the humble, homely-looking friend, while overstaying his welcome with his owner and family, throwing dog-parties while they're away and pretending to rough up the cat to gain face with the pedigrees. Yup, it doesn't make a lick of sense, and that's pretty much everything it has going for it... well, that and the awkward mouth movements when the animals speak. But somehow it invites you to laugh at it often enough to make the experience a lot less painful than it should be.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Splice - **

Splice is one of those horror movies that is much more interesting when you don't look at it as a horror movie. It's got a pretty neat premise about a nature vs. nurture experiment gone too far, which is handled well for about forty-five minutes, at which point someone told the filmmakers that because the film shares similarities with other horror films, it should conform to all of the pitfalls of the genre. And so what starts out as an emotionally-grounded film with a strange premise turns into a dreadful exercise in gross-out CGI-driven mayhem featuring a strong candidate for worst line of the year... "What do you want?!" screams the female scientist creator of the Winged, Knife-Tailed, Gender-Switching Demon Who Can Breathe Under Water, to which WK-TG-SDWCBUW chokes out, "Inside... You!" But at that point, you don't really care if the Female Scientist gets raped by a demon knife-tail, or anything else on screen... you just want to be Outside... The Theater.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - *

There is a scene early on in Prince of Persia in which Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Dastan, pushes the button on the magical dagger and we see the previous minute reverse and the scene play back until the inevitable moment when Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Dastan, pushes the button on the magical dagger and we see the previous minute reverse and the scene play back again, the only difference being that the magical sand that fuels the magical dagger has run out and so instead of pushing the button, Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Dastan, explains that when he pushes the button on the magical dagger, he goes back in time one minute and nobody else notices. For a movie that takes such pains to explain exactly what we're watching, it is surprising how idiotic these explanations end up sounding and mind-boggling that they could make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

No amount of bad CGI can cover up awful dialogue, a nonsensical plot, and poor direction, but that certainly doesn't stop Prince of Persia from trying to do just that. The film is caked in bad effects that can never make me believe that they had more than one set to use. Instead it looks as if all of the action was filmed using the same room, but edited quickly and close up to try to hide it. And when there is a focus on dialogue, it hints at a confused political message, with the whole thing being triggered by the search for non-existent WMD's and more than one reference to the tax burden falling on the small business owner mixed in with an ancient-NASCAR race and political corruption. What does all of this mean? Nothing. What's entertaining about it? Nothing.

Kites - Zero Stars

(Note: I don't actually remember this moment in the film, but I think it's safe to assume it was there somewhere. Even if it wasn't in the film, Kites is full of stupid shit like this that isn't meant to be ironic.)

All of the buzz on Kites focuses on how it's a nice piece of pulp. I think that people are confusing pulp with shit. Pulp is a fun exercise in genre conventions; shit is just poorly executed cliche. Kites is essentially Bollywood's approximation of a Hollywood film: everyone is rich, even the poor people, everyone is attractive (or at least Bollywood's approximation of attractive), it takes place in Las Vegas, and it's filled to the brim with flashbacks, mob bosses, slow-motion montages featuring characters having a really good time even when their lives are in danger, a slow-motion shot of a guy throwing dice at a craps table, fast retro cars, cops who can't drive, and various other cars that tumble and explode at the slightest touch. It even comes complete with an utterance of "Show me the money!" and a duplicate of the breadstick dance scene from Benny & Joon. Well, these Bollywood folks need to watch more of our movies, or at least pay closer attention to the ones they do watch, because what it's missing is anything interesting, like that Tom Sizemore-y scumbag wild-card character who makes the hero look good. Without a scumbag, this hero just looks like a guy who just got out of bed and couldn't locate a looser pair of pants. And if Ashton Kutcher has taught us anything, it's that tight jeans do not make a convincing hero.