DVD Review: Lockout

Guy Pearce shoots off bullets and one-liners in 'Lockout.'

Guy Pearce shoots off bullets and one-liners in ‘Lockout.’

Die Hard in space, as sci-fi thriller Lockout could be accurately dubbed, may be the silliest (and stupidest) Die Hard rip-off yet.

Guy Pearce stars as devil-may-care secret agent Snow, who is forced to infiltrate a high security prison to rescue the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) after the prisoners rebel and take over. The catch? The prison, MS One, is in fact a maximum security space station orbiting Earth.

Pearce is easily the best part of Lockout, playing Snow as a Han Solo clone, complete with gruff charisma and roguish wit. Luckily for the film and audience, he pulls it off. Trading either barbs or blows with every character he comes across, Pearce effectively establishes himself as a more-than-capable leading man. It’s just a shame he’s given so little to work with.

Lockout‘s plot is as described above, and that’s pretty much it. There are no layers to the concept of MS One, though the writers throw some inadequate tidbits to the audience that make the film’s ultimate simplicity all the more frustrating. The fact that Emilie is on board to investigate rumors of prisoner abuse is one of the film’s only thoughtful ideas, but it’s immediately drowned out by explosions and gunfire and never goes anywhere. An undercooked side plot with Pearce’s character being framed for murder back on Earth is so meager and poorly executed that it’s not worth trying to piece together.

There are a lot of missed opportunities in Lockout, which decides to poorly copy better movies instead of introducing its own ideas. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is the movie most plagiarized, from the concept to the characters, but almost every idea in Lockout originated in a different, better movie.

Lockout is about evenly split between effective action sequences and ones that look shockingly crappy. The film’s jumpy, amateurish direction does nothing to alleviate sensory headaches caused by the worst of those scenes. Honestly, at times, the level of thought that went into Lockout makes it appear as if it were made by middle school students taking an Introduction to Filmmaking course, albeit ones with deep pockets.

Atrocious direction aside, Lockout not only asks viewers to suspend their disbelief, but to throw basic laws of physics out the window. Pearce tries his damnedest, but it feels like he’s fighting alone. Lockout‘s directors, producers, and writers (including super-producer Luc Besson) are all perfectly content to let the film float around aimlessly like so much space debris. The supporting cast is no help, with Grace floundering in a thankless role and Peter Stormare mangling already cheesy dialogue as a dull government supervisor.

Lockout wants to be seen as a legitimate action thriller, but it can’t even be truly enjoyed as a parody of the same. With mind-numbingly bad special effects and even worse plot points, Pearce’s fine performance doesn’t even come close to saving Lockout from collapsing under the weight of its own idiocy. Lock this one up and throw away the key. C-

 

Photo Courtery: EuroCorp.

DVD Review: The Last Stand

Schwarzenegger prepares for battle alongside Knoxville.

Schwarzenegger prepares for battle alongside Knoxville.

Though billed as Arnie’s big comeback to acting, The Last Stand only really ever adds up to the Governator spinning his wheels and spitting out paltry clichés. What should feel exciting and fresh in this actioner instead comes across as cloying and threadbare, a wasted opportunity. Painfully stilted line reading from the entire cast, especially Arnie, doesn’t help. Sadly, The Last Stand ultimately does more harm to Arnie’s rep than good; Schwarzenegger looks shockingly old, and he’s given agonizingly little to work with.

The Last Stand doesn’t waste much time with set-up. A bad man in a fast car is heading for the border, and only a small-town sheriff (Schwarzenegger) and his motley crew of deputies can stop him. It’s a simple premise but not an unpromising one. And as Arnie, partnered with Jaime Alexander (Thor), Rodrigo Santoro (300), and resident Jackass Johnny Knoxville, preps for battle and comes out guns blazing, the film has a certain charm. What a shame that the energy it should have dissipates so quickly.

Schwarzenegger knows he’s best at kicking ass, so that’s what he spends a good portion of the movie doing. It’s once he’s required to start talking that the film really starts to fall apart; between his thick accent and the often incomprehensible script, nothing but the action works. And it’s not even all Arnie’s fault. The supporting cast, composed of typically fine actors like Forest Whitaker (playing a DEA agent) and Alexander, is for some reason incapable of delivering any good lines at all. Most of them are so mediocre that they fade from memory before the end credits roll. Watching Whitaker pace as his prisoner escapes him is less fun than watching paint dry. It’s only Knoxville who manages to make some jokes land with his typical manic, daredevil energy, but his part is strangely limited to only a few scenes. A buddy-cop flick with the Governator and the Jackass would have been much more fun to watch. Alas, they share only a few minutes of screen-time, spouting hackneyed dialogue all the while.

The action is serviceable, with some nifty car chases and a satisfying shootout that decimates half of the sheriff’s sleepy town. But there’s not enough of it, and The Last Stand takes too long in getting to that titular climax. The first hour and twenty minutes feel like warm-up, because that’s all they are. By the time the bullets start flying in earnest, it’s too little, too late. It would be one thing if the screenwriter had something interesting to say in the scenes he stuffs with dialogue, but it’s all dull platitudes, accomplishing nothing. There are only a couple of lines that show signs of life, but those are rarities, and the monotony is grating. I’m sure that Arnie will back, and I can only hope that it’s in fare better than this. C-

 

Photo Courtesy: Spinoff – Comic Book Resources.

Review: Fast and Furious 6

A member of Torretto's crew takes a leap of faith.

A member of Torretto’s crew takes a leap of faith.

If anyone goes into Fast and Furious 6 looking for dramatic nuance and meditations on the nature of life and death, they’ll leave sorely disappointed. But that’s not what’s kept this racing franchise putting the pedal to the metal at the box office for over ten years. No, the driving force behind the Fast and Furious series is simply the high-octane, no-frills thrill of the chase, and audiences after that “wow”-factor will leave this latest installment wholly satisfied. “Ride or die,” says ex-con protagonist Dom Torretto. “Hell, yeah,” I reply.

After the exhilarating, Rio-wrecking climax of Fast Five, during which Torretto (the aptly named Vin Diesel) and his crew made off with $100 million from a corrupt businessman, the crew is laying low. FBI agent-turned-fugitive Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) has settled down with Torretto’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and started a family, while Torretto is living it up in some tropical paradise. Both are drawn out of hiding when DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), their adversary in Fast Five, offers full amnesty to the crew in exchange for their assistance in taking down rogue soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his crew, which includes Torretto’s presumed-dead lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Get it? Got it? Good. This globe-trotting plot works spectacularly, keeping a breakneck pace while smartly moving the franchise away from its street-racing origins.

Fast and Furious 6 doesn’t waste any time getting its characters into cars, because director Justin LIn knows exactly what moviegoers came to see, and he gives it to them in spades. A London-set car chase early in the film is all kinds of crazy fun, with cars flipping, guns blazing, and explosions galore. And it just gets bigger and better from there. Rodriguez and MMA fighter Gina Carano throw down in a harrowing subway-set brawl both brutal and invigorating. A Spanish highway becomes a battleground as the crew takes on a tank-toting Shaw, who crushes passing cars and blows up bridges with psychotic glee. And the film’s climax, as the crews clash on and alongside a moving cargo-jet, is a dizzying, hell-for-leather, no-brains-attached masterpiece of action blockbuster.

Fast and Furious 6‘s real stars are the sleek speed machines that the actors operate, but the human actors still turn in solid performances. Everyone is clearly having a blast (though Walker is still wooden as ever), and Evans is a terrific villain, both ruthless and devious. Carano is also a great addition, putting her MMA skills to use while giving the male demographic yet another reason to buy a ticket.

Torretto takes every opportunity to call his crew a “family” during the film, and that’s really what they are. Everyone fits together like parts of an engine, and almost every character gets a moment in the spotlight. We love this crew and their near-suicidal antics, and they’re a big part of why, six films in, this franchise is hotter than ever.

This installment lacks the shock-and-awe factor that Fast Five had with The Rock as its baddie, but it ups the ante with borderline-preposterous action sequences and enough automobile pizzazz to satisfy any thrill-seeking moviegoer. You won’t see a less demanding, more ridiculous popcorn pleasure this summer. I highly recommend it. Not only is it fast and furious, it’s also an electrifying ode to fast cars and the hooligans foolhardy (or is it brave?) enough to get behind the wheel. A-

Image Courtesy: Flickering Myth.

Review: Iron Man 3

 

Stark and Potts prepare for battle.

Stark and Potts prepare for battle.

The last time Robert Downey Jr. suited up for adventure without his super-powered pals, the result was a stalled, inferior sequel that made many question how sustainable the Iron Man franchise actually was. Everything that was enjoyable about the original Iron Man – quippy dialogue, exciting action sequences, and an energetic, devil-may-care feel –  vanished in Iron Man 2. And so, Marvel had a lot riding on Iron Man 3 – its responsibility was nothing less than to revitalize the franchise, deliver a massively entertaining popcorn flick, and ensure that people would be asking for more Iron Man for years to come.

Luckily, director Shane Black  (Lethal Weapon) came through with flying colors. He made many great moves with his addition to the franchise, including a change in tone and terrific plot twists. The script (which Black co-wrote with Drew Pearce) is smarter than most, highlighting Tony Stark as a real character and setting up worthy adversaries for him instead of resting on its laurels with big-budget special effects and the movie’s all-but-guaranteed box office success.

The threequel picks up a few months after the Battle of New York featured in The Avengers. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), once a smug billionaire with playthings of mass destruction, is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Suffering PTSD after an encounter with a Chitauri wormhole, Tony can’t sleep. He spends his days in isolation, tinkering away in the basement of his cliffside Malibu home, drifting away from his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). When agents of the Mandarin, an elusive terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, attack him at his home, destroying the personal world he has fought so hard to protect, Stark suits up again to strike back. Along the way, he uncovers the secrets of a top secret super soldier experiment called Extremis and crosses paths with remorseless scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).

This third installment in the series is noticeably darker and more serious than its predecessors – the villains of the film are remorseless sociopaths, and Stark’s trademark playboy lifestyle has been shoved aside to portray Stark as a damaged man after the events of The Avengers. Black succeeds in moving the movie along at a breakneck pace, and the story is never heavy or grim enough to forsake its fantastical comic-book origins. The film’s only big flaws arrive in the form of its villains; though the Extremis mutants, glowing with molten heat, are terrific to look at on the screen, their motivations leave a little to be desired, and Pearce’s Killian ultimately becomes a little too megalomaniacal for the film’s own good. However, the finished product is so sleek and fun that it’s easy to overlook the film’s weaker aspects.

Black’s greatest tricks in Iron Man 3 are the sharp plot twists that he conjures up, especially around the Mandarin. The movie’s twists lend it an intelligence that both of its predecessors lacked; for the first time in the entire Marvel franchise, I felt intellectually involved in a superhero movie. As much as it is a fun, go-for-broke comic book spectacular, Iron Man 3 also has a lot on its mind, about politics, about identity, about the nature of heroism, and in particular about America’s War on Terror. Stark says early on in the film that, through his own arrogance, he has created “demons,” and the idea of individuals creating their own adversaries to have someone to fight is a non-too-subtle comment on American foreign policy that manifests itself in a huge way with the Mandarin’s storyline. To say anymore would be spoiling one of Iron Man 3‘s biggest and best surprises.

Black directs his action sequences with a pedal-to-the-medal urgency that the previous films lacked. The Mandarin’s assault on Stark’s home with attack helicopters is a heart-pounding, harrowing sequence, as Stark struggles to utilize his latest invention (armor that literally flies at him piece-by-piece, knocking him around a fair deal as it attaches) while his home crumbles around him. When Stark comes across mutated Extremis soldiers, glowing with molten heat, the ensuing battles decimate entire towns and one large jet but never lose their sense of immediate danger. And the finale, as Iron Man and his suits face off against the Extremis mutants on an oil tanker, is a jaw-droppingly ambitious, endlessly inventive piece of movie magic.

Iron Man 3 benefits from Black’s penchant for spur-of-the-moment humor; Stark’s one-liners have never been better, and he doesn’t even have the best ones. There’s a terrific sight gag with an impeccably-timed turning helmet and hilarious deliveries from everyone from Stark to a nameless Mandarin henchman (after watching Iron Man decimate his fellow henchmen, the poor guy begs, “Don’t shoot, please! Honestly, I hate working here, they are so weird”). Iron Man 3 also features one of the most fun and unexpected pairings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe;  when Stark crash-lands in a rural Tennessee town, he is forced to team up with Harley, a precocious, potato-gun-wielding kid (played by Ty Simpkins) who gets a fair number of great lines of his own.

All of the performances in Iron Man 3 are terrific. Downey Jr. finally gets to show off his dramatic range in this installment, presenting a more haunted Stark, plagued by nightmares and terrors he can’t accept. His manic energy is less of a playboy swagger this time around than an ineffective mask behind which he hides his crippling insecurities and anxieties. Watching him struggle to stay functional throughout the movie adds a human element to the larger-than-life character. Funnily enough, he spends less time in the suit in this outing than in the previous installments (it can even be remotely controlled at this point), but that doesn’t necessarily feel like a bad thing. When Stark infiltrates the Mandarin’s hideout using only weapons he cobbled together from a Home Depot, it’s more exhilarating than anything he does while inside his armor. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the idea Iron Man has transcended the suits and weaponry – Tony Stark, in his transformation from playboy to selfless hero, can truly claim by the end of the film that, even without his suits, he will always be Iron Man.

Kingsley walks a delicate line with his Mandarin, but it’s a beautifully measured, consistently surprising performance, and as he growls lines like “You’ll never see me coming” with a Joker-meets-Colonel Kurtz malevolence, you can tell that Kingsley is having a blast. Guy Pearce, at his nastiest, plays Killian with a sneering viciousness. Whereas the Mandarin is more a physically jarring villain, Killian appears as a wolf in sheep’s clothing but is ultimately no less deadly. Paltrow makes the best of the little she has for most of the movie, but she emerges as a kick-ass heroine reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in the glorious finale. Don Cheadle, as Tony’s iron-clad buddy Colonel Rhodes (known to the press as War Machine and Iron Patriot), brings a physical spryness and nervous energy to the role that Terrence Howard (who played Rhodes in the first Iron Man) clearly lacked. Sadly, Rebecca Hall is woefully underutilized as a botanist involved with the Extremis program, barely sticking on screen long enough to register. Finally, Simpkins is a terrific addition as Harley, making me hope that Marvel finds a way to include him in future movies.

Iron Man 3 proves that there’s still a lot of life in this franchise, though it will be hard for other directors to top the thrills and smarts of this installment. Black’s blistering, boisterous direction and intelligent script ultimately elevate this threequel above typical blockbuster fare. If Marvel wants to keep their franchises fresh, they need to try to replicate this movie’s success by thinking creatively with their directors and storylines. Because it’s brave, smart, and surprising, but most of all because it’s overwhelmingly entertaining, Iron Man 3 is a ride well-worth taking. A-

Image Courtesy: ScreenCrush.

DVD Review: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise scales one of the world's tallest buildings.

Tom Cruise scales one of the world’s tallest buildings.

Since 2005, Tom Cruise’s career has been floundering, with a string of box-office disappointments (Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie, Knight and Day) doing little to keep him current and popular. Luckily for Cruise, Ethan Hunt, the protagonist of his Mission: Impossible franchise, has always been his most bankable and successful character. However, Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry in the series, does more than give Cruise another hit – the film re-establishes him as an action star, and also breathes new life into the series (the last M:I was released in 2006).

Ghost Protocol begins with a bang: Ethan Hunt, superspy extraordinaire, is broken out of a Moscow prison in a sequence so effortlessly cool that it’s also wildly entertaining. Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” plays through a cell block as Hunt practices his martial arts moves on unfortunate prison guards while tech whiz Benji (Simon Pegg) wreaks havoc by opening cell doors at random. Following that exhilarating opening, Hunt, partnering with Benji and beautiful, driven agent Jane Foster (Paula Patton), jump headfirst into another suitably impossible mission: infiltrating the Kremlin. No sooner than they accomplish this, however, do they realize that it’s a set-up, and an enemy team is already in position. They narrowly escape the Kremlin, which is then blown up (in suitably spectacular fashion). The entire Impossible Missions Force is disavowed, so Hunt and his team must clear their names and track down the terrorist group while also fleeing the government they’ve dedicated their lives to protecting.

One thing that Ghost Protocol really has going for it is its sharp, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny script. A danger that every action franchise faces is losing its appeal by either becoming too tiresome and brutal, or too silly and implausible. If Ghost Protocol is any indication, the M:I franchise is going to be just fine. Ghost Protocol expertly navigates between action and humor, giving all of the characters room to deliver some great one-liners but stopping their interactions from dissolving into absurdity.

The acting in Ghost Protocol is exceptional, especially for this kind of film. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner brings gravitas and mystery to his character, while Tom Cruise proves why he’s still atop Hollywood’s A-list by giving Hunt a caginess and manic energy perfect for this kind of popcorn movie. Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is spot-on as the menacing villain Hendricks, while the lovely Paula Patton shows off impressive dramatic chops. The standout, however, is Simon Pegg, hilarious, witty and earnest. He’s the loyal sidekick every action movie wishes it could have.

Brad Bird, the animation auteur behind Pixar’s beloved The Incredibles, helms Ghost Protocol, which is a choice that, though risky, pays off in spades. Rarely is an action film released that is as much fun as this one. Whether Hunt is scaling the tallest skyscraper in the world or pursuing a terrorist through a sandstorm in Dubai, the film is a jolt of pure adrenaline. Never before has the franchise felt so young and alive. Mission accomplished. A

Image Courtesy The Telegraph.