Fast and Furious

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster
Directed by: Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

The fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” is much like its three predecessors. The dialogue is flat, the CGI is passable at best, and the script seems to have been written in a garage full of exhaust, but that doesn’t mean mainstream fans of the high-octane series won’t come out in droves especially with the original cast back in the driver’s seat in “Fast and Furious.”

It’s been eight years since Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) shared the road together and things haven’t changed much since their first race through Los Angeles in 2001. That’s probably because “Fast and Furious” starts right where “The Fast and the Furious” left off. Forget “2 Fast 2 Furious” or “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” In the world of underground street racing, it’s like the other two never pulled out of pit row.

Banking on the idea that a reunion would revamp the parade of fast cars, easy women, and ethnic stereotypes these types of films are typically known for, everyone involved here seems to be on cruise control. It wouldn’t matter either way since screenwriter Chris Morgan, the scribe behind “Tokyo Drift,” could have Twittered this in and made just as much sense.

In 150 or less characters: Dominic is out for revenge when (spoiler alert) his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is gunned down (it happens early on, so get over it) by a drug cartel led by Campos (John Ortiz). The baddies are also part of a street-racing gang who Brian is tracking. Jordana Brewster returns as Mia, Dominic’s sister and Brian’s ex-girlfriend.

If it all sounds drearily similar that’s because it is. The only real different in this race is that the drivers take time to turn on their GPS devices before hitting the gas. If that’s not ridiculous enough, the most preposterous scene happens when Dominic figures out everything that happened the night Letty is murdered just by looking at tire marks on the road. If the action scenes aren’t painful enough, nothing says torture like watching Vin Diesel play thoughtful.

Race to Witch Mountain

March 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig
Directed by: Andy Fickman (“The Game Plan”)
Written by: Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”) and Mark Bomback (“Godsend”)

If former WWE entertainer the Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson is really serious about becoming an accomplished actor now that his wrestling career is behind him, he needs to quickly turn around because he’s already taken a few steps in the wrong direction.

After family-friendly, safe, and overall meaningless fare like “Gridiron Gang,” “The Game Plan,” and “Get Smart,” Johnson has decided to stick with the mind-numbing screenplays, this time with “Race to Witch Mountain,” a reimagining of the 1975 Disney movie “Escape to Witch Mountain” adapted from the 1968 book by Alexander Key.

In the film Johnson plays Jack Bruno (you won’t forget his name since it is annoyingly repeated throughout the film), a Las Vegas taxi cab driver who is a former muscle head for a group of mobsters. Now working as a cabbie, Jack (Bruno, that is) spends his days picking up passengers and trying to avoid his former colleagues who he owes money.

A big payday comes when Jack (Bruno, that is) picks up Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), a couple of teenagers with a wad full of cash and an unspecific destination. Jack (Bruno, that is) has no idea, however, that his most recent customers are aliens from another planet who have crash-landed on Earth.

With clueless investigators from the U.S. Department of Defense on their trail, as well as an assassin who has been sent to kill them, Sara and Seth are on a mission to find their confiscated spacecraft and save the planet from total annihilation. Actress Carla Gugino is an afterthought as Dr. Alex Friedman, an expert in all things geeky, who is reeled along for the dull sci-fi ride.

There only so many tough-yet-sensitive guy roles any actor can accept and Johnson has definitely reached his limit. It’s too bad he plays a hockey player-turned-tooth fairy (seriously) in his next movie. Donning a tutu is a surefire way to lead him to the same ranks Hulk Hogan found himself in with “Mr. Mom” or Arnold Schwarzenegger with “Jingle All the Way.” And from that point, there’s really no turning back.

Watchmen

March 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley
Directed by: Zach Snyder (“300”)
Written by: David Hayter (“X-Men”) and Alex Tse (debut)

There’s no denying the visual artistry and intensity of Zach Snyder’s film adaptation of the graphic novel “Watchmen.” While Snyder, who was recently named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top 25 directors working today (surprisingly he landed at No. 16 ahead of auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar and Paul Thomas Anderson), has delivered one of the better horror remakes with 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly-stylized war epic “300,” it hasn’t been until now that he’s had a such a storied narrative to work from.

Based on the graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, “Watchmen,” a piece some considered un-adaptable for the big screen, takes the idea of comic-book mythology to another level by transporting our team of heroes into an alternate universe.

The story begins with the murder of a retired superhero. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gets a visit from a stranger one late evening and is tossed out of his apartment window. The crime causes other superheroes, who were once linked to him, to worry that there might be someone out there “picking off costumed heroes” one by one.

Through vivid flashbacks of these superheroes during their early years, we get a sense of where all these characters are coming from, what they have lived through, and how life as a vigilante has affected them emotionally. While many of these flashbacks work well, there are instances when too much reminiscing may have you wondering where Snyder and his screenwriters are actually on the timeline.

The superheroes themselves are the most memorable of the film’s nearly three-hour runtime, which doesn’t feel too long until the final 20 or so minutes when the story unfortunately transforms into an everyday end-of-the-world comic book yarn set on the backdrop of nuclear war. Overall, however, it’s not your typical genre-film.

Academy Award-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children”) is spot-on as the masked Rorschach, and while actor Billy Crudup’s role as Dr. Manhattan is done mostly via special effects, his apathetic and sometimes poetic personality is evident through his glowing blue skin. Other Watchmen include Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) whose mother (Carla Gugino) was part of the Watchmen herself and had a regrettable history with the Comedian, and the world’s smartest man, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode).

Rich in all its technical aspects, “Watchmen” is at its best when it breaks all the derivative superhero-movie rules and stands on its own. Through its sometimes shocking graphic nature and attention to detail, it’s a well-polished example of what fun mainstream comic-book films should be about.