Transformers 2

June 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers”)
Written by: Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) and Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”)

The robot war wages on in the inevitable summer blockbuster that is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” While the 2007 film may have filled a void for fans of the 80’s animated TV series and Hasbro action figures, director Michael Bay and crew prove that bigger, louder, and more obnoxious isn’t always better when it comes to nonstop action sequels. Who knew endless explosions and computer-generated combat could be so tedious?

In “Revenge of the Fallen,” actor Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Whitwicky, the geeky high school kid in the original who is now on his way to college and looking forward to putting the intergalactic battle of two years ago behind him. Sam wants a regular life and even goes as far as leaving his beloved Camaro Bumblebee in his parent’s garage. Even more irrational, he leaves his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) behind and hopes occasional web chats will be enough for their relationship to survive a long first semester.

Sam goes to school just long enough to meet his roommate, Leo Spitz (Ramón Rodríguez), a conspiracy theorist who runs his own website on the subject. Before Sam realizes it, the two shape-shifting robot species, the Autobots and the Decepticons, begin to butt machine parts again in an attempt to save the universe and destroy the universe respectively.

In the sequel, many of the same robots are back. You can’t have a “Transformer” movie without leaders Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving). For diehard fans, more advanced characters rear their metal heads on screen including Jetfire, Sideswipe, Soundwave and, of course, The Fallen, who is considered one of the original and evilest Transformers. There are also annoying additions to the CGI cast like Mudflap and Skids, who are about as funny as electric shock therapy.

Aside from the chaotic and devastatingly long script penned by return writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and newcomer Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”), “Revenge of the Fallen” is brash and boring and exactly what you would expect from director Bay, whose cinematic track record is consistent at best. It’s always the same with Bay. There is no volume button; no room to breathe; no climax. Everything he does is in one whirling motion where by the end of it you feel more scatty than satisfied.

It might be a visual bonanza when you can actually tell what’s going on as the robots fight to the death (that’s probably why we see more slow-motion action in places where you can’t distinguish one metal appendage from another), but “Revenge of the Fallen,” like its predecessor, is a meaningless diversion that’s an hour too long and devoid of any human value or emotion.

The Taking of Pelham 123

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro
Directed by: Tony Scott (“Déjà Vu”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Man on Fire”)

Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott reunite for a fourth time in the remake of the 1974 film “The Taking of Pelham 123,” an underground action flick that proves to be more than screenwriter Brian Helgeland can manage when it comes to adding a little common sense to the original script.

In “Pelham,” the workday starts of like any other for Walter Garber (Washington) at the New York City Rail Control Center. Things begin to get nerve-wracking, however, when he notices some odd occurrences happening on the subway system monitors. One of the rails has come to a halt in the middle of its route. The premature stop is caused by a group of hijackers led by a man who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta).

“What is the going rate for a New York City hostage,” he tells Walter after taking control of the rail and before asking for $10 million in ransom. Setting a one-hour deadline to get him the money before he starts plugging passengers, Walter relinquishes his hot seat to hostage negotiator Det. Carmonetti (John Turturro) who immediately informs the mayor (James Gandolfini) about what is happening under his city.

Ryder, however, doesn’t want to consult with anyone but Walter. During their short time together on the phone, he has come to feel comfortable enough to execute his master plan – which in itself doesn’t even have a rational exit strategy – through the one person with the least power in the entire room.

Nevertheless, with a gun in his hand, Ryder is calling the shots and Walter is whisked back into the fray in an unrealistic plot to transport the money inside the dark tunnel before time runs out. During the waiting game, Carmonetti begins to wonder if Walter is part of the heist himself. Why else would Ryder be so adamant about pulling the heist off on Walter’s watch? When Walter’s co-workers supply information about a recent demotion and suspension for something he irrefutably denies, thing begin to get testy at the control center. All the while, Ryder and Walter continue to play a cliché game of mental chess (Ryder says “checkmate” a few time to push the issue) as the passenger cower under their seats.

And since Washington (who gives a very good performance) and Travolta never come face to face with each other, director Scott is forced into a predicament. Where will he find the “action” in his action movie? With the clock literally ticking, Scott forces the action during the scenes when the money is being delivered to Ryder. He turns the transfer into thoughtless mayhem by tossing in car crashes and other odd speed bumps to boost effect.

In the end, “The Taking of Pelham 123” is irrelevant. It’s the type of movie that keeps you awake more than it keeps you truly entertained.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

June 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chiriqui
Directed by: Dennis Dugan (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”)
Written by: Adam Sandler (“Little Nicky”), Robert Smigel (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)

Adam Sandler is easy to love when he’s doing hilarious things like “The Wedding Singer,” easy to hate when he finds time to star in bombs like “Little Nicky,” and easy to respect when he recognizes once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to star in films like “Punch-Drunk Love.”

Unfortunately, with his most recent comedic attempt “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” Sandler somehow returns back to the types of movies he was making when he first left “Saturday Night Live” to pursue an acting career. Comedies like “Billy Madison” might have been enough for the most loyal of Sandler’s fans, but when one-joke movies turn into feature-length films, the extremely sporadic laughs can be tiresome after a while.

The same happens in “Zohan,” where Sandler plays an Israeli Mossad super agent who fakes his own death so he can move to New York City and pursue his dream to become a hairstylist. As harebrained of an idea as it sounds, “Zohan” could have worked if it wasn’t for the surprisingly lazy writing combination of Sandler, Robert Smigel (TV’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”), and Hollywood’s hottest comedy commodity Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”).

Like Sandler has done with his Happy Madison Production Company, Apatow seems to always have his friends in mind when making films under his Apatow Productions umbrella. The difference is, while Apatow has a handful of funny buddies like Michael Cera (“Superbad”), Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), and Paul Rudd (“The 40-Year Old Virgin”), Sandler has to settle for names like Rob Schneider (“The Animal”), David Spade (“Joe Dirt”), and “Zohan” director Dennis Dugan, who has helmed three other Sandler catastrophes prior to this one.

Sandler is a true comedic performer, not a screenwriter. That’s why it seemed so destined when Apatow stepped in to co-write “Zohan.” Somewhere in the writing process among friends, however, the trio felt making a comedy about Middle East culture simply needed a few repetitious jokes about hummus, sex with old ladies, and bare butts. Even the talented John Turturro (“The Big Lebowski”), who plays the Zohan’s arch-nemesis known as the Phantom, is wasted and tawdry.

“Zohan” wouldn’t be so bad if it had reared its ugly head to us 15 years ago when Sandler didn’t know any better. However, his and Apatow’s stock is much higher than this. They might be able to prove it when they reunite in 2009 for another comedy, which is currently an untitled work. The good thing with that one is that Apatow is the sole writer and director and has already begun casting his own regulars including wife Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen. As long as Sandler is able to stay in front of the camera and not sneak his way behind, the project is still something to anticipate.