Atomic Blonde

July 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Directed by: David Leitch (debut)
Written by: Kurt Johnstad (“300”)

I’m firmly on the record as being on board for everything that “John Wick” maestros David Leitch and Chad Stahelski attach their names to from now until the end of time. Their action scenes are among the best cinema has to offer this side of Gareth Evans, and the worlds they create are so rich they put entire blockbuster franchises to shame.

Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” headlined by Charlize Theron, is another explosive showcase of the director’s talent. A lot of press lately has focused on Charlize doing her own stunts, and the movie certainly delivers on heroine ass-kicking. There’s decidedly less action here than in either of the John Wick installments, but Leitch cranks up the mayhem here to unprecedented levels of insanity. One particular sequence featuring a car chase is easily in contention for one of the greatest action sequences ever put to film.

In case you hadn’t already caught on, “Atomic Blonde” has fantastic action sequences. Regretfully, it doesn’t offer anything beyond that. Atomic Blonde has a running time of 115 minutes, and you really feel it. So much time is spent on exposition and backstory, but none of it accomplishes anything beyond turning the film into a dull slog. In adapting the graphic novel series by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (both “300” movies, “Act of Valor”) tries his hardest to make a Cold War thriller, but even the slowest John le Carre moments bubble with more intrigue.

Review etiquette requires me to give some sort of a plot synopsis, but I’m going to have to forgo that formality due to the lamentable fact that the events that play out in the film are so instantly forgettable. Even great supporting talent like John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Sofia Boutella seem bored by having to deliver lifeless dialogue that is simultaneously dense and dull. Theron’s performance has a bit of that lifelessness too, which works for her character, but surrounding her lethal assassin with similar cold beings lessen her performance’s effect.

On the flip side, James McAvoy and Eddie Marsan tear up the screen in such a way you really want to see the crazy movie that they were in. There are lots of cases where Leitch seems to be down to make that movie, too, what with his upbeat (albeit on the nose) 80s soundtrack and his neon-tinged visuals. Ultimately, though, not even the brilliant mind of Leitch can save this movie. There’s a great ballet of carnage on display in “Atomic Blonde,” but the remainder of the film is so painfully out of tune you leave the theater wondering why such greatness had to be showcased alongside something so tepid.

Act of Valor

February 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: A bunch of real-life Navy SEALs, Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov
Directed by: Mike “Mouse” McCoy (debut) and Scott Waugh (debut)
Written by: Kurt Johnstad (“300”)

There’s no doubt that Navy SEALs are the badasses’ badass. These are the guys that snipered Somali pirates from the stern of a battleship while laughing in the face of the roiling sea. These are the guys that choppered into Pakistan, busted into a quiet neighborhood and shot Osama bin Laden in the face and still had time to blow up their own broken-down helicopter on the way out. SEALs are the stuff of legend – a finely honed fighting force meant to infiltrate, wreck shop, and get the hell out.

Navy SEALs, however, are not actors.

“Act of Valor” cares not for such details, preferring the verisimilitude of having real, active-duty Navy SEALs play the fictional(?) Navy SEAL characters. As you can probably guess, none of them are any good. One wonders if the Screen Actors Guild filed a grievance against the producers since clearly at least half a dozen beefy D-list actors missed out on work due to this casting decision. At any rate, the paper-thin plot follows the elite SEAL Team 7 and their globe-spanning efforts to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) and neutralize an imminent terrorist attack, all while amassing as many head-shot kills as possible.

Directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh explain in a preamble to the film that the decision to use actual SEALs (or “operators” who have been “downrange” as the obtuse military jargon identifies them) was an artistic one, that they felt they couldn’t possibly tell this story without using authentic SEALs, complete with real guns firing real bullets. The patriotic among us may see this as honoring the sacrifice of our troops and their loved ones by honestly portraying the peril they face on duty. The cynics among us may see this as a gimmick used by a crummy B-movie to skirt the direct-to-DVD ghetto and score a lucrative theatrical release wherein you can milk the aforementioned patriots by playing to their sympathies. Unfortunately, the cynics would be right.

The premise of the whole project is troubling. Inserting real SEALs into a fictional story (touted as being “based on real acts of valor,” whatever that means) faxed straight from Chuck Norris’s 1980s production office only serves to cheapen the reputation of the SEALs onscreen, foregoing the reality of their difficult situation- balancing careers as elite soldiers with the demands of having a family – and instead sending them on an X-Box-ish series of missions to take down a scenery-chewing terrorist mastermind. “Act of Valor” doesn’t honor any heroes, it just tricks real ones into spending $10 on the same crappy movie they saw on a Saturday afternoon 25 years ago.