Total Recall

August 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel
Directed by: Len Wiseman (“Underworld,” “Live Free or Die Hard”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Salt”) and Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”)

Remakes of movies people remember fondly are a tough sell from the start. Not only do you have to engage the audience with the story you’re telling, but you’ve got to do so in a way that doesn’t have the audience mentally checking off plot points from the DVD they have sitting on the shelf at home. Recently, the filmmakers behind the updates of “Footloose,” “The Karate Kid,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” have tried, with varying degrees of success, to strike the right balance between satisfying the fans of the original who are drawn to the name recognition a remake brings and the need to put a unique spin on the story to justify the existence of the new version.

The latest modern classic to receive the remake treatment is “Total Recall.” This new spin on the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi/action film stars Colin Farrell as Doug Quaid, a post-apocalyptic factory worker suffering from vivid nightmares. In an effort to change his life, Quaid pays a visit to Rekall, a company specializing in implanting fake memories into the minds of their clients such as dream vacations or wild sexual fantasies. Quaid’s procedure is aborted, however, when the staff realizes that his memory has already been erased and a commando team blasts its way in, guns blazing. Upon escaping, Quaid returns home to find his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) is out to kill him and that their marriage is a lie that has been implanted in his head. Escaping for the second time, Quaid encounters Melina (Jessica Biel), a resistance fighter he shares a past with bent on bringing down the evil Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

This version of “Total Recall” suffers from a fatal flaw: not getting its ass to Mars. Director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) has crafted a slick, lens-flared world torn in two by chemical warfare, but keeping the action Earth-bound turns the film into a dull, anonymous sci-fi slog. The futuristic cityscapes populated with flying cars zipping through canyons of neon signs are never as effective as the papiermâché Martian caves from the original and feel like they could have been lifted wholesale from “Blade Runner” or “The Fifth Element” or even “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.”  Outside of the clearly-enjoying-himself Cranston, the cast doesn’t fare any better. Farrell’s Quaid is a bland, less tormented Jason Bourne, Beckinsale is merely playing an evil version of her acrobatic hero from the “Underworld” movies, and Jessica Biel is just a pretty actress wearing frumpy military-style clothing and shooting guns.  Implant a positive memory and watch the original version on DVD instead.

Salt

July 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Phillip Noyce (“The Quiet American”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen”)

It might be a studio’s biggest nightmare when a megastar like Tom Cruise drops out of your potential summer blockbuster, but when you’re able to secure someone with just as much celebrity power as Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, having to go back and rework the script to read “she” instead of “he” is a welcomed endeavor. (Yes, we realize there is probably much more to it than simply replacing pronouns, but it is well-received news nonetheless).

While screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen,” “Street Kings”) was able to adjust his script according to gender for the film “Salt,” he doesn’t take the opportunity during the rewriting phase to fill in any of the plot holes or enhance some of the foolish dialogue. Despite its shortcomings, however, “Salt” is entertaining, unpredictable and a much-needed albeit moderate kick to the less-than-stellar mainstream summer action flick lineup. Even on that thinly-built frame of hers, Jolie can still carry a movie on her own.

When CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is pegged as an undercover spy by a Russian defector, her escape from custody leads to lively foot chases, illogical assassination plots, and some terribly choreographed fight scenes. On her trail are her friend and colleague Ted Winter (Live Schreiber), who assumes she is innocent, and counter-intelligence officer Peabody (the always reliable Chiwetel Ejiofor), who does not.

The ambiguity of Evelyn’s character is what keeps the pace of the film at frenzied levels. It’s also what makes it so fun despite its number of implausible scenes. Still, it is nice to have a hero who isn’t tweaking on testosterone or afraid to break a nail. When Jolie is leaping off highways and onto the tops of semi-trucks it’s kind of hard not to pay attention.

Directed by Phillip Noyce, who is best known for a couple of those Harrison Ford-as-Jack Ryan flicks back in the 90s (his best work are his more dramatic films like “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), “Salt” might feel like another Jason Bourne offering at times. But with Jolie taking the lead there is a distinctive dynamic that comes with featuring a female Hollywood sex symbol that can kick as much butt as the boys.

As far as ridiculous thrillers go, it’s highly unlikely the summer is going to produce anything with more flavor than “Salt.” But even if films like “The Expendables” or “Machete” do end up proving to be more enjoyable, there definitely won’t be a scene in either movie where Sylvester Stallone or Danny Trejo do what Jolie does and outmaneuvers their adversaries with a pair of panties.

Law Abiding Citizen

October 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”)

It’s evident in the opening scene of “Law Abiding Citizen” that director F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”) wants to move the film along at a fairly quick pace. It would have been beneficial, however, if he and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”) actually looked before they leaped into a story buried in illogical scenarios and faux moral empathy. Instead, the two lunge forward without haste and end up turning an interesting idea into an absurd revenge flick mismatched with psychological mayhem.

Ten years after the brutal murders of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) resurfaces to avenge their deaths by bringing down not only the two men who committed the crimes, but also the judicial system that failed to bring any closure to his personal tragedy.

When one of the killers agrees to testify against his accomplice, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal that sends one man to death row and the other to prison for a short stay because of his testimony.

“Some justice is better than no justice at all,” Nick explains.

The loophole in the system doesn’t sit well with Clyde who, after a decade, comes out of mourning just in time to violently punish his family’s murderers. But that’s not nearly enough payback for Nick. He is also seeking vengeance against everyone involved in the case including the defending lawyer, the presiding judge, and the entire District Attorney’s Office. If that’s not daring enough, Clyde has chosen to pull all this off in the confines of a prison cell.

As he mysteriously carries out vengeful death after vengeful death behind bars, Clyde continues to be an enigma for Nick who can’t figure out how he is methodically picking off his colleagues and friends. More important than the kills themselves is whether or not Clyde’s tactical marathon of death will makes much sense once his means are revealed.

Sadly, when that moment comes, the twist in the story is rather lame. While the build-up is sometimes entertaining in short spurts, there’s nothing remotely believable in the payoff. Even when an explanation for Clyde’s talents is exposed, it’s washed over as if screenwriter Wimmer was embarrassed of his own plot choices.

And well he should be. “Law Abiding Citizen” isn’t ashamed to profess its desire to be as intelligent of a crime thriller as “Seven” or “Silence of the Lambs,” but with a loosey-goosey script and a laughable take on social issues the movie ends up stuck in wannabe status without any chance of parole.

Street Kings

April 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie
Directed by: David Ayer (“Harsh Times”)
Written by: James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”), Kurt Wimmer (“Ultraviolet”), Jaime Moss (debut)

If the name David Ayer is anywhere in a film’s credits, it would probably be safe to say the theme of the movie is going to revolve around corrupt cops. In his new film “Street Kings,” the director hands over the writing responsibilities (even after he did such a great job with 2005’s “Harsh Times”) to a trio of screenwriters who fail to understand the meaning of multilayered characters.

In the last seven years as a writer, Ayer has given us “Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Harsh Times,” the last of which he was credited as both a screenwriter and first-time director. Now, in his sophomore film, Ayer’s lands some solid punches with the boys in blue, but doesn’t give us enough depth from the main and supporting characters. In “Training Day,” he transformed Denzel Washington into a crooked LAPD detective, a role which landed him his second Academy Award of his career. He also gave us an incredibly unique character study with Christian Bale as an ex-Ranger turned police officer in “Harsh Times,” one of the most overlooked performances of that year.

In “Street Kings,” the story follows LAPD vice detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves, who has come along way in the acting department since hamming it up most of his career), a trigger-happy cop whose on the right side of the law, but likes to do his job more like a renegade instead of a police officer. Think Russell Crowe’s Bud White in “L.A. Confidential,” which was also written by James Ellroy. Basically, he’s the jury, judge, and executioner.

When Tom uses his brute techniques to wipe out a couple of Korean kidnappers, he is thrust into the L.A. limelight as a heroic cop moving up in the ranks. Although his commanding officer Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) likes the way he does his job, others, like Tom’s former partner Terrance Washington (Terry Crews), let internal affairs know there’s a guy on the force that isn’t exactly on the up and up. Now internal affairs officer Capt. James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) is watching Tom’s every move, which, of course, makes Tom want to confront his ex-partner for ratting him out.

During the confrontation, which takes place in a local convenient store, Tom and Terrance find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time as they are ambushed by two masked gunmen who fill Officer Washington’s body with machine-gun ammo before Tom even knows what’s happening. But with the history between the two officers, Tom isn’t in the most ideal place, especially with Capt. Biggs asking questions.

Capt. Wander and the rest of the department, however, quickly step in to clean up the mess. “We can’t afford to lose you,” Wander tells Tom. “You’re the tip of the spear. Who’s going to hold back the animals?” Thus, corruption begets corruption and so on as Tom attempts to steer clear of Capt. Biggs and search for Terrance’s killers.

Unintentionally funny at times, “Street Kings” is a complex story with unrefined characters. With an entire cast basically playing bad or dishonest cops, there’s no real sense of conflict even between the cops and the thugs in the ghetto. And what fun can be had when everyone is on the same team? Even with semiautomatics, the story sputters in the film’s final anticlimactic act and quickly turns from complex to comical.