The Lincoln Lawyer

March 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe
Directed by: Brad Furman (“The Take”)
Written by: John Romano (“Nights in Rodanthe”)

As far as courtroom dramas are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as generic as “The Lincoln Lawyer.” Forget about the excitement brewing because Matthew McConaughey (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) is actually starring in a film that doesn’t require him to remove his shirt or offer up his rugged good looks for an insulting rom com role opposite Kate Hudson or Sarah Jessica Parker – as much as everyone would like it to be, this is not a sequel to 1996’s “A Time to Kill.” Instead, “Lawyer” is an overrated, underwritten crime schlock that plays like an irritating Dick Wolf-produced legal TV show. Call it “Law & Order: Luxury Sedan.”

That title might even be a stretch, since the titular vehicle doesn’t make much of an impact in the film besides serving as a shiny prop for the laid-back soundtrack featuring blues, R&B, and old-school hip-hop from artists including Bobby “Blue” Bland, Erick Sermon, and Marlena Shaw. As a suave, street-smart criminal defense attorney practicing in Beverly Hills, Mickey Haller (McConaughey) is chauffeured around town in style inside his vintage Lincoln Town Car.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by crime-fiction writer Michael Connelly (this is the first of four books in the Haller series), Lawyer struggles to find its footing within a cliché storyline reworked by screenwriter John Romano (“Nights in Rodanthe”) and helmed by novice director Brad Furman, whose only other film is the straight-to-DVD armored-truck thriller “The Take.”

In “Lawyer,” Mickey lands the case of his career when he is hired to defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a spoiled, rich socialite charged with the brutal assault of a prostitute who propositions him at a nightclub. While Louis maintains his innocence (he cries “Set up!” on more than one occasion), Mickey and his investigator friend Frank Levin (William H. Macy) figure out a way to get their client off the hook even after indispensable evidence seems to mount against them.

From here, “Lawyer” becomes part morality thriller, part courtroom drama with Mickey caught in the middle wondering if he’s fighting for a scumbag’s exoneration. Despite McConaughey’s satisfying performance, none of it is very original. The pool of shallow characters (Marisa Tomei as the ex-wife prosecutor; John Leguizamo as a shady bail bondsman; Michael Peña as an ex-client who is now in San Quentin) don’t help us sympathize with our conflicted lawyer, whose character is never fully explored past his slicked-back hair, dog-tired eyes, and vulnerability to the bottle.

MacGruber

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe
Directed by: Jorma Taccone (debut)
Written by: Will Forte (“Extreme Movie”), Jorma Taccone (“Extreme Movie”), John Solomon (“Extreme Movie”)

It’s no secret that for the last 18 years film adaptations of “Saturday Night Live” skits have been as embarrassing for the long-running TV show as an Ashlee Simpson hoedown. From the pathetically unfunny gender-bending of “It’s Pat” to the irksomeness of Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher in “Superstar,” not much of anything has worked since the original “Wayne’s World” hit theaters in 1992.

That might be the reason it’s taken “SNL” a whole decade to try again. The show’s last attempt was transferring the Courvoisier-drinking radio show host Leon Phelps to the big screen in 2000’s dreadful “The Ladies Man.” Ten years, however, seems to have made a world of difference. While it doesn’t mean much to call “MacGruber” one of the best “SNL” movies ever made (for obvious reasons), it’s still rather funny even on its own merit.

In “MacGruber,” comedian Will Forte stars as the title character, an American war hero whose impressive military resume is second to none (it includes 16 purple hearts, three Congressional Medals of Honor and seven presidential medals of bravery!). Laying low in Ecuador after the murder of his fiancée by his archenemy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), MacGruber is called back to action when Von Cunth (the name loses its luster after the third or fourth joke kind of like Alotta Fagina and Felicity Shagwell in the “Austin Powers” franchise) steals a nuclear warhead with plans to blow up Washington D.C.

After a major mishap with his first team of renegade soldiers, MacGruber enlists Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and his wife’s best friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) to help him avenge his fiancée’s death.

Based loosely on the 1980s TV show “MacGyver,” which followed the adventures of a resourceful secret agent working for the government, MacGruber doesn’t sport as many miscellaneous objects one would imagine him to have at all times. Instead, most of the gags in “MacGruber” come in hard rated-R form from multiple crass sex scenes to the occasional Ramboesque ripping out of a throat.

What makes “MacGruber” the most enjoyable, however, is how aware it is of its own stupidity, which often times makes for the best parody. While the movie might feel like a dragged out “SNL” skit at times, in this instance it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jokes might hit more often than not in first half and veer off in the second, but you can count on MacGruber to always have a few tricks up his plaid-patterned sleeves.

Stop Loss

March 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”)
Written by: Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Mark Richard (debut)

It’s a financial risk this day and age to produce a film on the war in Iraq. Look at recent movies like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” and “The Kingdom,” all of which scraped in some change but for the most part were forgotten with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones’ Oscar nod for the former. What mainstream moviegoer would really spend his or her time and money on something they could see on CNN for free?

Things might have been different for “Stop Loss,” the first film of Kimberly Peirce’s career since she lead Hilary Swank to her first Oscar in “Boys Don’t Cry” nine years ago. Like any negative war story you would find buried inside any of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the term “stop-loss” is one few people have come across in the five consecutive years the U.S. has been in the Middle East.

That is why “Stop Loss” is such an interesting story, although it’s touted in a most uninteresting way. For those of you who are still wondering, stop-loss is a term used to describe a military policy where the government can retain a soldier for longer than the contract he or she signed. Some critics call it a “back-door draft.”

In “Stop Loss,” soldier Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) has just finished serving his term in the Army and is ready to get back to his small Texas town to be with his family. During his last mission, Brandon experienced a lot of casualties when his troop was ambushed by insurgents. Wounded himself, he returns home to a war hero’s ovation alongside his friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), who has also come to the end of his military service and is ready to settle down and marry his fiancée.

But apparently earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart isn’t enough to allow Brandon to bow out gracefully. Short of good soldiers in Iraq, Brandon’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Col. Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant) decides that he will send Brandon back out to Iraq once his leave is over. Rather than return to a war he no longer wants to fight, Brandon opts to go AWOL just long enough to figure out how he can beat the system.

Attempting to put a face on the soldiers isn’t enough in “Stop Loss” as Peirce and first-time screenwriter Mark Richard forgot to include souls within the men. Instead, Peirce relies on cliché Texas characterizations (everyone in the Lone Star State wears a cowboy hat, knows how to two-step, and shoots guns for fun) and a skim-across-the-surface take on the real controversy behind this military loophole.

The authenticity of these stories is in the minds of the men who experience them, not in a sluggish foot chase mended together by Hollywood. “Stop-Loss” would have been so much more compelling and convincing if it had been an insightful documentary on these little-known events. It’s a shame to see the topic wasted on such a pop-culture-friendly message geared toward twenty-somethings, who will be the first to walk out of the theater voicing their hatred for the Bush administration and loaded with another talking point.