[Movie Review] Swordfish

SwordfishStarring: John Travolta, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard
Director: Dominic Sena
Genre: Action
Cert: 18
Released: 2001

It’s easy to like John Travolta. Ever since his inspired comeback in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”, he’s received acclaim for his turns in “Get Shorty”, “Face/Off” and “Primary Colors”. Of course there’s also been the significant shadow of the dismal “Broken Arrow”, “Michael” and “Battlefield Earth” along with low-key performances in “Mad City”, “The Generals Daughter” and “White Man’s Burden”. All in all, a mixed bag. Cue the big-budget cyber-thriller, “Swordfish” where director Dominic Sena (“Kalifornia”, “Gone in Sixty Seconds”) brings Travolta in alongside “X-Men” duo, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman.

Gabriel Shear (Travolta) is a self-appointed anti-terrorist who hires a supreme computer hacker, Stan Jobson (Jackman) to aide the theft of a $9.5bn warchest that the DEA had left in a dormant bank account for 15 years. Jobson only agrees after Shear’s sidekick, Ginger (Berry), suggests that it may help him regain custody of his estranged daughter, Holly (Camyrn Grimes), who is in the clutches of her alcoholic mother. In order to do the job, Shear and his gang take over a downtown bank and wire explosives to hostages to ward off the feds, led by Agent Roberts (Cheadle – “Volcano”, “Boogie Nights”, “Mission to Mars”, “Traffic”). But with so much at stake, it is hard to trust anyone and boundaries move frequently.

Even describing this movie does not make it sound particularly enticing, and so it proves to be the case. This is probably the worst piece of big-screen celluloid garbage that I’ve seen in a long time (you can tell that I haven’t seen Travolta’s last few pieces of garbage). The only note-worthy scene in the whole movie (aside from the Halle Berry flash of course), is a 360-degree pan of the damage done by an exploding hostage. But hey, even that’s been done better before.

The story goes from uninspired, to silly, to ridiculous. The pathetic climax involving a helicopter and a school bus has to be seen to be believed. Performances are fairly average. Jackman and Berry were very entertaining in “X-Men”, but they look bored and anaemic here. Travolta snarls his way through another bad-guy role to amusing effect and Don Cheadle is probably the best thing on show here as the driven FBI agent.

A desperate mess.

1star

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[Movie Review] Rat Race

Rat RaceStarring: Cuba Gooding Jnr, Whoopi Goldberg, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, Lanei Chapman
Director: Jerry Zucker
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

When you hear the name ‘Zucker’, you probably think immediately of “Police Squad”, the “Naked Gun” series and “Top Secret”. What you don’t think of are the more serious prokects he has put his camera in front of such as 1995’s action adventure, “First Knight”, and 1990s romantic Oscar winner, “Ghost”. But “Rat Race” is a return to the more zany ways of the former movies. A 2001 version of “Cannonball Run” might be the best way of describing this hit and miss comedy.

Now this was funny - Cuba with the "I Love Lucy" conventionEccentic Las Vegas casino owner, Donald Sinclair (Cleese – “Fish Called Wanda”, TVs “Monty Python” and “Fawlty Towers”), convinces a randomly assembled group of his hotels customers to race each other for a $2m prize located in a locker at a remote New Mexico train station. Each one gets a key, first one there keeps the lot. Meanwhile, Sinclair and his rich friends place bets on who will win by keeping tabs on each person through a transmitting device in each key. Cue a manic road movie involving the usual wide range of characters, some more annoying than others.

Barely bearable are Vera (Goldberg – “Girl Interrupted”, “Ghost”, “Boys on the Side”, “Corrina Corrina”) and Merrill (Chapman – “White Men Can’t Jump”, TVs “Space Above and Beyond”) as the re-united mother and daughter whose reluctance to buy a squirrel from an uncredited Kathy Bates takes them on an unplanned detour. Randy (Lovitz – “Little Nicky”, “Small Time Crooks”, “The Great White Hype”, “City Slickers”) the man with the family from hell (Kathy Najimy is his bouncy but slightly neurotic wife), dreams of leaving his pen-pushing job behind forever. His decision to steal Hitlers car gives him a few more problems than he might have expected.

Didn’t Cuba Gooding Jnr (“Pearl Harbour”, “Men of Honour”, “As Good as it Gets”, “Jerry Maguire”, Judgment Night”) win an Oscar not too long ago? He plays Owen, a failed referee whose high profile slip up during a big football game cost many people a lot of money…there’s every chance they’ll recognise him. Nick Schaffer (Meyer – “Road Trip”, “The Insider”, “The Craft”) is a budding lawyer who finds himself breaking the rules for the first time as his pursuit of love turns into a pursuit for the $2m. The final participants are Italian playboy Enrico, an annoying turn by Mr Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson (TVs “Mr Bean”, “Maybe Baby”, “Hot Shots Part Deux”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), and bumbling brothers Duane (Green – “Austin Powers”, “White Mans Burden”) and Blaine (Vieluf – “American Werewolf in Paris”) whose encounter with a cow and a hot air balloon leads them off the beaten track.

Just like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, attempts to make a conventional straight-forward trip to New Mexico Rowan plays the Mr Bean card. Again.prove futile as each rival must take different means to reach their target. Admittedly, some of the scenarios are hilarious. Owen ends up driving a bus full of Lucille Ball look-a-likes, the Cody brothers hot-air balloon ride with the theiving key-cutter and a surprised cow, Randy’s inappropriate speech at a World War II convention (inspired by a similar hilarious scene in “Father Ted” I’d say) and Wayne Knight (Newman on “Seinfeld”) appears in a lively turn as the ill-fated driver delivering a live human heart to a hospital.

The seen-it-before storyline, annoying characters as well as a dismal ending should be enough to drag “Rat Race” down to unwatchable status, but the comedy is sharp, jokes are clever and those characters that do work (Owen Templeton, the Cody brothers and Randy) deliver enough laughs to keep you entertained. It is a little hit-and-miss, but what quick-firing comedy isn’t?

1halfstar

[Movie Review] Training Day

Training DayStarring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Dr Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

Denzel has done it again, and Ethan has done it for the first time. Both men are nominated for Academy Awards for their respective performances in good cop/bad copy thriller, “Training Day”. Before viewing the movie, it might surprise some that such a seemingly formulaic movie has got in amongst the top Oscar nomination categories this year. But although on the surface that is the case, “Training Day” has enough style, substance and tension to ensure it will be recognised as one of the years better movies.

Ever get that sinking feeling?Young cop, Jake Hoyt (Hawke – “Alive”, “Gattaca”, “Before Sunrise”, “Reality Bites”), is getting his big break – a chance to impress narcotics division team lead, Alonzo Harris (Wahsington – “Remember the Titans”, “The Hurricane”, “The Bone Collector”, “Fallen”, “Philadephia”). Alonzo takes Jake out on a ‘training day’ with the promise that if he impresses, he will get the opportunity to join the team and help further his ambition to eventually make detective. Immediately he becomes involved in the seedier side of the job – a raid on the house of a drug dealer, the Sandman (his wife played by singer Macy Gray), a trip into the heart of intimidating South Central LA and a rendez-vouz with Alonzo’s fairly unfriendly narcotics team who seem to be planning something big. The plan they are hatching is something that will change Jake’s career forever and he now must make a choice on which path he wants to follow for the rest of his life.

Thanks to some genuine plot twists and a wonderful performance from Washington, “Training Day” manages to avoid Ever get that sinking feeling?being too predictable and hackneyed. Director, Fuqua (“The Replacement Killers”), doesn’t stray too far from familiarity but the story remains tight and maintains intrigue mainly due to it all being based in the course of one day. David Ayre’s screenplay (“Fast and the Furious”) might not have had the same impact if it wasn’t for the casts excellent turns. Washington is undoubtedly the star as Alonzo Harris. He lights the screen as the hard-ass but likeable and seemingly trustworthy cop. Later on we see the other side of Harris – a cop who uses people and situations to further his aspirations. Throughout he remains powerful and convincing when on screen and carries the movie like few actors could. If Denzel had said no to this, then you feel it might have next fallen to Laurence Fishburne, a decent actor who probably would have been unable to produce this kind of stirring turn. Ethan Hawke also gets the opportunity to make up for a disappointing career thus far, as the other half of the double act. Although subdued at times, he pulls out some great scenes, no less so than when his back is against the wall.

"Denzel, they only said Russell might  win the Oscar!"Things do start off a bit slow, but about half-way in the pace picks up, Although the direction of the movie turns on one of those convenient Hollywood coincidences, this can be forgiven for the sake of enjoyment. “Training Day” is a sparkling and well-delivered thriller.

4star