[Movie Review] Kill Switch

Kill SwitchStarring: Steven Seagal, Isaac Hayes, Holly Elissa Dignard, Chris Thomas King, Michael Filipowich, Mark Collie

Director: Jeff King

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2008

Bearing in mind that Steven Seagal is 57 years old I should probably cut the guy a bit of slack.  But one look at Bruce Willis (54), Dolph Lundgren (51) and even Sly Stallone (63) shows that you can keep yourself in great shape later in life if you try.  The star of “Nico”, “Hard to Kill” and “Under Siege” is a shadow of the man he used to be.  Well, actually in terms of shadow, he’s a far bigger one.  But when it comes to kicking ass it has just become a sham.  Let me explain.

“Kill Switch” starts with Memphis cop Jacob King (Seagal) dishing out brutal justice to sadistic murderer Billy Joel Hill (Mark Collie).  Although he apprehends Hill, the murderer is later released on a technicality as King is adjudged to have used unreasonable force during the arrest.

Meanwhile his attention turns to a serial killer whose calling card sees him leave an astronomical sign on the body of each victim.  As he searches for leads in the violent Memphis underworld, King’s efforts are being undermined by FBI agent Frankie Miller (Holly Elissa Dignard) who is critical of his strong-arm tactics.

Can King keep the FBI off his back, track down the serial killer and manage to re-apprehend the out-for-revenge Hill before Hill finds him?

Steven Seagal probably stopped being any good in the mid 90s.  I got a good kick out of “Under Siege 2” (probably because Eric Bogosian was so much fun in it) but whenever I’ve dipped in to his outings since (“The Glimmer Man”, “Ticker”) it has been a complete waste of time.  “Ticker” is actually possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen…and believe me, this one is crap.

A bloated Seagal
A bloated Seagal

Anyway I’m messing around with my usual review structure but I’ll make this succinct.  I said the movie opened with King kicking layers off the bad guy.  It doesn’t.  It actually opens with what turns out to be King’s character, as a child, witnessing his brother being killed in front of him by a man with a knife.  I’m not actually sure why that scene is there because it seems to have absolutely no relevance to the rest of the plot.

Then we see King having a somewhat cold relationship with Celine (Karyn Michelle Baltzer) who appears to live in his house and who I assume is his girlfriend or wife or something.  They share a few scenes together but never say anything of consequence.  It’s just…weird.

Then, finally, the fight scenes.  Whatever about the nonsensical script, Seagal’s movies were always about the great fight scenes.  The guy is a 7th-dan black belt in aikido and his massacring of bad guys was the reason to watch his films.  Sadly when you watch “Kill Switch” you aren’t watching him and that becomes painfully obvious.  The camera will do a close up of some tense facial expressions as he faces off a foe before pulling back to show him from behind putting down his enemy – or at least showing his body double (complete with bad wig) doing so.

I’m not sure what the reason for this is.  He’s definitely overweight but he’s been that way for years and is clearly unmotivated to get back in shape.  He’s not so overweight that he couldn’t do hand-to-hand combat scenes but his body double seems to do all but one of them.  It’s a real shame because in his pomp he was incredible.

“Kill Switch” is a washout.  It makes no sense, is utterly boring, poorly acted and – as made clear – is not even redeemed by the fight scenes.  And sadly, what appears to be yet another film featuring an imperious and flawless Steven Seagal character, was actually written by…Mr Steven Seagal.  Does every film for him have to be a vanity project?

0halfstar

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[Movie Review] The Condemned

The CondemnedStarring: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Tory Mussett, Rick Hoffman

Director: Scott Wiper

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2007

Dropping ten death row inmates on an island and giving them thirty hours to slaughter each other sounds like it’s the last thing that network television would choose to cover. With that in mind the only choice for TV producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) is to put it out live on the Internet. His target is to get a Superbowl-level audience of forty million to cough up to $50 each for the privilege of seeing these condemned men and women kill each other, with the last person standing receiving their freedom and a pocketful of cash.

Jack Conrad (former wrestler, Steve Austin), on death row in an El Salvadorian prison, is chosen after he batters the Arab prisoner that Breckel initially selected in a bid to please his Middle East demographic. Conrad, billed falsely as a KKK member and bomber of a school for handicapped children, joins Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones), Kreston Mackie (footballer Marcus Johnson), wrestler Nathan Jones and six other men and women, all of whom have bombs strapped to their legs.  If you can’t kill your nemesis with your fists or a weapon then you can activate the bomb and make use of the ten second delay to escape its blast.

While the assembled criminals fight for survival, the FBI seem unclear how to track down Breckel’s illegal game. Special Agent Wilkins (Sullivan Stapleton) manages to identify Conrad and uncovers information about his former lover, Sarah (Madeleine West). Sarah hasn’t seen Jack in over a year and immediately logs on to the site so she can watch the slaughter for herself. Yeah…let’s just leave it at that and get on with the critique.

When World Wrestling Entertainment decided that producing movies was a natural extension to their sporting soap opera, hopes were probably not very high at the outset. Even with that in mind, “The Condemned” is a failure on just about every level.

Movies can require a level of ‘suspension of disbelief’ but “The Condemned” asks for far more than is realistic. For a start, it seems completely ridiculous to suggest that the FBI would be unable to use modern tracking techniques to locate where this vast network is running from. I mean they roughly, kind-of-know but the sub-plot amounts to three C-list actors looking tense in a fairly nicely furnished office. Are you telling me that an intelligence agency, responsible for investigating highly organised terrorist gangs around the globe, would not have noticed tonnes of television equipment being shipped to an island? And, independent of that, they couldn’t have the site shut down?

The entire nerve center, a mass of TV screens and television production equipment run by Breckel, technicians Goldman (Rick Hoffman), Eddie (Christopher Baker) and Breckel’s reluctant girlfriend Julie (Tory Mussett), is located on the island too. Perhaps there is not much wrong with that but the fact that finding it for Conrad was about as hard as putting on a pair of shoes indicates that not a lot of thought was put in to Breckel’s master plan. Sure, they try and paint over the cracks by having Conrad block his GPS and be a bit wily but, trust me, it’s lazy and – in the context of the film – absurd.

Director Scott Wiper, whose previous directing outings have barely registered and all of which he has starred in, attempts some social commentary along the lines of how it is us, the audience, who are in fact “the condemned” for wanting to watch the show. That’s all well and good but it’s the ham-fisted manner in which this message is delivered which raises jaded sighs rather than wide-eyed realisation. It’s bad enough that Conrad’s friends gather in a bar to cheer him on but to rubber stamp it with a reporter Donna Sereno’s editorial on the same subject is a case of a director ignoring the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”.

Aside from Breckel talking about the Internet like it’s 1996, the dialogue is actually okay in parts. It’s clear early on though that witty répartie is not safe in the hands of the unskilled “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. I could imagine Bruce Willis being able to raise a laugh by revealing that the reason he blew up a building is because it was “blocking his sun”. Austin just says it.  He doesn’t have a lot to say but one-liners are not his forté. Vinnie Jones, who impressed me in the only “proper” acting role I’ve seen him in (“The Riddle“), resorts to cartoonish villain here and it’s painful.

The fight scenes are pasasble but the camera darts around too much for us to really work out how good, or otherwise, the choreography is. Some of the transitions between scenes don’t feel right either.  You are left feeling like you missed something – maybe not something of consequence but just a small set-up scene that makes the narration seem more cohesive.

Needless to say, not a great piece of work.  Obvious reference point here is Battle Royale.  Watch that instead.

3star

[Movie Review] Rambo

Rambo IVStarring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Paul Schulze

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2007 

 

I’m thankful that the Rambo franchise pretty much passed me by in the eighties.  “First Blood” (1982), “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (1985) and “Rambo III” (1988) show a troubling trajectory on review sites like imdb.com and rottentomatoes.com, the first well reviewed the latter two less enthusiastically received. 

I checked out the first movie as a means to get somewhat familiar with Sylvester Stallone’s titular character, John Rambo.  He was a Vietnam vet who had been subjected to daily torture as a prisoner of war.  After escaping captivity, he returned to the US to find the American public outwardly hostile to his part in a vilified war.  He becomes a drifter and ends up in a small town called Hope in Washington State in order to try and track down an army friend.  Local sheriff (Brian Dennehy) tells him to leave as he doesn’t like his look, Rambo refuses and goes a little bit mad, there’s a scuffle, a manhunt and, what is really a storm in a teacup, becomes a regional incident.

It was utter nonsense, hence I ignored the next two movies.

“Rambo” is seemingly set in present day, almost 20 years on from John’s last adventure (in Afghanistan, would you believe).  He now lives in Thailand, near the Burmese border, enjoying a relatively peaceful retirement from slaughtering people.  But, setting the backdrop for the story, are a series of scenes from Burma where the ruling junta murder, maim and rape villagers while kidnapping kids to join their violent army.  

A team of religious missionaries track Rambo down and request his help in navigating them up the Salween River in order for them to deliver humanitarian help to a Burmese village.  He initially refuses but one of them (Julie Benz) convinces him to change his mind through gentle female persuasion.  

During the trip Rambo is forced to violently defend his passengers from pirates and up-tight missionary leader Michael Burnett (Paul Schulze) informs him that they won’t be requiring his help to get back and says he will report the incident.  Rambo leaps in to action, throwing Burnett against the wall and yelling: “They would’ve raped her fifty times and cut your fucking heads off.  Who are you?  Who are any of you?”  That was awesome.

Anyway, they – of course – go missing and the local pastor comes to Rambo to request his help transporting a team of mercenaries back down the river to find them.  Rambo knows that the small armed team won’t be able to deal with the junta if they come up against them and in spite of being ordered to stay with the boat by angry former SAS man Lewis (Graham McTavish) Rambo can’t help but get involved in a battle to the death.  Let the killing begin… 

I had heard that Rambo had a hell of a body count and I wasn’t – if you excuse the seeming inappropriateness – disappointed.  There’s no doubt that it’s all utterly ridiculous.  Ignoring the tragic reality of what is actually happening in Burma at the moment, Stallone (who co-wrote and also directs) goes out of his way to paint the Burmese junta as being almost cartoonish in their evil – rapists, cold-blooded murderers, paedophiles and misogynists.  

So, of course you’ll be cheering on the good guys even if the captured missionaries and the hired guns are both led by unlikeable and unreasonable characters.  Rambo says little throughout (perhaps afraid that his 60 year old oddly tight-looking facial muscles might crack a little) but his silent, expressionless demeanour sets us up nicely for when he kicks off his orgy of violence with the cry “live for nothing or die for something”.  There’s also a very tiny flicker of emotion in the Rambo-shaped shell revolving around Benz’s character, Sarah.  That might be something they build on in the upcoming Rambo V

There are a couple of fairly gruesome scenes in the first couple of acts of the film so when the bloodthirsty slaughter of the final twenty minutes kicks off you’re pretty well conditioned for it.  Despite there being very little merit to the script, plot or acting and fairly bog-standard direction, Rambo ends up being just about curiously entertaining.  

3star

[Movie Review] Outlaw

OutlawStarring: Sean Bean, Bob Hoskins, Danny Dyer

Director: Nick Love

Genre: Drama

Cert: 18

Released: 2007

Nick Love follows up his violent football drama “The Football Factory” with “Outlaw”, a further look at society’s moral decay and the reaction it provokes from seemingly up-standing citizens.  

The film separately follows several different characters subjected to extreme violence and offered no recourse in law.  Gene (Danny Dyer) is violently assaulted by thugs in front of his wife-to-be, Sandy (Rupert Friend) is left scarred after a separate attack and lawyer Cedric Munroe (Lennie James) has his life turned upside down when a violent criminal he is prosecuting sends his people after Munroe’s family.

The above people are all connected through fairly-unstable security guard Simon (Sean Harris).  Simon befriends returning British paratrooper Danny Bryant (Sean Bean) and solicits his help in wreaking revenge on society’s miscreants.  Danny agrees; motivated by his experiences at war, anger at his wife’s infidelity and frustration with the system that he feels has left him an outcast in his home country.

The motley crew get valuable help from former cop Walter (Bob Hoskins) who has been reduced to chauffeuring and is bitter about the way he was treated by a police force he says is corrupt.  With Walter passing on the information and then helping them cover their tracks, the gang go on a vigilante rampage targeting the very people who had damaged their lives with impunity.  The media make celebrities out of them but Walter’s nemesis, Sgt Grieves (George Anton), is determined to track them down. 

To say “Outlaw” is good for about five minutes isn’t far from the truth.  I didn’t see Love’s earlier work but if “The Football Factory” was polluted with illogical characters and guileless plot as this one is then I won’t be going near it.  

The vigilante film has been done exceptionally well before – look no further than “Death Wish”, “The Crow” and even Kevin Bacon’s watchable “Death Sentence”.  But “Outlaw” fails on a fundamental level with a narrative that defies logic at times.  

Sure, I’ve said that Danny Bryant is motivated by anger and frustration but that’s my assumption more than anything.  The other characters aren’t any better and their leap from a bunch of pansies to extremely violent vigilante gang in the space of a few frames is completely unbelievable and shambolic in execution.

You can see it all crumbling from halfway in and, by the end, it’s unintentionally funny and a very sorry mess.  Avoid – this is arguably as offensive as the yob culture it points a very blunt stick at.

1star

[Movie Review] Momentum

MomentumStarring: Louis Gossett Jr, Teri Hatcher, Zach Galligan, Grayson McCouch
Director: James Seale
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 2003

Zachary Shefford (Grayson McCouch – honestly, that’s his name) doesn’t like to use his telekinetik powers but relents in order to foil a hold-up at his local convenience store. The store’s security camera, which shows him throwing the gunman across the store without touching him, is passed to government agent Raymond Addison (Lou Gossett Jnr).

Addison hires Shefford to infiltrate a gang of telekinetiks who are intent on murder and mayhem. Once Shefford gets in he discovers from group leader Adrian Grieger (Michael Massee) that Addison is actually quite underhand and is trying to eliminate the group to cover up a top-secret government project (Momentum) from the 70s.

Meanwhile two FBI agents, Jordan Ripps (the lovely Teri Hatcher) and Frank McIntyre (the entertaining Carmen Argenziano) are investigating a heist on a security van which leads them to Grieger and his group. From there it’s a case of, well, not much…

I like these mind-based movies – “Scanners”, “The First Power”, “Fear” – but usually they are better when they have a plot to speak of. “Momentum” is so poorly plotted and scripted that it’s hard to really accept any of the characters as credible. The lovely Alexondra Lee appears in about three scenes for what seems to be no reason at all. McCouch’s character flip-flops around the place, seemingly forever packing up his office at the university he teaches at. Gossett Jnr sleepwalks through the minor role he has looking utterly bored and even too lazy to remove his hat.

There’s no real action, a feeble narrative and a hint at a future sequel which we could really all do without.

1halfstar

[Movie Review] The Marine

The MarineStarring: John Cena, Robert Patrick, Kelly Carlson, Anthony Ray Parker
Director: John Bonito
Genre: Action
Cert: 15
Released: 2006

John Triton (Cena) is an active US marine who, rather than wait for the agreed backup, bursts in to an Al Qaeda hideout in Iraq, kills about 9 insurgents and frees three fellow marines. Although this was a rather cool thing to do, the US military think otherwise and issue him with an honorable discharge for disobeying orders. Triton returns home to his wife, Kate (Carlson), and, after failing to settle back in regular life as a security guard, he and Kate take off for a vacation.

Unfortunately he chose to stop for gas at the same service station as unpredictable diamond thief, Rome (Patrick) and his gang. One shoot-out later and John sees the desperate gang take his car and wife leaving the ex-marine with no choice but to engage in a a wild cross-country chase to reclaim his property.

If the plot line sounds linear and uncomplicated, well, that’s exactly what it is – painfully so. Action dominates proceedings: exploding buildings, exploding police cars; when you’ve seen John’s commandeered police car take about 200 bullets without slowing him down, you won’t be able to move for the eye-rolling. The script is terrible. Robert Patrick is a respected B-movie actor and TV star who wrestles with terribly-judged attempts at humour (hanging up on his fence to take a call from a cable company trying to upgrade his pacakge and Morgan’s suggestion of a homosexual relationship when he was young jump to mind). One line that does work is his henchman’s comparing of John Triton to The Terminator, which brings a knowing glance from Rome.

Patrick is entertaining considering what he has to work with and Cena’s acting is passable considering that he’s not an actor. But the rest of the cast are nothing to write home about and Jerome Ehlers (looking remarkably like a cross between Peter Crouch and Ryan Tubridy) is clearly someone more at home in predictable cable TV thrillers.

John Bonito makes his directorial debut here but doesn’t really distinguish himself. Some of the action scenes are well shot but there is no John Woo stylistics here to raise the interest level and the plot “twist” can be seen a mile off.

One for American student meatheads.

1halfstar

[Movie Review] Minority Report

00222_001Starring: Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Steve Harris, Kathryn Morris, Samantha Morton
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2002

It’s not often that Spielberg treads thin critical ice (no, I didn’t watch “Hook”). So when the dream hook-up of Spielberg and Cruise was announced last year, saliva was generated in record amounts on the lips of drooling cinema-goers. “Minority Report”, based on a short story by science fiction writer, Philip K Dick (previous stories converted to celuloid include “Blade Runner”), is a futuristic action movie dealing in the concept of ‘pre-crime’.

In 2054, the pre-crime experiment has eliminated murder in the DC area for the previous six years. Director of pre-crime, Lamar Burgess (Sydow – “Judge Dredd”, “Awakenings”), is looking to send pre-crime nationwide via a national referendum. But the very concept of pre-crime raises serious constitutional issues. Using the visions of three gifted individuals known as ‘pre-cogs’, detectives can obtain specific information about future murders and are able to stop them before they are committed. The introduction of pre-crime came six months too late for Detective John Anderton (Cruise) who mourns the abduction, and probable murder, of his son. With his marriage breaking up as a result, Anderton throws himself into his work and is one of the main reasons for its continued success.

However, despite the statistics, pre-crime has its doubters, and one of them is Detective Ed Witwer (Farrell – “Tigerland”, “Harts War”) whose obtrusive observation is either one of general concern for the constiutional questions surrounding pre-crime or else a fixation on taking Anderton’s job. Anderton’s rightful claim that the system is ‘never wrong’ comes back to haunt him as he is indentified by the pre-cogs as being repsonsible for the future murder of Leo Crow, a man he doesn’t even know. Convinced of his own future innocence, Anderton goes on the run to try and find answers but is pursued by his own team, now led by Witwer. Using his knowledge of the system to avoid detection for as long as possible, Anderton tries to buy enough time to find answers to his main question – is there a flaw in the system?

Off the bat, I’ll tell you that “Minority Report” is a terrific movie. Based on, but greatly expanding, a short story by Dick, Spielberg has gone all out to create a science-fiction experience that makes you think as well as blowing your mind with sharp and inventive futuristic touches – the freaky spy-spiders, retina recognition sensors that trigger personalised advertising in the street, interactive video screens that can be controlled by the wave of your hand and ultra-cool video-newspapers.

Spielberg has poured an awful lot of storyline into the 140 minutes that the movie runs to and the frenetic pace and cliff-hanging action sequences are exhausting in the extreme. He’s one of the best directors in the business and he proves it time and time again with a number of great scenes including a thrilling pursuit of Anderton through the back alleys of DC and some real cringe-moments that will make the faint-hearted turn away from the screen.

It’s another notable turn from fast-rising star Colin Farrell who excels as the FBIs slick trouble-maker. Although not as demanding as his quality turn in “Vanilla Sky”, Cruise again does a good job, playing the confident cop with an emotional chink in the armour. Max von Sydow offers solid support as his pre-crime mentor.

“Minority Report” is full of great ideas, numerous twists and oustanding visuals and even though I suspect that the storyline doesn’t stand up to in-depth scrutiny, that’s no reason to miss one of the years top movies.

4halfstar