Tuesday, March 31, 2015

2 Fast 2 Furious

As far as follow ups go, 2 Fast 2 Furious is probably as good as it could be while missing half of what made the first film work so well. Still, they at least found a game replacement for Vin Diesel in Tyrese Gibson.

We catch up with Brian O'Connor (played by Paul Walker) hiding out in Miami after letting Dom go at the end of the end of the first film. He is making ends meet street racing when he's pinched by the cops. Instead of throwing him in jail, they recruit him to go undercover working as a Wheelman for drug runner Carter Verone (played by Cole Hauser). Failing to find a suitable partner among the FBI's offerings, Brian elects to recruit childhood friend Roman Bridger (played by Tyrese Gibson), a demolition derby driver currently under house arrest, as his partner in crime. The two are put in contact with Monica Fuentes (played by Eva Mendes), an undercover customs agent working in Verone's organization and helps the two get introduced to him. 

The two join several other drivers in an audition to fill the two open spots on Verone's team. The gambit is to retrieve an item from Verone's impounded Ferrari. Following a particularly smashy car chase where among other things one competitor is crushed along with his Mustang by a tractor trailer, Brian and Roman are the first to arrive and manage to retrieve the item, earning a place on Verone's crew. However, Brian and Roman find themselves in a tight spot between the cops, who may not hold up their end of the deal to wipe Brian and Roman's criminal records clean and Verone and his crew of violent thugs who may very well murder the two of them after the job they've been hired for is complete.

2 Fast 2 Furious is a fairly straight forward sequel. It takes what worked in the original film and does it bigger and flashier. Perhaps that is also it's fault as well. The plot is fairly straight forward with few real surprises. Hauser gives us the same Drug Kingpin villain we've seen a couple dozen times before with no real variation to the other discount Scarface wannabes we've seen populating action thrillers since the 80's. What really injects some life into the film is the friendship between Brian and Roman. Gibson and Walker play off one another well with Gibson having fun in his role as the third wheel at times to Walker and Mendes, frequently acting more like a jealous boyfriend, much to the delight of this reviewer. In addition to Gibson, the film also introduces another frequent series star, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as Tej, a mechanic and garage owner friend of Brian's. 

This film was still part of the series in it's infancy. It plays close to the first film in sense of style and story. The crazy car stunts and over the top car chases that defy the known laws of physics really begin here, in particular a jumping car that lands on a moving yacht that damn near redeems any problems the movie may have had as far as I'm concerned. From it's ludicrous title to it's over the top action 2 Fast 2 Furious may not be one of the best in the series, far from it actually, but it still has it's moments. One can't help but wish it tried a little harder to do something new. Judging by this entry, it's a miracle we got a Part Three, let alone Four, Five, Six and Seven. 

The Fast and the Furious

I look with a sense of awe that a franchise of films that started out as a shameless ripoff of the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze film Point Break has gone on to spawn six sequels, each one seemingly more popular than the last. That just doesn't happen usually. The films know that they are not high art and never pretend to be, unless you ask Vin Diesel who seems genuinely convinced one of these films is going to win Best Picture. I wouldn't hold my breath, Vin. That said, they're still a lot of fun.

The first film in the series focuses on Brian O'Connor (played by Paul Walker), who is an undercover cop infiltrating the Street Racing scene in Los Angeles to try and find a connection to a gang of unidentified individuals who are heisting semi-trucks loaded with electronics. Soon enough he meets up with Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) and the two become fast friends after Brian helps Dominic evade arrest after their latest street race is broken up by the cops. 

Believing Brian to just be another Street Racer, Dom takes him under his wing and introduces him proper to the world of Street Racing. Brian takes the opportunity to scope out the potential suspects, especially an Asian gang led by Johnny Tran (played by Rick Yune) who fit the profile nicely with stockpiled electronics and tendency to ride around on motorcycles firing Uzis. But what Brian doesn't consider is that the real culprits might just be Dom and his friends, in part because he has the hots for Dom's sister, Mia (played by Jordana Brewster).  

Upon revisiting the original film, I struck how in comparison to what would come after this one, the original The Fast and the Furious is almost quaint in comparison. Don't get me wrong, it has it's fair share of action sequences, great stunts and some great car chases but at the same time it feels almost restrained. The film solidly has it's place in the early aughts Action film pantheon, clearly taking cues from the works of Michael Bay and Tony Scott, with it's orange tinged, quick edits, techno and hip hop infused soundtrack sensibility, but within a PG-13 framework. The film was a big hit with teen audiences and made bona fide stars out of both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. 

This film is a humble beginning to what would become one of the unlikeliest action movie franchises ever. Still, there is a certain charm to it. Yes, the film is a pretty shameless rip off of Point Break, but I can't hold that against it because it twists the formula a little, giving Dom a little more heart and a little more character behind the dripping machismo and that's the key to what would come after with his character, and also in a way what made the movie work. His bromance of sorts with Brian would form the backbone of the latter installments (Vin more or less sat out the second and third films), but also helps this one stand out a little more. It knows it's an action movie directed at people who love fast cars and wild stunts and plays directly to that. It's a goal that has and will likely continue to serve this series well.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Looking Back at the Friday the 13th Series, Part 3

And now here we are at the third and final part of my Friday the 13th retrospective (and unlike this film series, i intend to keep that promise). The last four films are a bit of a mixed bag. As the films transitioned to the nineties and beyond, some of the charm got lost. They varied from pretty bad (Jason Goes to Hell) to pretty awesome (Freddy vs. Jason) and everything in between. I started this retrospective way back last Friday, June 13th and continued it on Friday February 13th and we finish up now on another Friday the 13th...

"We're going to Camp Crystal Lake." 
"Oh yeah? Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex, and getting slaughtered?"

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday marks the second time this neverending series tried to end. It is certainly the oddest duck in this series. The film aims to be something different than what came before while delving into the mythos of Jason Voorhees and why he just can't seem to stay dead.

The film opens much like any other film in the series with a pretty young lady traveling to a remote cabin in Crystal Lake. Soon enough, she is attacked by Jason and she leads him on a chase through the woods. It's here that the plot takes it's first sudden turn as it's revealed the woman was actually bait, leading Jason to an assault team who proceed to riddle Jason with bullets and ultimately blow him up.

Jason's remains are packed up and shipped for examination by the Government. One of the Coroners is shocked when he sees Jason's heart start to beat and then gives into a compulsion wherein he devours it, becoming possessed by Jason himself. From there, Jason makes his way back to Crystal Lake, jumping from human to human making his way to his hereto unmentioned sister (played by Erin Gray) and niece (played by Kari Keegan), whom Jason can be reborn through if he possesses one of them.

The film is a half baked attempt to try and give some more scope and depth to the series but yet strays so far from what had been established previously, it feels like another movie altogether. It gets points for trying to be different, but it's still a very odd film. You have a bounty hunter skulking around named Creighton Duke (played by Steven Williams) who provides most of the exposition by explaining how Jason can only truly be killed by a blood relative. How did he come upon this information you ask? He never says and the other characters never ask. He does, however, agree to give this information to our adorkable hero Steven (played by John D LeMay) if he lets Duke break his fingers (Okay...). The film has some interesting ideas and two likeable leads in LeMay and Keegan. It has a couple nice action set pieces with Jason rampaging through a police station and diner as well as a decent final fight between newly reborn Jason and Steven. However, as a whole the film doesn't quite come together.

"Guys! It's ok, he just wanted his machete back!"

Once upon a time, someone asked John Carpenter what he would do for another Halloween movie. Carpenter responded he wanted to send Michael Myers into space. I'm fairly confident he was joking. Either way, the Friday the 13th crew thought it was an appropriately daft idea and gave us the tenth entry in the series, simply titled Jason X

The film opens in present day as Jason has returned from his sojourn to hell and looking all the better for it. He has once again been captured by the Government who are interested in his cellular regeneration and general ability to cheat death. Not one to be put down easily, Jason gets free and wipes out everyone in the facility except Rowan (played by Lexa Doig). She manages to lure him into a cryogenic chamber and freezes him, but she gets trapped and freezes with him.

Four Hundred years later, a group of teens on a field trip to Earth, now a wasteland, discover the human Popsicles  that are Jason and Rowan and bring them back to their ship with them. They are able to revive Rowan, who is horrified to find out they brought Jason on board as well. Before she can convince them to jettison him, he's thawed out and on another rampage. 

There is a certain charm to this entry. It has it's tongue firmly planted in it's cheek and knows full well how ridiculous it truly is. There are far more laughs to be had than scares as the film continually pokes fun not only at itself but at the series trademarks. It is never something that will be mistaken for intelligent Sci-Fi, but in it's own dopey, midnight movie sort of way it's a lot of fun.

"Place your bets!"

Freddy vs. Jason had been an on again, off again thing since 1987 but the two studios, Paramount and New Line, could never reach a deal. When New Line picked up the rights to the Friday the 13th series in 1994, it seemed like the film was finally going to happen, even teasing it at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday with Freddy's claw pulling Jason's hockey mask down to hell. Sadly, it would take another nine years for the film to finally arrive in cinemas. But for a group of fans of either Jason, Freddy or both, myself included, when it finally arrived it was a huge event.

Freddy (played once again by Robert Englund) has found the children of Springfield have forgotten about him, rendering him powerless to invade their dreams. To counteract this, he recruits Jason (played by Ken Kirzinger) to head to Springwood and create a little terror with the idea that it will get people thinking Freddy again and he can come back. However, Jason gets carried away bringing about Freddy's ire and leads to an epic showdown between the two.

While by and large Freddy vs. Jason delivered on it's promise, it's not exactly perfect. The acting is a bit all over the place, with Kelly Rowland being the biggest offender playing an overall unpleasant character, Kia, whose improvised homophobic taunts to Freddy were less than appreciated not only by me but the film's writers as well. 

In the end though, the film is quite a bit of fun seeing two titans of terror square off against one another. The film really picks up once their fight starts, first in the dream world Freddy inhabits and then finishing in the real world. The film manages to accomplish the daunting task of blending the imaginative and surreal Nightmare on Elm Street series with more grounded stalk and slash Friday the 13th series. It's a film that was made for the fans of both series and for the most part, it delivers.

The 2009 "re-imaging" of Friday the 13th combines plot elements of the first four movies into one updated film with mixed results. While the film gives Jason a bit more depth as a character, the remainder of the film follows the same well worn plot points of the original films while giving everything a nice polish.

The film centers on Clay (played by Jared Padalecki), who ventures to Crystal Lake in search of his missing sister, Whitney (played by Amanda Righetti). He meets up with a group of vacationing young adults that include romantic interest Jenna (played by Danielle Panabaker) her dickhead boyfriend Trent (played by Travis Van Winkle), stoner Chewie (played by Aaron Yoo) and Dick Casablancas (played by Ryan Hansen, who is actually playing a character named Nolan, but come on, it's Dick from Veronica Mars...). It's not long before Jason starts knocking them off one by one until there is only a couple left.

This latest rendition of Friday the 13th checks off all the boxes of the series staples while managing to throw a few surprises in to keep the audience on their toes. It does actually make Jason a bit smarter than he was in the original films, with the old campground now wired up with floodlights and traps. He has built tunnels under the cabins which shows how he gets around undetected. It probably is the best possible a remake or re-imagining could be. It just never breaks any real new ground and that's it's biggest flaw. Yeah, it's shiny and new but once that wears off, it's all business as usual and doesn't do much that is really inventive and new. Some of the death scenes are impressive and brutal in how they pulled off the effect (especially the cop getting impaled with the fireplace poker through the door as the camera dollys from outside to in all in one shot being a big standout for me). But aside from that, it didn't really blow me away. I didn't hate it, but I don't hold it in the same regard as the first four films. There's something missing and I'm not sure what. Maybe it's just the nostalgia.

So, that pretty much brings us up to date on the entire Friday the 13th saga, from beginning to end. Like any long running series, it has it's ups and downs. I keep hear rumors of another sequel, but nothing has materialized yet. That said, I doubt we've seen the last of Jason Voorhees, for better or worse.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Reasonable Doubt

Sometimes, I will make a choice of movie based solely on who is in it. Sometimes, I find a hidden gem of a film I may have otherwise missed. I saw this one starred Dominic Cooper and Samuel L Jackson. I love Samuel L Jackson and as my friends know I fancy Dominic Cooper something fierce so Reasonable Doubt should've been a slam dunk for me, right? Not so much, sadly. Let's take a look at the reasons why. Warning, if for some reason you think you might actually want to watch this ludicrous movie, please know I'm playing fast and loose with spoilers throughout. You have been warned. 

Mitch Brockden (played by Dominic Cooper) is a hotshot Prosecuting Attorney who after a night of drinking with his co-workers makes the ill-advised decision to drive home intoxicated after he sees three men checking out his SUV while parked on the street. While driving home, he accidentally hits a guy that runs out in front of his car and panics. He calls for an ambulance from a nearby pay phone and then flees the scene. The next morning he finds out another man, Clinton Davis (played by Samuel L. Jackson), was picked up by police after being found with the victim in the back of his truck. He is arrested for the crime and put on trial. Who is the Prosecuting Attorney in the case? Mitch, of course. If you're already rolling your eyes at the contrivance, we have a long way to go. 

Davis insists that he found the victim and was only trying to help. With little evidence to convict him with and false testimony from Mitch's step brother Jimmy (played by Ryan Robbins), Davis is let go and his case is dismissed. Except Mitch discovers that Davis may not have been so innocent after all as another case with a victim with injuries he saw on the man that he hit come across his desk. Upon going back and examining the crime scene where Mitch hit him and alley way the man ran from he discovers the man he hit was already in the process of being murdered by Davis when he ran away and got hit by Mitch. 

As you can tell, the plot contrivances are piling up already. So much of what happens in this movie is shaky at best. The plot continuously contorts itself to fit it's ludicrous story with a hero that seems to be getting dumber by the minute. At first Mitch goes to the police with his findings, specifically Detective Blake Kanon (played by Gloria Ruben), who suspects there is more to Mitch's story but fails to follow up on what Mitch tells her with some fairly compelling evidence that there is a connection between the victims. Of course, this happens so Mitch has to investigate Davis on his own. He discovers a connection between the victims that they are all recently released ex-cons. Who does Davis recruit as his partner in his investigation to follow and watch Davis? His recently released ex-con brother. Gee, I wonder what's going to happen next? 

The filmmakers actually came up with an intriguing motive for Davis. He and his family were the victims of a home invasion by a re-offending ex-con and his family died while he survived. After that, he began trolling support group meetings of recently released ex-cons, personally taking out any violent offenders that voiced fears they might re-offend. Of course, this entire motive and psychosis is tossed aside when Davis decides to go after Mitch's family to teach him about the pain he's had to live with. For some reason, this just doesn't jive with the character. I can see him going out and being offing violent ex-cons that are afraid they are going to commit another crime. In his warped mindset, he probably even thinks what he's doing is heroic. But I don't buy for one second that he would turn on an innocent young wife and infant child. The filmmakers felt they needed the same tired, violent showdown between hero and villain that every other thriller of this ilk has. Even then, it's pretty pathetic as Mitch proves that in addition to being an idiot, he's a pretty lousy hero too.  

There are so many logic errors, plot contrivances and idiotic characters to make this an even remotely believable movie. I know any movie carries a certain level of suspension of disbelief but there are limits. The movie follows the cookie cutter formula for a yuppies in peril thriller with very little deviation and when the film seems to want to break free from that, it contorts itself back within the confines of the predetermined plot. Cliches from Courtroom dramas and thrillers in general are all checked off in this film rather quickly. As for the performances in the film, none of them really rise much above the "I'm here for my paycheck" level. I have a feeling the writers had the same attitude. 

It's been a long while since I've sat through something that was as spectacular a misfire as Reasonable Doubt. Unfortunately, sometimes my love for certain movie stars can take me down a road I really never should have gone down. But perhaps my only solace is in writing a really nasty review, which is any film critic's best revenge against a bad movie.