Tag Archives: action movie

Review: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Loses Its Edge

Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' (Warner Bros.)
Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (Warner Bros.)
The newest action picture from director Doug Liman threatens to be completely fresh and irreverent, until it realizes Tom Cruise is the star and that its premise is borrowed from Groundhog Dog with a science-fiction twist.

Based on All You Need is Kill, a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka published in 2004, and a screenplay credited to Christopher McQuarrie (Cruise’s Jack Reacher), Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, Edge of Tomorrow posits that in the near future Earth has been invaded by aliens from space known as Mimics, who resemble giant, speedy circular mops yet are soundly defeating mankind’s military forces, combined into the United Defense Force. Military spokesperson Cage (Cruise) sounds good on television, but his cowardly, selfish nature is revealed in a conversation with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who orders him to “sell the military” as they make a last-ditch effort to repel the invaders on a beach in France. It’s a battle that is sure to cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and Cage firmly resists the possibility of being one of them.

He ends up in the battle anyway, and — no spoiler — is killed within the first five minutes. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he —

You get the idea. As Cage desperately tries to figure out what’s going on, he comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero, and she provides the key to the rest of the story.

The early sequences zig and zag with vim and vigor. Placing Cruise into the body of an uncertain and unlikable character who is only looking out for himself infuses the story with energy stolen from his younger years, when he could embody selfish jerks with elan and a measure of callow soulfulness. (I’m thinking especially of Risky Business, Top Gun, and The Color of Money.) Listening as he endeavors to talk his way out of the clutches of the single-minded Master Sergeant Farell (a delightfully bluff and Southern-twangy Bill Paxton) unearths the actor’s most patently insincere sincerity; it’s easy to see why he would be an effective spokesperson for the military.

All too quickly, the zippy dialogue recedes into the background (resurfacing only occasionally), and the lumbering mechanics of the plot take center stage, calling for multiple extended action sequences that are staged and filmed in an anonymous fashion by director Liman and cinematographer Dion Beebe. A dozen years ago, Beebe collaborated with director Kurt Wimmer to make the stylish and fluid Equilibrium; that same year, Liman made his first action flick, The Bourne Identity, which prized camera movement above visual clarity. Liman’s vision prevails here, of course, and so the result is a series of action scenes that are well-nigh incomprehensible.

When the action pauses, Cruise morphs quickly back into the conventional action hero he was born to play, adapting to his circumstances in rapid order and becoming a supremely efficient and selfless soldier. Naturally, that can be attributed to the nature of the time-travel loop in which he’s trapped, but it’s also a symptom of the Traditional Hollywood Protagonist Trope, his flaws erased from memory as he is transformed long before the climactic third act.

As long as Cruise’s character is imperfect and weak, the movie sings true. Once he becomes ‘all that he can be,’ to paraphrase a one-time slogan of the U.S. Army, the inevitability of the plot twists and turns become all too obvious and predictable. Without a recognizable and relatable character at the center, the movie sags, only perking up at odd times that are unable to halt the slide into mediocrity.

Edge of Tomorrow is a thriller that starts strong and loses its potency throughout its running time, like a carbonated beverage left open in the summer heat and gone flat.

The film opens in theaters wide across Dallas on Friday, June 6.

Review: ‘Homefront,’ An Action Exercise That’s Stronger Than It Looks

Jason Statham in 'Homefront'
Jason Statham in ‘Homefront’

Jason Statham is a movie star in the classic mold: He has established a steady screen personality as a heroic tough guy, and he rarely deviates from it, no matter what role he is playing.

Because Statham sticks to the action-movie genre in which he excels, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. While it’s true that he doesn’t make bad movies good, neither does he make good movies bad; he is a dependable brand, and occasionally he leads an above-average production that is enlivened by his presence.

Homefront definitely benefits from Statham’s starring performance as a former DEA agent turned full-time family man. Sylvester Stallone’s screenplay, based on a 2005 novel by Chuck Logan, starts the plot a-ticking in its first scene, as Statham’s “Phil Broker” is unfairly blamed by a motorcycle gang boss for the death of his son. Disgusted by the DEA’s failure to follow protocol, Broker quits and moves with his daughter — aged 9, about to turn 10 — to his late wife’s hometown in the Louisiana bayou.

The girl, named Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), turns the tables on a full-bodied young bully, raising the ire of the kid’s parents, especially his drug-adled mother (Kate Bosworth). She goads her husband into picking a fight with Broker, which doesn’t end well for the sallow fellow, and so dear old mom goes running to her brother Gator. And then the fun really begins, because Gator is played by James Franco, and his character is definitely not a standard-issue ‘B-movie’ villain.

Gator is introduced smashing a teenager’s leg with a bat, but that doesn’t represent his usual modus operandi. Gather, recognizing that he’s not really an intimidating physical presence among adults, prefers to use his brain to out-think his opponents, which has allowed him to become a big fish in a small pond. So when he sniffs around Broker’s house and discovers why he’s living under an assumed name, he devises a clever plan that he thinks will make him a big-time player in the state.

Statham provides the steady anchor here, while the smart plot twists, unusual character developments, and ace performances by the supporting cast really make the movie hop.

Director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Runaway Jury) keeps the momentum going, though his action sequences are the usual blizzard of quick shots and whiplash camera moves that define 21st century “action” movies. Still, there’s the pleasure of Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as dirty, disreputable women, Rachelle Lefevre as a concerned schoolteacher and possible romantic interest, Clancy Brown as the town’s good/bad sheriff, and James Franco, who works hard to play it straight as the chief bad guy.

The pleasures of Homefront may be minor, but they are by no means incidental to the strength of the movie. It’s an action exercise that’s stronger than it looks.

Homefront opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Wednesday, November 27.

Review: ‘Escape Plan’ Arrives 20 Years Past Its Expiration Date

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Escape Plan' (Summit)
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Escape Plan’ (Summit)
Arriving two decades past its expiration date, Escape Plan would like everyone to drink the spoiled milk and forget that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are now senior citiens.

Eschewing jokes about their respective ages — officially, Stallone is 67 years of age and Schwarzenegger is 66 — and pretending that the actors are in peak physical form, the film blithely posits that they are muscle men locked up in a maximum security prison, location unknown, for reasons unknown. Stallone has spent the past seven years testing the federal prison system, allowing himself to be incarcerated, and then attempting to escape. It seems he has been successful every time, enabling the private security firm he co-founded to charge $2.5 million for a job that may last several months.

But now somebody wants him locked up forever, so he has to break out to find out!

Escape Plan cries out for a tagline like that, best intoned by a baritone voice that rumbles like thunder. To go by the evidence on screen, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger appear to be years younger than what they are — no fair cutting open their bodies to count the rings on their intestines — so the willful wish fulfillment that the two biggest action stars of the 80s and early 90s has a basis in a faux-reality that is achieved by tasteful makeup and, especially, very kind lighting and glamour photography by Brendan Galvin (Mirror Mirror, Immortals).

Mikael Håfström, a once-promising talent from Sweden (2003’s Evil, 2004’s Drowning Ghost) who has shown flashes of inspiration in English-language genre fare such as Derailed, 1408, and The Rite, seems to have been defeated by the lackluster material cooked up in the screenplay, which is credited to Miles Chapman and Jason Keller. The structure is sturdy enough, but the dialogue is noticeably absent the wisecracks needed to leaven the potential burden of a prison that is meant for individuals deemed dangerous to the U.S. government. Stallone and Schwarzenegger speak their lines with a comic rhythm that is all set-up and no pay-off; too often they deliver a rejoinder that falls completely flat.

A pervasive sense of torpor envelops the film. In part, that’s because it should have been set in the 1980s, which would have allowed those concerned about Stallone’s character to prowl around the outwide world, rattling cages — or, at least, expend some shoe leather — tracking down answers to how their boss and friend has disappeared entirely. Instead, the modern-day setting requires that the extremely capable Amy Ryan, and also the less capable but game Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson sit in front of computer screens and type.

Within the prison, the production had the good sense to hire Jim Caviezel and Sam Neill to play the sadistic prison warden and sympathetic doctor, respectively. Yet the two extremely talented actors are given nothing interesting to do; the warden must not be too evil and the doctor must not be too kind, for reasons that are never explained. This “creative” decision drain whatever possibility of drama might have been drummed up if they were allowed to display a wider range of emotion.

At various points of their careers, Stallone and Schwarzenegger have been perfectly willing to make fun of their most famous personas. Here they play it (almost) absolutely straight, as though they were still younger men who did not need to be doubled in every scene involving a fight and/or any type of strenuous physical activity. Their spirit is willing but their flesh is weak, which is exactly what we would expect from anyone their age.

There is no shame in growing old, and why Escape Plan pulls the wool over its own eyes is mystifying. Let us celebrate the wrinkles and the liver spots and the gray hair, and allow senior citizens to kick ass with their brains rather than their brawn. And let us especially leave behind tired action movies that pretend to be something they are not.

The film opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, October 18.

Review: ‘The Raid: Redemption’

Iko Uwais in Gareth Evans' 'The Raid: Redemption' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Iko Uwais in Gareth Evans' 'The Raid: Redemption' (Sony Pictures Classics)

What’s most pleasantly surprising about Gareth Evans’ second film is that it’s a major step forward from his first effort.

‘Merantau’ was certainly a strong debut, taking time to establish and define its lead character, played by Iko Uwais, before moving ahead into muscular, pulvering, extended action sequences that distinguished themselves, in part, because of the underexposed Silat style of martial arts fighting, and to an even greater degree by Evans’ seemingly innate understanding of how to frame an action scene.

Uwais returns in ‘The Raid: Redemption,’ but this time we get only the barest glimpse of his character before he is plunged into chaos — we know he is Muslim, that his wife is pregnant with their first child, and that he has promised to bring someone back. And then he and his SWAT team comrades swarm into a high-rise apartment building, an upside-down Indonesian version of Dante’s Inferno, one where they must rise to the top to capture the drug lord who watches their every move through a plethora of security cameras and commands his own army of armed soldiers.

Building upon their experience in making ‘Merantau,’ Evans and Uwais (and their filmmaking comrades) expand the range of action. Even though it’s confined to a single building, the possibilities appear endless. Death may come swooping down from above, from a distance, through doors and walls and floors and ceilings, by knife or gun or bombs or fists of fury. It’s a nightmare, kill or be killed, with no margin for error.

Once again, Evans frames the action superbly, turning Uwais into Gene Kelly with a machete and a machine gun. Too often, modern action movies must rely on extreme close-ups and quick editing, not only as a stylistic crutch, but also because their lead performers are not trained martial artists and/or fighters. That’s not the case here, and Evans takes full advantage, showcasing the actors and fighters from head to toe, resulting in electrifying sequences that are fully involving before there’s a minimum of cutting; the eye follows the fists and hands and arms and legs and feet as they collide with faces and bodies, crunching and slicing and breaking as they go.

With all of the intense, extremely violent action, it would have been easy to lose sight of the characters, which is a common failing among martial arts films — great fights, weak characters. And though the characterization in ‘Merantau’ was arguably stronger, Uwais has improved as an actor and is better able to communicate emotions through his facial expressions and body movements. His character doesn’t need to say as much to let us know his desperation and determination to save his men, complete his mission, and return home safely to his family.

As it happens, that’s the only fault that I can lay against the film; as good and as intense as the fight scenes are, near the end I was more anxious to see how things might be resolved between the characters than I was to watch another battle sequence.

A second viewing solved that problem, and allowed me to better appreciate the marvelously fluid choreography and the driving momentum of the pace that pushes it past any rough spots.

If you only see one action movie this year, this is the one. It’s authentic, it’s wild, it’s different, it’s original, and it will make you want to stand up and cheer a brutal, engrossing picture.

‘The Raid: Redemption’ opens today at Angelika Dallas, AMC NorthPark, and Cinemark West Plano.