As I was watching Mr. Right, I started thinking to myself, this is stupid. It’s absurd and silly. So why does it work so well? The premise isn’t unique or original. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy turns out to be hitman/secret agent. Boy drags girl on mad escapade against some dastardly villains, the bond between them getting stronger in the process. It’s an ages old formula. It sorta kinda worked with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, and elsewhere failed miserably with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher. So why then does it work so well with Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick? Well, exactly that: It’s Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. The two are so suited for each other it’s adorable. The both of them are quirky, awkward, unconventionally attractive and very unpredictable in their work. Neither are what you’d call traditional romantic leads or action stars, and it’s in that sense that the film finds its groove. I’ve heard other critics bash on Max Landis’s script for being to busy or too stoked on itself, but in a studio system that tosses us garbage like the Kutcher/Heigl version, I’ll take anything I can get that puts in an admirable effort, flaws and all. Anna plays a jilted girl who is on a speeding rebound train that has a chance run in with Mr. Right (Sam Rockwell). He’s charming, super into her and the chemistry they have is obvious right off the bat. Soon they’re being appallingly cute and pretty much dating… that’s where the trouble begins. Rockwell is an infamous assassin on the run from several baddies including his former agency mentor (Tim Roth has even more fun with accents here than he did in The Hateful Eight) who has lost his marbles, and a trio of mafia brats played by a volatile Anson Mount, a hammy James Ransone and a wicked Michael Eklund as that nastiest of the bunch. The film tries hard to balance the two tones, and fpr the most part succeeds, blending them with the helpful notes of craziness from everyone. The violence is brutal, stylized and often darkly comical, the romance is sweet but never gushy with just a hint of mental instability from both parties (sounds weird, I know… it works). Rockwell adds shades of his off the rails work in Seven Psychopaths, albeit with less psychosis. Kendrick is endlessly cute, and endearingly klutzy. Throw in RZA as a hapless killer who can’t decide what side of the fence he’s on, and you’ve got a diverse little cast with enough collective and individual talent to make this a good time. It won’t be for everyone; I can picture many people I know big annoyed, or simply finding themselves unable to buy into it. But for fans of Rockwell and Kendrick (even if you’re not, there’s no scoffing at both their skills) it’s a charming blast of fun.
“Bitches, leave!!” I direct that sentiment towards anyone out there who thinks the remake of Robocop can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s brilliant, incredibly graphic and bitingly satirical 1987 classic. Everything that was special and amazing about the original was absolutely pissed on with the remake, and it kills me that I run into people my age these days who aren’t even aware that the remake IS a remake, and think it’s the original Robocop. Ugh. Get out. No, this is the real, steel deal, accented by Verhoeven’s blunt approach to characterization and overly ultraviolent, near Cronenberg-esque flair for carnage. Peter Weller only gets to act as regular joe police officer Alex Murphy for a brief and chaotic prologue, but makes the most of it with his deadpan delivery and piercing gaze. Murphy is assigned to a precinct in the heart of Old Detroit, a district so corrupt, rotten and infested with crime it literally resembles a war zone, and cops wear heavy riot gear on their beat. Paired Nancy Allen, he beelines it for a suspicious truck leaving the scene of a heist. Only one problem: this particular truck happens to belong to evil arch criminal Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his merry band of psychopaths, who are armed to the teeth with heavy artillery. Cornered in a warehouse, Murphy is brutally, and I mean fucking brutally dispatched by Boddicker and his gang, shredded by a hail of gunfire that turns him into raw hamburger meat. What’s left of him is quickly swooped up by corporate, and used in a high tech, absolutely silly program run by coked up suited opportunist Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). His idea has gotten in the way of nefarious plans put in motion by the top dog of the company, a maniac named Dick Jones played by Ronny Cox in a frighteningly funny turn that makes you terrified in between fits of giggles. Once Murphy has been through Morton’s wringer, Robocop emerges, an epic, unstoppable android enforcer who lays waste to criminal scum all over town, until traces of Murphy’s consciousness bubble up past the circuit boards and he gets his own agenda. Jones is determind to take him down, along with Morton, undermining The Old Man (Daniel O’Herlihy), the acting CEO. For a film called Robocop that came out in 1987 you’d think were in for a cut and dry action cheese fest. Not with Verhoeven at the helm. The Dutch madman is never one to play it safe (a refreshing trait among European directors) and pulls out all the stops here for a bloody good time that pauses ever so slightly to nudge you with its cynical side that just loves to bash social convention into oblivion. The effects are so 80’s you’ll swoon, especially when Jones’s own robo creation shows up in clanking, drunken stop motion that you can practically reach out and touch. Smith is a homicidal wonder as Boddicker, the smarmy fury and unrestrained behaviour hijacking every scene he’s in. Leland Palmer himself, Ray Wise plays Leon Nash, his equally dastardly second in command, and a host of gnarly character actors back them up, all of which have curiously guest starred on Fox’s 24 at various points in time, including Weller too. The level of fucks given with this film goes into the negative region of the thermometer, and to this day few studio films have been able to boast such disregard for discretion or lay claim to a sheer love of bombastic villains, a blatant lack of subtlety and a willingness to take things to cinematic infinity, beyond and back again just so they can throw a few more bullets into the mix. Accept no substitutes.
The Tournament is just about as awesome as action movies can get, and just about as bloody too. I love films involving assassins, contests, games, violence and such. The Running Man was clearly a huge influence on this one, right down to the inclusion of a larger than life game show host, here played by Liam Cunningham. Liam plays a shadowy nut job named Powers, and every four years he arranges an elaborate and incredibly destructive Olympic games for contract killers and psychos alike. Every time he hosts it in a new city, using hidden cameras and explaining away the damage with disasters and attacks. If this sounds so very 80’s, it is. We’re in throwback city here, with a touch of modern tone not unlike Joe Carnahan’s Smokin Aces. The reigning champion is Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames), a brutal warrior who has been coaxed back into the game with revenge on his mind. Each assassin is fitted with a tracking device so they can track each other, an idea which goes haywire when a civilian accidentally gets stuck with one and ends up in the cross hairs. The civilian in question is a drunken priest (lol) played by Robert Carlyle, who has no idea what’s going on and suddenly has a dwindling life expectancy. He catches a break when a lethal but sympathetic female competitor (beauty queen Kelly Hu is an angel of physicality) takes pity and decides to help him out. They’ve got quite an armada to cut through though, including a rowdy cockney whacko (Craig Conway) a parkour master (Sebastian Foucan), an ex Spetsnaz freak (Scott Adkins) with a habit of blowing shit up left right and center, and lastly a Texan pretty boy lunatic played cheerfully by Ian Somerhalder. He’s so evil they just had to include a bit where he shoots a stray dog in the face without batting a perfect eyelash (animal lovers, you’ve been forewarned). All this mayhem is taken in by Powers and his sickening audience of wealthy kingpins, who sit in a great big boardroom and bet on the outcome of the carnage. Cunningham is a blast of devilish charm as Powers, an amoral villain of dark showmanship and sociopathic class. Between exploding heads, grenades ripping through the streets of London, frenetic hand to hand combat, colorful personalities, over the top depictions of bad human behavior and a general sense of hedonistic, slash and burn glee, this is one for the books.
The 6th Day is a brash, in your face sci fi actioner with some deft scientific notions that it plays around with in near satirical fashion. It chooses to shoot most of its scenes in my hometown of Vancouver, including a set piece atop the spiral shaped Vancouver Public Library tat sends sparks raining down into the streets and choppers spinning wildly to their demise. I love when films shoot here, because it gives my city an exciting chance to be a part of escapism, and it’s amusing to watch them digitally maim all sorts of landmarks and then chuckle as I see them intact on my way to work the next day. Schwarzenegger, in one of his last great flicks before his deliberate hiatus (we shall not speak of the abomination that is Collateral Damage), plays Adam Gibson, a helicopter tour guide who has a strange blackout in mid flight while transporting the CEO of a swanky scientific corporation (slick Tony Goldwyn). He arrives back home to find a clone of himself living with his family, and things only get weirder from there. He has stumbled into the inner workings of extremely illegal experiments involving human replication, and Goldwyn & Co. are none too pleased about it. Goldwyn has secretly made human cloning an everyday thing for the company, hidden from the aging eyes of the moral upright doctor who founded the company (Robert Duvall). This is all enforced by a ruthless corporate thug for hire (Michael Rooker) and his foxy assistant (Sarah Wynter). Schwarzenegger is faced with the daunting task of taking down this un-sanctioned empire, reclaiming his family and blowing up some stuff along the way. It’s a terrific flick, and Arnie gets to say the best line he’s ever spoken, directed at Goldwyn, which I won’t spoil here but it’s pure gold. Goldwyn is hateable and malicious, the horrific third act prosthetics fitting him like a slimy glove. Duvall strikes a noble chord and almost seems to have wandered in from a more serious film. Rooker is intense, evil and scene stealing as always. Watch for Wendy Crewson, Michael Rapaport and Terry Crews as well. In a movie so committed to the trademark Ahnuld fireworks, it’s cool to get a whiff of actual thought provoking, Asimov-esque intrigue with the cloning, a concept which is fully utilized and really a lot of fun here.
Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger is to this day one the best and most exhilarating action films of the 1990’s. It’s big, bold and full of protein for lovers oft the genre. From the lively villain to the unbelievable stunts to the set pieces, it’s a tough package to beat. A stunning, vertigo inducing opener set high atop a snowy peak that ends in tragedy. A breathtaking airial heist carried out between two planes via cable wire. A whopper of a helicopter crash. Countless bone snapping, visceral hand to hand combat scenes. The list goes on. Sylvester Stallone puts his physique to great use as Gabe Walker, a rock climbing mountaineer guide who is accidentally responsible for the falling death of his best friend’s girlfriend. His buddy Hal (Michael Rooker) blames him no end, and he leaves in personal disgrace. Elsewhere, ruthless backstabbing psychopath Eric Qualen, (John Lithgow) leads a team of dangerous mercenaries through aforementioned heist, plundering millions from a US treasury department plane and disappearing into the snowy desolation. Soon they come across Hal and a group of people touring the region, who are soon hostages. Word somehow gets out to Stallone and he’s back in business, out for redemption and then chance to brutally dispatch this gang of snow pirates. The action, refreshingly absent of digital gimmicks, packs one hell of a punch. Every fight scene feels breathless, dangerous and desperate. Every blow is thunderously felt, courtesy of director Harlin’s commitment to his work and the efforts of a stellar stunt team. Stallone isna beast and I forget that every time I haven’t seen him in a while. He’s almost as big as the mountains he scales here and each and every bad guy damn well finds this out. Rooker is as intense as he always is, love the guy. Lithgow is a freaking villain for the ages, in a role intended first for David Bowie, then Christopher Walken. I’m glad the ball ended up in his court, because he subsequently knocks it back out of the park with his cold blooded, deliciously evil performance. He makes Qualen so scary and merciless that even his own people get the jitters around him. There’s also work from Rex Linn, Caroline Goodall, Craig Fairbrass, Max Perlich, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, Don S. Davis, Bruce McGill and Janine Turner. This is just one of the finest action movies to ever swing into theatres or onto dvd. Brutal, scenic, adventurous, exciting, violent, snowy, just plain kick ass. If you don’t like this movie, you don’t like ice cream.
Antoine Fuqua’s The Replacement Killers is one of the most stylish and visually synergistic action flicks ever made. It’s like John Woo meets John Wick, and seriously has some cool to it. Chow Yun Fat, that effortless, laid back badass, plays lethal hitman John Lee, who suffers a crisis of conscience at the worst professional crossroads. When Detective Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker adds to the noirish feel) kills the son of powerful Chinese crime boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), he and his family are marked for death by the syndicate. Lee is employed to take out his young son, but holds back in the last moment, making a split second decision to defy Wei, take a rogue’s path and create a huge problem for everyone involved. Now, Wei has replacement killer after not only Lee, but Zedkov again and anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. Lee teams up with sexy identity forger Meg Coburn (love me some Mira Sorvino) and the two evade bullets, bombs and multiple murderous assassins all in the highest of style. Chow is the perfect action hero, with a mournful like ability and stoic streak that’s never too serious and always punctuated by his baleful sense of humour. Plus the guy can make bloody magic with two handguns in a career of epic stunt work that is almost as big a feat as that of the characters he plays. Sorvino also has a downbeat energy, adorable self deprecation and tough chick sarcasm that she masquerades with to hide the bruised girl beneath. They are a wonderful team, and I like that the film never outright forced any romance, but rather let the performances subtly suggest it via the absence in the script. Rooker holds up his end with endearing toughness, especially when forced to work alongside Lee and Meg to save their asses, a perfect character arc that he really sells.Jurgen Prochnow is deadly and devilish as Michael Kogan, the only German mercenary I know of that works for a Chinese crime syndicate lol. Danny Trejo and Til Schweiger are hilariously over the top as two silent monster assassins, leather clad death angels hired by Wei to hunt our heroes. The action really steps it up into comic book mode when they show up. Keep any eye out for Frank Medrano, Patrick Kilpatrick and a young Clifton Collins Jr as a street vato named ‘Loco’. Epic cast, unmatched visual style, an action gold mine.
Stephen Sommers’s Deep Rising is some of the most fun you’ll have watching an overblown action horror spectacle, if that’s your type of thing. It plays the slimy underwater alien formula to the hilt, an epic and very funny gory swashbuckler that is sadly very underrated and not too talked about these days. It’s ridiculously watchable, insanely gory and punctuated by one liners and quips that work so well in the flippant context of the script. The story concerns a band of nasty sea pirates who plan to hijack the world’s largest ocean liner cruise ship, and all the riches onboard. They arrive to find the vessel empty of any passengers, and full of something they’ll wish they never came across. A massive and very icky underwater predator has eaten everyone onboard and now has turned its attention to the newcomers. They are picked off one by one in deliciously grotesque kills that show director Sommers in his little seen R rated mode. Treat Williams is a hoot as John Finnegan, a sort of cross between Indiana Jones and Bruce Campbell, a soldier of fortune and adventurer with a vernacular chock full of wiseass quotes and idioms that tickle the funny bone no end. He’s got a sidekick named Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O Connor slays it) and a girlfriend named Trillian St. James (isn’t that the best name ever?) played by Famke Janssen in a fierce, sexy and capable turn as the chick with the gun that everyone loves. The trio make the film dizzyingly entertaining and you find yourself wishing you could hang out with them longer once it’s over. There’s a snivelling villain played by the always smarmy Anthony Heald, and the ragtag group of pirates are brought to life by distinct personalities such as Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell, Djimon Hounsou and the great Wes Studi. Sommers is a seriously underrated director. He spins loving odes to the adventure films of Old Hollywood with passion, wonder and the spark of imagination in spades. And what does he get? Critically and commercially spat on, time and time again, with some of his films not even getting a proper release (don’t get me started on the masterpiece that is Odd Thomas). Hollywood and the masses don’t deserve him and his toiling, thankless work, and yet he soldiers on. What a guy, and what a stellar filmmaker. This ones a testament, a rollicking, bloody piece of creature feature bliss that never fails to knock my socks right the hell off.