Curtis Hanson’s The River Wild is one of those cheerfully formulaic, undemanding 90’s adventure flicks that you can crush consecutively like a case of lite beer, they’re always easy breezy good fun if done properly. This one sees a classic suburban family head for a river rafting expiration led by ex-guide mom (Meryl Streep), reluctantly joined by workaholic dad (David Strathairn) and enthusiastically headed up by their kid (Joseph Mazzello from Jurassic Park). The vacation is going pretty well until they run into a trio of career criminals led by evil Kevin Bacon on the run after a heist, who plan to use the narrow canyons of the river to escape, but they’re without the proverbial paddle of rafting experience and need Streep’s expertise, so they promptly kidnap the whole family and things get pretty gnarly. So the film overall is pretty average for a thriller, exciting enough but nothing to truly cream your knickers over. Streep is sterling great as always and her performance feels almost too good for this film, probably because her talents are obviously a bit above the material. Bacon is impressively evil as the conniving, psychopathic asshole who makes their lives hell, he’s always been able to slip in and out of good guy/bad guy roles with such ease. Strathairn is usually terrific but somehow comes across a bit bland here, John C. Reilly is effective and low key hilarious as Bacon’s hopeless dumb-fuck cohort and there’s appearances from Bill Lucking, Liz Hoffman, Diane Delano, Glenn Moreshower and Benjamin Bratt too. Gorgeous Montana scenery accompanied by a notable Jerry Goldsmith score add to the fun. It’s a good thriller, not a great one.
Sometime an artists whose primary output is writing tries their hand at directing, with mixed results. In the case of Stephen Gaghan’s Abandon, the results are flat out miserable, all across the board when you consider that he wrote the thing too. Katie Holmes headlines the murky tale of a girl whose mysterious ex boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) resurfaces to creep her out after disappearing years before. The film is steeped in darkly shot, choking scenes of mumbling gloom that I suppose were an attempt at atmosphere but just cloud perceptions and numb over any chance of tension or thrills. Holmes has always been a huge talent and she does her best here but you can only do so much with material this bad. Benjamin Bratt plays a hunky detective who gets a bit too involved in her case than he probably should, and ends up standing around looking confused most of the time. Hunnam, whose acting style has always irked me, tries to do the deep dark brooding bad boy thing here, and comes across as listless and bored, his motivations never made clear beyond lurking with vague intent. Just as an example of how humdrum it all is: Fred Ward plays Bratt’s superior officer and when he’s introduced in a dimly lit precinct, he’s literally just sitting on the floor against his desk, looking like he gave up with the script, tossed it in the dustbin and is waiting for them to yell cut so he can call his agent and finally get the next Remo Williams film underway instead of appearing in gothic Hallmark trash like this. It’s interesting because Gaghan showed great promise after this by directing the phenomenal Syriana, then subsequently waded back into the mires of mediocrity with his next feature, Gold. He’s uneven as a director, and this is the lowest point for him. The whole thing fits the title, really; it’s like they Abandoned any hope of making this half decent and just cloaked it in as much hollow, portentous energy they could muster up and hoped no one would notice that there’s no substance to back up the style. The ending is as empty as the rest of it, there’s no resolution, twist or aha moment, it just ends in thin air. Avoid.