Prisoner is a rough, disturbing little psychological thriller about a potential prison film, or rather the lonely location scouting sessions of controversial, much disliked Hollywood auteur director Derek Plato (Julian McMahon). He’s an arrogant prick of a dude whose newest film has him scouring abandoned penitentiaries for that perfect location. He’s alone, curiously, until all of a sudden… he’s not. Out of nowhere appears the mysterious Jailor (Elias Koteas), a frightening man who forcefully imprisons Plato, mentally berates him and forces the man to look back upon his long and quite unpleasant past in both the film industry and his disaster of a personal life, prodding him with intimate questions and accusations. This is essentially a chamber piece with the two actors being the only ones who appear in the present timeline, which is punctuated by hazy flashbacks to his life before. McMahon carries himself nicely, handling a well worn arc with charisma and giving off an authentically unlikeable vibe early on. Koteas is a beast of an actor and could scare the pants off of real life convicts, as such he steals the show with a brutal, galvanizing performance. Now, these types of films usually head towards conclusions we’ve seen before, and I won’t spoil anything except to say that although I was satisfied with the way the ending did rise up to meet the rest of the film, some won’t be and may find it cliched, but hey, that’s life. Nevertheless, it’s a taut little mind game by way of a character study, clocking in well under ninety minutes, a sleek little piece that leaves the viewer no time to lag or lolly-gag as it trundles along through it’s intense story beats. Cool stuff.
Despite being somewhat neutered by the ever present annoyance of the PG-13 rating, Red is some of the most fun you can have with in the glib assassin subgenre of action comedy. Bold, hilarious and just a little bit demented, it jumps right off the pages of the graphic novel it was based on for just under two hours of wiseass popcorn movie nirvana, hosted by a cast that’s almost too good to be true. ‘RED’ stands for ‘Retired Extremely Dangerous’, a moniker given to aging ex contract killers who have laid down the guns, but are still closely watched by the CIA. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is one such person, languishing in the doldrums of forced retirement, bored out of his mind and chatting endlessly with a cutey call center girl (Mary Louise Parker). Things get freaky when deranged former associate Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) pays him a visit, belting out wild theories about the CIA sending operatives to terminate him. Before he knows it, Frank is swept up in espionage and intrigue once again, pursued by a slick, ruthless agency man (a deadly Karl Urban doing the anti-007 shtick nicely), with Parker in tow, whose terrified reactions to the escalating violence and deadpan sociopaths around her get funnier and funnier as the film progresses. Helen Mirren is regal gold as a well spoken ex MI6 spook who dissolves corpses in bathtubs full of acid, right before afternoon tea, I presume. Watching this dainty waif rock a Barrett 50 caliber and make red mist out of her enemies is one of the many mental pleasures one can get from this flick. Morgan Freeman takes it easy as another former buddy of theirs from the older, and I imagine, more agile days. As for the supporting cast, hell, take your pick. Richard Dreyfuss is a slimy Trump-esque politician lowlife, an underused James Remar shows up for a very brief cameo, as does that old toad Ernest Borgnine, Julian McMahon once again shows that no one wears a suit like Julian McMahan, and that lovable imp Brian Cox almost walks away with the film as a sly devil of a Russian agent who woos Mirren with the silver tongued virility of a fox. What works so well the dynamic between the three leads; Malkovich is mad as as hatter, Willis plays exasperated babysitter and Parker looks on in horror that starts to turn into amusement with every outlandish scenario. Action comedies are tricky recipes, and it’s easy to let too much of one ingredient slip into the pot. This one keeps a steady trigger finger that’s locked onto the funny bone and positively sails.
Fire With Fire is one in a long string of recent direct to video flicks that Bruce Wilis seems oddly intent on appearing in. Some are cool (Catch 44), some are halfassed (The Prince) and some are just plain poo (Set Up). This one falls in the first category. It’s an overblown and unbelievable little thriller but it has a great cast on it’s side, and when you score Vincent Donofrio for your villain role, you’ll always at least have some merit. The story is pure B movie: a studly firefighter (Josh Dumahel) ends up seeing something he shouldn’t and gets on the wrong side of a vicious neo nazi psychopath (Donofrio) and his crew. Just his luck though, as his foxy girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) happens to be an FBI agent working on a task force headed up by a gruff senior operative (Bruce Willis). Willis has been trying to nail Donofrio and his gang for years, and he finally has a handy little firefighter witness to testify. Donofrio won’t stop though, making their lives hell as he shakes their shit up right left and center. He’s a hell of an actor, especially when playing the baddie (his turns in The Cell, Daredevil, The Salton Sea and Men In Black are legendary), and this loose cannon weirdo white supremacist nut job is one more to add to the canon. Duhamel does his classic laid back pretty boy thing, Dawson is tough and oh so attractive as always, and Willis dials up the grumpy metre for a nice little jaded turn that i actually really enjoyed. Vinnie Jones lends his mug to the role of second in command, 50 Cent shows up (wherever Willis and Deniro go in B movie land, he unnervingly seems to tag along), and watch for more work from Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Julian McMahon, Richard Schiff, Arie Verveen and Kevin Dunn. I like the chaotic formula employed here: a bunch of characters running around, large cast, flashy violent spectacle, flamboyant villain. It almost seems like a 70’s genre piece, and I’d love to have seen a hand drawn, retro style poster with a bunch of stuff sprawled together in a mural like those old school flicks used to do. It sure would beat the generic, vanilla design they went with and I feel like the film deserves more. Great stuff.