You’d hardly ever catch me giving praise to a Rob Schneider movie as he’s usually intolerable, but Big Stan deserves a shout out, both because it’s almost quality comedy and it has gotten less than half of the publicity given to other Rob flicks, which are all just terrible (remember The Hot Chick? Ew). Schneider is probably the least appealing, most irritating little mole rat out there, so you have to kind of grin and bear it here, but the comedy itself is kind of worth it. As Stan, Rob is a selfish, fraudulent little bastard real estate salesman who is busted selling faulty deals and given a three to five year in prison. When an ex-con bar patron (Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggarty looks like he can’t believe he agreed to say the dialogue in his script) scares him with tales of rampant rape in the joint, Stan sets out to become ‘un-rapeable’ before his sentence, with a little help from King fu guru The Master, played by a chain smoking, growly David Carradine in a parody of his former career. Armed with skills and sweet karate moves, Stan gets processed and pretty much almost incites a riot the first day, until the prisoners realize there’s no fighting him and he’s pretty much big boss. Abolishing prison rape, setting some new ground rules around violence and introducing salsa dancing are just a few of the changes brought on by him, and the prison sequences are the best of the film. Stan has a sidekick in Henry Gibson, locks horns with the obligatory evil Warden (the great Scott Wilson) and it all parades by with necessary silliness and some semblance of a life lesson that ultimately gets lost in aforementioned silliness. As you can probably surmise, it’s about the farthest thing from politically correct humour as well and very much milks its R rating, so put your thick skin on if you give it a go. Also starring the likes of Jennifer Morrison as Stan’s wife, M. Emmett Walsh as an enthusiastically crooked lawyer, Kevin ‘Waingro’ Gage as the head guard, Randy Couture and others, it’s surprisingly well casted for a such a small movie that almost feels like it was funded by Schneider himself, as he directed it too. Usually I’d be the first to just rip into this guy and his awful, near self destructive output (remember The Animal? Or the Deuce Bigelow sequel?? Fuck), but this one really isn’t all that pitiable, but you’ve been warned, it’s cheerfully in bad taste and if you’re easily offended by off colour humour, steer clear.
Paparazzi is one of those ones that probably sounded pretty silly on paper, but one of the studio execs had a good sense of humour on a morning after getting laid and said “aw hell, green light this just for kicks.” It doesn’t hurt to have Mel Gibson as a producer either, who also makes the teensiest cameo. The concept is simple: action film star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is harassed by a sleazy hyena pack of determined celebrity photographers, until they take it one step too far, resulting in tragedy. Bo then plays the art imitating life card, goes all vigilante on them and quite literally hunts each one down and kills them. A synopsis like that has to illicit a dark chuckle from anyone who reads it, and you’d think the resulting film would be oodles of fun, but they’ve somewhat played it safe. A concept this ridiculous should be over the top, reach for the stars insane, a hard R black comedy Death Wish set in Hollywood, if you will. What we get is something more on the glossy side, the filmmakers dipping their toe into the pond of potential, yet never saying ‘fuck it’ and diving right in. The paparazzos are played to the heights of hilarity by a solid scumbag troupe: Tom Sizemore is so perfect as their a-hole ringleader, just a dime piece of a casting choice. Daniel Baldwin looks seriously haggard, while Tom Hollander and Kevin ‘Wainegro’ Gage round out this quartet. Dennis Farina is fun as a sharp, shrewd Detective who gets wise to Bo’s act as well. It’s all serviceable, and yet I wish it went that extra mile to give us something downright shocking and memorable. Perhaps they should have reworked the script, brought in a wild card director and gone the indie route. Oh well.
Looking for a moody Atlantic City crime drama that isn’t Boardwalk Empire? Well you’re gonna get a review of one, anyway. Gunshy may not have all the bells and whistles of a studio produced film, and admittedly is a little tattered around the edges as a result, but it’s still a solid, quaint little fish out of water story about a man out of his depth and in deep water with some dangerous people. Jake (William L. Peterson) is a failing journalist who yearns to live on the edge, mired in the doldrums of a creative sinkhole. After his boss (R. Lee Ermey cameo) fires him, he heads to the one place that offers unconditional solace to us writers all over: the bar. After an altercation with a violent scumbag (Meat Loaf offering up ham to go with his edible moniker), he meets an event more violent individual in the form of Frankie (Michael Wincott) a volatile mob enforcer. Frankie takes a shine to Jake, and in particular is fascinated by his literacy and knowledge of the written word. Frankie offers a bargain: show him the world of books and intellectual fare, and he will navigate Jake through the seedy world of organized crime, teaching each other a thing or two along the way. The plot thickens when Frankie’s girlfriend Melissa (Diane Lane, stunning as ever) drives a wedge between them, effectively creating a romantic triangle. These three leads take subpar material and make it shine, especially Wincott who rarely gets a lead role, but steals every scene with his childlike curiosity contrasted with violent tendancy. The boardwalks do make an appearance here, and they just beg to be filmed, really. In a genre centralized mainly in L.A. or New York, I’d love to see more pieces set in the baleful, windswept oceanfront locales of Atlantic City. There’s numerous supporting turns including Musetta Vander, Kevin Gage as a cop who harassed Frankie on the daily, and intense Michael Byrne as his gruesome gangster boss. It’s silly in places and clunky in others, but when it works, it works, mainly thanks to the great turns from Wincott and Lane, who seem very naturalistic and unforced as a couple. Give it a go.
I’ve always thought that Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane is the movie Michael Bay made in another reality where he matured a little more. I mean that as a compliment to Sir Ridley and the film. The crisp, aesthetically lighted style has Bay written all over it, but it’s employed alongside a human story of one girl facing some truly daunting odds. Demi Moore plays Jordan O Neill, a determind, plucky individual who has her mind and heart set on going through the infamous Navy SEAL training, making her the first woman to undertake the task. She just wants to do her training like the rest of her peers, but unfortunately her situation comes with a tirade of media attention and notoriety, something which she never signed on for. Corrupt politician Theodore Hayes (the late Daniel Von Bargen smarming it up) wants to ruin her, and he’s at odds with a pushy Senator (Anne Bancroft is as stiff and sour as the glass of kentucky mash she constantly pulls from). Meanwhile, Moore begins her training, thrown in with a bunch of testosterone fuelled dudes, rabid dogs who don’t react well to a girl in their midst. Her instructors do their best, but she meets quite the adversary in Master Chief James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) a no nonsense guy with a razor sharp intellect and a personality to fuel it. Mortensen gets to do something really special with the role. Where other drill instructors in film are somewhat caricatures, monstrous, profane loud-mouths with all the depth of a wood plank, Urgayle has a metallic edge that encases real human qualities beneath. Mortensen latches on to that right off the bat, blessing the film with a fully three dimensional person. The cast is great as well, with work from Kevin Gage, David Warshofsky, Jason Beghe, Morris Chestnut, Jim Caviesel and the legendary Scott Wilson who is mint as the cranky base commander. His dialogue is straight out of a Mamet script and Wilson bites down hard, especially in a scene where he verbally owns Bancroft. Moore is combustible, lacing her take no prisoners attitude with the grace and power of her femininity. She’s also in wicked shape too, her physique a reflection of both Jordan’s commitment to her goal and Demi’s steadfast need to tell the best possible story. This one is far better than some critics would have you believe, with a story arc both suited to the character and theme. It’s also just plain powerhouse filmmaking that chimes in on all the right notes. Awesome stuff.
If an eighth grade class raided their parents liquor cabinet, passed around a bottle, got good and loaded and took it upon themselves to make their own version of every 90’s action cliche, it would look something like Ticker, a wonderfully inept mad bomber tale that starts at rock bottom and cheerfully drills farther down, as well as into critics collective patience, it seems. It’s silly clunky and all over the place, but there’s a scrappy likeability to its amalgamated stew of genre tropes, masculine posturing and endless explosions. The bomber in question is Alex Swan (Dennis Hopper), a homicidal Irish extremist intent on making life hard for the San Francisco bomb squad, led by explosives expert Frank Glass (a laughably zen Steven Seagal). Hero cop Ray Nettles (Tom Sizemore) previously lost a partner to bombers and has a big score to settle with Swan. And so it goes. Bombs go off. Cops argue. They chase Hopper, who eludes them until the next set of fireworks destroy a wall glass panels or a bridge. Sizemore is surprisingly sedated, not seizing the opportunity to use his lead role as an excuse to tear through scenery like a bulldozer, as is usually his speciality. Seagal is so silly, his intended gravitas landing with all the profundity of an SNL skit. Hopper is demented, even more so than in Speed, and the rental fee is worth it just to hear his perplexing, absolutely wretched Irish accent. Not since Tommy Lee Jones in Blown Away have I laughed that hard at an actor butchering the dialect to high heaven. There’s appearances from Nas, Jaime Pressley, Kevin Gage and the always awesome Peter Greene as ana a-hole fellow cop that hounds Sizemore any chance he gets. Quite the cast, and in a perfect world the film they wander through would match their talent. I watched this with the same morbid curiosity that the bystanders gawking at the resulting destruction of one of Hopper’s bombs no doubt had: incredulity and the inability to look away for missing a moment of a disaster unfolding in front of you.