There’s a part in Spiral, the new attempt to resuscitate the Saw franchise, where Samuel L. Jackson’s tough guy police captain bellows out something to the killer like “You wanna play games mothafucka, alright, I’ll play!” I was immediately reminded of the part in Scary Movie 4 that parodies Saw with Shaquille O’Neill and Dr. Phil trapped in one of Jigsaw’s dungeons, played for utmost comedic effect. Now, if I make that kind of association to a Saw film that’s supposed to be taken seriously it’s really not a good sign and is a dead indicator of just how inexcusably, punishingly bad this film is, a true spiral of the downward variety. If you’re going to take property like Saw, which has an incredibly detailed and specific lineage and one of the most die-hard franchise fandoms out there, if you’re going to rework that and fashion it into something that’s supposed to nostalgic yet fresh, something that must hold the connective tissue to the lore steadfast yet also open up new neural pathways in the mythology you better make sure you’re on your A-game and come up with something special and…. this is what they fucking did? Really? First of all, Chris Rock and Sam Jackson just don’t fit the bill, I’ll say it. As a father son duo of detectives who work in a precinct packed with morally shady cops (them included) they just seem to stand out in the worst way. Rock is alternatively manic and withdrawn, every note he chooses is off-key, while Jackson just seems bored and confused. Everyone else is miscast, from Hungarian-American bombshell Marisol Nichols as their worried lieutenant to MacMurray from freaking Letterkennny as an ill fated cop from their team who looks like he just walked out from a high stakes poker game aboard a Mississippi paddle-wheeler boat. And as for the identity of the killer? It’s fairly obvious who it is in the first ten minutes of the film, which was a massive letdown. Also the thing is just so bizarrely over-lit, like every scene is just weirdly bright, and even the underground or dungeon scenes that should feel murky and shadowy still have this odd fluorescent sheen, it’s like their gaffer was packing every illuminating device from an aircraft carrier in his gear trailer. As far as ties to the John Kramer jigsaw murders go and any respects paid to the franchise overall, it’s just lazy coincidental conjecture and bad, half assed writing. Like, why did this even need to be a Saw related film? Why did they need to shoehorn the trademark vicious booby trap aesthetic into their dumb, overcooked, predictable cop killer whodunit? And furthermore who thought it was a remotely good idea to add a bunch of silly rap songs to the soundtrack and smother any atmosphere they hoped to generate almost as badly as the lighting does? I suppose they knew they needed some kind of brand name to juice up their lifeless script and try to distract viewers from how much they didn’t even try. Pure shit.
Felon is a bitter,and tragic prison drama that’s packed with wrenching injustice, simmering anger and caged animal violence. Loaded with the kind of tough guy elements which make prison films exciting (check out Lock Up with Stallone), it’s also has a tender side brought forth by its extremely thoughtful and well written script, which explores ideas that are both hard to swallow and very sad. Stephen Dorff, a guy who already has the gritty look as soon as he walks into a frame, plays Wade Porter, a simple family man who is just starting out at life along with his wife (Marisol Nichols). Their hopes and dreams turn into a nightmare, however, when a violent intruder breaks into their home one night. Wade strikes out in defence of himself and his wife, accidentally killing the criminal. Because of the backwards ass way the States run things, he is accused of manslaughter and sentenced to serve out jail time. He is then thrown into the dog pit, literally and figuratively. The penitentiary he is sent to is run by sadistic and corrupt Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau) along with his brutal enforcer Sgt. Roberts (Nick Chinlund). Jackson organizes vicious fight club style matches between the inmates, totally off the books and beyond any correctional legislations. Wade is forced to adapt, adjust and bring out monstrous aspects within himself to survive, and make it through his sentence with both his life and humanity intact. It’s not an easy turn of events to watch unfold onscreen, but necessary in the sense that this probably happens quite frequently to people in real life, and should be seen. The only solace Wade finds is with his gruff, veteran cell mate John Smith (Val Kilmer) a lifer who once went on a massacre of revenge against individuals who murdered his family. Smith is his guiding light, steering him through the hellish carnage of what he’s forced to do and helping him to keep the candle of compassion alive within him, never losing sight of what is essential in his fight to claim his life once more. Kilmer is a force that will knock you flat in this role, an old bull with dimming fury in his eyes, a man with a bloody history that has forged the weary dog we see in the film. Late in the film he has an extended monologue to Wade, giving him both blessing and advice with some of the most truthful and affecting gravity Kilmer has showed in his career. The writer/director, who appears to be primarily a stuntman, should be commended for such a script, that could have easily been a straight up prison flick without the pathos that drips off its heartstrings. We as an audience view this painfully and prey nothing like this ever happens to us or anyone we know, hoping to see a light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel for Wade. I won’t spoil it, but it’s worth the hit that your emotions will take while watching, and there is hard earned catharsis to be had, and penance for the characters you want to shoot in the face along the way. The extends to brilliant work from Chris Browning, Anne Archer, Nate Parker, Johnny Lewis and a fantastic Sam Shepherd as another seasoned convict. This was correct to video as I recall, which is a crime. It’s up there as my favourite prison set film that I’ve ever seen, a soul bearing piece.