So… I don’t quite get… how this film ever got green-lit, aside from Johnny Depp pulling a few strings. It’s like the most unfunny, painful thing to see unfold, like a Pink Panther flick with all the wit, heart and humour sucked out of it by dementors, leaving nothing but an acrid, soulless shell. That may sound harsh, but give David Koepp’s Mortdechai a day in court yourself and you’ll probably have similar things to say of it, or worse. Depp plays the titular buffoon, an aristocratic, borderline senile art dealer with a plummy British accent and a silly moustache that becomes the butt of a tiresome running joke involving the gag reflex of his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow, barely even trying with her accent). Mortdechai becomes involved in some overwrought global art-hunt that makes little sense and drags on for an interminable length, with his trusty lusty manservant Jock Strapp, ha ha, (Paul Bettany miscast in a role better suited for someone like Jason Statham or Vinnie Jones). Ewan McGregor and his sunny disposition show up for a while as a detective with the hots for Paltrow, as well as Olivia Munn embarrassing herself in a role that’s well beneath her, and an unforgivably underused Jeff Goldblum, showing up so briefly that it’s a wonder he agreed to waste his time here at all. This is junk of the highest order, not even fit for vague background noise as one immediately just tunes into tallying up the many ways in which it blows. You’d think Depp would know better, but he’s still in the preening dress-up quagmire phase of his career that he hasn’t been able to wade out of yet. He tries hard here, but every effort waddles forth like a lame duck, every comic beat royally missed. Don’t bother.
Surprisingly, The Sum Of All Fears is my favourite film version of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels. Alec Baldwin did a bang up job in the superb Hunt For Red October,
Harrison Ford held his in two beyond excellent entries, and we won’t speak of the Chris Pine/Keira Knightley snooze-palooza from a few years back. Why then do I gravitate towards this Ben Affleck incarnation? Who knows. Battfleck himself makes an adequate, inquisitive Ryan, on the younger end of the rope and under the guidance of CIA Yoda Morgan Freeman. I think it’s the early 00’s tone of the film itself though, the whip smart editing, Bourne-style escalation of suspense and terrific ensemble cast, a hallmark among Clancy films. Affleck embodies a younger, inexperienced Ryan whose infamous intuition is just breaching the surface of his character, right on time for a deadly plot to set off a nuclear device on American soil. A German radical (Alan Bates, underplaying evil nicely) with vague ties to a Neo Nazi faction is cooking up a false flag attack against Russia, using a long dormant warhead supplied by arch mercenary Colm Feore. Or at least I think that’s the crux of it, these cloak and dagger affairs can get pretty dense on you sometimes. There’s a sense of global danger though, a level of stress that ratchets up until even the stoic US President (an explosive James Cromwell) begins to lose it. The Russian President (Ciaran Hinds) gravely tries to sort out the misunderstanding, whilst Clancy staple character John Clark (Liev Schreiber gives Willem Dafoe a run for his money) covertly smokes out conspirators. Unease and tension nestle into the narrative, and when that impending disaster is minutes away during a hectic NFL game, you can feel the suspense in the air. The supporting cast is rich with talent including Michael Byrne, Bruce McGill, Philip Baker Hall, Josef Sommer, Ron Rifkin, Lisa Gay Hamilton and gorgeous Bridget Moynahan as Ryan’s fiancé. I’ve got nothing but love for Red October, Patriot Hames and Clear & Present Danger, but something about this one hit a frequency and resonated with me a little better, coming out on top as the most re-watchable, enjoyable entry.
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.