Undercover Blues is about as light, breezy and fluffed out as a film can get, to its own detriment in fact. I love a good lighthearted comedy but unfortunately this one tries to be so carefree and leisurely that it comes across as… well just that, something that feels like it’s trying too hard to achieve it’s vibe instead of just naturally arriving there. Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner play former spies who are on vacation in New Orleans, trying to escape the espionage life for awhile so they can raise their baby. When a chance encounter with a hopeless mugger named ‘Muerte’ (Stanley Tucci in a performance that has to be seen to be believed) puts them in the spotlight of their former boss (Richard Jenkins) they are tasked with finding and taking down an easily distracted Euro-trash villainess (Fiona Shaw) who is selling plutonium rods to terrorists.. that’s the loose version anyways, the film doesn’t really have much of a grasp on the reins of its own plot. Pretty soon two dogged detectives are after them, played by Obba Babatunde and the always scene stealing Larry Miller who is doing a voice/accent here that is so bizarre he sounds like he walked out of the looney toons. There really isn’t too much romantic chemistry between Quaid and Turner save for one brief scene and for all their cavalier swashbuckling and attempts at charisma they seem curiously lifeless. Tucci is anything but though as this ridiculous petty criminal, barking out childish threats with a priceless Spanish accent and spicing up the proceedings with his coked up manic energy. Watch for familiar faces including Tom Arnold, Jan Triska, Marshall Bell, Dennis Lipscomb, Saul Rubinek, Chris Ellis, Olek Krupa and a very young Dave Chapelle. I wish I liked this more but it just didn’t have substance or anything to grab ahold of. It’s fine to have easy breezy, fluffy action comedies but there’s still gotta be an interesting story, strong character dynamics and a genuine sense of danger or I’ll just lose interest. This was a great big meh. If you want to see how an effective lighthearted New Orleans caper with Quaid is done, check out The Big Easy with him and Ellen Barkin, an absolutely wonderful romance cop flick that feels genuinely laidback without having to try SO damn hard to convince us it is, like this pot of watered down gumbo.
Blue Streak is one of those flicks I’ve probably seen a couple dozen times, whether I’m tuning in intently, comforted by it as zany background noise, viewed on a lazy summer afternoon or a cozy rainy day in. It’s just about as fun as action comedies get, blessed with an adorably implausible story, packed with both notable comedians and a legion of genre talent and speckled with charming action sequences, just the right blend of over the top and entertaining. I don’t give a wet shit what anyone thinks, I love Martin Lawrence to bits, I think he’s one of the best comedic actors of his day, and never fails to put a smile on my face with his exasperated, frenzied persona and motor-mouthed cadence. He’s petty thief Miles Logan here, leading a crew of hapless jewel thieves including Dave Chappelle, John Hawkes and reliably villainous Peter Greene, who double crosses the lot of them in attempts to make off with the loot. Forced to stash a big ass diamond in the air ducts of a building undergoing construction before a stint in the slammer, Miles is released from jail, maniacally frustrated to learn the completed structure is now… an LAPD police station. What ensues is one of the silliest gimmicks in film history: Miles fakes a heap of impressive credentials, successfully impersonates a high ranking officer and infiltrates the ranks of LA’s finest in hopes of snagging that rock from the air vent. Of course, a risky shtick like that is never as simple as planned, especially when both tweaked out, hilarious Chappelle and murderous, scary Greene blow back into town looking for him. The real value lies in his interaction with all these cops though, which borders on Mel Brooks style satire it’s so cheeky and unbelievable. Rookie Luke Wilson and salty vet William Forsythe are tasked with babysitting him as he blunders from scene to scene, and via his inherent street smarts, accidentally starts solving cases and making arrests, when he’s not discreetly turning perps loose out the back door of the station. It’s a full blown laugh riot in areas, numbingly juvenile in others, but never short of a blast to sit through. The cast is peppered with wicked supporting turns from Graham Becker, Octavia Spencer, Nicole Ari Parker as an ice queen defence attorney, Frank Medrano, Steve Rankin, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Olek Krupa and more. To take this film seriously is to unwittingly brand yourself a chump, missing the point completely. It’s an asinine, fired up, ADHD riddled ride through farcical action movie territory, and I love every warped minute of it.
I’ve always enjoyed Behind Enemy Lines, a hyperactive, simple minded, highly kinetic Owen Wilson/Gene Hackman war survival flick. It’s lowbrow, full of plot holes and questionable in terms of representing both the military and the Serbian/Bosnian war, but it’s also explosive, jacked up fun that packs a visual and auditory wallop. Wilson is an Air Force pilot who goes awol after a crash, and runs afoul of some Serbian radicals running a sickening genocide operation somewhere out there, while Hackman is the fiery Admiral tasked with coaching him back to an elusive drop point, and helping him avoid obstacles along the way. In pursuit is a nasty rogue general (Olek Krupa), who wants to snuff him out as he’s witnessed the man’s squadron murder his copilot (Gabriel Macht), and also just because he’s the classic stock villain and has nothing better to do. His top assassin (Vladimir Mashkov, almost identical to Niko Bellik of Grand Theft Auto 4) is an Eastern European Bear Grylls with homemade grenades and the pain tolerance of a tank, also chasing poor Wilson. It’s fairly implausible, but oh so cinematic and one I often put on just to work out the sound system of my tv. Crazy souped up editing, jagged freeze frame effects and whatnot ensue, it’s cool and kind of like Tony Scott Lite in a way. Hackman could yell out any dialogue and be convincing, owning yet another role, especially in a scene where he has a wicked shouting match with an A-hole of a UN General (Joaquim De Almeida firing on all cylinders and then some). David Keith has a great bit as another Admiral assisting in Wilson’s plight too. It’s suspenseful, doesn’t take itself too seriously and shouldn’t be subject to too much scrutiny, lest you rob yourself of a pleasurable genre viewing experience. Plus the sequence where Wilson hides in a freaky, mud filled mass grave has stuck with me for years. Good stuff, man.
Home Alone 3 takes everything that was overblown and cartoonish about the first two and triples the excess in every area. The criminals are arch-villains instead of low rent cat burglars, the booby traps are next level, over elaborate funhouse nightmares instead of the blunt simplicity of paint cans on ropes, and generally the vibe strives for bigger, crazier, more more more. It actually works on its own outlandish terms, with a healthy helping disbelief suspension. The film seems to take place either in some parallel offshoot dimension where the Macaulay Culkin stuff never existed, because let’s be real, how many time could such events happen in one country. Either that or they just expect us to believe that this could keep happening to the same family again and again like some hilarious purgatorial curse, which is actually an amazing concept now that I’ve spelled it out. Anywho, the kid this time is young Alex Linz, whose family has routinely left him home alone, and he has unwittingly come into the possession of a super top secret weapons grade microchip hidden in a toy car. The quartet of criminals searching for it are led to his neighbourhood, and wouldn’t you know it, an endless tirade of ultra-violent, slapstick, severely booby trapped shenanigans ensue. The pranks and pratfalls here are seriously convoluted and freakishly well timed, not to mention brutal enough to be borderline horror movie material and so over the top you’d need a team of stuntmen just to get em’ on paper. The silly kid even uses a John Deere tractor to set up a giant trampoline/swimming pool snare. Sequels always feel the need to ramp up everything past eleven on the dial though, and this one cranks it til the speakers blow. Surprisingly, the villains are played by a distinctive and competent bunch of character actors, namely Olek Krupa, John Thornton, Lenny Von Dohlen and Rya Kihlstedt, interesting folks who can usually be found in obscure indie fare and off the wall projects. They get pummelled nearly to death here, by everything from electricity, nail guns, turpentine, murderous rogue lawn mowers, firecrackers and one psychotic parrot with attitude to spare. It’s one entertaining blitzkrieg though, like the first two Home Alone flicks on crack. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson has an early career role as the kid’s sassy sister too.
Eraser is a top notch Schwarzenegger vehicle, and in a year where the only other Arnie entry was the mind numbing Jingle All The Way, it supplies 1996 with that jolt of action from our favourite Austrian juggernaut. Here he’s John Kruger, a US Marshal who specializes in an obscure wing of the witness protection program that literally wipes people’s memories clean before replacement. The technology is naturally hoarded over by big old corporations which as we know aren’t to be trusted in these type of films. During a routine mission to help beautiful client Vanessa Williams, Kruger begins to suspect his own colleagues of some shady shit involving the sale of high grade weapons, and before he knows it he in the crosshairs and on the run with Vanessa tagging along. It’s all smarmy James Caan’s fault really, who plays his devilish, treacherous superior officer at the WitSec agency, a classic case of ambition gone rogue, his villainous cackle trademark of someone you just shouldn’t trust, even before his true colours are bared. The action is fast, furious and rooted in 90’s sensibilities, with all manner of attack helicopter chases, massive artillery fired off at a whim and the the near SciFi concept frequently smothered by the shock and awe campaign of each set piece, which is fine in an Arnie flick really, I mean they can’t all be Terminators and Total Recalls. There’s a neat rogues gallery of character actors filling in the wings in addition to the big guy, Williams and Caan, including Olek Krupa, Patrick Kilpatrick, James Cromwell, Danny Nucci, Robert Pastorelli, Joe Viterelli, Mark Rolston, John Slattery, Roma Maffia, Tony Longo, Melora Walters, Camryn Mannheim, Skip Sudduth and Nick Chinlund as Caan’s unwitting henchman. There’s also a delightful cameo from James Coburn as the WitSet CEO, doing the same pleasant ‘sort of a villain, but also sort of not’ shtick he did in Payback. One of Arnie’s more low key efforts, but still more than serviceable and a slam bang damn great time at the action races.
The Fifth Patient is a super awesome amnesia thriller, in the tradition of The Bourne Identity. It stars Nick Chinlund (in one of his rare lead roles) as John Reilly, an american who awakens in a remote rural hospital somewhere in Africa, with no memory of who he is, how he got there or what’s going on. A local military official (Isaach De Bankolé) interrogates him, believing that he works for the CIA. He has several visitors including a woman who claims to be his wife (Marley Shelton) and a former colleague (Henry Czerny). Gradually he pieces together the fragments of his damaged mind and suddenly has memories of being involved in a terrorism plot, planting seeds of doubt and causing him to suspect he isn’t who they think he is at all. Now all he can trust are his instincts, wary of everyone around him and unsure of his own past. It’s a serpentine story with hefty work from Chinlund who handles all facets of the character superbly, including some third act surprises. Sometimes these type of thrillers fall apart at the seams in the conclusion, tripping over the rug they’re trying to pull out from the audience in terms of plot points. Not this one. It’s well constructed and makes concise sense of its story right up to the last frame. Also watch for work from Brendan Fehr, Olek Krupa as a mysterious russian prisoner and the great Peter Bogdanovitch in a nearly unrecognizable turn. Now, I’m fairly certain that this one was never officially released back in 2007, because you literally cannot find it anywhere, it doesn’t have a legit poster and even seems nonexistent in some databases. Years ago it popped up on Netflix canada for about a month, thus ending my tedious quest to see it. You’d think that such a solid film with the prolific actors in it would have been treated better, but for one reason or another, it’s been forgotten. Hopefully one day a distributor will pick it up, because it’s quite the well made, entertaining thriller with a crackling lead performance.
The Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading is the duo at their height of trolling the audience, a mood they seem to make some of the most devilishly funny films of their career. This one reminds me of long days full of running around, confusion and missed appointments, days where I get home and reach the end only to realize that for all the frenzy, nothing I did all day was really of any consequence. This film is sort of like that; a whole lot of clandestine nonsense and tomfoolery that adds up to.. well, not much of anything in the end. If that sounds like I’m being negative, I’m not. That’s part of the Coen’s charm and a core aspect of what makes this one so hilarious. It’s also full of complete dimwitted morons, which only adds to the chorus of lunacy. John Malkovich teeters on the borders of mania, scary and funny as ex CIA half wit Osborne Cox, in a performance so utterly Malkovich that he almost seems like some other actor parodying him. He’s got a cold hearted bitch of a wife (Tilda Swinton) who is fooling around with even bigger idiot Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney is a riot) who is also fooling around with anything that has a pulse, being the squirrelly sex addict that he is. Cox has started a memoir (or, ‘mem-wah’, as Malkovich ludicrously intones it), the contents of which are on a disc that end up in the hands of yet even bigger idiots. Linda Litzke (Frances Mcdormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) run a gym called Hardbodies (only the Coens, folks) and see the disc as ‘secret spy shit’ they could use to make a buck. That’s where the plot hollers off the rails into pure madness, as each and every character makes the dumbest possible decision along the way. J.K. Simmons are gold as two CIA honchos who are more puzzled than the audience, Richard Jenkins trolls perhaps the subtlest of all, and the cast also includes Jeffrey Demunn, Olek Krupa and a meta cameo from Dermot Mulroney. Among the cloak and dagger chaos, the Coen take every chance they get to spoof and lovingly ridiculue society’s cringe inducing stereotypes, until you start to realize they’re levels of exaggeration aren’t all that over the top. Pitt is gold as the air headed gym rat, Clooney pure screwball, and Malkovich is a force of demented nature, his exentuated word pronunciations reaching a boiling point of absurdity here. This is up there with the Coen’s best, and certainly one of their funniest hours.