Posts Tagged ‘gerald mcraney

31
Aug
15

Not Everything Is In ‘Focus’

focus-2015-movie-poster

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, BD Wong and Gerald McRaney. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Ah. The Art of the Con.

I would’ve said “The Con Is On” but that’s the tagline for a much better (and understated) movie, “Bowfinger (I need to pop that into my player again). Without delving too much into Hollywood History the older con artist with the younger con artist (regardless of sex) has been going on longer than I’ve been alive. According to my memory the last attempt at the male/female con artist rom-com (such as this is) was “Duplicity” starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and Tom Wilkinson and which was a better movie. The pinnacle in my opinion would be the John McTiernan remake of “The Thomas Crowne Affair” with Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, and Denis Leary (although Russo was not a con artist in training so much as an insurance fraud investigator). Here’s the rundown:

Enter Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith), a smooth-as-silk master con/ sociological geek who’s past is dubious at best but be certain he’s been in the game longer than he knew it was a game. He’s the kind of guy who can look you straight in the eyes while he has someone steal your wallet, get your information, and return your wallet without you knowing. One night up-and-comer Jess (Robbie) tries luring him into the “significant other catching you in the act” scheme (see also: “Derailed”). Nicky calls her out on it and leaves. Jess hunts Nicky down in order to learn the ways of the con and proves that she is not just eye-candy but a worthy addition to his team. Their big con comes during a championship football game where we learn of Nicky’s fatal flaw: gambling. After losing a massive amount and winning it back (from BD Wong) they walk away with a few cool million. Nicky gives Jess $80,000 and sends her on her way, disappearing forever. Or so it seems…

Cut to 3 years later in Buenos Aires. Nicky is hired by the head of a racing team to sell a less-than-effective engine design that will give him half-second lead per lap. Suspicious of the con artist is his assistant (Gerald McRaney) who is keeping a close eye on Nicky. Thrown into the mix yet again is Jess who made her way to the track and is considered a “race skank.” Nicky tries to make amends with Jess while scheming against the team he’s selling the “defective” design to while dancing around McRaney and the guy who hired him. However, is it all just a con within a con?

There are things the movie does well and points where you feel someone interjected or just lost sight of the original idea entirely. What works for the film is Nicky detailing how the con is mastered in such a fluid fashion that it’s like watching a magic trick unfold before your eyes. He’s able to spit out psychological/sociological perspectives on nuance and mannerisms that makes you wonder if there’s a college course on this stuff (probably). Robbie proves that she can be smart and beautiful, transcending the source material in a way that almost begs for a spin-off starring her alone. They do work well together.

The letdown of the film is that it feels that the traits of the characters were ditched to rush into a rom-com to make a quick buck. After the setups and the tryout and the championship it becomes Will Smith emoting for an hour and trying to get Robbie back. There’s almost no scene in which Smith is crying, even when he’s supposedly happy being with Robbie. What?!? Did he feel like he was selling his soul to do this film? Does he have a soul left after “After Earth?” And there’s a Gerald McRaney reveal/plot twist that makes you scratch your head as to “Why?” but you’ll find that out should you choose to check it out.

In the end “Focus” is no better nor worse than most other movies. Robbie doesn’t disappoint but Smith does a little. It’s a rainy-day, “nothin’ better on cable”-type movie. For those interested in the male/female con dynamic I suggest the aforementioned “Duplicity” or “Thomas Crowne Affair” remake (or maybe even the original). For those just wanting a different con movie I also suggest “9 Queens,” a foreign film involving a con over some misprinted stamps.

My grade: B-

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21
Jun
10

I’m Not Lovin’ It When an Adaptation Comes Together. ‘The A-Team’

They stayed true to shit blowin’ up…

Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Charlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, and Gerald McRaney. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Based on the TV series, “The A-Team.”

“In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.”

So goes another piece of my childhood: “The A-Team.” Let’s set the Wayback Machine once again for the Eighties and all it encumbered. In a decade that started after the official end of the Vietnam War there came the idea of the anti-hero on television: the guy you shouldn’t root for but you do because he’s out to become the hero. It probably started with Sergio Leone’s “man with no name” trilogy (especially “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) and continued with such fare as the “Billy Jack” series, “Walking Tall,” “First Blood,” “Death Wish,” and “Mad Max” (and its follow-up “The Road Warrior”). In these the antagonist became a victim before becoming the hero; the man whom acts out cathartic feelings of the collective.

Whatever becomes popular in film will seep into television and the anti-hero was no exception. “Knight Rider” gave us a cop (Michael Long, for the trivia inclined) who became injured in the line of duty only to return to fight crime as a lone crusader with the help of a rich benefactor, plastic surgery, and a talking car named K.I.T.T. Or there was Stringfellow Hawk (Jan Michael Vincent), a lone man hired to run a top secret helicopter called Airwolf while the powers that be tried to help him get his half-brother back. And then one of my favorites, “The Equalizer,” about a former British secret agent named Jack McCall who moves to New York City and makes it his job to help out the less fortunate to “pay” for whatever atrocities he committed in his life.

Out of this pool came “The A-Team”: a group of miscreant Vietnam War commandos operating as Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Southern California. There was Colonel Hannibal Smith (George Peppard), the grizzled, cigar-chomping “man with the plan.” Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck (Dirk Benedict), the ladies man and improv actor. Bosco “B.A.” Barracus (Mr. T), the brute force/muscle man of the group with a bad attitude. And finally H.M “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) the weapons/inventions madman. All of them had their quirks and lest we not forget their catchphrases: Hannibal’s “I love it when a plan comes together,” and Mr. T’s “I pity the fool.” It was all big, dumb fun with two-dimensional characters (at best) and when your other choices are the Duke Boys in their Dodge Charger, Magnum cruising Hawaii in his Ferrari, or anything else I’ve mentioned, it’s all par for the course.

Got all that? There will be a quiz later.

Joe Carnahan’s adaptation of the TV series feels a half-hearted, as if the cheese was picked off of the pizza and what we are seriously having for dinner is cardboard with sauce on it. To his credit the characters felt more fleshed-out than the TV series, and the actors who play the roles get them right for the most part (props to Charlto Copley’s take on Murdock), but still… something feels missing.

The action kicks off with Hannibal, bound to a chair by two Mexican thugs who took a wad of cash off of him before letting the Doberman dogs try to rip him to pieces. The guys leave, he gets free, the dogs go after him, they run away, he lights a cigar and sneers. Yep, badass.

Meanwhile some distance away “Face” (Cooper) is in a bathrobe inside a series of rubber tires while a guy places a noose around his neck and someone else gets gasoline to set him on fire. He slept with a General’s wife, the General is getting his revenge, and he’s waiting for Hannibal to show up.

Incidentally Barracus (Jackson) is not too far away, just having gotten out of prison he goes to reclaim his van (a modified version of the TV one) and is heading into Mexico when he almost -literally- runs into Hannibal who forces him at gunpoint to help pickup Face.

Sometime later they are at a medical hospital to pick up Murdock (Copley) who pretends to be a doctor and stitches a lightning bolt on B.A.’s arm and sets Face on fire. Hannibal picks him up because he’s a qualified chopper pilot.

Fast-forward 8 years and 80 missions later. CIA Agent Lynch (Wilson) confronts Hannibal with a mission: retrieve some stolen U.S. currency plates from Iraqis who want to start their own printing press. General Morrison (McRaney) asks Hannibal not to take on the mission because it’s currently being seen to by Blackforest Ops lead by Brock Pike (Brian Bloom). Enter Charisa Sosa (Biel), the standard former-love-interest-turned-bitch to Face. She knows that by telling Face not to do the mission that he’ll do it. And they do. And things go badly.

Morrison is killed which leads to the group being dishonorably discharged and sent to various federal pens. Lynch helps Hannibal break out and he rounds up the rest of the team, from Face living a posh lifestyle (he has a tanning bed) to B.A. Finding peace within himself and adapting a way of non-violence to Murdock being Murdock at another medical hospital. The team is now out to find who killed Morrison, why they were setup, and what happened to the plates.

And that, my friends, is all the setup you need.

Overall, I wish the movie had been more fun. It’s not necessarily the “cheese factor” but it could’ve used a bit of that. Neeson is a great actor and granted the man plays most every role with a deal of conviction, but the Hannibal of the series never had that conviction or if he had it was momentary. Cooper does a good job as being Face but he’s also starting his career for the most part and there aren’t a lot of other parts to compare him to. Jackson as B.A. Barracus lacks the “dumbness” or brute mentality that Mr. T had in the series. Charlto Copley, however, nails Murdock and is a great role for him following last year’s “District 9.”

I had a lot of hopes for this movie coming from the director of “Narc,” and “Smokin’ Aces” and was let down. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare (can anyone given the source material) but had wanted something more; something less placid and surface-level. There are general moments that are funny but for the most part its played as if everyone knows what’s going on all the time which is something that the audience should not see or know. Also there were not enough moments of things going horribly wrong -the movie and its characters keep running as if nothing just happened. We need the ups and downs in order to root for them.

WATCH FOR: Director Joe Carnahan as the liaison at the Mexican medical hospital. Also stay after the end credits to see Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict doing cameos.

My grade: C (re-evaluated)

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com