Posts Tagged ‘romantic

31
Aug
15

Not Everything Is In ‘Focus’

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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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09
Jun
10

“Dog” Couldn’t Help This ‘Bounty Hunter’

Building a (contrived/convoluted) mystery…

Starring Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baransky, and Dorian Missick. Directed by Andy Tennant

I imagine that in Hollywood there’s a real-life IMF (Impossible Missions Force). No, they don’t quell rebellions or sneak defectors out of countries; they’re job is to take implausible ideas that make no sense whatsoever, get a half-baked script, assign A-list (sometimes B) talent to the project, flood it with money and market the hell out of it. This highly-skilled covert Studio ops group are responsible for such things as making John Wayne look like a Mongol and Charlton Heston like a Mexican, greenlighting the career of M. Night Shyamalan, letting Arnold Schwarzenegger become pregnant in a movie, convincing us that Dane Cook is funny, and making action stars (like Ewan McGregor and Gerard Butler) into romantic leads. I think a conspiracy is afoot.

The movie opens and we’re introduced to Nicole Hurley (Aniston) and Milo Boyd (Butler). Milo’s sky-blue Cutlass is on fire from the trunk. He pulls over and stops, running to the back. Opening the trunk lid Nicole is waving a flare, kicks him in the groin, and runs out into a field. Milo immediately follows chase and tackles her the the ground. We find out that they are ex-husband and wife.

Then, we’re treated to see what happened in the twenty-four hours before that occurred. Enter Milo Boyd, alcoholic bounty hunter on a job. His target: a guy in an Uncle Sam costume on stilts. What Milo doesn’t know is that he’s being tracked by Dwight (Joel Garland), son of a bookie to whom Milo is $11,000 in the red. After a chase through a building and a float accidentally being set on fire, Milo captures his man but is taken in by police as well. He’s bailed out by his friend Bobby (Missick) who tells him that he should get over the divorce from his wife and not drink his life away.

Enter journalist/reporter Nicole Hurley, the only hot female on staff for her paper. Lovelorn loser Stewart (Jason Sudeikis) had a makeout session with her once at an office Christmas party when she was four sheets to the wind and thinks that they have something. She’s late for a court hearing because of a “traffic accident” (she side-swiped a police horse). When info on the suicide of a NYPD officer calls her to a location and time, she doesn’t show up at all. A bench warrant is issued for her arrest…

Which is convenient because the warrant is for $50,000. Sid (Jeff Garlin) promises Milo $5,000 if he can arrest his ex-wife and haul her to jail, which Milo is more than happy to do. Milo contacts his ex-mother-in-law Kitty (Baranski) who tips him off to the fact that she may be at the track. He intercepts her there and tries bringing her in.

Complications arise with the fact that Jimmy, the guy she was going to meet who had info on the police suicide, is kidnapped by a police officer/thug named Earl Mahler (Peter Greene) who is trying to keep everything a secret. Earl goes after Milo and Nicole to kill them both, keeping Jimmy locked in a closet at a tattoo parlor.

A few chuckles ensue as Milo and Nicole hate each other but have to keep each other alive as they avoid Dwight and Ray (sent by Irene, the bookie), Earl Mahler, and Stewart. Needless to say, plot problems and holes abound.

Sometimes I find myself asking, “Where did this movie go wrong?” and you can see from a distance the scene or point in time that everything went south. This is a movie in which you ask yourself, “Did anything in here go right?” Maybe I’m trying to hold a romantic comedy to a certain bar, but it’s the same bar I use for everything else. A movie should have a sense of accountability, not shrug it’s shoulder and be let off with a warning because it’s a rom-com.

That being said the main problem with this film is the story and its presentation. Both suck. The story was aiming to be like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” but lacked the cool satire or even characters (or actors) that had chemistry with one another. Getting a $50,000 bench warrant for side-swiping an NYPD horse? Isn’t that extreme? Maybe it’s because of the cost of living… In a scene where an SUV is trying to push Milo’s Cutlass off the road, the SUV flips even though a) there’s no reason for it to flip and b) the guy who is driving it can fire a weapon and drive at the same time in an enclosed space, which takes some doing. I’m just saying…

And the characters were dumb a lot of times. Milo talks a good game a good chunk of the time but he’s no Duane Chapman (and this is from a guy who isn’t a fan). On a technical level he makes some bone-headed mistakes. Nicole does her fair share, too; in one scene they’re trying to avoid being killed by the police officer/thug/assassin and she’s walking on a concrete floor with high-heeled shoes. Smart.

This was the type of movie that a more-skilled director, like Guy Ritchie perhaps, could’ve done something with. Characters seemed to spout out lines that they didn’t feel comfortable in saying. Every time a plot point occurred I was looking for some guy on the far left or right to be pointing at a white sign that would say “This is what should be happening now.” It was so shoddily half-baked I almost expected a boom mic to fall into view at any moment. The shoot-out scene I mentioned above was so short and anti-climatic I wondered why they bothered having it at all.

A good bit of the problem (and what you really wanna know about) is the real question: do Aniston and Butler work well together? Well, “Gone With the Wind” it ain’t. Butler is a character actor and does well doing just that: portraying a character. Aniston plays Aniston playing whatever. These two worlds are like oil and water. For the first two-thirds of the film both of them barely look at another, as if they were forced to be on some blind date and a camera crew is taping them. After Aniston has a cry she’s “magically” into Butler and the rest runs fairly smoothly.

One final stake in the heart of this review is the music. The soundtrack pieces were okay and enjoyable; the incidental score seemed to “force” a feeling so much that a blind person could tell what was going on. “Are they creeping around in a dangerous place? ‘Cause that’s what the music sounds like.”

Final thoughts? I could not even recommend this over watching “Dog, the Bounty Hunter.”

My grade: C-

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

24
Dec
08

Movie Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

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Another romantic comedy for the low-brow crowd…

 

Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, and Katie Morgan. Directed by Kevin Smith.

 

Was this movie anything more than the chance to shoot a faux porno with Jason Mewes getting the most action with porn star Katie Morgan? Or letting Mewes walk around naked? Or just having Traci Lords on set for back-alley cred?

 

“Zack and Miri” is a movie about lifelong friends Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks), two friends who have lived around each other growing up in Monroeville and now live together in an apartment. Miri works at the Mall while Zack works at the local coffeeshop Bean ‘N Gone. When the bills pile up too high and their water and electricity are shut off, they come up with a sure-fire way to make money: make a porno. From auditions to borrowing money to their location and equipment being destroyed, this film crew experiences it all. More complications arrive when Zack and Miri eventually discover their true feelings for each other.

 

How is the movie on a basic level? It’s okay. I agree with one reviewer who said, “Only Kevin Smith can make the making of a porno boring…” What kind of porno is being made where the films two main stars, Rogen and Banks, don’t get naked? Again, outside of Morgan and Mewes “getting’ it on,” there’s nothing to see here except the “love story.”

 

And that’s really what Smith is all about. “Clerks” was about a slacker convenience store guy and his girlfriend problems. “Mallrats” was about a slacker whose girlfriend worked at the mall and who was about to lose his girlfriend to another mall manager. “Chasing Amy” was about a comic book guy who falls in love with a lesbian. “Dogma” was about a woman who has given up on love and must stop two angels from destroying the Earth (okay, not his common fare…) “Jersey Girl” was about a guy who lost his wife due to childbirth, loses his job, and must not take care of his daughter. He eventually finds love with Liv Tyler. “Clerks II” finds the convenience store burnt to a crips, forcing the slackers to sell-out to hamburger food-chain Mooby’s, while Dante is about to get married but is falling for his female co-worker Becky.

 

See? A chronology of “love stories.”

 

To get back to the review… The movie was okay. It begins with about 30 minutes of all the characters dishing out trash dialog just for effect. Tarantino, Smith is not. While there are funny parts here and there the majority of the movie goes through the motions, feeling like a throwback to an Eighties rom-com. Rogen and Banks do a good job with the material given to them but everyone else in the cast seems to be sitting around, chewing the scenery. Watching a movie about making a movie shouldn’t feel like sitting around, waiting and watching a movie being made.

 

And how can you have a movie with Traci Lords just standing around, and maybe giving that one sorta “insightful” piece of dialog? That would be like having Shannon Tweed read a teleprompter while shooting a commercial for male-pattern baldness.

 

I could go on about Kevin Smith, asking if he’s even relevant anymore but I’ll save that discussion for another time. Smith claims that without Rogen the movie wouldn’t have been made, but I think the movie was made more for Jason Mewes to be with a porn star than anything.

 

My grade: C