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God Is Not Dead! (2013)
Running neck and neck with Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas as the nadir in this genre
A young Christian college student takes on his atheist professor in an effort to prove the existence of God in this woebegone misfire that competes with Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas in being at the nadir of a genre already chock full of low points. It is unthinkable that this film would turn even the most wishy-washy skeptic to Christianity, but it could most certainly turn those grappling with their faith against it.
First, one would think that if you were making a film where you were demonizing specific demographics of society, primarily atheists, you would know what exactly it was you were demonizing. An atheist is someone who does not believe in a god - by definition an atheist cannot "hate" God because he/she simply does not believe such a being exists. Yet this film posits that atheists are really all angry believers who just have an ax to grind with God because they have emotional boo-boos. The thought that they legitimately do not believe in God (like Christians do not believe in Zeus or Odin) is an alien concept and sets the film up on a level of unparalleled biased ignorance from which it cannot claim any credibility.
The story itself is based on a widely disseminated internet meme which was subsequently discredited (except in Christian circles) and further betrays an ignorance of how colleges work. No professor valuing their job or their tenure would start off a class requesting that their students sign a paper stating "God is Dead" unless they wanted a whole lot of blowback. And the fact that no one in this class really carps except for the ridiculous hero so that we can get some kind of David and Goliath story is laughable in its own right. Even more preposterous is that the professor then allows said student to basically take over the class for the semester building up to a "debate" that really is no debate. No professor would give this kind of luxury to a first-year student and no fellow student(s) would stand for such foolishness dominating the bulk of their classroom studies. Obviously the film was conceived by people and marketed to people who have little idea how an actual place of higher learning works.
More obnoxious is that all of the "bad" characters are liberal stereotypes that are often the targets of conservative Christian ire (i.e., the professor, the journalist, the attorney). As ignorant as the depiction of atheists is, it is very nearly superseded by the film's depiction of Americanized Muslims - another faction of which the writers apparently know little. We are presented with a Muslim girl who secretly longs to convert to Christianity and who is disowned by her family when they learn of her blasphemy.
The acting is uniformly awful and the "name" leads are no exception. Kevin Sorbo, sporting a devilish goatee, hams it up manically as the professor. Sorbo, who spent years as barely serviceable beefcake eye candy on the TV series Hercules, can now be found in his later years giving shrill bigoted appearances on conservative news shows demonstrating that former beefcake is better seen and not heard. Co-lead Dean Cain is largely remembered as being the only Superman to ever be upstaged by Lois Lane in Lois and Clark - here he plays an angry lawyer and his acting has gotten worse while advancing years have made him appear disconcertingly bloated. The supporting cast is instantly forgettable.
There never really is any question that the "hero" will best the "villain" in one of the lamest debates in film history. The boy presents the flimsiest of arguments/supports for his cause, all of which flummox the educated man so badly that he fumbles the whole thing. Given that there are so many debates between prominent atheists and Christians available on Youtube - comparing those to this is almost surreal with how badly it is handled in this film. Then again, it would have to be badly handled because the real-life debates usually either end in a draw or with the atheists having the edge - depending on how good the debaters are.
Among the film's low points (and there are many), one must include: 1) any time members of Duck Dynasty show up to give the hero a pep talk, because nothing says inspirational quite like a group of homophobic, misogynistic bigots. 2) The fact that not one Christian offers shelter to the homeless Muslim girl - just useless pep talks. 3) Apparently it is not enough for the professor to have lost his girlfriend, the debate and had an epiphany - he must also be smashed to death by a truck to complete his comeuppance, which brings us to 4) after which, all of the Christians immediately gather at a feel-good concluding Christian rock concert, completely unconcerned about the pulverized guy they knew and rock out - including the penniless Muslim convert (who paid her way in how?) and an Asian boy, so blown away by our hero's arguments that he is compelled to enlighten his parents that "God is not dead".
This dreck is a prime example of something that should be shown only in church basements to the most devoted or easily deceived believers who need a fantasy pick-me-up to affirm their faith. How it managed to slime its way into multiplexes is a real mystery, but it certainly belies the fallacy of Christian persecution that something like this can get made and get a release, while some truly marvelous and intelligent films get lost.
Milk Money (1994)
Who exactly is the audience for this mess?
Young Frank Wheeler (Michael Patrick Carter) and his two friends have the brilliant idea to pool their milk money and head to the closest city to flag down a woman to show them her boobs. This brilliant notion allows them to cross paths with V, a prostitute played by Melanie Griffith, who ends up following them back to their small town on the run from her pimp. There Frank's mild-mannered single dad Ed Harris falls for V, not realizing her background.
I am really hard-pressed to figure out who the audience for this film is. It is entirely too smutty for a family film and no where near smutty enough for the adults that may find this theme appealing. Director (and former actor) Richard Benjamin continues to be a director of limited merit. It is absurd that in this day and age kids like Frank and his friends could not see bare boobs by sneaking into a movie theater or looking in art books or Playboy, but would resort to traveling to the Big City and being slapped by offended women who they approach in their naive and guileless way with their sordid offer. And am I the only one tired of the Big City being depicted as a morass of immorality while the Small Town gets idealized into some romantic bubble of innocence? How innocent can it be with kids like Frank running loose (not to mention the one kid's dad who knows V from past experience)? Harris is adequate as Frank's clueless dad, but how disheartening that in a few years time Melanie Griffith went from her Oscar-nominated peak in Working Girl to this dismal development. Griffith looks tired and blowsy as V. She is also reduced to playing one nonsense scene (which truly makes no sense at all) wherein she shows up at Frank's school in a tight outfit so he can give an anatomy demonstration in class. The scene comes out of no where narratively, is not funny at all, and since the film has no nudity it serves no titillation purposes. One is just incredibly embarrassed for all involved.
Naturally, all of this ends with a madcap, badly done car chase with the kids frantically driving V to safety from associated villains, because what cheesy film does not have a car chase for no good reason. Similarly, to say the "happy" ending is beyond a stretch would be pointless.
Van Helsing (2004)
Sounds promising on paper; far less so in execution
Director Stephen Sommers was fresh off the success of The Mummy films, when he apparently had the inspiration to start a new franchise centering on the legendary Van Helsing character. Fanboys everywhere began imagining what older actor would take the part. The announcement then came that hunky Hugh Jackman would play the role of a younger Van Helsing, who would not just hunt vampires but a variety of monsters from the Universal stable. Enthusiasm was through the roof...then the film came out and the end result was like air being let out of a balloon.
Jackman does indeed play Van Helsing, who is an assassin on behalf of the Vatican crossing the globe offing monsters. The film opens with him taking down Mr. Hyde and running afoul of the law. Then he is dispatched to Transylvania to deal with Dracula and his brides that are trying to procreate. This all has something to with Frankenstein's Monster and a werewolf, but if you can figure out how then you are doing better than I am.
The film boasts a strong cast who are often not given anything of worth to do, an array of special effects, and a frenetic pace that will hopefully distract from the fact that the story is an overstuffed mess. The film would have been far more better to have focused on one or two monsters instead of the bunch we have here. We get Dracula and his three brides, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Mr. Hyde and a villainous Igor (badly played by Kevin O'Connor). Frankenstein is never adequately worked into the plot and the Wolf Man seems an afterthought. Along with these characters, the film also must make room for Kate Beckinsale's sexy tough-as-nails gypsy co-hort and David Wenham as a dorky friar aiding our hero. It is just too much.
It also does not help that the film comes across like a wall of noise. There is never much sense or fun or charm to anything we see. The non-stop visual effects are a real mixed bag. The effects involving Dracula and his brides are fine, but Mr Hyde looks like a cross between Gumby and The Hulk and the werewolf effects are embarrassing. Why is it that 30 years ago we were getting state-of-the-art werewolf effects in The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, but these latest CGI werewolf effects look like crap? Also, the plot never makes it clear why the Vatican forces Van Helsing to work on the wrong side of the law when writs from them would instantaneously give him the cache to do whatever need be done.
Of the cast, Will Kemp as the werewolf and Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein may as well not be in it for all of the focus they get. Roxburgh does little but snarl as Dracula. Wenham has some amusing moments and Beckinsale has never been sexier.
I am a huge Hugh Jackman fan. I have had the privilege to see him in films, on stage and in person, and the man oozes personality and charisma from every pore. In Van Helsing, he is completely underwhelming. He has been handed a role that could have been filled by a stunt man without noticing a difference. Van Helsing as written has no character traits, no humor, no charisma, no history and no presence. He stands unsmiling, with a variety of weapons, and grunts or recites lines in a one-note grizzled tough guy voice. The actor that humanized Wolverine and became a star with X-Men is apparently on vacation here. He does get to do a lot of running, jumping, climbing, falling and swinging. He dons a loincloth in one scene, but alas no nudity to compensate for the absence of anything else.
Much could be forgiven if the film was dumb fun (like The Mummy), but it is not. It is loud, annoying, incoherent, squanders a great leading man and promising supporting cast, contains dreadful werewolf effects and ultimately is little more than a big waste of time.
Cabin Fever (2002)
Repulsive, offensive and brainless - which makes it sound leagues more interesting than it is
While I certainly was no stranger to horror and slasher films in my youth and have soft spots for Halloween and even the first few Friday the 13th films, I neither understand nor find entertaining the torture porn genre that has infiltrated mainstream horror in the last couple of decades. Case in point being Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, which actually managed to get a mainstream release, a couple of critics and industry insiders who apparently felt there was something worthwhile here to compliment, and enough press coverage to arouse the interest of genre enthusiasts. The end result is pure torture for the viewer.
Roth, who claims to be a horror genre fan (as well as believing he is a competent director), sets his story in the woods and provides five 20-somethings to blunder their way into his nightmare. Instead of a mad slasher, we get instead flesh-eating viruses. This might seem novel if there was any effort to develop anything in this screenplay, but I digress. In brief, our five nitwits encounter a gaggle of locals, who all appear to be suffering from some form of in-bred stupidity and played by people who were apparently rejects from casting for Deliverance. At one point, a wandering hermit obviously in the throes of a deadly illness, comes to them for help and our intrepid group naturally do what any would do to a sick person seeking help, they attack him and set him on fire. The burning carcass drags its way to the drinking well and falls in, thus contaminating the water supply to their cabin and starting an uninventive countdown of which one will be the first to contract the illness. It is not really spoiling anything in Roth's nasty film to say that it will naturally be the only person who experiences an iota of remorse for the death of the hermit.
Pretty much nothing makes sense in Roth's asinine film, but it matters little to the director whose only goal seems to be to set the stage so that increasingly grotesque gross-out effects can take over. Filmmakers like Roth need to understand that there is a huge difference between being scared and being repelled - and if you cannot tell what that is than you are in the wrong line of work. Roth's idea of brilliant dialog revolves around how many times the F-word can be said in quick succession. "Character development" here seems to be confused with how stupid and unlikable the characters can be made to be. All five of the central characters are revealed fairly quickly to be dumb, thoughtless, selfish, hateful, nasty predators without any moral compass. The peripheral characters are not any better and feature such lunatic moments as a wacko who tries to bite people, while shouting "PANCAKES" and doing faux karate moves...seriously! Was it really impossible to come up with anyone who could evince even a moment's sympathy? Perhaps making everyone ethically repugnant is supposed to make the viewer "enjoy" watching the flesh blister and rot from bodies. I suppose there are those who enjoy such sights for their own merits. The ending is predictably downbeat and preposterous, but by that time if you are still watching, you probably will just be relieved that it is over.
Of the cast, I only recognized one guy that used to be on the lousy Boy Meets World, but no one makes an impression in any good way here. Roth's direction, like the story, is nightmarishly incompetent. He has no idea of pacing or how to generate suspense - he just starts hurling blood, mucous, grime and body parts at the lens and hopes something will terrify the viewer. He has also revealed himself to be a one-trick pony - by consistently recycling the theme of young people who travel out of their comfort zone into a foreign setting and pay the price. His next films were the odious Hostel and Hostel 2 (with the victims being gruesomely tortured to death in Eastern Europe) and coming soon will be The Green Inferno, his feverish tribute to the Italian cannibal genre featuring young people crashing in the South American jungle and being eaten. Oh what ingenuity! One trembles to think what repulsive imagery Roth has concocted for that cakewalk.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
There is a rule in film that special effects and comedy do not successfully mix and it is usually true. Yet every once in a while, a film will buck that trend and prove the exception to the rule. Ghostbusters is one example. This film is another.
Meryl Streep stars as aging acting diva Madeline Ashton, whose quest for eternal youth and beauty is equaled only by her hatred of and rivalry with frumpy childhood acquaintance Goldie Hawn. When Streep once again steals Hawn's fiancée, this time a plastic surgeon played by Bruce Willis, Hawn has a psychotic break and is institutionalized, setting the stage years later for a battle royale that ultimately defies natural law and features plots, murder, mayhem and the undead.
At the time this film was released, I would have been hard-pressed to recall any old-style broad slapstick comedies in the last decade or so, much less one anchored by two leading ladies at the peak of their form. Additionally, it is wonderful to see a wild, over-the-top comedy that does not feature characters sputtering profanities every two seconds or showcase a joke regarding someone humping a pie or other bizarre sex act. Everything in the film is played broadly and the comedy comes at us both verbally and visually. The approach, pitch-perfectly directed by Oscar-winning Robert Zemeckis, works brilliantly and captures the frenetic pace of a great Warner Brothers cartoon.
The look of the film is inspired with a tone that almost seems like a cross between Sunset Boulevard and a Gothic horror film. The cinematography is lush and the visual effects complement rather than upstage the wild comic antics. I especially like the surreal visuals of the comedic sequence where Hawn outlines her plot to Willis of how they will murder Streep and make it look like an accident. I also enjoy the eerie and funny sequence where Willis goes in search of Streep in a morgue and passes three floating nuns en route.
Streep and Hawn are simply terrific here, playing archetypal characters with the right broad strokes needed to keep us glued to what happens next while realizing that these two people deserve each other and what comes their way. It is such a delight to see Streep cut loose and have a field day, although Hawn matches her nicely. Streep's choking reaction to seeing the newly svelte Hawn at a book launch is priceless and her facial expressions while eavesdropping to find out what is going on are superb. I also like her interactions with Isabella Rossellini, as a purveyor of an exotic and very expensive youth restorer. The screenplay is filled with memorable comic jibes that allow all of the performers moments to shine and Zemeckis provides some great slapstick set pieces for the actors to show off their physical chops. Willis, whose performances far too often are split between lifeless or smug, is particularly droll and inspired here making a hilarious transformation from a confident surgeon to a drunk balding, paunchy milquetoast mortician constantly overwhelmed by the events around him.
The final sight gag of the film often takes people by surprise, but I find it a perfect natural progression of the limitless mayhem unleashed by the lead characters. You can keep the repellent and appalling comedy of the Hangover films, I would much rather spend time with Streep and Hawn, and I have found that whenever I stumble across this film on cable, it is often just a funny as when I first saw it on its release.
The Invisible Chronicles (2009)
Potential for low brow fun ruined by Decoteau's odd timidity
Love his films or hate them, even detractors must grant that director David Decoteau certainly has a unique niche that he fills and is prolific in doing it. Cranking out low budget horror/sci-fi epics with a gay twist, Decoteau has pretty much fashioned himself into the Roger Corman of the genre. And given that Decoteau has exploited pretty much all of the popular targets, it was only a matter of time before The Invisible Man received his attention.
Which brings us to The Invisible Chronicles, which focuses on shy closet case Griffin, who is the target of bullying and a brutal assault by the standard group of unrepentant jocks. When he discovers the secret of invisibility, he naturally uses it to get revenge on those who have tormented him.
Decoteau takes a liberal dose of The Invisible Man and combines it with a shot of Carrie. There are not really any surprises here, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. A director could approach the invisibility theme in one of several ways: 1) dead serious, 2) comically, 3) as a low brow guilty pleasure, or 4) some combination of the above. Anyone familiar with Decoteau will know that his aim will be towards low brow guilty pleasure in a bit of serious vein. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. There can never be enough gay-centric guilty pleasures and it would certainly be a pleasant change of pace to see the old nutshell of the invisible man invading women's privacy turned on its ear with a bit of a gender switch. Unfortunately, Decoteau's film fails on all counts. Decoteau seems to want to give us a low brow prurient guilty pleasure, but he pulls all of his punches, which is a problem with the majority of his films.
On the plus side is that despite the silly subject matter of much of his work, Decoteau is not an untalented director. His films actually look quite good and this one is no exception. The technical aspects are definitely a cut above the usual low budget experience and he populates his cast with almost deliriously gorgeous guys, a number of whom can actually act. Trevor Duke as Griffin is actually pretty solid as well as being easy on the eyes.
What is unfortunate is that despite setting his anchor firmly in gay exploitation territory, Decoteau does not have the courage of his convictions and the viewing experience is often more frustrating than fulfilling. The motto seems to be lots of titillation with no delivery. No one expects anything hardcore from these films, but Decoteau's almost pathological desire to feature no male nudity in his films from the last 15 years or so no matter how appropriate it would be is often laughable and self-defeating. When Griffin's invisibility starts, Decoteau has the money-saving notion that the viewer can see Griffin, but the victims on screen cannot. This is a novel approach that actually works fairly well in that the actors do a convincing job of pretending Griffin is not actually there. Alas, it also showcases Decoteau's foolish timidity. Because Griffin's clothes are not invisible, Griffin must go around nude. This opens up various promising sequences with the naked Griffin stalking and spying on guys in various states of undress he joins at least two of them in the shower at two different points. Yet Decoteau films every scene like his Grandmother is in the audience. Griffin is always filmed only from the waist up. At one point, Griffin is stalking a guy in a swimming pool and it is obvious that the "invisible" man is wearing black swim trunks (were there no flesh colored available that day?). The voyeuristic shower sequences are also filmed only from the waist up. Decoteau does not need to incorporate full frontal nudity, but his stance that he is making an R-rated film of this type and is almost psychotically fearful of including even PG or PG-13 style nudity is more than a little south of ludicrous. Truthfully, contrasting the safe timid entries that cater to Decoteau's personal fetish of seeing handsome dudes in their boxer briefs (but heaven forbid any nudity) that he has been cranking out for the last 15 years with some of his earlier work like the bold Leather Jacket Love Story or even some of the terrific exploitation romps like Naked Instinct or Petticoat Planet, that he was directing under his nom de plume Ellen Cabot, is more than a tad disheartening. Is there no way for him to reach a middle ground? Would it really be so horrible for him to titillate and deliver?
Progressively stupid, not even good for laughs
This is a one of those queasy low-budget downbeat horror films that proliferated in double features in the 1970s.
Wacko herpetologist Strother Martin recruits college jock Dirk Benedict as a lab assistant in his work with snakes (ergo the title). It does not take long for the viewer to figure out that Martin is a loon with an insidious agenda, although it seems to take everyone on screen forever and a day to reach the same conclusion. When not holding court over rodeo-style shows where he antagonizes a King Cobra to the amazement of a sparse handful of gawkers, Martin spends inordinate amounts of time in his lab - ostensibly doing work on creating antidotes for snake-bite victims. He is assisted for the most part by his young nubile daughter Heather Menzies, adorned with large unattractive spectacles to try to convince us that she is not a beautiful woman and is incredibly brainy. The eyewear fails on both counts. However, with one assistant already, and not exactly swimming in work or loot, the addition of another lab assistant, especially a courteous young buck without a brain cell on display does not make a whole lot of sense unless Martin has something sinister in mind. Naturally, it does not take long for Benedict and Menzies to start making goo-goo eyes at each other, much to Martin's consternation. Martin insists on injecting Benedict with a variety of serums, which he insists are standard for herpetology lab assistants.
In fairness, the direction is fairly competent and there are some moments of suspense, which will probably be magnified for anyone with a fear of snakes. What kills the film is that the storyline is so absurd and too much relies on characters acting stupidly even more so than in the average horror flick.
For instance early in the film, Benedict sheds a top layer of skin like a snake shedding its skin. Any rational human being would begin to suspect that there was something suspicious in those injections that Martin has been pushing and would seek a second opinion, but the dutifully docile Benedict simply takes Martin's word that it is "normal" and goes on as if nothing strange just happened. And has anyone run into a college jock that behaves the way that Benedict does in this film? He is completely without attitude, painfully polite and helpful, takes everything his elders say at face value and, even when obviously sickening and in pain in the latter portion of the film, still allows himself to be led around by Martin. He may as well have VICTIM tattooed on his forehead. Never once does our lunkhead guess that he is dealing with a backwater Dr. Moreau hoping to transform humans into reptiles. And are we seriously supposed to believe that Menzies lives and works in this same compound with her crazy dad, has a romantic relationship going with Benedict, and suspects nothing? To drag out the proceedings, outside interference enters in the form of kindly coach Richard B. Shull who becomes suspicious when Martin starts limiting access to Benedict and strapping bully Reb Brown has designs on Menzies. When Brown tries to sneak into Menzies bedroom and accidentally kills her harmless pet snake, you know his days are numbered.
Character actor Martin takes the whole thing very seriously, which is not very helpful. Benedict and Menzies are solid, but stuck playing characters so idiotic that it is hard to be sympathetic.
The film seems to be flirting with exploitation status, but never really has the bona fides to make it. For instance, the murders are committed in a largely bloodless fashion, so gorehounds will not be sated. The film throws in an odd and completely pointless skinnydipping scene for Benedict and Menzies, but then films it Austin Powers-style with laughable painted on foliage to protect the modesty of the leads. However, later the filmmakers go the opposite route providing nudity from hunky Brown in the shower when Martin stages an attack on him, which makes the timidity of the earlier scene seem particularly puzzling.
The film has no humor, so it fails to be a campy guilty pleasure. As it unwinds, it also becomes progressively dumber, with a jaw-dropping conclusion that almost seems written by someone on acid. Truly nothing ends well for anyone: the authorities descend on Martin's lair too late to prevent anything. The final ludicrous moments feature a snake being ravaged by an escaped mongoose, while the camera freeze frames on Menzies' angst-ridden shrieking countenance. As the image fades to black, it is hard not to initially wonder did someone really get paid for writing this?
The only revenge taken is on the viewer
From the latter 1980s into the early 1990s, actor Kevin Costner seemed to lead a relatively charmed professional life, appearing in such popular films as Silverado, The Untouchables, No Way Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK and his Oscar-winning spectacle Dances With Wolves, before tanking and never really quite recovering from Waterworld. In the midst of this success stands a little-seen "action" film called Revenge, which came and went very quickly and won over neither critics nor viewers, before being forgotten in light of DWW's success later that same year.
The film centers on former Navy pilot Costner who, for some reason, thinks it is a great idea to take a vacation at the palatial estate of an organized crimelord (Anthony Quinn), who he once transported on a hunting trip, or some such rubbish. It does not take long to see where the predictable film is going when we are introduced to Quinn's much-younger wife, Madeleine Stowe. Before you know it, Costner and Stowe are having quickies in the closet, while Quinn is doing solo lambadas on the dance floor at his estate. It does not take long for Quinn's minions to be dispatched to beat up Costner to near death and kidnap/brutalize Stowe, and then...well, quite frankly, most discerning viewers won't care.
To say that the film's pace is stillborn would be complimentary. It has little in the way of surprises and trudges very slowly from point A to point B. Pretty much every character is unlikable and unsavory in some capacity. For a torrid liaison that "cannot be denied" as the posters heralded, the chemistry between Costner and Stowe is nearly non-existent and not helped at all by director Tony Scott's glossy, Calvin Klein-inspired love scenes. Worse, the film is entirely too long and convoluted for such a simplistic core story. It goes without saying before the lights dim that Costner and Stowe will fall into lust and Quinn will vent his wrath, but this takes a huge amount of film time to happen.
The latter portion of the picture is downright laughable and ultimately pointless. After Costner is beaten and left to die (one presumes), he recovers, hooks up with an entirely new set of characters in the latter third of the film and sets about to ostensibly get revenge on Quinn. The introduction of a gaggle of new people out of the blue is a bit jarring, especially since they are more interesting and well-played by character actors like Miguel Ferrer and Sally Kirkland than were any of their predecessors. Once Costner crashes Quinn's estate, instead of a mano a mano, they basically stare intently at each other before Costner apologizes for shtupping his wife and the satisfied Quinn sends him off to find her dying in a mountain nunnery still clutching a keepsake of his.
The entire endeavor is filmed with precious little in the way of action and conveyed with the solemnity one usually saves for eulogies. Aside from Ferrer and Kirkland who manage to make much of little in the very latter portion of the film, this is no ones finest acting hour. Stowe is particularly dreadful. Shoe-horned into costumes so tight that one fears bodily harm was done to the actress, she spends the majority of the film either semi-conscious or demonstrating the emotive abilities of a mannequin. I honestly did not think that the woman could act until seeing some of her subsequent work. And truthfully, if her character was so compelled to have a child that she would face death and dally with the next agreeable man to cross her sight, why on earth did she marry someone as old as Quinn, who has no interest to father a child, to begin with? Quinn trots out the old nutshell of the macho Latin crime boss with almost no deviations. Quinn has played similar roles numerous times and this time is particularly nothing special. Hopefully he was well paid. By contrast, Costner cannot be accused of not throwing himself into the part. He had become synonymous at the time with upstanding American heroes, so it must have seemed a coup to play someone a bit shady and unethical. He gets to wear the kind of beaten-up makeup that looks like your eyes are fried eggs and briefly flashes his well-toned derriere (the only high point of the film). Unfortunately, there is nary a breath of humor to his acting here and he takes things so seriously that one would think he was appearing in a Shakespearean tragedy rather than a lurid, low-rent potboiler.
Revenge is the kind of film that is impossible to recommend to anyone unless you especially despise that person. By the time one has slogged through the whole mess to its ludicrous downbeat climax, Stowe's fate seems rather tame by comparison.
Slick period caper film done in by dull lead
Convincing period settings highlight this uneven film inspired by some of the caper films of the 1930s focusing on a suave cat burglar in London blackmailed into service for the Allies. He is tasked with trying to break into the imposing German Embassy and stealing some gems in an attempt to foil a Nazi plot.
A fun concept somehow goes astray and never realizes its full potential. Director Roger Young and company take an old-fashioned plot, dress it up in dandy clothes, add some dashes of modern sex, violence and nudity, but their final effort falls apart long before the conclusion and, at least in one case, it is not hard to see why.
A plot this simple should move with fleet feet, but the pace instead moves in fits and starts. The bones of a great film are here, but they are never fleshed out enough and some convoluted plot additions do not help. The film drags on long past the point it should have concluded and contains at least one too many conclusions.
The production looks great and sports a fine supporting cast. Bob Hoskins is on hand as a sputtering British bobby who does not like giving the elusive Lassiter a get-out-jail-free card for his efforts. Jane Seymour is as pretty as a porcelain doll as Lassiter's girl Friday. Lauren Hutton has a field day as the sexually voracious and deadly German courier whom Lassiter must romance in order to scope out the interior of the German Embassy. Unfortunately, after presenting Hutton as a truly deadly nemesis, the film completely bungles their final confrontation and fails to show us their love scene, which one would imagine would have been wild indeed.
The film's biggest problem lies with its leading man. Obviously the character of Lassiter conjures up the likes of a George Sanders, David Niven or Cary Grant. In short, it requires someone charismatic, urbane, debonair yet able to pull off the physical action required. After having bored us to death two years previously with a similar period adventure in High Road to China, actor Tom Selleck now torpedoes another period piece. Where debonair is called upon, Selleck gives us dull. Where suspense and action are called for, Selleck gives us lifeless. He comes off as little more than a good-looking prop who can barely summon the energy to move from point A to point B on the set. I would say he is wooden, but I am afraid to libel a tree. He never seems much of a match for Hutton, proves a dismally lacking romantic foil for Seymour and comes off as little better than a stunt man in the action scenes. We have no rooting interest nor concern in what happens with this character and that is largely the fault of Selleck's lackluster performance. By the film's conclusion, quite literally the ONLY memorable thing that Selleck has contributed is in briefly baring his best asset while exiting Hutton's bed in the nude. This stellar contribution is offset moments later when a guard catches him lounging around in Hutton's frilly robe and a scene where the actor could have demonstrated a light comic touch is instead played as if a humorless mannequin inhabited the part.
Rarely have I seen an actor whose low-wattage on screen personality so completely sabotages a film (Rob Lowe's ho-hum performance in Masquerade comes to mind, but that film was strong enough to overcome him), as what Selleck does here. Hollywood was and is teaming with a lot of good-looking leading men, so why filmmakers would choose to fill such a role as this with an actor of arguably no charisma or life is a real head-scratcher. In all honesty, in some scenes Lassiter could have been portrayed by a chair and the end result would offer no difference than what Selleck contributes here.
Get Smart (2008)
A lurching mediocrity and a miscast leading man
A film version of the hit TV comedy series Get Smart seemed a foregone conclusion once such things became the norm. And in the right hands, a successful rendition was possible. Unfortunately, that is not what happens here. The TV show, which was a lampoon of 1960s spy films, featured extensive slapstick and verbal comedy thanks to the chronic ineptitude of CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart (played indelibly by Don Adams). Smart was ably supported by the adoring Agent 99 (the beautiful Barbara Feldon) and was often the thorn in the side of the laconic Chief (the great Edward Platt).
The film takes the same relative set-up and conspires a reason for why amateur agent Smart gets promoted to the field. This time around Steve Carell takes on the role of Smart and he is paired with the initially reluctant Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. The story is as thin as cheese cloth, but it does not need to be deep if the comedy bits work. More often than not, they don't.
The pacing of the film is all over the map. Director Segal does not demonstrate much aptitude for choreographing slapstick, so it often comes out of left field and seems clumsy. He does slightly better with the more serious action scenes...but serious action scenes have no place in a Get Smart movie. At times in the latter half of the film, one feels they inadvertently wandered into Mission: Impossible rather than a comedy.
Hathaway is a fairly good choice for 99. She has the beauty, appeal and is able to mimic Feldon's delivery to a good extent. Unfortunately, there is no chemistry with her older co-star and she actually seems funnier when she is annoyed by Smart than when she is enamored of him. Apparently the screenwriters did not understand the dynamics of the role of the Chief, and rather than a buffet of deadpan comedy, Alan Arkin gets stuck basically playing an upbeat cheerleader to Smart. The less said about Terence Stamp and Ken Davitian as Siegfried and Shtarker, the better. And why Dwayne Johnson is in this film in any capacity is anyone's guess.
The biggest hurdle was finding someone to at least halfway capture the spirit of Adams in the title role and Steve Carell is woefully off base. Part of the problem lies with the screenplay. Sometime Smart is depicted as inept, while other times he is surprisingly adept, which makes no sense. Like Inspector Clouseau, Maxwell Smart was a character of divine nincompoopery, who legitimately thought he was a great spy and constantly failed his way into success. If Adams for one moment gave away the game that he was aware of his idiocy, then the project would have failed. By contrast, this version envisions Smart as a nice guy with low self-esteem who thinks he might be able to be a good agent if only given the chance. He is too aware of when he screws up and spends too much of the film in an earnest puppy dog mode trying to make amends and win over his fellow agents. This is not the character from the TV series and it is definitely not the character that is needed to carry this film to comic glory. Carell may be likable, but he is rarely funny here. And a Get Smart movie featuring an earnest, unfunny Maxwell Smart, is no Get Smart at all.
For a feature adaptation of Get Smart, one would do better to check out The Nude Bomb. It is uneven and misses the participation of Feldon and Platt, but it does feature Adams in full buffoonishness and more laughs in 30 minutes than this adaptation manages in its whole running time.