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Almost everything about this movie is off. The thin plot, the uninteresting dialog and characters, the silly, clichéd flashbacks, even Beckinsale's character's awkward last name.
It begins with a plane crash in Antarctica in the late 1950s. This action sequence is badly staged, and the idea that an out-of-control plane can land almost at a normal angle and remain relatively intact is simply unbelievable.
There's something on the plane that certain people want, but we never really know who they are, or what it is, right until the end, and we never have a reason to care much either way. Beckinsale appears to be psychic when she puts together the exact sequence of events that happened on the plane. The co-pilot MUST have gone back to kill the passengers? Why not one of the passengers ask him to come back and walk into an ambush? The movie is not worth the time and effort to watch.
The Fog (2005)
Remakes are the fashion nowadays, and The Fog was a good candidate. Not because the original is bad, but because it was so good that it's strong story could likely stand the test of updating. Unfortunately, the remake turned out not to be much of a test.
To make this short, the only good things in this movie are Selma Blair and some sweeping shots across the island and surrounding water. Tom Welling is ineffectual in the lead role, and - on this evidence - Maggie Grace simply cannot act. She comes across as a Paris Hilton type - someone famous for being something else, who tries their hand at acting and fails miserably. The ineptness of her performance is such that it really detracts and takes the viewer out of the movie.
Some things get changed around from the original, not for any great benefit. With the journal in Grace's hands, we get the backstory piecemeal and in a more confusing way than in the original movie. For a horror movie, there is virtually nothing to get scared by. The ghosts are about as scary as the ones from Pirates of the Caribbean.
In all, this film is actually a testament to the skill of the makers of the original movie, which is superior in every respect. Twenty years later, with far more technology at their disposal, the result is an abject failure on every level.
House of Wax (2005)
There is nothing remarkable or even close to original about this movie. Almost any scene will recall a movie that has already been done before - from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Basket Case to Cabin Fever and a host of others. Some of this may be intentional as a homage, but when and where are we going to get original voices making original films, or at least films so startling that they make one sit up and take notice? Ones that don't have to ride on the coattails of previous movies? This movie's biggest problem is that it has as its main drawing point the presence of Paris Hilton. Although "presence" is too strong a word. She cannot act, so she stands in front of the camera and recites lines. The rest of the cast do pretty much the same, stumbling from scene to scene with nothing of real interest or significance happening. The characters are the usual cast of misfits, and seem as manufactured and unmoving as the waxworks in the titular House of Wax.
Where they came from is not significant, where they are going - some nameless "football game" - equally so. Of course, they made the horror movie faux pas of looking for a shortcut and ended up in a ghost town with a dark and deadly secret. The film-makers also took some shortcuts in churning out a made-to-order piece of work. It does enough to escape bottom-of-the-barrel status, but only just. It's a movie that's so bad it's bad, not so-bad-it's-good. Even that might have been a small victory.
Critical Condition (1987)
Long on potential, short on results
Basically a vehicle for Pryor, this is a rough and somewhat ugly movie, disfigured in part by a surfeit of swearing in a film that doesn't need it and a bunch of vaguely unsympathetic characters. The central plot a framed man who has claimed insanity has to pretend to be a doctor during a blackout at a hospital is intriguing if somewhat convoluted. As a twist on the fish-out-of-water story, it has much potential, in the same way that Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending" has much potential in its premise of a suddenly-blind director having to go through the entire shoot without letting anyone know he is blind. Just as with that movie, "Critical Condition" mainly fails to capitalize on its potential, and the film is oddly slow-moving and genuine laughs are hard to come by.
Pryor does well to work with the underdeveloped material, and Rachel Ticotin adds solid support in the role of the hospital administrator. There is a nice addition of a subplot involving crooks roaming the hospital to add to the tension of the staff and patients trying to survive the power outage, and the film as a whole is at least watchable, but not very memorable. It does not have widespread appeal as a comedy/thriller and should probably be best recommended for Pryor fans only.
The Goonies (1985)
"This is our time"
Some films defy true objective criticism since they hold so much affection in the hearts of viewers, and this would be one such movie. The '80s is one of the foremost decades for producing movies that were "of their time" and this is no exception. For many, the enchantment is closely tied to nostalgia for their childhood, and it is certainly true that many of the markers in our lifetimes are cultural references.
However, as with "Gremlins" which is slyly referenced in this movie nostalgia tends to overlook the technical aspects of film-making. Objectively, "The Goonies" does not fare so well. Part of the problem is inherent in most of the cast being young children, and then asking them to all shout or scream loudly at once with their high-pitched voices, and have a murky sound mix try to cleanly catch the dialogue. Another problem is that once the gang set off on their quest down myriad tunnels and caves, with a restaurant fireplace substituting for the rabbit-hole, it is not easy to follow the trail and put together a sense of exactly where they are in each scene and how it ties to where they were in the last one. There are also times when the "this is our time" speeches by Sean Astin's character come off as being a little too heavy-handed.
Yet another problem is the cutting of a couple of filmed scenes that cause slight disjoints in the narrative. Suddenly the treasure map is significantly damaged without due explanation, and there is a reference to an octopus that is nowhere to be found in the final print. The deleted scenes which explain these plot points are available on DVD.
The film could also have used clearer elucidation in other places, including the attic scene in which the map is discovered, and perhaps a word or two of exactly why a pirate ship was off the Oregon coast pursued by the British as soon as the early 1600s. Not that the origin of the back-story makes or breaks this movie, which should be seen first and foremost as pure escapist fantasy. On that basis, the film comes through pretty well, and while it is not a particularly great movie, it does enough to merit the place it has in so many people's hearts.
Con Air (1997)
Effective OTT action caper
"Con Air" is a film that inhabits the alternative universe where everything is highly combustible, bad guys are always larger-than-life and have a talent for quips, heroes can defy the laws of gravity and probability, and vehicles of all shapes and sizes have a tendency to crash spectacularly. There is nothing ostensibly wrong with this kind of film, but it is not for everyone, and some may be annoyed with the lack of reality as the stunts and improbable events pile up higher and higher.
The movie is one of the better specimens of the over-the-top sub-genre of action movies, mainly due to an excellent cast list and a very fluid sense of direction. The editing hardly puts a scene wrong, and the plot holds the attention for a good two-thirds before it slides into ludicrous, badly-orchestrated overdrive at the end. One of the biggest bugbears is that some major plot points are overlooked along the way, such as who helped the bad guys obtain materials like plans of the plane, etc.
Nicolas Cage does reasonably well in a role that is effectively a rewritten John McClane, but the clothes do not quite fit him right, and neither does the Deep South accent. While it would be very easy to see Bruce Willis romping around the plane if this were another "Die Hard" sequel, there is something just a little off-key with Cage's character, an Army Ranger who is being paroled after seven years of a ten-year sentence for killing a man in a bar-room fight. This may partly be due to the over-emphasis on sugary romance featuring his wife and the daughter he has never met. It's possible to get behind Cage as he takes on the bad guys, but he just isn't as likable as McClane.
On the other side of the cast, Malkovich and Buscemi both play very effective, believable psychopaths, and a scene of Buscemi's freed character stalking a little girl is among the most tension-filled in the film. The rest of the cast largely play their parts effectively.
If you are willing to delve deep enough and you do not need to examine the movie too closely to spot them the flaws are there, as the goofs section indicates. Depending on your tolerance for a film to deliver an entertaining story over being entirely realistic or accurate, this may or may not be a problem. Most things considered, "Con Air" has a lot going for it, the least of which being that it is neither "Air Force One" or "Executive Decision" to name but two fellow (and inferior) high-octane action movies featuring airplanes.
Loose Cannons (1990)
A low-grade embarrassment
The only remarkable aspect of this threadbare, puerile movie is the talent level associated with it. Richard Matheson had a hand in the screenplay, and Gene Hackman and Dan Aykroyd both said yes to a film that, frankly, should never have been released in its presented form. Without knowing the history of the preproduction, the assumption would be that there had to be a major change to the script between initial conception and the final product. Otherwise, it is hard to see Hackman or Aykroyd accepting on the basic premise of making cheap laughs out of a psychiatric illness bearing in mind this was long before the days of "Me, Myself and Irene." The darker elements of the plot certainly call for a much more serious approach, which could have worked with a better actor. In reality, it's hard to chuckle as Aykroyd goons about as Butch Cassidy, various Star Trek characters, and Road Runner, to name but a few.
These personalities manifest under severe duress, and such a plot device would be more believable if the character was a civilian caught up in the cops & robbers chase. Instead incredibly - not only is Aykroyd a cop, he was never cut out for the rigors of police work and was given the job as a favor from his uncle, a senior police detective. Really, which career cops do that kind of thing? Worse still, Aykroyd is brought out of convalescence by the same uncle, who is apparently so desperate to crack a case that he will endanger the welfare of a family member with a very serious psychiatric illness, and risk the loss of his job for gross misconduct. Suspending disbelief even in the name of broad comedy can only go so far.
The movie sets the tone right at the beginning with a crass scene that introduces Hackman as a detective on a disturbance-of-the-peace call to an apartment building. Why a couple of detectives are sent out on a routine call is never adequately explained. Aykroyd's gooning is often plainly embarrassing leaping around in the street during a car chase, doing a flying monkey/Wicked Witch skit from "The Wizard of Oz" comes painfully to mind. The bad guys might as well be made from cardboard, which would explain how such ruthless villains can just stand there holding their guns as Aykroyd-as-Road-Runner steamrolls over them. Beep-beep! It's all extremely low-grade stuff, and deserves to be avoided, even by fans of the main actors, especially as Hackman is only here to make up the numbers. There is an attempt at empathy for Aykroyd's character with some serious talk about his condition, but Aykroyd simply isn't a gifted-enough actor to pull this off. Dom DeLuise is along for the ride and he does what little is asked of him. In fact, his character is very easy for the audience to identify with, as he rolls his eyes and groans at Aykroyd's antics throughout the movie.
This film has a cast of established actors, a renowned director at the helm and a continuance of the very believable CGI that was on display in the first film. Why then does it largely fail, and why is it so inferior to its predecessor? The answer lies in the script and its structure. After twenty minutes of set-up, most of the film involves various characters running around an island pursued by dinosaurs. We've seen this already in the first film, and the rehash here is done without spirit or wit, rendering it dull and mundane. What the paying public ought to have been clamoring for, and been shown much more of, is the paltry twenty minutes at the end featuring a T-Rex running amok in San Diego. It is extremely baffling why a movie that talks so much about the perils of man interacting with dinosaurs shows so little of that interaction in the urban setting of a big city, and even then with only one of the dinosaurs. In fact, for a blockbuster action movie and a second go-round at that it is bordering on criminal that they waste the viewers' time with so many ho-hum by-the-numbers sequences on the island.
A key failure in this long middle passage of the film is that, besides the always-dependable Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, the principals are playing a number of underdeveloped characters that are hard to work up any real sympathy for. Julianne Moore turns in a poor, unbelievable performance as Malcolm's roving-scientist love interest. Vince Vaughn is miscast as a hired-hand photographer, but does not have much to work with. Postlethwaite stays the right side of over-the-top as a hired hunter, but for the most part the film shows that names and money alone do not make for a successful film.
If the feeble script deserves any kind of credit, it would be for giving us a sense of empathy with the creatures, but to be truly invested in a movie, we also need to empathize with the characters, and have genuinely interesting things happen to them. For a blockbuster, it also helps to have a whiz-bang ending. This film has a hugely anti-climatic one, but the biggest transgression of all is its failure to entertain.
Wild Wild West (1999)
If "Wild Wild West" has any ultimate value as a movie, it may be by showing that star power, action sequences and a lavish effects budget won't automatically form a great movie unless there is careful thought and planning put into the production. The first ten minutes are particularly choppy, to the point of discouraging further watching. It does then settle down to be barely passable and watchable, but it cannot escape the fundamental and multiple flaws inherent in the production, and should leave the average viewer with the sense of having wasted their time. On the plus side there are a couple of nice little touches here and there, Will Smith is generally as smooth as ever and not all of the jokes fall flat, but mostly it's a muddled effort.
Firstly, the movie never settles on a consistent tone. Is it a comedy, or an action movie? Or is it a western with sci-fi aspects? It is actually a hodgepodge of all of these elements, and with due diligence and a stronger script it may well have been a success at spanning so many thematic parts. In reality the struggle for tone is exacerbated by confusion as to which audience it is intended for. It's a little too smutty for kids, and a little too clean-cut for adults. For those who like action in their action movies, there are certainly many sequences, not all of which are particularly well-choreographed, but there are also lengthy passages where not much action takes place at all.
The plot, of course, is as far-fetched as can be, which can be overlooked as it's almost the least of the film's problems. Smith brings modern-day smarts and sensibilities to his character, which comes off as a little disorientating in a film set in the 1860s. Kline's performance is nothing to write home about, but he does his best with the mundane role he has been given here. Hayek is completely wasted as the female object of desire who is strictly along for the ride. However, far and away it's the gross miscasting of Kenneth Brannagh as the supervillian that really sticks out like a sore thumb. In one particular scene between Smith and Brannagh comes the film's biggest transgression a series of racial and disability-based insults for which there cannot be any artistic defense in what should be a basic, harmless action movie. While the film is set in turbulent times just after the Civil War, it seems the film-makers felt they had to make a point of playing up the racial aspects, and disparaging comments are made about whites and blacks throughout the film. It's actually quite bizarre to imagine how anyone thought this was a good idea as it detracts sharply from the movie and should be a big discouragement to anyone thinking of letting children watch it.
Boat Trip (2002)
There are movies out there that have potential when you read the back of the DVD or video box cover. No matter how implausible the set-up, you imagine it's POSSIBLE that a good movie could be made of almost any plot outline.
Certainly the same could be expected here; that without resulting to rampant homophobia, an OK, if unspectacular, comedic movie could be made by a twist on the old fish-out-of-water plot of putting two straight guys on a gay cruise. To its credit, the film does not resort to homophobia, but does play a lot of its humor on blatant, and perhaps tired, stereotypes - something that is not unique to this film, as much of broad comedy plays off of stereotypes of one form or another.
The next problem is that the jokes that are made - largely on the basis of these stereotypes - tend to be very obvious and therefore not very funny. Cuba Gooding deciding to accept a role in this will basically be one of the biggest enigmas of movie history. The humor is aimed at a basic, almost puerile level, giving no hint of genuine wit, and this detracts greatly from the film as a whole, dragging it down well below average. Another mystery is that they could not come up with a better title. It's a film about a trip taken on board a boat. This we know. They couldn't have found anything more interesting to call it?