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Saw V (2008)
A patchy descent into the banal
Churning out no less than five films onto the Hollywood Halloween Horror frame in the same amount of years the Saw series knows its audience, its largely male, stumbling through adolescence onwards to the thirty something gore fiends looking for the latest offering in the now rapidly declining 'shock horror / torture porn' genre that the first film brought to prominence in 2004.
After the events of Saw III shook the franchise with its inventive ending and then, somewhat competently handled the aftermath in the fourth entry, Saw V begs to ask the question: Who's left to slice and dice? Saw V wants to be a reboot in a way, passing the baton from the events in IV and bringing a new fear and era of Jigsaw (in the inevitable Saw VI: The Search For More Money). Problem is, V is so bogged down in its past that the very essence of Saw is lost in its narrative. The set pieces are there; broken souls offered redemption through torturous and painful puzzles (including Julie Benz, who uses her cheap black wig to hide the fact that she's in it for the paycheck, her worst acting effort to date), they still pack a punch, but you can only see so many severed body parts and scorched flesh before it all becomes a bit passé. The roller-coaster only can maintain its pace for some time before you hit some slow corners and V is a sign the ride is coming to an end fast.
On one hand the film wants to be a detective thriller, yet is hampered by so many explanatory flashbacks sequences (to understand how the apprentice came to this point) that anyone not familiar with the events of the previous 3 sequels would develop an aneurysm from trying to put it all together. Tobin Bell is relishing fleshing out his Jigsaw/John character more, and he is at his most competent here, while Costas Mandylor's Detective Hoffman is all furrowed brows and menacing glares, a worrying problem when a central character is such a grinding bore that you feel no strong emotion towards either way. On the other hand the essence of Saw remains, pushing the very limit of its rating, the traps are indeed brutal, but seem more like detours into another film. The two stories driving this film do not intersect comfortably, leaving the film feel very disjointed at times, and with so many rapid edits and cuts it leaves the audience detached from the action on screen.
The ace up the sleeve since the first inception five years ago was the fantastic twist which flips the story on its head and drives the 'trust no one' themes each film presents, unfortunately Saw V is where the twist is indeed the weakest. The wow factor has truly left the building this time around, and yes, the door is truly left WIDE open for VI.
Saw V is the weakest entry in the series, the cleverness that brought the series so much attention over the past five years is lost in the lack of inventiveness and hapless direction. There are only so many ways to shock an audience, and the only true shock is here is how quickly a once genre defining series has become a near parody of itself. The parallels between Saw and other long running horror franchises is becoming more obvious. What's next? Saw VI: Jigsaw in Space? See you next October.
xXx: State of the Union (2005)
xXx2: Coma State
A film that should be retitled xXx2: Don't Say We Didn't Warn You.
Opening with an impressive first 7-8 minutes, this film moves into cookie cutter territory at a frightening speed and continues to derail any opportunity for the audience to engage in the ridiculous plot or heavily computer generated action sequences.
Ice Cube will never be thanking the academy (he at times look like he would struggle to play himself), but the Razzie committee should be on the lookout for this up and comer, this type of dribble is the cinematic equivalent of being run over repeatedly by a truck with the stereo cranked up to 11.
The first xXx was at least assure of itself, popcorn action with the acknowledgment that it was bang for buck and nothing more. State of The Union takes itself far too seriously with a plot so absurd you swear it was written by a focus group of 13 year old boys after a binge at McDonalds. Action sequences are spaced every ten minutes or so as bookends to move Cube onto the next dilemma, each new sequence becoming further and further detached from reality (the final twenty minutes is utter insanity that makes films like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle seem like documentaries). A sequence involving a train should be parody material, not a serious plot device.
Samuel L Jackson cashes in his paycheck and plods through the movie looking as though he just read the script and realized what he has got himself involved in. Scott Speedman's looks too immature to play a senior NSA agent and is largely in the film so the white folks don't feel left out. Willem Dafoe typecasts himself as the overacting bad guy yet again and X-Zibit pops in so he can possible audition for the lead in the next sequel xXx3: Turkey Season.
Women are treated as fodder to either slap around or grind up against (sometimes at the same time) all to a soundtrack of nameless rappers inserted at appropriate moments so that the white kids can know what its like to be African American.
My only positive comment on this whole debacle are the cars used in the film, not being a car enthusiast even I had to be quietly impressed by the rides in this film. Also this film is under the 2 hour mark a sign of a film that does know when its wearing out its welcome.
Hopefully with the resoundingly negative response xXx2 has currently received another sequel looks unlikely, as films like this are about as satisfying as a having your nose broken.
The Girl Next Door (2004)
Three guys, a girl and a golden penis
The Girl Next Door arrived in Australia with little fanfare or advertising, largely due to its tepid response in the US. 'Girl' pitched in the trailer as a distant American Pie cousin meets Risky Business ('outrageous' incidents, nudity and 'hot chicks'), actually surpasses those film to deliver what has to be one of more entertaining 'teen' flicks of recent years.
This is not to say that this movie is a revelation in film making. The clichéd characters abound (uncool yet not gremlin-esquire lead, geeky friends, oblivious parents, the cool crowd) and the film follows a not entirely road to a happy ending, yet the journey is made satisfying by Emile Hirsch and Cuthbert's likable leads. Cuthbert in particular lends an interesting touch to her lead, she admirably conveys a young woman trapped between two worlds struggling to find her identity without being known as 'the chick from that porno'. Her early scenes with Hirsch set up a great coming of age storyline without resorting to some far fetched hi-jinx to impress.
During the middle third of this film (the introduction of Olyphant's porn producer character) the dynamic shifts from romantic comedy to comedy/drama, throwing you into some (albeit glossed over) realities of the porn industry. Hirsch becomes a more admirable lead during the later parts of the film as he comes to terms with his 'moral fiber'.
For a sex comedy closing in on two hours this film should drag in its last hurdles, and its 'climax' does feel to be pushing the boundaries of reality, but with competent leads and one of the best soundtrack's from a genre film of this type in years (Filter, David Gray, David Bowie, Echo & The Bunnymen) makes this Girl worth sticking around for.