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Like many movies about extraordinary, larger-than-life characters, "The
Equalizer" begins by showing routines; mundane activities like shaving,
dressing, preparing breakfast, and commuting. Here, the stalwart hero,
Bob McCall (Denzel Washington), actually labors for Home Mart (a not so
subtly disguised Home Depot), but it's all a setup to conceal a
considerable set of ex-military and former governmental special agent
skills. His coworkers erroneously guess at his mysterious past,
hypothesizing that he previously served on Wall Street or sold
Being an insomniac, Bob stays out late each night at the Bridge Diner in Boston to read books (each of which impart motifs and clear references to his current undertakings and philosophies, including identifying with Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea," Cervantes' "Don Quixote," or Ellison's "Invisible Man"). A regular late night visitor, Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), an aspiring singer but a prostitute (using the name Teri) in reality, occasionally trades small talk. When she doesn't show up one evening, McCall is informed that she's in the ICU, having been badly beaten by her pimp, Slavi (David Meunier). Witnessing a gross injustice and unable to sit idly by, McCall is drawn into her dark, violent world, filled with criminals and killers a world he's not exactly unfamiliar with.
Thanks to patient character development and far too many supporting characters (such as an overweight associate receiving training to be a security guard, corrupt cops extorting protection money, and a holdup at the hardware store), the first act of "The Equalizer" is very brooding and somewhat repetitive (with flashbacks, quickly abandoned obsessive compulsive disorder idiosyncrasies, and editing techniques for heightened anticipation or calmed senses). But his initial handling of the Russian Nights Escort Service and its conventionally tattooed gangsters, which results in what the media call a gangland style execution based on turf warfare between rival factions, paints McCall out to be a moderately superhuman yet nevertheless believably formidable opponent. The mystery is no longer about who he was, but rather where his meting out of vigilante recompense will take him (here, there's a lot of depravity to equalize).
Like Liam Neeson, Washington is an unusual action star, effectively obscuring his age while posing as a good samaritan to fix other people's situations and thwart villainy. Commonly, he begins with extremely sophisticated intellect, reconnaissance, and counterintelligence, before being forced to unleash jaw-dropping, macho one-liners and the martial arts and improvised deadly weaponry to back it up. Unfortunately, the baddies McCall contends with are hopelessly stereotypical, while the ringleader, a top henchman named Nicolai, a.k.a. Teddy (Marton Csokas), is so obligatorily cruel and maniacal that he's almost comical. In an attempt to make him uniquely evil, the filmmakers have also made his intimidatory attributes fruitless.
It's fun and entertaining to deal with a hero who is consistently smarter than his adversaries, and here, like many of Steven Seagal's roles, Washington delivers rattlingly cool lines and dishes out bloody retribution without ever losing his vantage. He's interesting enough to sustain the 130-minute runtime, even though the finale is far too lengthy and enormously over-the-top (for some reason, he refuses to use a gun, instead orchestrating different, distinctive, gruesome, "Home Alone" styled booby traps for every random enemy). The climax is, in fact, so overzealously rambunctious, destructive, and far-fetched, that it detracts from the impressiveness of McCall's earlier, reasonably believable mental and physical combat proficiency to the point of turning the entire character into something of a joke.
When Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), working as a producer for Bolt
Satellite Radio's popular host Wade (Dax Shepard), arrives home on his
wife Quinn's (Abigail Spencer) birthday to find her in bed with his
boss, he's immediately and understandably distraught. As he finds a new
place to crash and lets the days pass, ignoring frequent calls from
Quinn, he receives more bad news from his sister Wendy (Tina Fey):
their father has passed away. Forced to return to his childhood home
where his eccentric mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) grieves, Judd is in for
an unpleasant shock as his family and friends gather for a weeklong
shivah (a formal Jewish mourning), consisting of no work and no travel
- and he's assigned temporary residency in a poorly lit, hazardously
Hillary penned the book "Cradle and All: The Study of the New Family," which described in excruciating detail the private adolescent routines of the Altman children. The eldest, Paul (Corey Stoll), contends with keeping up the family store, while his wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) is overly desperate to have a child; Philip (Adam Driver), the youngest, is the black sheep, focused on entrepreneurial activities (currently, part of an alternative fuel think tank in D.C.) that never amount to much, and is dating much older therapist Tracy (Connie Britton), who knows she's too good for a brash fling; and Wendy, though married to Barry (Aaron Lazar) and caring for two toddlers, can't shake feelings she had for neighbor Horry (Timothy Olyphant), a man with a brain injury that occurred long ago when they dated. If all of the Altmans' relationship problems (on top of his father's death) weren't enough for Judd to cope with, he also repeatedly runs into Penny (Rose Byrne), the girl who had a crush on him while growing up in the sleepy town.
Judd's present existence is so cataclysmically screwed up, it makes it difficult to interact comfortably with people from his past. Not only does he worry about how things will turn out with Quinn, he also manages depressing meditations on hindsight, remembrance, nostalgia, mistakes, lies, underachievement, and the loss of love. The mood is dreary and the plot formulaic, even with a couple of additional complications thrown in for futile comic relief. Are all of Judd's interplays about therapeutic candidness? Or the importance of family? Or that life is supposed to be messy and complicated? Or are they all just random, melancholy happenings during an ordinary week of dysfunctional sibling rivalries, pettiness, and bickering as they're crammed together under one roof?
In the end, it seems as if the audience is eavesdropping on someone else's shrink session, where humor is supposed to be derived from a baby flinging feces, Hillary's oversized breasts peeking through a nightgown, the trading of embarrassing schoolyard stories, verbal outbursts, and off-color sexual commentary. Something unexpected is always about to happen, but then doesn't; downward spirals never explode into maddening moments of originality and jokes flounder. The number of incidents of infidelity and broken hearts are at a high; several of the characters are high on marijuana (during a scene in which the actors are clearly having more fun than viewers will have witnessing it); and high hopes are dashed as the film draws to a close without any genuinely moving revelations or connections. Apologies, forgiveness, and reconciliations occur exactly as anticipated, but the usually comedic cast is disappointingly wasted.
Ghastly, gritty, and more mystery-thriller than rapid-fire actioner, "A
Walk Among the Tombstones" is a refreshing change of pace for regular
antihero Liam Neeson. While his persona exhibits a subtle refinement to
the calculating ingenuity and piercing calmness reminiscent of prior
roles, the supplementary characters range from moderately corrupt to
downright psychopathic, creating an atmosphere both intense and daring.
Despite an overlong conclusion and a rather heavy-handed parallel to
the twelve steps of recovery from addiction, "A Walk Among the
Tombstones" offers yet another memorable performance by Neeson and a
taut, enigmatic plot that relies on competent storytelling over
Former NYPD detective and alcoholic Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) has cleaned up his act and stayed sober for eight years after the tragic outcome of a frenzied shootout. Now working as an unlicensed private investigator, Scudder is drawn into the baffling case of a kidnapping that ends in brutal homicide. Employed by nefarious businessman Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), Scudder begins to unravel the events leading up to the abduction of the wealthy criminal's wife. With the aid of tech-savvy rebel TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), the weathered bloodhound gradually pieces together the evidence that will lead him to the terrifying truth.
In the opening lines of the film, Neeson throws around expletives, sports untamed hair, brandishes a badge and overactive firearm, and has a long brown coat swish around him. It's a decidedly grungier look for the actor, who has in recent years become something of a realistic action star, engaging in limited martial arts and, primarily, skills based on instincts, information retrieval, and ex-military reconnaissance. Here, as a sleuth likened to Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe (which sets the bar awfully high), he still possesses that distinct edge, which updates those classic gumshoes for the 21st century (though this film is specifically set in the '90s). And once again, he does it alone, supported by a capable cast of relative unknowns, who never steal the show from such an uncompromising, openly venal, former addict antihero.
The mystery portion of "A Walk Among the Tombstones" isn't all that original, though appropriate brooding, fitting music, and effectual suspense dot the marginally lengthy script. Most of the clue collecting is done in flashbacks, solely to make the narrative more complex, but it's a pointless exercise. Neeson is already entirely watchable, the momentary pairing with a highly contrasting youngster is amusing, the killers' motives are far more absorbing than figuring out their identities, and the multitude of plot lines creates superior character development when compared to the recent efforts of "Prisoners," "Jack Reacher," and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Like "Taken," "Fargo," and "Ransom," this new crime drama cleverly changes the rules to typical hostage situations and negotiations, but with the added grimness of an R rating and unpredictably vile antagonists. Instead of the routineness of a vigilante revenge thriller, Scudder's involvement serves as the driving force for morally justifiable comeuppance not specific retaliation. As his loved ones are never the victims, it's clearly more about salvation (and in many tense moments, potent bluster). And Neeson is right at home with the heightened level of violence, adult language, and unrelenting seriousness.
Tragedy strikes during a routine operation when CIA agent David Mason
(Luke Bracey) fails to follow the orders of his commander, Peter
Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan). Five years pass and Peter, now retired, is
pulled back into his former espionage lifestyle when Agent Hanley (Bill
Smitrovich) informs him that a spy in Serbia is ready for extraction
and will only speak to Devereaux. Their rendezvous is met with heavy
resistance and the double agent (Mediha Musliovic) is killed by Peter's
protégé Mason, prompting Devereaux to begin an exhaustive hunt to
uncover those responsible. Gathering intelligence leads him to rescue
and shadow Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), a refugee caseworker who
may hold the key to a massive international cover-up.
Accomplishing what the last couple of James Bond movies failed to do, "The November Man" immediately establishes tenseness and awe, through hardy wisecracks, brief character development, and nerve-wracking action. A credible threat on an ambassador sets the stage for a spontaneous clash of cleaners, snipers, aliases, decoys, and split second decisions that will haunt the survivors for the rest of the film. The mood is serious and the roles are severe, brilliantly introducing a world of crooked politics, dark pasts, antihero moralities, and thrilling spy maneuvers (where the Russians are bad and the CIA is even worse). The teacher battles the pupil, the hunter becomes the hunted, and Brosnan shines as a cynical, likable, still-formidable-for-his-age killer.
Even the music starts off nicely embellishing the covert military tactics. But the longer the movie plays, the more things begin to fall apart. There's some manipulative suspense through supporting characters undertaking risky endeavors while a clock ticks; the extraction and interception of moles leads to expected gunplay and death; and self-destruct mechanisms, steely confrontations, advanced tech, blink-of-an-eye executions, frequent location changes, and fiery explosions edge their way into scenarios that are already plenty stimulating. In general, the film engages in complex, intelligent spy games over blow-'em-up action sequences or lengthy gun hostilities, though resorting to physical fights, car chases, and shootouts certainly aren't absent. It's the amusement of the storyline that gradually drifts off as revenge subplots and a completely predictable mystery of a missing girl move to the forefront. And as Alice's interrogative dialogue serves as the audience's information broker for Peter's humanness, instead of merely building a believably frightened woman who is out of her element, the smartness noticeably wanes.
Still, the chase never lets up and the pacing excellently fits the convoluted happenings. Far too many intricacies pepper the mayhem, detracting from the most relevant angle of student versus trainer, but director Roger Donaldson ("The Getaway," "The Recruit," "The Bank Job") manages to keep Devereaux regularly involved in gripping conflict. An unnerving Russian female assassin (Amila Terzimehic), a morbidly challenging test of resolve with a human shield (Eliza Taylor), and an abusive war-crime-committing general (Lazar Ristovski) all seem like throwaway subplots, but beneath the tangled relationships and conspiracies is Brosnan capably proving that his days as an action hero aren't over.
While the sights are twice as explicit as in its predecessor, "Sin
City: A Dame to Kill For" contains none of the shock. The violence,
nudity, and grim noir grittiness have staled considerably since 2005's
refreshingly bleak adaptation of Frank Miller's hardboiled graphic
novels. The stark black and white scenery splashed with moments of
ferocious color still offer a ripped-from-the-pages look, while
Miller's blunt observations and savage analogies periodically exude
perverse poetry. But the variation is limited, as are the thrills,
taking into account that each segment rehashes a basic revenge plot and
the clever wraparound structuring of the previous effort is curiously
absent. Copious nods and references to the original movie insert
themselves into "A Dame to Kill For," while the assortment of
villainous deviants and twisted humor returns - but the originality and
bite certainly do not.
"Sin City's where you go in with your eyes open, or you don't come out at all," cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rasps as he ponders the multitude of tortured souls and corrupted lives that inhabit Basin City. Oversized, barbarous Marv (Mickey Rourke) bides his time at seedy Kadie's Club, watching exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) when he's not out slaughtering those that cross him. The sultry stripper hides demons of her own and anxiously prepares to take revenge on the man that caused her lover's demise. Photographer Dwight (Josh Brolin) becomes embroiled in the devious schemes of duplicitous siren Ava (Eva Green), an enchantress who lures men to their doom. And Johnny tempts his own fate when he challenges power-mad Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) to a game of high-stakes poker - where winning may be the last thing he ever does.
All of the wonderment and novelty of the first film has unexpectedly vanished from this new anthology of Frank Miller stories. The settings and character designs have stayed (Stacy Keach as the thick-necked Wallenquist, done up in gobs of latex, might be the best looking), but the meaningful repetition of lines, the memorable intensity of the violence, and the appeal of the varyingly tainted roles are noticeably wanting. The ghastly concepts of suicide, murder, betrayal, revenge, torture, messy surgery, and self-mutilation feel right at home in this clutter of crisscrossing story lines, alongside impressive makeup and prosthetics, but all of the once-mesmerizing visuals (such as recreating the framing and angles of comic book panels) have succumbed to the blandness of the script and the overbearingness of the unstimulating case-hardened dialogue.
And with that style of overelaborate film noir throwbacks (or perhaps Dick Tracy on acid) comes another detracting element. The frequent narration, involving reusing quotes and attempting to manipulate macabre lyricism into grave commentary, is almost entirely unnecessary. Instead of detailing events not seen on screen, the voiceovers routinely reiterate actions currently taking place, which serve to distract and bring unwanted attention to the incongruousness of some of the phrasing.
If that redundancy wasn't enough, even the meaty, ham-fisted punches and plentiful stripteases (a literal fifty shades of gray fleshliness) occur too often. Between trying overly hard to be modern, edgy, and savage, and repeatedly highlighting every naked bit of Eva Green (who once again does a fine job as a nutcase in a role of indelicate eroticism), this second production feels like a monochromatic fairy tale brought to life, rather than the innuendo-laden, wit-filled, sinisterly destructive, suggestive works of genuine film noir. Like Dwight's insatiable curiosity over the purported spousal abuse of Ava, Miller's fans will nevertheless want to see this movie for themselves to witness first hand the deterioration in quality and creativity.
Notwithstanding the spurts of painfully juvenile dialogue, an abundance
of pointless characters, and countless continuity discrepancies, "Into
the Storm" could have been a perfectly serviceable disaster film - if
it weren't for the exasperating and highly overused "found footage"
structuring. The audience shouldn't be constantly forced to ponder
where cameras are positioned and who is manning them. But with "Into
the Storm's" jigsaw puzzle of hand-held devices, clunkier equipment
affixed to tripods, cellphone recorders, and more, the question
consistently edges itself to the forefront. Additional preposterousness
surfaces all too frequently - from the absurdity of which forgotten
character might be filming certain sequences to the implausibility of
other shots being taken at all (due to extreme angles, distances, and
aerial placements). The overly lenient viewer might be able to look
past the nonsense, but the reward would only be an occasional scene of
suspense with uninvolving characters and intermittent bouts of
impressive CG whirlwinds.
In Silverton, Oklahoma, an unprecedented gale takes shape that will change the lives of every citizen in the area. A professional storm chaser crew, led by documentarian Pete (Matt Walsh) and meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), hopes to predict the touchdown location of the emerging tornado in order to capture breakthrough imagery. Thrill seekers Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep) wish to record Mother Nature's ferocity amidst their own daredevil hijinks. And Silverton High School's vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) just wants senior graduation to go off without a hitch, while his two sons Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) prepare to film the ceremony. When the tempest suddenly escalates and numerous twisters begin ravaging the town, Donnie becomes trapped at an abandoned factory with classmate Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Teaming up with Pete and Allison, Gary must venture further into the danger zone in a desperate bid to save the children.
It begins like a horror movie, with something obscured and menacing descending upon a foursome of roistering teens. There's something instantly off about the introduction, however, as it foreshadows the primary fault with the film: found footage. Yet again, as if oblivious to the overdone, hopelessly tired narrative technique, the filmmakers responsible for "Into the Storm" have chosen to construct their project from various recorded sources like a documentary - culling together high school time capsule clips, news footage, YouTube submissions, interviews, promotional materials, security camera angles, and home movies showing very personal proclamations of love during presumed final minutes of life. In fact, the majority of footage is generated from a documentary crew, comprised of a few experts and a legion of amateurish cameramen.
The style is so distracting, flawed, and laughable that it's difficult to simply enjoy the large levels of destruction. Instead of shooting the tornadoes, the cameras seem contrarily preoccupied with capturing the reactions of scared survivors, dismal facial expressions, mundane business relationships, familial contention, and even eavesdropping on personal phone calls. Why would a real storm chaser want so much footage of bland human interaction? Why are most of the cameras inside the armored transport Titus aimed at the interior passengers rather than the exciting weather right outside? It's bad enough that countless scenes intrusively ask the audience to speculate on who is holding the camera (especially when all of the possibilities are trapped underground, running around wildly, or fighting for their lives). But it's absolutely unacceptable that the acting is substandard, the dialogue is terribly generic, and the characters are unrelentingly clichéd. Even the twisters themselves lack originality. The equipment and special effects might be better than the stuff of Jan de Bont's "Twister" (1996) but everything else is preposterously inferior and unusually dull. Teenagers spouting revelations wise beyond their years, hordes of fodder for a movie too timid to boast a decent body count, a goofy "save the planet" message, phony heroism, and constant reminders that cameras should keep rolling no matter what the costs, add to the wretchedness of this piteously designed pseudo-movie.
Residing in the sewers of New York, four mutant humanoid turtles train
hard and wait patiently to become guardians of the city as their
destiny surely dictates. The rise of the Foot Clan, helmed by ruthless
warlord the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), is the catalyst for the
half-shelled Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello to emerge
from their subterranean dwelling and protect innocent civilians from
terrorism. The Shredder's soldiers routinely rob genetic research
supplies from the Brooklyn docks to aid in a devious master plan of
citywide domination. Meanwhile, April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a journalist
for Channel 6 News, maddeningly contends with covering primarily
frothy, foamy, filler pieces that lack substance but entertain the
unintelligent masses. Her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett)
doesn't always support her yearning to tackle real stories, but he's
quick to accompany a pretty face. Her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi
Goldberg) doesn't share the same sympathy.
Like Batman loftily descending from out of the darkness and rain upon armed thugs, the six-foot anthropomorphic terrapins foil a dock heist and are dubbed heroic vigilantes by April as she snaps a photo of the reveling fighters. Similarly metamorphosed giant rat Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), serving as a paternal sensei for the turtles, collects April to reveal that they were all part of Project Renaissance, a mutagen research program that millionaire Eric Sacks (William Fichtner, the go-to wealthy businessman movie villain) abused to create a powerful antidote that would lead to a ransoming of humanity for countless riches. Together, they must race against time to stop Shredder and his cohorts from bringing mankind to its knees.
The world domination plot (a "quest to reclaim victory") is entirely stale, though the turtles' origins receive a slightly new twist, especially in their relationship to April. The accompanying dialogue is rarely anything more than lifeless as characters spout generic scientific jargon, familiar catchphrases ("Cowabunga!"), and preachy convictions about teamwork, friendship, and self-esteem. Fortunately, the slapstick and infighting provide mildly amusing comic relief, while Arnett humorously leads the actors in the struggle to convincingly deliver hokey lines. "So, they're aliens?" asks Vern. "No, that's stupid. They're reptiles," replies April.
Like something out of a monster movie, the ninja turtles are gradually revealed through strobing lights, choppy cuts, speedy pans, and obscured flashes of leathery appendages. When they're finally shown in full view, their designs are somewhat unsightly, missing the usual cuteness that saturated their action figure and cartoon series' conceptualizations. Appropriately, April faints when she sizes them up. And Splinter looks even freakier.
It's a good thing that since the late '80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been ingrained in popular culture; the ninjitsu, pizza cravings, and hi-tech accouterments might not be so easy to digest if the imagery wasn't so familiar. For this type of story, the fully CG heroes (as well as the Shredder) aren't much more appropriate than the guys-in-rubber-suits from the 1990 theatrical venture; though here it's easier to buy into the outlandish physics and unnatural choreography that presides over the adventure, adrenaline, martial arts battles, car chases, slow-motion camera-work, and obligatorily dragged out finale full of showdown-stalling tactics and repetitive clashes. Perhaps oddest of all is the PG-13 rating, slapped onto one of the tamest actioners in quite some time; a couple of subtle edits could have brought the MPAA certification down to match the younger target audience - without upsetting older crowds interested in revisiting this well-liked franchise.
The opening lines of Brett Ratner's "Hercules" challenge the audiences'
knowledge of the titular legend. Based on Radical Studios' comic book,
this is certainly not a typical retelling of the son of Zeus' exploits
and herein lies both the film's strengths and weaknesses. Approaching
the generally demigod-depicted character as a mere mortal and blurring
the fantasy lines of his monumental achievements makes "Hercules"
appear wholly original. And despite moments of tepid dialogue and tired
clichés, it's indeed a refreshingly clever take on the character.
However, the originality stops shortly thereafter as the plot
progresses into a serviceable rehash of "Seven Samurai" with weaker
adversaries and predictable twists. The vision may be new for the Greek
champion himself, but the cinematic ground on which it treads is well
Enraged by her husband's infidelity, Greek goddess Hera vows to kill Zeus' half-human son, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson). In order to escape the immortal's wrath, the mighty warrior undergoes twelve increasingly difficult labors and, upon completing the tasks, attempts to retire peacefully with his wife and children. But tragedy strikes and the indomitable guardian turns to mercenary work with the faithful companions he acquired during his trials. Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), a master Amazonian archer, Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a Spartan knife expert, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), a silent juggernaut of fury, and Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), a cryptic prophet, fight staunchly alongside Hercules while his unintimidating nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) spins the tales of his triumphs. When Lord Cotys (John Hurt), the King of Thrace, offers the famed hero his weight in gold for aid in fending off the demonic sorcerer Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), the avaricious leader eagerly accepts. But as Hercules and his cadre set about training the ruler's army and inch closer to their confrontation with the necromancer, they begin to question the motives of both themselves and their employer.
As is standard with modern fantasy fare, groups of heroes retain specific battle skills and distinct visuals (such as scars and armory) that set them apart primarily by type of soldier and almost never by memorable personalities. Hercules is clearly the muscle, while berserker Tydeus is the crazed brute who never utters a word. Atalanta is the attractive female archer and Amphiaraus is the cryptic seer with a sense of sarcasm. Iolaus offers additional comic relief as a storyteller and Autolycus rounds out the gang as a rather generic knife thrower. The action sequences tend to require the singular expertise of each fighter (not unlike the Magnificent Seven or the Fellowship of the Ring) and are exciting just for that aspect, yet they never require anything beyond varying weaponry proficiencies. They might as well all be mute.
Dwayne Johnson adds an aura of fun to almost all of his films, especially those with comedic overtones. While his physique is nothing short of herculean, the performance flatlines from a lack of humor. The action sequences, though kinetic and thrilling, tend to hog the spotlight in the absence of diverse emotions, while their lasting impact carries little gravity. Tight pacing and an ample production value afford the adventure momentum while an unexpectedly divergent plot offers welcome intrigue at least, for those anticipating a more classic account of the Greek legend.
Despite the principal precondition often appearing as simply an excuse
to display over-the-top action, "Lucy" is far more science-fiction
based than adventure oriented. In fact, Luc Besson's film delves so far
into scientific theories and philosophies that it rapidly becomes
incomprehensible and downright existentially nonsensical. "Lucy" is
just too outlandish for its own good. When the titular character's
powers expand beyond hyper-intelligence, and begin crossing into the
realm of superhuman, not only do the action sequences lose their
creativity and suspense, but also the need for any exciting escapades
to exist at all is called into question. Attempting to locate the
logical aspects of "Lucy" may be an exercise in futility, but less
plausible set-ups have retained more entertainment by simply avoiding
bringing attention to the absurdity (such as 2011's "Limitless" and, to
a lesser degree, 2009's "Push"). "Lucy" seems to revel in it.
When her new boyfriend forces her to deliver a locked briefcase to a Korean businessman, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) becomes ensnared in an international drug-smuggling plot. Kidnapped and surgically implanted with a packet of CPH4, an experimental new narcotic, the young girl is scheduled to leave the country. But when a sinister turn of events leads to the package rupturing and the stimulant leaking into her body, Lucy suddenly finds herself able to access a previously untapped percentage of her cerebral capacity. Now, with extremely enhanced senses and the ability to process thoughts and information at an incredible rate, Lucy sets out to take revenge on the ruthless drug lord (Choi Min-sik) that imprisoned her.
The inaccuracy of the primary facts of the premise, which involves humans using only 10% of their brain capacity, is forgivable in the realm of establishing a fictional concept. Just as many movies are touted as "based on a true story" when they are instead entirely invented, it would be completely understandable if the audience believes every scientific explicandum from Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman. People actually use 100% of their brains, as evidenced by common sense concerning brain damage, along with published research and studies (according to "Lucy's" logic, 90% of all brain damage incidents would be inconsequential - in reality, basically all brain damage cases result in some detriment). But even dismissing the ludicrousness of various misrepresented ideologies, the manner and design in which Lucy's skills increase are hopelessly zany.
The smarter Lucy gets, the stupider the story becomes. Rather than gaining somewhat believable abilities, such as extreme intelligence, an encyclopedic memory, physical strength, heightened awareness, faultless coordination, and sharper senses, she quickly manages to read thoughts, control minds, instantly decipher new languages, and levitate objects. At a mere 20% brain capacity, the film is already deeply entrenched in science-fiction themes. Unexplainably, Lucy has an inarticulate conversation with her mother and continues to request help from people she couldn't possibly need less, including a policeman and a lecturer, long after she's clearly capable of changing her cellular makeup at will and commanding matter with psychokinesis. The majority of her actions inspire obvious questions about their necessity.
From a technical standpoint, the editing is overworked, focused on splicing in footage of symbolic imagery that isn't nearly as clever as it is dully straightforward. Unconvincing computer graphics show Lucy's insides on a molecular level, her vision is occasionally enhanced to demonstrate an interpretation of subjects like something out of "The Matrix," and the finale borrows from ideas seen in "The Time Machine." Further hampering potential awesomeness are a few sequences that depict Lucy's precise, calculated murderousness, before lengths are taken to ensure victims are either deserving, wouldn't have survived anyway, or only suffer flesh wounds. So much for the old-fashioned action movie notion of eliminating all obstacles no matter the cost. And despite a fun car chase scene, which would be sensational if any of it used genuine stunts, "Lucy" doesn't even address the significant presence of the manufacturing and distribution of the drug itself, which is still out in the world and could easily affect someone else in the same way.
The year is 2023 (exactly one year after the events of the first film)
and crime is still virtually non-existent, poverty is vanishing, and
unemployment is below %5 - thanks to an annual event called the
"Purge," in which all criminal activities, including murder, are legal
for 12 hours. This milestone was created by the New Founding Fathers of
the United States as a solution to economic and judicial downturns. In
the context of the film, it's actually known as a holiday. It starts
with a countdown (2 hours, 26 minutes) until the commencement,
immediately orchestrating anticipation for the brutality ahead. Traffic
is hectic, masked cutthroats sadistically brandish their weaponry, and
prognosticators insist that more people will participate tonight than
Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a young couple contemplating a separation, are headed to a family member's house for the evening, taking the back roads to avoid crowded highways. But when their car breaks down under a downtown bridge, it's clear they've been sabotaged to become victims for hungry purgers. Meanwhile, waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) board up their apartment, hoping for another uneventful occasion. When the two females are attacked by a spiteful acquaintance (his intention is to rape and murder them both), they're momentarily saved by a squadron of soldiers, collecting bodies for a distinctly abominable man. But before the two can be executed by this new threat, a stranger (Frank Grillo) rescues them and, reluctantly, takes them with him on his own mission of personal vengeance to kill the man who recklessly committed vehicular manslaughter against his son and walked free based on a prosecution error.
"I hope to see you all tomorrow," casually remarks a coworker, quickly drawing to the audience's attention the silliness of the premise. Fortunately, as this is more of a horror film than its predecessors, the unlikeliness of most of the happenings in the film are regularly overshadowed by jump scares, slow motion, intrusive close-ups, loud music and louder noises (screams routinely pierce the twilight air), and gaps of silence before sudden frights. Along with these clichés are unnecessarily interspersed political propaganda, questionable governmental intentions, scrutiny of the corruption of values, profiteering, and proclamations of love interrupted by gunfire and oodles of bloody violence. Contrived scenarios also arise, including a random rat crawling up a leg, Eva falling down while being chased, and the prying young Cali unrestrainedly asking annoying questions which inevitably support how morally wrong the Purge is, in case viewers get too enthusiastically caught up in the revenge fantasy.
The scope of "The Purge: Anarchy" has increased, but perhaps too much. Three separate stories interact yet still require their own individual outcomes. Part of this involves a satirical examination of the wealthy using expensive, hi-tech weaponry (the allowed Class 4 arms are never adequately defined), paying for willing martyrs to slaughter in the safety of their own homes (resembling something out of "Dexter" or "Hostel" but with the falseness of near-religious, family-oriented, machete-wielding savageness, as if any rich person dreams of gruesomely butchering a defenseless human), or conducting their own "The Running Man" voyeuristic entertainment doubling as sport - for the truly daring. One good samaritan thrillingly turns into a force to be reckoned with, though the abundance of characters downplays his awesomeness, which culminates in the cathartic finale that was so disappointingly absent from the first film. It's difficult to call this product an improvement, as the storyline is far removed from the freshness, claustrophobic environment, and intimate focus of the original, but much of it is nevertheless admittedly nerve-wracking.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
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