Tag Archives: Bruce Willis

Ip Man 3 (2015)

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I remember seeing either Ip Man 1 or 2 on TV while out at lunch one day, and I thought to myself, man, this movie sucks. Yeah, the fight scenes are pretty good, but it was pretty much Team China vs nasty, evil, big-nosed white people who can’t act.

Apparently, I’m in the minority, because everyone seems to love the Ip Man movies, which explains why they made Ip Man 3, AND managed to get Mike Tyson to go up against Donnie Yen for an epic showdown.

So is Ip Man 3 actually any good? Yes and no. Again, I came away thinking the film was a little tacky. It has a very simple plot with a righteous protagonist who might as well be Asian Jesus because all he can do is good. And of course, the film milks the fact that Bruce Lee was Ip Man’s student for the third time in three movies. So if you’re looking for high quality storytelling and drama, you’re not going to get it here.

Having said that, Donnie Yen is actually a much better actor than people give him credit for, and he makes Ip Man likable despite the obvious contrivances written into the film to make him too good to be true. I get that he’s a great martial artist and Wing Chun master, but they make him basically unbeatable, so the vulnerability never feels real. Plus I really don’t see the need to make him an all-round super bloke on top of that, a fantastic husband and father who also happens to be super wise. It makes him a little boring.

And then there are the fight scenes. They are absolutely superb, proving that Yen is not only one of the greatest martial artists alive today, he’s also one of the best fight choreographers there has ever been. Whether it’s solo training or hand-to-hand combat or fighting with weapons, Yen makes  sure it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Quick cuts are cut to a minimum, and the controlled pace and flow create a breathtaking experience.

The Tyson fight scene does not disappoint. The set-up is silly and almost laughable, but when they start going toe-to-toe it becomes a majestic chess match of grace against power. Tyson shows off some of the moves that once made him the “baddest man alive”, while Yen does a great job in showing off the contrasting styles between the two fighters.

So while Ip Man 3 is still marred by problems commonly seen in Asian martial arts movies, there’s no denying that the film can be exciting and a pure pleasure to watch at times. On a pure spectacle and popcorn entertainment level, the movie delivers in spades. In my opinion it is worth sitting through all the other stuff just for the action scenes alone.

3.25 stars out of 5

Extraction (2015)

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I watched a bunch of movies lately and have been working hard to catch up on my reviews. There was one movie, however, that completely slipped my mind: Extraction.

Bruce Willis has been an action hero for as long as I can remember, and after phoning it in for a few years now, I suppose it is time for him to starting hanging up the gloves. And hence Extraction, where a retiring CIA operative (Willis) is kidnapped by terrorists and it is up to his son (Kellan Lutz) and his ex-girlfriend (MMA artist Gina Carano) to, um, “extract” him.

In theory, the film isn’t a bad idea. Willis is getting long in the tooth and Lutz is doing his best to be a new-generation action star. After the failure that was A Good Day to Die Hard, I didn’t mind another attempt at it with someone other than “charisma black hole” Jai Courtney, and without the pressure of having to live up to the name of the Die Hard franchise.

Unfortunately, Extraction is a pure vanilla action-thriller that offers nothing new or creative for fans of the genre. Willis doesn’t get to do a whole lot other than collect another paycheck, while Lutz gives Courtney a run for his money in the “zero charisma” stakes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lutz — even after The Legend of Hercules — because he seems like a nice guy who is working hard to make the most of his opportunities from Twilight, but no matter what he does here he can’t save the film from being an epic bore.

The action is stock standard, there is virtually no tension, the plot is uninteresting and the characters lack personality. I can’t really be more specific because, to be honest, there’s not much to remember about it. I do recall a particularly stupid pub scene, a moronic strip club scene, wondering why parts of the plot made little sense, and feeling like they completely wasted Carano’s martial arts talent. She was also a mismatch, chemistry wise, for Lutz.

The result is yet another stale and forgettable action flick that’s not necessarily horrendous but just so lame and uninspired that it falls below any reasonable expectation of what a Bruce Willis film should be.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Prince (2014)

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The Prince is yet another one of the those action flicks inspired by Taken (one of the best action flicks in the last decade) — about a father with considerable man-killing skills doing a lot of man-killing to rescue his daughter from people who totally deserve to die.

I didn’t have a problem with the rip-offish premise — and I admit the film looked great on paper with an A-list cast featuring Jason Patric, Bruce Willis, John Cusack, 50 Cent and Korean superstar Rain (donning the worst haircut since Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code) — though  I can’t say I was surprised that The Prince received virtually no attention or critical acclaim. The film is getting a limited theatrical showing along with a simultaneous VOD (video on demand) release, meaning they have pretty much resigned themselves to low expectations.

Instead of a former government agent like Taken’s Bryan Mills, Jason Patric plays Paul, a widowed father working as a mechanic in some country bumpkin town. His finds out that his daughter Beth (Gia Montegna, daughter of legendary actor Joe Montegna!) is no longer at college and has gotten mixed up in some nasty business with a drug kingpin (50 Cent). But Paul is no ordinary mechanic — he’s a former crime boss and psycho killing machine known as “The Prince”. And so Paul goes off looking for her with the aid of Beth’s skanky friend Angela (Jessica Lowndes) and old buddy (Cusack) and starts beating up and killing whoever gets in his way. Meanwhile, all that killing has Paul coming up on the radar of a former foe (Willis), who is determined to ruin Paul’s life as payback. For some reason he has hired a Korean “consultant” (Rain) to do the dirty work for him.

The pieces look to be in place for a semi-enjoyable popcorn action flick, but The Prince fails due to a couple of big reasons. First of all, the characters are boring. Paul might be deadly, but he’s is a sleep-inducing hero without a proper mean streak or edge to him. Bruce Willis is now just signing up for supporting roles in movies for the cheques. And so is John Cusack, who does close to nothing in the entire film. Jessica Lowndes is not uneasy on the eyes, but she’s a pointless character. It’s not like she’s a love interest, so all she does is try to act seductive and annoying for no reason. The worst has to be poor Rain, whose Hollywood dreams appear to have fallen so far that he’s been relegated to a “henchman” role in which he is forced to spew out crappy lines in strained (albeit much improved) English. And I haven’t even talked about 50 Cent’s…um…cameo.

Secondly, and more importantly, the action is laughable. Everything else can suck in a movie like this, but not the action. I say it’s laughable not because it’s badly shot — it’s because it defies all logic. Paul might be a super killing machine, but in this film he’s the luckiest man alive. Guys shoot at him with machine guns from point blank and all miss him, while he picks them off one by one with his trusty hand gun. He walks up a set of stairs without noticing that a bunch of guys are pointing their guns at him. They don’t shoot for some reason, and then they all miss from within 20 feet, just in time for him to look up and kill them all. Rain sneaks up on Paul from behind and could shoot him dead at any time. But what does he do instead? He disarms Paul so they can have a shitty hand-to-hand combat scene. So predictable and so lame. Bruce Willis holds Paul’s daughter hostage and says he will kill her in front of him, which is what he has wanted to do for years. But he doesn’t. And he waits and waits and waits for no reason whatsoever while telling Paul he’s going to do it, until of course he loses his opportunity.

I didn’t think The Prince was THAT bad when I saw it, but the more I think of it now the more I think it sucked. Great cast but crap characters, stupid action and completely devoid of the pace, style and charisma of the film it was trying to emulate.

1.75 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part VIII

Movies reviewed: 2 Guns, Red 2, Paranoia, The Last Days on Mars

2 Guns (2013)

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It really does help improve a movie experience when you know absolutely nothing about it when you step inside the cinema. Such was the case when I saw 2 Guns, which on its face looked like just another guns-blazing crime/buddy action comedy starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, with Paula Patton as the obligatory eye candy. Maybe it’s because of this, I found 2 Guns to be surprisingly entertaining and likable, though at the end of the day my assumptions about it proved to be largely correct and I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a couple of years.

Denzel and Marky Mark play two criminals involved in the drug trade with more to them than meets the eye. It has a twisting and turning plot complete with crooked cops, backstabbing and double-crossing, but it’s executed well and in a light and humorous tone. The action itself is nothing special, and the jokes are passable, but the film stays afloat thanks to the banter between the two charismatic leads, who provide different styles that somehow mesh together rather effectively.

Paula Patton made headlines when she apparently demanded nude scenes with Denzel, but apart from that she doesn’t get to do a whole lot. She should not be confused with Bill Paxton, who plays the nasty villain with some personality but ultimately not enough to make him a memorable one.

In the end, 2 Guns is adequately good; a fun time with two bankable stars who appeared to be enjoying themselves, but no effort was made to go that extra mile to elevate itself from the other movies of this type you see every year.

3.25 stars out of 5

Red 2 (2013)

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The 2010 predecessor, Red, was a rollicking ride with cool old people. I wasn’t as high on it as some others, but it was fresh, funny, and different. As expected, the success of that film led to Red 2, which is essentially more of the same — except this time the act gets, pardon the pun, a little old.

Inspired by the comic book series of the same name, Red 2 is about a bunch of ex-CIA operatives who are “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”, and for some reason people want to kill them. The all-star cast is again headed by Bruce Willis (with Mary-Louis Parker as his girlfriend), John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox, and this time they’ve added Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins and Korean star Byung-hun Lee (from GI Joe).

Red 2 is still loud, explosive, crazy, and routinely tongue-in-cheek, but this time around it lacked the charm of the original. The idea was good, but evidently only for one film, and rehashing the same formula failed to deliver the same result. I didn’t really care much about where the plot was heading and the narrative felt like it was all over the place, and the character quirks evolved from affable and sweet to mildly irritating. The occasional amusing one-liner would pop up every now and then, but for most of its excessive 116-minute running time Red 2 was just going through the motions.

A mixed bag, I’m afraid, with probably more bad than good. And of course, a third film is already in the works.

2.5 stars out of 5

Paranoia (2013)

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Every year there is a star vehicle film that appears to have some strong elements but ends up being a real turd. This year’s leading candidate is Paranoia, which could actually end up having the opposite of the intended effect on the career of Liam Hemsworth, brother of Thor and ex of Miley Cyrus. It’s not that horrible, in all fairness, but in context, considering the director (Aussie Robert Luketic, whose credits include Legally Blonde and 21) and the cast (Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Amber Heard, Richard Dreyfuss, Embeth Davidtz, Julian McMahon and Josh Holloway — Sawyer from Lost), Paranoia is an awfully unconvincingly, bland and actually rather boring film about corporate espionage.

Hemsworth works as a low-level employee for a giant corporation run by Oldman. One day, he pisses off his boss and instead of destroying his career is given an opportunity to infiltrate the company of Oldman’s competitor and former mentor (Ford). He accepts, of course, and is seduced by the perks of being a well-paid executive, but as you guessed the rosiness doesn’t last very long. By the way, Dreyfuss is Hemsworth’s dad, Heard is the love interest, and Sawyer is an investigator.

One of the biggest problems with Paranoia is that Hemsworth, as big and hunky as he is, has very little charisma. I don’t put all the blame on him, however, as the pedestrian script probably sapped whatever charisma he had anyway. The other problem is that the plot itself offers no excitement or thrills, and you can basically see all the plot points being ticked off, one by one, as it progresses towards a painfully predictable and cliched ending where the absence of an obligatory twist would have been more of a surprise.

In other words, Paranoia is this year’s Abduction, the Taylor Lautner star vehicle from 2011. That was laughably bad as well, but at least it had some guilty pleasures as we watched Lautner run from place to place while kicking ass. Paranoia, on the other hand, was just stuck in the same place for nearly 2 hours.

1.5 stars out of 5

The Last Days on Mars (2013)

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I love me some Liev Schreiber, the man with the best narration voice in Hollywood (sorry, Morgan Freeman). And even though I couldn’t get into Ray Donovan, I can’t deny that Liev infuses the screen with his icy masculine presence whenever he is around.

All of that has little to do with The Last Days or Mars, essentially a zombie movie set on the red planet. The trailer looked pretty promising so I decided to check it out, but unfortunately, after a strong, atmospheric start, the film fizzles out in the second half and ends up wasting what was a great idea.

Liev leads a crew of astronauts who are about to leave Mars after a half-year post. Less than a day before they are scheduled to depart, one of the crew members discovers potential evidence of life and decides to check it out. Big mistake. That’s right, you guessed it. The discovery unleashes a virus that turns humans into ultra-aggressive zombies!

You can see that it’s an intriguing premise and offers a lot of potential for either fun or serious scares. Sadly, The Last Days on Mars delivers neither. Irish director Ruairí Robinson opted for the straightforward horror route, which is how I preferred it, but fails to deliver freshness or the abundance of thrills that a film like this required. There was too much seriousness and long slabs of lame dialogue, too much contemplation and not enough hardcore zombie interaction. A considered zombie film is not a bad thing, but only if all the drama can add to the effectiveness of the horror or bring out something in the characters for us to root for. In this case, all it does is slow things down. Even the likes of Liev, Romala Garai, Olivia Williams and Elias Koteas could not salvage their respective characters.

That said, I did enjoy the early moments of the film, which I found to be quite creepy. But once the zombies appeared, the film went straight for the contrived plot devices we see too often in such films, including a sudden and complete deprivation of common sense. Considering that it doesn’t ever turn farcical and that it’s running time is a suitable 98 minutes, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that The Last Days on Mars sucked, only that it’s weak and disappointing.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)

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I have pretty much erased 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra from my memory. I vaguely recall Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller, a couple of ninjas and some crazy hi-tech machinery, but that’s about it.

The sequel, GI Joe: Retaliation, is probably better than its predecessor, but chances are I also won’t remember much of it in a couple of years. It’s a typical popcorn movie with lots of fight scenes and explosions and corny jokes, but for the most part I found it fun while it lasted. 

It makes no difference if you haven’t seen the first film. The GI Joes are some special American soldiers who do the heavy lifting for the US government. Channing Tatum is back as Duke, and this time he has brought along his buddy The Rock, who plays his second in command. Just about everyone else is gone, except for the white and black ninjas (Lee Byung-hun and Ray Park — better known as Darth Maul) and Jonathan Pryce, who plays the US president. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had better things to do but his character, Cobra Commander, returned behind a convenient mask.

The big new addition to the franchise is Bruce Willis, who appears to be going through a Nicholas Cage phase (ie, “I’ll do whatever you pay me to do”). John McClane is just everywhere these days. Here he plays Joe, apparently the original GI, which makes perfect sense given that Demi Moore once played GI Jane.

The story is not important. All you need to know is that the bad guys (Cobra) want to retaliate, and then the GI Joes want to retaliate against the retaliation. There is a big surprise for those who don’t already know it near the beginning, but apart from that the rest of the film sails on predictably.

The highlight of the ensemble cast is Lee Byung-hun, who gets to show off his impressive physique and sword skills as the white ninja. The scenes between him and Ray Park, especially with all the ninjas flying around on the mountains, are clearly the highlight of the film. To be honest I found the other action sequences involving loads and loads of massive guns and tanks to be rather “meh.” I guess I need to be a gun nut (or American, or both) to appreciate it.

The rest of the cast is adequate, save for some sub-par acting by Channing Tatum (even for him). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been taking too much steroids lately and he looks like he could explode with one more injection. I don’t get the obsession, but other people clearly do and he is cashing in on it. Adrianne Palicki (Red Dawn) provides the eye candy and girl power as the token female GI, and her male counterpart is DJ Cotrona (no idea where he came from).

What impressed me most about the movie was its nonchalant attitude towards violence and global nuclear destruction. There’s a lot of over-the-top carnage, dialogue and silliness but director Jon M Chu takes it in stride and delivers it in a tongue-in-cheek style. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the man who directed Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. There is one scene involving the world’s nuclear powers that is just a complete farce, but because Chu just wings it the scene becomes oddly enjoyable. Never mind that a major foreign city is completely obliterated (it’s not American, so who cares, right?).

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

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The Die Hard franchise has been on progressive decline since the 1988 original, which I still believe to this day is the best action movie of all time. The 1990 sequel, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, is a surprisingly excellent action flick in its own right, while the 1995  Die Hard With a Vengeance is a prime example of a fantastic franchise reboot. All three can be considered action classics. The series took a bigger step back with 2007’s Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free or Die Hard), where the 12-year gap had an unwelcome effect on the now-iconic John McClane, though it was still a relatively good movie. And now, the fifth and newest addition, A Good Day to Die Hard (let’s call it DH5 for simplicity sake), has fallen off the wagon and taken this great franchise down into the pits.

DH5 is not horrible by typical modern action movie standards, but it is a smear on the Die Hard franchise whichever way you look at it. In this one, John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to Russia to “rescue” his son Jack (played by Aussie Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for a murder linked to  an imprisoned political prisoner. Mayhem ensues, and this time the McClane father and son duo team up to annihilate the bad guys.

I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve with this plodding effort, which has a lot of guns and explosions and cars flying all over the place, but not much real tension, humour or genuine excitement. Perhaps they were trying to emulate the awesomeness of Taken or the Bourne series (ie, an unstoppable good guy beats up a lot of bad guys), which I believe is a huge mistake.

The earlier Die Hard films featured a reluctant, vulnerable McClane caught in situations he didn’t want to be in, which is why they were so full of tension and nervous energy. In the last two of the series, however, John McClane has ceased to be the old John McClane we know and love. He has become the “new” John McClane, some kind of hardened superhero who never gets rattled or hurt no matter how many times he is tossed around in moving metal, beaten up or dropped from ridiculously high places. He has too much cache from past experiences to be vulnerable. He’s like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable without the fear of water.

As a result, the DH5 is generally predictable (even with the twists) and frequently lame. Even though there’s all this stuff happening on the screen, there’s just no excitement because you know he’s John McClane and John McClane can never be beaten. Worst still, this new McClane has no special hand-to-hand combat skills like say a Jason Bourne or Bryan Mills — he’s just a guy who likes to fire a lot of guns and doesn’t get hit himself.

Part of the problem is the direction of John Moore, who was previously at the helm of Max Payne and the remake of The Omen in 2006. We also had the “new” John McClane in DH4 (directed by Len Wiseman from the Underworld series), but that film was still pretty good, so some of the blame has to go to Moore, who let his foot off the gas pedal too often and relied far too much on obvious digital effects in many of the action sequences.

The biggest culprit is likely the script by Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The A-Team), which is not very good at all. The dialogue is horrendous in both English and Russian and the attempts at creating some sort of father-son dynamic between the McClanes come off as clunky and out of place, largely because it feels so obligatory. McClane’s wry humour and one-liners, one of the defining traits of his character, is almost non-existent as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are efforts to lighten the mood, but they rarely felt like they meshed with the flow of the film.

The Die Hard franchise has always stretched the bounds of craziness, but a lot of what happens in DH5 is just plain lazy. Why don’t people bleed to death from untreated gun shots and puncture wounds? Why do Russian people who generally speak Russian to each other feel the need to squeeze in a sentence of English every now and then? Why do they suddenly start speaking completely in English  towards the end? Why do some of their Russian accents even start disappearing? Why does Jack McClane have to say his dad’s name, “John”, at least once every sentence? We know his name is John; we’ve known that for the last four films! Who the heck talks like that?

Bruce Willis is still good enough to pull off John McClane, but I can’t help get the feeling that he’s growing a little weary and is ready to pass the baton to Jai Courtney, who is physically imposing but looks more like a bad guy than a good one (he was the bad guy in Jack Reacher and felt much more convincing). The rest of the cast is predominantly Russian and none are memorable. None even come close to possessing the charisma of a Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman from the original) or even a Simon Peter Gruber (Jeremy Irons from the third film), let’s just put it that way. That’s another problem to add to the list — lame antagonists.

When all is said and done, DH5 is actually a passable action film by ordinary standards, but a criminally bad one when measured against the lofty bar set by the earlier entries in the same franchise. It’s a real shame because I think they could have done much much better, especially if they are considering bringing together John McClane and both of his kids (that’s Jai Courtney and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the latter of whom has a cameo in this one after appearing in DH4) in a sixth and potentially final Die Hard film.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Looper (2012)

I love time travel films, and one of my favourites of all-time also had Bruce Willis in it (Twelve Monkeys, of course). Given that I have also recently developed a man-crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper appeared to be a tailor-made film for me.

The movie is set in the year 2044 and the future of that future is 2074, a time when time travel has finally been invented (I still have a chance to live to that day, so fingers crossed that this is based on a true story). Unfortunately, time travel is outlawed then but is still being used by criminal organizations, which need a “looper” to help them in the past when they transport things back over from the future. Gordon-Levitt is a young looper. Bruce Willis is him in 30 years. I can’t say why, but they don’t like each other.

It may sound complicated but I actually found Looper to be a really straightforward time-travel movie. The mechanics and laws of time travel in the film’s universe are sufficiently described in the beginning and there’s not much to be confused about, which is why I was really confused by all these reviewers saying that the film was confusing. Some even compared it to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which I found strange because they are nothing alike apart from the fact that both star Gordon-Levitt.

Looper is an unusual and unusually clever time-travel film in the sense that it’s more of a character movie about how people deal with the effects of time travel rather than the time travel itself. From that perspective it means less trying to figure out what’s going on/pointing out gaps in logic and more just enjoying the movie for its action and freaky futuristic stuff.

It’s always hard to review a movie like this without slipping in unnecessary spoilers, so all I will say is that it also stars Emily Blunt and is in part related to genetic mutations which occur naturally in the human body at some point in the future (I am begging for this to be based on a true story).

Some people have criticized the decision to use prosthetics and make-up on Gordon-Levitt to make him look like a young Bruce Willis. I thought it was awesome. I have to admit, the thin-framed Gordon Levitt is one of the last actors I would have pictured playing John “Yippee-ki-yay” McClane, but the prosthetics made me believe he could have eventually grown to look like him. He still looks like Gordon-Levitt but it also reminds you a little of Bruce Willis – I don’t get what the big deal is.

Despite my praises, I think there is something missing from Looper that prevents it from being a time-travel classic like Twelve Monkeys, Back to the Future, Terminator 2, and so forth. The film has a great premise, interesting characters, solid action and enough twists and turns to make it a highly enjoyable experience, but perhaps it lacked the grand vision and scale that would have pushed it to that next level.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

So I keep hearing that The Expendables 2 is what the first film should have been.

My expectations for the first film were, unfortunately, slightly higher. That said, Expendables 2 is a vast improvement on its predecessor because it decided to have do more with fact that it features a whole bunch of high-profile action stars who aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. It’s has more characters, longer cameos, bigger explosions, upgraded fight scenes and a lot of great one liners. I wish it could have been a little more, but perhaps I’m asking for too much.

The story picks up not too long after the first one ended. Sty Stallone and Jason Statham are still leading their team of mercenaries, which includes other action heroes such as martial arts expert Jet Li, MMA fighter Randy Couture (Mr “You got a door? You got a gym!”), Ivan Drago aka Dolph Lundgren , and the guy I will always associate with White Chicks, Terry Crews. Of the original team, only Mickey Rourke dropped out.

This time, the team has two strange new additions: Liam Hemsworth (who is not an action star — yet — though his brother Chris is) as a sniper, and Chinese actress Yu Nan (selected probably because of her proficiency in English), who keeps up the Asian quotient on the squad after Jet Li jets off minutes into the film (he hadn’t planned on being in it but Stallone insisted).

I think the plot had something to do with baddies forcing poor villagers in Eastern Europe to help them mine plutonium, but no one really cares about plot in a film like this.

The Expendables 2 still contains “serious” scenes and “character development” scenes, but on the whole the film was more lighthearted than the first. The jokes are frequent, and unlike in the first film, much funnier, and the fight scenes are better choreographed. There are plenty of blown off limbs and exploding bodies but it’s all so intentionally over-the-top that no one would call it realistic violence.

There are three major positives worth mentioning about this film.

The first is the new villain, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays a guy creatively named…er, Vilain. Van Damme does a delicious villain and actually gets to perform some of his trademark Kickboxer movers, such as that flying roundhouse he loves so much. Van Damme is backed up by the familiar face of Scott Adkins, who has been in a bunch of supporting roles and B-grade action films over the years.

The second is the extended cameos of Willis and Arnie. The biggest disappointment of the first film was that they appeared for about 5 seconds together and did nothing. This time, the trio finally get together and get their hands dirty. Even though it’s not for very long, it’s still better than nothing, and they even get to shoot witty remarks at each other. It was fun.

The third is the much-talked about appearance of Chuck Norris, who has somehow grown to legendary status thanks to those never-ending internet jokes. Chuck lives up to those jokes and even tells a few of his own. His presence is the brightest highlight of the entire film, and it’s a shame he couldn’t have gotten more screen time. I would pay to watch a Chuck Norris spin-off where all he does is live up to his legend.

What you should have noticed by now is that none of the three positives involve Stallone’s team of mercenaries. That’s because they still kind of sucked. The biggest culprit is still Stallone himself, who must be the lamest of them all by keeping a “straight face”  (okay, I see that’s a term grossly inappropriate for him) throughout the entire film. He remains jacked up on steroids, human growth hormones or whatever Lance Armstrong has been taking, but he exhibits no charm and no skill other than growling incoherently (I think he’s still saying “Adriannnnn!”), running in over-sized platform boots and squinting through those two pellets he calls eyes. But hey, it’s his movie and his idea, so he still has to be “the man” by default. I wanted more Rambo and Rocky, less whatever his name is in the film.

Statham has two good scenes where he gets to strut his stuff, but Crews, Lundgren and Couture fade into the background and practically do nothing. Hemsworth and Yu Nan don’t do a whole lot other actors couldn’t have done either. It’s disappointing and a waste of an opportunity.

I also didn’t get all the pointless talking that was supposedly aimed at character development. They were boring, and no one can tell what Stallone is trying to say anyway.

Ultimately, the film was still a solid piece of entertainment and plenty of popcorn fun. Kudos for improving on the first one and providing a blueprint for that inevitable third movie. It’s possible they may have already exhausted all they can do with this franchise but I suppose as long as there are new action stars to add people will still flock to watch it — me included.

3.5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review: Red (2010)

Is it just me, or is every second movie these days based on (or inspired by) a graphic novel?  Not that there’s anything wrong with it.  As long as it’s fun and exciting, I’m all for it.

And fortunately, Red is both.  The title is an acronym used to describe Bruce Willis and his ageing superstar secret service buddies, including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox.

The plot is relatively straightforward — someone is trying to kill former CIA operative Frank Moses (Willis), and he’s trying to find out who it is and go badass on anyway that gets in his way.  A Weed-less Mary-Louise Parker plays the love interest, and Karl Urban is the CIA agent trying to catch him but at the same time putting all the pieces together.

With some many top stars (all of whom I like) crammed into a single film, the result is necessarily lots of fun.  My only complaint is that Morgan Freeman didn’t get nearly enough time to showcase his talents and really copped a bad deal.

Red is essentially an action-packed popcorn movie with a bunch of old people acting cool, shooting and beating up people.  It reminded me of a less sexy version of The Losers, also a comic movie (haven’t had time to review it yet).  While it is by no means a classic, Red provides 111 minutes of solid entertainment…though I still have trouble believing that the film just got nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Picture Comedy or Musical category.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Expendables (2010)

The Expendables is the type of idea that would have been really amazing 15, maybe even 10 years ago: an all-out action blockbuster featuring all the most famous action superstars in the world.

Unfortunately, as often is the case, the idea turned out to be a thousand times better than the actual film.

The Expensables may have Sylvester Stallone (Rocky and Rambo), Jason Statham (the Transporter), Jet Li (the guy with the Kiss of the Dragon), Dolph Lundgren (my personal favourite, Drago), ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Randy Couture (pro-wrestler/MMA fighter), with cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as fine macho actors Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, and beefy funnyman Terry Crews (every time I see this guy I think of White Chicks) (all it was missing were Van Damme, The Rock and Jackie Chan) — but it also has one of the worst screenplays (written by Stallone and David Callahan) for a blockbuster in recent memory.

Virtually no plot, uninteresting protagonists, horrible cardboard villains, even worse female characters, and dialogue that switches between grotsequely cheesy, cringeworthy and WTF — all these faults could have been forgiven had The Expendables simply been mindblowingly exciting and entertaining — but miraculously, against all odds, it wasn’t!

It wasn’t boring or anything, but despite all the fists, knives, guns, bombs, explosions and over-the-top carnage (think Rambo IV), The Expendables was nothing special.  I was particularly surprised by the relative large number of slow and ‘character development’ scenes.  When the action was going at full blast, I have to admit it was pretty good, but there simply wasn’t enough of such sequences.

Again, I go back to the horrendous script and I also partly blame the direction (also by Stallone).  To me, it didn’t feel like any of the action roles were written with the specific action stars in mind.  You would imagine that the film would play to the strengths of each of the action stars, but it doesn’t.  I was appalled to see a hand-to-hand combat scene featuring Jet Li absolutely destroyed by rapid camera movements and cuts.  What’s the point of filming a kung fu master using techniques that would allow any character to play the role?

Instead of roles written specifically for the stars, what you got was the opposite — a bunch of bland, stock standard roles that happen to be filled by past and present (mostly past) action stars.  How is it possible that with so many fantastic personalities that not one character was interesting or featured an ounce of creativity?

As for the performances, they weren’t bad if you factor in the material they had to work with.  With the 103-minute running time, there was really only room for two main leads — Stallone and Statham, with the rest relegated to filling thankless roles and cameos.

The reason I said the idea may have worked 10-15 years ago is because at least some of the stars would have been closer to their primes (and audiences would have loved the cheesy lines) .  With the exception of Statham, all of the action dudes looked and felt too old for their respective roles.  Now, it’s kind of sad to see a bunch of old guys trying to hold on to past glories.

Stallone, in particular, demonstrated perfectly why men over 60 should never use human growth hormones, work out with heavy weights, inject botox, pluck their eyebrows, or try to run with platform boots.

Stallone posing after a workout for the film

Ultimately, The Expendables was a good (albeit aged) idea that ended up as a failed experiment.  It felt as though Stallone had put all his effort into gathering these amazing stars into one film rather than creating a coherent and exciting movie experience.  What a shame.  There was so much potential wasted here.

2.5 stars

(In all honesty this is quite generous — but I have to give big kudos for getting all these guys together, and in particular the one classic scene where all three Planet Hollywood owners — Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger were on screen at the same time.)