Thursday, August 23, 2012

Even Chuck Norris grows old....

The President's Man (2000)
Starring: Chuck Norris, Dylan Neal, Soon-Tek Oh, Jennifer Tung, Ralph Waite, and Marla Adams
Director: Eric Norris and Michael Preece
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Joshua McCord (Norris), the latest man to fill the position of the most secret of secret service agents--an operative who is at the President's personal disposal to carry out missions that are so sensitive that no one else can ever know about them--finds that he is growing too old for the job. He hand-picks his successor (Neal), but he has barely started to train him before his apprentice must rescue the First Lady (Adams) from a group of shadowy terrorists with ties to McCord's past.

"The President's Man" was a successful attempt at making a made-for-TV movie in the vein of a James Bond film before they went COMPLETELY gadget happy... but on a fraction of the budget a Bond movie gets. It's a fun romp, featuring decent performances by the entire cast and a script that doesn't embarrass anyone too badly with clunky lines. Chuck Norris fans in will find plenty to cheer about, as, although he plays an agent who is on the verge of retirement and in theory isn't the main character, he has a couple of over-the-top action scenes of the kind that gave rise to the never-ending stream of Chuck Norris jokes.

You probably noted that I said above that Norris in theory isn't the main character in the film. That should be Sgt. Deke Slater, the apprentice President's Man. Unfortunately, Dylan Neal's main talent seems to be striking poses and mugging at the camera rather than playing a role with any sort of charisma. He has had a long and busy career, but he remains an unimpressive pretty boy in my opinion... especially when he's surrounded by charismatic performers like Norris, Jennifer Tung, and, last but far from least, one of television's most talented Asian character actors Soon Tek-Oh, in one of his last major roles as he career started to wind down. Neal simply can't measure up and as such, actors who should be supporting him--like Norris and Soon--end up outshining him whenever they share scenes. (The role of Slater got recast for the sequel.)

All-in-all, though, this is an enjoyable flick, especially if you like Chuck Norris and Soon Tek-Oh. It's also a demonstration of how Norris managed his career better than poor Steven Seagal. If Seagal had acknowledged the passage of time and tried to phase himself out as an action star, maybe he could have retired with grace instead of as an object of mockery.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Crank 2': Among the lamest sequels ever?

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
Starring: Jason Statham, Bai Ling, Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, and Dwight Yoakam
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Chev Chelios (Statham) wakes up after three months in a coma to discover that his heart has been stolen. He goes on a rampage across the city in an attempt to retrieve it while using any means necessary to get enough electricity to keep the mechanical heart he's been stuck with functioning.

The original "Crank" was a crazy, ultra-violent film that unfolded like a live-action video game. The sequel is more of the same, but with an emphasis on truly ugly and gory violence and twisted, off-color humor. Both of these were present in the original film, but they have been emphasized even more here.

So, not only is this an ugly film full of ugly violence--such as the loving close-ups of a character cutting off his own nipples--but it lacks the originality of the first film. The humor isn't even as funny, with the filmmakers seeming to think that a Chinese hooker who can barely speak English and characters repeating over and over and over "Fuck You, Chelios!" is the height of hilarity.

I can't even really comment on the acting, since, much like the original, it is secondary to the crazy violence on screen. However, Jason Statham once again gets to do what he is best at--projecting menace, jumping off things, and kicking stunt-men in their faces.

But Statham giving us Basic Statham isn't enough to make this film worth your time. A more pointless and disappointing sequel will be hard to make. If you've had the misfortune of viewing it, I feel your pain.

'The Mechanic' remake falls short of the original

Well, "The Expendables Week 2" didn't really get off the ground, especially since I haven't even had the time to see "The Expendables 2" yet... but I'll be posting reviews of films featuring the cast of the latest assembly of Action Movie Greats for the next few days anyway. Hell... Life might even cooperate to the point where I'll get to see the Big Movie this Thursday.

But first....

The Mechanic (2011)
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, and Donald Sutherland
Director: Simon West
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Bishop (Statham), ohe world's foremost assassins, is tasked with killing his long-time friend and handler (Sutherland) after it appears he has betrayed their employer. Bishop reluctantly performs the hit and then, motivated partly by guilt, takes on the friend's son (Foster) as an apprentice hit-man, teaching him the tricks of the trade.

The deep regard in which I hold the 1972 "The Mechanic", of which this is a remake, may be coloring my estimation of this film.

From beginning to end, this film is fairly solid. It's well-paced, the action scenes are all well-staged, the effects are nicely done (including the computer-generated blood-splatter... I only noticed it because I've developed a bad habit of looking for it; kudos to West and his special effects crew for being among the few filmmakers to know how to use that kind of CG effect properly on the screen), and the actors pretty much all deliver the type and quality of performances that we expect from them for the parts they are playing in a film like this.

Everything here is adequate... unless you have the misfortune of having seen the 1978 "The Mechanic." Then, you have the sense that you're watching a pale imitation based on a dumbed-down version of the original story.

It's not that Jason Statham is bad as assassin Arthur Bishop--it's just that his version doesn't come close to touching the icy cool of Charles Bronson's portrayal. It's not that Ben Foster is bad as Steve, the apprentice assassin--it's just that Jean-Michael Vincent made you so want to punch him in the face over and over. It's not that Donald Sutherland was bad as McKenna--it's that Keenan Wynn was dead-on perfect for the role as the doomed fixer.

And it might be that all the actors in the remake of "The Mechanic" would have come off better if the script they were working with had been as intelligent as the one in the original--it's as if they decided to trade flash for substance when they set about to make this version--and if the direction, cinematography, and editing would have been as perfectly artistic as in the original instead of just serviceable as it is here.

Finally, the filmmakers here manage to screw up the perfect ending of the original, muting whatever might have remained of the original film's tale about two violent men in a violent business.

If you're a Jason Statham fan, I'm sure you'll like this movie. It is very entertaining, and Statham does his usual solid job. However, if you want to see a more intelligent (if less action-packed) film about hitmen and the dangerous, amoral roads they travel, you need to check out the original.