Skip to main content

You can’t just punch someone in a patisserie, you animal!

Criminal
(2016)

(SPOILERS) I can’t say I was ever a massive Kevin Costner fan, but I appreciated his ability to fit into a certain sort of role like it was custom made for him; he had that movie star of old quality that suited a bygone era. So I took no particular relish into his descent into the realm of Bodyguards and Waterworlds and Postmen, no matter how respectably several of those performed, although Madge probably thought his box office demise was “neat”. A contemporary of Bruce Willis, both their careers began to splutter about the same time, and Costner’s in particular seemed to be over and done with by the time he reached 40.


Perhaps part of that is both having a face for older roles. Costner doesn’t look a whole lot older now than he did then, particular since he is fully on board with the benefits of a decent wig maker. Like many an actor, his time out of the spotlight – most of this millennium barring the odd pleasant surprise like Open Range and Mr. Brooks – gave way to a second phase. In this case, however, his second phase derived from a supporting role in a not-especially-loved movie (Man of Steel) and has resulted in a succession of vehicles that few have cared for, whether replicating the mentor relationship (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) or taking the starring role (Draft Day) or both (McFarland). The latter two saw him rekindling his flirtation with the sports pic, which did him in good stead for a spell (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Tin Cup) but he has also attempted to embed himself in a genre that always elicited mixed fortunes.


Costner was never much of an action star. He could appear in vehicles with action in them, but they almost always required something else going on to become a success (The Untouchables, No Way Out). His pursuit of the mantle of geriatric villain buster, in a no-chance competition with reigning champ Liam Neeson, first found him teaming with the man who made Neeson in Taken, Luc Besson, for 3 Days to Kill. While no one was very interested, and McG’s name is considered such poison that few were even going to give it the benefit of the doubt, it’s actually a lot of fun, and Costner’s a lot of fun in it. Would that it were so true of Criminal.


I mean, full marks to Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (The Rock, Double Jeopardy) for the completely barking plot. I have no idea what attracted the cast to sign on (producer Avi Lerner being persuasive, or his cheque book, is the most likely answer), or director Arial Vromen (whose last flick, The Iceman, was at least decent). Ryan Reynolds seems to have a body swap obsession (Self/less, R.I.P.D.), so that might explain his decision to show up for a glorified cameo, before his memories get transferred into Kevin’s psychopath Bill Pope (“He doesn’t understand society, or how people are supposed to behave”) by Dr Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, looking more desiccated than ever; still, it’s nice to see him and Costner sharing a scene or two), so Kev can proceed to provide the information Reynolds had locked away in his noggin, in order to prevent even bigger psychopath Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla) from buying a program that will access the globe’s nuclear defence codes from Michael Pitt (as The Dutchman – yes, he wears a vague approximation of a Dutch accent). Although, Xavier’s plan (“I’m calling for the overthrow of all governments”) doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.


Costner playing a really bad guy who turns out not to be so bad after all feels like déjà vu (wasn’t that roughly Waterworld?), and Mr. Brooks was wound up much more effectively in fashioning a tug of war between impulses. Jerico Stewart (!) may slaughter a few people, but as soon as he happens upon Reynold’s gorgeous wife (Gal Gadot) and feels a paternal pull towards his daughter (Lara Decaro), we just know he will metamorphosis into a big softy (“I wish I could keep being him”). Indeed, as absurd as this whole thing is, it’s a little alarming how far Cook and Weisberg push it, right down to a beachfront final scene suggesting Gadot is quite willing to play happy families with a murderer infested with her husband’s memories. What kind of sicko is she, exactly?


The London setting gives rise to the occasional incongruous piece of dialogue (“What’s he doing coming on a fishing boat to Dagenham?”), and actors such as Alice Eve, Scott Adkins and Colin Salmon (to give it that Bond authenticity?) pop up in small roles. Gary Oldman plays an American, by the name of Quaker Wells (!!) and gives a truly dire performance laden with wretched dialogue (“Don’t give him the flash drive! He will SCORCH the Earth!”) Any movie with a special appearance by Piers Morgan is bound to have problems, and if Vromen just about keeps Criminal moving, it’s really the cast and the brazen dumbness of the plot that ensures this is half watchable. Just as well for Kev that Hidden Figures came along when it did, since it means he can now have another second shot at supporting actor acclaim.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Repo Man (1984)
In fairness, I should probably check out more Alex Cox’s later works. Before I consign him to the status of one who never made good on the potential of his early success. But the bits and pieces I’ve seen don’t hold much sway. I pretty much gave up on him after Walker. It seemed as if the accessibility of Repo Man was a happy accident, and he was subsequently content to drift further and further down his own post-modern punk rabbit hole, as if affronted by the “THE MOST ASTONISHING FEATURE FILM DEBUT SINCE STEVEN SPIELBERG’S DUEL” accolade splashed over the movie’s posters (I know, I have a copy; see below).

This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.