Three Thrillers from Buena Vista
The Lookout (August 12/07)
The directorial debut of noted screenwriter Scott Frank, The Lookout casts Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt - a janitor suffering from brain damage who finds himself unwittingly caught up in a scheme to rob the bank where he works. Jeff Daniels co-stars as Chris' blind roommate, while Matthew Goode plays the charismatic force behind the robbery. There's little doubt that The Lookout benefits substantially from Gordon-Levitt's absolutely stunning performance, as the movie is sporadically bogged down in precisely the sort of cliches that one might've expected from such a premise (with the presence of an almost comically sinister thug named Bone the most overt example of this). It's consequently difficult not to wish that Frank had just emphasized a more low-key sort of vibe - ie more scenes revolving around Chris' friendship with Daniels' character - though there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of the film's genuinely thrilling third act. Despite its flaws, however, The Lookout is ultimately an above-average first feature that's undoubtedly more compelling than some of Frank's more high-profile screenwriting gigs as of late (including 2002's Minority Report and 2005's The Interpreter).
Primeval (August 12/07)
It's remarkable just how quickly Primeval establishes itself as a thoroughly awful, downright irritating piece of work, as the film - thanks initially to Michael Katleman's egregiously flashy direction - kicks off with an action sequence that's virtually incoherent and things just get progressively worse from there. John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris' screenplay features a fairly intriguing premise - several figures are sent into Africa to find (and capture) a deadly crocodile responsible for over 300 deaths - but the pair's reluctance to offer up even a hint of backstory for any of the film's characters makes it impossible to root for their survival. Talented performers such as Dominic Purcell, Brooke Langton, and Orlando Jones are consequently trapped within the confines of ridiculously simplistic stereotypes, with Jones' portrayal of the film's prototypically sassy black victim certainly the most overt example of this (the actors' uniformly superficial work mirrors Katleman's relentlessly slick visual choices, at least). The inclusion of several instances of social commentary by Brancato and Ferris couldn't possibly be more unwelcome, as the writers hit the viewer over the head with their message - which concerns the parallels between the crocodile and the country's vicious warlords - with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And as if that weren't enough, Primeval features some of the worst computer-generated effects this side of a Roger Corman flick; there's consequently little doubt that what should have been the one bright spot within the movie (ie bloody, gory crocodile attacks) are rendered absolutely incomprehensible thanks to the exceedingly poor special effects and Katleman's jerky camerawork.
Renaissance (August 15/07)
Though the film does possess one or two interesting elements, Renaissance suffers from an unpleasant and relentlessly distracting animation style that ultimately renders its few positive attributes moot. Director Christian Volckman employs the sort of stark black-and-white visuals that have been put to fairly good use in graphic novels like Frank Miller's Sin City and Brian Michael Bendis' Torso, though it becomes clear almost immediately that such an approach just doesn't work within the context of a full-length motion picture. The shadowless atmosphere, which would be awfully tough to take even in short bursts, affords the proceedings an oppressive and thoroughly interminable vibe that's sure to alienate even the most open-minded viewer, but even if one were willing to overlook the film's repellent appearance, there's still the uniformly underdeveloped characters and headscratcher of a storyline to contend with. The plot - which has something to do with a futuristic cop trying to track down a missing scientist - rarely makes any sense, as the four (!) credited screenwriters layer the proceedings with inane bits of technobabble and eye-rolling attempts at tough-guy dialogue (ie "I have an uncanny instinct for sniffing out a son of a bitch"). Daniel Craig offers up a fairly decent voice performance as the central character, admittedly, but the bottom line is that Renaissance's headache-inducing visuals are just too insurmountable an obstacle for the film to overcome.
no stars out of