Hopscotch (April 19/04)
Despite the intriguing setup and a typically charming Walter Matthau performance, Hopscotch ultimately never amounts to much. Matthau stars as a CIA agent who's demoted by his by-the-book boss (Ned Beatty), and retaliates by writing a tell-all autobiography - which he tantalizingly sends to various agencies around the world one chapter at a time. The majority of the film is mind-numbingly repetitive: Matthau taunts Beatty, Beatty pursues, and Matthau escapes. Aside from some impressive foreign locations, Hopscotch hasn't got much going for it. The film finally gets going in the last 20 minutes, with a surprisingly exciting chase involving a helicopter and a small plane, but it's far too little too late by then.
Suicide Club (April 19/04)
Suicide Club is the yet another Japanese horror movie that contains an outstanding premise, but mucks it up with inexplicable plot developments and an infuriatingly open-ended conclusion. The movie begins with an attention-grabbing sequence in which over 50 high school students leap to their deaths in front of a speeding train, leaving the shocked onlookers drenched in blood. A detective (played by Ryo Ishibashi, of Audition fame) begins working the case and pursuing various leads, while other instances of suicide begin cropping up. The first half of Suicide Club is fairly standard, with the mystery element of the story genuinely compelling; why are all these people killing themselves? Is it just a coincidence, or is there something more sinister at work? But writer/director Shion Sono soon loses interest in his own storyline and begins throwing in increasingly bizarre elements (the culmination of which is an indescribable sequence set inside a bowling alley, featuring a self-described Charles Manson type stepping on animals while belting out some kind of a showtune). Worse still, the various plot points introduced by Sono - ie the belt made out of human skin, the cryptic dialogue spouted by creepy kids, etc - are never explained, and the film's abrupt ending is maddening. Sono's clearly trying to ape Takashi Miike's incomprehensible style, and on that level, he undoubtedly succeeds. But like Miike's movies, Suicide Club is just too weird to ever become anything more than a curiosity (and a dull curiosity, at that).
Out for a Kill (April 24/04)
Though it seemed as though Steven Seagal had reached the nadir of his career with his last flick, The Foreigner, Out for a Kill manages to top that movie in terms of pure awfulness. It probably doesn't help that the movie reunites Seagal with the director of The Foreigner, Michael Oblowitz, a filmmaker who hasn't got a clue how to properly establish characters or even shoot coherent action sequences. Seagal stars as a world renowned archeologist (no, really) who sparks a turf war between warring Chinese mafia factions after stumbling onto an ancient artifact. The incomprehensibly complicated storyline is the most prominent of Out for a Kill's transgressions, of which there are many. Seagal's deficiencies as an actor have never been more obvious, particularly in a sequence that requires him to mourn his murdered wife (though he's clearly going for an "I-just-lost-the-love-of-my-life" vibe, what emerges is more along the lines of "I-just-stepped-in-a-large-turd"). Even the fight sequences, supposedly the highlight of a Seagal film, fail to impress; Seagal's expanding size requires him to use a stunt man during such moments, and the switch from Seagal to stunt guy couldn't possibly be more obvious (perhaps hiring a thin double wasn't the smartest idea). The actor does, however, utilize his trademarked arm-breaking move - the sole reason the film is receiving a half a star instead of no stars.
Godsend (April 30/04)
With a cast that includes Greg Kinnear and Robert DeNiro, one would assume Godsend must be incredibly engaging and gripping. It isn't. Saddled with an incredibly silly script and one of DeNiro's blandest performances ever, the film often resembles one of those cheesy straight-to-video thrillers which usually feature Eric Roberts and Kelly Rutherford. The story - involving a couple who are offered the chance to clone their dead son - does hold some promise, and the setup effectively establishes the situation and the characters. But once things get rolling, the film quickly crosses the line into silliness and becomes an exercise in tedium. The character development of Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (playing the husband and wife who lose their son) is limited to the transformation from happy parents to grieving parents. The horror elements - featuring the cloned kid being stalked by an evil doppelganger - are, at best, subpar; there's nothing here we haven't seen countless times before in better films (ie The Shining). The introduction of an impossibly dangerous toolshed midway through (with pointy things and hacksaws around every corner) lamely foreshadows the action-packed conclusion, which (of course) takes place in that only-in-the-movies set. Godsend does pick up a little bit around the one-hour mark, as Kinnear begins investigating the mysterious little kid that seems to be stalking his son, but it's far too short lived. The twist ending, admittedly, did sneak up on me, which - given how obvious it is - is an undeniably sad statement.