Mini Reviews (July 2001)
No Way Back, Black and White, Warning Sign, The Big Kahuna, Escape: Human Cargo,
Whipped, Gangster No. 1, Price of Glory
No Way Back (July 3/01)
Russell Crowe must thank his lucky stars each and every day for the gift that was Gladiator. Thanks to that Ridley Scott opus, Crowe will never have to appear in a movie as bad as No Way Back. He stars as a dedicated cop (is there another kind?) forced to escort an evil Japanese gangster from (where else?) Japan back to the States for an evil gangster (Michael Lerner). See, the evil gangster has kidnapped Crowe's son and has threatened to either kill or adopt the kid if he doesn't deliver. Much of the film finds Crowe traveling cross-country with the evil Japanese guy and a wacky stewardess played by Helen Slater (don't ask). Despite the fact that Steve Sanders himself, Ian Ziering, has a cameo at the beginning of the film (sporting the cheesiest-looking bald cap I've ever seen), No Way Back is a waste of time. Crowe is good, I guess, but compared to Slater's whiny, over-the-top "performance", Dustin Diamond playing Rain Man would have looked good. And never mind the plot is pretty much a complete rip-off of Black Rain (there's even a scene in an airplane where Crowe elbows the evil Japanese guy in the face - which is identical to a scene in Black Rain!) And if you're going to rip off a Michael Douglas movie, surely you can do better than Black Rain.
Black and White
Black and White stars Gina Gershon as a slightly unhinged cop (upon first meeting her new partner, she immediately takes him back to his house and commands that they both strip, just so that, you know, there won't be any surprises later), while Rory Cochrane stars as her unlucky partner (or lucky, depending on how you want to look at it). The supporting cast includes Ron Silver (playing yet another smarmy guy) and Alison Eastwood, which leads me to wonder what the initial script looked like (compared to what ended up in the final product), because this is a pretty bad little flick. It starts out as a fairly interesting police procedural (besides the whole stripping thing), with Cochrane perfectly playing the nervous rookie. But it eventually becomes incredibly silly, with a ludicrous storyline about someone who's killing all of Gershon's collars. (Hmm, wonder if Gershon has anything to do with that?) Black and White is just dumb (and not very entertaining either, despite Cochrane's above-average performance).
Warning Sign is an astoundingly dull thriller in the same vein as Outbreak. A vial containing a deadly biological weapon is stepped on (and thus, unleashed) at a lab supposedly dealing with fertilizer. The lab is immediately sealed and the sinister government agents (think E.T.) are on site within minutes. But where does Sam Waterston fit into all this, you ask? He's the Sheriff of this small town and his wife (poorly played by the usually effective Kathleen Quinlan) just happens to be stuck inside. But those sinister government agents aren't telling the townspeople one crucial detail: The biological weapon has been designed to turn its victims into violence-loving psychopaths (but this detail isn't revealed until about halfway through, which led me to the conclusion that the afflicted had been turned into zombies by the virus). Warning Sign takes what should have been an exciting subject (ie Outbreak) and turns it into an excruciatingly dull one (ie The Andromeda Strain). Waterston is good (as always), but the subject matter is so silly (I mean, come on - a virus that makes you succumb to violent urges? What, is this supposed to be the opposite of A Clockwork Orange?) that the movie quickly becomes just another Alien clone. But on the upside, G.W. Bailey, that guy who was in every wacky '80s comedy (he played the arch-nemesis to the fun-loving Police Academy gang), is here and when he goes bonkers, it's almost worth the price of a rental. Almost.
The Big Kahuna
I've got to commend The Big Kahuna for portraying a devout Christian as a creepy weirdo. By the end of the flick, it's said devout Christian that's screwed everything up for the other two characters. And even after all is said and done, he still doesn't understand that he did anything wrong. Based on a play (no kidding), The Big Kahuna stars Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and Peter Facinelli (as the religious one) as a trio of lubricant salesman. They're in a Wichita hotel room hoping to land a big account, and over the space of around 90 minutes, they talk. A lot. As with virtually every other movie based on a play, The Big Kahuna works on a certain kind of level. Since the dialogue is so good and the performances even better, the movie is entertaining just for those reasons (DeVito and Spacey prove that they've got the chops to handle a role without anything to hide behind, and Facinelli's not so bad either). But eventually, just dialogue and acting gets a little tiresome. Besides a few well-placed plot twists, nothing really happens. This is a flick that would have been better off had it been an hour long. But as it is, it is worth watching just for the performances (particularly if you're a fan of one of the trio of men - as I was with Spacey and DeVito).
Escape: Human Cargo
God bless Treat Williams. I don't know how much longer he's going to keep making straight-to-video fare like this, but it's surely our only chance to see him in a starring role (what was his last legitimate flick? The Phantom?). In Escape: Human Cargo, Williams plays an American businessman working on a lucrative deal with a bunch of Saudi Arabians. Apparently, Williams never saw movies like Not without my Daughter or Aladdin, because if he had, he would've known that all Arabs are evil (I'm an Arab. I'm allowed to be sarcastic). And the Arabs in Escape: Human Cargo are no exception. The men involved in his deal consistently and constantly screw Williams over, from refusing to pay for certain things that were laid out in the contract, to literally keeping him prison in the country. So, Williams is left with no choice to smuggle his way out of the country by traveling in a large crate. And, in an almost excruciatingly long sequence, we watch as he sits in said crate in the middle of a very hot airfield, hoping that he is not discovered. Escape: Human Cargo is mildly entertaining, I suppose, with Williams giving another superb performance (if only some kind Hollywood director would allow Williams the chance to escape flicks like this), but the portrayal of every Arab as evil is a little offensive (though I have heard stories about the backwards nature of the Saudi Arabian culture, but still, would one kind Arab have been so out of place?).
It was with great trepidation that I sat down to watch Whipped. When it was released to theaters late last year, it received a decidedly chilly reception (which is putting it mildly). But it's really not that bad. Don't misunderstand; it's juvenile, silly, and completely plotless - yet there's something oddly compelling about the whole thing. The premise is pretty simple: Three best friends meet every Sunday at a local diner to discuss their conquests from the week past. Everything changes when they all fall in love at the same time, but (unbeknownst to them) they all dig the same chick (played by Amanda Peet). Whipped is a lot like Swingers, just, you know, not as good. But for a while, it's pretty watchable. Some of the stories the guys tell are genuinely funny (if completely disgusting) and the actors are all decent in their roles (I particularly enjoyed the guy who played the trio's sad and pathetic married friend), but after a while, the whole thing just becomes tiresome. And the movie essentially becomes a drama, with the three friends fighting to see who gets to stay with Peet. We're supposed to now care about the fate of these people? Hardly. Unlike Swingers, these aren't likable people - they're caricatures. But for the first half of the flick, that's okay. The director/writer seems to be making a potent point about the state of dating in the 21st century. But when the film settles down and transforms into a routine love story, that's when it starts to suck. The so-called twist ending is obvious from at least a mile away, though.
Gangster No. 1
By the time the end credits for Gangster No. 1 began to roll, I couldn't help but think that I had just completely wasted almost two hours of my life. Not that the film is all that bad; it's just pointless. Paul Bettany stars as a low-life nobody that, one day, finds himself hired by a powerful British gangster (David Thewlis). Bettany, a man without a name, becomes fixated with Thewlis and essentially begins to model himself after him. Despite occasional displays of brutal violence (my two favorites: Thewlis and his mob dropping a taxi onto a double-crosser, and the splashing of blood onto a windshield after a man has been tossed from a high-rise), Gangster No. 1 is incredibly slow and devoid of a concrete plot. Once the point has been made that Bettany is obsessed with Thewlis (which is an incredibly stupid idea for a movie, anyway), the movie doesn't really know what to do, and winds up lurching from scene to scene without a purpose (and eventually ends up feeling more like a series of unrelated skits than a coherent whole). And most damning, much of the movie is just dialogue. I suspect it's based on a play, but I have not verified this yet (a good proportion of the film takes place in Thewlis' pad). Had the flick been entertaining, I could've excused this lack of a storyline, but it's not. And despite a great performance by Malcolm McDowell as the older Bettany (who's also quite good, as is Thewlis), Gangster No. 1 is purely an exercise in style. And admittedly, some of the shots do look pretty cool. But cool shots do not a riveting film make.
Price of Glory
In Price of Glory, Jimmy Smits plays the patriarch of a boxing family. Needless to say, he's instilled a reverence for boxing into his boys - partially due to his failure as a pugilist at a young age. And, needless to say, much of what transpires in the nearly 2-hour running time of Price of Glory can easily be predicted. This isn't a bad movie, so much as it's an inoffensive one. As the film opens, we see the Smits character as a young man, losing a pivotal match. We quickly cut to many years later, and he's got three sons. And, of course, he's pushing them to be boxers (all but the littlest one, who winds up choosing the sport for himself). It doesn't take a genius to predict that, by the time the movie's over, one of the kids will be dead while another will have gone on to win a championship bout. But the film is still generally entertaining, in a movie-of-the-week sort of way. Smits has never been better (though he sports two black eyes for the duration of the flick with no explanation), and the trio of actors playing the kids are uniformly good. It's just that the film goes exactly where you would expect it to - that's the real problem here. And it's overlong by about 20-minutes. But if you're jonesing for a Rocky-esque movie and you've seen Rocky and its sequels far too many times, Price of Glory just might suffice.