Mini Reviews (January 2010)
Schism, Armored, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, The Answer Man
Schism (January 4/10)
Though it boasts an inherently fascinating premise, Schism suffers from an almost overwhelmingly less-than-professional atmosphere that ultimately renders its few positive elements moot. The storyline, which follows an elderly man (Terrence Smith's Neil Woodard) as he's sent to live in an old folks home after suffering an injury, moves at a deliberate pace that's clearly been designed to establish an aura of gritty realism, and there's little doubt that director John C. Lyons generally does a superb job of infusing the proceedings with an unexpectedly (and impressively) cinematic sense of style. One's efforts at wholeheartedly embracing the central character's depressing plight are thwarted on an increasingly prevalent basis, however, as the production's pervasively amateurish nature effectively highlights the problems within the unabashedly slight narrative and it does become awfully difficult to overlook the movie's subsequent dearth of authentic attributes. The uniformly underwhelming performances - ie every one of these actors would barely pass muster within the realm of community theater - undoubtedly stand as the film's most overtly negative deficiency, and although Lyons has peppered the proceedings with a few admittedly intriguing sequences (ie Neil must endure a test designed to gauge just how far along his Alzheimer's is), Schism ultimately establishes itself as too ambitious a project for the microscopic budget with which Lyons was clearly saddled.
Armored (January 6/10)
A generic, by-the-numbers thriller, Armored follows several guards for an armored car company as they plot to steal $42 million from the federal reserve. Problems ensue as Columbus Short's Ty Hackett changes his mind midway through the seemingly effortless heist, which leaves his co-conspirators (Matt Dillon's Mike, Jean Reno's Quinn, Laurence Fishburne's Baines, Amaury Nolasco's Palmer, and Skeet Ulrich's Dobbs) scrambling to complete the job by any means necessary. Director Nimrod Antal - working from James V. Simpson's screenplay - does a nice job of instantly capturing the viewer's interest by kicking the proceedings off with a thrilling action sequence, and there's little doubt that the proliferation of familiar faces within the cast generally compensates for the less-then-enthralling nature of the movie's first act (which is needlessly devoted to Ty's precarious financial situation and his efforts at raising his younger brother). It's only as the illicit crew is forced to hole up inside an abandoned warehouse that the film effectively comes to a dead stop, as the claustrophobic atmosphere - coupled with Simpson's increasingly uneventful script - results in a vibe of stagnancy that becomes more and more oppressive as the egregiously thin narrative progresses. The movie's problems are exacerbated by the hopelessly illogical actions of the various characters (ie Ty attempts to capture the attention of a passing cop by honking a horn, which, as expected, gets said cop shot), and although there are a few admittedly suspenseful moments peppered here and there, Armored ultimately possesses the feel of a hackneyed direct-to-video endeavor that's been artificially elevated by its superior production values and unusually strong performances.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (January 17/10)
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard casts Jeremy Piven as Don "The Goods" Ready, a cutthroat used-car liquidator who is hired by struggling businessman Ben Selleck (James Brolin) to clear out an entire lot of automobiles over a single holiday weekend. Along with associates Jibby Newsome (Ving Rhames), Brent Gage (David Koechner), and Babs Merrick (Kathryn Hahn), Don arrives at the dealership ready to unload over 200 cars - with his ongoing efforts complicated by the ragtag band of salesmen under Ben's employ. There's little doubt that The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard's unapologetically thin storyline is primarily used as a springboard for a series off-the-wall comedic interludes and set pieces, which, not surprisingly, results in an uneven atmosphere that's exacerbated by the hit-and-miss nature of Andy Stock and Rick Stempson's screenplay (ie for every hilarious bit of comedy, there are another two or three gags that fall completely flat). It's due primarily to the efforts of a uniformly affable cast that The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard generally manages to sustain one's interest from start to finish, with Piven's expectedly winning work matched by an impressive supporting cast that includes, among others, Ed Helms, Tony Hale, and Rob Riggle (yet it's Will Ferrell, turning in a cameo appearance that's probably funnier than his last several features combined, who effortlessly establishes himself as the film's MVP). The narrative's almost shameless lack of momentum - ie this often feels more like a series of loosely-connected sketches than a fully-formed movie - is consequently not as problematic as one might've feared, and although it's certainly not difficult to envision some viewers walking away from the proceedings without having laughed once, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard is an agreeable piece of work that will probably have more of an impact on those with a predilection for Ferrell's unique brand of comedy.
The Answer Man (January 27/10)
Breezy and entertaining, The Answer Man casts Jeff Daniels as Arlen Faber - a reclusive author of spiritual books who slowly comes out of his shell after meeting a single mother (Lauren Graham's Elizabeth) and a down-on-his-luck used-book seller (Lou Taylor Pucci's Kris). The familiarity of The Answer Man's premise is frequently allayed by the proliferation of appealing elements within the narrative, as writer/director John Hindman effectively infuses the proceedings with an easy-going and downright affable atmosphere that becomes increasingly impossible to resist. Daniels' thoroughly appealing turn as the cranky protagonist undoubtedly ranks high on the film's list of pleasures, and there's little doubt that Arlen's tentative relationship with Elizabeth possesses all of the touchstones one has come to associate with a compelling romcom pairing (ie the meet-cute, the fake break-up, etc, etc). Hindman's sitcom-like approach consequently proves an ideal match to the less-than-innovative material, with Teddy Castellucci's sporadically overbearing score inevitably standing as the movie's only overtly underwhelming attribute. The inclusion of a few genuinely poignant moments ensure that The Answer Man ultimately does possess more depth than one might've anticipated, with the pervasively pleasant vibe ensuring that the third act's expected bursts of melodrama are relatively easy to stomach.