Three Dramas from Sony Pictures
Felon (October 2/08)
Though it admittedly gets off to a less-than-impressive start, Felon ultimately establishes itself as a gritty, thoroughly compelling prison drama that rarely relies on the various tropes of the genre. This is despite an opening that's almost comical in its lack of subtlety, as the central character's (Stephen Dorff's Wade Porter) absurdly perfect existence - he has a loving wife, an adorable son, and a lucrative business loan was just approved - is shattered after he's arrested (and subsequently convicted) for killing an intruder. Filmmaker Ric Roman Waugh effectively pushes past the eye-rolling opening by focusing on Wade's efforts at integrating himself within the walls of a maximum security penitentiary, where he eventually runs afoul of a white-power gang and befriends a philosophical lifer (Val Kilmer's John Smith) who says things like "perception is reality." Shot on location at a working prison, Felon boasts an atmosphere of authenticity that proves instrumental in allowing one to easily overlook its sporadic flaws - with Dorff's unexpectedly powerful performance certainly ranking high on the film's list of positive attributes. The actor does a superb job of portraying Wade's transformation from frightened neophyte to grizzled veteran, which ensures that one is essentially forced to place themselves into his character's shoes - something that's especially true of the harrowing early scenes in which Wade first arrives at the hoosegow. And while Waugh's screenplay does include an evil guard (Harold Perrineau's Lt. Jackson), the filmmaker generally infuses the proceedings with a fresh sensibility that separates it from its similarly-themed brethren - with the end result an uncommonly rough prison flick whose stellar quality belies its direct-to-video origins.
The Final Season
It's interesting to note that The Final Season ultimately establishes itself as a surprisingly rousing inspirational sports drama, as the film suffers from an opening hour that's almost unwatchable due to the proliferation of overly (and egregiously) familiar and downright melodramatic elements. The movie revolves around the last season of a beloved high school baseball team - their funding has been cut by the city - and the efforts of their green coach (Sean Astin's Kent Stock) to lead them to victory. Director David Mickey Evans has infused The Final Season with an exceedingly earnest sensibility that's initially awfully tough to take, with the hackneyed bent of James Grayford and Art D'Alessandro's screenplay certainly not helping matters (ie there's a subplot revolving around a rebellious teen who learns the meaning of teamwork and friendship after joining the team). The baseball sequences prove to be a highlight even through the film's less-than-enthralling stretches, and it subsequently goes without saying one's interest slowly-but-surely climbs as the focus shifts to team's efforts at making the playoffs. Astin's expectedly sturdy performance effectively anchors the proceedings, yet it's hard to deny that Powers Boothe - as former coach Jim Van Scoyoc - dominates every single one of his lamentably scant scenes. An admittedly stirring climactic game caps off the film quite nicely, which does ensure that The Final Season essentially manages to overcome the entirely underwhelming nature of its first act.
It seems clear that London's undeniably one-note sensibilities will turn off a good portion of its viewers, as the film transpires almost entirely within the confines of a posh bathroom - where an alternating selection of characters participate in drug-fueled conversations about life, death, god, etc. There's subsequently little doubt that the jabbering and bickering eventually wears the viewer down with its relentlessness, although - to be fair - Chris Evans delivers an expectedly solid performance as the movie's far-from-sympathetic protagonist (his Syd is hoping to win back Jessica Biel's London, who broke up with him due to his inherently suspicious nature). It becomes increasingly impossible to root for Syd's efforts, however, as writer/director Hunter Richards - through a series of flashbacks - paints the guy as something of a self-obsessed sleaze-ball. The stage-play sensibilities of Richards' script are generally alleviated by the filmmaker's ostentatiously stylish visual choices, while the unexpectedly affecting conclusion does ensure that the movie ends on a distinctly positive note. Yet in spite of its smattering of intriguing elements, London ultimately comes off as a well-intentioned failure that admittedly might hold some appeal for fans of the various actors (the supporting cast includes, among others, Jason Statham, Isla Fisher, and Dane Cook).