The Films of David Koepp
The Trigger Effect (July 17/18)
David Koepp's directorial debut, The Trigger Effect follows married couple Matthew (Kyle MacLachlan) and Annie (Elisabeth Shue) as they and a friend (Dermot Mulroney's Joe) are forced to fend for themselves after a seemingly nationwide power outage. Writer/director Koepp does a fantastic job of immediately capturing the viewer's interest and attention, as The Trigger Effect opens with a visually-impressive single-take shot that's heightened by an engrossing, movie-theater-set confrontation - with the movie, past that point, segueing into a comparatively subdued yet sporadically engrossing midsection. Koepp spends the bulk of the picture's brisk running time exploring the breakdown of society and the impact it has on his three well-defined protagonists, and though the filmmaker occasionally does rely a little too heavily on coincidence and contrivance, The Trigger Effect nevertheless progresses through a well-paced narrative that's been punctuated with a whole host of compelling sequences. (There is, for example, a completely engrossing interlude in which the three heroes encounter a suspicious man in need of a ride.) It's clear, as well, that Koepp does a superb job of slowly ratcheting up the tension throughout, which ensures that the movie contains very few lulls and certainly builds to a fairly engrossing climactic stretch - with the end result a solid first effort from a seriously promising new filmmaker.
Stir of Echoes
There's little doubt that Stir of Echoes' effectiveness is somewhat diminished by the familiarity of its plot, as the movie - viewed in the wake of The Ring and its myriad of copycats - unfolds in a less-than-surprising manner that ultimately wreaks havoc on its overall impact. The storyline - which follows Kevin Bacon's Tom Witzky as he willingly submits to hypnosis at a party and subsequently finds himself able to see and hear dead people - is nevertheless intriguing enough to essentially render such complaints moot, with the film's almost inherently fascinating premise heightened by its myriad of overtly positive attributes (eg David Koepp's compelling directorial choices, Bacon's expectedly captivating performance, etc). The ease with which Koepp is able to create an atmosphere of blue-collar authenticity certainly plays a significant role in the movie's success, as the director offers up a surprisingly compelling family drama that proves an effective counterbalance to the increasingly horrific nature of Tom's newfound abilities. It's only in the buildup to the finale that Stir of Echoes falters - Koepp can't quite sustain the exceedingly tense vibe right through to the conclusion - yet this is an awfully minor complaint for a stylish, sporadically gripping thriller that boasts a number of undeniably tense sequences and interludes (eg Tom becomes convinced that his young son is in danger).
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Premium Rush (September 3/12)
Premium Rush follows Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Wilee, a rough-and-tumble bike messenger, as he's forced to evade a dirty cop (Michael Shannon's Bobby Monday) after picking up a valuable package, with the film subsequently (and primarily) detailing the game of cat and mouse that ensues between the two characters. There's little doubt that Premium Rush starts with a tremendous amount of promise, as filmmaker David Koepp, working from a script cowritten with John Kamps, kicks the proceedings off with a blisteringly-paced introductory sequence that seems to promise Speed on bicycles . The better-than-average feel is perpetuated by Gordon-Levitt's remarkably (yet expectedly) charismatic performance, while Shannon effortlessly steals each and every one of his scenes with his menacing, deliciously over-the-top turn as the film's sinister villain. It's just a matter of time, however, before the propulsive atmosphere takes a palpable hit, as Koepp, on several occasions, literally rewinds the clock to explore the circumstances that brought each of the characters to this point (eg we see exactly why Bobby desperately needs that package), with this device, intriguing as it may be, wreaking havoc on the film's momentum and highlighting the less-than-substantial nature of the storyline. In terms of the latter, Koepp attempts to compensate by flooding the midsection with one chase after another, but it's ultimately clear that the narrative could've used a few more twists and surprises. And although it picks up again with an extremely entertaining final stretch, Premium Rush is, in the final analysis, a forgettable little thriller that never quite becomes as engrossing or captivating as one might've hoped.
An overlong disaster, Mortdecai follows the quirky title character (Johnny Depp) as he embarks on a quest to track down a stolen painting - with Mortdecai's efforts assisted by his manservant (Paul Bettany's Jock) and a police officer (Ewan McGregor's Martland) fixated on his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow's Johanna). Depp's relentlessly over-the-top performance is, at the outset, not quite as damaging as one might've anticipated, as the actor admittedly does an effective job of compensating for a narrative that is, for the most part, far from propulsive. Filmmaker David Koepp's decision to heavily emphasize a case that could hardly be less interesting ultimately sinks the proceedings, with the viewer's ongoing efforts to embrace the protagonist's sleuth-heavy escapades falling flat on an almost remarkably consistent basis. Mortdecai does, however, possess a watchable feel that's due primarily to the efforts of a better-than-average supporting cast; though McGregor and Paltrow are quite good here, it's clear that Bettany's turn as the fiercely loyal Jock stands out as an obvious highlight within the picture. The film's progression from basically watchable to flat-out interminable, then, doesn't come until around the one-hour mark, as Koepp offers up a third act that becomes more and more interminable as needless complications are layered on one after the other - which ultimately (and effectively) confirms Mortdecai's place as a just another misfire within Depp's progressively underwhelming body of work.