Run All Night (2015)

Released March 13, 2015. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman. Written by Brad Ingelsby. 1hr., 54 min.

Vengeance and a father’s love pair up on a long December night

Featuring a visually pleasing style and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Run All Night will please anyone looking for a concise narrative that happens over one long night.

Fate pits best friends Jimmy Conlon, portrayed by Liam Neeson, and Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, against each other in a deadly situation when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to protect his own kin. Maguire’s son Danny, the up-and-coming supporting star Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), kills a pair of Albanians in a local gang after he tries to bring drugs to the family business. The entire situation is a product of Danny’s insolence and need for independence – to handle a problem on his own, like his father suggested. Surely, this is not what he meant.

His father is a legitimate business man, also known as a New York mafia boss, who won’t bring drugs back to his city after he had a bad experience amongst his workers once before. Michael, portrayed by RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman, comes into this when he drove the to-be-murdered Albanians to Danny’s home. He is a limousine driver and family man, with a seriously estranged relationship with his own father – a former hitman for Shawn Maguire.

Now Jimmy is retired, but his nightmares of those he has killed have not rested. He’s drunk and tattered, playing the flawed hero he seems to play at least once a year nowadays, notably in 2014’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Hey, if it works, it works. It feels even more familiar here, however, since this has such a similar style to Non-Stop, which director Jaume Collet-Serra also helmed. It has a different framing – New York circa Christmas time, but it’s about as much of a Christmas flick as Die Hard. There’s also a prominent NHL game in play throughout – the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils, perhaps to display the city’s culture. It later works cleverly into the screenplay, which is written by Brad Ingelsby, writer of 2013’s Out of the Furnace. Similar settings, scenes and tone make this more familiar.

Run All Night isn’t memorable because of its originality, but because of its emotionally interesting narrative. Jimmy will largely do anything to protect Michael and that shows a father’s love for his son, even if they don’t know each other well. However, Michael’s bitterness towards his father becomes so sporadically extreme, that the character is sometimes too unlikable.

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

During the quicker action scenes, the editing becomes hectic. That’s one of the weaker technical aspects of the film; but the redeeming cinematography is smooth.  The action scenes work because they are fun and have personality. But there are scenes that don’t work – like uninspired bouts of ruthlessness just so it can show that these characters can be brutal. Or a bathroom brawl for lack of realism, since they make a lot of noise – and how does no one hear the commotion in the commode in a crowded subway station?

A fun antagonist includes a hitman portrayed the Oscar-winning Common. He’s called to be robotic and calculated as Andrew Price, but ends up being the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of assassins, particularly when he’s called to put on his nice guy act, and then he becomes monstrous. Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Detective Harding, an antagonizing, prejudiced officer who has been gunning for Jimmy “Gravedigger” Conlon for years. His assumptions of Jimmy and his son are sometimes downright mean.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does bring his best action film yet to the table. He expertly deals with themes of regrets in life through Conlon, largely signified through a repeated line with former bestie Maguire, “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together.” It’s fascinating that a family member’s death because of intense circumstances can cause him to be so vengeful, but the way that writer Ingelsby doesn’t delve into it well enough causes him to be more basic than he could have been. Collet-Serra handles the emotions well and builds great tension throughout.

3 stars

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Identity Thief (2013)

Identity ThiefIdentity Thief

Release Date: February 8, 2013

Director: Seth Gordon

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, John Cho

Runtime: 111 min

Tagline: She’s having the time of his life

As a follow-up to the hilarious Horrible Bosses, Seth Gordon brings us Identity Thief, a film that isn’t the gut-buster everyone was expecting, but it is quite funny.

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) has a good life: a beautiful family, a decent job, and a silly name he swears to be unisex. He’s almost living the American dream. He is able to land a Vice President job at a new firm when he and a good majority of employees at his old one start a new company. Everything’s going well, until he finds out that he is the next victim of identity theft, Diana (the hilarious and charismatic Melissa McCarthy), who is living it up with his credit cards down in Winter Park, Florida. Since the cops can’t do it, he must travel from Colorado to Florida to retrieve her so he can get his life back, and all will be hunky-dory. Unexpected threats arise, and comedy and action ensue.

This film follows a pretty traditional road trip formula that is structured to get asses in seats, eyes on the screen, and money in the studio’s pocket. Thankfully, it’s fairly deserving of many people’s money. It’s mostly entertaining, but sometimes predictable. It suffers many flaws on the way to the end, but it finds its way, thanks to the great comedy team that is Bateman and McCarthy.

Jason Bateman plays the straight man here, lobbing up lines so the hysterical McCarthy can smash down some hysterical comebacks. A lot are aces, but some are just a little too out there, and even for a crude comedy, some of it’s a little too raunchy. The scene with her and Big Chuck is only funny because of poor Bateman hiding away in the bathroom. It’s nice that he is able to make the audience laugh a few times. The extreme crudeness is the case only on one to three occasions, but this suffers greatly from poor comedic momentum. It’s funny in the beginning, it begins to be hilarious when Bateman and McCarthy are united for the first time, and at times, five minutes go by without a joke. It forgets to make its audience to laugh, and that’s something that a comedy should promise. However, part of this is to blame on the excessive marketing campaign. If you haven’t been living under a rock since December, you would know that a good 60% of the film’s best jokes are revealed in the trailers.

Thankfully, they’re still a little funny when they come around (but I go to the movies so much that I probably saw the trailer six times beforehand), and there are points in the film where some jokes are really, really funny. The big laughs are separated by some good chuckles, so that’s decent. There are also some nice surprises in this film as a whole. Diana receives a nice emotional layer added to her, as she seems to be stealing identities because she doesn’t know her own. Because of this, many might be able to relate to the material and find a solid emotional connectivity to her character. This adds a sweetness to her, and the film in general, when car chases aren’t going on. Or Diana isn’t punching 92% of the people she meets in the throat. It is also nice to see her character transformation go from antagonist to anti-hero and so forth.

Back to the flaws, since many road trip concepts have been walked on before, this isn’t very original. It’s good enough entertainment, though. This film is also very crowded. There are antagonists left and right, and to make the film longer and put in more laughs, another is added to the mix. At first, Sandy is chasing Diana. Then Diana finds herself in trouble with a drug lord to whom she sold bad credit cards, and his drug dealers (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) come after her. Then, as a pleasant surprise, Robert “T-1000” Patrick is back in his element: chasing people. He portrays a bounty hunter who is also after Diana. Then there are cops who are also chasing Diana, and at times, Sandy. It’s a real jumbled nightmare when they are all chasing each other and when some of their paths cross. The conflicts also get solved almost too conveniently and unrealistically, so for some of it you have to turn off the logical part of your brain. I guess it’s better than having no conflict at all, like last year’s The Guilt Trip, which is almost completely bereft of conflict.

Due to all the antagonists, the writing often comes off as lazy. Especially part of the haphazard ending, which makes the writer, Craig Mazin (who also wrote The Hangover Part II and Scary Movie 3), come off as completely disorganized and idiotic. He does not know whether to end it off as mean-spirited, dramatic, sweet, or hilarious, so he practically decides to do all four.

In a nutshell: Despite all Identity Thief‘s flaws, it’s a funny, often charming, and fun, yet sometimes unrealistic, ride and it flows to the end fairly well. It isn’t a gem and the writing stops it from being great, but it’s still a slightly above-average comedy. By the end of 2013, many might forget about this comedy; but it is inarguably the first big comedy hit of the year, thanks to a lack of competition and a great comedy duo.

72/100

The Last Stand (2013)

The Last StandThe Last Stand

Release Date: January 18, 2012

Director: Jee-won Kim

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville

Runtime: 107 min

Tagline: Retirement is for sissies

The most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the Western hemisphere escapes a prisoner transfer and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a town sheriff (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced staff.

Director Jee-won Kim makes his American film debut with The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle. This film does a lot of things right, like its simplistic plot, and a few things wrong, like its characterization and storytelling that has room for improvement.

Firstly, the main problem with the film is the characterization. For a fun action flick, it does admirably attempt to develop the characters, but it’s not easy to care for them thoroughly. Jerry (Zach Gilford) is developed as a young rookie Deputy trying to make it to the big city as he is slightly bored; the Sheriff, Ray Owens, is developed as a former narcotics officer who wanted to take it easy with a small-time Sheriff position; Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Frank (Rodrigo Santoro) are established as ex-girlfriend and boyfriend; and Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) is established as a Weapon Museum owner that’s open every second Thursday of each month from 12 P.M. to 3 P.M.; and that’s all the attempt at development, really. Everyone else is established as roles really; angry FBI agent (Forest Whitaker’s John Bannister), damsel in distress (Genesis Rodriguez’ Ellen Richards), insane criminal (Eduardo Noriega’s Gabriel Cortez) and the main deputy (Luis Guzmán’s Mike Figuerola). I didn’t care for all the characters, and the ones I did care for slightly was because they were such good presences (mostly just the Sheriff, Guzmán’s Mike and Knoxville’s Lewis Dinkum.

The other problem with the film is just a little hole in the storytelling. It was probably established that Gabriel Cortez is a ruthless drug kingpin, but if it was, it immediately went out of mind. He just seemed like a criminal everyone is imtimidated by for some reason or a criminal who has a lot of money and is driving a really fast Corvette ZR1.

One must keep in mind, however, that this is mostly just a fun action flick, and the attempt at the character development is just a bonus.

Now, for the question on everyone’s mind: is this a worthy comeback flick for Arnie? Yes, yes it is, with nods to earlier Schwarzenegger that make for funny lines. Arnie, now 65, may comment on how old he is, but he proves he is still capable with a gun and can be in a real fight-to-the-death wrestling match that’s even better than Stallone vs. Van Damme in The Expendables 2. He also can put up a better fight than a SWAT team or multiple road blocks, just because nothing’s more threatening than a body builder. As a guy standing on his own, Ray Owens is a fairly memorable action hero to be added to Arnie’s filmography. However, put him beside the show-stealing Knoxville, he is forgettable. We forget about Knoxville’s Dinkum until he comes back for the last 50 minutes, where he gets the biggest laughs of the feature (besides a rifle-wielding granny who comes out of nowhere). He has finally found a role where his maniacal laughter and crazy comedy works absolute wonders. Oh, and he [Knoxville] and Guzmán make a pretty stellar team, because at some points in the film they’re both confused by what the time period is (examples: swords and shields – Medieval Times; and a Tommy Gun – 1940s gangster era).

The fine pacing all leads up to an extremely fun shoot-out that lasts a fairly appropriate amount of time. If your stomach can handle all the blood, it’s even more fun. That’s what this film offers: bloody violence, a few big laughs, somewhat poorly formed characters, an effectively simplistic plot, and a few nice cars being traditionally wrecked. If that’s your idea of a good time, check out Arnie’s return to the big screen.

80/100

Did you know? This is Schwarzenegger’s first leading role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.