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January 16, 2007

DVD Reviews

In brief:

Crank. Better than you were expecting, particularly if, like me, you weren't expecting anything because you never even heard of this Jason Stratham comedy-action flick directed in the British faux Tarrantino-by-way-of-Guy-Ritchie style. You will not be quoting this movie in the future, you will not remember it three days later (I don't even remember the main character's name), but it's an inoffensive way to spend a quick 90 minutes.

Did you dig that frenetic coked-out ten minutes of Goodfellas when Ray Liotta is cranked up and has three thousand things to do? Well, so apparently did this director, who extended that ten minutes out into a ninety minute feature. The premise is that hitman Straitharn has been given a "Beijing cocktail" poison that will kill him, inevitably and with no cure, shortly. But he can delay his death just long enough to get vengeance if he keeps the poison at bay by keeping his adrenaline pumping -- by doing coke, driving real fast, burning his hand in a waffle iron, and having sex with his girlfriend in public in what begins as a quasi-rape. (Hey, bad behavior, true-- but he's going to die if he doesn't do these things.)

So, basically, it's Speed except the heart must be kept over 120 instead of a bus over 50.

It's more of a comedy than an action picture, and what action and graphic violence it does have is played mainly for laughs. For a revenge picture, it really doesn't deliver a satifying vengeance, but the film is mostly about the light chuckles anyhow. Stratham's character is less angry about his predicament than Costanza-frustrated that he can't seem to get things done when he needs them done.

Two and a half stars, which, by my system, means it's a competent work (even if it's competent at meeting low expectations and fulflilling low artistic ambitions), which is somewhat high praise.

Black Dahlia. Not as bad as I was expecting, which is a shame, because I was hoping for something so abysmally bad it becomes enjoyable by its sheer incompetence. So, alas, it falls into the category of "simply not worth your time, even if you want to watch something bad." Not even really worth the view when it's free on HBO. Not horrible, and I suppose there are worse ways to spend two hours, but just misconceived and meh all the way around. The only interesting thing here is that the score so closely mimics the mournful-horn refrain from L.A. Confidential that one wonders why they didn't also bother to rip off everything else from that movie, and turn in something derivative but decent. One and a half stars.

Idiocracy. This Mike Judge fillm (co-written by Ethan Cohen) was apparently shelved for a full year, and for good reason. The film is set in 2005, but got a blink-and-you'll-miss-it super-limited late 2006 release. It feels late to the party in other ways, too: I can't help but think this is a case of a writer revisiting a partial script he wrote long ago -- like maybe 10 or 15 years ago -- and trying to freshen it up. The film is set 500 years from now -- well, 499, actually; it would have been set 500 years from its release had it been released shortly after it was made -- and postulates that due to smart people deciding not to have children, while dumb people breed like bunnies, the world is now populated exclusively by... well, retards, as the film say several times, and it's pretty much a literal description. I don't know if these future-folk are technically mentally retarded, but if they're not, they're just on the Forrest Gump cusp. Many of the film's jokes feel like they're from 1995 -- a popular show in the morontopian future is called "Ow, My Balls!," and just features a "character" being kicked repeatedly in the balls. This was parodied a lot when it was more of a current observation, i.e., in the early nineties, when many noted America's Funniest Videos was more correctly titled America's Funniest Nut Crunches. And the whole degeration of culture thing, with TV shows, ads, products, and entertainment becoming more and more submoronic has been done dozens of times by now, in sci-fi movies that aren't true comedies like Robocop, Starship Troopers (Would you like to learn more?), Judge Dredd, etc. Even Demolition Man did a reasonable job of this.

That said, Luke Wilson is always appealing, and the movie has enough light chuckles and bemused smiles to make it marginally worth watching -- a somewhat interesting failure of a movie.

The movie got huge praise from the lefties, because they agree with what they take to be the film's politics -- a sustained attack on dumbshit redneck hillbilly FauxNews culture. Actually, the movie's poltiics are a bit broader, and perhaps more repellent: it's a sustained attack on the lower classes generally, not exclusively the white trailer-trash types that are lefties' preferred targets. Blacks and Hispanics get theirs, too, making this the Nazi Eugenics Propaganda Feel-Good Non-Hit of the year. (And no, I don't really think Mike Judge is a Nazi, nor that this film really pushes that agenda; it chickens out of it at various points. I'm just saying that liberals really shouldn't be pigeonholing into support for "their cause," whatever the hell that cause may be this week.)

It's a very depressing future imagined here, grim, boorish, and repellent; you can't help hoping for a Beneath the Planet of the Apes ending for these pathetic, nasty morons. So, weirdly enough, this is a comedy sci-fi movie, but the comedy aspects of it have been done nearly as well by non-comedies, and yet the actual premise is far more grim and disturbing than that found in more serious films.

And yet, what the hell, I recommend it, provisionally, as a misfire with enough going for it that it's (barely) worth the rental fee and your time. Two and a half stars.

And, since Snakes on a Plane is out on DVD now, might as well link my full review of it, which is the funniest thing I wrote all last year.



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posted by Ace at 12:46 PM

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