Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Video Review: The Dilemma Almost Delivers, But Fails

Both these guys bring it in The Dilemma, despite the fact
that it winds up being a mediocre movie.
I went into The Dilemma with low expectations, had those expectations met, and yet came away from the whole ordeal greatly disappointed.
The marketing campaign hammered home the basic storyline of a guy named Ronny (Vince Vaughn) wrestling with how to handle his discovery that Geneva (Winona Ryder) the wife of his best friend and business partner Nick (Kevin James) is cheating with a beefcake named Zip (Channing Tatum). Based on that, I was expecting a pedestrian Vaughn vehicle along the lines of Couples Retreat and Four Christmases. Put more plainly: I was expecting a generic relationship comedy featuring funny and/or enjoyable actors playing down to weak material with some patented Vaughn freak-out rhetoric thrown in for good measure.
Ultimately that is what this thing becomes, and in many ways it’s the worst version of that formula, because almost none of the supporting characters are funny (the exception being Tatum who here hints at the great comic potential he showcased in 21 Jump Street), Vaughn’s big freak-out (a speech at the anniversary dinner of his girlfriend’s parents) is a weak facsimile of his more classic riffs, and the last scene is just so epically hokey.

The last scene in this movie is dumb. Here's a shot from it.
That would be all well in good if the film didn’t have enough interesting, messy developments (i.e. the possibility that Nick is also cheating, the underlying credibility issue Ronny faces given his gambling addiction) to promise something more considered and complicated. The film lays some solid groundwork and Vaughn really delivers, offering up a nicely modulated performance. Midway through, I was hoping this might be more along the lines of the vastly underrated The Break-Up, but sadly it devolved into generic rubbish.
In the end, the film is reminiscent of X-Men: The Last Stand or even Vaughn’s own Fred Claus* – it’s mediocre entertainment, but there’s enough good stuff to indicate a far better movie could’ve been made, making things even more frustrating than if the film had just outright sucked.
 *I actually reviewed this film back in my Collegian days, and its available online here. In reading my own review, it occurs to me just how little progress Vaughn has made in the last five years.** Here’s hoping he can find the right project for his talent soon, because he does bring his A-game here, even if the movie doesn’t deserve it.
** The same can be said for costar Jennifer Connelly (who plays Vaughn’s girlfriend) and director Ron Howard. Connelly hasn’t done anything worthy of her skills since her bit role in Little Children. And other than a cameo from his brother Clint, nothing in this film would indicate it was directed by accomplished and diverse Oscar winner Ron Howard. I was a big fan of Frost Nixon (although I know many others weren’t), but Howard’s been wallowing over the last seven years otherwise, churning out two mediocre Da Vinci Code movies and now this.  Thankfully, things are looking up for both of them. Connelly is reuniting with Requiem for a Dream director Darren Aronofsky (not to mention A Beautiful Mind star Russell Crowe) for Noah, and Howard has a biopic of formula 1 racer Niki Lauda.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Video Review: The Green Lantern Makes One Terrible Superhero Movie

For some reason, the filmmakers decided to have Reynolds 
wear silly contacts when in the Green Lantern costume.

I can’t say this with full confidence, because I haven’t seen the likes of Elektra, Catwoman and their ilk, but The Green Lantern may be one of the worst superhero films of all time (excluding micro-budget genre bottom-feeders).

The film focuses on Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), an irresponsible fighter pilot for Ferris Aircraft who winds up getting recruited into the ranks of an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps when a dying alien known as Abin Sur bequeaths him a magical ring after crash landing on earth. Abin Sur is dying because he was attacked by Parallax, a fear-eating cloud he once imprisoned that is now free and aiming to wreck havoc on the universe.

Hal is transported to Oa, the horrendously green-screened home base of the Green Lantern Corps, where he is taught and trained by Jar Jar Binks-style CGI Lanterns that look like a fish (voice of Geoffrey Rush) and a bulked up Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan). Lead Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong) judges Hal for being filled with fear and defeats him in battle, causing Hal to quit the corps and return to Earth (although they don’t make him give back the powerful ring that allows Lanterns to create anything they can imagine).

Meanwhile, Abin Sur’s body is found by the government, and, at the urging of his powerful Senator father (Tim Robbins), scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is brought in by government agent Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett) to perform an autopsy. During this procedure, Hammond is infected by remnants of Parallax, which prey on his fear, causing him to become unhinged and grotesque (but on the plus side he gains telekinetic powers).

Eventually, Hal pulls his head out of his ass and does battle with Hammond, Parallax, and his own self-doubt. A lame romance with Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), a fellow fighter pilot and the manager of Ferris Aircraft, is also shoehorned into this thing.

That’s the general outline of the story, but it doesn’t do justice to just how terrible/stupid the movie gets. Even though there are some talented actors here and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye) is a competent professional who’s made good films in the past, this movie flat out sucks.

The most obvious flaw is the laughable special effects, but the main problem is the script. On a conceptual level, I think this whole thing is just a bit too ambitious and dense. The Green Lantern mythology is given a whole lot of buildup here, so much so that the first 10 minutes of the film is dedicated to establishing the Corps and the cloud-eating bad guy. This all results in the marginalization of the hero, as he, his love interest, and his human adversary take a backseat to the whole Lantern lore.

It's rare to have worse chemistry/banter than this, but
hey, I hear they got a real-life relationship out of it.
I can understand the reasoning behind this, but I think the property would’ve been better served by limiting the potential for overload. I’d have cut out a lot of the Parallax stuff and saved it for a sequel, while instead concentrating on a better-defined hero story (fleshing out Hal, Carol and Hector). Once the audience was eating out of my hand, then I’d have felt comfortable introducing the denser aspects of the mythology and the goofy CGI.

All of that aside, the script just sucks on a line-by-line level. No character in this thing is interestingly developed and the dialogue is ridiculous. And so much dumb stuff happens, that it’s impossible to keep track of the inanity. Here’s just a small portion of it:

  • Hal is given a dead-daddy back story, a common element in superhero films that, as used here, is meant to explain his flip attitude and add to the theme of overcoming fear. However, in a rare move, he also seems to have a large family, including a nephew and what I assume are supposed to be two brothers. These characters serve zero purpose – they get one scene that is totally irrelevant to the movie. It’s as if the producers thought, “This guy is coming across like to much of a douche, so we need to show him being the awesome Uncle so people will like him.” Didn’t work.
  • For some reason, the media intensely covers developments at Ferris Aircraft, reporting on a stunt Hal pulls that results in a crash and a private company party, and yet they don’t seem very concerned with the superhero flying around. To be fair, maybe that’s just in an attempt to keep with the tone of the piece, because, no one seems all that blown away by the whole superhero thing. The only person who reacts in any real way is Hal’s scientist buddy, who still acts like an idiot. Case in point: when Hal transforms into his suit in front of him, the buddy just yelps “Green!”
  • Hal keeps turning up during important scenes with no indication of how he knew to do so. At one point in the film, Hector Hammond goes berserk in some government science lab and attacks his father and a bunch of government agents, and the Green Lantern inexplicably shows up to fight him. Similarly, he crashes a summit between Sinestro and the Oa Guardian Council in which they are discussing the use of a ring powered by fear to take down Parallax. Even though he has never been made aware of this plan (nor the council for that matter), Hal mysteriously shows up and delivers a speech about why it shouldn’t be enacted.
  • In the scene where Hal shows up to fight Hector Hammond, both men realize who their adversary is, fight for a bit and then just go home. Yes, that’s right. Even though Hal knows who Hector is and knows that he just killed several people, he doesn’t attempt to root him out and take him down. He just drops the whole thing and moves on to the next nonsensical scene.
  • Even though a fleet of the best Lanterns couldn’t defeat Parallax, Hal does so on his own by leading it close to the sun, which apparently doesn’t destroy a mere human but somehow results in the demise of an amorphous cloud monster.
  • And while I get it was a big aspect of the comics, the Lantern oath is unbelievably corny. Having Hal recite it right before taking out the bad guy was a laughably bad idea.

Outside of a decent be underutilized Mark Strong, the actors do little to help the film rise above the script. Lively is flat, Robbins, Sarsgaard and Bassett just mail it in, and Reynolds fails to rise to the occasion. Hollywood has been trying to make Reynolds a big star for quite some time, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. His patented role is that of a smug, irresponsible douche, and while Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. have milked similar archetypes to great success, it doesn’t seem to be working for Reynolds. I like him quite a bit in supporting roles (Adventureland, Waiting), and he’s had some success when he reigns in the smarm (Just Friends, The Proposal), but as a lead, the guy generally just doesn’t bring it.
Hal's Lantern chums look like buff poop and a weird fish.

What really shocks me about this movie though is that even its best scenes are incredibly mediocre. There really isn’t one thing you can point to and say, “Well at least that was pretty cool and/or well done,” which is pretty rare for the action genre. Say what you will about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menance, but it features the light saber fight to end all light saber fights. Spider-Man 3 is a blight on the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, but it still has some cool action set pieces and a hilariously campy James Franco performance. And for all their faults, the Transformers movies still offer extraordinary special effects and sound.

Meanwhile, this movie offers nothing better than moments of passable entertainment. The coolest thing about the whole shebang is the hero’s super power, but that even proves a disappointment since the movie does nothing noteworthy with the idea.

That’s pretty much what I’ve got on The Green Lantern, but I do think I need to say one more thing in the interest of full disclosure. I went into my viewing expecting the movie to be terrible. In fact, I only watched it so I could better appreciate The Green Lantern episode of “How Did This Get Made?,” a podcast hosted by comedians Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas that pokes fun at terrible movies. While the movie did prove to be horrible, the podcast episode concerning it was a riot. So if you’ve wasted your time on this dreck, do yourself a favor and listen to the podcast to make it sort of worth it.

Sort of.