Movie Review ~ The Guilty (2021)

1

The Facts:

Synopsis: A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Bill Burr, Gillian Zinser, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Christina Vidal

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  American remakes of foreign films are a strange beast indeed, especially when the original is one you still are recommending to people when the English version is released for a wide audience.  That’s the dilemma I face when a film like The Guilty arrives for its limited theatrical run and streaming debut on Netflix.  Here’s a smart, compact, film from the slick streaming service by a popular director (Antoine Fuqua) with an enhanced screenplay courtesy of an in-demand writer known for their pot-boilers (True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto) and starring a red-hot actor (Jake Gyllenhaal) who always attracts attention in any project he attaches himself to.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Of course. The tiny wrinkle is that they’ve remade a 2018 film from Denmark still going strong (on Hulu) and while the 2021 has all the right players, does it improve the game?

At a 911 call center, LAPD officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal, End of Watch) is nearing the end of his shift as the wildfires in the Hollywood Hills rages on nearby.  Relegated to a desk job as he waits on a trial for something we’ll learn more about as the 91 minutes tick away, Joe is a hot-tempered live wire…not a perfect match for the charged atmosphere he’s working in.  In between phone calls to his estranged wife, he receives a call from a teary woman (Riley Keough, The Lodge) who appears to be talking to a small child.  Eventually realizing the call to a “child” is a ruse to whomever she is with, Joe confirms the woman has been kidnapped and launches into a one-man mission to save her and reunite her with her children.

To say more of the film might give away one or two of the twists and turns present in the original and thankfully retained here.  It’s nice to see that Pizzolatto has kept a hold of much of the solid structure installed by original screenwriters Emil Nygaard Albertsen & Gustav Möller, adding small tweaks for its transport to America along the way.  Adding in the pressure of the California fires ups the ante for making Joe such a man on a solo mission, because much of the force is busy attending to that devastation and danger. 

Where you have to look at remakes is how they diverge from the initial film and then make your comparisons and as strong as the team is on the 2021 take, it can’t quite make it over the bar set so high by the 2018 Danish thriller.  The beauty of the previous film is that it was so simple a set-up which made the events unfolding so breathless and terrible all at once.  Here, everything is just awful all around so things start at level 10 and just have nowhere to go.  Fuqua and Pizzolatto remade The Magnificent Seven and, while no classic or in danger of besting the original, it had some fun moments of ingenuity that boosted a few of the characters in interesting ways.  Pizzolatto isn’t as successful here with the way they’ve added physical burdens to Baylor to go along with the emotional weight he’s carrying inside.  This is especially true in a strangely self-indulgent coda, not present in 2018, that stretches on far too long and is meant to turn our attention from the story to Gyllenhaal’s performance…and that doesn’t feel right.  It feels show pony chic and it cheapens the mood. 

The Guilty would actually have made a wonderful audiobook or podcast experience since so much of it is just Gyllenhaal onscreen talking to disembodied voices.  Keep your ears open and see if you can put some voices with the famous faces of actors and comedians that pop up throughout.  By all means, do yourself a favor and watch both films to compare but I’d still give my overall greenlight to the 2018 entry which does a better job with portraying the inner turmoil going on below the surface of the emergency operator and the way that his intervention might wind up doing more harm than good.

Movie Review ~ The Opening Act

2


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Will O’Brien is given the opportunity to emcee a comedy show for his hero and has to decide if he wants to continue the life he has set up or to pursue his dream as a stand-up comedian.

Stars: Jimmy O. Yang, Alex Moffat, Cedric the Entertainer, Neal Brennan, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Jermaine Fowler, Ken Jeong, Russell Peters, Debby Ryan

Director: Steve Byrne

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: There have been good movies starring stand-up comedians.  There have been good movies filmed of stand-up specials.  Has there ever been a good movie about stand-up comedians, though?  The few I can think of off the top of my head, 1988’s Punchline and 2009 Funny People didn’t exactly set my world on fire and that I couldn’t come up with any others surely wasn’t a great sign.  I was thinking about that before I started to watch The Opening Act because looking over the cast list and seeing a lot of familiar names I thought I had some reason to be a little concerned.  Here was a movie written/directed by first-timer who was also a stand-up comedian starring a stand-up comedian and featuring a supporting cast that was nearly all from their same colleague pool.  It was a crapshoot which way it would go, either Steve Byrne was going to kill his first time out or he’d bomb.  Remarkably, The Opening Act is a winner and while it shows the tell-tale signs of a novice director, it also does more than hint at a great potential for Byrne on the horizon.  I expected a film that was crass and far more juvenile but was pleased to find a touching story with a sweet soul that wasn’t afraid to hide it.

As far back as he can remember, Will O’Brien (Jimmy O. Yang, Patriots Day) has had comedy in his life.  It was something his parents shared with him growing up and it became a source of comfort between him and his dad after his mother died when he was still a child.  The laughs they shared carried over to adulthood and with his father now gone, he keeps those memories close and uses them to fuel his drive forward.  Stuck in a job he hates working for an annoying boss (Bill Burr, Daddy’s Home) while dreaming of becoming a headlining stand-up comedian, he is having trouble even getting onstage at his local comedy club because he can’t get enough people to come see him.  The thing is, Will is kinda good and when he is onstage tends to do well…something no one seems to really acknowledge since everyone is trying to get to that next level.

When his friend at the club, Quinn (Ken Jeong, Crazy Rich Asians) books a gig and can’t show up to host an out of town comedy event, he suggests Will for the job and it’s his first big opportunity to be seen by a reputable promoter.  If he does well, this could lead to more jobs — all he has to do is make it through the weekend without getting into trouble and be funny.  Oh, and the performer he’s introducing is his all-time favorite comedian, Billy G (Cedric the Entertainer), so it’s a chance to meet his comic hero and he’ll be rooming with a hard-partying comic (Alex Moffat, Ralph Breaks the Internet) who is determined to show Will a good time while he’s in town.  What could go wrong?

Byrne devises three days of chaos for Will, some of it predictable and some of it not.  It’s all delivered with an easy-going performance from Yang who never oversells some of the more bizarre circumstances he finds himself in nor does he underplay the dramatic moments afforded to his character throughout.  These are important days for Will and Byrne knows it so there’s some respect given when it’s appropriate.  That’s not to say the movie isn’t above some low-brow humor or off-color jokes, but these aren’t defense mechanisms it returns to when it gets stuck in a rut…Byrne seems to be more creative than going for gross out comedy and instead finds something important to say by putting Will in uncomfortable situations where he has to pick himself up and face consequences.

Most of the comedians are good as well, to varying degrees.  Moffat is a riot as the ribald comic that could have been a terror but winds up being kind of a sweet Artful Dodger to Yang’s Oliver.  I kept waiting for him to do something nasty that would change his trajectory but he’s exactly who he presents himself to be and that’s refreshing.  I have said it before and will say it again, I am totally completely 100% over Jeong.  Talk about someone who has milked his schtick to death.  He’s the worst part of the movie by far and is agonizingly awful every second he’s on screen.  As Yang’s love interest, Debby Ryan (Life of the Party) doesn’t have much to do but it’s more of a screenwriting problem than anything.  She’s so non essential to the story it feels like it was a character Byrne was compelled to create or include just to establish something about Yang or to use as a plot device for one of Will’s comedic escapades in the film’s midsection.

A worthwhile effort that has heart to go along with the laughs, The Opening Act could also apply to Steve Byrne’s career as a writer/director.  There are some fixes to be made and technique to be learned, especially in the establishing first twenty minutes that feel a bit awkward.  However once the film hits its stride it keeps up a healthy dose of energy and good will towards, uh, Will until the very end.  If his sophomore feature narrative film is as winning, sunny, and confident as this, he’s one to keep your eyes on.  Ditto for Yang who makes an assured jump from stand-up comedian and sorta actor to unconventional leading guy with ease.  This will surprise you.

The Silver Bullet ~ Walk of Shame

walk_of_shame

Synopsis: A reporter’s dream of becoming a news anchor is compromised after a one-night stand leaves her stranded in downtown L.A. without a phone, car, ID or money – and only 8 hours to make it to the most important job interview of her life.

Release Date:  April 25, 2014

Thoughts: I’ll let you in on a little secret…Elizabeth Banks is a secret weapon.  I can recall more than a few movies featuring Banks that I haven’t cared for (like What to Expect When You’re Expecting) but am hard pressed to think of a performance of hers I haven’t liked.  She was wasn’t overpowered by her daffy outfits in The Hunger Games and its sequel, showed off some range in People Like Us, and donned a producers cap for Pitch Perfect.  Though the poster for April’s Walk of Shame is a ghastly mess, the trailer shows Banks comfortably in her comedic element…giving me hope that this R Rated comedy (co-starring the dependable James Marsden, Robot & Frank) will give Banks another chance to shine.