Movie Review ~ Last Flag Flying


The Facts
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Synopsis: Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.

Stars: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Yul Vazquez, Kate Easton, J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: It’s not lost on this reviewer that the director behind the tin-eared Last Flag Flying is Richard Linklater.  Linklater has built a career on authentic sounding/feeling movies like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, not to mention his career high of Boyhood.  Following that up with the enjoyable Everybody Wants Some! which was seen as a spiritual sequel to his earlier Dazed and Confused, Linklater seemed like he was entering a mid-career golden zone of easy-going character driven films.

So you’ll forgive me for being pretty surprised that he’s at the helm of Last Flag Flying, a phony baloney film that not only wastes two good actors (and one mediocre one) but your valuable holiday time as well.   A kinda-sorta sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail (which, full disclosure, I have not seen), this is a long trip with a short premise and it all goes nowhere.  I’m usually fairly forgiving with movies that limp out of the gate if they can finish strong but this one falls flat from the very beginning and never gets back up again.

On a cold night in 2003, a Larry Shepherd enters a dive bar in Virginia.  The man (Steve Carell, Freeheld) strikes up a conversation with Sal, the guy behind the bar (Bryan Cranston, Godzilla) and reveals himself to be an old Vietnam war buddy the bartender hasn’t seen in decades.  With lingering guilt over a crime Sal was involved with that Larry took the fall for, Sal agrees to accompany Larry on a day trip to a church nearby.  That’s where they meet up with former comrade in arms Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne, Passengers), who has transformed from a war-time wild man to a man of the cloth.

Larry has tracked down these two men because he recently lost not only his wife to a long-term illness but has just learned his son was killed in the Iraq war.  Would these men accompany Larry as he buries his son in Arlington Cemetery, you know, for old times sake?  Mueller was also involved with the indiscretion that saw Larry serving time in custody and while Larry doesn’t explicitly say the two men owe him one, the suggestion is that this small favor is something they can do to right a past wrong and clear their conscience.  It also helps Mueller’s wife forces him to go.

Thus begins a road trip that stretches across multiple states and forms of transportation as the three men bring the fallen solider home to his final rest.  Along the way old war wounds are opened and the guys must come to terms with what they did and how that changed the course of everything they’ve done since they returned to the states.  There’s even a chance for some small redemption with a stop to visit with the mother (Cicely Tyson, Alex Cross, excellent with limited screen time) of a soldier killed in Vietnam.

All of this should have panned out to a rewarding experience, but the movie is so faux in thought, word, and deed that I never warmed to anyone or anything on screen.  I never once bought that the three leads were former military, nor that they would ever in a million years be friends.  I know war makes friends out of enemies but there’s no authenticity in the performances or in the script from Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan.  While Fishburne is the most believable, he’s also the one least invested in the movie.  Carell continues to be an actor with interesting depths but struggles with a role that asks him to emote in all the wrong ways.  As usual, the actor that has the greatest trouble is poor Cranston who proves again that he’s an actor probably best suited for television.  Cranston’s performance (much like his hammy Oscar-nominated performance in Trumbo) is all hot air and booming voice; when you place it aside Fishburne and Carell who are trying to find their own arcs he just crumbles under the pressure.  It’s a memorably forgettable performance in a movie that’s equally a huge write-off.

I can think of a half-dozen actors that could have pulled these roles off better but at the heart of the movie’s problems is a meandering script and poor pacing – that falls squarely on Linklater’s shoulders.  There’s a kernel of an appealing movie at play but before we’d even reached the halfway mark I was waving the white flag of distress.  Skip it… Now it’s time for me to go seek out The Last Detail.

Down From the Shelf ~ Alex Cross

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A homicide detective is pushed to the brink of his moral and physical limits as he tangles with a ferociously skilled serial killer who specializes in torture and pain.

Stars: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Ed Burns, Cicely Tyson, Rachel Nichols

Director: Rob Cohen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:   When I heard that there were plans to reboot the Alex Cross films as a star vehicle for Perry, I shook my head ‘no’.  After I saw the preview for the film, I shook my head ‘no’.  Sitting down and readying myself to write this review, I can only shake my head with a mixture of incredulity and anger that a series with so much potential has yet again been squandered.  You see, while the first two stabs at bringing James Patterson’s famous detective to life were noble attempts that had their moments, this film is a piece of garbage not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.

Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001) both featured Morgan Freeman as a wise detective up against various devious killers.  Freeman may have been a tad too old for the character but he added a grace and gusto that was needed as the transition from page to screen was made.  In reality, the novels have such a wealth of stories that a television series really should have been explored; it’s a format that would have served Alex Cross and his fans well.

When Freeman was done after two entries the character seemed kaput, until some genius thought that Perry would be the right guy to take another whack at it.  Wrong choice.  Perry has made a fortune off of his Madea films and other productions that are marketed one way but in truth are preachy messes that test the will to live of many audiences and critics.  As bad of a director as Perry certainly is, his acting is worse.  He’s so laughably out of his league here that one wonders if he thought he was in a comedy.  His unmotivated line readings and phony attempts at sounding concerned are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems Perry presents taking on this leading role.

To be fair, Perry isn’t the only offender in the acting category.  Pretty much everyone else in the movie sleepwalks through their roles – from Burns as Perry’s partner to lean and mean Fox as the killer that is seeking vengeance on Perry and his team for getting in the way of his work.  The only thing really scary about Fox is how much weight he lost for the role – his commitment is admirable but wasted in a film that offers no support for him.  Only Tyson, valued pro that she is, seems invested in what she’s doing and saying…but at times even she looks pained to say some of the incredibly adrift dialogue from Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson.

There’s so much wrong with the film, not the least of which is basic logic, timelines, and continuity.  Nothing makes much sense so if you must watch this try to appreciate it for Cohen’s direction which at least keeps things moving in an efficient way.  Cohen knows his way around an actor with limited range (he directed Vin Diesel in xXx and The Fast and The Furious) so the conclusion must be that Perry is beyond saving.

You know a film is bad when the best thing about it is the song played over the closing credits…and certainly “All Our Secrets Are the Same” penned by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Edelman, and Cohen is far and away the only redeeming point of the film.  I place the blame solely on Perry at the end of the day…his atrociously inept acting drags the film down at every turn…though Alex Cross lives on in novels it’s Perry that has put him in a cinematic grave.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

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Synopsis: A young family moves into an historic home in Georgia, only to learn they are not the house’s only inhabitants. Soon they find themselves in the presence of a secret rising from underground and threatening to bring down anyone in its path.

Release Date:  February 1, 2013

Thoughts:  Though it was originally titled The Haunting in Georgia, one only need to read the lengthy title of this sequel to the ho-hum 2009 original to see that there is some confusion in the air.  Before it goes straight to your local Redbox or OnDemand service, this is getting a small release for those that prefer to get their scares at top dollar.  I’m a total sucker for any kind of horror film so I’ll most likely be one of the foolish few that find themselves in a theater for this one. Though it does sport an intriguing slant to the menacing ghost tale formula, my expectations are low that the Ghosts of Georgia will have much in the fright department.

The Silver Bullet ~ “Alex Cross” Trailer

Synopsis: After Washington DC detective Alex Cross is told that a family member has been murdered, he vows to track down the killer. He soon discovers that she was not his first victim and that things are not what they seem.

Release Date:  October 19, 2012

Thoughts: Based on one of the 18 (and counting!) novels in a popular series by James Patterson, Alex Cross sees Tyler Perry stepping into the role created by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.  Nothing against Perry, who is a fine actor when he wants to be, but taking over for Freeman is no small task.  As a fan of the Alex Cross novels (though I admittedly haven’t read one since #10) I always considered this a series better suited for television than the big screen.  It doesn’t help that the films continue to be made out of order which means the Cross character will forever be scattered amongst movies.  The trailer doesn’t do a lot for me, looking to be more of a by-the-numbers police mystery.  Also, is Matthew Fox sick or something?  Rather than looking super ripped in his villain role he looks malnourished which maybe just adds to his creep factor.  In any event, I’m a proven sucker for a thriller so all gripes aside there’s no doubt I’ll be catching this one in October.