Movie Review ~ Studio 666

The Facts:

Synopsis: Legendary rock band Foo Fighters move into an Encino mansion steeped in grisly rock and roll history to record their much-anticipated 10th album.
Stars: Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffee, Whitney Cummings, Will Forte, Jenna Ortega, Leslie Grossman, Jeff Garlin
Director: B. J. McDonnell
Rated: R
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  I think it’s essential to go into a review of Studio 666 with complete transparency. I know next to nothing about Foo Fighters, save for Dave Grohl’s history with Nirvana and his charity work. If I were forced to name a song of theirs or do a backflip off a high board into a pool, I’d be choking on chlorine pretty quickly. I like a good horror picture, and making it as meta as possible will always get my antennae up and interested. Finding out Grohl and his Foo Fighters comrades made Studio 666 mainly in secret and reading more about the production, one couldn’t help but get a little excited about this type of specific genre filmmaking becoming popular again.

Based on their reaction to a movie, you can often comfortably divide a film into two camps, but in the case of Studio 666, I think a third one has to be considered. There will be people who like the film for the foul-mouthed, gory horror DIY indie feature it is, while others will be turned off by the filmmaker’s fallback on profanity to fill in gaps of dialogue in a script that’s not exactly breaking new ground where haunted houses and demonic possession are concerned. The third and final group will be the Foo Fighters fans who won’t care if the film is bad or good, they’re showing up to support their band and hear some music, and to those people, I say with confidence that you are going to get your money’s worth on every level. It’s the people seeking more who are in for a rough stay.

Years ago, an up-and-coming band moved into a sprawling mansion in the California hills to record their album but never got to finish it after one team member snapped and everyone wound up dead. After a brief prologue finding Jenna Ortega crawling on the ground with a wound and scenario eerily similar to what the actress experienced in January’s Scream requel, the Foo Fighters are introduced being tongue-lashed by their agent (Jeff Garlin, Safety Not Guaranteed), wondering where their 10th album is. Creatively blocked, lead-singer Grohl needs more time to produce something extraordinary with his band. That’s when the agent hatches the idea to find a location nearby to hunker down and get something together quickly.

With the help of Leslie Grossman’s (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous) chipper agent, the band is shown to the mansion we saw in the prologue, minus the corpses that formerly decorated the place. Grohl instantly finds a connection with the space. However, he comes to find out the link is less heaven-sent and more devilish in its charms, and the other Foo Fighters ensemble eventually agrees to move in for a brief stay to get the album laid down even faster. Despite a nosy, horny neighbor (Whitney Cummings, The Wedding Ringer), the band gets to work, and viewers begin to hear some of the excellent music Foo Fighters created for the film, nearly all of which is quite memorable in construction.

Each band member comes to have some encounter with a sinister force within the house, either manifesting itself through some presence or via the possession of Grohl’s body. As they lay down their tracks individually, Grohl makes a few cuts within the band…and not just in the music. While bodies start to pile up, the gang’s remaining members learn the history of the house and what it might take to stop the entity from taking over Grohl. As an evil spirit is on the loose, brutally murdering all that stand in its way, director BJ McDonnell (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) and writers Jeff Buhler (The Prodigy) and Rebecca Hughes attempt to inject humor when they can, but pretty quickly it’s clear this is a battle that amateur actors shouldn’t fight. Experienced comedians like Garlin, Grossman, and Cummings do their best to try to make this material work, but they wind up looking like ghoulish cartoons struggling to make situations funny and playing opposite musicians moonlighting as actors.

For his part, Grohl is every bit as affable and engaging as an actor as he is when playing music or as a consistently exciting interview. He’s essentially playing himself, so none of the band members are doing much in the way of acting, but Grohl is the one among them that could (and maybe should) continue if he chooses. The acting side of the equation is not what interests the rest of the gang; being a rock star is, and that is something they do exceptionally well. It’s just too bad that much of Studio 666 is dependent on performances being as strong as they can be – and they aren’t that great. 

McDonnell knows how to stage good and efficient suspenseful sequences, and there are a few clever scenes of a bloody massacre that will send fans of sickening kills straight through the roof. Unfortunately, there has to be more than just a well-liked cast and a few nice jolts to keep a picture humming along, especially one as long as Studio 666. Sadly, it never makes good on its early promise of consistency in coherence as more than a series of strung-together scenes or sustained engagement. If you like horror films, even a little bit, you’ll want to check it out but keep your expectations a simmer.

Movie Review ~ The Marksman

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A rancher on the Arizona border becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S.

Stars: Liam Neeson, Jacob Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Teresa Ruiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Dylan Kenin, Luce Rains, Chase Mullins, Christopher Mele, Grayson Berry, David DeLao, Esodie Geiger, Gonzalo Robles

Director: Robert Lorenz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  It just so happened that the weekend before I caught The Marksman I watched 1994’s Nell which found one-time-all-time serious actor turned action star Liam Neeson in a much different mode.  Twenty-six years younger and starring alongside his soon to be wife (the late Natasha Richardson), Neeson is a hot-headed and passionate doctor making a compelling argument for protecting the innocence of a vulnerable woman.  The film’s success at the box office (along with his Oscar nomination the previous year for Schindler’s List) helped tip the scales in favor of Neeson’s A-List status and he became a bankable star for the next decade.  Then he made a potboiler of a film called Taken in 2008 and his career took another swift swerve.

Ever since the success of Taken and it’s subsequent sequels, Neeson has made a crackerjack living off of playing the rough-edged everyman put into extraordinary situations and rising to the challenge of beating back all that stand in his way.  While maintaining a steady career in other genres to keep his craft honed, it’s these muscle-y popcorn chomping action flicks that certainly pay the bills and, to his credit, a number of them have been of above average quality and well-tailored to Neeson’s strengths.  As time has gone by they’ve presented less and less of a stretch for the actors so while we aren’t seeing him taking on wolves in The Grey or sussing out a killer onboard a plane in Non-Stop, every now and then we see him riding a train for a Agatha Christie-esque mystery/adrenaline mash-up like the somewhat silly The Commuter.

You’d understand then why The Marksman didn’t immediately jump off the page for me when scrolling through the list of releases, right?  I mean, another Neeson January release with a familiar formula wasn’t exactly a clarion call for immediate viewing.  Yet something about this one felt different and more serious in tone than the recent endeavors so rather than let it be a film I fired up after it had been out for a while I pursued it a bit and am I ever glad I did.  While it’s not going to be anywhere near the top level of Neeson’s best known for works, The Marksman is arguably one of his more respectable efforts in quite some time.  Stripping away a lot of the false bravado and grime that has started to creep into his movies as of late, there’s a semi-Western vibe to the film that gives it that same feeling of it being Neeson against the world.  Even better, it features the return of the actor that convinced us of his passion for protection of true innocence.

With his Arizona ranch that stretches along the border of Mexico on the verge of foreclosure after falling behind in his mortgage, recent widower Jim Hanson (Neeson) is facing the reality of leaving behind the home he made with his late wife.  A former U.S. Marine sharpshooter that spent two tours in Vietnam, Hanson spends his days keeping coyotes of the animal and human variety off his land and helping any undocumented immigrants crossing the border illegally from being left behind to die in the deadly heat…by turning them over to border patrol.  He’s not unkind in the process, just matter of fact in his transactional nature, especially considering his stepdaughter Sarah (a wan Kathryn Winnick, Wander) has connections to the department.  There’s nothing much to do around town but drive around and drink and he’s gotten good at both, finding too much comfort in the latter.

Hanson is out driving alongside the border wall with his dog when he spots Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez) who have just snuck through.  What he doesn’t know is that Rosa is fleeing a dangerous cartel that has already murdered her brother and is now tracking her and her son…and they are hot on her heels.  This chance encounter spirals into a scene no one was expecting and leads Hanson to make an out of character choice to later remove Miguel from Border Patrol custody and deliver him to family in Chicago.  This cross-country trip is no joyride as the older man and child are tirelessly pursued by a lethal quartet of killers who are as well connected in the U.S. as they are in Mexico.  With no one to trust and their lives definitively on the line, Hanson and Miguel must learn to trust one another if they have any chance to survive.

For his second feature film directing gig, Robert Lorenz follows in the well-worn footsteps of his long-time friend and mentor, Clint Eastwood.  On a number of Eastwood films over the past two decades, Lorenz has served as producer (Jersey Boys, American Sniper) and/or second-unit director (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) and he’s clearly learned a thing or two about pacing from his squinty pal and more’s the better for it.  A flashier director might have turned The Marksman into a film that would have felt a little edgier but lost some of the laid-back soul it finds throughout.  It’s PG-13 rating becomes a benefit because with all the killing (and frankly there’s a lot of senseless murders in this one), it was nice to be spared a lot of the aftermath.  I wouldn’t half doubt the script was offered to Eastwood or written with him in mind – it’s extremely reminiscent of something that would appeal to him.  (In a nice nod, Miguel watches Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High on a hotel room during one brief respite on their journey.)

If I say that Neeson feels relaxed in the role I don’t want you to take that as a bad thing or that he’s coasting.  To me, it comes across like Neeson read this script and just instantly understood this character and where they are at this present point in life (or in their grieving process?) and how taking this boy and his challenges on would change him.  None of the action sequences seem unrealistic for his age (68) and when he springs into action it comes with a twinge of excitement not just for the audience, but for his character as well, like he’s plugging into a socket that’s long been decommissioned.  Perez is cast well against him too, avoiding a number of the pitfalls a child actor can plunge into when faced with these sort of ‘child in distress’ roles.  He’s afforded some true sincerity in his lines and gets in several that put present situations into a much more global perspective.  I liked the smaller bit parts Lorenz cast too, like the roadside attendant and gun store owner that Hanson meets along the way.  For once, the villain is actually fairly terrifying so anytime Juan Pablo Raba (The 33) is onscreen you weren’t quite sure what was going to happen.

Even managing to nail what could have been a cheat of a ending, The Marksman is largely a bullseye for Neeson and company with only its formulaic set-up being the major detractor above all else.  It’s beautifully shot by Mark Patten (a second-unit director of photography on The Martian who graduated to cinematographer) who doesn’t let the orange sun and sand of the desert swallow up the actors and if the score from TV composer Sean Callery’s feels like it’s been recycled from one of his numerous television themes at least it’s been lifted from a project that’s rousing.  Here’s to hoping that Lorenz turns in more crisp work like this.  Who knows?  Maybe he’ll even convince Eastwood to come out of retirement if the timing is right.

Movie Review ~ Spotlight

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup

Director: Tom McCarthy

Rated: R

Running Length: 128 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: More than anything, Spotlight reminds us what true journalism used to look like.  In this day and age of up to the minute coverage that often relies on conjecture, I think we as a public have forgotten what it meant to do your homework, cite your sources, and deliver honest news.  Sensationalism may have sold more papers but it wasn’t the driving force behind most true-blue journalists.

That’s the overall message I took away from writer/director Tom McCarthy’s slow burn look into the investigative unit of the Boston Globe (the Spotlight team) that first uncovered the molestation scandal within the Boston Archdiocese.  Setting into motion a global outcry for justice, the members of the squad took their time in gathering information, pounding the pavement, asking the tough questions, and documenting the horrifying answers.

Drawing justified comparisons to All the President’s Men and filled with several genuinely troubling passages where shocking admissions of guilt are made as off the cuff remakrs, there’s nothing salacious on display.  If anything, audiences may start to pull their hair out that Spotlight didn’t come forward with their evidence sooner…but to jump the gun before all the facts had been hammered out would have left them open to doubt when there was little to be had.  They put their careers on the line to tell this story the right way and in doing so they likely saved lives.

Singling out any one person doesn’t feel fair because Spotlight is the very definition of an ensemble film.  McCarthy has cast his movie well starting with Michael Keaton (RoboCop) as the team lead that ultimately makes the call when they bring their findings forward.  Mark Ruffalo (Thanks for Sharing) is the impassioned champion of the down-trodden that wants to push forward even though his journalistic side tells him Keaton’s path is the right one.  Rachel McAdams (The Vow) underplays her role so much that the actress basically disappears inside herself while Liev Schrieber (Fading Gigolo) crackles as the editor-in-chief that prods Spotlight to keep going.

The film isn’t flashy or overly sentimental so as a whole it’s not as ingrained in my memory like other films I’ve seen in 2015.  It does have several moments, though, that are hauntingly present when anyone brings up the film.  It’s easy to see why it’s been heralded as one of the best films of 2015, it’s old-fashioned in construct and forward thinking it its execution.

The Silver Bullet ~ Spotlight

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Synopsis: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Thoughts: A drama that looks to be along the lines of All The President’s Men, Spotlight is a glimpse into the investigation by the Boston Globe that wound up exposing a now-famous cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. This material could have been delivered in any number of cinematic ways and has been covered in one way or another in documentaries already…but director Tom McCarthy has assembled some top-tier talent for this dramatization. Oscar nominees Michael Keaton (Minions), Mark Ruffalo (Thanks for Sharing), and Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer) join Rachel McAdams (The Vow) and Liev Schreiber (Fading Gigolo) as journalists seeking to uncover the truth and dealing with the landslide of backlash. It’s an important story to tell and I’m hoping that the roster of stars on board bodes well for its overall success.

 

Movie Review ~ Nightcrawler

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmad

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: The best horror film of 2014 wasn’t even marketed as a horror film at all…it’s this nail-biter of a tale from writer Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) who also makes his feature film directing debut.

Over the past decade I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal, turning up my nose at his more straight-forward/commercial fare (Love and Other Drugs) and having my socks knocked off at this recent penchant for flawed anti-heroes (End of Watch, Prisoners). With the arrival of Nightcrawler my cinematic romance with the star is in full bloom.

Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a nobody that happens upon a way to become a real somebody…at the high cost of life and livelihood of others that have the misfortune of being in his dangerous hemisphere.  Taking place in the seedy world of crime journalists/photographers, Nightcrawler documents how ever-the-opportunist Bloom moves quickly up the ranks from slimy outside observer of the crimes and accidents occurring in Los Angeles to orchestrator of the right angles that will help him advance his star and bank account.

He’s aided and abetted by hungry news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Thor, also Gilroy’s spouse) who is also fighting to keep her head above the ever rising waters of crowded newsroom politics.  In many ways, Lou and Nina are the  perfect pair…he supplies what she needs to maintain her station while her willingness to buy what he’s selling only helps to encourage Lou to brush off any moral dilemmas the sleazy work could present.

What I’ve come to appreciate about Gyllenhaal’s movie choices is his willingness to take a character, craft a backstory, and then not let anyone else in to this knowledge he has.  Like his haunted detective in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal makes Bloom a fractured loner.  We don’t know where this guy came from or what troubles he’s had so far in life…making him all the more dangerous because we have no idea of what he stands to lose as he falls deeper and deeper under fame’s spell.

Equally outstanding is Russo in the best role she’s ever been given…no surprise that her husband wrote it specifically for her.  A female news director in a largely male climate, she’s desperate to hold on to her role and is willing to overlook some clear indicators that Bloom is off his rocker and may in fact be creating some of the crimes he’s delivering to her as news pieces.

In supporting roles, Bill Paxton (Million Dollar Arm) plays an old dog of a crime journalist that Lou first comes to for advice and Riz Ahmad (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) makes a strong showing as Lou’s dimbulb assistant.  Both men underestimate the length to which Lou will go to lock down his place in the food chain and Gilroy’s Oscar nominated script cleverly works out a doozy of a finale that is as frighteningly perfect as it is maddening.

Nightcrawler was an unexpected treat for me, I hadn’t planned on it being so skillfully constructed or so breathlessly paced.  It truly is a horror film masquerading as a psychological drama and one that should have gotten more love from The Academy when the nominations were announced.  Maybe it wouldn’t quite have made the cut for Best Picture but recognizing the work of Gyllenhaal or Russo would have been absolutely justified.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rosewater

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Synopsis: A journalist is detained in Iran for more than 100 days and brutally interrogated in prison

Release Date: November 7, 2014

Thoughts: Writer/director Jon Stewart has a lot riding on his directorial debut centered around the true life story of a journalist suspected of spying and imprisoned in Iran. After all, a key piece of evidence in the trial was an interview he conducted on Stewart’s popular The Daily Show back in 2009. So it’s interesting that Stewart responded by crafting Rosewater, a film generating a nice amount of buzz as it screens on festival circuits before its release in early November. Always one to shine a light on the truth, as ugly as the truth can sometimes be, Stewart could accomplish a new stage in his varied career here while exposing audiences to a story they weren’t aware needed to be told.

The Silver Bullet ~ Nightcrawler

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Synopsis: A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.

Release Date: October 17. 2014

Thoughts: Every time I’ve heard this movie mentioned in the last few months I instantly think that Jake Gyllenhaal is joining the X-Men crew. So it’s helpful to have this teaser trailer for the fall release to remind me that this is a hard-boiled drama that looks to sit comfortably within Gyllenhaal’s wheelhouse. I find that Gyllenhaal is making the kind of movies that Leonardo DiCaprio should be making, both are gifted actors but Gyllenhaal has the good sense to pick movies that are as interesting to audiences (End of Watch, Prisoners) as they are to himself. Nice to see Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as supporting characters here – this is one I’ll keep my eyes on. Also…what’s with fall movie posters having their Oscar nominated leads wearing sunglasses at night? See Kill the Messenger for another example.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Green Inferno

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Synopsis: A group of student activists travel from New York City to the Amazon to save the rainforest. However, once they arrive in this vast green landscape, they soon discover that they are not alone – and that no good deed goes unpunished.

Release Date:  September 5, 2014

Thoughts: Though I’m an aficionado of horror and have welcomed with open arms the resurgence of the retro scare fest, I’ve never totally warmed to what director Eli Roth has done so far in his career.  Though his films have had their share of style, they’ve wound up feeling like the juvenile product of an overgrown frat boy making movies that his friends would get a kick out of.  After brutal films like Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel: Part II, Roth’s directing has taken a backseat to producing and acting.  Roth’s back behind the camera for his take on the popular jungle cannibal films from the 70s/80s with The Green Inferno and it looks like he’s developed another challenge to the stomach and squirm factor of his audience.  I’ll catch this one (behind covered eyes, I’m sure) to see if Roth has matured as a filmmaker…but one can only hope for so much.

Movie Review ~ The Nut Job

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Surly, a curmudgeon, independent squirrel is banished from his park and forced to survive in the city. Lucky for him, he stumbles on the one thing that may be able to save his life, and the rest of park community, as they gear up for winter – Maury’s Nut Store.

Stars: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Sarah Gadon, Jeff Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias

Director: Peter Lepeniotis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: No one owes a bigger debt to the advent of cheaply produced animation more than the vermin of the world.  Where else but in a colorful bit of family friendly fluff can your run of the mill flea infested squirrel be transformed into a purple-ish hero voiced by Will Arnett?  Well squirrels, moles, raccoons, rats, and a host of other hairy creatures get their chance to shine in this well-intentioned but subpar attempt by small studio Open Road Films to weasel into the playing field with the likes of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.

The Nut Job centers on Surly the squirrel (Arnett), who of course is pretty surly (har har) and doesn’t like sharing his carefully gathered nut goodies with his fellow dwellers of a spacious park.  When he’s responsible for the eradication of the food gathered for winter, he’s cast out of the park along with his silent rat friend.  In the hustle and bustle of the big city just outside the quaint park, he has the good fortune to find himself in front of an honest to goodness nut store and his worries are over.

Trouble is, the nut store is really a front for a bunch of gangsters using it to rob a bank across the street. In a variation of your classic caper comedies, they’re digging underground to break into the vault just as Surly and his growing gang of scampering rodent folk keeps trying multiple methods to gain entry into the store for all the walnuts they could every dream of.  Despite the somewhat quaint set-up of a robbery within a robbery, the movie never comes off as clever as it wants us to think it is.

Arnett is just fine but is perhaps a bit too sly in his delivery to truly open up his character beyond a grumpy squirrel who winds up changing his tune.  There’s nothing particularly memorable about his low registered characterization and when paired with regal sounding Liam Neeson (Battleship, The Grey) it feels like a basso-profundo face-off.

Saying this is Katherine Heigl’s best work may sound like a dig…until you consider her long long LONG string of failed films over the past several years.  Heigl (One for the Money) for once sounds as animated as her character, one of the few to be given a name other than their general moniker: Raccoon, Mole, Rat, etc…only species with multiple representation get their own names in the world of The Nut Job.  I’d say that Brendan Fraser was awful voicing a doofus brawny popular squirrel but as the film went along it became clear that Fraser was really the only one that fully embraced his surroundings and turned up the dial on the exuberance…and then busted the dial right off and went higher.  Though he’s exhausting, it’s the kind of liveliness the film is sorely lacking.

Running a long 80 some odd minutes, The Nut Job caps off it’s time with us via a curtain call finale set to South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style…nearly two years after it become popular and then went the way of the flashmob.  I know an animated film takes time to make its journey to the screen but including a song that was a dated cliché before the release date approaches is a true puzzlement.

The kind of film that could be popular since there’s little in the way of family entertainment at the movies this month, The Nut Job is exactly as good as you think it looks.  Falling into the mid-tier of animation efforts, it’s neither here nor there how well it does at the box office because it can’t have cost that much to make.  I’d say skip it…but if you have kids driving you crazy at home there are a lot worse ways to take them to the movies.

Movie Review ~ Homefront

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord.

Stars: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Frank Gillo, Izabela Vidovic

Director: Gary Fleder

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  What possessed the filmmakers to put star Jason Statham in such a hilariously awful wig for the ten minute prologue of Homefront is a mystery akin to the whereabouts of the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.

If you can make it past the truly awful first moments of Homefront (and trust me, it’s reach for the remote bad), you’ll find that a better movie emerges after the opening credits have run.

Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2) had long wanted to bring DEA Agent Phil Broker to life on screen and had held the rights to Chuck Logan’s novel Homefront for years.  After renewing his option to the material several times, Stallone wisely realized that he was too long in the tooth and heavy on the filler to play the middle aged agent and adapted the screenplay into a star vehicle for friend Statham (who also turned in another good 2013 performance in the undervalued Parker).

Statham has never been called on to use much in the way of actual acting chops before, favoring karate chops instead so this was a nice departure for the action star.  Though the screenplay maybe takes the actor too far into sentimental territory, it’s bursting with Stallone’s “integrity above all else” morals that he’s so in favor of putting into his screenplays.

After a small potatoes incident on a school playground puts Statham’s single father at odds with the hick-ish parents of a bully, he gets into even more trouble when the bully’s uncle (a small time drug kingpin played by James Franco, This Is the End) is called in to teach Statham and family a lesson.  When Statham strikes back, it sets into motion events that will put his idyllic life in jeopardy as Franco and his girlfriend (an ageless Winona Ryder, Frankenweenie) make a play for the big time by turning Statham over to some bad guys out to settle an old score.

Though the film has about five climaxes (all more than decent sequences, I should say), there’s no escaping the fact that there’s more loose ends in the film that there are complete sentences.  Characters (like a pretty schoolteacher that Statham and his daughter take a shine to) appear and disappear, never to be heard from again and there’s an element of convenience in every twist the film introduces.  Even so, the film works almost in spite of itself.

Let’s be clear: there’s absolutely nothing new in the film as directed by Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls) or in Stallone’s script.  Whatever opinion you’ve formed about the movie from the preview is exactly the kind of movie you’re going to get…and that may not be a bad thing if you know what you’re getting into.  You may actually feel better about the film waiting to watch it on Netflix or picking it up from Redbox.  Miss it in the theater but consider giving it a look when it’s easier to fast forward through the prologue.