Mid-Day Mini ~ Gung Ho

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a Japanese car company buys an American plant, the American liason must mediate the clash of work attitudes between the foreign management and native labor.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt. Mimi Rogers, Sô Yamamura, Sab Shimono, John Turturro

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  You really have to keep in mind that Gung Ho was made in 1986 to swallow some of the ideas that the film offers up to you.  The world was in a totally different place with tensions high surrounding the protection of the job of the American worker as many jobs started being farmed out to other countries.  Those that had built their homes and families around a job were suddenly out of work as companies found faster and cheaper ways to keep up with products that were highly in demand.

In Gung Ho, that product is automobiles and the film focuses on a Japanese company that comes to a small town and takes over an automobile manufacturing plant.  The American workers clash with the Japanese management and star Michael Keaton is left in the middle as a liaison between the two.  His loyalty to his friends is tested as he tries to play both sides…to disastrous results.

Man, this sounds like a heavier film than it actually is.  Director Ron Howard (Backdraft, Parenthood, Splash) applies a light touch to the film and populates the cast with solid character actors with familiar faces.  Keaton, in the second of three movies he’d make with Howard (Night Shift and The Paper are the others) is nicely cast in a role that ultimately gets frustrating as written by Edwin Blum, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandell.  You see, Keaton’s character makes so many lame-brained promises and tells so many white lies that he almost solely creates the problems for everyone in the film.  In the hands of another actor, this may have proven interminable to watch…but Keaton is so likable and laid-back that he makes it work.

What doesn’t work for modern audiences are some truly cringe-inducing racial stereotypes that I can’t imagine played well even when it was first released.  Making nearly every Japanese joke known to man without the slightest bit of irony, I’m betting many of the people involved would like to forget these dark points of what is otherwise a very upbeat film.

Stereotypes aside, Gung Ho is a nicely structured film that’s not all together forgettable…but not one that will last in your memory either.  Thanks to a typically Howard-esqe strong supporting cast and Keaton’s leading man, it is a harmless distraction.

Movie Review ~ Pain & Gain

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Tony Shalhoub, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Yolanthe Cabau

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: R

Running Length: 129 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  If Pain & Gain demonstrates anything, it’s that director Michael Bay can do an awful lot with a tiny budget…if you consider 25 million dollars a tiny budget.  Unfortunately, even with a budget that’s about ¼ of the last Transformers movie, Bay shows himself again as a director that’s full of sound and fury but truly signifying nothing by delivering a rather unpleasant film that’s doesn’t shortchange the audience on flash, flesh, and felons.

Based on a true story, Pain & Gain is told in flashback by multiple narrators who pop in whenever the film deems it necessary to tell the tale of three Miami muscled gym rats that find themselves in a whole mess of trouble thanks to their own buffoonery and poor planning.  Their efforts to swindle a greasy client (Shaloub) out of his money and property is so out of this world crazy that the film has to keep telling us it’s a true story when it takes some fairly incredible turns. 

Directed with the reckless commercial sleaze that Bay is famous for, the film does look great with vibrant colors and slo-mo work that delivers several humorous sight gags.  The movie hums with adrenaline but has a strange hollowness to it, never really making it up the hill of better black comedies that didn’t need to resort to gross out gore/humor to keep the attention of its audience. 

Wahlberg (Ted, Contraband) is more jacked up and cracked out than ever before and it’s plain to see that he put in some extra time in the gym to prepare himself for the trainer turned criminal that’s the ringleader of this strange mix of people.  Wahlberg plays this guy so wound up that when he has some freak outs of rage they’re more funny than threatening – which is, I believe, what he’s going for. 

His two compatriots are Mackie (Man on a Ledge, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Johnson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as fellow bodybuilders that have more going on in their right bicep than they do between their ears.  Mackie has a strange and extraneous side romance with Wilson (Pitch Perfect) who doesn’t have much to do but play on her dependable foul-mouthed shtick. 

It’s clear that Johnson is a box office favorite but he tries to go the extra mile here in the acting department and comes up short, never really getting to the heart of the dim-witted tool that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were going for.  Plus Johnson is at this point just one big muscle with eyes so it’s hard to take him seriously. 

When Harris (The Abyss, looking like a white raisin) shows up, he adds the kind of laid-back delivery that helps to balance the ADD-addled film and the characters within.  A retired private detectice, Harris gets looped into the mix by a patsy targeted by the men and tries in van to stop the eventually downfall he sees coming.  It’s the most level performance in the film and is a valued contribution.  Not a valued contribution is Jeong, once again turning in an awful “comedic” performance – how is this guy considered funny?

After a engaging but seedy first hour, the film takes on a darker tone and that’s when it transitioned from buzzy black comedy to an unhappy trek through tough territory as murder comes into play.  Blood is spilled, body parts are BBQ’d, and a few other appendages are damaged along the way as Bay steers his film into some unapologetically foul territory. 

Far from Bay’s best work (I’d still say that The Island is the most satisfying film he’s made), Pain & Gain suffers from an excess of style without any real support of substance.  Not a bad film if I’m being really honest, just one that didn’t need to be a brashly bold as it is.  Though it does have two sinewy legs to stand on, it starts to weaken as the time ticks by to the end of a very long 129 minutes.

Movie Review ~ Total Recall (2012)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A factory worker, Douglas Quaid, begins to suspect that he is a spy after visiting Rekall – a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led – goes wrong and he finds himself on the run.

Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston

Director: Len Wiseman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  There are some movies that need to be remade.  Maybe something went awry the first time a film was produced that caused it to fail or not hit the right chord.  Maybe it was the casting…the perfect star wasn’t born yet.  Maybe the technology wasn’t available to put a shine on a film that needed buffing.  Countless reasons exist to look back into film history and take another stab at a mediocre film.  Trouble is, Hollywood isn’t that creative so instead they are looking at what was popular ten or twenty years ago and putting these films through the remake wringer.  It’s a cannibalistic industry and its appetite is growing.

Sometimes the effect is acceptable.  I found 2011’s update of Footloose to be a great example of how to please the audiences of now while not upsetting fans of the original.  With clever nods to the 80’s film that inspired it, the movie landed quite well and stood on its own two feet.  Last summer a 3D remake of Fright Night was released and it too felt right to me because it used the original more as inspiration than doing a scene-for-scene remake.  It was funny, scary, and served its purpose without causing too much of a stir. 

The star of that remake, Farrell, is back in another summer remake but this time with less than stellar results.  I consider 1990’s Total Recall to be a sci-fi classic that was a high point for star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven.  With its strong production design, thrilling score, extreme action, and pulsing pace the 90’s Recall was a huge box office hit and is still highly regarded today.

It’s a puzzlement, then, that Sony Pictures felt the need to release a so-so remake that is not superior in any way to the original.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that absolutely nothing in 2012’s Recall will make you forget the vision that Schwarzenegger/ Verhoeven gave us – so it’s impossible to really enjoy the film.  It’s not a bad film, per se, but it’s overall so unnecessary that you’ll probably find yourself wondering why you just didn’t stay home and pop in your old DVD copy of it instead.

Here’s a film where a lot of effort yields sparse results.  The film is big and bombastic with nice special effects and some sincere performances…but at the end of the day it doesn’t add up to a movie with lasting value.  There are a few tips ‘o the hat to the original (the three-boobed lady being the most memorable) but it does feel like screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback purposely went against the grain to be different.  Messing with something that already worked ultimately doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Looking objectively, Farrell makes for a good leading man of the future that is put into danger when his erased memories are triggered during a journey to Total Rekall.  Total Rekall promises to give you “the memory of a lifetime” but this memory can’t be similar to any memories that currently exist in your brain.  Trouble is, because Farrell’s memory has been erased he doesn’t remember he used to be a spy which causes trouble when the procedure is begun.  Once he starts to remember, all hell breaks loose and he’s hunted down by various synthetic robots, corrupt police, and one very volatile operative (Beckinsale) with secrets of her own.

Giving credit where it’s due, there is more detail about the procedures and effects of Total Rekall in this film but trying to make sense of it all may throw you for a loop.  The beauty of the original was that you were never quite sure what was reality and what was “Rekall” but here you always know which world you’re operating in. 

Maybe it’s because the film does follow the same trajectory as the first that this viewer always knew what was coming next.  Surprise revelations and scenarios are anticipated rather than revealed so nothing came as a surprise.  Perhaps someone not familiar with the Verhoeven film would get more out of the movie but as it stands, I kept checking off various events as we neared the end.

I’m not familiar with the Phillip K. Dick source material this was based on so I’m not sure if this one is more true to the original plot but even so there seems to be a pretty thin objective for the main villain (Cranston in yet another bad wig and overzealous performance.  After a dismal turn in Rock of Ages earlier this summer, Cranston probably should stick to winning awards for television shows) and in the end it doesn’t seem to really matter.  The story is more interested in Farrell and his daring escapes while being pursued.

The film really could have been called Colin Farrell Jumps Off Stuff because that would be a more accurate way to describe most of the action sequences.  Farrell never misses an opportunity to jump off a roof or through a window and nearly every scene is punctuated with a man who leaps from ramshackle buildings in a single bound.  In the Blade Runner inspired production design, that gives him a lot of buildings for jumping off points as he evades Beckinsale in her pursuit.

Beckinsale is married to director Wiseman (they also collaborated on the Underworld films) and her role has been beefed up probably so he could keep her on set longer.  She seems to be an amalgam of the Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside characters from the original and that plays well into Beckinsale’s butt-kicking persona and wicked streak.  She’s fun for most of the film until she becomes just part of a series of plot devices rather than an actual character. 

She comes off better than fish-faced Biel who does adequately until the final few minutes when her thin acting talent shines through.  Also, Biel and Beckinsale look pretty similar so it becomes confusing as to who we are following during chase sequences.  Overall, Biel seems to be a weak choice for this role and I would have preferred a less refined looking actress in the role.

As I mentioned before, the action sequences are not too bad with a few inventive sequences.  Alas, they don’t make up for everything that comes between them that feels warmed over with a been-there-done-that vibe.  I often found myself wondering why the film had to take the route it does to get to a ho-hum conclusion.  It’s not a high-stakes film, you never have any doubt who is going to make it and who won’t so you just munch on your popcorn and shift in your seat until the expected outcome arrives.

My advice is to take the 2012 Total Recall for what it is…a mediocre remake of a film that didn’t need to be remade in the first place.  It’s diverting enough to not make you pull your hair out but you may regret spending the money on movie that you already got your money’s worth out of 22 years ago.