Movie Review ~ Redemption Day

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A decorated U.S. Marine captain embarks on a daring mission to save his kidnapped wife from terrorists in Morocco.

Stars: Gary Dourdan, Serinda Swan, Ernie Hudson, Martin Donovan, Andy Garcia, Samy Naceri, Robert Knepper, Lilia Hajji

Director: Hicham Hajji

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: It’s an occupational hazard that with the number of films I see over the course of a month, they begin to blend together.  That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I have this outlet to get my thoughts in order so I can reflect back on a movie later if I need a reference point for a future work for an actor, director, or project from a similar genre.  Too often, though, it must be said that the finer details of plot and character fade from memory just as soon as the publish button is clicked and all the social media posts have been shared.  Only the most memorable manage to lodge into my noggin and not always for the right reasons.

I can’t say that Redemption Day is going to fare well if my recall skills are tested because not only did I barely make it through the film grasping to its dangling thread of a plot but it also felt like the film itself didn’t even remember where it was going when it started.  I half expected this warzone action pic to be a rugged indie variation of a standard one-man-against-the-world sort of international rescue operation, something Liam Neeson, Mel Gibson, or even late-stage Kevin Bacon would have a stateside gruff field day with.  Instead, it’s a slickly made but grossly unfocused bit of grandstanding for a writer and director that doesn’t know where the meat of the story is and a cast that mostly gets an acquittal for instilling some realistic drama into situations that are set-up for histrionics.  Worst of all, it’s just a poorly timed release seeing that these types of war films are just going the way of the dodo, especially if you can’t rationalize a need for it with a compelling plot.

Haunted by an deadly ambush while on a humanitarian mission several years ago in Syria, U.S. Marine captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) has returned home a decorated war hero with PTSD battle scars he can’t shake.  (A quick side note, I have nothing but huge respect for the men and women that serve but do films always have to portray them as damaged goods when they return?  Maybe writers feel like they are paying respect to the military but continuing to show every vet welcomed home as broken does an overall disservice to their service.  Not saying there isn’t a certain price paid in battle that stays with someone who’s lived it or that I don’t find it realistic, I’m just a little weary of some over-victimization of these honorable vets.  Anyway…)  Though working through his vivid dreams of the attack, he’s one of the lucky ones, though, being able to be embraced by his young daughter and archaeologist wife Sarah (Serinda Swan) who are exceedingly patient and understanding with his recovery.  While he takes on the role of stay-at-home-dad, Sarah embarks on trip to Morocco, leading a team of her own as they are granted an opportunity to explore an ancient city that’s been uncovered beneath the sun scorched desert.

Though she’s supposedly in good hands both with the security detail that accompanies her with and a few overseas contacts Brad has called in, her caravan of high-profile international assets is unsurprisingly (to us) intercepted and taken hostage.  Held for ransom by terrorists (who could not be any more stereotypical if the cast of SNL portrayed them reading cue cards) that demand money and are willing to spill innocent blood to get it, the time is ticking on Sarah’s life and Brad knows it.  Discouraged by his government from getting involved and knowing the policy on negotiation with terrorists, Brad uses his curated military skills and knowledge of private global network dealings to get into the country where his wife and others are being held before its too late for all.  Disobeying direct orders, going against his country’s own policies, Brad calls in a number of favors from previous informants and spies to get him closer to his wife.

I wish I could tell you all of this generates some sort of excitement but honestly the biggest thrill the movie offers is the potential that Sarah could take viewers into a city lost to the sands of time, Indiana Jones style.  Why co-writer and first-time director Hicham Hajji chooses to make that Sarah’s mission that takes her overseas is a bit of a mystery, if only because that key discovery stuck in my mind for most of the movie. “What happened to the city?”  “Was there a city at all?” “Will we ever see the city and does a monster live there?”  You almost wish Hajji and his co-writers had the wherewithal to have their evil doers abscond with their hostages into this mysterious undiscovered land because that would have added some spice to what is a flavorless concoction.  Once the kidnapping takes place the film is just a series of back and forth conversations between increasingly unpredictable men with guns…and the terrorists they are hunting.

There are few long-running TV shows I can say I stuck with through thick and thin but CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was one of them so I’m familiar with star Dourdan’s work from his time on that crime drama.  He’s an unexpected choice for the lead of a feature so while he does serviceable work, there’s a particular spark missing that can’t be totally ignored.  Still, he gets the job done in more ways than one and is convincing as the character, though he fares better in the tactical sequences than he does with the overly dramatic ones.  There’s little time to establish a chemistry with Swan so the connection between them isn’t ever so strongly felt, but it doesn’t matter much because Swan has such pluck that you’d be rooting for her survival if her significant other was a rocking chair.  She’s arguably the best actor in the film, certainly better that the absolutely jaw-droppingly terrible second level supporting cast.  It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed the kind of terrible line readings that you’ll see here, especially from the actor that played the President.

With little to recommend in Redemption Day, it’s hard to put together what you should do with it should you come across it.  Is it a good time waster?  I mean, maybe?  It’s not the kind of film you can put on as background noise because for as convoluted and confusing as the plot gets at times it does require a certain amount of focus if you want scenes to hold together at all.  Then again, when the most interesting part of the plot involves a MacGuffin that reminds you of Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe you’re better off revisiting that Best Picture nominated classic instead of this which won’t garner a nomination for anything.  Best to just let night fall on this one.

Movie Review ~ Archenemy

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A teen meets a mysterious man who claims he lost his superpowers after arriving from another dimension. Together, they take to the streets to wipe out a vicious crime boss and his local drug syndicate.

Stars: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Amy Seimetz, Glenn Howerton, Paul Scheer

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Showing you just how much time truly has flown during this whole being cooped up in our homes for much of 2020 business, I could have sworn that Archenemy director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s previous film Daniel Isn’t Real came out earlier this year.  Looking back at my reviews, however, points out that my write-up for that ambitious yet not quite satisfying mind-bending thriller came out a little over a year ago.  Though I wasn’t ultimately sold on the merits of that film being a solid success, there were enough good ideas to keep me interested in seeing what Mortimer was going to get up to next and I guess I got my wish faster than it felt like I would.

For his third feature, Mortimer is changing things up a bit.  While his first two movies Some Kind of Hate and Daniel Isn’t Real were more horror-oriented and co-written with Brian DeLeeuw (Paradise Hills), Archenemy has a different tone to it and that could be due to co-writer Lucas Passmore coming onboard.  From the start, there’s a feeling that Archenemy, with its comic book animation prologue and noir-ish voice over narration from star Joe Manganiello is going to be something with an original spin and thankfully the screenplay and direction deliver that and then some.  Though it shows some cracks here and there and takes a hair longer to find its rhythm, when Archenemy locks in on its target it can’t miss.  And you shouldn’t miss it either.

I was a little scared at first that I’d mistakenly agreed to screen and review a completely animated feature…and not the kind of animation that has true movement to it but one with static images that sort of just slide.  Y’know?  It’s unsophisticated and rough, coupled with Manganiello (Magic Mike XXL) delivering some ultra-serious backstory about Max Fist, his galactic hero persona from another dimension and how he wound up crash landing on earth.  Thankfully, the animation acts as connecting pieces of storytelling and turn out to be enjoyable bits of fantasy as the movie races through its brisk 90 minute run time.  Eventually revealing this animated introduction morph into the live-action main feature, picking up Manganiello in the middle of a typical drunken rant.  From what we gather, the ragged and homeless earth-bound Max will deliver his origin story to anyone that listens and it’s just the first way the screenwriters keep us guessing along the way if Max is truly who he says he is or if the guy is just felled with mental instability.

More on Max later because the focus soon turns to two siblings living different lives from within the same tiny apartment.  Hamster (Skylan Brooks, Southpaw) wants to be a writer for a hot social networking site and winds up finding Max to be the perfect subject that will attract readers with his interesting tales of space warriors and battles from the stars being fought amongst the world population.  On the flip side of things, his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs, Bit) sees an opportunity to earn more money for the future by sidling up to The Manager (Glenn Howerton, The Hunt) a crime boss that takes a liking to her and gives her an opportunity to prove herself.  As Hamster follows Max around and gains his trust, Indigo heads off on her first assignment…and that’s where the worlds of the two siblings begin their path toward eventual collision.  When an encounter with a no goodnik (Paul Scheer) that’s holding a bundle of money goes south, Indigo finds herself with a target on her back, unwittingly involving her brother and Max in a war that’s closer to them all then they originally thought.

This is one film that was a nice surprise to find, not just because it has an almost jovial charm gleaned from its well-cast leads but thanks to an abundance of creative energy that helps it glow in key moments.  There’s that constant question lingering on the sidelines of the action if Max Fist really is from another world and that helps create a nice sense of anticipation anytime the siblings get into a bind and need his help.  Credit to Mortimer and Passmore for not chickening out when moving toward their resolution that sees the arrival of a mysterious blonde (Amy Seimetz, Pet Sematary and the director of She Dies Tomorrow earlier this year) with a connection to The Manager who looks an awful lot like Fist’s nemesis from a different solar system.

I think audiences that happen upon Archenemy will be in for a pleasant, if not entirely life-changing, fun time of a film and one that feels like an intelligent substitution for the blockbuster comic book hero movies we didn’t get this summer.  Though smaller in scale than those big-budget behemoths, there’s something mighty aspirational at the core of Archenemy that gives it some tremendously fantastical and unexpectedly entertaining passages.  A nice film for a laid-back weekend watch.

The Silver Bullet ~ Return to Sender

Return

Synopsis: A nurse living in small town goes on a blind date with a man who is not the person he says he is.

Release Date:  TBD 2015

Thoughts: Do you hear that sound?  That’s the sound of Rosamund Pike, the Oscar-nominated star of Gone Girl, being pigeonholed…at least according to the trailer for Return to Sender.  Looking like a dramatic tale of revenge with a few tricks up its sleeve, I’m sure Pike (who you should also check out in Jack Reacher) will be up for the task but I wonder if the film wouldn’t be better served by an actress that hadn’t recently played a flawed anti-heroine (and played it damn well).  I’m willing to believe that Pike filmed this before Gone Girl landed her on Hollywood’s A-List and while I’m interested to see how much of a welcome diversion this will be, I just have a sinking feeling that it’s going to be compared unfavorably to Pike’s 2014 hit.  Time will tell.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Zero Theorem

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Synopsis: A computer hacker’s goal to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; this time, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts: Say what you will about the deeper meaning of many of Terry Gilliam’s films but it’s hard to deny that the director doesn’t have a style that’s instantly recognizable. Even if I didn’t know that this first look at The Zero Theorem was the newest entry of Gilliam’s colorful oeuvre, I’d have come away thinking it very Brazil-esque.  Starring two time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), The Zero Theorem’s trailer isn’t one I’ll be craving to watch over and over again without an Aleve handy but I’ll keep my peepers open for the finished product.