Monthly Archives: June 2014

Dreadful. The script is so bad that after yet another disaffected, psychotic right winger (Secret Service chief James Woods) tells liberal prez, cool kat Jamie Foxx that the pen is not mightier than the sword, Prez Foxx jabs a pen in his neck (a total rip-off of a Bob Dole move), and then, just to make sure we got it, actually says, “I choose the pen.” Foxx plays the role like he has a plane to catch, and Channing Tatum, as the Secret Service presidential detail wannabe who saves the day, appears to be stifling laughter on more than one occasion. The CGI is atrocious (attack helicopters maneuver around the offices of downtown DC like Mini Coopers in The Italian Job and grenade explosions that do not knock over lecterns and desks in the rooms where they occur produce fireballs visible 10 blocks away). Finally, the double-double at the end is as implausibly stupid in construction as in resolution – both villains are the only two powerful men in Washington who still use pagers. Busted!

Space aliens called mimics (lethal, metallic, whirring Battling Tops) have landed in France and after checking their advance at Verdun, a global force plans a knockout punch in a D-Day redux. Tom Cruise is unexpectedly assigned to that landing and upon his near immediate death on the beach, wakes up ala’ Groundhog Day to relive the event, again and again. The hero of Verdun, Emily Blunt, recognizes the potential and together, they train, re-live and work to gain the advantage.

Doug Liman’s (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) film is clever, straightforward in concept, and for sc-fi, plausible. Cruise is refreshing playing a reluctant if not cowardly cad thrust into the role of mankind’s savior and Blunt is a convincing, modern Joan of Arc. The blend of London and Paris with CGI is expert and the alien force is intricate and scary.

The picture also sports a sly, muted sense of humor, which Cruise delivers alone, as Blunt takes on the role of the tortured, stoic warrior. Naturally, it tries to establish a deeper connection between the leads, an attempt that largely fails (Cruise is still cursed with a 100% to 0% charm to romance ratio), but Liman doesn’t stubbornly force the issue.  The end is also unsatisfyingly upbeat.  Minor complaints.

During AFI’s recent LA Modern series, we were hoping to see William Friedken’s picture on the big screen, but schedules wouldn’t permit, so we settled for a Netflix rental.  Friedken’s modern crime noir tracks Secret Service agents William Peterson and John Pankow as they hurtle through a maelstrom in an effort to bag master counterfeiter and killer Willem Dafoe. Their zeal seals their doom.

It’s a competent thriller, but there are not insignificant problems.  Peterson’s adrenaline junkie character is too one-dimensional, and the screenplay (written by a former Secret Service agent and Friedken) can be awkward in its reliance on hyper machismo, tough guy patter (“you want bread?  Fuck a baker!”) or even hackneyed (“I’m getting too old for this shit”). And if you were a Wang Chung fan, this is your movie, but the synthesized 80s score was hit-or-miss at the time and doesn’t travel so well 30 years later.

But the second half of the movie overcomes a lot of the weaknesses of the first, as Peterson and Pankow are revealed to be screw-ups in the ultimate clusterfuck. As they dig deeper, Pankow enlists the aid of Dafoe’s own lawyer, a confident but slightly oily Dean Stockwell, and it is a revelation to see the portrayal of a cop who is probably took weak for the job. Meanwhile, Dafoe proves less efficient than his stylish demeanor suggests and his errors eventually become too much to bear. Dispensing with super cops and criminal masterminds results in a much more satisfying picture.

Friedken also includes a boffo car chase after a heist gone bad in homage to his own The French Connection, and all of his action scenes are non-stylized and immediate (my son observed that the flick has to hold the record for guys shot in the face at 3). Notably, and in keeping with its inclusion in the AFI series, the locations are almost exclusively sun-bleached and bleak industrial LA, a rarity.