Review: Spy

spy-melissa-mccarthy-03-636-380

DIR/WRI:  Paul Feig •  PRO: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Mellissa Bretherton • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jefferson Sage • CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale

 

When super-suave agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is killed by the fabulously-quiffed Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), his CIA desk jockey handler Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is devastated. Worse than that, now there’s a nuclear bomb available to any dastardly buyer, and Cooper begs Chief Crocker (Allison Janney) for a chance to finally get out in the field and do some real spying-type stuff.

Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) laughs off that idea – he wants to go in with all guns blazing – but this requires a light touch, and he’s too OTT. When he storms out, the Chief has no choice but to – reluctantly – give the nod to Susan. Finally she’s going undercover!

Quick as a flash – well, after getting her underwhelming super spy “weapon” – Susan has said goodbye to her BFF and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) and is on the way to Budapest, slipping into her first hideous cat women/single-for-life frumpy middle-America lady tourist disguise.

Ford is there too – he’s gone rogue – and now Susan has to deal with him and try not to blow her cover (or make too many mistakes). She manages to infiltrate Raina’s inner circle, but then things start to get really dangerous: can Susan and her friends save the world (and finally get a decent haircut and frock to stop Raina’s bitchy comments?).

Written and directed by Feig, Spy reunites him again with his Bridesmaids and Heat star McCarthy, who was wobbling a bit after the relative failure of Tammy, which was the first film where she was the only name on the poster.

Perhaps taking note of this, Feig does the unusual for this kind of film; he beefs up the supporting cast and actually gives them something to do. Apparently a huge fan of English TV star Miranda Hart (an unknown in the USA), Feig gives her a funny and meaty role, and she almost steals the film from McCarthy at times; they’re like a kind of female Laurel and Hardy.

The rest of the supporting cast – Statham, Law, Byrne and another British comedian Peter Serafinowicz, playing an amorously cheesy Italian agent – get plenty to do as well, and because they’re all totally up for a laugh, the combination effect works really well and makes McCarthy shine a little more.

There are plenty of laughs to be had, and with smart direction (we’re in Bond territory here of course, but there are chases and knife fights alongside blood, vomit and plenty of f-bombs – Americans love to hear English people swear), this is likely to set off a sequel or two…

James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes

Spy is released 5th June 2015

Spy – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Parker

 

DIR: Taylor Hackford •  WRI: John J. McLaughlin • PRO: LLes Alexander , Steve Chasman, Taylor Hackford, Sidney Kimmel, Jonathan Mitchell   DOP: J. Michael Muro  DES: Missy Stewart  Cast: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis

With all the (negative) press being dumped on the recent returns of ’80s action heroes Arnie, Stallone and Bruce Willis, spare a little thought for poor Jason Statham. Only 12 years Bruce’s junior, The Stath became the go-to action hero just as Millennials began to tire of macho heroics in favour of CGI nonsense. With the notable exception of his Transporter series, almost all of the films Statham has headed have struggled to recoup their cost in cinemas, despite regularly becoming staples of man-sized DVD collections afterwards.

Parker is likely to do the same. A basic revenge/heist caper in the vein of Point Blank– its tagline, ‘Payback has a new name’, seems to draw on the disastrous Point Blank remake Payback – Parker finds The Stath left for dead by some co-conspirators, and vowing to take them down on their next job. The film is based on the book Flashfire, the nineteenth (!) book in the Parker series by American crime fiction author Donald Westlake, who wrote under the nom de plume Richard Stark. Unsurprisingly, that series also bears the inspiration for Point Blank, although it’s troubling to note that John Boorman’s film was based on a different Parker novel. Do they all begin with Parker being betrayed? Probably.

Dodging mob hitmen, Parker tracks his prey to Palm Beach, Florida, where his former colleagues plan to rip-off some very wealthy retirees. He finds a sidekick in mousy real-estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), struggling with banking debts (ooh, how contemporary!), and sets about sabotaging the heist.

There is very little more to Parker than this, and yet the film is padded out to a scandalous two-hour run-time. Featuring only three proper action scenes and a confused romantic subplot, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly where the editors should have made cuts, without reducing the film to 70 minutes. While the central fight scene between Parker and a hitman in a plush hotel room is about as visceral a donnybrook as The Stath has ever performed, the good it does is largely undone by the final showdown, wherein the odds have been so teetered in Parker’s favour that tension is nowhere to be found.

Still, despite all its problems, Parker is hardly a disaster. Directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray), it’s never short of competently made. Statham brings his earnest A-game, as always, and fires off one or two chuckle-worthy one-liners. Lopez gets mileage out of recycling her Wedding Planner character, although Patti LuPone steals many of her scenes as her overbearing mother. Michael Chiklis is sufficiently tough and gruff as the villain.

But really it all comes down to its length. Twenty minutes shorter and Parker could have been an easily recommended diversion. As it is, it is just a bit exhausting. It’s not that there are particularly bad scenes in it, but rather far too many unnecessary ones. Wannabe script editors could learn a lot by counting them. That’ll help you make it through the movie.

Don’t expect any of the remaining 23 Parker novels to be made into films any time soon.

David Neary

16 (see IFCO website for details)

118mins
Parker is released on 8th March 2013

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ4Nsu2tXTk

Share

Cinema Review: Safe

putting the ham in Staham

DIR/WRI: Boaz Yakin • PRO: Lawrence Bender, Dana Brunetti • DOP: Stefan Czapsky • ED: Frédéric Thoraval • Cast: Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon, James Hong

Safe is a relatively low-budget (€30m) Jason Statham vehicle. That’s practically a genre onto itself this weather. And with that genus comes certain stigma. The plot is secondary, the action takes centre stage and Statham commands most scenes, carrying them with his own impossible magnetism.

Safe however, plays it anything but and results in the Stath’s best action effort for ten straight years! Jason Crank has been saddled with the ‘Clinical Assassin’ archetype for years now. Safe represents a significant leap back in the proper direction for our beloved, bald bruiser. Here’s he’s given a chance to flex his dramatic muscles, and not simply those (scarcely) hidden under his clothing.

In Safe, we get to see the mighty Cranker himself cry. With tears and everything. He also gets worried, scared, panics and even vomits from the emotional trauma of bulleting someone’s brain!

Safe isn’t exactly a drama, but a significantly higher level of acting is called for throughout Safe’s narrative, and Statham steps up as you’d expect. As the Crank series proved he can do ‘hyperactive, manic cartoon person’, Safe proves he’s just as comfortable portraying ‘human-being’.

Safe also tackles themes such as corruption, remorse, homelessness and suicide in more than a simply perfunctory manner. Again, it’s hardly a detailed analysis of these issues, but the fact they even feature in Boaz Yakin’s action debut surprises and delights.

First and foremost, though, Safe is an action film. And while it doesn’t re-invent the genre like Gareth Evans’ The Raid, not since 2002’s The Transporter has Jason Statham’s handiwork (and footiwork) been so gloriously, brutally visualised. He breaks a trachea at one point. With a dinner plate.

Safe’s pacing starts with a deliberate grind, slow and methodological, forcing the viewer to salivate throughout the first act. Then, finally, inevitably, Safe explodes into life, paced expertly with a series of chases, brawls and gun duels.

The action is presented with clarity and choreographed with imagination. Shots linger on the Cranker as his feet and fists fly, unsullied by choppy cuts. Squibs burst and detritus flies as 45. Rounds find homes in the scenery. Meanwhile, the stuntwork is absurdly good; in one instance viewers follow a pair of flailing stuntmen out a window and onto the awaiting pavement in a single take.

Considering the colour-by-numbers gunfights and obscured, cut-to-ribbons brawls of The Mechanic or Killer Elite, not to mention the ill-fitting, detached caricatures he’s normally saddled with, Safe represents an important moment for Statham’s career.

Safe is an interesting, exhilarating and often sensitive tale, wherein Jason Statham takes the opportunity to prove his worth, both as a capable actor and Hollywood’s last REAL action star.

Unfortunately, I doubt Safe is destined to rake in a fortune at the box office. Similarly, I’d be surprised if many recognize the relevance of what Safe represents for action cinema or its lead’s career trajectory.

I pray I’m wrong.

Jack McGlynn

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Safe is released on 4th May 2012

Safe – Official Website

 

Share

The Expendables

The Expendables

DIR: Sylvester Stallone • WRI: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone • PRO: Kevin King, Avi Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, John Thompson • DOP: Jeffrey L. Kimball • ED: Ken Blackwell, Paul Harb • DES: Franco-Giacomo Carbone • CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, Stone Cold Steve Austin

The Expendables is pitched to us as a bringing together of stars of ’80s and ’90s action movies, those of an especially high cheese quota. Some were successes, some outright duds – either way our view of them is preserved by nostalgia, and Sylvester Stallone, having drawn what he can from his own iconic roles, has attempted here to perform some CPR on an entire genre.

It would be naïve and pointless to criticise this movie for being light on plot and action driven. This was never going to be a movie of nuance, nor should it be. What we can hope for though, is that the action is executed well and with bombast and that there is a good dose of knowing humour. Should Stallone choose to reinvigorate or revitalise the clichés of these movies that made his name, then all the better.

Of course, no such attempt is made, in any way. Instead the movie seems to offer very good reminders of why these movies are no longer made. A light plot if forgivable, but such a paltry one is frustrating. The most basic of efforts has been made to construct a movie, with an odd scene, or more often a line of dialogue, to frame events before we get back to the action. You may miss the very brief mention of what the villains are up to (something to do with drugs) but don’t worry, their agenda is ultimately of no concern. All you need to know is that the bad guys are holed up in a presidential palace in a rogue South American island state, waiting for Stallone et al to arrive and take them down to Chinatown.

The setting is fictional and this certainly is not in an attempt to create a hidden political allegory. There will be no bloodless coup, to liberate the army of the rogue nation being manipulated into following orders. In the grand old tradition of unfortunate henchmen the only purpose these soldiers serve is to be killed in imaginative ways. Shot, torched, mangled and knifed by Jason Statham – never mind that the soldier’s wife and family may be in the neighbouring village. This military can be disengaged by dropping down into an underground tunnel, despite there having been a stone ceiling overhead moments earlier.

And so the film gasps for breath while waiting for the next set piece. Thankfully it is in the action that The Expendables succeeds. The film is littered with body dismemberment, brutality, car chases, hand to hand combat and a rip-roaring final act in which anything that can be set alight will be. The pace and the flourish of the action is the film’s salvation and delivers the movie’s entertainment value. Crucially, the action also produces some humour, which it otherwise lacking or forced.

This aside, Stallone’s main achievement, and the movie’s talking point, has been the casting coup, albeit one which failed to acquire Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. The screen time for each star is so imbalanced though, that had Van Damme and Seagal agreed to appear, you have to question what there would have been for them to do. There is a sliding scale of attention given to the various characters and the film’s potential is undone by this. A duo of cameos in a single scene has more impact than those forming part of the core group of mercenaries, who disappear for entire chunks of the film. Statham, the dullest of the lot, has the most work do, being the freshest face of the line-up. He headlines with Stallone and Jet Li and certainly has the most screen time along with Sly, owing to his pointless romantic B-plot.

Stallone has suggested The Expendables might be his swan song as an actor. To his credit, he is front and centre throughout the movie, involved in the action and by his own admission taking a beating. This is in contrast to his revisit to Rambo two years ago, a film which was an object in distracting us from the fact that Rambo was a pensioner and had an air of melancholy about the whole thing. However, Li, billed as one of the core group is given very little to do particularly in such a weapon-heavy story. The rest of the group, even Mickey Rourke, is given short thrift. Summer 2010 has given us two other soldiers of fortune movies (The A-Team and The Losers) where the individual and their niche is key to the team. Here, the big names are as disposable as the faceless henchmen. It comes across as wasteful.

Curiosity and hope will draw out this movie’s audience. There are definite caveats, the slap shot style of storytelling will test loyalties and patience but somehow the charm of a boot print on a crushed skull may make it worth your while.

William O’Keefe

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Expendables
is released on 13th August 2010

The Expendables Official Website

Share

Death Race

Deathrace
Deathrace

DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Roger Corman, Paula Wagner • DOP: Scott Kevan • ED: Niven Howie • DES: Paul Denham Austerberry • CAST: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane

In the grip of massive depression unemployment is snowballing, the global economic system is in free-fall and the prisons are full to bursting. At breakneck speeds, drug-dealing maniacs toting machine guns make Swiss cheese of each other in high-powered car chases. No, this isn’t Dublin’s M50 on any given Saturday night: welcome to ‘hyper-reality’, welcome to Deathrace.

Jason Statham (The Bank Job, Snatch, Lock Stock…) ‘brings it on’ as lead character Jenson Ames, who – somewhat unoriginally – finds himself as ‘a good man framed for a murder he didn’t commit’, in a remake of the 1975 Roger Corman-produced cult classic Deathrace 2000. The 2008 version lacks the agoraphobic desolation of the original transcontinental races, based as it is in an industrial-style Alcatraz ominously named ‘Terminal Island’. However, Statham pumps up the testosterone to volume twelve as Ames, and bounds onto our screens, full of menacing attitude and rippling biceps. Let’s hope he can save this flick from being a cliché-infused Gubeen cheese-fest. The by now caged Ames is immediately recruited by sexy, sub-zero prison governess Ms Hennessy (Joan Allen). She demands he pose as their star driver Frankenstein (now deceased) in the next three races before a global audience of billions. Oh yes, there’s one more thing… Hennessy delivers a hammer blow: should Ames win by slaughtering all other competitors – his release papers are signed. The other option: being left for roadkill. Ames reaction to the governess is an absolute classic – ‘You wanted a monster, now you’ve got one.’

Ian McShane makes a welcome appearance as ‘Chief’, a kind of prison-fixer crossed with a Pimp My Ride mechanic, either way he’s as dodgy as a Picasso without provenance. I would have liked to have seen his character developed more by English director Paul W.S. Anderson (Shopping, Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil). Anderson’s fast-cut/high-action stuff is perfect for this type of grown up boy-racer movie and his specialization in cinematography that draws the worlds of the silver screen and plug-and-play video games ever closer is highly marketable. So might I predict a version of Deathrace for PS3 and Xbox on the shelves for Christmas?

Share