Or maybe it’s because there’s a really cute teenage super spy in it. Meet Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) said cutie who lives with his uncle Ian (Ewan McGregor) a boring bank manager. Or is he? After Ian mysteriously disappears Alex soon learns his uncle was a spy for Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6 and unbeknownst to Alex has been secretly training him—scuba diving mountaineering martial arts as well as knowing several languages—so Alex can take up the family business. Suddenly Alex’s whole world is turned upside down. He is immediately recruited by Mr. Blunt (Bill Nighy) to go after billionaire Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke) who created a mega-computer Stormbreaker which could bring about the end of the world. With the help of his housekeeper Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone) and his friend Sabina Pleasure (Sarah Bolger) Alex takes Sayle head-on in a dangerous race against time to stop the evil plan. No big whoop. Newcomer Pettyfer—who apparently beat out over 500 teenagers to win the role of Alex Rider—does an admirable first attempt if a tad stiff. He’s got some big shoes to fill bringing to life a character beloved by fans of the best-selling series by novelist Anthony Horowitz but he has more than enough potential to hone those skills. And with his wind-swept blonde hair dreamy eyes and lilting British accent he should be a surefire hit with tweens of the female persuasion. The rest of the colorful cast fits in nicely. Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) with all his delightful little ticks is fun as Mr. Blunt—the “M ” as it were of the spy organization—and Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) as his second in command Mrs. Jones. Silverstone who was once Clueless but now grown up is surprisingly quirky as the devoted housekeeper while Rourke is sufficiently slimy as the villain. Then there’s a small laundry list of character actors who add to the proceedings including Missi Pyle (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Sayle’s dominatrix-esque paramour and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings’ Gollum AND King Kong) as Sayle’s severely scarred grunting henchman. Wonder if Serkis will ever get to play someone normal for once. British director Geoffrey Sax (White Noise) keeps to the spirit of the books something author Anthony Horowitz was adamant about before finding the right people to adapt his stories. No big studio feel here but there is plenty of action—motorcycle racing dangling from tall buildings and even a chase on horseback. There are also plenty of cool gadgets all things a typical teenager might have such as a super-charged PDA. And numerous and nefarious ways to dispose of our young hero. At one point Alex finds himself in a water tank with a giant jellyfish who won’t necessarily attack but if Alex gets tired of treading water and drifts into the marine invertebrate—well you get the picture. This kind of standard James Bond fare reminds me of Dr. Evil who says in the first Austin Powers “No no no I'm going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying I'm just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?” Thankfully Stormbreaker doesn’t take itself too seriously but rather has fun with the genre and introduces a new young hunk to make the young girls swoon.
Successful architect Jonathan Rivers' (Michael Keaton) peaceful existence is shattered by the unexplained disappearance and death of his wife Anna (Chandra West). But that's not the worst of it. Jonathan is then contacted by a man who claims to receive messages from Anna through Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) a form of clairvoyance in which the dead can communicate through such electronic devices as radio television and computers. Well that's just plain crazy talk! Not to Jonathan who is soon convinced EVP is the real deal. He becomes obsessed with it setting up his own EVP den of snowy white noise-filled televisions computer screens and recording devices in hopes of hearing from his beloved. Problem is--and it's a rather major problem--the further he probes into this paranormal activity the more he opens himself up to hearing from all the dearly departed some of whom aren't so dear. In fact there are more than a few on the "other side" who are downright psychotic and none too happy about being meddled with. They're heeeeeeere!
Just where the heck has Michael Keaton been? Although he turned in a powerhouse performance in HBO's Live From Baghdad in 2002 the actor has been out of the movie limelight for quite sometime save for a brief and wasted appearance as the President of the United States in last year's tepid First Daughter. White Noise regrettably doesn't do the talented actor any justice either but at least he's back in the driver's seat. To his credit Keaton is convincing as the bereft Jonathan grasping at whatever he can to ease the pain but he has a tougher time once the film veers off into Poltergeist territory. In the supporting roles Deborah Kara Unger also does a nice turn as Sarah a kindred spirit who finds closure after contacting her dead fiancé but whose life is in danger once she gets wrapped up in Jonathan's obsession. But the most dead-on (pun intended) line comes from Jonathan's young son Mike (Nicholas Elia) who asks "Are you going to be all right daddy?" From the mouths of babes …
EVP is a bonafide practice. There are people and organizations all over the world devoted to this little-known but growing paranormal activity. Now whether you believe in EVP or not the idea of it is still very fascinating and one could see how making a film about it could be chillingly entertaining. Unfortunately however screenwriter Niall Johnson and BBC-TV director Geoffrey Sax in his feature film debut muck it up and turn White Noise into a contrived muddled mess. Perhaps if the film concentrated on the Poltergeist-meets-Ghost aspect as Jonathan gives into his obsession and lets the nasty entities take over it could have worked. But like the dreadful 2002 Dragonfly in which a man is sent on a rescue mission directed by communications from his dead wife White Noise takes a sudden shift as Jonathan's wife guides him to hunt down a serial killer. This tacked-on hackneyed plot point obviously devised to heighten the suspense only brings the film down. Even White Noise's look is unoriginal with its very antiseptic water-dripping and cold-concrete sets. Been there done that.
Go ahead and throw logic out the window on this one folks. A mysterious Tibetan monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has spent a lifetime protecting an ancient document known as the Scroll of the Ultimate--a parchment that will yield unlimited power to anyone who reads it. After running around the globe for 60 years the Monk knows it's time to hang up his robes and find a new guardian but spotting a successor isn't easy in the hustle bustle of the 21st century where Tibetan traditions and rituals are almost non-existent. Maybe the next protector should be the crafty rebellious pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott) who learned martial arts from watching kung-fu movies; after all Kar helps the Monk escape from the scroll's most avid pursuer Strucker (Karel Roden) a sadistic old Nazi who wants to use the its power to rid the planet of inferior races. Or maybe the Monk's successor is the elusive but beautiful bad girl Jade (James King) whose skills are numerous and who seems to pop up to help Kar whenever he gets in a jam. Whomever the Monk eventually chooses they must first unite to battle the ultimate enemy--and keep the scroll safe.
If it weren't for Yun-Fat Bulletproof Monk would be pretty hopeless. The charismatic actor finds a nice balance no matter what he does and in this case he resists the obvious temptation to play the Monk as a fish out of water in the big city. Since he's long been one of Chinese cinema's most well-known action heroes he's definitely in his element in Monk standing on top of a car with guns blazing and the Zen master persona he discovered in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon serves him well here too. The script requires him to spout off fortune-cookie mumbo jumbo but he manages to do it without sounding ridiculous. The petite King actually holds her own as the brawny-yet-brainy tough chick but the wisecracking Scott is completely out of his element for the first time in his career. He handles the little comedic tidbits well but in no way is it possible to believe that the "Dude" who couldn't find his car and the jackass who drank someone else's bodily fluids in American Pie can be a martial arts hero who saves the planet. It just isn't going to happen.
Bulletproof Monk relies on the ghosts of movies past including Crouching Tiger and the 1986 Eddie Murphy stinker The Golden Child for its plot which results in a film that's chock full of cliches especially the evil Nazi who has spent 60 years chasing after the scroll using his tow-headed granddaughter whose cover is an organization for human rights to do the dirty work. A few bright moments with Yun-Fat coupled with director Paul Hunter's good use of fast-paced martial arts action make the rest of this unimaginative movie somewhat palatable--even novices Williams and King look good doing the moves--but all in all Bulletproof Monk is shooting blanks.