When a niche director or a beloved cult film actor fades from the spotlight, it’s unfortunate. But when one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, someone who once displayed major box office might, goes AWOL, it borders on bizarre.
Yes, there is something to be said for every actor having their heyday and while it’s true that it’s only been a few years since his last film, we are still puzzled by the disappearance of Kurt Russell.
Why We Love Him
Kurt Russell has been a star nearly his entire life. He got his start doing a number of television series as a child. Then, in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Disney took notice of this talented youngster and Russell starred in several of their live-action family films including The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Barefoot Executive, and Superdad. He took a few other gigs here and there but up until the end of the 70s, much of his revenue came from the Walt Disney Corporation. But just when it seemed he would be a squeaky clean mouseketeer forever, along came John Carpenter.
In 1981, Russell was cast as one of cinema’s premier badasses, Snake Plissken, in Carpenter’s dystopian action flick Escape from New York. Russell displayed so much swagger and hard-edged disdain for authority that, coupled with his best vocal impression of Clint Eastwood, allowed for his complete reinvention in the eyes of Hollywood. He would follow this up with two more phenomenal Carpenter collaborations: The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. Russell was not only proving his merits as a leading man, but also as an action hero.
In the 90s, Russell padded out his action hero resume with even more unforgettable roles. First he played firefighter Bull McCaffrey in Ron Howard’s blazing action drama Backdraft. Next, he portrayed legendary lawman Wyatt Earp in 1993’s Tombstone; my favorite of Russell’s films to not be directed by John Carpenter. He then won the lead role of Col. Jack O’Neil in Stargate; a film that would later spawn a successful television series in which Russell’s character was played by MacGyver star Richard Dean Anderson. Then in 1996 he played an analyst who had to help take down a plane full of terrorists in Executive Decision; a film that, maybe more so than any since Escape from New York, would become synonymous with Russell himself.
What Happened to Him?
Russell’s career hit a bit of skid right at the end of the 1990s. It began with a revisit to the mantle of Snake Plissken in the abysmally silly and incredibly disappointing sequel Escape from L.A. In what I’ve deemed the “insult to injury trio,” we were then treated to Breakdown, Soldier, and 3000 Miles to Graceland. Seemingly seeking to shake off this cavalcade of failures, Russell returned to the studio that had made him a household name so many years prior. In 2004 he appeared in Miracle playing the coach of the 1980 U.S.A. men’s Olympic hockey team that shocked the world when they upset the Soviet Union. The next year he played superhero and father The Commander in the teen comedy Sky High. Both strong films and Russell was fantastic in each one.
Then, in 2007, Russell got the chance to make a comeback and a return to the darker action hero mold that had so informed his onscreen persona years before. With the help of Quentin Tarantino, a man accustomed to resurrecting careers (see John Travolta in Pulp Fiction), Russell brought to life the sinister Stuntman Mike in Death Proof; one half of the throwback exploitation anthology Grindhouse. Stuntman Mike was as charming as he was sadistic and his scenes with real life stuntwoman Zoe Bell amount to some of the best driving sequences on film.
Where’s He Been?
But somehow, despite this apparent resurgence, Russell still has not been seen in a film in four years. Again, this may seem a brief absence, but with the immense body of blockbuster films and memorable characters to his name, it’s an unusual one.
Since 1983, Russell has been involved with actress Goldie Hawn and together they have a child and Russell has another by a previous marriage. He’s also served as the father figure to Kate Hudson, Hawn’s daughter by a previous marriage, so he’s got plenty of fatherly duties to keep him busy. But beyond that conjecture, it’s hard to pin down the source of this particular acting sabbatical.
Thankfully the sabbatical is not permanent and Russell has two projects in the works. The first is called Touchback and revolves around a once-promising high school athlete reflecting on his life after an injury thwarted his dreams almost two decades before. The second is a film called Waco, a retelling of the infamous showdown between FBI agents and cult leader David Koresh. Both sound like interesting roles and hopefully at least one of them will return Russell to the mainstream success he so richly deserves.
Eighteen-year-old Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) has been for reasons too convoluted to go into left for dead. But his body’s still alive and his spirit – stuck in limbo – continues to interact with those around him desperately trying to communicate his existential plight before his body – hidden in a storm drain - expires. Being caught between life and death is probably a scary place but it’s likely more compelling than depicted here. The cause of Nick’s current dilemma is Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva) a juvenile delinquent and classmate of Nick’s whose troubled upbringing turned her into such a teen terror. Nick must try and compel Annie to locate his body but it takes an inordinate amount of time to do it during which the story – and the film as a whole - falls apart. After awhile it’s difficult to work up much sympathy to say nothing of any interest for what happens to these characters. Chatwin (Tom Cruise’s son in War of the Worlds) scores his first big-screen lead here and does about as well as can be expected under the circumstances which are fairly dire. With better material this might have been a decent showcase for his leading-man qualities. Better luck next time. Not nearly as fortunate is Levieva playing the prettiest leader of a high-school crime ring in recent memory. One minute she’s playing it tough and thrashing Nick within an inch of his life. The next she’s tearfully admonishing her little brother (Alex Ferris) not to make the same mistakes she made. It’s a terrible role and worse an inconsistent one. The biggest name in the cast Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays Nick’s domineering mother. Like many of the roles in the film it’s strictly one-note. Still it’s nice having a pro like Harden on hand – even if the film goes out of its way to squander her talents. Only Callum Keith Rennie as the obligatory detective on the case manages to bring a little credibility to the proceedings. So naturally the film ignores him for long stretches. David S. Goyer is better known – and rightly so – for the films he’s written (Dark City Batman Begins and the Blade films) than the ones he’s directed (Blade: Trinity anyone?). But the true blame here falls on screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum whose attempt to combine a supernatural storyline doused with teen angst fails miserably. At times The Invisible feels like leftovers from The Sixth Sense Ghost Jacob's Ladder The Butterfly Effect (yikes!) any number of Twilight Zone episodes and even Groundhog Day. The Invisible is based on a Swedish novel and a previous film but like the many Asian chillers that undergo an “Americanized” remake something has been lost in the translation – starting with credibility even on its own terms. So many movies undergo reshoots these days but rarely has an entire movie felt like a reshoot. The Invisible has that dubious distinction.
A guy who usually doesn't have luck with the ladies Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) has finally found the perfect girl. Egged on by his buddy Vaughn (Rainn Wilson) Matt pursues the mousy and innocent-looking Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman) after the two meet on a subway. But Jenny has a few secrets--and what Matt doesn't know in this case can hurt him. See Jenny is really G-Girl a superhero and although it's a side most superheroes don't show G-Girl is a bit possessive and essentially has a borderline personality. So when Matt wants to dump her so he can go out with his quiet and cute co-worker Hannah (Anna Faris) Jenny er G-Girl goes ballistic. She unleashes her superpowers on Matt and unsuspecting Hannah doing things like throwing a shark through his window while they're making out tossing his car around immature things like that. What Matt doesn't do is obey the cardinal rule: Never break up with a girl when she's holding a knife--or when she can throw you through a wall by blowing on you. This should be Luke Wilson's moment to shine and he seizes it. He's had little chance to break away from his goofier-looking and more popular brother Owen and has never carried a movie as much as this one. It's perhaps his meatiest role in which he gets to show a restrained comedic side as well as a dramatic angry and perplexed side. Although it's a typical romantic comedy plot the storyline allows for more reach because of the absurd nature of the jealousy by G-Girl’s arch nemesis Professor Bedlam played perfectly by Brit comic Eddie Izzard as well as the persistently bad advice from Matt’s friend Vaughn played by scene-stealer Rainn Wilson (TV's The Office). Rainn is a definitely a talent to watch out for. Unfortunately Thurman is the biggest disappointment. She's exciting only when she rekindles her Kill Bill persona but is mostly outshined by the cute and fun Anna Faris who's so naively brilliant in the Scary Movie spoofs. Expectations would have to be high if you have director Ivan Reitman on board the guy behind such classic comedies as Animal House Ghostbusters and Dave. Perhaps that's why it's so disappointing--and so very familiar. The comic moments are retreads from the past. Sure we've seen the odd moments where mortals make it with super-human characters--Superman II Bewitched I Dream of Jeannie--and every once in a while the character with super powers gets a bit peeved and goes off the deep end. The best contribution Reitman makes is to keep the over-the-top comedic aspects in check. He doesn’t have the actors play it for laughs. But if you look at past history female superhero movies don't seem to do well at the box office (Elektra and Catwoman anyone?) maybe because guys don't like to take dates to see movies about women who will kick their butts. And guys will be cringing in their seats BIG time when Jenny is trying to analyze the real meaning of the color of a rose that she just got. "Red means that you're in love with the girl. Of course I'm not trying to pressure you." Ugh! Just take the flower.
In the near-future a portal to Mars is discovered and the remains of a civilization are discovered. The UAC corporation sets up shop with an archaeological dig and find all sorts of cool artifacts. Then things go horribly horribly wrong in a very bloody and violent way. So a squad of bad-ass soldiers led by The Rock are sent in to clean things up. The mission is complicated by Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike) a scientist who is trying to salvage as much research data as she can without getting killed. The mutant zombies--or whatever they are--give the guys a run for their money. But with a seemingly unending supply of ammo the mutant-zombies are ultimately defeated. Big surprise. First this isn't a film that requires much acting. With guns being fired every time someone turns a corner there isn't much call for character revelations and tender moments. At least that's how it must have been pitched to The Rock because he only covers two emotions in this film: gruff or screaming rage. He pulls it off but the screaming gets a bit tedious. Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy) who plays John Grimm aka Reaper is serviceable in a role that requires him to have at least a little depth more than any of the soldiers. As plucky Samantha Grimm John’s sister (yeah nice twist there) Pike (Die Another Day) runs frets and figures things out pretty quickly thank goodness. She and Urban have a nice chemistry as well. Too bad they played brother and sister. Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die Exit Wounds) has given the fans of the popular game an action-packed film--but it just isn't enough for those of us who really love Doom. The world of the game and the world of the movie are slightly different and that's OK--up to a point. There's always a problem when you want to have it both ways. But unlike its cousin Resident Evil Doom is monster deficient compared to the game--until that is the final sequence. Shot mostly in a first-person perspective like the game it unfortunately feels tacked on. The story’s logic is ignored for the sake of trailer footage. There is a slight twist at the end which helps but it just isn’t as satisfying as it could have been.