Nimrod Antal is something of an anti-M. Night Shyamalan: a determinedly straightforward director who assiduously avoids "ah-ha!" plot twists and narrative bait-and-switches. And while that strategy proved refreshing in his previous film the 2007 horror flick Vacancy it severely undermines his latest effort the bland lightweight heist flick Armored.
Heist flicks are supposed to be complicated. That’s what makes them heist flicks — typically they involve some brilliantly detailed scheme that gradually unravels in exciting and unexpected ways. (For copious examples check out our list of the top ten heist flicks.) Armored’s slender running time generously pegged at 88 minutes tells you just about all you need to know about how inanely uncomplicated this film is.
Columbus Short stars as Ty a decorated Iraq war veteran whose new job at an armored transport company doesn’t pay nearly enough to cover his mortgage or feed his little brother. So when a group of his workplace cronies led by his godfather Mike (Matt Dillon) approach him with a plan to stage a fake hold-up and keep the contents of a high-priority bank shipment for themselves — something that surely no GED-bearing employee of a security firm has ever pondered before — he grudgingly agrees to join them.
The first wrinkle in their supposedly foolproof plan arrives quickly enough when Baines (Laurence Fishburne) a trigger-happy drunk inexplicably brought in on the scheme blows away a homeless guy who unwittingly witnesses their shenanigans. (Because incoherent vagrants always provide reliable testimony.) That’s enough to prompt good-hearted Ty to opt out of the botched heist — a non-starter for the rest of his crew obviously — and the remainder of Armored is devoted to his efforts at evading capture and alerting the cops.
And that’s it -- no unexpected twists no extended “this is how I did it” montages no revealing flashbacks no serpentine subplots. Imagine Reservoir Dogs re-cut as a completely linear film then stripped of its snappy dialogue innovative shot design and compelling characters. In fact the only thing Armored has in common with Tarantino’s flick is a cop with a bloody stomach wound — and even that’s disappointing.
You can’t blame Ritchie for returning to what he does best after almost committing career suicide remaking Swept Away with his missus Madonna. And as it begins Revolver seems very much like a crime caper in the manner of Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Con man Jake Green (Ritchie regular Jason Statham) walks out of prison vowing to exact revenge upon the mobster responsible for putting him behind bars: Macha (Ray Liotta). Jake embarrasses Macha at the roulette table but before he can enjoy his spoils he’s diagnosed with an incurable disease that will kill him in three days. Help comes from an unexpected source: Two loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) offer to keep Jake alive—but only if he gives them all his ill-gotten gains and does their every bidding. That includes stealing drugs and money from an increasing paranoid Macha. Jake thinks he’s being hustled. But he isn’t. We are. It’s at this point that Revolver sadly goes off on its philosophical and psychological tangents. Ritchie not only reveals that Jake possesses a mathematical formula to pulling off the ultimate con but he introduces an unseen boss of bosses whose presence hangs heavy over the proceedings. You cling to the faint hope that Ritchie’s doing his own spin on The Usual Suspects but as time crawls by it’s evident he’s trying to wreck his comeback bid by misguidedly playing amateur psychologist in much the same way David Fincher did with Fight Club. Five minutes into Revolver and you’re hoping Jake Green dies a swift death. And it’s not because Statham—who plays Jake like a more subdued version of Crank’s Chev Chelios minus the mid-Atlantic growl—is better suited to roles that require more brawl and less brains. It’s just that Statham never stops with his narration. He babbles on and on and on. Admittedly Statham’s narration allows us to make some sense of what’s going on in the murky and muddled Revolver. But Ritchie doesn’t use Statham judiciously. Everything that happens—big or small—must be addressed. And it wouldn’t be so bloody annoying if at least Ritchie made the narration colorful and engaging or if Statham delivered it without such weariness. At least our favorite Goodfella is around to break up the monotony. Just weeks after spoofing his volcanic screen image in Bee Movie Liotta threatens to erupt like Mount Vesuvius at the slightest provocation. He’s also something of a sight to behold when he’s holding court wearing nothing but bikini briefs and a tan that George Hamilton would kill for. The nattily Benjamin plays up the cooler-than-thou persona he’s perfected with OutKast which makes it easy to believe he always has the upper hand over everyone else in Revolver. On the other hand Pastore never makes his loan shark as smart as he’s supposed to be but at least he wisely tones down his Sopranos shtick. Crime once paid handsomely for Guy Ritchie. Not now though. The only true enemy is your own ego psychiatrists and psychologists put forth during the end credits. OK at least this explains a little why Revolver is the incoherent mess that is. But it also leads you to the inescapable conclusion that Ritchie was at war with himself when he plotted his gangland homecoming. It was inevitable that Ritchie’s ambitions would have gotten the best of him after his Swept Away public beating. Unfortunately Ritchie’s attempt to apply The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to his fun flashy and frenetic brand of crime capers backfires in his face. Ritchie simply doesn’t have the same insights into the criminal mind that say The Sopranos creator David Chase does. And the endless references to chess theory numerology and Kabbalic traditions prove to be more confusing than enlightening. Perhaps all this would be tolerable if Revolver was half the adrenaline rush that was Snatch. But Ritchie peels away at the film’s psychological layers at a plodding pace. Consequently this isn’t the triumph of substance over style that Ritchie desperately wants it to be. And even its current form which is reportedly 10 minutes shorter than the two-year-old U.K. version Revolver is pointless and impenetrable. There are the occasional flashes of vintage Ritchie especially during a brilliantly executed shootout involving a renegade hitman and an animated sequence right out of Kill Bill. This though leaves you wondering what Revolver would have been had Ritchie not put a gun to his own head.
September 07, 2004 12:11pm EST
In Paparazzi celebrity photographers are an affliction that torment tens if not dozens of residents of Brentwood the Hollywood Hills and Malibu. Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is one such denizen. As Hollywood's brightest new action star Laramie along with his wife Abby (Robin Tunney) is set to enjoy the sweet ride of success until paparazzo Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore) and his marauding band of slimy shutterbugs turn his life into a living hell. Or at least a fairly large inconvenience. With a blatant nod to Princess Di the pesky paparazzi cause a high-speed car wreck which sends Bo's son Zach (Blake Bryan) into a coma of convenient duration and results in the loss of Abby's spleen. Which is fitting as the movie has no discernible spleen of its own. And so our hero who has obviously not received the standard studio briefing on the joys of contract killers takes matters (and a baseball bat) into his own hands. The model for Paparazzi is the vigilante movie: Death Wish Billy Jack Walking Tall and the like. But whereas Bronson's Paul Kersey devolved from architect to cold-blooded killer only when faced with impossibly high stakes (the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter) Laramie by contrast turns into a serial killer and a sloppy one at that over a little retinal glare. And doing it all by himself? One imagines the Anthony Pellicanos of the world dispatching guys like Harper during a Pilates break.
It's problematic asking non-movie stars to play huge movie stars for obvious reasons. Bo Laramie is supposed to be the biggest thing since Ah-nuld held his day job but as Hauser plays him he comes off more like Michael Dudikoff. Even as he's beating paparazzi to death with his own hands there is no sense of a human being or even a movie star being pushed to his limits. Tunney who was terrific in Niagara Niagara has nothing to do and neither does Dennis Farina as the cop conflicted by the A-list avenger. Sizemore of course steals every scene he's in effortlessly and ruthlessly. In spite of his recent legal troubles (or perhaps because of them) he brings just the right dosage of dangerous persona and edgy charisma to his growing roster of manic miscreants. Ultimately though even his involvement is disappointing: When he's on screen he fools you into thinking a real movie is about to start.
First-time director Paul Abascal is but a pawn in Mel Gibson's dogmatic production slate. Screenwriter Forrest Smith had a small role with Gibson in We Were Soldiers and reportedly leveraged the moment to pitch Paparazzi to the actor/producer/Catholic poster boy. Gibson has had issues with his privacy before and has already proved himself shameless in using the movies to promote an agenda. So as with The Passion of the Christ a movie that wouldn't have gotten so much as a sniff at any other studio found itself with a green light. And Bo Laramie became family man/action hero Gibson's violent alter ego. Or maybe just ego. (Gibson also has a brief cameo and the one sheet for Laramie's "movie" Adrenaline Force 2 is a dead ringer for the poster art for Lethal Weapon 2). With Gibson's personal profits alone surpassing the $400 million mark with this week's Passion DVD sales and Paparazzi's budget listed at $20 million Gibson could make 20 sequels to Paparazzi. Or he could use the producer's pulpit to speak out against other vexations in his life. Somewhere at Icon world headquarters Leaf Blower: The Movie just went into pre-production.