After surviving the running jumping shooting and chasing from the first two Transporters Frank Martin (Statham) once again finds himself mixed up in mayhem. The latest “package” he is to deliver consists of Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) the kidnapped daughter of a powerful European politician (Jeroen Krabbe) who is being blackmailed by bad guys. Unless Frank delivers Valentina to those aforementioned bad guys he’ll go boom! See he’s been outfitted with a metal bracelet that will blow up if he strays too far from his beloved BMW. But as you might expect Frank is not one to take this sort of thing lying down and it’s not long before he’s turning the tables on his tormentors. What follows is the expected barrage of fisticuffs (choreographed by Corey Yuen) firepower and ferocity but all of it seems arbitrary this time as if the filmmakers are merely fulfilling a contractual obligation. The first Transporter was passable junk but the sequels have just been junk. Even fans may be turned off by the sheer overwhelming sense of familiarity. Statham is as buff and tough as ever but even he appears weary. Frank Martin is not a role with much depth or dimension which is patently obvious the third time around. Francois Berleand is also back as Inspector Tarconi by now Frank’s bosom buddy but always bringing up the rear. As the principal villain Robert Knepper scowls growls glowers and delivers the immortal line: “My name is not important.” Neither is the film he’s saying it in. Saving the worst for last is newcomer Rudakova making as inauspicious a screen debut as any actress in recent memory. With way too much eye shadow this freckle-faced beauty pouts purrs bats her eyelashes (all the better to emphasize the eye shadow) and gives her terrible role the performance it deserves. Krabbe who’s played his fair share of heavies picks up an easy check for basically showing up. There’s only so much former graffiti artist-turned-filmmaker Olivier Megaton brings to the party -- and it’s not a lot. After the first two films no one’s likely to tamper with the formula and Megaton doesn’t even try. The only surprising thing about the film – and it’s a mild one to be sure – is that it received a PG-13 rating given the incessant violence. Given the abundance of CGI visual effects on display here it’s entirely possible that the bloodier bits were digitally erased. Undoubtedly an unrated “director’s cut” DVD will soon be lurking on video shelves which is where this Thanksgiving turkey belongs.
Of course this is the first time this story has gotten the full cinematic treatment. The basics are there: A young Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) immaculately conceives the son of God after being visited by an angel and she and her husband Joseph (Oscar Issac) make a long trek to Bethlehem on a donkey. She then gives birth to Jesus in a manger under the star of David surrounded by the animals the shepherds and of course the three wise men. But The Nativity Story goes much deeper than that. It paints a picture of the times where the Jews are continually persecuted by King Herod (Ciaran Hinds) a man ultra-paranoid about the foretold prophecy that a Messiah will take over his rule. It details how Mary has to face her family her new husband--and especially the suspicious villagers--who don’t believe her story on how she became pregnant. There’s also Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who gives birth to John the Baptist even though she is way past her prime. Even the three Magi get some face time. Through their calculations they see that three planets will align themselves for the first time in 3 000 years to form one shining star and under it the new Messiah will be born. The rest as they say is history. Everyone seems to hold up their end of the bargain nicely especially Castle-Hughes. In playing the Holy Mother--a daunting task to say the least--the young actress does so with a quiet grace her forlorn face changing to one of peaceful joy once her mission has been handed down. She proves it wasn’t just a fluke she got nominated for Best Actress for her unbelievably heartbreaking performance in Whale Rider. Newcomer Isaac also turns in a worthy performance as the slightly older Joseph a kind-hearted carpenter who after having his own vision stands by Mary the woman he clearly adores. Still through Isaac you can see some of the pain Joseph must have gone through knowing the baby wasn’t exactly his. And any comic relief in The Nativity Story has to come from the three wise men: Melachior (Nadim Sawalha) Balthasar (Eriq Ebouaney) and Gaspar (Stefan Kalipha). Their constant bickering and complaining while on their long journey makes for some lighthearted moments. The always elegant Oscar-nominee Aghdashloo however doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. I guess the story of John the Baptist will have to be a movie on its own. What’s really amazing about The Nativity Story is that it comes from director Catherine Hardwicke the same person who gave us the horrifying teen drama Thirteen and the laidback skateboarding flick Lords of Dogtown--talk about trying something different! Hardwicke is a capable director no question. Filming mostly in Southern Italy and Morocco she is meticulous about giving Nativity an authentic look and feel even bringing in archeologists to help recreate the time. The main problem is in Hardwicke’s attempts to create a cinematic experience around the birth of Jesus Christ. Although certainly a step above a short biblical film you might watch in Sunday school Nativity still has some of those sensibilities heavy-handed in places it doesn’t need to be. The film works much better when it's showing the reality of the situation. But ‘tis the season for such a film and Nativity should surely invoke the true meaning of Christmas for many.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is a very bad American girl who does very bad things. She steals diamonds from an actress at the Cannes Film Festival cheats her partners in crime wears a lot of very suggestive underwear and has lots and lots of manipulative sex with women and with men. Set mainly in Belleville France and spanning seven years--twice--Femme Fatale asks whether or not leopards can change their spots and if they can what does it take? Meeting a nice girl who just lost her husband and child--and who happens to look just like you--sure can help although if you choose to steal her passport and identity after you watch her blow her brains out odds are your leopard-skin lingerie is there to stay. Of course all any proper bad girl really needs to turn her black heart to gold is the love of a good man so when Nicholas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) ex-paparazzo enters the picture we know it's only a matter of time before Laure comes to her senses.
Stamos (Rollerball) is a bad bad girl in Femme Fatale and she's got a bit of a reputation as a bad bad actress in real life which is largely the reason for the poor pre-release press this film has received much to director Brian De Palma's (Mission to Mars) chagrin. But believe it or not she's not completely horrible in the film which required her to speak French (she did passably well) strip to her skivvies (she did remarkably well--more than once) and play multiple characters. The scenes between Stamos and the slickly charming brooding Banderas (Original Sin) are the highlights of the film but sometimes Banderas is so campy that it throws the whole thing off kilter. Why in the heck is Banderas prancing around and lisping pretending to be gay and eliciting chuckles and sometimes even outright laughter from the audience? I mean he's funny and he makes the scene funny and hey I laughed. But this is supposed to be noir. You're not supposed to laugh.
Banderas' schizophrenic performance is merely a symptom of Femme Fatale's fatal flaw: it's a derivative film that just can't decide what it wants to be. It tries to be a sexy tale of the twisted woman à la Basic Instinct but Stamos just doesn't have enough mystique about her to pull that off (shedding her clothes at every possible moment doesn't help). It strives to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller but unlike The Sixth Sense a film whose surprise ending left audiences wanting to see the movie again to check for clues the revelation at the end of Femme Fatale leaves you feeling like an idiot because you should have seen it coming. After the twist the film tells the same story a second time with the heroine making a different choice and thereby changing the life we thought she had lived (Sliding Doors anyone?). It's interesting to analyze Femme Fatale as a pastiche of modern filmmaking but taken as a whole the movie's got a lot less going for it than any of the films it tries to emulate.