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.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.