Jason Statham headlining a gritty action thriller is as routine as the sun coming up. But the man has the role down to a science — whether he's a down-on-his-luck cop former CIA agent ruthless assassin or any of the other stock characters that open up the Pandora's Box of butt-kicking Statham can deliver. Safe embraces these expectations throwing together an amalgamated central character (Luke Wright a currently homeless former NYPD cop who was secretly black ops maybe assassin hired by the blah blah blah) who goes to battle with every bad guy New York City can offer. Russian mafia Chinese mafia corrupt cops — name the group Statham breaks their tracheae. If that sounds delightful and fresh Safe is a must-see.
Wright's metropolitan misadventure begins after he crosses path with a young Chinese girl Mei (newcomer Catherine Chan) whose endless memory holds the combination to a locked up unknown prize. Every immoral guy in town wants the information — Han Jiao (James Hong) and his gang who kidnapped the girl from her home country want their lost property back; Vassily Docheski (Joseph Sikora) wants to make his mob operation richer; Mayor Tremello (Chris Sarandon) and Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke) want to keep the whole thing under wraps so they continue extorting the crime families. Then there's Wright just a nice guy looking to do a nice thing for a girl in trouble. Commence gun fire and painful deaths.
Writer/Director Boaz Yakin does his best to innovate within the Statham formula utilizing some tricky camera work and snappy comedy dialogue. Simple things keep us on our toes; when Wright first rescues Mei from the clutches of pursuing goons the two jump into a car. We're in the back seat witnessing Statham slamming people back and forth the rear view mirror catching all of the action behind us. In a movie where violence is prioritized over plot the little things really count. Yakin knows it.
Tonally Safe never clicks and it's a major barrier for enjoyment. On one hand it's all about realism — the emotional trauma undergone by a child the real world implications of criminal activity and the bigger picture issues at hand (Sarandon's mayor character just had to go and make it a 9/11 thing didn't he). On the other countless people are gunned down in array of cartoonish violence. Safe isn't Crank; this fact makes rooting for Statham as he punches and shoots his way through crowds of mafiosos a little uncomfortable. The movie's too heavy for its own good even for a strongman like Statham.
Life’s never exactly been a walk in the park for Rooster (Antwan Patton) and Percival (Andre Benjamin) even when they were childhood best friends but things are about to get real messy. Now grown up and living in the 1930s South--Idlewild Georgia to be exact--they remain close and even work together. Rooster the more flamboyant of the two is the emcee and Percy the piano player at a place called Church which is “anything but.” Church is a speakeasy beloved by locals but after a gangster (Terrence Howard) forcibly removes the club’s former owner (Faizon Love) the new regime is considerably tighter especially for Rooster who has to answer to the new guy in charge. Rooster is all about business and is concerned about keeping Church in operation. Percy meanwhile is torn between love for a woman (Paula Patton) and allegiance for his widower dad (Ben Vereen). But nothing will get resolved before the gunpowder settles. As Outkast Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000) and Patton (a.k.a. Big Boi) have set pop music on fire while maintaining hip-hop cred. In Idlewild they try to continue that along with taking over a new medium; the results are mixed. Patton the one with seemingly no aspirations of movie stardom actually gives the stronger performance of the two. This is just his second film yet he coolly slides right into this role one that should’ve entailed more dialogue and less rapping. For Benjamin he has certainly displayed acting chops before but his wounded puppy dog Percy does not suit the actor at all. A role with more external drama would seem optimal for him. Benjamin does seem deeply committed to acting though so there’s reason to have faith. But it’s Howard yet again who absolutely pilfers the show making everyone look like mere rappers trying to cross over. His Hustle and Flow hype now calmed Howard proves that he is anything but a one-hit wonder. Bryan Barber is Outkast’s go-to music-video director who’s making his feature debut with Idlewild; both of those facts speak volumes about his writing/directing effort here. As such the film is loaded with bright spots usually consisting of the dance sequences and the overall style and major cinematic blemishes as can be expected for a first-timer. In other words the core elements--i.e. the script and direction--are a mess but the peripheral elements--i.e. the look and sound--are dazzling. Part of the problem is the timing of the release: This film is supposed to do too many things from launching Benjamin into movie stardom to coinciding with the actual Outkast album/soundtrack release and that ambition is a microcosm of the flaws. But most of all there is simply too much going on here. Anachronisms run rampant where they shouldn’t and the same can be said for some of the songs--the vulgar rap played against the film’s Southern themes doesn’t always quite work as the intended contrast is sometimes overbearing.
Set in what seems to be an idyllic 19th-century farming township The Village follows a close-knit community as they go about their daily lives. Soon however it becomes evident things aren't quite so simple. The villagers believe a race of ferocious mythological creatures lives in the woods surrounding their little valley but there's an unspoken truce between "Those We Don't Speak Of" and the townsfolk: don't go into their woods and they won't come chew up the town. That's all well and good until the quiet and resolute Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) messes up the works. He tries to convince the village elders they need better medical supplies for the sick and that he should go through the woods into the neighboring towns to get them. The elders including Lucius' mother Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver) advises him to stay put but the young man doesn't listen to their warnings and breaches the boundaries anyway ever so slightly effectively ending the truce. Uh-oh. Then there's Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) the beautiful and spirited blind daughter of the town leader Edward Walker (William Hurt) who captures Lucius' heart. Needless to say things get twisted pretty quickly (we are talking about a Shyamalan film after all) and it's Ivy who must eventually face entering the dreaded woods. As the menacing presence looms over the town her bravery becomes the only thing that can save them. But you'll soon be asking from what? There's the rub.
Shyamalan has finally made a movie in which there are no soulful moody eerily intelligent children in it. OK so maybe you'll miss Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment and his pale face or Signs's Rory Culkin with his big eyes just a little. But luckily Shyamalan has found a new wonder--newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard who replaced Kirsten Dunst as Ivy. As the daughter of the Oscar-winning director Ron Howard it's easy to see how she got her foot in the door but what's surprising is how affecting she is as Ivy. Playing a blind girl who must gather the courage to battle unseen fears isn't new--Audrey Hepburn was probably the best in the 1967 Wait Until Dark--yet the talented Howard's naturally blithe and spunky personality brings her own freshness to the character. Phoenix is also quite heartbreaking as Lucius who desperately loves Ivy but has trouble letting her know his feelings. His only way is by protecting her. Their moments together are exquisitely touching; all she has to do is reach out as the townsfolk scurry for cover from impending danger and he is there--no matter what. In the supporting roles veterans Hurt and Weaver as well as the rest of the elders including Shyamalan favorite Cherry Jones (Signs) and Troy's Brendan Gleeson do a nice job as the town's secretive leaders. But it's Adrien Brody in his first real role since winning Best Actor for The Pianist who stands out as fellow villager Noah a mentally impaired man whose own feelings for Ivy take a tragic turn.
In a way M. Night Shyamalan has become his own worst enemy having to live up to this reputation as a master of horror and suspense cloaking his projects in secrecy and generating unnecessary hype. But the fact of the matter is he is one of Hollywood's more brilliant minds on par with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for originality who has an innate talent for crafting individual moments of genuine human emotions. Like Twilight
Zone's Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock before him Shyamalan is more fascinated by how people react in frightening situations rather than just scaring the bejeezus out of you--and with The Village Shyamalan delves deeper into human psyche more than ever before examining the age-old saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Having shot the film in southeast Pennsylvania the director meticulously built this 19th-century universe from the ground up with the wooden cabins and handmade props--and painting a picture of how fear of the unknown can propel a group of people to come together in harmony. Yet regardless of how the fear of big scary monsters brings the villagers together audiences may be expecting big scary monsters to come out of the woods and therefore may not appreciate the somewhat anti-climactic albeit twisty ending.
We've all heard the tale: In 1836 a motley group of brave Texan soldiers aided by American legend Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) defended The Alamo to their bloody deaths at the hands of Mexican General Santa Anna's well-trained army. That's pretty much the same ground covered by the film so don't expect any surprises. What you can expect early on is some fairly convoluted political back story centering on aspiring nation-builder Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) plenty of soap opera-quality bickering between leading characters Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson) and knife aficionado Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) and a good amount of pompous preening on the part of Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria). Like Glory The Alamo takes its time (about 90 minutes) to lead up to the pivotal battle using the rest of the time to introduce major characters and conflicts; unlike Edward Zwick's masterful Civil War drama Hancock's epic wanna-be loses the audience's attention in the process.
Poor Dennis Quaid -- all of the good subtle work he's put in over the last couple of years in smaller movies like The Rookie (also directed by Hancock) and Far From Heaven could well be swept from filmgoers' minds in an instant if enough of them remember The Alamo instead. As Houston one of Texas' almost-mythic heroes he blusters orates and generally overacts his way into becoming a living cartoon. Meanwhile Wilson Patric and Thornton are all given one-note characters: Col. Travis is an uptight by-the-book goody-two-shoes (until naturally he gets his one big chance to redeem himself) Bowie is a hard-drinkin' hard-livin' man's man and Crockett is the consummate good ol' boy relying on his aw-shucks demeanor to make friends -- and disguise the true depth of his pithy insights -- wherever he goes. (Thornton does what he can with Crockett but subtlety is lost in this movie.) On the other side of the trenches Echevarria's Santa Anna might as well be Dr. Evil for all of the sense he makes or the respect he earns from his lieutenants. Screenwriters Hancock Stephen Gaghan (an Oscar winner for Traffic) and Leslie Bohem must have taken the general's "Napoleon of the West" nickname literally when it came time to craft his petulant volatile character.
Hancock -- who stepped up to helm The Alamo after original director Ron Howard wisely bowed out -- is a newbie in the realm of historical epics and it shows. For all the time and money that obviously went into the film's costumes sets and effects (the re-created fort is wholly convincing and some of the nighttime battle sequences are pretty impressive) too little was spent developing characters that were equally realistic. Just because people like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie have become larger than life in the American pop mythology doesn't mean they didn't have their faults (as presented in the movie Bowie's resolutely dissolute lifestyle is almost as trite as the rest of his character). And just because these martyred heroes were so colorful doesn't mean that watching them slouch around a dry dusty fort for an hour before anything really happens can be considered entertainment--even the best true stories can use a little help from the editing fairy now and then. Carter Burwell's heavy-handed Braveheart-meets-Glory score (Crockett's catchy fiddling notwithstanding) just underscores the fact that the movie is trying to bully you into feeling certain ways at certain times; when the music swells you gear up for something exciting only to be left hanging again and again. Looks like the suits at Touchstone Pictures knew what they were doing when they delayed The Alamo's release date from Oscar-bait December to dead-zone April.