As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
The tragic opera tells the story of a disfigured musical genius (Gerald Butler) who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera waging a reign of terror over its occupants [cue the organ music]. Think The Elephant Man meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame--except this particular "monster" has some serious sex appeal. I mean honestly his only "disfigurement" is some scarring on one side of his face which he covers with a rather classy mask. No big whoop. But I digress. When he falls desperately in love with the lovely ingénue Christine (Emmy Rossum) who has lived in the opera house for most of her life the Phantom devotes himself to molding the young soprano into a star exerting a strange sense of control over her as he nurtures her extraordinary talents. But when Christine falls for the dashing Raoul (Patrick Wilson) all hell breaks loose as the Phantom's growing jealousies threatens to tear everyone apart [OK now it's really time to cue the organ music].
Fans will no doubt be happy their favorite musical has finally made it to the big screen but the musical's original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman have been replaced in the movie version by hot young actors. This is a very wise decision considering the film's rather longwinded nature. In other words even though the Phantom performers keep singing and singing and then sing some more at least they are appealing to watch (and they did do all their own singing). Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) is particularly effective as the Phantom all brooding mysterious and far more intriguing a suitor than pretty boy Raoul played blandly by Wilson (HBO's Angels in America). With her alabaster skin and long luscious locks Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow) also does a nice job as Christine. But she is unfortunately limited to only a few range of emotions--either all doe-eyed and somber over her Phantom doe-eyed and gushy over Raoul or just plain doe-eyed. As for the supporting players Minnie Driver nearly steals the show as the Italian soprano diva La Carlotta. As the only breath of fresh air in the musty opera house you definitely crave more of her.
It's taken about 15 years to bring Webber's smash hit to the big screen. Apparently after winning every known theater award for Phantom the legendary producer-composer approached director Joel Schumacher in 1988 to do the movie after being impressed by Schumacher's work on The Lost Boys. Hmmm The Lost Boys to Phantom of the Opera--I'm still trying to tie that one together. Anyway Webber had to postpone production for personal reasons and then Schumacher was busy doing such films as Tigerland and Phone Booth. Finally the time was ripe to make Phantom coming on the heels of the musical movie boom started by Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Schumacher certainly incorporates all the right elements from the young and talented cast to the opulent sets and magnificent costumes. The problem is the material: Phantom really isn't all that compelling of a story. Sure the stage production was and still is a theatrical event especially as the Phantom moves on catwalks all over the theater and the impressive chandelier comes crashing down on the stage. But for the film adaptation there needs to be something more than just grand posturing set pieces and operatic music. Maybe a little more dialogue? A sex scene? Anything?
Let's just get through Gigli's plot so we can move on to the fun stuff. A lowly hit man Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is hired to kidnap the mentally handicapped little brother (Justin Bartha) of a federal prosecutor for Mob purposes. A second hitperson the comely independent-minded Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) is also put on the case because Gigli can't be trusted to do the job correctly. Holed up in Gigli's apartment the duo clashes at first but gradually form a bond even though Gigli is a chauvinistic jughead and Ricki a tough-nut lesbian. Of course they also form an attachment to their quarry Brian who in his untainted innocence manages to change these two hardened individuals. Now that's over with here's just a sampling of some of the deep and meaningful dialogue that passes between these two lovebirds: Says Gigli: "I am the bull and you are the cow…f**k with the bull you get the horn." Gigli to Ricki: "I'm the Sultan of Slick…the original gangster's gangster." Ricki to Gigli: "You know this might be a good time to suggest you not allow the seeds of cruel hope to sprout in your soul." Then later more from Ricki: "The penis is a sea slug or more like a really long toe. But kissing the mouth…The mouth--the lips the warm moist hole--is a twin sister to the…" Well you get the picture. Even Brian gets in a good one when he chirps spastically "It's not my fault I'm brain damaged!" Can it get any better than this?
Ben Jen what were you thinking? On second thought don't answer that--we'd probably rather not know. This is one time when watching two huge celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck fall in love is more cringe-worthy than romantic in any way. Imagine if you will Lopez as Ricki who having succumbed to Gigli's er charm sprawls herself seductively on the bed in a little kimono robe and tells him "It's turkey time. Gobble gobble"--with a straight face. Or how about this one: "You know I'm not into the whole man thing…but somehow you got through." (Insert audible collective audience groan here). Affleck who stands around looking like he's been hit in the face with a frying pan most of the time--of course without ever mussing his hair--comes off looking even worse if that's possible. His accent fluctuates between that of a Brooklyn thug and Southern California surfer dude. As far as how some of the high-profile cameos in the film got there--including Christopher Walken as a quirky cop and Al Pacino as a mobster who gets to vent in his usual boisterous way--obviously some favors must have been called in. Pacino did win his only Oscar for his performance in Scent of a Woman helmed by Gigli's director Martin Brest. Maybe they all deserve more credit for enduring such utterly banal garbage.
Writer/director Brest has had a spotty career at best. Of a handful of movies he's had a hit here and there (Beverly Hills Cop) and a few failures (Meet Joe Black). But with Gigli the filmmaker reaches the bottom rung. He took big names thrown them in a big-budget crime drama that really wants to be a small talky indie and the end result is more like a really bad play in which all the characters give their own over-the-top soliloquies waxing prophetic about every subject under the sun--differences between males and females being gay vs. straight anger management retardation slopping pie on one's head (believe it). Granted on some level Brest is trying to think out of the box within a formulaic setting and in all honesty Gigli's premise isn't all that dreadful--just hacky. There may have been a somewhat decent movie hidden somewhere in Gigli--enough of movie at least to attract Lopez and Affleck (whose romance began on the shoot). Instead it's a discombobulated jumbled mess of incoherent musings and horrible dialogue that moviegoers just shouldn't be subjected to. We wonder if at this very moment J. Lo isn't saying to her future hubby "Let's not do this again"--but wait they are in Kevin Smith's Jersey Girls. We don't want to know what he's saying.
Archeologist extraordinaire Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) and her team find a luminescent sphere located in an ancient underwater ruin in the Mediterranean Sea. Croft soon finds out the glowing orb is actually a map revealing the location of Pandora's Box a mythical box containing "life and death"--and a lot of really bad people including a Chinese crime syndicate boss named Chen Lo (Simon Yam) and his evil partner Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds)--want it. The battle is on as all three race for the box Croft to protect it and the others to turn it into a nifty doomsday weapon. The film strings one action sequence after the next as Croft fights evildoers in her around the world scavenger hunt for Pandora's box--and while some fit in most are gratuitous. There is Croft performing flips on her jet ski for example or Croft riding a motorcycle for what seems like an eternity through the hills in eastern China. The film plays out like the multilevel video game but unlike its PlayStation2 counterpart we have no control over the action. The extravagant stunts however cannot make up for the dry storyline that isn't gripping and ultimately fails to draw you in.
The concept behind Lara Croft is so fresh and intriguing that it's a shame Hollywood consistently traps the character in such shamefully bad storylines. As portrayed by Jolie Croft is the perfect female heroine; she's intelligent driven and tough and her life is absolutely fascinating. But while the first Tomb Raider movie gave us a wealth of information about Croft's character including her patronage education and what drives her as an explorer the sequel just hangs her out to dry. Too bad! If any actress can pull off a complex character like Croft it's definitely Jolie. Not only can she pull off the physical stunts but she also has developed little character quirks--i.e. the raised eyebrow quizzical look. But we never get a closer glimpse into Croft's life and the screenplay rarely allows her personality to emerge. There is an endearing scene in which Croft knocks on the door of a Chinese family and asks to borrow their television so she can hook up a video cam and send a message back home to England. The brief interaction Croft has with the little girl who sits and watches Croft in amazement is quite touching and it would have been nice to see more of this human side.
Dutch director Jan De Bont (Speed 2: Cruise Control) exhibits a flamboyant visual style here but Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life has little to offer other than its look. Most of the slick stunts for example are not only unnecessary but also unsound. One of the more preposterous action sequences has Croft slicing her arm underwater to attract a shark which she then punches in the nose before clutching on to its dorsal fin and pilfering a ride to the surface. Croft had just had her thigh torn open minutes earlier in a brawl. Couldn't she have squeezed some blood out of that wound rather than carve a new one? Never mind the fact that the shark then conveniently swims away and never comes back for a bite of its bleeding prey. But wait it gets worse: Croft then gets rescued while floating at sea by some Brits who show up on a Russian nuclear submarine. Little of it makes any sense. Shot in Greece Tanzania and Hong Kong De Bont shows some polished National Geographic-looking frame compositions that are unfortunately trapped within Dean Georgaris's lackluster screenplay.
This is a tough one to judge. You never get any explanation of who these people are or why they do what they do; if you don't know the video game you're basically thrown into Tomb Raider blind. Just go with it and figure it'll all make sense eventually. It does--for the most part. Lara Croft (Jolie) who is carrying on her deceased father's (Jon Voight) work as an English archaeologist/antiquities hunter uncovers an ancient puzzle that she must solve before it's too late. Centuries before a mysterious otherworldly object with a godlike power to alter time was split in two and the pieces buried in tombs on opposite ends of the earth. Jolie must race against time to find both halves of the object and destroy it before a leader of an evil secret society (Iain Glen) gets his hands on it.
With her long dark braid and impossible figure (thanks to some stuffing up top) Jolie certainly is a dead ringer for über-heroine Croft. Her hoity-toity monotone Brit accent is sporadic and fleeting; she slips in and out of it as often and easily as she does impending death. Our globetrotting superwoman switches languages as needed winning over Buddhist monks and little Mongolian girls in the process (tell me please how she wears a T-shirt while dog sledding in Siberia while everyone else is bundled up in parkas? That bra must've been padded with Thinsulate). Jolie can kick butt with the best of 'em but she's tiresome. All arch looks and badass 'tude this Kelly-LeBrock-for-the-new-millennium is not terribly much fun. Granted Croft has serious work to do but a little lightheartedness goes a long way. Raiders of the Lost Ark this ain't.
Given that there's little story line acted out by characters with whom it's hard to connect since you have no idea who they are the movie surprisingly manages to keep your attention for a couple hours. Then again that could be due to the tremendous and seemingly never-ending clamor on screen where every few seconds a hailstorm of bullets showers the scene or really big things are happening--gargantuan rock statues turn into sword-wielding CGI beasts enormous retro-futuristic contraptions like something out of Brazil materialize from the earth beams of light descend from the distant beyond. Or maybe it's just the mesmerizing effect of waiting for Jolie's lips to crawl across her face like two fat slugs going after the magic jasmine Daddy Croft told Lara about.