Mercifully held back from advance screenings for critics the creators of Bangkok Dangerous should have gone one step further and kept it from general audiences as well. In this lame remake of their own 1999 thriller of the same name Hong Kong directors The Pang Brothers lose something in the translation as they put Nicolas Cage in the center of the action. This time Cage is an anonymous hitman who makes a beeline from a job in Prague to Thailand so he can to do in several enemies of evil crime chieftain Surat (Nirattisai Kaljaruek). Along the way he enlists a local street kid Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to help out and soon finds himself teaching him the tricks of the trade. Romance also rears its ugly head when he falls for a deaf girl (Charlie Yeung) who only complicates matters for the killer when Surat takes matters a step further than our hero is anticipating. Cage seems to have lost his mojo in recent years which would be the only explanation as to why this fine Oscar-winning actor would subject himself repeatedly to the likes of dogs such as Next Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man. Now with this pointless remake of Bangkok Dangerous he’s hit rock bottom sleepwalking through the role. Cage just doesn’t have a handle on how to play this guy or engage the audience in any way which is a shame since the exotic locale and basic premise could have held promise. Instead the star is forced into silly subplots including a nonsensical romance with a pharmacist played with one expression by the lovely Yeung. It’s hard to imagine this relationship since the pair appear to have zero chemistry on screen and you have to wonder how she would ever be attracted to a guy with particularly bad hair. Yamnarm is OK in the contrived street tough role who is mentored by Cage’s assassin-for-hire. The rest of the cast mostly local actors plays it by the book. It’s not hard to figure out why the successful Pang Brothers directing team would want to revisit their own films for the American market since remakes of their other movies like The Eye and particularly Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed (derived from the Pang’s Infernal Affairs) have been quite successful. Unfortunately Bangkok just doesn’t work--a by-the-numbers retread that’s ill-conceived as an action vehicle for Cage. His assassin has been unwisely shoehorned into the lead role while in the original it was the deaf mute girl. Apparently no one thought it would be wise to put Cage in that scenario but by making him a standard movie hitman they have diluted what made their own original premise work in the first place. Making matters worse the technical aspects of the film are to be kind weak. Decha Srimantra’s washed-out cinematography fails to make use of the colorful locations and the major fight/chase sequences are poorly shot and executed. For a pure action film there is surprisingly little compelling action. As the film’s advertising tagline suggests “It’s all in the execution”. In this case it’s the “execution” that’s sorely lacking.
Elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) who once served under the great Alexander (Colin Farrell) narrates the life story of the man the myth the legend--the son of the ambitious King Philip (Val Kilmer) who surpassed his father at every level and charged into the farthest reaches of the world. From early childhood in Macedonia we see where Alexander gets his drive--mostly from his vengeful snake-lovin' mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who urges her son to take charge as well from his tutor Aristotle (Christopher Plummer). Even in the taming of his unbreakable horse Bucephalas at 10 years old Alexander's destiny is evident. The heart of the film lies in Persia which Alexander conquers in one of the most studied military battles of all time. Alexander spends a great deal of time there--taking in the culture claiming its riches and marrying a Bactrian princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson)--much to the chagrin of his Macedonian generals who are stuck in this foreign land with their king. Despite this success Alexander grows restless and turns his attention to the rest of the world including the unexplored regions of India. With his army stretched thin and his Macedonian troops longing for home Alexander presses them one campaign too far. Succumbing to a mysterious illness at age 33 Alexander dies never quite finding what he so desperately searched for.
Although some may scoff at casting the Irish actor in the lead Farrell does an admirable job playing the tortured hero blond wig and all. He exudes plenty of wide-eyed fury and intensity as Alexander the warrior balanced by the controlled calculation of a hyper-effective military commander although he isn't nearly as effective as the idealistic pre-world-conqueror Alexander as he is spiraling down into the haunted angst-ridden Alexander at the end of his obsessive crusade. Casting Jolie as Olympias is a stroke of genius. Sure Jolie can play a smart and beautiful woman in her sleep but her beauty is surpassed only by the power she imbues as Alexander's bitter yet loving mother; she's as hypnotic as the snakes she carries around. Kilmer relishes his role as Alexander's father Philip in all of his grotesque wine-soaked glory. Powerful driven and battle-scarred Kilmer's Philip knows precisely what he wants and matches Jolie's quiet intensity with the raw aggressive masculinity of a warrior king who is far more comfortable in his armor than a toga. In the supporting roles Hopkins is great as always this time in the thankless role of the narrator while Dawson plays Roxane with a ferocity that is as mesmerizing as it is terrifying. Standout Jared Leto also turns in a concentrated performance as Hephaestion Alexander's long-time companion boyhood friend and the person who loves Alexander the best. (And we do mean love.)
Alexander is Oliver Stone at his best. An Alexander nut for most of his life the director gives us a film that--even in its loooong three-hour form--continuously holds your attention especially its intense and bloody battle scenes. I mean honestly once you've fought against an elephant in armor the plain old sword-and-shield skirmishes pale in comparison. Alexander also possesses a great breadth of visuals: Alexandria's peace Pella's tension Babylon's opulence and India's richness. Yet as wonderful as the landscapes are it's personal interactions and internal politics that drive the story--and of course Stone's penchant for conspiracy theories as he more than insinuates Alexander was poisoned by his enemies rather than dying of an "unknown" illness. But a problem still remains: Alexander's life was so huge and he did so much that it's almost impossible to encapsulate it effectively into one film. Stone instead has to focus on what he thinks is the most important namely Alexander's renowned conquests while allowing the pressure cooker in which the young conqueror grew up--the triangle of mother father and son--come through in the decisions he makes later in life. For those few of us who have studied Alexander Stone has made this film especially for us. If you haven't spent any time reading Arrian and the other histories this excellent film might just inspire you to do so.