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.
Charles Bronson may have passed away but the spirit of his Death Wish films lives on -- albeit in an absurdly twisted fashion -- in F. Gary Gray’s (The Italian Job Be Cool) gleefully over-the-top revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen.
Taking a welcome break from his recent run of lame chick flicks Gerard Butler (300 RocknRolla) stars as Clyde Shelton a loving husband and father whose placid suburban existence is upended when a couple of mangy meth monsters burst into his home. Not content to merely burglarize the place they proceed to butcher Clyde’s wife and daughter as he lies in a heap on the floor periodically losing consciousness after being stabbed several times.
The killers are soon apprehended and a grieving Clyde who somehow managed to survive the whole ordeal eagerly awaits swift retribution from the justice system. Hoping for the grim solace that only the death penalty can provide he places his faith in Nick Rice (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) the hotshot district attorney charged with prosecuting the case to do the right thing and see to it that the two killers fry.
Nick however has other plans. Seeing the case as anything but open-and-shut and fearful that a not-guilty verdict in such a high-profile trial could derail his ambitious career plans (he sees himself as a Giuliani in the making) he opts to strike a plea deal: One man gets a death sentence while the other gets a mere 10 years in return for testifying against his cohort.
Chastened by the unseemly bargain Clyde takes matters into his own hands delivering his own uniquely painful brand of vigilante justice to the sinister men who destroyed his family. But he doesn’t stop there not by a longshot. His grudge extends much much further -- to the very heart of the justice system itself -- and he intends to bring the entire corrupt apparatus down even if he has to do it while locked up inside a jail cell. Which is where he ends up after police nab him for personally imposing the death penalty on the convicted killers.
Indeed Clyde proves to be something of a savant when it comes to killing people in creative cinematic ways employing exploding cell phones remote-control machine guns and other methods to take out the various judges attorneys and politicians on his hit list. Most amazingly he orchestrates all of this mayhem from behind bars. Seriously this guy’s flair for novelty violence makes the Joker’s antics in The Dark Knight seem amateurish by comparison.
The task of putting an end to all of Clyde’s mayhem naturally falls on Nick. And this is where Law Abiding Citizen’s fatal flaw emerges. Whereas Gray Butler and virtually everyone else seem to enthusiastically embrace the utter ridiculousness of it all Foxx plays it determinedly straight as if he’s the only one in the movie who isn’t in on the joke. Watching his performance it’s almost as if he’s making a different film than everyone else.
The right way for Law Abiding Citizen to end is for Foxx to administer an appropriately ironic death to Butler’s character utter something like “I rest my case ” and wink at the camera as he makes his exit. (Click here to read our exclusive interview with Foxx.)
I won’t give any spoilers away but suffice it to say this is NOT how the movie ends.
Rainn Wilson trades one Office job for another as Robert “Fish” Fishman an over-the-hill 41 year-old insurance company worker who came right to the edge of eternal rock fame as the drummer of a struggling ‘80s band Vesuvius--until the other members kicked him out in order to get a record deal. Twenty years later the band has continued on to great success while Fish only manages to get fired from his latest job forcing him to move in with his sister (Jane Lynch) and family--including his nephew the nerdy Matt (Josh Gad) who happens to be a member of his own band A.D.D. Turns out the group needs a drummer and asks the long-in-the-tooth Uncle Robert to join them which he does reluctantly. Soon he is putting a soulful metal spin on their forgettable sound. The other members--Amelia (Emma Stone) and Curtis (Teddy Geiger)--aren’t too thrilled especially when he eventually makes a play for Curtis’ mom (Christina Applegate). But when he is caught rehearsing with the band in the nude (via a four-way webcam) the video finds itself on You Tube where A.D.D. suddenly becomes an exploitable phenom with the “naked drummer” as a draw. The inevitable tour leads to a climactic concert where revenge could be sweet when they share the bill with none other than--drumroll please--Vesuvius. Since Jack Black was apparently otherwise engaged Wilson gets a lucky break and turns what could be an annoying one-dimensional boob into a guy we can root for. He’s never less than believable as this aging buffoon who gets a second chance at the dream he always knew he deserved but blew 20 years earlier. Wilson playing a role not too dissimilar from his weekly gig as Dwight Schrute on The Office nicely balances the broad comedic requirements of the role with genuine pathos and a pretty good musical talent that makes the second coming of this 40-ish rock star oddly credible. It helps that he’s surrounded by an appealing cast of younger actors who make up the rest of the band. Stone (Superbad The House Bunny) is particularly appealing and completely winning. Geiger is the good-looking tortured lead singer while Gad makes us feel all the growing pains. Applegate is well cast but underused as Curtis’ mom and there are some nice--if too brief--moments from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin and the always hilarious Jane Lynch as Matt’s parents. Turning up for an ironic cameo is the original ousted drummer from The Beatles Pete Best (although the filmmakers swear this is not his story). Vesuvius is made up of comedy vets Fred Armisen Bradley Cooper and Will Arnett. but they are no Spinal Tap. Director Peter Cattaneo won universal praise and an Oscar nomination for his sleeper comedy hit The Full Monty and he’s probably got sleeper on his hand as he treads similar ground with the rags to riches scenario. He expertly displays how show business success can still come at a late age but not TOO late. Cattaneo wisely focuses on the humanistic qualities of the story blending some nice character work with the broader aspects of this School of Rock-style outing. It all could have gone south very quickly but the director keeps his cast in check and makes the story one that doesn’t ever run out of gas. This is the rare flick that both teens AND their parents will find riotously entertaining for wildly different reasons.
It’s been four years since we last saw columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her faithful best friends--Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall). The years have been kind to them: Charlotte is living her dream life with her loving husband Harry (Evan Handler) and adoptive 3-year-old Chinese daughter; Samantha has moved to L.A. to manage her boy toy Smith’s (Jason Lewis) acting career and give monogamy a chance; Miranda is a working mom in Brooklyn juggling her demanding career and her marriage to Steve (David Eigenberg); and finally Carrie now a bestselling author who has settled into domestic bliss with her beloved “man friend” John James Preston aka Mr. Big (Chris Noth). Domestic bliss? Carrie and Big? Is that possible? Well let’s just say the road to happiness still isn’t smooth for any of them (save maybe Charlotte) but the film’s outcome is a wholly satisfying experience. For our four lovely leading ladies reprising their Sexy alter egos must have been like riding a bicycle. Parker Nixon Davis and Cattrall defined their SATC roles so succinctly during the HBO show’s six-year run that watching them again feels as if they never stopped. Parker especially eases right back into Carrie mode albeit older and wiser. Gone are her earlier youthful hang ups about commitment replaced by a stronger more mature Carrie--who still has her quirky insecurities. And of course her fabulous one-liners still fly fast and furious (“I need to get out of this Mexi-coma” is a personal favorite). Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson adds a fifth element to the proceedings as Carrie’s smart and sassy assistant who has firm belief in love. The men of SATC also fit right in again. Noth’s Big in particular continues to frustrate but ultimately becomes the man we all knew he could be. The road to a big-screen adaptation of Sex and the City was also not a smooth one. After the show ended in 2004 there were immediate talks about doing a movie version. But not everyone in the cast was ready to continue the gig--namely Kim Cattrall who decided she needed a break (and possibly more money). Still through the perseverance of producer Sarah Jessica Parker and writer/director Michael Patrick King SATC The Movie finally became a reality--and we are very thankful that it did. Many fans just couldn’t let go after the show’s series finale; they wanted more. And so the film gives back in spades bringing us back into these women’s lives for awhile longer--almost to a fault actually. The half-hour TV show was perfect but a SATC film at two hours and some change drags a little in the middle. There’s also the fact the film is certainly grander glossier in scale than the more grounded TV show. Nevertheless it’s just what the doctor ordered for those lovers of all things Sex and the City. Bring on the sequels!
Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) doesn’t know how lucky she has it. She’s smart beautiful and married to Gerry (Gerald Butler) a passionate funny and impetuous Irishman who loves her with every breath in his body. But when that breath runs out--Gerry dies unexpectedly from an illness--Holly’s luck runs out. Barely coping her salvation arrives in the form of letters from Gerry that come to Holly in unexpected ways--letters he wrote to her before he died to help her get through the pain and move on with her life and letters that always end with “P.S. I Love You.” A saint huh? Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow) begin to worry Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past but in fact each letter pushes Holly on a journey of rediscovery and to show her how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into new beginning for life. Tissues please! Swank will be damned if she pigeonholes herself into always playing serious women who don’t wear makeup. P.S. I Love You is her stab at romantic dramedy and while the genre may not suit her best the Oscar-winning actress still has fun playing a spirited woman who wears designer clothes cute hats and gets to make out with a strapping Irish hunk. Actually Swank gets to bed TWO strapping Irish hunks in P.S. I Love You: The first is the yummy Butler of course and the other is Gerry’s old bandmate William played by American Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who’ll be seen in the upcoming romantic comedy The Accidental Husband with Uma Thurman). Lucky girl. Butler however is the one the ladies will sigh over the most. Having already given a powerhouse performance this year as the Spartan king in 300 the Scottish actor turns the tables to show his soft underbelly as the adorably romantic and fun-lovin’ Gerry. The abs still rock though. One can easily see why Holly is such a mess after he dies. Gershon and Kudrow add some genuineness as Holly’s friends (someone please find a Kudrow a TV show) as does Bates as Holly’s hardened mother. Harry Connick Jr. however seems out of place as Holly’s would-be suitor. She just needs to stick with the Irish guys. Hilary Swank teams up with her Freedom Writers director Richard LaGravenese once again for P.S. I Love You and it’s clear they have a symbiotic relationship. Swank probably likes the way LaGravenese accentuates her best features turning her into a glam leading lady while LaGravenese obviously enjoys gazing at her through his camera lens. Unfortunately the two really haven’t found the best material. Freedom Writers is the mother of all teacher-gets-students-motivated retreads while P.S. I Love You--based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern and adapted by LaGravenese and Steven Rogers--is just pure fluff with very little substance behind it. Not that the film won't inspire some romantic feelings or work up tears but its only real strengths are: 1) the players who somehow rise about the triteness of it all especially Butler and 2) the gorgeous landscapes of Ireland which should send any woman in her right mind straight to the Emerald Isles to find her perfect man. Seriously ladies book your trips NOW.