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Friday, January 24, 2020

In Theaters: THE GENTLEMEN (2020)


THE GENTLEMEN
(US - 2020)

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Tom Wu, Bugzy Malone, Jason Wong, Lyne Renee, Chidi Ajufo, Simon Barker, John Dagleish, Eliot Sumner, Samuel West, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Tom Rhys Harries, Danny Griffin, Mark Rathbone, Andrew Greenaugh. (R, 113 mins)

After a decade of playing the big-budget Hollywood franchise game with Robert Downey Jr.'s two SHERLOCK HOLMES films, the underrated THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., the costly flop KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, and the live-action ALADDIN, writer/director Guy Ritchie returns to his LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH roots with the twisty, convoluted, and wildly entertaining THE GENTLEMEN. He hasn't revisited these sorts of "fookin' 'ell, mate!" British gangster shenanigans since 2008's middling ROCKNROLLA, but buoyed by a game cast and a gleeful willingness to offend everyone, THE GENTLEMEN manages to be a lot of fun despite Ritchie not really having any new tricks up his sleeve. You could call it LOCK, STOCK 4: ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, as Matthew McConaughey stars as expat American Mickey Pearson, who came to London from trailer park America with a genius-level IQ and a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford that he blew off when he found being a weed dealer for his rich and spoiled classmates was more lucrative. And in the years since, he's set up a massive empire in the UK covering all facets from production to distribution. He's incredibly wealthy, has a ton of guys on his payroll to do any required dirty work, and he uses the property of lesser-ranking, under-the-radar royals to secretly house his dozen underground facilities in exchange for a cut of the profits.





But Mickey's been in the game a long time and he wants to retire, which brings everyone out of the woodwork in an attempt to buy out his operation, including unscrupulous American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong, reuniting with McConaughey after last year's SERENITY triumph) and Dry Eye (Henry Golding), an ambitious underboss with a Chinese mob outfit who's looking to break away from his boss Lord George (Tom Wu). There's also Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a sleazy private eye who's been hired by tabloid publisher Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) to dig up dirt on Mickey after he's snubbed by him at a swanky society gathering, to the delight of onlookers. And Big Dave knows Mickey has connections to distant Royal Family member Lord Pressfield (Samuel West), whose runaway daughter Laura (Eliot Sumner, youngest daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler) is a heroin addict. But Fletcher has his own ideas of taking the information he's gathered and selling it to Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey's loyal right-hand man, occasionally embellishing his findings with some Hollywood bells and whistles in the hope that it could be sold as a script (Ritchie has some meta fun with this aspect, including a bit where the scheming Fletcher meets with a producer who has a 2015 MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. poster in his office). Double, triple, quadruple, and quintuple crosses ensue, with shifting loyalties and unexpected players--including Mickey's take-no-shit wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), and Coach (Colin Farrell), a tough Irish bloke who runs a gym for underprivileged kids, and who's pulled into the proceedings when a few of his ne'er-do-wells foolishly decide to steal some of Mickey's product.


In other words, it's pretty much business as usual for old-school Ritchie fans, but it's done with enough style and panache that you won't mind the familiarity, sort-of like listening to a new AC/DC album. It's exactly what you think it is, it strictly adheres to a carved-in-stone formula, and it doesn't fix what isn't broken (unless you really want Ritchie to make another REVOLVER). It's comfort food of sorts if you're a LOCK, STOCK fan...that is, as long as you can still laugh at insensitive jokes (at the expense of pretty much everyone, for instance Fletcher describing Dry Eye as "a Chinese James Bond...with a ricense to kill") and extraordinarily profane dialogue being rattled off by some very bad guys (this may set a new record for the number of times "cunt" is yelled in a movie). The cast is having a blast, particularly Grant, who seems to be doing a scathing Ricky Gervais impression and keeps not-very-subtly hitting on Hunnam's Ray. An underused Farrell gets a few moments to shine in the de facto Vinnie Jones role, but it's really more of an ensemble piece when it's all said and done, despite the focus on Mickey, and even then, McConaughey is offscreen for a couple of long-ish stretches. Twists and turns pile up at an absurd rate near the end, and THE GENTLEMEN is a really good time if vintage Guy Ritchie is what you're after. He also gives you one of the more blatant shout-outs to THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY that you'll ever see, and that's a nice bonus.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

On Blu-ray/DVD: JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (2019) and LINE OF DUTY (2019)


JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT
(US - 2019)


With the exception of the topical 2011 thriller RED STATE, Kevin Smith's last decade of departures has found the '90s indie icon struggling to find his mojo. Yes, he has his podcast and his various online endeavors that keep his loyal fan base sticking around, but the movies have been garbage. It's little wonder that he finally saw fit to go the "give 'em what they want" route by resurrecting his two biggest fan favorite characters with JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT, but the resulting film wasn't made by the Kevin Smith who gave us CLERKS and MALLRATS. It was made by the Kevin Smith who gave us TUSK and YOGA HOSERS. Smith's been away from the View Askewniverse since 2006's CLERKS II and it's barely five minutes into REBOOT before you're wishing he'd made that sabbatical a little longer. There was some potential here for insightful meta commentary on the state of movies, franchises, fan conventions, or any other target ripe for satire, but the lazy and aggressively unfunny REBOOT is content to settle for a series of references straight from the Friedberg/Seltzer comedy school, where the reference is the joke--references to other movies (Jason Mewes' Jay is doing a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS junk-tuck in the opening scene in a gag recycled from CLERKS II; when Smith's Silent Bob finally opens his mouth, it's to recite Alec Baldwin's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS speech to attendees at a Klan rally, where the Grand Wizard invokes "Can you dig it?" from THE WARRIORS), callbacks to earlier Smith movies (Ben Affleck shows up for a positively Bruce Willis-ian cameo as his CHASING AMY character, in a scene that's so bad at concealing the fact that he and Mewes weren't there at the same time that its clumsy editing almost has to be intentional), and would-be sick burns on Smith's own movies (COP OUT is a recurring target). But the endless self-deprecation feels less like genuine ribbing at his own expense and more like Smith pre-emptively shrugging "Hey, yeah, I know this whole thing is just stupid bullshit, but whatever." Everyone's default mode here is to mug shamelessly, and as a result, the film makes a lot of noise, but none of that noise is the sound of laughter.





And the sad thing is, old-school Kevin Smith could've done something with the basic idea of JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT. After getting busted for running an illegal weed dispensary inside a fake chicken sandwich joint (called--wait for it--Cock Smoker) inside the old RST Video next to the Quick Stop, Jay and Silent Bob end up in court. It's there that conniving lawyer Brandon St. Randy (Justin Long) gets them to sign over the rights to their names and likenesses to Saban Films (also REBOOT's distributor), who now own the "Bluntman and Chronic" comic book franchise and are rebooting the nearly two-decade-old cult superhero comedy BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC (as seen in 2001's JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK) as the dark and grim BLUNTMAN V CHRONIC, to be directed by "Hollywood hack" Kevin Smith (playing himself in a dual role). Now, in what's essentially a reboot of STRIKE BACK, REBOOT has the pair heading off to "Chronic Con" in  Hollywood to stop Kevin Smith from making the reboot. Along the way, they end up meeting Millennium "Milly" Faulken (Smith's daughter Harley Quinn Smith), the daughter Jay never knew he had with STRIKE BACK's Justice Faulken (Shannon Elizabeth), taking her and her friends (including Aparna Brielle as a girl in a hijab named "Jihad") along for the trip.




Smith still has a ton of buds in the View Askewniverse, so there's endless cameos, none of them even remotely amusing: Craig Robinson as "Judge Jerry N. Executioner," and Joe Manganiello as his bailiff; Brian O'Halloran as Dante; Jason Lee as Brodie; Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa; Chris Hemsworth as a hologram of himself; Fred Armisen in the longest set-up possible for a thudding punchline to an unfunny joke about Tater Tots for teenage girls called "Hater Totz"; Keith Coogan, Jason Biggs, and James Van Der Beek as themselves; Rosario Dawson as Justice's wife; Smith's wife Jennifer Schwalbach as a fast-food manager who seduces Silent Bob in the restroom; Chris Jericho as the KKK Grand Wizard; Val Kilmer as the new Bluntman opposite Melissa Benoist as a female Chronic, with Tommy Chong as their butler Alfred; Method Man and Redman as their HOW HIGH characters; and a tired-looking Matt Damon in a pointless appearance as Loki from DOGMA. What? No Johnny Depp as TUSK and YOGA HOSERS' Guy LaPointe? Is there even a point in reviewing something like this? Like Rob Zombie, the attendance is dwindling but the dutiful die-hards will always be there, and like Zombie, Smith has reached the "self-indulgent home movie" phase of his career. And if Saban Films had any faith in REBOOT at all, they would've given it a full-fledged theatrical release instead of relegating it to a two-night Fathom Events screening last fall before sending it to Blu-ray. It's a complete waste of time and talent, but if nothing else, I guess COP OUT's standing just got a little higher in the Smith filmography. (R, 105 mins)



LINE OF DUTY
(US/UK/Germany - 2019)


Not to be confused with the recent CROWN VIC, another day-in-the-life cop movie, LINE OF DUTY is an initially intriguing thriller that doesn't take long devolve into an outright howler. Veteran cop Frank Penny (Aaron Eckhart, also one of 32 credited producers) is lounging outside a carryout goofing off with a neighborhood kid when all hell breaks loose over the radio. A sting operation overseen by police chief Tom Volk (Giancarlo Esposito) has gone to shit nearby when the target flees and sends the cops on a frantic chase. Despite orders to stand down and not engage, Penny pursues him on foot in an impressively long sequence that takes up nearly 15 minutes of screen time. Penny is forced to shoot when the perp pulls a gun on him, and only then does he realize why there was an order to stand down: the man he just killed is Max Keller (James Hutchison), who has kidnapped Volk's 11-year-old daughter Claudia (Nishelle Williams) and is the only person who knew where she's being held. Disgraced already and with a rep as a "cowboy" after a past incident where Volk was forced to bust him down from detective to patrolman, Penny isn't about to let a little thing like "turn in your weapon and go straight downtown to IA" deter him from setting things right. And joining him is a sentient compilation of woke hot takes in the form of Ava Brooks (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD's Courtney Eaton), a snarky and incredibly smug vlogger for the online outfit "Media for the People," who spends most of her time saying things like "Whatever goes out is what my camera sees! Unfiltered!" while bitching about corporations and "sheeple." Ava ends up tagging along and livestreaming the entire pursuit after Penny figures out that Claudia is being held in an plexiglass box that will be completely filled with water in 64 minutes, tearing apart Los Angeles (played here by Birmingham, AL) to find her before it's too late.





Directed by Steven C. Miller, who's helmed numerous installments in Lionsgate's landmark "Bruce Willis Phones In His Performance From His Hotel Room" series, LINE OF DUTY works until it becomes a Penny/Ava buddy movie, where he tries to stay focused on the task at hand while she keeps demonstrating how little she knows about the world--and actual news reporting--usually ending every statement with "Just sayin.'" There's a lot of sanctimonious hectoring from Penny about letting cops do their job and how the media just "spins the truth into whatever sells." It almost turns into BLUE LIVES MATTER: THE MOVIE, as Penny is shown tossing out every section of his morning paper except the sports page, a facile way of showing he doesn't take sides politically, and then we see him talking about basketball with a young black kid, so you know he isn't one of those racist cops. But then the main villain is introduced in the form of Max's meth-head brother Dean (Ben McKenzie), who crashes his SUV in the middle of a busy downtown area and starts mowing down cops HEAT-style in his search for Penny, who the whole city now knows was the cop who pulled the trigger on Max thanks to Ava's borderline irresponsible livestream. LINE OF DUTY is one of those films where a character like Dean can go on a massive rampage of death and destruction and all of the cops in the city seem to vanish into thin air (also, it completely forgets about the "real time" element as all of this goes down in what's only supposed to be an hour). From then on, the already far-fetched film turns unintentionally hilarious, culminating in a ridiculous, horseshit feel-good climax that truly has to be seen to be believed.




Eckhart somehow manages to keep a straight face throughout, but the terribly-written script by Jeremy Drysdale (whose only other feature credit is the 2004 Johnny Knoxville vehicle GRAND THEFT PARSONS) seems to think it's making salient points and blow-the-doors-off revelations about the media and its perception of cops, but it's all trite platitudes and cardboard cutout characterization. Eaton's indescribably grating performance is really hard to take, but there's nothing that anyone could've done when stuck with the kind of cipher she's playing (cue the pop culture references with the discovery of a homemade bomb in Dean's house, when she has time to sigh-quip "Texas Chainsaw MacGyvers!" prompting Penny to call bullshit on her earlier "I don't even own a TV!" posturing). And don't miss Dina Meyer as a local TV news producer strutting around the station's control room emphatically barking orders like "Let's get our Eye in the Sky over there!" Wouldn't she just say "chopper?" It's like a guitarist friend of mine complaining a few years ago about Denis Leary's short-lived series SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL, when Leary's rock star character would refer to his guitar as an "axe," like telling someone "Hand me my axe." "I've been in bands for 30 years," my friend said. "And nobody in a band calls it an 'axe.'" No one in this movie talks like a real person. Eaton's character, in particular, is a hysterically overwrought version of what the "OK, Boomer" crowd imagines a pushy and ambitious young "new media" journalist must be like. Filled with ludicrous dialogue, absurd plot machinations, and the usual bush-league CGI fire and car flips, LINE OF DUTY still isn't the worst Steven C. Miller movie, but it's definitely the funniest. (R, 99 mins)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Retro Review: SHE (1984)


SHE
(Italy - 1984; US release 1985)

Written and directed by Avi Nesher. Cast: Sandahl Bergman, David Goss, Quin Kessler, Harrison Muller, Elena Wiedermann, Gordon Mitchell, Laurie Sherman, Andrew McLeay, Cyrus Elias, David Brandon, Susan Adler, Gregory Snegoff, Mary D'Antin, Mario Pedone, Donald Hodson, Maria Quasimodo, David Traylor. (Unrated, 105 mins)

Loosely--and that can't be stressed enough--based on the classic 1886 adventure novel by King Solomon's Mines author H. Rider Haggard, 1984's SHE is either the worst movie ever made or visionary work of next-level postmodernism that constantly walks the fine line between genius and insanity. Flip a coin. Previously filmed in 1935 with Helen Gahagan and most famously by Hammer Films in 1965 with Ursula Andress (which led to the inferior 1968 sequel THE VENGEANCE OF SHE with Olinka Berova), this version of SHE was headlined by Sandahl Bergman, a dancer who logged time as a member of the "Golddiggers" on Dean Martin's NBC variety show before being discovered by Bob Fosse. Her first significant notice came when she was featured in a memorable production number in the mercurial choreographer's 1979 film ALL THAT JAZZ, but it wasn't Fosse and it wasn't Bergman's dancing abilities that got her the SHE gig. It was the 1982 hit CONAN THE BARBARIAN, where she turned heads and won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year-Female (she was the final recipient, as the New Star category was discontinued after the 1983 ceremony) as the fierce and seductive warrior Valeria, joining Arnold Schwarzenegger in battle and in bed in his big-screen breakout.





While CONAN led to stardom and THE TERMINATOR for Schwarzenegger, all Bergman got was SHE, a mind-boggling Italian mash-up of the barbarian and post-nuke actioners that were being cranked out with wild abandon by Italian exploitation producers not just as a result of CONAN, but also in to cash in on THE ROAD WARRIOR. But SHE is something else entirely, a virtual spoof of the Italian post-nuke craze that doesn't even try to make any logical sense, instead throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. SHE was available in every video store in the '80s and was in semi-regular rotation on late night cable during that same period. For whatever reason, I never pulled the trigger on it until, like a lot of obscure Eurocult titles, it turned up on Netflix streaming in its infancy prior to the company rebranding itself as an original content producer. And I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Was I hallucinating this film? Or was it really this bonkers? And why wasn't I aware of just how bugfuck insane this thing was?


In a post-apocalyptic "Year 23 - After the Cancellation," three siblings, Tom (David Goss), Dick (Harrison Muller, from the Italian post-nukes 2020: TEXAS GLADIATORS and THE FINAL EXECUTIONER), and their younger sister Hari (Elena Wiedermann), are venturing through the wasteland and come upon a vendors market called "Heaven's Gate," where the merchandise includes 7-Up and various boxes of Kellogg's cereals. The market is attacked by Hector (former '60s peplum fixture Gordon Mitchell), the leader of the army of the Nork. Hari is taken away by Hector's goons, who wear football helmets and padding adorned with swastikas, sending Tom and Dick on a quest to rescue her. That takes a while, since they first end up in the realm of the goddess She (Bergman), who commands an army of female warriors and is worshiped by men who endlessly bow and chant "She!" in what appears to be a decaying mansion out of a Luchino Visconti film (SHE was somehow shot at the fabled Cinecitta in Rome). An unholy alliance is eventually formed, as Tom and Dick are joined by She and her trusted second-in-command Shanda (Quin Kessler), the four venturing--together and often separated by circumstance--to the Nork city to find and rescue Hari. This involves a series of sequences including but not limited to:


  • She going into a cavernous storage area filled with upright crates that collapse to reveal armor-wearing swordsmen who we must assume were just there patiently waiting for her eventual arrival.
  • She attacked by a lumbering, cyborg Frankenstein monster whose head explodes when she bites the bolt out of its neck.
  • a run-in with mutant leader Kram (Cyrus Elias) and his chainsaw-wielding disciples in the same abandoned factory that's in almost every Italian post-nuke. 
  • some toga-wearing Caligula cosplayers led by siblings Pretty Boy (David Brandon, in perhaps some inside joke casting as he'd just starred in Joe D'Amato's CALIGULA ripoff CALIGULA: THE UNTOLD STORY) and Pretty Girl (Susan Adler), who turn out to a coven of werewolves. 
  • a telepathic despot named Godan (Gregory Snegoff) with glowing green eyes who leads a cult of communist monks
  • Rudolph (Mario Pedone), a brutish ogre in a tutu who becomes an unlikely ally
  • a foppish mad doctor (Donald Hodson) who dresses like an extra from BARRY LYNDON and holds them captive behind clear plastic shower curtains with the intent of using them in his bizarre human/plant experiments. 
  • Xenon (David Traylor, a mime later known as "robot comedian" Mr. Zed), the wacky guard of the bridge leading to the Nork fortress, who acts like Robin Williams on a talk show, sings the GREEN ACRES theme song, does impressions of James Cagney, Popeye, and the Cowardly Lion, and has the ability to clone himself from his own severed limbs.
  • getting in the Nork fortress, where the masked Nork overlord (voiced by the familiar mellifluous tones of veteran dubber Anthony La Penna) puts them in a fight-to-the-death arena showdown with his warriors where the victors get Hari. 
  • (note: the above list makes even less sense in context)



Believe it or not, Israeli-born SHE writer/director Avi Nesher is an award-winning filmmaker of sterling repute in his home country. His serious, art-house fare is rarely shown outside of Israel (2017's PAST LIFE got a limited US release), but he spent much of the '80s and '90s paying the bills with video store genre fare like the 1991 Michael Biehn sci-fi outing TIMEBOMB, the 1993 Drew Barrymore thriller DOPPELGANGER and by directing (SAVAGE, MERCENARY) or producing (AUTOMATIC, MARS, MERCENARY 2: THICK AND THIN) several Olivier Gruner actioners. SHE certainly falls under the "genre fare" category, and we can only assume that Israeli cineastes who admire Nesher's auteur works like RAGE AND GLORY and TURN LEFT AT THE END OF THE WORLD haven't been privy to the sight of Sandahl Bergman battling a cyborg Frankenstein. SHE was recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead) and has a Nesher interview as an extra. He talks about his distinctly different genre and art film careers and jokes that it's hard to imagine his serious films winning awards in Israel when watching something like SHE. He also tells a great story about shooting at Cinecitta and blasting loud heavy metal to get the actors psyched up between takes until an assistant to Federico Fellini, who was on an adjacent soundstage shooting 1983's AND THE SHIP SAILS ON, came over and asked him to turn it down. This led to an appreciative Fellini taking Nesher to lunch and asking "What are you making over there?" to which the young director replied "I'm not quite sure yet." 


Featuring a soundtrack composed by former and future Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman (!), with contributions from Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward (!!), Motorhead (!!!), and Bastard (?), SHE ended up getting a virtually non-existent US release in 1985 and did nothing to capitalize on Bergman's fleeting bit of CONAN THE BARBARIAN and Golden Globes fame. She reunited with Schwarzenegger and got a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie nod as a result when she was cast as the villain Queen Gedren in 1985's RED SONJA. In the years that followed, she found steady work with TV guest spots on shows like CHEERS and DESIGNING WOMEN, and B-movies like the 1987 strip club drama KANDYLAND, the 1987 TERMINATOR knockoff PROGRAMMED TO KILL, and the 1988 Roddy Piper cult classic HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN. Bergman became one of many celebrities to hop on the post-Jane Fonda workout bandwagon, and became a regular in the '90s straight-to-video erotic thriller explosion, appearing in unrated gems like BODY OF INFLUENCE (a title in no way inspired by BODY OF EVIDENCE), LIPSTICK CAMERA, POSSESSED BY THE NIGHT (a Shannon Tweed vehicle that's almost as batshit crazy as SHE), INNER SANCTUM 2, and SORCERESS II: THE TEMPTRESS. Now 68, Bergman has been offscreen since a brief appearance as a dancer in the 2003 Robert Downey, Jr. comedy musical noir THE SINGING DETECTIVE, but these days, she stays busy on the convention circuit, her place in film history secured with her work in CONAN THE BARBARIAN. And while it's been shown some love at a handful of Alamo Drafthouse screenings, it's definitely time that more people experience the indescribable midnight movie nirvana that is SHE. 



Monday, January 13, 2020

In Theaters: 1917 (2019)


1917
(US/UK/Spain - 2019)

Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Adrian Scarborough, Daniel Mays, Pip Carter, Richard McCabe, Billy Postlethwaite, Robert Maaser. (R, 119 mins)

A WWI epic inspired by a story that director/co-writer Sam Mendes was told by his Lance Corporal grandfather, 1917 is an impressive technical achievement that's so devoted to its--for lack of a better word--gimmick, that it's pulled off at the expense of telling the story in the most beneficial way. Drawing from older classics like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY with the more visceral, you-are-there immediacy of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and DUNKIRK, 1917 attempts to convey its entire run time as one continuous shot, a la Hitchcock's ROPE or Alejandro G. Inarritu's BIRDMAN. Of course, if you go into any exercise of this type knowing that, you start getting distracted by trying to spot where the usually seamless cuts are, and here, the spell is momentarily broken by a huge mid-film cut to black when a character is knocked unconscious. Mendes, who has the distinction of directing the both strongest (SKYFALL) and weakest (SPECTRE) of the Daniel Craig 007 outings, makes a valiant effort to go for those Kubrick long takes and uses the legendary auteur's old standby of natural light with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, but once its plot is set in motion, it strangely lacks the emotion or the urgency that the situation requires, primarily because Mendes' overriding concern is the single-take illusion.







Set over one day and into the morning of the next, 1917 has Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) sent by Gen. Erinmore (Colin Firth) to hand-deliver a message to a battalion several miles away with orders to halt a planned attack on German forces. Aerial intel reveals that the Germans have set a trap or them, and the 1600 men under the command of Col. McKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch)--including Blake's older brother (Richard Madden)--will most likely be wiped out. All lines of communication have been cut by the Germans, leaving no alternative but for Schofield and Blake to go on foot, crossing the abandoned German front and getting through the town of Ecoust and finding McKenzie's battalion. It's a simple set-up with an intricately choreographed execution, albeit with significant digital assistance. For a while, the technique dazzles, especially as Schofield and Blake make their way across a harrowing wasteland of mud, blood, dead soldiers and horse carcasses. A trek through the vacated German trenches leads to an explosion when a rat crosses a tripwire. A dogfight between two British planes and a German pilot ends up having serious consequences to the mission.


The more 1917 goes on, the more gimmicky it looks. Because there's hardly any time to learn about these characters, the emotional stakes aren't there, and all that's left is the single-take concept. That works to a point, but eventually, you may question why Mendes was so concerned with that as opposed to developing the narrative and fleshing out the characters beyond a one-dimensional level. When it's able to focus on the immediacy of the situation--the tripwire explosion, the German plane crashing after the dogfight, a sniper attack, a stunning trip through a bombed-out town engulfed in flames that looks like something out of APOCALYPSE NOW--1917 is firing on all cylinders and has moments of undeniable brilliance. But the pseudo-"real time," single take illusion also means there's a lot of walking and talking. And walking. And more walking. And the sense of urgency is never really properly conveyed--beyond "we need to get to Col. McKenzie"--because the time element is never made clear. If the movie runs two hours, then tell them "You have two hours." The cut-to-black when a character is knocked out cold seems to serve the dual purpose of maintaining the one-shot ruse while also allowing Mendes to explain away some of that real-time issue, in a sense negating the whole single-take idea in the process. In the end, it all boils down to this: yes, it's technically impressive and it's obvious that a lot of intricate planning went into it, but why? Why tell this story this way?


MacKay (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC) and Chapman (GAME OF THRONES) are fine, as good as they're permitted to be since they seem like little more than players in a WWI video game (the sequence where MacKay's Schofield gets caught in some DELIVERANCE-style rapids after going over huge waterfall that appears out of nowhere seems to belong in another movie, as does his shoddy-looking avatar that jumps in the water). Brief support is provided by continuous big-name cameos just like the WWII movies of the 1960s--in addition to Cumberbatch, Madden, and Firth, Mark Strong also appears, perhaps part of a package deal with Firth as they've seemingly appeared in more movies together than Abbott & Costello. Even with numerous standout moments and earnest performances by the leads, 1917 still doesn't even have the power of a 90-year-old relic like 1930's ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. And forget comparisons to PATHS OF GLORY, a film whose anti-war rage still has a seething resonance over 60 years later. I may sound like I didn't like 1917. It's a good movie, but it could've--and should've--been a much better one. Make no mistake, it's gonna clean up at the Oscars because it's a safe pick that everybody can get behind. But it'll be one of those Best Picture winners that just doesn't stick in the memory. When's the last time you heard anyone mention GREEN BOOK?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Retro Review: DOG DAY (1984)


DOG DAY
(France - 1984; US release 1985)

Directed by Yves Boisset. Written by Jean Herman, Michel Audiard, Dominique Roulet, Serge Korber and Yves Boisset. Cast: Lee Marvin, Miou-Miou, Jean Carmet, Victor Lanoux, Tina Louise, Henri Guybet, Pierre Clementi, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, David Bennent, Bernadette Lafont, Grace De Capitani, Muni, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Juliette Mills, Julian Bukowski, Jean-Roger Milo, Joseph Momo. (Unrated, 99 mins)

I'm pretty sure that Lightning Video VHS box with the art you see to the left was in every video store in America in the 1980s. I picked it up and looked at it approximately 85,000 times during those long gone days of old, but only now have I finally gotten around to the utterly deranged DOG DAY. And shame on me for neglecting this bonkers French gem that's long been a public domain mainstay on discount store DVD racks or in any number of low-quality "50 Action Hits!" sets, and is available in a shitty, cropped print on Amazon, but is just out in a restored and properly 2.35:1-framed Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead). This is one of those weird movies that hasn't exactly been hard to find but has spent decades stealthily flying under the radar, and if there's any cult that's formed around this jaw-dropper, then they've successfully kept it to themselves. Based on a novel by Jean Vautrin (the literary pen name of FAREWELL, FRIEND/HONOR AMONG THIEVES director Jean Herman), and directed and co-written by journeyman Yves Boisset (THE FRENCH CONSPIRACY, THE PURPLE TAXI), DOG DAY is what might happen if you took the kind of Sebastian Japrisot-styled French crime thriller that Charles Bronson made in the early '70s (RIDER ON THE RAIN, COLD SWEAT, SOMEONE BEHIND THE DOOR, etc) and put it in the hands of Tobe Hooper circa THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or Wes Craven around the time of THE HILLS HAVE EYES. The end result in some ways resembles a French SONNY BOY but with a classier pedigree, and with its effective, Italian-sounding electronic score by Francis Lai (an Oscar-winner for his work on LOVE STORY), it wouldn't take much tweaking to turn DOG DAY into either a Fabrizio De Angelis actioner from the period or even an outright horror movie (I'm willing to bet that FRONTIER(S) director Xavier Gens is a fan). But it's very often darkly funny since you spend much of the time staring in incredulous dismay at the freakshow unfolding before your eyes, echoing the reaction of a fugitive American criminal played by the legendary Lee Marvin in one of his last films, and easily the weirdest one of his career.







Marvin was plagued with health problems over his few remaining years following DOG DAY, and he already doesn't look very good here. He seems tired and is sweating profusely throughout--the French title was CANICULE, meaning "heat wave," and it was shot during the unusually hot summer of 1983, which probably didn't do the actor any favors--though it's strangely fitting for his portrayal of Jimmy Cobb, an American gangster pulling off "one last job" in France. He's introduced prepping for an imminent armored car heist in Orleans and instructing his girlfriend Naomi Blue (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND's Tina Louise) to wait for him at a nearby hotel. With the kind of brutal, unflinching, misanthropic nastiness generally reserved for an Italian poliziotteschi directed by Umberto Lenzi, DOG DAY gets off to a rip-roaring shocker of a start with Marvin hoisting a bazooka to blow open the armored car, but something's already off: the police are there waiting for him, and in the ensuing shootout, numerous cops and many innocent bystanders--including children from a school that's letting out at the same time--are blown away with the help of some enthusiastically splattery squib work. Cobb manages to get away to the far rural outskirts of the city, where he comes upon a vast farm property in the middle of nowhere. With helicopters swarming the area, Cobb buries the loot--estimated to be in the vicinity of $1 million--in the field and takes refuge in a barn. He doesn't manage to go unnoticed for long, and when he's discovered, he finds himself at the mercy of a freakishly dysfunctional family of psychos and perverts and soon wishes he'd simply surrendered and turned himself in.


The only remotely normal one in the bunch is Jessica (Miou-Miou of Bertrand Blier's GOING PLACES), the abused wife of loathsome, brutish farm owner Horace (Victor Lanoux), the kind of charmer who clears everyone out of the kitchen immediately after breakfast so he can bend her over the table for a rough, degrading quickie. It was Jessica's father's property that she inherited, but when her first husband died and left her a widow with an infant son, she reluctantly married the repulsive Horace out of financial desperation ("He wasn't always like this," she tells Cobb at one point, and he doesn't believe it either). Horace quickly took over the farm and moved in his entire extended trash-ass family, including, among others, his dotty mother Gusta (Muni);' his prostitute daughter Lily (Grace De Capitani), who works at the brothel in town; his dim-witted older brother Socrate (Jean Carmet); and his nymphomaniac sister Segolene (Bernadette Lafont), who sexually propositions everyone--including her brothers, who affectionately call her "Slut"--and is having a torrid fling with black handyman Doudou Cadillac (Joseph Momo), which leads to no shortage of racist comments from Horace, who spends his free time disguising himself as a scarecrow and spying on a pair of nude female sunbathers who have taken up residence in his wheat field (he also tries to force them into a threesome at one point). There's also Jessica's young son Chim (THE TIN DRUM's David Bennent), a duplicitous little shit who's first seen getting a bare-assed whipping from Horace. Chim idolizes American gangsters, calls himself "Aniello Dellacroce," and refers to Cobb as "Al Capone" after he silently observes him burying the loot. He promptly digs it up and stashes most of it in the back of Doudou Cadillac's Cadillac, keeping some for himself to go live it up at the whorehouse, slapping some cash in the cleavage of the madam and declaring "I want to learn about life!" As in THE TIN DRUM, the short-statured Bennent was able to play much younger than his actual age (he was 17 in DOG DAY, and passing for maybe seven or eight), allowing the filmmakers to get away with some questionable things that essentially made him the highbrow version of BURIAL GROUND's Peter Bark.





Cobb spends most of his time at the farm bewildered by the lunacy happening around him, whether it's the actions of the gross Horace, who announces his intention to keep all of Cobb's money once he finds out where it is, or finding an unexpected superfan in Chim, or nearly being raped by an incredibly horny Segolene (every Lee Marvin fan needs to see him being aggressively straddled by a topless Lafont, who shoves his face in between her breasts while screaming "Fuck me hard! Suck my tits!"), or getting an unlikely partner-in-crime in Jessica. She pragmatically sees Cobb as her ticket out, offering to help him escape if he kills Horace. But with the police closing in--they've even stationed dumb cop Marceau (Henri Guybet) at the farm to keep lookout, only to have Horace and Socrate get him drunk while Segolene throws a screaming tantrum when her brothers won't let her have sex with him--along with some lowlife townies led by Snake (Pierre Clementi), who overhear a drunk Chim shooting his mouth off at the brothel about Cobb and the money, Cobb sees no alternative other than to send Jessica to the city to meet with the still-waiting Naomi while he stays behind and kills everyone. But he's still unaware that the money isn't where he left it thanks to Chim. DOG DAY doesn't quite succeed at sustaining its accelerated level of balls-out insanity all the way through to the end, and it more or less settles into a conventional "fugitive on the run/hostage scenario" crime thriller in the home stretch. But what a ride it is up to that point! Despite its '80s video store ubiquity and its many years in the public domain, the delightfully tawdry and thoroughly batshit DOG DAY remains one of Marvin's least-seen and least-discussed films, and that needs to change. It never received an American theatrical release, instead going straight to video in 1985, the same year Marvin starred in the TV-movie sequel THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE NEXT MISSION. His final screen appearance came a year later, co-starring with Chuck Norris in the 1986 Cannon favorite THE DELTA FORCE. He died of a heart attack in 1987.



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Friday, January 10, 2020

In Theaters: UNDERWATER (2020)


UNDERWATER
(US - 2020)

Directed by William Eubank. Written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright. (PG-13, 95 mins)

It's not going to score any points for originality, but UNDERWATER is a surprisingly engaging throwback to the undersea creature craze of early 1989, when we got DEEPSTAR SIX, LEVIATHAN, and the Roger Corman-produced LORDS OF THE DEEP in quick succession, all in a mad rush to beat the much-anticipated August release of James Cameron's mega-budget THE ABYSS (as required by law, obligatory Eurotrash knockoffs belatedly followed, like ENDLESS DESCENT from Spain and ALIEN FROM THE DEEP from Italy). UNDERWATER also wouldn't exist without the template provided by ALIEN, but director William Eubank (whose 2014 film THE SIGNAL showed some promise) has studied his economically-minded B-movies, diving right into the action within the first five minutes and keeping the pace so relentless and the stakes so high that you don't have time to think about any logic lapses or unanswered questions that the film either forgets about or just puts there to misdirect the audience. UNDERWATER is what it is, and that's not a bad thing. There's no dumb late-film plot twist, there's no deeper meaning, and there's only as much characterization as you need. It's an always forward-moving scare machine that seems so quaintly old-fashioned in the era of the IP/franchise/sequel/reboot/remake that you might wonder how it isn't premiering on Netflix.






With a fleeting shot of a newspaper headline that shows the year being 2050 (a rather optimistic outlook for print media), UNDERWATER opens in the Mariana Trench, six miles deep in the Pacific Ocean aboard Keppler Station, a massive, multi-billion dollar drilling installation. As mechanical engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart) brushes her teeth, the sound of water dripping on the floor from the ceiling above poses an instant threat. Almost immediately, walls collapse and parts of the structure begin caving due to what's presumed to be an earthquake. She manages to escape into a closed-off area, finds fellow crew member Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), and in their search for a way out, encounter wisecracking Paul (T.J. Miller) buried under some rubble. The three make their way to the escape pod bay only to find Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) with two survivors, Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.). Lucien has sent 22 others up to presumed safety but the remaining pods are damaged. They're the only six survivors of a 300-person crew. With radio contact cut off and left completely on their own with the clock ticking and no other options, Lucien suggests they venture a mile down in pressurized suits and hoof it another mile across the ocean floor to Roebuck Station, the nearest drilling installation (Norah: "Can you just admit we could all die?" Lucien: "Can you just admit we might live?"). A crack in a helmet causes one survivor to make an abrupt exit, as the remaning five start their dangerous trek, only to find out too late that...something is down here. 



That's it. There's your set-up. It's DEEPSTAR LEVIATHAN: UNDERWATER and the closest it gets to making a statement is Emily frantically stating "We've been taking from the ocean and now it's taking back...we don't belong here." The script by Brian Duffield (THE BABYSITTER) and Adam Cozad (JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT) sticks to a formula that's proven to work in the hands of the right director. Eubank wears his love of ALIEN and a ton of other movies on his sleeve, but in the process, focuses on the sense of isolation and claustrophobia in a way that's intensely effective at times. It's a physically demanding project for the actors, crawling through muck-filled tight spaces in the early scenes before the ocean walk, where Eubank and veteran cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (who got his start in the late '80s on several Abel Ferrara films) frame them in extreme close-up, often getting inside their helmets for POV shots where they can barely see anything in the murky depths and can't escape the strange sounds of something uncomfortably close to them. Obviously, UNDERWATER is a creature feature first and foremost, and it also doesn't disappoint on that front, with some nasty monsters that we only see fleetingly for a long time until things take a turn that can best be described as "Lovecraftian."


I don't want to oversell UNDERWATER. It's too beholden to its influences to really take itself to the next level, but it serves its purpose as a well-done genre rollercoaster ride. And sometimes, when it's done right, that's sufficient (you'll also spot shout-outs to THE DESCENT, some always-unnerving garbled audio transmissions straight out of EVENT HORIZON, some Overlook-esque corridors before all hell breaks loose, and one of composer Marco Beltrami's catchier synth cues sounds a bit indebted to Vangelis' end credits theme for BLADE RUNNER). Stewart's Norah proves to be a quietly resilient graduate of the Ripley school, and the rest of the cast acquits themselves generally well, with Cassel a dutifully heroic leader, Gallagher cast radically against type as second-string John Krasinski, and Miller providing the smartass comic relief ("I'm getting dangerously close to shitting myself"). Admittedly, UNDERWATER has some red flags: it's a horror movie hitting theaters in the doomed dead zone of January after three years on the shelf, with 20th Century Fox attributing the long-delayed release to a business decision tied to their acquisition by Disney. I guess that's possible, though one can't help but wonder if maybe execs wanted to let some time lapse following T.J. Miller becoming a #MeToo poster boy when sexual assault allegations from his college days resurfaced some time after shooting wrapped in 2017, a situation that he followed with a 2018 encore that saw him reporting a fake Amtrak bomb threat after he was kicked off a train for being intoxicated (his ongoing implosion also cost him his job as the Mucinex booger, and Dreamworks also replaced him with Justin Rupple as the voice of Tuffnut Thorston for 2019's HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD). Regardless of the reason--Fox restructuring under the Disney regime or the cancellation of Miller--UNDERWATER being left in limbo for so long isn't an indication of its quality. We can always use more genre offerings like this that cut the shit and just do their thing. It probably won't do well in theaters, but this will enjoy a long and frequently-viewed life on streaming and cable.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

On Blu-ray/DVD: A MILLION LITTLE PIECES (2019) and CROWN VIC (2019)


A MILLION LITTLE PIECES
(US - 2019)


Remember James Frey's bestselling 2003 memoir A Million Little Pieces?  The makers of this belated big-screen adaptation would probably prefer you didn't. A harrowing depiction of drug addiction and rehab, the book was met with significant acclaim, the movie rights were quickly bought by Warner Bros., and its popularity skyrocketed when it became a selection of Oprah's Book Club. But then the shit hit the fan. Prompted by Frey's appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show and under-the-radar chatter among publishing industry insiders that parts of A Million Little Pieces seemed to ring false, the web site The Smoking Gun tried to find a mug shot of Frey--who claimed in the book that he'd been arrested multiple times and was wanted in three states--and couldn't locate one on file in any public records search. This resulted in a full-scale investigation documented in their 2006 piece "A Million Little Lies," leading to the revelation that Frey, an aspiring screenwriter who had 1998's little-remembered David Schwimmer romantic comedy KISSING A FOOL to his credit, greatly embellished and outright fabricated most of the memoir. It was a major publishing industry scandal that was made worse when Oprah had Frey back on her show to grill him about misleading everyone, with Frey defending his actions by saying the truth wasn't as important as addicts and their loved ones finding therapeutic value in the story. Frey was dropped by Random House and became persona non grata in the publishing world. He spent several years licking his wounds and staying out of sight until he resurfaced writing YA sci-fi with others under the collective pseudonym "Pittacus Lore" (the 2010 film I AM NUMBER FOUR was based on a Lore novel). Frey then moved into TV as a producer on the CBS series AMERICAN GOTHIC and he has a producer and story credit on the recent critically-acclaimed film QUEEN & SLIM, all signs that he's employable once more, that the executives are letting bygones be bygones, and all is forgiven.





Which makes the appearance of the movie version of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES at this point in time all the more questionable. Frey is one of several producers (the movie rights ultimately reverted back to him after Warner Bros. cancelled plans to make it), along with screenwriters Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson, with Sam directing her husband Aaron as Frey. That Aaron Taylor-Johnson is already going full frontal in a flailing, drug-induced freakout, rocking out with his (admittedly impressive) cock out to the Smashing Pumpkins' "Silverfuck" during the opening credits, it's quickly apparent that this is a Taylor-Johnson vanity project and the memoir being largely fictional is of no concern to its makers. Now, Aaron is a solid actor who's done good work in some good movies (NOWHERE BOY, KICK-ASS, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS), but where exactly is the demand for an Aaron Taylor-Johnson vanity project? The film is generally faithful to Frey's book (though one character's death didn't take place until Frey's 2005 followup My Friend Leonard), but seeing it play out in this medium, with every rehab drama cliche exhaustively recycled (cue the multiple "I don't even belong in here!" clashes with exasperated but patient counselors played by Juliette Lewis and Dash Mihok), makes you retroactively question how we couldn't instantly tell Frey's story was mostly bullshit from the start. Did we really fall for his blossoming romance with prostitute and fellow addict Lilly, played here by Odessa Young as what could only be described as a Manic Pixie Dream Junkie? And what to make of Frey's roommate, an alcoholic judge, amateur clarinet player, and black man named Miles Davis (Charles Parnell), who's reduced to an archaic "Magical Negro" trope by getting it into Frey's thick skull that "We gotta look out for each other, because we're all we got!" And not to play the AV Club woke card, but did anyone inform the Taylor-Johnsons that maybe having Giovanni Ribisi play his flamboyant queen of a predatory rehab patient like the wild and crazy love child of Harvey Weinstein and Paul Lynde, offering anal sex (and the choice of top or bottom) and blowjobs to Frey as soon as he checks in was maybe a character worth revamping, or at least having Ribisi approach it in a fashion that didn't feel like it came from a 1982 Eddie Murphy standup routine?




And it's really impossible to buy the ridiculous sequence where Frey, with help from father-figure patient Leonard (Billy Bob Thornton) and orderly Hank (Ryan Hurst), pulls off a daring rescue of Lilly after she escapes from the facility and ends up at a crack den where she's sucking a guy off to get money to visit her sick grandmother. And speaking of crack, Frey is 23 as the film opens in 1993, he's been an alcoholic and a drug addict for a decade, and has been smoking crack every day for at least three years. His vital organs are so damaged from the relentless abuse that doctors warn him one drink might be enough to kill him. That said, it sort-of takes you out of the movie when this hopelessly self-destructive crackhead is played by a ripped hunk with perfectly chiseled abs who looks like he spends six hours a day at the gym. Aaron Taylor-Johnson might've been able to pull it off it he wasn't so enthusiastic about getting naked all the time (there's also some nude shower wrestling with Ribisi that looks like a tribute to Ken Russell's WOMEN IN LOVE). But that speaks again to the issue of this film being nothing more than a vanity project. On one hand, it's not fair to judge the movie based on Frey's past dishonesty, nor is it fair to Thornton and Charlie Hunnam, the latter as Frey's concerned older brother, both of whom turn in excellent performances and make the most of their paper-thin characters. But on the other, the title is so tainted with scandal that even repurposing it as a work of fiction is a fool's mission. There's a reason this indie sat around for over a year waiting for a distributor only get dumped on VOD with zero publicity by Momentum Pictures: it's damaged goods that nobody wanted to touch. The Taylor-Johnsons could've made any standard-issue, 28 DAYS-esque addiction/rehab drama. Why this one, with no acknowledgement of its dubious history beyond an intro quote from Mark Twain that reads "I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened," as if that absolves Frey of any wrongdoing? Given what transpired after the book was published, it's impossible to tell the story of A Million Little Pieces without mentioning the fabulist issue, but the film chickens out by sidestepping it completely, essentially sticking its fingers in its ears and yelling "La-la-la, can't hear you!" A MILLION LITTLE PIECES isn't interested in telling James Frey's story. It's only interested in providing its lead with a big awards-bait Performance with a capital P, so what the Taylor-Johnsons are left with is a home movie that nobody's going to see. (R, 113 mins)



CROWN VIC
(US/China - 2019)


The cop drama CROWN VIC is so routine that it offers the novel pairing of 50-ish Ray Mandel (Thomas Jane), a weary, cynical, seen-it-all L.A. patrolman working the overnight shift with a new partner in young, earnest, by-the-book transfer Nick Holland (Luke Kleintank). With echoes of everything from 1972's THE NEW CENTURIONS, 2001's TRAINING DAY, and 2012's END OF WATCH, CROWN VIC is written and directed in Almost David Ayer fashion by Joel Souza, getting a solid performance out of Jane, who doesn't even have to verbalize that he's gettin' too old for the shit when you can see it all over his face. Of course, Mandel and Holland don't hit it off, and of course they gradually reach an understanding over the course of one really eventful 11:00 pm-to-7:00 am shift. Everyone's already on edge after two suspects pulled off a daring bank robbery earlier in the day and are still at large, but Mandel and Holland, the son of a revered lieutenant who--you guessed it--doesn't want to coast through the department on the family name--are forced to deal with other things, including a DUI for a spoiled rich girl who pukes in the squad car, and a foot chase that goes through a carryout where Mandel takes down a perp with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. There's also a pair of no-rules detectives--rage case Jack Van Zandt (Josh Hopkins), deemed a "roided-out speed freak" by Mandel, and his partner/weaselly sidekick Stroke Adams (David Krumholtz)--who seem to make it their personal mission to harass and brutalize as many suspects as possible. Holland is distracted by constant phone calls from his wife, who's due to give birth to their first child in two weeks, and Mandel is preoccupied with a personal matter involving the missing daughter of his dead partner, who was killed several months earlier in a shootout.





Other than the plethora of F-bombs, there's little in CROWN VIC to differentiate it from a run-of-the-mill CBS cop show, a feeling that isn't helped by the presence of familiar TV faces like Kleintank (THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE), Hopkins (QUANTICO), Krumholtz (NUMB3RS), and BLUE BLOODS' Bridget Moynahan, stretching a bit in one scene as the dead partner's junkie widow, who gave her daughter away to a pair of meth dealers. Of course, Holland doesn't agree with some of Mandel's questionable methods, prompting the veteran cop to admonish him with "You're a rookie...I can still smell your mama's pussy on you," to which Holland bellows "I'VE GOT A WIFE! I'VE GOT A DAUGHTER ON THE WAY!" Kleintank is a bit over-the-top at times, but Jane manages to create a convincingly burned-out cop who just wants to get through the night, and he's good even when he's forced to say things like "There's the person you wanted to be and there's the person you end up being...it's a hard reality to face, man," before improbably quoting George Orwell. The finale manages to generate some suspense despite the ludicrous contrivance that Souza employs to make it happen. CROWN VIC is a film that Jane fans will probably want to see, but there's little mystery why it went straight to VOD. Alec Baldwin and NYC real estate entrepreneur Claudine De Niro (Robert De Niro's former daughter-in-law) were among the dozen or so producers. (R, 110 mins)