Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: Special "Most Likely Never Played At A Theater Near You" Edition: THE DOUBLE (2011); TEXAS KILLING FIELDS (2011)

(US/United Arab Emirates - 2011)

Formulaic spy thriller was barely released to theaters last fall despite the presence of the dependable Richard Gere.  It's not a bad movie, just a thoroughly generic one, and one that probably plays a lot better if you're camped out on your couch after a long day at work than it would as a night out at the movies.  It's really no better or worse than an episode of your average weekly CBS procedural.  Retired CIA agent Shepherdson (Gere) is brought back on the job by his former boss Highland (Martin Sheen) when new evidence suggests Cassius, a deadly Russian spy thought killed in 1988, is alive and well and attempting to restart the Cold War.  Shepherdson is teamed with wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent Geary (Topher Grace), a bureau expert on Cassius, which gives us plenty of scenes of Gere being annoyed with his inexperienced partner (which I'm sure wasn't exactly a stretch).  Twists and turns abound, a major one revealed a bit too early in the film (and the trailer gives it away), and things get increasingly silly as they progress, leading to a real howler near the end.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with THE DOUBLE, and it practically gets by just on the presence of pros like Gere and Sheen.  Grace, who still looks 12, is a bit less convincing, as are locales in Detroit and Ann Arbor, MI filling in for Washington DC.   Featuring Odette Yustman, TRUE BLOOD's Stephen Moyer, CASTLE's Stana Katic, and 50 Cent BFF Tamer Hassan, plus music contributions by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson.  Gere's days as a box office draw are most likely in the past, but if nothing else, predictable comfort food fare like THE DOUBLE shows that he'd be a great candidate for a weekly CSI or NCIS-type network procedural. (PG-13, 98 mins)

(US - 2011)

Going nowhere and not in any particular hurry to get there, TEXAS KILLING FIELDS is one of those well-intentioned misfires where you can see a better film lurking somewhere deep in the mess that's on the screen. Danny Boyle was attached to the project early in pre-production, but reportedly felt the subject matter was too dark and left. Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of executive producer Michael Mann, ended up directing this "inspired by true events" story of a string of murders of underage prostitutes in the marshy outskirts of Texas City, TX. Mann and screenwriter Donald F. Ferrarone can't seem to find a focus here. There's too many extraneous, insignificant characters who get far too much screen time at the expense of developing the characters who do matter. The major players are a pair of detectives, played by a miscast Sam Worthington and the underrated Jeffrey Dean Morgan. British Worthington's mush-mouthed attempt at a Texas twang renders a lot of his dialogue unintelligible, but Morgan, a consistently engaging actor who can't seem to catch a break, is very good. There's also Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS, LET ME IN, HUGO) as a troubled teen with a trashy skank mom (Sheryl Lee sighting!) and Worthington's THE DEBT co-star Jessica Chastain, in approximately her 38th film of 2011, is his ex-wife, a cop in a nearby town. The film never really gets any momentum going, and there's some really choppy, sloppy editing. Watch the scene where Morgan interrogates a pimp. With no explanation, Morgan's already got a huge bruise on the left side of his face that he doesn't actually get until a couple scenes later when he's hit in the face with a shovel. At the time it was shot, the interrogation was obviously supposed to happen later. This isn't a film with a fractured time element. It's just a huge gaffe. Throughout, it seems like potentially important scenes were just left out of the finished film and plot points are introduced and dropped, with some scattered powerful moments that indicate what might've been. TEXAS KILLING FIELDS doesn't feel completed as much as it feels abandoned. At its widest release last fall, this was on a total of ten screens in the US, and it's easy to see why. Expectations come with a Mann at the helm (she also served as second unit director on her dad's classic HEAT), and this is a major disappointment. (R, 105 mins)

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