Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: Slumming Actors Triple Feature: FREELANCERS (2012), ONE IN THE CHAMBER (2012), and ASSASSIN'S BULLET (2012)

(US - 2012)

FREELANCERS got a contractually-mandated "select theaters" release on probably a single-digit number of screens 11 days before its DVD/Blu-ray release, but don't let that fool you into thinking this isn't yet another garbage Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson DTV outing with a terrible screenplay and shoddy production values that make the Master P rapsploitation flicks of the mid '90s look professional by comparison.  FREELANCERS, a dreary, cliche-filled combo ripoff of TRAINING DAY and STREET KINGS, has received a little more attention than most Fiddy vehicles because of the baffling presence of Robert De Niro in a prominent supporting role.  Fiddy is rookie cop Jonas Maldonado, an ex-thug who gets pulled in with a squad of rogue cops led by his late cop dad's ex-partner Sarcone (De Niro), whose crew is brazenly on the take and answers to no one expect powerful drug lord Baez (the late Pedro Armendariz, in his last film).  Jonas is paired with coked-up psycho cop LaRue (an embarrassing Forest Whitaker, who was actually in STREET KINGS and seems to be turning into the African-American Nic Cage) and quickly spirals into a life of drugs and corruption until he teams up with a DEA agent (Michael McGrady) to bring down Sarcone. 

Everything here is the definition of by-the-numbers and the only surprise is that Val Kilmer is nowhere in sight. The script by L. Philippe Casseus is riddled with cumbersome exposition, laughable contrivances and no character consistency at all (Jonas: "Sarcone's been like a father to me!" Really?  Because you just met him; and Jonas doesn't recall that he witnessed his father's murder until the plot requires him to), and the amateur-night direction by Jessy Terrero (reuniting with Fiddy after their GUN triumph) is filled with continuity errors and he makes no effort at all to rein in an overacting Whitaker, turning in another in an alarming string of excruciatingly awful performances after THE EXPERIMENT and CATCH .44.  Whitaker does little more here than yell, twitch, snort blow, strut, and wave a gun around while barking absurd lines like "I can make you vanish!  POOF!"  What's going on with him?  THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND was only six years ago, folks.  And of course, being that Fiddy is one of 29 (!) credited producers, he gives himself a gratutious sex scene with hot bartender Beau Garrett (who co-starred with Whitaker on the awful CRIMINAL MINDS: SUSPECT BEHAVIOR).  Vinnie Jones shows up long enough to do his "Fookin' 'ell, mate!" schtick as a Sarcone-Baez go-between who seems to be making a killing on old-ass 1990s computer monitors.  Dana Delany appears briefly as the wife of a dead D.A. and is rewarded with 19th billing and her name misspelled "Delaney" in the closing credits.  But the real story with FREELANCERS--other than the shocking decline in Forest Whitaker's acting ability--is a totally disinterested De Niro in the "Richard Harris-in-STRIKE COMMANDO 2" role of his career.  De Niro sleepwalks through this and looks mildly irritable throughout, forced to utter lines like "This is about money, fear, and respect!"  Eternal respect, Mr. De Niro, but I fear this one is just about the money. (R, 96 mins)

(US - 2012)

Dull and derivative Romania-shot thriller has hired assassin Carver (Cuba Gooding, Jr) botching a job and inadvertantly starting a war between rival Eastern European mob families.  One family calls in a second assassin, a burly Russian known as "The Wolf" (Dolph Lundgren) to finish Carver's job as well as Carver himself.  Any chances they'll come to some mutual respect and understanding and turn on the guys who hired them?  Maybe...if they don't kill each other first!  The confusing script leaves a lot unresolved or at the very least underwritten (Gooding's near-stalking of expat American Claudia Bassols is explained, but still doesn't make much sense), and Gooding is just a brooding bore throughout.  ONE IN THE CHAMBER is buoyed considerably by a funny and inspired performance by Lundgren as The Wolf.  Wearing loud Hawaiian-style tourist shirts and various porkpie hats, and with a cute dog sidekick he acquires from a target early on, Lundgren pretty easily walks away with the whole film, and you almost wish he was the central character.  He doesn't appear until nearly 30 minutes in, and from that point on, things really drag when he's offscreen.  Lundgren and the dog aside, ONE IN THE CHAMBER is generic and forgettable, but a step up from director William Kaufman's previous efforts, 2011's lame THE HIT LIST (also with Gooding), and the awful SINNERS AND SAINTS from earlier this year. (R, 91 mins)

(US - 2012)

With insane DTV cult hits like U.S. SEALS II (2001), UNDISPUTED II: REDEMPTION (2006), and UNDISPUTED III: LAST MAN STANDING (2010), director Isaac Florentine has built a reputation as a genuine auteur in the world of straight-to-DVD.  It's hard to tell what he's up to with the painfully bad ASSASSIN'S BULLET.  A two-decades-late LA FEMME NIKITA redux fused with vaguely Hitchcockian elements, ASSASSIN'S BULLET might be Florentine trying to go "serious," but the results are simply dreadful.  There's a couple of passable foot chases, complete with Florentine's trademark zooms and whooshes, and one spectacularly-staged fight scene early on, but those high hopes are soon deflated.  Busy DTV star Christian Slater, who's starting to make Michael Madsen look choosy, is Robert Diggs, an attache at the US embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Diggs is a former FBI agent who ran as far away from the job--and apparently, from common sense--as he could when his wife was killed by bullets meant for him.  He's recruited by Ashdown (Donald Sutherland), the US Ambassador to Bulgaria, to work with the Sofia police to search for a vigilante who's been offing suspected terrorists.  The vigilante is a brunette in tight leather pants and shades (Bulgarian actress/writer Elika Portnoy, who gets a "Story by" credit), who looks a lot like Vicky, the wife of a Sofia businessman as well as Ursula, a dancer at an area "folk club" with whom Diggs falls in love. 

It all has something to do with multiple personalities and brainwashing, and of course, you can never trust any big name actor who doesn't appear to have a lot to do with the plot, especially when he has the hero join up with people we know are killers and tell him "Your life's in their hands!" as the camera zooms in on his untrustworthy, grinning face. Slater and Sutherland are competent pros who are just on working Eastern European vacations here, but the film's biggest problem is Portnoy, who's not only a terrible actress, but--and there's no way to say this without sounding like a total dick--she has a bit of a crooked face and just looks...odd.  Which would be fine if she weren't playing a role that requires the hero to not know that she's wearing disguises. It's never believable for a second that a former FBI agent (or anyone with functioning eyesight) can't tell that blonde Vicky and red-wigged Ursula are the same person, especially when they both have a rather large mole above their right eye.


And who the hell watches an Isaac Florentine joint for scenes with Slater sensitively strumming an acoustic guitar as Portnoy improvs a Bulgarian folk song?  Florentine is the man when it comes to crazy DTV action, but he's seriously out of his element here and it feels like an Elika Portnoy vanity project that he simply ended up directing.  Also featuring Timothy Spall for some reason, ASSASSIN'S BULLET is a major disappointment from Florentine, and easily the director's worst film. (R, 91 mins)

1 comment:

  1. Great write-ups!

    "Slater makes Michael Madsen look choosy" is a killer line.

    Will avoid all of these....that is unfortunate about One In The Chamber though. Love Dolph.