Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE PAPERBOY (2012) and OFFICER DOWN (2013)

(US - 2012)

Already guaranteed a spot in film history as "that movie where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron," THE PAPERBOY is a miserable fiasco based on a Pete Dexter novel and scripted by Dexter and director Lee Daniels.  Daniels gained some industry respectability for co-producing 2001's MONSTER'S BALL and directing 2009's PRECIOUS, but THE PAPERBOY is more in line with his mindblowing directorial debut, the 2006 cult trash classic SHADOWBOXER, a film that offered Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren sex scenes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mo'Nique as a couple, and Stephen Dorff strutting around wearing nothing but a condom.  SHADOWBOXER is a terrible movie, but it's a great terrible movie, and one where something jawdroppingly insane can happen at any moment.  THE PAPERBOY wants to be as thoroughly batshit as SHADOWBOXER, but Daniels is torn between a desire to sleaze up the screen and be Taken Seriously, and proves himself absolutely unable to reconcile the two.  The result manages to somehow be both grotesque and boring, and it's easy to see why Cannon cover band Millennium/Nu Image only put this on 76 screens at its widest release, grossing just $700,000 despite a big-name cast and all the golden shower hype.

In a long, hot summer in the swamplands of Moat County, FL in 1969, local crazy-ass Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is convicted of murdering the sheriff.  Big-city Miami reporters Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardly Acheman (David Oyelowo) arrive in Moat County to interview Van Wetter, causing some tension with Ward's father W.W. (Scott Glenn, sporting ludicrous sideburns that are more 1869 than 1969), who owns the local rag. Ward's younger brother Jack (Efron) accompanies them, along with area floozy Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who wrote to Van Wetter and intends to become his bride.  While Ward and Yardly investigate the possibility that Van Wetter is innocent, Jack, the titular paperboy, a college dropout who whittles away most days lounging around in his tighty-whiteys and flirting with the housekeeper (Macy Gray), becomes obsessed with Charlotte, who spends most of her time teasing him but is there to urinate on him when he gets stung by a jellyfish.  Ridiculous twists abound, most of which are predictable and none of which are interesting, before Daniels sets up a finale that seems more fitting for a horror film.  He's clearly gunning for this to be some overripe, campy melodrama, but he doesn't have the courage of his convictions.  The screen fades to black just before Jack and Charlotte finally get busy, as if to say, "Well, we want to make this sweaty, panting potboiler, but we're not asking Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman to get naked."  You can't fault McConaughey for going all out, allowing himself to be filmed nude and hog-tied in one scene that's almost on the "Dorff condom" level of outrageousness, and there is one amusing BAD LIEUTENANT-esque bit during a prison interview where a handcuffed Cusack masturbates while, across the room, Kidman spreads her legs and mimes fellatio...with McConaughey, Efron, and Oyelowo sitting right next to her (and Daniels, in a classy move, fails to exhibit the restraint of Abel Ferrara and pans the camera down to show a big wet spot on Cusack's drawers, clarifying any mystery as to whether or not the character came.  SPOILER ALERT: he did).  This ridiculous, over-the-top scene happens early enough that it makes one hopeful for some pulpy, hard-R histrionics to follow, but ultimately, THE PAPERBOY is as big of a tease as Kidman's character.  It's all talk and no payoff, filled with embarrassing performances, particularly Kidman (did she really get a Golden Globe nomination for this?) and Cusack (who's trying to be Nicolas Cage), and filmed with jittery hand-helds in an ugly, grainy, washed-out, fake '70s look, making the resulting film just as hideous as the script.  Pointless, endless, pretentious, and nothing close to the trashy fun that it thinks it is, THE PAPERBOY is a total misfire.  (R, 107 mins)

(US - 2013)

Released on one screen in the US four days before its DVD/Blu-ray release (where it may get some accidental sales thanks to confused shoppers who mistake it for END OF WATCH), the hopelessly muddled cop thriller OFFICER DOWN boasts an interesting cast of familiar movie and TV faces, none of whom are put to good use in a film that simply tries too hard for its own good.  Director Brian A. Miller, a sort-of lower-budgeted DTV version of L.A.P.D. cop flick specialist David Ayer (TRAINING DAY, STREET KINGS, END OF WATCH), previously helmed the atrocious Chris Klein/50 Cent dud CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE, and while OFFICER DOWN may have better performances than Klein and Fiddy could offer, it's entirely too convoluted with too many extraneous, meandering plot threads that either go nowhere or get abandoned altogether.  Miller and screenwriter John Chase get some points for trying something a little more ambitious than the usual DTV cop outing, but the film just collapses under the weight of its aspirations, with Miller more concerned with style and technique than telling a remotely coherent story.

Supposedly based on a true story, the film cuts between the present and two years earlier as it follows Bridgeport, CT detective David Callahan (Stephen Dorff), a reformed bad boy cop who used to go full-on TRAINING DAY and pal around with Russian mobsters and strippers, and had a drinking and drug problem.  He cleaned up his act after getting shot trying to shake down some thugs for drugs and refocused his energy on his family (wife Elisabeth Rohm and teenage daughter Beatrice Miller) and his job, and while he drinks Diet Coke, he still orders a bourbon when he goes to a bar and just lets it sit there, because that's apparently what cops on the edge do.  He's presented with a diary that belonged to a murdered stripper (EXCISION's Annalynne McCord) who worked for a former criminal associate with Russian mob ties (Dominic Purcell), and may have been killed by a regular customer known as "The Angel" (Walton Goggins), a creepy type who used to sketch the dancers on napkins at his usual table.  The film continues to cut back and forth from the current, honest Callahan (in color) to the corrupt, asshole Callahan (in black & white), as his old demons resurface and he kills someone in cold blood, tries to cover it up and then--wait for it--is assigned to investigate that very murder. Chase's script veers all over the place and is overpopulated with far more characters than it really needs and only serves to pad the flimsy story.  Was there really a need to show McCord's character so extensively in flashbacks?  David Boreanaz turns up for a few scenes to yell and pound his fist on some tables as a cop who hates Callahan.  There's also Stephen Lang as the gruff lieutenant, Tommy Flanagan as an Irish priest, Johnny Messner as a serial rapist, Richard Brooks as his lawyer, rapper Soulja Boy as the thug who shoots Callahan, Oleg Taktarov cast radically against type as a slow-witted Russian mobster named Oleg, and James Woods, looking mildly annoyed as the hot-headed, preserve-the-department's-image-at-all-costs police captain prone to barking warnings like "If I go down, you will be the one to break my fall!" which is probably the same thing his agent heard when he presented Woods with this script.  (R, 97 mins)

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