(Canada - 2013; US release 2014)
Now 63, Russell's slowed down in recent years and took a five-year break after his turn as Stuntman Mike in the DEATH PROOF half of GRINDHOUSE before returning in a supporting role as a coach in the barely-released 2012 football drama TOUCHBACK. It's no surprise that, with today's "$100 million on the opening weekend or it's a bomb" mindset, a new Kurt Russell movie only managed to get released on 60 screens for a $64,000 gross, but THE ART OF THE STEAL is a fun heist comedy that finds the man in vintage "Kurt Russell" form. Russell is Crunch Calhoun, a veteran wheelman who just spent over five years in a Polish prison after taking the fall for his younger brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) when their last job went south. Nicky is a slick con artist who's just made off with a priceless Georges Seurat painting but did so by cutting out his partner (Dax Ravina) who demands compensation from Crunch. Crunch touches base with Nicky and they reassemble the old crew--French forger Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos) and Paddy the Rolodex (Kenneth Welsh), with new additions Francie (Jay Baruchel), and Crunch's greedy wife Lola (Katheryn Winnick), on a $20 million plan to get a rare Gutenberg-printed Gospel According to James out of a Montreal customs house and smuggle it over the US border into Detroit, all with an incompetent Interpol agent (THE DAILY SHOW's Jason Jones) and a reluctant informant (Terence Stamp) on their tail. Of course, double and triple-crosses transpire and there's really nothing here plot-wise you haven't seen in a ton of other caper movies, but the Russell-led ensemble works very well together and writer/director Jonathan Sobol throws in some offbeat touches (like Ravina's brawny goon being a Seurat connoisseur), and numerous snappy exchanges and bits of quotable dialogue (Crunch and Nicky referring to lecherous Paddy as "Uncle Fucks-a-lot" and "Sloppy Balls McCarthy"; Francie putting on a fake Amish beard and telling a border officer that he's starring in a Broadway musical version of WITNESS! "with an exclamation point"). The heist itself is fairly routine and the story rather slight, but THE ART OF THE STEAL is an enjoyable little movie that doesn't overstay its welcome and gets a lot of mileage out of Russell's engaging presence and genuinely funny performance. It's the kind of film you'll stop on and end up watching if you come across it on TV some lazy Saturday afternoon--in other words, it's a quintessential Kurt Russell movie, and you can always use one of those. Also, "Crunch Calhoun" is right up there with "Snake Plissken," "R.J. MacReady," "Reno Hightower," "Jack Burton," "Gabriel Cash," and "Bull McCaffrey" on the list of Awesome Kurt Russell Character Names. (R, 90 mins)
(US - 2013)
Universal knew they were in trouble when they announced a writedown before the film even opened. It grossed just $38 million domestically and bombed overseas. Of course, it was Rinsch who got thrown under the bus, but things only got ridiculous when the suits didn't like the rough cut he submitted as far back as the fall of 2011. They complained that it felt like "a samurai art film" and demanded more special effects and more Reeves. Reeves plays Kai, a Japanese/British half-breed adopted by the benevolent samurai leader Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Kai is a character invented for the film, and it constantly struggles to find a use for him. The real star is veteran Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi, the leader of the late Lord Asano's disgraced ronin, who's plotting vengeance against Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), who's under the control of the aforementioned shapeshifting witch (Rinko Kikuchi). Kikuchi was added to the film after Rinsch's original cut was rejected and DRIVE screenwriter Hossein Amini was brought on to reconstruct Chris Morgan's script. Amini added the supernatural elements as well as more scenes for Reeves, whose Kai was so secondary to the crux of the plot that he initially wasn't even involved in the climax of the film. Production was delayed since they had to wait until Reeves was finished with MAN OF TAI CHI so he could return to shoot the new scenes, causing the fall 2012 release date to get bumped to over a year later, when the film finally opened on Christmas Day 2013. It already felt like Reeves was in another movie altogether, but it's never more glaring than in the climax, where Oishi and Kira fight it out while Kai battles the witch, who has shape-shifted into a snake-like, fire-breathing dragon. Not since hastily-shot footage of Eddie Murphy goofing off in a tank was shoehorned into the two-years-on-the-shelf Dudley Moore comedy BEST DEFENSE in 1984 has post-production stitching looked so cumbersome and desperate. How does a beloved, culture-defining story of the samurai code of honor end up with Keanu Reeves discovering his CROUCHING TIGER-meets-THE MATRIX flying powers while battlling a dragon?
|Actual shot from 47 RONIN|