(US/Australia - 2014)
Considering that Lionsgate kept this on the shelf for a year after its original planned release, only to see it gross $19 million domestically against a $65 million budget, it's not likely that I, FRANKENSTEIN will become an UNDERWORLD-like franchise (or the initially-rumored crossover film), or that there will be any future interest in actually publishing Grevioux's graphic novel. It's got a goofy enough plot that it should be campy fun, but while the dark and dour demeanor worked for THE DARK KNIGHT, it doesn't bode as well here. No film with a story this silly should be as somber and self-serious as this, though there are occasional hints at humor that manage to shine through, like Adam doing a "bad cop" interrogation of a demon and dunking his head in holy water, or the requisite speed-ramping where Adam punches a winged demon in the face. But overall, I, FRANKENSTEIN is just an eye-glazing blur of crummy CGI and graphic novel cliches. Eckhart rarely seems comfortable with the character or his idiotic dialogue, such as Adam grunting "I think your boss is a demon prince!" to Wessex's leading researcher, hot electrophysiologist Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), and Nighy is past the point where he can play this character--it's basically Viktor with a different name--in his sleep. Writer/director Stuart Beattie previously helmed the acclaimed Australian film TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN (2010) and wrote Michael Mann's COLLATERAL (2004), but is best known as a screenwriting mercenary on fare like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003), 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), and G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009). Given that resume, it's easy to see COLLATERAL as an anomaly and that Beattie's seemingly opted to instead channel his inner Len Wiseman or Stephen Sommers. Cult movie nerds will enjoy seeing Bruce Spence--THE ROAD WARRIOR's Gyro Captain--in a small role as one of Wessex's lab flunkies, but I, FRANKENSTEIN isn't a movie. It's a bland, boring, assembly-line product. (PG-13, 92 mins)
(Italy/UK - 2013; US release 2014)
EASTERN PROMISES knockoff. The confusing narrative jumps around from 1985 to 1998, telling the story of two men, Kolima (Arnas Fedaravicius) and Gagarin (Vilius Tumalavicius), who--wait for it--were childhood best friends who became bitter adversaries as adults. As if that wasn't a tired enough story foundation, it's a woman who comes between them, in this case the mentally-challenged Xenja (Eleanor Tomlinson), a sweet but simple-minded young lady referred to by the locals as everything from "a special gift from God" to "retarded." Both men enter a life of crime and spend time in prison--Gagarin as a youth and Kolima as an adult--and once Kolima is released, he swears vengeance on Gagarin, who raped Xenja while he was gone and left her a catatonic shell of the vibrant, innocent woman she was, the quick culmination of a sudden conflict between the two men that, until Kolima finds out about the rape, seems to come out of nowhere.
DEADLY CODE tries and fails to address the culture of the Russian mob and its ties to the fall of the Soviet Union and its aftermath, represented in the hammiest possible fashion by John Malkovich as ruthless Siberian crime boss Grandfather Kuzia, who happens to actually be Kolima's grandfather. Malkovich gets to dust off his Teddy KGB-from-ROUNDERS accent while dispensing sage advice and hackneyed metaphors. It's hard to believe it took six screenwriters--including THE BEST OF YOUTH scribes Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli--to put together a story this cookie-cutter rote and by-the-numbers. The film was shot in English, so perhaps something got lost in the translation, especially with stilted dialogue like an enraged Gagarin yelling "I destroy everything I touch!" and "I don't follow your rules! I don't believe in anything, so I can do what I want!" Lithuanian actors Fedaravicius and Tumalavicius both debut here and aren't bad, though they're sabotaged by poor writing and a bland story. Tomlinson (JACK THE GIANT SLAYER) is stuck with an almost unplayable character about which we learn very little, so really the only entertainment value here is Malkovich, who spends a lot of time tending to his doves, showing his grandson how to properly shiv someone, and taking a steam with other underworld figures, like Ink (Peter Stormare), who's in charge of all the body art. DEADLY CODE had an opportunity to explore a unique subject, but instead opts to fall back on trite dialogue, stale genre conventions and a scenery-slurping guest turn by its American export value. (R, 103 mins)
(France/Belgium/Luxembourg - 2013; US release 2014)