Thursday, October 30, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE PRINCE (2014); GOOD PEOPLE (2014); and LOCKED IN (2014)

(US/South Korea/UK - 2014)

There's been no shortage of ambitious, gifted, and intelligent artists-turned-working-stiff actors who put their game face on, punch a clock, and schlep their way through movies they'd rather not be doing, but few are worse at masking their utter contempt for a project they know is beneath them than Bruce Willis. The odd thing about Willis is that, unlike a journeyman mercenary who doesn't command an eight-figure salary, he's still an A-lister and doesn't need the work or the money. But here he is, in the grand tradition of unseen, streaming-ready duds like CATCH .44, SET-UP, FIRE WITH FIRE, LAY THE FAVORITE, and THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, coasting through for another easy payday and doing as little work as possible. Willis isn't alone, as THE PRINCE is also the latest piece of evidence in the ongoing autopsy of John Cusack's career. Cusack, the once-iconic star of SAY ANYTHING, GROSSE POINTE BLANK, and HIGH FIDELITY, has spent the last couple of years on an relentless kamikaze mission to accept every role Val Kilmer probably turned down. But Willis and Cusack are just prominently-billed guest stars in THE PRINCE. The actual star is Jason Patric, hailed briefly in the early '90s (AFTER DARK, MY SWEET and RUSH) as the great actor of his generation, but now reduced to appearing in movies like THE PRINCE. Patric's place in popular culture is forever cemented by THE LOST BOYS and in tabloid history by being the guy Julia Roberts ran off with three days before she was supposed to marry his friend Kiefer Sutherland, but he hasn't appeared in a major movie since playing the villain in 2010's underrated THE LOSERS and, like Willis and Cusack, has often been cited as being mercurial and difficult on a movie set. Unlike Willis and Cusack, however, Patric has been spending most of his offscreen time fighting a legal battle with his ex-girlfriend and California lawmakers for sperm donor parental rights, and seems to be in THE PRINCE because he probably needs the money and it's the best gig he can get right now. It's also his second consecutive film (after this year's earlier THE OUTSIDER) with director Brian A. Miller, whose resume is littered with forgettable, mostly 50 Cent-produced cop movies. Miller and Willis have already completed something called VICE, coming to a Redbox kiosk near you in early 2015.

Hideously shot, with garish lighting and a smeary, smudgy color palette and everyone looking waxy like a Blu-ray with too much DNR (moonlight coming through the blinds on a bedroom window looks like the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND mothership is parked outside), THE PRINCE has 33 credited producers and a plot that's virtually identical to THE OUTSIDER.  Patric had a supporting role in that film, but here he's the star and he brings more grit and gravitas than a going-through-the-motions TAKEN ripoff like this deserves. Patric is Paul Brennan, a hardworking Mississippi mechanic and widower whose daughter Beth (Gia Mantegna) has gotten hooked on heroin and gone missing from college in New Orleans. Brennan also happens to be an ex-criminal and a once-legendary Big Easy hit man known as "The Prince." He vanished without a trace 20 years back after a botched hit on New Orleans crime lord Omar Kaiser (Willis) resulted in Kaiser's wife and daughter getting killed instead. Brennan drags Beth's dramatically-sighing friend Angela (Jessica Lowndes) along to New Orleans with him, which results in much back-and-forth banter, as Angela can't even. They get to New Orleans and find Beth has hooked up with a ruthless drug kingpin known as "The Pharmacy" (50 Cent), and after numerous instances of Brennan walking into a club and asking about his daughter only to be promptly told to fuck off, he's amassed enough of a body count that word gets to Kaiser that his arch-enemy is back in town. This leads to the inevitable showdown at now-successful businessman Kaiser's company headquarters, which looks suspiciously like the hotel where Willis was likely staying during his 3-4 days on the set. Most of Willis' scenes have him seated at a desk surrounded by surveillance monitors and mumbling orders while his top flunky (South Korean pop star and NINJA ASSASSIN lead Rain) does the leg work. Fiddy and Jonathan Schaech (as a gun shop owner) have about three minutes of screen time and a tired-looking Cusack, barely conscious in a nothing supporting role, first appears 50 minutes in and has a few scenes as an ex-sidekick of Brennan's who briefly helps him take on Kaiser's goons before vanishing from the film. With his steely, intense persona, Patric is surprisingly effective here and seems much more comfortable in action mode now than he did in 1997's disastrous SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL. It's too bad his efforts are wasted in something so trifling and dumb. If Brennan had to change his name and his safety and the security of his future family depended on him never again setting foot in New Orleans, then perhaps he should've moved further than one state away when he went into self-imposed exile. Perhaps he should've attempted to talk his daughter into going to college anywhere other than in New Orleans. Perhaps he should've considered storing his stash of weapons somewhere other than in the back room of a gun shop in, yes, you guessed it, New Orleans. (R, 91 mins)

(US/Denmark/Sweden - 2014)

Another VOD dump-off by Cannon cover band Millennium, GOOD PEOPLE is a good example of the kind of commercial, popcorn suspense thriller that would've cleaned up at the box office in the mid-to-late '90s, but just doesn't get much distributor support today.  Based on a 2009 book by Chicago-based Marcus Sakey, a prolific mid-level crime novelist who specializes in the kind of brisk, well-crafted page-turners that people used to read on long flights, GOOD PEOPLE moves the setting of the novel from the Windy City to London for no particular reason, but other than that, retains the same basic plot. Financially-strapped American expat couple Tom (James Franco) and Anna Wright (Kate Hudson) have invested all of their money into renovating a dilapidated home left to them by Tom's British grandmother. Tom is a construction contractor and Anna is a schoolteacher, but there isn't enough money coming in, Anna desperately wants to start a family, and they've resorted to renting their basement to a tenant. Tom finds the tenant dead and discovers a duffel bag filled with £220,000 (approximately $350,000) stashed above the ceiling tiles. Rumpled detective Halden (Tom Wilkinson) comes snooping around and Tom is being followed and harassed by both vicious drug dealer Jack Witkowski (Sam Spruell) and French crime lord Genghis Khan (Omar Sy), each of whom claim the missing money belongs to them. Tom and Anna have stashed the money, but catch the attention of Halden when they start doing stupid things that people in movies who fall into dirty money usually do, namely Tom making large bank deposits and paying off long-gestating bills and Anna splurging on an expensive washer-dryer set for her single-mom best friend (Anna Friel) and paying for expensive tests at a fertility clinic. Before long, Tom and Anna are in the middle of a war between Witkowski and Khan, which leads to the inevitable showdown between all interested parties at the grandmother's abandoned house.

Sakey's book was a compelling and uncomplicated read, but GOOD PEOPLE is a bland and unexciting film. The script by BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD and SNOWPIERCER screenwriter Kelly Masterson, having a bit of an off-day here, and the direction by Danish TV vet Henrik Ruben Genz (FORBRYDELSEN, the original Danish version of the TV series THE KILLING) are exceedingly routine and by-the-numbers. Genz really drops the ball in the climax, which is very badly-staged, too dark, and confusingly executed. GOOD PEOPLE is watchable enough, but it never really tries to be anything more than that. Franco and Hudson do what's required of them, but only Wilkinson seems invested enough to try and create something a little deeper with his cynical and melancholy character, one of those "last honest cop" types wading through a department full of corruption and who lost his junkie daughter to drugs dealt by Witkowski. So yeah, this is...personal.  In the end, there's absolutely nothing here you haven't seen before, and even the actors seem to know it. (R, 90 mins)

(UK/US - 2014)

If you've seen the barely-released 2008 film PASSENGERS, you've got a good idea where LOCKED IN is headed. Both films share the same screenwriter (Ronnie Christensen) and both owe a tremendous debt to the heyday of M. Night Shyamalan. Josh (Ben Barnes), his wife Emma (Sarah Roemer), and young daughter Brooke (played by twins Abigail and Helen Steinman) are in a bizarre car accident that leaves Brooke comatose with "locked-in syndrome"--she's alive and her brain is active, but her body is in a state of total paralysis. It isn't long before Josh starts getting voice mails from Brooke and is certain she's attempting to communicate with him. He believes she's doing this to convince Josh and Emma to reconcile, as they've recently separated after he had a one-night fling with psycho ex Renee (Eliza Dushku). Josh even finds what he believes is evidence that Renee ran their car off the road and caused the accident. What's going on is a bit more spiritual, as Josh's older brother Nathan (Johnny Whitworth) directs him to sympathetic medium Frank (Clarke Peters), who insists that "time is a factor" and "it's not too late" to rescue Brooke from wherever she may be. There's a barrage of revelations in the closing minutes, followed by one final twist that doesn't make much sense.

But then, not much does in LOCKED IN, a troubled production that was shot in Boston in 2009 and shown at some film festivals in 2010. It was tied up in legal wrangles for several years and existed in various cuts on the bootleg circuit (the festival version ran 85 minutes), before indie distributor Wrekin Hill finally sent it straight-to-DVD with a running time of 78 minutes and three credited editors obviously on a doomed salvage mission. It doesn't seem like any of the editors looked at what the others did--whole chunks of story seem to be missing. Sometimes it seems like Josh lives at the house, sometimes it seems like he's living in a motel. There's no consistency to how some characters behave, especially Emma's mom, played by MY LEFT FOOT Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker. And why is John Carpenter favorite Peter Jason wearing a bear costume as a boozy mattress king shooting a TV commercial in one scene? He's listed rather high in the credits for such a throwaway bit part--surely he had more to do at one point than slur a couple of lines before declaring "I gotta take a shit." Maybe he just ad-libbed that last part and fled the set? Both Barnes and Roemer were almost Next Big Things five years ago (Barnes was Prince-then-King Caspian in the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA franchise, and Roemer was Shia LaBeouf's love interest in the surprise 2007 hit DISTURBIA), and Roemer had enough momentum going at the time to get a producer credit on this, but LOCKED IN is a catastrophe that isn't doing anything for anyone's career, especially the great Peters (THE WIRE, TREME), who's entirely too good an actor to play such a stock, cardboard "Magical Negro" stereotype. The end result can't possibly be what Christensen and veteran British TV director Suri Krishnamma had in mind when they went into this. LOCKED IN is one of those movies that wasn't finished--it was abandoned. (R, 78 mins).

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