Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: MOONWALKERS (2016) and THE BENEFACTOR (2016)

(France/Belgium - 2016)

There's undoubtedly a smart and funny satirical comedy to be made based on the conspiracy theory that a post-2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Stanley Kubrick helped NASA fake the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, but the atrocious MOONWALKERS cluelessly pisses away any potential that it had. Written by DEATH AT A FUNERAL scribe Dean Craig, who's having a really off day here, MOONWALKERS stars a visibly bored Ron Perlman as Kidman, a hard-nosed CIA agent already suffering from Vietnam-related PTSD when he's assigned to travel to London with a briefcase full of cash to secure the services of Kubrick in the event Apollo 11 can't land on the moon. Through convoluted and unlikely circumstances, he thinks he's in a meeting with Kubrick's agent but he's really talking to Jonny (Rupert Grint from the HARRY POTTER series), a broke-ass concert promoter who owes money to some gangsters led by Dawson (James Cosmo), all of whom appear to be on loan from a shitty Guy Ritchie movie. Jonny takes the money and passes his acid-dropping buddy Leon (Robert Sheehan) off as Kubrick, but the money ends up getting stolen by Dawson's goons. Kidman tracks Jonny and Leon down, forcing them to rely on a pretentious, would-be filmmaker acquaintance named Renatus (Tom Audenaert) to somehow make a fake moon landing movie.

Laboriously-paced and utterly juvenile, MOONWALKERS makes a couple of easy Kubrick references but doesn't seem to even know much about the legendary filmmaker beyond the idea that he's legendary. There's nothing in the way of industry or political satire or absurdist humor that's inherent in the very concept. Instead, Craig and director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet focus on endlessly repetitive stoner humor, various vulgarities, predictable soundtrack choices (oh wow, hippies tripping on LSD at a happening set to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"! Imagine that!), stale sub-AUSTIN POWERS gags where the punchline is pretty much "it's the late '60s, baby!" and over-the-top splatter humor that wouldn't be out of place in an early Peter Jackson movie. What any of this has to do with Kubrick and the fake moon landing conspiracy is anyone's guess. Perlman and Grint never click as a comedy team, with the usually reliable Perlman looking irritable and completely sleepwalking his way through this. MOONWALKERS is appallingly bad, and the only thing resembling any legitimate humor is provided by Stephen Campbell Moore in a too-brief supporting role as Jonny's cousin--Kubrick's agent--a coke-snorting sleazebag with vintage 1969 Michael Caine glasses. Painfully unfunny, loud, abrasively obnoxious, and feeling three hours long, MOONWALKERS is a missed opportunity and a complete waste of time and the emptiest '60s nostalgia piece since the unwatchable PIRATE RADIO. (R, 97 mins)

(US - 2016)

Did writer/director Andrew Renzi have any idea what his endgame was with THE BENEFACTOR? Feeling like it was decided to make a second, different movie midway through filming, it starts out like it's headed into commercial psychological thriller territory before abruptly turning into a turgid, overwrought addiction drama. And that's before everything falls into place for a pat, feelgood ending complete with a miscarriage scare and a premature birth that's used to symbolize the rebirth of the central character in the most facile, Intro to Creative Writing way imaginable. Over the last few years, Richard Gere has done fine work in some small, under-the-radar films like ARBITRAGE and TIME OUT OF MIND, but his performance in the Sundance-financed THE BENEFACTOR is self-indulgent, film festival awards baiting at its most transparent and shamelessly circle-jerking. Gere is Francis "Franny" Watts, an impossibly wealthy philanthropist who's fallen into total despair after his married best friends Bobby and Mia (Dylan Baker, Cheryl Hines) are killed in a car crash that happened when Franny was goofing off and distracting a behind-the-wheel Bobby. Five years later, the guilt-plagued Franny is largely a shut-in at his mansion except when he pops into to entertain the kids in the cancer ward at the hospital he owns. He finds a new mission in life when Bobby and Mia's daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning) reconnects with him to announce she's pregnant and has just married young pediatric oncologist Luke (Theo Jones of the DIVERGENT series). Franny instantly ingratiates himself into the lives of Olivia, who he still refers to by her childhood nickname "Poodles," and Luke, who he keeps condescendingly calling "Lukey," by buying her childhood home and gifting it to them, getting Luke a cushy job at the hospital, and paying off all of his student loans. Franny seems vaguely sinister in the way he's always around and won't take no for an answer, and for a while, it's hard to tell if he's just trying to assuage the guilt he's assumed in Bobby and Mia's deaths or if he's a lunatic with a bizarre fixation on the young couple.

Just as it seems poised to play out like a glossy "(blank)-from-Hell" '90s throwback thriller (which would've been dumb but at least entertaining), THE BENEFACTOR drops everything to focus on morphine-addicted Franny's quest to find someone, anyone, to fill his hydrocodone prescription. In denial that he's a junkie, Franny tries to guilt-trip any medical professional he can find into getting a refill, with no success. Gere is an underrated actor that Hollywood seems to have largely left behind, and the earlier scenes with him shoehorning his way into the lives of Olivia and Luke are moderately effective in their cringe-worthy discomfort, especially when Olivia or Luke lose their patience and Franny immediately blurts out the "Hey, come on, I'm just jokin' around!" excuses. But then it abruptly turns into a completely different movie and he's not even playing a character anymore--he's going through a checklist of "big moments" in a rambling, disjointed film that never comes together and never gives you a reason to care about Franny either as an antagonist or a protagonist. Jones just looks lost throughout, Baker and Hynes are gone before the opening credits, the great WIRE/TREME star Clarke Peters has a nothing supporting role as a doctor, and Fanning is completely wasted, spending the bulk of her screen time sitting on the couch, looking concerned and rubbing her prosthetic pregnant tummy until the script needs her to confront an endlessly self-pitying, withdrawal-shaking Franny and yell "You're not the only one who lost them!" By the end, it's 90 minutes of pointless nothing, and it's too bad there wasn't a benefactor at Sundance to bequeath to Renzi a reason for this confused mess of a film to exist. (Unrated, 93 mins)

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