Saturday, July 2, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: MARAUDERS (2016)

(US/UK - 2016)

Directed by Steven C. Miller. Written by Michael Cody and Chris Sivertson. Cast: Christopher Meloni, Bruce Willis, Dave Bautista, Adrian Grenier, Johnathan Schaech, Lydia Hull, Tyler Jon Olson, Texas Battle, Richie Chance, Ryan O'Nan, Christopher Rob Bowen, Chris Hill, Tara Holt. (R, 107 mins)

As far as B-grade Michael Mann knockoffs go, MARAUDERS isn't terrible, and it's the closest that anything in Lionsgate's landmark "Bruce Willis phones in his performance from his hotel room" series has come to being good. Yes, it's been a little over two months since PRECIOUS CARGO graced VOD menus nationwide, and Bruno's back in another luxurious hotel suite, giving vague orders over the phone to recurring co-stars he has yet to acknowledge or even meet for MARAUDERS, which reunites him with his EXTRACTION director Steven C. Miller (not to be confused with Brian A. Miller, who directed Willis in VICE and THE PRINCE). Willis is still as bored and as openly contemptuous as ever of what he does for a living, but Miller seems to be stepping up his game a bit with MARAUDERS, demonstrating surprising flair in some imaginative and well-shot robbery sequences as well as doing a nice job with some Cincinnati location work, which you don't see every day in a Hollywood movie. Also working in MARAUDERS' favor--and possibly inspiring Miller--is a marvelously entertaining performance by Christopher Meloni, who takes his Stabler routine from his LAW & ORDER: SVU days and dials it up to 11, free to drop F-bombs and bon mots to his heart's content, approaching this project like it was going to be released on 3000 screens nationwide. There's a big HEAT influence on MARAUDERS, and Meloni appropriately pays tribute to Al Pacino with a few of his own "GREAT ASS!" moments throughout. As dumb and convoluted as MARAUDERS gets, it's a must-see for Meloni fans.

A string of intricately-staged bank robberies have struck branches of Hubert National Bank, owned by financial titan Jeffrey Hubert (Willis). After the latest in Cincinnati, FBI Special Agent Montgomery (Meloni) and his team--Stockwell (Dave Bautista), Chase (Lydia Hull), and rookie Wells (Adrian Grenier)--are baffled when the only fingerprints at crime scenes are those of a dead, disgraced Special Forces soldier implicated with other rogue military personnel in the kidnapping and murder of Hubert's younger brother several years ago. The plot thickens--almost too much for even the most devoted fan of THE BIG SLEEP to figure out--as the perpetually pissed-off, ticking time bomb Montgomery butts heads with corrupt Cincinnati homicide detective Mims (Johnathan Schaech), who keeps trying to shoehorn his way into the investigation and is caught trying to stash away evidence, and a smug and evasive Hubert, who may or may not be involved in a complex plot to avenge his brother's murder, which may or may not involve bad cops, bad Feds, an in-the-closet Ohio senator, and whatever else the script (co-written by I KNOW WHO KILLED ME director Chris Sivertson) pulls out of its ass.

While the story becomes increasingly improbable and bogged down by predictable twists--not helped by the clumsy way Miller telegraphs them--it's always watchable thanks to Meloni's junkyard-dog of a performance. He also seems fully cognizant of the cliches he's been tasked with incorporating into his character. You can almost see him rolling his eyes at the notion of yet another lone-wolf cop mourning the loss of a dead wife (an undercover Fed tortured and killed by the leader of a Mexican cartel, the investigation of whom was fucked up by--who else?--that asshole Mims) by going into the same bar every night and ordering a glass of pinot noir and not drinking it while once again listening to the last two voice mails she ever sent him, then going home and sitting in his empty apartment and pointing a loaded gun to his head. Meloni obviously knows MARAUDERS is junk, but he's still giving 110% and quite clearly having fun with it. As a result, he almost single-handedly elevates a fairly routine cops-and-robbers story into something that's intermittently insane enough to be legitimately good in fits and starts. I don't want to oversell MARAUDERS. It's a dumb B-movie that's perfectly at home on VOD (it probably would've been a moderate hit in theaters ten years ago, when Meloni was still on SVU), but anyone who follows these kinds of movies will almost instantly recognize this as being significantly better and more ambitious than much of its ilk. Had Willis bothered to stay awake for his scant few appearances (this is another one where he's on the set for two days tops, but to Miller's credit, he manages to coax Willis out of his downtown Cincy hotel suite for a couple of scenes) and approached this the same way Meloni did, MARAUDERS might've been even better. But even that wouldn't help the film's tendency to get bogged down in supporting character subplots that go nowhere (why is so much time spent on Mims and his cancer-stricken wife while we know almost nothing about Stockwell or Wells?). It's a page taken straight from the HEAT playbook (Pacino and De Niro's relationships with the women in their lives; Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd's marital problems; Dennis Haysbert's paroled and doomed getaway driver), but it doesn't work in MARAUDERS, which should be a lean, mean 85-minute action thriller but seems padded pushing 110. Schaech isn't a very interesting actor and nobody gives a shit about dickhead Mims and the film's hapless attempts to make him a good guy by showing his tender side with his terminally ill wife. MARAUDERS doesn't even need Bruce Willis. It just needs Chris Meloni glowering, yelling, and getting in some sick burns on all the idiots standing in his way.

No comments:

Post a Comment