Monday, November 28, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: HANDS OF STONE (2016) and I.T. (2016)

(US/Panama - 2016)

There's no cliche untouched in this biopic of Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, focusing primarily on his two 1980 bouts with Sugar Ray Leonard (the second was the infamous "No Mas" fight where Duran quit midway through the eighth round). Edgar Ramirez does a solid job of conveying the ego and arrogance of Duran, but it's hard to get a handle on Duran as a character in the context of this film, since we really only see him being a braying, insufferable jackass. On top of that, Venezuelan-born writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz (his first film since 2005's SECUESTRO EXPRESS) tries to include too many storylines, so much so that the film frequently feels like an eight-part HBO limited series randomly whittled down to just under two hours. There's flashbacks to Duran's youth, detours into Panamanian unrest and clashes with the US over the Panama Canal Zone, and in telling Duran's story, Jakubowicz must also tell the story of Duran's aging trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). A revered figure in boxing, Arcel was run out of the sport in the 1950s by NYC mobster Frankie Carbo (John Turturro) after trying to expand it beyond the underworld, and while this may have a basis in fact (Arcel's life was spared if he agreed to never earn another dime from boxing; he trains Duran for free), here it just seems like an excuse to take a brief sojourn into GOODFELLAS/Scorsese territory simply because it's Robert De Niro, whose presence here is already a nod to RAGING BULL (Nicholas Colasanto's fictionalized mobster character in that film was based on Carbo). Jakubowicz rushes through everything--eight years flash by in an instant, and you never get a feel for Duran's fame; Duran and his wife Felicidad (Ana de Armas of KNOCK KNOCK) have five kids in a montage. Piled-on subplots either go nowhere or are completely abandoned: Arcel having an estranged, drug-addicted daughter serves no purpose other than giving one scene to De Niro's daughter Drena, and a long sequence where Chaflan (Oscar Jaenada), a doofus Duran toady, steals some food, leads people on a chase, and gets flattened by a truck doesn't advance the plot or seem to affect Duran in any way. Jakubowicz also shoehorns in an ersatz Howard Cosell (Robb Skyler) and Don King (Reg E. Cathey), both of whom get too much screen time but not enough to have any real purpose. The ring sequences are done with the now-standard quick cuts and whooshing pans and aren't shot in a particularly exciting fashion, though it gets a bit of a boost thanks to strong, A-game performances from De Niro and a magnetic Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard.

Shot in 2013 and unreleased for three years, HANDS OF STONE means well but feels compromised and lacks focus, with too many flashbacks, superfluous supporting turns (Ellen Barkin pops up a few times as Mrs. Arcel), dead-end detours, stalled subplots, lazy period detail (cue Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" during a montage of disco-era excess), two jarringly gratuitous, ass-thrusting sex scenes for both Duran and Sugar Ray with their respective wives, and an uplifting, feelgood ending that the Duran we just watched for 100 minutes simply doesn't earn. Despite a lot of pre-release publicity, this tanked hard at the box office, landing in 16th place its opening weekend and tumbling 86% by its third. Sure, that could be due to the movie simply not being very good, but the word of mouth was no doubt toxic as The Weinstein Company snuck what's essentially a foreign language film--whenever De Niro or Usher aren't onscreen, it's in Spanish with English subtitles--into wide release in multiplexes at the end of summer. (R, 111 mins)

(Ireland/France/Denmark - 2016)

A laughable thriller that simultaneously manages to be a ripoff of 2006's instantly forgotten FIREWALL and a '90s "(blank)-from-Hell" throwback, I.T. has star and producer Pierce Brosnan as Mike Regan, an aviation magnate whose D.C.-based business (the US capitol is badly played by an egregiously miscast Dublin, Ireland) is in a rough patch with an SEC investigation just as he's about to take the company public. The highly-publicized rollout of a new app is barely saved by I.T. temp Ed Porter (James Frecheville), whose quick thinking circumvents some embarrassing technical glitches at a press conference. A grateful Regan invites Porter over to the house for dinner and asks him to tweak and modernize his smarthome set-up. It isn't long before Porter starts inviting himself over, getting friendly with Regan's 17-year-old daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott) on social media, and showing up at her school to give her a ride home in his muscle car. Regan quickly grows frustrated and fires I.T. Guy-from-Hell Porter, not knowing that he's already rigged the massive Regan home and is able to spy on them and control everything from his high-tech stronghold, the type of decrepit loft that serves as a nerd command center with huge monitors all over the place like some homage to SLIVER. Psycho Porter terrorizes the Regan family by hacking their security system and blaring death metal through their house in the middle of the night; hacks into Regan's business and plants phony damning evidence for the SEC investigators to find; hacks into the database of Regan's wife Rose's (Anna Friel) doctor and sends her an e-mail saying her recent mammogram shows breast cancer; sends a video of Kaitlyn masturbating in the shower to everyone at her school; and almost kills Regan by hacking into his car's brake system and subjecting him to one of the least-convincing CGI car wrecks you'll ever see. Needless to say, Regan can't convince anyone that Porter is responsible for everything that's happening, so he fights fire with fire, hiring off-the-grid hacker and cyberspy Henrik (Michael Nyqvist as Gene Hackman in ENEMY OF THE STATE) to help rid him of Porter for good.

Aspiring to be the kind of zeitgeisty, hot-button thriller that Michael Douglas would've made in 1998, I.T. could've been reasonably entertaining and trashy fun in the right hands, but it glosses over all the details, assuming words like "hack" and "firewall" will sound smart enough if they're uttered as frequently as possible. Frecheville, an alleged actor who seemed to show some potential several years ago in the acclaimed ANIMAL KINGDOM, is becoming a go-to nutjob for the VOD/Redbox scene between this and 2014's unwatchable MALL, probably one of the ten worst films I've ever seen. He's probably supposed to be scary when he's lifting weights in the nude and spazzing out, or lip-syncing with wild abandon behind the wheel to Missing Persons' 1982 hit "Words," but the only result is unintended laughter. Using a bizarre, affected, exaggerated brogue that sounds like a drunk guy doing a bad Pierce Brosnan impression, Brosnan is uncharacteristically terrible here, continuing his post-007 slide (SALVATION BOULEVARD, THE LOVE PUNCH) that's been broken up recently only by the fairly entertaining THE NOVEMBER MAN. For what it's worth, the straight-to-VOD I.T. is marginally better than Brosnan's recent URGE, but then, so are things like identity theft and bedbugs. Directed by John Moore, somehow able to find employment after 2013's A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. (Unrated, 96 mins)

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