Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: SOLACE (2016)

(US/Switzerland - 2016)

Directed by Afonso Poyart. Written by Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, Marley Shelton, Xander Berkeley, Sharon Lawrence, Janine Turner, Matt Gerald, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Josh Close, Kenny Johnson, Luisa Moraes, Autumn Dial. (R, 101 mins)

Completed over three years ago and arriving at the end of 2016 as a Lionsgate VOD dumpjob sporting a 2014 copyright in the credits, SOLACE is the kind of high-concept serial killer thriller that was commonplace in multiplexes in the 1990s, at least until the barrage of CSI-inspired network TV procedurals stole their thunder. Even as recently as a few years ago, it would've seemed impossible to believe this kind of movie could be completely abandoned by its distributor (part of the reason for its delay was the bankruptcy of Relativity Media, who sold it to Lionsgate), especially with a cast headlined by several name actors. Even more surprising is that SOLACE's script, credited to producer Sean Bailey (TRON: LEGACY) and veteran screenwriter Ted Griffin (RAVENOUS, OCEAN'S ELEVEN, MATCHSTICK MEN), had been in development for so long that it was initially reworked by New Line Cinema to be a sequel to SE7EN for Morgan Freeman, titled--wait for it--EI8HT. The idea was flatly rejected by David Fincher, which put the whole project in turnaround. It was eventually dusted off and given further uncredited rewrites by James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC) and Peter Morgan (FROST/NIXON) before ending up in its current state as one of the silliest thrillers to come down the pike in some time.

After a string of murders where the victims are killed instantly by a long needle piercing their medulla oblongota, baffled FBI agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) resorts to a Hail Mary against the wishes of his skeptical partner Elizabeth Cowles (Abbie Cornish). He reaches out to retired colleague Dr. John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins), a former FBI consultant who's also a psychic who helped Merriweather crack a number of cases. Clancy has been living like a hermit since his daughter died of leukemia and his wife (Janine Turner) left him, but of course, he's drawn to the case because...it's what he does. All Clancy has to do is come into physical contact with a victim to deduce the circumstances surrounding their death, and he can even see an entire person's life--past and future--just by touching them. Why this guy isn't solving every crime everywhere is the real mystery. The agents always seem to be one step behind in their investigation and eventually, Clancy comes to realize that the killer, one Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell), is a super-psychic whose powers surpass even his own. Clancy must devise a way to outwit Ambrose, whose targets are those who are terminally ill and don't yet realize it (a child with an undiagnosed brain tumor, a woman unaware that her adulterous, bisexual husband has given her HIV that will become AIDS), thereby justifying--in his eyes--his murders as acts of mercy to save the victims from future suffering.

SOLACE, which opens with an onscreen definition of the word "solace" because of course it does, plays like the pilot of what should be a CBS procedural about a psychic cop. It starts out intriguing enough, especially with the way that Hopkins relies on familiar elements of his Hannibal Lecter persona (variations on that inimitable "Claaaarice..." purr), only this time as a good guy. He does get to spit out one great "...getting all the way...to the F...B...I!" takedown of an incredulous Cowles, running through every sordid secret of her past and thus, finally convincing her that he's the real deal. But once director Afonso Poyart goes all in on the psychic battle of wits between Clancy and Ambrose, SOLACE just becomes one eye-rolling contrivance after another. The highlight of the film is the psychic car chase, with Cowles behind the wheel and Clancy riding shotgun, barking "Turn left now!" and "Turn right now!" and finally "Stop right here!" when Clancy senses the other car in the vicinity, so they proceed to just wait until the guy they're chasing passes them, to which Clancy barks "There! Go!" In at least his fourth dumb thriller to hit VOD this year (you almost certainly missed MISCONDUCT, BLACKWAY, and COLLIDE), Hopkins isn't even pretending to give a shit anymore, but even though the movies have become junk, he's one of the very few actors in his age group--he'll be 80 in 2017--who's still getting lead roles. Farrell doesn't turn up until a little past the one-hour mark, with his role requiring him to do little more than speak in ominous riddles with a wide-eyed glare (yes, he gets the obligatory "We're not so different, you and I" monologue) and strike occasional Jesus Christ poses in Clancy's psychic visions. SOLACE is an absolutely inessential movie but it's always watchable, even if it's only for a few unintended laughs. I mean, come on. That psychic car chase is like a live-action FAMILY GUY cutaway.

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