Thursday, September 21, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: CARTELS (2017) and THE RECALL (2017)

(US - 2017)

Shot back in 2015 under the title KILLING SALAZAR and probably retitled to cash in on Netflix's NARCOS, CARTELS "stars" Steven Seagal but was held from release as six more Seagal movies were shat out ahead of it in 2016 (I'd list them but that would surpass the effort Seagal put forth in all seven movies total). It's hard to fathom the existence of a present-day Seagal joint that's so bad that Lionsgate delays releasing it, but CARTELS is maybe the least terrible of the bunch, though that's in no way meant to be interpreted as a recommendation. As usual, Seagal is a top-billed guest star who was probably on the set in Romania for a couple of days, while another actor--in this case, Luke Goss, still cornering the market on second-string Stathams--is the real lead. Seagal and his double are featured in a framing device as John Harrison, a covert CIA black ops mastermind interrogating US Marshal Tom Jensen (Goss) over a botched assignment involving Mexican-Russian cartel boss Joseph "El Tiburon" Salazar (Florin Piersic Jr), who's introduced ruminating over a chess board as he tells his top underling "You know why I love this game so much? Because there can only be...one king!" The CIA fakes Salazar's death in order to take him into custody after he offers to flip and go informant, turning him over to a crew of US Marshals and military personnel and holing them up in a luxury hotel in Romania to await extraction for 24 hours. Knowing Salazar has turned on them, his betrayed crew, led by second-in-command Bruno Sinclaire (Georges St-Pierre), lead an assault on the hotel, going up floor by floor in pursuit of their old boss--somehow, the hotel remains open for business--and taking out the Marshals and soldiers one by one until, of course, only the disgraced Jensen, seeking redemption after a previous assignment went south, remains to kill them all.

Seagal's usual director Keoni Waxman is on hand, and for what it's worth, he does an acceptable job handling what's basically a RIO BRAVO/ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13/THE RAID scenario. Goss is actually trying, for some reason, and creates a surprisingly credible hero, and while the fight scenes and gun battles are mostly an incoherent, quick-cut blur, Waxman at least uses a decent-looking mix of practical and CGI splatter that looks a lot wetter and splashier than in most films of this sort. CARTELS starts stumbling when it tries to get tricky, doling out increasingly ludicrous twists and double-crosses before abandoning logic altogether: the team has obviously been infiltrated by at least one mole, but when that person's identity is revealed, it certainly begs the question of whether CARTELS' version of the CIA has ever heard of a background check and wait, Seagal's character knew this person was a mole all along? Then why are you interrogating Jensen? It's no surprise that Seagal is once more the epitome of laziness, mumbling and wheezing, sporting his standard tinted glasses and a bushy goatee dyed with shoe polish, doubled in every shot where he's not facing the camera and in an embarrassing fight scene with GSP, where the MMA champ is forced to pretend he's getting his ass handed to him by the three-decades older and almost completely immobile Seagal, master of the timeless "wave your hands around and let your opponent run into them" move. CARTELS would've been an ordinary and perfectly watchable B-movie had Waxman just focused on Goss and the siege of the hotel and shitcanned the framing device. But the need to shoehorn Seagal into the movie ends up being its biggest detriment, stopping things cold every time he or the double pretending to be him shows up. The age-old question remains: Seagal doesn't give a shit. Why should we? (R, 100 mins)

(Canada/US/UK - 2017)

A muddled jumble of a sci-fi thriller, the Freestyle pickup THE RECALL can't figure out what it wants to be: alien invasion saga, CABIN IN THE WOODS ripoff, sensitive YA weepie, conspiracy movie, superhero origin story, or Wesley Snipes comeback vehicle. There's three credited writers plus someone else credited with "additional writing," so there's a big tip off to the indecisiveness and lack of focus. THE RECALL can't stop tripping over its own feet, shifting tone and direction so many times that it constantly stonewalls any momentum it generates. Five uninteresting college-age kids--two couples and a nerdy fifth wheel played by BREAKING BAD's RJ Mitte--head to a cabin for a weekend getaway only to find their plans ruined by an inconvenient alien invasion. Hothead Rob (Niko Pepaj) accidentally shoots and kills his girlfriend Kara (Hannah Rose May) and promptly gets pulled into the sky and zapped aboard a spacecraft, leaving heartbroken Charlie (someone calling himself Jedidiah Goodacre), who's still grieving after his girlfriend's death in a car crash ten months earlier, Kara's friend Annie (Laura Bilgeri), and Brendan (Mitte), to seek the protection of a local survivalist (Snipes) with a complicated backstory who's been preparing for "the arrival" for over 20 years. Snipes' character has some kind of psychic connection with a Russian prisoner (Graham Shiels) being held at a remote military base in Alaska in one of several subplots that never quite come together.

Top-billed Mitte has little to do and Snipes gets more screen time than you might expect for his "and Wesley Snipes" billing (he's also one of 22 credited producers), but the real stars are Goodacre and Bilgeri, which requires director Mauro Borrelli to frequently stop the film cold to establish their love connection and his emo bona fides. There's nothing like a violent attack by a seven-foot-tall, lizard-like alien brought to a screeching halt by a guy who picks the most inopportune times to wallow in self-pity over his dead girlfriend. Sorry for your loss, brah, but is this really the time? Borrelli has made a few low-budget DTV horror movies over the last decade in between his far more lucrative day job as a conceptual artist and illustrator on any number of big budget movies going back to the late '80s--THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, BATMAN RETURNS, a couple PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN entries, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, and the upcoming STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI just to name a few--and early on, some of the visual effects and the creature design are surprisingly well-done, which isn't a surprise considering he probably has some friends in the business who did him a solid. But those guys must've had other things to do midway through production, because the effects get much shoddier as the film goes on, but it's right in line with everything else in THE RECALL that starts falling apart around the same time. The only reason to bother checking this out is Snipes, who turns in a far more spirited and amusing performance than he needed to, putting forth much more effort here than he did in most of the films leading up to his stretch in the hoosegow for tax evasion. Snipes turns the character into a bitterly sarcastic smartass ("Come on, sissy boy!" he keeps telling Brendan), though that could just be a coping mechanism once the veteran actor realized he was merely a supporting actor in a Jedidiah Goodacre movie that ends with three young characters newly imbued with otherworldly powers, looking in the distance at a gray sky with one actually saying "Looks like a storm's coming." (R, 91 mins)

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