(US - 2017)
It looks to be an open-and-shut case, as the four rapists--all brothers--leave ample fingerprint and DNA evidence and are all identified by Bethie in a lineup, but their bitter, white trash mother (Charlene Tilton sighting!) makes her husband mortgage the house to hire slick, high-priced, Harley-riding defense attorney Jay Kirkpatrick (Don Johnson). At a preliminary hearing, Kirkpatrick tries to establish that Teena seduced the brothers, launching a town-wide smear campaign to slut-shame the victim, even questioning her competency as a parent. Kirkpatrick is also friends with the judge (Mike Pniewski), who overrules every objection from Teena's lawyer (Kara Flowers) and takes petty offense to grammatical errors in Dromoor's testimony ("It's 'my partner and I,' detective...not 'me and my partner'"). The brothers are released on bail and begin terrorizing Teena and Bethie, kill Teena's mother's (Deborah Kara Unger) cat, and intimidate witnesses, and then the judge moves the trial date up to give Teena's lawyer as little time to prep as possible. Seeing that Teena is getting a raw deal, Dromoor does what lone wolf cops in formulaic movies with the word "vengeance" in the title do. It takes about 75 of the film's 99 minutes for the vengeance to commence, but even after that, Cage turns in maybe the quietest performance of his career. He never even smiles. Johnson, who's become a great character actor in recent years (COLD IN JULY, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99), delivers another terrific performance in a movie seen by no one. Hutchison and young Bateman are very good, at least until the script by TV vet John Mankiewicz (a writer on MIAMI VICE, a producer on HOUSE M.D. and HOUSE OF CARDS, and creator of the short-lived 1990s Jeff Fahey series THE MARSHAL) starts asking the audience to buy too many implausibilities. There's no way a judge would behave like this one does, and there's no way a defense attorney would sit there and let his clients leer at and threaten someone who's accusing them of the crime for which he's defending them, right there in court. By the end, VENGEANCE: A LOVE STORY never lives up to its potential. It's too hokey and lacking in nuance and subtlety to be taken seriously, but it's too restrained and slow-moving to work as a dumb action thriller. It's earnest and well-meaning, but it can't reconcile its goals and decide what it wants to be. Cage and long-retired ONION FIELD and VISION QUEST director Harold Becker, who hasn't made a film since 2001's DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, were among the producers. (Unrated, 99 mins)
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM
(UK - 2017)
Low-key despite some occasional flashes of splatter, THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM almost plays like an R-rated PBS mystery. Director Juan Carlos Medina and screenwriter Jane Goldman (KICK-ASS, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, both KINGSMAN movies) spend a little too much time in the first half on Leno's theatrical troupe, often veering from a murder mystery into a redux of Mike Leigh's TOPSY-TURVY. But once all the pieces are in place and everything involving Elizabeth's hellish upbringing and John's insane jealousy over her friendship with Leno and that her career is taking off while he languishes as a failed playwright is established, THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM takes off and becomes a riveting suspense piece, anchored by terrific performances from Nighy and Cooke (THE QUIET ONES). The production design and period detail are big pluses, with London looking about as gray, bleak, and grimy as it did in the 1979 Sherlock Holmes classic MURDER BY DECREE. It's not quite on the same level, but Nighy's Kildare--a complex character whose closeted homosexuality makes him the object of hushed scorn and dismissal among his colleagues, even though there's a cryptic moment where a sympathetic Flood whispers "I'm on your side"-- is ample proof that the actor would make a great Holmes. (Unrated, 109 mins)
(US/UK - 2017)
BLACK BUTTERFLY, FINDING ALTAMIRA, SECURITY, and now this, Banderas is due for either a new agent or an intervention.
Banderas is Turk Henry, former bassist/vocalist for the '80s hair metal band Metal Assassin, best known for their hit single "Teenage Ass Patrol." Kicked out of the band after his supermodel wife Sheila (Kurylenko) was deemed a "Yoko" by the other members, Turk's career and personal life are in the toilet. Now an emotionally needy, drunken recluse who still dresses like "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)"-era Steven Tyler, he hasn't left his Malibu mansion in two years, prompting Sheila to arrange a vacation to Turk's native Chile in an attempt to boost his spirits. Once there, she's kidnapped by a group of neophyte pirates who think they've struck gold and try to extort a huge ransom when they realize she's Turk Henry's wife. Turk's manager sends his assistant Marybeth (Aisling Loftus) and Clive Muggleton (Martin Dingle Wall), a Crocodile Dundee-like Aussie mercenary with impossibly white teeth and a serious shellfish allergy, to help Turk negotiate with pirate leader Juan Carlos (Ben Cura). US Homeland Security gets wind of the kidnapping and sends ambitious CIA agent Ben Harding (Mark Valley), who's quick to label it a terrorist act in order to boost his profile to his superiors. What follows is a lot of shameless mugging and dead air as entire sequences go by with nothing even remotely amusing, unless you count a vomiting llama, Turk getting bitten on the dick by a snake, Turk trying to dodge Harding by dressing in drag, a clueless Turk calling his GPS a "CGI," and mispronouncing easy words, like "tore-toys" for "tortoise." The novel had the vacation taking place in Thailand, with a hapless, shaggy dog Turk getting involved in busting a sex trafficking ring. Here, he's just a bumbling buffoon making an ass of himself in Santiago. There's no attempt at political satire, no attempts at physical comedy, and no attempt at any INHERENT VICE or BIG LEBOWSKI-style absurdist noir humor. No, the only thing the makers of GUN SHY had was "Antonio Banderas dressed up like a hair metal singer" and they just assumed everything would work itself out. GUN SHY is so lazy that it doesn't even have any insider, THIS IS SPINAL TAP-style jokes about the music industry. There's nothing here, though Banderas, not an actor known for his comedic skills, looks like he's having fun despite his helpless, idiotic character having absolutely nothing to do. As if GUN SHY wasn't oppressive enough, it pads out the running time by including four endings, two music videos during the closing credits, and three (!) post-credits stingers, as if anyone watching this would think "Wow, I had such a blast with these characters...just keep giving me more!" This is stunningly bad. (R, 92 mins)