Thursday, January 11, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: BULLET HEAD (2017) and THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA (2017)

(US - 2017)

I'm not sure how you can take a set-up more foolproof than the one offered by BULLET HEAD and end up botching it almost instantly, but writer/director Paul Solet manages to do just that. Solet, who got some acclaim in indie horror circles a while back with 2009's GRACE, jumps right into the story with BULLET HEAD, which has three criminals--level-headed Stacy (Adrien Brody), cynical old-timer Walker (John Malkovich), and irresponsible junkie Gage (Rory Culkin)--making off with a safe from a bungled department store robbery that left several customers and their wheelman dead after trigger-happy Gage decided to raid the pharmacy and open fire. They hole up in an abandoned factory to wait for their contact to arrive to open the safe but that plan goes to shit when they encounter an unexpected obstacle: a battered, bloodied, furiously vicious and very intelligent pit bull who charges at them and has them running from room to room trying to get away and stay alive. But as soon as that simple, to-the-point pitch is established, Solet can't wait to get away from it, giving each of these low-rent reservoir dogs verbose backstories that eat up entirely too much screen time and kill any suspense and momentum the film had going. Brody gets a ludicrously long monologue about a past job involving "truffles" that goes absolutely nowhere, and likewise Malkovich and Culkin get their own long-winded filibusters as the film starts to resemble a David Mamet workshop. Even the dog gets a backstory, as we learn his name is "De Niro," and he's the champion of an underground dogfighting ring (other dogs are named "Eastwood" and "McQueen") based in that very abandoned warehouse and run by powerful crime boss Blue (Antonio Banderas), who inevitably shows up and isn't happy to find intruders. Other than a couple of blurred bits from the dog's POV early on, Banderas doesn't really enter the story until the last 15 minutes, when he immediately shoots someone and follows it with--what else?--a ten-minute speech.

In addition to the movie tough guy shout-outs with the names of the dogs, there's also a lot of Tarantino-esque riffing where Brody and Malkovich debate the merits of being a dog person vs. a cat person, and there's some occasionally witty dialogue after Culkin's idiotic Gage goes off to shoot up so he can get back to normal, and after he's gone for a while, Malkovich's Walker quips "Maybe we should go find him before he takes a selfie on the roof and posts it to Instagram." There's a couple of really good scenes--the discovery of a room filled with rotting canine corpses, and one outstanding suspense set piece just after the one hour mark that looks like Solet came up with that first and then struggled to build a movie around it--but this thing is all over the place. It's pieces of a '90s throwback Tarantino ripoff, a talky Mamet homage, a botched "one last job" heist thriller, a riff on AMORES PERROS, and a killer dog horror movie all cobbled together. It's obvious that the long, actorly monologues seemed appealing to the lead actors (though for some reason, Malkovich decided mumbling would be a good character trait), and to its credit, BULLET HEAD is a lot more ambitious and well-shot than most Bulgaria-lensed productions by Cannon cover band Millennium. But the end result is a rambling, aimless mishmash that sells itself as a nailbiting suspense thriller and can't wait to run as far away from its own premise as quickly as possible. (R, 94 mins)

(US/UK - 2017)

Based on the 2011 book The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World by Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur, the South Africa-shot THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA is, for the most part, a tone-deaf misfire. It doesn't help that Evan Peters' bland and unappealing performance as Bahadur doesn't really do much to make you care about the central character, but we learn so little about Bahadur before he takes off on his adventure that it just never seems plausible. It's 2008, Bahadur is a year out of college with a degree in business and economics and a newfound desire to be a journalist. Stuck in a dead-end job and living in his parents' basement, he impulsively decides to travel to Somalia to track down and interview pirates and hope that some magazine or book publisher back home will buy the story. What follows is part serious drama and part FEAR AND LOATHING IN SOMALIA, as Bahadur meets up with affable and well-connected interpreter Abdi (Barkhad Abdi, one of the film's few positives) and learns that in order to get interviews with the right people, he needs to bring along the drug khat as payment. This leads to several sequences of Bahadur and his newfound Somali pals chewing khat and writer/director Bryan Buckley (THE BRONZE) segueing into trippy, hallucinatory animated sequences that look like CHEECH AND CHONG'S WALTZ WITH BASHIR. Bahadur spends six months in Somalia, and while he never actually witnesses any piracy firsthand, the film does work in some references to the situation depicted in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (including an animated recap), which of course co-starred an Oscar-nominated Abdi, almost serving as some kind of bizarro auto-critique on the pitfalls of typecasting. A subplot involving Bahadur growing smitten with the wife (Sabrina Hassan Abdulle) of pirate leader Garaad Mohamed (Mohamed Osmail Ibrahim) only adds to the tedium. The film goes on forever, which allows an embedded Bahadur to grow a shaggy, unkempt beard, which only succeeds in making Peters look like the Geico caveman. A disheveled-looking Al Pacino shows up for a day's work as a grizzled, burned-out, and completely fictional journalism legend who inspires Bahadur to go to Somalia, and Melanie Griffith has even less screen time as Bahadur's concerned mom. Bahadur's story is an interesting one, and he's become a respected journalist in the years since, but you'd never know it by watching THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA. (R, 118 mins)

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