Thursday, June 28, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: SPINNING MAN (2018) and TERMINAL (2018)

(US - 2018)

The kind of glossy thriller that would've starred Michael Douglas and been the #1 movie at the box office for at least two weeks 20 years ago, SPINNING MAN instead went straight to VOD with the best cast that 2002 had to offer. It's pretty good most of the way, with college philosophy/linguistics prof Evan Birch (Guy Pearce) being mercilessly hounded by persistent detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan), when a young college student named Joyce (Odeya Rush) goes missing. Joyce was last seen working at a kayak rental stand at the lake and a witness saw her talking to an older man in a car that looks just like Birch's. Malloy's investigation reopens old wounds for Birch's wife Ellen (Minnie Driver) who has some understandable trust issues with her husband after a scandalous affair with a student forced him out of another university five years ago. Malloy has done all the research on his suspect's lecherous past, and Birch still can't save himself from his inner entitled horndog, whether he's smugly accepting an apology from a student fling from last semester (Alexandra Shipp) when she blames herself for letting things get out of hand, or drifting off in the checkout line of a hardware store when he starts fantasizing about the college-aged cashier. Then Birch finds himself in a hole that keeps getting deeper: he can't keep his story straight, he can't explain why he was 40 minutes late picking up his daughter (Eliza Pryor) from a school event the day Joyce vanished; lip gloss that isn't Ellen's is found in his car, and Malloy has forensics impound his car and finds several strands of hair on the backseat that are a DNA match with Joyce.

So far, so good, with director Simon Kaijser and COCO screenwriter Matthew Aldrich (working from a 2003 novel by George Harrar) going with the bold decision to make Pearce's Birch kind of a prick, especially with the smirking self-satisfaction on his face when he sits there and lets a naive student blame herself for their affair (you'll want to punch him when he pauses and says "Well...I accept your apology"). At first, Driver's Ellen seems like a harping stereotype, but the more time you spend with Birch, the more you sympathize with her because he's a serial adulterer who can't stop lying and she's just trying to hold it together for her family (they also have a five-year-old son, played by Noah Salsbury Lipson). Best of all is Brosnan, who really sinks his teeth into a de facto Columbo character as Malloy, who turns up at the most inopportune times and clearly relishes being a pain in Birch's ass. Brosnan conducts a master class in passive-aggression the way his aging, seen-it-all cop cuts his prey down to size and asks "Excuse my ignorance...but what does a philosopher do?" and the way he offers his cutting critique of Birch's most recent book ("Thick!"). Clark Gregg even scores a few points in small role as Birch's cynical attorney buddy ("Cops don't ask questions, they plant landmines!"), and Jamie Kennedy has a small role as one of Birch's colleagues, for some reason. But just as it's reaching the final act, SPINNING MAN spins out of control and can't recover. It might've worked on the page (many Goodreads posts about Harrar's novel seem to indicate that it didn't) but it definitely doesn't on the screen. It wants to be abstract and philosophical but instead ends up coming off as a lazy deus ex machina that plays more like an ill-advised acknowledgment of Christopher Nolan's 2001 breakthrough MEMENTO, simply because Guy Pearce heads the cast. It's a shame, because it's an intriguing film that's a must-see for Brosnan fans until its weak and unsatisfying cop-out of an ending. (R, 101 mins)

(US/UK/Ireland - 2018)

Until it goes bonkers in its closing 15 minutes, TERMINAL could've saved a lot of time by just having debuting writer/director Vaughn Stein post pics of his Blu-ray collection on Instagram. A veteran assistant director on films like SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and WORLD WAR Z, Stein displays some undeniable style with TERMINAL's neon, rain-soaked cityscapes that look like BLADE RUNNER crossed with an MGM musical. But the script is a tired retread of influential 1990s touchstones like Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, and THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Enigmatic mystery woman Annie (Margot Robbie, who also produced) encounters suicidal, terminally-ill schoolteacher Bill (Simon Pegg) at an empty train station while she works the graveyard shift at its bar, called the End of the Line Cafe. While they discuss ways for him to end his life, she tells a story that goes back three weeks where she crosses paths with two hit men, Vince (Dexter Fletcher) and Alfred (Max Irons), at a bar called The Rabbit Hole, and they're all in the employ of the ominous and unseen "Mr. Franklyn," who lords over the city's crime operation behind a voice scrambler in large control room.

There's a lot of yakking amongst the actors in that '90s Tarantino way, but instead of hip and funny pop culture references, everyone's dropping quotes from Alice in Wonderland. Yes, at a pivotal moment, someone actually declares "We are through the looking glass!" and "We've tumbled down the rabbit hole!" almost as if Stein has no idea that 2010's barely-released MALICE IN WONDERLAND already tried updating Lewis Carroll into a postmodern Guy Ritchie-inspired scenario with equally unsuccessful results. The Ritchie worship extends to the presence of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS stars Fletcher and Nick Moran in a small role, and there's even a PULP FICTION POV shot from inside the trunk of a car as its opened, looking up at Fletcher and Irons, who still doesn't appear to be any closer to happening despite his busy schedule and being sired by Jeremy. Though TERMINAL looks great, Stein's direction is a lot of Dutch-angled self-indulgence and his shamelessly derivative script goes full USUAL SUSPECTS by setting up "Mr. Franklyn" as a Dipshit Keyser Soze. This was already in the can by the time Robbie got an Oscar nomination for I, TONYA, but who knows what she or anyone else saw in Stein's script, other than a chance for her to recycle some of her grinning, crazy-eyed Harley Quinn schtick? The impressive production design isn't enough to maintain interest while the actors are babbling incessantly, and it's always a good rule with movies of this sort to keep your eyes on any prominently-billed name actor who doesn't appear to have much to do with anything that's happening. Also with Mike Myers, in his first big-screen role since 2009's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, under some aging makeup as a limping and perpetually "Danny Boy"-whistling janitor who occasionally pops up on the story's periphery and like that...he's gone! Is Stein really making it that obvious? (Unrated, 96 mins)

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