Monday, January 28, 2019

On Netflix: POLAR (2019)

(Germany/US - 2019)

Directed by Jonas Akerlund. Written by Jayson Rothwell. Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick, Matt Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Johnny Knoxville, Ruby O. Fee, Fei Ren, Anthony Grant, Josh Cruddas, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings, Lovina Yavari, Ayisha Issa, Anastasia Marinina, Pedro Miguel Arce, Ken Hall. (Unrated, 118 mins)

Based on Victor Santos' Dark Horse graphic novel Polar: Came in From the Cold, the Netflix Original POLAR is garish, grotesque, highly-stylized, and absurdly over-the-top, which is pretty much the methodology of veteran music video director and occasional filmmaker Jonas Akerlund. Best known for his work with a variety of artists including Roxette, Madonna, Prodigy (he directed the video for their controversial hit "Smack My Bitch Up"), U2, Maroon 5, Beyonce, the Rolling Stones, Rammstein, Metallica, and Taylor Swift among many others, Akerlund has sporadically dabbled in film going back to 2003's meth addiction black comedy SPUN. POLAR is the first of two movies he has coming out in early 2019--the long-delayed Norwegian black metal saga LORDS OF CHAOS is due out in February but was shot back in 2016. Akerlund's approach to POLAR is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Some of it does, but it generally feels like an even more cartoonish JOHN WICK fused with elements of PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, and John Waters. It's the kind of film where nearly every scene ends with someone getting their brains blown out. It's the kind of film where a guy gets shot in the balls with a nail gun and then takes a drill to the head. It's the kind of film where the corpulent, cackling villain has a skin condition that requires repeated shots of him being slathered with thick, gooey lotion. It's the kind of film where a farting 500 lb guy is tortured and then shot to pieces, with wet, chunky bits of flesh and fat splattering all over the room and everyone in it, accompanied, for some reason, by the 1983 Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton hit "Islands in the Stream."

When just-retired assassin Michael Green (Johnny Knoxville) is killed by a team of hired guns in Chile, his about-to-retire colleague Duncan Vizla, aka "The Black Kaiser" (Mads Mikkelsen), is assigned by his handler Vivian (Katheryn Winnick) to find and eliminate the culprits. Vizla isn't interested--he's tired of the life and he just wants out. But he works for Damocles, a DC-based black ops outfit run by the nefarious Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas), and they have a rather ruthless clause in their contract: all assassins are forced into retirement at age 50, and if they die--either in the line of duty or by another unfortunate "accident"--and are without a next of kin, their pensions (Vizla has managed to save up $8 million) are reabsorbed by the Damocles Corporation. Mr. Blut drives up his profits by having his retiring assassins whacked, and when Vivian sends Vizla to Belarus to kill the guys who offed Green, he discovers that Green's killers worked for Blut and it's all a set-up to take him out. Of course, he manages to escape and tries to go off the grid in his secret hideaway, a cabin in the middle of nowhere in Montana. But Blut and his crew of killers relentlessly pursue him, eventually finding him and kidnapping the one friend he's made--emotionally troubled, withdrawn neighbor Camille (Vanessa Hudgens)--which inevitably turns Vizla into a one-man wrecking crew of vengeance.

Do any new hires at Damocles read their contract? Blut has these young assassins going after Vizla, but don't they know that if they stick around long enough, they'll be killed when they turn 50? Logic really isn't the priority here, but for a while, POLAR is reasonably entertaining in a trashy way. The gore and nonstop violent mayhem are almost comical in their excess (the scene where Vizla wipes out an entire army of Blut henchman with a pair of laser gloves linked to a pair of hidden machine guns is pretty impressive), and there's some gratuitous nudity and sex (including Mikkelsen ambushed and running around in the buff in a blizzard after an extremely vigorous seduction by a sultry assassin sent to kill him). There's also plenty of oddball humor, like Vizla having a piece of pie with an avuncular doctor (Ken Hall) who just gave him a rectal exam, or Camille talking Vizla into speaking to local schoolkids about his many travels around the world, which leads to him demonstrating ways to sever someone's arteries and asking the kids "Have any of you ever seen a dead body that's been in the sun for three weeks?" and passing a picture around.

But after a while, POLAR takes an ugly turn and stops being mindless fun. Vizla is found and taken in by Blut's goons, who then kidnap Camille and get her hooked on heroin like Gene Hackman in FRENCH CONNECTION II, while Blut spends four days torturing a shackled Vizla, slicing, dicing, snipping off pieces of flesh, gouging out his eye, etc. Mikkelsen is appropriately badass as the situation demands, Winnick has a definite femme fatale flair as the duplicitous Vivian, and Richard Dreyfuss drops by for an amusing cameo as Porter, an aging Damocles retiree who successfully managed to get away and now spends his days disheveled and shitfaced in a Detroit karaoke bar. Hudgens, looking a lot like a young Meg Tilly here, does what she can with a rather thinly-drawn character who, of course, has a dark secret that she's hiding, and Lucas, who previously worked with Akerlund in the barely-released 2013 dud SMALL APARTMENTS, dials it up to 11 as the world's least convincing megalomaniacal black ops mastermind, whether he's haplessly shouting "Guards!" when there aren't any around or standing helplessly as Vizla storms his compound and his security team says peace out and just leaves him on his own. But Akerlund also doesn't know when enough is enough. Watching Lucas squirt lotion and slather it all over himself isn't funny once, let alone ten times, and Akerlund spends entirely too much time with the obnoxious antics of the grating team of assassins sent to kill Vizla. At just under two hours, POLAR is bloated and overlong, and its go-for-broke attitude eventually grows exhausting. Akerlund even has the balls to re-stage the OLDBOY hallway scene, already several years past its sell-by date when REPO MEN did it nearly ten years ago, this time utilizing the editing skills of the dubious Doobie White, last seen hyper-cutting the most recent RESIDENT EVIL outing into headache-inducing incoherence.

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