Outlander

Outlander (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Howard McCain
viewed: 05/26/09

When I heard about a movie that involved a spaceship, an alien monster and Vikings, I thought, “Well, that oughta be interesting!”  If you’re like me, you might imagine a bunch of Vikings running around shooting laser guns or something.  Maybe something like Starship Troopers (1997) with horns on their helmets.  It’s a mixture of the future with the ancient past, two mediocre tastes that might at least taste interesting together.  Then again, I thought vaguely of The 13th Warrior (1999), which was not a good thought.  But I still found myself attracted to this great potential nonsense.

Unfortunately, the man from outer space, Jim Caviezel, loses his space blaster right off the bat, so this is a sword-fightin’ movie, much more period setting than sci-fi, except for the The Host (2008) / Cloverfield (2007)-like monster.  In reality, it’s a lot more Beowulf (2007) than anything else.  Without the animation.

In the end it’s a pretty weak effort, but not weak enough to be funny.  Well, mostly.  So, yes, I was disappointed.  I even yearned for Uwe Boll at more than one point.  And that is a statement indeed.

Taken

 

Taken (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Pierre Morel
viewed: 05/24/09

Lean, taut, and action-packed, Taken may not be the best action film of all time or even of the last year or two, but it’s all meat.  At 93 minutes, a significant part of which is beginning and ending credits, it’s not a very long film.

Liam Neeson plays a dad whose life has been dedicated to some sort of military special operations that have taken him away from his teenage daughter.  But now, he’s trying to make amends and be near by his daughter, ex-wife, et cetera.  But then his daughter up and goes on a trip to Europe.  Neeson, over-protective to the Nth degree, gives her a cell phone and expects frequent updates.  He knows “bad things happen” in the world.  And sure enough, while talking to him, she’s abducted into a white slavery racket.

You can know most of this from the trailer.  But the film doesn’t add too much fat to the package.  Without wasting any time that might make you start to analyze the plot, Neeson is himself in Europe and kicking white slave trader ass.

Directed by Pierre Morel, who made another lean action film, District B13 (2004), also produced as this one is by Luc Besson, among others, Taken benefits heavily from a complete forward-moving onrush, with not a glance backwards.  The body count is huge, but bloodless largely, keeping it within the realms of PG-13.  I have been bristling a lot at PG-13 movies of late because they basically can only go “so far” in any direction of extremity to keep the teenagers coming without parental ticket-buying.  It’s strictly a marketing thing, editing down these films, rather than going for full potential statement.  And with Taken, I think it would have been a highly brutal and gruesome film with much more put in there.

The thing about the film is that it’s all about a father who is trying to save his daughter from forced prostitution and an extreme destruction of her innocence.  But to do this, he’ll kill anyone, break any laws, kill as many as he has to, and torture away.  In fact, in one key sequence he tortures an Albanian trafficker, citing government practices sort of quickly, out-sourcing, etc.  So, whatever can be gleaned by the meaning, he is justified in torturing (and then going ahead and killing this guy anyways) because he’s a righteously defensive father.  What does this all get at?  Violence is justified.  Killing is justified.  Everything is justified when you are right.

Screw the French authorities.  They’re probably corrupt anyways.

So there’s a semi-disturbing subtext if you can catch your breath long enough to swallow.  It’s a subtext that really is at the heart of a lot of these types of dramas, revenge, violence, justification.  Taken doesn’t break ground.  But it’s fairly well-constructed.  Again, not in any real innovative way, but in a clean, tight, efficiency that a lot could learn from.

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Terminator Salvation (2009) movie poster

dir. McG
viewed: 05/21/09 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Like the titular Terminator, the franchise itself lifts itself from the scrapheap to keep clawing and destroying ahead, this time not only without director James Cameron, but also without “the Terminator” (now “governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger).  Terminator without “the Terminator”?  Could it be?  Actually, brought back to life and youth by digital technology, the film manages to get him in, looking lean and young.  But still.

This time around it’s “the future”.  Most of the films took place in the present or relative present.  There’s always time-travel, including this time, but this is the first film in which the story is set after the destruction of humanity by the evil robots.  All that’s left in the post-apocalypse on the human side are small groups of resistance-minded humans, battling the butchering robot horde in high military style.  Christian Bale is the heroic John Connor, the savior of the human race.

And this time, we’ve got film director McG behind the camera, whose prior work had been in Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003).  When this film was fairly lambasted in the local paper, I figured, “well, it’s McG, what does one expect?”  But actually, the film isn’t nearly as bad as that review would make it seem.  It’s not high art but then none of the films have been high art.  The original The Terminator (1984) was a fun sci-fi flick from the 1980’s and iconic, but it’s still a genre film.  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) similarly was slickly produced and rode heavily on the special effects that were quite innovative in the time.  As for, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), well, I’d say this was a big improvement.

I predict that this summer is one of the least-satisfying summer movie summers in some time and I’m willing to bet that Star Trek (2009) may be the cream of the crop.  It’s a pretty bleakish-looking road.  Perhaps that’s how I’d ended up at this one, thinking it at least “looked” good.

McG knows how to blow stuff up.  Loudly.  And while not everything he does visually works, a lot of the action is bounding, pounding, and pretty cool.   I guess it all depends on your measuring stick.  That and your level of expectation.

And the story isn’t great, but it’s not awful.  Sam Worthington, the “other guy” in this movie, plays the tough, tougher than tough, so tough that he must be a robot tough dude around whom the story ultimately pivots.  He’s pretty good.  And the big robot, the giant Terminator machine that has a machine gun for a head.  That’s pretty cool.  Probably cooler than what we’ll see in the coming Transformers (2007) sequel (yet another retread sequel that dots the summer movie calendar for 2009.)

Actually, while I’m on the subject, that new Sherlock Holmes (2009) film, despite being directed by the perpetually dubious Guy Ritchie (a guy who makes McG look like a genius at times), looks pretty damn fun.  But that’s not due til December.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for some giant robots and things that go boom, Terminator Salvation isn’t the worst of the bunch.  All we can do is hope that something will come and salvage our summer.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Patrick Tatopoulos
viewed: 05/21/09

Sequel to Underworld (2003) and Underworld: Evolution (2006), Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is missing its two biggest names, star Kate Beckinsale and her husband director Len Wiseman.  Wiseman has moved on to bigger and better things it seems, such as Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and Beckinsale seems to be trying to make other types of films.  But let that not kill a franchise.

This is one of the weaker of modern science fiction/horror franchises, lacking any truly good beginning, filled with nothing particularly inventive, and becoming steadily less and less memorable.  This series is about the werewolves versus the vampires, and this if a prequel if you will, the story of how we got to Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, with even a final flash forward to show you the context if you hadn’t already figured it out by the end.  Frankly, I understood it but I couldn’t remember much about the story anyways other than Beckinsale’s character is sort of in between.

This one tells of the evolution of the werewolves, as slaves to the vampries (the baddies), and their revolt and emancipation.  Bill Nighy is the baddest of the baddie vampires, and that guy can chew scenery without even opening his mouth.

It’s uninspired and uninspiring to watch.  Hundreds of digitally-animated werewolves racing across the landscape.  There is a lot of hard work that goes into producing such a vision and it’s not badly done, but the whole thing just feels very dumb.  It’s not that I had high expectations, nor even a good reason to really be watching this movie other than I’d seen the previous ones and like to sprinkle modern B-movies and skunks into my queue just to keep it honest.  But I have to say, it’s kind of sad when you pine for the days of Kate Beckinsale and director Len Wiseman.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. David Fincher
viewed: 05/18/09

A curious choice of film to watch on my 40th birthday, a movie about a man aging backwards, filled with themes of life, death, aging and love.  If I wasn’t thinking enough about such things already, it was effective to be hammered over the head with them for nearly 3 hours by director David Fincher and company.  Life, death, decrepitude.  I dig it.  I live it.

Adapted, at least conceptually, from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and translated into a sprawling epic, the movie is one of those that shoots high for Oscar recognition, heart-string yanking, and super profundity.  A work of art.  An experience.

And it’s not terrible, though it’s overlong and heavy-handed.  Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt carry the film alongside some stunningly effective special effects portraying Pitt in youthful oldness and oldful youthness, though more the former than the latter.  I kept looking at the shots, trying to see where they melded images together, but it’s freakishly well-done.  That I was thinking of the effects perhaps shows that I wasn’t so drawn into the story, but you know it’s pretty weird having Pitt’s face grafted onto the body of either an old man or a child or a person with disabilities.

From director Fincher of Zodiac (2007), Panic Room (2002), Fight Club (1999), and Se7en (1995), this is much more epic and romantic territory.  Fincher has a great eye, casts some very aesthetically pleasing images, visions of old New Orleans, New York, Paris, and more cityscapes, digitally produced to evoke living, breathing visions of the past.  It’s a effective tool when it works, a way of envisioning a bygone version of places with which we are familiar.  And this film isn’t the worst of its kind, though it does bang you over the head with its messages about the nature of life, fate, and mortality.  Subtlty is not a keystroke that gets struck too often.  The hummingbird metaphor was the most annoying of these.  And there are plot points that one could drive a fleet of Mack trucks through, such as, why the daughter of Blanchett had no idea that her mother had been a dancer despite the fact that she ran a dance studio most of her life or that she had no idea about the existence of Benjamin despite the fact that her mother spent the last six or so years of his life caring for him and living with him.

There is also some tribute to Hurricane Katrina, setting the storytelling during the onset of the storm.  Not sure of the intended significance there.  But the film also seems to elude any issues of racism to a point at which it seems like denial.  Benjamin grows up raised by an African-American woman, who cares for aging white people.  He sits at the back of the bus with an Congolese Pygmy who has been living in a zoo (based on the real life Ota Benga) but really this issue, so predominant and ever-present in the South at the time of most of the story seems fairly omitted.

But in the end, the film has on its weaker side a real Forrest Gump (1994) quality to it.  Not that this is the story of a mentally handicapped American, but rather that it too splays out its grandeur across the 20th Century with keynote shorthand images of each age, from rockets flying into space, the Beatles on television, the “a day which will live in infamy” speech.  It’s like crib notes to tell you when things are supposed to be happening, but also ways of tying the “experience” to that of which people have lived, sharing the journey across the 20th Century’s major moments, this whole span of life.  It’s a bit cheap, I’d say.

Ah well, it’s all just another three hours of your life that you won’t get back.  You might as well suckle what joy you can out of it.

Wendy and Lucy

Wendy and Lucy (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Kelly Reichardt
viewed: 05/15/09

Low-key as it is, this earnest story of a young woman crossing the country in her dying car to take a job in an Alaskan cannery is of the ilk of “realist” cinema or something of naturalism.  It tries to take on the perspective of the down and out, the fringe edge of society and to tell a story vaguely like that of Bicycle Thieves (1948), that is, of loss of the most meaningful thing to a person at the bottom of the social order.  In Bicycle Thieves it’s about the ability to earn a living and much more, but for Wendy, played by Michelle Williams, it’s the only thing that she has that has any meaning, her dog, Lucy.

The whole plot of the film is this: girl and dog, girl loses dog, girl looks for dog, and since I’m not one for spoilers even among these simple plot elements, I’ll leave it up to you if you decide to find out how it ends.

Director Kelly Reichardt has an eye for place and a sense of tone and pacing (it’s slow, mind you), but something just didn’t work in this movie.  It’s the kind of thing, that when it works, it’s wonderfully profound, a moving story, heart-breaking, enlightening.  But the film doesn’t work that well.  I think it’s a combination of the highly banal dialogue (meant to be naturalistic, I think.  The assumption that this is how people talk, and that generally everyone is kind of dull and/or dim-witted).  And the acting by what I am assuming are largely non-actors (again something you see a lot in “realist” films).

Non-actors in the hands of the right directors can convey a naturalism and a reality that really works.  Maybe these were just bad actors with some bad dialogue to work with, I don’t know.  Williams herself is fine.  You follow her, and you care.  But I also found myself frustrated that she didn’t just take the bus to Alaska and when she had over $500 in her pocket let things get so messed up.

Williams, I think, is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood.  I didn’t always think so, but have increasingly thought so for the past year or two.  Here she is with no make-up, meant to be frumpy and mousy, and she is, but she is still so stunning, too.

I wanted to like this film more than I did.  But I didn’t.

Star Trek

Star Trek (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. J.J. Abrams
viewed: 05/15/09 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Summer movies.  Love ’em.  Hate ’em.  Whatever.  They keep a-comin’.

Star Trek is Summer Movie 2009.  And honestly, even though it opened on the first week of the summer movie season, it’ll probably be hard to top this summer, which actually looks extremely weak.  And saying that is not to the film’s discredit.  Heck, it’s a lot more fun than one could hope, especially anyone with any stock involved with the franchise.

Star Trek is something that has been in my life since childhood, which I have liked or appreciated, more than the non-Trekkie, yet far less than the average Trekkie.  And honestly, these cult franchises are over-analyzed beyond anything.  Simply put, I agree with the choir on the franchise films, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) was the most successful film the television show ever spawned.  The series has had ups and downs, some of which are massively embarrassing.  Whatever.  I give this “re-boot” its due.  Let’s see what it’s got.

And it rocks, largely.

It’s not film art.  It’s not true inspired genius.  What is, really, these days, in the mainstream?  But what it is is very good, an adept adaptation of past experience and expectation spewed out in a new way, a new way that blazes a trail for many, many sequels, bereft of franchise history issues, and open to interpretation by the creators without harshing on the mellow of the original scripture.

I have to say, in this Facebook/Twitter universe of 2009, I got the gist of the feeling on the street from postings of many friends and acquaintences who went to the film and came away anywhere from satisfied to charged by this film.  And, somewhat like we see a lot in these summer action films, not screwing up is almost as good as kicking ass.

The bottom line for me regarding this new Star Trek is that it is fun.   It is cool.  It’s what you ask from Hollywood for a summer movie and rarely get.  It’s got a ton of the insider issues and winks that should satisfy those who have nothing better to do and to make good on a fun 2 hours in the cinema.  What more should one ask?

I won’t delve into the storyline other than to say that I thought it was very clever the narrative trope utilized in the film, not only for its own story, but for all future sequels and versions of this story.  Time travel, re-inventing the path of knowledge and experience, an alternate reality.   Hell, let’s just face it: J.J. Abrams has delivered carte blanche to a summer movie franchise built on a history that dates back to the 1960’s, long before most of its target audience was conceived, much less thought-of.  And the fact that it’s a fun time, that’ll make them money in 2009, but it’s the layer upon which future summer movies will be built.

All that said, and let me be clear, I did really actually enjoy this film, more than I anticipated, but the film is very much a piece of a continuum.  As a 2 hour experience today, it’s good, probably better than we have to expect til autumn 2009 (which is sad).  But it’s not “cinema”.  Last year, when the “tent pole” The Dark Knight (2008) wow’ed spectators and swooned them in their affection for the power of cinema, which heck… The Dark Knight was probably a better film than Star Trek, it’s still not art (in the greatest sense), even like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), perhaps one of the best of the genre.  But it is good fun.

Which, really, is all we ask of Hollywood at summertime.  Give us some fun, give us a reason to go to the cinema.  Make us happy.  Stoke our fire.

And J.J. Abrams, for what ever else he has done, has accomplished this as much as we are like to see the rest of the hot months of 2009.

Fort Apache

Fort Apache (1948) movie poster

(1948) dir. John Ford
viewed: 05/10/09 at the Stanford Theater, Palo Alto, CA

Part two of the John Wayne/John Ford double bill at the Stanford Theater was Fort Apache, one of Ford’s many films that I hadn’t seen before.  Certainly, I wouldn’t classify it as one of his masterworks, but a solid film through and through, starring Henry Fonda alongside Wayne and Shirley Temple and John Agar.  Not purely a Western, I would suggest, because it’s also a bit of a military film or war movie to an extent, with the nearly ever-present refrain of “You’re in the Army Now”, reminding the audience of some of the more comic asepcts of military life.  It also seems significant in that this film comes only a couple of years out of World War II, and the miliatry dignity is a key issue at the film’s heart.

Roughly based on the legendary fiasco of Custer’s Last Stand, the film centers around Fonda, a Civil War hero who, brought into the army is shifted out to the outskirts of civilization to the post at Fort Apache, which he deems to be well below him.  The camp is populated heavily with Irish-Americans, who drink heavily and offer much comic relief.  At times, in fact, the film almost seems more comic than dramatic.  When Henry Fonda’s Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday sees an opportunity at glory on the range, bringing back the Apache tribesmen who’ve abandoned the reservation due to mistreatment, he starts a battle that he cannot finish, much against the recommendations of well-respected Captain Kirby York (Wayne), who sizes up the situation accurately.

The film actually is quite poignant regarding the plight of the Native Americans, a noble groups of tribes, who have come to agree to peace, yet will not be crushed or insulted.  The life on the plantation has been far from positive for them, in which they are lead to alchoholism (a somewhat ironic comment given the giddy, good-nature of the drunken Irish-Americans), and the Apache refuse to be exploited more.  But Thursday, against better judgment, leads his cavalry to decimation and a highly symbolic insult to the leadership of the Native tribes.

It’s interesting to see this in 1948, and while it’s far from bleeding-heart liberalism, it shows a greater humanity toward the Native Americans than one might anticipate.  It’s Thursday who is the foul-mouthed racist, despite his West Point background and stiff, military rigidity.  Of course, it’s that very rigidity that turns out to be his weakness, rigidity and pride in search of glory.  Wayne is the pragmatist, who speaks “a little Apache” and who understands their plight and dignity.  The film tends to blame their exploitation more on an individual capitalist rather than the American government, and the ending suggests a cover up of Thursday’s death to translate him into a hero for the recordbooks, something that will be good for the country, the goverment, and the military.  An oddly ironic contrast with the tonality.  Wayne clearly grimaces at the fabrications but justifies it nonetheless.

As always, Ford is a master at the landscapes and the character, imbuing the Western with great depth and social criticism, despite his denials that he put too much into them.  And it’s just plain awesome to see these films in the cinema.

The Searchers

The Searchers (1956) movie poster

(1956) dir. John Ford
viewed: 05/10/09 at the Stanford Theater, Palo Alto, CA

One of the greatest Westerns ever made (my personal favorite) and perhaps one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s awesome film, The Searchers was totally awesome to see on the big screen.  Playing as a double feature at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto with Fort Apache (1948), I actually got myself down to the peninsula for only the third time to this terrific theater to catch one of their awesome shows.  Incredibly well worth it, too.

I’d initially seen The Searchers when I was living in England, a time that I hearken back to with some frequency.  Being 1995, the BBC and Channel 4 were doing great retrospectives of world cinema and The Guardian newspaper offered insightful descriptions of the films, leading me into a number of terrific discoveries.  The Western had not been a favorite of mine growing up, and though I was getting to like watching many Westerns while there in England, it was The Searchers that totally sold me on the genre and on John Wayne.

I, like many, always think of Wayne as the symbol of American manliness that so many came to perceive him: upright, strong, tougher than hell, the savvy one in the bunch, the ass-kicker among shit-kickers, and noble, forthright and true.  Whether he is or was or even represented any of this stuff isn’t so much the point, as much as he symbolized and embodied that for not just a generation, but enough to be as iconic as any Hollywood star ever will be.  But with that, there is the oppositional aspect, the part that rebels against such authoritative figures, symbols that belie themselves, hide the ugly beneath the veneer of good, and lack the complex nature of reality.  Of course, in true experience, Wayne is startlingly more deep and powerful than any one single image can stand.  And The Searchers is his personal masterpiece.

The film is the story of a pair of men, Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter, a young mixed-race adopted member of the family, who set out on a five year long trail of an abducted girl, kidnapped as a child and raised by the Comanches that stole her.  Vengeance is the driving factor, for the murdered family, and for the ruination, as Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards sees it, of the child.

Edwards is a ruthless tracker, seething with hatred for Native Americans, namely the Comanches, whose blood boils at the quietest of times and whose vitriol is demonstrated in his disfiguring the corpse of one of the fallen Comanches, shooting out his eyes, because Edwards knows that the Comanches believe that without their eyes, they will not be able to enter the spirit world.  He hates them beyond this world, he hates them into the next.  And while at first he hopes to rescue to abducted, his mission evolves into one of killing.  The audience is shown the madness to which abducted “white women” fall into after long captivity in this alien culture, no doubt coupled with rape and other suggested horrors.  Debbie, the stunning Natalie Wood, the abducted niece, is no longer human in his eyes, but a creature below contempt, like the Comanches themselves.

The racism in Edwards is the complication of the hero.  His nobility and know-how, returning to the family after years in the Civil War and other mysterious campaigns, has tainted him.  It is Hunter, the adoptive nephew, who stays doggedly by Edwards’ side, knowing what Edwards intends to do, and hoping that he can save Debbie from her rescuer.  It’s a complex portrait of Edwards, who knows more about the Native Americans than does Hunter’s Martin Pawley, despite the fact that Pauley has Native American blood in his veins.

The film is stunningly beautiful, filmed in Utah’s Monument Valley, among the incredible rock formations and hills and desert, against the vast, open skies.  It’s an epic landscape, Ford’s West, a dramatic background for this haunting, gripping drama.  The film is almost blunt about the implied rape and tortures that signify the ruin of the female characters at the hands of the “savage” villains.

This film is amazing.  If you have never seen it, it is well-worth the time.  It’s a true masterpiece, an iconic, tremendous film, still standing high, fifty years since it was released, and a total, absolute pleasure to see on the big screen in a wonderful theater.

 

JCVD

JCVD (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Mabrouk El Mechri
viewed: 05/09/09

When was the last time you watched a Jean-Claude Van Damme film?  For me, it was the hilariously awful Double Team (1998) in which he starred along with Dennis Rodman, and that was purely because it was Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark’s first American film (and surprisingly not his last, nor anyone who was affiliated with that film’s last for that matter).

Toward the late 1990’s, as the action film of the 1980’s, the Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren (anyone?), et cetera, et cetera indeed…was dying its ignoble death by being temporarily re-inflated by having the kings of Hong Kong action cinema coming to Hollywood and serving at least one film with Jean-Claude.  John Woo got Hard Target (1993), Ringo Lam Maximum Risk (1996), and the afore-mentioned Double Team.  There may well have been others, but you see, it was not something worth following.

So, when was the last time a Jean-Claude Van Damme film had a meaningful buzz?  Was there any such thing until he worked with the Hong Kong directors?  I don’t know.  I probably don’t want to recount that I’ve probably seen more than my fair share of his films, all while not ever really liking him one iota.

And then this, probably his agents wet dream, a film that is considered “interesting” and in which not only do critics say that Jean-Claude can “really act”, but the film is essentially one in which he plays himself, a modified version of himself, but as a very sincere and sensitive human being.  So, you not only get attention, appreciation, but you get projected depths and belief in the man himself.

JCVD is a conceit.  It’s a film in which a down-on-his-luck Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to Belgium to get his life in order after losing his daughter in a custody battle.  He’s a joke to a large extent, a guy who got into karate to no longer be a skinny wimp and who went on to movie stardom in the world’s garbage factory.  He’s hugely popular at home, especially with losers who love action movies.  And he walks into a bank to get an advance and gets wrangled into a heist and a hostage situation.  And the cops think he’s part of the plot.

Ironically, enough, he’s the plot of the film, just not in the plot of the crime.  He’s shown to be a beaten-down, good-hearted fellow, rich with humanity, and still able to smack down people at the age of 48 (his real age at the filming of the movie).  And when the camera sits on his face, with its real pathos, you wonder, why didn’t this guy make movies in France or something?  Like the movies of Jean-Pierre Melville?  If he can really act, his aging visage shows the world-weariness that would be prime for some aging thief.

The movie is quite alright.  My largest issue is actually with the cinematography, which is in these muted colors, and while not overly hand-held, has a feeling of more “art” than might have been effective.  The film made me think of Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film Irma Vep, and maybe with a bit more of something along those lines, there might have been more of total epiphany here.

Who knows?  If this film can’t kick-start Van Damme into something at least better, nothing probably ever will.  In the right film, in the hands of the right director, he could be something more than he’s ever been, and he wouldn’t even need a fight scene to do it.  This film certainly achieves it’s primary aims and Jean-Claude, how little we knew ye.