Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Righteous Kill (2008)

Director: Jon Avnet

You know how it is when you’ve been a cop in the NYPD for over thirty years: “Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun.” You want to protect 99% of the population from the 1% of “degenerates”” who prey on the innocent and you watch paedophile priests, swarmy yuppie rapists and white trash child killers go free because of the “lawyers.” You see young club skanks snorting “primo” cocaine or “blow” which is what they call it in the streets, and they are doing that shit in public toilets in fancy big-time clubs and you have to “flip” cute female legal cokehead secretaries to “rat” out their supplier who looks a lot like 50 Cent. You arrive at a crime scene standing over the dead body of Rambo the Skateboarding Pimp (that's a street name for all you not from the street) and the first thing you think to say is “We gotta find out who did this!” like the wizened professional that you are. Anytime you see a brother officer in uniform at a crime scene, you always have to ask, “How about those Mets last night?” You also have to contend with your Brian-Dennehy-sized chief, the weasel IA officers (that’s Internal Affairs for all you people who are not from the street) and a hot Carla-Gugino-shaped forensic specialist who always wants to have sex with you (Sheesh, can’t an old cop near retirement get a moment’s rest around here?!). Then there’s someone out there playing vigilante, murdering all the criminals who got away with it and they are making a RIGHTEOUS KILL and it is also the name of this cop movie that I watched, which is also funnily enough a RIGHTEOUS KILL of your time as well as your faith in the acting abilities of co-leads Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

Boy, it’s been over a decade since Michael Mann paired together the two finest Italian-American actors together for the epic cops and robbers film, Heat, with that classic diner scene discussion between the two of them, finally uniting in the one scene two thespians often mistaken for each other. Well, neither actor have been doing much decent work since then, so why not pair them together once again? So, we have De Niro and Pacino playing two old partners in fighting crime, introduced in a title sequence montage where they shoot off rounds at a firing range while a remixed generic rock guitar tune underscores that these Old Dogs still got it. Yes, in a surprising casting move, De Niro plays a gruff, irritable cop who is seen throwing a tantrum coaching little league and in an even more surprisingly acting choice, Pacino plays a gum-chewing wise-ass who is seen beating an egghead at a twin game of time-clock chess. Yeah, so there’s a vigilante bumping off bad guys who our heroes wanted to see put in bars and once again the line of dialogue is heard, “I don’t know whether to arrest these guys or give them a medal!” which we haven’t heard since Magnum Force or Death Wish or every other movie that put together cops and vigilantes. A calling card is left behind on the dead bodies, written poems found at the scene of the crime and circumstantial evidence points to the fact that a cop is most likely doing it, compounded by the video footage of De Niro offering a confession of his “crimes” to the camera. The younger dogs, John Leguizamo and Donnie Whalberg as another set of partners eventually come to think De Niro did it too. Oh boy, this movie is leading me down one path, I don’t suppose SPOILER ALERT AS IF YOU CARE that they might switch it up and offer a plot twist, particularly with such clues when the grizzled old police chief has both cops in his office and says ‘The killer might be right in front of you and you wouldn’t even know it’ and then we see a scene start with Pacino at a crime scene speculating ‘I’m the killer and I walk into the apartment...’ Hey, I’m no detective but I think someone else may have made those RIGHTEOUS KILLS... wink-wink, hoo-hah, and who cares? Cue a re-run of the climax to Heat but with the roles reversed and there you have it.

Now I love cop movies, even the most cliched cop movies, but by those standards, Righteous Kill is quite the boring cop movie, featuring standard issue stuff that wouldn’t look askew in an episode of CSI or Law & Order or any other cop show in the last ten years. What really sinks it is its sole attraction, which is De Niro and Pacino together again, both wearing faces that look like beat-up catcher’s mitts and neither displaying much of the fire that gave them the recognition of high calibre actors. Take me down to Mugging Central because that's what we're dealing with here. I can only imagine actors like Gugino or Leguizamo or 50 Cent signing up to this film so excited to work with Taxi Driver and Scarface and then being stuck acting opposite guys who look like they are sleeping with their eyes open, delivering weak and forced banter such as the extended discussion of Wonderdog as a metaphor for drug-taking that would put Jim Belushi sitcoms to shame. I would have preferred this film more if they had starred two professional lookalike impersonators of DeNiro and Pacino, strutting around alternating between standard lines like "What am I, alone in this world?" and "Hoo Haa!" ad nausem, or even if they stitched together outtakes from the countless other films where these two played leather-jacket wearing cops stalking the streets of New York; Sea of Love and 15 Minutes partnered together to solve the mystery of the plot from a thousand movies!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Steam Experiment (2009)

Director: Phillipe Martinez

The Steam Experiment is where a fat Val Kilmer plays a loopy college professor genius who has locked six people in a steam room because of global warming. Why? It’s an experiment, you see, to determine what will happen to humanity when the Mayan Calendar is proven in 2012 and the apocalypse will turn ordinary people into panicky idiots. It’s also a hostage situation with Kilmer imploring a local newspaper to publish his cockamamie theories about global warming or the six people who were lured into the steam room by Kilmer posing as an online dating service will all die from the rising temperature of the steam room. Basically The Steam Experiment is Saw but with semi-nude hostages and Val Kilmer hamming it up like Jim Morrison in a turtleneck sweater. So, it’s clearly better than Saw.

Talk about exposition: the film’s first act is basically a lot of characters repeating the details of the high-concept plot to each other. Kilmer tells the local news editor about his nefarious plan, then the local news editor tells detective Armand Assante about Kilmer’s nefarious plan, then Assante asks Kilmer to explain his nefarious plan, Kilmer than explains his nefarious plan to Assante, and then Assante asks Kilmer, “Let me get this straight: you’ve got six people locked in a steam room... because of global warming.” (Hey, why not repeat the plot ad nausem, it was the reason why I rented this Direct-to-DVD movie alongside Val Kilmer's expansive face on the cover) All the while, Kilmer plays the mad professor as a coy intellectual who is able to notice that the local news editor’s clock is five minutes fast and utters pithy, pseudo-philosophical lines like “If you want to play trivial pursuit, it’s on your head” and “We’re a nation of sheep.”

Even though Kilmer is top-billed, I think he only had three days of shooting on this project since he is only in it for approximately thirty minutes of screen-time. We have some surreal images of him at the start standing in front of a carousel at night, which I guess is supposed to signify how "nutty" he is and what a "thrill-ride" this movie will be. Then there are close-ups of his fat face with a thousand yard stare. The best stuff though is Kilmer being interrogated with Assante who basically mumbles his dialogue through his flappy-lips, the lower-class man of the streets up against the intellectual master-mind. Yes, there are lots of bits where Kilmer psyches out Assante by asking him questions like “Have you ever been to Italy, detective?” or commenting on his cheap cologne and insulting him in a high and haughty manner, “Your vulgarity is pathetic! It annoys me!” We also see Kilmer turning the tables on the ‘bad-cop routine’ by slamming his own forehead against the interrogation table and then takes everyone out to acting school with his performance of crazy with twitchy eyes and rambling about his father (About his controversial theories on global warming, “I could take the humiliation but he couldn’t...”), bugging out like nobody’s business. With such scenes, one can glimpse the mannered charm of Kilmer adding a bit of business to a dumb role and proving Chuck Klosterman’s pronouncement of Kilmer as an example of “advancement” – that is that Kilmer as a performer is so advanced that we might not understand his acting genius in such trash for years to come.

The majority of the movie takes place in the steam room with the hostages who includes Eric Roberts with a wavering Southern accent, Melrose Place’s Patrick Muldoon, a neurotic brunette, a neurotic blonde, a slutty waitress type who takes her top off in an extended slow-mo sequence to ‘Bolero,’ and then this Matt Dillion lookalike who plays the most over-the-top Italian-stereotype you could think of with scenery-chewing dialogue like “I’m from Booklyn, born and bred...” and “I love everybody, you know what I mean, forget about it!” (Naturally he’s the first one to crack and go kill-crazy in the steam room). Tensions escalate as the director desaturates the visuals with an orange lens flare and people start turning against each other – a stabbing here, a few nails to the forehead there, a suicide and a death match. The result of all this huffing and puffing is that we find out that Kilmer is actually a mental patient and all of this was possibly a fabrication in his twisted mind. TWIST! That would be too easy though. Big spoiler alert (as if you care): Patrick Muldoon is actually Kilmer’s doctor! Muldoon and his wife (the neurotic blonde hostage) actually volunteered for this experiment, which actually happened and Muldoon found that he and his blonde wife surviving the steam room was a profound life-changing experience (you know, like Fight Club but in a Steam Room... Steam Club). TWIST TIMES TWO! Final scene has the blonde wife standing by Muldoon’s study and discussing Kilmer:

“You don’t control him anymore. He controls you. Kill him and come home.”

Muldoon turns off his lamp very slowly. Ominous music. The End. Hmmm... What the hell? Way to blow my mind, movie. If I wanted to waste more of my time, I could extrapolate all the plot-holes from this last-minute development, but ah, much like the Average Joe’s response to global warming, I’ll leave it there as an impending problem that I won’t think about until I have to. Instead, I’ll stick to the basic pleasures that this movie offers – a fleeting glance of some boobs and a fat-faced hambone Val Kilmer. Hey, the movie even puts them in the same frame together!