By Adam Mast
John Matthews (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) gets the crap beat out of
him in the first act of the new film “Snitch,” I realized this wouldn't be a
typical Rock vehicle.
a father who poses as a drug runner in an effort to save his incarcerated son,
Johnson trades in his bigger-than-life persona to play a character who's
surprisingly understated, and “Snitch” is all the more powerful for it. I don't
suspect The Rock will win any awards for his portrayal of an everyman here, but
this could very well be his strongest work to date.
is more of a drama than an action picture, and while this film takes a pretty
big stab at our justice system (particularly where our drug enforcement laws
are concerned), this is really a father/son story.
Walking Dead's” Joe Bernthal is outstanding as an ex-con/father whose own wellbeing
is put in jeopardy after he enters into a dangerous partnership with Matthews.
isn't particularly groundbreaking in its storytelling methods, but the
likability of its characters goes a long way, and director Ric Roman Waugh
takes a refreshingly restrained approach to rather conventional material. His
action sequences, in particular, work spectacularly well without ever feeling
wildly over the top.
the end, I'll take John Matthews over the recent incarnation of John McClane
any day of the week – and twice on Sunday.
“DARK SKIES” (PG-13)
a string of weird incidents occur in a suburban neighborhood, a family soon
discover that a terrifying force might be after them.
Skies” is in the tradition of otherworldly thrillers like “Signs” and the
grossly underappreciated “Fire in the Sky.” With its depiction of a seemingly
normal family battling something not of this earth in Everytown, U.S.A., “Dark
Skies” also evokes “Poltergeist.” In fact, the similarities between this film
and Steven Spielberg's ghostly classic are a little too obvious. There's also a
“Paranormal Activity” angle to the proceedings – which is not at all surprising,
given that “Dark Skies” was produced by the team that brought that found
footage-style horror franchise to the screen.
Scott Stewart (the man behind “Legion” and “Priest”) is going for tone here,
but his film's ambiguous nature and refusal to answer questions is more
irritating than intriguing. Furthermore, “Dark Skies” would have greatly
benefited from opening up a bit. Stewart shoots this family's ordeal in such a
tight manner that “Dark Skies” has no sense of scope. The final act of “Dark
Skies” plays like a haunted house attraction at an amusement park, and while it
does offer up a few nifty scares, it’s pretty dull overall. Flat performances
from leads Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton do nothing to elevate this boring
alien invasion picture.
“IDENTITY THIEF” (R)
Run” called. It wants its identity back.
new road movie “Identity Thief” owes a big debt not only to Martin Brest's
wonderful ‘80s actioneer starring Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin, but to John
Hughes' warm and fuzzy Steve Martin/John Candy comedy “Planes, Trains and
Automobiles.” as well. This endless mess of a comedy isn't half as good as
either of those outstanding movies, despite the considerable efforts of stars
Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman.
plays the straight man to McCarthy's over-the-top loose cannon in this story of
a shrill beast of a woman who steals identities, and the poor schmuck who finds
himself on the receiving end of her shenanigans. There is no doubt that
“Identity Thief” offers up a handful of big laughs, but, clearly, McCarthy and
Bateman are much better than the material they've been given to work with here.
And why in the world is this movie two hours long? Had a couple of completely
unnecessary subplots been removed, this movie would have come in at a much more
trim and effective 90 minutes.
Thief” also suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. The moments when this
film goes for the heartstrings feel unearned, despite McCarthy's sincerity, and
I never once felt like this odd couple ever truly learned anything from one
Thief” is making a killing at the box office so, clearly, audiences are
responding to it. For me, seven or eight big laughs in a two-hour comedy isn't
“BULLET TO THE HEAD” (R)
a surprisingly fun “Expendables 2,” Sylvester Stallone returns with “Bullet to
the Head” – a grim, lifeless, ultraviolent action film in which Sly plays a
hitman who finds himself double crossed. Hmmm. That's original. Listen, telling
a story like this doesn't have to be original but it better be exciting, and
“Bullet it to the Head” is a sluggish bore. A shame, too, because it was
directed by Walter Hill, the ‘70s/’80s action-directing icon responsible for
“The Warriors,” “48 Hours” and “Red Heat.” Yes, Hill mounts some cool gunfights
here, and yes, senior citizen Stallone can still kick some ass, but “Bullet to
the Head” has severe pacing issues. I did enjoy Jason Momoa's performance,
though. As the film's primary heavy, Momoa has a twinkle in his eye, and his
big bout with Sly in the final act is quite entertaining.
is the kind of disposable action flick that Steven Seagal made every other
weekend in the mid-‘90s.
“WARM BODIES” (PG-13)
zombie flick for the Twilight set greatly benefits from a charming performance
by Nicholas Hoult (the child actor from “About a Boy,” all grown up) as R —a
flesh-eating ghoul with a heart of gold.
Bodies” is told from the perspective of R, which makes for a mildly amusing
ride as we're privy to his thoughts by way of witty off screen narration. R's
undead adventures lead him to a beautiful (and very much alive) Teresa Palmer,
and, before long, our zombie protagonist finds himself bitten ... by the love
a lot of stuff in this picture that doesn't work. The notion that a zombie can
revert back to its human state if he finds love is a hard plot point to
swallow. Furthermore, John Malkovich's role as a post-apocalyptic survivalist
is far too serious! I would have preferred a more crazed/silly Malkovich. “Warm
Bodies” also would have been wise to omit the Bonies — a rather lame race of
skeletal zombies reminiscent of the mutant humanoids in “I Am Legend.”
is the real reason to watch “Warm Bodies.” Director Jonathan Levine (“50/50”)
was infinitely wise in his casting choice here. Hoult has great comical timing
and his facial expressions are priceless.
Bodies” is a pleasant enough diversion. It has nothing on “Zombieland,” but it’s
harmless enough. Be warned, though: If you're a fan of the undead, check your
love of zombie mythology at the door or you may walk away irritated.
A “DIE HARD” RETROSPECTIVE: CELEBRATING 25 YEARS
“DIE HARD” (R )
1988, Bruce Willis took a little break from TV's “Moonlighting” and took a big
step towards international super stardom by playing everyman John McClane in
John McTiernan's high octane action film “Die Hard.” When a team of baddies
seizes a Los Angeles high-rise during the holidays, McClane springs into action
in a valiant effort to save his estranged wife (wonderfully played by Bonnie
Bedelia) from the clutches of the villainous Hans Gruber (masterfully played by
Alan Rickman). A great supporting cast (including the likes of William Atherton,
Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleeson, Robert Davi, Alexander Godunav and Hart
Bochner) and breathtaking action sequences highlight this epic, adrenaline-pumping
“DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER” (R)
Renny Harlin had the near impossible task of catching lightning in a bottle a
second time, and I'll be damned if he didn't almost pull it off. At the very
least, this immensely entertaining follow-up managed to conjure the spirit of
its predecessor by throwing McClane in a similar situation.
time, Dulles Airport is the location while “Shawshank Redemption's” William
Sadler serves as the villain. Yes, there's some cartoonish stuff going on here
(McClane's ejection from a grenade-filled cockpit is hilariously over the top),
but the action sequences are dynamic, the supporting cast is terrific, and
Harlin had the good sense to bring Bonnie Bedelia back as McClane's primary
motivation. Add to that a grandiose crowd pleaser of an ending and you have a
sequel that does the franchise proud.
“DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE” (R)
McTiernan returned to the franchise with this entertaining entry, which finds a
hung-over John McClane teaming with Samuel L. Jackson's colorful Zeus Carver in
an effort to capture a madman responsible for planting explosives all around
New York City. The madman in question is played by Jeremy Irons, and while this
thespian does bring a bit of class to the party, he pales in comparison to Hans
quite enjoyed “With a Vengeance,” but I must admit, the fashion in which
Jackson's character is integrated into the plot is lazy, and I positively
loathe the fashion in which Holly is written out of the proceedings (an
unwelcome trend that would continue in the fourth and fifth entries).
“Die Hard With a Vengeance” could have used a bigger ending, too. It goes out
with a whimper instead of a bang. Still, I don't want to give the impression
that I didn't like this movie. I certainly did. Willis and Jackson play off of
each other beautifully, and no one does action like McTiernan.
“LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” (PG-13)
I'm probably in the minority here, but I kind of like “Live Free or Die Hard.”
It’s certainly inferior to the previous three, but director Len Wiseman (I've
never been much of a fan) mounts some terrific action sequences, including a
doozy in a Washington tunnel, and I like how the film treats John McClane like
a Timex watch in a digital age. Furthermore, the cyber terrorist plot is
current and unique. Yes, McClane is a little too superhero-ish in this movie.
Yes, that “Die Hard” tone is somewhat lacking. And yes, the villain (played
here by “Justified's” Timothy Olyphant) leaves a bit to be desired. Personally,
though, I think some fans were a little too hard on this picture.
“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (R)
Day 2013 was not a good day to be a “Die Hard” fan. Yes, Bruce Willis is back
as John McClane, and yes, it still says “Die Hard” on the poster, but this
isn't “Die Hard.”
this fifth installment in the iconic action franchise opens, New York cop John
McClane is informed that his estranged son Jack (played by Jai Courtney) is in
hot water in Russia. So, quicker than you can say “Yippee Ki Yay,” McClane is
bound for a foreign land where he hopes to reconnect with his own flesh and
blood. But “John McClane and the Last Crusade” this ain't.
difficult to care about the strain in this father/son relationship when we
don't know what really caused the strain in the first place. Merely suggesting
that McClane was a crappy dad isn't enough. This key plot element would have
been fine had director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods had a true
understanding of the “Die Hard” mythology, but the only thing they've really
taken from the “Die Hard” franchise is the name. Sure, “A Good Day to Die Hard”
offers up a car chase (which reportedly took two months to shoot — what a
waste!), explosions and a couple of cool isolated moments, but they don't
amount to anything. In fact, there is very little rhythm to be found in “A Good
Day to Die Hard.” This is simply a lifeless mess of a movie. Even Willis has
lost the spark that made McClane such an endearing, likable action icon. He's
now a cranky, shadowy version of his former self. What's more, there's no sense
of urgency in this picture. Throw in a completely uninteresting villain and a
bizarre Chernobyl plot thread and you have a recipe for disaster.
expectations for “A Good Day to Die Hard” were pretty low, and even those
expectations weren't met. It probably didn't help that I watched all five
McClane adventures back to back at an exclusive “Die Hard Marathon” event. Such
is the life of a fan. Some might argue that I'm being too critical here. “Adam,
it’s just a movie!” they'll say. My reply: No! This is “Die Hard”! I rank the
first film second only to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as the greatest action
picture of all time. High praise, I know, but what can I say? I love “Die Hard”
the end of the day, “A Good Day to Die Hard” didn't have to be as good as the
first film. It really didn't. But is a cohesive plot, dynamic action and a
character(s) worth rooting for too much to ask for? I don't think so. “Die Hard
2” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance” didn't reach the masterful heights of the
original film but they were still crowd-pleasing entertainments. Hell, even
“Live Free Die Hard” – with all its flaws – managed to offer up an interesting
cyber terrorist plot and dazzling action sequences. 20th Century Fox
really dropped the ball on this one, and I'm really surprised that they and Bruce
Willis would sign off on this dreck. It is my hope that this mess will be
rectified and that we'll see one more “Die Hard” so that John McClane receives
the farewell he truly deserves. Fox should take a page from Sylvester
Stallone's playbook and do what the aging action star did with “Rocky Balboa.”
That film served as a perfect bookend to the first. Twenty-five years have
passed, and a nostalgic kick in the pants is the perfect way to close out this
franchise. Bring back Holly! Throw McClane in a single location during the
holidays! Give us a compelling villain who brings out the very best in everyman
John McClane! For the love of Pete! Give us one final “Die Hard” adventure that
rises to the occasion instead of producing a follow-up so weak that it makes
“Live Free Die Hard” look like “Raiders of the Lost Ark”!
Good Day to Die Hard” is a profound disappointment. Sitting through it was like
watching “Beverly Hills Cop III” for the first (and only) time. And if you've
seen “Beverly Hills Cop III,” you know that isn't a good thing.
“TOP GUN IMAX 3-D” (PG) – HHH ½
“SIDE EFFECTS” (R) – HHHH
“SAFE HAVEN” (PG-13) – HH
“BEAUTIFUL CREATURES” (PG-13) – HHH ½
“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” (PG-13) – HHHH ½
“THE LAST STAND” (R) – HHH ½
“MAMA” (PG-13) – HHH ½
“THE IMPOSSIBLE” (PG-13) – HHHH ½
“ZERO DARK THIRTY” (R) – HHHH ½
“GANGSTER SQUAD” (R) – HHHH
“A HAUNTED HOUSE” (R) – H ½
“TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D” (R) – HH ½
“THE HOBBIT” (PG-13) – HHHH ½
“LINCOLN” (PG-13) – HHHH ½
“LIFE OF PI” (PG-13) – HHHH ½
“JACK REACHER” (PG-13) – HHH ½
“LES MISERABLES” (PG-13) – HHHH
“DJANGO UNCHAINED” (R) – HHHH ½
“ARGO” (R) – HHHH ½
“PARENTAL GUIDANCE” (PG) – HH
“RISE OF THE GUARDIANS” (PG) – HHHH
“THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART II” (PG-13) – HHH ½
“WRECK-IT RALPH” (PG) – HHHH 1/2