Effective drama can happen in a grocery store. Many priceless movie moments have taken place in unexpected locations. But Never Back Down doesn't bring earnestness and truth to this scene; it just feels awkward and clueless. There's also a scene where Jake breaks out his newly learned karate moves when a car behind him honks at a stop sign. And the music video-esque scene in which Jake's mother charges through the house and dramatically, um, does the laundry.
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So what do you do when your star loses his signature appeal? Universal Soldier: The Return attempts to turn him into a sort of James Bond, allowing him to rely on high tech stunts and clever intuition rather than pure power. The problem is that nobody wants Van Damme when we've already got Arnold, Pierce Brosnan, and even Sly Stallone as kings of the one-liner action flicks. So the formula is set: a limited budget, a fallible star, and Goldberg, the WCW wrestler, as your ominous villain. The result is a predictably lackluster flick.
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Seth (French Stewart), a TV sitcom writer, meets a wonderful girl named Chelsea (Bridgette Wilson). She's beautiful, sweet, kind and completely psycho. When she starts pressuring him towards marriage, Seth tries to distance himself. To Seth's surprise, (the audiences forethought) she won't take no for an answer. Conflict swells and the two become enemies. Here begins a trail of predictable sequences, showing the two getting even with one another.
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Actually, I wish it was that simple. Perennial bad-girl Linda Fiorentino plays Trina Gavin, a sultry psychologist with a questionable past. Chazz Palminteri is her sicko attorney husband Matt, and David Caruso plays assistant D.A. David Corelli, who is assigned to look into the murder of a wealthy art collector to whom everyone seems to be linked...especially Trina.
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This is in essence what happened to The New Republic magazine in 1998 when a writer of theirs named Stephen Glass fabricated a story about a computer hacker to such an extent that nothing in it was true including - sorry to say - the allegation that the hacker left his mark with an appealingly humorous alliterative caption: "THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY." (This of course has been overshadowed by the recent Jayson Blair/New York Times scandal, which shook out nearly identically but with much greater fanfare earlier this year.)
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Perhaps he should seek to expand his cast of players before that time comes. As nice as it is to see a writer-director and group of actors getting along so swimmingly, one reason The Order never quite makes it out of the gate is a stunningly inert ensemble. Heath Ledger is a member of a new class of young actors handsome enough to be mistaken for leading man, when, really, they would be better served by character parts (Josh Hartnett and Vin Diesel, feel free to jot this down). Ledger, despite his grizzle here, looks too young to play a rogue priest investigating the death of a member of his obscure order. His character is given a complicated, traumatic past, but he looks more tired and bored than haunted. Mark Addy contributes a dash of levity as another member of the order, but his character disappears for long stretches, only to materialize for the occasional dire injury.
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