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Survivor Review


OK

Unusually gritty and grounded, this terrorism thriller avoids the pitfalls of most overwrought action movies by creating characters and action situations that are unusually believable, even if the plot itself feels badly undercooked. The problem is that there isn't a clear sense of what's at stake here, because screenwriter Philip Shelby insists on continually blurring the mystery by withholding key details until he's ready to reveal them. So the cleverly played old-style suspense never quite pays off.

It opens at the US Embassy in London, where new security chief Kate (Milla Jovovich) has been alerted to the fact that terrorists are trying to get visas to enter America. Working with the ambassador (Angela Bassett) her team leaders (Dylan McDermott and Robert Forster), Kate narrows in on a suspicious doctor (Roger Rees) who's an expert in explosive gasses. But a shocking bombing stops her short, framing her as the villain. Now she's being chased not only by the Americans, but also a British inspector (James D'Arcy) and a ruthless assassin known as The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan). And Kate knows that she's the only one who can stop the nefarious plot, whatever it might be.

This is one of those films that enjoyably pushes its central character over the brink, so we can't help but root for Kate to get out of this seriously messy situation and save the day. Jovovich plays her in a plausible way as a capable woman who has no choice but to fight back and try to survive, because she's the only one who knows that she's not the real threat here. Everyone else is extremely shadowy, although McDermott gets to show a heroic side, as does the terrific Frances de la Tour as the only embassy staff member who believes that Kate is the good guy. Meanwhile, Brosnan gives a remarkably effective performance as a cold-blooded killer.

Continue reading: Survivor Review

The Expendables 3 Review


OK

Striking a tone somewhere between the po-faced original and the silly Part 2, this rampaging action nonsense is badly overcrowded and chaotic, but there's plenty of comedy and whizzy stuntwork to keep the audience entertained. It of course helps a lot that the film is packed to the rafters with iconic actors and lively newcomers. And their sassy dialogue helps make up for the idiotic plot.

It opens with a prison break, as Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his team (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) rescue their old cohort Doc (Wesley Snipes) then head off on a mysterious mission that turns out to involve their presumed-dead nemesis Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who is targeting Barney's team. So Barney and his pal Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) set about finding four new commandoes (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz) to take on Stonebanks, but of course nothing goes as plan. For the final face-off they're joined by the old team, CIA boss Drummer (Harrison Ford), former colleagues Trench and Yin (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li), and chatty newcomer Galgo (Antonio Banderas).

The ever-increasing cast means that some characters can't help but be pushed into the shadows (Crews and Li are barely in this film), while others hover around the edges of scenes injecting moments of sarcastic wit. Each of the characters gets his or her moment of eye-popping action, as the film lurches from set-piece to set-piece in a whirl of bombs, bullets and blades. All of this is fun because the actors are gleefully refusing to take any of this seriously. The scene-stealers this time are Gibson, terrific as the swaggering villain, and Banderas, who's hilarious as the only person who can string a sentence together.

Continue reading: The Expendables 3 Review

Homefront Review


Weak

With a powerhouse cast and an anaemic script, this violent revenge thriller never quite gets off the ground. It's watchable for the character detail, but resolutely refuses to make any logical sense as it charges through its corny plot. Fortunately the slick filmmaking and charismatic acting hold our attention, adding a hint of sophistication to the bluntly brutal story.

It's set in the Louisiana bayou, where former undercover agent Phil (Statham) is trying to have a quiet life with his young daughter (Vidovic). But the locals are wary of outsiders, and a schoolyard confrontation escalates into a feud between Phil and a resentful woman (Bosworth) who calls her gangster brother Gator (Franco) for help in getting even. Gator quickly discovers Phil's past, then enlists his trashy pal Sheryl (Ryder) to contact Phil's old enemies. But as these ruthless thugs descend on the bayou, they fail to take into consideration the fact that Phil has nearly super-human fighting skills.

There's plenty of possibility in this rather tired premise, but Stallone's boneheaded script never bothers to make things believable, skipping over key details and indulging in trite coincidences. Fleder manages to obscure this with his fluid, pacey direction, and the cast is unusually good for such a simplistic thriller. The charismatic Statham doesn't stretch himself much, occasionally attempting a bit of real acting in the father-daughter scenes (his romance with LeFevre's teacher is never developed). Bosworth and Ryder add some unpredictable edges to their stereotypical roles. And it's Franco who steals the film as an unusually thoughtful redneck thug. Although his moral quandary doesn't put off any of the nastiness.

Continue reading: Homefront Review

The Expendables 2 Review


OK
Although there's been no attempt to tone down the first film's bloodthirsty hyperviolence or dim-witted plotting, this sequel is a massive improvement simply because they have fun with the premise. As a result, so do we.

Barney (Stallone) and his team of ageing mercenaries are coerced by Church (Willis) into heading into hostile territory to retrieve a top secret electronic gadget. Most shocking is the fact that Church insists that a woman, Maggie (Yu), joins them. And when things go wrong, Barney leads the gang on a grisly revenge mission against a nasty villain (Van Damme) who's callously putting humanity in peril. Along the way they're joined by Church and Trench (Schwarzenegger), and get help from lone-wolf Booker (Norris).

Continue reading: The Expendables 2 Review

Conan The Barbarian Review


Grim
With a complete lack of self-awareness, this po-faced remake looks more like a trash-TV series (a la Spartacus or Camelot) than a proper movie. Mainly because the filmmakers continually opt for gratuitous gore rather than actual storytelling.

Born in battle, Conan (Howard, then Momoa) is set on vengeance. His people, the Cimmerians, were slaughtered by the evil Khalar Zym (Lang), who was looking for the barbarian-held pieces to a mythical all-powerful mask. Once the mask is reassembled, Khalar Zym and his fiendish daughter Marique (McGowan) need a pure-blood of Acheron to activate it and, as luck would have it, the last one is hot babe Tamara (Nichols). So of course Conan and Tamara team up to fight off the villains and save the pre-historic world.

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War, Inc. Review


Grim
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and in the case of John Cusack's over-the-top satire of the Iraq War, War, Inc., the intentions are obvious and the road leads to a particular place in Hell presided over by filmmakers (Stanley Kramer resides on the throne there) who want to fight the good fight but use a two-by-four pounded into the back of a viewer's head to emphasize the obvious. As writer/producer/star of War, Inc. Cusack wants to make a statement about the venality of the United States' involvement in Iraq and wants to make that statement in the worst way. And, unfortunately, he does. Cusack attempts to reconceive the hit man premise of Grosse Point Blank as a lacerating and biting political satire in the vein of Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog. Unfortunately, the end result is more along the lines of those disastrous, live-action cartoonish romps of the stinky 1960s vintage a la John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.

As in Grosse Point Blank, Cusack plays a world-weary hit man, Brand Hauser, who works for a Halliburton-inspired international corporation that has just completed a contract on the first 100-percent outsourced road in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Turaqistan. The head honcho of the corporation is the ex-Vice President (Dan Akyroyd on a toilet) who orders Hauser into Turaqistan to assassinate the chief Turaqistani minister, Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov). Omar plans to one-up the corporation by installing his own oil pipeline in competition, and the corporation will have none of that. Hauser arrives under cover as the head of the Brand USA Trade Show, where he is responsible for a big gala extravaganza starring Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff in a change of pace role as a sexy, slutty Britney Spears clone; at one point she moans pointedly after dropping a scorpion down her pants). Also on hand in Turaqistan is Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a Nation-esque reporter who immediately rubs Hauser the wrong way. Could this be love?

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The Contract Review


Weak
How'd a reasonably-big ($25 million) budget picture starring John Cusack and Morgan Freeman and directed by twice-Oscar-nominated Bruce Beresford go absolutely nowhere? I'd never even heard of The Contract until the DVD showed up at my house. I wager you're the same... and few will even see it on home video, either.

The story begins with decent promise as Freeman is revealed to be a stellar hitman, only his cover is finally blown and the many enemies he's made over the years come after him. He escapes an elaborate assassination and runs into the wilderness, only to be apprehended (because he's in handcuffs) by a camping father (John Cusack) and his son. While the trio attempts to get back to civilization to turn Freeman in, they're pursued by the bad guys and the good guys, and they still have to deal with harsh terrain surrounding them. Beresford's setup starts strong but soon peters out and gets repetitive as Cusack faces down one impossible situation after another, but never with much finesse. It's just running around on a mountain, often in the dark: The final showdown takes place completely and absurdly without lighting and pretty much seals the movie's doom.

Continue reading: The Contract Review

Raging Sharks Review


Terrible
Imagine the satisfaction of telling your co-workers come Monday morning that you spent the weekend not on the beach or climbing a mountain, but watching the awe-inspiring DVD Raging Sharks. They'll be jealous. You'll be the boss of the place, even if it is fleeting.

The title ought to give away the storyline, but to be a little more specific, it's a lot like Deep Blue Sea and The Abyss, minus the camp value and special effects, respectively.

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