The Prince (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Brian A. Miller’s “The Prince” is yet another action-thriller in which a desperate father must rescue his daughter from bad guys, but what makes it a tolerable experience is its insistence in providing background information so that viewers have an appreciation of why violence must occur—to a fault. The screenplay by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore is so heavy on expository and repetitive dialogue, the first half is a soporific bore, particularly when a character named Angela (Jessica Lowndes), the party-loving best friend of the missing college student, is placed alongside our central protagonist, Paul (Jason Patric), the mechanic with a mysterious past. The majority of their dialogue simply serves to explain the plot—unnecessary given the story’s familiar premise. More interesting is the lo-fi approach to shootouts. It makes the point that violence is ugly and painful, not beautiful or well-choreographed as often shown in polished and expensive action flicks. There is a hint of a superior story, however, when Paul crosses paths with old friend (John Cusack). The two reminisce days gone when they were young killers. There is a calm to their aged faces and bodies which helps to convince us of their once savage natures now suppressed. I would have preferred to experience that movie.
Good Boys (2019)
★ / ★★★★
There is a way to make a raunchy tween pseudo-sex comedy for adults, but Gene Stupnitsky’s “Good Boys” misses the mark completely. The reason is because it is a one-trick pony when it comes the would-be comic moments: Put six-graders Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon)—collectively known as the Beanbag Boys—in adult situations (buying drugs, stealing beer, spying on neighbors, and the like) and allow their innocence to shine through. The formula is lazy, repetitive, and, for the most part, unfunny. Notice how there is minimal flow to the comedy; just a parade of one wacky scenario after another with no dramatic pull. Cue the boys screaming when things go awry. Just because the tweens utter curse words like sailors does not automatically mean the material is effective. Two-thirds of the word through, the work undergoes a forced and unconvincing tonal shift. However, there is a lack of convincing drama in the boys realizing they will not be best friends for life precisely because the screenplay by Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg has treated these characters as cardboard cutouts for the majority of the picture.
Outlaw King (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
With a keen eye for beautiful vistas of majestic cliffs overlooking rivers and oceans, verdant forests, and flat terrains plagued with bogs, “Outlaw King,” directed by David Mackenzie, is visual splendor. It has a knack for placing the viewer into its particular time and place. But the deeper it gets in excavating the conflict between Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), soon-to-be murderous king of Scotland, and the tyrannical King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), details are presented in a cursory and unsatisfying manner some of the time. Its constricted two-hour running time does not allow for the material to breathe between major turn of events. Right when one is finished, the next one is presented. It becomes a challenge to buy into the passage of time and so a fully immersive experience is not achieved. In the middle of it, one considers that perhaps telling the story in the form of mini-series might have been more effective. The work is elevated, however, by committed supporting performances, from Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, Robert’s intelligent, supportive, and headstrong wife; Billy Howle as the irascible Prince of Wales with serious daddy issues; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as revenge-driven James Douglas whose lands have been taken away on the basis of treason. I wished to know these figures and all their complexities, but we are provided only a glance.
★★ / ★★★★
Luc Besson’s action-thriller “Anna” tells the story of a Russian woman (Sasha Luss) recruited by the KGB during the intelligence war against the CIA. A victim of domestic abuse and a drug addict, she considers working for the government as a short-term solution that might lead to a better life, but, after having proven her efficiency as a tyro agent, her superior (Eric Godon) demands that she serve for the long haul—or die. Occasionally entertaining are the ridiculous action scenes in which Anna must storm a place and shoot every person in a suit or uniform, but there is a disconnect between the complex, glossy choreography and the titular character’s desperation to achieve freedom. And so when the busy buzzing of bullets and cracking of bones die down, the personal drama comes across rather disingenuous most of the time. It lacks a certain abrasiveness that allows the drama to become convincing and compelling. The picture, however, is elevated somewhat by supporting actors who strive to deliver solid performances: Luke Evans the brooding KGB officer, Helen Mirren as the sharp and tough KGB handler, and Cillian Murphy as an unwavering CIA agent constantly on Anna’s heels.
★ / ★★★★
The near-lifeless suspense-thriller “Burn” takes a look at a gas station attendant named Melinda (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) who is so lonely and so tired of being treated like she’s invisible that during a seemingly ordinary graveyard shift, instead of finding ways to alert the police, she decides to help a desperate robber (Josh Hutcherson), hoping that, after proving her loyalty, he would take her along for the ride. Although the picture takes risks and offers a number surprises, particularly in how it portrays its protagonist as sympathetic while struggling with serious mental health issues, nearly every single one comes across unconvincing, fake, a performance. Events occur simply because the plot must move forward. Its attempts at dark humor—a rape scene, for instance—do not land exactly on target and so viewers are left feeling dirty, awkward, cheated. It proves to possess a minimal understanding—if that—of thrillers that unfold in and around one location in real time. Thus, by the time its eighty minutes are up, the movie provides no catharsis. By first-time writer-director Mike Gan.
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