★★ / ★★★★
Disaster films tend to entertain in two ways: expensive special and visual effects and a script that plays upon the emotions of the audience like a piano. Exaggeration when it comes to images and emotions is best utilized during the right moments as to plug in the holes in plot and logic in a systematic way. Get these two elements in shape and it is likely that success of a disaster flick is imminent. “Geostorm,” written by Dean Devlin and Paul Guyot, needs work not only on these important ingredients but also when it comes to its dramatic timing. It does not hold a candle against the strongest pictures in the sub-genre.
The opening sections of the film hold promise. Within ten minutes we learn plenty about the state of the world and why it is absolutely necessary for countries with enough power and resources to unite and build an international space station. The so-called net of satellites, termed Project Dutchboy, is designed to put the planet’s catastrophic weather patterns under control thereby preventing millions of deaths. But when a series of strange malfunctions begin to occur with Dutchboy, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), the person who designed the net of satellites, is asked to look into the matter. Soon he discovers that a more nefarious plan is at work.
But the picture’s initial verve is doused just as quickly by the squabbling bothers (Butler, Jim Sturgess). The material might have gotten away with it had the script fleshed out Jake and Max, both when it comes to their personal lives and their respective occupations. For instance, Jake is supposed to be a brilliant engineer, a pioneer, and yet when he sets foot on the space station, not once do we get the opportunity to appreciate his genius or knack for problem-solving. One gets the impression that anybody who is familiar enough with the satellites combined with some level of leadership can do what he does. Meanwhile, Max is supposed to be a person with great talent in moving chess pieces across political landscapes and yet when he is required to convince minds to take a specific course of action, he is way over his head. What makes these protagonists special?
The computer graphic imagery, whether it be tornadoes causing destruction in India or tidal waves submerging skyscrapers in the United Arab Emirates, is impressive at first. But the sense of wonder and horror dissipates from the moment we realized we are being played with. Notice that there are more than a handful of cutscenes in which we return to the same individuals just so the viewers can see whether the subject is surviving amidst the chaos. A more ambitious disaster film—certainly one with more imagination—would have chosen to write characters living in each of these countries so that we get to know them on some level. Eventually, these cutscenes become as laughable and fake as the visual effects.
Those familiar with disaster movies know that tear-jerker moments are right around the corner—especially toward the second half of the film when destructions threaten the lives of our heroes or heroines. The screenplay does not bother to play upon our expectations and so viewers who are aware of the conventional rhythm and beats will likely fail to feel anything at all. When characters are sobbing and looking utterly miserable at the possibility that their loved ones are doomed, I sat in my chair counting the seconds till they finally realize that not all hope is lost. It took about ten minutes.
★★ / ★★★★
With four degree burns all over his body and a spine that is severed from the waist down, the possibility of Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) surviving the ordeal is, according to the specialists, highly unlikely. It is most fortunate that the CEO of OmniCorp, Sellars (Michael Keaton), is scouting for a man to enroll in a program led by Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman). The hypothesis: Putting a man inside a machine will give the company a chance to ease the minds of a mostly robophobic American public and eventually annul a bill that bans crime-fighting robots domestically.
One of the key problems with “RoboCop,” written by Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, is a lack of dramatic focus. What kind of story does it wish to tell? A man who one day wakes up and realizes that he is part-machine? The complications that arise when business and science form a collaboration? The role of the media in politics and vice-versa? A family ripped apart by greed and corruption? Although these questions can be very interesting to explore, such are only worth sitting through with a high level of writing. This film excels in showcasing expected action scenes but suffers severely when it attempts to shed some insight.
When bullets are involved, my attention was transfixed on the screen and my ears relished every sound when somebody pulls the trigger. The pop of the firearms are alive and coupled with camera movements with a sense of urgency, it is exciting to a point. The robotic suit of the protagonist is sleek and easy on the eyes despite never convincing us fully that with such a bulky exterior—not to mention the mass of the thing—aerial acrobatics is possible. Yes, there are a few moments when it feels cartoonish.
I enjoyed that the villain is not really bad, per se. Sellars is a businessman and wants to make a lot of money. What kind of CEO of a billion-dollar company is not driven by capital? His justifications to reach his goal, one can argue, are the elements that make him villainous. Keaton plays his character like a real person. And in an action picture with shades of science fiction, it is critical that we get a taste of something that is grounded. Oldman playing the scientist, on the other hand, makes a mistake by embodying too likable a character. Doesn’t he want to make money, too? Funding is important.
What does not work entirely is Alex/RoboCop’s relationship with his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son. Pick any of their scenes and it feels tacked on and forced—as if the only way for us to root for the good guy would be to reminded again and again that he has a family to leave behind. Cornish’s dramatic scenes are awkward. I could feel her trying to push the tears out. I felt her thinking about the lines rather than just letting go and communicate the anguish of a woman who is being denied to visit her husband. It is not entirely the performer’s fault. The women characters in the film are not given depth.
“RoboCop,” directed by José Padilha, is good-looking but empty. It is neither cerebral nor brawny enough—which makes it somewhere in between. And that is boring. When I was a kid, I remember my mom watching the original “RoboCop” on HBO before going to bed. A handful of its images made an impression on me. I may not remember the details but the fact that I could remember something about it two decades later proves that there is something extreme about it, an element that is dangerous, not safe.
The filmmakers should have taken inspiration from the original and strived to push the envelope beyond what is expected, to prove to the naysayers when it was announced that a remake was in works that they were wrong to have doubted. Wouldn’t that have been icing on the cake?
Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★
After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?