Tag: jason statham

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw


Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Intelligent people will most likely get bored of “Hobbs & Shaw” about twenty minutes in because it reveals its hand too early. Instead of consistently finding new or creative ways to entertain, it offers only two tricks: loud and busy action set pieces and rapid-fire banter between the titular characters (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, respectively) who despise each other. The strategy suffers from diminishing returns and by the end one cannot be blamed for finding any excuse to get up from his seat without the intention coming back. I stayed all the way through and regretted it. I could have spent one hundred thirty-five minutes enjoying the outdoors.

The bombastic action film is directed by David Leitch and his penchant for complex sequences shows, whether it be a car-motorcycle chase across the busy streets London or hand-to-hand combat in a sanitized Russian underground laboratory. He proves to have an eye for what looks good during wide shots or, by contrast, shots that are up close and personal. However, it is surprising that there are screenwriters at all (Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce). Because for every well-lit and marginally impressive choreography, there is at least three cringe-worthy dialogue to go with them. It feels as though the script is written by people without imagination or at least an inkling of how people actually talk in every day conversations. Action movies must be grounded in some way; not everything must be elevated.

This is most problematic during the occasional dramatic moments, particularly when Luke Hobbs (Johnson), a federal agent, and Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an M16 agent who also happens to be Deckard Shaw’s (Statham) younger sibling, find similarities in each other. These exchanges are forced and superficial—awkward and uncomfortable at best. The dialogue also fails to work when the subject of family, particularly being estranged, is broached. These would-be personal moments lodged between action sequences are worthy of the biggest eye rolls. To say the quality is television-like would be an insult to good television with well-written dialogue.

Even the action scenes fail to command a high level of excitement despite increasingly elaborate skirmishes. Here we have a villain named Brixton (Idris Elba) who is part-human and part-machine. Despite all the talk surrounding Brixton being a formidable enemy, notice how he and his team loses in every key confrontation. As a result, especially during the second half, he becomes significantly less intimidating. Introducing science-fiction elements in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is not the problem; the issue lies in the lack of more profound or intriguing ideas behind them. Due to this shortcoming, the work comes across as just another lazy cash grab.

“Hobbs & Shaw” fires blanks. Although it is loud, busy, and appears to look expensive on the surface, it offers an empty, nearly joyless experience. It does nothing to push Johnson, Statham, Kirby, and Elba as performers. The work rests on the actors turning on their charisma and nothing else. At least they are getting a paycheck to sleepwalk though a subpar film. We, on the other hand, must pay money and put in the time to sit through it.

The Meg


The Meg (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

There is something inherently wrong about the way some critics and reviewers criticize this picture. That is, they claim that it would have been a better film, or more enjoyable, had it been dumber. This ludicrous way of looking at the work—any work—is wrong on two fronts. Would we have gotten the likes of “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Alien,” “The Fly”—now considered to be classics of the genre, to name a few—had they simply strived to be dumb but entertaining? Of course not. They stand the test of time exactly because they are entertaining and smart. Behind them are concrete ideas. In addition, looking at the film as is, its dumber moments—all action, no substance—are actually weakest points of this creature-feature.

Notice how the first forty minutes or so are not interested in showing needless kills. Instead, screenwriters Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber wish to inspire a sense of wonder in the audience by taking us within the deepest trenches of the ocean. With director Jon Turteltaub at the helm, he allows the camera to capture strange creatures of the deep. The split-second shots that linger just enough elevates the material. The tease allows the audience to wish to look at the various living things just a little longer. We stare into the darkness, we marvel at the quiet stillness, and we consider the fatal pressure that threatens to crush submersibles like an empty soda can. This is a hallmark of great science-fiction.

The first third offers such a surprisingly ambitious experience that it made me consider that perhaps children might enjoy it. Yes, it is a movie that showcases a prehistoric shark that eats people, just like how “Jurassic Park” has a T-Rex that eats people, but it offers enough quieter moments that tickles one’s curiosity. I was impressed with its patience, its willingness to not treat every character as countdown toward being fish food. This is no “Deep Blue Sea” in that we know exactly who, and how many, are going to survive by the end. At the same time, however, it is neither as tension-filled nor gory as that film.

Perhaps the lack of unwavering suspense is due to the Megalodon not being especially smart. Whenever bait is around, we know precisely how it will behave. Although a formidable villain because of its sheer size and strength, it is not especially cunning or intelligent. Still, the fact that it is capable of capsizing a sizable boat is certain to induce gasps of horror. Even when it is apparently dead, the threat remains that maybe it is merely pretending. Perchance putting your head in its mouth full of teeth for a silly selfie isn’t a very good idea.

Jason Statham leads the cast of deep sea scientists and explorers who discover that the Mariana Trench is deeper than initially expected. Within these deeper levels are creatures unknown to science—including creatures that are believed to be extinct. Statham fits the role like a glove—he is smooth, athletic, charming. He oozes the qualities of a hero destined to save the day. Statham is no stranger to roles like this and so I wished there had been more wrinkles to Jonas Taylor. When we meet him, it is hinted that he drinks a lot. If the writers had given us a hero who happened to be an alcoholic, that might have been an intriguing avenue to explore. But the screenplay is not interested in taking too many risks.

The special and visual effects are impressive—to a point. The research facility, submersibles, and computer screens are beautiful, detailed, and convincing. Again, I wished to examine them for a few seconds more. But when the camera goes underwater, the images look murky at times. It is difficult to see where the ancient shark is coming from, especially during scenes set in deep ocean where it is utterly dark. An argument can be made, however, that it might be done on purpose to create a sense of realism. In the ocean, when you dunk your head underwater and open on your eyes, it is usually murky. (With the exception, for example, of some beaches in Hawaii, especially those that only few tourists visit.) Considering this perspective, I can appreciate it.

This notion that movies—even B-movies—would be more fun if they were dumb is exactly why we consistently get trash from Hollywood. The release of this film, which offers more ambition and brain than the trailers suggest, underlines our lack of consistency. If we do not raise the bar, and raise it consistently, then we have only ourselves to blame when the machine gives us exactly what we claim to want: big and dumb movies with little to no value.

Parker


Parker (2013)
★ / ★★★★

A five-man heist at the Ohio State Fair is a success. While a million dollars sits in the back of the moving vehicle, Parker (Jason Statham) is given an offer he is told he cannot refuse: the next job involves a chance of pocketing at least a few million per person. Parker, a man of rules and principles, says he cannot accept. He signed on for one assignment and since it is finished, he insists that he walk away. The other four (Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr., Micah Hauptman, Wendell Pierce) do not like his answer so he is attacked in the back seat and left for dead on the side of the road.

If “Parker,” based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake and directed by Taylor Hackford, manages to accomplish one thing, it is casting Statham as a professional thief who believes that he is the “good” kind, determined to adhere to the idea that he will neither steal from people who cannot afford it nor hurt those who do not deserve it. But the picture is terribly long and confused. During its meanderings, I caught myself checking the clock and asking myself if it was going to be over any time soon. That is never a good sign.

Despite the main character visiting many places and seeing different people, they do not amount to much. It is mostly a passive experience: he visits an establishment, threatens a couple of guys, and onto the next hive. The characters we meet are not interesting; they say a few words, they get hurt, and we never hear of them again. The conversations have the usual tough-guy attitude commonly found within the genre, but the script is not written sharp enough so it is difficult to remember if they made any impact in the story. As a result, it feels like the film is simply buying time.

Clocking in at about a hundred and twenty minutes is inexcusable. The heart of the picture is Parker’s relationship with a real state agent named Leslie (Jennifer Lopez)—at least supposedly. Their paths do not converge until about halfway through. When it does, what they share is underwhelming. I liked the idea of Lopez and Statham emitting sexual chemistry without actually getting into it, but their relationship lacks fire and a sense of fun. Is Lopez throwing herself at a man supposed to be funny? In addition, Leslie is written so syrupy, she and her inability-to-pay-the-bills-on-time issues might as well be taken from a soap opera.

Parker’s quest for payback does not work. I wanted to see the four bad men get their comeuppance, but it is difficult to believe that the central character is in any real danger of getting caught or dying. He always seems to be a step ahead of everyone else. Since there is a lack of a defined villain—equally driven and just as smart as the protagonist—that can turn his world upside down, the work fails to become engaging.

Adapted to the screen by John J. McLaughlin, “Parker” is as inconsequential and unentertaining as it gets. For many people, it will likely work as a sleeping pill.

Spy


Spy (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

With her mentor killed in action and the rest of the CIA’s active agents’ identities compromised, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a computer analyst, volunteers to go on a field assignment to track a nuclear weapons buyer (Bobby Cannavale) and report directly to her superior (Allison Janney)—emphasis on track and report. But once actually in the field, starting in Paris, circumstances compel Susan to engage in more than what she has been assigned. Susan’s best friend at work, Nancy (Miranda Hart), backs her up through her mission via an earpiece.

Written and directed by Paul Feig, “Spy” is infectious fun because of its energy, a willingness to take risks both on a physical comedy level and witty banters, and the action offers fresh surprises missing too often in action-comedies. But perhaps what I enjoyed most about the picture is that the script does not rely solely on fat jokes to be funny. Every character is the butt of a joke at one point or another whether it be in terms of their looks, personality, or position of power. It is a comedy with a good spirit.

McCarthy proves once again that she is a star—not a chameleon but a performer who commands powerful magnetism when she is on screen. Her character is required to wear the most ridiculous disguises but McCarthy’s personality and inner-light is so strong, she does not get lost in the unflattering wig and hideous clothes. This is a story of a likable underdog who is underestimated at times because of the way she looks. And yet there is no lesson in the end about loving oneself or something cheesy like that. McCarthy makes the story, even though it is a spy comedy, more grounded, relatable.

Although the material offers a consistent ebb and flow of action and comedy, it does run a little long. The last few scenes, once the twist is revealed, are not as interesting even though the material is still able to deliver a forward momentum. I suppose the whole situation involving a deal going awry during the final act has been done so many times that maybe removing it altogether would have been the best decision. Still, even though the final fifteen minutes offers nothing new, it is watchable and has a few jokes worth sitting through.

In terms of standout supporting performances, it is a toss-up between Jason Statham, playing a very enthusiastic spy (to say the least), and Rose Byrne, portraying a femme fatale with the hopes of selling nuclear weapons. Statham is so intense that it feels as though his character came from a completely different movie—maybe from a pure action flick or a high-end action-thriller. Just about every moment he is on screen, he is making fun of his previous roles involving men with a certain talent for violence and a knack for extrication from trickiest situations. Byrne, on the other hand, is beautiful, as expected, but she has a lot of fun with the role. She oozes sex appeal but mixed with a bit of menace. When her character signals her bodyguards to punish those who have wronged her, it can be chilling especially when the violence happens off-screen.

“Spy” does not change the landscape of action-comedies in any way, but it does offer a good time. Although the template is composed of standard material we expect from the sub-genre, there is enough inspiration here that delivers creativity and intelligence, coupled with amusing performances across the board without the screenplay necessarily relying only on caricatures to make the gags work.

The Expendables 3


The Expendables 3 (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Clearly the weakest of the first three films, “The Expendables 3,” directed by Patrick Hughes, is not only plagued by a wasteland of crippling boredom after the first and final action sequences—each, by the way, is composed of only about fifteen minutes of good material—but it also suffers an identity crisis so severe that audiences coming into it expecting one thing will be gravely disappointed because they are handed another.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads a mission in Somalia which goes horribly awry when he and his men (Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) discover that a war criminal believed to be dead is very much alive. Stonebanks (Mel Gibson—who gives a performance worthy of the series), an arms dealer, critically injures one of the Expendables which leads Ross to disassemble his current team of muscles in favor of new blood—a younger group with the potential to be as good, if not better, than his former crew.

The premise itself is a serious miscalculation. I suppose that part of the idea is the passing of the torch which implies that the younger characters recruited by Ross are to be played by action stars of the future. Kellan Lutz is the most high-profile name of the young bunch but even then I do not consider him to have the potential to become a bona fide action star—and I suspect others are likely to feel the same.

Though he and his co-stars have the physicality, they command neither the charm nor the intensity of the following pool of actors that perhaps should have been cast instead: Channing Tatum, Jeremy Renner, Iko Uwais, Gina Carano, Michael B. Jordan, Tom Hardy. Given that the casting directors are able to employ big names into the franchise, to expect the hiring of the aforementioned names is not at all unjustified.

What makes the series so enjoyable is the old-fashioned style of action. It is all about the big menacing guns, the deafening explosions so closely and so expertly shot that we feel the heat approaching our seats, the bone-crunching mano-a-mano, and the cheesy one-liners as chaos unfolds all around. Instead, we endure scenes and tech talk involving security grids, surveillance videos, CCTV systems—elements that belong to another picture completely. As a result, the work is reduced to a forgettable, standard modern action movie.

The script has never been the series’ strongest asset but it is most unbearable here. Speeches concerning the leader not allowing his team to go down with him is laughable. By the end of the epic talk, the implication is this: younger lives are more expendable than older lives. Clearly, Ross is convinced that any mission involving the capture of one of the deadliest men he knows is suicide.

So, pragmatically, shouldn’t he be striving to keep his current team because they have experience together, that they share awareness down to one another’s rhythms? Thus, employing a new team, aside from being nonsensical, comes across as nothing but a convenient and lazy device to allow the minutes to trickle away. What I detest most are movies whose filmmakers are fully aware that they are wasting everybody’s time and it is so apparent that it should be criminal.

The Expendables 2


The Expendables 2 (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Right after a successful mission in Nepal, Church (Bruce Willis) approaches and informs Barney (Sylvester Stallone) of a mission, one that cannot be refused because he and his team have stolen five million dollars from the man who works for a secret but influential organization. Barney, his group of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Dolph Lungren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins), and Maggie (Nan Yu), specifically chosen by Church, head to the mountains of Albania to retrieve an item from a case in a plane crash. On what is supposed to be a clear-cut assignment turns complicated when the Sangs, gangsters within the area, appear from the fog and demand that the item of interest be handed over.

“The Expendables 2,” directed by Simon West, is a mostly fun, exciting, and transporting ruckus that set the bar so high during its first scene–tackling land, air, and water in a span of fifteen minutes–that it is unable to rise above it. The rescue mission of a Chinese billionaire in Nepal should have been the blueprint of the picture in that it makes no pretense about being an action picture with former and current major action stars at the helm: tanks demolishing supposed lines of the defenses erected by the enemy, guns of various shapes and sizes being fired at will, making no discrimination as to who or what is hit, rocket launchers extirpating balconies when another weapon would have sufficed, utter chaos and overkill abound.

There is certain poetry, a highly satisfying comedic ridiculousness, not just in the images of deaths and destruction unfolding on screen but also in the use of rousing music and energetic–but never dizzying–editing. The synergy among the techniques employed shows how excellent a Hollywood mainstream picture can be given that the proper elements are carefully measured and executed.

Unfortunately, nothing as thrilling happens up until just about after the halfway point. When the characters converse via joking around and teasing one another, there is a deadness in the dialogue. At times the exchange of words feels forced which, I suppose, can be taken as campy most of the time but the sour notes are certainly there.

However, there is one lighthearted scene that works quite well. That is, when Hale Ceasar (Crews) asks his team what they would like to have as their last meal given that they were to die the next day. I wished the scene had gone a little bit longer because a sense of camaraderie, one that felt natural, is finally put on screen.

Furthermore, the picture could have benefited from a more interesting villain. Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the leader of the Sangs who wishes to gather an astonishing amount of plutonium in an abandoned mine, is a bit boring to deserve our hatred. We learn nothing special about him outside of the fact that he likes to wear sunglasses indoors. The writing is mostly to blame but Van Damme could have done more to make his character stand out by perhaps injecting a quirk or holding a secret about his character in his own mind to make us more curious about Vilain.

“The Expendables 2,” based on the screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, shows promise by rising above mediocrity but only in unpredictable convulsions. If there is going to be a third one, which I believe is the right avenue, I’m excited at the prospect of it getting every single thing right.

Safe


Safe (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Just when Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a homeless man, was about to jump in front of a moving train, he noticed a terrified Chinese girl attempting to hide from a group of Russian gangsters. Recognizing one of them as one of his wife’s killers, he decided to set aside his suicide attempt and get revenge. Mei (Catherine Chan), taken from mainland China to New York City’s Chinatown, had an excellent aptitude for math as well as a photographic memory, an ability that a Chinese gangster leader (James Hong) valued highly for his schemes. Caught in a tug-of-war between the Chinese and the Russians–and, eventually, crooked cops–Luke and Mei tried to survive and come out on top. “Safe,” written and directed by Boaz Yakin, was far from a first-rate action piece because it oozed of conventionality, from a main character who was supposed to be carrying a heavy weight of anger and guilt to the shoot ’em up sequences that mistook high decibels for thrills. Setting up the story prior to the chance meeting of Luke and Mei proved laborious. With such a watered down and repetitive dialogue, every time a character spoke, I found myself losing more interest by the minute and wondering when it was going to deliver something so special that I would be jolted into investing more into what was happening. I wasn’t sure whether Luke’s background was simply uninspired or it had no inspiration at all. Surely different elements were plucked from other bona fide action films but it seemed to have no identity of its own. It couldn’t be denied that the writer-director wanted us to care for its protagonist. However, every so-called sad moment felt very contrived, a one-dimensional but desperate manipulation to get us to buy into the phoniness on screen. Statham’s charisma prevented the picture from drowning completely into its own humdrum formula. His physicality became increasingly attractive with every punch and kick thrown at his targets. But it was in the one playful scene where he was able to shine. Watching Statham perform is always a pleasure because he commands a great seriousness that is necessary for us to believe that, in most characters he plays, he is a figure who is out for blood. However, what separates him from wannabe action stars is his ability to break from that seriousness and deliver a smile and lightheartedness while retaining that belief in us that he’s still a badass. The part when Luke ate a sandwich so teasingly in front of the corrupt cops, who turned out to be his former colleagues, but found themselves unable to hurt him because they needed him was funny and engaging. The film needed more relaxed moments like that and less heavily edited–and boring–gun battle and hand-to-hand combat. Lastly, the relationship between Luke and Mei was not developed sufficiently. While putting a child in the middle of an action movie will always be a challenge because most child actors can only perform up to a certain level, the material never rose above that undertaking. Instead, Mei was absent during chunks of the film and was only summoned, sadly, when she needed to be interrogated. “Safe” was generic, convoluted, and not as entertaining nor engaging as it should have been. While its title had multiple meanings in the film, it could also function as a critique of itself.