The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Jeremy Piven, Kathryn Hahn, Ving Rhames and David Koechner agreed to take on a job offer from a failing auto dealership business. What started off as an edgy, politically incorrect and very funny movie, after its thirty-minute mark, became an incomprehensible pot of tired jokes and poor writing. What I loved about the first thirty minutes was that it didn’t try too hard to be funny. Each character had his or her own sense of humor and they don’t apologize for it. But then when they finally get to the car dealership, Piven’s character became another man with a dirty bag of tricks who falls head over heels for a woman (Jordana Spiro) about to be married to a man in a boy band (Ed Helms). If Neal Brennan, the director, had taken control of the picture and avoided the sidequests and not focused so much on the so-called heart of the movie, this would have worked as a dark comedy through and through. The movie became so unfocused to the point where I thought of the things I could have done instead of trying to finish the film. I also didn’t appreciate the many cameos from actors and comedians because they absolutely had nothing to offer other than to make the movie that much more muddled and unconvincing. But there was one character that never failed to make me laugh, which was played by Hahn, because even though she’s not given a deep character to play, she carried the character with such aggressiveness and I couldn’t stop laughing every time she opened her mouth. I wish the movie had instead made her the lead character because I think a deeply narcissistic character is far more interesting than a man-boy discovering love. I don’t blame the actors because I think all of them are hilarious in other movies. I mostly blame the lazy writing because it rested on typicality when there are so many rich jokes that could have been told about cars, car dealerships, the people that work there and the customers. With a running time of just about ninety minutes, I assumed that it was going to go by quickly. I was wrong. “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” started off well but it just didn’t have enough goods to keep me entertained.
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Tony Scott directed this thriller about a criminal (John Travolta) with a mysterious reason for taking a train full hostages. Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) thought it was just another day in regular train traffic, but once he got a call from the mastermind of the hostage situation, he had to think quickly and act swiftly to get to the right authorities and bargain for the lives of the hostages. For a hostage movie, “The Taking of Pelham 123” should have been more exciting. For me, only the first hour of the picture really worked because Travolta and Washington’s characters constantly tried to measure each other up; they were both smart characters and each had their own flaws and far from innocent past. The mindgames they played with each other was more interesting than the last forty-five minutes’ car crashes, quick cuts aided by random blasting of music and gunfires. In fact, the last forty-five minutes was drenched in typicality, it was hard for me to sit through because I knew where it was heading. That excitement and spark that it had in the first half were completely elimated and I somewhat lost interest. I thought the supporting actors (who are usually great in other films) such as James Gandolfini (as the mayor), John Turturro (as a professional hostage negotiator) and Luis Guzmán (as one of the three criminals) were not pushed enough to make their characters come alive and make a significant impact in the story. Their characters could have been played by other actors and the movie would essentially have been the same. I also believe the movie had some serious problems when it comes to logic. For instance, the extended chase sequence near the end could have been completely avoided if the police had put trackers in any of the money bags. Since the police would know the exact positions of the criminals, the movie would not have wasted fifteen minutes of its time showing confusion and chaos. Overall, “The Taking of Pelham 123” isn’t really a bad movie because more than half of it was right on track (pardon the pun). It’s just that it tried too hard to inject that Hollywood way of storytelling where a big chase sequence is a requisite. For a movie having characters who exuded edginess and intelligence, the movie was pretty dull and safe.