Tag: vince vaughn

Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two detectives, Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), are caught via phone camera for being too rough on a suspect. Six-week suspension, no pay. The former has an idea: To rob criminals planning to execute a bank heist. The latter is given a choice on whether to join his partner. He accepts, albeit reluctantly; money is needed in the likely event his girlfriend accepts his wedding proposal. Like strong thrillers told with clear vision and precision, “Dragged Across Concrete” offers a straightforward plot—and yet many may find it to be a challenge to sit through because of its formidable patience. Without the fat, it is barely a ninety-minute feature. And yet it has a total running time of two hours and forty minutes. In this rare case, fat provides flavor.

This is a story of people who are required to sacrifice something important in order to achieve what they want. Most of them will pay with their lives. It is quite grim in its vision of reality, but I found it to be honest, too. Our detectives are not pleasant people to be around. For instance, one of them is a proud racist. The other tolerates his partner’s… eccentricity. One feels he is owed by the city he has protected for doing “good and honest work” which supposedly justifies the corruption he is about to step into. The other knows he is smart and can do much better than to sit next to an increasingly bitter man who is twenty years his senior. Yet this man chooses to remain stagnant, coming up with one justification after another in order to delay what is right for his career.

These are interesting characters precisely because of their flaws. Exchanges between Gibson and Vaughn command electricity; they adapt a rhythm that feels cinematic without losing that roughness or jaggedness innate to independent films. Ridgeman and Lurasetti enable one another yet challenge each other in small ways, even in petty ways. Attempts at humor are present when it comes to their behavior, especially when both are confined in a small space—like how a sandwich is eaten. We spent ample time in their car, just waiting for something to happen. Those thirsty for action will likely get bored, but those who wish to understand these men will be curious of what they have to say or do next. I fall in the latter category.

Zahler’s daring screenplay shines not just during shockingly violent in-your-face moments. Although I must say there is a murder that occurs about halfway through that haunted me until well after the end credits. Notice the material is not afraid to put the rising action into a screeching halt in order to provide exposition regarding new characters, who may or may not be critically important during the final act, and reveal their motivations. Instead of giving us repetitive car chases and shootouts, we take a quick peek at their home lives: the state of their living space, who is important to them, and why they come to the conclusion that money will solve their current woes. But what good is money when you’re dead and you’re not there to share joy and laughter with loved ones? To these people, it is worth the risk.

Looking at the work as a whole, I think its goal is to censure systemic problems in our current society: racism, corruption, and the constant failure to hold cops responsible for their actions in a way that is healthy and therefore have positive effects long-term. The movie is a look at how punishment-driven we are: imprison criminals when they need rehabilitation, suspend cops without pay when what most of them really need is proper training not only as cops but also as enforcers of law who must learn to relate better with the diverse communities they serve. Finally, it condemns how we as a society have allowed those in power to put money on such a high pedestal that we are willing to die to attain it. That is why the violence must be framed in an extreme fashion. The film is angry and we should be, too. Yes, the movie entertains, but it also works as social commentary should viewers bother to look underneath the sclera.


Swingers (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mike’s girlfriend of six years broke up with him to be with another man. Being a good friend, Trent (Vince Vaughn), a smooth talker, tries his best to help Mike (Jon Favreau) keep his head up and move on from the split. Since Mike moved to Los Angeles from New York City just recently to pursue being a professional comedian, what better way to find inspiration and women than Las Vegas.

One might take a look at the title the film and assume the worst: a tacky, sex-crazed, mindless frat-boy comedy with neither depth nor ambition to incite genuine laughs that everyone can relate with. I certainly did. I was happy to have been proven wrong even before the opening credits.

Written by Jon Favreau, “Swingers” pays equal attention to the awkwardness of a good-hearted sad sap trying to jump back in the dating pool and the friends who give him the confidence to not be so hard and down on himself. There is a formula to the personalities of the people surrounding the protagonist but it is never apparent or distracting.

Rob (Ron Livingston) is the most sensitive, always having the time and patience to listen to Mike talk about pretty much the same thing each time they go out. Sue (Patrick Van Horn) is the most generous when it comes to sharing his thoughts, lacking a filter as well as the timing of someone used to being attuned to another’s feelings. And then there is Trent, commanding a balance between Sue’s macho act and Rob’s words of wisdom. It makes sense that Mike spends the most time with him.

The funniest scenes involve Mike and Trent getting into all sorts of increasingly embarrassing situations until we want to cringe and hide our faces in order to preserve the remaining dignity they have. The trip to Las Vegas is especially amusing. The duo are convinced somehow that if they entered a casino wearing suits, people who work there would notice and free goodies would be given to them. Though it is of no surprise to us that their plan backfires, their commitment is hilarious on top of their ceaseless effort to come off as high rollers. The comedy works because they do not recognize their situation as funny but everyone else around them—including us—do.

What surprised me most is the picture’s well-written screenplay. Instead of relying on one physical gag after another, there are plenty of instances when characters are allowed to talk. Somehow, there is an unfortunate Hollywood fabrication that guys do not like to talk about their feelings especially when it comes to their perceived inadequacies. This is an offensive assumption and I was impressed that the picture subverts this trend. Yes, young males like to drink, play video games, and hook-up but it does not mean that they are incapable making deep and lasting connections with their fellow male friends. There is a complexity here that is easy to take for granted because it all flows so well.

Directed by Doug Liman, “Swingers” is far from a run-of-the-mill buddy comedy. It has sensitivity and insight sandwiched between good times at parties and bars.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Writer-director S. Craig Zahler has helmed yet another project so worthy of being seen due to its high entertainment value while telling a seemingly straightforward story of a six-foot-five former boxer (Vince Vaughn) recently laid off from his job as an auto-repairman who then makes the decision to become a drug runner in order to provide a better life for his wife (Jennifer Carpenter). Equipped with a wonderful ear for dialogue as it expertly employs pauses and extended silences to amp up the suspense, what results is a razor-sharp action-thriller that is certain to gain a cult following over the years.

I have never seen Vaughn deliver a performance in which he disappears into his character completely, not even in his prior dramatic roles. He plays a criminal named Bradley Thomas, but what makes the subject interesting is that he comes with a set of principles. And because we are given a chance to understand the reasons behind his actions, we become empathetic to his plight despite the fact that his business involves drugs. Bradley may come from the South, accent and all, and so it is easy to assume he is not intelligent, especially given the archetypes of action films. On the contrary, Bradley is smart, more than capable of thinking on his feet, and makes careful decisions when it really counts.

The skull-crunching, limb-bending, thumbs-pushed-inside-eye-sockets violence is ugly, beautiful, and satisfying. Those less experienced with watching extremely violent pictures are certain to flinch or look away for some seconds. The camera is not afraid to show how it is really like to break an arm or stomp on a head against a concrete floor. At times it goes for the gross close-up. Yet despite the level of brutality, it is beautiful because these moments are earned. We find satisfaction in them because the violence serves as catharsis rather than simply something that must occur for the sake of spraying blood or hearing screams of pain. In addition, from a technical standpoint, the fight scenes are impressive because they do not look stylized in any way. It adds to the gritty realism of the material.

The look of the picture commands attention because images are drenched in hues of dark blue. This is particularly effective during scenes between Bradley and his pregnant wife walking around their home after some financial success. Although it is supposed to be a happy time for them, we absorb the picture through a fog of blue. It creates a dead-cold feeling, creating a sense of foreboding that this story may not end the way we think. To establish excitement, a freshness, using such a color palette is impressive because such a strategy is often employed in thrillers by which filmmakers hope to put a filter between material and audience, occasionally a way to numb us from the experience. I enjoyed that Zahler is able to find a different way to use the technique.

“Brawl in Cell Block 99” offers an unrelenting sensory experience. The main character speaks only when necessary and when he does express his thoughts, he has a habit of generalizing, not because he is incapable but because time is valuable. He is a walking curiosity and we care for him to stick around so we can learn more about him. And so when injustice is done to him and those he cares about, we demand that it be corrected with utmost urgency. I admired this work’s wild and uncompromising approach.

Delivery Man

Delivery Man (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

David’s profile: a forty-something meat truck driver, personable but an underachiever, not very good at his job, unreliable, owes almost a hundred thousand dollars to a bunch of thugs, and has a girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) who just broke the news that she is pregnant. To top it off, a lawyer reveals to him that his sperm, in which he had donated about seven hundred times in a fertility clinic between 1991 and 1994, had created five hundred thirty-three children and one hundred forty-two of them wish to know his identity. David (Vince Vaughn) decides to look into them one by one to determine if he is fit to be a father.

It goes without saying that “Delivery Man,” written and directed by Ken Scott, has a ridiculous premise but that is not what prevents it from being just an average picture. And although it is not afraid to enter a more dramatic territory on occasion, the sudden shifts in tone and mood more often distract than compel. What results is a film that is highly uneven—very funny in certain sections but a drag the majority of the time.

Vaughn gets the many of the lines but he is overshadowed by his co-star. Chris Pratt gets about a third—if that—of screen time and yet every time he is in it, he knows what to do with his lines, face, body language, and has a way of making us wonder what his character’s life is really like divorced from his friendship with David. That is, we are curious to know the man who is neck-deep in stress when it comes to taking care of his four young children. Pratt’s posture and overall disposition screams very dad-like and so we believe his character, Brett, is genuinely trying to look out for his man-child friend.

Vaughn, on the other hand, delivers what is expected. His approach of talking really quickly works at times but I have grown tired of it. Whenever he is on screen, which is often, I wondered when he will do something surprising. He never does and it is such a disappointment because his early pictures, like Doug Liman’s “Swingers,” show that he is capable of so much more. If the comedic screenplay does not demand a challenge, I think he has reached a level where he can ask or suggest to be given something different to do. Otherwise, the movies that he chooses to appear in start to look and feel very similar.

The film is not above sentimentality but, admittedly, some of it worked for me. I was moved—to a point—during the scenes where David visits his disabled son, Ryan (Sébastien René), and the two (appear to) spend time just being around one another. They share not one line of conversation and yet their scenes contain more emotion than the most of the scenes where David must give a speech to someone in order to convince them that he has something to offer.

I wished that the scenes between Ryan and David were better executed, however. The montage approach does not work. I immediately thought about how a foreign or a seasoned director might have constructed the scenes in a smoother manner in order to really give us the time to absorb and understand how important it is for David to be with his son.

The picture might have worked better if the premise were dealt with during the halfway point. We all know how the movie will end so why take forever to get there? It tests the patience. Wouldn’t it have been a lot funnier if we got a chance to see how Thanksgiving or Christmas was like if one had about a hundred fifty children? I know that it gets crazy when my family and relatives gather in one house over the holidays—and there are only about thirty to forty of us. How about birthdays? Why not meet some of his kids’ parents? There are so many situational comedies unique to the subject’s situation that are left unexplored.

A remake of “Starbuck,” also directed by Scott and co-written with Martin Petit, “Delivery Man” is not unlike its main character. It settles on underachieving rather than attempting to push the limits of its potential. I look at the director and I wonder if it gave him artistic pleasure to repeat the same song and dance. I would have been bored. He probably was, too, because there are moments when it showed in his work.

The Internship

The Internship (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Nick (Owen Wilson) and Billy (Vince Vaughn), a pair of watch salesmen, receive news that the company they work for has shut down. This is most inopportune because, like most adults, they have bills to pay. While searching for jobs online, it occurs to Billy that he and his best friend might have a shot at working for Google. All they have to do is get accepted to a highly competitive summer internship and win a series of challenges against IT-smart—and cutthroat—students hoping for a job right out of college.

There is no denying that Vaughn and Wilson are very good comedic performers, but with a screenplay that is so stale and direction that runs out of energy about thirty minutes in, the hope of saving a sinking ship is null. What we have here is material that should have been filled with whip-smart one-liners about the role of modern technology in our lives, backed with satirical edge—or at least an interesting commentary—about corporate culture, but it settles for being average. I am not a fan of mediocrity.

Part of the problem is that the supporting characters are not asked to do anything other than to serve as weak punchlines. As a result, I found Nick and Billy’s team members to be intolerable. Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), Neha (Tiya Sircar), and Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael) are supposed to be so intelligent and so driven to succeed that at times they come off unlikable, but the script by Vaughn and Jared Stern does not bother with specifics.

For instance, what does each member contribute to the table? Other than to snag a job after the competition, what is it about working for Google that they find so alluring? Who are they outside of the internship? Because we never learn about them as people with real thoughts and lives outside of the competition, the eventual changes they go through as individuals as well as a team feel completely phony.

It is a shame because the film missed an opportunity to make a real and increasingly relevant statement about human connection. Instead of simply existing as a broad comedy with a frustrating lack of focus, it should have been more pointed with what it is trying to say. All of us have come across really smart people and wondered why they are not more successful or happier in life. The material makes only a small suggestion that social skills, a willingness to express one’s personality, and attempting to get to know others are important elements for success as well as self-fulfillment. It appears as though the material is embarrassed to really get that point across.

The subplot involving a romance between Nick and a Google employee, Dana (Rose Byrne), is desperate at best. The two characters share no chemistry. Notice that their interactions almost always consist of sarcasm. Naturally, they must go on a date eventually. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that the whole charade is supposed to be cute or romantic. I found it insulting because the script assumes that we are idiots.

Directed by Shawn Levy, “The Internship” asks us to invest two hours of our time and it gives less than nothing. We get a couple of jokes about the older generation not knowing terms about the computer or the internet, Asian parents who put too much pressure on their child, and women who work too hard to be good at their jobs. Since no thought or inspiration is put in the screenplay, it ends up wallowing in clichés.

The Watch

The Watch (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez), who recently gained American citizenship, is found dead at Costco with his skin missing. Evan (Ben Stiller), the manager of the store, is outraged by the death of his friend and vows to find his killer. During the intermission of a local football game, Evan announces that he wishes to from a neighborhood watch and everyone is welcome to join. As a team, they will keep an eye on suspicious activities in Glenview and keep their small town safe. Expecting many to turn up, only Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) decide to join Evan.

“The Watch,” written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, misses the mark not by a couple of inches but a few miles. What could have been an interesting commentary on the effects of an idyllic life in suburbia shaken suddenly is turned into an interminable would-be comedy show with jokes that a group of dirty-minded ten-year-olds can write.

It starts off promisingly. Evan narrates and talks about how he aims to gather friends of different ethnicities. I found it funny because it has a specific target that is being satirized: a white person living in suburbia who thinks that the world really is as simple as black and white. A lot of people out there believe that just because they have friends that either come or appear to be from different parts of the world, somehow they are immune from creating racist remarks or tolerating it. The picture seems to have a goal that it wishes to pursue other than to make the audience chuckle.

Unfortunately, its initial brilliance is shadowed by frat boy, man-child humor so bland that I found myself looking at the clock every three to five minutes and calculating the remaining minutes I had yet to sit through. At one point, I began to get extremely annoyed by Bob’s constant yelling as if he or everyone around him is deaf. Vaughn can be very funny but this script is clearly not right for him–or for anyone. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps the hypocrisy of his character is meant to be a criticism: a fun-loving, in-your-face guy who urinates in a can while inside a van is also an overly protective father especially when he sees a Facebook video of his teenage daughter making out in a closet with a random guy. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Bob, half the time, is played in a mousy way–maybe while participating in the neighborhood watch–but becomes Hulk-like when his daughter enters the equation?

Note that I have not mentioned the alien that murdered Antonio Guzman until now. That is because the special and visual effects look second-rate especially during the chase scenes. To hide this, heavy editing is utilized which actually makes the action less exciting. I would have preferred the aliens to look fake instead of sleek because the film is supposed to be a comedy. Why not allow the audience to laugh or poke fun of the bad makeup? I could have given it credit for being confident enough to have taken that risk.

Directed by Akiva Schaffer, “The Watch” is neither amusing as a comedy nor does it inspire a sense of wonder as a science fiction picture. So egregious as a sci-fi comedy hybrid that at times Jon Favreau’s sci-fi western “Cowboys & Aliens” flashed before my eyes. Saddest of all is seeing Billy Crudup’s talent go to waste as Evan’s creepy neighbor.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two very attractive assassins (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) decided to get married, unaware that the other worked for their agency’s rival. Five or six years into their marriage, they found out the truth and they were assigned to kill each other or else they would be the ones that would end up dead. I saw this movie back in 2005 but it was not at all what I remembered it to be. While it did have over-the-top and very in-your-face destructive action sequences, I did not expect it to have more than a handful of funny running jokes. Some of which included living in suburbia and adhering to its unstated rules, keeping their extracurricular activities a secret (or is their extracurricular activity their marriage?), the rut of being in a relationship where both are sick of trying to pretend to be normal and, most common of all, the increasing frustration on both parties when sex was taken out of the equation for quite some time. I thought the picture was at its peak in its first two-thirds when the characters were not aware of the truth and the decisions they had to face when finally found out each other’s true identities. It was painfully obvious that they weren’t going to kill each other (I thought it was hilarious that Jolie hit Pitt in the face multiple times but not vice-versa) but I had a good time picking sides regarding who would outsmart the other (I was on Jolie’s team). The two leads were very different and that’s the reason why the movie worked. Mr. Smith liked to have fun on the job and wasn’t afraid to detach from the plan and let his instincts take over. Mrs. Smith, on the hand, was very dedicated to sticking with the rules and was not willing to compromise both on and off the field. The last third was more or less a typical action picture where the protagonists tried to evade grenades, raining bullets and rocket launchers. I started to get bored but at least Pitt and Jolie looked good and it was obvious that they were having fun. As for the supporting actors like Vince Vaughn and Adam Brody, they did not bring much into the film but when they were on camera, it was a nice break from the deafening explosions and pots and pans hitting the floor. However, it would have been nice if there was some sort of twist involving those two. Written by Simon Kinberg and directed by Doug Liman, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is a very commercial action movie that everybody can watch and have a good time. With movies like this, it’s easy to try too hard and difficult to be effortless. Fortunately, with Pitt and Jolie’s charm and a great script, the film was effortless when it came to balancing action, comedy and sexiness.