Mini-Reviews: Fast Five, Super, Kill the Irishman
In an attempt to give readers my feelings on films as I plug away on a number of writing assignments, I’ll provide mini-reviews to give my succinct opinion on films and to give me time to finish my other projects.
The Fast and the Furious franchise has done an exceedingly smart thing: they’ve moved from the car race genre into the heist film genre. Now, instead of the same drama about who trusts who, who likes who, etc., we have a multi-ethnic Ocean’s 11 who quip one-liners while keeping the action steadily coming. This is without question the most enjoyable of the Fast and the Furious films, which probably is also because it’s easily the stupidest. Plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon, stunts that appear to rebel against the laws of Science, and line readings by Vin Diesel that will make even the most tolerant moviegoer cringe. No matter: it has the best action scenes the franchise has had to date, and even better, it boasts The Rock as an additional foil to Diesel and the gang. For something so dumb to also be so thrilling makes me the opposite of furious.
Justin Lin, who’s directed the last two, keeps the editing to a minimum and keeps the action in well-lit Brazilian settings (in case you forgot it’s Brazil, there are at least four random shots of the Christ The Redeemer statue serving as intermittent reminders). While beyond ludicrous– and they set it up by saying it’s an “easy job”!!– the train robbery sequence is the most exciting action in the whole franchise. This is what F&F should be about: fast cars and crazy stunts that make you hold your breath even as you say, “This is impossible!!” A few action scenes involving the Rock are also fun, and the final vault sequence is laugh-out-loud dumb, but there’s pleasure in watching the vault smash through everything in its path while being pulled by one tiny car. The Rock is perfect for this genre: he knows exactly how to deliver each line, as if to comment on how dumb the line is while also convincingly earnest. It’s his wrestler’s background. The only other character of interest is Han, played by Sung Kang as an Asian James Bond of sorts– he too suggests depth in one-dimensional lines. But who cares about the lines or the logic? If you do, you won’t be seeing this anyway. If you don’t, things blow up mighty good in this, and the set-up for Fast Six leaves you not minding its inevitable existence.
This film’s problem, similar to the problem of its sister film Kick-Ass, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants the tone to swing violently (emphasis on violently) from comedy to drama, to let us care about the character’s development but then to laugh at the characters and their plights. Rainn Wilson in his underwear sobbing doesn’t make me laugh, nor does watching characters die brutally bloody deaths as cartoon “BAM!”s pop up behind them. I believe there is a world in which a hero film can shift from very dark comedy to serious and back again, but unfortunately Super is not well-written enough. Plus, again like Kick-Ass, it takes an average joe who shouldn’t be a superhero and makes them insanely efficient and accurate at taking out bad guys by film’s end. So what’s the point? Again, it’s an uneven satire of heroes in the real world which undercuts its own satire by making the world unreal.
It’s hard to tell what’s supposed to be funny and what isn’t, which for a dark comedy is a big problem. Rainn Wilson is on the floor sobbing in his underwear. Am I supposed to be laughing? Ellen Page is laughing maniacally after nearly murdering someone. Is she supposed to be a real person? There’s gritty violence laced with cartoon characters dancing. There’s Wilson’s realistic psycho lair followed by dream sequences of demon heads and lobotomy by the finger of God. What is it all leading to, if anything? Super seems to want to be a satire that indicates that most people who would be real superheroes are flat-out psychotic and should be institutionalized, but the writing and tone is so unfocused that it never comes through. Worse, there’s an ending that seems to be aiming for sentimentality, which couldn’t be more wrong for a film like this, since the movie kept telling me to laugh at these characters’ dumb behavior, which prevented me from caring about them. It’s fun watching Ellen Page play a different role, but it’s hard to tell with the borderline sitcommy dialogue and set-ups if Rainn Wilson is giving a cartoonish performance or doing really well with one-note humor. Still, if that one note– people getting their heads broken with a wrench– is your cup of tea, then you may really love Super. If not, enjoy the first half of Kick-Ass and keep waiting for the ultimate hero satire, since it hasn’t arrived yet.
Kill the Irishman:
Kill the Irishman is a thoroughly enjoyable mob film in the vein of the genre: Irish and Italian mob factions war, alliances are made and broken, cars are bombed, wives leave and girlfriends are put in danger, and it’s all based on a true story. Jonathan Hensleigh does a lot of things right– terrific character actors, snappy dialogue, and most importantly, an enormously charismatic leading man in Ray Stevenson. Can we make this guy a Hollywood leading man already? After Rome and this, what more does he have to prove? The story, regarding the Irish thug that the Cleveland mafia “couldn’t kill,” is fascinating, and Hensleigh makes 1960s Cleveland as vivid a mob world as The Departed’s Boston. Kill the Irishman doesn’t break the mold: you’ll be hit by a sense of familiarity as several of the plot twists unfold. It does, however, fill the mold perfectly, and anyone who enjoys Goodfellas-esque tales of strong men rising from nobody to somebody in the crime world should love this.
Many notable examples of this genre have the main character narrate, or attempts are made to make the main character’s motivations known. Here, Val Kilmer as the former childhood friend and present-day policeman narrates the film, leaving us to wonder with Val Kilmer what motivated this man. He was beaten up constantly as a child: did that put a chip on his shoulder? He was more well-read than anyone else in his line of work: did that make him feel smarter than everyone? He repeats often that he feels the “Celtic warrior’s pride” in him: did he honestly think he was untouchable, or was that a mask he wore? It’s hard to say, but Stevenson balances inscrutable and fascinating beautifully. Plus, he’s a rugged interesting face to look at– he’s handsome, but he’s more Bogart than Gable. Hensleigh also brings Christopher Walken and Vincent D’Onofrio, two of the best character actors in the game, to flank Stevenson: smart move. Several stand-out scenes should make this film stay in the upper half of this canon of mob films, despite not being terribly surprising or bringing new twists to the table. It manages to execute well the conventions of the genre, keeping the film engaging while familiar. That’s a harder accomplishment than it sounds.