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Mini-Reviews: Safe Haven, Dark Skies, Snitch

Safe Haven:

Nicholas Sparks gives the people what they want. A wounded hunk here, an innocent ingenue in free fall there, topped off with a luminescent Coastal Carolina atmosphere. For Sparks fanatics, Safe Haven delivers the goods. Julianne Hough isn’t really combing the depths of her soul here, but her wide eyes and expressive face make her an appealing Everywoman. She shares good chemistry with Josh Duhamel, who hasn’t ever really had a role that allows him to showcase his easy charm like this does. Usually his films require a certain antic energy which doesn’t suit him; here, his small town single dad sports a more laid back demeanor. Lasse Hallstrom, who also directed Dear John, an upper-tier Nicholas Sparks adaptation, certainly makes the Southern visuals lush– the arching trees, docks lapped by gentle waves, and untouched beaches make for a dream home for anyone with half a soul. There’s a subplot with a psychotic policeman, played by David Lyons who serves up ham like a diner waitress, which could have disrupted the tone, but Hallstrom walks the tightrope nicely. While a plot twist at the end is a bit of a jaw-dropper, and the proceedings are unlikely to convert the uninitiated to the Sparks style, I can’t imagine a world in which the central audience isn’t ecstatic.

Dark Skies:

Scott Stewart’s Dark Skies, a science fiction conservative fantasy, borrows heavily from recognizable genre hits like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, and Paranormal Activity. However, as far as derivation goes, it’s savvily executed, shot with style and boasting strong leads. Keri Russell, who admittedly does no wrong in my book, and Josh Hamilton, a stage actor in his largest screen role to my knowledge, play a suburban couple in an idyllic neighborhood, established at the beginning in many Spielbergian shots. At an early dinner scene, family friends lament America’s place in the world: China and India are taking the jobs and the power. When strange behavior starts happening, and the local authorities can’t help give them answers to protect their children, there’s only one thing to do: take up arms, grab a gun, and protect your home against outsiders by all means necessary.

While politically there’s unquestionably a Tea Party vibe, showcased most enjoyably during the Fourth of July climax, Stewart stages the film’s scares well, rarely relying on cheap loud noises, instead letting the mood do the work. There’s an undercurrent of humor keeping the film from getting too dour, yet some issues creep under the skin– this is the first horror movie in memory in which other people notice there’s something wrong with the family’s child, and they call Child Protective Services. Although it doesn’t stick the landing, and its logic seems to grow and fade when convenient to the plot, the target audience will get their kicks. And any film with an alien stalking Keri Russell as America The Beautiful plays can’t be ALL bad.

Snitch:

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an actor of limitless potential. Anyone who watched him wrestle knows his charisma is through the roof. Anyone who watched him on Saturday Night Live knows he’s self-deprecating, with a gift for delivering a punchline. Anyone who’s seen him period knows how gigantic and muscular he is– this isn’t your usual 5’8 action hero, this is a linebacker on steroids who dwarfs all who surround him. There is no fathomable reason why he shouldn’t be the biggest action star alive right now. Yet while watching Snitch, a snoozer of a commentary on the war on drugs, I couldn’t see the Dwayne Johnson I know. I saw an actor zapped of appeal, given rote lines impossible for Daniel Day-Lewis to deliver. Worse, I saw him playing an Everyman, scared of guns, nervous of conflict. I haven’t seen a stranger casting decision than this since Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Middle American suburbanite father in Jingle All The Way.

“Inspired by true events,” Snitch follows a dad who tries to free his son from jail by cutting a deal with the prosecuting attorney (Susan Sarandon, hardcore slumming it) in which he sets up a drug dealer in his son’s place. The film is directed by stunt coordinator-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh, which surprises me as the film is incomprehensibly shot to the point of diminishing the practical stunt work’s value. Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead) shows real screen presence as the hero’s sidekick of sorts, but Johnson’s humorless leading man is all wrong, and the script even manages to make Michael K. Williams, the gifted actor who portrayed a complex thug on The Wire, into the type of embarrassing one-note thug that makes me cringe. While I admire a film that tackles the hypocrisies and futility of the drug war, it fails as a commentary and it fails as a genre piece. And worst of all, it’s another miss for Dwayne Johnson.

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~ by russellhainline on February 24, 2013.

One Response to “Mini-Reviews: Safe Haven, Dark Skies, Snitch”

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