Grumpy old action heroes ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grumpy old action heroes

My rating:

I was wrong. There are not three somewhat-comedic ensemble action movies released this year, there are four, and this is the latest one. (Perhaps I overlooked it because its title does not start with "The".) And it's even based on a comicbook, like The Losers was. There's a Hollywood term for this: "parallel development," meaning it's all completely coincidental - but yeah, pretty damn coincidental. And it may not be entirely fair to compare them all with each other, but hell, I already have and I'm gonna do it again with this one.

Better than The Expendables and The A-Team, close second to The Losers.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired black-ops CIA agent now living the quiet, boring life; his only excitement is phone-flirting with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the customer service officer at his pension office on whom he has a crush. All this changes when a hit squad raids his house in the middle of the night and he is forced to go on the run - picking up Sarah along the way to protect her from his would-be assassins. Seeking to find out who wants him dead and why, he looks up his old spy compatriots - Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox), and Victoria (Helen Mirren). The trail leads to private defense contractor Alexander Dunning (Richard Dreyfuss) and even the U.S. Vice President Robert Stanton (Julian McMahon), with some help from old friend Henry, the CIA's Records Keeper (Ernest Borgnine). His principled opposition is William Cooper (Karl Urban), the agent assigned to hunt him down - who may be more principled than his ruthless superior Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon).

That's a pretty lengthy synopsis up there, but it isn't because of the plot, it's because of the cast. This movie is all about casting - getting actors like Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Richard Dreyfuss in a big dumb action movie and letting them ham it up. And it's not even just the veterans in the cast; Mary-Louise Parker is delightful, and it's neat that the producers went with a 46-year-old character actor and star of a highly-regarded cable TV series instead of some cute young ciku to draw in the teenage boy crowd. Karl Urban too has never given a bad performance, and even Rebecca Pidgeon - David Mamet's wife and frequent starrer - is impressive in her small role.

Turns out that having really classy actors in a big, loud and dumb action movie is loads of fun, especially in a movie that knows how to play to that incongruity with tongue firmly jammed in cheek. Aside from Parker, Malkovich is also hilarious as the certifiably loony Marvin, and although Dreyfuss has limited screentime you can tell he's enjoying himself immensely in the kind of sneering B-grade villain role that he's never played before. And Mirren just needs to play up her prim Britishness while at the same time laying the smackdown with a .50 caliber machine gun. Morgan Freeman has already played against type in Wanted, but Brian Cox really should've had more opportunities to let loose.

Because the problem with the movie is that when it's funny, it's really funny - but it doesn't always remember to be funny. As it enters the second half, the tone starts veering towards the serious, right around the time where one of our badass retirees dies in a heroic sacrifice - which is something you'd expect in an action movie, but not so much in a comedy with characters we like and want to see more of. We want to see more of Sarah's excitement over all this awesome spy stuff. We want to see more of Marvin's insane (yet frequently justified) paranoia. We want to see more over-the-top action like that bit where Frank steps out of a spinning car. We want to see Ivan be as funny as the others. The film seems to forget that partway, and it starts to become a typical Bruce Willis action movie.

And ironically, Willis is the weakest link in the cast. Yes yes, I know this film probably couldn't have been made - or wouldn't have been as successful - without him in the lead. But still; for one thing, he doesn't look anywhere as old as his compatriots. (Would it've killed ya to go easy on the foundation, Bruce?) For another, Frank's relationship with Sarah starts off as shy and hesitant, as befits an older man exploring the possibility of romance for perhaps the first time. Willis is long past the point in his career where he can play "shy and hesitant", and thus the chemistry between him and Parker doesn't quite work.

But these are minor niggles - because as I said, when it's funny, it's really funny, and when it's fun, it's lots of fun. Director Robert Schwentke, who previously helmed the vastly-different The Time Traveler's Wife, proves able to handle that delicate balance between action and comedy that a good action-comedy needs - even if screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber don't. It's because of their screenplay that I couldn't put a "Comedy" label on this review, and believe me, I really wanted to. But a little dragginess near the end is worth it just to see a cast like this in a movie like this.

NEXT REVIEW: Cuti-Cuti Cinta
Expectations: how the hell does the man make this goddamn many films a year??


profwacko said...

Ive watch it on Saturday and i must say that this movie was way far better than The Expendables. Sad to see Joe Mathison died, and ive keep wondering whether Sarah was the bad guy in the end coz like The Loser or The A Team, there were always got some twisted plot at the end. Good, funny, enjoyable movie.