The spies who annoyed me ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The spies who annoyed me

My Spy
My rating:

One Malaysian blog I visit often is Bin Filem. (Admittedly, I only found it because they link to me. Thanks, braders!) Their opinions are a lot more academic than mine, but it's a terrific pleasure to know I'm not the only Malaysian who thinks deeply about film. Anyway, I was reading their review of Papadom (which I thought had way too much axe-grinding. Jangan marah ye?), and who should I find in the comments but selambakodok himself. That's Afdlin Shauki's blog! Dude! Jeles giler aku. I want Afdlin Shauki reading my reviews of his movies too!

So, um, if you're reading this one... jangan marah ye, En. Afdlin.

AJ (AC Mizal) and Salleh (Harun Salim Bachik) are two rival, equally-not-very-successful private investigators. After their latest case ends in disaster and a chewing-out by Supt. Adnan (Adlin Aman Ramlie), they both take on a new one - trying to catch Datuk Osman (Ridzuan Hashim) having an affair with his secretary Maria (Hannah Tan) while they "buat projek" in Langkawi. But in fact, Datuk Osman is plotting to steal a US$40 million painting with the aid of two sexy cat burglars, Amber and Jade (Carmen Soo and Daphne Iking).

Afdlin is a gifted comedian. On screen he's effortlessly funny; behind the cameras, he knows how to set up and pay off a joke, elicit a comic performance from his actors, and even write some funny dialogue. All of these talents were in evidence as the movie started - I was laughing harder than I did watching most Hollywood comedies. I said before in my review of Setem that a joke in Malay is funnier simply by virtue of the fact that we're Malaysians, and it's in full force here. It's goofy, silly, deliberately B-grade, Salleh's gadgets were dumb but funny, Adlin Aman Ramlie was stealing the show with his take on Da Chief - I was digging all of that.

Then the actual plot kicked in, and it highlighted Afdlin's biggest weakness - he doesn't know how to tell a story. None of the characters are well-drawn or even interesting, and the plot is neither clever nor has any momentum. Rule no. 1 of buddy comedies: the two buddies need to have clashing personalities. They need to be two different kinds of people whose differences lead to conflicts, and these conflicts are where the comedy comes from (and better yet, drives the plot). AJ and Salleh don't even have personalities. Salleh just has a thing about being a bumbling gadgeteer, and his gadgets aren't even used much except during the beginning and ending. They (initially) hate each other just because the script says they hate each other.

And their hate turns into... um... I want to say something like "mutual respect" or "friendship", because that's where a buddy comedy is supposed to go. But this movie settles for just making cheap jokes about it rather than develop an effective on-screen relationship. AC and Salleh get into various wacky hijinks, and by movie's end they're giving each other ambiguously gay hugs. (Yes, they play teh gay for laughs. Very original.) Their wacky hijinks also take up time that could've been used for an actual plot - say, for example, one in which they foil the bad guys. They don't. They're just a couple of morons from start to finish. I know their cluelessness is meant to be funny, but come on Afdlin, would it kill ya to make your heroes heroic?

Production values are generally high - it's got a couple of helicopter shots, so yeah, bajet besar siut. But who the hell did the music?? There's a blatant ripoff of Monty Norman's James Bond theme and a blatant ripoff of Mike Post's Magnum, P.I. theme - both of which employ that cheap trick of varying just enough notes to avoid getting sued. Eh, korang rajin sikit, boleh tak? How 'bout composing some original music for a change? The CGI is pretty bad, but I can forgive that - it's just part of the movie's goofy sensibility. But the lame action scenes are just lame, and sadly that's par for the course for local movies. Dear Malaysian filmmakers, have you heard of Merantau Warrior? Indonesian movie, scheduled to screen here in January, trailer's playing in cinemas right now. Watch it and be ashamed.

Harun Salim Bachik was the funniest thing in Papadom; he was actually acting, playing a character with a personality, rather than just doing a comic schtick. I was actually looking forward to seeing him in a lead role, but sadly he has nothing to work with here. AC Mizal, on the other hand, does just do a schtick; his perpetual muka gelabah got bloody annoying fast. And it pains me to say this, but none of the ladies make an impression. Hannah Tan is wooden. Daphne Iking does an over-the-top Chinese accent, but not the comic performance to go with it. Carmen Soo has the looks but not the dialogue delivery - she sounds more like a perky teenager than a badass action girl. And may I say, I found it annoying that Que Haidar plays a Chinese guy. Tak cukup pelakon Cina di Malaysia ke? You could've given a rookie actor his big break, instead of having an unfunny star cameo.

And you know what else annoys me? That local movies almost always aim for the wacky and goofy and silly. How about a film that's meant to be taken seriously? How about a film that aims for something deeper than the funny bone, a film that earns its emotional payoffs, a film with gravitas? Not even Afdlin, admittedly one of our better filmmakers, seems capable of that. I'm giving it two-and-a-half stars, mostly for the funny first half hour, and that's generous considering the fact that I pretty much stopped laughing for the rest of it. Sorry En. Afdlin. Hope Bin Filem goes easier on you.

NEXT REVIEW: Zombieland
Expectations: pretty high!