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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Nothing Beats Rock

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday February 21, 11:22 am
Snitch almost saves a terrible year for action heroes


Galaxy (opens Friday 22)


It’s been a miserable winter for the iconic action heroes of Hollywood, as Stallone and Schwarzenegger hit career lows with The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head. Neither film was terrible (both sported a low-tech charm), but the sensibilities that once made them box office champs have all but disappeared. (And with both Sly and Arnie well into their seventh decade, their shenanigans are increasingly cringe-worthy.) 

Their successors haven’t fared much better: Jason Statham indulged his worst instincts in the mediocre Parker, and while Bruce Willis got a little more traction from A Good Day to Die Hard, the sequel was nowhere near John McClane’s finest hour.

So, it was up to Dwayne Johnson to make a stand for the badly beaten muscleheads — and damned if he didn’t mostly succeed.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about Snitch, and if anything, it looks cheaper than most star vehicles. But what it is is a well-told story that’s properly acted and grounded in reality. Amazing how far just doing your job can get you, isn’t it?

Johnson plays John Matthews, a mild-mannered transportation impresario who has a troublesome relationship with his son. The dimwitted teenager accepts a large shipment of ecstasy pills — and immediately lands in jail for trafficking. The only way to reduce his decade-long sentence is to snitch on someone else, but he lacks the connections (and the brains) to do so.

Enter Dad — all too willing to put himself on the line, even though he’d basically given up on the kid. With the unsuspecting assistance of an ex-con (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead), Matthews gets a gig transporting cocaine. The desperate father does such a good job that he’s soon being hunted by a Mexican cartel. As the stakes become higher, it’s increasingly clear that no matter what happens, their former lives have been shattered for good.

This meat-and-potatoes actioner is directed by former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh (also responsible for the surprisingly good direct-to-video drama Felon). The plot is hardly original — one more variation on the “undercover cop in too deep” story — but Waugh knows how to place and move the pieces, creating a fluidity that’s often missing in these types of films.

As hard as it is to buy Johnson as an everyman, Snitch mostly succeeds — because Johnson is relatable, even though he could break you like a toothpick. Clearly, mid-size movies suit him.

Waugh was also smart enough to cast supporting actors in roles they could do in their sleep — like Michael K. Williams (Omar in The Wire) as a coke dealer, Benjamin Bratt as a suave drug-lord and Susan Sarandon as a tough-as-nails district attorney. (Although I have to say that Sarandon’s really been slumming it as of late: besides playing a number of interchangeable wives and mothers, her most noticeable roles have been in Adam Sandler’s awful That’s My Boy and as window dressing in Cloud Atlas. Her work in Snitch is all well and good, but she could be doing better.)

On the downside, the laughable War on Drugs is treated as the most effective strategy to fight trafficking, and when shit hits the fan, the hero finds no better solution than buying a couple of assault weapons — legally, of course. But Snitch might be the most effective conservative action film in recent memory — mainly because it’s entertaining, and not immediately repulsive to liberals.

It’s no First Blood, of course. Hell, it’s probably not even a Commando. But with Stallone and Schwarzenegger increasingly looking like sad shadows of their former selves, it’ll do.


Bad Bill

Hyde Park on Hudson



There should be a law forcing Bill Murray to appear only in Bill Murray-appropriate movies — because whenever he tries to push his range, the results are disastrous (The Razor’s Edge, Passion Play). Murray is at his best when some of his talented pals (like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola or Harold Ramis) write roles especially for him.

Murray isn’t the only problem in Hyde Park on Hudson, but he’s the biggest one. I’m no fan of Lincoln, but at least Daniel Day-Lewis pulled off Honest Abe without mimicking. Murray’s portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the other hand, consists of a handful of tics, a wheelchair and the comedian’s distinctive smirk. Murray never disappears into the character, and it hurts the film badly.

Set in 1939, the film chronicles King George VI’s first trip to the U.S., a desperate plea for help against Germany masked as a courtesy visit. But instead of finding a thoughtful statesman in the president, the monarch finds himself dealing with a randy Casanova who can’t be bothered to keep his indiscretions under wraps. The fish-out-of-water approach is a one-note joke (the royals are prissy, Americans are boorish), although it works better than Roosevelt’s convoluted love life.

Really, his film should’ve been an HBO movie of the week. The whole affair is told from the perspective of FDR’s cousin (Laura Linney), a frumpy non-entity who joins the President’s army of mistresses unwittingly. Eventually, Roosevelt and the King bond over the burden of power and the joys of the simple life, an impossibly broad plot device that offers no insight, making the whole experience even more pointless.


Al Effed Up

Stand Up Guys

Roxy (opens Friday 22)


You have to go back to 2002 to find a half-decent Al Pacino movie (Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia), and all the way back to 1995 for a memorable one (Heat).

Along the way, Hollywood has paired him up with other acting legends to get some of his sparkle back. The first attempt, Righteous Kill with alleged rival Robert De Niro, was a complete fiasco. Now we have the second — and it’s not much better.

In Stand Up Guys, Pacino plays Val. Once a hired gun for the local mafia, Val has spent over a decade in jail and he seems pretty much chewed up and spat out (although his hair looks fabulous). The only friend he has left, Doc (Christopher Walken), has been ordered to kill him, but he wants to give his old pal a night of debauchery before the whacking.

The night in question is the heart of the film, and it mostly involves eating steak, three visits to a whorehouse and a number of beatings (both given and received). They even lure their former getaway driver (Alan Arkin) out of his retirement home to join the fun.

Val is aware of Doc’s intentions and is okay with the idea — so any potential for poignancy goes out the window, as does any insight about life and lost opportunities. Whenever they’re not discussing clichés, Walken and Pacino trade lame barbs about pill popping. The vets try to make the preposterous dialogue sound believable, but even when they succeed, their bickering is out of synch.

Walken is beloved by a newer generation of filmmakers, so here’s betting he’ll rebound from this. Pacino, on the other hand, seriously needs to wait until a truly excellent script comes his way again — if it ever does — before saying yes. Or, he should stick to HBO specials: I’m hearing his Phil Spector biopic is half decent.

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