Movie Reviews: Bangkok Dangerous, Babylon A.D., Mister Foe
BABYLON A.D. Hardly the utter fiasco promised by its lengthy delay and no-press dumping on Labor Day weekend, Mathieu Kassovitz’s Babylon A.D. arrives shorn of 10 minutes of its European running time, and God knows what else cut before the film ever made it into any theater. In a vague post-apocalyptic future, mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) hides out in Russia, until mobster Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu!) hires him to smuggle Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) into the U.S. Unsurprisingly, two factions led by cult actors — Lambert Wilson as Aurora’s father on one side, and the ever-freaky Charlotte Rampling as mom, a.k.a. High Priestess, the CEO of the Neolite sect, on the other — attempt to kill them along every step of their journey. What’s missing here are the seeds that would explain what Kassovitz increasingly seems to be angling for in the back half: a dystopian vision of a society in which organized religion is the exclusive pretext for global corporate dominance. Without whatever strident critique Kassovitz intends, it’s a typical B action movie — the inevitable pseudowarm bonding scenes deadly, the fights largely incoherent — with the occasional pleasing set piece. If nothing else, it’s nice to see an action movie that takes Europe, not America, as its grounding point. And depicting Russia as the world’s future dominant power suddenly seems oddly prescient. (Citywide) (Vadim Rizov)
BANGKOK DANGEROUS By way of introduction, globetrotting assassin Joe (Nicolas Cage) tells us the rules for survival as a hitman, the most important being: Don’t get emotionally attached to anyone. As soon as he breathes those words during his cold-as-ice voiceover, alert moviegoers will instantly peg Bangkok Dangerous as another of those dopey crime thrillers where the hardcore, bad-ass antihero inexplicably decides one day to lower his guard and open his heart, causing all kinds of hell to break loose. Adapting their 1999 Thai film, Hong Kong directors/brothers Oxide and Danny Pang (The Eye) start things off promisingly, draping the Bangkok locations in a sleek neon sleaze that suggests lowdown B-movie pleasure. But soon Joe, who’s in town to kill four targets, takes in troublemaker Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) as his apprentice and falls for the deaf-mute shopkeeper Fon (Charlie Yeung), and the sinking realization kicks in: These people are taking this nonsense seriously. What follows is a series of ponderous training montages — shoot those melons, Kong! — and painfully precious courtship scenes between Joe and Fon, stranding an audience that just came to see some cool shoot-’em-ups. They do happen eventually, but not before Joe reveals his soft side by bonding with an elephant. You heard me. (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)
COLLEGE Film critics never come home stinking of their honest labor, but the nearest equivalent is reviewing something like College, which leaves its stain on one’s very humanity. Three high school bros on a college visit — a dork, a gelatinous loudmouth and a faintly sympathetic straight man with anime-character hair — run afoul of a frat marshaled by a smug Van Wilder/that-Sugar-Ray-guy amalgam who subjects the boys to Sadean hazing. (He also has the one funny line: “What the fuck do you know about welfare reform?”) And so begins a morally numbing gauntlet run through mechanical decadence, surpassing even the straight-to-DVD, soul-gangbanging American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile. “Queef,” “tossed salad,” Verne Troyer and the ol’ fist-pump, open-mouth, tongue-in-cheek blowjob pantomime are utilized just as though they were jokes (what, kids — no “donkey punch”?). The overall mood is limply obligatory, as if everyone involved had been court-ordered to make a raunch-fest party flick (director Deb Hagan only tunes in during her one tracking shot). One can’t imagine there’s an actual screenplay behind this — somebody seems to think Fatty is so good you can just let him riff. Nearly justifies traveling back in time to preemptively kill Edison, Muybridge and the Lumière brothers. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)
DISASTER MOVIE In the Adam Sandler vehicle Little Nicky, Hitler spends eternity in Hell in a frilly smock getting pineapples shoved up his butt. Compared to anyone watching Disaster Movie, he got off light. Rushed into production with no better drape for its thread-bare gags than Cloverfield — unless you count such proud upholders of the Irwin Allen tradition as Juno, Enchanted and High School Musical — this carpet-fouling mongrel of a movie no more deserves release than do anthrax spores. Visually an eyesore, comically a much-lower-seated pain, it’s the same as writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s other (fill in the blank) movie parodies, only somehow uglier and lazier. Ugliness and laziness can sometimes work to comedy’s advantage but not here — not when the level of inspiration is someone answering a Get Smart shoe phone, only to smear his face with dog crap. Yes, there are nods to Hannah Montana and “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”; yes, Crista Flanagan does a spot-on Ellen Page — and yes, you can feel the dead air in the theater as joke after so-called joke falls splat on the pavement. The bastards couldn’t even find the energy to put an exclamation point after the title. Best text message sent from my screening (it wasn’t me, but I certainly sympathized): “I want to die.” (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)
GO A GIRL CUT IN TWO Claude Chabrol, who should soon be shooting his 70th feature, is at once wildly prolific and utterly faithful — at least to the conventions of the commercial thriller. Darkly droll, his A Girl Cut in Two updates the scandalous case of the celebrated fin de siècle architect Stanford White — shot dead by the jealous young millionaire who married White’s teenage mistress, a showgirl. An old-fashioned cineaste, Chabrol came to the story by way of its 1955 Hollywood version, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, though he transposes it to contemporary Lyons. Charles, a successful novelist and practiced libertine (played with seasoned suavity by François Berléand), vies with Paul, the young, unstable heir to a pharmaceutical fortune (given a memorable foppish swagger by Benoît Magimel), for the favors of an innocent TV weather girl, Gabrielle (wide-eyed, luscious Ludivine Sagnier). Confident yet vulnerable, Gabrielle falls for the (much) older guy and, in love for the first time, allows herself to be debauched by this veteran roué. Then, after a nasty breakup and an ensuing breakdown, on the rebound, she marries the preening young fool — thus effectively incinerating them all. A Girl Cut in Two is a spry piece of work, and although directed for mordant comedy, the spectacle of a naive, lower-middle-class woman’s misadventures in a nest of wealthy vipers is initially unsettling and ultimately gut-wrenching. (Nuart) (J. Hoberman)
LOVE AND HONOR At 76, Japanese writer-director Yôji Yamada is still best known in his homeland for a one-time Guinness Book record-holding series of four-dozen films (the Tora-san series), all with the same plot about a traveling salesman who is unlucky in love. That resolute consistency carries over to Love and Honor, the third leg in Yamada’s melodramatic samurai trilogy (following the Oscar-nominated The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade). Here again are the familiar feudal class themes and low-ranking samurai protagonist: Newly appointed to be a food tester for a local lord, Shinnojo (Takuya Kimura) eats an out-of-season shellfish and goes blind. He falls into suicidal despair, until a chance to exact revenge upon a head clerk who has bedded his wife leads to the trilogy’s third mano-a-mano showdown. If you’ve seen the others, you’ll know not to expect Zatôichi action in this blind man’s duel; Yamada’s refined Merchant-Ivory approach to the Edo era (slow pace, genteel storytelling, restraint) produces more yawning than fawning. At least the guy’s dependable. (Music Hall; One Colorado) (Aaron Hillis)
GO MISTER FOE Young Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is convinced that his stepmother (Claire Forlani) accelerated her upward trajectory from Dad’s secretary to Dad’s wife by offing his mom, but the coroner says it was suicide. An unswayed Hallam channels his grief and loathing into spying on couples going at it, Dad (Ciarán Hinds) and Stepmom primarily. After sleeping with the latter, he runs off to Glasgow, finds a doppelgänger for his deceased parent in Kate (Sophia Myles), and sets about spying on her in the bedroom. These are unlikely components for a comedy — which Mister Foe, against the odds, definitely is. Co-writer/director David Mackenzie has jokingly claimed this as the capstone of his “sex trilogy” (2003’s mostly celebrated Young Adam and 2005’s mostly ignored Asylum preceded it), a threesome (har) of films extrapolating a single idea: In Mackenzie’s world, wholesome sex is a possibility for other people but never for the (anti-)hero, whose couplings are always the sublimated expression of something else. What makes Mister Foe such unlikely fun, though, is Bell’s accomplished smart-ass routine and Mackenzie’s blithe attitude toward taboos. Every possible voyeuristic/incestuous kink gets a workout. “I like creepy guys,” Kate declares, but she doesn’t know the half of it. (The Landmark) (Vadim Rizov)
GO PING PONG PLAYA Documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu takes a breather from chronicling heavy-duty outsider artists (In the Realms of the Unreal) and extremists (Protagonist) to try her hand at a popcorn send-up of identity politics you can take the kids to — and it’s not half-bad. Burdened with a perfect older brother and marooned in disdain for his ping-pong-obsessed suburban Chinese-American family, Chris “C-Dub” Wang (a character worked up from a sportswear commercial by Ping Pong Playa’s production accountant/co-writer Jimmy Tsai, who also plays him with dumb-ass brio) succumbs to a severe case of homeboy envy, talking ghetto and shooting baskets with little kids while stewing in a dead-end job and blaming his failure to make the NBA on his short stature. Chris is a good, if rather too long-running, joke, and it’s fun that Yu and Tsai, who know their Asian-American bourgeoisie through and through, skewer the hypersensitivity of minorities with the same acuity that they take down white condescension. Frantically paced, littered with cute kids, and overstuffed with split screens and a rap score, Ping Pong Playa angles a little too hard for tween attention, but there’s no resisting the movie’s antic affability or its irreverence, even with Chris’ unavoidable progression toward the mature appreciation of his roots. (Mann Chinese 6; Mann Glendale Exchange) (Ella Taylor)
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