Category Archives: Now Showing

COLLIDE

Producer: Joel Silver, Ben Pugh, Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Daniel Hetzer
Director: Eran Creevy
Writer: F. Scott Frazier and Eran Creevy
Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, Marwan Kenzari, Aleksandar Jovanovic and Christina Rubeck
Studio: Open Road Films

D

If proof were needed that not even a starry cast can save a trashy script, “Collide” certainly provides it. The screenplay, by F. Scott Frazier and Eran Creevy, is like an inferior rewrite of something Luc Besson might have written (as impossible as that might seem)—“The Transporter Junior,” perhaps. Creevy’s direction, meanwhile, has the same push-and-pull combination of hysterical action and dumb sentiment that the helmers Besson favors have always exhibited.

But the talent in front of the camera is undeniably impressive. The young leads, Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones, are both up-and-comers, while film icons Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley show up in the major supporting roles. They’re all slumming, of course, and what’s worse is that they all—especially Hopkins and Kingsley—let us know that they know they’re slumming, turning in performances that can only be described as so rotten that they approach categorization as high camp.

Hoult plays Casey, an American in Cologne working for a wildly flamboyant Turkish mob chief named Geran (Kingsley). When he meets another American, pretty Juliette (Jones), in a nightclub, though, he decides to go straight—and the two prove a happy, if poor, couple, gamboling about in the snow, until it’s revealed that Juliette is terribly ill and needs a kidney transplant. So Casey goes back to Geran to earn the cash for her treatment.

Fortunately Geran has a job in mind for Casey and his pal Matthias (Marwan Kenzari): hit Hagen Kahl (Hopkins), the smoothly vicious businessman who heads a cocaine-import racket on the side, providing Geran with the product he sells. Kahl has refused Geran’s request to be made a full partner in the operation, snidely insulting the volatile foreigner in the process. Geran wants revenge, so he enlists Casey and Matthias to highjack the Kahl company truck that’s transporting a load of golf balls filled with Chilean coke.

The heist is the final episode in the picture’s initial forty-minute arc, which has actually been pretty tedious. But what follows is an hour of high-octane mayhem, with Casey chased on foot through the narrow Cologne streets, and on the autobahn in a series of stolen cars, by Kahl and his minions, all of whom prove conspicuously poor shots, hitting just about everything but their quarry. (Bearded, steely-eyed Aleksandar Jovanovic as chief Kahl lieutenant Jonas, who stays on Casey’s trail to the very end, is the most notable of the goons.) They’re no better in hand-to-hand combat with the young fellow, who always manages to escape a dire fate by bonking them on the noggin, considerately leaving them only briefly unconscious so that they can get up and continue the pursuit with barely a pause. As for Juliette, she’s kidnapped by the odious Kahl to use as a bargaining chip.

You have to give Hoult credit for going through his role’s physical demands, even if his American accent occasionally falters. Jones is stuck in a thankless part: in the latter sections of the movie she mostly appears in gauzy hallucinations experienced by Casey after he’s crashed yet another of the cars he’s swiped to continue his flight. But the leads are eclipsed by Kingsley and Hopkins, who in this case are like two gigantic slices of thespian ham, though their approaches to scenery-chewing differ. Kingsley goes the utterly wacky route, offering an outlandishly oversized turn that makes his performance in “Sexy Beast” look positively mild by comparison. By contrast Hopkins takes a smugly supercilious tack, smiling snidely while delivering overripe dialogue that mixes sneering injunctions like “Run, run, little piggy” with quotations from Shakespeare. One trusts that both actors received large paychecks for demeaning themselves.

Of course, they also got to spend a few weeks filming in and around Cologne, an area that looks quite attractive in Ed Wild’s widescreen cinematography (the cathedral briefly glimpsed in one sequence is particularly impressive). One should also mention the action choreography, which is pretty good in the chase sequences on both foot and wheels, even if Chris Gill’s editing sometimes gets so frenetic that it’s difficult to appreciate the staging.

Overall, though, “Collide” is a would-be adrenaline rush that like so many films of its kind—remember Ethan Hawke’s “Getaway”?—runs out of gas long before it’s over (a circumstance that Casey must literally contend with in one of his pit stops). In the end the only real reason to check it out is to watch a couple of great actors trying to outdo one another in hamming it up. But be forewarned, it’s not a pleasant sight.

ROCK DOG

Producer: Amber Wang, David B. Miller, Rob Feng, Joyce Lou and Zheng Jun
Director: Ash Brannon
Writer: Ash Brannon and Kurt Voelker
Stars: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon and Sam Elliott
Studio: Summit Premiere/Lionsgate

C-

Just a week after “The Great Wall,” the big-budget Chinese (but largely English-language) action spectacle hit U.S. theatres, comes “Rock Dog,” an animated kids’ movie from China—also in English, at least in this version—based on a “graphic novel” by a mainland singer-songwriter. Both pictures show that the cross-Pacific industry has learned many of the lessons that Hollywood has to teach—most of them dreary clichés—and this one was, moreover, directed by an American with experience at Disney and Sony Animation (unlike “Wall,” which was helmed by Zhang Yimou). But the result is still pretty flat, and unlikely to entrance even the smallest American fry.

The mercifully brief computer-animated tale, adapted from “Tibetan Rock Dog” by Zheng Jun, concerns a young Tibetan mastiff called Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson) who lives with his father Khampa (J.K. Simmons), the gruff watchdog guarding a village of haplessly goofy sheep on Snow Mountain. After a raid on the place by wolves led by the odious Linnux (Lewis Black) nearly succeeds, Khampa banishes all music from the town, considering it a distraction from the necessary work of constant vigilance and defense. But Bodi’s love of strumming a guitar is rekindled when a passing plane drops a radio from the sky, and he determines to go to the city and become a rock star; eventually Khampa, under prodding from wise old town elder Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott), agrees to let the pup go, but only under the condition that if things don’t work out, he’ll come back to Snow Mountain and follow in his father’s paw-steps.

Bodi’s adventures in the big city eventually involve him not only with a struggling band composed of an arrogant leopard named Trey (Matt Dillon), a sweet fox named Darma (Mae Whitman) and a woozy goat named Gemur (Jorge Garcia), but with a reclusive rock idol, a scrawny cat called Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). In fact, he eventually becomes a sort of muse to Angus, who’s suffering from writer’s block and needs to compose a hit single fast. Unfortunately, Bodi is also being stalked by Linnux’s inept henchman Riff (Kenan Thompson), who’s tasked with capturing him so the boss can extract information to allow him to circumvent Khampa’s defenses and take over the village. For some reason a subplot has to do with pro wrestling; it’s not only intrusive but falls flat.

The basic problem with the movie is that it’s terminally bland, the script lacking any sense of surprise or suggestion of edginess; adults will find it utterly predictable, but even tykes are likely to react to the “follow your dream” message with a ho-hum attitude. The animation by Reel FX (whose previous effort was the scrawny “Free Birds”) is no better than okay, with unimpressive backgrounds and character animation that’s unimaginative, with only Angus coming across as unusual. (There’s even a cute robot added to the mix, for no particular reason other than that kids like robots.) And though the voice cast has some starry names in it, their work is fundamentally pedestrian, though Izzard manages a few hints of sarcasm and Black does insert some of his patented hysteria into his line readings. The picture isn’t really a musical, but there are a few interludes of song and instrumental playing; they’re uniformly anemic.

“The Great Wall” was a financial smash in China but a bust in the U.S. “Rock Dog” bombed in China, and isn’t likely to score here either. Back to the drawing board.