Tag Archives: C-

THE HEAT

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Women must feel a great sense of comfort in the parity they’ve achieved in Hollywood. Here’s a movie that proves they can star in a buddy-cop action comedy every bit as crass and dumb as the ones male teams have been making for years.

The mismatched duo are Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy). Sarah is a straight-arrow, by-the-book, ambitious FBI agent sent to Boston to identify and arrest a big-time drug dealer no one’s ever seen, while Shannon is the loose cannon local plainclothes cop she’s forced to partner with. Naturally their styles clash in every respect, especially since Mullins—in conformity with the persona McCarthy’s built over several pictures—is an abrasive, foul-mouthed type whose very presence offends the mousy, businesslike Ashburn.

The “procedural” element of Katie Dippold’s script doesn’t bear much scrutiny. The unlikely pair’s tracking down of the villain leads from goofy street dealer Rojas (Spoken Reasons) through slutty Russian Tatiana (Kaitlin Olson) and sleazy club owner LeSoire (Adam Ray) to nasty henchman Julian (Michael McDonald) and ultimately kingpin Simon Larkin, whose identity will not be revealed here. (Just think of the least likely suspect and you’ll have it.) Both women have harassed superiors—Sarah’s is demanding Hale (criminally used Demian Bichir) and Shannon’s Captain Woods (Tom Wilson). And there are a couple of frazzled DEA agents (Dan Bakkedahl and Taran Killam) whose ire the women spark for undermining their long-term nvestigation. (The former is an albino, which looses comic tirade after tirade from the insensitive Mullins.) Along the way there are plenty of face-offs, gun battles and car chases, as well as the obligatory sequence where our heroines are captured and threatened with death. And that’s after they’ve armed themselves to the teeth with the heavy weaponry Mullins has accumulated in her refrigerator, in a sequence that goes back to the Rambo pictures.

But the really “significant” part of “The Heat” is the way these two mismatched partners bond during their time together, becoming BFFs in the process. This involves the rigid Sarah being forced out of her shell by the raucous, raunchy Shannon—in sequences like a long digression in which they get plastered at rundown bar, dance and do other embarrassing stuff, and wind up bosom buddies. It’s all the usual drivel—including lots of low-rent humor involving Shannon’s estranged family, who are depicted as loudmouthed numbskulls so stereotypical that they should put all Beantown residents into apoplexy—except for one truly horrendous sequence in which Sarah tries to assist a choking man by giving him an amateur tracheotomy. That’s a scene that’s so visually ugly and unfunny—not to mention utterly extraneous—that it shatters the movie’s crudely comic tone, which never recovers.

As for the stars, Bullock is doing yeoman straight-woman work here, looking properly pained and embarrassed, though it’s hard for her to pull off Sharon’s warming toward Shannon, whom McCarthy plays with her customary rude, abrasive shtick. One supposes that McCarthy is trying to be the modern female version of Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden, but in her hands it’s a routine that’s getting old fast, primarily because Kramden was always obviously deluded and wrongheaded, and so deserving of sympathy, while the McCarthy’s characters—like this one—are portrayed, in the contemporary fashion, as obnoxious but right, and so merely irritating. Sure, she always proves to be a softie in the end, an oversized broad with a hard surface but a heart of gold, but frankly it’s a matter of too little (or too much) too late. One might be surprised that McCarthy has coasted as long as she has with this one-note kind of performance, but audiences today seem much more tolerant of repetition than they used to be. As for the supporting cast, apart from Bichir—who’s really too good an actor to be wasted in such a thankless role—they all do what’s expected of them, with Wayans, of all people, coming across as the most laid-back and likable of the bunch as a fellow agent who’s sweet on Sharon.

Technically the movie is okay, though Feig’s flat direction is compounded by sluggish editing from Brent White and Jay Deuby, which appears to have been dictated by the a desire to give the leading ladies free rein for their mugging and other bits of business. The result is a picture that drags on for nearly two hours, far too long for this sort of thing. Getting rid of that tracheotomy sequence would be a good place to start, but it would still leave a lot of mediocrity to contend with.

THE PURGE

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Any film with a title that sounds like a colonic evacuation really needs to be exceptional to justify its existence. “The Purge” isn’t. It’s just a routine home invasion tale with heavy-handed pretensions to social commentary.

Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a salesman for a home-security firm whose profits have boomed because of a new government policy designed to reduce the propensity for violence among the populace by channeling it into a single twelve-hour dusk-to-dawn period each year, a “purge” during which anybody can commit any crime with impunity. (There are only a few exceptions, like killing a government official, which is verboten.) This policy, initiated by those who are referred to in propaganda broadcasts as the “new founding fathers,” is endorsed, it would appear, by pliant behavioral scientists and privileged types who take the opportunity to haunt down and eradicate undesirables—the poor, the homeless, the misfits.

This is a premise that Rod Serling probably would have rejected for “The Twilight Zone” fifty years ago, but even granted its political and psychological implausibility, it might have served as the basis for some sharp satire. Instead what we get is a mostly plodding, curiously earnest commentary on the ills of the modern capitalist world. Sandin is a believer in the system, and at the appointed time puts his mansion’s formidable metal barricades in place so that he and his family—wife Mary (Lena Headey), teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and precocious adolescent son Charlie (Max Burkholder)—can hunker down in supposed safety. But Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller), whom James is preventing from seeing the girl as often as he’d like, has secreted himself in the house with an agenda of his own, while Charlie offers sanctuary to a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) being pursued by a mob of bloodthirsty young marauders from the “best families” venting their vicious tendencies at the approved time. That leads the posse’s leader (a sneering Rhys Wakefield) to demand that the Sandins turn their quarry over or face an invasion themselves. And though James toys with the notion of giving in to the threat, that doesn’t work out. Soon he and his family are being stalked in their darkened house by a bevy of murderous purgers wearing Halloween masks and armed with hatchets, knives, and a wide array of firearms.

Writer-director James DeMonaco tries to extract tension from endless shots of James and Mary slithering along the hallways as the predators jump out at them from beyond the frame (or, in many instances, simply lurk menacingly in the background, waiting for the proper moment to strike). But we’ve seen this stuff far too many times to feel much beyond boredom, particularly when it’s as protracted as it is here. Naturally there’s one big confrontation when James has to face off against a passel of youngsters trying to kill him, and it provides the gore-hungry members of the audience with the sort of mayhem they’ve come to witness. But even that has a standard-issue feel, as does the frequently-employed cliché that has somebody step in to save any apparently doomed person just as he or she is about to get whacked.

The script does toss in a twist in the final twenty minutes when another group comes to the Sandins’ rescue, only to prove that some people don’t like to be overcharged for goods or to watch the Joneses do so well that they can’t keep up with them. But the attempt at social commentary—along with the final revelation of who the family’s ultimate savior turns out to be (an outcome that the least-seasoned filmgoer will predict without any trouble)—is delivered with a hysterical sledgehammer, rather like the one Brian Yuzna used in his little-seen but similarly themed “Society” back in 1989.

Hawke, who’s seen to much better advantage in the current “Before Midnight,” adopts an overly affected manner here, perhaps to distinguish his turn from the one he gave recently in “Sinister,” which also involved his interminably sneaking around darkened hallways, and Headey is simply dull. So are Kane and Burkholder as Zoey and Charlie (whose ostentatiously hideous little spying device would seem to be something that would play an important role in the denouement, but doesn’t). But by far the worst performances, however, come from Wakefield, who should have recognized that what he’s doing was already satirized by Michael Haneke in “Funny Games,” and by Arija Barekis as a suspiciously solicitous neighbor. Chris Mulkey, who once had prospects for a major career, can be briefly glimpsed as another resident of the subdivision. Technically the picture is no better than average, with Jacques Jouffret’s cinematography on the dank side, Melanie Jones’s production design uninspired and Nathan Whitehead’s score failing to generate much intensity.

One supposes we’re meant to feel satisfaction at how “The Purge” turns out. But mostly the satisfaction derives simply from the fact that it’s over.