Tag Archives: D+

THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS

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D+

The sense of disappointment most people felt in “The Matrix Reloaded” earlier this year is likely to deepen with this third installment in the Wachowski Brothers’ series, which now lands in theatres with a resounding thud. After the fun and freshness of the 1999 original–which (despite what its acolytes later alleged) treated its clever, if rather silly, premise with a sort of deadpan, tongue-in-cheek quality as well as considerable energy–the followup proved far too bloated and self-important, suggesting that the fraternal writer-directors had begun to believe all the fan hype and to take themselves (and their dime-store theorizing) much too seriously. In “The Matrix Revolutions” the slide into ponderous absurdity has accelerated even further. The picture is technically a slick piece of work, of course–impressive in the dark style familiar from the earlier episodes, though like its immediate predecessor it lacks the innovative visual fizz of the initial film (and it doesn’t boast any set-piece as spectacular as the highway battle in “Reloaded”). But from a narrative standpoint it’s the weakest part of the trilogy, a mixture of frantic but empty action and solemn, even more vacuous philosophizing that ends up simultaneously pretentious and puerile. By the close it’s become a kind of pompous joke, a two-hour equivalent of one of Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts.

“Revolutions” begins where “Reloaded” left off, with Neo (Keanu Reeves) in a state of apparent suspended animation, though he’s actually trapped in a half-way station between the human and machine worlds controlled by a grubby chap called Trainman (Bruce Spence). Meanwhile Zion is about to come under massive attack. So Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) once again leave the sanctuary to seek advice from the Oracle (Mary Alice replacing the late Gloria Foster, with a barely intelligible explanation for the change). To free Neo from his limbo, the duo, aided by the Oracle’s right-hand man Seraph (Collin Chou), must secure his release from Trainman’s master, the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). Once liberated Neo traipses off to the Oracle too, who tells him that all will be settled through his confronting the rapidly-multiplying Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), Neo’s evil mirror image, who’s grown so powerful that his goal is now to destroy both human and machine worlds. So Zion’s motley population–including femme captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and homeboy Link (Harold Perrineau)–prepares to defend itself against the machine assault while Neo, accompanied by Trinity, takes Niobe’s ship on an apparently foolhardy journey to Machine City, where, it turns out, his goal is to bring an end to war by agreeing to battle Smith on behalf of both men and machines. On the way, though, he suffers great losses, some at the hands of Bane (Ian Bliss), who’s been possessed by Smith. Nonetheless he’s able to reach an agreement with the machine leader–a roiling, disembodied face that’s amusingly reminiscent of Zordon from the old “Power Rangers” series–and, restored to his sleek leather garb, engages in a final showdown with his nemesis.

The picture, which runs about two hours if one ignores the protracted closing crawls, falls into two parts of about an hour each. The first of them is very slow and talky. Though it boasts some periodic fight scenes, much of it–especially over the first half-hour–is devoted to laborious exposition, so solemnly intoned (and hopelessly muddled) that it will engender amazement of entirely the wrong sort. (Certainly no one who hasn’t seen the previous installments will be able to make heads or tails of this one.) Then at about the half-way point, the story divides into two rotating story threads–the one involving the noisy, chaotic, bullet-ridden defense of Zion, with lots of characters lifted from old World War II potboilers and the “Star Wars” franchise, and the other portraying the Neo-Trinity mission–slow, somber and filled with mystical twaddle and melodramatic self-sacrifice. Though they’re hardly at a high level to begin with, matters deteriorate as the plot drags on, with viewers likely to chortle over some of the howlers that crop up toward the close, expecting to be taken seriously. And when the big battle between Neo and Smith finally arrives, it goes on far too long, makes much less of an impression than the makers obviously intended, and finishes up with a twist that’s supposed to be illuminating but instead is just confusing–a “Huh?” moment.

In the last analysis “The Matrix Revolutions” is little more than a Tinkerbell movie–a story about a Chosen One who succeeds, finally, because other characters believe in him. Unfortunately, the audience never can: what sinks the picture is that it lacks all sense of wonder and never emotionally connects with us. That’s not merely the fault of the actors, though–to be sure–they’re either stolid and statuesque, ponderously reciting the ludicrous lines as though they were as pregnant with meaning as Holy Writ (Reeves, Fishburne, Moss, Alice), or brutally broad (the scenery-chewing Weaving, the leering Wilson and Spence, and all the stock Zion defenders who blast away at the millions of octopus-like “calamari” that invade their city). Rather it’s the result of Wachowskis’ inability to put any human feeling into the film. The entire “Matrix” trilogy is supposed to exalt free choice and the passion of man, but this final episode of the series is as cold, heartless and sterile as the villainous machines.

It’s taken “The Matrix” only three episodes to reach the level of turgid mediocrity that George Lucas didn’t succumb to until his second “Star Wars” trilogy. About the only thing one can be thankful for in “The Matrix Revolutions” is that Jar Jar Binks isn’t in it.

MEAN MACHINE

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D+

Robert Aldrich’s 1974 “The Longest Yard,” about a football match between teams of guards and convicts at a prison, is the acknowledged source for Barry Skolnick’s “Mean Machine,” which transposes the locale to England and the sport to British football, i.e., soccer. As such it also recalls John Huston’s 1981 debacle “Victory,” which portrayed a soccer match between Nazis and inmates in a German POW camp during World War II. And it further calls to mind last year’s overly sweet “Greenfingers,” in which a bunch of English cons roused themselves to emerge as a prize winning gardening club; that similarity is accentuated by the fact that in both pictures David Kelly plays essentially the same character–the elderly lifer who befriends the hero and whose fate is all but predetermined in a plot which needs tears as well as uplift. Clearly this basic narrative has been around a long while, and it’s therefore not much of a surprise that “Machine” boasts not a single moment that’s either fresh or credible; it’s just a rehash of material that’s been done to death several times before.

In this variant, Vinnie Jones, from Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” plays Danny Meehan, a former soccer star who once threw an important game and has descended into drunken anger. Convicted of beating up a couple of cops, he’s sent to a prison presided over by a warden (David Hemmings) whose great pride is his guards’ team, which he wants Meehan to take charge of. The stern head guard, Burton (Ralph Brown) wants to keep the coaching kob for himself, however, and so ultimately Meehan is persuaded by a wily con named “Massive” (Vas Blackwood) to suggest that the guards play a game against a team of prisoners to toughen them up. There are other wrinkles, including the warden’s penchant for gambling sums he can’t afford to lose based on tips from Sykes (John Forgeham), a big-time crook who pretty much controls the prison from the inside, and the participation of a distinctly unpredictable fellow (Jason Statham) as goaltender on the convict team. And needless to say, the other players serve as purportedly amusing types–the enthusiastic bumbler, the rotund foreigner, the initially surly but eventually supportive black dude, etc. There’s even (ever so briefly) a sultry secretary (Sally Phillips), the only girl in sight, who not only helps the cons with information on the guards’ weaknesses but comes on to Danny, too.

“Mean Machine” isn’t very well titled. The phrase is the nickname Danny once had as a player, and it’s transferred to his ad-hoc team; but the mood of the picture is basically light-hearted and easygoing, despite occasional (and overly graphic) burst of violence, as when the brutal guards take out after a prisoner like “Massive” or Meehan must endure a punching contest with Sykes’ best-muscled goon before the boss will agree to let his guys play in the match. To be honest, despite all the melodramatic twists the three scripters have built into their work, everything is totally predictable–both the characters and the episodes–and nothing has the faintest whiff of plausibility or imagination to it. The cast is energetic (sometimes too much so, as with Statham and supporting players like Danny Dyer as the uncoordinated Billy “the Limpet” and Stephen Walters as the crazed “Nitro”), but not terribly memorable or likable. Jones does the big lug bit adequately but no more, Kelly walks through his part as the old con inevitably called “Doc,” Forgeham plays the gruff gang boss by the book, and Brown is suitably snooty as Burton (though his rigid rectitude at the end is utterly unconvincing). As for veteran Hemmings, most of his performance seems concentrated in his impossibly long, carefully upturned eyebrows, which distract us from noticing how chubby the once svelte young star has become.

Determinedly mediocre, without a single element to make it stand out from the crowd (even John Murphy’s score, with snippets of the “Rocky” theme combined with chunks of “Night on Bald Mountain,” is a pastiche), “Mean Machine” is a thoroughly unnecessary movie.