Tag Archives: D

BAIT

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

D

“I’ve got a bomb,” Jamie Foxx shouts during the chaotic climax of “Bait.” He’s speaking, of course, in the character of Alvin Sanders, a small-time but soft-hearted criminal who’s not nearly as cool as he thinks, and who at the moment is trying to race a van filled with ticking explosives away from a crowd of potential victims. But the line might as well be spoken by Foxx himself to describe his latest cinematic vehicle. Even by the extremely low standards of today’s action comedies, Antoine Fuqua’s sophomore feature is staggeringly incoherent, illogical, and unfunny. The plot has to do with how fast-talking but persistently unsuccessful Alvin becomes the unwitting tool of U.S. Treasury agents, who implant a radio transmitter in his jaw and release him from prison in the hope that he’ll attract the notice of a master thief (the enigmatic Bristol, played by Doug Hutchison). Bristol, you see, has masterminded a huge gold heist from the government, but his confederate Jaster (Robert Pastorelli) got away with all the loot, only to be jailed on a DWI and put in a cell with our hero before conveniently expiring of a heart attack, which prevented his disclosing where he’d hidden the gold. The feds’ plan is surreptitiously to persuade Bristol, using all sorts of high-tech gadgetry, that Alvin knows where the loot is stashed, and then to free the unsuspecting con and tail him until Bristol can be captured trying to contact him. Needless to say, the agents prove decidedly inept, Bristol virtually omniscient, and Alvin far more complicated than expected, leading to many complications on the way to a bang-up showdown that occurs, for some unexplained reason, at a race track. A few bodies fall along the way, but don’t you just know that by the close Alvin and the chief Treasury agent, gruff Edgar Clenteen (David Morse), have developed a grudging respect for one another?

If you think that all this sounds like an obvious ripoff of “48 Hours” (1982), you’d be right, but the result isn’t nearly as good. Foxx is a deft comedian and a potentially charming leading man, but he seems definitely to need help choosing the right roles: he was stranded in the lame farce “Held Up” earlier this year, and though “Bait” is obviously a better-financed project, it’s even more dispiriting because it’s far more violent, as well as messier and more disjointed. Nor does the script employ Foxx’s wise-cracking persona well; some of his riffs offer sporadic laughs (improvised, perhaps), but mostly they’re pretty drab, and when the star is (inevitably) trussed up and tortured by the bad-guy, he seems uncomfortable in more ways than one. It’s a misuse of a considerable comic talent.

The rest of the cast is poorly used, too. David Morse, who’s done some splendid work in the past, is a one-note bore as the agent who tries to make Alvin his pawn, and David Paymer his typically smirky self as Edgar’s subordinate. (One of the main difficulties Morse and Paymer, as well as the lesser actors playing their government confederates, have is that for the most part they’re clustered in a room looking at computer screens and eavesdropping on radio conversations. Hasn’t it yet become abundantly clear to filmmakers that such sequences, however many “jokes” they’re laced with and however spiffy the equipment on display, are deadeningly dull?) Hutchison, who overacted the nasty Percy Wetmore alongside the more stoic Morse in “The Green Mile,” does a bargain-basement imitation of John Malkovich as Bristol. Kimberly Elise shows some spunk as Lisa, Alvin’s erstwhile girlfriend (and surprisingly to him, the mother of his child), with whom he reconnects after his release and who encourages him to go straight, but her part is clearly designed merely to provide some jeopardy at the end, and she can’t overcome its formulaic character. Mike Epps is more irritating than humorous as Alvin’s inept brother, and Robert Pastorelli, whom you might recall from “Murphy Brown,” seriously overdoes the gagging and chest-rubbing associated with the dying Jaster.

Ultimately, though, one shouldn’t blame the actors too much. The real villains here are scripters Andrew and Adam Scheinman and Tony Gilroy, who never managed to fashion the borrowed elements of their screenplay into a coherent whole, and director Fuqua, who, instead of trying to clarifying the plot strands, is merely intent on demonstrating a sense of visual pizzazz. As a result we get a lot of jumpy cuts and innumerable shots of the same blue-hued urban landscapes for which he showed such affection in his first film “The Replacement Killers”–enough, in fact, to drag out the movie to an unconscionable full two hours–but precious little sense of chronology or topography. (How long is Alvin supposed to have been in prison, anyway? And how does a horse-racing track show up in the middle of New York City?) Fuqua doesn’t even stage the action set-pieces competently: the car-chases and explosions are too closely shot and jerkily edited to engender much excitement. They provoke vertigo instead.

So though “Bait” might seem attractive on the surface, the prospective viewer is hereby warned not to bite.

ANATOMY (ANATOMIE)

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

D

After “Coma” (1978), “Extreme Measures” (1996) and “Nightwatch” (1998), it’s quite clear that if a filmmaker wants to extract some scares from the sight of cadavers lying on glistening morgue or hospital tables, a well-constructed, intelligent script is a necessary complement to the visuals. Writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky, unfortunately, has forgotten that lesson, if he ever learned it. His third feature is a would-be thriller which looks pretty snazzy in Peter von Haller’s widescreen lensing, but is burdened with a screenplay so crushingly obvious and poorly structured that by the close the cliches are piling up faster than the corpses. And it doesn’t help matters that it’s been dubbed from German with a distinct lack of subtlety. It isn’t that the dialogue doesn’t fit fairly well with the characters’ lip movements, because it does; but the English voices have been recorded in an ambiance that seems totally different from that one would expect of the locales being shown on the screen. As a result, the conversations (and solos, since the main character persistently informs us of the obvious by talking to herself while she’s doing her sleuthing) have a tinny, disembodied tone to them, which hardly helps.

“Anatomy” is a rather strange enterprise for Ruzowitzky in any event; his previous picture, “The Inheritors,” was a seriocomic tale dealing with class and economic distinctions in nineteenth-century Austria, focusing on a group of tenant farmers jointly left their landlord’s property in his will and forced to struggle to hold onto it in the face of local resistance. There was a sense of social consciousness in the piece that’s certainly lacking in this followup feature, an empty-headed exercise in ghoulish mayhem which has nothing on its mind but generating cheap thrills and which willingly goes beyond the bounds of good taste and good sense to do so.

The plot centers on Paula Henning (Franka Potente, from “Run Lola Run”), the daughter and grand-daughter of German doctors who, because of her high test scores, is invited to attend a summer course on anatomy at the University of Heidelberg taught by the renowed but imperious Dr. Grombeck (Traugott Buhre). Paula is supposedly a workaholic, in contrast to her sexpot roommate Gretchen (Anna Loos), who quickly takes up with not only handsome hunk Hein (Benno Fuermann) but also jokester Phil (Holger Speckhahn); but before long she’s being courted by oddball classmate Casper (Sebastian Blomberg). She hasn’t much time for the budding romance, however, because she soon becomes convinced that Dr. Grombeck’s anatomy lab is being used for unethical, illegal experiments on (perhaps not yet dead) victims by a clandestine society called the Anti-Hippocratic League, which, according to the pseudo-historical palaver delivered in the script, consists of physicians who believe that experimenting brutally on live patients is justified by the hope that the discoveries thereby made will serve the needs of the many. It’s not long before Paula’s investigations endanger her friends and, of course, herself; and in the process she discovers a secret about her family background which causes her great grief, too.

There are several problems with the scenario Ruzowitzky has fashioned, some technical but at least one a matter of simple propriety. First, the mystery is dissipated much too early in the narrative, with the villains revealed so soon that the entire last act can be nothing but a series of dumb chases and increasingly absurd perils. Second, the characterizations are way off; Paula, for example, is supposed to be a bright, confident girl, but she comes across more as a brainless twit, while Gretchen is said to be highly intelligent but devotes herself to man-hunting (and man-humiliating) to the exclusion of all else, like the town slut. All the male figures are one-note caricatures. More significant than these concerns, however, is the fact that the entire plot is grounded on the concept of medically abusing live people which, in view of the practices of Third Reich experimenters, is more than a trifle unsavory; it would be bad enough for any schlock horror movie to drop in an allusion to Josef Mengele, but it seems particularly inappropriate for the line to turn up in a German potboiler like this.

Nor does Ruzowitzky do well by his cast. Potente, who was so charismatic in “Lola,” is encouraged to overact so badly here that she appears a complete amateur, the sort of immediately forgettable ingenue who populated junk like the “Friday the 13th” flicks. Loos wouldn’t be out of place as one of the less-nice girls in a WB series, and seems just about as talented. Fuermann, a younger lookalike for Reed Diamond, is used simply for his Nordic, Nazi Youth aura. Blomberg has the sullen shtick of his character down fairly well, but he has to endure an extremely embarrassing sequence toward the close which should make any decent viewer wince. And oldsters Buhre and Rudiger Vogler ham it up rather broadly.

From the purely technical standpoint “Anatomy” isn’t a disaster, except for the rock music used in the score, which by American standards seems about a decade behind the times. And overall it’s no worse than most of the innumerable “Scream” ripoffs that have been made in this country over the past few years. The problem is that it’s no better, either.