Tag Archives: C+


Grade: C+

Apparently an attempt to fashion a cooler, hipper version of “Star Wars” in advance of Disney’s restart of that Lucas franchise (it might be mistaken for the earlier adventures of Han Solo, without even an Obi-wan figure to lend it a touch of gravitas), Marvel’s latest superhero behemoth “Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of those movies that should actually be labeled as FFO—“For Fanboys Only”—except that being an efficiently made product of the Marvel Factory’s assembly line operation, its blend of explosive action and juvenile humor will probably appeal to a far wider part of today’s filmgoing public. It’s a completely vacuous reiteration of the “saving the universe” plot common to all these pictures, but audiences will no doubt eat up its non-stop mixture of CGI wizardry and puerile gags.

Based not on the original comic-book series of the late sixties and early seventies but the 2008 reboot, “Guardians” brings together a bunch of misfits—preening, jokey humanoid outlaw Peter Quill, aka “Starlord” (Chris Pratt); green-toned alien femme fatale Gamora (Zoe Saldana); burly, tattooed giant Drax (Dave Bautista); cynical, wise-cracking genetically modified raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and anthropomorphic tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)—to take on a powerful villain called Ronan (Lee Pace), who’s intent on destroying the planet Xandar, which is presided over by a female leader (Glenn Close).

The MacGuffin of the plot is an orb with mysterious destructive power. After a brief prologue in which we see the young Quill (Wyatt Oleff) witness the death of his mother and get abducted by an alien spaceship, we find him grown and entering a cave to secure the orb for his boss, the blue-tinted Ravager (i.e., outlaw) leader Yondu (Michael Rooker). After a battle with Ronan’s henchman Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Quill escapes. But he has no intention of handing over the orb to Yondu; he takes it to Xandar intending to fence it himself. That’s where he meets Gamora, Rocket and Groot. She wants to steal the orb; they’re bounty hunters who want to snatch Quill. Their confrontation leads them all to be arrested and sent to prison, where they encounter Drax, who has a personal grudge against Ronan and joins with them in escaping. Another encounter with Ronan, Korath and Gamora’s stepsister Nebula (Karen Gillan) puts them all in jeopardy, but eventually they—along with Yondu’s fleet—make their way to Xandar, where they mount a joint stand with the Xandarian defenders against Ronan, who by now has mastered the power of the orb.

This threadbare plot is nothing more than an excuse for a chain of splashy battle scenes, interrupted by lots of jocular bickering among the oddball crew. Much of the latter is provided by Cooper’s Rocket, who bad-mouths everybody but his buddy Groot (the tone of whose sole words he’s able to reinterpret), and especially Pratt’s Quill, a dude who takes little seriously and constantly grooves to the mix tape of ’70s pop tunes that’s the only link he possesses to his mother (as well as serving to score many of the movie’s set-pieces). There are points at which the picture tries for sentiment or poignancy—the prologue, for example, but also a few scenes in which characters are put in jeopardy or are apparently killed—but none of them has any real depth. And the material featuring Ronan and his ally Thanos (voiced by an uncredited Josh Brolin) is all too reminiscent of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” with the duo coming across like deep-voiced Skeletor wannabes.

The most crowd-pleasing “characters” are likely to be Rocket and Groot, who are marvels of CGI imaging and whom Cooper and Diesel voice with surprising point. Pratt seems to be doing a sort of homage to Captain Mal Reynolds of “Serenity,” which perhaps explains Nathan Fillion’s walk-on in the prison sequence. Saldana exhibits her customary athleticism but otherwise serves mostly as eye candy, and as Drax Bautista shows the sort of talent characteristic of most ex-wrestlers: he’s a hulking presence, and delivers his lines, laden with elevated vocabulary as a jocular counterpoint to his bulging physique, in a monotonous growl. But that’s what the part requires. Close suffers from the same problem that afflicted Natalie Portman in the second “Star Wars” trilogy—she’s too concerned with trying to keep her unsightly hairdo in place to act, except in the most generalized fashion. But John C. Reilly is able to add a few wry touches to his turn as a Xandar policeman and the scowling Rooker savors Yondu’s nastiness, both overshadowing Benicio Del Toro’s brief turn as a distinctly weird “collector” of unusual artifacts.

“Guardians” represents a very different thing from James Gunn’s previous movie, “Super,” which tried—even if unsuccessfully—to investigate the dark side of fanboydom and the damage it can lead to. By contrast this is a jokey, lighthearted, and ultimately inconsequential riff about another guy determined to be a famous hero. It’s been elaborately produced—though the settings devised by the effects team have a comic-book look, one can hardly fault the production design of Charles Wood or Ben Davis’ cinematography—and the visual effects, especially those involving Rocket and Groot, are smoothly integrated into the live-action material. What original music there is, once you factor in the pop tunes, is provided in pretty standard fashion by Tyler Bates, and one can be thankful to editors (Craig Wood, Fred Raskin and Hughes Winborne for the fact that for a Marvel superhero movie, this one comes in at a relatively trim two hours (even less if you skip the final credits).

The very empty-headedness of “Guardians of the Galaxy” will probably insure its enormous success, since many in the audience will be able to identify with it.



Who doesn’t like a nice, twisty gangster mystery with turns calibrated to keep you off guard and an ending calculated to astonish you with its brazenness, especially one crammed with tasty dialogue? They used to come fast and furious in the forties during the heyday of film noir, courtesy of the much-maligned studio system, and one was reminded of how much fun they were by a successful modernization like Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” (1995). That’s the exalted company to which “Lucky Number Slevin” aspires. Unfortunately, though it has many virtues, it doesn’t quite make the cut.

The convoluted script by Jason Smilovic opens with what’s effectively a flashback, in which a callow young father tries to make a killing at as racetrack by betting the farm (and then some) on a horse he’s learned is rigged to win. Things don’t turn out as planned, of course, and his inability to pay back the money he’s borrowed leads to a series of deaths, including–it seems– his own, his wife’s and his young son’s. Cut to the present, where an unidentified young man is approached in a blindingly bright but deserted airport terminal by a wheelchair-bound chatterbox named Smith (Bruce Willis), who explains the meaning of the phrase “Kansas City Shuffle”–a locution indicating a clever means of directing somebody’s attention away from what’s really going on.

That becomes the motif of the larger plot that follows, a Hitchcockian “Wrong Man” scenario which begins as another young man named Slevin (Josh Harnett) arrives in New York City to crash in the apartment of his pal Nick, who’s unaccountably left the place vacant. Slevin quickly makes the acquaintance of Lindsey (Lucy Liu), a coroner’s aide who lives across the hall, but before anything can happen between them, two blundering thugs show up, mistake Slevin for Nick, and drag him off for a meeting with a crime lord called The Boss (Morgan Freeman), who threatens him with a dire fate if he doesn’t repay his huge gambling debt. But The Boss offers an alternative: he’ll forget the money if Slevin will kill his arch-rival The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), who lives across the way in a twin tower, as isolated and well-defended as the Boss is himself. But as it turns out, Slevin is apparently but a cog in a larger, more ambiguous game, when Smith, now perfectly ambulatory, turns up as a high-priced hit-man who’s in the employ of both bigwigs. Also on hand is Stanley Tucci as a brash cop who’s certain Slevin’s up to no good.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal the further contortions of the plot, but while you wish the turns would take your breath away (the way those in “Suspects” did), they really don’t, though not for lack of trying. Without revealing the details, it must also be said that things wrap up with a sequence that’s overlong and demeaning to some of the cast, and a sentimental twist that just doesn’t feel right after all the smarty-pants business that’s preceded.

But there’s fun to be had along the way. The picture looks great–production designer Francois Sequin and art directors Pierre Perrault and Colombe Raby have fashioned an elegantly colorful array of sets, which cinematographer Peter Sova uses with verve and dexterity under Paul McGuigan’s vigorous direction (even though their best efforts can’t make Montreal a fully persuasive stand-in for the Big Apple). McGuigan also gets solid work from his cast. Harnett, looking remarkably buff and clearly savoring the whiplash dialogue Smilovic has provided him with, is far more jovial and confident than he’s seemed in the past, and the chirpily pessimistic Liu makes a fine partner for him. As for Freeman, Kingsley, Willis and Tucci, they’re not asked to go much beyond their basic ranges, but they’re here for their presence, and it pays off.

“Lucky Number Slevin” is a tidy movie–the script’s honest, tying up all the narrative threads neatly in the end. And a good deal of the writing is slick and funny; you can understand why the actors were drawn to it. In the end, though, it winds up as little more than a clever puzzle. Though the pieces ultimately fit together, when fully revealed the picture proves less than meets the eye.