Tag Archives: D+

ON THE LINE

Producers: Romuald Boulanger, Marc Frydman and Robert Ogden Barnum   Director: Romuald Boulanger   Screenplay: Romuald Boulanger   Cast: Mel Gibson, William Moseley, Alia Seror-O’Neill, Paul Spera, Nadia Farès, Enrique Arce, Kevin Dillon, Yoli Fuller, Ravin J. Ganatra, John Robinson, Avant Strangel, Yann Bean, Nancy Tate, Carole Weyers, Robbie Nock and Romy Pointet   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: D+

Not long ago, Mel Gibson and Kevin Dillon co-starred in “Hot Seat,” a nonsensical thriller about an ex-hacker turned menial IT guy who’s forced use his old skills to transfer stolen money to the account of a villain who’s put a bomb under his chair to ensure his compliance; Dillon was the trapped guy and Gibson the bomb squad veteran who tried to defuse the explosive. 

In “On the Line,” Gibson assumes the role of victim, playing Elvis Cooney, a crass, insulting all-night talk radio host, prone to cruel practical jokes, who gets a call on air from a crazed man who threatens to kill Cooney’s kidnapped wife Olivia (Nancy Tate) and daughter Adria (Romy Pointet)—and blow up the skyscraper in which the studio is housed—unless the shock jock does exactly what he’s told, which might just include killing himself.  Dillon has a relatively minor role here as Justin, the guy who hosts the prime-time slot he thinks Elvis craves.

The claustrophobic feel of “Hot Seat” is also a main feature of Romuald Boulanger’s picture (which, though set in the Los Angeles, was made in France, with a polyglot cast and a swarm of varying accents).  We first see Clooney at home with his loving family, showering affection on little Adria.  But by the time he parks his Mustang at the studio he’s turned into Mr. Gruff, treating the security attendant Bob (Ravin J. Ganatra) with disdain, even as he sends a nutbag named Noah (John Robinson), who arrives claiming to be Jesus and threatening to kill them both, packing by telling him TV would be a better vehicle for his message.

Making his way to the broadcast booth upstairs, Elvis has a run in with Justin and an argument with the station manager (Nadia Farès) over declining ratings before getting down to work with his producer Mary (Alia Seror-O’Neill) and new engineer Dylan (William Moseley), fielding calls.  It’s not long before Gary (Paul Spera) is on the line with his threats, which he says are righteous vengeance for an affair Elvis had with his one-time girlfriend, who committed suicide after he broke it off.

The scenario turns into a convoluted cat-and-mouse game when Clooney learns that Gary and the hostages are in the building, which Gary has wired with explosives after killing Bob.  He and Dylan are soon stalking the hallways, trying to locate his family and save the day.  Police are introduced—a patrolman whose intervention might ruin their chances, a bomb squad expert whose efforts to help have the reverse effect—as well as explosive vests and a hand-held detonator.  You get the gist.

Thus far the movie has generated some modest tension despite the goofiness of the initial premise and the increasingly risible complications Boulanger adds to it.  But just as the plot reaches its apparent climax, it upends all that has gone before with not one but two twists so totally ludicrous that they provoke more anger than satisfaction.  The movie wants to become “The Usual Suspects” and fails miserably.

It’s not Gibson’s fault: he huffs and puffs through his role with an intensity he manages in about half the pictures he makes now, though he can never make Clooney credible.  The rest of the cast goes through the motions, with only Moseley standing out—except for Dillon, who as usual nowadays, stands out for all the wrong reasons.  The technical side of things—production design (Emmanuel Réveillière), cinematography (Xavier Castro), and editing (Pierre-Marie Croquet)—is adequate enough, even if darkness dominates the cramped images and things could move along more crisply.  Clément Perin’s score strives to add excitement, but can’t overcome the sporadic directorial flabbiness.

Most viewers might be willing to shrug off “On the Line” as a mere mediocrity until the final twenty minutes.  After them, though, they might feel like throwing things at the screen. There are a couple of points where the movie makes a couple of jokes at its own expense. A character remarks, for example, that what they’re going through would make a great movie–and another says that it needs a rewrite. Elsewhere, Elvis asks “What kind of D-grade movie BS is this?” In retrospect these seem less like jokes than valid observations.  

MEET CUTE

Producers: Akiva Goldsman, Gregory Lessans, Rachel Reznick Wizenberg, Santosh Govindaraju and Dan Reardon   Director: Alex Lehmann   Screenplay: Noga Pnueli   Cast: Kaley Cuoco, Pete Davidson, Deborah S. Craig, Rock Kohli, Kevin Corrigan, Andrew Stevens Purdy, Wesley Holloway and Mia Matysiak   Distributor: Peacock

Grade: D+

Time-travel has been employed as a plot device in romantic comedies before, but in “Meet Cute” it’s used to such poor effect that one hopes this will be the last time.

Noga Pnueli’s script begins in medias res, as we quickly learn, when daydreaming Sheila (Kaley Cuoco), at the urging of a bartender (Kevin Corrigan), approaches dour Gary (Pete Davidson) and offers to buy him a drink.  He accepts, and before long they’re not only talking but sharing a meal at an Indian restaurant and an ice-cream cone afterward. 

He tells her that he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, but his attitude shifts uneasily from amiability to suspicion when she claims to be a time-traveler who’s come back to this night with him repeatedly from twenty-four hours in the future, which is why she knows so much about him, including what he’s about to say.  When they finally say goodnight, she says she’ll see him again tomorrow.

And she does—again and again, since she really is from the near future, using what looks like a tanning bed but is actually a time-travel device located in a nail salon presided over by manicurist June (Deborah S. Craig) to return to the same night over and over, falling for Gary more and more with each visit.  He, of course, has no idea of the repetition, and as it goes on for a year, she becomes irritated with his persistently hangdog attitude and familiar jokes. 

So she decides to refashion him more to her liking by going into his past, undoing the psychological damage he suffered as a boy (Andrew Stevens Purdy) and a teen (Wesley Holloway) by intervening in his life for the better.  The result, when she returns to see the outcome of her interventions, is hardly what she hopes for.  And yet that’s not the end of the permutations, as Gary has divined the location of the salon and decides to use the machine to return to her past (she’s played as a sad child by Mia Matysiak) to treat the psychological turmoil that left her desperately unhappy, even suicidal, before she met him (and homicidal afterward, since she repeatedly kills her “other” self to avoid duplication).

If all that sounds like too much, it is.  But still the overall concept might have worked had it been fitted with some genuinely amusing dialogue and entrusted to two different actors, or at least had director Alex Lehmann been able to coax more attractive performances from Cuoco and Davidson.  Sheila is meant to be manic, but in Cuoco’s hands she’s shrilly and unpleasantly so, and Davidson doesn’t bring much to Gary but his usual slacker-guy routine, except for the episode in which he’s been turned into a hot-dog entrepreneur by Sheila’s meddling (in which role, anyway, he’s not terribly convincing).  Apart from Craig, whose comic timing is spot-on, and Rock Kohli, as a long-suffering waiter at that Indian restaurant, the supporting cast barely registers.

Aside from the outside light-show at the Panna II Garden restaurant in the East Village, where the duo dines, the look of the movie is almost unfailingly drab, with a dank production design (Laura Miller) and cinematography (John Matysiak) that keeps most everything in shadow apart from some trips to the past.  Christopher Donlon’s editing tries to keep the timelines straight, with varying degrees of success, and Stephen Lukach’s score, juxtaposed with pop tunes, aims to add a frothy note but fails.

This movie is definitely about a meeting—or meetings—but cuteness, and more importantly charm, elude it entirely.  Perhaps that’s why it’s topped off with a prolonged series of outtakes, in which presumably improvised bits of dialogue (including lots of imaginative descriptions of depressing types of ice cream) are featured.  It doesn’t help.