Tag Archives: D

FRIDAY NIGHT (VENDREDI SOIR)

Ice Cube doesn’t appear in “Friday Night,” and that’s rather too bad, because he might have brought a bit of life to this dreary, pretentious two-hander from inexplicably esteemed French director Claire Denis. A Parisian woman (Valerie Lemercier) is moving to her boyfriend’s place during a transit strike; while crawling along in the gridlocked traffic she gives a lift to a passerby (Vincent Lindon); and after a while they’re spending the evening together, sharing a nice Italian meal and a bed in a mediocre hotel. The next morning she runs out into the street looking happy and liberated; the freeze-frame that follows is like an urban mirror-image of the famous shot with which Truffaut ended “The 400 Blows.” And that’s it.

Denis’s purpose is obviously to tell this threadbare tale, which might have made a piercing short story, as some sort of cinematic poem. Her earlier pictures–such as “Beau Travail,” her hugely overrated 1999 updating of “Billy Budd,” set in the French foreign legion–showed that her interest is in the style in which a film is told rather than the narrative itself. That’s not in itself a fatal problem, but it certainly becomes one when style is almost completely lacking. “Friday Night” is not an attractive-looking film: its gritty, jittery cinematography (by Agnes Godard) doesn’t aspire to elegance, and especially in the intimate scenes, where it employs oppressive close-up and brutally quick edits that make the action deliberately unclear, it simply seems amateurish. The acting by Lemercier and Lindon has a certain naturalness to recommend it, but little more; they fail to create full, rounded characters, and seem merely to be going through the motions required by the schematic script. And the direction itself strikes one as workmanlike rather than inspired. The result is a picture that seems to ramble its way through an essentially tepid little anecdote.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fashion films that are basically about mood rather than story, and when well-done they can serve as a very welcome alternative to the usual run of slam-bang Hollywood flicks that offer reams of mindless plot and no style at all. But “Friday Night” is as bad in its way as those pictures are in theirs. It will make you long for the weekend.

THE MEDALLION

“I think we’re in trouble,” Hong Kong cop Eddie Yang (Jackie Chan) says about a half hour into “The Medallion.” The guy knows whereof he speaks. In a way the movie answers a wish expressed by many of the rubber-bodied star’s fans ever since he started work in Hollywood: that he make a picture like the ones he used to churn out in the east, mixing slapstick action and childish comedy. In fact, this is effectively a Hong Kong movie despite being shot in English. Unfortunately, it resembles one of Chan’s weaker Chinese-language efforts. As horrifying as it might be to contemplate, “The Medallion” is actually even inferior to “The Tuxedo,” which was certainly no prize.

The plot has a more than passing resemblance to Eddie Murphy’s 1986 dud “The Golden Child.” An English villain called Snakehead (Julian Sands, looking more emaciated than ever but sporting the same nasty sneer) goes to Hong Kong to kidnap a “magical child” but is foiled by Yang and a dimwitted Interpol agent called–and isn’t this clever?–Watson (the almost insanely frenetic Lee Nelson). The nefarious Snakehead’s men nonetheless eventually capture the boy and transport him to Dublin, where their master awaits. In rescuing the kid from their grasp Eddie is drowned–much to the distress of Nicole (the stiff Claire Forlani), a femme Interpol agent with whom he’s long had a romantic connection. Since the movie’s not even at the half-way point, however, Yang can hardly disappear, and so the cop is resurrected by the kid through the mechanism of the title amulet, emerging invulnerable and super-powered in the process. To provide a big finale, the child is kidnapped yet again, and the revived Eddie, along with Nicole and Watson, must venture into Snakehead’s lair to rescue him and insure that the dastardly villain doesn’t gain the same powers Eddie now has.

If you think this sounds like the stuff of a really bad serial from the forties, or of a dreary Saturday morning cartoon, you’re absolutely right. Nonsense can be fun, of course, if it’s carried off with style. Unfortunately, in this case the picture lacks panache. Physically it’s not on a much higher level than direct-to-video fare, with Gordon Chan’s helming slapdash and unfocused, the production looking wan, and the effects cheesy. Even Jackie’s gymnastics disappoint for the most part; there’s one nifty chase scene with Johann Myers fairly early on, along with a couple of decent fight scenes, but even these aren’t especially imaginative, and all too often the athletics obviously depend on wires and CGI trickery. (One appreciates that a fellow of Chan’s age–he’s nearly fifty, after all–isn’t as limber as he once was, but his calling card has always been real stunts, and fans will regret seeing him once more, as in “The Tuxedo,” opting for machine-manufactured ones instead, especially when they’re so chintzily done.) The support provided by the rest of the cast isn’t stellar, either. Evans–who never found a successful follow-up to his starring role in “Mouse Hunt”–is forced into agonizing slapstick contortions in a failed effort to generate laughs; Forlani never convinces as Jackie’s old flame (or anything else: in one scene, for instance, she explains that she can’t cook, yet her immaculate kitchen is stocked with every imaginable utensil and appliance); and as the lip-smacking Snakehead Sands does little more than grimace–a reaction that should really be left to the audience in a picture like this. Bao has a nice smile as the magic child Jai, but he’s not called upon to do much more than look angelic. One shouldn’t blame the performers overmuch, though; it’s hard to make a silk purse of a movie out of a sow’s ear script.

“The Medallion” ultimately feels like a mediocre Hong Kong movie lacking even the charm of misspelled subtitles or bad dubbing. The movie ends with the customary Jackie Chan out-takes during the final credits; they’re mostly pale in this instance, but at least they demonstrate that some entire sequences were edited out of the final product–small consolation, perhaps, but with a picture this lame, one takes whatever comfort he can. Since we’re told that the miracle child appears on earth only once every thousand years, moreover, perhaps that insures any sequel is a millennium off. That’s certainly good news.