Review: YOU KILL ME (R)

Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni.

U.S. Release Date: June 22, 2007

Running Time: 93 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Language, violence)

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Dennis Farina, Luke Wilson, Bill Pullman, Philip Baker Hall, Marcus Thomas

Director: John Dahl

Producer: Tea Leoni, Howard Rosenman

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / January 5, 2012

The hitman comedy is easily one of the most identifiable kinds of  movies, simply because there’s always a certain amount of oddballness in them. The story always stays decidedly formulaic, but the characters are only normal to an extent, and their normality is only used to make them seem more human.

While John Dahl seems to have gotten most of it right, You Kill Me is not quite up to par with the likes of Grosse Pointe Blank and The Matador. It is not even really the same kind of movie as the other two, even though it certainly tries to be. There is a sense of humor at its core, but only of the mildest kind. I can’t guarantee that you’ll laugh more than twice, although you will certainly smirk a lot.

The film’s center is Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley), a disorderly hitman with an incessant drinking problem. Now, I won’t necessarily call Frank the hero because he really isn’t. He’s just there. Sure, we’re supposed to be rooting for him when he goes up against the bad guys, but it doesn’t really ever work that way. He’s simply not likable enough. Kingsley usually plays such strong characters, but Frank just doesn’t have any depth at all. He wanders from scene to scene with the same expression of lethargy, always looking completely unhappy. Words come out of his mouth at such a low volume that I had to lean forward a couple of times to try and decipher what it was that he was saying. Now, while I’m not blaming Kingsley’s acting, in a way I sort of am. This is a role that requires no real emotion and Kingsley brings nothing to it, which is what it calls for, but I found myself detached and uncaring about the future of the lead character. If that’s what Dahl was aiming for, and it seems like he was, then mission accomplished.

The real story of You Kill Me involves Frank botching a critical mission and being sent to San Francisco to get himself together. While there, he has to take up a job at a mortuary and attend several sessions of AA. But while he’s away from home, another mob begins to threaten the one that he works for. Sounds good, right? Well, it’s the perfect premise for a hitman comedy. So much could be made of it. I sat there in my chair thinking of everything that could happen; waiting for something to appear on that screen and make me grin. I was getting my own hopes up.

Dahl squanders everything. He lets everything roll downhill in a wave of predictability, turning the last half-hour into a sort of romantic comedy. I sat there waiting for it to be over, the grin rapidly dissolving from my face.

I take it that maybe I’m on the few that doesn’t like You Kill Me. It’s too subtle and quiet for my taste. It doesn’t begin or end with a bang. In fact, there’s not even a real bang anywhere throughout the entire movie. Everything remains disappointingly low key. Yes, this is a hitman comedy, but only technically. It doesn’t hold a candle to the rest. There is a small amount of humor to appreciate, but none of it is ever dark. There is never a mood that fits. Nothing ever seems to fit quite right with anything else. That’s mainly where You Kill Me fails. It’s awkward and slow-paced.

RATING: 2/4 

Review: BOTTLE ROCKET (R)

Owen Wilson is hysterical as Dignan.

U.S. Release Date: February 21, 1996

Running Time: 92 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Language, sexual situations)

Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, James Caan, Lumi Cavazos

Director: Wes Anderson

Producers: Cynthia Hargrave, Ray Zimmerman, Polly Platt, James L. Brooks, Richard Sakai, Michael Taylor, Andrew Wilson

Screenplay: Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / July 16, 2011

What an original and endearing little gem Bottle Rocket is. It doesn’t follow any formulas and kicks any possible cliches to the curb.

For starters, Bottle Rocket isn’t orthodox about anything that it does. What about the plot? Well, the plot is there, but only sometimes. It concerns three hooligans aspiring to become master thieves. Their leader, Dignan (played by Owen Wilson), isn’t exactly smart and doesn’t really know what he’s doing half of the time, but he’s positive and stays positive so it’s impossible not to like him. His friends Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Bob (Robert Musgrave) are ne’er-do-wells as well.

The trio executes their first crime at a local bookstore. They get a small sum of money and decide to go on the lam. Normally, going on the lam is when you’re forced to, as in you’re wanted by the police. The trio of hoodlums do it less because they’re forced to and more because they want to. They settle down at a motel, where Anthony falls in love with a Spanish-speaking maid.

From here, Bottle Rocket meanders down several different paths, with none of them ever really leading anywhere. Wes Anderson, the writer and director here, shows us some of the most subtle humor you’ll see in a comedy. You don’t really laugh until a few seconds after the joke is said. This is the kind of movie that stands out amongst others, for it is very unlike other movies.

The main problem though is that comedy comes only in certain scenes. The beginning of the movie is hilarious, as is the ending, but the middle is boring. These are the scenes where Anthony begins to grow feelings for the maid, Inez (Lumi Cavazos). It’s slow and not particularly interesting. Really, the scenes where a crime is perpetrated, those are the best. Anderson delivers just the right amount of idiocy to make less stupid and more funny.

A standout performance is the one from Owen Wilson, playing Dignan. Wilson brings such a level of humor to this role that you just grin at every single action he does or word he says. It’s a fantastic comedic performance and such a likable character.

Again, Anderson has an ear for dialogue and he’s a pretty good director as well. This is a pretty formidable entry in the competition for best film debut. It’s charming and inventive and most of all, funny. Not in the “haha” sense of the word, but in the sense where you grin and say, “Now that’s funny.”

RATING: 3/4

Review: WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS (PG-13)

Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz look like a couple of fools in "What Happens in Vegas."

U.S. Release Date: May 9, 2008

Running Time: 99 minutes

MPAA Classification: PG-13 (Language, sexual situations)

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Dennis Farina, Queen Latifah, Krysten Ritter, Jason Sudeikis

Director: Tom Vaughan

Producers: Michael Aguilar, Shawn Levy, Jimmy Miller

Screenplay: Dana Fox

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / July 15, 2011

I’m beginning wonder if there’s even an attempt made to make good movies anymore. It seems like the same exact thing keeps getting tossed up onto that silver screen, nary a change ever being made to the good ol’ rom-com formula. The creators behind What Happens in Vegas never even almost try to bring something new to the table, relying on clichés so overused and worn-out they wouldn’t even make for a serviceable boxing bag.

Leading a cast of losers are the two of the unfunniest people Hollywood has ever had the indecency to bless with acting careers: Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. The days where good looks and charm compensated for raw acting talent have long since passed for the two of them and here they just look like fools, most notably in a scene where Diaz pegs Kutcher with oranges as they race through the streets of New York City, all-the-while looking like fools.

Out of everything that What Happens in Vegas to offer, the story is the most original, even though saying that is a stretch. It deals with Joy (Diaz) and Jack (Kutcher), two radically different people whose troubled lives lead them to Las Vegas for solace. Joy has experienced a recent breakup, while Jack has been fired from his job. In Vegas, the two coincidentally cross paths and become friends. Eventually, they start drinking and soon find themselves married.

Well, the following morning, the two realize that what they did was a huge mistake and immediately reconcile to get a divorce. But just as they are about to, Jack decides to play one final round on one of the slot machines and ends up winning the three-million dollar jackpot, thus resulting in their divorce being put on standby. This is where What Happens in Vegas loses any semblance of the charm it barely had and becomes a fight between Diaz and Kutcher for the title of who looks the stupidest at doing what.

What director Tom Vaughan doesn’t understand (besides the art of filmmaking) is that a movie with a formula is not always a bad thing, but a movie that follows a formula because its creators could not be any more creative is. What Happens in Vegas exploits its formula, taking advantage of every possible cliché until watching it becomes a game of ‘Betcha Can’t Guess What Happens Next.’

But to be fair, the audience this film was made for aren’t the kinds of people that like variety. They like seeing the same things done over again and again because it eliminates thought process. They don’t have to think about what’s coming next — they anticipate it. God forbid a movie that requires you to use your brain.

I won’t go much further in explaining all the faults that What Happens in Vegas has. It would take too long and frankly, I’m tired. You’ll know if this is your kind of movie or not. What use is this review anyway? I’m basically just pointing out the obvious.

RATING: 1/4