Drama

The Pursuit of Happyness

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2006

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Produced by Will Smith, Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, James Lassiter and Steve Tisch

Written by Steve Conrad

Most of us got to know Will Smith first as a light-hearted rapper and wildly talented comedic actor thanks to his hit records like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” “Miami” and “Summertime” as well as the TV show “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” He then moved smoothly and effortlessly into high action blockbuster movies like the two “Bad Boys” as well as “Independence Day” the “Men In Black” movies, “Enemy of The State” and “I, Robot.” And in movies such as the biopic “Ali” and “Seven Pounds” he proved he had the chops as a straight dramatic actor as well.

Will Smith quickly proved himself to be one of the most likeable and charming actors of our time.  Even when he’s in a turkey like “Wild Wild West” or “Hitch” he never fails to deliver a solid performance full of humor and professionalism.  One of the things I like about Will Smith is that he always looks as if he’s having a helluva good time making movies.  He’s just all around fun to watch.  But a lot of people forget that when he started out in movies in did so in dark dramas such as “Where The Day Takes You” and “Six Degrees Of Separation.”  THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (and yes, happiness is spelled wrong for a reason the movie explains and I won’t, so now you’ve got another reason to go see it) is a dramatic movie that has a lot of Will Smith’s trademark humor.  But it’s there for a reason.  If the character Will Smith plays wasn’t able to have a sense of humor about his situation he’d probably have killed himself 45 minutes into the picture.

It’s 1981 and Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a San Francisco salesman struggling to keep his family together.  He’s trying to sell bone density scanners to doctors who really don’t need them since they’re little more than fancy X-Ray machines.  His wife Linda (Thandie Newton) is worn out from working double shifts on her job and she can look in the mirror and see the old woman she’s becoming before her time and she hates it.  Their five-year-old son Chris (Jaden Smith) is like a lot of frighteningly perceptive five year olds that can sense the hostility between their parents but have no idea of what is causing it or how they can fix it.  The constant financial pressure is eroding the family and Chris knows that they’re one paycheck away from being homeless.  Using all of his salesmanship skills as well as his considerable charm he manages to get accepted into a six-month internship program with the prestigious stock brokerage firm Dean Witter.  Even though there’s no salary if he makes it through there’s the promise of an excellent paying job and more importantly, a stable and secure future for him and his family.

Linda isn’t prepared to wait the six months as she’s fed up with the whole situation.  She leaves for New York which leaves Chris as a single father balancing taking care of his son, trying to sell those damned bone density scanners to keep them eating as well as fulfilling his obligations to the internship program.  Chris just can’t catch a break, though.  He and his son are evicted from their apartment and then a hotel and in a frighteningly short amount of time Chris and his son find themselves homeless, carrying around their belongings in a suitcase and a couple of black plastic bags.  They sleep in subways and public bathrooms.  If they’re lucky and can make it in time they get a room at The Glide Memorial Church for the night so they can wash up and sleep in a real bed.

 

5d2cb487bd45c97cd958fdf009024a94Throughout all of this Chris uses the love and trust of his son to keep him focused on his goal: finishing the internship and getting the job.  None of his fellow interns or instructors knows that he’s homeless.  He takes care to keep his suits and dress shirts immaculate and he always shows up for work looking clean as the Board of Health.  When asked why he’s always carrying around a suitcase he’s never at a loss with a plausible excuse.  He has to do twice the work of his fellow interns in half the time since he has to be across town to pick up his son from the daycare and then race to the church to stand in line to hopefully get a room.  It’s a situation that would make a lot of us jump off the nearest bridge and drown ourselves.  And indeed, there are scenes where we see that the strain of maintaining the fiction that there’s nothing wrong with his life is scraping Chris’s nerves raw.  His son helps by telling him really bad jokes that never fail to make Chris laugh.  He insists that his dad kiss his Captain America action figure goodnight.  And in a truly heartbreaking scene the boy reaches out to his father at a crucial time when Chris is at his lowest and says softly; “You’re a good poppa.”

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS is a movie that would be so painful as to be unwatchable if it weren’t for the performances of Will Smith and his real life son Jaden.  The two of them are so resourceful, so patient and supportive of each other that very quickly you’ll find yourself rooting for this father/son team to pull themselves out of the unfortunate situation they’ve found themselves in.  The movie remind us that not everybody in the 80’s who found themselves homeless were crack addicts or mentally ill.  Many were hard-working people who simply made bad decisions.  And in our unforgiving society that’s all it takes: just a couple of bad decisions.

The movie works on a lot of levels: as a social commentary on the hoops that American society forces us to jump through in our mutual pursuit of happiness as well as a drama.  There are also a lot of moments of humor in the movie but they’re not forced and work amazingly well.  They provide a well-needed laugh to give us a release from scenes that are so painfully honest that only a person with a heart of stone could not be moved.

The movie sits on Will Smith’s shoulders since he’s on screen 99% of the movie’s running time and he’s more than capable of carrying the burden.  There’s never a moment when you don’t believe his performance.  He dials back his usual movie persona way back here and plays a recognizable human being we can relate to.  A lot of people are going to come away from this movie hating Thandie Newton’s character but they shouldn’t.  She’s not in the movie very long but she makes her pain and weariness plain.  Thandie Newton manages to do a lot of remarkable work with her brief screen time.  Look for Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) as the instructor of Chris Gardner’s intern class.  And Jaden Smith is totally adorable as the young Chris.  I thought there was a nice little subtext to his devotion to his Captain America action figure but I’ll leave it for you guys to see if you saw the same thing I did.  The real life relationship between Jaden and Will gives the movie a lot of its emotional resonance and their scenes together are among the best in the movie.

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So should you see THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS?  You certainly should.  If you’re a Will Smith fan this is an opportunity to see him in what I suspect will come to be known as a really important role in his career.  No, it’s not an easy film to watch but it’s worth sitting through the pain for the payoff at the end  I think it’s important for us all to watch a movie like THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS if for no other reason than it get us to really look at the homeless guy on the corner and think about who he was once upon a time and what dreams and aspirations he pursued.

117 minutes

PG-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wolf Of Wall Street

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Screenplay by Terence Winter

Based on “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. With THE WOLF OF WALL STREET this now makes five movies Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have collaborated on and I’ve enjoyed all of them (yes, even “Shutter Island. So there.) up to now. It’s not that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a bad movie. At this point I don’t think that Scorsese or DiCaprio are capable of making a bad movie. But for me this wasn’t a very enjoyable or even satisfying movie.

It’s the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who in 1987 becomes a stockbroker at a well-established Wall Street firm. He’s as green as a Christmas tree until he’s mentored by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a totally hilarious extended cameo) who introduces Belfort to cocaine and encourages him to adopt a lifestyle totally dedicated to making money and then spending it in as lavish a lifestyle as that money will buy.

To achieve this, Belfort decides to open his own firm, going into partnership with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and hiring his friends, most of them petty drug dealers who Belfort trains to become as ruthless as he is in selling penny stocks. What are penny stocks you ask? Don’t worry if you don’t know. In one of the many breaking the fourth wall scenes in the movie, Belfort looks right at us in the audience and explains what they are and how he is able to manipulate them to grow his firm from working out of a dilapidated garage into a billion dollar company.

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And as the company grows, so does the excess. Belfort throws lavish parties in his home and in the office. Parties with plenty of drugs, hookers and booze. Belfort quickly becomes hooked on coke, Quaaludes and prostitutes but his real addiction remains making and spending money. Money that comes in so quickly and in such quantity that he soon is being investigated by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) With the help of Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal) another one of his drug dealing friends, Belfort begins transferring money out of the country and into a Swiss bank. Belfort is starting to hear words from friends and family he doesn’t like. Words like “securities fraud” and “stock manipulation” which can earn you a twenty-five year government sponsored vacation, if you know what I mean. With the threat of the FBI breathing down his neck and his home life in shambles, what’s a multi-millionaire drug addict to do?

 

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREET isn’t a story with a lot of surprises or twists and turns in the plot. We’ve seen it all before in other movies. In fact, if you’ve seen 2000’s “Boiler Room” starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck then you have seen it as that earlier movie was also based on Jordan Belfort’s story. But for me it really isn’t a movie with much of a story at all. And even though I enjoy scenes of debauchery as much as the next guy, after the ninth or tenth scene of DiCaprio and his cohorts banging hookers while snorting blow offa their boobs I was tired of it already. You don’t have to keep hitting me over over the head with it. I get it, these guys like getting high and screwing prostitutes. Okay, fine. Let’s move on and tell the story.

I will say that when the movie goes into comedy mode it is very funny. There’s a scene where Belfort overdoses on Quaaludes that is absolutely hysterical and had not only myself but the entire audience Patricia and I saw the movie with crying with laughter. Yes, it’s that funny. As I mentioned earlier, Matthew McConaughey is also very funny in his brief but pivotal scenes. Jonah Hill continues to amaze me as I don’t find him funny at all in his comedies but he always makes me laugh when he’s being funny in a drama. Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler also provide more than able backup in supporting roles as does Margot Robbie as Naomi Belfort. She’s a triple threat in that she’s unbelieveably gorgeous, wonderfully talented as an actress and gloriously uninhibited. I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised to see Jon Favreau and Joanna Lumley also show up doing their usual excellent work.

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But this is a movie that has a story that we’ve all seen way too many times already. It’s the rags-to-riches story of a guy with no conscience who rises to the mountaintop of power and wealth and brought down low by his flaws and weaknesses. There are plenty of individual scenes I liked a lot and made me laugh but taken as a whole, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET disappointed me. Still, it is a Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration so that makes it worth one viewing at least. But if I were you, I’d wait to Netflix it. This isn’t a movie you have to rush to the theaters to see unless you’re a major Scorsese or DiCaprio fan.

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One word of advice: the movie is rated R but I honestly think that it earned and should have gotten the NC-17. There are many scenes with graphic language, drug use and explicit sex. This is a movie that pushes the R rating as far as it can go and I ain’t lying. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw before this one that used the ‘F’ word and it’s variations so many times. So don’t go see it and then complain about the language, nudity, sex scenes and drug usage ‘cause I’m telling you. It’s there, there’s a lot of it and Martin Scorsese ain’t the least bit shy about showing it to you.

Rated R

179 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Olympus Has Fallen

olympus_has_fallen2013

Millennium Films

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel and Mark Gill

Written by Creighton Rothenberger

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the agent of charge of the Secret Service’s Presidential Detail. And as such he enjoys an usually intimate relationship with The First Family. He calls President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) by his first name while they work out together at Camp David. He advises First Lady Margaret (Ashley Judd) on what earrings to wear at state functions. Their son Connor treats Mike as if he were his favorite uncle. That all comes to an end when there’s a horrifying car accident and Mike has to make a choice between saving The President or Margaret. Mike chooses President Asher.

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Mike is transferred to working in the Treasury Department as Asher doesn’t want Mike around to remind him of that night. Mike’s boss, Secret Service chief Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) tells Mike repeatedly that nobody blames him for what happened as he did his job of protecting The President. But it doesn’t make it easier for Mike who hates his desk duty, seeing it as a demotion.

Mike’s chance for redemption comes when The White House is attacked and captured by the brilliant terrorist mastermind Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune) who takes President Asher and most of his top aides hostage. His goal is to use them as leverage to force U.S. military forces to withdraw from Korea’s DMZ. Kang also is after the access codes for Cerberus, a computer system that will allow him to detonate all of America’s nuclear missiles in their silos, turning America into a nuclear wasteland.

During the ferocious assault, Mike joins the Secret Service agents defending The White House and manages to get inside. By the time military backup arrives, the terrorists have slaughtered all the Secret Service agents and secured The White House. It’s up to Mike Banning to go full-blown John McClane to save the day single-handedly. Can he rescue Conner Asher before Kang’s men find him? Can he save President Asher? Can he deactivate Cerberus before the countdown hits zero and the United States goes ka-boom?

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If you have to ask, then you must not be familiar with action movies of the 1980’s which is what OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is an unashamed throwback to. In fact, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is so committed to its 80’s Action Movie roots that for me it’s a better “Die Hard” sequel than “A Good Day To Die Hard.” The story is totally preposterous of course, but then again, what action movie doesn’t have a preposterous premise to begin with? And the movie has more than its share of plot holes such as; why does Kang waste time executing hostages to force Speaker of The House/Acting President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) to order U.S. troops to withdraw from Korea when he could have simply used the threat of Cerberus to do so? Why does Asher wait until his Vice President (Phil Austin) and Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) are beaten damn near to death before ordering them to give up their codes while he gives his up without putting up any kind of resistance?

But OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, despite the plot holes is a pretty solid action thriller. And I liked how it didn’t go down the usual route of this genre of movie. Thankfully, Mike doesn’t turn into a burned-out, alcoholic mess who screws up his marriage after his demotion. He’s actually a pretty well-adjusted guy with a solid marriage. He just needs to spend a little more time with his wife (Radha Mitchell in a really boring and uninspired performance) and get from behind that desk.  I figured that the only purpose of the President having a son was so that at a crucial point he’d be taken hostage and we’d get yet another tired scene of the bad guy holding the gun to the brat’s head and telling our hero to drop his gun. That doesn’t happen here and I was so glad for that.

The casting of this movie is really first rate, full of A-list actors who I was quite surprised to see in what is essentially a big budget B-Action Movie. Besides Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Ashley Judd, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Rick Yune and Morgan Freeman we’ve got Dylan McDermott as Dave Forbes, ex-Secret Service agent and best friend to Mike, Robert Forster as the Army Chief of Staff and Cole Hauser. That’s one impressive line-up of talent for any movie and they all do their usual professional work here. I can’t really single out any performance that I didn’t like. Except for Radha Mitchell and I’m willing to chalk that up to her character really being underwritten and never really getting a chance to do much.

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And I really enjoyed seeing Gerard Butler back doing what he should be doing: making kick-ass action movies. Hopefully this won’t be his last one and he’ll stay away from making crappy romantic comedies. And I can’t close out this review without a special nod to Melissa Leo whose character takes one of the most excruciating ass-whoopin’s I’ve ever seen in a movie.

So should you see OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN? If you’re an action movie fan, yeah. The spectacularly gory violence and sheer level of destruction in this movie is gleeful and plentiful. This movie has got one of the highest body counts I’ve seen in recent movies and the CGI guys were apparently given full leave to go nuts, which they do. There’s nothing in OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN that will really surprise you as the director, Antoine Fuqua is not out to reinvent the Action Movie genre here. He has produced a solid piece of entertainment designed to do nothing more than put asses in seats, sell popcorn and provide two hours of carnage. If that’s all you’re looking for, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is your huckleberry.

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Rated R

180 Minutes

Taken 2

2012

EuropaCorp/Canal+

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Produced by Luc Besson

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

It would be difficult for TAKEN 2 to top 2008’s “Taken” and I think it’s a smart move on the part of all concerned that they don’t even try. Let’s take the “Die Hard” movies for an example. Each “Die Hard” is more expensive and bigger than the one before it, coming up with even more fantastic action sequences until we wind up with Bruce Willis outrunning a F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. But TAKEN 2 stays at the same level of the first movie and because it remains at that level we get action scenes that actually seem plausible. Liam Neeson, as in the first one is such a terrific action hero because he actually can act and so projects not only toughness but intelligence as well.

We pick up on Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) back in L.A. helping his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) learn how to drive and comforting his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who is going through changes with her current husband. The husband cancels a family trip to China and Bryan offers to holiday with Lenore and Kim in Istanbul (not Constantinople) after he finishes up a job there. They take him up on his generous offer. Also in Istanbul (not Constantinople) is Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija) the father of one of the men Bryan killed during the events of the first movie. He hasn’t come alone. He’s got a lot of help. A whole lot. And their intention is simple: kidnap Bryan and take him back to their hometown in Albania so that the families of the men he killed can watch him die. It’s a bonus that Kim and Lenore are there as Murad has plans in mind for them as well. Pretty soon it’s Bryan and Lenore who have been taken and have to rely on Kim to rescue them.

Now, don’t worry…Kim doesn’t pick up a pair of guns and start blazing away at the bad guys. But she does play a pivotal part in helping her dad get away from the bad guys in what I thought was a pretty ingenious sequence. And she does get to take part in a car chase that I thought was as funny as it was thrilling since it played out as a screwed up version of an earlier driving lesson Bryan and Kim had before everything went to hell.

And as in the first one, Liam Neeson is solidly at the center. Even though I didn’t enjoy this as much as “Taken” I liked it a lot more than “Unknown.” But you know what? I’d be perfectly happy seeing Liam Neeson doing these European based thrillers for Luc Besson and young hungry directors every two or three years because they’re so dependably entertaining. They’re pulpy action adventures with just enough characterization so that we care about the people on the screen but not so much that it gets in the way of the punchy punchy run run.

That’s not to say the movie is perfect. The bit with the world’s smallest cell phone had me rolling my eyes and the hyper quick editing during the fight scenes made me groan. Especially since it looked like Liam Neeson was pulling off some pretty good moves there. The two editors on this movie get no points from me.

And as the leader of the Albanian kidnappers Rade Serbedzija isn’t much of a fearsome evil criminal mastermind. It apparently doesn’t matter to him in the least that his son kidnapped and tortured underage girl, hooking them on drugs and selling them to pervy old men. All he cares about is that his son was killed and he wants revenge.

Famke Janssen does solid supporting work here as does Maggie Grace. TAKEN 2 isn’t as surprising or on the same blow-your-mind level as “Taken.” And it doesn’t have a badass speech like the now classic “I don’t know who you are” and you know something? I’m glad the writers didn’t even try. TAKEN 2 is a cheeseburger-and-fries action thriller as professionally efficient in its storytelling as Bryan Mills is at looking for, finding and killing bad guys.

96 minutes

Rated PG-13

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Looper

2012

Film District/TriStar Pictures

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson

Produced by Ram Bergman and James D. Stern

It wasn’t until I got back home and was able to look up information on LOOPER that I realized that the director of this movie also wrote and directed “Brick.” Now that really threw me for a loop (sorry, couldn’t resist) because I loved “Brick” and thought it highly original and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen while watching it. But in the case of LOOPER I kept thinking of other movies such as “The Terminator” and “The Fury”and looking at my watch wondering when it was going to be over with.

Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a Looper in the year 2044. His job is a simple and extremely lucrative one. In the year 2074 time travel has been invented and then promptly outlawed. Organized crime bosses get hold of the technology and use it to send people they want killed back in time to 2044 where a Looper waits to dispose of them. The job comes with one hell of a retirement clause. When a Looper’s time is up in 2074 he’s sent back in time to be killed by his younger self in 2044.

This is the dilemma that faces Joe when his older self (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time. But Old Joe manages to escape being killed at the hands of his younger self. He explains to Young Joe that in 2074 there’s a criminal mastermind called The Rainmaker who is closing all Looper contracts. Old Joe sent himself back in time and intends to find The Rainmaker who in 2044 is a ten year old child. Old Joe intends to kill him, thereby changing the future and preventing the murder of Old Joe’s wife.  Young Joe really doesn’t care. He’s happy with his life the way it is and as long as Old Joe is still alive he’s on the run from his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) who himself is from future and manages the Loopers. Abe has his elite crew of enforcers, The Gat Men who are hunting both Young and Old Joe.

Thanks to a piece of a map he manages to get from Old Joe, Joe has the location of one of Old Joe’s targets, a boy named Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who lives on a farm with his mother Sara (Emily Blunt.) Sara isn’t inclined to let Joe stay at all but he’s able to persuade her that they need his protection. Turns out that they may all need protection from Cid who possesses incredibly powerful telekinetic powers that enable him to strip flesh from bone with just a thought.  Will Cid’s power tip the scales in Joe’s favor when it comes time for the showdown between Old Joe and Young Joe? And can Cid’s power protect him from Old Joe who is convinced he will grow up to become The Rainmaker?

LOOPER has gotten wonderful reviews and I can’t help but think that maybe it’s me that’s got it wrong as plenty of reviewers see something in the movie that simply escapes me. The movie takes itself far too seriously for my taste. It sets up a wonderful situation but takes it into a dour and dark direction that I really didn’t like. I was looking forward to a lot more between Old and Young Joe and didn’t get it. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have a surprisingly short amount of screen time together.

And maybe it’s just me but it seemed to me that certainly there must be more efficient ways of killing people and disposing of their bodies than sending them back in time. I also didn’t like how the movie abruptly changes gears halfway through and almost becomes a brand new movie with all new characters by the time we get to the farmhouse. Then we have to be dragged back to the movie that we started watching forty-five minutes ago so that everything can be rushed to the conclusion. It’s not even exhilarating to see Bruce Willis mowing down hoards of Gat Men with a pair of machine guns as you would think it would be. And that’s because I got the impression that somebody just up and thought there should be a scene of Bruce Willis with machine guns in each hand because it’s expected. And don’t get me started on the ‘romance’ between Joe and Sara which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

As does the whole subplot of Cid having telekinetic abilities. Early on in the movie we’re told that due to some random mutation, 10% of the population has telekinetic powers. Most people can barely lift a quarter or a Zippo lighter but Cid can destroy whole houses if he gets pissed off enough.

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt I’m willing to give a pass on this one because I’ve enjoyed their work so much in past movies. But I’m still disappointed in both of their performances. The wonderfully named Piper Perabo is wasted in her miniscule role as Young Joe’s showgirl girlfriend. Pierce Gagnan is actually quite good as Cid and he’s got a really nice scene with Gordon-Levitt where he explains his family background while tinkering with electronic gizmos he’s built himself. What little humor there is in the movie comes from Jeff Daniels. He kept me chuckling with his sly hints to people on a course of action that they should take and when they question him on why they should do that, he sighs wearily and says, “I’m from the future, remember?”

So should you see LOOPER? I’m going to give it a grudging recommendation. It could just be that I was looking for a different type of movie and didn’t get it which accounts for my disappointment. I will say that this isn’t simply an action movie in sci-fi drag so if you are in the mood for a serious piece of science fiction in your current movie diet then LOOPER may be just your main course.

118 minutes

Rated R

The Bourne Legacy

2012

Universal Pictures

Directed by Tony Gilroy

Produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy

Based on a story by Tony Gilroy

Inspired by The Bourne Series written by Robert Ludlum

I will give THE BOURNE LEGACY credit for being original in one major area: it’s not a prequel or sequel to the previous three Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. The events of this movie take place at the same time the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum” play out. Jason Bourne is mentioned a few times and we briefly see pictures of him but for all intents and purposes these are new characters dealing with a different level of fallout caused by Jason Bourne exposing Operation Blackbriar and Project Treadstone.

But after that I’m sad to say I can’t give THE BOURNE LEGACY any more credit after that. Matter of fact, by the time I got to the end of the movie (which has a terrific new version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” playing over the credits) I felt the filmmakers owed me.

While Jason Bourne is in Manhattan carrying on cranky, CIA Director Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) bring in Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to help control the chaos. Turso and Byer are apparently part of a larger organization/conspiracy that has way more power than the CIA since Byer is able to sanction the dismantling of all CIA Black Ops programs. Including Operation Outcome which is genetically modifying super agents through blue and green pills that enhance physical and mental abilities via a virus that can actually restructure DNA. Byer also sanctions the assassination of all Outcome operatives.

One of these super agents, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is on a training mission in Alaska. He meets up with another operative, Number Three (Oscar Isacc) and caught by a blizzard, accepts Number Three’s invitation to stay the night. Kinda makes it easy for Byer to attempt to kill them both by using a U-CAV to blow up the cabin. Cross alone survives and somehow makes his way back to the lower 49 as he is out of blue and green pills and must get a new supply.

Virologist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is the only one who can successfully make more pills, all the rest of her colleagues having been brutally murdered in what is for me the movie’s best and most suspenseful scene. Marta barely survived that massacre and it’s only through Cross showing up at her house in time that she survives a hit team of CIA agents sent to kill her.  From then on, it’s Cross and Marta trying to stay one step ahead of various attempts to kill them. The film jumps back and forth between them and Byers, Turso and a buncha other suits in a control room that would give NASA technicians fits of envy. They spend most of their time fretting about their dirty tricks being discovered.  Really.  That’s all they do. They also yell at each other a lot. Cross and Marta don’t do nearly as much yelling but they sure do a lot of running.

I really wanted to like THE BOURNE LEGACY a lot. There isn’t an actor in this movie I don’t like or didn’t turn in a solid, professional performance. Jeremy Renner with this movie goes up a dozen rungs on the ladder to being the Next Big Action Star. Edward Norton doesn’t know how to do anything less than be terrific in any movie he’s in and Rachel Weisz is way more interesting playing a scientist than a lot of other actresses who have played brainy types.

But it’s that first hour of THE BOURNE LEGACY that sank the movie for me. Now I don’t mind a movie that makes me work and makes me think about what I’m watching but there is so much that happens in the first hour that is not explained and characters introduced and I wasn’t sure of who they were or why they were there or what they were doing or why should I care about any of it. Maybe it would have helped if I had re-watched the first three BOURNE movies before seeing this one but I don’t think that really would have helped.  The only actors from those movies who are in this one are Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney but their appearances are little more than cameos.

John Gilroy did the editing for this movie. Now if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while you’ll note that I generally don’t mention editing unless it’s spectacularly bad and it is in this movie during the action and fight scenes. You can’t convince me that Aaron Cross is supposed to be an unstoppable fighting machine unless I can tell who he’s hitting and how he’s hitting them. Just a frantic blur of motion and bodies flying through the air don’t cut it for me. It’s not shaky-cam but it’s almost as bad.

Another thing that bothered me was the high number of innocent bystanders who get killed in this movie. If I’m correct and counted right, Aaron Cross kills at least six people who have nothing to do with the conspiracy trying to kill him and were merely people who were just doing their jobs. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And by the time I got to the ending I finally figured out why the movie is constructed the way it is. The studio is obviously so convinced this movie is going to be such a huge hit that a sequel is guaranteed and they needed to save a lot of story for that.

So should you see THE BOURNE LEGACY? I’m gonna grudgingly say yes. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s professionally made and the performances are good. But it’s just that whole confusing first hour that didn’t work for me and the poorly edited action sequences.

135 minutes

PG-13

Next

2007

Revolution Studios

Produced by Nicholas Cage, Todd Garner, Norman Golightly, Graham King and Arne Schmidt

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum

Based on “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick

One question folks like to ask me is this golden oldie: “Have you ever seen a movie so bad that you walked out on it?”  And I’ve always answered: “No.”  And don’t think that I stay to watch a movie all the way through out of some principal that I should stay to the end of a movie so that if I trash it later on I can do it fairly.  I stay because I’ve paid my money and I’m not getting up until I’ve seen what I’ve paid for.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of movies I’ve wished I’d walked out on.  I could give you a list in two minutes flat of 25 movies I wished I’d walked out on.  And NEXT is near the top of that list. NEXT is so appallingly bad that I don’t know who I feel sorrier for: the people who see it or the people who were contractually obligated to work on this movie.  At least I hope they were contractually obligated.

Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage) is a third rate Las Vegas magician performing under the name Frank Cadillac.  He’s not flashy enough to play the big rooms.  He mainly works the small lounges where the losers nurse their drinks while trying to figure out how to tell their wives they’ve lost the kid’s college fund shooting craps.  Cris deliberately stays under the radar because he does have a gift that is akin to real magic: he can see two minutes into his own future and tell what’s going to happen to him before it happens.  He uses this talent to rake in some extra cash at the blackjack tables until one shitty night when he finds himself preventing a robbery that hasn’t happened yet and winds up on the run from not only the Las Vegas Police Department but also FBI Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore)

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Turns out that Agent Ferris knows all about the special power Cris has, apparently from studying casino videotapes and somehow she’s convinced herself that Cris can help her find and stop a band of terrorists who have a nuclear device somewhere in Los Angeles that they’re going to denote in five days. Yeah, you read that right.  Terrorists have an active nuclear device on American soil and the FBI is chasing after a Las Vegas magician instead of trying to find the bomb.  Using his ability, Cris manages to stay out of the clutches of the cops and the feds as he desperately needs to find Liz (Jessica Biel) a young woman who keeps appearing in his visions of the future.  But these visions don’t take place two minutes in the future.  They apparently take place days and even weeks ahead.  Cris wants to find her to find out why.  This leads to a scene that is actually kinda amusing and clever: using his ability to see two minutes ahead Cris can actually ‘try out’ different approaches of meeting Liz until he finds one that works.

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Now while Cris and Liz are falling in love and Agent Farris is tearing her hair out trying to catch up to Cris, the head terrorist (Thomas Kretschmann) finds out that the FBI is trying to catch Cris because they think he can help them.  In a stunning leap of logic that dazzled me beyond belief, Terrorist Number One pulls all of his people from their main objective of blowing up Los Angeles and sends them to kill Cris.  His reasoning?  Well, if the FBI thinks Cris can catch him then Cris has got to be killed at all costs.  You think the guy would do a background check or something before committing all of his people to such an action but NEXT never lets anything resembling common sense or logic get in the way of the next CGI action sequence.

Supposedly NEXT is based on a ‘novel story’ called “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick.  I’ve never read the story but I’d be willing to bet you my autographed copy of Clive Barker’s ‘Weaveworld’ that it bears no relation to the movie at all.  In fact, NEXT feels an awful lot like a television pilot on steroids.  It plays as if the Johnny Smith character from ‘The Dead Zone’ was the hero of ‘24’ instead of Jack Bauer.  To be honest, I think the character of Cris Johnson/Frank Cadillac to be interesting enough to sustain a television series and the ways he uses his power in the movie shows he’s a guy with brains. It’s a given that he can actually dodge bullets since he knows where a sniper is going to shoot him before the sniper pulls the trigger. And he can evade and escape his pursuers since he literally knows where they’re going to be before they do.  He can outfight just about anybody since he knows from which direction their punches are coming.  But there’s a goofy chase sequence where he orchestrates an escape that has a kind of lunatic Wile E. Coyote kind of deranged genius in the way one thing crashes over and flips something else over and causes something else to roll downhill.  There’s also a nifty scene where Cris ‘searches’ an entire ship by himself simply by running through his mind every possible route he could take through the ship and foreseeing how the multiple routes will end.

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And even though “Ghost Rider” is the better movie (although not by much) I liked Nicholas Cage’s performance in NEXT much better.  Not once in “Ghost Rider” did I buy him as a daredevil motorcycle stunt rider but here, he inhabited the skin of this character very well.  Julianne Moore walks through her performance as if she just wants to get this over with, get her check and call Paul Thomas Anderson to beg him to have a role for her in his next movie.  After seeing Jessica Biel in “The Illusionist” and being highly impressed with her in that movie I was wondering if she was truly developing into a gifted actress or if it was just the director and the material of “The Illusionist” that made her look better than she was.  After watching her in NEXT I would say that yes, her performance in “The Illusionist” was a fluke.  And Peter Falk is in the movie for all of five minutes.  If you sneeze you’ll miss him.  The director Lee Tamahori knows how to direct action as anybody who’s seen “Die Another Day” and “XXX: State Of The Union” can attest but the action sequences in NEXT all were familiar to me, as if I’d seen them before.  Especially in the last 30 minutes that play like outtakes from ‘24’.

And the ending of NEXT…I sat there in my seat for maybe a minute not believing that they actually had ended the movie the way it did.  I’m sure that the writers sat around congratulating themselves on how clever they were.  I don’t think they were clever at all.  I think they wasted my time and the time of everybody at the showing I saw it with.  I remember vividly seeing this in the theater while on vacation with my wife in Florida. I looked at some of the faces of the people leaving the theater with me and they were not happy faces at all.  That ending, combined with the silly, sloppy premise of the story and an overwhelming number of plot holes as big as craters on The Moon made for a horrendously disappointing movie.

Rated: PG-13

96 minutes

Hope Springs

2012

Columbia Pictures

Directed by David Frankel

Produced by Todd Black and Guymon Casady

Written by Vanessa Taylor

I’m highly reluctant to describe HOPE SPRINGS as a “romantic comedy” because it’s nowhere near as brain dead as 90% of the movies in that genre. HOPE SPRINGS is too smart for that. I suppose the best label that can be slapped on it is “dramedy” as it’s got too much drama to be a flat-out comedy but yet it’s got more than its share of lighter moments to be classified as a straight-up drama. But whatever you do, don’t be taken in by the trailers which makes this movie out to be a wacky laugh riot with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell trading funny lines.  HOPE SPRINGS is most definitely not that kind of movie.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for thirty-one years.  They apparently have an affluent life-style and have raised good children. He works hard at his job and she keeps a good home. But for Kay it’s not enough. There’s an emotional disconnect between herself and her husband she doesn’t know how to fix. Fortunately she runs across a book written by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) who is a specialist in couples counseling. Desperate to reignite the long dead flames of passion in their marriage, Kay persuades Arnold to attend a weeklong counseling session in the small Maine town of Hope Springs where Dr. Feld lives and works.

It isn’t going to be easy. Arnold doesn’t see the need for counseling and even though at first Kay is all for it, there are some long buried feelings inside her that get poked and she’s not entirely comfortable with that.  There are some deep emotional and sexual issues in conflict here and it’s going to take a maximum effort from Arnold and Kay to get this marriage back to where it once was.  But can they? Do they even want to?

This is very much a relationship movie targeted at an older audience. Not that younger movie fans of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones can’t go see this and won’t get something out of the struggles of their characters as they re-learn how to love each other in ways that are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes sad, sometimes funny and occasionally downright hilarious.

Saying that Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are extraordinary actors is as unnecessary as saying water is wet. And you would think that this kind of role is one that Meryl Streep could play with her eyes closed but as usual she makes whatever she does on camera look as fresh as if she’s making it up as she goes along.  As for Tommy Lee Jones, he’s one of those very few actors who are funniest when they’re not trying to be funny. Some of the best laughs he gets are when he’s delivering his lines with an absolute straight face and deadly seriousness.  He trusts that the situation and the reaction from his co-stars will sell the lines and it does.  Steve Carell’s role as Dr. Feld is the most surprising one in the movie and I’ll leave it for you to discover how if you choose to see this movie.  He’s really interesting in how he quietly stays back and doesn’t try to steal scenes from the two old pros. Watch what he does in this movie and I think you’ll agree with me that it’s some of his best work so far.  I can’t stand him in “The Office” but I don’t think there’s a movie Steve Carell has been in I’ve seen I didn’t thoroughly enjoy his performance.

There’s some solid work from Jean Smart, Mimi Rogers and Elisabeth Shue in roles that are actually extended cameos.  But they use their time wisely like the talented actresses they are and it’s always welcome to see them in a movie.

So should you see HOPE SPRINGS? If you’ve been lamenting that movies now are all about superheroes and special effects this is most definitely the movie for you. There’s nothing here except for a mature story about rebuilding a marriage, the usual wonderful acting from Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, a surprisingly different performance from Steve Carell and solid support from Jean Smart, Mimi Rogers and Elisabeth Shue. Combine that with beautiful photography and locations and you’ve got the perfect date movie for married couples.  Enjoy.

100 minutes

PG-13

Dick Tracy

1990

Directed and Produced by Warren Beatty
Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.
Based on the characters and comic strip created by Chester Gould

I’m reminded of a conversation my wife Patricia and I had some years back. Before I stopped being cheap and simply bought DVDs I would burn movies from my DVR onto blank DVDs.  Two of those movies happened to be the Tim Burton “Batman” and DICK TRACY. Patricia is curious as to why I put the both of them on the same DVD. I shrug. I dunno. Just worked out that way.

She has a different theory. “Maybe because your subconscious made the connection that if Bruce Wayne had decided to be a cop instead of Batman he’d be Dick Tracy?”

Actually, I think it had more to do with the fact that both movies together had enough running time to fit on one four hour DVD but I have to admit that Patricia may just have had a point there. Batman and Dick Tracy have an awful lot in common. Both men have sacrificed normal lives to wage an unending war on crime. Both fight bizarre villains with outrageous physical and psychological deformities. Both utilize advanced technology in their work and both wear distinctive outfits that identify them immediately so you have no doubt whom you’re dealing with.

This is never more apparent than in the scene where we first see Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) clearly when he steps out of a police car wearing a midnight black suit, blindingly white shirt, blood red tie and canary yellow trench coat with matching fedora. Now no self-respecting cop in the real world is going to wear a getup like that but hey, this is DICK TRACY we’re talking about and the way Warren Beatty wears the clothes and plays the character, we buy into it with no problem. He’s Dick Tracy. I defy any actor today to pull off making a canary yellow trench coat and fedora look as cool as Beatty does.

Dick Tracy has been summoned via his trusty wrist radio to the scene a massive mob rubout. Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) has made his move to take over The City.  He’s rubbed out his major rival Lips Manliss (Paul Sorvino) and seized all of his assets, including his sizzling hot girlfriend Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) who’s also the best singer in The City, backed up by her master pianist 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin)

Dick Tracy isn’t able to get the goods on Big Boy, not even after sweating Big Boy’s stooges Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman) Flattop (William Forsythe) and Itchy (Ed O’Ross).  But he’s not about to let Big Boy have his way in his town and he goes on a crime busting crusade that would make The Dark Knight himself envious.  While Dick Tracy is cleaning up the town against such miscreants such as The Brow (Chuck Hicks) Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong) and Spud Spaldoni (James Caan) he’s also got to deal with other matters.   Such as his relationship with his longtime girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headley) who’s starting to think that maybe there’s not much future in being involved a man whose true love is fighting crime. And then there’s The Kid (Charlie Korsmo) a street urchin who comes to live with Dick Tracy after Tracy catches him stealing a watch and maybe is awakening in him paternal instincts Tracy never had before. And Breathless Mahoney starts coming after Tracy for reasons of her own and the feelings she’s awakening in him had best not be mentioned if we’re to keep this review family friendly.

DICK TRACY originally showed up in theatres the year after the wildly successful Tim Burton “Batman” and it was pretty obvious that Touchstone Pictures/Disney was trying to generate the same kind of hysteria “Batman” had generated and they came pretty close. The DICK TRACY logo was almost as ubiquitous as the Bat symbol had been the summer before and the media hype generated was at a fever pitch, fueled mostly by the Madonna/Warren Beatty romance that had begun while they were filing this movie. But despite all the hoopla that DICK TRACY would be another “Batman”, it stands up on it’s own as a unique interpretation of the character. I like how everything in this world has only primary colors and most of the time everything is staged as if the action is supposed to be in individual comic panels. And there’s no product placement at all here. When Tracy opens a can of beans the label simply says ‘Beans’. The police cars simply say ‘Police’. A tube of toothpaste simply says ‘Toothpaste’. It’s a comic book world these people inhabit and as a director, Warren Beatty does an excellent job of translating a comic book world into a real life language we as an audience can get a hold of and accept with batting an eye. I love the look of DICK TRACY which makes it plain we’re in a comic book world that at the same time looks highly theatrical and yet functional.

That’s not to say that I’m totally in love with the movie. Much as I love Madonna I wish the movie had spent less time with her trying to vamp Dick Tracy and more time with him going toe-to-toe with the various bizarre crime bosses of The City in tommy-gun shootouts. I mean, this movie has great visual bad guys like Littleface, The Brow, Influence and Mumbles and most of them we see only enough of to get us interested in and then they’re either bumped off or we never see them again. I also don’t like the music by Danny Elfman. He’d just done the soundtrack for “Batman” the year before and indeed, a lot of the music in DICK TRACY sounds like music left over from “Batman”

But then there’s the extraordinary visual style of the movie, which suckers me in every time. And the performances of Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. Warren Beatty is obviously having mad fun playing Dick Tracy. He manages to be unbearably square and awfully cool at the same time.  Glenne Headly as Tess Trueheart is really good. I like how she lets Tracy knows that she knows what kind of man he is and what life would be like as his wife and it’s cool with her. It’s Tracy that’s too busy cleaning up crime in The City to pick up on the signals.

And there’s a remarkable amount of talent in DICK TRACY. You oughta see it just for the cast alone. You’ve got Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, James Caan, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, Glenne Headly, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Allan Garfield, John Schuck, Charlie Fleischer (we all love him as the voice of Roger Rabbit) Mandy Patinkin, Madonna, Paul Sorvino, James Tolkan, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, fer crying out loud! Colm Meany (from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) Catherine O’Hara, Henry Silva, Mary Woronov, Michael J. Pollard (Warren Beatty’s co-star from “Bonnie & Clyde”) and Mike Mazurki….whew….and that’s not even half of the cameos you can spot when you really try.

So should you see DICK TRACY? If you haven’t, Netflix it at your earliest opportunity.  It’s just plain, good old fashioned fun to watch. It’s a movie you can pop into the DVD player, sit back with your beverage and snacks of choice and just have a good time watching. And it’s for that reason that I suspect it’ll be a favorite of many for a long time. I know it’ll be one of mine. Enjoy.

RATED PG
103 minutes

Full Clip

2004

Lions Gate Films

Directed by mink

Produced by Happy Walters and Scott Nemus

Written by Kantz

Usually when looking through the $5 bin at Wal-Mart or Target or browsing through Netflix looking for something good, I steer clear of urban action movies starring rappers.  Why?  Well, because most of them aren’t good. I’ve seen some of them and it always strikes me that more work was spent on the soundtrack than on a decent script.

So how did I end up watching FULL CLIP? Because I recently watched the 1975 Blaxplotation classic “Bucktown” and while doing research for the review I read FULL CLIP being mentioned as a remake of that movie so I figured why not give it a watch.  And you know what? I’m glad I did. FULL CLIP surprised me by being a really entertaining B-movie.  It’s got enough of the heart and soul of “Bucktown” to make it a legitimate remake but it also stands as its own movie. It’s not necessary to watch the movies back to back but I certainly would recommend it as a Saturday night double feature.

FULL CLIP is presented as the film adaptation of a graphic novel that actually doesn’t exist.  Scene changes and transitions are done as comic book panels and it’s just enough to give you that sort of flavor and put you in the mindset of how you should take this movie. In fact, some of the transitions reminded me of the transitions Ang Lee did in his “Hulk” and raises the look of the movie up a couple of notches.  Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that FULL CLIP rises to the same level of artistry and sophistication as “Hulk” but it is nice to see a director working to create a unique look and style for his movie.

Joshua Pope (Busta Rhymes) returns to his Alabama hometown for his father’s funeral. He intends just to stay long enough to bury his father and then leave. But then he finds out that his father has left him $250,000, a classic Cadillac as well as the ownership of a dilapidated hotel managed by Sleepy (Bubba Smith).  It’s going to take some time for the paperwork to be processed so Joshua is persuaded to stay and help run the hotel. It’s not just Sleepy who persuades him to do so.  The gorgeous Simone (Shakara Ledard) is also a powerful reason for Joshua to hang around.

But there’s just as powerful a reason for Joshua to leave: Sheriff Wallace (Mark Boone Junior) and his right hand man McCloud (Shaun Baker) who make it clear they don’t want Joshua around.  Turns out that Sheriff Wallace and McCloud are as crooked as they come, shaking down the whole town for protection money as well as controlling the prostitution, gambling and drug trade.  The elder Pope tried to stop paying and got killed as an example to everybody else.

Joshua realizes he’s going to need help and one phone call later he gets it. His buddy and fellow ex-Green Beret Duncan (Xzibit) arrives to provide that help. And along with his crew of mercenaries (Tiny Lister’s one of ‘em) they help Joshua take down Wallace and his corrupt cops.

And that’s where Joshua’s problems begin. Duncan realizes that this is a pretty sweet set-up and he steps right into the place once occupied by Wallace.  And in fact, Duncan and his crew are even worse as they really start to screw the town for every last nickel.  Joshua soon comes to realize that he brought this trouble to town and he’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it once and for all.  Which means a bloody showdown with Duncan and his mercenaries.

What makes FULL CLIP enjoyable for me is that the writer, director and actors apparently all are familiar with the genres of Blaxplotation and Grindhouse as this movie fits comfortably in both genres.  If they took this too seriously it wouldn’t work. But everybody is having just enough fun to let us know we should sit back and just enjoy the story and performances.  This movie wouldn’t have been out of place playing in a 42end Street theater back in the 70’s.

Busta Rhymes, Shakara Ledard and Xzibit are basically playing the same roles Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Thalmus Rasulala did in “Bucktown” and while none of them make movie history, their acting is adequate enough to support the material and that’s all I ask from a movie of this type. Bubba Smith reminds us that when he gets the chance he can be quite funny. And it’s always a pleasure to see Tiny Lister in anything and any role.  Wyclef Jean is amusing as The Narrator who pops up from time to time to comment on the characters and the action.

But we must take bitter waters with the sweet and the bitter comes in the form of Bobb’e J. Thompson who is one of those annoying child actors that we’re supposed to think is so cute because he curses and is disrespectful to every adult in the movie, even his mother. Cute isn’t the word I would use for him.  And I wish that Ellen Cleghorne had played her role without the unnecessary Jamaican accent that sounds as if she’s doing a bad Miss Cleo imitation.

So should you see FULL CLIP?  I will be the first to say that this movie is not for everybody.  Some people just don’t take to urban action movies starring rappers and I’ll be honest: if it wasn’t for the fact I like Busta Rhymes and Xzibit, I’d probably have given it a pass as well.  But given that the cast has such solid players as Bubba Smith, Mark Boone Junior and Tiny Lister present, I gave it a try.  And I wasn’t sorry I did. I don’t think you will be either.

95

Rated R