Pick of the bunch is Haywire, easily the best action thriller since the third Bourne movie, and more evidence of Steven Soderbergh’s astonishing range. The story of a betrayed covert operative, Mallory (played by MMA champion Gina Carano) wreaking revenge is hardly original, but Soderbergh has made an wonderfully economical little movie (coming in at 93 minutes), littered with trademark interiors and some breathtaking exteriors (a fight on a beach as the sun goes down with only seagulls and waves for sound, the wide open wilderness of New Mexico), in which the moments of frenetic action alternate with long periods of stillness, and the attention to detail shows how a craftsman makes movies. The point of using Carano, one assumes, was to make the action sequences more realistic, and it works; there is nothing in the movie that looks computer-generated or as if performed by superhumans. A long chase sequence across the roofs of Dublin looks exactly as though a very fit twenty-something woman is doing the running and jumping. Finally, Soderbergh gets wonderful small performances from the ensemble cast of Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor. Highly recommended.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is much more fun than it has a right to be. Directed with a much lighter touch than either the John Woo or JJ Abrams sequels, Ghost Protocol continues the progression towards big set-piece action sequences, rather than elaborate capers that were the bread and butter of the TV series. The plot is silly — I don’t even remember it — but Tom Cruise allows himself to have some fun, and Simon Pegg offers comic relief as the tech and communications member of the team (with lots of funny references to masks). Pegg, with this and his turn as Scotty in the Star Trek reboot, seems to have emerged as a favorite for this sort of light role. Anyway, nothing special here but nothing offensive either. Just good clean family entertainment about rogue nuclear weapons targeted on San Francisco (I lied: I do remember the plot).
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows suffers, for me at least, from coming at the same time as I discovered the British Sherlock. Given that both end with the famous Reichenbach Falls finale (though it is re-imagined very differently by Stephen Moffat), the contrast is stark. The movie is now little more than an excuse for poorly-choreographed action sequences held together with what passes for banter between Holmes and Watson. It was not boring exactly, but the silliness rather overwhelmed whatever else was meant to be happening. Guy Ritchie really is a crappy director. The one interesting thing was the degree of homo-eroticism between Downey and Law. If I were Jude Law, I’m not sure I’d agree to wrestle with Robert Downey Jr and end up with my head caught between his thighs. But that’s me.
Contraband is so bad that I almost walked out, and once I’ve paid my $7.00 that is very rare. The story concerns Mark Wahlberg, who once was a high end smuggler, drawn back into the game in order to protect his wife, kids and brother in law from a scenery-chewing but otherwise laughable Giovanni Ribis. Every moment is predictable, and worst of all, Kate Beckinsale is utterly wasted in the role of Wahlberg’s wife, made to look stupid by being given inane dialogue that stretches her American accent beyond credulity. Now I’m going to have to go watch Underworld: Awakening just to remind me of what she does best. The oneÂ creditableÂ performance comes from Ben Foster as Wahlberg’s friend and [spoiler] betrayer. Oh, and Lukas Hass has not aged well; the cute Amish kid from Witness is not cute anymore.
You will be glad to know that Kate Beckinsale redeems herself in Underworld: Awakening. Sure this is an action film with a very high quota of explosions, Lycans roaring, and sharp objects flying through the air (the IMAX 3D version is also extremely loud, not to say expensive). But did you know that Beckinsale can do poignant? “My heart is not cold; it is broken” she says to her daughter. On to the story. The third iteration of the series went back in time to explain the origin of the war between vampires and Lycans and it was nearly incomprehensible. This fourth movie is set in the near future after the humans have learned of the existence of “non-humans” and launched a cleansing which has wiped out most of the vampires and Lycans and drivenÂ theÂ remainder underground. Selene (Beckinsale) tried to escape with her lover,Â Michael, but was captured and frozen for 12 years. It turns out that she also had a child who is — wait for it — the first human-Lycan-vampire hybrid. Now I’m no biologist, but I don’t understand why every time a hybrid is created, it has only the strengths of its component parts, not the weaknesses. But the result is that this little girl will be the most powerful thing ever born, blah, blah, hence the humans (or are they human?) are doing experiments on her. Anyway, the plot is beside the point. If you like this genre of film, you will like this particular film; it delivers on the action without itsÂ innateÂ silliness overwhelming it.