Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Boys in blue: "Let's Be Cops"

When the definitive history of film is written, Let's Be Cops won't go down as much, save perhaps an example of the importance of timing in comedy. Upon its US release a fortnight ago, Luke Greenfield's film was hammered down by critics keeping a concerned eye on events unfolding on the streets of St. Louis. For these commentators, it was an at best unfortunate, at worst heinous moment for Fox to be promoting a goofy knockabout in which the police are presented as lovable underdogs. In fairness to them, I should say that even if the officers of Ferguson had spent the past month passing out doughnuts and kissing newborn babies, there would be no pressing reason to race to the multiplex: this is one of those amiably duff ventures that was never developed after the initial pitch meeting, out of a conviction everyone involved needed simply to show up on set for it to swiftly film itself.

Plainly, it didn't, but even so, I think my American colleagues were harder on the film than it really deserves: its essentially juvenile delinquency doesn't merit a stern sentence and locking away so much as sporadic kicks up the bottom and clips round the ear. What it proves, beyond any doubt, is that the average standard of material now being offered to performers in TV is vastly superior to that being offered to the same performers heading onto the big screen. (Compare also: Jon Hamm in this week's Million Dollar Arm versus the Jon Hamm of Mad Men.) This is, among other things, a pretty shoddy vehicle for the freewheeling New Girl partnership of Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr., here cast as thirtysomething L.A. losers who've long seen their dream careers disappear over the Hollywood Hills.

Justin (Wayans) is a flunky at a videogame company seeing his best ideas snapped up by fairer-skinned colleagues, Ryan (Johnson) an erstwhile college football star whose most prominent public appearance in recent years has been in a TV health spot on the topic of genital herpes. The two get a whiff of power one Halloween night upon donning LAPD uniforms to a costume party, and - after some prevarication - decide to keep them on for the foreseeable, teaching themselves Policing 101 thanks to those ever-handy YouTube videos. (Nothing about the movie is hard work.) At no point is there any suggestion this might be a powertrip: unlike the protagonist of 1993's Canadian curio I Love a Man in Uniform, a TV actor who owned his prop stripes the Bad Lieutenant way, Justin and Ryan are only ever big kids playing dress-up, impotent enough for their shows of force to be formative rather than threatening.

The uniform gives them identity, visibility, the respect of women who wouldn't otherwise approach them, some semblance of self-esteem; when the time comes, it also affords them the opportunity to take down the Eastern European gangsters who previously humiliated the pair outside a swanky nightclub - and it's a sign of the production's overall half-assery that it should have been considered sufficient to stick our own James d'Arcy, with a spider neck tattoo and Slavic accent, in the kingpin role. The film is no less sketchy about getting us from A to B, and there is a strong sense viewers could pop out for a pee during the boys' misadventures at hen party and sorority house and not miss anything unduly significant; these scenarios also underline the general feeling Let's Be Cops adheres to the standard bromance template that regards women as creatures from another planet. (Justin's reaction to seeing Nina Dobrev topless is to run in the exact opposite direction.)

From the early shot of the heroes' patrol car filling up with bong smoke, Greenfield's film seems poised on the brink of becoming a down-and-dirty skitfest suitable only for stoners, but evidently the Fox higher-ups, sensing a possible summer hit, intervened at a critical juncture: despite the nymphomaniac sitting in on the pair's stakeout, despite the scene in which Ryan ends up with a fat man's scrotum on his face, the finished product - if that's the right phrase - is too good-natured to go entirely in that direction. That's in part down to the leads, operating at maybe 40-50% of their small-screen rhythms: it's possible to enjoy their company without finding the film hilarious, although I'll confess I let slip a chuckle at their choice of suspect-board names ("Diabetes", "Rogaine", "King Dickhead") and the pair's attempt to intimidate one arrestee using an empty takeaway bag. Once the initial glee inherent in the pitch and the title wears off, the scenarios get far less promising, but the sustained brutality that's been ascribed to it simply isn't in the film's lazy, shambling make-up: the worst I could charge it with, witnessing its sloppy spitballing, its erratic grabs for punchlines, shape, emotion, would be a mild case of harassment.

Let's Be Cops opens in cinemas nationwide today.

From the archive: "Seducing Doctor Lewis"

As if it weren't regrettable enough that the British film industry can't find its way towards funding anything other than gentle nonsense of the Kinky Boots school, now UK distributors have started to import foreign variations on this most formulaic and predictable of themes. Seducing Doctor Lewis is the Quebecois variant: a big city doctor is sent to serve a month's probation in a remote fishing community where the locals are jobless, short on spirits, and desperately in need of the factory that's been mooted to open in the area. To get the factory, however, the residents must keep the doctor around long-term - and so the town's mayor initiates a full-on charm offensive. And so it pootles along. Someone confuses cricket (the sport) with cricket (the insect). Beef stroganoff gets translated into beef struggle-off. There's even a sad-eyed town lovely for the good doctor to fall for.

In French-speaking Canada (where the film swept the board at the national film awards) and even perhaps Sundance (where it won the Audience Award in 2004), Seducing Doctor Lewis may still count as a charming retro novelty. UK audiences, though, will surely have seen this yarn spun so many times before - with either Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure), Michael J. Fox (Doc Hollywood) or Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) in the title role - for it to register as anything other than the most careworn and calculated of diversions. Another whimsy-heavy evocation of small-town life foisted upon us by individuals who live in luxury apartment blocks in major metropolitan areas, it finally feels just a bit too much like hard quirk.

(April 2006)

Seducing Doctor Lewis is available on DVD through Dogwoof; an English-language remake, The Grand Seduction, opens in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow.

Monday, 25 August 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of August 15-17, 2014: 
1 (1) The Inbetweeners 2 (15) ***
2 (2) Guardians of the Galaxy (12A) **
3 (new) The Expendables 3 (12A)
4 (3) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12A) ***
5 (5) How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG) ***
6 (6) Secret Cinema: Back to the Future (PG)
7 (4) Planes 2: Fire & Rescue (U) ***
8 (7) The Nut Job (U) ** 
9 (new) Hector and the Search for Happiness (15) **
10 (8) Hercules (12A)


My top five:   
1. Lilting
2. Two Days, One Night
3. The Rover
4. Moebius
5. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (12) ***
2 (1) Divergent (12)
3 (2) Noah (12) ****
4 (3) The Raid 2 (18) *****
5 (4) The Wolf of Wall Street (18) *
6 (5) Calvary (15) ***
7 (new) The Love Punch (12) **
8 (6) Muppets Most Wanted (U)
9 (7) Need for Speed (12)
10 (8) The Monuments Men (12) **

My top five:  
1. The Raid 2
2. Ilo Ilo
3. Starred Up
4. Locke
5. When I Saw You

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. The Wizard of Oz (Saturday, five, 3pm)
2. Point Break (Sunday, five, 11.55pm)
3. Northwest Frontier (Monday, BBC2, 2.05pm)
4. In Which We Serve [above] (Saturday, BBC2, 12.40pm)
5. Insomnia (Saturday, BBC2, 11pm)

Friday, 22 August 2014

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (The Guardian 22/08/14)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For ***
Dirs: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. With: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin. 102 mins. Cert: 18

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s noir-inflected portmanteau Sin City offered a storehouse of lustrous CG imagery to global ad agencies, so it’s surprising how much of this follow-up – technically a prologue, reviving several characters who met their makers in 2005 – still looks fresh, each frame now adorned with Rodriguez’s typically playful 3D. The weakness is in the material: these are second-string Miller yarns, populated in a couple of instances – Josh Brolin for Clive Owen, Jamie Chung for Devon Aoki – by second-choice faces. Two out of its three tales prove snappy enough: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is nicely spry as a gambler crossing the wrong guy, while a pay-off finally rescues Jessica Alba from bland gyration. Only with the centrepiece, a torturous quadruple indemnity with the reliably bosomy Eva Green luring middle-aged masochists to their doom, does the pulp become punitive and hard to swallow. The vision remains uncompromising, however, and it dazzles far more than any sequel should.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens in London's West End today, then in cinemas nationwide from Monday.

"Lucy" (The Guardian 22/08/14)

Lucy **
Dir: Luc Besson. With: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik. 89 mins. Cert: 15

Luc Besson’s new product rehashes 2011’s Limitless with guns, cleavage and Malick-y pretensions, casting Scarlett Johansson as a moll-turned-mule transformed by her wonderdrug cargo into a high-functioning badass capable of taking down every last gangster in Asia. Struggling to metabolise concept into playable character, this Scarlett makes an oddly dull and glassy-eyed subject, as you’d be after regular doses of Morgan Freeman exposition; “exciting” shots of nature are therefore spliced in, so artlessly as to suggest projection error. Its sputtering eccentricity is preferable to the flatly insistent chauvinism of those shoot-‘em-ups its maker has been subcontracting to others, at least: it’s Besson’s most enjoyable bad movie in ages.

Lucy opens in cinemas nationwide today.

"Deliver Us From Evil" (The Guardian 22/08/14)

Deliver Us From Evil **
Dir: Scott Derrickson. With: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn. 118 mins. Cert: 15

Scott Derrickson folded demonic possession into courtroom drama with 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose; here he attempts the same with the police procedural, and winds up battling two clichés for every one. Derrickson approaches his task seriously – countless rain-snuffed lightbulbs enable the gloomiest horror since Seven – and casts smartly: ever-dependable Eric Bana is the Bronx cop tailing Scariest Living Actor Sean Harris. Yet the material soon betrays its thinness: Edgar Ramirez’s priest preaches High Exposition, while Bana’s family await third-act imperilment. My faith, tested by use of The Doors as a Satanic conduit, vanished forever the instant a possessed piano bashed out “Pop Goes the Weasel”. 

Deliver Us from Evil opens in cinemas nationwide today.

"Into the Storm" (The Guardian 22/08/14)

Into the Storm **
Dir: Steven Quale. With: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh. 89 mins. Cert: 12A

Another unfortunate consequence of global warming: the return of the cheesy disaster movie. This very mild example resembles countless Channel Five afternoon premieres: for Greg Evigan and Suzanne Somers, we have Veep’s Matt Walsh and Prison Break’s Sarah Wayne Callies as “stormchasers” (i.e. jock meteorologists) pursuing hurricanes through Michigan, while Richard Armitage essays the Dean Cain role as the vice-principal charged with rescuing his son from “the old papermill”. Its destructive setpieces may loose the odd popcorn kernel onto the Screen 7 carpet, but it’s really just an effects reel: the weather – cloudy wisps turning to massive, fiery hellblasts – is considerably better developed than its quarry. Stick with Twister

Into the Storm opens in cinemas nationwide today.