Archive for the Cop Movies Category

THE HEAT (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Cop Movies, Gangsters!, R-Rated Comedy with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE HEAT (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

the-heat-poster2(THE SCENE: A police interrogation room.  MICHAEL ARRUDA wears a police badge and sits across from his prisoner.  He leans into the prisoner’s face.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Listen, if you tell me the name of the guy you’re working for, I’ll give you an ice cream cone.

PRISONER:  I’m not talking.

MA:  How about an ice cream sundae?  (Prisoner shakes his head)  With extra hot fudge sauce.  You like hot fudge sauce, right?…with a cherry on top?

(The door bursts open and L.L. SOARES enters wielding a chainsaw.)

L.L. SOARES: I’ll get this low-life to talk.  Tell us who you’re working for, or I start removing body parts!  (Revs up chainsaw.)

PRISONER:  Yeah, right.  Like you’re really going to use that thing.

LS:  That’s not the answer I’m looking for.  (Runs at table and brings chainsaw down upon the prisoner’s wrist, cutting off his hand. Blood spurts like a geyser)

PRISONER (screams):  YEEEEE-OWWWWW! You just cut off my hand!!!

LS:  That’s okay.  You’ve still got another one.  Start talking!

POLICE CAPTAIN (enters room):  What the hell is going on in here?  Who the hell are you guys? Who the hell let you in here?

(Cue quick drum solo, and LS, covered in blood, looks in camera and winks)

LS:  We’re Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Cue funky theme music)

CAPTAIN:  Someone call an ambulance!  And someone arrest these two men for impersonating police officers!

MA:  I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  We’re just about to review a new movie.  Perhaps you’d like to hear it.

CAPTAIN:  Are you out of your friggin mind?

MA:  We’re reviewing THE HEAT, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

PRISONER:  I wanted to see that.  Was it any good?

MA:  We’ll tell you right now. If you behave.

PRISONER:  Captain, why don’t you pull up a chair?

CAPTAIN:  Are you crazy?  They just sawed off your hand!

PRISONER:  I have another one.  Plus, strangely, despite all the blood, I feel fine. And look (holds up stump), I’ve stopped bleeding.

LS:  One of the perks of Cinema Knife Fight Land.

(CAPTAIN pulls up a chair and sits down)

CAPTAIN: Okay, but just for a minute.

MA:  So, as I started to say, today on Cinema Knife Fight, we’re reviewing the new R-rated comedy, THE HEAT (2013), starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and directed by Paul Feig, the same guy who directed BRIDESMAIDS (2011).

CAPTAIN: I loved BRIDESMAIDS!

LS: Me, too.

MA: In THE HEAT, Sandra Bullock plays an uptight FBI agent named Ashburn who nobody in the department likes, and so her boss Hale (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston to work a case, and if she does well, then he’ll talk to her about the promotion she desires.

In Boston, Ashburn crosses paths with an offbeat and crude Boston police officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) who nearly kills Ashburn when she questions her prisoner without permission.  Of course, these two completely different women will eventually team up to work together to track down the villains in this one, drug dealers, specifically a mysterious drug lord whose identity remains a secret until the end.

Ashburn and Mullins eventually get along very well because they realize they’re both outcasts.  It’s more obvious in Mullins’ case with her unconventional methods and her wacky abrasive family, but Ashburn shares a similar loner past.  It’s revealed that Ashburn wasn’t popular in high school. In fact, the only people to sign her yearbook were teachers, and she was also a foster child.

LS (sniffs): Sad stuff.

MA: But the plot is secondary and unimportant in this movie, as it’s just an excuse to put Ashburn and Mullins in funny situations and make us laugh.  And if you judge a comedy by how many laughs it gets, then I’d give THE HEAT high marks because I laughed throughout this movie, and I laughed a lot.

LS: I laughed. I wanted to laugh more. But we’ll get to that.

MA: For the second straight week in a row, I sat in a sold-out theater.  Last week was WORLD WAR Z, and now this week THE HEAT.  What’s going on?  Are these movies that big of a draw, or are people out more because it’s summer?  I don’t know.  But I do know that last night’s audience was primarily women.  There were a few men in the theater, but for the most part, I was surrounded by women laughing hysterically.  Kinda like a nightmare I had once.

LS: Women laughing? Probably hit a little too close to home. Me, I dug it. Being surrounded by women. What’s not to like?

MA: Nothing, you goober!  I was referring to the laughing part.  I was making a joke at my own expense

LS:  Oh?  That was a joke?

MA:  Ha, ha!  Anyway, this brings me to an article I read earlier this year which talked about how the traditional “male audience” movies have struggled this year, films like BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013) starring Sylvester Stallone and THE LAST STAND (2013) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger tanked at the box office, while films geared more for women have been doing extremely well, and the article predicted that Hollywood would follow the money and make more films geared for women.

LS: I have an idea. Maybe the movies geared toward men were just lame?

MA: Last night’s audience certainly seemed to back this up.  Which leads me to one question:  alright, guys, where the hell are you spending all your time?  Why aren’t you at the movies?  I don’t want to see action movies go the route of the Western!

LS: The Western is making a comeback, if you haven’t noticed.

MA:  It’s been “making a comeback” since the 1980s!

LS:  And I saw a lot of men in my audience for THE HEAT. Sure, a lot of them were probably there because their girlfriends or wives dragged them to see it. But I’m sure some of them were there, like me, to enjoy the show. Screw demographics!

Hey, what is this, some kind of film theory course? Get back to the damn review!

MA: Anyway, that being said, I liked THE HEAT a lot.  I thought the jokes pretty much all worked, and the performances were right on target.  Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and I can’t count how many laugh-out-loud moments she generated throughout the movie.  There were just so many quick one-liners and tirades.  The scene where she calls out her boss in front of Sandra Bullock comes to mind, completely humiliating the guy in front of the other officers in the precinct.

LS: Yeah, Captain Woods. I felt bad for that guy. He was played by Tom Wilson, by the way, who was good in the role.

MA: The movie also has more than enough jokes to make up for the fact that many of them were given away in the film’s trailers.  There are still lots of funny parts in this movie, even if you’ve seen the trailer multiple times, as I did.

LS: Problem number one. Too many good jokes here were ruined by being played to death in the trailers. I would have laughed louder at these if I hadn’t already seen them a thousand times. One of the downsides of going to the movies every week—we see too many trailers too many times.

MA: I agree.  But I thought there were enough other jokes in this movie that worked for it not to matter as much in this case.

Sandra Bullock is also very good in the straight role as Ashburn, and she generates lots of laughs as well.  The scene with the choking restaurant victim where Ashburn attempts a tracheotomy on the guy and sticks a knife into his throat, as opposed to just performing the Heimlich maneuver, is a keeper.  With scenes like this, the film definitely earns its R-rating.

LS: You thought that scene earned its R? Just a little blood? But it was funny stuff.

I thought the R-rating was for the friggin language. McCarthy, especially, has a vocabulary that includes non-stop swearing. It made me feel at home. Although you wouldn’t know it by this wimpy column. You still enforcing the “PG” language rule here?

MA: I thought it was PG-13 language?  Which, by the way, we both agreed to.

I think our language here is in line with other professional movie reviewers.

(LS responds with a bunch of bleeps)

MA: There’s also a very funny sequence where they have to swipe a guy’s cell phone and put a bug inside it, which takes place in a crowded night club. The audience was on the floor laughing during this whole sequence.  I also enjoyed the part where they get smashing drunk together.

LS: You mean the scene where they go to a seedy bar and get bombed out of their minds and do all kinds of wacky stuff? I loved that scene!

MA: The screenplay by Katie Dippold was hysterical.  I was really impressed.  THE HEAT is one of the funnier comedies I’ve seen in a while.

LS: Now here’s where we disagree. I thought Katie Dippold’s screenplay was kind of weak. Especially the drug dealer plot. It was obviously just there to give Bullock and McCarthy something to do, which is fine, but this movie could have been even funnier if they’d given it a better plot. Last time, Paul Feig worked with Kristen Wiig, who both starred in and wrote BRIDESMAIDS. Compared to Wiig’s script, Dippold’s is second-rate. What saves this movie is Bullock and McCarthy. They have real comedic chemistry together and transcend the weak script.

MA: You’re right.  The drug dealer plot is lame.  But the jokes work.  I wouldn’t call that a weak script.  Uneven, maybe, but again, I laughed a lot so I can’t say that I didn’t like the script.  It was funny.

LS: The actresses were funny. I’m not convinced the script would have been as good without them. But yeah, uneven might be a better word.

MA: I also really enjoyed Mullins’ South Boston family, an insane group that makes Mark Wahlberg’s family in THE FIGHTER (2010) seem normal!  It was a lot of fun to see Jane Curtin playing Melissa McCarthy’s mom.  Curtin gets to deliver a couple of good zingers, like the first time we see her driving by in a car.

LS: I didn’t like her family as much as you. I didn’t care much for the clan in THE FIGHTER, either. They just seem like Boston stereotypes—what the rest of the country thinks we’re like here in Beantown. They just annoyed me.

MA:  I disagree.  There’s some truth to that stereotype.  Ever sit in the bleachers at Fenway Park?

LS: It was nice to see Saturday Night Live veteran Curtin again—it’s been awhile since we’ve seen her onscreen—but she’s not given much screen time, and not much to do besides giving people the finger. I wish there was more of her, and less of her stereotypical brood. Although, a scene where the family meets Bullock for the first time, and she has no idea what they’re talking about when they ask her if she’s a “nahk,” was pretty funny.

THE-HEAT-PosterMA: The main story in this one, about drug dealers, ran hot and cold.  Michael McDonald makes a nice villain, and the scene where he sticks a knife into Bullock’s thigh is one of the movie’s best.  It’s certainly its most intense.  But McDonald’s not the main villain, and the whole story about the drug lord’s secret identity I could have done without, but this is nitpicking.  I liked THE HEAT a lot.

LS: It’s not nitpicking. The main plot sucked. McDonald was good—I used to like him a lot on MAD TV—and he does a good job with his role. But the plot about his mysterious boss—I couldn’t have cared less.

I did like some of the other perps, though. Like Spoken Reasons as the drug dealer Rojas, who McCarthy constantly harasses. He was pretty funny. And I loved that Kaitlin Olson (Sweet Dee from the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) was in it as a Bulgarian prostitute. I love SUNNY so much, I love seeing cast members move up to bigger things. Y’know, Charlie Day is going to be in PACIFIC RIM.

MA: Michael Rapaport turns in a nice sympathetic performance as McCarthy’s brother, Jason.

LS: Yeah, I like Rapaport, too. I also liked Demian Bichir as McCarthy’s boss, Hale. He was great as drug lord Esteban Reyes on the Showtime series WEEDS—that’s where I first noticed him. Since then, he was the lawyer in SAVAGES (2012) and was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in a small film called A BETTER LIFE (2011). Bichir’s star seems to be on the rise, and I’m glad for him.

There’s also a good scene where McCarthy trades barbs with comedian Tony V. in the precinct (he’s the guy she yells at for letting them take her perp out of stir). Tony V is a Boston legend and it was great to see him here (I just wish he was in the movie more). Speaking of which, there are a lot of shots of Boston here, which was wicked cool for people who live here.

One joke that didn’t make me laugh as much was the whole “albino” thing. The DEA Agent Craig (Dan Bakkedahl), who happened to be an albino (the character, not the actor), was the butt of a lot of jokes, and I just didn’t laugh that much. I just didn’t “get” it, in a way. It seemed too forced.

MA:  I didn’t get it either, but I did notice that early on in the movie, Sandra Bullock’s character is watching TV and she’s watching a scene from the movie FOUL PLAY (1978), starring Goldie Hawn, which featured an albino hit man.  Maybe screenwriter Dippold has a thing for albinos.

LS: Yeah you’re right. I remember that scene, early on, where Bullock is channel surfing and she switched from FOUL PLAY to a scene from THE MATRIX RELAODED (2003) featuring the twin albino hit men from that movie, too. But I still don’t totally get the whole running joke.

MA: There’s another reason THE HEAT works so well.  In addition to its being an over-the-top R-rated comedy, it has some genuine sincere bits.  I bought into Melissa McCarthy’s pain when dealing with her own family, and I believed that Sandra Bullock’s Agent Ashburn was at her core a very lonely and unhappy person.  And so, ultimately, I bought and believed in their relationship and their friendship.  That doesn’t come off as being forced or phony.

I thought THE HEAT was a lot of fun, and a sold-out theater of laughing women seemed to agree with me.

I give it three knives.  What did you think of it, LL?

LS: I liked it a lot, too, but I didn’t think it was perfect. The big plus here is the teaming of Bullock and McCarthy. McCarthy is on a roll since hitting the big time in Paul Feig’s last movie, BRIDESMAIDS. I remember her when she was Sookie the Chef, a supporting character on the TV series THE GILMORE GIRLS. Who knew back then she would become such a big star?

MA: You watched THE GIRLMORE GIRLS? (chuckles)

LS: Cut me some slack. I had a thing for Lauren Graham.

The point is, I’ve been a fan of McCarthy’s for a long time, and it just seems funny that she’s become such a big, bankable star so quickly.

As for Sandra Bullock, I never really liked her all that much. She just didn’t do anything for me, as a dramatic or comedic actress. I just didn’t care for her. But here, with McCarthy, I liked her a lot. It just goes to show that anyone can be good when given the right role. And the chemistry between these two ladies is dynamite. Whoever thought of teaming them up was a genius. The movie works because their teaming works. It actually reminded me of the classic straight man/comic teams from the past like Abbott and Costello. It’s a winning formula, and it’s nice to see them carry on the tradition.

And yes, they both have a lot of heart, too.

I also love that this one has so much “foul language” in it. I know there are people who think clean comedy is better and that resorting to four-letter words is just the sign of a bad script, but I’m not one of those people. I think a lot of swearing can make a funny movie even funnier. I love the English language, all of it, and that includes the wonderful world of cursing.

McCarthy and Bullock are so good, they make a lackluster script look better than it is. I still say that with a stronger plot, this movie could have been even funnier. The script was the only weak spot for me. That and the lame albino jokes.

MA: And you didn’t care for McCarthy’s family.

LS: Yeah, that too.

MA: And I thought we agreed the script is uneven, not weak.

LS: Okay, okay.

Which just shows that every movie has flaws. And yet, I have to be honest, I laughed a lot during this movie, and I thought scenes like Bullock and McCarthy getting drunk all night at a dive bar were comedy gold. I want to see more of these two together. They’re a great comedy team.

I give it three knives as well.

MA: This summer has been a lot better than normal so far.

LS: Yeah, it hasn’t been half bad.

(PRISONER tries to clap, but can’t with just one hand).

CAPTAIN: Are you guys done? We need the interrogation room and you’ve been in here awhile.

PRISONER: What about me?

LS: Oh, you’re free to go. We don’t have any evidence to hold you. You were just here to make the scene seem authentic. Thanks for that.

PRISONER: I was just here for the scene, and you cut my friggin hand off!

CAPTAIN (picks up hand): Don’t worry, son. We’ll pack this in ice and the hospital will stitch it back on and you’ll be good as new.

PRISONER: He cut off my friggin hand!

LS: Oh stop whining, you big baby.

MA: Looks like we’ve solved another case. Which is just how we roll, because, we’re the Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Funky THEME MUSIC plays again as MA and LS pose)

CAPTAIN: Get out of here, you idiots!

MA: We’re going; we’re going.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE HEAT ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives THE HEAT ~three knives, too!

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BULLET IN THE HEAD (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Buddy Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Intense Movies, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Sylvester Stallone!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013)
By Michael Arruda

 bullet_to_the_head

This movie earns its title and then some.

BULLET TO THE HEAD is one brutal action flick, featuring more bullets to the head than a Corleone family reunion.

James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a hit man who hates cops, mostly because he’s spent his life in and out of jail and doesn’t trust anybody, cops included, as he’s seen his share of crooked law enforcement officers in his day.  After he and his partner finish a hit, they are double-crossed by the folks who hired them, who send in a hit man of their own, an ex-military beast of a man named Keegan (Jason Momoa, who was CONAN THE BARBARIAN in the 2011 reboot of that franchise), who promptly slays Bonomo’s partner—- displaying some vicious knife work— but fails to complete the job, as Bonomo turns the tables on him, sending him fleeing from the scene with his tail between his legs, at least for the time being.

It turns out that the man Bonomo and his partner killed was an ex-cop from D.C.   The man’s former partner Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives in New Orleans to investigate his death, and his investigation leads him to Bonomo.  Kwon wants more than just Bonomo.  He wants the men who hired him, because he wants to get to bottom of the whole sordid affair by taking down the men at the top.  Bonomo wants these men too, because they killed his partner, tried to kill him, and never paid him his money.

Bullet to the Head

Faster than you can say buddy cop movie, Bonomo and Kwon find themselves working together to find the men behind the murders.  The trail leads them to a slick lawyer, Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), who throws huge parties where beautiful women prance around in their birthday suits, and to the man he works for, Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a baddie who went to the Lex Luthor school of villainy, as he’s obsessed with purchasing real estate.

Morel of course hires Keegan to kill both Bonomo and Taylor, and when that plan fails, he sends Keegan to kidnap  Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), for leverage, since Bonomo and Taylor have in their possession a flash drive containing incriminating information against Morel.

As you might expect, Bonomo doesn’t like having his daughter kidnapped, setting the stage for a confrontation between Bonomo and Keegan that is worth the price of admission.

I really liked BULLET TO THE HEAD.  In the triumvirate of recent action movies I’ve seen the past month— Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013), Jason Statham in PARKER (2013), and now Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD, I liked BULLET TO THE HEAD the best, as it’s the most complete movie of the three.  That being said, I liked Statham’s take on the character of Parker a lot, with his unique set of rules and sense of honor, and so I liked PARKER just about as much as BULLET, but in terms of sheer brutality, BULLET TO THE HEAD takes the prize.

Sylvester Stallone, at his age, 66, still makes for one convincing bad ass tough guy, and when he looks at Jason Momoa’s Keegan at the end of the film and says “I’m going to kill you,” the audience believes him.  Rarely has Stallone played a colder killer than Bonomo.

The deaths are up close and personal.  Director Walter Hill, a veteran of these buddy cop movies, going back to the 1980s with films like 48 HOURS (1982), with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, brings the camera in close for some jarring execution style murders that are actually quite wince-inducing.  I found myself looking away a few times, and the two gentlemen in the seats in front of me, not tiny men by any means, jumped on a couple of occasions.

There are also some memorable fight scenes in this one, as again, Stallone still looks like he can really bring it.  The concluding bout between Stallone and Jason Momoa is every bit as good as the clash between Stallone and Van Damme at the end of THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012).  One of my gripes about the concluding hand to hand fight in THE LAST STAND was that Schwarzenegger’s opponent looked so wimpy.  Not so here.  Momoa looks like he could handle both Stallone and Schwarzenegger at the same time.

Speaking of Momoa, he’s quite impressive as the unstoppable killer Keegan, and he delivers one of the better performances in the movie.  Often these big tough guy villain roles come off like robots, but Momoa’s Keegan is infused with personality.

Sarah Shahi is also very good as Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa.  She’s a tattoo artist who moonlights as a doctor, helping her dad patch up his buddies from their various bullet and knife wounds.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Robert Morel, the guy in a suit pulling all the strings, played a similar bad guy role in KILLER ELITE (2011), making life miserable in that movie for Jason Statham and Robert De Niro.  Akinnuoye-Agbaje, you might remember, played Mr. Eko on the TV show LOST. 

 bullet_to_the_head_banner

Christian Slater is sufficiently slimy as shady lawyer Marcus Baptiste, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen Slater do before.

Perhaps the only weak link in the movie is Sung Kang as Stallone’s cop buddy Taylor Kwon.   Kang’s acting is decent enough, but the clean-cut pretty boy Kwon stands out like a bright cheery light in an otherwise dark gritty movie.  I would have preferred a Mark Wahlberg-type in the role.

The screenplay by Alessandro Camon is a winner.  While the plot is nothing more than your standard buddy action flick, an excuse, really, to allow Sylvester Stallone to make tough guy wisecracks and beat up on the bad guys—and because Stallone is so good at this, it lifts the material above what it otherwise might have been without him— there were still some nuances to the story which I really enjoyed.

I liked the character development of the hit man Keegan.  As we learn more about what makes him tick, we find out that he’s driven by a sense of honor more than the almighty dollar, and when his boss Morel shows no loyalty to the men he employs—he’s only interested in money— this doesn’t sit well with Keegan.  Keegan actually cares about the men who work alongside him.  Of course, he also loves killing.

The story also does a good job convincing us that Stallone and Kang want to work together.  At first, I thought, no way, Stallone’s Bonomo hates cops, so there’s no way I’m going to believe he’d want to work with Kang’s Kwon, but screenwriter Camon succeeds in pulling this off.   In one instance, for example, old school Bonomo is clearly impressed with the wealth of information Kwon has at his fingertips on his smart phone and realizes the advantages of working with the officer outweigh his personal disdain for his profession.

BULLET TO THE HEAD is a completely satisfying action thriller.  It’s brutal, dark, and intense from its opening execution scene to its closing clash featuring Stallone and Momoa going at each other with axes.

Sure, its buddy action movie plot offers little we haven’t seen before, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in ferocity.

I give it three knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives BULLET TO THE HEAD ~three knives.

THE LAST STAND (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Schwarzenegger Movies, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  THE LAST STAND (2013)
By Michael Arruda

The Last Stand poster

He’s baack.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is back on the big screen in his first starring role after a ten year absence—his last one was TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003) — in THE LAST STAND (2013), an action movie that teaches a valuable lesson:  if you’re a  drug dealer looking to make it to the Mexican border, and you need to pass through a small town to do it, don’t pick a town where the sheriff is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In THE LAST STAND, Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a former LAPD special officer, who after years of seeing too much violence and too many good people die, decides to retire to the small town of Summerton Junction and enjoy a quiet life as a small town sheriff.  Good luck with that!

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is leading a special operation to transfer a notorious drug lord, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), to his execution, but Cortez has help from the inside, and in a daring escape, manages to elude Bannister and his forces, making his way to the Mexican border in a specially outfitted car that can reach speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

Bannister surmises the three most logical spots for Cortez to try to cross the border.  The least likely of the three is through the town of Summerton Junction, because at that spot there’s a ravine separating the borders and it would be difficult to cross.  However, it’s the least guarded of the three.

Ray and his deputies discover a group of heavily armed men building a bridge across the ravine.  Ray alerts Bannister that he knows that Cortez will be crossing through Summerton Junction, and he’ll be there in less than an hour.  Since there’s little time for Bannister to mobilize his forces to make it to Summerton Junction in time, it’s up to Ray and his inexperienced group of small town deputies to make a last stand and stop Cortez from getting to the border.

THE LAST STAND plays out pretty much exactly the way one expects it to, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since it ultimately is a by-the-numbers action flick tailored for the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In that regard, as a comeback vehicle for Schwarzenegger, it’s only moderately successful.  Sure, Arnold is a strong screen presence, and he’s certainly proven in the past that he can carry a weak movie on his shoulders, and he does it again here, but in this case it’s pretty much a solo effort.  He doesn’t get much help.

First off, there’s not much to get excited about in terms of its story.  Before the anticipated “last stand,” the movie alternates between Sheriff Ray and his deputies, Agent Bannister’s frantic efforts to keep tabs on Cortez, and Cortez’ drive towards the border, where he and his hired thugs continually thwart the authorities’ efforts to derail him.  With the exception of Ray, none of these folks are all that interesting.

The acting is fine, but the characters, especially the deputies, aren’t fleshed out enough to be the kind of quirky characters needed to make an action movie like this soar.

Luis Guzman is likeable enough as Ray’s main deputy Mike Figuerola, but the other deputies, including Jaimie Alexander, who we saw in THOR (2011), as Deputy Sarah Torrance, are all rather dull and one-dimensional.  Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), an eccentric who runs a dilapidated gun museum full of vintage firearms, is supposed to be quirky and funny, but he comes off as goofy.  The problem is none of these folks have an edge, and to think that they could outlast an army of hired gunslingers on the payroll of a notorious drug lord is flat out unbelievable.

It also doesn’t help that bad guy, Gabriel Cortez, isn’t a very effective villain.  He looks about as hardened and threatening as a GQ model, and throughout the film, he never really does anything worthy of his ultra-bad guy reputation.  He makes a weak foil for Schwarzenegger’s Sheriff Ray.

Peter Stormare, who plays Cortez’s right hand man Burrell, actually makes a better villain in this one, except during the “last stand” itself, when he suffers from a case of the “stupids” and allows his men to fire at everything but the folks aiming guns at them.  They blow up everything in sight except for the deputies.  Duh!

And Forest Whitaker as FBI agent John Bannister is plain annoying.  He has a right to be annoyed in the movie— everything he does fails.  His attempt to move Cortez is successful for all of five seconds before the whole plan falls apart.  Whitaker ‘s Bannister spends the rest of the movie playing catch-up, constantly operating from behind Cortez’s lead, continuously having to deal with one failure after another.  Instead of rallying his troops, he barks and whines at them, including at Ray.

There’s no rapport between Agent Bannister and Sheriff Ray at all.  Bannister snubs his nose at Ray, thinking he’s just a small town sheriff, and once that happens, Ray pretty much ignores the FBI man for the rest of the movie.

One bit of fun casting has Harry Dean Stanton as a farmer who tries to force Burrell and his men off his land with a shotgun.  It’s a great scene for Stanton, even if it only lasts a couple of minutes.

But you don’t see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie to see the rest of the cast.  You see it to watch Arnold.  So, just how was Arnold in his comeback movie?  I thought I detected a few spots of rust in his performance during several scenes of dialogue— not that Arnold has ever been heralded for his acting abilities— where he seemed to be just saying lines as opposed to speaking for real, but for the most part, he more than held his own.  As a fan, I enjoyed watching Schwarzenegger just as much as I used to, and in spite of this mediocre film, I’m looking forward to watching him in future movies as well.

He was certainly my favorite part of THE LAST STAND.  And while he didn’t have any amazing one liners, he did get to spout some halfway decent ones.

And that’s because the screenplay by Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff is mediocre at best.  The dialogue is average, and the story routine.  It also fails to include a decent build-up to the final confrontation between Ray and his deputies and Cortez and his henchmen.  There’s very little suspense along the way, so by the time you get to the titled last stand, it’s just sort of there without the necessary “I can’t wait to see what happens” feeling.

Part of this is because director Jee-woon Kim—who directed the highly touted horror movie I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) —fails to include any truly memorable scenes.  THE LAST STAND offers none of the hardcore edginess and creativity found in I SAW THE DEVIL.  This one’s strictly by the numbers.

Gun battles are the action scene of choice, and so if you like big guns firing nonstop, this is the movie for you.  It’s rated R, and there’s lots of blood, a lot of it CGI unfortunately, but there are some gruesome deaths thrown in for good measure.

The initial gun battle between Ray and his deputies and Burrell’s men who are building the bridge is one of the better scenes in the film, and it was certainly the film’s most intense scene.  The concluding “last stand” sequence was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because it wasn’t believable.  The villains have superior numbers and firepower on their side, yet they’re just not that smart and seem to shoot at everything rather than at their opponents.  When one of your men is shot by an old lady with a shotgun, you know it’s just not your day!

Arnold returns to the big screen in THE LAST STAND.

Arnold returns to the big screen in THE LAST STAND.

And when Schwarzenegger roles up his sleeves for a little hand to hand combat with baddie Cortez at the end of the movie, you just know he’s going to wipe the floor with this guy’s face.  It’s like John Wayne taking on Jerry Lewis.

When all is said and done, THE LAST STAND is just a mediocre return to the big screen for Arnold Schwarzenegger.  While Arnold himself is as entertaining as ever, the rest of the film is not.

I give it two knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE LAST STAND ~ two knives!

DEADFALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Fugitives with tags , , , , on December 11, 2012 by knifefighter

DEADFALL (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Deadfall_poster

The new heist thriller, DEADFALL, is currently playing in limited release in cities throughout America, and going in, I was wondering why it didn’t have a wider release.

In it, Eric Bana is a guy named Addison. And as the movie begins, Addison is in a getaway car with his partner and his sister, Liza (Olivia Wilde) in the back seat. Liza is counting the money they got from a bank heist they just pulled off, when they have a car accident, flipping them off the road and into the snowy embankment below.

Addison’s partner, the driver, is killed immediately, but he is able to get out. As he’s struggling to free his sister, who is strapped in with her seatbelt, a cop shows up to investigate. Addison is afraid the man will arrest them, so he shoots him in cold blood. Addison and Liza then split up the money. He tells her to go out onto the highway and get a ride. He’ll plod on through the snowy woods, and they’ll get in touch later on, when he calls her on his cell phone. Then they’ll get across the Canadian border together.

But the thing is, it’s winter: the temperature is dropping below freezing, and there’s a blizzard on its way.

Liza finds someone to pick her up right away, an ex-con named Jay (Charlie Hunnam) who is on his way to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. He’s an ex-boxer who got involved in some shady business with the mob  to get a shot at a title bout. Or something like that. Not only was he in prison, but he has been estranged from his father (Kris Kristofferson) for years. So it’s probably going to be an uncomfortable holiday. Oh, and Jay is also on the run from the cops after he clobbered his former manager and left him for dead.

Meanwhile, the local cops are on Addison’s trail. Led by Sheriff Becker (Treat Williams, who plays the role as a real ball-buster), the squad includes his daughter, Hanna (Kate Mara) who wants to join the FBI, and just passed the exam, but she’s been paying her dues on the local police force in the meantime, being treated like crap by her dad, who clearly wanted a son.

Hanna is friends with Jay’s parents, and they invited her to Thanksgiving dinner, since her only family is her ogre of a father. And of course, Jay’s parents’ house is in the same direction Addison is headed, as he evades police and racks up more bodies. And Jay and Liza are headed there as well, leading to a great big scene where all of the main characters are sitting around the table, preparing to eat the goose that Daddy shot.

The cast is pretty good here. I’ve liked Bana since the Australian prison movie, CHOPPER (2000), where he played the vicious killer, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. You might also remember him as the first Bruce Banner in a feature film, playing the role in Ang Lee’s HULK (2003), before Edward Norton or Mark Ruffalo got to take turns with the role. He was also very good in Steven Spielberg’s MUNICH (2005). And he’s good here, and believable as a cold-blooded killer, even if his accent is a bit uneven at times.

Olivia Wild is good here as well, as Liza. You might recognize her from movies like TURISTAS (2006), TRON: LEGACY (2010) and, more recently, COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) and THE CHANGE-UP (also 2011). She’s sexy and vulnerable and often effective here as well.

Charlie Hunnam as Jay is also really good here. He’s best known as playing Jax on the FX biker series, THE SONS OF ANARCHY.

Another highlight is Sissy Spacek as Jay’s mom. She’s tough and smart and one of the better characters in the film. Kris Kristofferson, an actor I’ve always admired, is pretty much stuck in a thankless role here as a bitter, stoic old man. There’s not much for him to do except sit around brooding.

Kate Mara is good as Hanna, and I almost thought they were going for a kind of younger version of Frances McDormand’s character from the Coen Brothers’ FARGO (1996), except without the Minnesota accent, but the truth is, Hanna isn’t as developed as she could be. We know her father treats her awful. We know she’s a good person. That’s about it. And Treat Williams is pretty much one-note as her sheriff father, but it’s not like he has a lot to work with, either. He does what he can with an underwritten role.

So how is DEADFALL? Well, despite the solid cast I mentioned, it’s sadly not very compelling. Along with the bland title, it’s also got a pretty generic script. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, many times, and done better. Fugitive-on-the-run movies are a dime a dozen, and DEADFALL doesn’t do a whole helluva lot to stand out among the rest. And suddenly I realized why this movie is in limited release. Because, despite the talented people involved, it’s not all that memorable.

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky does a serviceable job. He previously directed the German films ANATOMY (2000) and THE COUNTERFEITERS (2007), but it’s hard to determine how talented he is based on DEADFALL, since screenwriter Zach Dean’s cliché-ridden script leaves a lot to be desired. Despite good performances, there’s nothing all that original about these characters, or the plot. And frankly, I was a little bored at times, especially in the middle. Not a good sign for an action/heist movie. The big finale at Jay’s parents house is good, but not good enough to make DEADFALL something special.

I give DEADFALL, two  and a half knives. Wait for it to come to Netflix or cable. It’s not horrible, but it’s also not worth the price of a movie ticket.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives DEADFALL~ two and a half knives

ALEX CROSS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Detectives, John Harvey Reviews, Just Plain Bad, Murder!, Prequels with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by knifefighter

“Alex Cross” … It’s Utterly Unwatchable
Movie Review by John D. Harvey

Sigh …

Honestly, I like movies. I have in the past written positive movie reviews, though I wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise based on the skewering that I gave TAKEN II a couple of weeks ago, and now ALEX CROSS in the following paragraphs.

I’ll say this, though. As much as I disliked TAKEN II, it’s practically a masterpiece compared to ALEX CROSS. With that in mind, if you don’t feel like reading any further than this paragraph, then that’s fine. I won’t be hurt. Just because I lost 90 minutes of my life watching ALEX CROSS, it doesn’t mean you need to lose the next several minutes of your life reading about how much I hated it.

So anyway, ALEX CROSS attempts to reboot a neglected franchise based on thriller/mystery author James Patterson’s novels featuring the brilliant Detroit  police detective/psychologist, Alex Cross (now played by Tyler Perry). Previously, Morgan Freeman occupied this role in ALONG CAME A SPIDER (2001) and KISS THE GIRLS (1997). Directed by Rob Cohen (better known for his THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise films), ALEX CROSS is sort of origin story. But it’s also a police procedural, and a serial killer thriller, and a buddy cop movie, and it even tries its hand at a bit of comedy. Who cares? It is essentially a failure regardless of genre or marketing category.

This time, Cross tracks an artistically-inclined killer nicknamed Picasso (Matthew Fox), who is one of many dimensionless stock characters in this film. There’s also Cross’ loyal, wise-cracking partner, Thomas (Edward Burns); a slick but untrustworthy foreign businessman (Jean Reno); and an oafish police chief (John C. McGinley), who of course, at one point, dismisses Cross from the case at the most critical moment (because we’ve never seen *that* in a cop movie before).

There’s not much of a plot beyond that. Picasso kills someone, and then Alex Cross and his team are on the case, and then they track him down via unlikely, and not clever or original, clues. Honestly, most of what you’ll see in ALEX CROSS is a litany of tropes and clichés that you won’t see in a modern thriller unless it’s an over-the-top comedic spoof. This is not an over-the-top comedic spoof.

As far as the acting is concerned, most of the performances are phoned in, lackluster, and predictable. Tyler Perry’s take on Alex Cross is ham-fisted and incongruous.  Matthew Fox (who had better be happy that he still has LOST checks showing up in the mail) overacts the serial killer role with a twitchy, kooky, psycho-eyed intensity. I mean, this guy couldn’t wait in line at the deli without everyone knowing that he’s got bodies buried in his basement.

ALEX CROSS‘s action sequences are equally abysmal. The fight scenes are particularly annoying because there is so much “shaky cam” (to conceal talentless fight choreography) that it looks more like it’s the cameraman that’s getting beat up.

And finally, there’s the ending, which I suspect was written up on the back of a cocktail napkin at the end of three-day whiskey binge by someone with massive head trauma. It makes no sense. It’s rife with plot holes large enough to accommodate an aircraft carrier. It’s … just … dumb.

In conclusion, don’t see ALEX CROSS. It’s dreadful.

Rating: ZERO KNIVES.

ALEX CROSS
RUN TIME: 1hr 41min‎‎
RATING: PG-13‎‎
DIRECTOR: Rob Cohen
WRITERS: Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson
CAST: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, and Ed Burns

– END –

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives ALEX CROSS ~ zero knives

The Geisha of Gore Attends THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL and JAPAN CUTS 2012!

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Anime, Asian Horror, Atomic Accidents, Based on a True Story, Cannibalism, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Cop Movies, Film Festivals, Gangsters!, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Kung Fu!, Samurais, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , , , on August 29, 2012 by knifefighter

THE GEISHA OF GORE Takes On:
THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL AND JAPAN CUTS – 2012
By Colleen Wanglund

Once again I, your Geisha of Gore, attended this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and the Japan Cuts film festival, although this time as a legitimate member of the press. During the month of July I experienced some very cool films from all over Southeast Asia and in varying genres—not just the horror that I’m so overwhelmingly fond of. The NYAFF, which is put together by Subway Cinema and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, just celebrated its eleventh year, and it’s bigger than ever. Japan Cuts is a festival of contemporary Japanese cinema held every year at The Japan Society in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan and is in its sixth consecutive year. NYAFF movies are shown at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, The Japan Society (where the two festivals overlap and support each other) and sometimes a midnight movie at the IFC Center. Both film festivals are run by some very cool people, who welcomed me into the fold officially this past July…and that was due to the help of my wingman from another website, Stan Glick, who knows more about Asian films than most people I’ve met.

Opening night was a blast, as Stan, fellow Knife Fighter Nick Cato and I saw the comedy VULGARIA (Hong Kong, 2012) about a producer who is desperately trying to get his porn film made—an ambitious remake of a Shaw Brothers 1970’s sexploitation classic. Not only does the movie get made, but the producer ends up creating a viral marketing campaign that makes his movie a huge hit. The movie’s director Pang Ho-cheung took questions from the sold-out audience, telling us that the film is actually based on true events—which makes it that much funnier. It was filmed in just twelve days on an extremely low budget, and the script was written by almost everyone involved as it went along! It’s a raunchy comedy without actually being visibly raunchy or vulgar, which is quite the feat, considering the subject matter. I truly laughed so hard I cried. VULGARIA stars Chapman To, who starred in INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 (2003), and TRIPLE TAP (2010), and has had a long career in Hong Kong cinema. There is also the very interesting character of Popping Cherry, played by Dada Chan, who will do just about anything to get into the movies. How she got her name is priceless.

VULGARIA (2012)

Afterwards, everyone was invited into the theater’s gallery where we enjoyed some complimentary Kirin beer to celebrate the opening of NYAFF. The next afternoon I was lucky enough to participate in a press conference with Choi Min-sik, star of OLDBOY (2003), I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) and his latest, NAMELESS GANGSTER (2012). NYAFF held a four-film mini retrospective of Choi’s films, including OLDBOY, NAMELESS GANGSTER, FAILAN (2001), and CRYING FIST (2005). Choi Min-sik is one of the biggest stars in South Korea and for good reason—the man is a brilliant actor. I was thrilled to meet him and be able to ask him at least one question during the conference.

Below is a brief synopsis of some of the other films that screened at NYAFF and Japan Cuts.

NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea, 2012)—Choi Min-sik stars as a crooked customs inspector who is about to go to prison, but finds a stash of confiscated cocaine and ends up a gangster, using his family connections to stay in power for quite some time. When he faces his impending downfall, he has no problem betraying some of those same family members who helped his rise in the Korean underworld. The movie is brilliant and if you get a chance, go see it!

NAMELESS GANGSTER (2012)

NASI LEMAK 2.0 (Malaysia, 2011)—Directed by and starring rapper Namewee, NASI LEMAK 2.0 is a comedy surrounding food….namely the national dish of Malaysia. At its core, it is about ethnic division in the country using kung fu, Bollywood dance numbers, outrageous stereotypes and surreal comedy in an attempt to get across a message of unity. Not my favorite of the festival movies, but funny and entertaining, nonetheless.

THE KING OF PIGS (Korea, 2011)—An animated film employing washed-out, muted colors and harsh lines to set the tone, THE KING OF PIGS tells the story of the effects of bullying on young school boys and how it continues to affect their adult lives. It is at times a brutal and unflinching look at how class plays a role in Korean society. Directed by Yeun Sang-ho, the film isn’t the most graceful anime I’ve ever seen, but it is based on some of Yeun’s own experiences while in middle school and displays its darkness effectively.

KING OF THE PIGS (2011)

HARD ROMANTICKER (Japan, 2011)—Written and directed by Gu Su-yeon and based on Gu’s own childhood growing up in a Korean ghetto, the film is a hard-ass look at loner Gu (Shota Matsuda—whose father was a star of 70s yakuza flicks) who causes trouble and attempts to elude payback among different gangs. He’s also hounded by a cop looking for Gu to rat out others, but just feeds the cop info on low-level drug users instead. HARD ROMANTICKER is fast, furious and violent, but an entertaining film for those who like the gangster genre.

ASURA (Japan, 2012)—Another animated film, ASURA is about a young boy surviving as a cannibal in war-torn Medieval Japan, who is then befriended by a young woman who shows the boy compassion. The Lord of the village is determined to find and kill the boy and things get dangerous for everyone involved. The film uses an animation process that involves 3D characters over a 2D painted background. The result is a beautiful watercolor effect with an amazing depth. The story is brutal and bloody, but heartbreaking as well.

NO MAN’S ZONE (Japan, 2012)—A moving documentary that was filmed by a crew that basically wandered around the 20-kilometer exclusion zone affected by the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear reactors. It is a few months after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster, but some of the small villages and towns have yet to be evacuated. It is both heartbreaking and infuriating to see the devastation and the lack of response by the government.

NO MAN’S ZONE (2012)

TORMENTED (Japan, 2011)—Directed by Takashi Shimizu, Christopher Doyle was Director of Photography on this follow-up to THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (Japan, 2009). While not a sequel, TORMENTED (orig. title: RABBIT HORROR 3D) contains some of the same elements and places as THE SHOCK LABYRINTH and a scene from SHOCK is included at one point in TORMENTED. It’s a huge departure from Shimizu’s famous JU-ON films, but a fantastic effort.

HENGE (Japan, 2012)—Directed by Hajime Ohata, HENGE, which translates to metamorphosis, is a short film that clocks in at just around 54 minutes. It is a disturbing film about a man who suffers violent seizures and speaks in an alien language. Over time the man transforms into a bloodthirsty insectoid creature, but his wife stands by her man, even luring victims to the house for him to feed on. It’s gory and worth a watch, IF you can find it. Unfortunately it’s tough for shorts to get decent distribution deals. The film was shown with two other short films as part of “The Atrocity Exhibition.”

LET’S-MAKE-THE-TEACHER-HAVE-A-MISCARRIAGE CLUB (Japan, 2012)—Another short film that was part of The Atrocity Exhibition, this disturbing film follows a group of middle-school girls led by the psychologically damaged Mizuki. Mizuki decides that the girls’ pregnant teacher is dirty and her pregnancy must be ended as a punishment for having had sex. What makes this film even more disturbing is that it is based on true events. This is a fantastic film that will unfortunately not see a distribution deal because of its length, which is an even 60 minutes.

And these were just the films I got to see during the festivals!

Other wonderful films that were screened during the two festivals and must be seen, if you haven’t already (and seriously, what are you waiting for?) included OLDBOY (Korea, 2003), the cult classic starring Choi Min-sik; the bleak horror film GOKE: BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (Japan, 1968); INFERNAL AFFAIRS 1 and 2 (Hong Kong, 2002/2003), the far superior original versions of Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED (2006); FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (Hong Kong, 1972), one of the best kung fu films ever made and one that established the genre; ACE ATTORNEY (Japan, 2012) based on a popular video game and directed by Takashi Miike; THIRTEEN ASSASSINS (Japan, 2010) a samurai film, also directed by Takashi Miike; and ZOMBIE ASS:TOILET OF THE DEAD (Japan, 2011) the latest offering from Sushi Typhoon and directed by Noboru Iguchi.

The Japanese classic horror film, GOKE, THE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

NYAFF and Japan Cuts combined to showcase new movies, classic films, special guests, and parties. There were almost 100 films screened between the two festivals, and they get bigger each year. Some of this year’s guests included Donnie Yen, Choi Min-sik, Michelle Chen, Yoon Jin-seo, and Jeff Lau. I’ve looked forward to the festivals every year since I first began attending over three years ago. Samuel Jamier is the head programmer for Japan Cuts and would love to see the festival become one of the biggest showcase for Japanese films of all genres in North America. Some of the cool people involved with the New York Asian Film Festival are Ted Geoghegan, Grady Hendrix, Rufus de Rham, and Goran Topalovic.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund
LINK TO PREVIOUS COLUMNS:

The Geisha Reviews OLDBOY and Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy

The Geisha Reviews I SAW THE DEVIL

The Geisha of Gore reviews GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL

THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Foreign Films, Gangsters!, Killers, Kung Fu!, LL Soares Reviews, Martial Arts, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by knifefighter

THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011, Released in the U.S. in 2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Made by a Welshman and set in Indonesia (in Indonesian, with English subtitles), THE RAID: REDEMPTION (known simply as THE RAID overseas), is something of a breath of fresh air in the action movie arena. Making American action films look like they were filmed in slo-mo in comparison, THE RAID is 100 minutes of pure adrenaline.

The movie is about a police task force led by Sgt.Jaka (Joe Taslim), sent to an aging 30-floor tenement building to apprehend a vicious crime lord named Tama (Ray Sahetapy) who lives on the top floor. Sounds simple enough, except that the building is pretty much wall-to-wall criminals, since Tama populates the place with fugitives and gangsters. Tama also has a wall of television screens, and cameras placed on every floor throughout the building, so it’s pretty hard to catch him off guard.  When he catches on about the raid, Tama announces over a loudspeaker that he will give free rent for life to anyone who kills a cop, and so killers start coming out of the woodwork.

Also in the mix is young rookie, Rama (Iko Uwais), who we see leaving his pregnant wife to go to work when the movie opens. Even though he is eager, you know he has no clue how violent this raid is going to become.  It turns out that Rama is an amazing fighter/martial artist, but even he will be pushed to the very limits of his abilities. There’s also the graying lieutenant, Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) who masterminded the raid and wants to come off as a hero to his higher ups – even if it’s at the expense of the younger cops’ lives.  Although, when the going gets rough, he seems more content to watch from the sidelines. Crime kingpin Tama also has two killer henchmen, Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), and if the cops get through the rest of the criminals who populate each floor, chances are slim they’ll be able to get past these two professional killers.

That’s the set up. Twenty cops enter a building and have to make their way to the top, with maybe a hundred killers out for their blood. The violence involves knives, guns and hand-to-hand combat.

Not all that much in the way of a plot. And even then, there was a similar storyline in the second half of PUNISHER WAR ZONE (2008 – one of my favorite Marvel superhero flicks), where the Punisher (Ray Stevenson) had to make his way through a building of killers.  Yet THE RAID makes the story completely its own, and turns that simple plot into a riveting movie.

At first, I wasn’t too excited. The cops enter the building and make their way up through the first five floors without too much trouble. But then Tama makes his announcement to his unsavory tenants, and the apartments erupt with gun and machete-toting bad guys, and suddenly things get very violent indeed.

Continuous fighting and violence can get monotonous over time, but somehow THE RAID keeps things interesting. Whether it’s men jumping through a hole in a floor, only to get attacked when they land, or cops having to turn a kerosene tank inside a refrigerator into a bomb, THE RAID keeps you on the edge of your seat. And it’s pretty great seeing Iko Uwais in action in several scenes where he gets to show off his fighting skills. Uwais is the star here, and the scenes where he fights dozens of criminals at a time are very impressive.

But there is one scene that simply takes this movie to another level. It involves a showdown between Mad Dog and Rama (and one more surprise combatant). It’s two good guys vs. one bad guy and yet Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog is simply amazing. He’s short and stocky and yet he is more than able to hold his own against his two adversaries. All three of them are great fighters. And their 10-minute or so brawl is actually pretty breathtaking to behold. If you’re into this kind of thing, you will be glued to your seat as the melee unfolds and then escalates to fight choreography perfection. Yuyan actually has two amazing scenes, this one and a previous fight with Jaka, and he’s just as important to the storyline – and exciting as a fighter – as Uwais is, in my opinion. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I thought Yayan was the best thing about THE RAID.

Directed by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, who also wrote the screenplay (Evans’ previous films include MERANTAU and FOOTSTEPS), THE RAID is one of the best action/martial arts films I’ve seen in a long time. I had heard the buzz beforehand, and went in thinking it would be good, but probably was overrated. But I was wrong. This was a rare case where the movie exceeded my expectations.

Either you like this kind of thing, or you don’t. The way THE RAID unfolds reminded me of a classic John Woo movie (looking back at Hong Kong classics like THE KILLER (1989) and 1992’s HARD BOILED) mixed with fight scenes reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s best movies. If martial arts films are not your bag, and if non-stop fighting and violence turns you off, then THE RAID is clearly not for you. But if you like an action movie that is in perpetual movement, that is to combat what ballet is to dance, then you will leave this one with a smile on your face.

I really enjoyed this one and I guess I have to give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE RAID: REDEMPTION ~four knives.