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by Jay Seaver

"A fair-enough smash-up."
3 stars

Somewhere in Hollywood, the show-business equivalent of actuaries run the vital statistics of each mid-sized genre movie through a formula to determine whether something merits a theatrical release or if it goes straight to the video-on-demand services. In the case of "Collide", it would seem to be less one overwhelming variable than several having values that may not seem that great - you’d have to go a few spaces right of the decimal point to see them - but which, when added up, result in hard drives being sent to theaters rather than cable companies. There’s undeniably some fun in seeing its smash-ups on the big screen, but genre fans will probably be able to rattle off a half-dozen or so movies that deserved the spotlight more.

It chooses the German autobahn as the venue for its chases, although it spends the first act pretending one won’t happen, as American car thief Casey Stein (Nicholas Hoult) and American bartender Juliette Marne (Felicity Jones) meet in Cologne, but she says she doesn’t date guys involved in the sort of people he works for. So he quits, but it turns out that she needs a new kidney, and as a non-citizen she’s on the very bottom of the transplant list in Germany while she’d have to pay two hundred grand as an uninsured American. So Casey takes One Last Job for Turkish drug dealer Geran (Ben Kingsley), who is looking to double-cross Hagen Kahl (Anthony Hopkins), the seemingly legitimate kingpin who won’t bring him in as a full partner. This involves Casey and his partner Matthias (Marwan Kenzari) stealing a semi full of cocaine, and that sort of plan is almost guaranteed to go wrong.

There’s an enjoyable straight-line simplicity to this story, give or take a flash-forward prologue and a fair chunk of time getting Casey and Juliette met, together, and finally over a barrel, and there are times when it seems like filmmakers F. Scott Frazier (who came up with the story) and Eran Creevy (who directs) get a little too cute. That opening tease, for instance, shows a wreck involving a car and one of Hagen’s trucks, and while they’re clever enough to set up multiple situations where the audience might think they’re about to come full circle, setting up the same situation inevitably leads to repetition, especially when they’re also holding a little bit of information back in a way that seems unnatural; both would allow them to have more going on and the viewer not so aware of their playing screenplay games if handled a bit better.

That is offset some by the fact that Creevy seems to have the tools to direct some decent vehicular action. That’s a different job than it used to be; a viewer watching this sort of movie nowadays will see a spiffy helicopter shot of a sportscar weaving in and out of traffic and wonder whether the car or the traffic is a digital creation, so Creevy’s job is to sell some over-the-top physics - there’s a certain distance between how high a car will fly into the air on impact and how high we’ll buy it flying, and the trick is to figure out what that second value is so he can get there without going over - and to make sure that the scenes where cars are crashing into things hit the sweet spot between chaotic and comprehensible. He mostly does all right there, getting a big assist from an Ilan Eshkeri soundtrack that balances the smooth flow of high-performance forward motion and the jolt of rapid changes in direction and impact. He makes good use of terrain, but occasionally indulges in too-choppy cutting, and in some ways he switches things up too often: In many chase movies, the cars become avatars of the characters driving them, and while there’s fun in seeing these guys think on their feet and switch rides up, often to something even newer and slicker, that does make it a little more difficult to form a connection with the guys inside.

The filmmakers do make up for that a bit by having the main four characters played by guys who probably should be too busy to make fringe-theatrical action movies like this. Felicity Jones has to have better things to do, for instance, although she’s in this for few enough total minutes that maybe it was just fun to spend a couple weeks in Cologne on someone else’s dime and work on an American accent that may be useful later - though, to be fair, she also makes a few of the film’s more self-referential lines work. Ben Kingsley, of course, will take just about any job, but he chews some fine scenery here as a drug dealer who is clearly sampling a fair amount of his own product, an often-hilariously unhinged and unpredictable performance. Anthony Hopkins goes for the more reptilian evil, although he certainly gets his own moments to go big and memorable; it’s still an oddly basic role in a minor film for someone with his c.v. to take. Nicholas Hoult is probably the least famous name - he’s more often a solid member of an ensemble than a lead - but he does a lot to keep the movie rolling, emoting a bit more than one might expect without overacting, creating a bit of a human connection in the middle of scenes that could just be machines banging together.

Maybe that’s why this movie made it to theaters while even others with this sort of name recognition have gone straight to streaming video: It may be a kind of generic car-chase movie, but the folks involved have some talent and are putting some effort into it, and that certainly moves the needle a bit.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29816&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/28/17 16:17:23
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USA
  24-Feb-2017 (PG-13)
  DVD: 30-May-2017

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Feb-2017 (M)
  DVD: 30-May-2017




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