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Films I Neglected To Review: Is It Fall Yet?
by Peter Sobczynski

An adaptation of an acclaimed Graham Greene novel, the latest over-the-top action extravaganza from Luc Besson and a sex comedy starring the always-delightful Mandy Moore--what could possibly be so wrong about these films that would cause them to be unceremoniously dumped at the tail end of the summer, traditionally a burial ground for misfit movies? Plenty, as it turns out. . .

Based on the celebrated novel by Graham Greene, previously adapted into an acclaimed 1948 film starring Richard Attenborough and Hermione Baddeley, "Brighton Rock" tells the story of a young punk gangster (Sam Riley) who screws up the murder of a rival thug and is forced to marry a shy waitress (Andrea Riseborough) who is the only one who can identify him as the killer. Inevitably, their relationship begins to develop in unexpected ways and that, along with his attempts to further cover up his crime with others, leads to a conclusion filled with equal parts bloodshed and heartbreak. Alas, there is never a single moment in this incredibly stilted adaptation by Rowan Joffe that ever comes closes to evoking the passion and tragedy of either the book or the previous film version--the leads are miscast (Riley, who got a lot of notice portraying the late Ian Curtis in the biopic "Control" is at least 10 years too old to be playing his character and it shows throughout) and mismatched (there is zero chemistry between the two), the pacing drags unforgivably and Joffe's decision to reset the story in the mid-1960's in order to capture the then-current tensions between mods and rockers will leave you wishing that you were watching the infinitely more thoughtful and entertaining "Quadrophenia" instead. The best thing about the movie are the supporting turns by Helen Mirren and John Hurt but that is more because of their ability to transcend substandard material through the sheer force of their personalities than anything else. Unfortunately for the film, not to mention anyone unlucky enough to be stuck watching it, they aren't in it enough to keep it from being anything more than a major misfire that is destined to one day be as erased from our collective pop cultural memory as the Audie Murphy version of "The Quiet American."

Faithful readers of these cinema-related musings of mine will no doubt recall that I am a long-standing fan of the works of the one-man filmmaking empire that is Luc Besson--his patented blend of cheerfully ridiculous plotting, ultra-stylish visuals, beautifully kinetic action set-pieces and highly charismatic stars who are compelling to watch as they go around breaking hearts and snapping spines have provided some of the giddiest thrills to be found in contemporary action cinema. That said, even though I have been willing to bend over backwards to celebrate works that might seem somewhat questionable to those who don't quite share my particular perspective, I am still enough of a critic to recognize when something is a piece of crap and "Colombiana," the latest product from his cinematic factory, which he produced and co-wrote with longtime collaborator Robert Mark Kamen, is a big, steamy example of such. Less a straightforward narrative than a haphazard compilation of elements from Besson's filmography, Zoe Saldana stars as a lethal hired killer who is using her work as a way to smoke out the drug lord that killed her parents when she was a child in order to get her long-awaited revenge. Sure, the premise is kind of flimsy but Besson has worked wonders in the past with sillier material but this time around, absolutely nothing goes right. The story is the kind of absolute nonsense that requires everyone to act like idiots (especially its allegedly brilliant central character) or for a number of highly unlikely situations to occur to keep things moving along. The direction by Oliver Megaton, the colorfully-named auteur previously worked with Besson on the ridiculous-but-entertaining "Transporter 3," is amazingly slack--the dramatic scenes are as drab and perfunctory as can be and even the action set-pieces, for the most part, lack any of the cartoonish excitement or excess that one has come to expect from a Besson production. (The closest it gets is is brief bi where our heroine dispatches one of the main thugs in a bathroom utilizing a towel and a toothbrush, both presumably purchased at Blood, Bath & Beyond,) And while she certain looks as fetching as can be in outfits as lacking in material as the screenplay, Saldana is pretty much a dud throughout in the lead--this may well be the first time that Michael Vartan (who plays the besotted boyfriend who doesn't realize that his girlfriend is an international assassin) isn't the dullest person on the screen in a movie he has worked on. Presumably slapped together in a whirlwind of utter indifference while Besson was preoccupied with getting his upcoming Aung San Suu Kyi biopic "The Lady' up and running, "Colombiana" is a bitter bon-bon of a film that even the most dedicated members of Besson's cult will find difficult to swallow.

Imagine the world's longest, lamest and smuttiest episode of the redoubtable TV classic "Love, American Style" and you have only begun to conceptualize the mind and genital-numbing horror that is "Swinging with the Finkels." Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman star as a couple who find that the spark has gone out of their marriage and, after inept interludes involving costumes and produce, they decide that the best way to liven things up is to have sex with another couple. In news that will no doubt shock you to the very depths of your soul, the dream scenario quickly turns nightmarish and threatens to split the two them up for good. This is yet another romantic comedy that attempts to blend sweetness and raunchiness into a cinematic peanut butter cup of sexy fun but instead turns out to be an indigestible lump of uselessness that is too gross for those in the mood for a rom-com and too insipid for those looking for some good clean dirty fun. Nothing in this movie comes close to working right--not the weirdly dated nature of the material (even the title reeks of a lesser George Segal vehicle from the mid-seventies), the non-existent chemistry between the normally likable Moore and Freeman is so palpable that you may almost find yourself rooting for them to stay apart and the attempts at big, broad comedic set-pieces are so strained, tasteless and resoundingly unfunny that I cannot believe that the people who made the film actually believed that audiences would find them amusing. (How bad are they? Consider the fact that a scene ripping off the most infamous moment of "American Pie," this time involving Mandy Moore, a cucumber and Jerry Stiller, isn't even the comedy low point--even I can't bring myself to relate the detail of the lowest without lapsing into George C. Scott--"Hardcore" mode.) Let me put it this way--I can almost guarantee that if it happens to be playing at a theater near you, it will be the worst movie appearing at your local multiplex. The good news, of course, is that there is little chance that it will be cluttering up said multiplexes for very long.

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originally posted: 08/27/11 08:09:16
last updated: 08/27/11 08:27:09
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