Short Reviews of Films Nobody Else Wanted to Touch
: God, I'm glad Artisan is gone. If you want an example of how that studio went from "Blair Witch" darlings to buyout target in a mere four years, have at it. Thomas Jane, America's answer to Christopher Lambert, stars as the title character, whose family is killed by a ticked-off crime lord. He himself survives being stabbed, beaten, shot and blown up, with the only debilitations being an unquenchable thirst for vengeance (and Wild Turkey 101) and an inability to form new facial expressions. Clearly, we're not in any sort of reality here, but the subsequent film we're given has the hero stretching human pain thresholds to such ridiculous limits (especially in the fight with the Russian) that we're left to wonder if he shouldn't be named The Punished instead. (Apparently, this superhero's big power is the ability to take beatings that would leave Homer Simpson whimpering.) Jane's entire performance consists of attempting to look grim, though the result looks more like he's holding in a massive bowel movement. On the opposite spectrum, there's John Travolta's tiresome scenery-chewing as the villain -- isn't it about time Travolta retired this shtick? He doesn't even have an entertainingly atrocious hairstyle in this film. Will Patton's about the only good thing this film has, and it's a testament to the filmmaker's tonal ineptitude that Patton's best work comes during the film's low point (a torture session involving pliers and piercings). In fact, the film as a whole is fairly sadistic and ugly while at the same time withholding from the audience the simple pleasures offered by a revenge narrative until the last possible opportunity (for a guy named The Punisher, Jane sure doesn't do much hands-on punishing); I think all that needs to be said about this comes from my comic-book-nut friend Rob, who, when I asked him if this was at least better than the Dolph Lundgren film, responded with an "I'm not sure...".
: A paper-thin button-pusher with a terrible script and indifferent direction made semi-watchable by the efforts of The Rock and Johnny Knoxville. Let me stop and say here that I think The Rock has one heck of a future ahead of him as an action hero; not only is he physically adept, but he also possesses the kind of effortless likeability that makes him easy to root for and he does have some sly comic timing (check out the opening scene of "The Rundown" or his repartee with Knoxville here). In other words, despite his giant stature, he just seems more recognizably human than the ghosts of action-heroes past (especially his Teutonic forerunner Ah-nold, whose struggles with the bad guys were rarely as tense as his struggle with the English language). He's got his foot in the door, so the next step is to avoid assembly-line projects like this, which looks and sounds and even smells like fifty different films you'll see every month on Cinemax. Entertaining, in a primitive and crude sort of way, but still...
The Girl Next Door
: It's like a teenaged "Something Wild" except, you know, not funny at all. Spurred on by a handful of surprisingly generous reviews, I dutifully paid my $8.50 and settled into my seat. So first thing we get is a montage set to "Under Pressure". OK, good way to start a film... I really like that song and the usage seemed appropriate. A couple minutes later, there's another song, then another, then another... Seriously, the volume gets cranked up on a new pop song every six minutes. The most difficult job on this film must have been music clearance. Not that I have anything against using music to support scenes, but fuck. I don't watch MTV at home, so why should I pay to see it in a theater? As for the film proper, it's alarmingly lame with a sub-sitcom idea of wit and a plot that drags on past the point where it should have been reasonably euthanized. Elisha Cuthbert is indeed visually pleasing, but she's not much of an actress and she doesn't have the demeanor to play a porn star (not even a girl-next-door type). Timothy Olyphant, in the Ray Liotta role, provides an occasional spark of life, but even he eventually succumbs to the titanic wave of suck that engulfs this film (quite literally, in the scene where he tries to threaten Emile Hirsch into giving him a blowjob). This movie is so crummy that it wouldn't even finish first on a list entitled "Porn-Themed Films Titled 'The Girl Next Door'". This is our last dance, indeed.