FILM: Late Summer Movies
Reviews ◆ by Lucy Morrel
◗ White House Down
From director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), White House Down is a summer action flick revolving around the hostile takeover of the White House and is not to be confused with the earlier released Olympus Has Fallen, which has a similar premise. White House Down is basically an imitation Die Hard with more patriotism and higher stakes. Channing Tatum embraces the average, just-doing-his-best action hero role, as John Cale, like John McClain before him, struggles to save his estranged family member (in Cale’s case, his eleven-year-old daughter Emily), who’s been taken hostage. He takes some punches and manages to kill a reasonable amount of men (as far as these movies go) all the while acting as the good ole American underdog, who’s not highly educated but is entirely competent and extremely dogged. Channing Tatum, like Bruce Willis, is easy to root for.
White House Down
The parallels between the two films, however, go deeper than their leading men. There exists a similar inside/outside dynamic with miscommunication or mistrust often resulting in problematic attempts at rescue or attack. In White House Down, different agencies and political players like the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) and the Vice President (Michael Murphy) debate and vie for control of the situation, although it is mainly secret service agent, Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who communicates and guides Cale through the White House. The goal here being, not so much to save the hostages, but to protect the idealistic and affable President, played with surprising humor by Jamie Foxx. Refreshingly, this President seems to understand his responsibilities to the world and doesn’t just hand out his nuclear codes at the first sign of trouble.
With a couple of predictable betrayers joining their ranks, most of the terrorists never stray far from the expected, and some are even laughably suspicious “bad guys.” Their actions seem certain to end in nuclear war, yet unsurprisingly Cale manages to disarm, kill, and uncover the last of the villains during an eight-minute countdown to total destruction. For the moviegoer, though, it takes all of the last twenty minutes, and the characters even get to stop for some quick hugs. For all the intense buildup and fighting, the final confrontation with the last accomplice seems like the conclusion to an episode of Scooby Doo; one almost expects the accomplice to shake his fist and curse the “darn kids!” for not letting him get away with it.
The movie is fun and the characters likeable, but it suffers from having been done better before. Nonetheless, it embraces American culture, giving the audience patriotic, if a little too familiar, amusement for the summer months.
◗ The Lone Ranger
In Disney’s reboot of The Lone Ranger, John Reid (Armie Hammer), an uncompromising and idealistic lawyer, returns to his hometown, and in the process of trying to capture outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), is shot along with all of the other Texas Rangers, including his more capable and brawny brother Dan (John Badge Dale). John alone returns from death to administer justice with the help of Tonto (Johnny Depp) and a Native American spirit horse. John is, unfortunately, a principled dunce, able to rattle off some John Locke but unequipped for life as a lawman on the Texas frontier. While this makes for the occasional comedic moment, his transformation into a skilled gunslinger at the end is unbelievable, making all of the jokes throughout about John being “the wrong brother” ring sadly true. In the end, John just has to shoot the men desperately trying to kill him rather than try to take them to trial, and lucky for him, he doesn’t even have to learn how to shoot or fight at all because there is Native American spirit walker magic flowing through him. So all he really does in a two and a half hour movie is go from morally upright gentlemen to morally upright, but slightly less law-abiding, ranger.
At least Tonto is committed to frontier-style justice, but as an idiosyncratic character who defies understanding and has questionable sanity, he might as well be the wild west version of Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp is fun to watch, but a Native American actor could have done just as well and help make up for the one-dimensional portrayal of actual Native Americans. Victimized and certain of their demise, the Comanche are slaughtered in droves, with their very deaths providing for a convenient escape and plot point. The film seems to highlight the fall of the “noble savage” with even the elderly Tonto relegated to a sideshow diorama, but it doesn’t give American Indians any agency or their culture any validity. It capitalizes on a whole history of real problems and sorrows to give a couple of reflective minutes more punch.
Tonto & Friend
Overall, the film spends most of its time just throwing together all of the elements of a classic western, including the threat of Native Americans, the railroad and its expansion, silver mining, the traditional settler woman, saloons and prostitutes, and gunfights between outlaws and lawmen. There are a couple of nods to John Ford, but most of the elements seem flung in cavalierly, incorporated every which way into the plot, and punctuated by unnecessary anachronisms. It has moments of humor, but it is like the less successful, hodge-podge cousin of director Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean films.
◗ Pacific Rim
In Pacific Rim’s not-so-distant future, giant alien monsters called Kaigu emerge from a portal under the Pacific Ocean and wreak havoc on coastal cities. The governments of the world respond by making huge fighting robots called Jaegers, which two drivers operate through a mind-melding process known as drifting. Bipedal and scantily armed for the circumstances, the Jaegers are like boxers thrown into semi-aquatic bear fights, and yet are somehow capable of inflicting more damage than any arsenal of traditionally available weapons and vehicles. The Jaegers tend to win, mostly because the fights lack consistent logic.
When the jaegers do begin to fail, the international governments quickly abandon that project (and any remaining common sense) in favor of building an idiotic wall on the coasts that touch the Pacific Ocean. Clearly, a good premise won out against good judgment in this fun, but flawed movie.
The movie does deliver some exciting fight scenes with the Kaigu, which resemble Godzilla and marine animal hybrids. Director Guillermo Del Toro brings the same level of creativity to the Kaigu, as he traditionally has for his creatures in movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. Unfortunately, not everything in the movie is equally creative; the dialogue is trite, and no more so than in the fight scenes when (despite effectively sharing a brain with his co-pilot) protagonist Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) shouts such unnecessary platitudes as “we can do this together!” and “hang in there!”
It may be easy to find faults with the film, but it is also hard not to enjoy it. As every relationship and scene attempts to be fraught with emotional intensity, the movie can come across as melodramatic, but sometimes even the most over-the-top elements pay off. Two oddball scientists, played by the easily distraught Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, bicker and interact with an equally eccentric black market dealer played by Ron Perlman, producing some of the funniest scenes of the whole movie. This movie is not perfect, but it has gems of good humor and fun, predictable and otherwise.
◗ Red 2
With director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) taking over the Red series, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) attempts to settle down with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but soon a former Cold War-era assignment forces him to join up with old friends and emerge once again from his restive retirement. This movie hopes to capitalize on the same successful humor as the first Red, namely, seeing an older generation wield weapons with gusto. There is a certain shock and awe that comes with the esteemed Helen Mirren whipping out a couple of pistols in slow motion amidst the turmoil of a car chase, but that sort of attention grabbing, based on upset expectations, is not enough to sustain the film.
When it comes to an actual plot, the movie fails to deliver anything worth the interest that it initially generates. With all of its locale changes and new characters, Red 2 a convoluted mess, seemingly aimed at having Frank and Sarah kiss various other people. It can be humorous watching them act like normal jealous lovers in strange situations, but it overshadows everything else—like what exactly they are trying to accomplish and why.
The sheer scope of magnified destruction, perhaps drawing on its comic book roots, is tallied in anonymous human lives and leaves an unsettling feeling. In order to prove just how amazingly awesome they are despite their age, Frank and his friends kill droves of people, distinguished only by nationality. The gratuitous killing of a dozen or so Russians and Iranians is intended to be lighthearted and creative; still, watching all of those unknown stooges get mowed over renders the film’s poor attempts at depth that much more difficult to believe.