Crash (1996)

Much has been made about J.G. Ballard’s Crash. You don’t even need to have read it, because the mere idea of its central premise – which concerned a group of people who become sexually aroused by staging car crashes – tells you what you need to know about why it was controversial. Naturally, you’d think that a film adaptation wouldn’t be as flaccid as what David Cronenberg’s adaptation turned out to be, but sadly I was disappointed. It takes a volatile premise of car crash fetishism and somehow turns it into a dull and boring sex fest that twists in the wind so slowly you won’t even pay attention.

The plot of the film focuses on film producer James Ballard and his wife Catherine, who are in an open marriage in which they engage in infidelities with other people, but have a lethargic love life. One night James survives a car crash and shortly begins an affair with Dr. Helen Remington, with whom he shares a bizarre sexual fetish derived from the sensation of a car crash, which James uses to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife. To understand their newfound fetish, they become followers of an underground cult of fetishists, the leader of whom believes that there is a strong connection between the violence of a car crash and the passion of sex.

As bizarre and as sultry as that sounds, it’s actually quite boring. In his own decidedly more positive review, the late Roger Ebert likened the film to “a porno movie made by a computer”, and called it “a dissection of the mechanics of pornography”. He wouldn’t have been wrong. The film certainly had this mechanical feel to it, and that might have been one of the biggest problems with the film. There’s no passion whatsoever, and whatever semblance of passion just seems artificial. Another problem is that the film isn’t exactly coherent in terms of storytelling, and the pacing is quite slow.

The acting is quite lifeless too. I’m sure James Spader has been in better films than this, because I don’t think Mr. Cronenberg got a very good performance out of him, nor out of any of the other actors. Elias Koteas was quite decent, but he wasn’t that great. The characters to me seemed quite dry and stale, and colder than snowmen, but with dormant hints of the animalistic passion that should have been at the fore in the film.

The presentation was okay, but it looked mediocre. I’d say the musical score was the best part of the movie, if mainly because it has a nice, sombre ambience that complements the film’s approach, along with the sparse, atmospheric use of electric guitars. Other than that, Crash was one boring film. Shockingly boring in fact. I’m actually quite surprised by how boring this was, but given the mechanical nature of the film, that should not of been a surprise. This glacial treatment of J.G. Ballard was perhaps a bold attempt, and was certainly controversial during its release, but you’re not missing much.

  • Score: 54%
  • Grade: D

Soylent Green (1973)

Films like Soylent Green tend to be interesting due to their out-there central premises, and this film seems to be a blend of detective mystery, dystopian sci-fi, and social commentary that’s characteristically of its time, this being the time when environmentalism starting becoming fashionable. I suppose it was only natural that we would see a film that grapples with overpopulation, and the film itself is something of a product of its time. That being said, it was certainly an interesting and entertaining film.

Set in the year 2022, some fifty years into the future, the film depicts an overpopulated, polluted world where natural resources are all but exhausted, and the climate has apparently become so warm that many animals can’t survive. Most food in this world is provided by the Soylent Corporation, which creates nutritious wafers that it claims are made from plankton. The story focuses on the life of NYPD detective Frank Thorn, who along with his partner Solomon is tasked with investigating the murder of Soylent board member William R. Simonson, who was allegedly also burglarised before his death. During the investigation, Frank finds that there are powerful men, including the governor, who want to end the investigation even if they have to kill him, and he eventually stumbles upon the company’s terrible secret.

Right off the bat I felt like there was some sort of environmentalist vibe coming from the film, which I guess was pretty much in vouge at the time. I don’t really mind that though. My real criticism is that the film is a bit slowly paced for a film of about 97 minutes in length. The film seems to meander on for a while without much happening, but when we get back on the case, all seems to be well and good. It seems to be one of those films that slowly gets better as it progresses until we reach the conclusion, which I think was a solid ending, even if it was cut a bit short.

The acting is quite good, and to be fair, there wasn’t really a bad performer in the entire film, although this is another one of those films where the characters have the misfortune of being outshone by a big lead, in this case Charlton Heston. That said, Edward G. Robinson gives a good performance as Heston’s crusty old sidekick, in what is sadly his last film. I do find it disappointing that we don’t have much exposition on the characters, but I can generally tolerate it here.

Even though I criticised the film earlier for its somewhat slow pacing, I can’t help but think that perhaps the point of it was to enhance the feeling of suspense. The film’s overall style was rather subtle, yet there was no real attempt to hide the film’s gloomy outlook. There were a lot of nice-looking set pieces, but sometimes I wonder if they were really necessarily. I don’t have a problem with them, it could simply be a way of fleshing out the futuristic world of the film.

On the whole it was certainly a good film, not without its flaws but still an interesting and intelligent sci-fi from back when sci-fi was smart.

  • Score: 70%
  • Grade: C

Sorcerer (1977)

For whatever reason I found myself interested in a 40-year-old thriller called Sorcerer, which turned out to be a remake of a European 1950’s thriller called The Wages of Fear. Whatever you want to call it, the film came out at perhaps an awkward time. It was released just a month after Star Wars came out, and became an instant phenomenon, and when that happened, films like this were left twisting in the wind, and thus Sorcerer, which was produced on twice the budget of Star Wars, failed to turn a profit, and was generally dismissed by critics. That’s a bit of a shame because it’s actually quite a good film. Not as good as I might have hoped, but still a good film.

The film’s story revolves around four men, each from different parts of the world, who are invariably forced to flee from their previous lives, assuming fake identities of course. They all end up meeting each other in the remote South American village of Porvenir, where they live in abject poverty and earn meagre wages. After a local oil well explodes, the men are hired by an American oil company to transport cargoes of nitroglycerin to the oil well using two trucks. If successful, they will be handsomely, but it’s a highly dangerous job and it’s likely that they might die.

With that in mind, why is the film called “Sorcerer”? Well, apparently one of the two trucks in the film is called “Sorcerer”, which I guess is a somewhat logical if silly reason to call the film Sorcerer. The other explanation comes from the film’s director William Friedkin, who links the title to one of the themes of the film. In his words, “the sorcerer is an evil wizard, and in this case the evil wizard is fate”. That’s quite a stretch, but it’s not uncommon for directors to have pretentious ways of rationalising batty artistic decisions. Friedkin isn’t the worst in that regard.

As for the story itself, the concept is actually quite good. It’s main focus is taking people of different backgrounds who hate each other, but not as much as having to work with them, keeping in mind that if they didn’t co-operate, they would surely die. This kind of story is guaranteed to have some drama and suspense. I also like how the film’s prologue shows you how the main characters got from where they were to where they are now.

That being said, my main issue is with the film’s rather slow pacing. Parts of the film end up being rather boring, but certainly not at the very end, and it does have some surprisingly explosive moments to keep you on your toes. The acting is very good, thanks to the casting of skilled actors such as Roy Scheider. With this film you can really get a sense of their emotions, and while no character is completely likeable, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that that’s pretty much the point. The film certainly succeeds in terms of its pessimistic atmosphere and its style. The film boasts a crisp look and sound, and benefits from skilful editing and tastefully professional shooting. Another highlight would be the film’s musical score, which comes courtesy of Tangerine Dream.

On the whole it was certainly an ambitious film, and quite a good one. In fact, William Friedkin wanted this film to be his legacy, but in a way he sort of had it, given that the film now enjoys cult film status. Ultimately the film’s chances of success were hindered mainly by the fact that it was 1977. If you didn’t go to see Star Wars, you went to see Smokey and the Bandit. Both were huge films that effectively murdered Friedkin’s Sorcerer in the box office, and there’s something symbolic about that. Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit symbolised the newly emerging blockbuster era, while Sorcerer was emblematic of the New Hollywood style of film-making. After 1977, the New Hollywood era would decline until its eventual demise in 1980, and the art of cinema would be the poorer for it. In a way, Sorcerer was the sacrifice on the altar of blockbuster cinema. Or perhaps I read into this sort of thing too much.

  • Score: 74%
  • Grade: C

The Omega Man (1971)

If you hated Will Smith’s badly paced and poisonously boring I Am Legend, then I can almost guarantee that you’ll find The Omega Man infinitely better. Both were based on a Richard Matheson novel whose name was lent to the former, but this is easily the most recognisable rendition, and probably the best. It’s probably not a very unique post-apocalyptic survival film, but it certainly seems like a step above other films of the genre in terms of its execution.

The film itself is set in the year 1977, in an alternate history in which biological warfare between China and Soviet Russia had already resulted in the spread of a plague that killed most of the world’s population, with most of the survivors being turned into deformed, nocturnal mutants who can’t stand the sunlight. In a now desolate Los Angeles, a band of mutants called “The Family” are proceeding to destroy all forms of technology, as they see science and technology as the causes of the war that lead to their mutation.

One man, a U.S. Army Colonel named Robert Neville, believes himself to be the last uninfected man on Earth, and has developed a serum that allows him to become immune to the disease. After he finds out that there are other survivors who have not been infected, he finds himself not only trying to fend off attempts on his life by deranged mutants, but also trying to help others avoid succumbing to the effects of the disease and save humanity.

The story essentially plays out like a frenetic action film for the most part, and it starts out quite strong, although I wish the film would have maintained the action-oriented approach more often, as I think the film was certainly made for that. I don’t necessarily mind the approach the film-makers took, though I found the ending to be something a disappointment.

The acting perhaps isn’t the best, but there are good moments. Though I would argue that without Charlton Heston in the lead role, the film itself would probably have been far less entertaining as it was. Here he channels the same kind of role he played in Planet of the Apes just three years earlier, and in a way the role of the desperate survivor seems to work well for an actor who is known for playing rugged, down to Earth heroes.

The production values for the film were certainly very good, and you can generally get the sense of the kind of desolation that pervades over the veritable ghost town wherein Robert Neville lives out the rest of his days in fear and desperation. The makeup effects on the rather ridiculous vampiric mutants were also pretty good, as they made the mutants look about as menacing as you might expect them to, which sort of makes up for the somewhat ridiculous concept.

On the whole, The Omega Man was an above average film, but not without its flaws, and I can’t help but feel that without Charlton Heston the film might not have been that great. Was it entertaining either way? I would say yes.

  • Score: 71%
  • Grade: C

Seven (1995)

seven_ver1I once attempted to write a review of this film towards the end of 2015, but I had come down with a case of the norovirus, and found myself unable to focus, so I continue writing it at the time. Now, over a year later, I went back and reviewed it again, this time without having to live with a lingering stomach virus. Abundantly praised by critics for its edgy, then-contemporary style, Seven appears to be more of a film of style than of substance, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Seven manages to accomplish the rare feat of having both good style and an engaging story, even if it plays into the occasional cliché now and then.

Set in a bleak city reminiscent of New York City, the story concerns the ageing detective William Somerset, who is soon to retire but is called for one last case, in which he is partnered with the young, short-tempered David Mills, who is set to replace him at the end of the week. Together they reluctantly work to track down a deranged serial killer whose creative methods of killing people are overtly linked to the seven deadly sins, seeing the case all the way to its ghastly conclusion.

At its core, it’s essentially a genre thriller with more layers of sophistication compared to what you usually get in the market. There were already plenty of films with deranged serial killer antagonist, but this film has a certain dark, edgy quality that distinguishes it from others. The pacing is quite slow, but there are plenty of riveting plot twists that can keep you engaged, though that’s not the only way the film manages to do so. The film’s main asset is in its visceral shock thrills, which come from the trail of grotesque imagery that the killer leaves behind.

Although I think the performances were a bit low-key, I feel that the actors did a good job playing their respective characters. Morgan Freeman seems to be a good fit as the retiring detective who’s seen far too much throughout his career. As for Brad Pitt, this seems like the kind of film that Brad Pitt could do well in, and he plays his character quite convincingly, in the sense that I mostly believe that his character would act in the way that he does. Of course, the villain of the story had the best performance, with Kevin Spacey injecting a dose of self-righteous madness into the heavily grim atmosphere lingering over the film.

The film’s greatest asset is its consistently dark style. There’s a notable absence of colour in the film’s visuals, and I think it was quite deliberate. The other main component would be the gory special effects, which, without the kitsch found in many slasher horror films, the visceral horror has an added sting, which is odd because this was never intended as a horror film. There’s sort of a brutal realism to the film’s overall style, and yet the murder scenes seem quite exaggerated, but the chilling part is that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. It’s quit easy to imagine some sicko committing murders like those in the film.

In that sense, Seven is a very compelling film. I don’t consider it a neo-noir classic, but it’s strangely effective for what is effectively a slightly more sophisticated genre film. It’s a little overrated, but over the years that high praise still proves well-earned.

  • Score: 81%
  • Grade: B

Westworld (1973)

westworld_ver2With the arrival of the Westworld TV series, I came across the original film, the quintessentially 70’s sci-fi gem that inspired it. I must lament the proclivity of our times for flashy, big budget reboots. After all, the Westworld TV series has barely even started, and the mainstream press treats it like the best thing since sliced bread, all while barely any credit is given where it’s due, which is such a shame because this film was one of the most innovative films in sci-fi before the genre give way to big budget braggadocio.

The premise is familiar, but nonetheless a curious one. The film is set in an adult-oriented luxury amusement park named Delos, known for its hyper-realistic simulation of themed environments – Roman World, Medieval World, and of course Westworld. Each world is populated by androids that bear an uncanny resemblance to humans, and are programmed to cater to the whims of Delos patrons. However, a computer virus begins to spread throughout the system, and the robots begin acting against their programming, and some even start killing patrons. All the while, two patrons find themselves being stalked by a robotic gunslinger (unofficially the film’s mascot).

At first the story seemed vapid and sluggish in pace, perhaps an apt representation of a Delos patron wallowing in a fantasy that comprises principally of chasing animatronic prostitutes aimlessly. Of course, this is just building suspense up to the point when things start going wrong in the park. Among a number of themes, the story addresses the kind of comfort humans have gotten used to thanks to advances in technology, and how that dependence will eventually come back to haunt them. That’s the most obvious theme, but also the most prevalent in Westworld, whose slowly paced yet multi-faceted plot seem to allow for the blending of elements from Western, sci-fi and thriller films.

The acting and characters aren’t necessarily the best part, but in a way the two patrons serving as the film’s two main protagonists illustrate the vapidity of instant leisure. One of them, played by James Brolin, seems chiefly concerned with satiating his own lusts, to the point where he would rather stay in a hotel than partake in a simulated gunfight, which I would argue would be more fun. The other one, played by Richard Benjamin, doesn’t seem at all fazed by the sex, and is more interested in the more hands-on pleasures that hyper-realistic simulation has to offer. The character stealing the show, of course, is Yul Brynner’s gunslinger, based on Brynner’s character in The Magnificent Seven. You first see him in much the same way as a typical Western gunslinger, but as the virus spreads, the gunslinger’s true nature as a cold, efficient mechanical assassin is revealed, and it becomes the driving force of the rest of the story. As the Terminator of the 1970’s, Brynner’s performance was brilliant, and he barely even talked.

For its time, Westworld looked impressive, and in terms of atmosphere, it had the feel of a classically chilled 70’s sci-fi film Alongside the old-fashioned practical effects, the film also made use of digital image processing, where the gunslinger’s point of view is represented as a pixellated world, and this adds to the cold atmosphere that Westworld conveys. A lot of older sci-fi films from the early 70’s might seem cheesy today, but not Westworld, with its uncanny realism and chilling pace. The TV series may yet take the original concept to places it hadn’t been before, but it will never replace the original classic. No reboot can or ever will.

  • Score: 85%
  • Grade: A

Inception (2010)

inception_2010_theatrical_posterGiven Christopher Nolan’s solid treatment of The Dark Knight, one might think that his artistic intent could translate into something bold and original. That certainly seems to have been the intention behind Inception, and the mainstream critics ate up the hype even as they were building it up. Of course, I’m always sceptical of films that got a lot of hype. Even when I was 16 and Inception was new, I got the feeling that they were overselling it, and watching the film again I felt I was right. Overhyped, overrated, and astoundingly pretentious, Inception is a textbook example of a film that got a lot of hype when it was new, did well in the box office, but when the hype was over nobody cared, probably because Inception wasn’t very good in the first place.

The story is perhaps the most immediate gripe I have with the film, but before I go into why, I’ll try and explain it. The premise revolves around a Dominick Cobb, a professional thief who steals people’s information by infiltrating their dreams (the film tries to explain it, but does a poor job of it). His job involves projecting himself into people’s minds, and by doing so, he can obtain information that even the most skilled computer hackers can’t. When Cobb fails an assignment, he is offered the chance to have his criminal history erased as payment for a task that seems impossible – planting a new idea into a target’s mind. Cobb and his crew have everything they need to carry out the task, but the only thing complicating matters is a projection of Cobb’s dead wife, emerging from his subconscious.

That’s about a simple as I can describe a plot as insanely muddled as Inception’s plot is. I remembering hearing that the film’s plot is so complicated that you can’t even take a bathroom break if you want to understand what’s going on. I’m sure that sounds exaggerated, but the film certainly has an extremely complicated plot. It’s the kind of film that tries to sound intelligent, but just because the premise of a film is ludicrously complicated doesn’t make a film intelligent. In fact, much of the film’s 148-minute length is spent explaining the film. I would argue that any film that has to spend much of its runtime explaining itself is hardly intelligent. To be fair, I think the film could have implemented its ideas well had Christopher Nolan stuck with his plan to make it as a horror film about dream thieves. The film’s cerebral ideas find themselves wasted in a heist film, and a very pretentious one too.

Believe it or not, the film’s ensemble cast isn’t that effective. The performances weren’t bad, but I wasn’t very impressed, mainly because I see it as typical Hollywood overacting. Leonardo diCaprio is perhaps the most obvious example. Throughout his career diCaprio has depended his looks for success, and I’m pretty sure the same applies here because diCaprio isn’t a very convincing actor. Maybe I’m just too much of a demanding viewer, or more likely, I simply don’t like him, but whatever the reason, I can’t find myself getting invested in his character, and maybe that’s because his character was never really likeable in the first place.

Of course, the film did have incredibly high production values on its side, and with its massive $160 million budget that’s understandable, but I find that the film looks and sounds inescapably hollow. Perhaps the only part of the film most people got (and the most heavily promoted scene) was the scene where part of a road folds. It is a rather impressive display of CGI, but the problem is that most of the film feels inorganic, perhaps because the film is loaded with CGI. Even some of the fight scenes were done with CGI. It almost feels like a glossier version of The Matrix, but loaded with explanations that make no sense no matter how hard Leonardo diCaprio tries to convince you of it.

Though not a completely terrible film, Inception is what happens when film directors get too full of themselves. They lose grasp of what makes sense on screen and the resulting film is very big, bloated and pompous. Of course, the more popular a director becomes, the more mainstream that director’s work becomes, and clearly Inception was Nolan’s attempt at a boldly avant-garde thriller film, but it winds up being such a painfully mainstream Hollywood film that its a mirror image of the very character of Hollywood, with its head stuck firmly up in the clouds.

  • Score: 56%
  • Grade: D

Hackers (1995)

HackersposterBack in the 1990’s not that many people knew how the Internet worked, and as could be expected, Hollywood picked up on this cultural zeitgeist and produced a number of high-tech thrillers, many of them were either critically panned or commercial flops. Sadly, this film was a commercial flop, an unfortunate victim of the repetitive cycle of Hollywood trends, and the whole cyber trend eventually died the way all fads do, with this film being buried in obscurity. That’s such a shame because this film had quite an interesting premise to say the least, even if it sometimes comes across as a typically silly 90’s period piece.

The plot involves a young man named Dade Murphy (a.k.a. “Zero Cool”), who after his 18th birthday is finally allowed to use a computer after a seven-year probation period. After he and his newfound hacker friends stumble upon a security chief’s plot to use a dangerous computer virus to embezzle millions of dollars from his company, they must work to find evidence for the plot and uncover the mastermind behind it while eluding the secret service.

Right off the bat, this was a film that had hacker culture in its sights, going so far as to have a character quote the Hacker Manifesto (“We exist without nationality, skin color, or religious bias. You wage wars, murder, cheat, lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity”). Given the real-life hacking groups who came to prominence over a decade after this film was released, the film was ahead of its time in terms of the themes it tackles. However, I do feel that such themes aren’t explored in a serious or intelligent way, not that they were intended to be (certainly not with the lack of research). It’s supposed to be entertainment, and in that regard it certainly works.

It’s worth noting that the film was very keen on showing off the latest in tech, along with unrealistic depictions of hacking (surely it isn’t that exciting in real life), let alone hackers. This being 1995, the computers used to be top-of-the-line tech in its day, but due to how fast technology evolved in real life, they would now be considered horribly outdated in modern eyes (modems at speeds of 28.8 kbps used to be impressive in the 90’s, but not anymore, and neither would be the meagre hacking feats of an 11-year-old boy), so to anyone looking at this film and judging it through contemporary lens, it will seem almost laughable (though I have a personal fascination with old tech).

The characters are okay, but the acting fails to impress. It sort of feels like the actors were trying too hard, and in the end, they don’t make for convincing characters at all. Of course, I’m not one to chide films solely for unrealistic teen characters (unless that’s the whole plot, like in one of those reprehensible teen comedies), but it really doesn’t seem as if Hollywood as any good at writing those characters. They aren’t terrible, and there are some humorous moments, but that probably isn’t entirely down to the characters.

If you’re looking for a serious story and convincing characters, this film probably isn’t for you, but the film does have some redeeming qualities. The film’s special effects, for instance, are quite pleasant, and they work well with the whole cyber theme. Interestingly enough, the cyberspace effects apparently weren’t made with CGI. According the film’s director, Iain Softley, the film uses more conventional animation methods to create a 3D world. If that’s true, then as an animation connoisseur, I’ve got to give him credit for doing something different to what major films at the time were doing.

The film generally presented itself quite well, whether its the special effects or the catchy techno soundtrack. Yes, it does come across as typically 90’s, but I actually quite like the film. I actually expected something much cheesier, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, it at least accomplishes the end goal of being decently entertaining. It’s not serious, and it’s an obvious relic of its time, but at least it was unabashed entertainment.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C

Lost Highway (1997)

Lost-Higway-01For some reason, I’ve developed a bit of a taste for weird and unusual films, so I naturally came across a film by David Lynch called “Lost Highway”. I previously saw another of his films, Blue Velvet, which I enjoyed quite thoroughly. Naturally, I thought that this film would be just as scintillating, but I found the film to be somewhat wanting, mainly because of its overly slow pace.

The film’s story appears to be split into two. At first, the film focuses on a jazz musician who is worried that his wife Renée is having an affair, only to find himself accused of murdering her. Then, in a parallel story, a young mechanic is seduced by a gangster’s mistress. The two stories are linked by the presence of a mysterious man, and the fact that both women may be the same.

At first, it won’t seem as if the two stories are essentially the same. If anything, it seemed as if it as all a single story, which it kind of is, but it seems to me like David Lynch was just in the mood for mindfuckery for its own sake. Seriously, parts of the film don’t make any sense, especially the final act. The film also suffers from such a slow start that for the first 15 minutes, it seems as if nothing was actually happening. If you ask me, the story didn’t start to get interesting until we enter the parallel story.

I kind of think that Lost Highway is thematically similar to Blue Velvet. Both of them relish in a kind of voyeuristic sexuality, but in this film, the protagonist is presented with two different world – the horror of having jealous thoughts swimming in your mind until you find your wife dead and thinking you might have killed her, and the wonder of a woman taking you into her world, and wanting you to help her escape it. Of course, there’s also the other dimension, where the aforementioned woman leaves you twisting in the wind, and you find out what’s really happening.

The acting, meanwhile, was very good. Patricia Arquette, who plays the two women who are in fact the same woman, manages to play both roles with subtlety, with a convincing an ably evocative performance. Robert Loggia, in my opinion, was a fine choice to play the gangster Mr. Eddy (later revealed to be an amateur porn producer named Dick Laurent), and he delivers a very forward and sharp performance that perhaps befitted his character. I must wonder how things might have gone if he had secured his desired role in Blue Velvet. Robert Blake, meanwhile, delivers a suitably creepy performance as the mystery men, and even though his character still didn’t make sense in the end, at least he can convey his character well.

This is the kind of film that succeeds more in terms of style than in terms of substance. High-quality production values aside, the film also has an amazing musical score composed of a number of different styles of music (the film opens with David Bowie’s splendid “I’m Deranged”). I also like the the fact that they at least used the highway to bookend the film (appearing in the title and credits sequence), because I honestly thought the title was making no sense. Despite its flaws, however, I thought this was at least an interesting film because of its merits, though I remain disappointed overall.

  • Score: 66%
  • Grade: C

Escape Plan (2013)

EscapeplanfilmposterFor fans of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, this might seem like a dream come true way too late. While it might be nice to finally see them together in an action film, it would have been even better if that happened twenty-five years earlier, especially considering the fact that action films haven’t exactly been the same nowadays. 2013 was a dark year for action films. We were given a horrible Die Hard sequel, a pitifully standard Stallone film, and the market was being oversaturated with sequels and copies of other films. Critics generally weren’t very nice towards the film, but then, they’ve hated action films for a long time, often to the point of blatant bias. Though I wouldn’t say this was a particularly great film, I would say that this is a case of other critics missing the point.

The story isn’t completely original, but at least the writing was better than Stallone’s previous effort at the time (let’s face it, Bullet to the Head was little more than a by-the-numbers action film that rested on the laurels of its star). In fact, I find that the plot of this film provides plenty of elbow room for some effective chemistry between the film’s two lead stars, which is good considering the actually plot isn’t much. Basically, it sees Sylvester Stallone working for a security company, and his job consists of breaking out of prisons in order to test the reliability of their security systems, only to be thrown into what is supposedly “the most secure prison ever built” (clearly one the film’s taglines).

I can’t help but think that the film was mainly written this way because the producers wanted to play it safe with regards to the kind of role Stallone plays. Hence, Stallone enjoys a somewhat privileged role in the film. It would have been far better if Stallone and Schwarzenegger played the role of hardened criminals, because at least then the film’s story would have been more believable. Instead, we get a bunch of unquestionably good protagonists against cliché villains, and the film ends in predictable fashion without tying up all the loose ends. Of course, action films generally aren’t good at storytelling, but at least this film has ways of making up for it. Stallone and Schwarzenegger play their roles with a good mixture of rugged seriousness and good humour, and it works so well that it’s though they haven’t aged a bit. However, I can’t say much about the other characters, especially not the film’s mediocre villains. In fact, Jim Caviezel seems to be pretty bad at playing the sadistic prison warden, and the other characters just seem to be chilling in the background.

I’ll admit that the film itself looks pretty good, but there’s not a lot of colour besides grey, which I guess makes some sense because most of the film is spent in a prison. That being said, however, it would seem less grey if the film didn’t use a cliché orchestral score. As for the action element, there’s not much to say. My guess is that they were trying to make a blend of the action film and the prison film, but it’s more of the latter than the former, but that’s not so bad. If you’re an action film fan, you can always count on the villains getting their comeuppance at the end. All in all, it was pretty disappointing, but it’s not terribly unwatchable, and to be honest, it’s not as bad as it could have been. It’s the kind of film that starts pretty good, but then ebbs after a while. At the very least, it’s worth it just to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger side by side in a decent film.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C