MONKEY REVIEW: Gamer

September 6, 2009

gamerI didn’t realize that Gamer was from the same writing/directing team behind the Crank movies until after I’d seen it. I’m not sure it would have altered my opinion of the movie much, but it would have explained some of the loud, crude and cheerfully morally corrupt aspects of it, anyway. Gamer is a pastiche of The Running Man, The Matrix and both Death Race movies, the original and its inferior remake: Gerard Butler stars as a Death Row inmate who has dominated a globally televised game called Slayer in which he and fellow immates wage armed combat with each other. Butler is on the verge of winning 30 session victories, which will supposedly earn his freedom, but the evil creator of the game (Michael C. Hall, who provides some fun here) has other plans. There are flashes of real wit and biting satire in the movie, along with some big ideas about identity and control in a Sims and role playing game addicted society, but the focus is on big, loud, gory and largely incoherent action. It’s too bad because moments like an unexpected musical number suggest that Gamer could’ve turned out to be a cult film on the order of Death Race 2000. Instead, it plays like something you’d see on late night cable, an acceptable time passer with lots of violence and a smattering of sex that you will probably not remember much about the next morning.

MONKEY RATING: THREE GAMER MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

MONKEY REVIEW: Death Race

August 31, 2008

I first saw Death Race 2000, regarded by some as one of the best B-movies ever made, at a drive-in way back when in the mid-70’s, and subsequently saw it whole or in part numerous more times on cable over the years. Death Race 2000 was a Roger Corman production, directed by Paul Bartel and starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, set in a dystopian future (well, the future in 1975, anyway) where a cross country race takes place annually in which the drivers get points for running over citizens unlucky enough to get in their way. That it was satirizing the American obsession with violent entertainment flew right over my head on initial viewings, and instead I saw a very odd movie with cartoonish violence, bizarre characters and even more bizarre cars. There was also a lot of nudity, but of course I covered my eyes during those parts. There’s a plot point worth mentioning where the US government blames the French for things going wrong, which seems pretty contemporary now, and a lot of the political satire in general still seems spot on. The remake, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Alien Vs. Predator) and co-produced by Corman, leaves out the satire for the most part and has repackaged it as a sort of killer American Gladiators set in a prison called Terminal Island. No one gets points for running over anyone, and instead the drivers try to kill each other. The changes pretty much remove everything that was interesting about the original and what ends up on the screen is your standard action picture, nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing special. Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson ably fill in for Carradine and Stallone, and Joan Allen shows up as an evil warden. Statham always makes for an entertaining screen presence, which is why I decided to see Death Race, against my better instincts, but I would advise Statham fans to just wait for Transporter 3, due out in November. All others would do better to seek out the original, which is a lot more fun in all respects than this remake.

MONKEY RATING: THREE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Director Mathieu Kassovitz’s Babylon A.D., based on a highly regarded science fiction novel by French writer Maurice Dantec, arrives on American shores with a fairly toxic reputation, forwarded by no less than the director himself. To say that Babylon A.D. is a simplification of its source material is an understatement, so let me just say that what’s ended up on the screen is a handsomely produced science fiction chase movie, well directed and well acted for the most part. The problem, and what a big problem it is, is that it pretty much makes no sense. It’s the sort of movie where you wait for someone, anyone, to pull everything together and explain what exactly has been going on for the past hour and a half or so, but no, no such explanation is forthcoming. There’s a lot of running around, a lot of shooting and people getting beat up, several big explosions, and a few car chases, but when the credits roll, you’re left to wonder what it was all about, because the movie isn’t about to tell you. It’s got a solid cast, headed by Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh and Mélanie Thierry, and they keep it watchable, but all their efforts can’t overcome a screenplay that just goes nowhere.

MONKEY RATING: FOUR MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

MONKEY REVIEW: Rambo

June 6, 2008

For the fourth Rambo movie, Sylvester Stallone, who co-wrote and directed this entry, chose the civil war-torn locale of Burma (now Myanmar) as background for the action. Though Rambo could hardly be called a political protest movie, its portrayal of Burmese military junta sanctioned atrocities against its minority populations is certainly shocking and will probably be eye opening for some audiences unaware of the situation in that country. Stallone claims to have based some of the graphic violence in the movie, particularly in a scene depicting the massacre of a village, on media file footage as well as footage taken by Karen rebels in Burma, at whom a good portion of the violence has been directed. The massacre scene is as upsetting as anything I’ve seen in a movie in recent years, not least because the violence is extended to children and babies as well. The scene is reminiscent of the Sand Creek Massacre sequence in the 1970 movie Soldier Blue, though the technological advances made since then allow Rambo to show its violence in even more graphic and horrific detail. I’ve seen one reviewer claim Rambo is the most violent film he’s ever seen, and while I’m not sure I can say that, it’s certainly the most violent mainstream Hollywood action film I’ve ever seen. It’s rather like the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan stretched out to 80 minutes. (Rambo is listed as having a 91 minute running time, but it’s got nearly 11 minutes of end credits.) All that said, is Rambo a good movie? Well, yes, as an action film, it’s quite good, as Stallone has become very skilled at setting up and staging this sort of thing. The basic plot concerns Rambo being drawn into a rescue mission, led by mercenaries, to save American missionaries being held captive by a Burmese military faction. Save for Rambo, who comes across here as suitably cynical and disillusioned (and truer to the character in the novel that inspired this franchise, according to author David Morrell), all the other characters are painted in pretty broad strokes, however, including the villainous Burmese military, who here are basically updated versions of Nazis. But then I imagine one does not come to a Rambo movie expecting subtlety. So as an action film, Rambo is very effective. As political awareness raising tool, well, not so much, I don’t think, owing to its broad strokes and unsubtle approach, though I suppose if it inspires some of its audience to find out more about the situation in Burma, then it will have made a contribution, anyway. I would not recommend this movie to anyone but hardcore action fans, or fans of the previous Rambo movies, but if you fall into one of those camps, then you’re going to get your money and then some with this film.

P.S. By the way, this is Rambo: Penultimate Blood, as there’s another Rambo movie on the horizon, this time not set in a war zone, according to Stallone.

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)