Sunday, September 10, 2017


Halle Berry lets nothing stop her in “Pusher” director Luis Prieto’s “Kidnap” (*** OUT OF ****) when two predatory rednecks target her six-year old son for abduction in contemporary Louisiana.  This white-knuckled, adrenaline-laced, highway thriller about a mad mom in hot pursuit who refuses to quit is reminiscent of an earlier Halle Berry movie “The Call” (2013) where she portrayed a veteran 911 operator troubled about the welfare of an abducted teenage girl. “The Call” heroine ultimately teamed up with the victim to wreak vengeance on the murderous dastard who had abducted her.  Similarly, Berry is just as driven to catch up with her son’s kidnappers, no matter what the police advise her.  At one point, a policewoman urges her to wait for the authorities to intervene.  Our protagonist relents momentarily until she notices the glut of child abduction posters on a nearby bulletin board and the years that those children have been missing. Mind you, “Kidnap” is one of those contrived, but entertaining Hollywood thrillers where the police are either off elsewhere when needed or useless when involved.  Ultimately, they show up, but they are too late to make a difference.  Nevertheless, in dramatic terms, their last-minute arrival puts the burden on the waitress mom, facing her own child custody battle with her ex-husband and his girlfriend.  When we see Berry for the first time, she is calm and collected. Before “Kidnap” concludes, she is both disheveled and desperate in her efforts to rescue her son.

In a shrewd but calculated effort to endear Karla Dyson’s son Frankie (newcomer Sage Correa) to audiences, director Luis Prieto has appropriated real-life video of the adorable toddler from Correa’s parents.  The prologue in “Kidnap” shows Frankie as a lovable little fellow.  When the story unfolds, he is six-years old, but still lovable.  Frankie is coloring pictures in the restaurant where Karla (Halle Berry of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) works as a waitress, serving up dishes to diners who aren’t happy.  Sadly, Karla isn’t happy either because she was supposed to have gotten off her shift so she could take Frankie to the city park.  No sooner does she have Frankie at the park than her attorney phones her about her ex-husband’s plans to take her son away from her.  All the racket going on around Karla at the park interferes with her concentration.  She steps away briefly from Frankie to tell her attorney that nobody is going to take her son away from her.  During these short-lived moments, she loses sight of Frankie, and then spots an obese, white woman, Margo (newcomer Chris McGinn), dragging him into her late 1980s’ Green Ford Mustang with a bra over the grille.  Karla scrambles after them, seizes the luggage rack bars atop the car-roof, and is dragged along until the accelerating vehicle jars her hands loose.  Charging off to her red minivan, she drops her cell phone in the street and careens out of the park on the bumper of the Mustang.  As she closes on after them, these fiends hurl everything in the trunk of the Mustang at her.  Happily, Karla swerves out of the path of the debris, but some motorists aren’t so fortunate.  One vehicle tumbles sideways after a spare tire slams into it.  Eventually, the kidnappers hang Frankie’s head out of the passenger’s side door and hold a knife to this throat.  Reluctantly, Karla backs off, but she doesn’t give up her pursuit as easily as the abductors reckoned.

Things complicate quickly when Karla attracts the attention of a motorcycle police officer.  Initially, the cop orders Karla to pull over, but Karla keeps pointing at the Mustang.  Eventually, the cop gets the message, but he finds himself crushed between the recklessly driven Mustang and Karla’s red minivan.  The two cars plow off the highway and onto a grass median where the injured cop crashes his bike.  Karla comes face to face with the kidnappers and tries to bargain with them.  She tosses them her wallet with her credit cards and gives them her pin number in exchange for her son’s life. The tall, lanky, male redneck driver, Terry (Lew Temple of “Lawless”), takes her wallet.  Moments later Karla freaks out when Terry’s mother emerges from the Mustang with the wallet and suggests that Karla take her to the bank to withdraw $10-grand for Frankie.  Naturally, you would never let such a repugnant woman share the same car with you.  Margo slides into the back seat so she can control Karla.  While cruising through an underground, one-lane tunnel, Karla realizes her mistake, and the two women tangle like tigers.  Twisting Karla’s side belt around her neck, Margo strangles her.  Karla ditches Margo, but this isn’t the last that she’ll see of this despicable dame.

Basically, “Kidnap” puts us in the passenger’s seat with Karla as she chases the villains.  Initially, she has little luck catching up with them.  The filmmakers refrain from showing us what little Frankie is enduring until the end when the tension really comes to a boil.  Director Luis Prieto doesn’t pull too many punches because you know our heroine is going to rescue her son.  Nevertheless, our heroine must deal with one infuriating setback after another.  Chiefly, the villains are hopelessly unsavory and have no qualms about endangering innocent bystanders.  Indeed, one pedestrian gets in Terry’s way, and he smashes into her, somersaulting her off the windshield of his stolen car.  Not even the sight of a woman crumpled up on the asphalt in dire need of medical help distracts our brave heroine from letting her adversary escape from her!  Prieto keeps his camera focused tightly on Karla so she is up in our face for the duration of the harrowing chase.  You’ll be pulling your hair out by the roots at the unbearably suspenseful grand finale of “Kidnap” when our heroine finally tracks down Frankie! Clocking in at 95-minutes, “Kidnap” will keep you poised on the edge of your seat.

Monday, August 28, 2017


As the summer doldrums descend upon us with the impending change of the seasons, it is reassuring Hollywood has produced a genuinely entertaining action comedy to tide us over until the major Thanksgiving and Christmas releases.   Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson make a charismatic combo with no love lost for each other in the fast-paced but formulaic thriller “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (***1/2 out of ****) co-starring Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek.  “Expendables 3” director Patrick Hughes proves not only that he can orchestrate some extraordinary stunts involving vehicular mayhem on a modest $30-million budget, but he also gets inspired performances from his gifted cast.  Indeed, you’ve seen variations of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” many times before in road pictures about mismatched heroes, such as the two “48 HRS” movies, “The Rundown,” “The Rookie,” the “Rush Hour” trilogy, the “Lethal Weapon” series, “The Nice Guys,” and “Midnight Run.”  This adrenalin-laced saga benefits from catchy dialogue courtesy of “Fire with Fire” scenarist Tim O’Connor who gives everybody quotable lines peppered with flavorful profanity as well as a plot sizzling with surprises galore.  Of course, you know Ryan Reynolds is going to deliver Samuel L. Jackson as a witness to testify against villainous Gary Oldman before the deadline when the latter can be cleared off all charges against his murderous Eastern European regime.  The destination isn’t as much a revelation as the rollercoaster ride that everybody takes to arrive there in the nick of time.  All too often movies like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” lose steam somewhere in the middle, but Australian director Patrick Hughes maintains the momentum throughout its 118 minutes.  The gauntlet that our bickering heroic pair must negotiate keeps challenging them right up until to the last second. Happily, the gals in this slam-bang, grudge match aren’t destitute damsels-in-distress, but babes that can shoot straight, smash testicles with their feet, and rival the guys with their profanity.  Clearly, sensitive souls searching for philosophical insights about life’s mysteries should shun this implausible but entertaining nonsense.

Debonair Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds of “Deadpool”) is at the top of his game as an elite triple-A bodyguard who will shield any scoundrel who can afford his services.  Bryce knows all the tricks of the trade.  As “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” unfolds, our clean-shaven, well-dressed, suit and tie executive has escorted a notorious Japanese arms dealer, Kurosawa (Tsuwayuki Saotome of “London Has Fallen”), to the airport to bid him farewell when a random shot out of the blue obliterates the arms dealer as the latter is peering out the window of his jet at Bryce.  Our protagonist is stunned beyond expression and watches as his bodyguard service folds.  Initially, Bryce blames his girlfriend, Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung of “Gods of Egypt”), for her lack of discretion. Michael believes Amelia leaked word about the Japanese arms dealer’s presence.  They separate over this breach.  Meantime, genocidal Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman of “True Romance”), is on trial at The Hague in the Netherlands for international human rights violations.  As the trial winds down to its inevitable conclusion, the prosecution cannot seem to keep its’ witnesses alive long enough for them to testify.  The last man scheduled to take the stand against Dukhovich is the world’s deadliest hitman, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”), who refused an offer from him.  Simply said, Kincaid doesn’t murder innocent women and children. He has irrefutable evidence which will seal Dukhovich’s fate.  Basically, Kincaid has cut a deal with the prosecutor to talk if she will release his wife, Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek of “Everly”), from an Amsterdam prison.  As Kincaid later tells Sonia, he doesn’t care if they send him to prison because there isn’t a prison secure enough to hold him.

Interpol sets out to haul Kincaid from Manchester, England, under a heavily armed guard to The Hague.  An informer within the ranks, however, tips off Dukhovich’s top assassin, Ivan (Yuri Kolokolnikov of “Game of Thrones”), about the route.  Ivan’s trigger-happy henchmen ambush the Interpol van and wipe out everybody but Amelia and Kincaid. Kincaid catches a slug in the leg before Amelia and he elude the killers.  She escorts Kincaid to a safehouse where he digs the bullet out of his calf as if he were Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo and bandages himself.  Afterward, Kincaid refuses flatly to cooperate with Interpol.  Reluctantly, Amelia swallows her pride and resorts to Michael for help.  At first, he wants nothing to do with this suicidal kiss of death exercise.  Nevertheless, he caves in to his desperate ex-girlfriend’s pleas.  No sooner have Michael and Kincaid met than they are shoving pistols in each other’s faces. “My job is to keep you out of harm’s way,” Michael reminds Kincaid. “I am harm’s way,” Jackson retorts defiantly.  Since his near miss with death during the ambush, Kincaid has gone to packing a pistol.  As it turns out, Michael and Kincaid discover they are old adversaries, and they spend the rest of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” swapping insults when they aren’t whittling down the army of gunmen that outnumbers them. 

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” indulges in everything action movie fans crave.  Director Patrick Hughes knows better than to let the expository dialogue scenes interfere with the plethora of shooting and killing.  The body count escalates into double-digits, and Kincaid himself knocks off almost thirty gunmen.  Although our heroes cannot perish, life is hardly a picnic as they dodge one barrage after another. Half of the time, Kincaid and Michael are working against each other. For example, Kincaid stomps the brakes during a careening car chase and a surprised Michael performs a header through the windshield but regains his footing without missing a stride.  Ironically, the relationship between them improves as the odds against their survival worsen.  Meanwhile, Gary Oldman arouses our wrath as an appropriately despicable villain who kills without a qualm.  Villains must be hard-boiled in thrillers.  Despite its familiarity, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” delivers everything that makes an action movie unforgettable!

Monday, August 14, 2017


Amateurish writing, directing, and editing undermine director Ian Vernon’s “D-Day Survivor” (** OUT OF ****), an interesting, low-budget World War II indie epic about a ‘lost patrol’ during the historic Normandy Invasion.  A staple of war movies is the saga about soldiers separated from their command with no idea where they are in the general scheme of things.  Clocking in at a sluggish 95-minutes, “D-Day Survivor” generates occasional bursts of violence, but the film loiters all the way to its explosive finale.  The first third introduces the offbeat characters, with a minor skirmish involving attempted homosexual rape.  Eventually, the last third drums up some traditional combat, with an assault on a German pillbox.  Independent filmmakers deserve more leeway because they have nowhere near the resources of their major studio counterparts.  Compensating for his tight-budget, Vernon breaks new ground in “D-Day Survivor” with the depiction of deviant sexuality in the ranks.  Meantime, cinematographer Ivan D. Rennov, who has worked with Vernon on three earlier films, exploits the lush color and idyllic rural setting to make everything appear scenic.  Despite its picture-postcard splendor, “D-Day Survivor” suffers from a hopeless lack of momentum, until an inevitable rendezvous with the French Resistance.  Predictably, the underground allows filmmakers to send a woman into combat and add a trifling romantic subplot. Vernon’s lack of creative polish undercuts his best intentions, but his thematic concerns redeem his derivative narrative.

Mind you, a title with “D-Day” in it conjures up images of Darryl F. Zanuck’s “The Longest Day” (1962), Robert Parrish’s “Up from the Beach (1965), Samuel Fuller’s “The Big Red One” (1980), and Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). Sadly, we see only the “Survivor” and nothing of “D-Day.”  You won’t see any big ships and landing craft with soldiers scrambling across barb-wired beaches while machine guns stitch the sand.  Once you get over missing the historic, June 1944, Allied beachhead landings, you can understand the different direction that Vernon pursues because he lacked the budget to recreate the landings.  Instead, he presents an obnoxious, homosexual, British soldier who holds his unwilling prey at gun point and threatens to rape him.  Nothing like “Deliverance” occurs, but the gay soldier’s aggression makes homosexuals look depraved. You won’t find material like this in most traditional World War II movies, apart from “The Imitation Game” (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch.  Classic novelist James Jones depicted instances of this in his World War II book trilogy that contained “From Here to Eternity” and “The Thin Red Line.”  Vernon scores a first with this unsavory subject matter which would have been objectionable in traditional World War II movies.  Happily, Vernon’s use of the initiation theme, plunging innocents into combat for their first baptism of blood on the battlefield, bolsters “D-Day Survivor.”  These characters and their actions stand out in “D-Day Survivor,” especially a reflective U.S. Army private. The quartet of young men who constitute the collective protagonist here face a gauntlet that shapes their respective fates.  Some characters can be annoying, particularly a vulnerable soldier who repeats virtually every word uttered by the other characters. A hopeless cretin who comes through at the least expected moments, he provides comic relief that is rarely humorous. 

British Army Paratrooper Private Johnny Barrows (newcomer Paul Harrison) finds himself alone in a field somewhere in France.  He bailed out over France with his battalion of paratroopers, but they missed their drop zone (like so many did on D-Day), and the Germans wiped out his comrades, leaving him the sole survivor.  Barrows crosses paths briefly with an affable German soldier, and they swap candy.  Later, our hero differentiates Germans from Nazis during a conversation with an arrogant Gestapo officer, Sturmbannfuhrer Dishelm (Richard Dobson of “Brood Parasite”), that they have captured.  Anyway, as they go their separate ways, the German soldier dies from a bullet in the back.  A British soldier fired on the German after Barrows allowed him to leave. Reluctantly, Barrows joins up with two lost British soldiers, Private Murphy (television actor James Boyland), his moronic, simple-minded friend, Private Fily (Guy Wills of “Looking for Eric”), and a taciturn American paratrooper, Private George (Adam Woodward of “The Black Prince”), who is suffering from shell shock.  This quartet trudge through rural France, with Murphy behaving like a bully.  Eventually, they come upon a U.S. Army jeep, with a dead driver and a defunct American general.  Since both jeep passengers are dead, Barrows suggests that they appropriate the vehicle.  They cruise down a road with Barrows behind the wheel.  Little do they know a German sign warning them about land mines on the road has been knocked down.  They hit a land mine, but they survive the explosion.

Eventually, our heroes ambush three Germans in a staff car and capture a Gestapo officer.  Since he is carrying a satchel of papers, they decide to bring him back alive.  Later, they encounter the French Resistance, and Margaret (Sophie Skelton of “Another Mother’s Son”) helps Barrows and his men launch an attack on a German outpost with a Tiger tank parked nearby.  Tactlessly, the Tiger tank is never utilized.  Presumably, not only Vernon but also our heroes are searching for bigger game.  They find it after they confront a German pillbox that has kept American troops pinned down.  The problem with Vernon’s pillbox is that it isn’t as sturdy as the pillbox that is devastated in an infinitely better World War II movie, Don Siegel’s “The Hell with Heroes” (1962), where exhausted G.I.s sought to stay alive under worse circumstances.  The destructive toll that the pillbox exacts in “The Hell with Heroes’ is extreme.  Comparatively, the “D-Day Survivor” pillbox is a picnic.  Hampered by his shoe-string budget, Vernon focuses on how these young, inexperienced soldiers cooperate to accomplish their objectives.  Only after they succeed as a team are they prepared to destroy the pillbox.  Nevertheless, “D-Day Survivor” qualifies as a routine World War movie.