Monday, September 7, 2015

War

1/4

Starring: Jason Statham, Jet Li, John Lone, Ryo Ishibashi, Sung Kang

Rated R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Violence, Sexuality/Nudity and Language

Gaston: Lefou, I'm afraid I've been thinking...
Lefou: A dangerous pastime-
Gaston: I know.
 I thought about those lyrics from "Beauty and the Beast" while I was watching this monstrosity of an action movie.  I don't expect great storytelling from an action movie, but I do ask for something that holds my attention and quickens my pules.  Is that really too much to ask?  For Phillip G. Atwell, who made his directorial debut with this film, and Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley, who wrote it (or at least are the only ones who are credited, the answer would be yes.

There is a war going on between the Chinese Triads and the Japanese Yakuza.  Someone betrayed someone else, or someone slaughtered the other's family.  I don't know...the movie had kind of lost me at this point.  But that's just background.  An FBI agent named Crawford (Statham) is involved because an assassin known only as Rogue (Li) is being used by one or both of the gangs, and he wants revenge because Rogue iced Crawford's partner and his family.  But Rogue isn't who he seems.  He's playing both sides against each other for his own ends.

Sounds interesting enough, but the reality is less sunny.  This is a flashy but empty-headed action movie with no interesting characters, no good performances and a half-baked plot.  It isn't as bad as "The Corruptor," but it comes close.

I'll concede that using brainpower isn't exactly a welcome requirement for an action movie.  But what else was I going to do with my time when I was watching it?  So let's examine the one of film's central characters Rogue for a second here.  He's built up to be an assassin of Keyser Soze's ruthlessness, but neither the director nor Li know how to make him menacing.  Rogue never looks menacing and Li's limitations as an actor prevent the character from being any more than a humdrum villain.  Then there's the tiny detail of how Rogue earned his name (and managed to stay alive for so long).  Supposedly he uses a plastic surgeon to change his face every six months (whom he then murders to cover his trail).  This isn't possible, but since it's a movie I'll let it slide ("Face/Off" took this concept to sensational effect).  But it got me thinking...what's the recovery time for a surgery like this?  Surely it's not an outpatient procedure, so it seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time to spend a day in surgery and a few months in recovery just so you can play assassin for another month or two.

I know, I'm not supposed to think that hard in a movie like this.  But the truth is that the limited, if perverse, enjoyment I got from that loophole is the only good thing about this movie.  The acting is stiff, even by established actors like Jason Statham and John Lone.  Part of that is due to the completely bland dialogue they've been given, but that doesn't absolve them of all the blame.

The action scenes aren't good either.  They're badly choreographed and hyper-edited...whatever happened to real filmmaking?  "Speed" didn't rely on ostentatious camerawork or rapid-fire editing, but it packed more adrenaline into it than most other movies could ever hope to.  I looked on Atwell's iMDb page and found that he is indeed a music video veteran.  Shocker.  I also found  that he has done nothing since this movie.

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