Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Specialist

1.5/4

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, Eric Roberts

Rated R for Strong Violence, Sexuality, and Language

With Marvel movies, sequels and reboots dominating the summer movie landscape, it's easy to look back fondly at an earlier time when action movies succeeded not by the size of the budget or a built-in audience, but by the skill of the people making them.  Movies like "Speed," "The Rock," "Air Force One," "Independence Day" and others make me nostalgic for those times.

Of course, not every movie of the 90's was as good as those movies.  "Turbulence," "Mercury Rising," and "The Last Boy Scout" were also released at that time.  Despite having a decent concept and the physical appeal of Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone, "The Specialist" belongs in the latter camp.

May Munro (Stone) wants revenge.  Years ago when she was a little girl, her parents were murdered at the hands of the not-so-nice wise guy Tomas Leon (Roberts).  Now, she's trying to entice explosives master Ray Quick (Stallone) to help her wipe the whole Leon family off the face of the earth.  Ray doesn't want anything to do with her, because of course, he doesn't do this sort of thing.  But when she decides to take them on herself and gets into trouble, he leaps into action.  And that's just what Ned Trent (Woods), Ray's old CIA partner-turned-right hand of the Leons, wants.

"The Specialist" doesn't aspire to be more than a formula action picture.  That's okay, because this is the kind of high-concept action thriller that can work despite a routine plot.  Provided, of course, that it's well-written and executed.  Sadly it's not.  The script is lame and the direction isn't much better.  The word "pedestrian" comes to mind when describing them.

The role of an action hero demands a larger-than-life persona, which is why guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Keanu Reeves can succeed in this arena despite the fact that they're not the male version of Meryl Streep.  Stallone should know this better than anyone, having starred in the "Rambo" movies and numerous other action pictures.  Yet he underplays the role.  It's a decent performance, but it belongs in a different movie.  Rather than intense or heroic, Ray looks sad.  Sharon Stone does what she can, but considering the bland dialogue she has, it isn't much.  She and Stallone have chemistry, but that doesn't help the fact that the barbs they trade are goofy rather than pithy, and that their obligatory sex scene seems like something out of an R-rated Bond movie (the accompanying score by John Barry further enhances this connection).  James Woods, playing the frothing at the mouth villain, looks like he'd rather be anywhere else.  In the right role, he can be delicious fun to watch on screen, but here he seems bored...mainly because few of his trademark wisecracks have any wit.  And Rod Steiger is sorely miscast as Joe Leon.  He does as good of a job as he can, but this is so obviously a "Kirk Lazarus" thing that it's almost offensive.  Eric Roberts is slightly more successful, but that's it.

I was surprised at the subpar direction of Luis Llosa.  Not only are the action scenes ineptly staged, there's no atmosphere (two things that made "Anaconda" so much fun).  Characters are poorly fleshed out and Luis Llosa doesn't even bother to camouflage the holes in the story (of which there are many).  People come back from the dead a lot in this movie.

I suppose there is a certain irony in calling a movie this lame "The Specialist."  However, it will only dawn upon those unfortunate enough to actually watch it.

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