Longtime readers of this blog may remember my review of the film, Albino Farm. The film featured wrestler Chris Jericho in a tiny part, and I warned everyone at the outset of that review to learn from my experience and never watch a horror movie simply because one of your favorite wrestlers happens to be in it. Let me now extend that warning to action films. Not all, perhaps, but at least some. You must tread carefully.
Bounty Hunters is a Canadian production originally titled Bail Enforcers (terrible name), and it serves as a vehicle for former WWE Women’s Champion, Trish Stratus. It’s a very slight film that runs just a spare 80 minutes including credits, and while I didn’t consider my time entirely wasted, I did find that I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of an episode of something like Nikita than I did from this.
Let me start by saying that I don’t know if bail enforcement is carried out the same way in Canada as it is in the United States, but I suspect not. Especially when said bail-enforcement agents carry weapons like these do. If I had to guess, I’d say that Bounty Hunters is meant to take place somewhere in the USA, despite the presence of profoundly Canadian-accented Boomer Phillips as comic relief, and the very visible Ontario license plates scattered around the production. Whatever the case, if you’re prepared to go along with the silly, TV-level escapades of Trish Stratus and company, all this Canadian-ness doesn’t matter at all.
The film starts in flash-forward because it is unfortunately heavily influenced by the now-dated Quentin Tarantino style. A standoff between the bounty hunters and a couple of criminals in a warehouse could lead to the death of Stratus’ character, Jules, who opens the picture with a little voiceover narration that thankfully doesn’t reappear for the rest of the running time.
Director Robert Altman is probably best known for movies like Nashville and MASH, movies with large casts, complex and overlapping dialogue and a very slice-of-life feel. Which makes something like Quintet, a highly obscure film from 1979, a deeply strange artifact indeed. Altman never made anything like it before or since which is, as I’m about to explicate, a very good thing.
Altman made experimental films during his career, but he never made anything as experimental as Quintet, a starring vehicle for Paul Newman that has essentially no plot, extremely threadbare dialogue and off-kilter characterizations. It’s also probably the most unpleasant-to-watch film Altman ever made, because in addition to flattening out all the scenes so that they were as sterile and (literally) cold as possible, he further chose to rim the camera lens with a circle of Vaseline to give the impression that everything is being watched through a frosty window. It’s a bizarre affectation that actually begins to hurt the eyes after a while, because although the center of the image is in focus and completely clear, Altman continued to compose around the edges, which were blurry and made everything indistinct and blob-like.
What is Quintet about? Well, it’s about an Earth that has undergone some kind of cataclysm and is now a frozen wasteland. No explanation is given for why this would be the case, though we can probably infer that this is a nuclear winter of some kind. Not that any evidence for this is ever presented, but you’ll find yourself trying to invest the (in)action on the screen with some kind of meaning or purpose. Your explanation may be different than mine. So be it.
Anyway, Paul Newman plays Essex, a man who has lived in “the South” for a decade or more hunting seals. But as the film begins he and his girlfriend/wife/companion are headed north to an unnamed city where Essex once lived. The seals, you see, are all gone and apparently pretty much all other life with it. The city is a last-ditch effort for survival, because if people can manage life there, perhaps there’s hope for Essex and his woman.
After inflicting The A-Team on the world in 2010, Joe Carnahan seemed poised to become something of a Michael Bay figure, making very loud, very busy action movies that were too long and generally unpleasant to watch. I really, really, really hated The A-Team, so I was not completely sold on watching The Grey, despite a very exciting trailer that showed star Liam Neeson preparing to fight a wolf more or less barehanded, taping a knife into one fist and several knuckles full of broken glass on the other. I heard good things about it the longer time went on, so when my wife rented the movie for us, I sat down to watch with some trepidation, but with a degree of optimism I might not otherwise have had after the A-Team debacle.
I will say at the very outset of this review, before I say anything else, that The Grey is far and away a better film than The A-Team. Not only is it narratively more cohesive, but it completely jettisons the hyperactive filmmaking techniques that literally gave me a headache while watching that other film and delivers up a truly surprising, thoughtful and suspenseful story.
Liam Neeson stars at John Ottway, a man hired by a huge, unnamed oil conglomerate to live in the frozen wasteland of northern Alaska and protect the other employees from deadly attacks by the wildlife, especially wolves. With his rifle in hand, Ottway is a killing machine, but lest you think that this is another variation of the kind of character Neeson plays in the Taken films, Ottway is quickly revealed to be a psychologically tortured man who has lost pretty much all of his will to live. The film opens with a voiceover narrating the content of a letter he writes to his former wife, though the reason for their parting is not explained until well into the film. The letter is tantamount to a suicide note.
Ottway has nothing in common with the rowdy wildcatters that populate this outpost at the end of the world, and he seems as glad as he’s capable of feeling when it’s time to return to civilization. Boarding a flight out of the snowy wastes, he anticipates… something, but his plans are interrupted by the sudden and catastrophic malfunction of the plane, which goes down in a harrowing sequence that leaves all but a handful of the other passengers dead. It’s ten below zero on the open ice and snow and supplies are minimal. Moreover, the landscape is infested by aggressive wolves attracted by the smell of available flesh.
In 1997, pseudonymous British author Lee Child published the first of what would become seventeen (and eighteen as of this year) novels about a strange, Shane-like protagonist named Jack Reacher. Reacher, as described in the book, is a 6’5″ hulk of a man with muscles so tough they can literally deflect bullets, utterly without mercy when evil is afoot, but otherwise a general misanthrope. He has no job, no family, no ambitions, and simply wanders the country living off his military pension with only the clothes on his back and a travel-sized toothbrush as his possessions.
So based on that description, the very best person to play him would be Tom Cruise. I mean, it just makes sense.
Originally called One Shot, the name of the ninth Reacher novel, this film was renamed Jack Reacher to capitalize on the character’s success. Child has sold over 50 million books to date, so there are a lot of people out there who like these things. Judging from Jack Reacher‘s box office numbers, however, the casting of Cruise in the title role put many of them off and there will likely not be another in the series. But don’t feel bad for Cruise, because he recently announced that he’s doing another Mission: Impossible movie. So there.
The pattern of these Jack Reacher books are almost exactly the same: something bad has happened or is happening and Reacher wanders in to become essential to the resolution of the problem. At the end he meanders off again. That pattern is precisely replicated in Jack Reacher. As the film opens, a sniper very carefully takes up position in a parking garage, not seeming to care at all that his vehicle is being caught on security cameras going to the sniper’s nest, and then sets about cold-bloodedly murdering five random people on a bright, sunny afternoon. But it turns out that it’s all a setup, and the man arrested for the crime is not the one who did the shooting. The captured suspect has only one request: find Jack Reacher.