During the last two weeks the big studios have done their best to put the rubbish out before the Spider-Man bandwagon rolls all over them.
First, and best, is Shooter which makes the unfortunate mistake of casting Mark Wahlberg in the lead instead of someone with talent (like say, Vin Diesel, or The Rock) but turns out to be a pacy and well-constructed conspiracy thriller directed with wit by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). It helps that all the secondary roles are filled with great wild-eyed character actors like Ned Beatty (Deliverance), Rade Serbedzija (Snatch), Elias Koteas (Thin Red Line) and the legendary Levon Helm, drummer with The Band (and star of Coal Miner’s Daughter back in 1980).
Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, sharpshooter, brought out of retirement to foil a plot to kill the President. He’s been done like a dinner, though, and then has to use all his training (he’s the best of the best, as you might expect) to find out how high this corruption goes: to the the very top is what I’m thinking.
I enjoyed this one in spite of myself and you know a director isn’t taking a film too seriously when all the customers in a hardware store look like the workers in the Tui factory.
Meanwhile, on “Oscar-winner Career Suicide Watch” we witness Halle Berry and Hilary Swank make more poor decisions. In Perfect Stranger, Berry plays a crusading journalist (who writes anonymously, getting the heavy-handed imagery under way early). A girlfriend tips her off about top ad exec Bruce Willis and his multiple affairs and when the girlfriend turns up mysteriously not-alive Berry investigates with the help of computer-wonk Giovanni Ribisi (who actually does most of the actual investigating). Complete rubbish from start to finish.
Swank, at least, turns in a performance in The Reaping where a small bayou town is being visited by biblical plagues. Swank is a religious phenomena de-bunker and is sent to find a scientific explanation for the blood, frogs, boils, etc. She is a former ordained minister who lost her faith when tragedy struck her family in the Sudan. Sure enough, her faith in her atheism is put to the test with predictable results. The Reaping is slick and well-made, with a few jumps, but ultimately disposable.
Our own Karl Urban gets his name above the title for the first time as a Viking Red Indian in the stylishly photographed nonsense Pathfinder. Looking like he’s spent more time in the gym than the actors’ studio recently, Urban plays Ghost, a Viking boy left behind to starve when their first attempt to conquer North America fails (inexplicably). When the Vikings return, Ghost has grown and is the only brave who knows how to wield the iron blade and save the tribe until the bullets come hundreds of years later to do the job properly. The violence isn’t particularly well directed and there isn’t much apart from violence in it, so it’s ultimately very hard to recommend.
Finally, one for those of us that want a quieter life: Driving Lessons is another safe, English, comedy about a young man’s coming-of-age. This time the life-lessons for mummy’s boy Rupert (Ron Weasley) Grint come from ageing acting has-been Dame Evie Walton (Julie Walters pulling out all the stops). Grint’s form of talentless non-acting is ideal for this sort of thing. You already know whether you’ll like this or not; it had me crawling the walls.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times; Wednesday, 2 May, 2007.