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I’ve been grumpy all week for all sorts of reas­ons and the last thing I needed was a week­end of crappy films but that’s what I got. I mean, I’m spend­ing longer writ­ing this review than the writers of Fast & Furious or 17 Again spent on their scripts – put togeth­er, probably.

The improb­ably named Burr Steers is the dir­ect­or of 17 Again but that’s where the fun stops. Matthew Perry plays a 37-year-old former high school bas­ket­ball star who chose the love of his preg­nant girl­friend instead of a col­lege schol­ar­ship and dug him­self deep into a dowdy life of fail­ure and regret. A mys­ter­i­ous bearded jan­it­or, a bridge (a frankly insult­ing homage to It’s a Wonderful Life) and an unspe­cified magic­al event put him back in his buff 17-year-old body which he uses to re-engage with his chil­dren and get to know his wife again.

I’ve got some time for the tele­vi­sion ver­sion of Matthew Perry (did you see “Studio 60”?), and des­pite his tra­gic cinema career choices he remains a com­ic act­or who is unafraid of (or unable to sup­press) the sad­ness behind his eyes. Unfortunately, he dis­ap­pears after 15 minutes to be replaced by High School Musical ’s Zac Efron, a smug pretty-boy with some dance moves and no cha­risma and it is he who car­ries the film to its des­ol­ate conclusion.

Every gen­er­a­tion gets a body-swap film – mine got Tom Hanks in Big thank you very much, and I feel a little sorry for kids today who will doubt­less feel nos­tal­gic for 17 Again the way their aunties are for 13 Going on 30.

Munters who have been pin­ing nos­tal­gic­ally for Vin Diesel and The Fast and the Furious have had their pray­ers answered. Some poor career choices for Diesel and oth­er ori­gin­al star Paul Walker mean they reunite for more crash, bang, wal­lop and some tedi­ous teas­ing over the dif­fer­ences between souped up imports and muscle cars. Diesel’s Dominic Torretto is back in LA look­ing for the killer of his one true love (Michelle Rodriguez) and Walker’s Brian O’Conner is back at the Bureau look­ing for a drug-trafficking king­pin. And if you thought they might be look­ing for the same per­son, then you could well be right.

I’d respect this film more if there was more real car stunts and less digit­al enhance­ment. The rest of it is just lifeless.

Muay Thai hero Tony Jaa burst on to the scene in 2005 with the earthy action-comedy Ong-bak and his remark­able phys­ic­al cap­ab­il­it­ies (along with a seem­ing absence of any fear) promp­ted com­par­is­ons with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan – he was going to be the next big Asian action hero. It nev­er quite worked out that way and his new film (Ong bak 2 – no rela­tion to the ori­gin­al apart from the title) demon­strates why that might be. Even when he’s under­tak­ing extraordin­ary feats (run­ning on the backs of a stam­ped­ing herd of ele­phants is the stand-out in this film) he’s a charm­less per­former who is almost impossible to warm to.

This Ong-bak is a big budget his­tor­ic­al epic dir­ec­ted by Jaa him­self and he plays a young prince, orphaned by rebel­lion, cap­tured by slave traders and then res­cued by ban­dits. Trained by a blind monk and a friendly ban­dit father-figure, he rises to the top before going in search of the usurp­er who now has the throne. Exceedingly, and repet­it­ively, viol­ent Ong bak 2 numbs you into submission.

Hong Kong detect­ive flick Infernal Affairs was an indie and art­house hit a couple of years ago and spawned a Hollywood remake, The Departed, dir­ec­ted by Martin Scorsese. The Sniper , by Dante Lam, shares a little of the look and feel of Infernal Affairs without any of the intel­li­gence or depth. An élite marks­man from the Hong Kong police spe­cial forces has gone rogue. Known as Lincoln (Xiaoming Huang), he sup­posedly is the only guy who can hit a tar­get from 500 yards in a cross-wind but now he’s bat­ting for the oth­er team.

Rookie OJ (Edison Lam) has the same bull-headed arrog­ance as Lincoln and may be the only one who can stop him – if the powers-that-be ever let him off the leash. Nothing more than stu­pid macho head-butting and if this film gets remade by Hollywood it won’t be by Scorsese – more like Lee Tamahori I should think.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 22 April, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: 17 Again, Fast & Furious and Sniper were all viewed at Readings pub­lic screen­ings and the Fast & Furious crowd would have to have been the messi­est I have ever seen. Perhaps they can­’t actu­ally dir­ect the pop­corn into their mouths and that’s why it ends up all over the floor. I’m sure this is the reas­on why we all get treated with con­tempt at the mul­ti­plex – because some of us deserve it. Ong bak 2 was at the Embassy and was too loud, even for me.


  • Robyn says:

    Burr Steers wrote and dir­ec­ted “Igby Goes Down”, which I really like. And my body-swapping film was “Freaky Friday” – the ori­gin­al with Jodie Foster, who was the coolest cine­mat­ic girl role mod­el out there, even though the Disneyfied end­ing of the film was rubbish.

  • dano says:

    Then Mr Steers must join the list of those dir­ect­ors who make a splash with their first “indie” coming-of-age film and who then get revealed as com­plete hacks. I’m think­ing Gary Winick (Tadpole) and the next con­tender will be Jonathan Levine (The Wackness).
    [quote comment=“”]Burr Steers wrote and dir­ec­ted “Igby Goes Down”, which I really like. And my body-swapping film was “Freaky Friday” – the ori­gin­al with Jodie Foster, who was the coolest cine­mat­ic girl role mod­el out there, even though the Disneyfied end­ing of the film was rubbish.[/quote]