Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Junk

Common movie knowledge has it that the month of January is the "dumping ground" for all of the bad romantic comedies, ridiculous horror schlock and mind numbing action the big studios don't quite know what to do with the rest of the year. Hopeful that the masses are ready for some fresh trash after the onslaught of "quality" films that came begging for Oscar during the holidays, they unleash these tepid beasts into the new year multiplexes, usually to the sound of money.

Periodically come the January gems, such as The Green Hornet or The Dilemma. More often than not, we get stuck with No Strings Attached, The Rite and The Mechanic.

Simon West is a mercurial action director, adequate at what he does, with an eye for the fast pace and quick temper but nothing much beneath that. His films largely depend upon the strength of the screenplay he happens to be working from. In the case of Con Air and Lara Croft:Tomb Raider, he delivered the goods: fun, mindless Summer popcorn glory with a bit of subtext. His remake of When a Stranger Calls was an oddly engaging chiller heavily reliant on the curious performance of Camilla Belle.

His newest remake, The Mechanic, stars the reliably pokerfaced hunk Jason Statham in another standard actioner his fans should eat up. The script is by the numbers, the visual realization been there, done that. It takes a particularly skilled or talented director to shape a good Statham vehicle, and West is not that man. Aside from the always watchable Ben Foster as the sidekick, this remake of a great Charles Bronson film is far from good.

Mikael Hafstrom is the talented Swedish filmmaker who conjured the disturbing coming of age drama Evil early last decade, then emigrated to Tinseltown, where he crafted two fragile but fascinating genre films, Derailed and 1408. His newest, The Rite, is his first botch job, and not entirely his fault. The demonic possession film has been beaten to death, and working from a hackneyed screenplay doesn't help either. Visually interesting, the picture is pretty much DOA, not aided in the least by a miscast blah lead, a lost Alice Braga or an over the top Anthony Hopkins.

The month is over, and though there will be plenty of bores and overhypes, these two films have all the markings of a studio system desperately attempting to make some quick cash by flashing their January junk all over the country.


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