Posts Tagged ‘Eva Mendes’

It may well come as a surprise to you to learn this, but someone once took exception to my general principle of referring to the Dungeons & Dragons-loving actor known to his parents by the name of Mark Sinclair as ‘the great Vin Diesel’. Vin Diesel is simply not that great, ran the argument. He is a man of limited range. When he is not doing a Fast & Furious movie or playing Riddick, the chances of you wanting to see what he’s been up to are frankly quite small.

And I suppose there is a case to be answered here. But, as I’ve often said, the Fast & Furious movies are generally pretty entertaining ones that you have a good time watching, and this is surely reflected in the massive success of the last few episodes. And if you should doubt the importance of Vin Diesel to the whole undertaking, all you need to do is watch the only one he makes no appearance whatsoever in, John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, from 2003.


With Diesel off making xXx at the time (possibly not a great career move, Vin), the only major character from the original to make an appearance is Brian O’Conner, played as usual by Paul Walker. O’Conner has left his former career as an undercover cop and is now making a living as a professional street-racer in Miami. Unfortunately his past catches up with him when he is nabbed by the local cops.

Brian is presented with an ultimatum: go undercover working as a driver for local drugs kingpin Verone (Cole Hauser), or go to jail. He agrees, but only on the condition that he can have his old friend Roman (Tyrese Gibson), another boy racer, as his partner on the job. The authorities inevitably agree, and…

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve watched 2 Fast 2 Furious three times, I think, including twice in the last ten days or so. And yet if you asked me what the plot of the film is about, or indeed what happens in the course of the story, I would find myself somewhat stuck. There’s a bit where a car gets crushed by an oil tanker, and a ridiculous CGI bridge jumping stunt, and Eva Mendes in a succession of tight tops (just for a change), and a bit where a guy has a rat trying to burrow into his stomach, and a big chase at the end with some ejector seats and someone crashing a car into the top deck of a yacht. Ludacris, not yet the Q-like techno-wizard his character later becomes, shows up in a couple of frankly startling hairstyles. But it’s almost as if your brain rejects the plot of the movie and refuses to give it headspace.

Or it could be that the film is just a tottering stack of action and racing movie clichés assembled with an eye to slickness and general aestheticism. None of the characters are in any danger of achieving a second dimension, let alone a third. The whole thing is just vapid and feels pointless – there’s never any sense of anything being at stake, the film is just about floating a series of pretty pictures past the viewer.

The most recent time I watched the movie it was in a vain attempt to try and dig into it and find something worth discussing about it – some subtext, intentional or not, some comment on society or the time in which it was made. Somehow I ended up watching it with the director’s commentary switched on, and in the end I decided to go with that as it seemed likely to offer a few insights.

Hmmm. Well, John Singleton earned his place in the history books as the youngest person ever to get Oscar nominated as Best Director (at the age of 23, in case you were wondering). Sadly this seems to have been a classic case of someone peaking too soon, as his work since then has been increasingly undistinguished. The odd thing is that his is the opposite case to that of a successful genre director who tries his hand at making a serious statement and promptly comes a cropper: Singleton started off making socially-conscious dramas about urban life in America, which were generally fairly well-reviewed, only to later switch to making populist fodder which has generally stunk out the theatres it has (briefly) appeared in. However, the commentary on 2 Fast 2 Furious reveals that a startling amount of considered thought seems to have gone into the making of this very generic, rather dumb movie: doubly startling given that Singleton himself declares the film to be all about ‘fast cars and sexy girls’. (Said commentary also regularly features Singleton describing in some detail what’s happening on the screen. This confusion of the ‘director’s commentary’ and ‘audio described for the visually impaired’ functions is generally a sign of a film-maker struggling to find things to say.)

It’s true, the movie is filled with this sort of thing – in places it has an almost cartoony look to it, the result of a Japanese anime influence (it would be nice to think this was a conscious foreshadowing of Tokyo Drift, but I really, really doubt it) – but, as I said, there is nothing underpinning it, at least nothing that Singleton can persuade you to care about.

In fact all you really take away from watching this film is a deeper understanding of Tyrese Gibson’s place in the group dynamic of the other F&F films: here, he’s definitely playing the hero’s sidekick. But in the other movies, the guy who’s the hero here is actually the sidekick. Which means that Gibson has been stuck playing the sidekick’s sidekick for the past three films, which may explain the look of thinly-veiled desperation I’m sure I’ve spotted in his eyes now and then. Maybe he will be able to move up the pecking order a bit in future outings.

What else do I need to say? It’s the one genuinely bad Fast & Furious movie. It really has nothing to commend it beyond the fact it introduces Tej and Roman. It’s one for completists only. We’ve all already wasted too much time discussing it. Let’s move on.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 5th October 2003:

Sometimes cinematic careers run in an odd kind of parallel way, two or more actors or directors collaborating or making similar films at the same time – consider Pacino and de Niro in the early and mid-1970s, or Lucas and Spielberg a little later on. Occasionally such parallel tracks remain in synch, in which case, if the artists in question are successful enough, the popular perception of an era can be established. What’s possibly even more interesting is if their paths diverge – Spielberg has recently hit a vein of impressive, largely gritty and downbeat form, to some critical acclaim, while Lucas’ return to directing has been financially successful but critically pilloried.

Two other directors whose careers have spiralled around each other for many years are Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Tarantino, virtually singlehandedly, started the geekpunk charge out of the video stores and garages and into the movie studio offices, and Rodriguez was amongst the highest profile of those who followed the trail he blazed. Rodriguez directed an early Tarantino script, and Tarantino appeared in more than one Rodriguez movie.

With Tarantino’s first movie in over five years soon upon us, it seems only appropriate that it should be heralded by an offering from Rodriguez. (One difference between the two is in their workrate – Rodriguez has directed more movies in the last three years than Tarantino’s managed in over a decade.) It’s an appropriately old-school exercise in hyperkinetic action, winkingly entitled Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

Johnny Depp, exercising pretty much the same acting muscles as he did in Pirates of the Caribbean, plays certifiably eccentric CIA agent Sands. Sands is involved in a complex scheme to topple the President of Mexico, foil a coup organised by criminal mastermind Barillo (Willem Dafoe), and then clear off with an awful lot of pesos and his exceedingly gorgeous ladyfriend Ajedrez (Eva Mendes). To assist with this he recruits ex-FBI agent Ramirez (Ruben Blades), who has a grudge against Barillo, and a legendary gunslinger known only as El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), who’s dropped out of sight following the murder of his wife (not much more than an extended cameo from Salma Hayek).

From this point on the plot does get terribly, terribly complicated, as there are a lot of characters all of whom are bearing grudges, double-crossing each other, and following their own agendas (frequent flashbacks to Banderas and Hayek’s earlier exploits also appear) – I just about managed to hang on to what was happening by my fingertips. This movie is obviously a homage to the epic spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, but at only 100 minutes or so in length this is a very cramped, half-pint sort of epic, particularly when – alongside all the plot – Rodriguez crams in extended gun battles at fairly regular intervals. This is a film that shows all signs of being heavily edited for length – the plot is incoherent and the characterisation skimpy (although, to be fair, this is something of a stylistic trait in Rodriguez movies, especially Desperado, to which this is a sort-of sequel).

However, the action sequences are as frenetically intense and inventive as any Rodriguez has come up with in the past, and a surprisingly eclectic cast (Banderas, Defoe, Mickey Rourke, Enrique Iglesias) keeps it engaging. The star turn of the movie is Depp, however, as for the second time in not many months he effortlessly blasts the ostensible leading man off the screen with a magnetic performance as the deeply morally ambiguous CIA agent. He’s witty and drolly funny, which matches the tone of the most of the film: this is a romp and not to be taken too seriously. Depp should probably make his next few script choices carefully, though, as he’s in danger of getting a reputation as a Nicholson-style pep-pill to boost underperforming scripts.

If you liked Desperado, it’s a safe bet you’ll like this – gentlemen will enjoy the high action quotient, and any ladies disappointed by the relatively small role played by Banderas will surely find consolation in the amount of Depp on offer. It’s even less thoughtful and considered than the previous film, but makes up for it with ambitiousness and bizarre humour. But it’s becoming obvious that Rodriguez is a director first and a writer second – all his films have terrific camerawork, editing, and visuals, but a distinct lack of depth or characterisation. His style hasn’t really developed in the decade since the original El Mariachi appeared, which is inevitably a bit of a disappointment. But the same can arguably be said of his peers, people like Kevin Smith and Tarantino himself, and at least his films are seldom less than entertaining. Once Upon A Time In Mexico certainly kept me amused, even if it’s nowhere near as substantial as the films it’s a homage to.

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