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Posts Tagged ‘Reese Witherspoon’

It is what people used to call the silly season, when not much is happening in terms of conventional news, and so the more traditional papers are falling back on hopefully-interesting non-news stories. Catching my eye the other day was another piece speculating about the identity of the next James Bond, despite the fact that Daniel Craig has yet to retire and in fact has another film in the works. Current favourite, allegedly, is Idris Elba, which – as I have discussed before – strikes me as a somewhat questionable move (angry mob, please assemble at the usual place). I’m rather more taken by the prospect of the 3/1 second favourite, who is an actor I can actually imagine playing a recognisable and interesting version of Ian Fleming’s character – Tom Hardy.

I’ve been impressed by Hardy for quite some years now, not least by the way he has kept plugging away and overcome some dubious early career moves (his turn as the Picard clone in Star Trek: Nemesis, for instance). Talent will out, it seems – however, if you check through his filmography to see his track record when portraying suave, lady-killing spies, the first piece of evidence which leaps out at you is not in Tom Hardy’s favour. It is in a spirit of public service, and sympathy for the actors concerned, that I must speak of McG’s 2012 film This Means War.

This movie concerns the activities of a pair of CIA agents, played by Hardy and Chris Pine – it is stated quite clearly that Hardy is British, so what he is doing in the CIA is anyone’s guess, but that’s just the level of attention to detail you can expect from this film. Pine and Hardy are partners, and as the film opens they are embarking upon a mission in Hong Kong to capture a pair of international arms dealers. The level of professionalism of this pair is foreshadowed by the way they end up having a gun battle in a crowded bar, killing one of the people they were supposed to apprehend, with his brother escaping to swear revenge. The duo’s boss (Angela Bassett, basically playing the same role as in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, though I strongly doubt the two films are in continuity) confines them to their desks in Los Angeles.

It turns out that Hardy has split up with the mother of his child, and, gripped by nebulous but powerful sentiments, he joins an on-line dating site. (Yes, even though he is a top international spy.) Here he connects with Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a sort of lifestyle guru who has trouble committing to personal decisions: it transpires she was added to the site by her wacky best friend (Chelsea Handler, saddled with some particularly subpar material). Hardy and Witherspoon are somewhat taken with each other when they meet, but what should happen then? Well, after leaving Hardy, Witherspoon goes into the local DVD rental store (I tell you, this one scene dates the film like you wouldn’t believe) and has another cute-meet with Pine, who has been hanging around in case Hardy needs a hand getting out of his date.

The DVD store cute-meet scene is particularly notable in that it is especially smugly written, with Pine and Witherspoon trading repartee about their deep knowledge of movies and preferences within the field. Except, and this is barely credible, given this film was actually (by definition) written by a screenwriter, neither of them has a clue what they’re talking about, confidently asserting that any Hitchcock film from between 1950 and 1972 is a good choice (one word rebuttal: Topaz).

Well, anyway, the final piece of set-up occurs when Pine and Hardy, both having disclosed they are in a new relationship, discover they are dating the same woman (Witherspoon, crucially, is unaware the two men even know each other). Despite initially having a gentlemen’s agreement to be reasonable about this, this naturally breaks down, with most of the rest of the film taken up with their (it says here) hilarious attempts to impress Witherspoon while sabotaging the other’s chances. (Meanwhile the vengeful arms dealer from near the start occasionally pops up in a B-story, setting up a somewhat obvious climax.)

The best thing you can say about This Means War is that it is visually appealing, on a solely aesthetic level. Basically there are lots of bright colours (garishly so, which sort of matches the cartoonishness of the plot), with extremely attractive people living in immaculately styled apartments. Should you engage with it on any level beyond the utterly superficial (and this includes actually listening to the dialogue), however, this is a very lousy movie.

I watched this movie scratching my head and trying to work out what genre it actually belongs to: it has cute-meets and allegedly comic scenes, but also gun battles and fights and a big car chase. Presumably it is intended to be a sort of mash-up of the action-comedy and rom-com genres, with something for everyone going out on date night. Well, what it really comes out resembling is a rom-com aimed at jocks, which is a novel idea, in the same sense that making ladders out of rubber would be a novel idea.

Let me explain: your typical rom-com is primarily aimed at a female audience, regardless of whether the protagonist is male or female – they are invariably sympathetic and charming enough for the audience to identify with. However, in this film Witherspoon is essentially treated as an attractive trophy for the two men to joust over, too dumb and self-obsessed to notice all the weird stuff going on around her. The two male leads are alpha-jocks and it’s really not clear whether they’re genuinely interested in Witherspoon for her own (undeniable) charms, or just overtaken by the urge to outperform their former friend.

Of course, this leads us onto another major problem, which is that the film is just not very funny. Not only is it not funny, but most of the unfunny comic material is rather questionable: both Hardy and Pine deploy the full apparatus of the intelligence establishment in order to get the girl, which means that Witherspoon spends most of the movie under CIA surveillance with her apartment bugged. Unauthorised government surveillance – that’s the stuff of real comedy gold, folks! There’s also a lot of very broad stuff about Hardy shooting Pine with a tranquiliser gun to stop him having sex with Witherspoon, Pine following their car with a drone (Hardy shoots it down with his handgun), and so on.

Reese Witherspoon, who I have always found a fairly agreeable performer, genuinely seems to be trying her best in a very unrewarding role. What’s more interesting is what’s going on elsewhere, for as well as the in-story contest between Pine and Hardy as characters, there is also the issue of which one of them takes the acting honours. Well, it may be that I am biased, but on several occasions I have come away from movies having been very impressed by a Tom Hardy performance, while the best I can say for Chris Pine is that once in a while I have been rather impressed by a film in which his performance was competent. It may in fact be that Tom Hardy is going easy on his co-star and not giving it 100%, but he still easily steals the movie from him.

The resolution of the actual plot of the film is another matter. While watching it, I was scratching my head (again; a lot of head-scratching went on during This Means War) trying to work out how they would conclude the story. Whichever one of the guys Witherspoon chose, I thought, it would risk disappointing that section of the audience rooting for the other one (although I suppose we should be grateful she even gets given a choice). For her to assert herself and (with justification) give both of them the boot would constitute too severe a violation of rom-com norms. The only other option (the three of them settling down to some kind of menage a troi, possibly involving Pine and Hardy admitting to having more than fraternal feelings for each other) would clearly be much too innovative and interesting for this kind of film. Needless to say, the movie bottles it.

Oh well, you can make bad films and still be a good James Bond (just look at some of the things Sean Connery was doing in the late 1950s), and we can only hope that This Means War doesn’t count against Tom Hardy too much. The fact remains, though, that this is one bad movie – not simply because it is unfunny, and unreconstructed, but also because of the way it treats a deeply suspect premise in such a knockabout manner. No-one emerges from this one with any credit.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published January 1st 2003:

Well, look, here’s the deal: I was staring New Year down the throat, sitting there comfortably on a grand total of 42 cinema visits in the whole of 2002 – an auspicious total for a Hootoo Post contributor, I think you’ll agree. And I was happy with that. But then Mpea and Spea came to stay and we thought we’d go out and see a movie (as opposed to sitting watching Speed for the Nth time). Following the usual tough negotiations we decided to risk going to see a new movie rather than watching Bond or the Towers again.

So we went to see Andy Tennant’s Sweet Home Alabama. It should really be called Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama, despite Tennant’s dubious use of the possessive credit at the top of the movie. This isn’t so much a star vehicle for Witherspoon as something that’s been vacuum-moulded around her. Without her there wouldn’t be a movie (something the bus stop posters for this film appear to have owned up to, inasmuch as they consist solely of a grinning headshot of the star).

Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming New York fashion designer who manages to be a successful go-getter while remaining a sweet and loveable person (the film earnestly tries to impress this upon you). Her loveability is confirmed as she is proposed to by posh bloke Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), a Kennedyish type whose mother (Candice Bergen) is the mayor (that she is the bad guy and that this movie is near-total fantasy are both confirmed by the fact that we’re expected to believe that she, the elected mayor of New York, is a Democrat). Mel accepts the proposal but then realises she’ll have to return home to her white-trash Alabama roots for the first time in seven years – because she still has a husband (Josh Lucas) back there she has to divorce. But has she completely put her past behind her? Or will the old feelings bubble to the surface?

Well, all together now – of course she hasn’t and of course they will. This much should be obvious, because we are in rom-com chick-flick territory where happy endings all round are marginally more certain than the rising of the sun each new day. The real question with this kind of film is, does it lift the spirits, bring forth gaiety and – most importantly – make you laugh?

Now I’m the first to agree that as a curmudgeonly old git I’m not the intended audience for this kind of film, so the fact I found it only sporadically amusing and not at all emotionally involving may not count for much. But I noticed that even in a packed theatre, no-one else was laughing much for the first hour of this film (emotional involvement is of course trickier to judge). As a romantic comedy this isn’t very romantic or very funny, and as a drama it’s too frothy and predictable to work, too often mistaking sentimentality for sentiment. (Not that there aren’t involving moments – one of the film’s big emotional scenes opens with Witherspoon sobbing at the grave of her dead dog, and true enough it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.)

This kind of culture-clash wedding-preparation schtick was done much more successfully earlier this year in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which worked mainly because the ethnic stereotypes in question were presented vibrantly and affectionately. Sweet Home Alabama presents both urban New York and the wilds of Alabama in an equally colourless way (presumably not wanting to alienate its potential audience in either constituency). The same goes for the two male leads, both of whom appear to have been selected for their minimal charisma and screen presence (presumably so as not to risk upstaging Reese Witherspoon). Quite frankly I couldn’t have cared less as to whether she ended up with the spineless socialite or the faintly-creepy backwoods obsessive, and caught myself thinking back fondly to Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in similar roles in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

A star vehicle needs more than just a star to succeed. Witherspoon does her formidable, spunky, perky best, but the rest of the film is too bland and timid. Yes, there are more laughs once Mel’s fiance arrives in Alabama, but it’s really too little too late – the end result is a film that lacks the warmth and charm it needs to hide how mechanical and obvious and trite it really is. For a much better film along vaguely similar lines, watch Grosse Point Blank instead. Awix nixes this hick pic.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 19th September 2002:

Of all the great British film companies of yesteryear, Ealing Studios is second only to Hammer in terms of reputation and brand recognition. In the 1940s and 50s they released a string of razor-sharp and socially astute comedies about the British character and way of life, many of which are on the list of gold-plated all-time classics: The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and (my personal favourite) The Ladykillers.

Well, guess what – Ealing are back in business and their first release in this, their centenary year is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, adapted and directed by Oliver Parker. It’s the story of fairly strait-laced Edwardian gent John Worthing (Colin Firth), who lives in the countryside most of the time, and who has invented a fictitious brother Ernest whom he pretends to be when in town visiting his ladyfriend Gwendoline (Frances O’Connor) (she has a thing about men called Ernest). Meanwhile his caddish friend Algy (Rupert Everett), smitten with John’s ward Cecily (bussed-in American starlet Reese Witherspoon), pops down to the country to see her, masquerading as the non-existent Ernest too (she also has a thing about men called Ernest). When the two ladies both get engaged to ‘Ernest’, not realising he’s two different men, things get complicated – especially with Gwendoline’s terrifying mother (Dame Judi Dench) on the warpath…

It’s clear from the start that The Importance Of Being Earnest is aiming to be the kind of high-quality literary adaptation that we have a reputation for doing quite well in this country. And the production values are appropriately high, and the cast has – mmmmm! – that cachet of class about it: Anna Massey and Tom Wilkinson are in there too.

But for all these good intentions, the producers have obviously decided to go for the multiplex dollar. One can excuse the imported American star, as many a British film that can’t afford Hugh Grant opts to hire one, but the big surprise here is the nature of the comedy. Think Oscar Wilde and you think of throwaway witty aphorisms, social comment, a touch of satire and maybe Stephen Fry in a wig (if you’re me you also think of Blake’s 7 and Stuart Townsend’s appearance as Dorian Grey in next summer’s blockbuster The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but in this film the comedy is much, much broader. There is a quite shocking level of over-acting from virtually the entire cast (Dame Judi is obviously the exception) and the script even includes pratfalls and a running gag about tattooed arses in its relentless pursuit of big laughs. I got the strong impression the cast enjoyed making the film more than I enjoyed watching it, which is never a good sign.

And it doesn’t feel like an Ealing comedy, either. It doesn’t have the edge, or insight, or lack of sentimentality: it’s just a very broad, very gentle, knockabout romantic comedy. Wilde’s most famous lines all show up but they seem weirdly out of place. More ambition would have been better. This isn’t a bad film, it’s actually quite amusing – but, for all its CGI London skyline and big name cast, it feels more like a TV adaptation than a film in own right. Gosford Park for people with short attention spans: if you want to see it, you’ll lose nothing by waiting for the TV premiere.

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