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Posts Tagged ‘The Rock’

In my experience, by the time a film series reaches its fifth instalment, one of two things is usually the case: either the dead horse has been flogged to the bone and the whole enterprise is on the verge of dying on its arse and/or going straight-to-video (for example: Rocky V, Hellraiser: Inferno), or it’s entrenched itself as part of the cinematic landscape and shows every sign of carrying on for the long haul (You Only Live Twice, Carry On Regardless). My preconceptions on this score were shaken this week, after viewing Justin Lin’s…

…um, er. If we’re going to be pedantic, I think there’s a little confusion over what this film is called. The film certificate lists the title as Fast Five. The poster, on the other hand, goes for the rather less concise Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist. I don’t recall there being an actual title card of any kind, though I may still have been acclimatising to the film when it flashed by. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, as everyone knows what this film is all about: big growly men driving cars with big growly engines, very quickly and not in the best of moods.

Now I haven’t sat down and properly watched any of the previous four F&F films – not intentionally, I admit. I caught the second one on TV in Japan and was not much impressed, and saw the third one in Russian on Kyrgyz TV and was even less struck. However, great pains are taken to make this outing newbie-friendly while still appealing to the existing fanbase.

Big growly bald criminal mastermind-stroke-boy racer Dominic Toretto (the great Vin Diesel) starts the movie en route to the chokey but is almost at once busted out by ex-cop-turned sidekick Brian (Paul Walker) and his sister (Jordana Brewster). The three of them tootle off down to Brazil intent on keeping a low profile. Unfortunately Vin’s idea of a low profile includes driving cars off the side of a moving train and crashing them into the nearest river canyon, and very soon they are being chased by both Rio’s top drug dealer and the US government. Just to make things interesting the top lawman on their tail is slightly absurd colossus of justice Luke Hobbs, who’s played by the Rock, who’s played by Dwayne Johnson. Of course.

Vin and Walker decide to do one last big job before retiring for good, stealing the entire fortune of the aforementioned drug dealer. To do this they recruit a crack team of characters from previous films in the series. The F&F all-stars include Sung Kang from the previous two pictures, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, last seen in the first sequel, and Gal Gadot who was only in number four. Not that any of this matters: it’s just the set-up for some very silly and thoroughly enjoyable Ocean’s Eleven-inflected caper shenanigans. Or, if you prefer, another remake of The Italian Job where everyone’s been working out a lot. Everyone on the team gets at least one moment to shine, which is rather nice: as I said, every effort seems to have been made to produce a film that will appeal equally to long-term fans and complete newcomers to the series.

I confess I turned up to this movie prepared to scoff and mock it relentlessly, but – halfway through the first major stunt sequence – I found myself actually really enjoying it. It’s not deep, or thoughtful, and it has no pretensions whatsoever – but it is a tremendously well-assembled piece of machinery, for the most part. The script does fall down fairly badly in a couple of places, but usually redeems itself very quickly. Even when it’s absurd, it’s enjoyably so.

The money sequence in this movie comes when Vin Diesel and the Rock engage in a spot of fisticuffs. Wisely, the producers keep it back until the third act, although the two of them do face off earlier on – there’s even a bit where the two of them have a go at parkour, which looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Eventually, though, it can be delayed no longer, and the two big bald growly men face off.

‘Rrr hrrr rrr grr rrr rrr,’ says Vin, profoundly. ‘Uh gruh gur huh ruh gruh,’ the Rock ripostes, and then, rather in the manner of two continental plates colliding, battle commences. This isn’t quite the epochal moment it might have been eight or nine years ago – and the very fact both men are in this movie is an indication of how their careers haven’t gone quite as well as everyone was predicting – but I can’t imagine anyone will be too disappointed by the sight of the Rock trying to ram Diesel’s head through the bonnet of his car, or Diesel hurling the Rock bodily through a window. (Miraculously, neither winner nor loser emerges with more than the faintest of scrapes upon their face.)

(The Rock’s presence also brings with it the fringe benefit that in comparison Diesel looks like a marginally more nuanced performer than usual, but nobody in this movie is really here to do anything more than look good in shades and work a steering wheel in a photogenic fashion.)

With the battle of the big guys out of the way the film does seem to lose focus a little and the climax and resolution seem rather uninspired and over-prolonged, respectively: but not quite enough to seriously spoil the movie.

As I say, this is purely a popcorn movie, but it is a rather good one, and shows no signs of being the last gasp of a moribund franchise. The makers seem to agree, as the conclusion to this sets up yet another outing, which strongly hints at the return of – be still, my beating heart – Michelle Rodriguez. I will certainly be going back to see that one – but, on the strength of this movie, I think I would have done so no matter who was in it. A reliable and extremely competent piece of entertainment.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 25th 2002:

When is a prequel not a prequel? This question occurred to me while watching Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King, which is being marketed as a spin-off from the massively profitable Mummy franchise. Set long before the rise of Imhotep, the film finds the ancient world ground beneath the iron heel of Memnon (Steven Brand), warlord of Gomorrah, who is invincible in battle thanks to his sorcerer’s prophetic powers. The inevitable alliance of rebels hires a trio of warrior-assassins to eliminate the sorcerer – but they’re betrayed and two are killed. The survivor, Mathayus (played by the Rock, who’s played by Dwayne Johnson) reaches his target but – understandably – hesitates when the sorcerer turns out to be the very glam Kelly Hu off TV’s Martial Law in a chain mail swimsuit (her role in the movie is an essentially decorative one but any criticism of this on my part would probably sound rather half-hearted). Escaping the understandably irked Memnon and acquiring the compulsory comedic sidekick (Grant Heslov) – according to the IMDB his character is actually called that! – Mathayus vows revenge on the man who killed his brothers…

And it’s rippling beefcake and alluring cheesecake all the way from this point onwards. Now I can’t stand American ‘wrestling’ and for me alarm bells were ringing from the start at the memory of how the CGI Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns was a better actor than the flesh and blood version, but Dwayne is absolutely fine here. It isn’t a tremendously deep or demanding role, which is probably just as well as Dwayne’s range as a thespian is roughly that of the desk at which I currently sit, but he looks the part, beats stuntmen up with convincing aplomb (hardly surprising seeing as that’s his day job), and delivers a one-liner better than Arnie. He’s well supported by a fairly eclectic cast including the equally muscled Michael Clarke Duncan (I particularly enjoyed the fisticuffs between the two of them) and Bernard ‘Yosser Hughes’ Hill, who actually seems to be doing his own stunts.

Speaking of Schwarzenegger, this film reminded me of his outings as Conan the Barbarian more than anything else. It’s totally unsubtle, faintly formulaic in places, and could only really be described as cutting-edge cinema inasmuch as Dwayne scimitars his way through an improbable number of goons before the proceedings are concluded. But it has something of same tongue-in-cheek style as last year’s A Knight’s Tale, which adds to its charm enormously.

However, it seems to have been edited for length fairly rigorously, to the detriment of the story (two quite major characters pop up, unexplained, having previously been left in very different circumstances). Part of the plot seemed to me to be very obviously nicked from Live and Let Die. But my biggest complaint would be that this is a Mummy spin-off in name only – a bit of a cash-in, truth be told. There’s only the vaguest possible of references to Dwayne’s ultimate destiny as a malevolent special effect, and the ending gives no clue as to how he becomes the nasty piece of work seen in the prologue to The Mummy Returns.

Taken on its own terms, though, The Scorpion King is a cheerful, rip-roaring adventure packed with energy and fun. I can smell what the Rock is cooking, and while it may be a cheesy stew, it’s still tasty stuff.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 8th 2004: 

Well now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, pitching up currently in the UK (many months, it must be said, after its US release under the slightly snappier title The Rundown) is Peter Berg’s Welcome To The Jungle, the latest development in the ongoing cold war to select the top-gun beefcake who will replace Arnie now he’s gone into politics (ha ha ha).

This action romp (rather like an extended episode of The A-Team that’s been crossbred with the 80s Douglas-Turner vehicle Romancing The Stone) is the tale of LA debt collector Beck, who’s played by wrestling ubermensch The Rock, who’s played by Dwayne Johnson. Beck is basically a chilled-out guy who has found himself in debt to a slimy mobster, and all he wants to do is buy back his freedom and open a restaurant (you might expect this rather quirky detail to merely be the set-up for some rotten jokes about exactly what the Rock is cooking, but thankfully the movie resists this temptation).

Anyway, after some jolly pre-credits head-cracking Beck finds himself packed off up the Amazon to retrieve his boss’s wayward treasure-hunting son Travis (a typical goofy-sidekick turn from Seann William Scott). Unfortunately Travis is in a part of the rainforest that’s basically being run as a private kingdom by evil mining tycoon Hatcher (Christopher Walken, phoning it in), much to the chagrin of politically-engaged barmaid Mariana (Rosario Dawson). With Beck needing Mariana’s help to get the hell out of there, and Mariana needing Travis’ help to find a priceless gold statuette which will finance her revolution, and Hatcher basically just wanting to shoot everyone, it’s clear there’s going to be a right old carry-on up the jungle…

Welcome To The Jungle is clearly aimed at an audience of about thirteen years of age, and will probably make a tidy profit if the showing I rolled up for is anything to go by. As such, it doesn’t sully itself overmuch with things like plot or character development or trying to challenge the audience (and there’s none of that soppy kissy stuff either) – but it is rather strong on daft jokes, slapstick, general mayhem, and weirdness. This is definitely one of those movies best partaken of with the higher critical faculties fully disconnected – at one point I caught myself thinking ‘Why are those African baboons living in the Brazilian rainforest?’, but managed to put it from my mind – which makes giving it a proper review a bit tricky.

But I have to say I sort of enjoyed it. The story and action sequences are absolutely nothing special, but Dwayne remains an engaging and charismatic lead, and I suspect I’d back him in a fight against Vin Diesel any day. (In any case, it looks like Vin wants to be the new Stallone.) Dwayne’s case for acclamation as the new Arnie gets a bit of a boost here anyway, as the Governator himself makes a tiny cameo right at the start, presumably to indicate his approbation of the new kid. But quite apart from the star, this is a film with an offbeat charm of its own – there’s a quite extraordinarily bizarre performance from Ewen Bremner as an Oirish bush-pilot with a gammy leg and an unintelligible accent, who sadly isn’t in the middle section of the film at all. Walken is let loose at a couple of points – there’s a very strange moment when he attempts to explain to his goons who the Tooth Fairy is, despite the fact they don’t speak any English. And Berg’s direction, while a bit over the top in parts, isn’t afraid to be more imaginative and quirky than a film like this strictly needs or deserves.

This is by no means essential viewing: Welcome To The Jungle is fundamentally only about providing an agreeable vehicle for its hulking star. But it does this fairly well, and it’s clear Dwayne is trying to make a proper go of it as an actual movie actor – wrestling nonsense is kept to a bare minimum, none of his trademarks feature, and he even stays pretty much fully dressed for most of the film. And the movie has just enough wit, energy, and quirkiness to keep it from being offensively shallow and stupid. Welcome To The Jungle is nothing particularly special, but if you like knockabout action it’ll keep you happy until the proper summer movies come out.

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