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Posts Tagged ‘Wesley Snipes’

It is, as Barry Norman always used to say, football results time down at the local cinema, with the current score being Expendables 3, Inbetweeners 2. I know I alluded to going to see Inbetweeners, and I expect I probably will at some point, but there are more important things to consider when there is a new Jason Statham movie on release – even if it is one where the great man shares the screen with about a dozen other people.

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I mean, look at that thing, that’s not a film poster, that’s a school photograph. There are probably more people on it than there were in the screening that I attended, although this was probably no bad thing as the theatre PA was, for some reason, playing the theme from Terminator on a loop prior to the film starting. Now there’s nothing wrong with Brad Fiedel’s magnum opus, but listening to it more than three times in a row puts one in the vein for running amok (it’s a bit like surreal French comedy-dramas in that respect). You could feel the tension ratchet up every time it started over again. (By the way, judging from the crowd I was in with, the demographic Expendables 3 is most successfully reaching consists of middle-aged men, Saudi Arabians, and drunks.)

Anyway, the film finally got underway, thankfully. Proceedings open with chief Expendable Barney (Stallone) and the boys busting a new character named Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of prison, on the grounds that he is an old mate (and so he should be, after Demolition Man and Chaos). Snipes hasn’t really been in a major movie for about ten years, mainly due to his going to jail for real on charges of tax evasion – which this film duly cracks wise about – and he seizes on his role here with gusto. And it is nice to see him back.

After some more of the laborious bromance between Stallone and Jason Statham they all go off to Mogadishu to bust up an arms deal but are shocked when their target turns out to be evil ex-Expendable Conrad Stonebanks, who used to be a respected and popular figure until he revealed what a horrible person he really was. He is played by Mel Gibson, and you can write your own joke at this point. Gibson puts a bullet in one of the minor team members, causing everyone else no end of distress (they obviously still haven’t really thought this ‘Expendable’ thing through).

Confronted, somewhat ridiculously, by mortality, Stallone gathers everyone down the pub and announces that they are sacked, on the grounds that they are too old. Yes, that’d be Stallone (68) sacking Statham (43) on the grounds of unforgivable dodderiness. Hmm. If they all carry on, Stallone declares, it’ll end up with ‘everyone in a hole in the ground and nobody giving a ****’. It did occur to me that even before anyone ended up in a hole in the ground, there wasn’t a great deal of evidence of people actually giving ****s, but this was just ungenerous of me.

The Expendables’ former CIA liaison, Church, has departed (mainly because Bruce Willis wanted a million dollars a day to turn up, which Stallone refused to give him) and been replaced by a new guy named Drummer. He is played, barely credibly, by Harrison Ford. Ford offers Stallone another chance at bringing in Gibson, which of course he jumps at – even if it means assembling a new team of young Expendables to help him do so…

Something really odd starts happening to the film at this point, although it has been on the cards since the start of the film. As you can see, Stallone has run out of superannuated 80s action movie heroes to recruit for these movies (I’m guessing Steven Seagal is too busy hanging out with Putin to answer his phone) and the net has been cast a bit wider, with performers like Ford, Gibson, and Snipes signing up. This continues with the appearance of Kelsey Grammer as a mercenary recruitment agent and Antonio Banderas as a rather excitable Latino Expendable. Not only are these people not known solely as action stars, but most of them are actually charismatic and can genuinely act, and so there are a number of scenes which are genuinely involving or funny in a non-ironic way.

This really wasn’t what I turned up to an Expendables movie to see, to be perfectly honest: I just wanted cheesy old hulks staggering around bleating out one-liners while stuff blew up in the background. Now, it’s true that Stallone is the main character, and there’s also a significant appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, so there’s always a degree of cheesy old hulkiness going on, but even so. The new young Expendables are a highly forgettable bunch – if I say that the most charismatic of the lot of them is a guy who used to be in Twilight, you will get a sense of just how anonymous they are.

And, as I say, it was almost as if I was watching a proper, semi-serious action movie for a bit: the script comes within spitting distance of serious topics connected with deniable government interventions, the use of mercenary troops as a foreign policy tool, and the ethical underpinnings of the concept of ‘war crimes’. And again, this was not at all what I expected. The film was turning out to be much less stupid and ridiculous than advertised, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Thankfully, this attempt to drag the Expendables franchise into less ludicrous territory only lasted for the duration of the second act, at the end of which everything went back to normal and the film became as absurdly predictable as it had ever been. Serious talk of dragging Gibson off to stand trial for war crimes is dismissed by Stallone with a hearty cry of ‘Screw the Hague!’ and everything proceeds to blow up at quite absurd length.

That said, Patrick Hughes’ direction of the action sequences that are crucial to the movie is deeply uninspired, and most of them are just like watching someone else play Call of Duty, which isn’t a great spectator sport. To be fair, he doesn’t let the massive number of characters become a real problem, but it is true that some of the people feel a little underserved – and not just Mr S, either.

There must surely be some serious pruning of the ranks, in the event of this series grinding on for subsequent installments (we are told Pierce Brosnan and Hulk Hogan are already in talks, plus Stallone has been sending up balloons concerning a female-fronted version entitled – oh, God – The Expendabelles). The Expendables 3 isn’t an actively bad film: it’s not as depressing as the first one, or as ridiculous as the second. But the joke is showing serious signs of wearing too thin to be funny, and all concerned might do well to stop while it still has the capacity to amuse or entertain.

 

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Hard though it may be for some friends to believe, I have not yet covered the complete opus of Mr Jason Statham; indeed, there are some films of his that I haven’t even seen. Still, it’s nice to have something to do, even if I’m occasionally moved to doubt my conviction that there’s no such thing as a bad Statham movie.

Recently I have had cause to reflect on the fact that 2005 is longer ago than it feels – to me, anyway. Tony Giglio’s Chaos is a movie from that year, and as a result it qualifies as one of Mr Statham’s earlier vehicles – if we’re going to get very pretentious (and why not) it’s a-movie-with-Jason-Statham-in-it rather than a-Jason-Statham-movie proper. It also features a couple of actors who were reasonably big stars eight years ago but now seem prime candidates for the Where Are They Now? file (well, in one case the sad answer is ‘appearing in Expendables movies’, and I’m not talking about Statham himself).

Anyway. Mr Statham plays Quentin Conners, a detective currently on suspension following a hostage crisis which ended rather badly. But Connors is reinstated when a gang of thieves led by the mysterious Lorenz (Wesley Snipes, prior to his extended sojourns in Namibia and the prison system) attempt to rob a bank and end up in a tense siege situation. Lorenz insists that the only man he’ll negotiate with is Conners – but why?

The siege ends in chaos – the criminals don’t seem to have taken anything from the vault, but they also manage to avoid being caught. Conners and his team (including new, strait-laced partner Ryan Philippe) have a slim lead to follow, more by luck than anything else – but in addition to catching the bad guys, can they solve the mystery of the robbery that wasn’t?

Chaos is definitely a thriller with pretensions to sophistication, not a straight action movie, and this is another reason why it sits somewhat uneasily within the Statham canon. I know I usually refer to the fact that Jason Statham only ever plays the same character, but this is obviously a bit of a generalisation. In addition to playing the main Jason Statham Character, he also does a nice line in wild-man psychos, charming scoundrels, and either rogue or semi-rogue cops. This last is the mode he’s in here, and his performance is perfectly serviceable (even if he seems to be having one of his frequent off-days when it comes to doing an American accent). Nevertheless, this film is not a star vehicle for him.

Instead it’s a twisty-turny police procedural with an occasional rather ho-hum action sequence mixed in. The opening definitely put me in mind of Inside Man (which actually came out the following year), but this movie has nothing like the same quality, wit, or strength in its performances. To be honestly, I never really cared what was going on or who was doing what to whom – the script just picks elements from a menu of crime thriller staples and assembles them together without much style or invention.

There is a twist ending which I suspect was supposed to make me go ‘Wow! How clever!’, but didn’t: it just struck me as rather implausible and arguably a bit of a cheat. Now, I can’t really carry on talking about Chaos in any real detail without spoiling the twist, so be warned: on the other side of the poster I will potentially ruin this movie’s plot for you in perpetuity. Last warning!

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Statham is actually the villain, orchestrating a series of crimes to get revenge on a system he feels treated him and his partner (Snipes) unfairly following the hostage thing at the start. In order for this to work, the movie has to be extremely selective about what it shows us of the incident which sets the whole plot in motion. Even at the time this felt a bit odd, and it is just a slightly laboured plot-facilitating device.

And, beyond this, Statham’s supposed to be playing a semi-rogue cop, one of those mavericks who’s always being summoned to the captain’s office for a dressing down after a big car chase or whatever. I can entirely believe him in that sort of role; it’s not quite his stock-in-trade, but close enough. But – with all due respect – Statham as some sort of machiavellian planner, a criminal genius? The ending of the film, with him on the phone to Philippe in a rather implausible hat, seems to be trying to recall The Silence of the Lambs, with him in the Hannibal Lecter role. No, guys. I love Jason Statham, but he has his limits. It doesn’t suit his acting range or the back-story of the film.

Given the final revelation, I’m not sure the rest of the plot hangs together coherently, and I don’t really have the desire to watch the film again to check (always a sign a twist ending hasn’t worked properly). The switch also causes structural issues for the film – this isn’t a Statham vehicle, but he’s still the main character, so the sudden promotion of Philippe to protagonist towards the end is a little bit of a wrench.

Still, it’s not awful, just an odd mixture of the preposterous and the dull. No-one really gets a chance to shine in this film, and Wesley Snipes in particularly doesn’t get the screen-time you’d expect (he and Statham barely have any scenes where they’re both in the same room). It’s okay. It’s just very forgettable and a lot less smart than it thinks it is.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 4th 2002: 

What promise to be a bumper couple of years for movies based on Marvel Comics kick off with Guillermo del Toro’s Blade 2, based on the character created by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman for Tomb of Dracula back in the 1970s (okay, comic geek posing over). Now I wasn’t fantastically impressed by Stephen Norrington’s 1998 original, which was let down by flat, unatmospheric lighting, giving it the look of an unusually violent big-budget TV series pilot, but this is a different kind of film entirely.

Blade 2 picks up the story two years on and finds half-human vampire hunter Blade (Wesley Snipes – does he play anyone other than Blade these days?) in Prague, in hot pursuit of the bloodsuckers holding his mentor Whistler (post-modern wild man Kris Kristofferson) captive – yes, I thought he died in the first movie too, proof (as if any were needed) that Marvel long ago put a revolving door on the afterlife. Blade is still routinely carrying enough hardware to open his own ironmongers and insists on wearing sunglasses even down a sewer in the middle of the night (he’s kept his cheery disposition too).

Blade’s reunion with Whistler is shortlived as the pair of them, along with Blade’s teen sidekick Scud (Norman Reedus) are approached by vampire princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) under a flag of truce. They’re taken to see her father, master vampire Damaskinos (Tcheky Karyo, unrecognisable from his appearances in Goldeneye and Kiss of the Dragon [Possibly because this is actually not Tcheky Karyo but Thomas Kretschmann, a different actor entirely. Sigh. – A]), who reveals that a species of mutant vampire is on the loose. These creatures, known as reapers, prey on both humans and the undead, and the vampires want Blade’s help in exterminating them. Realising the reapers will turn on humanity once vampirekind has been wiped out, Blade agrees to help, leading an elite group of vampire warriors known as the Blood Pack. But has he been told the whole story…?

Let’s not beat about the bush: Blade 2 is an arse-kicker of a movie. The action sequences are the equal of those in The Matrix or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, filled with a furious energy and style. More traditional suspense thrillers like Aliens seem to have been an influence too, particularly in the sequence where the Blood Pack stalk (and are stalked by) reapers in the sewers of Prague. Snipes is a commanding presence at the heart of the movie – it’s not the sort of thing the Academy tends to notice, consisting mainly of looking stern, grunting one-liners, running around and hitting people, but he’s very good at it.

This isn’t really a pure horror movie, but if your tastes run to the icky you’ll be well served here. The bloodletting, gore and general gruesomeness reach operatic levels. Decapitations, characters getting sliced in half, autopsies, bifurcated mandibles, Blade 2 has them all in abundance (especially the bifurcated mandibles). Fun for all the family.

But, I’m glad to say, it has a bit of depth to it too. David (JSA) Goyer’s script has a rich subplot concerning trust and loyalty – Blade is leading a team of assassins originally assembled to kill him. Should he really be collaborating with his sworn enemies? Doesn’t he have more in common with his enemy’s enemy, the reapers? And has Whistler’s allegiance been altered by his time as a captive of the vampires? Is there anyone Blade can trust?

Del Toro brings a lot of style and atmosphere to the movie, mostly lit in rich oranges and browns and piercing blues and greys. The European setting harks back to the original vampire legends and allows for homages to some of the earlier classics of the genre. It also explains the eclectic cast the director has assembled – including (okay, he’s American, but still) cult movie specialist Ron Perlman (Name of the Rose, Alien Resurrection, the Beauty and the Beast TV show and this Christmas’ Star Trek: Nemesis), Danny John Jules (his first appearance provoked a loud whisper of ‘Isn’t that the Cat from Red Dwarf?’ in the row behind me), and the bloke who played the gay handyman in This Life, all as Blood Pack members. A remarkable make-up job means you don’t realise the leader of the reapers is Luke Goss from late-80s pop aberration Bros until the closing credits are rolling.

As a piece of high-octane horror, Blade 2 does all you could wish of it, managing to eclipse the first movie in the process. If you liked the original, this one will blow your mind – and if you didn’t, well, there’s always ET The Extra Terrestrial showing again on the screen next door. Roll on Blade 3.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published December 16th 2004:

Sometimes it seems you can’t keep a dead man down. David Goyer’s Blade: Trinity is the second film this year to feature Dracula as its main villain (the other, of course, was the rather overwrought CGI-fest Van Helsing). This time around he’s played by Eric Cantona lookee-likee Dominic Purcell – people seem terribly keen to bring the Count back, only to completely reimagine his image and demeanour. Very strange…

Rather cutely, in Goyer’s film Drac has been hiding out in Iraq, from whence he is extracted by a posse of vampires led by Parker Posey (who seems less keen on drinking blood than chewing up the scenery), as part of their scheme to bring about the ultimate vampiric domination of the world. The exact details of this scheme are a bit vague, but less so is their plan to sort out their dhampiric nemesis Blade (Wesley Snipes) by framing him for a series of murders he… well, he actually has been committing in the course of the previous two movies. Sure enough Blade is apprehended by the FBI and seems destined for a long spell in a rubber cell.

But help is at hand in the form of younger and chattier vampire-slayers Abigail (Jessica Biel), who’s the Buffy-clone daughter of Blade’s mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds). They also have a scheme: theirs is to rid the world of vampires forever, and it’s a bit less vague than the bad guys’. And so the stage is set for the ultimate undead rumble: Blade vs Dracula!

Okay, this may sound a rather goofy premise given the Blade series’ gritty track record but in a strange way it does go back to Blade’s earliest roots, as a supporting character in the Marvel comic Tomb of Dracula. (Sadly, Snipes does not sport the bubble-afro hairdo Blade was fond of back in the early 70s.) And one of the distinctive things about Blade: Trinity is that it is rather more comic-bookish in tone than the first two films – partly this is down to the presence of comic-book characters like King, but it’s also there in the tone of the plot and many of the action sequences.

This is hardly surprising given that, in addition to being one of Hollywood’s preferred writers of superhero movies, David Goyer writes very good comic books himself. But what is a bit unexpected is the way he falls victim to a syndrome quite common to graphic writers writing film scripts: this movie is packed with interesting ideas, but none of them are really properly developed before being abandoned in favour of something new. And he commits the basic error of focussing on new characters rather than the established stars: Snipes’ rumoured gripes about lack of screen time are arguably justified – Abigail and King get a lot of attention and most of the best lines.

But having said that, there are a lot of nice scenes and memorable moments – my favourite being the point where Dracula goes into a specialist horror store and, understandably aghast at seeing all the crappy merchandise with his name on it, slaughters everyone inside. And Snipes gives arguably his best and most rounded performance as Blade to date, making it even more of a pity he doesn’t get more to do. In the end the film resolves itself through FX-laced martial arts sequences, as usual, which Goyer handles well enough.

Compared to the first movie this is a worthy enough piece of work, but it fails to approach the quality of Guillermo del Toro’s Blade 2 in any way. Blade: Trinity will probably entertain existing fans of the franchise, but newcomers may well be left wondering exactly what the fuss is all about.

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