A First-Class McAdams in a Second-Rate "Red Eye": Also, "Four Brothers" and "Valiant" Print
Movies - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Tuesday, 30 August 2005 18:00

Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy in Red EyeRED EYE

Wes Craven’s Red Eye is the beneficiary of an original, intriguing leading character and, in Rachel McAdams, exactly the right performer to play her. A good thing, too, because the movie doesn’t have a lot else going for it.

The movie isn’t dull, and you do have a fair degree of curiosity in seeing how the story will resolve itself, but I submit that the reasons for that are based almost entirely on McAdams and her role as hotel coordinator Lisa Reisert; remove her, and you’re stuck with a cheesy, plot-hole- and coincidence-ridden endeavor that would be laughable if not for the actress’s sincerity. McAdams’ natural empathy and honest, unshowy performance makes Red Eye play far better than it probably should – you want Lisa to escape her predicament just so she can land safely in a nice romantic comedy.

On a late-night cross-country flight, Lisa finds herself seated next to the handsome stranger she flirted with at the airport – the unfortunately named Jack(son) Ripner (Cillian Murphy, exaggerating his syllables in sinister fashion) – who tells Lisa that unless she uses her magical concierge powers to help him assassinate the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, his ground team will have her father (Brian Cox) killed. It’s a fine, simple setup for a paranoid thriller, or at least it would be if you could believe a minute of it. But the terrorists’ master plan for the execution is convoluted to the point of inanity – I probably shouldn’t be giving this away, but it involves a land-to-air missile being fired off a fishing boat – and, despite Murphy’s reptilian gaze, Red Eye just doesn’t have much menace. If it weren’t for the thudding, oppressive score insisting, “Isn’t this nerve-wracking?!”, you’d be hard-pressed to even call Red Eye a thriller.

An air of phoniness lingers over the whole film; the in-flight characters feel like castoffs from an unfilmed Airport sequel, and the movie trots out the contrivances by the truckload. (You just know that, at a critical juncture, the heroine’s cell phone will “unexpectedly” die.) Yet you stick with it for McAdams. Her character is established as a first-rate problem-solver with a tortured past, and damned if there isn’t a world of subtext playing in McAdams’ eyes; watching Lisa try to think her way out of her situation using her intelligence and customer-service skills is more dramatic – and infinitely more exciting – than Craven’s inevitable chase scenes and action climaxes (though the director does pull off a great bit involving a ball-point pen). Red Eye is mediocre stuff, but it’s the perfect movie for this stage in the wonderful McAdams’ career. Without even seeming to try very hard, she commands the screen with a beautiful, lived-in performance; she might be the most affecting female lead to grace a thriller since Sandra Bullock boarded the bus in Speed.

 

Andre Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Wahlberg, and Tyrese Gibson in Four BrothersFOUR BROTHERS

In John Singleton’s Four Brothers, a lurid revenge melodrama wherein a quartet of foster siblings attempts to avenge the murder of their mother (Fionnula Flanagan), sullen, perpetually pissed-off Mark Wahlberg and Garrett Hedlund play the siblings of Tyrese Gibson and OutKast’s Andre Benjamin, and their unlikely brotherhood was about the only element of the movie that I bought. Audiences are generally adept at suspending their disbelief for a couple of hours, but Four Brothers is one of those ridiculous head-scratchers that cause you to glance at your moviegoing companion with a look of “What the hell … ?” every couple of minutes; I looked at my notepad after the lights came up and all I saw were question marks.

Allow me to share a few. If the boys’ mother was, as presented here in visions and flashbacks, such a pillar of rectitude and a beacon to the community, why did her four charges turn into such unrepentant thugs? Why do the cops investigating the murder (a terribly used Terrence Howard and Josh Charles) not confiscate the videotape of the killing that was taken at the crime scene? Why, for that matter, are the movie’s cops so unremittingly stupid throughout the film? Why does Wahlberg’s character keep dousing people with gasoline while threatening to set them on fire, and why are we expected to cheer for him when he does this? Why is Gibson stuck with a nagging, all-purpose-pain-in-the-ass girlfriend (Sofia Vergara) whose shrieking continually grinds the movie to a halt? (And here’s one just for those who’ve already seen the movie: At the movie’s end, how on earth does Wahlberg get to the assassination site? Helicopter? Sled?) What is that wonderful actor Chiwetel Ejiofor doing here? Why are the movie’s comic bits so grave and its serious scenes so laughable? And where, oh where, did John Singleton the Director go, and why, with the god-awful 2 Fast 2 Furious and now Four Brothers, has he been replaced with John Singleton the Hollywood Hack?

 

ValiantVALIANT

As a rabid fan of the BBC comedy series The Office, I always assumed I could be completely happy listening to Ricky Gervais, with his inspired cluelessness, yammer away for hours on end. Then I sat through his vocal performance in Disney’s Valiant, which deals with a flock of homing pigeons performing heroic feats during World War II, and which is such a waste of Gervais’ gifts for casually tossed-off hilarity that I wanted to cry. Can we please declare a moratorium on funny animated sidekicks who don’t do or say anything remotely funny? Just a few months back, in Robots, we were forced to endure Robin Williams lending his manic, if-I-just-keep-talking-no-one-will-realize-how-unamusing-I-actually-am shtick to a middling CGI entertainment, and now, not only is Gervais left stranded, but John Cleese and Tim Curry and (as in Robots) Ewan McGregor are stuck delivering uninventive, sentimental dialogue bracketed by weak puns – the film’s Colonel Klink stand-in hisses, “We have ways of making you squawk” and such. That the talent assembled only contributes vocal performances to the film is the only thing keeping the actors from looking bad.

The movie isn’t terrible. It’s just incredibly bland, and the animation doesn’t have the texture or detail that would make the work, even with its weak script, any kind of visual treat. (And is it me, or does McGregor’s pigeon, with his bright red beak and oversized feet, more closely resemble a circus clown as enacted by the Ugly Duckling?) Nothing – and I mean nothing – about Valiant is the least bit surprising, from the film’s aggressive musical score that does all the emoting for its characters to the requisite gastrointestinal humor (with an avian bent, of course). When Valiant’s heroic birds took to the skies with a mighty cry of “Let’s make wind!” – twice – I heard one little kid in the audience chuckle while the other dozen remained silent. Maybe even the movie’s core audience has become tired of gags this obvious. Or, more likely, maybe the kids were just asleep.


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