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|The Hitman with the Heart of Gold: "Bangkok Dangerous," "Babylon A.D.," and "Disaster Movie"|
|Movies - Reviews|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Wednesday, 10 September 2008 02:34|
There are a handful of motion-picture elements that are all but guaranteed to make my eyelids droop, including (a) mopey, droning voice-over narration by a film's tough-guy protagonist, (b) a color palette composed almost entirely of steely grays and blues, the traditional template for the "serious" action thriller, and (c) Nicolas Cage. Consequently, I hit the narcoleptic's jackpot with Bangkok Dangerous, a determinedly, even absurdly solemn outing by directing brothers Danny and Oxide Pang. The film is a remake of the siblings' 1999 Thai-language release of the same name, but not having seen it, I can't imagine that the Pangs' original endeavor could be more glum and exhausting than this revamp; I'm pretty certain it was only my constant head-shaking, at the continued waste that has become Cage's career, that kept me awake.
Bangkok Dangerous finds the actor playing Joe, a friendless, humorless contract killer sent to off a quartet of Asian targets in expensive suits. But since "playing" suggests a modicum of fun, that isn't exactly the right word for what Cage is doing here. Trudging through the movie with an all-too-earnest stoicism and looking nearly as gaunt as the skeleton he embodied in Ghost Rider, any expectations for quick-wittedness or electricity are quashed within his first few minutes on-screen, and your spirits sink further when you realize Joe isn't going to stay a remorseless assassin - he's scheduled to be a remorseful one. As the film progresses, Joe begins to bond with his wallet-lifting sidekick, Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), and engages in a tentative flirtation with the passive deaf-mute, Fon (Charlie Young), and Cage's glowering, monotonous performance grows even more deadening; the actor may be going for "tortured," but a Nicolas Cage without access to his eccentric humor is really just torture for an audience.
Despite the monochromatic hues - would the addition of more primary colors have taxed the movie's budget? - the Pangs do come through with some impressive images; there's an excellent underwater shot showing bullets penetrating a rowboat, and a cleverly composed scene in which Fon, unaware of the violence taking place five yards behind her, is clued in when a droplet of blood lands on her shoulder. But the whole of Bangkok Dangerous is logy, repetitive, and uninteresting, and strangely hypocritical, to boot. In the opening sequence, we're shown how carefully and deliberately Joe attacks his work, going to great lengths to avoid being seen, and when Kong makes the mistake of being tailed by cops, the hitman gives him an earful. Yet when it's time to dispatch the second name on his list, how does Joe accomplish the dirty deed? By racing a motorcycle into downtown traffic, stopping his intended victim's car at a busy intersection, and blasting the vehicle to ribbons with a machine gun. Subtle.
As I'd missed the film during its opening weekend, I wound up catching Babylon A.D. a day after Bangkok Dangerous, so I was a little astonished to see the movie open exactly the same way as the Pang brothers' opus, with the screen awash in those faux-cool, Matrix-inspired blues and grays, and with tediously "hard-boiled" voice-over narration immediately suggesting that there wouldn't be a load of laughs in store. The difference was that this narration was being delivered by Vin Diesel, whose growling, self-serious baritone makes Nicolas Cage sound like Reese Witherspoon, and so I prepped myself for 90 minutes of post-apocalyptic torpor, as the star's monosyllabic mercenary and Michelle Yeoh's martial-arts-trained nun attempt to get from Russia to New York with Mélanie Thierry in tow - a young woman who's part biological weapon, part Virgin Mary, part Summer Glau from TV's Firefly, and a dead-on doppelgänger of Uma Thurman.
Yet considering it's little more than a dumb-ass version of Children of Men, the movie isn't that bad. The plotting and action scenes are all but completely incoherent, but director Mathieu Kassovitz's thriller is filled with sensational futuristic details - the virtual roadmap, jet-plane billboard for Coca-Cola Zero, and TV sets that can't be turned off are a few of the fantastic throwaway touches - and the movie zips by in harmlessly junky fashion, with enjoyable scuzz-bucket turns by Charlotte Rampling and Gérard Depardieu (whose prosthetic nose here is far more distracting than the one he wore for Cyrano de Bergerac). And Diesel, believe it or not, is actually kind of enjoyable in it. He's still a hopelessly bad actor, but Babylon A.D. at least lets him smile every now and again, and whenever he does, the sight is so incongruous with his macho-blowhard posturing that you wind up smiling, too.
I saw the hideously assembled, gruelingly unfunny pop-culture marathon that is Disaster Movie with one other patron in the audience, and after about 20 minutes, nearly every witless gag and lame visual allusion and cheap gross-out resulted in the man sighing heavily, or muttering, "Oh, Jesus ... !", or audibly reacting in a way that suggested just how much he was hating his life during the film's achingly long hour and a half. He was 10 times more entertaining than Disaster Movie itself.
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