Offhand, I can't think of an acting team more oddly matched, and strangely inspired, than Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro. Talk about your odd couples: Jones, with his clipped, no-bullshit gruffness that gives way to a kind of mellow humor, and Del Toro, with his loopy line readings and eloquent silences (you're always wondering what, exactly, is going on in his head). When both men are at the top of their game - Jones in Lonesome Dove or The Fugitive, Del Toro in Traffic or his brief, brilliant turns in The Pledge and Fearless - they're marvelously vibrant performers, so even if you're dreading yet another routine action picture, the chance to see this duo play opposite one another might be reason enough to sit through The Hunted. The movie, directed by thriller veteran William Friedkin, winds up being little more than a violent screen adaptation of "Where's Waldo?", but Jones and Del Toro, at least, give it some punch.
Set in the Pacific Northwest, The Hunted stars Del Toro as Aaron Hallam, who was a sniper during the war in Kosovo and has returned to the states a paranoid, borderline-psychotic wreck. (In one of the film's first shots of Hallam, Del Toro is posed to look uncannily like a shadowy, sweaty Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, an homage so obvious it's practically a copyright violation.) For reasons that the film never makes clear, Hallam begins a killing spree of hunters in Oregon; he sneaks up behind them, guts them with a handmade knife, and disappears back into the woods. FBI agents are enlisted to hunt Hallam down, and they bring with them professional tracker L.T. Bonham (Jones), who, not so coincidentally, once trained Hallam as a professional assassin. From here on, you know exactly what you're going to get: The Fugitive in snow pants.
Besides Jones and Del Toro, The Hunted boasts a major element in its favor: a paucity of dialogue. Some day, I'd love to get my hands on a copy of the shooting script, as I can't imagine it being more than 10 pages long. There are two extended sequences - a chase scene mid-film and the hand-to-hand-combat finale - that easily run more than 10 minutes without a word being uttered, and they show that, more than 30 years after The French Connection, William Friedkin can still stage action scenes with flair and urgency. (You find yourself even more grateful for the general lack of dialogue when the characters do speak, as almost everything that comes out of their mouths is insipid, particularly when Hallam engages in forced, cloying banter with his ex-girlfriend's daughter.) As a cinematic game of hide-and-seek, The Hunted isn't bad, and as it lasts a mere 90 minutes, it's over before you know it. The film might be motivationally empty and dramatically inert and sometimes ridiculously contrived, but at least it moves.
And, in any case, you can have some fun with its stars. Jones' enjoyably staccato line delivery is matched by his nervy physicality here - when the naturalist Bonham finds himself indoors, he paces like a caged animal and doesn't know what to do with his hands - and Del Toro displays such an aura of repressed suffering and homicidal rage that, while his character makes little sense, he consistently commands your attention. (It's a shame that the filmmakers don't know what to do with Hallam other than make him a generic nutjob.) The only things separating The Hunted from any run-of-the-mill, Steven Seagal-y action pic are the contributions of Friedkin and two top-tier performers, but in a weak movie year especially, you're thankful for whatever moments of professionalism you can find.
AGENT CODY BANKS
By contrast, the "professionalism" on display in Agent Cody Banks makes you want to bash your head against a wall. The film is one of the most cynical, calculating things I've ever seen; there's not a moment of joy or spontaneity in it. In this grotesque rip-off of the Spy Kids flicks, Frankie Muniz plays a 15-year-old master spy who is enlisted by the government to track down some sort of electronic gizmo that can eat through matter and to protect a young girl from evildoers; I'd have paid more attention to the nuances of the plot, but it's hard to concentrate when you're rolling your eyes in exasperation. I often get harangued for picking on the inanity of "harmless" family entertainments like this one, but for God's sake, don't our kids deserve better? Harald Zwart's film is nothing but an extended commercial for high-tech toys - "Mom! I want a cool skateboard like Cody's!" - so it really doesn't matter that nothing in it makes a lick of sense or that it's completely devoid of wit and humor; the movie's sole aim is to sell itself as a franchise. At least the Spy Kids movies have enjoyable performers to get you through the bum stretches. Here, you're stuck with tiresome little Muniz and, as his mentor, Angie Harmon, who appears to be channeling the worst of Ali MacGraw; you know a director doesn't give a whit about actors when even Keith David and Cynthia Stevenson fail to make an impression. Although Agent Cody Banks has obviously been designed as a cinematic babysitter - drop the kids off at the multiplex and pick 'em up two hours later - I wish more parents would sit through the film with them, so they could witness for themselves the sort of mind-numbing tripe Hollywood regularly fobs off as family "entertainment."
I'd be terrified to meet anyone who thinks Boat Trip is even remotely funny. Jerry (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Nick (Horatio Sanz) are two best pals who decide to change their luck with women by hooking up with babes aboard an ocean liner, only to discover too late that ... they're booked on a gay cruise! What results is the stuff of madcap farce and nonstop hilarity ... if it were 1960 and the intended audience was composed solely of half-wits. How does a project like this ever make it off the ground? Director Mort Nathan's film, with its achingly predictable plot and rampant, unfunny stereotypes and nauseating attempts at being politically correct - I'm not saying who, but one of the guys turns out to be a closeted homosexual ... not that there's anything wrong with that ... - wouldn't even be worth discussing if it didn't provide yet another nail in the coffin of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s career. After his forced histrionics in What Dreams May Come, Instinct, Chill Factor, and Rat Race, this once-ingratiating performer seems to be challenging Roberto Benigni for the title of Most Embarrassing Oscar Winner of All Time. With choices like Boat Trip, suddenly the prospect of Snow Dogs 2 looks like a step in the right direction.