The Films of Andrew Davis
The Final Terror
Code of Silence
Above the Law (January 19/16)
Steven Seagal's debut, Above the Law follows tough-as-nails cop Nico Toscani (Seagal) as he's drawn into a plot involving crooked FBI agents, a menacing drug kingpin, and a roomful of illegal aliens. There's a lot going on within Above the Law and it's ultimately clear that the overstuffed narrative contributes heavily to the movie's eventual downfall, with the increasingly impenetrable storyline ensuring that one's interest dwindles steadily as time progresses. (It certainly doesn't help, either, that the film moves at a pace that's often unreasonably deliberate.) Having said that, Above the Law unquestionably benefits from Seagal's surprisingly strong turn as the incorruptible central character - with the actor delivering a sympathetic and nuanced performance that one wouldn't have necessarily expected (ie Seagal's work here is a far cry from the apathetic, mechanical nature of his recent output). It's worth noting, too, that the movie boasts a number of impressively thrilling action sequences, as director Andrew Davis effectively exploits Seagal's obvious fighting abilities on an ongoing basis - while also emphasizing a series of larger-than-life set pieces (including a car chase that climaxes with Nico strangling a goon while riding on top of the automobile). Such positive attributes are, in the end, unable to compensate for a hopelessly (and needlessly) complicated narrative, and it's clear that Davis and company would've been well-advised to pare down some of the many story elements.
The Fugitive (June 5/01)
The Fugitive still stands up today as it did eight years ago as the definitive example of how to make a summer movie right (heck; how to make any movie right). Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death. En route to the prison where he is to be executed, he manages to escape after the bus collides with a train. Enter Tommy Lee Jones, a crack US Marshall and his equally crack team - who'll stop at nothing to get their man. There are several reasons that The Fugitive works so well - an excellent screenplay, actors perfectly suited for their roles, crackerjack direction - but really, it comes down to Harrison Ford. He's the center of the movie and he's rarely been better. As Kimble, Ford has to run the gamut of emotions and usually within seconds (witness the entire interrogation scene as an example; he goes from shock to confusion to anger in the space of about one minute). I don't think that Ford got the credit he deserved for this performance (Jones' showier role received all the kudos and accolades, not to mention the Oscar), but would The Fugitive been anywhere as good without him? Hardly. And as for Jones, he is great in the role of Sam Gerard. This isn't just a cookie-cutter dedicated cop - Gerard is as good and detailed a character as any other that has emerged since. He and his team are going to get Kimble no matter what it takes and, as Gerard says at one point, he doesn't care whether or not Kimble is innocent. He's just doing a job. Gerard and his team are incredibly likeable and have a rapport with one another that's familiar and affectionate and snarky - all at the same time. And because The Fugitive was released as a summer movie, there is a lot of action. But - and here is the key difference between this and something like The Mummy Returns - the action actually means something. It's not there just for the sake of blowing stuff up; it's there to further the plot and keep the story moving. Director Andrew Davis keeps a good balance between exposition and action (too much of either would have been excessive), so it's essentially impossible to get bored. The Fugitive is one of my personal favorite movies of all time and for good reason. It's got acting that can't be beat, a script that's funny and intelligent, and superbly crafted action sequences. For pure entertainment, you can't beat The Fugitive.
Steal Big Steal Little
Chain Reaction (July 2/09)
It's not difficult to see why Chain Reaction was received less-than-kindly upon its 1996 release, as the movie often feels like an attempt by filmmaker Andrew Davis to replicate the massive (and entirely justified) success of 1993's The Fugitive. The storyline - which follows two researchers (Keanu Reeves' Eddie and Rachel Weisz's Lily) as they're forced to go on the run after being framed for murder and treason - has been augmented with a number of elements that seem to have been pulled directly from Davis' earlier effort, with the scrappy FBI agents on the heroes' trail undoubtedly standing as the most obvious example of this (ie their similarities to Tommy Lee Jones' squad of U.S. Marshals are more than overt). There is, however, little doubt that the film boasts a number of extremely effective (and downright enthralling) sequences that ultimately justify its existence, as Davis does a superb job of peppering the proceedings with one impressively conceived and executed chase sequence after another (ie Eddie flees from the cops by climbing a raised drawbridge, Eddie and Lily use an airboat to escape some baddies, etc, etc). It's only as the narrative becomes becomes bogged down with increasingly convoluted attributes that one's interest begins to dwindle, with the subsequent lack of momentum ensuring that Chain Reaction generally only works in fits and starts (which is yet another reason the movie is simply unable to live up to the precedent set by its propulsive predecessor). The end result is a decent (but far from spectacular) thriller that's generally kept aloft by its performances and action sequences, and it's worth noting that despite its problems, the film remains a cut above most contemporary examples of the genre.
A Perfect Murder
Holes (April 17/03)
Holes is based on an acclaimed children's book by Louis Sachar, and the film often feels as though every single plot element from said novel has been crammed into the screenplay (which was also written by Sachar). It is, as such, not surprising to note that the film never quite works primarily because it tries to do too much. The narrative follows teenager Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) as he's sentenced to 18 months at a juvenile facility called Camp Green Lake, where a number of inmates are ruled over by an assortment of adults of varying kindness (including Jon Voight's Mr. Sir and Tim Blake Nelson's Dr. Pendanski). Aside from the primary storyline involving Stanley's exploits at Camp Green Lake, Holes boasts (or suffers from) two flashback stories that are more of a distraction than anything else. One, involving an ages-old curse, is a complete waste of time as it doesn't really add anything to the story (and features a terrible performance by Eartha Kitt). The other, detailing a romance between a schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) and a local handyman (Dule Hill), eventually does turn out to have something to do with the rest of the film but by that point it's almost impossible to care. Even the primary storyline seems to finally run out of ideas, as it eventually morphs into an adolescent version of Gerry - with Stanley and a camp buddy wandering through the desert. Admittedly, director Andrew Davis does a commendable job of ensuring the whole thing never becomes confusing, but that's not enough to hold the interest of most viewers. Holes will likely work a heck of a lot better for those who've read the book, which is no doubt a lot more cohesive and comprehensive - especially when it comes to the backstory. Still, the film does boast some superb performances, with relative unknown LaBeouf surprisingly effective in the central role. He's got a naturalistic style of acting and never seems as though he's merely reading lines out of a script; a trait that's not entirely common among young performers. The other kids at the camp are fine, if completely interchangeable. But it's Voight who leaves the biggest impact on the film. Sporting a ridiculous toupee and speaking with a Southern accent, Voight's over-the-top performance is probably the most enjoyable aspect of Holes - an otherwise unmemorable kids flick.
Although infused with an almost overwhelming air of familiarity, The Guardian ultimately comes off as an old-fashioned, irresistibly earnest piece of work that generally succeeds in spite of its reliance on exceedingly hoary cliches. Kevin Costner stars as Ben Randall, a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer who reluctantly accepts a job as an instructor after a routine mission goes disastrously awry - while Ashton Kutcher plays the brash young cadet that Ben takes a special interest in. Screenwriter Ron L. Brinkerhoff has blanketed The Guardian's midsection with a record number of training sequences, which - when coupled with the inclusion of several entirely needless subplots - certainly contributes heavily to the film's bloated running time of almost two-and-a-half hours. And yet, there's something strangely engrossing about all of this; director Andrew Davis does a nice job of punching up some of the more eye-rollingly silly elements within Brinkerhoff's script, while both Costner and Kutcher are able to effortlessly transform their archetypal characters into compelling, surprisingly textured figures. The authentic, genuinely thrilling rescue sequences cement The Guardian's status as a thoroughly agreeable crowd-pleaser, though it's clear that the film is destined to hold very little appeal for viewers who are unable to buy into the well-worn premise.