The Films of Antoine Fuqua
The Replacement Killers (March 9/16)
Antoine Fuqua's directorial debut, The Replacement Killers follows Chow Yun-Fat's elite assassin as he's forced to fend for his life after he's marked for death by a powerful Asian gangster (Kenneth Tsang's Terence Wei) - with Chow's character, John Lee, enlisting a beautiful forger (Mira Sorvino's Meg Coburn) to assist his increasingly perilous endeavors. It's a familiar (to say the least) setup that's employed to consistently (and relentlessly) generic effect by Fuqua, with the movie, though appreciatively short, lurching from one over-the-top action set-piece to the next with little thought to pacing or momentum. Fuqua's slick sensibilities highlight the emptiness of Ken Sanzel's less-than-thoughtful screenplay, and it's perhaps not surprising to note that both Chow and Sorvino are trapped within the confines of flat, one-dimensional characters. (The movie's last-minute efforts to indicate romantic feelings between John and Meg fall laughably flat, to be sure.) The only thing preventing The Replacement Killers' complete failure is a smattering of admittedly effective action sequences, with shootouts at a functioning car wash and in a crowded movie theater certainly standing out as energetic examples of Fuqua's comfort with such moments. The end result is a barely-watchable time-waster that wastes the talents of virtually all involved, and it's ultimately impossible not to wonder what Chow, making his English-language debut here, was thinking when he signed up for the project.
Bait (November 1/01)
Bait is a really good 80-minute actioner trapped inside an overblown, erratically-paced, two-hour mess of a movie. Jamie Foxx overacts and mugs his way through the entire running time, but strangely enough, this isn't the biggest problem with the film - with the severe overlength the most egregious issue here. This is a story that can be summed up in one sentence - a determined agent hunting for a vicious killer puts the word out on the street that an ex-con has knowledge of the whereabouts of a stash of gold stolen (and lost) by said vicious killer - and yet the narrative manages to limp along for nearly two hours (118 minutes, to be exact). Director Antoine Fuqua tries to keep the pace lively by throwing in a lot of visual pyrotechnics, but alas, boredom invariably creeps in after the set-up has been established. And since Foxx isn't able to create a compelling character at all (or even likable; his over-the-top shenanigans will have you cheering for the bad guy to just off him already), it's very difficult to care about what happens to him. The supporting cast is great, though, with David Morse, Doug Hutchison, and David Paymer stealing scenes - yet that's hardly enough to elevate this trainwreck to anything more than a barely-entertaining way to spend two long hours.
Tears of the Sun (March 3/03)
Tears of the Sun marks Antoine Fuqua's first film since Training Day, and it's a complete and utter misfire. The movie attempts to take a serious subject - the slaughter of indigenous Africans by Muslim rebels - and simplifies the material to such an extent that even five-year-olds would be rolling their eyes. Fuqua and screenwriters Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo show an incredible amount of disdain for the viewer by assuming that they're too stupid to figure anything out for themselves. Fuqua's bias is clear from the word go, but what comes as a bit of a surprise is just how dull the film is. His first two movies, The Replacement Killers and Bait, were almost too flashy and action-packed - while his last film, Training Day, contained showy visuals without sacrificing story and characters. Here, he's gone too far in the opposite direction. Presumably because he thought this was an "important" film, Fuqua has essentially abandoned the kinetic style of his previous works. Tears of the Sun is drab and dreary - both in its look and tone - and this feel is exacerbated by the unsalvageable script. Most of the story takes place at night, and it is, as a result, impossible to tell the various soldiers apart (except, perhaps, for Bruce Willis' A.K. Waters). Stylistically speaking, there's nothing extraordinary or even interesting here, as Fuqua and his cinematographer, Mauro Fiore, keep things dark - even when it's daytime. The cast members are consistently shrouded in shadows, while the ever-present forest eventually becomes suffocating. Having said that, the scarce fighting sequences are undeniably exciting and quite violent - something lacking from the majority of so-called action flicks. Still, that's not enough to make up for the cookie-cutter characters and eye-rolling plot developments. By the time the end rolls around, and a tearful fugitive is thanking Willis' character, stifling incredulous laughter becomes a real challenge. Among the supporting performers, only Cole Hauser (as a conflicted soldier) manages to make any kind of impact. Willis gives his now-standard stoic everyman performance, while Monica Bellucci is forced to don a ridiculously loose fitting top - causing some sequences to seem as though they'd be more at home in Baywatch: Nigeria. Tears of the Sun is a mess, plain and simple. Clearly it's been designed to educate clueless Americans about a terrible situation, but surely there could've been a more subtle way to do that.
Lightning in a Bottle
Click here for review.
King Arthur (February 11/05)
It's becoming increasingly clear that Antoine Fuqua should probably stick to films that revolve around the streets, ie Training Day. With Tears of the Sun and now King Arthur, it's obvious that the filmmaker's slick sense of style just isn't compatible with certain kinds of movies. And though King Arthur is very well acted and not nearly as interminable as Tears of the Sun (then again, not much is), the movie never quite becomes a thoroughly engaging experience (despite several admittedly gripping sequences). Clive Owen stars as the title character, while Keira Knightley (and her disturbingly puffy lips) plays Guinevere (other figures from the Arthurian legend, including Merlin, Galahad and Lancelot, also pop up). This abundance of characters contributes to a distinct feeling of confusion in the film's opening half hour, which is frustratingly talky and completely ineffectual at establishing any kind of backstory for these people. The script, by David Franzoni, emphasizes dialogue that doesn't sound remotely authentic; there's an overly rehearsed, theatrical quality to it (ie characters give speeches rather than have conversations). This review applies to the direct-to-DVD "director's cut," which extends the film by around 20 minutes yet curiously drops a humorous subplot involving Ray Winstone's character. As a result, it's hard to ignore the movie's lack of flow; the story peaks at around 75-minutes with a battle on an enormous patch of ice, and it's all downhill from there. While the performances are quite good (Owen, Winstone, and Stellan Skarsgård are the obvious highlights), the film remains an instantly forgettable, wannabe epic.
It's not often that one complains of an action movie not being mindless enough, but that's precisely the problem with Shooter. Director Antoine Fuqua - working from Jonathan Lemkin's screenplay - has infused the film with a surprisingly talky sensibility that's exacerbated by an emphasis on exceedingly tired elements (including a hopelessly routine conspiracy and an entirely needless romantic subplot), and although there are a few admittedly effective action sequences here and there, the film ultimately comes off as an overlong and surprisingly uninvolving bore. Mark Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger, an ace sniper who finds himself recruited to help stop a potential assassination; problems ensue after he's framed for the crime and forced to go on the run. That Wahlberg offers up a competent yet wholly uncharismatic performance proves to be the least of Shooter's problems, as much of the film's running time is devoted to superfluous instances of exposition; one can't help but wish that Fuqua would just get on with it already, and there's little doubt that the filmmaker's efforts to mix social issues with random bursts of violence fall flat (he doesn't fare quite as poorly as he did with Tears of the Sun, however).
Olympus Has Fallen (July 8/13)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Olympus Has Fallen details the chaos that ensues after the White House is successfully taken hostage by North Korean terrorists - with the President's (Aaron Eckhart's Benjamin Asher) only hope for rescue lying in the hands of a disgraced Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler's Mike Banning). It's a seemingly foolproof premise that is, to a slight yet palpable degree, squandered by Fuqua, as the filmmaker, working from Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt's screenplay, simply isn't able to generate the excitement and tension that one might've (naturally) anticipated - with the movie's midsection, which mostly follows Banning as he skulks about the White House's dark, cavernous tunnels, proving especially problematic in terms of thrills. It's rather disappointing, really, given the strength of the villains' initial attack on the executive mansion, as this almost astonishingly violent sequence contains precisely the sort of energetic feel that's sorely missing from the remainder of the proceedings. (Fuqua's incompetent handling of the movie's hand-to-hand fight scenes - ie shaky camerawork and quick editing - certainly doesn't help matters.) The end result is a pervasively uneven Die Hard variation that admittedly does fare better than most of Fuqua's output, with the filmmaker's consistent reliance on misbegotten directorial tricks not quite able to sink what is undoubtedly a can't-miss setup.
Based on the 1980s television show of the same name, The Equalizer follows Denzel Washington's Robert McCall as he reluctantly helps a teenage prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz's Teri) and is subsequently drawn into a battle against Russian mobsters. Filmmaker Antoine Fuqua has infused The Equalizer with a remarkably gripping feel that's in place right from the get-go, which is all-the-more-impressive given that the movie is, in its early scenes, concerned primarily with the protagonist's low-key, day-to-day exploits. (It's worth noting, however, that a fair amount of suspense exists even during this opening stretch, as it's clear immediately that there's much more to Washington's character than meets the eye.) The slow build ensures that The Equalizer's first major action sequence, in which McCall takes on a room full of armed thugs, is far more electrifying and engrossing than one might've anticipated, with the movie, past that point, progressing into an unpredictable yet episodic midsection that wears its small-screen origins like a badge of honor (ie McCall moves from one "case" to the next). It's all quite watchable, basically, although it's difficult to see the value of McCall's visit with a couple of old cronies - which ultimately does cement the feeling that Fuqua, along with editor John Refoua, could (and should) have streamlined the narrative to, at the very least, a running time shorter than two hours. Such concerns become moot once The Equalizer charges into its absolutely spellbinding third act, with McCall's final confrontation with the movie's various villains, including a scenery-chewing Marton Csokas, delivering everything one could've asked and hoped for (plus maybe even a little more) - which certainly confirms the film's place as Fuqua's most accomplished effort since 2001's Training Day.
A marked change of pace for director Antoine Fuqua, Southpaw follows Jake Gyllenhaal's Billy Hope, a top-ranked boxer, as he's forced to make serious changes to his personal life after a devastating tragedy. Southpaw boasts a strong first act that's heightened by the atmosphere of gritty realism, with this vibe certainly perpetuated by star Gyllenhaal's absolutely captivating turn as the central character - with the actor's Oscar-ready performance matched by an above-average supporting cast that includes Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker. The decidedly familiar trajectory of the movie's narrative is, as such, not quite as problematic as one might've assumed, and it's worth noting, too, that Kurt Sutter's screenplay does contain a handful of surprising developments (eg there's a key death early on that's admittedly quite shocking). Southpaw's tone changes considerably as it progresses into its increasingly melodramatic (and deliberately-paced) midsection, however, with Sutter's script going in a direction that could most accurately described as familiar - as the emphasis is placed on Billy's attempts to rebuild himself as a better, stronger fighter (ie this is straight out of virtually all the Rocky flicks). And although the climactic bout doesn't quite possess the intensity that Fuqua has surely intended, Southpaw's second half benefits substantially from a continuing emphasis on the sweet relationship between Gyllenhaal's character and his young daughter (Oona Laurence's Leila) - which, in the end, confirms the movie's place as a far-from-fresh drama that nevertheless manages to pack a punch (so to speak).
The Magnificent Seven
Antoine Fuqua's weakest movie since 2007's Shooter, The Magnificent Seven follows the title characters (Denzel Washington's Chisolm, Ethan Hawke's Robicheaux, Chris Pratt's Faraday, Vincent D'Onofrio's Horne, Byung-hun Lee's Billy, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo's Vasquez, and Martin Sensmeier's Red Harvest) as they agree to help a small community fight a vicious industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Though it opens with some promise, The Magnificent Seven grows less and less interesting (and involving) as it progresses through a ludicrously overlong running time - with the film's curiously deliberate pace preventing the viewer from connecting to the thin narrative or one-dimensional characters. (It's worth noting, in terms of the latter, that none of the actors manage to create a wholeheartedly compelling or sympathetic figure, although Washington sure does come close with his haunted protagonist.) The film's distressing failure is due almost entirely to Fuqua's reluctance to pare down the story to its basics, with the midsection, which revolves around the title figures teaching the locals how to fight, faring especially poorly due to its heavy, heavy emphasis on repetition (ie most of this stuff could've been covered in a single montage rather than a solid chunk of the second act). It's clear, too, that the movie's final stretch suffers from a similar problem, as Fuqua and scripters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk offer up a series of action sequences that just seem to go on forever (ie the relentless barrage of gun battles and explosions quickly grow interminable) - which, despite an appreciatively over-the-top bad-guy turn from Sarsgaard, confirms The Magnificent Seven's place as a seriously misguided and misbegotten remake.