Three Action Films from Fox
Firestorm (July 26/08)
That Firestorm actually comes off as a fairly decent little actioner can surely be attributed to the steady decline of the genre due to such ineffective efforts as Wanted and Hitman, as the film - eye-rollingly silly as it sporadically may be - boasts an old-fashioned sensibility that benefits from several surprisingly thrilling set pieces and William Forsythe's scenery-chewing turn as diabolical and downright smug villain Randall Alexander Shaye. Howie Long's expectedly wooden performance subsequently proves not to be as problematic as one might've feared, as the footballer-turned-actor generally does a nice job of portraying a typically stoic action hero. The storyline - which follows Long's intrepid firefighter as he attempts to battle a fierce forest blaze and evade several escaped convicts - possesses few elements that most viewers won't see coming from miles away, yet there's something undeniably compelling about the almost cookie-cutter manner in which Chris Soth's screenplay unfolds. The explosion-heavy climax proves to be far more frenetic than one might've desired, although - admittedly - it's hard not to admire the brutality with which Forsythe's character is ultimately dispatched. Dean Semler's refreshingly steady directorial choices (ie no shaky-cam) only cements Firestorm's place as an underrated piece of work, though there's certainly no mistaking the film for anything other than a cheaply-made B movie.
Though hardly in the same league as its myriad of '80s shoot-'em-up forebearers, The Marine generally comes off as an affable throwback that effectively evokes the tongue-in-cheek actioners that defined that decade. The film casts former wrestler John Cena as John Triton, a discharged marine who returns home hoping to start his life over with his adoring wife (Kelly Carlson's Kate). Problems ensue after Kate is abducted by a crew of renegade jewel thieves, which - not surprisingly - forces John to embark on surreptitious pursuit that culminates in a violent showdown with the gang's snarky leader (Robert Patrick's Rome). Director John Bonito's lamentable decision to pepper The Marine with a whole host of egregiously ostentatious visual choices - ie swooping camerawork, slow-motion cinematography, rapid-fire editing, etc - is exacerbated by a needless reliance on computer-generated special effects, while Michelle Gallagher and Alan B. McElroy's screenplay boasts few elements designed to hold one's interest in between the action sequences. Despite such deficiencies, however, The Marine generally manages to skate by based solely on the strength of its unapologetically broad sensibilities - with Patrick's gleefully over-the-top performance certainly ranking high on the film's list of overtly positive attributes. It's subsequently relatively easy to accept Cena's amiable yet entirely inept performance, as the actor possesses an intimidating physical presence that's ideally suited for such an endeavor. Bonito's efforts at disguising the lack of bloodshed necessitated by the baffling PG-13 rating results in an almost unprecedented number of explosions, with the film seemingly setting some kind of a record for sequences in which characters run away from increasingly extravagant blasts.
Max Payne joins Fox's steadily increasing roster of entirely ineffective action pictures, alongside such underwhelming disappointments as Hitman and Live Free or Die Hard - which is a shame given the studio's history within the genre (ie Commando and Die Hard remain two of the best actioners Hollywood has ever cranked out). The movie, based on a popular video game, boasts an opening hour that's almost entirely devoid of violence, with screenwriter Beau Thorne instead placing the emphasis on an overcooked and thoroughly uninteresting storyline involving Russian mobsters, shady businessmen, and winged demons (no, really). The downright stagnant nature of the film's first half ultimately ensures that boredom sets in almost immediately, while Mark Wahlberg - cast as the title character - offers up a closed-off performance that makes it virtually impossible to sympathize with Payne's plight (which is no small feat, really, given that the movie follows his efforts at tracking down the man responsible for the death of his wife and child). The relentless barrage of exposition eventually does give way to an action-packed third act, admittedly, yet such sequences have been infused with precisely the sort of bloodless, hopelessly overcranked sensibility that one has associate with contemporary efforts of this ilk (ie none of this stuff is even remotely exciting). And although the unusually eclectic supporting cast - which includes, among others, Chris O'Donnell, Donal Logue, and Beau Bridges - proves effective in sporadically elevating one's interest (albeit temporarily), Max Payne has little to offer the majority of viewers over a certain age (ie 14-year-olds will probably thrill to Payne's tedious slow-motion antics).