Two Thrillers from Fox Searchlight
Best Laid Plans (April 10/08)
Best Laid Plans is an above-average neo-noir revolving around a young couple's (Alessandro Nivola's Nick and Reese Witherspoon's Lissa) increasingly desperate efforts to pay off a $15,000 debt, with Nick's old college friend Bryce (Josh Brolin) inevitably employed as the pair's unwitting cash connection. Director Mike Barker effectively infuses Best Laid Plans with a stylish, distinctly off-kilter sensibility that proves an ideal complement to Ted Griffin's expectedly convoluted screenplay, although - admittedly - there's little doubt that the movie is ultimately a far more straight-forward affair than its set-up might have indicated. The inclusion of an impossible-to-anticipate third-act twist notwithstanding, the film's noirish beginnings eventually give way to a more traditional thriller that's undoubtedly anchored by the superb performances (Nivola is especially good as the harried hero). And while Griffin's dialogue does occasionally lean towards the stagy side, the screenwriter proves adept at offering up a number of little touches that adeptly hold the viewer's interest (ie that seemingly inconsequential forest fire). The conclusion is probably a tad sappier than some viewers will feel comfortable with, yet there's otherwise no denying Best Laid Plans' overall effectiveness.
An entirely implausible yet undeniably entertaining thriller, Street Kings casts Keanu Reeves as Tom Ludlow - a grizzled, play-by-his-own-rules cop who's forced to go off the grid after he's implicated in the death of a fellow officer. Director David Ayer has infused the proceedings with a refreshingly tough-minded sensibility that proves instrumental in smoothing over some of the more overt deficincies within James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer, and Jamie Moss' screenplay, and there's little doubt that Street Kings ultimately comes off as an irrisistible throwback to the unapologetically over-the-top actioners of the 1980s. As such, the movie is packed with convoluted twists and archetypal characters who speak primarily in clichés and metaphors (ie "you can't ride the tiger forever!") - yet such concerns are rendered moot thanks to the efforts of an exceptionally capable supporting cast that includes, among others, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, and Chris Evans. And although the film's storyline might just be a little too plot-heavy for its own good - ie there are more than a few lulls in between the impressively brutal action sequences - Street Kings benefits substantially from the appreciatively old-school vibe emphasized by filmmaker Ayer (it's also difficult to discount the effectiveness of Reeves' work here, as the actor delivers as electrifying and flat-out compelling a performance as he's ever given).