The Films of Gary Fleder
Though it certainly could have been worse, The Companion should have been better. Kathryn Harrold stars as a writer whose latest relationship has just ended in heartbreak. She hasn't written in a while and decides to head off into the woods for some quality time with her typewriter. But since The Companion takes place in an unspecified future, Harrold has the option to take along with her a "companion" - a humanoid robot that'll cater to her every whim and desire. Named Geoffrey, this android proves to be a whiz in the kitchen and chops wood real good - but has the personality of a dead moth. Geoffrey comes complete with a handy-dandy behavior modifier, and this being a cheesy sci-fi flick, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that something goes awry and Geoffrey starts acting muy loco. As the crazed android, fellow Canadian Bruce Greenwood actually does a respectable job - as respectable as any actor can be under the circumstances, I suppose. The problem with The Companion is sheer overlength; this is the sort of story that Twilight Zone used to tell in half the time. But it's competently made (by Gary Fleder, no less - whose Imposter is far worse than this) and well acted, so it might be worth a cheapie rental.
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Impostor (December 20/01)
The history behind Impostor is perhaps more compelling than the film itself. It originally started out as one-third of an anthology called Alien Love Triangle and ran around 40 minutes. But, for reasons that are still unclear, the project was scrapped after two of the segments had already been filmed. Purportedly, executives at Dimension Films viewed both shorts and decided to expand Impostor, leaving the other (which starred Kenneth Branagh and Heather Graham) dead in the water.
Gary Sinise stars as Spencer Olham, a 2079-based governmental scientist. Through voice-over, we learn that Earth has been at war with a race of deadly aliens for years prior. Olham is on the brink of inventing a device that will offer humanity a real chance at fighting back, when he's accused of being a replica sent by the aliens to blow up a prominent chancellor. Unfortunately for Spencer, there's no real proof that he is (or isn't, for that matter), so he's forced to take matters into his own hands. Running from the law (most notably in the guise of a determined cop, played by Vincent D'Onofrio), Olham hooks up with a grungy vagrant named Cale (Mekhi Phifer) and together, they work to discover the truth.
Impostor is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the noted writer whose work inspired the classic sci-fi movies Blade Runner and Total Recall. As with those films, Impostor presents a future that isn't quite ideal, though there are a number of entirely plausible quirks spread throughout (such as the concept of "simcodes" - a device implanted at birth that tracks the movements of every citizen, allowing them access to various facilities and even the ability to purchase products without opening a wallet). The concepts are intriguing, but it's the execution that sinks Impostor. While the upper-class areas of this world are sleek and shiny, the rest of this world features the same grimy, dirty looking atmosphere we've seen in countless other futuristic movies. From Blade Runner to Demolition Man, this is a look that's become tired and outdated - not to mention just plain unpleasant to look at.
But besides the unfortunate set design, Impostor just feels like a film that's been needlessly expanded. Much of the story consists of Olham running from his various pursuers, dodging bullets and futuristic death rays. But unlike something like The Fugitive, we're never really given a reason to care whether or not Olham evades his would-be captors. The air of mystery regarding whether or not this even is Spencer Olham pervades the entire film, making it impossible to really care whether or not he is caught.
Despite the utter lack of science fiction flicks in this day and age, Impostor is not the movie that's going to re-ignite this dying genre.
After an absence of several years, Runaway Jury marks John Grisham's return to the silver screen. And though his novel was a taut and exciting thriller, the film feels truncated somehow; characters are left scarcely developed, while action sequences seem far more prevalent than necessary. Still, the lack of courtroom thrillers as of late essentially ensures that the movie remains entertaining throughout. The movie revolves around a trial launched against a powerful gun manufacturer, whereas the book dealt with the tobacco industry (a subject that's yesterday's news, I suppose). After her husband is murdered by a gun-wielding madman, Celeste Wood (Joanna Going) hires famed attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) to take on the company that made the weapon. Said company enlists the services of an infamous jury consultant named Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) to ensure that the trial swings in their favor. Among the jurors is Nick Easter (John Cusack), a likeable guy who - along with his girlfriend, Marlee (Rachel Weisz) - has his own plans for the trial's outcome. While the film is never entirely predictable, there's a certain amount of deja vu present in Runaway Jury. It's almost a prototypical John Grisham product; from the New Orleans setting to the grizzled lawyers to the seemingly eager neophyte, they're all elements that the author's become famous for. But in the context of his novel, it worked. Grisham had pages and pages worth of time to develop even the most clichéd aspects of his story, to the point where the reader became so engrossed that even the most hackneyed aspects were easy enough to ignore. But here, characters feel more like cogs in an engine that's working overtime to deliver the goods (and by the goods, I mean countless action sequences). Since none of the characters are advanced beyond their superficial attributes, there's no emotional investment in any of them. The lone exception to this is Dylan McDermott's cameo as Celeste's dead husband, the man whose death launched the trial. Though he's only on screen for a few minutes, McDermott manages to create a figure that's more intriguing than any that follow (and that includes Cusack's central role). And though the film is packed with A-list actors, there's no real spark to any of their performances. While there's no denying that Hackman's presence is electrifying, his Rankin Fitch is the sort of gruff individual he's come to specialize in as of late. Hoffman and Cusack are good, but this is far from their best work - while periphery characters are embodied by familiar faces like Luis Guzman and Jeremy Piven (not that any of them are given enough screen time to go anywhere beyond their effortless charm). Director Gary Fleder admittedly keeps the pace quite quick, but sometimes that's not enough. In working overtime to ensure audiences don't get bored, Fleder zips by the things that actually matter - character development, establishing an interesting story, etc. And his reliance on slow-motion during action sequences is unnecessary and irritating. Runaway Jury isn't a bad movie, really. The film's never boring, primarily due to the efforts of the stellar cast; though it's quite telling that the most engaging element of the flick vacates in the first five minutes.
Homefront (November 20/13)
Directed by Gary Fleder and written by Sylvester Stallone (!), Homefront details the chaos that ensues after former DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) incurs the wrath of a low-level drug dealer (James Franco's Gator). There's little doubt that Homefront opens with a great deal of potential, as Fleder kicks the proceedings off with an exciting (and impressively violent) sequence that seems to promise an old-school actioner - with the filmmaker's lamentable use of shaky camerawork initially standing as the only real obstacle to the movie's wholehearted success. (It's difficult to recall a more needless instance of this absolutely pointless device being employed in recent history.) The strength of Statham's performance, coupled with a refreshingly lack of computer-generated blood effects, goes a long way towards compensating for the less-than-eventful nature of Stallone's screenplay, and although the movie has been peppered with an handful of exciting action beats, Homefront suffers from a midsection that's far too deliberately paced to completely sustain the viewer's interest - as the narrative is increasingly dominated by scenes wherein various characters plot and scheme their next move. The less-than-engrossing atmosphere inevitably wreaks havoc on the film's momentum, and it's clear, as a result, that the climax doesn't fare nearly as well as one might've hoped - with Fleder's continued use of jittery cinematography certainly diminishing the effectiveness of this stretch. Homefront's extremely mild success, then, is due almost entirely to Statham's typically engaging work and the inclusion of a few stirring sequences, although it's ultimately obvious that the film could (and should) have been so much better.