The Films of Jon Turteltaub
Driving Me Crazy
Cool Runnings (May 4/18)
Affable yet entirely forgettable, Cool Runnings follows four Jamaican athletes (Leon's Derice, Doug E. Doug's Sanka, Rawle D. Lewis' Junior, and Malik Yoba's Yul) as they attempt to start their country's first bobsled team - with the group, in their quest to qualify for the Olympic games, enlisting the help of a grizzled, disgraced former champion (John Candy's Irv). Filmmaker Jon Turteltaub delivers an easygoing, lackadaisically-paced drama that contains few standout moments, admittedly, and yet the movie's proliferation of agreeable attributes ensures that it remains watchable from start to finish - with, especially, the uniformly charismatic performances going a long way towards perpetuating the pleasant atmosphere. (Leon and especially Candy turn in strong work that tends to elevate even the most mundane of sequences.) It's equally clear, however, that the film's impact is ultimately hamstrung by a narrative that's often way too conventional and by-the-numbers for its own good, with the hopelessly predictable nature of Lynn Siefert, Tommy Swerdlow, and Michael Goldberg's screenplay often threatening to cancel out the overtly positive elements sprinkled throughout (ie the picture hits every single beat one might've anticipated, including the dreaded let's-just-give-up stretch). Still, Cool Runnings is a decent take on the inspirational-sports-movie genre that's sure to leave viewers below a certain age enthralled.
While You Were Sleeping
Disney's The Kid
National Treasure (November 16/04)
Though it goes on a little longer than it should and contains one too many action sequences, there's no denying that National Treasure is an exciting, engrossing adventure flick. Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a self-described "treasure protector" whose family has been hunting a war chest hidden by the founding fathers for generations. Gates becomes convinced that a key map is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence, though he's not willing to break any laws to get to it. His evil former partner, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), has no such qualms, and immediately sets out to steal the famed document. This leaves Gates, along with his wacky sidekick (played by Justin Bartha), with no choice but to steal the Declaration before Ian can get to it. National Treasure's been directed by Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker with zero experience in the action genre. Then again, when you've got Jerry Bruckheimer producing, experience and skill are far from necessary. It's that Bruckheimer touch that prevents the movie from becoming more than just a passable time-waster; the film's action sequences feel as though they've been shoehorned in to appease the infamous producer, with no thought as to how they impact on the story's flow. As a result, a predictable pattern quickly emerges - Gates and company track down a clue, Ian and his thugs appear on the scene, and a chase ensues. Gates' efforts to decipher the film's clues are intriguing enough to render such moments superfluous, though they are admittedly well done and surprisingly coherent (this being a Bruckheimer production and all). As far as the acting goes, the various performers are forced to play second-fiddle to the movie's complicated and busy screenplay - something Cage gets around by essentially just playing another variation on his established persona. It's the same sort of performance Cage seems to give in all these Bruckheimer flicks (ie Gone in 60 Seconds and Con Air); Cage is awfully charismatic, however, so it's easy enough to overlook the lack of creativity on his part. Bean suffers the same fate, playing a riff on villainous characters from movies like GoldenEye and Don't Say a Word (the actor does get a great scene in which his character actually mourns the death of a henchman, an inexplicable little moment that's played without a hint of irony). It's highly unlikely that National Treasure holds up to scrutiny in terms of historical accuracy or plausibility, but really, this isn't that kind of movie. As a family-friendly adventure, the film undoubtedly excels - though it's clear the movie could've used a little less adventure and a little more sleuthing.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
A slight improvement over its agreeable forebearer, National Treasure: Book of Secrets follows Nicolas Cage's Ben Gates as he attempts to clear his family's name after his great-great-grandfather is accused of orchestrating Lincoln's assassination - an endeavor that reteams Gates with sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), love interest Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight). Screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberley have infused National Treasure: Book of Secrets with a larger-than-life sensibility that's reflected in Jon Turteltaub's exceedingly slick directorial choices, as the film is rife with precisely the kind of elements that one has come to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production (ie outlandish action set-pieces, a steady undercurrent of comic relief, etc). As anticipated, there's admittedly a slight degree of repetition to the movie's propulsive storyline - Gates and his cohorts discover a clue, travel to some exotic locale, encounter resistance, and finally uncover another clue - yet, thanks to the preponderance of increasingly over-the-top destinations (ie from the Oval Office to the Library of Congress to Mount Rushmore), this never becomes quite as problematic as one might've feared. Cage's undeniably charismatic work is matched by the surprisingly adept supporting cast (which includes - among others - Harvey Keitel, Ed Harris, and Helen Mirren), and it does seem clear that it's his energetic and downright enthusiastic performance that holds the viewer's interest even through a few less-than-enthralling sequences. And although the film does suffer from a climax that's just a little too similar to that of its predecessor's (ie all the characters converge on a dark, booby-trap laden cavern), National Treasure: Book of Secrets effortlessly establishes (and sustains) the kind of fun and ludicrously broad atmosphere that should've been present with the recent Da Vinci Code adaptation.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Inspired by an episode within Disney's Fantasia, The Sorcerer's Apprentice follows dorky college student Dave (Jay Baruchel) as he finds himself caught up in a centuries old battle between two magicians - one good (Nicolas Cage's Balthazar Blake) and one bad (Alfred Molina's Maxim Horvath). There's little doubt that The Sorcerer's Apprentice fares best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Jon Turteltaub does a nice job of setting up the various characters and the admittedly outlandish nature of their exploits. Baruchel's appealing performance is matched by Cage's expectedly idiosyncratic turn as Balthazar, while Molina is certainly quite effective as the movie's sinister villain. And although the film's midsection does seem to be bogged down with a series of increasingly needless training sequences, Turteltaub does a nice job of buoying the viewer's interest by offering up several entertaining stand-alone sequences (ie Dave's encounter with a cocky mugger). It's only as the narrative chugs into its special effects-laden final third that The Sorcerer's Apprentice starts to become a disappointingly repetitive and flat-out dull piece of work, as the film is slowly but surely dominated by progressively over-the-top action set pieces that ultimately drain the viewer's interest and enthusiasm. The end result is a watchable endeavor that does seem to have been designed to appeal primarily to small children, with the engaging performances generally preventing the movie from sinking into all-out tedium.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub, Last Vegas follows four friends (Michael Douglas' Billy, Robert De Niro's Paddy, Morgan Freeman's Archie, and Kevin Kline's Sam) as they arrive in Las Vegas for a bachelor party - with the movie, for the most part, detailing the wacky shenanigans that inevitably ensue. There's little doubt that the almost excessively conventional premise is, at the outset, utilized to better-than-expected effect, with the strength of the various performances, coupled with the actors' palpable chemistry together, going a long way towards cultivating a surprisingly watchable atmosphere. It's just as clear, however, that Last Vegas begins to run out of steam shortly after the central foursome arrive in Vegas, as scripter Dan Fogelman has peppered the midsection with a series of sitcom-like scenarios that effectively suck the energy right out of the proceedings. (Ranking high among the lowlights are a bikini-judging sequence and a trip to a popular nightclub.) The surfeit of silly interludes slowly-but-surely renders the film's few positive attributes moot, and it goes without saying that the third-act emphasis on sentimental elements fares especially poorly (ie it's hard to take these characters seriously following the cartoonish bent of the movie's first half). And while there are a few admittedly poignant moments peppered in the movie's final stretch (eg a supporting character laments her advanced age), Last Vegas ultimately establishes itself as a meaningless vanity project that squanders the abilities of its very talented stars.