Three Action Films from Maple Pictures
Gamer (February 13/10)
Incoherent and interminable, Gamer transpires within a futuristic landscape where death-row convicts are used as avatars in a deadly video game - with the film primarily following one such inmate (Gerard Butler's John Tillman) as he attempts to break free of the game's confines. It's a relatively intriguing premise that's squandered virtually from the word go by filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, as the two men have infused the proceedings with an aggressively frenetic sensibility that prevents the viewer from connecting with anything or anybody on screen. The almost total lack of rudimentary cinematic conventions - ie character development, narrative momentum, etc - effectively exacerbates the movie's various problems, with the nigh experimental vibe impressive in its audacity, admittedly, yet disastrous in terms of establishing (and sustaining) a coherent atmosphere. Neveldine and Taylor's refusal to offer up substantive instances of character development subsequently wreaks havoc on one's ongoing efforts at rooting for the protagonist, as Tillman remains a frustratingly one-dimensional figure whose motives and past (ie how'd he wind up on death row in the first place?) remain muddy at best - which is undoubtedly a shame, given that Butler turns in a typically strong and charismatic performance. And although the film does possess a handful of outwardly positive attributes - Michael C. Hall's unapologetically over-the-top work as the villain is a clear highlight - Gamer's proliferation of hopelessly underwhelming fight sequences (most of which are rendered incomprehensible thanks to Neveldine and Taylor's reliance on shaky camerawork and rapid-fire editing) cements its place as just another in a long line of underwhelming contemporary actioners.
Punisher: War Zone
Though it's certainly not without its problems, Punisher: War Zone ultimately reveals itself as the most accurate big-screen representation of Marvel Comics' iconic 1970s creation to date - which, admittedly, isn't much of a compliment given the failure of the hard-edged series' previous cinematic go-arounds. Director Lexi Alexander - along with star Ray Stevenson - does an effective job of capturing the title character's tight-lipped, exceedingly grizzled sensibilities, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that the movie demonstrably suffers whenever the emphasis is taken off of the Punisher's revenge-fueled exploits (which is far more often than one might've preferred). The storyline follows Stevenson's Frank Castle as he's confronted with a vicious criminal known only as Jigsaw (Dominic West), with the bulk of the proceedings essentially revolving around the brutal cat-and-mouse games that inevitably ensue between the pair. It's clear almost immediately that Punisher: War Zone's greatest asset - besides Stevenson's note-perfect performance - lies in its unapologetically violent treatment of the source material, as Alexander infuses the majority of the movie's action sequences with a gleefully (and downright gloriously) over-the-top quality that proves impossible to resist (ie Castle dispatches a hapless goon by jamming a chair leg into his face). And although West is awfully good as the scenery-chewing central villain (as is Doug Hutchison as his partner-in-crime Loony Bin Jim), the lack of screen time for Stevenson's character does grow increasingly problematic as the movie progresses - as it ultimately seems as though the Punisher is only featured in about half of the film's scenes. The egregiously padded-out third act certainly doesn't help matters, with the inclusion of an entirely needless subplot involving several gangs that come together to defeat Castle effectively diminishing the strength of the final confrontation between the Punisher and Jigsaw. Still, Punisher: War Zone generally comes off as an above average actioner that often harkens back to the genre's heyday in the 1980s and probably stands as the best offering out of Hollywood that Punisher fans could've hoped for.