The Films of McG
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (June 26/03)
It's interesting that all the promotional materials for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle have divulged Demi Moore's presence as the villain, since her true intentions aren't revealed until the last twenty minutes. Moore's screen time is so limited, the role is almost a cameo - but the film is peppered with enough other celebrity cameos to keep things interesting. That's actually a cunning strategy on the part of McG; by infusing the movie - which follows the Angels (Drew Barrymore's Dylan, Cameron Diaz's Natalie, and Lucy Lio's Alex) as they attempt to rescue a top-level military man (Robert Patrick) - with celebs a-plenty, we're distracted from the fact that there isn't a whole lot of story here. With appearances from folks like Bruce Willis, Robert Forster, and Pink, there seems to be a familiar face here for everyone. Of course, a big part of the original's success was McG's insanely kinetic and almost mind-numbing sense of style. That's certainly true here as well, with McG's overcranked visual sensibilities keeping things moving at a pace that's beyond brisk. He's clearly not going for any kind of realistic vibe here, as evidenced by an early sequence featuring a Matrix-type firefight on motorcycles. But for what the movie promises - relentless action and plenty of ogling opportunities - McG delivers. He even throws in a little character development for the Angels - Dylan's shady past, Alex's relationship with her father, etc - but this is also the one area he winds up going somewhat overboard. Specifically, the treatment of Moore's character, Madison; McG makes the almost fatal mistake of presenting the character in a serious light. Perhaps Moore insisted upon it, but watching her actually act in the midst of all this silly bubblegum action is incredibly jarring. And as for her much-ballyhooed return to mainstream films, Moore is adept in the role but seems to think she's in an altogether different movie. Barrymore and Diaz are appropriately bubbly, but as was the case in the original, Liu seems slightly out of place amongst the giggling shenanigans. But the supporting cast elevates the movie to more than just a completely disposable piece of entertainment, with relative newcomer Justin Theroux a welcome surprise. Playing an evil figure from Dylan's past, Theroux has a real presence about him and does a nice job of turning this one-dimensional character into someone the audience can hate. Reprising his role as The Thin Man, Crispin Glover is a lot of fun and we even learn a bit about his past (hint: it involves nuns and a hair fetish). Like the original, you really have to know what you're getting into when you head off to see Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. With the right mindset, though, it's probably one of the most mindlessly enjoyable movies to crop up so far this summer.
We Are Marshall
Prior to Matthew McConaughey's entrance at around the 20-minute mark, We Are Marshall possesses the feel of a slick yet agreeable inspirational sports drama that appears to be establishing itself as something along the lines of a Hoosiers or a Rudy. And the film undoubtedly would have come off that way were it not for McConaughey's disastrously idiosyncratic work; the actor, who delivers the majority of his lines through the corner of his mouth, offers up a performance that's overflowing with precisely the sort of quirks and tics that he's come to be associated with over the years. There's consequently little doubt that We Are Marshall works best in the few scenes not revolving around McConaughey's character, as the rest of the film is teeming with superb and downright compelling performances by folks like Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, and Ian McShane. The inherently compelling storyline - the movie documents the true-life efforts of West Virginia's Marshall University to rebuild their football team following a tragic plane crash - does ensure that there are a number of genuinely moving moments contained within the overlong running time, while the admittedly rousing finale leaves the proceedings on precisely the sort of uplifting note that's sorely missing from the rest of the film. Director McG generally does an effective job of toning down his over-the-top stylistic tendencies, although the almost relentless emphasis on inspirational speeches eventually becomes oppressive. There's ultimately no denying that We Are Marshall would've benefited from the presence of virtually any other actor in the central role, although - to be fair - it's just as clear that the movie does suffer from an almost insurmountable cavalcade of faults (including a disastrously overlong running time).
The Terminator series grinds to a distinct and palpable halt with this inert, flat-out worthless entry, in which director McG proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he should never, ever step outside the candy-colored world of the Charlie's Angels franchise. The would-be filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a relentlessly artificial atmosphere that proves impossible to ignore, with the slick camerawork and overuse of computer-generated effects undoubtedly exacerbating the movie's pervasive resemblance to a high-end (and hopelessly mindless) video game. The promising storyline (which revolves around John Connor's post-Judgment Day war against the machines) is ultimately employed to seriously underwhelming effect by screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, as the scripters prove to have virtually no interest in either developing the myriad of characters or exploring the mechanics of the distinctly dystopian landscape - with the emphasis instead placed on meaningless action sequences that are defined by their woefully over-the-top characteristics (ie McG's obsession with big explosions and loud noises results in a movie that often feels like a Michael Bay production). And although the film boasts as impressive a cast as one could envision - Christian Bale stars as Connor, while Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Michael Ironside pop up in supporting roles - Brancato and Ferris' inability to flesh out any of the characters ensures that it becomes increasingly difficult to work up any enthusiasm for their respective endeavors (although, to be fair, Yelchin does a reasonably decent job of evoking Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese). The pervasive lack of context effectively hinders Bale's efforts at transforming Connor into the storied leader of the resistance we've been hearing about since part one, as the actor's expectedly intense work comes off as a lot of tough-guy posturing that ultimately adds up to nothing (ie this is the series' least interesting take on John Connor). The movie admittedly does improve slightly as it humorlessly marches into its comparatively enthralling third act - it's here that Connor encounters a familiar face from his past, in a short-lived sequence that stands as an obvious highlight - yet Terminator Salvation's almost overwhelming dearth of positive attributes cements its place as a brainless popcorn flick that seems to have been geared solely to hyperactive adolescents (with the incongruous PG-13 rating compounding its various problems).
This Means War
Exhaustingly slick from start to finish, This Means War follows CIA agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) as they battle for the affections of a successful woman named Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) - with the film subsequently detailing the former friends' ongoing efforts at both winning Lauren over and sabotaging the other's chances with her. It's a reasonably promising and compelling premise that's squandered from the word go by director McG, as the filmmaker, working from a script by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, has infused the proceedings with a relentlessly one-dimensional feel that grows more and more wearying as time progresses. This is despite affable performances from the film's three stars, with Pine and Hardy's charismatic work initially compensating for the stale atmosphere but eventually rendered moot by McG's pervasively incompetent sensibilities. And while there are a few amusing bits here and there, This Means War is, for the most part, dominated by sequences of an unreasonably stupid variety (eg a hopelessly broad interlude in which Hardy's Tuck, in an effort at proving his masculinity to Lauren, destroys his fellow competitors during a friendly paintball match). It is, as such, not surprising to note that the movie, perhaps inevitably, transforms into an increasingly interminable experience as it passes the one-hour mark, with the aggressively tedious, action-packed finale ensuring that the whole thing concludes on as underwhelming and anticlimactic a note as one could possibly envision - which effectively (and ultimately) cements This Means War's place as a seriously wrongheaded endeavor from an almost impressively inept filmmaker.
3 Days to Kill
3 Days to Kill follows dying CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) as he's offered an experimental new therapy that could save his life, with the catch being that Ethan must first agree to find and kill a notorious arms dealer known as The Wolf. It's a simple premise that's slowly-but-surely drained of its appeal by scripters Adi Hasak and Luc Besson, as the screenwriters augment the narrative with a whole host of entirely, frustratingly needless elements - with the movie's overstuffed atmosphere personified by an ongoing emphasis on the fractured relationship between Renner and his rebellious daughter (Hailee Steinfeld's Zoey). Filmmaker McG's subsequent efforts at balancing the story's dramatic and action-oriented elements fall completely, hopelessly flat, as the scattered vibe prevents the viewer from working up any interest in or enthusiasm for the central character's ongoing exploits. It's worth noting, too, that neither the louder, over-the-top moments nor the quieter, more subdued sequences are able to make a positive impact, with McG's difficulties in sustaining a consistent tone ensuring that virtually nothing here wholeheartedly works. (The fact that the movie runs almost two hours plays a key role in its downfall, certainly, as there's simply no overlooking the rough-cut feel that's been hard-wired into the proceedings.) By the time the umpteenth scene of Renner attempting to bond with Zoey rolls around - he even teaches her to ride a bicycle, for crying out loud! - 3 Days to Kill has established itself as an aggressively misguided effort that fails as both a revenge-fueled thriller and a low-key father/daughter drama.