Mini Reviews (April 2012)
Safe, A Simple Life, The Five-Year Engagement
Safe (April 19/12)
The latest in a long line of generic Jason Statham thrillers, Safe follows special-agent-turned-fighter Luke Wright (Statham) as he impulsively saves the life of a little girl (Catherine Chan's Mei) and subsequently finds himself drawn into a bloody gang war. It's a generic yet promising setup that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by Boaz Yakin, as the writer/director, in addition to offering up an incongruously slow-paced opening half hour, has pervasively infused the proceedings with the feel of a second-rate, straight-to-video-like thriller involving crooked cops and sleazy mobsters. Far more problematic, however, is Yakin's incompetent handling of the movie's various action sequences, with such moments, including a promising set-piece in which Statham's character takes on over a dozen thugs within a crowded restaurant, drained of their energy (and coherence) by jittery camerawork and rapid-fire editing. (This sort of thing has become de rigueur as far as contemporary action flicks go, but seriously, enough is enough.) There is, as such, little doubt that Statham's expectedly engrossing performance is slowly-but-surely rendered moot, and it does become harder and harder to overlook the lulls that inevitably crop up as the narrative grows increasingly convoluted and complicated. And although the movie ends on an unexpectedly positive note, Safe is, by and large, just another hopelessly misguided modern actioner that makes one long for the comparatively masterful output of the 1980s.
A Simple Life
Directed by Ann Hui , A Simple Life follows successful film producer Roger Leung (Andy Lau) as he attempts to put his busy life on hold after his family's longtime maid (Deanie Yip's Chung Chun To) falls ill - with complications ensuing as Chung stubbornly moves into a ramshackle old-people's home. Filmmaker Hui has infused A Simple Life with a pervasively subdued feel that ideally complements Susan Chan and Yan-lam Lee's spare screenplay, with the movie's persistently watchable atmosphere heightened by the absolutely stellar work of its two leads. (Yip is certainly quite good here, although the film's MVP is undoubtedly Lau - as the actor delivers an almost astonishingly charismatic performance that does, generally speaking, compensate for the sporadic lulls within the narrative.) And although the midsection admittedly possess a palpable spinning-its-wheels quality, Hui has effectively peppered the proceedings with a handful of standout sequences that are often more emotionally-wrenching than one might've anticipated (eg Roger's college friends surprise Chung with an affectionate phone call). The movie's severe overlength ultimately diminishes the impact of its inevitably downbeat finale, which does, in the end, cement A Simple Life's place as a compelling yet uneven piece of work.
The Five-Year Engagement
It's ultimately sheer, unreasonable overlength that triggers The Five-Year Engagement's lamentable downfall, as the film is simply unable to sustain the viewer's interest for the duration of its needlessly epic 124 minute running time - which is a shame, certainly, given the promise of its opening half hour and the charisma of its assorted stars. The movie, for the most part, details the ups and downs of the relationship between Jason Segel's Tom Solomon and Emily Blunt's Violet Barnes, with the pair's decision to get married inevitably complicated by a variety of problems and obstacles (Violet's decision to accept a stint at the University of Michigan, for example, leaves Tom depressed and lonely). Filmmaker Nicholas Stoller, working from a script cowritten with Segel, opens The Five-Year Engagement with a sweet and genuinely romantic sequence detailing Tom's bungled proposal to Violet, with the scene, which is certainly heightened by Segel and Blunt's affable work, paving the way for an entertainingly episodic first act that's rife with amusing cameo appearances and laugh-out-loud hilarious bits of comedy. The increasingly uneven bent of Stoller and Segel's screenplay is, as such, initially rather easy to overlook, although it's clear right from the get-go that the scripters have curiously peppered the narrative with a number of palpable pointless interludes (eg Tom's attempts at hunting with a friendly neighbor). It's only as the film marches into its laugh-free and incongruously dark midsection (eg Tom becomes a bearded survivalist? Really?) that The Five-Year Engagement begins to morph into a progressively tedious piece of work, with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by the third-act introduction of what feels like the longest fake break-up ever committed to celluloid. There's little doubt that the peppy, thoroughly upbeat finale is subsequently drained of its impact, and it's finally impossible to label The Five-Year Engagement as another more than yet another in a long line of disappointing, hopelessly sloppy post-Apatow relationship comedies.