Mini Reviews (August 2003)
Lucia Lucia, Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror, American Kickboxer 2, Shooters, The Medallion
Lucia Lucia (August 1/03)
Right on the poster for Lucia Lucia, it says: "The extraordinary new wave of Mexican cinema continues..." But those who check this out in the hopes it'll be as brash and unique as Y Tu Mama Tambien or Amores Perros are going to be in for a somewhat unpleasant surprise. Cecilia Roth stars as Lucia, an imaginative woman stuck in a mundane life. After her husband mysteriously vanishes from an airport bathroom, she hooks up with a pair of vastly different men that live in her building - an old man named Felix (Carlos Alvarez Novoa) and Adrian, a fresh-faced musician (Kuno Becker). As the three head out in search of her husband, Lucia begins to discover a whole world that she never knew existed. Lucia Lucia is well acted and creatively shot, but the problem is that at its core lies a mystery that isn't terribly interesting. Screenwriter and director Antonio Serrano (working from the novel by Rosa Montero) throws in various unnecessary elements - including Felix's underground connections and a subplot involving Mexican rebels - that serve only to distract us from Lucia's story. The film works best when it's exploring Lucia's journey of self-discovery, including her unexpected relationship with Adrian. But even that portion of the movie isn't as effective as it could be, since the character of Lucia is never developed to the point where we really care about her (mostly because the film spends so much time dealing with and resolving the many subplots). Still, Serrano's sense of style keeps things interesting, so it's not a total loss (and hey, how can you go wrong with a flick that features a Spanish version of Achy Breaky Heart on its soundtrack?)
Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror
I don't object to Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror's lack of budget - which is so low that the movie appears to have been filmed using a cheap camcorder - but rather the amateurishness and silly jokes that pervade every aspect of the production. The film is an anthology of four horror stories that are lame through and through; there's nothing even remotely horrific or scary here. Worse yet, each story contains obnoxiously over-the-top characters - accompanied by some of the worst acting you'll ever see. The potential for an entertaining set of stories was there, if the filmmakers had only dropped the juvenile humor. For example, the second story - following the adventures of two hick brothers that open a restaurant which serves only meat-topped pizzas (local residents coincidentally start disappearing; you figure it out) - certainly could've been an absurd riff on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but the broad performances and mind-numbingly stupid characterizations prevent that from happening. Worse yet, each of these stories essentially just ends; it's generally accepted that these sorts of mini-movies are supposed to have a concluding twist, but the filmmakers prove to be inept even in that area. And as for Dr. Shock himself, he's a semi-entertaining host - far more so than any of the tales. There's some good gore on display here, but really, Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror is the horror equivalent of porn; you just want to fast-forward past the "acting" to get to the good stuff.
no stars out of
American Kickboxer 2
Where's the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang when you need them? American Kickboxer 2 is just about perfect MST3K fodder, with its terminally stupid plot, horrible acting, and laughable dialogue. The story has something to do with the kidnapping of a wealthy child, but really, the plot is just an excuse for martial artists Evan Lurie and Dale Cook to kick a lot of butt. That aspect of the film works, I suppose, if you're into that sort of thing - but Lurie and Cook are such terrible actors, it's easy enough to see why they've never transcended the straight-to-video market. And with one-liners like "your ass is grass and we're the lawnmowers!", the movie would surely work better amongst friends and a lot of booze. Still, it's hard not to get a kick out of watching Police Academy's Tackleberry (David Graf) play an over-the-top bad guy, complete with a laughably short temper and never-say-die attitude.
As of late, there have been so many films dealing with the criminal element, it's virtually impossible to find one that does something fresh and exciting with the worn-out genre. Filmmakers like Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino have managed to do so, but the countless imitators that have followed them haven't been quite so lucky. Shooters is no different, with its unsympathetic characters and routine storyline - although, to be fair, the material has been injected with a certain amount of realism that's not ordinarily present in films of this sort. The movie follows a couple of low-grade crooks - one of whom's just been released from prison and wants to go straight - that soon find themselves embroiled in a scheme that's much more than they're apt to handle. It's not exactly a ground-breaking plot, but it's the execution that leads to Shooters' downfall. The two central characters aren't compelling in the least, which certainly isn't a good thing when we're supposed to be rooting for them to escape this world. Also not helping matters is the grungy and dank look directors Glenn Durfort and Colin Teague have assigned to this landscape, making the film a fairly unpleasant visceral experience. That would appear to be the point, though, as the predominant theme in the movie seems to be that these guys can't afford the flashy suits that we generally tend to associate with cinematic mobsters. But that added air of realism just isn't enough to elevate Shooters to anything more than an occasionally interesting (but mostly dull) crime thriller.
The Medallion marks Jackie Chan's latest mediocre offering, following the underwhelming Shanghai Knights 2. Though the film is rarely boring - even in lousy movies like this one, Chan's effortless charm always seeps through - the whole thing has a been-there-done-that feeling to it. Chan stars as Eddie Yang, a Hong Kong cop forced to team up with a pair of Interpol agents (Lee Evans and Claire Forlani) when a mysterious medallion is stolen by the evil Snakehead (Julian Sands, and yes, that's actually the character's name). Snakehead's after the medallion for it's immortality-giving powers, which is exactly why Eddie and company must stop him. The Medallion has that low-budget, quickie feel that's plagued the majority of Jean-Claude Van Damme's flicks as of late. It's the kind of film that one expects to see premiere on video, and aimed directly at small children. Evidence of the latter is peppered throughout the movie, most notably in the guise of Evans' absurdly over-the-top performance. Evans behaves as though he's auditioning to become the fifth Teletubby, and though there are a couple of scenes in which he's actually funny, those are few and far between the moments of pure idiocy. As for Chan, he's his usual charismatic self, though why the filmmakers chose to enhance his fighting abilities with wires is beyond me. Chan's well-known for his agility and willingness to do his own stunts, so the inclusion of noticeable special effects is jarring (to say the least).