Mini Reviews (November 2007)
P2, The Big Thing, The Condemned
P2 (November 9/07)
P2 is an entertaining little horror flick that undoubtedly benefits from the inclusion of a few appreciatively nasty kill sequences, as the movie is ultimately unable to live up to the promise of its admittedly dynamite premise. Starring Rachel Nichols and Wes Bentley, the story follows businesswoman Angela Bridges (Nichols) as she finds herself pursued by an insane security guard (Bentley) within the confines of an underground parking garage. There's no denying that P2 gets off to a fairly strong start; director Franck Khalfoun does a nice job of setting things up and building tension, while Nichols effectively avoids the temptation to transform her character into a typically brainless horror-movie victim. It's not until Bentley's Thomas shows up that the movie temporarily goes off the rails, as the actor delivers as broad and over-the-top a performance as one could possibly imagine - which consequently (and immediately) drains the proceedings of any suspense or terror. That being said, there's little doubt that the movie improves substantially once the two characters are separated and a cat-and-mouse game ensues. The finale - which bears a slight similarity to the conclusion of Eli Roth's recent Hostel sequel - leaves the proceedings on a surprisingly dark note, and while the movie never quite comes off as the electrifying thriller its ads have been promising, P2 is certainly a welcome respite from the awards-season fodder currently flooding cinemas.
The Big Thing (November 18/07)
It's clear right off the bat that The Big Thing has been designed to appeal solely to those with a very specific sense of humor, as the film is rife with over-the-top bits of comedy that might amuse certain folks but will undoubtedly leave the majority of viewers stone-faced. Writer/director Aleks Horvat has populated the proceedings with a number of egregiously broad characters and essentially let them loose in an atmosphere that is absolutely devoid of anything even resembling authenticity. The wafer-thin plot follows a pair of aging hippies - played by Van Quattro and Bari Buckner - as they arrive a week too late for the marriage of Roberto (Bryan Cranston) and Canada (Alexandra Boyd), with wackiness ensuing as the four characters start to complicate each others' lives. There's little doubt, however, that Horvat means for the comedic elements to keep The Big Thing afloat, as there's not much going on here storywise or in terms of character development (the lack of such things would be relatively easy to overlook if any of this were funny, but alas). While none of the performances are particularly impressive, Cranston's decision to mug and shout his way through the entire film proves to be disastrous - as The Big Thing ultimately comes off as a dull and flat-out tedious piece of work.
The Condemned (November 29/07)
It really is astonishing just how awful The Condemned quickly reveals itself to be, as the film boasts a high-concept, seemingly foolproof premise that should've resulted in an '80s style guilty pleasure. But Scott Wiper's hopelessly inept directorial choices - coupled with an overall vibe of ugliness - ensures that the movie ultimately fares about as well as its straight-to-video action brethren, though star Steve Austin proves to be far less capable a performer than compatriots Jean-Claude Van Damme and Wesley Snipes (he's right on the same level as Steven Seagal, however). The story follows ten death-row convicts - including Austin's Conrad and Vinnie Jones' McStarley - as they're dropped onto a desolate island and forced to kill one another for the amusement of web viewers across the globe. There's little doubt that the complete lack of compelling characters within The Condemned ultimately makes it extremely difficult to care who lives and who dies, with Austin's decidedly uncharismatic screen presence surely not doing the movie any favors (the supporting cast is, likewise, uniformly just as ineffective). Wiper's inability to stage a coherent action sequence is undoubtedly the film's most overt failing, however, as the director infuses such moments with precisely the sort of in-your-face, relentlessly shaky camerawork that's unfortunately become de rigueur among movies of this ilk. The final straw comes with the absurdly preachy third act, in which Wiper and co-screenwriter Rob Hedden ineptly (and hilariously) attempt to make some kind of a statement regarding society's increasing obsession with violence. It's a laughable development that comes off as hypocritical and artless, and there's consequently no denying that The Condemned has little to offer even the most fervent action junkie.