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Mini Reviews (October 2009)

Law Abiding Citizen, Pandorum, Them

Law Abiding Citizen (October 15/09)

Pervasively absurd yet generally entertaining, Law Abiding Citizen casts Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton - a dorky family man who embarks on a vicious campaign of revenge after his wife and daughter are brutally murdered by an almost comically sleazy criminal (Christian Stolte's Clarence Darby). His initial taste for vengeance satisfied, Clyde decides to go after those responsible for Darby's less-than-grueling prison stint - which undoubtedly means big trouble for the ambitious district attorney (Jamie Foxx's Nick Rice) who signed off on Darby's plea bargain. There's little doubt that Law Abiding Citizen is at its best in its opening hour, as director F. Gary Gray - armed with Kurt Wimmer's screenplay - has infused the movie with a blistering pace that's backed by an absolutely irresistible premise. Butler's expectedly captivating work effectively allows the viewer to initially sympathize with Clyde's plight and root for his success, with the character's subsequent (yet inevitable) shift from protagonist to antagonist triggering a lull that persists for a good portion of the film's midsection - as Foxx, though competent here, is simply unable to match Butler's effortless level of charisma (and it certainly doesn't help that Nick ultimately comes off as a comparatively bland figure). The increasingly preposterous storyline reaches its zenith in the unapologetically over-the-top third act, which admittedly proves instrumental in recapturing the viewer's waning interest but also ensures that any and all traces of authenticity are effectively obliterated (ie the movie finally bears more of a resemblance to a parody of revenge thrillers than to an actual revenge thriller). It's nevertheless impossible not to derive some enjoyment out of Butler's progressively convoluted machinations, with the end result an uneven piece of work that'll probably fare best among viewers with an inherent interest in this sort of thing.

out of

Pandorum (October 28/09)

An unusually unpleasant and unwatchable sci-fi endeavor, Pandorum details the chaos that ensues after an astronaut (Ben Foster's Bower) wakes up on board a spaceship with no memory of his mission or his identity - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently following Bower as he attempts to get the craft up and running again while dodging the increasingly hostile advances of blood-thirsty creatures bent on total destruction. Director Christian Alvart's undeniable ineptness is in evidence virtually from Pandorum's opening frames, as the filmmaker - working from a script by Travis Milloy - plunges the viewer into a pervasive darkness that persists for the majority of the movie's aggressively overlong running time. It's consequently not surprising to note that one's efforts at embracing the progressively muddled storyline fall entirely flat, with the astonishingly unintelligible dialogue (Alvart seems to have directed his actors to whisper and/or mumble most of their lines) ensuring that the film becomes more and more difficult to follow as it unfolds. There's little doubt, however, that Pandorum's greatest failing lies in its teeth-gnashingly repetitive structure, as the bulk of the movie follows Bower as he walks down one dank, poorly-lit hallway after another - with the ensuing lack of momentum resulting in an oppressively stagnant atmosphere that's about as engaging and enthralling as a trip into a sensory-depravation tank. Even the film's various fight sequences manage to disappoint, as Alvart has infused such moments with a jittery, downright incoherent sensibility that's exacerbated by the hopelessly ugly visuals. The end result is a seriously disagreeable piece of work that instantly establishes itself as the worst sci-fi horror flick to come around since 1992's Split Second, which effectively cements Pandorum's place as an Ed Woodian debacle of almost unprecedented incompetence.

no stars out of

Them (October 31/09)

Based on true events, Them follows French couple Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen) as their plans for a relaxing weekend are dashed after their expansive Romanian country home is attacked by a group of faceless thugs. Filmmakers David Moreau and Xavier Palud instantly draw the viewer into the proceedings by kicking things off with an enjoyably tense stand-alone sequence in which a mother and daughter are terrorized by the aforementioned thug, and there's little doubt that the expectedly deliberate pace that follows is consequently relatively easy to stomach as a result. The undercurrent of suspense undoubtedly plays a significant role in sustaining one's interest even through the central figures' seemingly innocuous activities (ie the two enjoy a home-cooked meal), with the palpable chemistry between the two stars - coupled with their subtle, thoroughly believable performances - instantly transforming the pair into sympathetic protagonists worth rooting for. And although the characters occasionally behave like horror-movie victims (ie why do they keep splitting up?), it's impossible to deny the strength of the film's increasingly (and genuinely) thrilling midsection - with Moreau and Palud's appropriately sinister visuals effectively allowing the viewer to overlook the inherent familiarity of the deadly cat-and-mouse scenario. It's only as Clementine and Lucas are forced to flee their home that Them slowly-but-surely adopts a disappointingly less-than-enthralling and downright conventional vibe, with the climactic reveal of the perpetrators and their motives nothing short of ludicrous. The almost astonishing degree to which the movie peters out can't quite diminish the effectiveness of its opening hour, however, thus cementing Them's place as a sporadically affecting yet undeniably uneven exercise in horror.

out of

© David Nusair