Sony's January '08 Releases
Already Dead (January 15/08)
One can't help but feel a tremendous sense of disappointment as Already Dead eventually devolves into a routine and borderline tedious actioner, as the film boasts a tense opening half hour that certainly feels like a springboard for an effective little thriller. Ron Eldard stars as Thomas Archer, a successful architect who finds himself forced to take matters into his own hands after his son is killed during a home invasion. Spurred into action by the lead detective on the case (who encourages Thomas to find the guy responsible and "roast him on a spit"), the mild-mannered executive soon finds himself faced with an opportunity to confront his son's killer; not surprisingly, things go awry almost immediately. Already Dead kicks off with a remarkably tense sequence in which Eldard's duffel bag-toting character is led by a mysterious caller through subways and side streets, with his final destination a sinister warehouse that's eventually (and unfortunately) used as the locale for an overlong cat-and-mouse pursuit that comes to dominate the picture. Eldard's expectedly compelling performance is almost rendered moot by the brainless violence of the final 30 minutes, and there's ultimately little doubt that Already Dead would've fared a whole lot better had it retained the low-key vibe of its first act.
Blonde Ambition (January 15/08)
It's certainly worth noting that, despite the presence of Jessica Simpson, Blonde Ambition remains an amiable, almost entertaining piece of work that generally holds the viewer's interest throughout, though there does reach a point at which the relentless silliness becomes just a little too difficult to tolerate. Simpson stars as Katie, a small-town girl who comes to New York City to surprise her boyfriend (Drew Fuller's Billy) - only to discover that the hunky doofus has been sleeping around behind her back. Through a chain of events far too convoluted to effectively describe here, Katie soon finds herself working as a secretary for quirky CEO Ronald Connelly (Larry Miller) and dating the company's shaggy mailroom employee (Luke Wilson's Ben). Screenwriters John Cohen, Matthew Flanagan, and David McHugh are clearly aficionados of cheesy '80s cinema, as they've infused Blonde Ambition with the precisely the sort of broadly-drawn characters and absurd plotting that one generally associates with the sillier comedies of the decade. This vibe is undoubtedly cemented by the casting of Penelope Ann Miller and Andy Dick as sleazy, scheming corporate types, with both characters certainly responsible for the film's biggest laughs (he calls Simpson's character a "breasty beast" and she refers to an overweight black secretary as "big momma's house"). And while Simpson is surely better here than she has been in the past - it doesn't hurt that, cast as a well-meaning airhead, she's basically in her element - Blonde Ambition is ultimately too slight and too predictable an endeavor to warrant a genuinely hearty recommendation.
Boogeyman 2 (January 15/08)
Boogeyman 2 marks the latest effort from Sam Raimi's Ghost House production company, and - given the inclusion of such underwhelming titles as The Grudge 2 and The Messengers within their filmography - there's little doubt that Boogeyman 2 generally comes off as a better-than-expected and refreshingly brutal little horror flick. The movie kicks off with a prologue in which siblings Laura and Henry helplessly watch their parents die at the hands of a cloaked maniac; years later, Laura (played by Danielle Savre) checks herself into a mental hospital to conquer her fear of the boogeyman, though it's not long before a cloaked maniac starts offing her fellow patients. Boogeyman 2 establishes itself as a marked improvement over its toothless, flat-out disastrous predecessor almost immediately, as the movie has been infused with a number of thoroughly satisfying kill sequences and an entertainingly quirky supporting cast (which includes, among others, Renee O'Connor, David Gallagher, and Tobin Bell). Yet there does reach a point at which the film feels as though its spinning its wheels, with the protracted, downright uneventful mid-section virtually bringing the proceedings to a dead halt (it's almost as if the filmmakers were contractually obliged to bring the movie in at a running time of at least 90 minutes). Director Jeff Betancourt - whose penchant for jittery camerawork becomes increasingly annoying as the film progresses - ensures that Boogeyman 2 recovers nicely for a surprisingly enthralling third act, however, and there's ultimately no denying that the movie generally fares a whole lot better than the majority of its big-budget brethren (ie that abysmal One Missed Call remake).
Love Lies Bleeding (January 15/08)
Though saddled with an almost egregiously familiar premise, Love Lies Bleeding nevertheless comes off as an entertaining, unexpectedly gripping little thriller that benefits from an exceedingly brisk pace and the inclusion of several charismatic performances. Starring Brian Geraghty and Jenna Dewan as impoverished young couple Duke and Amber, the movie follows the pair as they're forced to go on the run after Duke steals a substantial cache of money from a crooked (and downright vicious) DEA agent named Pollen (Christian Slater). There's certainly no overlooking Love Lies Bleeding's many thematic similarities to True Romance - the mere presence of Slater all but assures this - and yet director Keith Samples effectively sets the film apart from its forebearer by emphasizing a much more laid-back sort of vibe (one that's punctuated with bursts of unexpectedly brutal acts of violence, admittedly). Samples - working from Brian Strasmann's screenplay - plays up the relationship between Duke and Amber, and there's consequently little doubt that the two characters ultimately become incredibly sympathetic figures - ensuring that the viewer can't help but root for the pair to outwit Slater's exceedingly reprehensible character. Geraghty and Dewan's superb work certainly goes a long way towards cementing the film's success, while there's little doubt that Slater - who's at his scenery-chewing best here - delivers one of the most flat-out entertaining performances of his career.
Missionary Man (January 16/08)
Dolph Lundgren's Missionary Man casts the lean Swede as Ryder, a mysterious, bible-toting figure who rolls into a small town for the funeral of friend and subsequently finds himself forced to battle a veritable army of goons. There's little doubt that Lundgren - who directs from a script co-written with Frank Valdez - is going for the vibe of a contemporary western, as evidenced by the strong, silent hero, the sneering villains, and the exceedingly helpless townspeople. And while one can't help but appreciate the inclusion of several entertaining and downright brutal acts of violence - one particularly hapless baddie receives a point-blank shotgun blast to the face - Lundgren has infused the proceedings with an unreasonably deliberate pace that ultimately proves too insurmountable an obstacle for the movie to overcome. The filmmaker's decision to mix action with issues - ie the plight of the community's oppressed Native American population - certainly doesn't do the movie any favors, nor does his puzzling decision to employ desaturated, thoroughly washed-out visuals (one can only assume he was going for a black-and-white sort of atmosphere). Still, Lundgren's surprisingly charismatic performance ensures that the movie's not a total wash - as the actor does a superb job of infusing his character with an air of effortless cool that's palpable (ie after a particularly obnoxious thug asks him what he's going to do next, Ryder says, "I'm going to ask you to beg the good lord's forgiveness, but not before I take this knee and break that nose.")