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The Films of Phil Joanou

Three O'Clock High

U2: Rattle and Hum

State of Grace

Age 7 in America

Final Analysis

Heaven's Prisoners

14 Up in America


Gridiron Gang (January 9/07)

Though well made and infused with expectedly impressive production values, Gridiron Gang, which follows a juvenile-center counselor (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's Sean Porter) as he attempts to start a football team comprised of rough inmates, is never quite able to overcome the incredibly familiar trajectory of its storyline - with the film's various problems exacerbated by a ridiculously overlong running time (125 minutes!) Directed by Phil Joanou, Gridiron Gang initially places the emphasis on characters that are almost uniformly unlikable; screenwriter Jeff Maguire offers up a series of gangbangers and thugs as the film's heroes, and eventually attempts to temper their nastiness by infusing each core figure with an exceedingly melodramatic story arc (ie one guy wants his mother to love him, another tries to win over the respect of his girl, etc). And although the majority of the performances are technically proficient, the actors have been given too little to work with to make any kind of substantial impact (something that's even true of Johnson, who's trapped within the confines of a stereotypically firm yet compassionate coach). But underwritten characterizations are the least of Gridiron Gang's problems, as the movie's been padded out to an absurd degree; there comes a point at which the film could (and should) logically end - those aforementioned enemies embrace and everything - and yet the thing goes on for another forty-five minutes. While never exactly an enthralling piece of work, Gridiron Gang is at least tolerable for much of its opening hour - a vibe that's obliterated once Joanou's unwarranted epic tendencies come to the forefront. Gridiron Gang certainly has its heart in the right place - particularly with regard to its messages of compassion and forgiveness - but there's just no overlooking the film's various deficiencies (the relentless emphasis on sports-movie cliches obviously doesn't help matters).

out of

Chris Tucker Live

The Veil (January 22/16)

The Veil casts Jessica Alba as Maggie Price, a documentary filmmaker who convinces Lily Rabe's Sarah to return to the compound where her religious-cult family committed suicide decades earlier - with trouble ensuing as it becomes more and more clear that the characters aren't exactly alone in the isolated locale. It's an intriguing setup that is, unfortunately, employed to less-than-engrossing effect by director Phil Joanou and scripter Robert Ben Garant, as the former employs an often excruciatingly deliberate pace that highlights the meandering, uneventful nature of the latter's screenplay. Far too much screen time is spent detailing the characters' initial exploration of the remote grounds and, eventually, their investigation into what really happened there, which predictably ensures that The Veil suffers from a midsection that drags to an almost unreasonable extent - with, admittedly, Joanou's stylish visuals and the ongoing inclusion of jump scares/bursts of violence elevating one's waning interest on a sporadic basis. It's worth noting, too, that the movie benefits substantially from Thomas Jane's agreeably broad turn as the leader of the aforementioned cult, as the actor's scenery-chewing shenanigans prove effective at injecting much-needed life and electricity into the otherwise dour proceedings. The Veil's expanded-from-a-short-film feel ultimately prevents it from making the impact that Joanou has certainly intended, however, while the decidedly anticlimactic closing stretch ensures that the whole thing ends on a regrettably (and disappointingly) forgettable note.

out of

© David Nusair