Renny Harlin's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Legend of Hercules director.
While the rest of us spend the weekend bundling up to avoid the polar vortex, Kellan Lutz will muscle into theaters on Friday with little more than his biceps and a toga to keep him warm -- and while we anticipate a rather frigid critical reception for The Legend of Hercules, we knew we needed to take this opportunity to survey the career highlights of the movie's director, Renny Harlin. He's driven with Ford Fairlane, died harder, and sailed to Cutthroat Island, and he's taken plenty of critical lumps along the way -- but there are also some Fresh tomatoes in that action-heavy filmography. It's time to Total Recall, Renny Harlin style!
Eddie Murphy successfully made the leap from rude stand-up star to action hero, so why not Andrew "Dice" Clay? That seemed to be the thinking behind 1990's The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, starring the famously foul-mouthed Clay as a leather-encased detective on the trail of a corrupt record exec (Wayne Newton) while trying to solve the murder of a heavy metal superstar (Vince Neil). In spite of Clay's notoriety, its flashy cast, and a promotional campaign that included one of the most memorable music videos of Billy Idol's career, Fairlane quickly tanked -- but not before being pelted with critical scorn by the likes of the New York Times' Janet Maslin, who memorably quipped, "The person most likely to be entertained by The Adventures of Ford Fairlane need not be made aware of the film's existence. He's already on the screen."
9. 12 Rounds
Nearly 20 years after Harlin directed Die Hard 2, he once again found himself at the reins for a picture about a cop (John Cena) racing against time to save his wife from bad guys. While times had certainly changed at the box office -- unlike the late 1980s and early 1990s, movies like 12 Rounds had become almost exclusively the domain of direct-to-video stars and Nicolas Cage -- the recent success of Liam Neeson's Taken seemed to suggest that audiences might be warming to good old-fashioned action thrillers once more. Alas, filmgoers turned up their noses at the prospect of seeing Cena kick bad-guy butt, and for the most part, critics applauded their indifference, although 12 Rounds found one of its few defenders in 7M Pictures' Kevin Carr, who wrote, "As a fast-food action director, Renny Harlin still delivers a fun movie."
Tales of war correspondents caught up in life-or-death conflicts have been used as the basis for some terribly compelling movies, including The Killing Fields and The Year of Living Dangerously. If most critics felt Renny Harlin's 5 Days of War failed to meet that lofty standard, it could hardly come as a surprise -- and yet for all the flaws in this low-budget look at an American reporter (Rupert Friend) who finds himself caught up in the Russian occupation of Georgia, one can hardly find fault with Harlin's heartfelt ambition, or his palpable frustration with international apathy in the face of displaced Georgians' plight. As far as ReelTalk Movie Reviews' Donald J. Levit was concerned, the movie offered "A finely realized depiction of war today and of the civilians who suffer the not always 'collateral' consequences."
Harlin's Hollywood career can be roughly divided into two periods: the action hits that led up to 1995's Cutthroat Island, and the tailspin that followed Island's historic flop. Filmed at a cost of nearly $100 million and heavily hyped as one of the motion picture events of the year, Cutthroat starred Harlin's then-wife Geena Davis opposite Matthew Modine in a swashbuckling would-be epic beset with such poisonous word of mouth that its ultimate $10 million American gross helped capsize an entire studio, as well as Harlin's immediate career prospects. It did shiver a few critical timbers, however; USA Today's Susan Wloszczyna argued, "If the sight of half-naked, tattooed sailors firing cannons at each other shivers your timbers, climb aboard. Even passable pirate movies don't sail by every day."
6. Devil's Pass
Harlin entered the found-footage genre with 2013's Devil's Pass, using a still-unexplained real-life incident that ended in the deaths of nine Russian hikers as the basis for a sci-fi/horror hybrid combining screams, slaughters, and supernatural elements. Although Harlin's take on the incident was at least partly based on months of personal research, a number of critics felt it was just as derivative and thinly scripted as any of his lesser efforts, and the movie's U.S. release -- which came during the cinematic dog days of August -- came and went with little fanfare. Still, a number of scribes felt Devil's Pass provided perfectly undemanding fun; as Miriam Bale argued for the New York Times, "The film is ridiculous and laugh-out-loud funny, though it's sometimes hard to tell if this is intentional or not. Either way, it remains riveting because of its effective tropes."