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This film evokes memories of being on holiday in France a few years ago. During one particularly rainy evening, finding the local TV channels incomprehensible (all in French for some reason) we raided the quaint little chalet's video collection, settling on the only VHS that was in the English language, Hudson Hawk.
Not exactly in the best of moods, I sat down to watch Bruce Willis star in a film that he had also co-written. Hardly expecting Citizen Kane, I still couldn't understand how Willis had created something so terrible. I couldn't stand the characters, the dialogue or the story, and don't get me started on the singing interludes. Looking at it now, my feelings have softened a little towards the film, and whilst it's certainly not as awful as I remember it's definitely not a highlight of Willis' career.
Danny Aiello arrives on screen with an attitude that seems to say, "look at me, I'm Danny Aiello". His character is called Tommy Five-Tone, and boy, does he love a good croon along with Bruce. These cat burglars have come up with a very novel way of timing their crimes; singing a tune that matches their planned robbery and escape time to a precise measurement. Why all that singing doesn't bring them to the attention of the guards I don't know.
A bunch of familiar faces appear, not all of them welcome. Richard E. Grant shows up as grandiose millionaire Darwin Mayflower, chewing the scenery like he's not been fed for a week. His partner in crime is Sandra Bernhard, and the less said about her the better. Main villain duties fall to James Coburn and his team of ex-CIA goofballs. There's Butterfinger the idiot man-child and Kit Kat the mute impressionist (an early role for David Caruso)...not really a threat for smug old Bruce. Andie MacDowell's also around somewhere, continuing to carve out her niche as Hollywood's blandest love interest.
Apparently everyone's in demand of Hawk's robbery services, but when he's put in a box and shipped to Rome by Coburn's corrupt general, he has little option but to go along with the plan to steal Da Vinci's notebook. There's stuff about a star shaped crystal too, but it doesn't really matter. Honestly, this film is like the Da Vinci Code for dummies. Andie MacDowell's in charge of looking after the notebook for some reason, so once he's stolen it Willis' cat burglar is going to have to keep its whereabouts a mystery if he wants to keep her around.
There's just so many parts of this film that make you cringe with embarrassment, starting with some godawful one-liners. After chopping a man's head off, Hudson Hawk is quick to quip "You won't be attending that hat convention in July". What does that even mean? It's also cartoonish in its violence. Characters bemoan a lack of subtlety, then get stabbed in the face by a dozen hypodermic needles. As well as half the characters being named after chocolate bars, we also have to deal with the idiocy of two of the bad guys being named 'the Mario Brothers' with little irony. There's only so far you can push me Willis.
If there's one thing that this film has going for it, it's that it's locations are lovely. Partially shot in Italy, New York and the Vatican City, at least Bruce's buffoonery has a nice backdrop. This was a notorious flop for Bruce back in 1991, grossing $17 million domestically from a $65 million dollar budget. It was from that part of his career when he tried to do films other than action (Bonfire Of The Vanities, Billy Bathgate etc), the best of the bunch being Death Becomes Her.
Somehow this film was made by Michael Lehman, the director of Heathers. There's none of that film's wit or satire present here, instead opting for goofy romance and smug performances. To say you need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this film is an understatement. I think back to my first experience with Hudson Hawk back in France, and maybe I wasn't so wrong in the first place. Some people may enjoy this completely, but they're probably the kind of people who own Bruce Willis' album 'The Return Of Bruno', and not in an ironic way. I don't want to associate myself with them.
A group of 26 men volunteer for a social experiment that will pit them against one another in a mock prison environment. Once the volunteers are placed in the facility, they're split into two teams; the prisoners and the guards. No acts of violence will be tolerated, and they'll be watched over by security cameras and studied by Dr Archaleta (Fisher 'number Johnny Five' Stevens). All the men have different reasons for entering the experiment, with the primary motive being the healthy paycheck they'll receive if they complete the 14 days of incarceration.
This film is a remake of the German original Das Experiment, itself based on the story of the real tests that happened in Stanford. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't seen the original film, so will be basing my review solely on this film's own merits. The new version was written and made by the team behind the Prison Break TV series, which for all its ridiculousness, I was a fan of. It's somewhat familiar territory for them, although that series' tale of searching for brotherhood has been supplanted by two friends who've found themselves on opposing sides.
During the appraisal stage we see Adrien Brody's liberal layabout Travis befriend Forest Whitaker's mysterious loner Barris, but their relationship quickly turns frosty once their respective uniforms are issued. It's fairly obvious from the start that Forest Whitaker's shy, polite normal guy isn't going to stay that way for long, with the small amount of power given to him going straight to his head.
The guards demand order whilst the prisoners want to revolt, and before you know it, we're heavily into Lord of the Flies territory. Therein lies this films biggest problem; I've seen it all before. Whilst there are bits to enjoy, I could have written down the ending as soon as the film started. The characters lack any nuances, painted with large and obvious brushstrokes. One of the guards is a boorish womaniser...I wonder what his big secret desire is? Another of the guards actually has a conscience...hmm, let me think about where he's headed.
Don't forget that this is a film with two Best Actor Oscar winners in the main roles. Forest Whitaker may play 'gone a bit loopy' well, and Adrien Brody may be good at the charming slacker, but they need better material if they're ever going to go Oscar hunting again. It's not terrible, but for supposedly true events is just very unbelievable, come the ending giving us one plot point that sends it over the edge into its own reality. Altogether, an enjoyable but formulaic thriller where none of its talented cast particularly shine.
Arriving in the summer of 1996, The Pallbearer was part of a slew of films the cast of Friends signed up for following their success on the small screen. Whilst most of his cast mates went for straight romantic comedies (Matthew Perry in Fools Rush In, Lisa Kudrow in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Jennifer Aniston in Picture Perfect), David Schwimmer opted for this much more maudlin affair.
In it Schwimmer stars as Tom Thompson, a 20 something average guy who's life is going nowhere fast. His friends are either getting married or thinking about starting a family; he just wants to move out of his mum's house. Tom's old high school crush (Gwyneth Paltrow) has moved back into town, but she was one of the popular girls who can't remember who he is. Having what is possibly the most misrepresenting cover in the history of cinema, this is far from the comedy it's being sold as, instead telling the dark story of a man asked to be a pallbearer at the funeral of Bill Abernathy, an old school mate he doesn't recall knowing. It's such a high concept social nightmare it could have been a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, except not really played for laughs.
Finding himself placed in an impossible situation by the boys grieving mother (the sultry Barbara Hershey), Tom also agrees to deliver the eulogy for the man whose face he can't remember, hoping that things will fall into place at the funeral. It doesn't help matters when he then sleeps with the boy's mother, ending up in a particularly messed up relationship where he's basically her substitute son as well as her lover.
Although it's not terrible, I think it's safe to say this film would have been completely forgotten if not for a couple of things. Firstly, the director Matt Reeves followed this up with 2008's monster movie Cloverfield, and then with the recent vampire remake Let Me In. Eclectic is how I would describe his films. The other name worth mentioning is this film's producer Jeffrey Abrams, now better known to the world as the uber-producer, 'JJ' Abrams.
Abrams had already produced and written a couple of high profile films (Mel Gibson's Forever Young, Harrison Ford's Regarding Henry), but this was still before he had hit it big on the small screen with Felicity, Alias, and of course, Lost. Abrams and Reeves were both still under 30 when they made this film, and at times it's over sentimental in that way only pondering twenty somethings can be. For fans of Abrams' work The Pallbearer has the obligatory appearance from Greg Grunberg (Heroes' Matt Parkman).
As for the performance of leading man David Schwimmer, he's trying to channel Dustin Hoffman's Graduate character Benjamin Braddock, but seemingly as if he was raised in a cupboard under the stairs. Schwimmer's never too far away from Ross, particularly in the earlier series of Friends when he played a lovelorn loser pining after the girl that he in reality, would never end up with. It's hard to separate Schwimmer from the character he played on TV for 10 years, and although it's a dramatic and comedic performance, it's what I'd describe as 'hair acting'. Tom Thompson's fringe and dress sense is so distracting, it's like he's off to a fancy dress party as a 12 year old boy. The few times he slicks his hair back to closer resemble Ross Geller, it's the only time Schwimmer looks comfortable on screen.
Here it's Gwyneth Paltrow playing the Rachel stand-in, an old school friend who doesn't actually recall Tom Thompson, confusing him with a much more popular and memorable school friend. Much like Bill Abernathy, Tom's destined to be one of those guys you just don't remember, except for being part of the chess club. Paltrow's okay in this unshowy role, but as the object of Tom's affection, she's not really given a lot to do except pout.
When looking at it in comparison to the other 'Friends' movies, it's far from the worst and probably one of the more memorable. I'd put that down to the fact that Schwimmer never really was able to turn his small screen success into a big screen career, leaving us with this role and his directing work (hello Run, Fatboy, Run) as his contribution to cinema. At least he didn't repeat the crime of Jennifer Aniston by essentially playing the role he became famous for, over and over and over again.
Mark Kendall (Jim Carrey) is just your regular teenage boy, eager to lose his virginity to his girlfriend. Tired of her declining his advances he hits the clubs with his friends, and when he's approached by an alluring older woman (Lauren Hutton), he sees it as a chance to get de-flowered and pick up some experience at the same time. Unfortunately for Mark, the sexy temptress is actually a centuries old vampire looking for prey that will allow her to keep her everlasting youth. Before he knows it, Mark is one of her legion of blood sucking vampires, leading to some questionable behaviour in front of his friends.
I imagine that when a young, hopeful Jim Carrey set off from Canada to seek his fame and fortune in Los Angeles, this film wasn't quite what he had in mind. It's strange to see such a scarily youthful Jim Carrey in a teen comedy (he was actually in his early twenties when the film was made) from way back in 1985, a good 9 years before his breakthrough with Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura and The Mask. This may be 25 years old, but Carrey's usual rubbery faced schtick is still in use here, albeit in it's infancy.
Despite being mostly terrible, it has all the hallmarks of a classic 80's movie...appalingly memorable theme music, dodgy fashion and a now mega famous movie star looking embarrassingly fresh faced and wet behind the ears. Carrey makes for a particularly gawky teen lead, part Patrick Dempsey but a bit more Anthony Edwards. He's definitely the best thing about the film, but isn't given enough opportunities to let loose the brand of Carrey mania. He's having fun here, but rarely lets rips like in his classic roles. The 80's were the decade of accidental vampires, but as this dream sequence will prove, Once Bitten has taken the camp gothic comedy route instead of Near Dark's brooding or The Lost Boys' trendiness.
Like all recent converts to vampirism, Carrey suddenly finds a better sense of fashion, combing his hair differently and wearing lots of black. His girlfriend suddenly becomes a lot more interested in him again, and he's more popular at school. If only the blood lust wasn't a problem. Like all the best teen comedies, Once Bitten also has a high school gym set dance off (complete with Jim Carrey using his own leg as a guitar). To see crazy legs Carrey bust some moves on the dance floor is definitely the films highlight. If the rest of the film allowed Carrey to let go like he does here, it would have been a lot more enjoyable.
It's interesting that whilst most 80's vampire films were using vampires as an allegory for the AIDS epidemic, this film decided to reduce the vampire myth down to a bunch of blow job gags. It's okay as a teen comedy, but like so many 80's films, would be completely forgotten if not for its now mega famous leading man. It does prove that Carrey should have made it big earlier in his career, but with this and Earth Girls Are Easy on his filmography, the 80's weren't so kind to him.
Every seven years the worlds greatest assassins take part in a ruthless contest of last man standing. Watching them via CCTV are a group of billionaires, gambling on who the victor will be. The favourite is the returning champion Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames, always the strong silent type), re-entering the competition to find his wife's killer. He thinks he knows who it is, but needs to know why she was targeted. The combatants, each with their own respective skills, are implanted with a tracking device to aide in the hunt for each other, but after accidentally ingesting one of the tracking devices, local drunk Father MacAvoy (Robert Carlyle) is added as a player in the contest, teaming up with the repenting Lai Lai (Kelly Hu) to avoid being quickly offed.
In what far flung destination is this film set in? Bali? Hong Kong? Dubai? Nope, it's set in Middlesbrough. Plain as ever, just off the A66, Middlesbrough. No offense to any residents of that area, but even you must think that's a stupid place to set an action film. Also, as the film makes no use of any local landmarks, I must assume that the city has some personal connection to the filmmakers.
The most obvious critique of this film is just how derivative it is. It's a little bit Death Race, a little bit Terminator and a lot Running Man. Oh, and a bit like Series 7: The Contenders too. It certainly has a bizarre cast, bringing some international talent into this assassin's smackdown. I couldn't help but jump to the conclusion that Ving Rhames must have some bills to pay and this must have been made before Lost's Ian Somerhalder found himself another hit TV series in Vampire Diaries. Both men seem very out of place in the cold north-east of England, doing their cat and mouse routine through some very foreign backdrops. The casting that puzzles me most is Robert Carlyle. Why a man of such talent would take on such a blank role as the wimpy drunk is beyond me, as he's deserving and capable of so much more.
Highlights are delivered by Sebastien Foucan, the French Parkour specialist best known for his appearance in Casino Royale (as well as endless YouTube videos). Despite being so 2006, it's still highly entertaining to watch Foucan's parkour shenanigans. Much like his leaps between buildings, his appearances are brief but thrilling. He's a skilled athlete who, personally, I'd put all my money on in this contest.
There's some deliciously splatterific kills on show, but they're not backed up enough by a credible story. In a scene that defies all geographical logic, Lai Lai spends around 4 hours driving the unfortunate Father MacAvoy as far away from Middlesbrough to safety, only to immediately run into one of the assassins we've just seen fighting miles away. I'm not expecting the highest quality of scriptwriting here, but it was a plot contrivance that annoyed me greatly.
I will give them some credit for making what must have been a low budget go a long way, particularly in some of the action scenes. The bus/tanker chase near the end was well done (if an obvious Terminator 1 and 2 clone), and some of the kills were creative. The story is threadbare, but action set pieces appear in a common enough frequency to make it a reasonably effective low budget British actioner.