WATERWORLD (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Intense Sequences of Action Violence, brief Nudity and Language

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Directed by: Kevin Reynolds

Written by: Peter Rader & David Twohy

Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino & Michael Jeter

It’s impossible to review WATERWORLD without briefly mentioning this film’s notorious history. In 1995, this Kevin Costner summer blockbuster was the most expensive film ever made. Part of this was because the film was an ambitious project, another reason was because Kevin Costner was a diva who demanded special treatment on the set (e.g. his own private yacht), and most of this was because the production was an utter disaster. Many troubles occurred during the shooting of this film. These included: a set being destroyed by a hurricane, the director leaving the film halfway through production, and Kevin Costner almost dying on set. Constant bad press gave negative attention towards this movie before it was even released. When it finally hit theaters, it flopped hard at the box office (despite spending two weekends at the number one spot). This all being said, how is WATERWORLD when removed from its reputation and taken purely as popcorn entertainment?

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In the distant future, the polar ice caps have melted and the world is now covered in water. Mariner (Kevin Costner) is a mutated loner who spends his time sailing on a unique boat and diving under the water for valuable trading items. After a deal goes wrong in a floating community, Mariner finds himself trapped and facing certain death. Right before he can be executed though, a vicious gang of “smokers” raid and pillage the community. Rescued by bartender Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and strange little girl Enola (Tina Majorino), Mariner soon finds himself transporting precious cargo and searching for a mythical place: dry land. However, the smokers’ cycloptic leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper) is also desperate to find dry land and is looking to get revenge on Mariner.

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Let me be upfront about this, WATERWORLD is a mess. The film’s length (originally trimmed down from three hours) has many dull moments as we are treating to overly long montages, pointless scenes, and a second act where nothing much happens. To boot, Mariner isn’t a likable protagonist. I know that he’s essentially supposed to be Mad Max on the water…but Max was a likable anti-hero from the beginning. For the first half of WATERWORLD, the film constantly plays on the unpleasant possibility that Mariner might rape, kill, or sell the two passengers he has aboard his boat. When the story does transform him into a more sympathetic hero, it feels rushed and unconvincing. We get one “good” deed (he takes back a deal to sell Helen to a rape-happy stranger) and a montage (he teaches Enola how to swim), then suddenly we’re supposed to buy into his unconvincing change of heart.

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To further add to Mariner’s unpleasantness, Costner seems totally bored in his role as the urine-drinking, web-toed, gill-necked jerk. Not many positives can be said about the rest of the cast members either. Jeanne Tripplehorn appears to be reciting her lines for the first time in certain scenes, while Tina Majorino puts in one of the single most annoying performances that I’ve ever seen from a child. Majorino’s character is supposed to be a strong kid with an attitude, but there were moments where I didn’t care if Kevin Costner straight-up drowned her. She’s everything that’s wrong with kid sidekicks in film, especially in big budget adventures. Dennis Hopper took on the role of Deacon two years after embarrassing himself in SUPER MARIO BROS. Suffice to say that Hopper is still doing the exact same over-the-top shtick here, except now he makes a bunch of eyeball puns and walks around in a steampunk outfit. Deacon is one of the least intimidating villains to grace the big screen.

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Though WATERWORLD’s pacing, writing and acting may suck, it still has a few redeemable qualities. The sets are very impressive to look at, even if the computer effects don’t hold up too well. WATERWORLD was actually filmed using similar techniques to James Cameron’s TITANIC, though there is a remarkable difference in quality between the two movies. Action sequences on these gigantic sets are also pretty damned great. The stuff in between the action may be dull, stupid and clichéd as hell, but the explosive set pieces do manage to excite and entertain. Finally, the film’s soundtrack is perfect for a swashbuckling adventure. I’ve heard it used many times in movie trailers from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but never knew its origin until now. There was a distinct moment when my mind went “That great music came from this lame movie?!?!” It was an odd realization to say the least.

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WATERWORLD has an awesome idea at its core. MAD MAX on the water sounds kind of amazing, but it was executed as a big mess. Despite the film’s bad rep, there are some positive qualities to be found. The action, practical effects, and music all deserve to be attached to a better movie. Meanwhile, the film’s dull pacing and laughably over-the-top acting seriously hinder it. The writing itself is far from anything special. It’s THE ROAD WARRIOR on water, except it doesn’t live up to that potentially great premise. I know that there are a few diehard fans of this film who claim that the Extended Cut of the movie is great and magically gets rid of all the glaring errors. To me, it seems like adding 41 extra minutes to “fix” WATERWORLD would be like trying to place a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

Grade: C-

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action throughout, and some Sensuality

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Directed by: Zack Snyder

Written by: Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer

(based on the DC Comics)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter & Gal Gadot

The cinematic Cold War between DC and Marvel has officially begun! As a result, many films will be arriving in the next four years from both companies, much to the delight of superhero fans everywhere. After delivering a brand new Superman with 2013’s MAN OF STEEL (which was a polarizing film, but I fell on the side that liked it as big dumb fun), DC is back with a clash of superhero titans that also serves as a backdoor for the Justice League to be formed. However, DC might have been better if they had slowly built up their Extended Universe before getting into crossover plotlines, because BATMAN v SUPERMAN is a movie that is brimming with potential and almost none of it comes to the screen. I really wanted to love this film or even just enjoy it as another big budget superhero blockbuster, but I walked away very disappointed.

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The story kicks off with MAN OF STEEL’s final fight from a different perspective: Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Ben Affleck) who frantically rushes to save civilians from falling rubble. Traumatized by Clark Kent/Superman’s destructive powers, Wayne becomes obsessed with the Man of Steel being able to wipe out humanity. This eats away at his personal life as Batman’s crime-fighting tactics become more vicious. Meanwhile, Clark Kent becomes obsessed over the violent vigilante in the neighboring Gotham City. Once Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne cross paths at a party held by the villainous Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a conflict arises between both heroes that can only resolve in a brutal fight…with possible world-ending stakes also at hand.

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I’ll list the positives about this film first. Despite many overreactions to his casting announcement, Ben Affleck is pretty damn good as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He brings a level of intensity and grittiness to the character that we’ve come to expect and goes slightly darker (akin to Frank Miller’s more violent take on the hero). Jeremy Irons is perfectly cast as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler/Batman’s loyal servant. Though he isn’t given much to do…other than delivering a handful of snappy one-liners and quick-witted remarks, Irons is a lot of fun in the role. Finally, the expected fight scene between Batman and Superman is well-done. There are creative set pieces utilized (leveling the playing field between the two) as well as the sequence just being plain cool to watch as two iconic superheroes duke it out!

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Now that those positives have been stated, allow me to mention the many downsides to this film. Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill don’t have a hell of a lot of screen time together. In fact, Batman and Superman aren’t given much to do before the big fight scene (that arrives in the second half of the film). We see Batman hide in a corner and chase a truck, but that’s about all we get. As far as Kal-El is concerned, we get a montage of Superman rescuing people from disasters and occasionally saving Louis Lane (as per usual)…but not much actual crime fighting. Instead of any superhero action or excitement, we’re treated to Bruce Wayne having horribly cheesy nightmare sequences (one of which actually used the dream-within-a-dream cliché) and Superman being demonized by a Senator.

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If only the villains were entertaining to watch while Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent go about their daily lives. Instead, Luthor and Doomsday are two underwhelming antagonists. Lex Luthor is being played by a woefully miscast Jesse Eisenberg. Though its clear that they were trying something new with the famous comic book villain (who was previously portrayed by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey), this young and hip approach didn’t work as Luthor comes off as a whiny spoiled rich kid as opposed to being a legitimately intimidating, despicable baddie. I didn’t hate this villain like I should have, but was rather annoyed every time he was on the screen. It’s like they told Jesse Eisenberg to do a slightly quirky, hyperactive version of Mark Zuckerberg from THE SOCIAL NETWORK and then played classical music over it. Eisenberg’s Luthor is laughably bad to behold.

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As for Doomsday (playing a major role in the second half of the film), his inclusion feels arbitrary, half-assed and useless. Poorly rendered CGI cause this alien foe to resemble a radioactive version of the cave troll from LORD OF THE RINGS. This monster looks like it belongs in a Syfy Channel movie as opposed to a 250-million-dollar blockbuster. The only positive thing to come out of his appearance is a glorified cameo from Wonder Woman. However, watching the trio of DC heroes fight off this damn near unstoppable villain becomes repetitive and dull after five minutes.

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There are a number of reasons why BATMAN v SUPERMAN is a disappointment. One might be from the DC Extended Universe shooting themselves in the foot by shoving this tent pole title out too soon. Imagine if Marvel had put out THE AVENGERS before developing any other characters besides Iron Man? Another big reason why this clash of superheroes underwhelms is due to its messy, unfocused script. There’s not nearly the level of action, excitement and humor that there should be in a film where Batman is fighting friggin’ Superman! The animated series had a better well-rounded conflict between these characters. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne barely encounter each other before the admittedly well-done fight scene. The main problem though is that BATMAN v SUPERMAN is a film packed with too much filler and obvious bridge-building for future installments (something that Marvel’s AGE OF ULTRON also suffered from), and not nearly enough of the titular promised hero vs. hero conflict.

Grade: C-

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Intense Action, and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Written by: Adam Cozad & David Koepp

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh & Colm Feore

The last time Jack Ryan appeared on the big screen he was being played by Ben Affleck in 2002’s THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. Over a decade has passed since that film was a box office hit. For some reason, the studio didn’t see a reason in bringing back the CIA agent to the movie theater until this year. JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is clearly Paramount’s attempt to jump-start a new franchise featuring Tom Clancy’s CIA agent character. Though the film has been a success worldwide, it didn’t even make its budget back domestically and opened to the underwhelming position of #4 at the box office in its first weekend. This all being said, it’s uncertain if we’ll ever see Chris Pine play Jack Ryan ever again and even more unlikely that the studio would even bother with a new Jack Ryan film for at least another decade. As far as the quality of SHADOW RECRUIT goes, it’s an average spy thriller with some fun to be had.

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Jack Ryan is a young man eager to serve his country. After being badly injured in the line of duty, Jack winds up the rehab center of a military hospital overcoming cracked vertebrae and learning to walk again. The story then introduces Cathy, Jack’s nurse quickly turned into Jack’s girlfriend, and Thomas Harper, a mysterious stranger who hopes to recruit Jack into the CIA as an analyst. Cut to 2012, Jack is now covertly working as an analyst in a big company and has come across some suspicious activity from a massive Russian corporation. In order to stop a master plan to topple the US economy, Jack travels to Moscow to take down a Russian terrorist and juggling the affections of the unaware (though suspicious) Cathy.

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As far as spy thrillers go, SHADOW RECRUIT is familiar in many ways. There’s obligatory action scenes throughout and a dangerous villain complete with an accent (in this case: Russian). The damsel in distress trope is also used at one point. There’s a ticking clock before all hell breaks loose. You get the idea pretty fast of how everything will play out. For the most part, it does paint by the numbers on the viewer’s expectations. However, there’s quite a bit of entertainment value to be had, despite the been-there-done-that nature of the plot.

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The pacing is mostly fast, but feels too rushed in places. The prologue is needlessly complicated with unnecessary details. The director didn’t need to open with Jack Ryan in a college witnessing the 9/11 attacks on TV. They could have passed this bit over in one sentence of dialogue and considering that we see two other time periods before the title even appears on-screen (about 10 minutes into the movie, mind you), this bit could have easily been cut out. Most of the cinematography looks slick and the locations in Moscow are beautiful. Branagh is a capable director, as seen in THOR and FRANKENSTEIN. He seems to botch up a few scenes into messy incoherence though. The helicopter crash near the beginning is so laced with quick editing and shaky-cam that it was a jumbled mess of a scene. There is also a stabbing later on in the film that looks a tad off in the way it was shot. With all these flaws taken into consideration, the film still retains a big dumb fun factor to it.

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The cast of SHADOW RECRUIT features some familiar faces. As the title character, Chris Pine emulates his performance of Kirk from the new STAR TREK series. It may as well have been titled CAPTAIN KIRK: SHADOW RECRUIT, because it’s the exact same performance. He’s serviceable enough as Jack Ryan, but there’s nothing particularly special that separates this character from all the other secret agents we’ve seen in film history. Keira Knightley is wooden as Cathy. I didn’t see a single bit of chemistry between her and Chris Pine, which is never a good thing. Luckily, she’s not in much of the film and entirely in the story for a damsel in distress car chase scene (which admittedly is pretty intense). Kevin Costner is good as Thomas Harper. I could see this character going on to become Costner’s assassin character in 3 DAYS TO KILL (coincidentally released a few weeks after this film). Then there’s Kenneth Branagh pulling double-duty as director and Russian villain. Branagh gives the best performance in the film and does scenery-chewing evil so well!

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JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is far from perfect and might not even be considered a very “good” movie, but it’s entertaining enough and builds to an exciting action-packed finale. The film can be downright chaotic in places, due to some shaky scenes or a pace that feels like it’s on fast-forward here and there. The action scenes are well done, as well as the suspense throughout. It’s definitely your average CIA thriller with a clichéd and overly familiar plot, but there’s some fun to be had throughout. It may wind up as more of a guilty pleasure, but JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT isn’t a bad way to kill some time.

Grade: C+

3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, some Sensuality and Language

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Directed by: McG

Written by: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson

Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, Eriq Ebouaney & Tomas Lemarquis

Luc Besson is certainly an interesting guy in the film industry. He’s directed some great films in the past (e.g. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL), but also had a hand in writing ridiculously entertaining action flicks (e.g. TAKEN, TRANSPORTER, LOCKOUT, etc). Some were more successful than others box-office wise and others received less than warm reception from critics. 3 DAYS TO KILL is one of his latest projects. Thus far, it has been doing a decent enough job at the box office and is being panned by most major critics. Instead of Besson taking the director’s chair on this film, McG takes the helm and surprisingly delivers a competent and cool romp. This far from the best action movie that will come out this year (personally, I’m holding out for THE RAID 2) and it has some problems, but 3 DAYS TO KILL is big, dumb fun that delivers what you’d expect from a movie like this.

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Ethan Renner is a loose-cannon CIA agent who doesn’t play by the rules. After a mission gone awry, he’s diagnosed with cancer and has three months left to live. So Ethan returns to Paris to get his last affairs in order and spend the remaining days making up for lost time with his distant family. Being an awkward as both a bad husband and father, Ethan finds that catching up with his daughter and wife is more difficult than he was anticipating. Then he meets Vivi, another CIA assassin, who offers him an experimental drug to cure his cancer. The catch is that he has to work on a top-secret mission to take down an arms dealer known simply as The Wolf, all while juggling his hormonal teenage daughter and the disapproving looks of his wife. Wacky hijinks ensue that include lots of gunshots, explosions, car chases, and daddy time with his daughter.

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I never really saw Kevin Costner as an action hero. He was good in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and intimidating in MR. BROOKS, but I have never imagined him as a gun-totting badass (I have yet to see THE BODYGUARD though). Costner is surprisingly well cast here as Ethan. I bought into this middle-aged man shooting bad guys, taking names, and planting explosives. Although the film sports a PG-13 rating (which can be seen as a kiss of death for blood in an action movie, see LOCKOUT for further proof), 3 DAYS TO KILL didn’t need lots of crazy gore flying everywhere. This is more of a James Bond/Jason Bourne type of adrenaline ride, so that description should give you an idea if this is up your alley.

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Hailee Steinfield (recently seen in ENDER’S GAME) does a good job as Ethan’s teenage daughter and doesn’t come off as too cliché (though there are a few sappy montages and typical teenager behavior seen in many other movies). Connie Nelson (the femme fatale in THE ICE HARVEST), despite getting top billing, disappears for a good portion of the story. In the film’s defense, she isn’t really needed much other for a familiar trope we’ve seen in many other stories. You may notice a trend in this review thus far. I keep comparing 3 DAYS TO KILL to other films. This is appropriate enough, because 3 DAYS TO KILL is just an entertaining mash-up of good pieces of other movies. In its own weird way, this is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a PG-13 action film. Normally, I would consider this a bad thing, but there’s such a good entertainment factor to this one. It’s not laugh at how stupid the film is, but laugh along with the film. This is a Luc Besson project and he always injects a self-aware sense of the movie knowing it’s a movie! In this case, it might be the cure for cancer and dealing with the homeless squatters in his apartment or Ethan juggling his dysfunctional family life with his CIA mission. This film never takes itself seriously and focuses on being a fun time at the movie theater.

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On the other side of the coin, Amber Heard is horribly miscast as Vivi. She still looks like a young 20-something and doesn’t come off as remotely convincing. I know I’ve been saying that this movie is ridiculous and makes it clear that it’s just a goofy action flick, but I just couldn’t buy Heard’s CIA assassin or her sexual advances towards Costner (who looks old enough to be her grandpa). The finale is predictable beyond measure, but the same can be said about the rest of the film. This is a good turn-you-brain-off and enjoy the mindless violence (albeit nearly bloodless PG-13 rated mayhem) film. The never-ending sense of humor keeps things very watchable and enjoyable, which was a much welcomed part of the film. I genuinely laughed a lot and a couple of running gags kept cracking me up every single time they popped up.

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The acting is good enough, with the exception of an unconvincing Amber Heard. The violence is silly PG-13 level fun. Kevin Costner does a good job being a badass assassin (of all things) and the film is thoroughly entertaining. It’s far from Luc Besson’s best work (LEON still holds that position and probably will for a long time to come), but it just might be McG’s best effort (for what that’s worth, I still need to re-watch TERMINATOR: SALVATION to make that a definite statement). Those who want a ridiculous and fun action film, would do well to check out 3 DAYS TO KILL. It’s a good watch. I’m surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did and it might just surprise you too.

Grade: B-

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