Category Archives: 2000s

Get Smart (2008)

*. Get Smart isn’t so much a movie as a product. There’s a brand name, going back to a beloved television show from the 1960s. There’s a big budget (an $80 million comedy!) and an impressive collection of talent in front of the camera. Plot-wise there’s a little something for everyone. Necessarily, in the judgment of Brian D. Johnson, because as a summer blockbuster it was “obliged” to be not just comedy but action and romance. With all these boxes being ticked how could it go wrong? Or right?
*. Well, they really did blow it. There are maybe a couple of laughs here but the overall sense is that of waste. In my notes on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) I questioned the whole idea of putting “bigness” together with comedy. Watching Get Smart I was thinking the same thing. You can’t just throw stars at a big property and expect it’s going to work. To what purpose were all these players assembled? Bill Murray appears in a cameo as a lonely agent stuck in a tree. It isn’t funny. James Caan is the president, and he isn’t funny. Alan Arkin is an actor I miss, and I think he can be funny but he sure isn’t here. Terence Stamp was made to play the heavy but is given nothing to work with. Dwayne Johnson . . . you get the point.
*. There’s nothing interesting in the action part of the plot either. A terrorist organization (KAOS) is going to blow up Los Angeles with a nuclear bomb unless they get so many billion dollars. Our hero, Maxwell Smart (Steve Carrell), recently promoted to field agent, is sent along with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to stop them. So it’s a buddy flick with a mismatched pair of good guys. There’s a case of mistaken identity. A capture and an escape. A break-in to steal some important secrets. A bad guy with a giant sidekick. A race to stop the bomb from going off.
*. At least in the romance department there’s a bright spot. Anne Hathaway has the rare ability to project as both sexy and funny and she’s the only reason to watch this movie, totally upstaging Carrell at every turn.
*. Where did things go wrong? The usual suspects. The script doesn’t seem to me to have anything worthwhile in it. Take the fat stuff. I guess seeing Carrell paired with a large woman in the ballroom dance-off scene is basic odd-couple comedy, but I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be funny about Max having been obese once. Just seeing Carrell in a fat suit?
*. Then there’s the direction. David Ansen in Newsweek referred to Peter Segal as “a comedy specialist lacking any apparent sense of humour.” That’s an assessment I’d agree with, and I was really surprised when I checked out Segal’s filmography. His big-screen directing debut came with Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994) and he then went on to Tommy Boy (1995), My Fellow Americans (1996), The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000), Anger Management (2003), 50 First Dates (2004), The Longest Yard (2005), this movie, Grudge Match (2013) and My Spy (2020). How can someone work for 25 years in this genre directing so many not-funny movies? He’s like the Rob Zombie of comedy.
*. Well, I mentioned the big budget and the fact is Get Smart made it all back and then some. So perhaps that answers my question. I guess three Austin Powers movies hadn’t killed audience appetites for retro-flavoured spy spoofs yet. There were (of course) plans for a sequel but Carrell didn’t like the initial script, which I think means it must have been really bad. Then Carrell wrote his own script but it never went anywhere. I think that’s fair, as this movie was more than enough.

Alexander (2004)

*. I have to start off by saying what version of Alexander I’ll be talking about here. There was an original theatrical cut that ran 175 minutes. The first DVD version was the “Director’s Cut,” which, in what may have been a first, was actually shorter than the theatrical cut, coming in at 167 minutes (18 minutes were cut and 9 added). There was then a “Final Cut” (Alexander Revisited) that ran a whopping 214 minutes but which was not, alas, final. An “Ultimate Cut” was released in 2013 which was 206 minutes.
*. The movie I watched was the Director’s Cut. I’m told the longer versions are better. I’ll never know. I thought it was too long at 167 minutes. Indeed, I think it would have been too long at any length, as it’s a bad movie.
*. But despite all that, it is a bit of fun, sort of like Showgirls done up as a historical costume epic. Every step of the way one can understand Oliver Stone’s creative decisions, and also how badly they backfire so as to only make a bigger mess.
*. Take the accents. Macedonian was a dialect of Greek that was all but incomprehensible to Greeks in Alexander’s day, so in order to reflect this Stone says (on the DVD commentary) that he wanted Irish actors doing the Macedonian parts because of the noticeable lilt. He also thought that playing the ancients with plummy British accents was a cliché. But a lilt is not what Macedonian would have sounded like, and Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Brian Blessed, and Christopher Plummer don’t have Irish accents anyway. Meanwhile, what sort of an accent is Angelina Jolie’s Olympias trying to affect? Epirote? Transylvanian?
*. Then there’s the treatment of Alexander’s homosexuality. It’s hard to fault Stone for introducing this, as that’s certainly there in the record and he ended up taking some flack for it. But then he plays coy with the whole idea. The thing is, Alexander seems not to have been much interested in sex at all, but preferred the companionship of men. But here his male friends/lovers are presented as looking like drag queens while Roxana (Rosario Dawson) is a babe. It’s hard to figure this out.
*. Finally there’s the matter of historical accuracy. I suppose some amount of condensation had to take place, with several of Alexander’s battles being collapsed into just the couple shown on screen. But this does play havoc with the record. Not to mention having the Battle of the Hydaspes taking place in a jungle.
*. The jungle may be a nod to Stone’s Vietnam, as Alexander is presented here as being on a mission, however misguided, of benevolent imperialism: “to free the people of the world.” Just as his overthrow of the Persian Empire may have some connection to the Gulf Wars. But again this makes a mush of history. To be sure, every age has imagined an Alexander in its own image. The one settled on here, of Alexander as sensitive warrior in the cause of multiculturalism is, I think, ridiculous, but it’s part of this same tradition.
*. Despite the running time much is left out. And much of what’s left out is rather important. I’m disappointed at not seeing any of the siege of Tyre, but that’s at least understandable from the point of view of production costs. But why no visit to the Siwa Oasis? Or burning of Persepolis? These are absolutely crucial parts of Alexander’s story that would go a long way into providing some psychological insight. Where is this Alexander’s pothos?
*. Perhaps pothos (or longing) was something Colin Farrell just couldn’t project. He is, I think obviously, miscast. But he isn’t helped by hair and make-up that have him looking like a refugee from an ’80s metal band. Or a script that doesn’t give him many opportunities to man up. This meek and sensitive Alexander just doesn’t wash. Alexander was a genuine hard case, and with all apologies to Farrell, he’s too damn pretty.
*. Oliver Stone is an odd cat, and seems to be getting odder all the time. I appreciate his passion for projects like this, but by this point in his career I think he was creatively shot. Still, it’s a movie that took someone with his kind of mad vision to make, and then continue for so many years to re-make. I think what he ended up with was a disaster, albeit with some wonderful moments, highlighted by some good battle sequences and Jolie’s unmissable, height-of-camp performance (“In my womb I carried my avenger!”). It was a box office bomb, but for some reason sold like hot cakes on DVD (a fact that may have played into its endless revising and reissuing). I think it’s very much a work of its time, which already seems hard to remember since so much has changed. And I doubt I’ll ever want to go back to it again.

The Invasion (2007)

*. Let’s kick things off with a bit of dialogue from 1978. Not from the Philip Kaufman version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but from the discussion of that film by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on Sneak Previews (as their first review show on PBS was called):

Ebert: “Why did they remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers? We’re both movie buffs, I think I’ve seen the original 1956 version two or three times. Sitting there appreciating the film I still didn’t know why it was necessary.”
Siskel: “Well what’s more amazing is that it’s sort of typical of this year. We have so many sequels, part two of this, part two of that, remaking an old movie . . . isn’t it amazing to you as we see these films that here’s this whole colony of filmmakers and they’re bereft of ideas? I don’t understand why it happens.”

*. I’ll repeat, that was 1978. One can only imagine what Gene and Rog would say looking out over today’s landscape, so dominated by sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots. An industry that, at least in so far as the major studios are concerned, is totally bereft of ideas.
*. Or is that a fair conclusion to draw? Since 1978 there were two more Body Snatcher movies to come (with more, I am sure, in the pipeline). But as Kaufman remarked of his version, the original story is sort of like Hamlet, infinitely capable of modern reproductions set in new contexts and having different meanings. And isn’t that what’s going on here?
*. The twenty-first century context is a world in conflict. There are problems in Afghanistan and Iraq, India and Kashmir, and a list of other hotspots that newscasters repeat throughout the film like a chorus of chyrons, albeit with no clear sense of how we’re supposed to feel about any of them (Roger Ebert: “How many references in the same movie can you have to the war in Iraq and not say anything about it?”). As things proceed, the takeover of the pods looks as though it’s going to put an end to all this, ushering in an age of global if not universal peace.
*. This isn’t a good thing because . . . well, because it means we’d no longer be human. The lecture of the Russian diplomat Yorish provides this version of the story with its theme, which is that civilization necessarily involves cruelty and carnage. It’s messy and there’s no cleaning it up.
*. That doesn’t strike me as very nice, or very profound. Nevertheless, the filmmakers (whoever they were, more on this later) thought it so important that they repeat Yorish’s lines at the very end just so we don’t miss the point.
*. The messy messaging doesn’t stop there. The politics are a muddle, as the aliens (they aren’t pod people this time because there are no pods) take over a high-ranking official in the government’s department of health first, who then organizes a mass flu vaccination program, enforced by cops who drive around beating people and hustling them off somewhere. The vaccinations will of course, lead to the spread of the alien virus, in effect making people sick. Wow. It’s an anti-vaxxer, Big Pharma plus Deep State, One World Government takeover fantasy!
*. In short, I’m not sure what the message is here, but it doesn’t feel right. Manohla Dargis thought she understood it well enough to call it “creepy” and “abhorrent,” which sounds pretty apt from where I’m sitting. Though I’d want to note that there’s an uneasiness you can feel in all of the Body Snatcher movies. Only in this one it feels somehow worse.
*. A happy ending, but is it? It’s so ridiculous and pat that I don’t think we’re meant to take it seriously (the infected are cured, with a convenient memory lapse concerning all that happened, with Kidman’s cute son being the golden child immune to their hostile takeover). Plus we get Yorish’s words returning to mock us. Is this what we really wanted? Well, if you’re high-priced D.C. doctors and look like Nicole Kidman or Daniel Craig I would say yes.
*. Not only can you not show any emotion while imitating an alien, you can’t sweat. What? Not even on a really hot day? Come on. Physiologically they’re still human.
*. It’s interesting that right from the start the Body Snatchers story has dealt with broken and imperiled families. In Jack Finney’s novel Miles and Becky are both divorced, but there are no kids involved, which is the same as in the 1956 movie. In the 1978 version it seems clear that Elizabeth is going to be ditching her boring dentist husband pretty soon so she can shack up with her co-worker Matthew, and again there are no children. The subject of dysfunctional families is brought up by Dr. Kibner at one point, but it’s hard to judge how to read him (in part because we can’t be sure if he’s still human). In 1993 the new step-mom is already a replacement before she’s replaced, and now parent-child relationships are the main focus. Which is again the situation here, with Dr. Bennell trying to protect her son from her sinister ex.
*. I bring this up because it’s such an essential part of the mythos and yet I’m not sure what point is being made. The loss of our emotional connections to our nearest and dearest should be what scares us the most, but instead we’re presented with a bunch of people who have already drifted apart.
*. More of this mouth-to-mouth vomiting stuff. I wrote about this in my notes on Annabelle: Creation, which came ten years later. I thought then that it might have got its start in Prince of Darkness or The Hidden (both 1987). You get something kind of similar when Robert Patrick infects Salma Hayek by puking a bug in her ear in The Faculty. It was also used in It Comes by Night and to spread the zombie plague in 28 Days Later. I guess it’s just gross. There’s really no reason why the aliens have to use such a crude form of transmission here, especially in settings like the press conference.
*. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure who the filmmakers were. The movie was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, but the studio was apparently so dissatisfied they demanded additional scenes written by the Wachowskis and shot by James McTeigue, at a cost of some $10 million. I’m not sure what the stuff that was added was, but I think it was mainly meant to juice the action. So maybe the car chase through Baltimore, which I actually thought was pretty good. Having all the people go flying off of the car was neat.
*. There are other things to like. I thought Kidman was good. And the movie isn’t terrible. But it is a mess in more ways than just its message. There are too many car chases, too much action, and not enough slow-developing horror. The cutaways to animation of the virus spreading through Kidman’s bloodstream was silly. The ending is a joke, no matter how ironically you take it.
*. Critics weren’t kind. Let’s face it, they’d had fifty years to sharpen their blades. But the previous three versions had actually been excellent, each in their own way. That this was clearly the worst of the four is in itself no harsh condemnation, but it allowed reviewers to finally vent some spleen. They probably went overboard trashing what is mainly just a mediocre muddle. Alas, you really can’t judge this movie on its own. It takes a seat with distinguished company, and has to suffer the comparison.

Leprechaun 6: Back 2 Tha Hood (2003)

*. Oh boy. I really don’t know why we needed six Leprechaun movies (and there would still be a couple more to come, what with the series reboot). And I really really don’t know why we needed two of them set in “Tha Hood” since I didn’t think they had enough material for one. And yet here we are.
*. Actually, and for what it’s worth, this entry was supposed to have the Leprechaun partying with college kids on spring break. But I think shooting another movie in the streets of L.A. was cheaper. So no Leprechaun Gone Wild. At least not yet.
*. I guess the first thing to say here is that this isn’t a sequel to Leprechaun in the Hood, even though that movie ended on a (unique for the series) open note with the Leprechaun still alive. Indeed not only alive but enjoying himself very much as a big-time rap impresario surrounded by fly girls. However, as I’ve had occasion to mention before, there is no consistent narrative being followed in these movies, to the point where it’s unclear if it’s the same leprechaun in each of the films. So we’re starting with a clean slate again here.
*. If the title is a joke it’s one of the few we get. There’s a noticeable swerve away from the lightness of the previous couple of movies. At times they almost seem to be trying to scare us. There are still some comic stretches, like with the Leprechaun’s first appearance at a house party where he gets stuck on a bong, but there are also nastier bits that play more like a traditional slasher horror film. There aren’t even any of the supernaturally grotesque kills that the wee fellow occasionally indulged. The Leprechaun just basically tears people apart with his bare hands. He’s a lot stronger in this movie, and less given to playing tricks.
*. There are carryover gags — like the way the Leprechaun keeps getting an eye torn out in these movies — as well as some new bits of leprechaun mythology. Apparently this leprechaun is an evil leftover of a tribe of earth spirits that were conjured up in medieval days, which is something we haven’t heard before. He is also indestructible except for clover. Religious rituals are of no use because, as the good witch tells them, “This creature predates Christianity.” I don’t think this is true, historically, and even if it was I don’t think it would make theological sense since the Christian God is supposed to be eternal.
*. Maybe I was just feeling burned out myself, but Warwick Davis seems tired of the part here. As well he might have been. Luckily for him this was to be the end of the line.
*. So . . . just as bad as Leprechaun in the Hood but in different ways. If you didn’t like all the jokes in the previous films then this one may appeal to you a bit more. But even though it’s different, it’s still nothing new.

Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)

*. I think at some point the producers of this series understood that they had nothing, so the only way to keep the franchise going was to throw the evil little bastard into various incongruous situations. So the Leprechaun (or a leprechaun, since they all seem to be different demons) went to Vegas, and then into space, and now, yes, he’s even gettin’ jiggy with it in the ‘hood.
*. You may find something in that premise funny. Or at least you might have found something funny in it twenty years ago. If so, it’s the only smile you’ll get out of this movie. Despite being a horror-comedy franchise that goes for broad laughs a lot of the time, I can’t think of any moment in this entire series that succeeded in being funny. On the one hand I’m glad that the Leprechaun is back rhyming in this movie, though not busting rhymes proper until the closing credits, where he sings his “Lep in the hood, come to do no good” with his zombie fly girls. But his rhymes are, alas, all lame. They’re not even groan-worthy.
*. Just to stick with his hip-hop moniker, it actually took me a moment to twig to “the Lep” being an abbreviation of leprechaun. I kept thinking of it as being short for leper. Not an association I’d have thought he wanted to make.
*. That said, the word that most came to mind watching this dreck is sloppy. It’s a sloppy movie. On a few occasions the actors appear to flub their lines, but I guess they didn’t want to do a retake. In other places there seem to be chunks of film missing that would have explained new directions in the plot. Who is it that kills the pawn-store owner Jackie Dee? One of the zombie girls? But they haven’t been introduced yet. I still don’t know.
*. Other points are just rehashed from earlier films. The scene where the Leprechaun rips off a guy’s finger to get his ring, and another scene where he launches through a doorway only to get trapped in a safe, are both taken from Leprechaun 2. As if such material was worth repeating.
*. Nothing about the plot makes sense. Again they’re making up new leprechaun folklore as they go along, this time adding a golden flute with some kind of magical properties. The heroes (a trio of aspiring hip-hop performers) read Leprechauns for Dummies and come up with a plan to destroy the Leprechaun by getting him to smoke a joint laced with clover. But all it really does is make him fall asleep. They go to a church to find sanctuary, but (as inevitably proves to be the case in today’s horror films) God is of no assistance.
*. Even the kills are mostly elided. There are only a couple of torsos bursting open for gore. Ice-T gets above-the-line billing as the rap promoter Mack Daddy. The kids wear droopy pants and ball caps and call each other “nigga” a lot. There’s a blind woman introduced for . . . comic relief? I wasn’t sure. Just a terrible movie. Perhaps not quite as bad as Leprechaun 4, but that’s the very best I can say for it. And that is low praise indeed.
*. Look, it’s clear these movies were never meant to be anything but cheap trash, but they did at least have some budget to work with here, and with Davis back as the Leprechaun they should have been able to come up with something better than this. But I really don’t know if, at this point, they were even trying.

Enter the Void (2009)

*. On the front of the DVD case there’s a warning: “This unrated film contains explicit sex, disturbing scenes, and drug use.” True enough, but why not a warning for epileptics? If those opening credits don’t send you into a seizure I don’t know what would. And don’t even think of trying to navigate the chapter selection menu. It’s even worse.
*. They might have also included a warning for anyone susceptible to motion sickness. Give a guy like Gaspar Noé a drone and see what you get?
*. Noé is a director who divides people pretty sharply. Enter the Void got a standing ovation at Cannes but did terrible box office. A critical darling, then? Not really. Critics were split too, though most saw something in it.
*. For the record, I did like I Stand Alone and Irréversible. I thought a lot less of Enter the Void. Why? In part due to the general sense I had that Noé was running on fumes for 161 minutes (the “long” version or full-length director’s cut).
*. There’s not a lot here. Basically it’s all a riff on the now rather old idea of the entire story being in effect a man’s dying moments and/or his immediate afterlife. Think Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” William Golding’s Pincher Martin, or the film Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Only here it’s not presented as a twist since the whole concept is introduced, pretty crudely, by the discussion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

*. The deceased is one Oscar, played by Nathaniel Brown. He’s basically a drug dealer in Tokyo who lives with his sister Linda (Pas de la Huerta). One night Oscar gets busted and (improbably) is shot by the police, expiring on the floor of a washroom stall. Flashbacks and flashforwards take up the rest of the movie as we learn more about Oscar and Linda’s history.
*. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that I didn’t find Oscar remotely interesting, much less relatable. Then as the film went on I curiously found the two siblings becoming even less sympathetic and more repulsive. And 161 minutes is a long time to be spent looking at this grimy, blurry world from Oscar’s point of view, or staring at the back of his head.
*. Yes, blurry. I thought the camerawork good and the editing excellent. I can understand why such a movie would take so long to assemble in post. Combining the invisible cuts with the gliding camera movement gives the proceedings a fluidity that Noé seems to have perfected. But I couldn’t see anything! What was up with that?
*. Because Oscar is taking a lot of drugs himself (he hasn’t heeded the warning from Scarface not to get high on his own supply) there are also a number of trippy sequences that critics thought recalled the Star Gate sequence in 2001. I guess. And I guess if you were on drugs while watching Enter the Void you might enjoy it more. But I wasn’t, so.
*. Despite the entire movie revolving around Oscar and Linda I didn’t feel I had any understanding of them as characters. Some sort of incestuous connection is hinted at, but it could just be that they’re weird. Or perhaps they’re just morons and there is no deeper level to explore. The fact, and I think it is a fact in evidence at least in this film, that neither Brown nor de la Huerta can act may also be contributing to this abiding blankness. Are they the void?

*. There are a few flourishes thrown in, seemingly to demonstrate Noé’s cred as an edgy filmmaker. Linda has an abortion and the camera dives into the dish containing the fetus. There’s a tour of a neon love hotel that’s like channel-surfing a porn network, only half as erotic. We get a sex scene at the end with an inside-the-vagina point-of-view money shot. Pointless really. My only thought as I was watching this was whether that was Noé’s dick thrusting in my face. I don’t know why I was wondering about that. I guess there was nothing else going on that seemed interesting enough to contemplate.
*. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where I spent so much time in the final fifteen minutes thinking “Is that the end?” before finding out that, no, there was still more to come. Which is another way of saying that the end of the movie really drags. Apparently Noé thought it was a flashback to Oscar’s birth, in the form of a false memory. Why a false memory? I thought it was Linda giving birth to her and Alex’s child, but (again) the picture was so blurry I couldn’t tell. It could have been anyone.
*. I guess this sounds like I’m putting the boots to Enter the Void so I’ll stop. On the plus side, I did manage to sit through it to the end without being bored out of my mind. But the whole premise here is nothing new or interesting, the characters are dim and drippy losers, and the point of it all is trite and whimsical. Birth is a kind of death, and vice versa. You see how Oscar dies in a fetal position? You could just keep watching this movie on an endless loop. And if you do, I salute you. But it’s not my thing.

Transporter 3 (2008)

*. You might have been going into this one with high hopes. The Transporter was a decent action film, introducing Jason Statham as an action star and having a kind of ’90s charm to it. With Transporter 2 they upped their game with a flick that was good silly fun.
*. Alas, the third time around did not continue this trajectory. It’s crap.
*. It would be easy to blame Natalya Rudakova. Many reviewers did. Luc Besson apparently “discovered” her walking down a street in New York City. She was a hairdresser with no acting experience but he still wanted her to play Valentina.
*. She can’t act but I didn’t think she embarrasses herself given that it’s not really fair to throw a novice into such a hopeless situation. In the event, she gave what Besson wanted her to project, in service to his own fetishes. So she’s stuck falling in love with her saviour (Statham), reciting hopeless lines in fractured English, all while pimped out in her Ibiza party dress, with make-up running down her face.
*. I’ve never been to Ibiza, by the way. Do people just go there to dance and do drugs? Is that its only purpose?
*. So the character of Valentina is awful. As with Lai in the first film and the little boy in the second she’s only there to serve a plot function. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more of her and she starts to grate even before she takes to popping pills and getting drunk so she can act like a total ditz and get into even more trouble. In the big love/seduction scene I just felt embarrassed for everyone involved. As if Frank couldn’t just take the damn keys from her and be done with it.
*. I have to wonder at Tarconi telling Frank that his growing attachment to Valentina is not like the Frank he knows. Tarconi was in the first two films. This is exactly the Frank he knows.
*. Just don’t think about the plot here making sense. Just don’t think about it at all. I’m not even going to begin.
*. Another generic element added this time is the exploding bracelet Frank wears, which will detonate if he gets too far from his car. This goes back at least as far as Escape from New York, but is also like similar guns to the head in Speed and (another Statham vehicle) Crank. Again, it’s just something that’s here to make the wheels of the plot keep going around. Frank drops in on a mechanic friend of his to see if he can get the bracelet off. There’s a big fight in his garage. But he can’t get the bracelet off. Which turns out not to matter, because it was just meant to be a pit stop anyway, a place where Frank would stop driving long enough to fight some bad guys.
*. The action scenes struck me as a big letdown from Transporter 2. They’re just dance numbers. In the garage Frank even does a strip tease, which Valentina eyes appreciatively. I didn’t think there was anything fresh or interesting about any of it though. Or to the chase scenes. The Audi going on its side to squeeze between two trucks was peak stupid.
*. On the plus side, at least we finally see the bad guy getting a suitably spectacular (albeit still conventional, and bloodless) send-off. I would have been disappointed if he’d only been tossed from the train.
*. One of the worst things I can say about this one is that I didn’t even finish watching it the first time through, which is something I only realized when I started writing up these notes and had no memory of how it ended. I had to go back and watch the final five minutes, for what that was worth. Not much.
*. Director Olivier Megaton (no, that’s not his real last name, it’s Fontana) would go on to do Taken 2 and 3, which was no big stretch (though I think they were better movies). Statham, however, would be getting off the bus here, and for good reason (it didn’t help that he felt he was being lowballed in the new contract he was offered). Why do another movie after this train wreck? Tomorrow to fresh franchises and pastures new.

Transporter 2 (2005)

*. The opening shot of Frank Martin (Jason Statham) sitting in his car in a parking garage establishes continuity. As do the names of Louis Leterrier and Corey Yuen, who again collaborated on the direction. Script co-written by Luc Besson, which tells you where the Nikita clone Lola comes from (as if you couldn’t have figured it out). But note one important difference. This movie is brought to you by the good people at Audi, not BMW.
*. What follows is more generic stuff in the same vein, but slicker, brighter, and more fun than the first movie. The hot chick in distress is replaced by the cute kid in distress. Exactly how the evil plot was supposed to work totally escaped me. Luckily, we’re not asked to spend any time thinking about it.
*. Instead we’re meant to look at stunts so silly they border on the surreal. A car jumping from the roof of one parking garage into another across the street. Or a fight with a fire hose that lets Yuen show off his Hong Kong-action chops at their acrobatic and whimsical finest. You can also enjoy looking at Amber Valletta (a model) getting all concerned about her kid, and Kate Nauta (another model) changing into a variety of different lingerie sets to cause some damage. Because she only fights in lingerie.

*. I mentioned being disappointed with the way Matt Schulze was disposed of at the end of the first movie simply by having him thrown out of the cab of a truck. A bloodier end was cut from the American release version. That happens again here, as Lola’s death has the blood cut out of it in order to score a PG-13 rating. This made it hard for me to understand that she was actually dead. Meanwhile, Alessandro Gassman’s Chellini has to be kept alive so that his blood can somehow be used to cure the plague he was looking to unleash on behalf of Colombian drug cartels so that they could . . . but I already told you I couldn’t figure this part out.
*. Chalk up one surprise. I was sure Matthew Modine’s character was in on the plot because (1) he seems guilty as hell, and (2) he has star billing after Statham despite the fact that he doesn’t have much of a role in the film. But no, he’s actually one of the good guys, and it looks like this trial has even brought his family together. Too bad. They seem like the kind of self-important plutocrats that made me hope global warming would speed up and wreck their trashy Miami mansion, just so I could see it washed away.
*. Well, like I say, it’s silly. But silly in a good way. Or in the way blockbuster genre action films were trending at the time. It plays well alongside the Mission: Impossible, Fast & Furious, and John Wick franchises. We’re just whipped along from one big rock ’em, sock ’em scene to the next. And these are well handled. I like the little flourishes like the camera spinning around the gear shift in the main car-chase scene. This happens so fast I didn’t even notice it the first time.
*. Apparently this was Statham’s own favourite film in the series. I am in complete agreement. When I think back on the action classics of the ’80s though I don’t think any of these movies compare. At least I can’t imagine any of them having the same staying power as Die Hard or even Commando. The stunts are more spectacular and the speed at which it all comes at you has been pushed into the red, but at the same time they’re even more brainless and superficial. Was this what the twenty-first century demanded, or just what it was going to get anyway?

The Transporter (2002)

*. The Transporter had two directors, Corey Yuen (a Hong Kong action director) and, credited as artistic director, Louis Leterrier. Behind these names, however, it’s also easy to see the hand of writer-producer Luc Besson.
*. I’m not sure how comfortable any of these people were working in English at the time, which may help explain why the script is so laugh-out-loud bad. Or maybe it’s because the whole project was inspired by a series of advertisements (or “branded content”) produced by BMW called The Hire starring Clive Owen in the title role. Does this movie look like a car commercial? Well . . .
*. It’s hard to overstate just how mailed-in the script feels. You know Frank (Statham) and Lai (Qi Shu) are going to hop into bed, so when she forces the issue you get one of those laugh-out-loud moments I mentioned. Their coupling is simply what such a story as this demands. You knew it was coming from the moment they locked eyes. Add to that a plot that’s flimsy even by the standards of an action film, or car commercial. The shipping container isn’t even a decent MacGuffin. And what’s the story about why Lai needs to be transported around anyway? What does her dad want to do with her anyway?
*. Generic tripe like this calls for some star power to bail it out, and here the producers got lucky by glomming on to Jason Statham, who had just appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (his film debut) and Snatch. In The Transporter he launched as an official action star. Along with Dwayne Johnson and . . . Vin Diesel? other names don’t suggest themselves . . . he was one of the heirs of the ’80s icons he would later show up alongside in The Expendables franchise.
*. I like Statham, and he capably carries this movie. It’s not very special in any other way. The opening car chase struck me as very dull. Most of the rest of the action stuff was edited all to hell so I couldn’t even judge whether the stunt work was any good. There wasn’t anything original about any of it, with the possible exception of the oil fight in the garage, which I’ll admit was neat. Otherwise it’s quite predictable, and disappointing. Matt Schulze does well enough as the heavy to deserve a better death than simply to be thrown out of the cab of a truck. In the original French version he was at least crushed by the truck’s wheels, a better (though still not very interesting) exit that was oddly cut from the American release.
*. So, not a keeper. But it would go on to spawn a pair of sequels and a reboot (The Transporter: Refueled), the latter coming as Statham himself, no longer young, was replaced by a new generation of action star. In the meantime, Transporter 2 and 3 would look to improve on the original. All they needed was some more comfort with the star, some slicker action, and a slightly (if ever so slightly) less stupid script. Not a problem. Or at least so one would have thought.

The Scorpion King (2002)

*. The Scorpion King is usually described as a prequel to The Mummy and The Mummy Returns but I don’t see it fitting in the same universe. Apparently the character of Mathayus, a laughable CGI monster at the end of The Mummy Returns, is the same Mathayus who is the hero of this movie, and played by the same actor, but I had trouble making the connection (though the CGI in this film is almost as bad).
*. What I think is of more significance is the genre difference. This really isn’t a Mummy movie but a throwback to the swords-and-sorcery flicks of the 1980s. Not strictly a remake of Conan the Destroyer but very much pressed in the same mold.
*. Dwayne Johnson (still being billed as The Rock) in his first leading role. But is it the movie that launched his career? He would go on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but looking over his extensive filmography it’s hard to tell exactly when this happened. The Scorpion King did well enough at the box office, but nothing that demanded bringing Johnson back for any of the sequels (of which there have been four at the time of this writing). After this there were a string of action films that didn’t amount to much. And yet, despite not being in any movies that strike me as being memorable, in ten years he had fully inherited the mantle of the action heroes of the previous generation (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, etc.).
*. I’m not knocking Johnson though. A former pro wrestler, he moves better than Schwarzenegger or Stallone, and has a lot more charm. He’s also the only thing this movie has going for it.
*. The plot could not have been simpler or more formulaic. Johnson plays Mathayus, an Akkadian (don’t try and make sense of the history). He’s hired by one of the last free tribes to kill the Sorceress (she doesn’t have a name, and not much in the way of clothes) who is assumed to be the power behind the throne of Memnon, an evil dude whose hordes are raping and pillaging and burning villages. Mathayus picks up a nerdy sidekick, the Sorceress (Kelly Hu) falls in love with him, and together with a Big Black Man (Michael Clarke Duncan), a scientist who has invented explosives, and a bunch of Amazons, he kills Memnon and saves the world. If you’ve seen Conan the Destroyer you should recognize all of these characters.
*. No surprises whatsoever, and the unimpressive villains make it even weaker than it sounds. The lieutenants Takmet and Thorak are disposed of almost as afterthoughts, while Steven Brand as Memnon, despite being given flaming swords to play with at the end, just doesn’t have the requisite weight to go toe-to-toe with the People’s Champ.
*. I didn’t dislike The Scorpion King, but at the same time there’s nothing about it that stands out as being all that good either. It’s not as much fun as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, and only improves on the Conan movies by being a bit sprightlier. Still, that lightness is also part of the problem. As noted, there is virtually no story here at all, and indeed the original cut was apparently only 70 minutes long, requiring more scenes to be shot.
*. They literally had nothing here but the Rock kicking ass, flexing, and cracking jokes. And I guess he showed that he could carry a film like this on his own. Conan the Barbarian was Schwarzenegger’s calling card, and that was a movie that had a lot more going for it than The Scorpion King. So you have to give Johnson some credit here. Not a lot, but some. It’s a star turn.