Monday, 30 April 2012

The Lucky One

Another year, another Nicholas Sparks cinematic adaptation, although you’d be forgiven for thinking 2012 has already had its fill: “The Vow,” a lacklustre romantic drama released in February and starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, was so similar to the Nicholas Sparks movie mould (hip-clenching poster and all) that many, myself included, simply assumed that it was based on one of his international bestsellers. Surprisingly, it turned out it wasn’t, but new movie “The Lucky One” is, and it fits the mould to a tee (although what’s being clenched in its poster is not a hip, but the back of Taylor Schilling’s slender neck).

You know the drill. It’s all vibrant sunsets and longing looks of unhinged passion, all set to pleasant little piano tunes and acoustic indie tracks that linger in the background of almost every scene. Schmaltzy montages (I counted seven) stalk the narrative and bring it to a halt with music video interludes, which depict, among many other things, canoe-rowing, nose-nuzzling, bed-humping and Zac Efron (swoon!) showing off his pecs and biceps as he fixes drain pipes and drives rusty tractors around a dirty dog kennel. Swoon indeed.

Efron, the hunky heartthrob who found fame in the “High School Musical” franchise, is here playing a US Marine called Logan Thibault. Sporting a finely trimmed stubble and a sexy buzzcut, Logan is serving his third tour of duty in Iraq, the scenes of which call to mind recent war actioners “Green Zone” and “The Hurt Locker.” On the morning after a troubling night raid, Logan spots something sitting atop a pile of rubble: a photograph. He strolls over to the photo, takes it in his hand and sees that it is of a woman; a beautiful, blonde-haired woman. As he stares at the picture, an explosion happens a few feet behind him, right in the spot in which he was standing when he saw the picture. He realises something: that picture saved his life, and he owes that blonde-haired woman a hard-earned thank you.

Eight months later, Logan returns to Colorado, where he is haunted by memories of his service in Iraq (video game sound effects startle him, and he very nearly attacks his young nephew upon a sudden wake-up call). However, this rather interesting character development is very quickly dumped and never mentioned again as Logan sets off on-foot to find the woman in the photograph. With his trusty German shepherd Zeus sticking by his side, Logan wanders from town-to-town, asking locals if they recognise the woman in the picture. There’s no such luck until he comes to Louisiana, where finally (and rather unbelievably) somebody recognises her.

As it turns out, the woman is called Beth Clayton (Schilling). She is a divorcee, is single (score!) and she owns a family-run dog kennel in the small town of Hamden. Living with her in her spacious home is her spunky, good-humoured mother (Blythe Danner, “Little Fockers”) and her multi-talented, curly-haired cutie of a son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart, “The Beaver”), who is an amateur magician and a player of chess, baseball and the violin (show-off).

Logan approaches Beth, but hesitates, and decides instead to apply for a job opening at the kennel. He gets the job, is quickly accepted into the family and strikes up a bit of a romance with Beth, but trouble soon arises in the shape of Beth’s asshole of an ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, “Mad Men”). A power-abusing sherrif, Keith is basically the epitome of epic douchebaggery. He is a beer-chugging brute who takes more than a bit of a jealous turn when he sees Beth and Logan together, deciding to do everything in his power to break them up. I should also note that Ferguson’s fleshy face is one of the most punchable I’ve ever seen on-screen, which I guess helps his performance as the story’s cartoonish antagonist.

“The Lucky One” is directed by Australian filmmaker Scott Hicks, who 16 years ago directed Geoffrey Rush in an Oscar-winning performance in touching David Helfgott biopic “Shine” - I somehow doubt he’ll do the same for Mr Efron here. Sparks’ novel, published in 2008, has been adapted by Will Fetter, who recently wrote another romantic drama starring a teenage heartthrob, the Robert Pattinson-boasting “Remember Me,” in 2010, with notably mixed results - the ending was tasteless and bloody infuriating, but all that came before was perfectly acceptable.

“The Lucky One,” too, is a mixed bag, though in this case it’s leaning more towards the negative side of things. Efron and Schilling, both very fine physical specimens, have a certain sexual chemistry that bulldozes its way through some slack characterisation. However, Fetter (and probably Sparks) feeds both of them the kind of cheesy lines that wouldn’t seem out of place in the “Twilight” saga. “You should be kissed every day, every hour and every minute,” says Efron, with his tongue sliding its way down Schilling’s much obliging throat.

It’s also of no help that neither Efron nor Schilling feel like the main character who’s meant to be guiding us through this faux-engaging love story. If it’s meant to be Efron, his character is too slack and uninteresting, much as the “Charlie St. Cloud” actor turns on his boyish, blue-eyed charm. And if it’s meant to be Schilling, her presence isn’t strong or frequent enough, even though the “Atlas Shrugged” actress clearly shows some talent. The truth is, it’s neither of them, and the film is consequently left lumbering its way through the stupendously clichéd story, which is predictable at the best of times and in the end comes to an all too expected and ultimately forgettable close.

I’ll say for “The Lucky One” the same thing I said for “The Vow:” there is an audience for this film, and that audience probably knows who they are. That audience will presumably be buying tickets for the film, regardless of anything I say, and I don’t doubt that they will find it an enjoyable, breezy watch. It is a date movie, and for that it is sufficient; as anything else, it’s completely useless, and if you’re not a part of this audience, you would certainly not be lucky to be dragged to it by your girlfriend (or possibly even your boyfriend) - you may, however, get “lucky” following your screening of the film.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Marvel's Avengers Assemble

I don’t need to tell you that “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” is the full-blown manifestation of many a comic-book nerd’s wet dream - I assume you’ve seen the film’s many marketing materials, which show Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk heroically assembling, and have come to the exact same conclusion all by yourself. What I do need to tell you is that “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” (I think I’ll refer to it as the slightly less clunky “The Avengers” from here on in) is a superhero film that will not just appeal to this acne-riddled, sweaty-pitted, inevitably drooling crowd, in which I will hesitantly include myself. It is in fact a comic-book nerd’s wet dream that should also appeal to all you non-geeky, non-spotty, non-heavily-perspiring norms, so long as you are fitted with the mental ability and physical capacity to experience earth-shattering levels of eye-popping fun. If so, “The Avengers" awaits your presence. If not, jog on, and go do some knitting or something.

“The Avengers” is a film five years in the making (with Samuel L. Jackson’s character Nick Fury unofficially announcing it at the end of 2008’s “Iron Man”), although some would say it is in fact almost 50 years in the making, the first official “Avengers” strip having debuted on comic-book store shelves all the way back in 1963. Either way, whether it’s half a decade or half a century in the making, the project has been eagerly anticipated, meaning the pressure was on for writer-director Joss Whedon (creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) to deliver the goods, lest he be flung between the fearsome fangs of ferocious fanboys. And gee whiz, the goods haven’t just been delivered: they’ve been painstakingly and vigilantly carried all the way from the glittering gates of Hollywood onto your local cinema’s doorstep by a determined courier who’s gone to great lengths to obey the package’s order of “handle with care.”

In case you don’t know, The Avengers is a team consisting of the universe’s mightiest superheroes. Assembled by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, the team is as such: billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., “Sherlock Holmes”), aka Iron Man, who fights the badguys in a weaponised suit of armour; Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “The Cabin in the Woods”), a god from the world of Asgard whose weapon is a powerful hammer only he can pick up; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), aka Captain America, an all-American super-soldier frozen in 1943 and reawakened in the modern day; and last but most certainly not least, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, replacing “The Incredible Hulk’s" Edward Norton), who, when anything less than happy, transforms into a mindless, green-tinted rage monster named The Hulk. Also on the team we have ass-kicking leather-clad Russian spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “We Bought a Zoo”) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”), the world’s greatest marksman, or at least when wielding a bow and arrow kit.

They have been assembled in reaction to a terrible threat against the Earth. After the Tesseract, a throbbing energy cube of unlimited power, is mysteriously activated in a remote S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, Thor’s exiled brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “War Horse”), god of mischief, springs forth from a portal. As it turns out, Loki has plans to use the Tesseract to create a portal atop Manhattan from which a hostile alien army shall emerge and take over our world. As I’m sure you can imagine, Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t too keen on just letting this happen, instead springing into action to put a stop to Loki’s abominable schemes and put the Tesseract back in its rightful place, all for one, and one for all.

The towering hurdle in making a film like “The Avengers,” of which there are very few, is the prospect of juggling such an enormity of larger-than-life characters: everyone must get their development, their stand-out moment, sufficient screen-time and no one must fall behind the rest. Luckily for us, it turns out Whedon is a highly skilled juggler, faultlessly fleshing out a whole gang of pre-established characters and granting each and every one of them a fully believable sense of humanity and purpose, much like he did in his cult TV show “Firefly.” And I’m not just talking about the central Avengers here: for example, Marvel regular Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”) gets a fully fleshed out character, as well as an appealing nerdy side added to his personality - we even learn his first name! “His first name is Agent,” quips Stark.

Among the Avengers, there’s much in-team squabbling and not-so-playful banter, with not just Cap’s shield and Thor’s hammer clashing with one another (oh yeah) but personalities too. And yet Downey, Jr., Evans, Hemsworth and Ruffalo don’t come across like they’re battling each other for the stand-out performance of the piece; much like their characters, they’re working as a team and seem to understand that it’s not “Iron Man and Friends” or “Cap and Pals,” but “The Avengers.” Having said that, Ruffalo’s Banner, which is the third and best big-screen incarnation of the character, is played with a subtle charisma that really makes him shine, even when Banner isn’t Hulking out, a treat held off for quite a while and paid off stupendously - Ruffalo, by the way, is the only actor to have played both Banner and The Hulk, the latter performed via impressive use of motion-capture.

On the antagonistic end of the spectrum we have Hiddleston in the role of Loki, as relentlessly oppressive and deliciously vain as any villain you’ve ever seen. Much like in “Thor,” Hiddleston charms with his eloquently pronounced English accent and steely glare, but here there are hints of a ruthless, nefariously nasty monster lurking underneath the calm and focused demeanour the wannabe-ruler so boldly wears - calling Black Widow a “mewling quim,” for example. His army of extraterrestrial buddies, skeletal in appearance, are fully CGI creations and lack characterisation, but provide satisfactory punching bags for The Avengers to get to work at.

And get to work they do, battling the seemingly unstoppable alien menace in an explosively destructive, notably lengthy climactic spectacle that calls to mind that of Michael Bay’s “Transformers 3,” only here it’s genuinely gripping, deservedly awe-inspiring and not starring the vapid black hole that is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Gorgeously shot by Northern Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, this New York-set, epic showdown grants every hero their moment in the spotlight, not least in a swooping tracking shot that takes us from a shield-thwacking Captain America to a spaceship-crushing Hulk to a speedily flying Iron Man to an arrow-firing Hawkeye, and so on, much like that elaborate tracking shot coming halfway through “The Adventures of Tintin.” It’s bloody marvellous, and is enough to make any major comic-book dork wet their pants in bladder-draining delight.

Then again, that should be the reaction any movie-goer will have to most of the film, which is so enticing, exhilarating and mouth-wateringly enjoyable it should charm the pants off anyone, nerd or non-nerd, though hopefully not The Hulk - that’d be quite the sight in 3D (which is perfectly adequate, though unnecessary). Fitted with a script dripping with the kind of snarky wit Aaron Sorkin would be proud of and the entertainment value of 1,000 superhero movies, “The Avengers" is one of the finest examples to come out of its genre so far and sets the bar toweringly high for the rest of 2012’s superhero outputs (your move, Spider-Man and Batman). Joss Whedon, you’ve done us nerds (and non-nerds) proud.


Wednesday, 25 April 2012


To my knowledge, “Safe” is the one and only Jason Statham vehicle to not only utilise the “odd couple” formula, but to effectively epitomise it. The film, a balls-to-the-walls actioner, is a classic case of brain and brawn, pairing a stubble-faced cockney geezer (who once rammed the barrel of a tarred-up shotgun deep inside a grown man’s rectum) with a 12-year-old Chinese girl fitted with a photographic memory. The more analytical of you out there may need no help distinguishing the brain from the brawn - if not, know this: weaponised molestation will not help you pass your SATs; well, not unless inflicted against your examiner, it won’t.

But how does such a bizarre pairing come about? Well, I’ll start with the story of the brain (ladies’ first and all that). 12-year-old Mei (newcomer Catherine Chan) is a Chinese math prodigy who is abducted on the streets of New York by a Triad gang. Led by the elderly Han Jiao (James Hong, “Kung Fu Panda 2”), the Triads wish to use her rare mental abilities for business calculations and number storage, which would mean no computer trail left for the authorities to follow. Mei is hesitant to agree, but the threatening of her dear mother’s life persuades her otherwise.

One year later, Mei has essentially become the Triad gang’s official accountant, albeit a prepubescent one. One day, she is given an apparently very important grid of numbers to memorise; she does so with the blink of an eye, and the piece of paper displaying the grid is burned. She is taken into a car, which is promptly ambushed by the Russian mafia, who wish to kidnap Mei and have her recite the mysterious numbers stored in her brain. Mei escapes, with not only the Chinese and Russian mafia now chasing after her, but the ever-corrupted NYPD too.

Now onto the brawn. Luke Wright (Statham) is an ex-cop and an ex-cage fighter framed for the murder of his beloved wife after failing to throw a fight (in which he only threw one punch). Now a bum, he walks the streets of New York in a wooly cap and a manky hoodie (replaced in the film's second half with a snappy suit), wandering from one homeless shelter to another, avoiding the law, lest he be sent to jail for murder. But after an unfortunate run-in with the colleagues he once betrayed, Luke decides to end it all, and prepares to jump in front of a moving train.

But then he sees something that catches his attention: a small, petrified Chinese girl running through the subway, apparently being pursued by Russian mobsters. Luke collects himself and decides to help the girl in the only way he knows how: kicking some ass. All of a sudden, Luke has a tiny little braniac on his hands, and seemingly everyone is after her and the numbers in her head. But what do these numbers mean, and what do they lead to? Well, take a look at the film’s title: it gives quite a hefty hint.

“Safe” is written and directed by American filmmaker Boaz Yakin, whose 2000 sports drama “Remember the Titans” was an inspiring and heartwarming tale of racial inequality - but that doesn’t mean anything here. This is a Jason Statham action-fest after all, and one that deliberately avoids compassion and sentimentality, even when the plot of a man seeking redemption while protecting a scared little girl would seemingly require such things. Instead, it rather commendably maintains an unwavering, straight-faced expression as it provides the head-smashing, pistol-blasting violence its audience so craves.

As it turns out, Yakin is a terrific director of such mindless, excessive violence. Having not touched the action genre since writing Charlie Sheen/Clint Eastwood flick “The Rookie” in 1990, Yazin shoots the action of “Safe” with a wit and invention similar to another Statham film, Louis Leterrier’s “The Transporter,” be it in a high-speed pursuit, a shoot-out in a hotel or a fist-fight in a restaurant. It is also cut so as to give a proper sense of scope and clarity while still being fast, relentless and, most importantly of all, exciting.

As one would expect, Statham more than steps up to the challenge of no-holds-barred action heroism, which he most recently displayed with much skill and grace in 2011’s “Killer Elite.” In “Safe,” he fires guns, cracks heads, climbs atop a speeding train, stabs a badguy in the throat with a fork and uses a dead body as a crash mat, all performed faultlessly by the English action man. Statham also once again shows off his now-iconic no-nonsense cockney charm, which is almost enough to cover up his apparently limited skills in portraying a father figure and a paternal protector.

Limited too is Yakin's script, which I can fully forgive for lacking in the brains department, but not so much for the confusing muddle into which it renders the plot. With a double-cross here and a character revelation there, the story becomes increasingly jumbled and incoherent as it goes on and nears its clichéd climax. Honestly, I would be lying if I were to say that towards the end of “Safe” I knew who was who, what they were doing and what exactly they were trying to achieve - and I’m fairly certain it’s not me at fault.

“Safe” is unremarkable and disappointingly derivative, but for noisy, erratic, Friday-night fun, it’s perfectly sufficient. Boaz Yakin directs with a keen eye for action-packed carnage, The Stath is just as pleasingly charming and physically impressive as he ever has been, and young Chan, in her on-screen debut, is as cute as a button. For Statham’s fans (and I know there are many of you out there), “Safe” is a fairly safe bet.


Sunday, 22 April 2012


As twenty-four young citizens from the twelve districts of Panem travel to the Capitol to take part in the annual Hunger Games, aliens from outer space are travelling to planet Earth to play a few rounds of Battleship. Following in the plodding footsteps left behind by “Skyline,” “Battle: Los Angeles” and “The Darkest Hour,” “Battleship” is yet another alien invasion dud, but with one key difference: while the three other films I just listed were semi-original pieces of work, “Battleship” has the nigh-unseen honour of being based on a board game, and one which has no discernable narrative or reason for receiving the big-screen treatment, unlike murder-mystery game Cluedo, which got a cinematic adaptation in 1985 in the shape of comedy whodunit “Clue.”

You may have, at one time or another, played the Hasbro game upon which “Battleship” is based: if so, you should remember that it saw two players placing differently sized ships on a square-shaped grid unseen by the other player. Both players then had to blindly/strategically state coordinates for torpedoes to be fired onto their opponent’s grid, the objective of the game to sink all of the opponent’s ships, the victor being the first to do so. “You sunk my battleship!” is a common catchphrase associated with the game, although this is sadly not uttered at any point throughout “Battleship”’s runtime. It appears director Peter Berg (“Hancock”) has instead made the bizarre decision of replacing it with alien attackers, an attribute not typically associated with the game, unless my cousin David and I were playing it horrendously wrong.

The plot of “Battleship” is as such: in 2005, NASA discovers what is commonly referred to as a Goldilocks planet, i.e. a planet whose conditions for supporting life forms are “just right.” On the off chance that the planet (dubbed “Planet G") contains intelligent life, NASA sends a powerful signal in its direction which, in 2012, gets a response in the form of an unexpected visit, with five alien ships coming down from space and crashing into the middle of Hong Kong and the waters of Hawaii.

This coincides with RIMPAC, a multinational naval exercise taking place a few miles from the crash site in Hawaii. On the USS John Paul Jones is Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter”), an ill-disciplined ex-slacker who is trying (and failing) to straighten up and fly right after his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård, “Melancholia”), who is commanding officer of the attending USS Sampson, ordered him to do so. Alex also wishes to marry physiotherapist Samantha (Brooklyn Decker, “Just Go With It”), daughter of the hard-nosed Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, “The Grey”), but asking for her hand in marriage proves difficult when Shane gives him a dressing-down for a brawl on the vessel, and also when Alex discovers he will most likely be discharged come RIMPAC’s end.

But it seems that before RIMPAC gets to end, the world just may, as Alex discovers upon investigating a strange metallic vessel sitting in the middle of the ocean. Springing to life, the alien ship sends several torpedoes hurtling through the air, completely obliterating two of the human-boarded vessels and killing all of Alex’s superiors in the process, leaving him the one in charge. An impenetrable force field is promptly erected around Hawaii, leaving it up to Alex and his ragtag team of naval personnel (including pop star Rihanna in her acting debut) to defeat the extraterrestrial foes before they get to the NASA research facility and contact their buddies over on Planet G to tell them to come on down and take over the Earth.

There is a film that one must mention when one is reviewing “Battleship,” and that film is “Transformers.” Michael Bay’s 2007 sci-fi blockbuster, itself based on another Hasbro product (action figures, in that case), is very much imprinted in the DNA of “Battleship,” its spirit and influence looming in the foreground of practically every scene. Armed with a $200 million budget, Berg shoots “Battleship” with the same flashy, almost pornographic sensibilities Bay evoked whenever shooting the robot-thumping battles shared between the Decepticons and the Autobots in his film. Every shot in “Battleship" is a money-shot, whether it contains spinning razor-discs slicing through helicopter tails, a tumbling spaceship toppling over a Hong Kong skyscraper or Taylor Kitsch staring into a monitor, looking a bit worried (perhaps he’s thinking about his career).

But it’s not just in the shooting method and glossy special effects that “Battleship” recalls “Transformers.” Also like Bay’s film, “Battleship” is overlong, clocking in at just over two hours, which is about 30 minutes longer than it should be; at least fellow blockbuster “Wrath of the Titans” had the sense to finish quickly. There’s also quite a bit of completely inappropriate slapstick comedy, specifically in the first act, for example when we first meet Alex: he, in order to impress Samantha, whom he has known for all of 30 seconds, breaks into a convenience store to nab her a chicken burrito, clumsily wrecks the place, gets smothered in ketchup and is promptly tasered by armed police as he hands her the stolen food - all of this, I am not kidding, is set to the sound of the “Pink Panther” theme tune. I should also add that this burrito-stealing buffoon is the hero of the film.

The intergalactic foes, when they step outside the cosy confines of their seafaring spacecrafts, have much the same effect as the villains from “Battle: Los Angeles,” i.e. they’re boring. Humanoid creatures, they spend the entire film clad in “Halo"-style metallic space suits, and are antagonists whose motives and skill are both rather questionable: for one, what exactly is it they are trying to do? And two, why exactly are they taking so long to do it? It also doesn’t help that under their mechanical armor they look like a punch drunk Newton Faulkner, a fact which is stupidly revealed halfway through the film, sucking out any sense of threat they once had. Heck, the spinning razor-discs are far more menacing, and a lot more cool.

And “cool” is the word, Berg displaying an impressive panache for orchestrating an epic action set-piece or thirty, albeit clearly channeling Michael Bay and James Cameron all the while. And there is a certain entertainment value to be had in all of the explosive mayhem showcased in “Battleship,” but this proper sense of shameless, brainless fun manifests itself only in fits and starts. The film as a whole is a clunky and dumb “Independence Day” wannabe, with thinly developed characters conversing in cheeseball dialogue that one can only respond to with a roll of the eyes, and a third act that takes so long to get to that by the time we do get to it we’re bored and no longer give a hoot. More “Snore of the Worlds” than “War of the Worlds,” “Battleship” sinks, and sinks slowly.


Saturday, 21 April 2012


The mononymous character of Snow, as played by Australian actor Guy Pearce, is the 21st century’s answer to Snake Plissken. Both characters, the former headlining newly released sci-fi actioner “Lockout” and the latter played by Kurt Russell in John Carpenter’s 1981 cult classic “Escape from New York,” are former government agents turned apparent crooks who are offered a one-man suicide mission to the pits of Hell by the United States government in exchange for the pardoning of their various crimes. Very much the antiheroes of their respective films, they’re both stuck on “smartass” mode, both highly skilled in the art of kicking butt, both heavy smokers and both spouting wise-cracks like a Tourette syndrome sufferer spouts four-letter words.

The only real differences between the pair are that while Kurt Russell was quiet and spoke (or snarled) only when necessary, Guy Pearce can’t keep his mouth shut, and Pearce, as opposed to Russell, isn’t sporting an eyepatch, perhaps because sharing such a striking physical attribute would clearly be one similarity too much. Both are also great characters, but while Snake Plissken had the pleasure of being a great character in a great movie, Snow has the displeasure of being a great character in a bad movie, although admittedly he doesn’t really seem to give a hoot.

We are introduced to Snow as he is being ruthlessly interrogated by Scott Langral (Peter Stormare, “Constantine”), the slimy chief of the Secret Service, in the year 2097. Snow, a former secret agent, has been taken into custody on suspicion of murdering a working agent, although he claims to be completely innocent. During the course of the interrogation, he refuses to answer questions seriously, snapping back with quip after quip, all the while having his head repeatedly thumped by the knuckles of a muscle-bound brute named Rupert. “I’m being beaten up by a guy named Rupert?” Snow queries.

Snow is handed life imprisonment, but a chance for freedom arises. You see, the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace, “Taken”), has gotten herself in a bit of a pickle. While visiting a space prison in which the inmates are cryogenically frozen, one rebellious jailbird escapes custody and unfreezes his fellow prisoners, starting a riot that results in hostages being taken captive and demands for freedom being sent down to Earth. Snow is given an option: go up into space and rescue the President’s daughter from the murderous convicts, or go to jail. He reluctantly chooses the former, but only because one of the inmates on the space prison knows the location of a briefcase Snow needs to prove his innocence.

“Lockout” is a B-movie with a budget - a $20 million budget, in fact, although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise: the CGI used in one car chase sequence coming five minutes into the film is so ghastly it looks like a cut-away sequence from a decade-old PS2 video game, and one where the analog stick controlling the viewer’s perspective is stuck at a dodgy angle, resulting in a dizzying display of dodgy computer graphics spinning relentlessly and randomly, possibly in a desperate attempt to cover up the crappy effects - it doesn’t work.

The script, written by the film’s first-time directors, James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, along with action aficionado Luc Besson (“Leon"), isn’t any less dizzying. Sprinting and leaping along at the pace of a “Star Wars" podracer, it certainly gets down to business pretty darn quickly, but unfortunately is utterly inept at shaping and constructing a fluid narrative, instead creating a non-narrative that is essentially just a muddled series of things happening, none of which particularly stand out as significant when they are required to be; the beginning of the all-important prison riot, for example, barely has any impact whatsoever.

What the script does provide, however, is a plethora of mostly witty one-liners for Pearce to churn out, and churn them out he does, in predictably magnificent fashion. Channeling the aforementioned Kurt Russell and also Bruce Willis (in his “Die Hard” days), Pearce spends much of the film crawling through air ducts, floating above spinning turbines and cracking jokes about people’s mothers, all while chewing space scenery and loving every cheesy chunk of it. Pearce’s joy is almost contagious, especially in the scenes he shares with a sassy Maggie Grace, but remember something: not even Kurt Russell in all his Snake Plissken glory could save “Escape from L.A.” from sinking into the abyss.

As head villain Alex we have an impressive Vincent Regan (“Clash of the Titans”), playing a scar-faced, instinctively commanding Scottish inmate who almost immediately takes control of the prison revolt. But it’s Alex’s rapist brother Hydell who’s really interesting: as played by Joseph Gilgun (“This is England”), Hydell is an absolute nutjob. Fitted with a glass eye, a scarred face, a thick Scottish brogue and a gold-toothed grin, he would easily pass for a Looney Tunes villain, had it not been for the whole rapist angle. Gilgun, an extraordinary talent, fully indulges in the unhinged madness of his character, but does so too much, resulting in a villain that is little more than an unbelievable cartoon character; one suspects Mather and Leger didn’t have the sense to tell him to tone it down a little, or perhaps Gilgun was simply doing what they told him to do. Either way, his boundless lunacy tends to be grating, much as Gilgun commendably throws himself into the role.

“Lockout” is fast-food space junk; emphasis on “fast” and “junk.” Essentially “Escape from New York” combined with “Con Air” and hurled into space with a little “Mission: Impossible” thrown in, it is a film that sounds significantly more entertaining than it actually is. Guy Pearce is utterly spell-binding as our cigarette-chomping action antihero, but shoddy special effects and a narratively challenged screenplay bring this overblown sci-fi B-movie crashing down to Earth.


Monday, 16 April 2012

American Pie: Reunion

The characters of the “American Pie” franchise have survived high school, college and a wedding, and now it seems a reunion is on the table. Well, I say survived, but the most dangerous circumstances these horny teens ever encountered merely involved unbearable discomfort, traumatising embarrassment and, last but not least, sexually transmitted infections (the causes of which, if you recall the premise of the franchise, were an inevitable rarity anyway). Oh, and there’s that rib-tickling scene from “American Pie 2” in which the franchise’s hero runs across the porch roof of a house, entirely nude, with one hand super-glued to a porn tape, his other hand glued to... well, I’m sure you can remember, and if not, your imagination should suffice.

“American Pie: Reunion,” as I’m sure you can decipher, sees this beloved band of hormonal buffoons reassembling for their high school reunion. As ever, our hero is Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs, “Wedding Daze”), who now leads a stable, comfortable life with his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan, “How I Met Your Mother”) and their two-year-old son. However, Jim and Michelle’s once-fruitful sex life has all but ground to a halt, resulting in the embarrassment of the opening scene, which involves, among a few other things, secret masturbation becoming not-so-secret.

Like many high school friendships, the “American Pie” gang have drifted apart over the years. Chris "Oz" Ostreicher (Chris Klein, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”), once a sensitive jock, is now a sportscaster on an ESPN-like channel. Kevin Myers (Thomas Ian Nicholas, now with a beard) is married (not to old flame Vicky) and works from home as an architect. Weirdo Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas”) now apparently travels the world on a motorcycle he won. And partying douchebag Stifler (Seann William Scott, “Goon”), while still a partier and just as much of a douchebag, works as a temp at an investment firm.

Their reunion brings them all back to East Great Falls, about which they have many stories to tell. Indeed, the town has many stories to tell about them too: a local waitress recognises Jim and shows him on her iPhone a video of his younger self spanking himself in front of old flame Nadia, wearing only boxers, as captured via a hidden webcam in “American Pie” and broadcast all over the net, where it went viral. “I could have sworn I had all of these taken down,” Jim responds.

Soon enough, the sexual exploits start up again. Upon visiting his now-widowed father (the ever-lovable and stunningly eyebrowed Eugene Levy), Jim reunites with neighbour Kara (Ali Cobrin, “The Hole"), a highly attractive young woman he once babysat and who is just about to turn 18. It is between these two, along with the aid of others, that the film’s funniest comic set-piece occurs, although I shall not give anything away - suffice to say, it involves alcohol, nudity, social awkwardness, deception, broken beds and cuddly toys, in about that order.

As one would assume, there are many sexual exploits experienced throughout the film, although their effectiveness varies, with some packing a satisfying punch (narrative-wise or comedy-wise) and some not. The aforementioned one featuring Kara does, as it is very funny and ties in well with the narrative; another featuring a half-naked Jim and a see-through pot lid does not, as it’s not particularly funny and feels completely pointless (although there is a point in the scene, if you catch my drift).

There’s a feeling of déjà vu surrounding the film, and I guess this was a deliberate intention of writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. It’s almost ten years later, and the same crazy shenanigans are happening all over again, these characters once again diving ass-first into uncomfortable situations involving sex, booze and excrement. The only difference between now and then, when they were doing all this in ‘99, is that back then they were naive, single-minded teenagers, experiencing it all for the first time; their obsession with sex made perfect sense when taking into account their young age. Here, they’re fully grown men with jobs and responsibilities, supposedly wiser and more mature, and yet they’re acting in the exact same sex-obsessed manner they were over a decade ago - amusing it may be, but there’s something slightly pathetic and almost creepy about it.

It’s a testament to the strength of the characters, then, that they remain lovable and quite compelling in spite of this. These are characters who, 13 years ago, clicked with a generation and with whom that generation has essentially grown up, and it’s rather bittersweet that, although some crows’ feet have pitter-pattered their way across their faces, they’re essentially the same immature doofuses we always saw them as and loved them for. As Mena Suvari’s character fondly observes: “In some ways it’s like you’ve completely changed, and in other ways you’re exactly the same.”

And it’s nice to see them again, and almost endearing that they haven’t changed, not contrived to fit in with the ongoing Judd Apatow movement (although Apatow may have influenced the film’s use of full-frontal male nudity). The characters are who they always have been (Jim will always stumble into embarrassing sex-themed situations and Stifler will always be a trouble-making rogue), and little can be done to change that. The film itself, it provides a level of laughs that should satisfy most, although I disagree with the statement on the poster: if this is indeed the concluding “American Pie,” I don’t believe they’ve saved the best piece for last.


Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Before he began assembling the Avengers (that’s Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and that incredibly incredible Hulk, by the way), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon was helping longtime collaborator Drew Goddard (the writer of “Cloverfield") disassemble the horror genre in “The Cabin in the Woods,” a horror-comedy filmed three years ago but, due to studio complications, is just now getting its first public unveiling - on Friday the 13th, no less.

Directed by Goddard in his directorial debut, the film’s ambition is to skewer its own genre, to scrutinise its innards and see what makes its heart beat away, and to sew it back up again with a few unexpected extra features carefully stapled on. I shall try to remain quiet about these extra features, but I assure you they’re tricky to detect and positively delicious in their glorious, refreshing revelation - yes, I did just use the word “refreshing” to describe a 21st century horror movie called "The Cabin in the Woods."

Kicking off with an instant curveball, “The Cabin in the Woods” opens on generic banter shared between two middle-aged technicians, as played with expert comic timing by Richard Jenkins (“Let Me In”) and Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”). Clad in shirts and ties and sipping on coffee poured from a vending machine, the jabbering pair navigate their way through what appears to be an underground science facility. And it seems that a serious job is afoot, with references to a “scenario” leaking into the conversation.

And then we dive into more familiar and expected territory: five suspiciously stereotypical (and shockingly well-acted) college students are preparing for a vacation in a cabin in the woods owned by one of the group’s cousins. The group are as such: hunky jock Curt (pre-“Thor” Chris Hemsworth), virginal good girl Dana (Kristen Connolly, “Revolutionary Road”), sexy Jules (Anna Hutchison, “Go Girls”), mature Holden (Jesse Williams, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and comic relief pothead Marty (Fran Kranz, “Dollhouse”).

On the drive to the cabin, the group stumble upon one of many genre clichés they will encounter throughout their eventful break: a creepy attendant of a grubby gas station, from whom they politely ask for directions to the cabin. Characterised expectedly as a tobacco-chewing, inexplicably hostile hillbilly, the attendant casually insults them, gives them the directions they need and alludes to a danger ahead, not that he gives a hoot. “I can get you there,” he snarls, self-amused. “Gettin’ back - that’s your concern!”

In the middle of the woods and at the end of a narrow road above a dangerously steep cliff sits the cabin. With creaky doors, an open fireplace and walls decorated with animal heads, the cabin is suspiciously similar to the one from Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead,” self-opening basement door and all. And it is in this dark and cluttered basement that the gore-splattered horror begins, with the reading of a strange diary enticing some unwanted visitors onto the cabin’s doorstep, all watched and controlled from afar by the two aforementioned technicians.

As I’ve seen many critics smartly doing in their reviews of “The Cabin in the Woods,” it is at this point in the story that I shall start to become tight-lipped about the film’s plot - this is, after all, not your typical “cabin in the woods” movie, much as its audience may believe it to be, and just like Whedon and Goddard wish them to upon walking in. Lack of prior knowledge is key here, with the twists and turns of the slowly developing and increasingly intricate plot all the more satisfying when entirely unanticipated.

Satisfying the film most certainly is: starting out as something of a semi-scary meta-horror (a la Wes Craven’s “Scream”), it gradually develops into a full-blown autopsy of the genre and then, just as you think you have a grasp on everything, throws everything out of the cabin window, descending into unrelenting, mind-bending chaos that is as titillating as it gruesome. But, as I promised, I shan’t give anything away - that would only spoil the succulent surprises that are in store.

Horror hounds (who will no doubt be flocking to see this) will surely giggle with glee at all the playful nudges to the film’s colleagues, which range from Sam Raimi’s aforementioned “The Evil Dead,” to Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser,” and even to the J-horror movement (“Ju-On: The Grudge,” “Ringu” and all that jazz). But Whedon and Goddard haven’t littered their film with subtle references to such a degree that non-horror buffs will feel alienated; the film works tremendously well on its own terms as a not-so-run-of-the-mill horror flick that screws with your head, in a very good way, and invites you to think, in an even better way.

“Think about what?” you may ask. Well, “The Cabin in the Woods” provokes many questions about its own genre in much the same way that “Scream” did 16 years ago, only in a more literal fashion. For example, it is often the case in the film that we are asked non-directly why it is that we are gaining almost sadistic enjoyment from the suffering of these characters when they, pushing some forgivable sins aside, have done nothing wrong. There are also questions raised about the nature of the films themselves: why do these movies revisit the same ancient, hackneyed tropes time and time again? Why are their main characters always the same, one-dimensional stereotypes? Why do these characters do what they do when their actions shall surely get them killed? And, rather boldly, are these characters doing these things because they wish to, or are they doing them because that’s merely what the genre requires them to do?

These are daring questions raised by Whedon and Goddard, who handle them with the care, attention and intelligence that they deserve, resulting in a horror film that not only thrills, but provides thoughtful insight into its own genre. Seething with lashings of gore, dollops of wit and gallons of brain juice, “The Cabin in the Woods” is probably the most effortlessly entertaining essay of horror cinema you will ever have the pleasure of reading, or indeed watching.


Monday, 9 April 2012


Hot on the trail of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and all that jazz) and hit TV show “The Killing,” Morten Tyldum’s “Headhunters” attempts to further quench our ongoing fascination with Scandinavian crime fiction, and does so with much success. As based on the Jo Nesbø novel of the same name, it is a crime thriller somewhat in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s" trilogy and the works of the Coen Brothers, most notably their 1996 masterpiece “Fargo.” But while “Headhunters” owes much of its slick style and cheeky sense of humour to its American counterparts, at its core it is deeply and authentically Scandinavian, an attribute that only helps to make it all the more fascinating.

Take the film’s one and only car chase, for example, shared between our hero and his relentless pursuer. While a Hollywood production would surely handle such a scene by pinning one squeaky-clean supercar against another, “Headhunters” pins a gas-guzzling SUV against a lumbering, dirt-splattered tractor. Not only that, but the forks of the tractor are morbidly decorated with a recently impaled dead pitbull, and its driver, our petrified hero, is smeared from head to toe in human feces. I dunno about you, but I for one highly doubt that the upcoming American remake starring “Marky Mark” Wahlberg won’t make one or two minor changes.

The aforementioned poop-covered hero is the aptly named Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who, before being covered in poop, is an accomplished headhunter and a highly skilled art thief. At 1.68 metres tall (as pointed out in his captivating narration), he suffers from something of a Napoleon complex, overcompensating for his limited stature with a gorgeous trophy wife, a luxuriant blonde mane, a confident and ruthless demeanour, and a home in Oslo that looks like it was designed by Pablo Picasso.

Living a financially draining lifestyle, he is chin-deep (well, he is rather small) in piles of debt which not even his frequent art thievery can quite pay off. But when he discovers that a new acquaintance, the devilishly handsome and irresistibly charismatic Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), has in his possession a Rubens painting possibly worth 100 million NOK, Roger sees an eye-popping opportunity to finally relieve himself of his crippling money worries.

Roger’s methods of art thievery aren’t exactly up to the intricately elaborate standards of Thomas Crown, Roger simply going into the victim’s home while they are elsewhere, removing a Munch from its frame, replacing it with a convincing forgery and legging it with the original, all while clad in a ninja costume. Helping him in his missions by tampering with home security systems is Ove (Eivind Sander), a sleazy security guard hopelessly enamoured with cans of beer and deeply in love with a Russian prostitute. How European.

Financial rewards aside, Roger’s latest scheme seems just like any other, and is intended to unfold like any other, i.e. without any cock-ups. But when the operation is underway in Greve’s apartment, Roger stumbles upon something that turns the whole situation upside down, leading to a nerve-shredding chase across Norway and a stomach-churning onslaught of blood-soaked violence, knife-wielding battles and vehicle-flying chaos that surrounds the film’s nail-biting second half.

Sprinting along at the pace of a sugar-snorting greyhound, “Headhunters” is heart-racingly thrilling and electrifyingly entertaining. It is a proper thriller, its plot littered with heart-stopping twists and paced with an efficient balance between action, suspense, jet-black comedy and tear-soaked drama. It is wholly absorbing too, from the sleekly polished opening to the blood-spurting climax, never failing to entertain for a single moment of its 100-minute runtime.

Entertaining too is our leading man; Hennie, an award-winning Norwegian actor, gains the audience’s sympathy as a man who, in most actors’ hands, would not be particularly sympathetic. Roger is a white-collar thief and a vain, self-serving prick who cares not for his wife’s pleas for a child or for the people from whom he is casually stealing. And yet we feel sorry for him as he clumsily tumbles his way through a downward spiral, Roger on the verge of having a meltdown as everything around him goes horrendously, and violently, wrong, leaving him driving through the countryside in a stolen tractor, brandishing a nasty-looking dog bite and covered in doodoo.

Grisly and gruesome, cool and slick, and occasionally berserk (perhaps to a fault), “Headhunters” is a biting satire of male inadequacy, a gripping adaptation of Nesbø's international bestseller and a thrilling new import from the evidently crime-ridden Scandinavia. Colour me curious about the Stateside redo, but unless they have David friggin’ Fincher at the helm, Hollywood certainly has its work cut out in topping this. Your move, Tinseltown.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Wrath of the Titans

It’s clash of the accents in “Wrath of the Titans,” an action-packed blockbuster sequel that’s so multicultural you’d swear you were attending or listening in on a United Nations meeting - well, you would be, had it not been for all the fire-breathing monsters and lava-spewing demons on frequent display. While apparently set in ancient Greece, “Wrath" features not a single utterance from a Greek accent, the film instead featuring voices that originate from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and one that has travelled a long, tiring journey from Down Under. The character of Greek god Zeus (Liam Neeson, “Unknown”), for example, speaks with Neeson’s natural Irish twang (I think), while his brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”), speaks through Fiennes’ menacing use of the Queen’s English; meanwhile, Zues’ son, Ares (Édgar Ramírez, “The Bourne Ultimatum”), appears to be Venezuelan.

In addition, our leading man, Sam Worthington (“Man on a Ledge”), has (like Halle Berry and her magically disappearing Kenyan tongue in the “X-Men” sequels) mercifully dropped the faux American accent he completely cocked up in the first film, settling for his natural Aussie voice instead. This cultural diversity is very peculiar (albeit morally admirable, from a certain perspective), and should tell you two things about the film: 1) Its level of dedication to staying true to the Greeky Greekiness of the Greek stories from which the film originates, and 2) How enthralling the film is, given that I found myself frequently distracted by the actors’ conflicting pronunciations of the word “Tartarus.”

In this follow-up to 2010 fantasy actioner “Clash of the Titans” (itself a hollow remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen classic), the worlds of the gods and the humans are both in trouble. With humans no longer devoted to their almighty rulers, the gods’ strength is weakening along with the walls surrounding the underworld prison of Tartarus, threatening to set loose hordes of vicious mythical creatures upon the innocent earthlings, including a big scary lava monster named Kronos.

The situation is worsened when Zeus, god of thunder, is imprisoned in the underworld by evil brother Hades and treacherous son Ares, who wish to drain him of his power and implant it all into the long-dormant father of all gods, whom Hades and Ares hope shall grant them immortality (I don’t see how that could possibly go wrong). Now a humble, widowed fisherman living with his 10-year-old boy, Kraken-slaying demigod Perseus (Worthington), son of Zeus, is forced to spring back into action to stop Hades and Ares’ nefarious ways, free his imprisoned father and save all of mankind from a horrible, fiery death.

“Clash of the Titans” was directed by Louis Leterrier, the French filmmaker who also brought us fun-filled action flicks “The Transporter,” “Transporter 2” and “The Incredible Hulk.” “Wrath of the Titans,” on the other hand, is directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the American twerp who gave us dire horror prequel “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” and laborious alien invasion picture “Battle: Los Angeles.” Based on this evidence alone, it's clear that “Wrath” should be even more tiring and depressing than its snooze-inducing predecessor, and yet shockingly it’s not: it’s quite the opposite, in fact.

Now, that’s not to say that “Wrath of the Titans” is any good; it most certainly is not, but what it is is slightly better and more enjoyable than “Clash of the Titans” ever managed to be, although that’s hardly a Herculean task to accomplish. What “Wrath” has in its favour is some semi-decent CGI, a proper sense of adventure about it, and a never-ending assembly of noisy action set-pieces, a la the work of Michael Bay.

These set-pieces, of which there are many, range from a sword-swinging battle in the middle of the desert, to a tricky navigation through an ever-moving labyrinth leading to the gates of the underworld, and to a scuffle with a brutish, hammer-bashing cyclops in the middle of a booby-trapped forest. Liebesman tackles these sequences with a visual flair and a passion for crashing noises and computerised jiggery pokery, but most of them are far too messy and chaotic, like a scene (action or non-action) from “Transformers 2,” and not in a good way (is there a good way?).

But it’s when the action ceases and the video game graphics take a coffee break that the film really grinds to a halt, leaving us having to endure wooden readings of clunky dialogue that, while a little more jazzed up than last time, remains as uninspired and head-bashing as it was in “Clash;” there’s only so many deafening yellings of “Perseus!” and “Helius!” a man can take.

We also have to deal with the acting talents of Mr Worthington, who has decided to spend the film’s entire 99-minute length scowling like a mopey teenager, perhaps because of his silly hairdo, which threatens to grow into that dodgy mullet he sported last year in “Man on a Ledge.” Neeson and Fiennes appear to be here simply to pick up a pay check, and who can blame them: all they have to do is slap on a fake beard, stand around a movie set and recite half-assed threats to one another, and voila, they’re in the money; they practically sleepwalk their way through the film, something Worthington appears to be doing, only one suspects he’s actually trying, bless him.

“Wrath of the Titans” may not inspire wrath from the audience, offering a serviceable, inconsequential and mindless diversion from non-explosive everyday life, but it’s unlikely to inspire much glee either. If you’re a fan of “Clash" (and I know there are some of you lurking in the darkness out there), I see no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy “Wrath;” it is, after all, much the same as its predecessor, just done a little more competently. I just would have preferred a lot more effort being placed into the script and the characters, but alas, it seems the titans couldn’t be bothered.


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Mirror Mirror

The thing about Indian film director Tarsem Singh is that he’s very much a visual filmmaker; take a look at his 2000 debut “The Cell” or last year’s “Immortals” and his keen dedication to catering to the viewer’s eyeballs is all too clear. And the thing about classical fairy tale “Snow White,” as written by the Brothers Grimm, is that it’s very much a traditional piece of storytelling, as was understood when Disney famously and faultlessly tackled the tale all the way back in 1937.

Combine the two (a narratively-challenged filmmaker and a good old-fashioned story), and that doesn’t seem like a very bright idea, although Relativity Media would beg to differ; the result, as evidenced in the newly released “Mirror Mirror,” is a film in dire need of both a sense of narrative coherency and a director who thinks in terms of telling a story, and telling it properly, not in terms of, “oh yeah, look at that gorgeous palace” and “ooh, those trees look rather lovely, don’t they?”

Singh has actually directed a fairy tale before, and did it very well. That was in “The Fall,” a 2006 fantasy adventure film about an unlikely band of six heroic individuals who seek vengeance against the evil governor who did them all wrong. The storytelling in “The Fall" was more than a tad muddled, but that made sense: the story was, after all, seen through the eyes of a naive and imaginative young girl, an excuse that “Mirror Mirror” does not have in its defence.

Instead, the story is told - partly - by The Evil Queen (Julia Roberts, “Eat Pray Love”), or Queen Clementianna, as she’s called here. A grotesque caricature of greed and vanity, The Queen is so self-centred she believes the story of “Mirror Mirror” revolves around her (although, given the incoherence of the story, one struggles to blame her). In fact, the story is intended to focus on The Queen’s mistreated step-daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins, daughter of musician Phil), who has just turned 18, not that The Queen noticed.

Much like Rapunzel from Disney’s 2010 animated hit “Tangled,” Snow White is warned by her step-mother to never leave their homely castle, a rule she has always abided by. But when handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”), whom The Queen wishes to marry for financial purposes, sets his eyes on Snow White during a visit to the palace, The Queen finally lets her step foot out of the castle - and orders her personal servant (Nathan Lane, “Mouse Hunt”) to murder her in the woods.

He doesn’t, thankfully, and Snow White is taken in by a ragtag gang of thieving dwarfs (seven, to be precise), who compensate for their limited stature by standing on spring-loaded stilts. Living with the dwarfs and keeping a low profile, Snow White slowly but surely devises a plan to overrule the deceptive queen and take back the kingdom that’s rightfully hers.

As you can see, here the Brothers Grimm’s ever-beloved legend has been toyed around with, turned on its head and spun around a few too many times, and as such has ended up more than a bit dizzy. Screenwriters Melissa Wallack (“Bill”) and Jason Keller (“Machine Gun Preacher”) have succeeded in pumping some much needed originality and a ton of lighthearted humour into the story, which has been adapted onto the big screen dozens of times over the course of over a century. However, in doing so, they have essentially picked apart a rock-solid piece of storytelling and have rearranged it into a clunky narrative littered with flimsy plot beats derived of the satisfying spark necessary to make the whole thing click.

Messy, too, is the script’s handling of The Queen, which gives the impression that Wallack and Keller can’t decide what kind of villain Roberts is supposed to be playing: is The Queen a murderous, loathsome, stuck-up old hag, or is she a lovable, dastardly, rib-tickling cartoon character? Roberts, whose role choices haven’t exactly been up to par recently, is perfectly charming in the role, but the consistency of her character’s viciousness is sorely lacking, and damages the film.

As Snow White, Collins shines, certainly much more than she did last year in action dud “Abduction,” in which she essentially played Taylor Lautner’s walking, talking blow-up doll. Here, she displays a winning smile, an adorable innocence and a set of eyebrows so hair-raising they could challenge Groucho Marx. Co-stars Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane impress also, the former channeling Brendan Fraser (rarely a good thing, but Hammer pulls it off) and the latter channeling, well, Nathan Lane (hardly a stretch for him, I must say).

Visually, the film is mouth-watering in a way that only a Tarsem Singh production could be. Whether it’s achieved through the breathtaking cinematography from Brendan Galvin, the fabulous costume design by regular Singh contributor Eiko Ishioka (who sadly died before the film was completed and to whom the film is dedicated) or an inexplicable closing dance number set to a Bollywood remix of “I Believe in Love,” the fantastical world presented in “Mirror Mirror” is gorgeously realised and a scrumptious feast for the eyes to behold.

It’s a shame, then, that the film is scrumptious in no other area, leaving its audience feeling stiff and bored in the auditorium. There’s another, very different-looking “Snow White” movie set for release in the summer, starring Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart. Judging by its trailer, that one looks set to force-feed “Mirror Mirror” a poisoned apple, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see who shall indeed win the battle to be crowned fairest of them all.