Friday, 16 May 2014

Letterboxd: ENDER'S GAME • DEVIL • R.I.P.D

Friday, 16 May 2014
★★★ (out of five)

Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel ENDER'S GAME has been tagged as a "great unfilmed book" for years, but it finally arrives on-screen courtesy of director Gavin Hood—the man responsible for the awful X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Consequently, I wasn't expecting much from this sci-fi movie, but it managed to entertain me in a manner I wasn't expecting.

I think the main reason I enjoyed ENDER'S GAME is because of the twisted future culture it portrays; where humanity only narrowly beat invading insectoid aliens known as Formics, but has since spent decades training children in advanced military tactics because they're more adept when it comes to hand-eye coordination and cognitive learning. It's a weird fascist future that reminded my slightly of Robert Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS, in that the military has such power and authority over civilians and you're never 100% sure who are the heroes and villains—with the exception of eponymous Ender Wiggin (HUGO's Asa Butterfield), who is manipulated and brainwashed by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) into becoming a leader on the eve of another alien attack.

ENDER'S GAME works well for much of its runtime; particularly during the training of Ender, where he's bullied by his peers and tested by his superiors in various psychological ways designed to break-or-make him. There's even a surprisingly fun zero-gravity training game that plays as this film's version of Quidditch, only with rules you can actually understand. It's also handsomely mounted and, for once, Harrison Ford doesn't look entirely bored.

Unfortunately, ENDER'S GAME from a weak final act. It builds itself well, but things kind of fall apart just when it matters most. There's a twist that's a little obvious, which isn't great, but the biggest frustration is a denouement that feels rushed and unsatisfying. You leave the film with solid memories of the first half, but annoyed the script didn't have a better ending.

★★★ (out of five)

Five strangers are trapped inside an elevator together, unaware that Lucifer is amongst them as they're killed one by one. M. Night Shyamalan presents this TWILIGHT ZONE-esque movie (based on his own story), and it's the best thing he's been associated with since SIGNS.

It's not as claustrophobic and experimental as it might have been, as the action isn't confined to the elevator once grieving cop Bowden (Chris Messina) gets involved, but it remains tense as the identity of Old Nick is eventually revealed. There's even an effective twist in the tale, which acts as a salve to its flaws and contrivances.

Against expectations, I'm disappointed DEVIL wasn't successful enough to warrant more Shyamalan-related high-concept scares.

★½ (out of five)

BLADE: TRINITY. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. GREEN LANTERN. Maybe it's time Ryan Reynolds stopped pursuing comic-book adaptations, because he has an unerring ability to pick the genre's duds.

It's easy to see why R.I.P.D got made. Based on a Dark Horse comic-book, you can pitch it as "GHOSTBUSTERS meets MEN IN BLACK" and it's easy to imagine a home run for any studio that sinks money into that idea. Sadly, R.I.P.D is an unholy mess on almost every level beyond a conceptual one, and even that owes a debt to the aforementioned MIB. It's grossly formulaic, witless, and impossible to care about.

Boston cop Nick Walker (Reynolds) is murdered by his partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) during a drugs bust, for trying to renege on their plan to keep gold they found on a job. Nick finds himself in the afterlife, where he's recruited to the Rest in Peace Department and partnered with rootin' tootin' Old West lawman Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges). The two mismatched cops then return to Earth, tasked with catching so-called "deadoes" who have escaped eternal justice and are hiding out amongst the living.

It sounds fun, and there are glimmers of hope on occasion. I liked the running joke that Nick and Roy are perceived by everyone else as an old Chinese man and a blonde bombshell, respectively, QUANTUM LEAP-style. Jeff Bridges also gives a brilliantly zany performance as the veteran US Marshall with an ankle fetish, but he's hamstrung by a script that just isn't up to snuff. R.I.P.D is an assemblage of parts from better films, grafted onto a story that's both dull and formulaic, and has almost no big laughs on the page. It doesn't help that Reynolds plays the part like he's half-asleep (when it could have used some smart alec pizazz to contrast with Bridges), and the film portrays its supernatural villains using stodgy CGI instead of inventive make-up.

Lord knows what Robert Schwentke (TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE, RED) was thinking when he signed up to this project, but the dicey and derivative source material wasn't overcome with the zestfulness of a moustachioed Bridges, nor the endless plasticine-like CGI monsters.
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