French action/adventure yarn Special Forces (StudioCanal) tells the story of war correspondent Elsa Casanova (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds, Unknown), who is taken hostage by Taliban warlord Ahmed Zaef (Raz Degan, Alexander) and threatened with execution.
Fresh from a search ‘n’ destroy mission in Kosovo, a Special Forces unit led by the fearless Commander Kovax (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator) is dispatched to extract Elsa and bring her home alive. However, when the rescue attempt doesn’t go as planned, Kovax and his elite squad find themselves pursued across Afghanistan’s inhospitable terrain by the merciless Zaef and his minions, and have to dig deep to survive.
Defiantly un-French in style, with some very American macho posturing, Special Forces is slick and purposeful, albeit with a suspiciously hollow core. Familiar faces Hounsou and Kruger offer mainstream audiences something to grasp hold of, but their one-dimensional characters mean that neither performer is particularly stretched.
First-time feature film director Stephane Rybojad delivers plenty of trigger-happy thrills and spills, but the unambitious narrative fails to offer any excitement of a more cerebral slant. Special Forces is a respectable attempt at a muscular geo-political thriller, but the cardboard cut-out characters and by-numbers plotting ensure that the movie never quite elevates itself to the next level. That said, the breathtaking locations – it was filmed in Tajikistan – are almost worth the price of admission alone.
As the old saying goes: you wait months for a Djimon Hounsou movie to come along, and then two come along at once… The Benin-born actor’s second movie this month is Elephant White (Momentum), an unlikely collaboration with Thai director Prachya Pinkaew, the man probably best-known for helming Ong Bak.
When his daughter is abducted and murdered, her wealthy Bangkok businessman father hires ruthless ex-CIA killer Curtie Church (Hounsou, Blood Diamond) to wreak vengeance against the vicious Thai gang responsible. Helped/hindered by long-time associate Jimmy the Brit (Kevin Bacon, Mystic River), a flamboyant weapons dealer, Church proceeds to wage war on the Bangkok underworld, uncovering corruption and dirty secrets galore in the process.
The exotic revenge thriller has gained a new level of popularity since Liam Neeson brought an unexpected level of gravitas and carnage to Pierre Morel’s cult 2008 flick Taken, even if the subsequent results have been less than memorable. Despite an atmospheric Bangkok setting and a pair of solid Hollywood performers hogging the limelight, Elephant White is a clumsily executed, occasionally unintelligible movie that only flickers into life during Hounsou’s bone-shattering fight scenes.
The decision to saddle Bacon with an English accent is as pointless as it is weird, and fans of the veteran actor’s work should probably divert their attention towards James Wan’s underrated – but seriously bloody – revenge movie Death Sentence instead. Despite some entertaining interludes, Elephant White is seriously unconvincing, and seems destined to find an audience by playing on repeat in the background of bars and youth hostels across Thailand.
The Big Bang (Anchor Bay) follows the fortunes of LA private investigator Ned Cruz (Antonio Banderas, Desperado) who is hired by a recently paroled Russian boxer to find his missing girlfriend – and the stash of diamonds that she’s hiding.
After encountering a Hollywood action star with a dirty secret (James Van Der Beek, The Rules of Attraction), an ambitious pornographer who favours a hands-on approach (Snoop Dogg, Starsky & Hutch) and a kinky waitress with a penchant for particle physics (Autumn Reeser, The OC), Ned’s quest takes him into the inner circle of reclusive billionaire Simon Kestral (Sam Elliott, Tombstone), who he realises is determined to recreate The Big Bang underneath the New Mexico desert. Suffice to say, Ned’s quest is complicated even further by a trio of violent cops also looking for the missing diamonds.
Despite his charisma, Banderas seems miscast as the world-weary private eye, and his heavy accent is ill-suited to the private eye drawl that is required by the script. The supporting cast is also a mixed bag, and while Sam Elliott (perhaps best known as ‘the Stranger’ from The Big Lebowski) is allowed plenty of opportunities to wax lyrical, the likes of Delroy Lindo (The Chicago Code) and William Fichtner (Prison Break) are both wasted in thankless copshow-lite roles, with Lindo in particular barely able to conceal his boredom.
Since Robert Rodriguez’s version of Frank Miller’s Sin City, neo-noir has been firmly back in vogue, but few directors have had the panache to pull it off. While the hyper-stylised Big Bang looks the part, director Tony Krantz (whose last movie was 2008’s serial killer guilty pleasure Otis) is unable to wrestle the improbable particle physics-fuelled plot into a coherent state. Nice idea, shame about the clunky storyline.
As the point from which all official distances from New York City are measured, The Columbus Circle (Universal) inevitably ranks as a famous US landmark, and the area takes centre stage in this quirky new thriller of the same name. On her 18th birthday, Abigail Clayton (Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions) received a massive inheritance from her late father and promptly sealed herself away from the world in her swanky Manhattan loft apartment.
Nearly two decades later, the only people who Abigail interacts with are Klandermann (Kevin Pollak, The Usual Suspects) the concierge, and Dr Raymond Fontaine (Beau Bridges, Max Payne) a trusted family friend. When the death of her elderly neighbour prompts Detective Frank Giardello (Giovanni Ribisi, Avatar) to launch an investigation, Abigail finds that her carefully constructed – not to mention isolated – world begins to fall apart, even more so when an enigmatic new couple, Charlie (Jason Lee, My Name Is Earl) and Lillian (Amy Smart, Crank) move in to the empty apartment next door.
Terminal slacker Jason Lee plays against type as a scenery-chewing villain, and his over-the-top performance arguably gives the movie its edgiest moments. However, despite an impressive, well-judged cast list, The Columbus Circle is a bit of a botched exercise that fails to deliver on its engagingly claustrophobic premise. At its heart lurks a pretty good idea, but the narrative quickly runs out of steam, and after the mid-movie reveal the film positively limps towards the conclusion. Director and co-writer George Gallo has enjoyed a patchy career since scripting Midnight Run back in 1988, while co-writer Kevin Pollak should probably stick to acting. Underwhelming.