Navy SEALS in peril, crime and punishment in Detroit and heroism at high altitude -this week’s biggest DVDs reviewed.
Based on the bestselling book of the same name,the gut-wrenching Lone Survivor (Universal) examines the botched military mission that took place in Afghanistan in 2005, under the Operation Redwings banner.
As the movie opens, a squad of four Navy SEALs is inserted into the Hindu Kush region, where they trek through the mountains in a bid to track down and neutralise a high-level al-Qaeda target. Upon arriving at their designated location, the SEALs are discovered by an elderly shepherd and two teenage goat herders, and after much debate they opt to abort the mission rather than execute the men and prompt a violent backlash. Before they can beat a hasty retreat, however, they are ambushed by a Taliban attack squad. Outnumbered and outgunned, the SEALs are well and truly compromised, and the situation turns very ugly, very quickly.
In pure cinematic terms, Lone Survivor sees director Peter Berg pay penance for Battleship, his lamentable 2012 action movie inspired by the Hasbro board game of the same name. Under development since 2007, the movie’s slow-burning genesis didn’t prove offputting to its backers -who included leading man Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg, who plays sniper Marcus Luttrell, the book’s author, reportedly chipped in $1 million of his own money to help get it made. Co-stars Taylor Kitsch (Savages), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and Ben Foster (The Mechanic) joined Wahlberg at a three-week bootcamp organised by Luttrell prior to filming, and their commitment to the cause was worth the effort, as Lone Survivor contains some of the most gruelling action scenes ever to feature in a war movie.
Lone Survivor arguably opts for a smaller focus than many notable war movies of recent years, and despite the characters only being superficially sketched, Berg has successfully weaved together an intimate, heart-stopping drama. The title may give the ending away, but the tension never drops for a minute, and almost every aspect of the film is top-notch.
In RoboCop (Studio Canal), the year is 2028 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the forefront of robot technology. Their drones are winning American wars around the world, and now the company’s ambitious CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton, Batman) wants to bring the technology to the crime-ravaged cities of the United States. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, Easy Money) is a loving husband, father and straight-arrow cop, doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit. After he is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp utilises its remarkable cybernetic technology to save Alex’s life and create a fearsome new RoboCop to police the streets of Detroit…
Much like the reaction to the dreary 2012 remake of Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven fans were outraged when reports of a RoboCop reboot emerged. However, to call it a cynical cash-in does it a huge disservice, and undervalues director Jose Padilha’s input. Admirers of his earlier movies -the Brazilian Elite Squad films -will be able to grasp the narrative thread between the two franchises, and he arguably makes a better fist of it than Len Wiseman did with the disastrous Total Recall re-hash.
Generally well-cast: from leading man Kinnaman, down to Keaton and Gary Oldman, as well as the likes of Jay Baruchel and Jackie Earle Haley, the remake has evidently been assembled in the best possible taste. That said, Samuel L. Jackson’s scenery-chewing turn as an outspoken right-wing TV host sits uneasily with the remainder of the film, his character arguably gets far too much air time, unnecessarily playing devil’s advocate.
Not the disaster that many people would have you believe, RoboCop is a solid action thriller, but ultimately not a patch on Paul Verhoeven’s blistering original. Indeed, your level of disgust is likely to correlate to your level of affection for the brilliant original! Verhoeven combined pulp action with dark satire to still-arresting effect. With a far murkier moral palette, the remake effectively hedges its bets, and is all the poorer because of it.
Now, hands up if you want to see a Showgirls remake?!
In Non-Stop (Studio Canal) Liam Neeson stars as Bill Marks, a burned-out ex-cop with a booze problem, now reluctantly working as an Air Marshal. While flying from New York to London, Marks receives a series of text messages from an anonymous sender who threatens to murder a passenger every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into an unnamed bank account. Facing a race against time to locate the person responsible, Marks’ problems are magnified when the bank account is found out to be in his name, and he is accused of being the hijacker.
Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously directed Neeson in the enjoyably absurd Unknown, displays an impressive knack for keeping the narrative moving forward, even when the numerous plot-holes threaten to swallow the movie whole. Part locked-room mystery, part trashy action flick, Non-Stop is elevated above preposterous B-movie garbage by Neeson’s sincerity -not the first time he has employed that trick to winning effect.
For better or for worse, it is hard not to see Non-Stop as a Taken sequel that got mislaid. Since 2008’s hyper-violent thriller Taken took on a life of its own as a cult movie gone supernova, Neeson has immersed himself in the action genre, without ever managing to hit the dizzy heights of Taken. Non-Stop is probably the best attempt to replicate the earlier film’s strong points, and with some minor tweaking it could have easily slotted into the series as Taken 3, 4 or 5! Even the name Bill Marks seems knowingly interchangeable with Taken’s Bryan Mills!
Disposable fun -just don’t expect to see it as an in-flight movie any time soon!