Tuesday, October 3, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: 9/11

This dismal film's probably long gone from every cineplex in the country at this point (it premiered on September 8), but I sat through the goddamned thing so I'm gonna review it and you're all going to share my pain.

9/11 was written by Martin Guigui and Steven Golebioski. It was directed by Martin Guigui.

Golebioski's sole previous writing credit was for the Haunted Collector TV series, whatever that is. 


Guigui is a very mediocre writer, producer and director. He previously wrote and directed My X-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception, Cattle Call, Benny Bliss and The Disciples Of Greatness, Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! and The Bronx Bull. He also directed Changing Hearts, Swing and Beneath The Darkness. I've never heard of a single one of those titles.


The film's based on the stage play Elevator by Patrick Carson. I have absolutely no problem believing that, as most of the film is confined to one location (an elevator, natch) and the whole thing seems very stage-like.


As you've probably already sensed from my snarky tone, 9/11 is not a good movie. It's maudlin, repulsive and downright offensive. It confuses soap opera histrionics for legitimate drama, as it ineptly trivializes one of the darkest days in our country's history for the sake of entertainment.

9/11 could have been a powerful film about self-sacrifice and heroics in the face of catastrophe. Unfortunately it's far too confused, muddled and incompetent for that. It's a shockingly amateurish film in every measurable sense. It looks and feels like a cheap made-for-TV movie, complete with terrible writing, laughable dialogue, flimsy sets and bargain basement production design.

And the acting. My word, the acting. I didn't expect much from a nutjob like Charlie Sheen, but I was appalled by the inept performances by actors like Gina Gershon, Luis Guzman and Whoopi Goldberg, all of who've outstanding work in the past (hell, Goldberg won a goddamned Oscar, for corn's sake!). What the hell, did they have a bet to see who could turn in the worst performance in this film?

The film could have given us a realistic look at the people affected by disaster, or offered up new insights into the events of that day. Sadly it does neither. It's far too concerned with melodrama to bother with facts or historical accuracy. In fact if you didn't know much about the events of September 11 before, you'll know even less about it after watching this dismal film. It trivializes the event to the point where I have to wonder why they set it against the backdrop of 9/11 in the first place. The movie could have easily taken place inside an elevator in an everyday building on a perfectly normal day, and it wouldn't have changed the story one bit.

By far the most shocking and offensive thing about the film is the fact that it stars Charlie Sheen, a known "9/11 Truther." Back in 2006, Sheen called into The Alex Jones Show (oh, jesus), voicing his support for the Truther movement and claiming the Twin Towers had been destroyed by "a controlled demolition." Sheen went on to say, "It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airlines and hitting 75% of their targets that feels like a conspiracy theory." Sighhhh...

Recently, Sheen tried to backpedal a bit (no doubt due to the release of this film), saying, "I was not just coming up with stuff about 9/11. I was parroting those a lot smarter and a lot more experienced than myself, who had very similar questions. Not to put this behind us because, as brilliantly written, we must 'never forget,' but there are still a couple of things just rooted in simple physics that beg some measure of inquiry."

Seems a bit hypocritical to cast a Truther in a film that's ostensibly about the 9/11 attacks, doesn't it? Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, as 9/11 costar Gina Gershon was unaware of Sheen's beliefs until after the film wrapped. Gershon said if she'd known sooner, she'd have had some hard questions for Mr. Sheen before agreeing to star in the film.

For some reason, director Martin Guigui reeeeeally wanted Sheen to star in this project, and refused to film it without him. According to Guigui, he wanted Sheen so badly because of his starring role in 1987's Wall Street, and thought he could best capture that elusive stockbroker mentality that a film about 9/11 naturally calls for.

Sheen originally passed on the film, causing Guigui to meet with him for a whopping six hours, desperately trying to change his mind. Eventually Sheen agreed to star, but only if his "long time confidant" Steven Golebiowski came on board to co-write it. Well, based on the end result, he was certainly worth it.

Most critics have taken great pains to point out how offensive 9/11 is, and I can't argue with them. It's definitely distasteful and appalling, but I've been trying to figure out exactly why? There've been plenty of other movies about the 9/11 disaster in the past, and no one squawked about those. Some, like World Trade Center (starring Nicolas Cage) and United 93 were pretty much docudramas, based on real persons and their experiences. Others like The Guys and Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close were dramas about people affected by the events of that fateful morning. Why do those films get a pass and 9/11 doesn't? What sets it apart?

I think I finally figured it out it's because 9/11 uses actual footage of the September 11 attacks! Seriously! Several times throughout the film, characters gaze in horror as actual video footage of the incident plays out on their TVs.

It's one thing to hire ILM to whip up CGI planes crashing into detailed models of the World Trade Center. It's quite another to see the real thing projected up on the cineplex screen for our amusement. When the film shows Flight 175 plowing into the side of the South Tower, we're watching hundreds of real people actually lose their lives in that instant. THAT'S why this film is so detestable.

I've searched high and low, but can't find any info on the film's budget. I can't imagine it cost much more than $5 million, as it looks like a cheap TV movie. Whatever its budget, 9/11 is a MASSIVE, MASSIVE flop, as according to Box Office Mojo it's grossed an astonishingly tiny $170,000 since its September 8 release. That... that can't possibly be right, can it?


SPOILERS, I GUESS.


The Plot:
In a New York City apartment, bike messenger Michael (no last names, please) and his wife sing "Happy Birthday" to their young daughter. Michael gives his daughter her present (at 7:30 in the morning?) and reluctantly leaves his beloved family to go to work. So from frame one the movie's ramping up the pathos, trying to manipulate our emotions.


Next we meet Jeffrey Cage (played by Charlie Sheen) and his wife Eve (played by Gina Gershon). Jeffrey's a sleazy billionaire who reads six newspapers a day (?) and is fond of telling truly awful and unfunny jokes. Eve on the other hand comes across as cold, humorless and distant. Can you feel the love between them?


The two meet in a law office in the North Tower of the World Trade Center (apparently right at 8 am). Eve accuses Jeffrey of neglecting their marriage, and wants a divorce. Jeffrey's opposed to it (no doubt because he'll lose half his assets), claiming 
they can work things out. Somehow he talks her into thinking it over, and they leave the office.

Cut to Eddie (played by Luis Guzman), a genial custodial engineer (don't call him a janitor!) who works for the Port Authority of the World Trade Center. Eddie stops to exchange playful banter with Metzie (played by Whoopi Goldberg), who works as an elevator dispatcher in the basement Control Center of the North Tower. Metzie's beginning her shift, which consists of her sitting in front of a bank of TV screens that apparently monitor all the elevators in both towers. She's also a fan of the Mets, hence her nickname. This is what passes for characterization in this woeful film.


Lastly we meet Tina, an attractive young woman who's supported by a wealthy "Sugar Daddy." She visits him in his office (at 8 am) to tell him she's breaking off their relationship.


With our main characters introduced, we can now commence with the plot. Jeffrey, Eve and Tina all pile into an elevator on an upper floor of the North Tower. They're soon joined by Eddie, and lastly Michael, who just finished a delivery. As the elevator starts its journey to the ground floor, Jeffrey looks down at his Rolex®, and we ominously note the time: 8:46 am. Uh-oh!


Suddenly the elevator's rocked by a massive blow and the characters are knocked to their feet, as Flight 11 slams into the side of the North Tower. As the shockwave subsides, the elevator stops moving. The Control Center, all of Metzie's monitors go offline. She wonders what the hell just happened.


The elevator occupants are calm at first, assuming it's just a normal everyday technical glitch. When the car doesn't move, they gradually they become more concerned. Jeffrey complains he's going to be late for a meeting and Eve asks "What's going on?" several dozen times. Eddie uses the intercom to contact Metzie. She tells him she's lost contact with all the Center's elevators, and calls for help. She's puzzled when all the lines are out.


Metzie pulls out a portable TV and sees news reports that a plane hit the North Tower. She calls Eddie and tells him what happened, and says they need to get out of the elevator somehow. Everyone panics, and the unstable Tina immediately pulls a bottle out of pills out of her purse and starts chowing down on them. Jeffrey tries to calm everyone down, saying the Towers were attacked in the 1993 and survived just fine.


Eve tries to call for help on her cell phone, but can't get a signal. Eddie tries to open the elevator door, hoping they'll be able to squeeze out, I guess. Unfortunately this car has a new safety feature, and the doors can't be opened more than a few inches without a special tool. Just then Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower, rocking both buildings, and causing everyone to freak out all over again.

Apparently the screenwriters can think of nothing else for the characters to do at this point, so they sit down and get to know one another, as the film turns into a reeeeally bizarre version of The Breakfast Club. Michael resents Jeffrey because he's a billionaire, and therefore must be evil. Eve strangely defends her man, despite the fact that an hour ago she wanted to divorce him. Eddie confesses he has a rampant gambling addiction. Tina has nothing to confess, save that she hopes her Sugar Daddy died when the plane hit the building. Classy!


Amazingly Eve manages to get a plot-convenient cell phone signal and calls her mother Diana (played by Jacqueline Bisset). She says they're OK for now, and asks her to call Eddie and Michael's families. Jeffrey gets on the horn and talks to his son J.J. (which you just know has to be short for Jeffrey Junior), and tells him he'll see him soon, all while calling him "sport" and "buddy" and other assorted male terms of endearment. The phone line goes dead, and he and Eve exchange meaningful glances and actually hug. Could it be? Is there really still a spark of attraction between these two estranged love birds?


Suddenly smoke begins filling the elevator. Metzie calls Eddie and tells him they need to get out of there now. They try to pry the door open again, but still can't figure it out, as Eddie's not familiar with the new design. In an effort to eat up some screen time, Metzie runs to the controller's office to look for his elevator manual. She finds it, brings it back to her desk and begins reading instructions over the intercom to Eddie. Ah, yes. It's the riveting "Reading The Instructions" scene everyone's talking about!


The passengers all pull together, as Michael pries open the doors a few inches and Jeffrey hoists Eddie onto his shoulders so he can reach the door mechanism on the outer top of the elevator car. After a few abortive tries, he finally releases the safety catch, and they're able to open the elevator doors! Hooray!


Their celebration is cut short though, as they see the car's stopped between floors. Cue sad trombone! Eddie takes a closer look through the rapidly thickening smoke, and says it's just a sheet of thin drywall standing between them and freedom. The passengers begin chipping away at the drywall, until they manage to open a small hole, just large enough for a thin, brittle, waspish woman like Eve to crawl through. 


Just then the passengers hear a deafening roar. They contact Metzie and ask her what happened. She tells them one of the Towers just fell. The passengers are amazed and stunned by this news.


Right on cue, the elevator slips down a few inches, as the cable begins fraying or something. Man, if it ain't one damn thing it's another. Knowing that it's possible for the Towers to actually fall, the passengers now have a renewed sense of urgency. Jeffrey shoves Eve through the hole in the wall, and she finds herself inside a storage room. Just as Tina's about to go through, the elevator slips again, this time making it impossible for anyone else to crawl through the hole. 


Jeffrey tells Eve she has to go find help, and let the authorities know where they are. She's reluctant to leave him, but eventually agrees. She exits the storage closet and staggers off into a smoke-filled hallway.


Meanwhile, a group of firemen enter the control center and tell Metzie she's HAS to evacuate. She calls the passengers and says, "Welp, good luck with your trapped elevator" and buggers the hell out of the movie (!).


The elevator slips some more, and Jeffrey tells everyone to get into "crash positions." This consists of simply lying on the floor of the car, with their arms and legs spread out as much as possible in an effort to "disperse the impact" or something. Suddenly the cable snaps, and the elevator plummets several dozen floors to the bottom of the shaft. The passengers are then in free fall, floating around the elevator in a ridiculous and cartoonish manner. Luckily the emergency brakes kick in, and manage to stop the car a foot or two from the bottom of the shaft.


Eve somehow makes it down to the ground floor (I guess she hurried down thirty or forty flights of stairs in record time) and feels her way through the near whiteout conditions inside the lobby. Metzie practically knocks her down trying to get the hell out of there. Eve sees a group of firemen run by, and manages to snag one and convince him to come with her. 


They run to a bank of elevators, but Eve's not sure which one Jeffrey and the others are in. They hear voices coming from one, and the fireman spends several minutes trying to pry the door open in an effort to ramp up the tension. Suddenly the door pops open, and several complete strangers run out. D'oh! It's the wrong elevator!


Undeterred, Eve pleads with the fireman to try again. They find our heroes' elevator and get the door open. Michael, Eddie and Tina spill out. Just as Jeffrey's about to exit, the elevator slips again, slightly past the ground floor. The fireman tries to pull Jeffrey out, but can't get a good grip on him. 


Jeffrey tells Eve he loves her, and orders Michael to make sure she gets to safety. Michael nods and he and Eddie grab the hysterical Eve and drag her away. The fireman reaches into the elevator as far as he can, and finally manages to grab Jeffrey's hand. It's now 10: 28, and there's another tremendous roar from above. The two men lock eyes, and we smash cut to black.


Thoughts:

• As I said earlier, 9/11 is nothing more than an ill-advised, glorified disaster movie. Don't believe me? They actually use the "Estranged Couple Who're Brought Back Together By The Tragedy" trope, which has been used in virtually every disaster movie ever made all the way back to the Irwin Allen days.

• Get used to lookin' at these people, because they're practically the only ones you're gonna see for the whole movie.

Ehhhhh, nice try, but no. Other than the most basic outline of the 9/11 attacks, there's precious little in this film that actually happened.

• 9/11 is rated R for "language." Not because it depicts a shocking and violent terrorist attack on U.S. soil that killed nearly 3,000 people, but because its characters say "F*ck" a couple of times. Priorities!

• Shortly after Jeffrey enters the elevator, he glances at his fabulously expensive Rolex® watch, which reads 8:46. This is about as close as the movie ever gets to historical accuracy.

• Shockingly, the producers saved a ton of money on special effects by simply showing TV coverage of the actual 9/11 attacks. In effect they're exploiting actual deaths for entertainment purposes. It's offensive and repulsive.

• If you've ever sat in a theater and thought, "You know what's wrong with movies today? There just aren't enough extreme closeups of Whoopi Goldberg's gaping maw," then 9/11 is the film for you.

• There's some really odd motivation going on with Charlie Sheen's Jeffrey character. When he first appears he's presented as a sleazy, billionaire asshole who's so involved with work that he neglects his wife and son.

As the passengers become trapped, he does a complete turnaround, going so far as to promise to give Michael a job and send Eddie and his wife on a Hawaiian vacation. By the end of the film he's a full blown hero, sacrificing himself to save the other passenger.

I think maybe this was supposed to be an attempt at some kind of redemption arc for Jeffrey, but it's handled so poorly and ineptly I'm not quite sure. As it stands, it's never clear if we're supposed to hate him or cheer for him.

• At one point Michael, whose character might as well be named "Angry Young Black Man," denounces Jeffrey, saying he has no idea what it's like for the working class, and accusing him of using his "white privilege" to amass his fortune.


Eve then tears into Michael, going into a long and oddly impassioned speech about how Jeffrey started out with nothing, working in "the docks." She goes on to say how he dreamed of a better life, and toiled away for years until he worked his way up to CEO or whatever he's supposed to be.

It's a very odd little speech that comes completely out of nowhere, considering just an hour earlier Eve wanted to divorce Jeffrey because he was a workaholic, and she could barely stand to even glance at him.

Plus Eve and the screenwriters seem oblivious to the fact that Michael has a point. Of course white privilege played a factor in Jeffrey's rise to the top! A man like Michael could have worked just as hard as Jeffrey and still not rise to the same station, due to his race. Like it or not, that's just where we are as a society today.

• About halfway though the film, the passengers hear an incredibly loud roar as the elevator shakes and sways. They call Metzie on the intercom and ask what's going on. She solemnly tells them, "One of the Towers just fell." Yeah, the SOUTH one, since all the characters are in the North Tower and they're still alive. 

Why the hell would she phrase it like that? Why not just say the South Tower fell.

• As the elevator cable is in danger of breaking, the characters all lie on the floor in an effort to survive the fall. Jeffrey makes an extremely lame joke, saying it's not the fall that kills you, but the stopping when you hit the ground. 

The cable then snaps, and the characters float comically in the air for a few seconds while they're in free fall. Yeah, not a good choice. The word "comically" should never come to mind when discussing 9/11.

• Near the end of the film, a group of firemen enter the Control Center and order Metzie to evacuate the building NOW. She calls the passengers one last time and pretty much says, "Welp, gotta go before this building collapses too, guys! Good luck with your trapped elevator! Let me know how it works out for you." Metzie then literally runs away from the building, as if Whoopi Goldberg can't wait to get the hell out of this movie and make an angry phone call to her agent.

What the hell? Abandoning the trapped passengers in their darkest hour doesn't seem very heroic, does it?

Look, I get it— Metzie evacuating the Tower was the sensible and realistic thing to do. But this is a movie. Movies aren't realistic, they're cinematic. They're about heroes— people who are better than us, who risk their lives in impossible situations. They're not about people who bugger off and leave victims to their fate. 

Sure, Metzie was just an old lady who couldn't possibly help rescue any of the passengers. But she made a connection with them over the course of the movie, and became their one link to the outside world. And she simply walks off and leaves them all to their fate, without a second thought. It's terrible, terrible writing, and makes Metzie look like an asshole.

• In the play on which the movie's based, the characters are a maintenance worker, a secretary, a pregnant Muslim woman with a Jewish husband, a crippled philanthropist and a wealthy, ruthless businessman with an older female assistant. 

The movie uses a couple of those (sort of), but completely changes the rest. Honestly the characters in the play sound far more interesting than the ones we got here.

• I don't usually talk about my theater going experience at the cineplex, but I'm making an exception for 9/11. When I went to see it, my friend and I were the only people in the entire theater. We had our own private showing! I would not be surprised to find out that we were the only two people who saw the film all day. Or all week!

9/11 is a cheap, mawkish disaster movie set against the background of the September 11 attacks. It has absolutely nothing to say about the events of that day, and is more concerned with its soap opera plotting than in historical accuracy. Amazingly the film even casts known 9/11 conspiracy theorist Charlie Sheen in the starring role! Worst of all is the fact that the movie uses actual footage of the 9/11 attacks in lieu of special effects, which is beyond offensive. I give it a well deserved D+.

2 comments:

  1. I wonder if this is how the Greatest Generation felt after WW II about all the war pictures Hollywood made.

    It just feels *wrong* to be making a movie about this. That's also why "Flight 93" did bad box office.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wondered about that too, but then I remembered they were making WWII movies DURING WWII, so... I dunno.

    Do you mean "United 93?" I don't think that one was a dud. According to Box Office Mojo it grossed $76 million on its $15 million budget. Or is there a "Flight 93" movie too?

    As for myself, I wasn't offended by United 93, as it was a dramatization of actual events-- a docudrama, I guess you'd call it. They even got the guy who made the decision to ground all planes to play himself.

    9/11 was offensive because it told a sappy soap opera story against the backdrop of the attacks. Plus as I said, they used actual footage of the disaster instead of special effects! That's what pushed it over the line for me.

    ReplyDelete

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