Sunday, March 3, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Identity Thief, A Good Day To Die Hard

As always, there be SPOILERS here! You've been warned!

Identity Thief
Wow, a comedy that's actually funny. What a novel concept!

Much of the humor, make that ALL of the humor comes from stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, who go above and beyond to elevate the somewhat pedestrian material. I've always like Bateman, one of the few child stars who actually turned out OK, and McCarthy is firing on all cylinders here. She gives her Diana character some actual depth instead of playing her as a shallow cartoon.

The film's structure owes more than a little to Planes, Trains And Automobiles. You've got a straight man with a loving family teamed with an overweight, annoying sidekick, a desperate and frustrating road trip set against a looming deadline, and a heartfelt lesson learned along the way.

Film critic Rex Reed caused quite a stir in his review of the film when he said star Melissa McCarthy was "tractor-sized" and a "female hippo." Rawrrr! Listen to her! I was less shocked by his comments than by the fact that he's still alive and believes himself relevant.

The Plot:
Nice guy and family man Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) has his identity stolen by a woman named Diana (Melissa McCarthy) who lives it up on his money and credit. When the police are powerless to stop her, Sandy decides to track down Diana and bring her to justice.
• Bateman and McCarthy make a great "opposites on a road trip" couple.

• For once, a movie character actually pays for their actions. At the end of the film Diana has to spend two or three years in prison for her crimes.

So many times in comedies and especially in action films characters will commit multiple felonies in order to propel the plot forward, and there are zero consequences. No matter how much murder and mayhem they cause, as long as they get their man it's all forgiven in the end.

• The whole "drug dealers chasing Diana" subplot felt superfluous and tacked-on. I'm assuming they included those two characters to add a sense of danger to a plot that had none, but they felt unnecessary and very out of place, like they wandered in from another movie. You could cut every single one of their scenes without doing one bit of damage to the film. 

Besides, the film already had the skip tracer character (played by Robert Patrick) who's also pursuing Diana. His presence in the movie made much more sense and should have been sufficient. 

• The film has an extremely contrived plot line, one that takes a lot of bending over backwards in order to make it work. The whole idea that the police are totally powerless to apprehend Diana just because she's in another state seems a bit iffy. I know that police have jurisdictions, but are there no rules or procedures for interstate cooperation?

And would the police really let, and even heartily endorse, a private citizen travel to another state to apprehend a felon and bring them in by themselves? I doubt it, muchly.

• This is extreme nitpicking, but I'm puzzled as to why actor/director Jon Favreau gets third billing in the credits, right after Melissa McCarthy. He's in the movie for literally two minutes, tops. Morris Chestnut and John Cho are both in the movie far longer than him and receive seventh and eighth billing, respectively. Heck, even the two kids who play Sandy's little girls are in the movie longer. 

Does the name Jon Favreau really have that much drawing power? Fans of the Iron Man movies know who he is of course, but I doubt the general public could point to him if he was the only other one in the room.

Identity Thief is a rarity these days: a comedy that's actually somewhat amusing. I give it a B.

A Good Day To Die Hard
The fifth installment in the Die Hard franchise. Fifth! Bruce Willis returns as John McClane, the everyman-turned-superhero.

When Die Hard premiered in 1988 it was a breath of fresh air in the action movie genre. The hero wasn't some muscle-bound oaf spouting one liners as he doled out death. John McClane was just an everyday guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was an everyman that the audience the audience could identify with and care for.

Kiss all that goodbye. This new and improved John McClane is an industructible superman who walks away smirking from the massive explosions he causes. No longer an audience surrogate, these days he's more of a cartoon than a flesh-and-blood character.

This time out McClane is joined by his never-before-seen-or-ever-mentioned son Jack, played by Jai Courtney. 

I have to wonder: are the filmmakers introducing McClane's never-before-seen son in an effort to keep the franchise going should Bruce Willis ever retire?

Jai Courtney is an Australian actor who's featured in Spartacus and Jack Reacher. He's a decent enough actor I suppose but the thing that stands out to me is his giant head. Seriously, it is enormous. I couldn't concentrate on any of his dialog during the film because I was distracted by his over-sized noggin. I know of what I speak; I also suffer from an abnormally large head, so I feel for the guy. But day-um! You'd think while the filmmakers were doing all their other CGI work they could have digitally shrunk his head by 30% or so.

Also starring either Summer Glau or Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane's previously-unseen-or-ever-mentioned daughter.

The Plot:
John McClane discovers his estranged son Jack is being held in a Russian prison. He travels to Russian to help and gets caught in the middle of a terrorist plot. Lots of explosions ensue.
• Um... wow, I got nothing.

• As Michael Scott of The Office pointed out, in the first Die Hard movie John McClane was a normal human being just trying to save his wife. He was vulnerable and could be hurt. Not any more! Now he's a superhero, seemingly impervious to any and all injury. In scene after scene McClane-- and his son as well-- are shot, blown up, crushed and fall hundreds of feet, only to get up, brush themselves off, shake their heads a couple of times and then walk away unscathed.

• In a similar vein, in the first film the stunts were performed by actual human beings. You cringed when McClane (or his stuntman) crashed through a window or fell down an elevator shaft. In this film the stunts are done by digital doubles and there's no audience connection with them. The stunts are so ridiculous that you subconsciously know they're not being performed by a real person, so you shrug and think, "So what?" There's no high stakes or danger in any of the stunts.

• Do they have police in Russia? If so you wouldn't know it from this movie. The McClanes utterly decimate several square miles of downtown Moscow, destroying thousands of cars and roadways and even killing innocent bystanders. At no point do any police even so much as glance in their direction. They're completely free to destroy at will with no interruption whatsoever from any authority figures instead of spending the rest of their lives in a gulag as would happen in reality.

• The McClane's are so indestructible that they can drive right into Chernobyl (without being stopped or questioned by the authorities) where the villains are stealing plutonium or something. They hang out there for several hours, breathing contaminated dust (thrown up by the numerous explosions they cause) and at one point even falling into a contaminated pool, and are completely unaffected by the radiation. The elder McClane makes a feeble attempt to address this, but Jack blows off his concerns by saying it's "just drain water" and they'll be fine.

Yes, it's true that the radiation level in Chernobyl and nearby Pripyat is no longer deadly for short periods of time and that Russia even offers "extreme tours" of the area. But people in those tours are just standing around. They're not breathing dust from collapsing buildings or submerging themselves in contaminated pools. Once again, the McClanes are superheroes! 

A collection of action set pieces crudely strung together by a flimsy plot. I give it a C-.

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