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Craig's Movie Club
Film/Video Reviews

Action films reviewed with a discerning eye.

48 HRS (1982)

Eddie Murphy made his debut in this Walter Hill film, 48 HRS, and he is really the star here, even though Nick Nolte gets top billing. Nolte does a fine job, but his part is not as showy, and one's eyes are not drawn to him as much as Murphy, at his best in the country-western bar scene.

You probably know the story, but I'll summarize it here by saying that 48 HRS is simply a buddy movie with an antagonistic twist. Murphy is the con, in for three years with six months left. Nolte is the cop on a search for James Remar, who stole a lot of money with Murphy long ago.

The story is set up as a mystery, with the pair questioning several possible connections, but the story doesn't really matter. The main attraction is the relationship between Murphy and Nolte and the slow growth towards friendship.

One complaint is that since this was filmed in 1982, they had a different idea of gritty police drama than today. The police department's atmosphere is incredibly tame compared to shows like NYPD Blue. Nolte does his best, chain-smoking and nipping from a flask (I read once you could tell an '80's movie by how much they smoked), but he still doesn't come across as jaded as any scene with Andy Sipowicz.

But 48 HRS is still fun and good entertainment, especially if you are looking for a film with an American Indian character that dresses like a '50's relic.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Beverly Hills Cop is another example of how Eddie Murphy shines when he is given good material. 48 Hours, Trading Places, Bowfinger, and Beverly Hills Cop are the highlights of his career. Other actors would be happy to have just one of those films in their legacy.

Unfortunately, the sequels did not measure up, but gave Murphy plenty of room to mug--something he should try to restrain. The Nutty Professor is a perfect example of this behavior: his subtle and tender turn as Sherman Klump (and his family) was overshadowed by his wild antics as Buddy Love--to the harm of the picture. The man can act, he just needs to be structured and not let to run the production.

Judge Reinhold is a discovery here. His performance as the cop who has to follow the rules but doesn't want to is terrific--every note. One can see how he became a star after this (for a while, anyway). His internal glow comes through, his innate innocence makes you sympathize with him immediately (as it did in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). It is unfortunate that after Ruthless People, his career went downhill to the point of playing a father in The Santa Clause that really could have been done by an unknown. His riff as a "close talker" on Seinfeld only served to deepen my embarrassment for him. There are so few parts for competent actors these days, especially those who are not inherently dark, as that seems to be the way movies have gone.

I had remembered Bronson Pinchot as having been a stand-out before, but this time his performance simply seemed like a gay caricature (with accent piled on liberally). Lisa Eilbacher gives a gutsy performance as the old friend who gets involved; and James Russo is his usual manic self (didn't he play the same character in 48 Hours--no, wait, doesn't he always play the same character?) as the friend of Murphy's who is the catalyst for the whole story.

Beverly Hills Cop Shooting Script

Blind Fury (1989)

In Blind Fury, Rutger Hauer plays an American Zatoichi. For those who don't know, that is a blind swordfighter. Yeah, I know, it sounds either really cool, or really stupid. But it is a pretty entertaining film.

The fights are quick and creative, and Hauer is convincing enough as a blind man. It's a nice change to see him play an entirely sympathetic character, given the bad guy roles he is known for playing.

Blind Fury is also one of those films that features an excellent child actor that I have not seen in a long time, Brandon Call. I remember seeing him in several films of the time, but unfortunately he did not make the crossover to adult star. One hopes that this was a choice. For whichever reason, it was a loss, because he gives a full-blown (without being over-the-top) performance as the boy who gets attached to Nick in the search for his father.

I don't mention the plot in detail, because there isn't much. Blind Fury is really just a buddy road picture showcase for the fight scenes. But the performances raise it above the average. Try it out.

Charlie's Angels (2000)

What a fun movie!

Charlie's Angels pretends to be nothing more than what it is, a summer escapist film. Fighting, humor, innuendo, gadgets, and plenty of cleavage--it has it all!

Cameron Diaz is a joy as the childlike Natalie, while Lucy Liu's Alex is all knuckles and know-how. Drew Barrymore is Drew through and through--sexy, streetwise, and sweet. Bill Murray is wasted, however, as Bosley; his character is all fatherly advice, costume changes, and pratfalls.

With high-kicking Hong Kong-style action and great visuals, if you are looking for a fun flick to pass a Saturday night, don't pass over Charlie's Angels. It's a best bet.

Die Hard (1988) and
Die Hard 2 (1990)

Die Hard began a subgenre in action films (as well as Bruce Willis' career as an action star)--that of the lone hero, a sort of cowboy for the modern era. Films like Under Siege ("Die Hard on a boat") and Passenger 57 ("Die Hard on a plane") are example of substandard entries that soon followed. What they missed is that Die Hard is a good film on its own.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a New York cop transplanted to Los Angeles when his wife gets a job with the Nakatomi Corporation. When terrorists take over the building during a Christmas party, it's up to John to save the day. Alan Rickman gives an excellent performance as lead terrorist Hans Gruber but it's Willis that carries the film with his wisecracks, catchphrases, and charisma.

Inevitably, there would be a sequel and we should consider ourselves lucky that it was Die Hard 2. Subtitled "Die Harder," it was actually based on an unrelated novel (58 Minutes by Walter Wager) that was then geared to fit the McClane character.

Again, it's Christmas, and again Mrs. McClane is in danger. Her plane is flying over Washington, D.C., and is quickly running out of fuel. But more terrorists are attempting to fly in a drug lord and will have no planes landing until he arrives safely.

Die Hard 2, although a lesser film than its predecessor, more than makes up for it in the fun factor. Self-referential remarks ("How can [this] happen to the same guy twice?") and a total lack of any coherent logic along with terrific effects (and a stunning high perspective shot) come together to make one of the best action sequels.

A double feature is probably not in order, but either of these films make for fine escapist viewing. "Yippy-ki-yay, [melonfarmer]!"

Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Dirty Dozen is one of those films that I watched "because I should see it." It is part of our cinematic language and, I found out, it was much more entertaining than I expected.

I had thought is was going to be a rough-and-tough war film with lots of machismo to spare. I didn't expect the level of humor displayed throughout. It really helped to relieve some of the more tense scenes. This is actually a very funny film and a good action film.

I had also heard (most notably from Sleepless in Seattle) that this was a film at which men cry, but I did not have the same experience (although I did feel a slight twinge at the final roll call). Perhaps it is more effective if you have been in the service.

The Dirty Dozen is entertaining as all get out, though, and Lee Marvin gives a standout performance, consistently surprising me with his take on the character. John Cassavetes is also excellent as Franko, the troublemaker--and the showiest role. It does not surprise me that he was nominated for an Oscar, as the Academy does tend to gravitate toward those in supporting roles.

Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)

Gone in 60 Seconds is another one of the fast-paced Bruckheimer films. Too fast-paced at times. I kept noticing that during some of the more emotional scenes (between Cage and Ribisi or Cage and Jolie) that the quick-cut editing actually took away from the scene. It didn't give you enough time to invest yourself in these people's lives. And the script wasn't the problem, because the right words for the scene were there in the script. Had they lingered more on those scenes, the emotion could have come alive. They aren't given a chance to give the lines any meaning. It's sayyourlinesthenjumpoutandfindmorecars. I mean, come on, guys, it is okay to slow down once in a while. A couple of extra seconds aren't going to ruin your movie. In fact, they would probably make it better. You are hiring actors, you know. Let them act.

Otherwise, it is pretty much typical of the genre. Only this one has a bit more pedigree in terms of actors. Besides the aforementioned Oscar winners, you also have Robert Duvall on hand, as well as Jude, Elizabeth, and Shallow Grave star Christopher Eccleston, who seems to be making a career out of playing creepy guys. Come on, Chris, lighten up, do a comedy.

One of my favorites, Will Patton, who is always good for a quality performance, is here also, although he is miscast. And it's a good thing Delroy Lindo has perfected his mean look, which is really all he gets to do here. In fact, Giovanni Ribisi is really the only person here who gives a performance of any notice (although Eccleston is sufficiently creepy, especially with that accent), and even his is one-note: the screw-up who refuses to recognize it.

All in all, though, Gone in 60 Seconds was a fun way to kill two hours. And the extras were, to say the least, educational regarding the special effects used here. So, whether you're into the action, the cars, the actors, or just laughing at the movie in general, you will enjoy yourself--unless you're seeing it because you liked Eccleston's other films. In that case, you should probably skip it.

The Gumball Rally (1976)

Michael Sarrazin stars in The Gumball Rally, the first (and best) of the cross-country road-race films based on a true event and typified by the mindless cameo-filled Cannonball Run pictures of the 1980's. Character here overcompensates for the lack of any real plot with Raul Julia a particular standout as Franco, the Italian driver who throws out his rear-view mirror because "what's behind me is not important."

All the actors are fine, including relative newcomer Gary Busey (just two years before his breakout role in The Buddy Holly Story). In fact, the only one to fare poorly is Normann Burton in the ubiquitous role as the policeman trying to shut down the whole thing. He grimaces and shouts in a way that makes one long for Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit (and even that was overacting).

But The Gumball Rally has no pretensions but to show its audience a good time, which it does in spades. There are few films which show its actors having as much fun in their roles as these folks obviously are in theirs, so it's impossible to not go along with them.

Hunt for Red October, The (1990)

I can't say I was too impressed by The Hunt for Red October. I am basing this opinion purely on the fact that I kept dozing off during the "tense" sequences. Who decided that Sean Connery should play a Russian submarine captain (and yet keep his Scottish brogue)?

Another question kept posing itself while watching this film: whatever happened to Alec Baldwin's career? The last truly gripping performance I saw him give was ten minutes long in Glengarry Glen Ross. (Before that? Miami Blues.) I think the reason lies in two words: Kim Basinger. Now I don't know anything about their home life but I do know that they should never have made any films together.

But anyway, The Hunt for Red October did nothing for me. I didn't care about the characters or the situations. Jack Ryan seemed a little too smart sometimes and way too stupid others. Maybe that's just Baldwin. Harrison Ford has an innate intelligence that even carries through into dumb movies (Six Days, Seven Nights, anyone? I didn't think so). We'll see what Ben Affleck does with it.

I seem to keep rambling, but maybe that's because I can't remember much about the movie, always a bad sign. I don't know who is at fault. John McTiernan has directed better films before and after. And we all know Connery and Baldwin can act. So it must be the script, right? Well, only a brilliant scriptwriter can transcend the source material, so I point my finger at Tom Clancy's novel.

The Mummy (1999) and
The Mummy Returns (2001)

I came into The Mummy not expecting much as I was watching it at a friend's house and it had been his choice. I have to say however, that once I decided not to worry about the plot holes and unnecessary exposition, I had fun. One could spend several paragraphs on the inconsistencies in this film, including one that I will mention: why does it take six bodies for the male mummy to revive, but only one potentially for the woman?

But never mind about that. Brendan Fraser is a standout here, knowing just when to take the script seriously and when to wink at it. He could really stay in this action/comedy genre and do well. I say this having not seen his dramatic work. But he is perfect for this kind of role: handsome, self-deprecating, and check out those arms!

Rachel Weisz is simply adorable. She isn't believable as a historic scholar, but she certainly is as the object of Fraser's affection. But her role is simply that of Love Interest/Damsel in Distress.

As for others, John Hannah is wasted is what is basically a comic relief role. And he appeared to know that this was below him, because he didn't seem to be enjoying himself, as some actors do in this type of role by throwing themselves into it. And Jonathan Hyde just spouts gibberish as an Egyptian scholar.

The special effects were impressive but seemed to be relied on too much for making an impression in themselves instead of forwarding the story. I don't know that I would watch The Mummy again, but I eventually watched The Mummy Returns (at the same friend's house) to see these characters again. And because it was a rollicking good time.

The Mummy Returns has more of everything that made The Mummy popular. More bullets! More CGI! More implausible situations! More wisecracks! More scantily-clad females! Unfortunately, I was actually less impressed with this one than its predecessor. The characters are still charming (especially the couple of Fraser and Weisz), and the villains are still wonderfully evil, but it seems that the special effects rule the day here. Even the Scorpion King's big scene at the end is performed entirely by a computer-generated character (it makes one wonder how much the Rock was paid for this non-appearance). However, fans of the first one should still enjoy themselves during this highly entertaining film.

Reindeer Games (Director's Cut, 2000)

I can't believe I wasted two hours of potential sleep time watching Reindeer Games. The plot is forced, the dialogue is just bad, and it contains a performance by Gary Sinise that one is tempted to call "hammy." The only actors to retain their dignity are the ones with little screen time, namely Donal Logue (Pug) and James Frain (Nick). At least Affleck's accent is consistent.

I thought Reindeer Games would at the very least be a good Friday-night-with-chinese-food flick, but it's not even fun. All problems can be directly attributed to the writing, including the twist at the end.

The actors give it their best, and Frankenheimer does what he can to keep the pace up, but there's really nothing that can be done to salvage this patently unnecessary waste of time. Really the only high point was Charlize Theron's topless scene. But even that's not a good enough reason to play these Reindeer Games.

Speed (1994)

There aren't any great performances in Speed (although Jeff Daniels should get an award for Lifetime Achievement as a Sidekick), but this isn't that type of movie. The action is what matters here.

And it is fantastic! Cinematographer Jan de Bont has made a new classic in the Die Hard vein. The scenes on the bus are a highlight, of course, because that is half the movie, but the elevator and subway scenes are just as suspenseful (assuming you can forget that the heroes never die in these films).

The one thing I kept thinking during Speed (besides how cute Sandra Bullock was) was that Keanu Reeves really found his niche in action films, and why doesn't he make more of them? But that was before the Wachowski Brothers.

Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man is the perfect superhero film--exciting the right places, emotional in the right places, and, yes, cheesy in the right places. It has the wonderful Tobey Maguire in the lead role (although he is more believable as Peter Parker than as Spider-Man) and also the adorable Kirsten Dunst (a redhead here!) as Mary Jane Watson, his lifelong love.

Also in attendance is Willem Dafoe, giving a wonderful scenery-chewing double performance as Norman Osborne and the Green Goblin. The mirror scene is a highlight of the film. Also in the supporting cast are Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, Rosemary Harris as Aunt Mae, James Franco as Harry Osborne (looking a lot like James Dean), and J.K. Simmons, giving a stunning turn as Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson.

The special effects were a little distracting at times, especially during the "discovery of powers" scene, and the film could have been a tad shorter, but I had a great time at Spider-Man and would definitely watch it again.

Superman -- The Movie (1978)

I remembered watching Superman over and over as a child, so when the DVD was released, I had to have it.

It has lost none of that power to charm. It's just as entertaining now as it was then. My only complaint of the DVD is that the added scenes actually seem to detract from my enjoyment of the film, specifically the Lois Lane train scene near the beginning.

Gene Hackman is a howl as Lex Luthor, in a rare broad comedy role. And the underrated Christopher Reeve delivers a nuanced dual lead performance (while only receiving third billing) as the geek with hidden greatness. For these and many more reason--not least Glenn Ford's moving performance as George Kent--Superman remains a classic.

  • ...more to come...