Mike at the Movies

No Escape (R) ****

One cannot imagine Lake Bell or any other actress of note auditioning for this part. The role calls for running, leaping off buildings, shooting, beating and trying to keep it together during scads of escape scenes, but there is “no escape.” The Dwyer family: Jack (Owen Wilson), Annie (Bell) and their two pre-teen daughters, Beeze (Claire Geare) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins), arrive in Thailand for Jack’s new job but he never gets to the office. He is one of several American targets of a mob that wants his company out of their country.

Mob violence ensues and the family is guided through it by several saviors, not the least of which is Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), an agent for US-UK corporations who want the rights to Thai water and other raw materials. His is skilled in things military and guides the family expertly through mass executions, riots, a brothel, under a corpse, and to the US Embassy. No luck there as the riots have already reached them. This is just one occasion in which we think the Dwyers are not going to be OK.

To get where they’re going, they have to leap from roof to roof (girls included) and struggle through the mob scenes going on around them, most of which are aimed at Americans. Brosnan is effectively heroic in his role of protector and guide. The film’s impact lies in the choreography of the fight and flight scenes and in the constant threat of discovery no matter where the family ends up. The Thai gangs are fiercely cruel, and it is impossible to predict which member of the family is going to be bumped off first—a handy asset in an escape thriller like this one.

Wilson is extremely effective as an amateur fighting to save his family, Bell tolerates her beatings and falls like a trouper, and the kids are charmingly vulnerable. It is a reflection of changing times that they have a most unexpected savior turn up, bringing the film to a relieving close. This probably will scare the younger set since their demographic is the most severely in danger for the entire film, but the director makes sure they are at the center of the jeopardy just for that reason.

Hitman: Agent 47 (R) ***

The best thing about this film is the fact that, of all the action films out this summer, it is the first that has its cast put new clips into their armament. Usually, guns fire forever without re-arming and some of the select assassins in this film never seem to reload.

The whole movie is a bit of a reload, however, with Diana (Katje) played by the Asian actress Angelbaby [sic], a partial human. She and Agent 47 are from the same batch of robotized assassins but, as we are reminded several times during the film, it is what you do that determines what you are. Agent 47, bar code and all, is played by a shaved Rupert Friend (his bar code is more easily seen), and his archenemy, “John Smith” by Zachary Quinto. When he asks, “What am I?” a perplexed 47 is told: “Same as me only better.” That’s, as they say, debatable since the two are a pretty dead even match most of the film.

One of the confusing aspects of the film is who is alive and who is dead. Since three of the four main characters are semi-robotized, they keep popping back into action after suitable time not only for a funeral but for re-lubrication and self-healing. They are easy to tell apart, however, since they have bar codes tattooed into the back of their necks. No bar code? Human.

Ciaran Hinds (Litvenko) (human) is the architect of all the robots and is the “father” of #47 and #93 but has the handicap of suffering with Stage 3 cancer, made more serious a condition by all the running around he has to do to escape the evil robots who are trying to get his formula for more robots so they can take over the world. It is good to remember, however, that Smith is only “a failed experiment.” (He loses some fights.)

A secondary but incredible role is played by the city of Singapore with its spectacular architecture. Effective staging of the numerous fight scenes is also a feature, with a particularly gory one being the interior of a building all in white. It is hypnotically effective for blood spurting and splashing. This film is not for the squeamish or for those who believe even the good guys miss a target now and again, but perfect for summer heat when your brain is tired or missing and you don’t have time to reload.

American Ultra (R) ***

One of the strangest films in recent memory, this one features a washed out, dual-tinted Kirsten Stewart as Phoebe and Jesse Eisenberg as Mike, also a bit washed out, as CIA agents. The only one of the two who knows her role is Phoebe since she is Mike’s handler. Their boss is an aging Connie Britton as Victoria. She is in trouble with her boss, Topher Grace (Yates) who is out of control, cancelling her operation (featuring Mike and Phoebe) in favor of his own.

Sounds prosaic until you factor in the fact that this is a whacked-out stoner comedy/thriller with buckets of blood, unfortunately spread heavily over Mike and Phoebe, making the humor a little ironic. Mike soon gets tired of all the violence suddenly surrounding him: “If I die, I’m going to do it stoned and smiling in my bed.” Odds are against that as he gets roundly whipped by each and every opponent for the entire film. He, of course, is in love with Phoebe and plans on giving her an engagement ring but bombs, automatic rifle fire, grenades and SUVs charging at him out of control keep the ring in his pocket.

One of the more bizarre scenes has Victoria (Britton) cradling a very heavy automatic weapon. She looks like she wants her guitar back. Mike, along the way, discovers that he has super-human fighting ability and most of his fights are conducted in a sort of hypnotic haze. The directors created some pretty weird special fighting effects for him—my favorite was the bullet-deflecting frying pan—and he wields them all in a mystified manner. The script has a lot of humor but, again, buckets of blood, making it hard to know if it’s time to laugh. Go ahead and take a chance. Pretty weird and laughable stuff for as violent a film as this. And yes, a “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” type sequel is suggested in the last reel.

Sinister 2 (R) 0

I will not, because I am basically a nice and forgiving person, name the cast of this dreadful miscarry. Deserted farmhouse, spooky old church with rats and a bloody past and mysterious figures that fade in and out among the rats, plus a ghostly family that propels the action with spectacularly ineffective home movies shot on 16mm film, mark this as an amateurish and embarrassingly bad childish production. The acting is below mediocre, particularly that of the father who is so cruel that he is a parody, the script so predictable—almost as predictable as the loud clanging that marks each attempt at surprise—that the least perceptive film-goer will be moaning and looking for the exit before reel one is over. Even the children lack any appeal at all. Certainly one of the worst films of the summer or any recent season. Avoid.

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