Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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Tag Archives: Universal Pictures

I Legitimately Hate 1995’s Mallrats

Mallrats is an awful movie with almost zero redeeming qualities whatsoever. It was a considerable box office flop that instantly made a ton of critics as well as the general public immediately reconsider writer/director Kevin Smith’s talent only two movies into his career. Mallrats is an unpleasant, amateur affair that’s about as stupid as Clerks, Smith’s first effort, is good. That is to say, Clerks is a quality piece of entertainment that holds up as a time capsule of the early to mid-90s (with some truly inventive and funny dialogue), while Mallrats is a garbage film perhaps best remembered for its clunky, forced dialogue about superhero penises Jason Lee’s breakout performance (the film’s lone highlight). I have not seen Mallrats in years, but I unfortunately remember it almost beat-by-beat (it is not a complicated movie). I hate that film so much that I really want to write about it and relish in my hatred.

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I remember Mallrats so well because I have actually seen it dozens of times, despite never really liking it all that much in the first place. In the late 90s, I rented this film multiple times from the rental store and watched it on a near loop with friends and siblings for months at a time. I spent the majority of the years 1999 and 2000 watching everything Kevin Smith and his cohorts had a hand in. I purchased Chasing Amy and Clerks and watched them dozens and dozens of times as well. Dogma had recently been in theaters, and I watched that one over and over again as well. To my 17 year old self, there was no one cooler than Kevin Smith. Except for Mallrats – I never truly liked Mallrats. I liked then (and still like now) Clerks and Chasing Amy, but I always thought Mallrats just didn’t fit in with those films.

One particular difference is that Mallrats is Smith’s sole film from his early days not released by Miramax. Miramax very famously purchased and distributed Clerks in 1994 and then Chasing Amy (which had a budget of $250,000 amazingly) in early 1997. But Mallrats is immensely different from those two, as it was a Universal production backed by a budget of several million dollars (estimated to be seven million). It is shot and directed like a studio film from the 90s, and thus suffers in comparison with the other two, as they are far more “indie” looking. Mallrats is also different in that there is actually a very complicated story behind what appears (and is) to be a simple movie.

The originally filmed opening took place in some sort Revolutionary War-era reenactment/governor’s ball, wherein Jeremy London (who spends the entire movie looking uncomfortable with his hands in his pockets and who was clearly not cast by Smith) accidentally shoots a musket (why was he carrying a loaded musket in a reenactment) at the governor. This sets up a chain of events wherein London’s girlfriend Brandi’s father loses his job. Brandi wants to cut ties with London (his name in the movie is T.S. but I’m just gonna call him London), so she breaks up with him, inspiring him to find solace in a shopping mall with best friend Jason Lee, who was also recently dumped by Shannon Doherty. The theatrical cut of the film excises most of this, up until the point where Brandi breaks up with London. Hence, the film takes almost 30 minutes to get to the mall setting. The film is already painful at 94 minutes. I can’t imagine watching a two-hour version of this movie.

The edits, reshoots, rewrites, etc also lead to several continuity errors throughout the film, but these are only a few of the bizarre errors/things that make no sense present throughout Mallrats. Other than the dialogue that doesn’t fit in because the first 30 minutes of the film were redone, there are also moments of inaudible/barely audible dialogue that you can see in the captions but cannot actually hear. Moments like this include a the scene where fans wait to meet Stan Lee, where a child is trapped on an escalator, and where Brandi’s father Jared (Michael Rooker, who is usually money but is awful here) fires an underling. I have to imagine this was not done on purpose despite it being so prevalent throughout the film.

I mentioned earlier that Jason Lee, playing lovely slacker Brodie Bruce, is the sole highlight of the film. He truly shines in this film and it’s easy to see why the ex-professional skateboarder went on to have a solid career in Hollywood. He’s charismatic, funny, and a naturally good actor. There are groan-worthy moments throughout Mallrats, but few involve him. He seems to be the only one who understands the kind of movie he’s in. Contrast this with co-star London, who seriously spends the entire fucking movie with his hands in his pockets. He looks uncomfortable with Smith’s (admittedly dumb) dialogue as well as with his co-stars. There’s very little chemistry between he and Brandi. I hate to pile on the notoriously difficult Shannon Doherty, but she’s just about as awful as London. It’s hard to believe she’d ever even be seen with Jason Lee’s character, let alone date him.

I really like Clerks and Chasing Amy. I really like how they managed to be small-scale movies but still have really investing and emotional stakes. Clerks is about the daily grind of a man who has absolutely no direction in his life. He can’t make a decision about which girl he wants to date and he feels like life is slipping past him at age 22. There’s some pretty serious, heavy material in the depths of that film. Chasing Amy is about one man’s failure to keep the past in the past, which negatively impacts his relationship with the woman of his dreams as well as his relationship with his best friend and business partner. Ben Affleck’s Holden is too short sighted to look past things that happened in high school and move on to the next chapter in his life, not unlike Bryan O’Halloran’s Dante from Clerks. London and Lee aren’t deep enough as characters in Mallrats to get invested in.

Clerks and Chasing Amy garnered critical acclaim and awards for being mature looks at life in the 90s for people in their 20s. No one else was really doing that. Mallrats has a character fly face-first into a ladies dressing room for no reason that to show off a pair of tits. Clerks sees its main character struggle to balance a job, a relationship with a woman he doesn’t have much in common with, and a previous toxic relationship with a high school girlfriend. Chasing Amy explores how fluid human sexuality truly is. Mallrats’ final act hinges on a sex tape that exposes a clothing store manager as a sexual deviant. Simply put, Clerks and Chasing Amy are smart and mature movies, whereas Mallrats is immature, obnoxious, repellant, and just plain dumb.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people my age about Mallrats – many of them really like it. They are, of course, entitled to their opinions (just as I am). Though I suspect they view the film with a heavy dose of nostalgia, because I truly find it difficult to find merit of any kind in Mallrats outside of a charismatic Jason Lee performance. Roger Ebert once claimed to sit in on a panel with Kevin Smith where Smith claimed he’d be happy to make the kinds of movies studios want as long as the studios were paying. Ebert thought Smith was joking until Mallrats came out. The best I can say about Smith as that he hasn’t truly gone mercenary since. Zack and Miri was not a good movie, but it attempted to be heartfelt at least. Cop Out could have (and should have) worked, but was at least a fun misfire at worst. The movies he makes now (such as Tusk and Yoga Hosers) couldn’t be less commercial. I’ll commend him for making what he wants to make, but I still get to hate Mallrats. I’ll always hate Mallrats.

-Z-

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All-New Culture Cast: Jurassic World

Welcome to the first episode of the All-New Culture Cast.  Hosts Nick and Kyle have an in-depth conversation about this summer’s biggest film, Jurassic World (now out on home media)!  Come join them as they run around in high-heels and discuss dinosaurs past and present.

Click HERE or on the image to listen to the podcast.

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We are not quite on iTunes yet.  So stay tuned for updates on that!

Check out Zack’s Jurassic World review here.  And check out Nick’s JW Leftover Questions.

Leftover Questions: Jurassic World Edition (Spoiler Warning)

I saw Jurassic World this weekend.  It was fun movie for what it was and, for modern blockbusters, incredibly restrained in its action – kind of refreshing to see.  However, there were just some nagging questions that remained after I left the theater.

There are spoilers, so you have been properly warned!

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1. Owen used to be in the Navy which apparently led him to his work with the raptors. What about his naval experience makes him an expert at training wild animals, let alone dinosaurs?

2. What exactly is InGen? In the first two movies, they seemed to be the company that created the dinosaurs. Here, they act as some militarized force of security.  What is their relationship to Jurassic World?

3. Why is Owen sexually harassing a supervisor? Sure, he might think it is flirting, but she is clearly not into it, but he keeps going.

4. Speaking of which, how long ago was their first (and only) date? Why is Owen coming off this strong/creepy after only one date (that neither one of them actually seemed to enjoy).

5. Does Owen really live in a van down by the river?

6. Why didn’t anybody check right away for the I-Rex’s tracking device when they failed to notice the heat signature in paddock?

7. How come Owen is the only one in the entire park that ever notices something strange or realizes a bad idea?

8. Why does the control room give her the silent blame treatment after the first I-Rex attack? That was completely outside her control and, to be fair, not really her responsibility in the first place.

9. Why doesn’t Jurassic World have any sort of override in place to prevent exactly what the two kids did with the gyrosphere?

10. How come Jurassic World has absolutely no contingency plans in case any of the dinosaurs get loose? Granted, the I-Rex is a new dinosaur, so they are learning the ropes with her, but what about the pterosaurs?

11. Speaking of that, why breed pterosaurs (or that many) in the first place since they cannot be easily contained?

12. How come the I-Rex is able to display new abilities right when the movie needs her to? Did she read the script? She probably read the script.

13. How come what the I-Rex was genetically culled from was classified to the park trainers and, of all people, Masrani? Shouldn’t that be something the CEO is automatically be allowed to know?

14. For that matter, before beginning, how come Masrani didn’t give a final approval?

15. How come Jurassic World’s designers not cannibalize the remains of the old park? Why were there cars, tools, and other useful items just abandoned?

16. How did the I-Rex get inside the old park visitor center when was in-closed and the doors were shut?

17. How did the kids get the old jeeps working? True, they were able to quickly swap out an engine (somehow), but where did they get the gas from to operate it? And if they did have gas, how is that gas even still good after 20 years?

18. Why does Owen (who has a gun) do absolutely nothing to help Hoskins from getting eaten? Sure, he didn’t care for the guy, but Owen pretty much allows him to die.

19. Where did all the visitors go after the pterosaur attack? Were they completely ferried off the island before the final showdown?

20. How can Claire outrun a T-Rex in high heels? How can she outrun a T-Rex, period?

21. Why does the 4th raptor coming running out to attack the I-Rex? Shouldn’t that raptor still think the I-Rex is her alpha since she wasn’t there when Owen reestablished his connection with the other three?

22. Why do the T-Rex and the raptor have a bro moment? Doesn’t that go against everything else established about these creatures in this film series so far?

23. How does Lowery make his way out of the control center? He was the last one there and the ferries are a good mile (or more) away with a T-Rex and Raptor on the loose.

I saw Jurassic World

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a few weeks, not totally out of procrastination either. 1993’s Jurassic Park is legitimately one of my favorite movies ever, and probably my favorite summer blockbuster ever (it often trades places with Jaws, another Spielberg joint). I can’t lie; I was not looking forward to Jurassic World. I was expecting it to be a piece of crap, much like the sequels to that excellent 1993 feature film. I’m happy to report that my fears and worries were misplaced. Despite a mind-boggling marketing effort, Jurassic World is a pretty good and really fun summer movie. And while I am a bit surprised it has done as well as it has, I’m not surprised it’s a big hit.

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I can’t stress enough how bad the marketing was for this film. Universal, who has done a decent job marketing their Despicable Me and Fast and Furious franchises, botched Jurassic World almost from the start. The teaser trailer felt disjointed and cliché, and now mega-star Chris Pratt seemed out of place and miscast. Bryce Dallas Howard seemed no match for the material either. The second trailer wasn’t much better. I’d argue it was actually worse, as it almost completely turned me off to the project. The addition of two adorable teenage moppets seemed disastrous, in the vein of Jeff Goldblum’s daughter from the second film and that obnoxious little twerp from the third film. I was hoping they wouldn’t dumb Jurassic World down for kids, but it seemed like that’s exactly what Universal was doing.

When I actually saw the film, however, I was blown away but just how good and suspenseful the end product is. Essentially a retread but on a bigger and grander scale than Jurassic Park, World opens with two brothers getting ready to jet off to the theme park to visit their overworked and stressed out aunt, who runs Jurassic World on the operations end. Meanwhile, Ingen geneticist Henry Wu (BD Wong, the only actor to return from the first film) and Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, who is excellent) plan to show off their newest creation, Indominus Rex, to the general public for the first time. Complicating matters are Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt playing Chris Pratt essentially), who voices objections and concerns over Indominus’ paddock, and Vic Hoskins (a scenery-chewing Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to use the genetically engineered dinosaurs for military purposes.

Of course all hell breaks loose, and when it does, the film gets really, really fun. The special effects, while not as ground breaking as the 1993 original, are well done and never overly egregious. Characters don’t act inconsistent or irrational for purposes of moving the plot along. When it’s suggesting that Owen use his trained raptors to hunt down Indominus, for example, he is openly hostile of the plan and thinks it is a bad idea (it is). Direction is fairly taut and honestly much better than I had expected going in. Working for the first time with a massive budget (at 150 million, Jurassic World was expensive but not nearly as expensive as The Avengers or the upcoming Batman vs. Superman), directing Colin Trevorrow acquits himself nicely, backing up the faith Spielberg had in him when he personally selected him for the project. I think Trevorrow does about as well as could possibly have been expected out of him.

There are, however, tons of problems with the script. Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, for example, is largely defined by her lack of a personal life, meaning she is sad because she doesn’t have a husband and children. This was the most egregiously offensive thing about the screenplay. The notion that people must procreate and have children to achieve maximum happiness in life is laughable and idiotic, particularly in a movie released in 2015. Of course there is a love story between her and Chris Pratt’s character shoehorned in (though the two honestly make a good couple). Additionally, some of the stuff with the teenagers is downright laughable and/or badly acted, particularly by the younger brother. I was never able to buy into the chemistry between these actors, and they don’t reach the heights of the bond that Tim and Lex shared in the first film.

Outside of more than a few scripting issues, Jurassic World is a very strong example of how to do a modern summer blockbuster right. At 124 minutes, it has an almost perfect running time for a summer escape. The special effects work well, the direction is taut and creates tension, and the actors are entertaining. Chris Pratt has now become a marquee movie star, Irrfan Khan is fantastic as the would-be John Hammond character, and D’Onofrio chews scenery like no one’s business. Despite the script short-changing her, Bryce Dallas Howard is also fine as well. She’s got good comic timing and decent chemistry with Pratt. In case you’re one of the 5 people left on earth who haven’t seen Jurassic World yet, I can recommend it as a nice summer blockbuster and an entertaining thrill ride.

-Z-

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 53/Whatever Happened to…? Vol. 6 – The Curious Case of Nia Vardalos

In early 2002, Nia Vardalos was a virtual unknown in Hollywood. Having attempted and failed to sell her life story as a sitcom, Vardalos set out to make a movie adaptation instead. Charming the likes of Tom Hanks and producer wife Rita Wilson, Vardalos wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a romantic comedy that made use of gross ethnic stereotypes in light of actual jokes or characterization. The film started slowly, but word of mouth built and it enjoyed a long run in theaters, where it ultimately grossed over 240 million dollars against a five million dollar budget. Almost overnight, Vardalos was the hottest thing in Hollywood.

Vardalos' 2002 breakout hit film.

Vardalos’ 2002 breakout hit film.

A boondoggle worthy of its own write-up.

A boondoggle worthy of its own write-up.

When you are responsible for a film that grosses that much, you can pretty much write your ticket to do whatever you want in Hollywood. Vardalos used her clout to make a musical drag queen comedy called Connie and Carla, co-starring David Duchovny and Toni Collette. The film opened to mixed-negative reviews and grossed only eight million dollars domestically against a budget of almost 30 million. Just as rapidly as she had rose, Vardalos now began to quickly descend. Why Vardalos would follow up one of the biggest hits of the 2000s with a lavish drag queen musical is anyone’s guess.

Five long years would go by before Vardalos would appear in another high profile film, this time My Life in Ruins. Vardalos plays a tour guide who attempts to find herself or find love or something else corny like that while leading a group of tourists through Greece. Though the film actually surpassed its budget in terms of gross, it was met widely with scorn and derision. Roger Ebert called the film “superficial and unconvincing.” Scott Foundas of The Village Voice called it an “anti-comeback” vehicle for Vardalos. It didn’t help that the film opened against The Hangover, one of summer 2009’s biggest breakout films.

Vardalos’ most epic boondoggle came just after My Big Fat Green Wedding, however. Her first post-Wedding project was such an abject, embarrassing failure that it’s surprised she was allowed to make Connie and Carla or My Life in Ruins. It’s surprising she’s even getting the chance to make My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which I’ll discuss later. Vardalos’ biggest public embarrassment came in the form of a CBS sitcom that debuted on February 24th, 2003 and then quickly ended on April 13th, 2003, less than two months after it began. That project of course was My Big Fat Greek Life, one of the biggest television disappointments of all time.

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Vardalos’ would-be comeback vehicle references her hit film from seven years earlier in what was surely a great marketing strategy.

As stated earlier, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, after debuting in stage form in Los Angeles, was originally conceived as a network sitcom in the vein of Mad About You or Friends. After significant executive interference, however, Vardalos pulled the plug on the proposed television project and developed the film version with Hanks and Wilson instead (Wilson, who is of Greek heritage, had seen and lavished praise on the original stage version). Some of the network interference including changing the family’s ethnicity from Greek to Hispanic and/or casting Marissa Tomei in the lead role instead of Vardalos herself. After the noted success of the film version (which included an Academy Award nomination for Vardalos’ screenplay), Vardalos and Playtone Productions brought the project back to CBS, and they now had the clout to develop the project in the way they originally intended.

The production had quite a few things going against it from the start. Male lead of the film version John Corbett was unavailable

Actor Steven Eckholdt does not resemble actor John Corbett at all -- a fact the TV adaptation should have just ignored.

Actor Steven Eckholdt does not resemble actor John Corbett at all — a fact the TV adaptation should have just ignored.

to reprise his role for the television adaptation due to previous commitments. Corbett’s absence was especially notable as he was perhaps the most seasoned and best actor in the film. He brought a charm to the role that would be hard to replicate, much the same way he did in the HBO series Sex and the City. Corbett was replaced by Steven Eckholdt, an unknown actor who had appeared only in bit or recurring parts on various television programs. Instead of just ignoring this, the show made light of it continually, breaking the fourth wall in the process. What was meant to be a cute joke about Corbett not being in the series turned into a dumb meta-joke about Eckholdt looking nothing like the character originated in the film version.

Additionally, as noted earlier, My Big Fat Greek Wedding relied on gross ethnic stereotypes in lieu of actual jokes and or characterization. While a 90-minute film can get away with this in places, a sitcom needs real characters with real experiences and emotions in order to be resonant. This is the reason why shows like Seinfeld were great and shows like Two Broke Girls are terrible. There has to be more to a character than just being a Greek immigrant with an accent, and no amount of spraying Windex on things is ever going to change that. So after the show debuted to some 23 million viewers (an astronomical amount in 2003 and an unthinkable number in 2015), it quickly tailed off, to the point that CBS (television’s #1 network!) never bothered renewing the show for a second season.

CBS had some of the biggest sitcoms of the time on its airwaves. Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The King of Queens all drew massive numbers and continue to be popular in syndication to this day. Charlie Sheen, Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, and Kevin James are all well known comedians/actors with large fan bases. Vardalos, coming off the second biggest hit of 2002, should have easily been able to turn her show into at least a two-season project. That it ended up being a seven-episode embarrassment is still mind boggling to me some odd twelve years after cancellation. It was a huge blunder of massive proportions and a big black eye for everyone involved. There will one day be a book about the rise and fall of this project, and I will be first in line to read it.

So whatever happened to Nia Vardalos? After her 2009 comeback vehicle My Life in Ruins again failed to become a hit, she wrote 2011’s Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks. That film also failed to gain any real traction in the box office. Vardalos has also made sporadic television appearances one shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Cougartown (which co-starred her real life husband, Ian Gomez), and Jane the Virgin, one of last fall’s biggest critical hits. Recently, it was announced that she would finally make a sequel to her breakout 2002 film, as My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was commissioned by Universal Pictures, again to be produced by Playtone.

Next spring, Vardalos and Corbett will return in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, the much anticipated return of Toula Portokalous.

Next spring, Vardalos and Corbett will return in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, the much anticipated return of Toula Portokalos.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is scheduled to open against Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in March of 2016 as a clear example of studio counter-programming. I can’t imagine that, 14 years later, the film will be a big hit. Vardalos has had one of the strangest and most disappointing Hollywood careers of anyone expected to be the next “it” thing. With the exception of her appearances on already established television programs, she’s never once experienced anything resembling the success of her debut film. This is not to say I’m not rooting against Vardalos – I actually found her quite charming in her debut film. But at 52 years old without any kind of Hollywood success, I don’t suspect she’s going to get many more chances to breakout once again.

-Z-

I saw Furious 7

Last weekend, Furious 7 opened to massive numbers. Originally planned for a Summer 2014 release, Furious 7 suffered production issues after the death of series co-star Paul Walker. The latest installment of the long-running car-centric franchise, buoyed by a curiosity factor surrounding the aforementioned untimely death of the likeable Paul Walker and the rumor that this may be the final installment (fingers crossed that it isn’t), drew in massive crowds, earned an ‘A’ Cinemascore, and was well-received by critics (81% score on Rotten Tomatoes). I liked it quite a bit as well, though I ultimately have some reservations.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Furious 7 is how it is able to organically incorporate so much of the series’ past into this newest installment. Dwayne Johnson is back as is Michelle Rodriguez. Johnson’s role in Furious 7 is smaller than in Fast Five or Fast and Furious 6, and I imagine that, if future installments are produced, he may be written out entirely. But he is always a welcomed presence. Lucas Black, not seen since 2006’s Tokyo Drift, makes a welcomed cameo as well. Of course, the story still revolves around Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, though Diesel gets nearly the full brunt of the action this time around. Diesel has long been the heart and soul of the franchise, and that doesn’t change here.

The action spectacle in Furious 7 is also top-notch. The film’s budget, estimated at about 250 million, is bloated for sure, but at least the bloat can be seen on-screen. This film features some of the most outrageous stunts ever put to celluloid. The Abu Dhabi action sequence is absolutely amazing, for example. This is also the kind of film that will feature a man driving a car down a mountain and I swear you will not blink at its incredulity. It is fascinating just how far this franchise has come in terms of spectacle, and on a pure spectacle level Furious 7 is absolutely amazing. There isn’t a single action sequence in this film that doesn’t work. I am quite frankly amazed by that. The actors completely sell it as well. I am sure Vin Diesel would have an awesome career as a professional wrestler were he not an action star.

Where the film really suffers is in its lack of a clear villain. Jason Statham, who is awesome in everything, is not given enough screen time to be the kind of villain the movie needs him to be. Things start well enough, with Statham assaulting an entire hospital to get to his brother and promise revenge, but Statham really ends up as more a nuisance throughout the film and not much else. Djimon Hounsou plays a secondary villain, but his screen time is even less so than Statham’s, and there’s no real motivation behind the character other than a misguided sense of revenge. The villains serve the plot well enough, but they could have been so much more. Maybe I just wanted more Jason Statham on screen at all times (this is an acceptable request).

As a troubled production, it was entirely possible for Furious 7 to come out a complete mess. No one could have blamed this film for being crappy if it had ended up badly. The death of Paul Walker was obviously hard on the production, and especially hard on the actors, who had real chemistry with Walker. But director James Wan (in his first big budget feature) does an admirable job. The film features the best stunt work seen in the franchise to date, and Vin Diesel is the glue that holds the entire production together. I am surprised it ended up being as good as it is considering the circumstances. It is another day one Blu-Ray purchase for me, and even though the franchise is long in the tooth, to be honest I wouldn’t mind another one. I just wish Paul Walker were still around. He’ll be missed*.

***Spoiler Warning***

The movie ends with a very touching tribute to Paul Walker, featuring a montage of scenes of him throughout his time with the franchise. Diesel gives him a very heartfelt send-off at the very end of the film. It is incredibly touching, sad, and well done. I teared up a bit at the montage and I am glad it was included in the theatrical version of the film. It was an incredibly classy and respectful way to send off Paul Walker.

1995 Lives on in The Hunted

Christopher Lambert has got to be one of the least likeliest success stories in the history of Hollywood. Despite never starring in a bona fide hit (the closest he came was probably Mortal Kombat), he has nevertheless built an incredibly impressive resume over some thirty odd years of acting, and was even married to Diane Lane, one of the most beautiful and talented women to ever live. Lambert also has the uncanny ability to bring his best to the cheapest, most thankless of roles. I’ve never seen him not try in any film he’s appeared in, which can’t be said of higher paid, more popular actors like Bruce Willis. I love Lambert, despite (or perhaps because of) his overall incredible oddness.

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Born in the United States yet looking, speaking, and acting almost entirely European (his French father was a diplomat who worked for the UN), Lambert is almost totally unbelievable as an American everyman, which is almost every role he plays. This is no exception in 1995’s forgotten thriller The Hunted, wherein Lambert plays Paul Racine, a normal, everyday American computer chip salesman (is there a job more 1995 than computer chip salesman?) on a business trip in Japan. After another successful sale, Racine heads back to his apartment, skipping out on celebrating with his two business associates. He runs afoul of the mysterious and beautiful Kirina (Joan Chen), and spends the night with her. When Kirina is attacked and murdered by ninjas, Racine is the only witness as well as a marked man.

Written for the screen and directed by J.F. Lawton (who also wrote, among other works, Pretty Woman), The Hunted is poorly paced, badly choreographed, barely acted, and an incredibly painful in places. It is also a total guilty pleasure. Lawton’s writing, which can generously be referred to as stilted, is unintentionally campy and goofy, treating the subject matter as if it were an actual super serious drama film rather than a contemporary tale of an American businessman on the run from ninjas – a premise which is already silly and awesome enough. The premise for the film is actually super interesting (I’m a sucker for a story about someone on the run from a malevolent force I guess), and part of me likes The Hunted not for what it is, but for what it could be. In the hands of a more skilled action director, this could have become a well-remembered cult classic.

The film unfortunately suffers from an incredibly high amount of Orientalism. Asian women are often sex objects – Joan Chen’s character Kirina really serves no purpose except to be an object of desire by Racine for example. The best character in the movie, Ichirou Takeda (Yoshio Harada), is a modern day samurai and expert on the various ninja clans of Japan. The movie is shot as if Japan is on another planet completely, treating most, if not all, of its characters as if they’re aliens from outer space. While it is true that the film reveres and respects some of its characters (particularly Takeda and his partner and wife Mieko are treated with respect), by and large the film more often than not gawks at its characters as if to say, “Wow, look how crazy these Japanese people are!” While this may have been somewhat more acceptable in the 1980s (when there was indeed a fear in the U.S. that Japan could one day become the world’s preeminent financial superpower), it feels incredibly outdated in a film from 1995.

As noted earlier, the pacing in this movie is somewhat glacial. It takes practically 40 minutes to get to the meatier parts of the story, and the movie runs an interminable 111 minutes overall. There’s a fantastic action sequence on a bullet train that is probably the high point of the movie. But the follow up scenes, on a samurai training ground (once again, in modern Japan), slow the film down to a screeching halt. A brisker, 90 minute cut would have helped the film immensely (but also probably cut down on villain Kinjo’s (John Lone) motivations). Action choreography is also laughably cheap throughout, and the whole production looks like it spent about a dollar fifty on fake blood (Lambert’s character sports a bloodied bandage pretty much throughout the entire running time of the film). Again, in the hands of a more skilled director, this could have been a whole lot cooler.

Christopher Lambert just doesn’t work as an everyman. He is just too odd, like a less perverted European version of James Spader or Nicolas Cage. In the long pantheon of unlikely leading men (which obviously includes Jeff Goldblum as its most famous member), Lambert is perhaps the least likely. Despite this (or again, perhaps because of it), Lambert is almost never disappointing in any role. He really gives it his all in The Hunted despite a crappy script, low budget, and almost complete and total lack of direction or spirit. This is an incredibly dumb, forgotten movie that wastes its goofily awesome premise by being far too serious for its own good.

-Z-

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