Friday, June 23, 2006

Modern action thrills


I've not been a fan of modern action movies in recent years, which should be a secret to no one. There are exceptions, of course, but they all seem tepid and obviously like product trying to appeal to as many demographics as possible rather than fun yarns with interesting characters. In the current On Screen in this week's issue of The Stranger, Andrew Wright writes, "The problem with B movies these days is that they all seem ashamed to be Bs."

While I'm quite loathe to agree with anything said by a critic at The Stranger says -a bigger group of nitwits, more interested in sounding clever and overeducated than actually expressing a compelling or normal opinion, I've rarely run across - and I've not seen the movie referred to, Waist Deep, however I think that quote is quite true. I also think action movies are ashamed to be action movies and horror movies are ashamed to be horror movies and they all end being essentially the same few tricks adding up to next-to-nothing.

Two recent movies I did enjoy quite a bit, however, were Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Shane Black (of Lethal Weapon fame) and Running Scared by Wayne Kramer (director of The Cooler).

Of the two, I certainly enjoyed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang more. It's a delightfully rompy tribute to classic detective stories. The cast, featuring Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer and Corbin Bernsen, is wonderfully game and seems to really enjoy the spirit of the material. The dialogue is delicious. The story is nicely convoluted and the voice over is hilarious.

It's definitely the exact kind of good times at the movies movie that Hollywood ought to be selling us instead of the crap they are. In the '70s or '80s this would have been sold to us as the biggest blockbuster of the season, and it's certainly more entertaining than any blockbuster I've seen in quite some time, but now it's relegated to an art house release.

I skipped Running Scared out of annoyance at it having the same name as Peter Hyams' Running Scared (this is the same reason I initially skipped recent Oscar embarrassment Crash, before realizing it sounded like a piece of crap), however a series of reviews praising its harshness and I realized the connection to The Cooler and decided to check it out.

As it was, for me, rumors of its extreme nature seemed greatly exaggerated, to the extent I almost feared I got some expunged "PG-13" version of the movie. I also thought the ending was a bit much in some ways, even for a movie that clearly knew it took place in an alternate reality and, while it made good use of it, I'm too tired of the over-computer color corrected look at this point to even enjoy good uses of it, I suspect.

That said, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. It's a fun movie that seems also to have the sensibility of past days, unafraid to show gunplay and nudity in a context with fully fleshed-out characters. In a world where good films were a standard, this would be a pretty middling little movie, but in the current marketplace, it's quite remarkable and is a fun ride.

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