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On Blu-ray/DVD: KILLERMAN (2019) and SEMPER FI (2019)

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KILLERMAN
(US/UK - 2019)


Does "Skunk" sound like a man with a plan? If you're already involved in some seriously illegal shit and you're presented with a risky deal by your loudmouth, sketchy best buddy who calls himself "Skunk," the only guarantee is that it's doomed from the start. And despite his misgivings, slick NYC money launderer Moe Diamond (Liam Hemsworth) goes along anyway in the dreadful KILLERMAN, an amateurish pastiche of Michael Mann's THIEF and the Safdie Brothers' GOOD TIME if everyone in it acted like Buddy Duress. The first few minutes actually fool you into thinking KILLERMAN might be an unsung gem--the NYC skyline, shady characters forever looking for a big score, the old-school '70s grittiness of the diamond district, the persistent throb of its synth score--but it falls apart in near-record time. Moe and Skunk (Emory Cohen) make deliveries and launder money for Skunk's Russian mobster uncle Perico (Zlatko Buric). Perico's got a lucrative deal set up with a corrupt congressman who tells him to hold off because there's too much heat. Ordered by Perico to sit on the money until further notice, Skunk talks Moe into going with him on a can't-miss deal where they use Perico's money for a clandestine drug deal that will net a huge profit for them when they unload the drugs, with his uncle none the wiser after getting his money back. Of course, the can't-miss deal completely misses (because "Skunk"), as a squad of dirty cops raid the drug buy and Moe and Skunk barely manage to escape with the goods and the money. The ensuing car chase ends in a wreck where Moe suffers an amnesia-inducing head injury and has no idea why he's got a huge shipment of drugs and duffel bags full of cash.





There's some promise here, especially with the obvious affection for '70s crime thrillers on the part of writer/director Malik Bader. But it's all smoke and mirrors, and all Bader does is riff on other movies without bringing anything new to the table en route to a dumb twist ending. He's particularly enamored of GOOD TIME, from the setting, to the cinematography, to the music, and even going so far as to include an improbable hospital escape. Cliches abound--Moe's girlfriend Lola (Diane Guerrero) asks "When is this going to end?" when he has to back out of date night plans for the umpteenth time because of "work"--and stupidity takes center stage. There's no possible explanation for the scene where amnesia-stricken Moe insists on going to his apartment despite Skunk's warning that the whole area is probably under surveillance and crawling with cops, followed immediately by Moe in his apartment talking to Lola while Skunk stands in the middle of the busy street outside honking the horn and yelling "Moe, let's go!" right before the cops swarm in. If Bader wanted his own Robert Pattinson-styled GOOD TIME, he needed a more magnetic leading man than Hemsworth, who once again demonstrates why nobody cares about anything he's in if it doesn't have "HUNGER GAMES" in the title, and not even letting him go on an out-of-nowhere, late-film rampage of machete beheadings and dismemberments is enough to salvage it. As a director, Malik Bader also does nothing to rein in the histrionics of the one of the two main dirty cops, a constantly shouting rage case brought to headache-inducing life in a grating, attention-hogging performance by...(checks notes)...Malik Bader. (R, 112 mins)



SEMPER FI
(US/UK/Italy - 2019)


Until it completely goes on leave from plausibility in its second half, SEMPER FI is a reasonably engrossing drama that unexpectedly offers career-best work from Jai Courtney and Nat Wolff, two actors who have been thoroughly mediocre to this point in everything they've done, and yet Hollywood still seems hellbent on making them happen. I'd all but given up on Courtney (A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, TERMINATOR: GENISYS) after watching him embarrass himself in scenes opposite Christopher Plummer in THE EXCEPTION, but props where they're due: he's absolutely terrific here as Chris "Cal" Callahan, a cop in a small town in upstate New York. He and his buddies--firefighter and family man Milk (Beau Knapp), auto body mechanic and player Jaeger (Finn Wittrock), and construction worker Snowball (Arturo Castro)--are all Marine reservists, along with Cal's fuck-up younger half-brother Oyster (Wolff). Cal managed to pull some strings to get Oyster in the reserves despite a pair of felonies in his past, and even then Oyster still can't get his shit together, though he has talent for cooking and a pipe dream of opening a food truck business. All of that comes to an abrupt end when Oyster gets into a bar fight and winds up accidentally killing the guy who jumped him in self-defense, right after joking to another bar patron "I'm gonna kill that guy," when he sees him talking to a girl he had his eye on. Oyster tries to run with a half-assed plan of going to Canada and it's Cal who ends up bringing him in.





Cut to eight months later. Cal and the guys have been deployed to Iraq while Oyster got a 25-year sentence for attempting to flee as well as the damning testimony of that bar patron that was enough to make it premeditated murder. Once home, Cal suffers from PTSD over losing his temper and killing a man in Mosul and Oyster, still furious that his own brother arrested him, denies his visitation requests and refuses have anything to do with him. So far, so good, as director/co-writer Henry-Alex Rubin (best known for the 2005 wheelchair rugby documentary MURDERBALL, whose scene-stealing Mark Zupan can be spotted here as a patient at a VA hospital) gets strong, gut-wrenching performances from Courtney and Wolff, the latter convincingly portraying someone unable to articulate his rage and letting it boil inside of him, especially once we learn more about their complicated family history. But what starts as a solid--if occasionally melodramatic--character-driven tragedy takes an abrupt turn toward the ridiculous when Cal, getting word that Oyster is being abused by some sadistic guards, decides to bust his little brother out during a prison transfer and get him to Canada with help from the other guys. They all keep telling Cal what a stupid idea it is, yet they go along with it, and that includes Jaeger's ex-girlfriend (Leighton Meester), who's now an attorney. The film tries to explain away Cal's sudden lack of level-headed decision-making by blaming it on the PTSD, but it seems more like a plot convenience than anything, especially when he shows up at the bar witness' house and tries to threaten him into recanting his testimony. The whole prison break plot turn seems to be some kind of compromise Rubin reached with some of the two dozen credited producers, and while it doesn't cause SEMPER FI to completely implode on itself, it does result in the film working at cross purposes in terms of exactly what it wants to be. And the unfortunate casualties of this indecisiveness are the two fine performances by Courtney and Wolff, because if SEMPER FI accomplishes nothing else, it proves that these two are capable of delivering very good performances. (R, 100 mins)



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