SNIPER: ASSASSIN'S END
(US - 2020)
fake one starring Steven Seagal), I realized I somehow missed the seventh, 2017's SNIPER: ULTIMATE KILL. Somehow, I was still able to follow SNIPER: ASSASSIN'S END, which is mostly standard-issue DTV fare, but it does try a couple of different things of interest. Director Kaare Andrews, a former Marvel writer and artist who dabbled in horror movies on the side (CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO and a segment of THE ABCs OF DEATH), occasionally brings a budget-priced Michael Mann aura to this installment, opening with a strikingly-shot assassination and an effective Tangerine Dream-ish cue, and one later three-way sniper standoff framed as a top-to-bottom split screen. As director John Hyams showed with those later UNIVERSAL SOLDIER entries, one can do some unpredictable and adventurous things several films deep in a franchise when nobody's really paying any attention except for the die-hards, but aside from those few stylish touches, Andrews sticks to business-as-usual for the bulk of SNIPER: ASSASSIN'S END. In the fictional Central American country of Costa Verde, the president is taken out by a bullet from a sniper positioned over a mile away. The sniper is Japanese assassin "Lady Death" (Sayaka Akimoto), who plants a strand of hair as DNA evidence linking Sgt. Brandon Beckett (Chad Michael Collins, who's been headlining these since the 2011 reboot SNIPER: RELOADED) to the killing. He's apprehended and taken to a safe house for interrogation before Lady Death--working in the employ of someone else--has the chance to finish her assignment by killing him and staging it as a suicide. While CIA agent Franklin (Lochlyn Munro) bloviates to his underlings and sets out to nail Beckett's balls to the wall, Homeland Security agent Zeke "Zero" Rosenberg (Ryan Robbins) isn't buying that Beckett is guilty, and starts uncovering evidence linking a Vancouver pharmaceutical company to the murder of the Costa Verde president after he threatened to pull out of a trade agreement with the US.
Meanwhile, Beckett escapes from a military transport after Lady Death manages to take out everyone from afar but him, and he eventually makes his way to a remote, secluded forest outside Aberdeen, WA, where his dad--Thomas Beckett (original SNIPER star Tom Berenger, who sat out the fourth and sixth installments), the most lethal sniper in the US military--has been living off the grid. Of course, Pops Sniper will team up with Sniper Jr. to prove the latter's innocence, but if that plot trajectory sounds familiar, then you'll figure out that the filmmakers have also seen ANGEL HAS FALLEN. A sleepwalking Berenger is no match for a grumbling, madman-bearded Nick Nolte, but something else SNIPER: ASSASSIN'S END does is establish several new characters--along with a stinger before the closing credits hinting at the plot of the inevitable ninth SNIPER--in a blatant attempt at fashioning some kind of SNIPER Cinematic Universe in the vein of THE AVENGERS, and with Lady Death working for a nefarious villain named Drake Phoenix (Michael Jonsson), it might even get as ridiculous as the FAST & FURIOUS franchise. We're probably no more than two SNIPERs away from seeing Tom Berenger and Chad Michael Collins in space. (R, 95 mins)
(US/UK - 2020)
TRIP BBC series or its three spinoff features, and 2006's hysterical TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY. It was inevitable that they'd hit a wall at some point, and they have indeed with GREED, a timely but shockingly unfunny would-be takedown of the obscenely wealthy. Coogan is Sir Richard McReadie, a hybrid of British retail billionaire Sir Philip Green and multi-millionaire fashion retailer-turned-UK restaurant chain magnate Richard Caring, and there's a little Donald Trump in there as well. McCreadie is known as "The Mozart of Retail,""The Da Vinci of Dealmaking," and "The Monet of Money," but his financial legend is mainly tied to his wealthy wife Samantha (Isla Fisher) and his ability to bully his way through handshake deals and having the magic touch to bankrupt his own companies while walking away with huge paydays. He's being investigated by a government commission but he's mainly preoccupied with a huge 60th birthday party being thrown at his lavish Greek beach house, where a Bulgarian construction crew is slowly erecting a Roman amphitheater specifically for his GLADIATOR-themed bash. He's pestered by dweeby biographer Nick (David Mitchell), doesn't seem to care that Samantha has a much younger lover, and is oblivious to his son Finn (Asa Butterfield) having Oedipal designs on his mother, an issue not helped by McCreadie constantly blowing off his attempts at father-son bonding.
In short, McCreadie is a real asshole, and GREED had potential. Sony even planned to expand it nationwide in March 2020 after a limited rollout in February, but it never happened due to the coronavirus. Coogan can usually play this kind of obnoxious prick in his sleep, but McCreadie is just a loud, bloviating version of Alan Partridge who's oblivious to any kind of tact and decorum, and he and Winterbottom think it's sufficiently funny to just have him yell "twat" and "cunt" a lot when he's berating everyone around him. There are entirely too many characters wandering in and out of the story, cutaways and flashbacks with jokes that don't land (a self-deprecating cameo by "You're Beautiful" one-hit wonder James Blunt), and even a subplot about the British media canceling McCreadie (once again) after he kicks some Syrian refugees off the public beach adjoining his property--leading to all of the celebrity guests bailing after he's paid them to attend (there are some Skype'd in cameos by Chris Martin, Ben Stiller, Colin Firth, and Keira Knightley)--falls flat. McCreadie's handlers try to rectify the situation by hiring professional lookalikes of Adele, Rod Stewart, Simon Cowell, Kylie Minogue, and George Michael, and the payoff to that entire laborious set-up is a furious McCreadie reminding them that George Michael is dead. Winterbottom also wrote the script, but there's an "additional material" credit for Sean Gray, who logged some time in the Armando Iannucci-verse with THE THICK OF IT and VEEP, and to that end, GREED really feels like cold Iannucci leftovers. It just gets worse by the end, when Winterbottom goes full ON DEADLY GROUND with (another) subplot about the working conditions at one of McCreadie's Sri Lanka sweatshops, and the closing credits have several minutes of statistics about the economic disparity between the women who work grueling days in these sweatshops for next-to-nothing and the billions their work generates for rich men like McCreadie. That's a valid conversation to have, and it's a perfect subject for Winterbottom to explore in one of his serious, WELCOME TO SARAJEVO or THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO moods. But for a comedy where Steve Coogan's spent an hour and half acting a fool, being a cringe comedy dickhead, and calling everyone a "twat" and a "cunt," it comes off as tone-deaf, hectoring, and spectacularly heavy-handed. A total misfire. (R, 104 mins)