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(Australia/Canada - 2013)

Midway through Cuba Gooding Jr.'s latest straight-to-DVD thriller, the Oscar-winning actor, playing FBI agent Nelson, confronts smug villain Osterberg (Chris Betts, who looks like Australian Bob Gunton) at his beach house as the two demonstrate their fluency in speaking Cliché:

Osterberg: "Welllll...Agent Nelson!"

Nelson: "You'll be exchanging this view for an 8 x 10 cell soon enough."

Osterberg: "Don't be making predictions above your pay grade, Agent Nelson.  Care to stay for lunch?"

Nelson: "I'd care to kick your ass!"

ABSOLUTE DECEPTION pretty much stays at that level throughout, with Gooding sleepwalking through a paid Australian vacation as Agent Nelson investigates the murder of an American named Archer (Ty Hungerford) at the hands of hitmen in the employ of Australian media mogul Osterberg, who may have been involved in some convoluted Ponzi scheme with the dead man.  Archer also led a mysterious double life, as Rebecca (Emmanuelle Vaugier), his crusading journalist wife back in NYC, believes she's a widow whose husband died two years earlier.  Nelson and Rebecca team up, facing obstacles from Osterberg and the Gold Coast police all the way. 

The film plods along under the clock-punching direction of Ozploitation icon Brian Trenchard-Smith, who's mainly doing Lifetime and cable movies these days, in addition to directing episodes of the Skinemax series CHEMISTRY.  Trenchard-Smith gets a lifetime pass thanks to his cult-movie glory days of THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975), STUNT ROCK (1978), ESCAPE 2000 (1982), BMX BANDITS (1983), DEAD-END DRIVE-IN (1986), THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA (1989), and numerous others, but he hasn't made a noteworthy genre film in almost 20 years and it's really sad to see him slumming with forgettable junk like this.  The kind of movie that has an establishing shot of the NYC skyline with the caption "New York, USA," ABSOLUTE DECEPTION showcases dubiously crummy visual FX, from the de rigeur CGI splatter to a yacht explosion that looks like it was achieved courtesy of an app on Trenchard-Smith's smartphone (check it out in the trailer above), and from the video-burned credits on, it looks more like an episode of CSI: MIAMI than an actual movie.  With the easily-removable digital blood and the surprising lack of profanity (at one point, Vaugier calls someone "a miserable puke"), it almost looks like it was shot under the presumption that it might go directly to broadcast TV.  Gooding's performance is passable--he obviously doesn't give a shit--but Vaugier, sporting some incredibly unflattering penciled-on eyebrows that make her look a decade older than she is, is just awful.  (R, 92 mins)

(US/Germany - 2013)

Obviously meant to be a campy, tongue-in-cheek take on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS starts off enjoyably enough, but quickly turns tedious and repetitive.  As children, orphaned Hansel and Gretel defeated an evil witch and burned her alive, and as adults, played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, they're mercenary witch hunters-for-hire, bringing along their arsenal of high-tech weaponry that's intentionally anachronistic (along with dialogue like "You gotta be fuckin' kidding me!") to rid of a village of a witch (Famke Janssen) who's been abducting children.  It's admirable that writer/director Tommy Wirkola (the overrated Nazi zombie cult flick DEAD SNOW) aimed this at adults and went for a hard-R rating, but the only other surprise about WITCH HUNTERS is how boring it is.  There's some tell-tale signs of a troubled production--several delayed release dates leading to two years on the shelf, choppy editing, and a noticeably truncated running time (the closing credits start rolling at the 80-minute mark, not typical of a $50 million movie).  Arterton seems to be having some fun playing a badass Gretel, but Renner, who shot this before working on THE AVENGERS and THE BOURNE LEGACY, just looks bored silly, a sentiment he didn't even try to conceal during the contractually-obligated media blitz when the film was finally released in January 2013, often appearing to be in physical pain trying to sound enthusiastic about it.  The film did well enough for a sequel to be announced, though I can't imagine anyone--starting with Renner--wanting one.  Then again, we got a sequel to G.I. JOE, so what do I know?  (R, 88 mins)

(Canada - 2012)

Despite its good intentions, it's hard for ECSTASY to not feel like an inferior TRAINSPOTTING knockoff that's been frozen in ice since the late '90s and just now thawed out.  Like Danny Boyle's 1996 hit, ECSTASY is based on an Irvine Welsh work, in this case the novella "The Undefeated" from his 1996 collection Ecstasy, and deals with similarly drug-addled characters in Edinburgh.  This time, however, the drug of choice is Ecstasy, and the central character, Lloyd (Adam Sinclair) owes money to local crime boss Solo (Carlo Rota), who doesn't approve of Lloyd and his pals Woodsy (Billy Boyd) and Ally (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) making money from raves and dealing and cutting him out of his percentage.  These guys are too old to be living the wild lifestyles they are, and even Ally asks Lloyd at one point, "You ever notice we're the oldest punters in the club?"  Lloyd regularly runs drugs from Amsterdam to Edinburgh for Solo, and attempts to do the proverbial "one last job" after he falls in love with Canadian Heather (Kristin Kreuk), who recently left her cheating Scottish husband Hugh (Dean McDermott).  TRAINSPOTTING succeeded because of the lightning-in-a-bottle collaboration between Danny Boyle and several star-marking performances (I still can't see Robert Carlyle and not think of Begbie).  ECSTASY director/co-writer Rob Heydon isn't Boyle, and his cast simply isn't as compelling.  It doesn't help matters that it's a Canadian production and other than Scotsmen Sinclair, Boyd, and WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?'s Colin Mochrie (as a priest), the cast is mostly Canadians attempting unconvincing Scottish accents, with Rota (doing nothing more than an Scottish variation of the mob boss he played in THE BOONDOCK SAINTS) and Stephen McHattie (as Lloyd's alcoholic dad) really struggling.  Other than the unexpected casting of Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson in a small role as a doctor in a rehab clinic trying to help Woodsy get clean, there's nothing of note in the bland and predictable ECSTASY.  It's not a terrible movie by any means, but all it really succeeds in doing is making you wish you were watching TRAINSPOTTING again instead.  (Unrated, 104 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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