THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT
(US/Belgium - 2019)
THE HERO, which didn't get great reviews but generated praise for Elliott as an ailing western star making amends with his family. He then received his first Oscar nomination for his work in Bradley Cooper's remake of A STAR IS BORN, but shot just before that (and released after) was THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT--the eclectic likes of John Sayles, Douglas Trumbull, and Lucky McKee are among its producers--which sounds like the kind of bizarre, bonkers movie that would venture into a revisionist history scenario akin to BUBBA HO-TEP and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. And it's...not. It's certainly sincere on the part of writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski, and he's to be commended for providing Elliott with a role that's tailor-made for him. And, in all fairness, the title delivers what it promises, but there seems to be a fundamental disconnect with the tone implied by a title like THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT and what's presented in the film.
For an hour or so, it's a serious, somber character study set in the 1980s, with elderly WWII vet Calvin Barr (Elliott) living a quiet life of small-town anonymity among family and neighbors who have no idea of the secret that's haunted him for 40 years: he was the trigger man (played in flashbacks by Aidan Turner) in a successful covert plot to take out Hitler (Joe Lucas), and the Allied forces and the German government subsequently covered it up. He also never got over Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), the schoolteacher and sweetheart he planned to marry but never contacted once he returned home from the war. He now spends his days with his dog, eating TV dinners, and going to the corner bar (and he's still able to handle three punks who try to steal his car), seemingly waiting to die. But his government calls on him again when an agent (Ron Livingston) informs him that a blood sample still on file at a military lab reveals him to be immune to a lethal virus spreading across Canada that's been traced the mythical Bigfoot (Mark Steger). The film abruptly switches gears to become a throwback '70s Bigfoot movie with Barr venturing alone into the Canadian wilderness to track and kill the creature. To get a feel of how much of an oddity this thing is, imagine Clint Eastwood spending the second half of GRAN TORINO hunting down the Loch Ness Monster. Elliott is terrific here as the melancholy Barr, but Krzykowski can only get away with subverting expectations to a point. Sure, the confrontation with Bigfoot has some action and grossout gore, but the Hitler section of the film is a bit of an anticlimactic dud, and the trite, facile symbolism (the pebble in Barr's shoe!) would generate dismissive eyerolls in a high school creative writing class. In the end, Elliott is the whole show here, and he's given the perfect intro, sitting alone at an empty bar looking down at his glass while Billy Squier's "Lonely is the Night" blares from the jukebox. If you took all the humor out of BUBBA HO-TEP, you'd still be left with the heartfelt and oddly convincing performances of Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as JFK, so it wouldn't be a total loss. Similarly, THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT has the great Sam Elliott as its sturdy foundation, but no movie with that title should be this dour and downbeat. (Unrated, 98 mins)
KING OF THIEVES
(France/Germany/UK - 2018; US release 2019)
It's hard to believe any of these guys had careers as professional criminals considering the stupid decisions they make, from not even obscuring their license plates outside the building (and the youngster Basil is the only one who thinks ahead and wears a disguise) to Kenny being assigned lookout and immediately removing his hearing aid and dozing off to all of them talking loudly in public places about what they did. Director James Marsh (MAN ON WIRE, RED RIDING: 1980, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) and screenwriter Joe Penhall (THE ROAD and the creator of the Netflix series MINDHUNTER) could've approached this from the angle of inevitable, fatalistic doom, but they don't do much of anything. It's part GRUMPY OLD MEN and THE BANK JOB until its abrupt shift in tone when Terry and Danny start going full post-Lufthansa Jimmy Conway with their rapidly escalating paranoia and incessant talk of getting rid of everyone. It's obvious that the filmmakers assumed they had the kind of cast where this thing could basically just make itself, but it's total letdown for everyone. The elder statesman of the ensemble at 85, Caine is effortlessly Caine, and has some poignant moments in Brian's initial grieving, shrugging in disbelief that he'll never see his wife walk into the room again and observing "When somebody dies, nothing prepares you for the silence of an empty house." But in no time at all, KING OF THIEVES becomes such a plodding, lifeless bore that unless you're a completist who has to see everything Caine does, there's little reason to bother with it. That is, unless you've been waiting to cross "seeing Jim Broadbent's ass" off your bucket list. (R, 108 mins)