Tag Archives: Mel Gibson

Stick ’em Up

Bandit

by Brandon Thomas

Career criminal Gilbert Galvan, Jr. (Josh Duhamel of Transformers) escapes from a Michigan prison and makes his way across the border onto the friendlier ground of Canada.

Although momentarily free from American authorities, Gilbert’s legitimate job prospects are not looking great as the recession of the 1980s comes into full swing. After falling for a local woman (Elisha Cuthbert of House of Wax, and TV’s 24), Gilbert panics about his lack of career opportunity and turns to robbing the inadequately guarded banks around Canada. 

Bandit director Allan Ungar is best known for a 2018 Uncharted fan film starring Nathan Fillion. The film itself was small in scale and certainly catered to no one but video game fans, but it did showcase what Ungar can pull off with a charming and talented lead actor. That same fun, playful tone runs through the entirety of Bandit, a film that owes much more to Soderbergh’s light-hearted Ocean movies than say the ultra-violent Bonnie & Clyde.

Ungar doesn’t get too caught up in moral finger-wagging. We all know robbing banks is bad, but the audience sympathizes with the thief’s panicked plight. Like Galvan himself, the film isn’t overly concerned with the eventual conclusion. Galvan is only interested in providing for his family and having fun in the moment. So is Bandit.

Duhamel isn’t an actor I’m normally excited to see. In Bandit, however, he steps up to the plate and delivers a confident and charming performance. There is a series of bank robbery montages that let the actor cut loose while wearing some purposefully bad disguises. This lighter side of Duhamel wasn’t something I was familiar with before, but will certainly welcome in the future.

The supporting cast does well enough, with Cuthbert unfortunately relegated to the “wife” character who spends much of the movie asking questions of the evasive Duhamel. The always dependable Nestor Carbonell (TV’s Lost, The Dark Knight) pops up as a Canadian cop trying to bust the costumed robber. One of the bigger surprises is the addition of Mel Gibson, who has spent roughly the last decade playing minor roles in cheapie action movies. While Bandit might be on the cheaper side, the light tone allows Gibson to dig into his comedic past. Gibson’s performance is a welcome breath of fresh air for the controversial actor. 

While not reinventing the bank robber subgenre, Bandit is a light-hearted heist flick that doesn’t get bogged down in bloody violence or moral grandstanding. You know, the kind you can show mom. 

Offer It Up

Father Stu

by George Wolf

It shouldn’t be surprising to hear Mark Wahlberg was so committed to bringing the story of Father Stu to the screen that he funded much of it himself. Wahlberg’s own rough-and-tumble, sometimes unsavory past is hardly a secret. But now, as a devout Catholic, Wahlberg seems drawn to these stories of restless souls finding their way to the straight and narrow.

Stuart Long was a Montana native from a dysfunctional family who found some success as a Golden Gloves boxer in the mid 1980s before he decided California was the place he ought to be. Stu’s quest for movie stardom never got beyond a few commercials and bit parts, but his quest to win over a girlfriend (here named Carmen) got him a Catholic baptism and a surprising calling.

In her feature debut, writer/director Rosalind Ross frames Stu’s journey around the tenet that suffering brings one closer to God. Grief and disappointment have turned his father (Mel Gibson, effectively dialing down the SOB cartoonishness) into a bitter drunk and his mother (Jacki Weaver, always a pleasure) into a woman too afraid to be hopeful.

Wahlberg is natural and affecting as the Stu who responds to it all by forging ahead, always looking for the next angle to work or the next person to charm with an R-rated quip. As committed as he is though, Wahlberg has more trouble making Stu’s conversion feel like a true change of heart, instead of just his latest obsession.

Stu’s journey to the priesthood is interrupted by a tragic medical diagnosis, but the setback never lands as forcefully as it should. And while Ross rightly doesn’t shy away from Stu’s moral conflicts, his rivalry with a fellow seminarian (Cody Fern) often feels forced and manipulative.

Too profane to land in the “faith-based” stable, the film’s treatment of the sacred nonetheless manages moments that are nuanced and sincere. Ross juxtaposes Stu’s baptism with a wonderfully ironic soundtrack choice, while bringing a layered tenderness to the moments when Stu breaks the news to Carmen (Teresa Ruiz, terrific) that he will leave her behind for the priesthood.

The true story of Stuart Long is indeed a compelling one, and there are stretches of Father Stu that do him justice. But even with its embellished treatment, the film feels dramatically slight. It’s a sturdy and proficient testament to faith, but short of truly rousing.

Twisted Game

Agent Game

by Tori Hanes


In his third feature film, director Grant S. Johnson dives into the unrewarding cinematic web of United States bureaucracy. Agent Game centers around a group of expendable CIA officers scapegoated in a coverup and forced to fight the government for their lives.

While not entirely pro-United States, Agent Game makes the assumption that the audience shares a universal respect for their government. While this approach might have worked until the 2000s, it’s unrealistic in today’s age of information and dissent.

Governments’ relationships with their societies change, and a film that doesn’t reflect that shift puts itself at a disadvantage. Ultimately, Agent Game never climbs out of the ideological valley it begins in. 

The acting is, at best, uninspired. At its worst, it’s incompetent. This does not entirely seem to be the actors’ fault. Though perhaps verging on hyperbole, it looks like the actors were only given single takes. It’s hard to conjure another logical explanation for why, at points, it seems that they’re performing the lines for the first time. 

The only performances that manage to break into a believable space come from Jason Isaacs and Dermot Mulroney, who play two uncommonly moral CIA agents. While bouncing off of each other, they’re able to find the grit and realism Agent Game overwhelmingly lacks.

Though certainly not intended, Mel Gibson’s character ironically breaks up the monotony of the dull narrative. Supposedly the mastermind behind a twisted government operation, Gibson plays more like a parody of himself than a commanding force. The strangely elongated pauses and conviction behind cheesy quips make for moments of unintended comedy gold.

The story revolves around two separate but connected missions, confusingly paced and set non-chronologically. It seems the director and writers started with a fairly simple concept and decided the plot was too easily understood, so they created unnecessary and underdeveloped roadblocks in the narrative.

Ultimately, if there was even a hint of self-awareness, this film could be an enjoyable ride. Instead, it spends its energy trying excessively hard to distract you from its faults. 

Bill (Jason Isaacs) laments about his place in government morality, and his line perfectly encapsulates the takeaway of the film: 

“Looks like we’re not the good guys anymore.”

Were we ever, Agent Game?

Lacks a Punch

Panama

by Brandon Thomas

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “Geezer Teaser” subgenre. What’s a Geezer Teaser you might ask? Well, it’s typically a cheaply made action movie or thriller that has a semi-recognizable young lead (usually Scott Eastwood or Devon Sawa), and a much more famous older actor that shows up for a solid 10 to 15 minutes tops. A lot of action movie heavy-hitters have done these. Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, John Travola, and Mel Gibson have all done their fair share.

I guess the big question is “Are these movies any good?”

The answer? 

No, not really, and Panama, Gibson’s latest in this subgenre, is particularly sleep-inducing. 

Ex-marine James Becker (Cole Hauser of 2 Fast 2 Furious) is recruited by Stark (Mel Gibson) to negotiate an arms deal in the country of Panama. As the American invasion of Panama looms over the country, Becker becomes more embroiled with the corrupt government and a shadowy local (Kiara Liz).

From the get-go, Panama is a chore to sit through. Director Mark Neveldine (Game Over, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) tries hard to craft a sexy, tropics-based thriller, but nearly every beat is a re-heated moment from infinitely better movies. It’s not a matter of budget, as Daniel Adams’s and William Barber’s script fails on even an entertainment level. The twists lack surprise and a coherent story or character motivation seems to have been an afterthought.

That Panama is so inert is a shame as Neveldine and former directing partner Brian Taylor made two of the wildest action movies with their Crank series. Panama – while not trying to be anything that zany – lacks even a tenth of Crank’s macabre sense of humor or electric visual style.

Cast wise, the bulk of the heavy lifting is put on the shoulders of Hauser. Hauser has rarely been a leading man, and his work in Panama does nothing to show that this should change. Supporting turns in Dazed & Confused, Good Will Hunting and Pitch Black allowed the actor to play second, third or even eighth banana in some really good films. For a character that’s supposed to be charismatic and suave, Hauser brings nothing to the role. His constant stoic and dry delivery conveys the opposite every single time.

At this point, Gibson is just doing his traditional thing. He shows up, kicks a little ass, delivers a few cool lines and heads off into the sunset. It’s the kind of role Gibson could do in his sleep, but doesn’t offer anything we will remember even five minutes after the credits begin to roll.
As far as Geezer Teasers go, Panama is hardly the worst. Still, with weak action, a “been there, done that” story, and a phoned-in cast, it’s still one to skip.

Hollywood Confidential

Last Looks

by George Wolf

“I looked up and there she was, the dame I thought I’d left behind a lifetime ago. Would she find what she came back for? Well, one thing’s for sure, getting that answer was going to hurt one of us.”

Nobody says that in Last Looks. In fact, there isn’t any leading, dramatic voiceover at all, which turns out to be a pleasant surprise for a neo noir mystery that manages to entertain in spite of its missteps.

Charlie Hunnam (also an executive producer here) stars as Charlie Waldo, a disgraced ex-cop in L.A. who has retreated to a life in the woods with a vow to not own more than one hundred things.

“And you kept that hat?” asks former flame Morena Baccarin (Deadpool‘s Lorena Nascimento). She’s tracked Charlie down with a lucrative offer to get back in the game. It seems celebrated actor Alistair Pinch (Mel Gibson) has been accused of murdering his wife, and the defense team could use Charlie’s old sleuthing skills.

Charlie declines, but when word is leaked that he actually accepted, he hops on his bicycle and heads down to Hollywood to set the record straight, which of course proves harder than he imagined.

Suddenly Morena is missing and presumed dead, and Charlie suffers repeated beat downs while studio bigwig Wilson Sikorsky (Rupert Friend) throws money at him to spend just one day with Alistair before swearing off the case entirely.

Pinch is a blackout drunk who stars as a judge in a gleefully over-the-top show called “Johnnie’s Bench,” and Gibson, like him or don’t, doesn’t waste the chance to be the highlight of the film.

Leaning into lines such as “I’ve gotten married, fathered children and taken out mortgages and not remembered” and being quick to put up dukes at the slightest umbrage, Gibson seems to relish getting cheeky with his own image, and it’s a hoot to behold.

But director Tim Kirkby (Veep, Fleabag, Brockmire) and writer Howard Michael Gould (adapting his own novel) can’t quite decide just how cheeky they want Last Looks to be.

Hunnam brings a solid and sympathetic anchor while the strong ensemble surrounds him with deliciously exaggerated performances, snappy retorts and vampy character names like “Big Jim Cuppy” and “Fontella Davis.” But just when you’re thinking The Nice Guys, Kirkby overdoes the noir shadings with a turn toward L.A. Confidential.

It never reaches either destination, going at least 20 minutes out of its way to end up somewhere in the middle. But when it lands, Last Looks carves out a throwback mystery that’s engaging enough, and – whenever Gibson’s around – even devilish fun.

Inner Conflict

Dangerous

by Hope Madden

I remember watching the inexplicably popular Bad Boys for Life and marveling at the film’s narrative purpose: to convince Marcus (Martin Lawrence) that being a violent man is better than being a man who does not commit violence against others.

Sure, there’s a mother/son angle, some explosions, a disco scene, but everything that happens does so to convince Marcus that his real purpose is to commit violence.

It’s different than the traditional “one man against the world” action flick, where a peaceful man is forced back into violence to avenge the death of his wife/child/puppy. Those have long existed. This idea that a man who chooses not to physically harm others needs to somehow be persuaded that he prefers a life of violence, that it is his nature and should be celebrated, is kind of new. This theme is also the driving force behind the admittedly enjoyable Nobody, among others.

The latest film that hates to see a man get his baser instincts under control is David Hackl’s Dangerous.

Scott Eastwood leads a solitary life. He works out. He eats frozen dinners. He waters his plants. Then his mind-numbing peace is disrupted when his brother Sean’s death brings him to the remote island where Sean had been renovating an old military base into a hotel.

Eastwood, who channels his father more and more these days, is now non-violent with the help of some personality-deadening drugs and call-me-whenever guidance from his therapist, played by Mel Gibson.

That’s funny.

Hackl’s clearly working on a shoestring here, and though the film sometimes shows a lack of funds, on the whole, it’s competently made. The humor Hackl, Gibson and Eastwood mine from Christopher Borrelli’s script delivers Dangerous’s saving grace.

Because, yes, D (Eastwood’s character) falls into ex-military, Black Op style gunplay once on the island, but first the recovering sociopath has to deal with his mom. Beyond that, the mystery is convoluted beyond measure, Tyrese Gibson and Famke Janssen are pointless, performances are forgettable.

In the end, the whole mess feels like the familiar fantasy of doing right by your mother just one time and then disappearing so you can’t screw it up. Which is a better story than the one about a sociopath who decides being a decent human is just not being true to himself.

Wreathal Weapon

Fatman

by George Wolf

Talk about a brand new bag.

As an entry into the Holiday season, Fatman gives us a Santa with serious issues and some high-powered heat to unpack. This is a movie that’s going to piss plenty of people off, starting right at the top of the cast list.

Starring as Chris Cringle himself, Mel Gibson is the antithesis of holly and jolly. Times are tough at the workshop, since Chris’s government contract pays by the present and kids seem to get more naughty every year.

One of those is Billy (Chance Hurstfield from Good Boys), an entitled rich boy who makes servants do his school projects and threatens torture to any classmate who might beat him out of a blue ribbon.

Santa knows who’s been bad or good, and Billy gets a big ‘ol lump of coal. Billy, for badness sake, decides that Santa must die.

Ruthless assassin Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) has his own grudge against the Fatman, so when the call from Billy comes in, he’s only too happy to make the long trek to the North Pole and stain the snow with Santa’s blood.

It only takes minutes to realize casting Gibson and his baggage was the perfect harbinger of what writers/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms (Small Town Crime) are bringing home for the holidays. This is no bad Santa, this is a dark and confrontational Santa, in an ambitiously unfocused and often bitingly funny takedown on everything from Trumpism to the military industrial complex to capitalism itself.

Gibson delivers with a gritty, committed performance that’s aided tremendously by the glorious Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Ruth Cringle. The two share a wonderful chemistry, as Ruth consistently brings the measured, cookie-baking wisdom to calm Chris’s gruff cynicism.

Workshop shortfalls force the Cringles into accepting a government contract to manufacture military hardware, which lets the Nelms brothers show just how far they’re willing to go in depicting Santa as a struggling businessman weary from the fight. Indeed, they go far enough to threaten the precision of their own barbs.

When the foreman elf comments, “It’s the giving that keeps him young,” the sudden deadpan underscores the clash of goals that muddies the road leading to the film’s final showdown. A little more lean in either direction – coal black humor or grim metaphor – might have upped the accessibility and impact.

But why would two filmmakers use uncomfortable realities, casual obscenities, wanton gunplay and blood-soaked violence to blaspheme the pristine legend of Santa Claus in the first place?

That’s a good question. The Nelms boys are glad you asked, and if you’re open to it, Fatman has a wholly unexpected, brazenly unapologetic and pretty satisfying answer.


Many thanks to Daniel Baldwin for “Wreathal Weapon”

Shotgun Safari

Dragged Across Concrete

by George Wolf

Songwriter Jim Steinman, best known for baroque and dramatically verbose musical epics often belted out by Meat Loaf, has said in interviews that he would love to write 3-minute pop toe tappers, he just doesn’t know how.

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler can probably relate. Dragged Across Concrete is his third feature as writer/director, and he’s still clearly invested in the long game. Like Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler’s latest is full of strangely indelible characters and memorable dialogue, a film anchored in creeping dramatic dread that finally explodes with wonderfully staged brutality.

Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn), street-smart cops in a fictional urban jungle called Bulwark, get popped when a bystander captures one overly zealous interrogation on video. A suspension without pay is something they’re forced to accept, but it isn’t long before Brett has a plan to make up for the lapse in funds with a little “proper compensation” on the side.

But of course, they’re not the only ones looking for a score.

Henry (a terrific Tory Kittles) is fresh out of the joint and needs money for his family. His old friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) hooks them both up as drivers for a lethal bank robber (Thomas Kretschmann), and the long fuse to a standoff is lit.

This is Zahler’s slowest burn yet, but he keeps you invested with a firm commitment to character, no matter the screen time. From a new mother with near-crippling separation anxiety (Jennifer Carpenter) to a loquacious bank manager (Fred Melamed) and a shadowy favor-granter (Udo Kier), nothing in the film’s 159 minutes feels superfluous.

In fact, quite the opposite.

As Zahler contrasts the cops with the robbers, the sharply-defined supporters orbiting the core conflict only add to its gravity, despite a few moments than seem a bit too eager for Tarantino approval.

Gibson is fantastic, drawing Brett as the real bulwark here, defending what he feels is his with a savage, unapologetic tenacity. Vaughn, re-teaming with Zahler after a standout turn in Cell Block 99, again shows how good he can be when pushed beyond his default setting of “Vince Vaughn.”

Finally, the steady march of battered souls, desperate measures and eclectic soundtrack choices comes to a bloody, pulpy head, staged with precision and matter-of-fact collateral damage.

Zahler’s command of his playbook is hard to ignore. Though the glory of Concrete‘s payoff never quite rises to the breathtaking heights he’s hit before, his confident pace and detailed observations make for completely absorbing storytelling.

And two out of three ain’t bad.

 





Who’s Yer Granddaddy?

Daddy’s Home 2

by George Wolf

It’s weeks from Thanksgiving, but already the hot toy this season seems to be the onscreen Christmas countdown, marking off time until the big day.

We saw it just last week, to disastrous results, in A Bad Mom’s Christmas, and now Daddy’s Home 2 arrives carrying stockings with slightly better surprises inside.

By now, macho Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and sensitive Brad (Will Ferrell) have settled into a comfortable “co-Daddy” arrangement with their blended families, so much so that they’re planning one big blendy Christmas this year. The kids won’t have to run from place to place. It’ll be great, right?

Enter Dusty’s mas macho dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s uber sensitive pop (John Lithgow), and we’re all headed through the woods to a luxurious mountain cabin for some contrived, snow-covered shenanigans boasting rampant ridiculousness and only scattershot payoffs.

Writer/director Sean Anders returns from the first film with the standard playbook for lazy comedies: a series of zany skits loosely connected with little regard for logic or continuity. We’re prodded to laugh at Brad’s suitcase being left at home, and then again when Brad has to wear a women’s bathrobe since he has no clothes of his own!

Moving on, Brad has an endless supply of wardrobe changes the remainder of the film.

Anders’s resume features solid comedic work (She’s Out of My League, Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2), but also embarrassments (Dumb and Dumber To, That’s My Boy). DH2 can manage only a few sequences that recall his creative peaks.

A fight over the cabin thermostat leads to some inspired laughs, as does Brad’s attempt to prepare a young boy for life in the friend zone, and Ferrell’s natural comedic gifts are able to squeeze a chuckle or two from Brad’s constant attempts to prove his parental worth.

With the additions of Gibson and John Cena (as the ex of Dusty’s girlfriend) the sequel ups the ante on the crises of masculinity that anchored the first film. The female characters are still afterthoughts, and some of Gibson’s antics (considering his rep and the current revelations coming out of Hollywood) seem awkwardly ill-timed.

By the time a completely over-the top-production of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (“I love that song! I play that song in August!”) is happening, Daddy’s Home 2 seems content to aim no higher than the guilty pleasure aisle.





God and Country

Hacksaw Ridge

by Hope Madden

Bathing an audience in violence – but violence in service of a noble cause – has become filmmaker Mel Gibson’s stock and trade.

Braveheart was a great movie – thrilling, self-righteous and violent as hell. But Gibson really hit paydirt as a director when he underpinned his gorefests with images of the victimhood of the Christian. (Or, of Christ himself.)

Gibson returns to what works with his latest, Hacksaw Ridge.

There is no question that the story of WWII veteran Desmond Doss not only deserves but requires our attention. A conscientious objector and devout Seventh Day Adventist, Doss refused to bear arms and yet he single-handedly carried 75 injured soldiers to safety during a particularly bloody battle in Okinawa.

Screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan burden the film with every cliché in the WWII movie arsenal, from the wholesome hometown love to the flatly stereotyped platoon mates to nearly every line in the film.

Yet, between Gibson’s skill behind the camera and Andrew Garfield’s commitment to his character, Hacksaw Ridge always manages to be better than the material. And there is really no denying Gibson’s knack for action, carnage and viscera – all in the service of non-violence, of course.

It was Doss’s faith that kept him strong in his non-violent beliefs, just as it was his faith that kept him courageous in battle. Whether you believe in God or you do not, you will admire Desmond Doss, and Garfield does him justice.

He’s goofy and layered and at no point does Doss’s own explanation of his faith feel like a sermon. Thank God.

Garfield also boasts lovely chemistry with just about every actor onscreen – this is particularly touching in some early scenes with Teresa Palmer, playing Doss’s hometown sweetheart Dorothy.

So, come for the wholesome message, stay for the flaming soldiers who’ll flail in unimaginable agony before your very eyes.

It isn’t tough to shock with violence when you’re re-telling the greatest story ever told, but to one-up the carnage in a war movie? Have you seen Platoon? Saving Private Ryan?

Well, Gibson has, and he won’t be intimidated. But give the man credit, these sequences are breathtakingly choreographed, as full of energy and clarity as they are human entrails. If you’re looking for an opportunity to satisfy your bloodlust while also celebrating pacifism, well, Gibson’s got you covered.

Verdict-3-0-Stars