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Love and bullets (and one ugly beast)

Chris doesn't rock, but Marky Mark and the monster do



It's inconceivable that the names Eric Rohmer and Pootie Tang would ever appear in the same sentence, yet that's the result of cowriter-director-star Chris Rock making I Think I Love My Wife.

The film is an American bastardization of 1972's Chloe In the Afternoon, the sixth and final movie in philosophical French director Rohmer's "Moral Tales" series (Criterion released a glorious box set last year that includes all six titles). Now, Rock and his Pootie Tang cohort Louis C.K. have teamed up to rework Rohmer's story into a moderately amusing but ultimately scattershot comedy about Richard Cooper (Rock), a New York businessman whose marriage to a schoolteacher (Gina Torres) has become so stagnant that he constantly daydreams about being with other women. Into his office walks Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington), a high-maintenance friend from his long-ago clubbing days. Bringing to mind the "Darling Nikki" from Prince's Purple Rain soundtrack, she immediately tempts Richard by injecting some much-needed fun back into his life, thereby requiring him to decide whether or not he should cheat on his sexually frigid spouse.

The level of humor is all over the map, ranging from funny (Richard works at the investment firm of Pupkin & Langford, a nod to the characters played by Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy) to rancid ("I have an appointment," states a beautiful woman in a fantasy sequence, to which a sex-crazed Richard replies, "Yeah, a pussy appointment!") to somewhere in between (I don't think I've ever heard a large pair of breasts referred to as "village feeders"). Yet while the script by Rock and C.K. offers a few salient points about the challenges posed in keeping any marriage fresh, any benefit of the doubt as to the picture's worth goes out the window upon the arrival of a dreadful conclusion that's not only poorly conceived and executed but also reverses one of the major conflicts in the story with no explanation.

I'm sure Rock meant well, but the next time he feels the urge to improve upon the French, he should try his hand at baguettes.

Shooter kicks off with a scene in which a young man flashes a picture of his fiancée to his partner, and we all know that when an unfamiliar, expendable cast member shows off a shot of his sweetie, he won't be around for much longer. Shooter also includes a sequence in which our protagonist, already pissed off enough by the sour turn his life has taken, reaches his boiling point upon learning the worst news a movie hero can hear: The villains went and shot his faithful dog (biiiiig mistake, guys).

It's a testament to all concerned that Shooter can include such hoary clichés and not only survive them but also make them fun to watch one more time. Crisply directed by Antoine Fuqua and adapted from Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter's bestseller Point of Impact, this casts Mark Wahlberg (who portrayed a shooter of an entirely different kind in Boogie Nights) as Bob Lee Swagger, a former Marine sniper who's duped into taking part in a political assassination and then served up as the lone gunman. Refusing to go down easy, Swagger instead uses all his training to get back at the slimy suits who framed him, along the way enlisting the aid of an earnest FBI rookie (Michael Pena) and, yes, his late partner's fiancée (Kate Mara).

Comparisons to Sylvester Stallone's equally ill-treated combat vet from two decades ago are paper-thin, since this film is anything but a Rambore; instead, it benefits from some taut action sequences, a well-chosen supporting cast (66-year-old Levon Helm, not looking a day over 99, steals the film as a gun enthusiast), a deep cynicism about how this country operates behind closed doors, and a smoldering Wahlberg in a commanding central performance. It's nice to see that the former Marky Mark is already building on that Oscar nod for The Departed.

With Hollywood basically having given up on producing horror films of note, it's proven to be an unexpected delight that so many other countries have offered to pick up the slack. Foreign lands recently provided us with The Descent and Pan's Labyrinth, and now here's The Host, a Korean import that cannily updates another East Asian nation's iconic monster flick: 1954's Godzilla.

Just as the original Japanese cut of Godzilla (titled Gojira) warned against the evils of nuclear proliferation, this assured effort from director Bong Joon-ho similarly rails against a host of modern societal ills, including humankind's disregard for nature, the ability of America to force its will on the rest of the globe, the false front provided by governments declaring "terror alerts" whenever it suits them, and the usual attack on media insensitivity. Yet these themes only simmer in the background, and even the creature feature promised by the ads often takes back seat to a sturdy and even touching comedy-drama about the importance of familial fortitude.

The central character is Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), a dimwitted food-stand vendor and unlikely father to bright young Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung). When an enormous mutant (imagine a cross between Ridley Scott's alien and a tadpole) emerges from the Han River, munches on a few humans, and then takes a still-feisty Hyun-seo back to his lair, it's up to Gang-du and the members of his immediate family to locate and rescue the girl, battling military and medical personnel every step of the way.

Full of memorable imagery (amusing sight gags easily commingle with more brutal shots) and anchored by the human story at its center, The Host is only harmed by the varying quality of its special effects. Created by the companies that worked on the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings flicks, the effects are slick to a fault, with seamless visuals compromised by obvious CGI renditions, often within the same scene.

Still, given that the movie works best when focusing on the people rather than the predator, that amounts to a minor quibble. In short, The Host is a monster movie for those who like a little meat on the genre's bones.

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