EASTERN PROMISES (2007). In a sense, Eastern Promises is a bookend to the last film made by director David Cronenberg and star Viggo Mortensen: 2005's excellent A History of Violence, about an ordinary cafe owner who may or may not have been a vicious mobster in his earlier years. Both films run along parallel tracks, full of whispery menace, marked by probing studies of masculinity at its extreme boundaries, punctuated with bursts of sexual and violent excess, and coping with abrupt endings. A History of Violence's hurried third act still carried enough weight to leave viewers satisfied, but Eastern Promises falls a bit short in the final count, taking some turns that are far more conventional than just about anything Cronenberg has ever done in his long and eccentric career and not allowing viewers enough time to come to terms with these contrivances. As Nikolai Luzhin, a taciturn chauffeur who works for the Vory V Zakone outfit (the Russian mafia) in London, Mortensen delivers a measured and restrained performance, whether dealing with the drunken son (Vincent Cassel) of the powerful crime lord (Armin Mueller-Stahl, absolutely chilling as the soft-spoken yet vicious kingpin) or trying to protect a hospital midwife (Naomi Watts) whose recovery of a dead prostitute's diary places her right in the middle of a particularly sordid scenario. A steamroom sequence in which Mortensen's character fights two assassins in the buff generated plenty of Internet chatter – if only Frodo could see him now!
DVD extras include a making-of piece and a discussion of Russian tattoos like those seen in the film.
THE HEARTBREAK KID (2007). The Farrelly Brothers have a reputation for pushing the envelope when it comes to risky business, but in the case of The Heartbreak Kid, they seem only marginally more daring than Robert Wise helming The Sound of Music. That's because the 1972 original is one mean-spirited movie, a prickly comedy about an unlikable nebbish (Charles Grodin) who abandons his plain-Jane wife (Jeannie Berlin) on their Miami honeymoon once he spots a beautiful blonde WASP (Cybill Shepherd). The film stings because the bride hardly deserves the cruel treatment she receives, while the protagonist is selfish, insensitive and due for a comeuppance that he never really gets. The picture was well-received and earned Oscar nods for Berlin and Eddie Albert (terrific as Shepherd's dad), but in today's climate, only the least commercially minded filmmakers would attempt such a poison-laced satire. And the Farrellys, who've mellowed over the years, wouldn't be those filmmakers. So here, the groom (Ben Stiller) is a nice guy, his bride (Malin Akerman) is an outright nightmare, and the beach bunny is no longer a callow, self-centered brat but a sweet, down-to-earth gal (Michelle Monaghan). That's not to say the siblings have completely backed away from their raunchy roots: There's plenty of salty language, some acrobatic sex scenes (though why is it that in American movies, a healthy sexual appetite is always depicted as a vice or a disease to be shunned?), and one startling crotch shot. Much of it is funny, some of it merely infantile, but Akerman proves to be a real trouper as she degrades herself in the name of modern movie comedy.
DVD extras include audio commentary by the Farrelly Brothers, six deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a piece on Stiller and his dad (and Heartbreak supporting player) Jerry Stiller. But the real kicker regarding the DVD? The funniest scene in the theatrical print of the movie, which takes place after the closing credits, has been inexplicably removed (hence the "edited for content" note both on the DVD box and before the beginning of the film).
RUSH HOUR 3 (2007). Fifty years ago, Max von Sydow was exploring philosophical issues of life and death in the late Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Seventh Seal; now, he's relegated to a small role in the background to make room for the increasingly unfunny antics of Chris Tucker. If there's a more depressing commentary to be made on the current state of cinema, I can't imagine what it might be. The original Rush Hour was a high-spirited lark that milked its mismatched-cops formula well, but the sorry Rush Hour 2 was a prime example of a lazy sequel produced solely to cash in on the goodwill generated by its predecessor. Rush Hour 3 takes that same mercenary attitude and sprints with it. Jackie Chan, still up for any challenge at the age of 54, has considerably slowed down in recent years, and his up-close-and-personal brand of fighting has lost much of its vibrancy. It hardly matters, though, as even this longtime audience favorite is expected to take a back seat to the incessant shenanigans of his co-star. Tucker once again lets loose with a steady stream of slurs that targets women, gays, Asians, tall people, fat people, French people (Roman Polanski appears as a Parisian inspector who enjoys performing rectal probes) and doubtless others that have slipped my mind. It's not funny, just tedious – when it comes to insult humor, he's clearly no Redd Foxx. There's one great line involving Starbucks, and, as always, the outtakes provide a few smiles. Otherwise, Rush Hour 3 is a total dud, as well as the worst sequel of 2007.
Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by director Brett Ratner, six deleted or extended scenes, an alternate ending, a 90-minute making-of piece and an outtake reel.