Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Movie Review: Z (1969)

A political conspiracy thriller, Z delves into the sordid world of government plots to silence dissent by any means necessary.

An unnamed country, presumed to be Greece, is governed by shadowy right-wing military types operating a pseudo-democracy and proclaiming independence from any ideology. An opposition left-leaning pacifist parliamentarian known as the Deputy (Yves Montand) arrives at a countryside town to make a speech, despite death threats. He and his handlers are stymied in trying to find a venue, eventually settling for a union hall and installing speakers to broadcast into an adjacent public square.

Supporters, agitators, and ranks of police officers congregate. After delivering the speech the Deputy is assaulted by two hired goons, severely injured and rushed to hospital. His wife Helene (Irene Papas) is numbed by the incident, while surgeons fight to save her husband's life. The Examining Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant) starts a methodical investigation, and despite pressure to sweep the incident under the carpet he doggedly pursues all available leads to uncover proof of a plot.

Based on the 1963 attack on Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis and the subsequent investigation by respected Magistrate (and later Greek President) Christos Sartzetakis, Z (a Greek graffiti symbol for "he lives", used in reference to Lambrakis) is a hard-hitting, expertly crafted condemnation of dirty politics. Director and co-writer Costa-Gavras creates an environment of gritty street tension dominated by a government determined to maintain it's version of discipline, and opposed by a small group of idealistic politicians and journalists willing to take disproportionate risks.

In government offices bands of sweaty men (and they are all men) representing the military, police and intelligence services of the ruling junta nonchalantly concoct versions of the truth to best suit their needs, using a combination of indoctrination, intimidation, bureaucracy, truth reimagination and goon squad tactics to maintain control. Stuffed into unearned uniforms adorned with cheap medals, the rulers' audacity and layering of lies is Orwellian in scope, as the machinery of the state extends to every street corner.

Into this dark nightmare steps the Magistrate, a man intent on serving justice despite government intentions, and empowered by an ethical code above any oppressive directive. With star names Yves Montand and Irene Papas enjoying smallish roles, it is Jean-Louis Trintignant who finally occupies the heart of Z. As the unflappable and bespectacled Magistrate he becomes the irresistible force pushing against the immovable wall, under no illusions as to the limits of his power but willing to let evidence speak for itself.

Costa-Gavras uses flashbacks, multiple perspectives of the same key incidents, quick edits, sly humour and short scenes to bring plenty of dynamism into the movie. The staging of some of the action scenes lands on the slightly clunky side, but otherwise Z is crafted to chase events into a rage. Eternally relevant as an exposition of powermongers controlling the state apparatus, Z lives on as a faint flicker of hope.

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Saturday, 13 April 2019

Movie Review: The Constant Nymph (1943)

A love triangle featuring a subdued underaged romance, The Constant Nymph offers plodding treatment of a controversial subject.

In Belgium, classical music composer Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer) learns that his most recent composition was performed in London and flopped. In need of fresh inspiration, he relocates to the rural Swiss mountain farm of his friend and music aficionado Albert Sanger (Montagu Love). Albert is in ailing health, but his four spirited teenaged daughters are excited to welcome Lewis. In particular, Tessa (Joan Fontaine) harbors a deep crush, and hopes that one day Lewis will notice her, although she suffers from a weak heart and fainting spells.

But Lewis meets Tessa's sophisticated older cousin Florence Creighton (Alexis Smith) and they quickly get married, crushing Tessa's hopes. The extended family relocates to the London home of Florence's wealthy father Charles (Charles Coburn). Tessa and her sister Paula (Joyce Reynolds) are hustled off to a boarding school, while Lewis starts resenting Florence's conceited lifestyle and friends. When Tessa moves back into the Creighton house, the smoldering passion between her and Lewis becomes undeniable, igniting Florence's fury.

An adaptation of a novel and play by Margaret Kennedy, The Constant Nymph was out of general circulation for close to 70 years after initial release. Turner Classic Movies reached agreement with Kennedy's estate and the restored film re-emerged for broadcast in 2011. This 1943 version was already Hollywood's third take on the book, after adaptations in 1928 and 1933.

With the Lolita-like difficult subject matter of a fourteen year-old girl-woman dreamily lusting after a much older man who eventually awakens to her love and reciprocates (here in words only), director Edmund Goulding deserves credit for steering a steady path away from sordid implications. An overall sense of blandness helps, and Boyer rather flatly portrays Lewis as mostly oblivious to Tessa's passion until late, generally treating her as a younger ardent sister.

Fontaine, at 26 years old, does her best with unconstrained physical mannerisms to portray a barefoot farm-raised young teenager, but she can only do so much. On the screen Tessa is never anything other than an accomplished actress pretending to be a girl.

A stage director before moving to films, Goulding settles for lumbering theatricality and uninspired camerawork. Many of the scenes slowly sink due to length and listless talkiness. Somewhat saving the day is Alexis Smith in fine form as Florence Creighton. Finally here is a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it, but who also pays the price for the hurriedness with which she snags Lewis. Florence emerges as the most emotionally involved woman, and her struggle to control her rage and not lose her man gives The Constant Nymph some verve.

The cast also includes Brenda Marshall as Tessa's oldest sister Toni, and a rather wasted Peter Lorre as Toni's shifty suitor then husband Fritz.

Kennedy infuses the relationship between Tessa and Lewis with an inspirational subtext to soften the troublesome age difference. Wise well beyond her years and inspired by her father, Tessa deduces Lewis will only unleash his musical creativity when he finds true love and experiences heartache. The Constant Nymph follows a predictable narrative path to misery as a gateway to inspiration. Pity the film itself is more stilted than imaginative.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Movie Review: Band Of Angels (1957)

A Civil War drama, Band Of Angels is stranded between old and new representations of racism and eventually falls between the cracks.

In Kentucky just before the Civil War, Amantha Starr (Yvonne DeCarlo) is the daughter of a cotton plantation owner who is unusually kind to his slaves. Upon her father's death, Amantha is shocked to discover her mother was a slave, and so therefore she is half negro. Brutal slave traders holding her father's debts immediately capture and ship her to New Orleans, where wealthy businessman Hamish Bond (Clark Gable) buys her at auction for $5,000.

Hamish owns multiple properties and treats all his slaves with dignity, and indeed has raised Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier) as a son, but Amantha remains unsure what Hamish wants from her. Eventually a romance develops between them and he offers her freedom, but she elects to stay. Hamish is hiding dark secrets about his past, while various other suitors enter Amantha's life as she struggles with her identity. The eruption of the Civil War severely disrupts Hamish's business, while Rau-Ru finds the dream of true freedom within grasp.

Based on the book by Robert Penn Warren, Band Of Angels deserves some credit for adopting a relatively enlightened stance and featuring multiple dignified black characters carving out a place in a shifting societal landscape. Sidney Poitier's outspoken Rau-Ru is the most prominent, but the intriguing Michele (Carolle Drake) is another of Hamish's slaves grappling with loosely defined captivity, the complications of freedom, and quiet infatuation.

Despite the good intentions, Band Of Angels stumbles and stalls rather than building momentum. Director Raoul Walsh is unable to ever ignite the film as it trundles from scene to scene with little passion. The intention to duplicate the grand drama of Gone With The Wind with more modern sensibilities is clear, but Band Of Angels does not come close to replicating the grandeur of the 1939 classic. Neither the writing nor the acting are at the requisite level, and indeed many scenes unfold with a stiff and artificial theatricality.

Walsh and writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts also manage to fumble the most pertinent discussions around racism. Amantha openly resents her blackness, Rau-Ru is angry at everything, and Hamish's relative kindness appears to stem from embers of guilt rather than any core belief. Although Gable is absent from large chunks of the film, Hamish's dark backstory is by far the most compelling aspect of the story, and Band Of Angels would have greatly benefited from showing samples of his formative years. Instead Walsh leans heavily on Gable, who is excellent, to recall the past, reducing the film to plenty of talking and spurning the opportunity for a more powerful cinematic experience.

Elsewhere, and between bouts of self-hate, Amantha too easily falls in love with every man who sets eyes on her. There is a fiery preacher and ardent believer in freedom, a handsome military type, the gruff Hamish, and a slimy next-door plantation owner. They take turns abusing and rescuing her, not necessarily in that order, as Band Of Angels desperately tries to define itself. In search of stability and fulfilment Amantha wastes too much time purring at the wrong targets, much like the film itself.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Movie Review: Hawaii (1966)

A historical epic about Christian missionaries, Hawaii aims for a spectacular scope but has to settle for competently stodgy.

It's 1819 in New England, and the strictly idealistic Calvinist Reverend Abner Hale (Max von Sydow) heeds the call from Hawaii's Prince Keoki (Manu Tupou) and volunteers for a Christian mission to the islands. The Reverend Dr. Thorn (Torin Thatcher) insists that Abner first get married, and connects him with the eligible Jerusha (Julie Andrews), the daughter of church member Charles Bromley (Carroll O'Connor).

Jerusha is still nursing a heart broken by whaler Captain Rafer Hoxworth, who loved her and abandoned her. After a brief and awkward courtship she agrees to marry the stiff and clumsy Abner. They travel to Hawaii on an arduous sea journey including traversing the Magellan Strait. Upon arrival they are welcomed by Keoki's mother Malama (Jocelyne LaGarde), the local ruler considered sacred by the natives.

As per tradition to preserve the purity of bloodlines Malama is married to her brother Kelolo (Ted Nobriga), one of many examples of adultery and incest that Abner immediately starts raging against. Jerusha is more patient and teaches Malama how to write, while Abner builds his first church and slowly starts to exert influence, although changing deeply entrenched local customs proves difficult. Abner and Jerusha start a family, but further complications arise when Captain Hoxworth (Richard Harris) appears in Hawaii and reinitiates his romantic pursuit of Jerusha.

An adaptation of one chapter from James A. Michener's 1959 book, Hawaii is ambitious in scope and proficient in execution but hamstrung by dry subject matter and an aloof protagonist. The beautiful scenery and grand Elmer Bernstein music score ensure a base level of entertainment. But the story of humourless missionaries browbeating locals into redefining themselves as worthless sinners is grating.

While Julie Andrews receives top billing after achieving stratospheric success in The Sound Of Music, Jerusha is very much the secondary character. Instead the script by Daniel Taradash and Dalton Trumbo chooses Reverend Abner Hale as the focal point. His uncompromising view of the world and Bible-thumping attitude defines the fire and brimstone style of proselytizing, and makes for an exceptionally dour central character. Three hours is a long time to spend with anyone, but three hours with Abner are more than enough to capitulate and buy whatever he is selling just to avoid his continued wrath.

Relatively unknown at the time, director George Roy Hill replaced Fred Zinnemann and was himself reportedly fired and rehired several times during the course of the troubled production. To his credit, Hill does tease out the agonies (including loss of culture and rampant diseases) experienced by the natives due to the missionary invasion, and raises questions as to whether the locals ultimately benefited from welcoming and trusting the social and religious fundamentalists.

With Max von Sydow in full preacherman mode, it is left to Andrews to prove she can handle dramatic roles. She effortlessly passes the test in the two key scenes, first Jerusha explaining to Abner intimacy's place in marriage, and much later awakening him (somewhat) to the power of love over dogma.

Native Tahitian Jocelyne LaGarde earned an Academy Award nomination for her one and only screen role as Malama, who injects much needed spirit whenever she is on the screen despite LaGarde knowing any English and reciting her lines phonetically. As Abner will spend a lifetime learning, sometimes what matters is not what needs to be said, but how the message is conveyed.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Movie Review: Hotel Mumbai (2018)

A recreation of the large-scale 2008 terrorist attacks, Hotel Mumbai portrays selfless bravery amidst unfolding panic and deadly coordinated mayhem.

It's November 2008 and 10 heavily armed and well-trained terrorists, all indoctrinated young men, arrive in Mumbai on an inflatable dinghy. In constant touch with their handlers through cell phones and earpieces, the terrorists split up to attack various predesignated targets.

At the lavish Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) are among the staff members and take pride in providing exceptional service. The guests include the wealthy and recently married Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) and her American husband David (Armie Hammer), along with their infant son and nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Vasili (Jason Isaacs) is a tough Russian ex-military type also staying at the hotel.

After killing scores of civilians at a train station terminal and other locations, a subgroup of the terrorists infiltrate the Taj and start randomly killing guests and staff, while seeking out foreigners as hostages. With local authorities outgunned and help slow in arriving, Hemant, Arjun and other staff members have to find ways to shelter and save as many guests as possible.

Based on real events, with chef Oberoi an actual character and the other featured guests and staff members amalgamations of real survivors and victims, Hotel Mumbai is an astounding achievement. Tense, harrowing, gripping and heartbreaking, often all at the same time, the film recreates with unblinking audacity the tragedy of a large-scale terrorist slaughter and conveys what it means to live through an unfolding hell.

With terrorist attacks aiming to inflict maximum damage an all too frequent occurrence around the world, Hotel Mumbai pauses and humanizes the scale and depth of the atrocities. The statistics become husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, infants and nannies, businessmen, backpackers and locals, and life-long employees dedicated to their guests and working to support their families. Each has a story and a life disrupted or terminated by human-inflicted terror.

And director Anthony Maras, who co-wrote the script with John Collee, insists on also defining the attackers and their loss of humanity. They are portrayed as indoctrinated and uneducated young men from rural areas, bewildered by the big city surroundings and fully in the grip of handlers providing continuous reassurance and brainwashing through earpieces. The promise of money to their families is part of the motivation, and Maras takes time amidst the carnage for an attacker to phone home and check on that commitment.

The film does not judge the official local non-readiness to deal with a well-planned attack, allowing the facts to speak for themselves as residents are left to fend for themselves for more than two days while a counter-terrorist force arrives from New Delhi. The brave attempts of a few out-gunned local police officers to provide help are highlighted.

With its numerous victims and relentlessly grim tone Hotel Mumbai is extraordinarily difficult to watch, but also an essential story of a barbarous bloodbath confronted by exceptional courage.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Movie Review: Twins (1988)

A buddy comedy about mismatched men discovering they are brothers, Twins draws some laughs from its kooky premise but otherwise struggles to build a meaningful narrative.

Julius Benedict (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the perfect human being, a product of a US government science experiment mixing the DNA of six carefully selected men with one remarkable woman, who unfortunately died in childbirth. Physically superior, emotionally mature and well educated, Julius has spent his sheltered life working with scientists on a tropical island.

Julius is shocked to learn he has a twin brother Vincent, an unwanted byproduct of the experiment who was sent to an orphanage upon birth. He ventures to Los Angeles and finds Vincent (Danny DeVito), a scrappy car thief owing money to loan sharks. They eventually team up and learn that not everything they were told about their parents is true. Meanwhile, Vincent steals a car with valuable merchandise in the trunk, and has an opportunity to finally get rich.

After firmly establishing his credentials as one of the world's premier action movie superstars, Arnold Schwarzenegger branches out into his first comedy role. Twins is built on a simple big-man small-man buddy concept, adding in simple themes of nature versus nurture and the benefits of a privileged upbringing.

Of course director Ivan Reitman isn't too interested in seriously exploring of any social topics. Twins goes after pretty basic humour portraying Julius as strong and book smart but naive and Vincent as a street survivor with a chip on his shoulder because life offered him nothing. The MacGuffin item-in-the-trunk leads to poorly defined bad guy Webster (Marshall Bell), and some bland action in the final quarter to satisfy Arnold's core fan base.

Enroute, plenty of momentum is lost with a sidequest romance featuring Vincent's girlfriend Linda (Chloe Webb) and her knockout sister Marnie (Kelly Preston). Once Vincent learns Julius is a virgin, setting him up with Marnie becomes an obsession occupying way too much screen time. The two women are overall treated badly by a script surrendering to male fantasy exploitive tendencies.

Schwarzenegger is quickly at ease in the lighter milieu, more than adept at making fun of his own image and deploying his muscular presence to serve a steady stream of humour. The partnership with DeVito is a natural fit, the two immediately sharing chemistry built on having nothing in common and therefore everything to learn from each other.

Twins is a classic exercise in broadening a star's audience, the quality of the content less important than the appeal of the concept.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Hummingbird Project (2018)

A business drama, The Hummingbird Project tackles a potentially dry subject with some verve, despite never quite engaging at the human level.

In New York City, stock trader Vince Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) works at the firm run by Eva Torres (Salma Hayek). His socially awkward but technically brilliant cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) is Eva's technology guru, part of the team continuously trying to improve transaction speed to gain millisecond advantages. Vince finds a backer to finance his dream of building the fastest fibre optic line from Kansas to New Jersey. Access to the line can then be sold to traders, generating millions in profits.

Vince and Anton quit their jobs, enraging Eva, and team up with construction expert Mark Vega (Michael Mando). Building in a straight line will require negotiating with numerous property owners, crossing rivers and swamps, and the small matter of drilling through the Appalachian Mountains. Vince will also have to deal with unwelcome health news and Eva's determined efforts to torpedo the project, while Anton struggles to make his software as efficient as possible.

The Michael Lewis non-fiction book Flash Boys (2014) highlighted the dangers and eccentricities of the high speed stock trading world, and how the race to gain milliseconds in transaction speeds drives the madcap construction of dedicated fibre optic lines across the country. It's an arcane subject at best, so credit to Canadian writer and director Kim Nguyen for conceiving a fictional movie (not based on the book) tackling the same subject matter.

The Hummingbird Project tries to create human subjects worth caring about, and Nguyen colours in just enough personality to help move the action along. Vince and Anton Zaleski are sons of Eastern European immigrants living the dream and chasing more, Vince the always persuasive dealmaker while Anton is the prototypical dour coder. Less successful is Eva as the one-dimensional antagonist, sketched in as a cartoonish villain.

The script's real investment is out in the field, where the idea of building a communications conduit in an absolute straight line takes shape. The sheer audacity of such a project is at the heart of the film, and Nguyen provides a taste of the challenges to be overcome, from negotiating with individual landowners to flying in drilling equipment by gigantic helicopter to the base of the Appalachians, where there are no roads.

Of course almost everything that can go wrong does, Vince's dream threatened by serious personal challenges and obstacles as mundane as an obstinate Amish community, while on the sidelines Eva tries every trick to halt the line in its tracks.

Although the acting performances are secondary, Alexander Skarsgård is a pleasant surprise, entirely losing his Tarzan features and transforming into a bald, haunched and entirely pessimistic anti-social tech geek.

The Hummingbird Project is a version of the American Dream where millions are sunk in pursuit of an imperceptible advantage for dubious purposes, and making a quick buck is defined literally.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Movie Review: Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

A raucous crime thriller, Lucky Number Slevin offers a delectable multi-faceted plot and jaunty execution. A busy story of gangland vendettas offers rich rewards and plenty of barbed wit.

After a series of seemingly unrelated murders including the killing of two bookies and a sniper attack, Goodkat (Bruce Willis) sits next to a young man at an empty bus terminal and recounts a strange story from 1979, when a struggling family was brutally annihilated as a result of a horse race fix gone wrong.

Back in the present Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) arrives in New York City to stay at the apartment of his friend Nick Fisher, who is mysteriously nowhere to be found. Jovial next-door neighbour Lindsey (Lucy Liu) makes friends with Slevin, but he is soon mistaken for Nick and abducted, twice: first by mobsters working for The Boss (Morgan Freeman), then by goons working for The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley).

The Boss and The Rabbi used to be gangland partners who ran the city's most powerful crime syndicate. Now they have fallen out, The Boss' son has been killed, and he wants Slevin to assassinate The Rabbi's son in retaliation. Meanwhile The Rabbi wants Slevin to repay an outstanding loan. Goodkat is lurking in the shadows, and police detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) tries to untangle all the motives as Slevin seeks to survive the impending mayhem.

Plenty of movies have attempted to recreate the sheer verve of Pulp Fiction; few have succeeded as well as Lucky Number Slevin. This is an in-your-face barely-in-control full throttle thriller, a white knuckle wild ride through the world of crime and punishment.

Combining numerous disparate events that slowly converge into a brilliant whole with a collection of memorable characters, Lucky Number Slevin is an intricate narrative puzzle. The film starts with the pieces all over the place, but writer Jason Smilovic and director Paul McGuigan know exactly where they are heading and how to get there. Every detail matters, and as the picture is assembled the narrative wizardry comes to the fore. Of course the plot holes are there to be picked, but overall the story of vendettas, revenge, goons and rogue assassinations is sly and resplendent.

Stylistically McGuigan deploys typical Tarantinoesque touches, including colourful marginal characters, just about everyone lying about almost everything, occasional philosophizing, brief explosions of violence, and oddities like rivals The Boss and The Rabbi occupying apartments across the street from each other. In relative terms the blood and gore are dialed back, and Lucky Number Slevin revels in the power of a single compact trigger event for all the mayhem.

The cast members stay within themselves and allow the script to star. Josh Hartnett is in the middle of the pandemonium as Slevin, and finds one of his career best fitting roles. Without stretching beyond established personas, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley offer plenty of weighty veteran talent, all three as men still trading in death when they should know better.

Breezy and fierce in equal measures, Lucky Number Slevin runs the perfect race.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Movie Review: Dune (1984)

A science fiction fiasco, Dune is a disastrous epic, the ineptitude registering at a jaw-dropping scale.

Set in the distant future, the plot is convoluted beyond belief. The comprehensible core is a battle for control of the desert-like planet Dune, which is the only source in the universe for "the spice", which is required to fold space and enable "travel without moving". Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow), is a "chosen-one" type destined to save the local population of Dune, while Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer) and the despicable Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) are engaged in power hungry conspiracies.

The production of spice on Dune is hampered by giant subterranean worms that eat anything they deem annoying, and a large assortment of nondescript people, creatures and places enter and exit the plot with little consequence, but blue eyes and the "Water of Life" are important parts of the fantastical universe.

For anyone unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's source books, Dune the movie is overwhelmingly incomprehensible within five minutes. A barrage of names, places, clans and concepts is unloaded onto the screen through narration (including the disembodied head of Virginia Madsen, who otherwise barely features in the movie), and voice-overs that tell us what characters are really thinking once they stop talking.

Director and writer David Lynch appears utterly clueless on how to translate Herbert's admittedly difficult epic onto the screen, and the bumbling storytelling on display is something to behold. It's impossible to follow who is who and why, and scene after scene comes and goes featuring barely defined people and creatures conspiring with and against each other.

The multitude of characters brings forth a massive cast featuring the likes of Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, Patrick Stewart, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Silvana Mangano, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow and Sean Young. They mostly stand around, often in a crowded flat line, and spout gibberish in full pantomime mode. Then there is a Sting, who tries to introduce menace but only succeeds in further escalating the madness quotient.

The special effects are worthy of B-movies from the glorious cheap sci-fi era of the 1950s, while the set designs are a garish steampunk nightmare. The action scenes appear staged by children, and mostly consist of dorky extras aimlessly running around the desert.

It is exceptionally difficult to avoid the impression that Dune is intended as a bad joke, a big-budget reimagining of Plan 9 From Outer Space to stake out new boundaries of awfulness. But unfortunately it's not a parody, just a sad exercise in large scale incompetence.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Man (2005)

A buddy comedy about incompatible men forced to cooperate in pursuit of criminals, The Man offers a few laughs but is otherwise familiar and slight.

Meek dental supplies salesperson Andy Fiddler (Eugene Levy) travels to Detroit to attend a convention. His arrival coincides with a daring federal armoury heist that releases hundreds of dangerous weapons into the hands of criminals. Internal affairs investigators including agent Peters (Miguel Ferrer) suspect streetwise agent Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson) of involvement, because his partner was identified as the key inside man and showed up dead.

Eager to clear his name Vann shakes down informer Booty (Anthony Mackie) for information and arranges an undercover buy-back of the weapons. The clueless Andy inadvertently botches Vann's plan: he shows up at the wrong time in the wrong place and is mistaken by ruthless gang boss Joey (Luke Goss) of being an international weapons trader. Vann is forced to seize Andy and use him to try and apprehend the bad guys. The two polar-opposite men continuously frustrate each other but eventually realize they have to cooperate.

Running a grand total of 83 minutes, The Man trots out a tired concept and not much else. There is a bit of fun to be had in placing a timid but talkative salesperson in a car with an angry and ruthless cop, but director Les Mayfield brings nothing else to the screen. Most of the movie is set within the confines of Vann's admittedly impressive and imposing black 1983 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, as Andy and Vann exchange barbs and take turns making each other angry. Plot, logic and depth are forgotten on the curb.

The faults reside within a flimsy script, a collaboration between Jim Piddock, Margaret Oberman, and Stephen Carpenter that reduces the bad guys to hissing cardboard cutouts, somehow capable of planning and executing a major heist but then foolishly botching every subsequent criminal step. Vann does receive a family including an ex-wife and young daughter to care about should he choose to, but his journey towards finding some empathy thanks to Andy's influence is nauseatingly linear.

The action scenes are spotty and forgettable, while a running joke featuring Vann inflicting pain on Booty's booty fits right in with the over-dependence on juvenile body function jokes.

Eugene Levy and Samuel L. Jackson stay firmly within the bounds of their most basic personas, although their talent just about elevates The Man to tolerable in patches. That, and the car.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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