Thursday, March 30, 2017

Licence to Kill review

Because it would not be The Midnight Ramble without some Bond-related ranting, here's a review of Timothy Dalton's final stab at the role.

Following the success of The Living Daylights plans were made for what was meant to be the second of Timothy Dalton's four-picture contract as James Bond. Events did not go to plan. Due to tax changes in the UK, production was moved to Mexico, and the 1988 Writers Strike meant the producers were unable to utilise the services of longtime scribe Richard Maibaum, who honoured the strike after only working on the first draft.

The resulting movie's ad campaign was scrapped in favour of a cheap, generic variant which made the movie look cheap and generic. Released in summer 1989, the movie was crushed by the juggernaughts of Batman and Lethal Weapon 2. Though it ultimately made around $150 million worldwide, it bombed in the US.

If you listen to public opinion, Licence to Kill is in contention as either the worst film in the series, or an unsung masterpiece. I'm more in the middle on this movie, so in the style of my Quantum of Solace review, I'm going to break this movie into pieces.

The good
You do have to give this movie some credit for attempting to shake things up -- after nearly 20 years, the series was due for some changes. The premise is interesting -- Bond imbeds himself in a villain's organisation, and uses his paranoia to destroy the organisation from the inside. It's Yojimbo, with Bond as Toshiba Mifune's ronin (or Clint Eastwood's nameless gunslinger in the remake Fistful of Dollars).


Robert Davi makes for a great villain,. You always feel like he will kill Bond if he learns who he is, which is a pretty rare quality for Bond bad guys. He has a little bit of the kinkiness of the books, with his use of a whip and horrific post-mortem jokes ('You liked my little Valentine, huh?'), which does not feel wedged in (ala Kristatos' keelhauling in For Your Eyes Only).


The supporting gang of rogues are also more interesting and varied than any batch since -- we've had good main villains (Elektra King, Le Chiffre and Silva), but other than Xenia Onatopp and General Ouromov in GoldenEye, supporting villains have been pretty colourless. Benicio Del Toro is the most memorable as Sanchez's sadistic flunky Dario. Anthony Zerbe is fantastic as Milton Krest -- his desperation to save his own neck makes him rather compelling. One thing that this movie gets right are the villains, and each of their respective deaths are great.

The action sequences are all pretty solid, with the water skiing escape and the tanker chase finale being the stand-outs. The final chase does suffer from some bizarre attempts at broad comedy (the tanker tilt feels a bit too silly, and it's not shot well -- it looks like a movie stunt), but overall it works in the old Spielberg cause-and-effect style of action.



I'm probably an outlier on this, but I really have a thing for the title song. It is very eighties, but it gets the vibe of the movie and has a weird way of sticking in your brain.


The bad
The attempt to be contemporary backfires badly on Licence to Kill. The plot of a man seeking vengeance against drug dealers was old hat in 1989, and the filmmakers make it worse by throwing out the series' glossy aesthetic. Blended with the fashions and uninspired set design (the bar set is so insanely 1989 it feels straight of the MacGruber movie), the movie feels like a carbon copy of movies that it should not be competing with. It does not help that those movies, the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards, are all R-rated. Bond has also walked the line to be as mainstream as possible, and the lurch into harder violence always feels jarring.

This movie also includes ninjas. Why? Because EIGHTIES.


Overriding all of this nonsense, the visual style is a major problem with this movie. It looks overly lit and cheap. Some people say it looks like Miami Vice, but that is pretty unfair... to Miami ViceLicence to Kill looks more like an episode of Magnum PI or Simon & Simon.




The female characters in this movie are real blank slates. To me they exemplify the film as a whole: interesting in concept, underwhelming in execution. To their credit, I think this is the fault of the script and direction more than the actresses. Pam Bouvier is meant to be a tough-as-nails pilot and special agent, but within 10 minutes of being introduced she turns into a jealous would-be girlfriend. The character never makes sense -- Lowell is also a bit too young and good-looking (she was a famous model at the time) to make her feel convincing. Lupe, Sanchez's girlfriend, is problematic for the same reasons -- she starts a victim of domestic violence, and then turns into Bond's bit on the side. There are shades of Skyfall's Severine to her character, in that she is given a complex backstory yet forced into a traditional Bond sexpot role that completely ignores any complication.

The ugly
 The script is a contradiction. The premise is pretty simple, but the execution is weirdly over and under-developed. The idea of Bond infiltrating an organisation and destroying it from the inside is great -- having Dario, and every other character he's already met, not run into him until the end of the movie is a massive plot hole. The other problem is how quickly Sanchez trusts him. All the parts are there but the movie always feels a few drafts away from being really good. It relies on too many action movie cliches from the era, and it leaves the movie feeling a little bit like a copy of a Joel Silver movie.


Using Felix Leiter (David Hedison) as the sacrificial lamb to get the action going would be fine -- if the character had been used consistently before. But he had been played by so many different actors by this point (including the movie prior to this one), that his presence doesn't really add to the drama as much as it should.

Michael Kamen's score has some nice moments (the track 'Licence Revoked' on the soundtrack features some great use of the James Bond theme), but overall it lacks a distinct identity, and feels too much like a distaff version of his work on Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

The tone is the real problem here. The Brosnan movies are often criticised for their constantly shifting tones, but Licence to Kill, a supposedly serious movie, suffers from too many tone deaf moments of 'Bondian' comedy -- the character of Joe Butcher, a sleazy prosperity evangelist, is great, but his scenes feel like they have been lifted out of a Roger Moore movie -- which feel out of step with the extreme levels of violence elsewhere (minutes later we have Dario diced into confetti and Heller impaled). Director John Glen is not good at juggling between these extremes and the third act in particular swings back and forth in a very disconcerting fashion that dilutes the power of Bond's showdown with the villains.

Licensed revoked?

When I was younger, I thought this movie was dark but kind of fun. Nowadays its flaws make it a hard sit. The movies released on either side of it are far better, and in terms of getting 'gritty' Fleming-style Bond movies, Casino Royale is this film done right.

It's not a totally bad movie, but it does end up feeling like more of a half-cooked gumbo of eclectic ingredients which don't congeal. It is interesting to note how the mistakes this movie made continue to recur in the series: the attempt to decorate the formula with moments of too much realism (The World Is Not Enough); the near-total dumping of the Bond aesthetic in favour of a passing trend (Die Another Day; Quantum of Solace); the half-assed attempt at 'strong' female characters (basically every Bond movie post-GoldenEye till Casino Royale).

I don't think Licence to Kill is a failure, but it is far too flawed to be considered a classic. While it tries to do something new, its 'newness' ultimately amounts to a poor approximation of contemporary trends, rather than anything that will push the series forward.



Previous reviews

Diamonds Are Forever

The Man With The Golden Gun

Moonraker

For Your Eyes Only

Octopussy

A View To A Kill

The Living Daylights

Tomorrow Never Dies

The World Is Not Enough (2010): (2017)

Die Another Day

Casino Royale

Quantum of Solace

Spectre (2015); (2016)

Monday, March 27, 2017

AFS Screening: A New Leaf




This year's series of Auckland Film Society movie reviews starts with a look at Elaine May's 1971 comedy A New Leaf.


If the name Elaine May does not ring any bells, here's a little refresher. May started out as a comedian, working in a double act with Mike Nichols. Nichols went on to become a famous theatre and film director, responsible for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, Postcards From The Edge and Primary Colors, among many others.


May became a screenwriter and has garnered an impressive resume as such. As a director, her most notable credit is 1987's Ishtar, an overly expensive comedy starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman that has gone down as one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood. This is a shame, since her other work is terrific: 1972's The Heartbreak Kid, 1978's Heaven Can Wait and Nichols' Clintonian satire Primary Colors.



 A New Leaf tells the story of Henry Graham (Matthau), an over-aged playboy who has ran out of money. Terrified at the idea of becoming poor, the blue blood decides his only way out is to marry a rich woman and kill her. His target winds up being Henrietta Lowell (May), a clumsy heiress who is more interested in practising botany than her money.

I had never heard of this movie before, and went in solely on its pedigree. It's great. Matthau is superlative as the privileged man-baby who slowly warms to his new bride. To the film's credit, this final turn is pushed to the very end, so we don't get a cop-out character shift halfway through.

Elaine May is surprisingly subdued as the object of Henry's feigned affections. It's a testament to the woman's ego, to say nothing of her talent, that she did not use the opportunity of directing her own movie into her own star vehicle.

The rest of the cast are all terrific, especially Jack Weston as Henrietta's lovesick lawyer, and George Rose as Harold, Henry's long-suffering gentleman's gentleman. 

The movie was dramatically cut down before release, from original runtime of three hours, and bombed on release. I wonder just how good the original cut was, because as is, the film is nice and tight, moving quickly through the story with a strong set of comic set pieces (the couple's struggle over Henrietta's gown is hilariously protracted).

If I have one criticism, it is that there are occasional moments where the seams show. Matthau is great in the lead, but he is playing a character who is clearly meant to be younger (apparently Christopher Plummer was May's original choice), and a few of the character's more petulant moments ring a little false. 

Apart from these nitpicks, A New Leaf is a hidden gem. It's greatest success is that it manages to juggle the inherent darkness of its story with wit and a surprisingly deft sense of empathy toward its lead characters. If you get a chance, check it out. It definitely deserves more of a profile than it has received.

Previous AFS reviews

Purple Noon (2015)

The Servant 

Eyes Without A Face 

Night of the Demon (2016)

Grand Central

Tales of Hoffman

Saturday, March 25, 2017

IN THEATRES: Logan

In the first five minutes of Logan, I remembered I had never seen any of his previous solo adventures.  It did not matter.


In 2029, the world is recovering from some kind of post-apocalyptic event. Hiding out in Mexico, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limo driver to pay for a new life for himself and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

Life is not good for Logan. Age is finally starting to catch up with him, and his healing factor is not working the way it used to. Professor X has a degenerative brain disease which results in cataclysmic seizures that can incapacitate or kill anyone in a wide radius. Logan treats his condition with drugs, which have turned the old man into a rambling crazy.

Their shitty lives take a turn when a woman hires Logan to take a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to North Dakota. Logan smells trouble, but takes the job. Soon an army of mercenaries are on their trail as the trio tear their way across country.

Helmed by James Mangold, who directed Jackman's previous solo adventure, 2013's The Wolverine, and co-written by Scott Frank, Logan is one of the best-realised action flicks I've seen in a while. Refreshingly, it is crafted as a single story, not an episode in a broader story, and all the character and stylistic choices are tied to its dramatic requirements, rather than fan service or some broader continuity.

The action might be cut from the same cloth, but Mangold's playing the beats ensures that every set piece is a nail biter. Logan's incapacity is a gift to the filmmakers and the audience, as it makes the character more of an everyman. The R rating certainly helps. While the movie is gory, it never feels gratuitous -- the tone of the violence is extremely well-handled.

Despite all the hype around the movie's realism and darkness, the final product does not suffer from the mono-tone of recent 'grim' blockbusters (Fantastic Four, anything by Zack Snyder), which read serious as dark colour grading and relentless despair. The movie's tone is extremely deft, serving the requirements of the characters and the story -- there are grace notes of comedy and character shading that make the whole experience feel more real and lived-in. It feels like that sweet spot that the best movies get to, but so many movies either fail at or ignore.

The cast are all terrific. Boyd Holbrook is on a fine form as a sadistic merc on Logan's tail, Stephen Merchant is surprisingly effective as Logan's comrade/housewife Caliban and Patrick Stewart brings a delightful level of humanity and vulnerability to Professor X. Newcomer Keen is great as young mutant Laura, and will probably become a fan favourite off the back of this.

Hugh Jackman, always great as Logan, delivers his best performance as Logan here. Maybe because the movie is so centred on his story, this feels like the most fleshed out version of the character we've had. If this is his last ride in the saddle, it is good that this is the best one.

It's a little early to say where this sits with the other X movies. Firstly because it's just come out, and secondly because it is completely irrelevant (and I don't care enough). This is a really strong example of well executed genre storytelling, and well worth your money.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A tribute to Leon Ware


Last month one of my all-time favourite singers, Leon Ware, passed away. While his name is only familiar to soul fans, as a songwriter he worked with a host of great talents, with credits on songs by Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton  and Maxwell.

Born in 1940, Ware was born with a vision impairment. He ended up going to the same school as Stevie Wonder, and joined him at Motown, where Ware became one of the company's resident songwriters.

Ware's greatest claim to fame is being the instigator behind Marvin Gaye's erotic masterpiece I Want You in 1976. This was my first introduction his work, and I quickly fell down the rabbit hole looking for his other work.


While it is impossible to seperate the album from Gaye, whose creative fingerprints are all over it, the blueprint was all Ware's work. Unafraid to celebrate the physical side of romance, Ware's work for Gaye and on his solo work would prove highly inspirational on the work of later artists such as Prince and R. Kelly.



Following the release of I Want You, Ware released his own solo album, a spiritual sequel entitled Musical Massage. Apparently, Gaye heard early demos and wanted to take the tracks for his next record, but Ware chose to strike out on his own.


The result was a brilliant record that, while less well known, is just as strong as his work on I Want You. Ware continued to release solo albums into the new millennium. Occasionally he would pop up as a co-writer on tracks by other artists, most notably on neo-soul practitioner Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite in  1996, a record which bore a clear debt to Ware's work in the seventies.

While his later solo work is not as strong as his debut, Ware's albums in the late seventies and early eighties are worth checking out, particularly 1979's Inside Is Love and 1981's Rocking You Eternally, which push the slow grooves of I Want You and Musical Massage into the future.

To send him off, here's one of his best tracks, the title song from Rocking You Eternally.



Signature albums: I Want YouMusical MassageRocking You Eternally

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Loving

Released in the afterglow of its Oscar nominations, Loving has finally arrived on New Zealand shores.


Loving tells the story of the Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple whose union precipitated the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision that ended anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, and laid the groundwork for the Court's 2013 decision on gay marriage.

This movie is the epitome of understatement. The most obvious part of the Lovings' story is their name, and writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special) seems to have taken that into consideration.

One of the chief pleasures of this movie is that it approaches its protagonists with no airs and no sense of historical portent. The film is firmly anchored to the Lovings' perspective. In doing so, Nichols roots their historical significance in their relationship and life together. Prejudice and the realities of Jim Crow are never ignored, but become a part of the mundane reality of work and family.

There are none of the signifiers we generally associate with movies set in this era, big scenes of police attacking freedom marchers or burning crosses. Instead we get characters like Marton Csokas's sheriff, a man whose prejudice is hidden beneath a banal exterior.

By playing the story so matter-of-factly, the impact of the hate the Lovings faced is made all the more vivid. By refusing to dress it up in more cinematically obvious terms, or placing the Lovings as markers in a historical event (a failing of so many historical biopics), the film focuses on the human beings at the centre of it, just two people with average aspirations and dreams who were kept apart by arbitrary, hateful barriers.

The acting by all is terrific, and on the same minimalist band-with as the movie. While they are all good, Edgerton and Negga are the heart and soul of this movie. Their simple, largely non-verbal relationship feels so lived-in and real: they speak so much without saying everything. There is a relaxed, empathetic rapport between them which feels recognisable. It is a dynamic that is rarely seen in cinema, and is the basis of what makes their relationship -- and the film -- the quiet success that it is.

I have seen other reviews criticise the movie for not being bigger and more overt in its passions, but such an approach would be a betrayal to the central characters, and would create a barrier between the viewer and the characters. Like the photographer from Life magazine who visited them, Nichols and his cast recognise that, in order to truly identify with Lovings, you have to sit with them in their house and watch them live. Only then can you truly recognise them, and the tragedy they (and so many others) were subjected to.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEWS: Fear City (1984)

A maniac is stalking the Big Apple. He fixates on strippers and exotic dancers, attacking them in back-alleys and deserted subway stations. When he moves from maiming to killing his victims, their employers Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger) and Nicky Parzeno (Jack Scalia) go on the hunt to find the killer before he strikes again.

A former prize fighter traumatised after killing an opponent in the ring, Matt sees the maniac as an opportunity to redeem himself.


Fear City is a movie that I've been meaning to see for over 12 years. The combination of New York auteur Abel Ferrera (the original Bad Lieutenant) and the crazy premise sounded cool, but I could never find the movie.

Dark and sleazy, if you want to know what New York City used to look like, this is a good time capsule. As a thriller, it is a little half-baked yet Berenger's character is so interesting that the movie remains weirdly compelling.

The actors are all good -- Berenger is dialled way down as Matt. He's a man who hides any weakness behind a face of stone. Billy Dee Williams seethes as Al Wheeler, the cop whose obsession with shutting down Rossi's outfit is unmoored by the new threat. He's good, but the movie does nothing to develop his antagonistic relationship with Matt Rossi. Melanie Griffith is fine, but underused as the stripper with a heart of gold. It's a nothing character, purely there to act as a catalyst for Matt to unleash his inner beast.

While the movie is filled with Ferrera's preoccupations (New York city as a hellhole; Catholic guilt; damaged men struggling to find their place), there is something missing or undercooked about this movie. The characters -- even Berenger's -- feel like archetypes. The movie feels like a character piece that has been hacked down in the editing bay to make it more commercial.

While it is atmospheric, filled with interesting supporting characters, and vaguely unnerving at points, it never really engages on a visceral level. The one scene that really connects is the climax.

It is definitely the most interesting part of the movie - Matt beats the killer to death as flashbacks to his last fight punctuate the action. It is a disturbing reminder of the kind of man he is, and it is the one part of the movie that feels genuinely ambiguous and disturbing.

The scene raises an interesting question about our anti-hero: by killing the murderer, is he accepting who he is?

The movie seems to cast this repetition of behaviour as a positive -- channeling his rage to expunging the world of a greater evil; his previous action negated by this positive action.

After the killer is pronounced dead at the scene Wheeler (Williams) calls Matt a hero; Matt dismisses the label. He seems to recognise that, no matter who it was or the circumstances that led to his fatal action, he still gave in to his worst instincts.

Fear City's most interesting element is Rossi. His genuine remorse and repulsion at what he is capable of, and his attempts to avoid giving into it, is the most successful part of the movie. Unlike so many action movies of the same time, Matt is a vigilante repulsed by his brutish nature -- and it never feels hypocritical or forced.

Ultimately it is not a great movie, but Fear City is a pretty decent thriller lifted by its evocative milieu, strong acting and its bizarre (but creepy) premise.

Monday, March 13, 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Sleepless Night (2011)

I first heard about this movie a few months back, right around the time publicity started dropping for the American remake starring Jamie Foxx. I heard the original was worth a look, so I popped it on.




The premise is simple: a dirty cop hijacks a drug shipment for a notorious gangster. Recognised during the robbery, his son is kidnapped. The gangster has to hand the drugs off to a buyer and will kill his son if he does not get the drugs by nightfall.


The cop brings the drugs to the gangster's club. As a precaution, he hides the drugs in the club before meeting the gangster. But when the cop goes to collect the drugs, he finds the bag gone. Now he is in a desperate race against time to retrieve the drugs before his son is killed.


Wow. This movie is great!


What I didn't mention in the plot synopsis is that most of the movie takes place inside the gangster's crowded nightclub. It's like Taken set in a locked room. What's great about this movie is that it keeps layering on the obstacles in our protagonist's path.


On top of that, throw in two internal affairs cops, the gangster's unscrupulous drug buyer, the crowd of patrons AND a bleeding stomach wound. This movie is fit to burst.


It is the equivalent of trying to spin plates while jumping over a skipping rope, defusing a nuclear bomb and performing open heart surgery, all at the same time.
This movie never lets up, and director Frederic Jardin manages to keep piling on the peril without making the movie feel contrived or over-stuffed. Lead performer Tomer Sisley is fantastic as the increasingly deranged centre of the action.
No spoilers. This movie's great. Watch it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Released in 1988, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is an American cousin to Peter Jackson's Bad Taste.


Two teenagers spot a shooting star land over the next hill. They go to investigate and find a a crew of homicidal alien clowns in their space ship (shaped like a circus big top). As the killer clowns invade their small town, the teens try to convince the cranky old sheriff (John Vernon) that there really are killer clowns attacking their small town.
The only film made by the special effects family the Chiodo brothers (they created the marionettes for Team America: World Police), this movie is a testament to low-budget creativity. Made with painstaking hand-made visual effects, the clowns are terrifying and hilarious.

The success of the humour comes from how perfectly the Chiodos match the tropes of clowns and circuses to the tropes of alien invasion movies. It's an odd juxtaposition that feels like it could make for a good fake trailer or a two minute College Humour skit, and yet the filmmakers manage to milk it for the entire runtime.

While it is not truly 'scary', the movie is atmospheric and weirdly tense, and the surreal images of the clowns wreaking havoc on the town are pretty creepy (see below). Balloon animals, shadow puppets, cotton candy and even mime are re-cast as elements of the aliens' offbeat arsenal.    


In its visualisation of its titular monsters, and their mythology, the movie is genuinely inspired, and the Chiodos' innovative ways of visualising their villains is equally impressive. Using a combination of masks, puppets, back-projection and various forms of traditional animation, the movie has the same lived-in, offbeat energy of Tim Burton's eighties work.
While the clowns provide plenty of reasons to watch, the movie's MVP is veteran character actor John Vernon as the surly Sheriff Mooney.


Vernon is simply superlative as a cranky old man with no time for the youths and their stupid shenanigans. The best scene in the whole movie might be the one in which Mooney, inundated with what he thinks are prank calls about killer clowns, decides to just ignore the fun and not do his job. He overshadows the younger cast -- they are all solid, but none of the other characters can equal the sheriff or the clowns.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is far better than its one-joke premise would suggest, and a testament to talent and imagination over stars and big budgets. Well worth a look. 




Tuesday, March 7, 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: The House On Sorority Row (1983)

Written and directed by Marc Rosman, The House On Sorority Row is a late entry in the first wave of slasher flicks in the early eighties. A mix of Hitchcockian suspense and slasher tropes, The House On Sorority Row is more successful when it is doing its own thing rather than following the slasher formula.



A sorority house prepares for its final party before the members head off to adulthood. Their angry, eccentric house mother Mrs Slater is tired of their shenanigans and demands that they leave the house.

The girls play a prank on the old woman, which causes her to have a heart attack and die. While the party cranks up, the girls try to get rid of the old woman's body by hiding it at the bottom of the dirty disused pool out back.

As the party cranks up, the girls discover Ms Slater's body has disappeared. And then the girls begin to disappear, one by one...

Far more elegant than its exploitive poster would suggest, the movie is pretty stylish (Rosman had  worked with Brian De Palma beforehand, and that influence is pretty clear), and boasts solid performances from the young cast. It also possesses a few dashes of dark wit (there's a scene where the girls try to get the body off the property in the rubbish bin -- until they accidentally push it into a police car).

The movie's story is basically a take-off on Bob Clarke's 1974 proto-slasher Black Christmas. It's not as good as that movie, but Rosman manages to throw in some interesting twists to stop the movie getting predictable.

The third act provides a nice twist on the Dr Lomis character, with a maniacal shrink who drugs the final girl to trap the villain. It's a nice twist, and the fact that she is incapacitated adds a nice dose of tension to the final showdown (Rosman throws in some creepy hallucinations of the dead housemates mocking her which adds to the atmosphere).

On its own terms The House On Sorority Row is a pretty enjoyable watch. Its digressions from the cookie cutter formula of its sub genre ensure that it is far more entertaining (and scary) than the usual 'horny teens chased by a maniac' plots of most slashers.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Headshot review

A reunion between Indonesian action star Iko Iwas and his Raid 2 opponent Julie Estelle promised plenty of broken bones and blood. Does Headshot deliver?


A John Doe (Iko Uwais) washes up on a beach with no memory and a bullet in his head. He is taken to a local hospital where a trainee doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan) gives him a name, 'Ishmael', and tries to help him figure out who he was. However, the people who tried to kill him are still on his trail. When they kidnap Ailin, 'Ishmael' goes after them.

Anyone going into this expecting The Raid 3 should check their expectations at the door. Headshot is nowhere near that level. In style and tone, this is far closer to a traditional martial arts movie -- specifically a Steven Seagal movie from the early nineties.

The thing about The Raid that felt so fresh was that the combat did not feel structured -- instead it felt visceral and improvised. When Iko Uwais and his comrades are attacked, the villains don't hang back and attack one at a time, they rush in together. It made the combat feel more visceral and raised the tension.

Headshot's combat feels more old-school and suffers by comparison -- the fights feel contrived and go on too long. The one fight that feels close to The Raid is Ishmael's fight with multiple villains in a cramped bus, and another fight between Ishmael and a villain in a police office. Uwais is credited as one of the two action directors, and I wonder if he was responsible for this sequences.

The movie echoes Seagal in its basic plot, which is basically a variation on Hard to Kill, in which it is based around another ridiculously attractive medical professional who falls in love with our hero. The attraction here is as inexplicable as it was then, and it sums up the sexual politics here. Aside from helping Ishmael recover at the start, Islan's character has little agency and is merely a plot device, a way of justifying Uwais' ass-kicking. The movie does not care about her -- they even throw in a pointless attempted assault towards the end -- as though we needed a ticking clock to increase the sense of danger.

Julie Estelle's character seems to exist solely so she can have a final showdown on the beach with Iwas. You may think the location is the filmmakers tying the ending back to the beginning ala The Bourne Ultimatum, but no. It's just an excuse for her tank top to be soaking wet throughout.

Ultimately, Headshot is not terrible. Uwais is good in the dramatic parts, Sunny Pang is a solid villain and the rest of the cast are varying degrees of 'okay'. But it's not that good either. The plot is stupid, the fight scenes have their moments go on far too long, and the tone is too sombre. Check it out on video -- that way you can fast-forward to the good parts.