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Volume 3, Number 8
August, 1998

You Gotta See This Hit the Deck! The Summer Crop of Actions Flicks is Here!

by Ealasaid A. Haas

Ahhh, summer. The time of sunblock, bug spray, and the joys of loud action movies in an airconditioned theatre. They're here, and with a vengence. Armageddon opened July 1, and then we had a double-header weekend with Lethal Weapon and Small Soldiers on July 10. Yowza. Add to that The Negotiator and you've got a great set of excuses to beat the heat by sucking down iced soda and letting your brain relax in a cool, dark cineplex.

Armageddon, which details the struggle to keep an asteroid "the size of Texas" from hitting the Earth, is definitely the loudest of the bunch. It often seems like the film is one long explosion. It rattles your eardrums, contains no real meaningful dialog, and has some pretty lousy science (they decide to blow up the menacing asteroid with a nuclear warhead... and nobody even mentions radioactive fallout). It's set in a white male world (there's one female character among the central group, and none at all working at NASA).

However, it has no pretensions at all. It shows off its cliched plot with flair, is very predictable, has marvelous special effects, and terriffic one-liners. The acting is as potent as the special effects: Bruce Willis pulls another hard-working-macho-man gig, but makes us belive in his character; Billy Bob Thornton is both smart and caring as the NASA boss, and Steve Buscemi turns in another wonderfully eccentric/psycho (now if only Hollywood would wake up and cast him in as something else!).

Bottom line: if you're looking for a fun way to spend a couple of brainless hours in an air-conditioned movie theatre, this is the film to do it with. You don't need to think -- just hang on for the ride.

Lethal Weapon 4 is also loud and fun, but it has some more complex characters in it. Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are back again, along with Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) and Lorna (Rene Russo). This time, they're up against some seriously bad Chinese gangster-types, led by the intensely menacing Jet Li. The off-the-wall humor is still there, fueled by the appealing chemistry between the core characters. Riggs actually undergoes a little bit of character development (rather nice to see in a bang-bang-blow-em-up sort of flick), and Lorna kicks some serious behind in spite of being pregnant. Talk about a role model!

Not all of the scenes work -- there's an ongoing gag about Murtaugh's son-in-law which becomes a bit tiresome and the homophobia so often displayed by the series is still there (albeit in reduced quantities).

Bottom line: if what you want is a film which will make you laugh, give you some suspense, and show off some impressive martial arts, Lethal Weapon 4 is right on target.

Small Soldiers is my favorite of the brainless-action. It follows the adventures of Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith of Krippendorf's Tribe), who manages to get hold of a new brand of toy before they're officially released -- only to find out that they're not only sentient, but run by military chips and therefore a bit demented. Like Armageddon, it has no pretensions of being hard-core science fiction or anything other than a fanciful action flick. Tommy Lee Jones and members of the Dirty Dozen voice the Commando Elite, the troop of macho army-type toys set on destroying their pre-programmed enemies: the Gorgonites (voiced by Frank Langella and the members of Spinal Tap).

The effects are excellent, combining both CGI and animatronics to create the toys, the script is hilarious (without the swearing that so often mars otherwise innocuous action films), and there's a ton and a half of good-natured mayhem. Younger children may miss some of the allusions (at one point, the leader of the Commandos announces that they should "ask not what your country can do for you, but regret only that you have but one life to live!"), but teens and adults alike will doubtless be rolling in the aisles.

Not to say that Small Soldiers is perfect. Its script could use a little tightening up (one plot thread never goes anywhere), the Gorgonites aren't nearly as interesting as their opponents, and its science is pretty bad. However, it is a rip-roaring good time (by way of warning, young children may be frightened rather than amused by the carnage).

Bottom line: Good for kids and parents alike, this is an entertaining way to spend some time watching enjoyable people and spectacular explosions.

The Negotiator is the summerís first intellectual thriller. Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey) are the two best negotiators in Chicago. Roman is holding hostages, insisting that he has been framed for his partner's murder because he knows too much about corruption in the department. Sabian is determined to get the hostages out alive. And that's only the beginning. What follows is a tightly crafted film, which plays with not only the characters' heads, but the audience's as well. The tension keeps you on the edge of your seat from the subtly ominous photographs in the opening credits to the moment when all is finally revealed. Along the way are moments of surprising humour and humanity, which provide a respite from the relentless suspense. Spacey and Jackson are perfectly matched, both incredibly intense, intelligent, and perfectly directed by F. Gary Gray.

The film is not perfect (the music is not as good as it could have been, and one gets the feeling that about fifteen minutes of the last section are on a cutting-room floor somewhere), but it comes pretty darn close. The performances are flawless, the script tight and edgy, and the cinematography will keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Bottom line: this is not a film to go see if you're looking for brainless entertainment. But if you want to be challenged, intrigued, and nailed to your seat with suspense, The Negotiator is the one for you.
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