Monday, March 16, 2015

New(ish) Releases: Gone Girl (2014); Horrible Bosses 2 (2014); Robocop (2014)

Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher

A well-constructed, gripping, and bold movie. Gone Girl is also a film that will likely leave you unsure of exactly how to feel when the credits roll.

It is impossible to say much about the plot of the movie without taking away great parts of its strengths. The set-up is thus: Nick and Amy Dunne are in a marriage that has grown painfully stale. What started as a storybook romance has become a dull affair that has revealed each person's worst flaws. On their fifth anniversary, things take a turn for the tragic and strange when Amy disappears, seemingly kidnapped. Nick, though at first not a suspect, increasingly becomes the focus of the investigations for various reasons.

If it seems like this is a fairly standard crime thriller set up, this is because it is. But it is a grave mistake to think that Gone Girl is a typical crime thriller. While it exhibits a number of the tropes typical to the genre, it turns many of them on their heads, while examining several larger, far more interesting and disturbing questions that go well beyond the "Who done it?" force that normally drives such movies.

The technical merits are outstanding, as is true with every Fincher movie that I've seen. The visuals are brilliant, the music enhances the film exceptionally well, and the acting is strong all around (yes, even Ben Affleck is fine). In short, it's a pleasing film to take in, aesthetically.

The movie explores several areas that are grey, dark grey, and eventually pitch black. This is to be expected from director David Fincher, who long ago proved himself unafraid to explore such places, most notably in his early film Se7en. Gone Girl is not for the faint of heart, or those looking for a nice, easily-digestible tale of heroes, villains, and ultimate justice. For that, I commend it, even if I probably never need to watch it again.

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

Director: Sean Anders

Just funny enough not to be a waste of time, but it was a tight race.

I really liked the first one. The over-the-top titular "bosses" were cast perfectly, and there was plenty of great banter between them and the trio of likable average Joes played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day. Such can't really be said of the sequel. Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz do just fine, but the script was far weaker than its predecessor. Pine and Waltz make the most of what they were given, but what they were given wasn't much to speak of.

The story, at least, differs from the original in that the three main shmos are attempting to start their own business. This pits them against Waltz's ruthless billionaire venture capitalist, who thinks nothing of crushing them like insects. Through it all, Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day go through the familiar stages of hope, rage, and panic that produced many of the great scenes in the first film. In part two, however, the chemistry is often out of balance. Where the three main players had previously been lovable, if a tad dim occasionally, in this movie Sudeikis's and Day's characters are stupid beyond belief. Stupid to the point that you wonder how they're even able to function. This idiocy results in a handful of good laughs, but many more duds than the first movie.

I knew not to expect anything great from this sequel, so I wasn't terribly disappointed in it. Just don't get your hopes very high - this will give you just enough laughs to make it worth your while, but no more.

Robocop (2014)

Director: Jose Padilha

While not terrible, this reboot of one of my favorite 1980s action flicks does little to recommend itself. This remake had potential, but most of it went unfulfilled.

It took some serious guts to even attempt a reboot of one of the most iconic 1980's tough-guy action movies. Twenty-seven years ago, Director Paul Verhoeven gave us a fun, ultra-violent action flick that constantly winked at us with its satirical advertisements and fantastic one-liners. This 2014 version played it much straighter, while attempting to inject some of the sly social commentary of the original. Unfortunately, the recent version is nowhere near as clever or entertaining.

The shame of the movie is that so many great foundational elements were in place. The tale of mangled police officer Alex Murphy is compelling enough, and witnessing his transformation into a cyborg war machine is a bit of fun. There's even a really stunning scene in which we see what Murphy looks like without the intimidating, prosthetic Robocop suit. The actors are all top-notch as well. It's tough to go wrong with Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson; and Joel Kinnemann was a solid choice for the title role. However, even these talents could only breathe so much life into a rather lukewarm script. The action is merely OK, as it does nothing to stand out from other blockbusters in the genre.

This movie set itself up for failure, really. Had it not been a remake of such a great movie, it might have been more engaging. As it is, though, one has to question whether it even needed to be made. My answer is "No." At least, it didn't need to be remade in such a bland way.

If nothing else, though, the movie did provide this hilarious interview with Kinnemann on The Daily Show with John Stewart. Start it at the 2:00 mark, and listen to the "Uncle Scotty" story. It had me rolling.