Posts in Category: Bargain Bin

$5 a Day (2008)

What a setup: in a single day, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola, perhaps most recognizable from his turn in 2005’s Junebug) loses his job, loses his girlfriend (Amanda Peet), and learns his con-artist father, Nat (Christopher Walken), may be dying of brain cancer. Left with no one to turn to, Flynn reluctantly reenters Nat’s life, and what follows is a combination of a father-son bonding movie and a road movie. Unfortunately, neither movie is particularly good despite Walken’s always-welcome presence.

Ostensibly a comedy, the movie’s attempts at humor miss more than they hit. For instance, I found it amusing that Nat—who has abandoned a life of con artistry to devote himself to finding great deals and scams so he can subsist on only $5 a day—lives in a storage room under an Atlantic City rollercoaster, calling various radio stations under aliases to win concert tickets he can then scalp at a huge profit. Yet I never laughed at his car, a pink PT Cruiser bearing the Sweet ‘N’ Low logo, so he can get paid to drive rather than paying to own a car. The film wants us to laugh every time we see it (and we see it often on their cross-country trip to New Mexico), but the ridiculousness of its appearance didn’t stir my funny bone at all.

That’s the overall problem. $5 a Day has some funny bits, many of them having to do with Flynn resisting Nat’s lifestyle, but they’re mostly buried in a vast ocean of moments designed to elicit laughter that never comes. Like most road movies, it’s broken up into a series of vignettes as the pair travels across the country. These vignettes are designed to first show why Flynn hates Nat so much, and then bring the pair back together. Some of them work (notably a vignette in which Nat invades a corporate event for free food and Flynn needs to rescue him once partygoers learn the truth), but others fall flat. An extended sequence features Sharon Stone as a scantily clad sexpot, a childhood crush of Flynn’s who shows more affection to Nat. Nothing about this sequence works, either dramatically or comically. In a 90-minute movie, a 10-minute dead spot is a pretty big gulf.

The core of the conflict is this: after a lifetime of conning, Nat brought Flynn into the fold, then left him holding the bag when a con went bad. Flynn did time (discovery of his conviction is what gets him fired from his health inspector job in the opening scenes) and naturally resents his father. However, this conflict is resolved much too quickly and easily. Flynn is first shown as angry and annoyed, but he quickly switches over to amused and appreciative. Even though it’s sort of fun to see the two working together instead of against each other, the transformation occurs without any real explanation.

When Flynn returns to anger in the third act—after realizing his father’s real plan for dragging him to New Mexico—it’s never clear why he left that emotional state in the first place. The film tries to split the difference with a lazy device that finds Flynn frequently calling his ex-girlfriend and leaving long-winded, on-the-nose messages on her answering machine, while she looks on with a combination of sadness and apprehension.

If there’s any pleasure to derive from this film, it’s in Walken’s charming performance as Nat. He’s shown up in so many movies over the past decade as little more than a caricature of his quirky persona, so it’s hard to remember that he once won a well-deserved Oscar for a largely quirk-free performance. This is one of the few recent movies in which he’s appeared that has given him the opportunity to do more than a weird, funny cameo. From guilt about his duplicitous nature to pain over his longtime knowledge of family secrets Flynn learns on this trip, he makes Nat more than a kooky guy with a silly lifestyle. He also makes Alessandro Nivola—the ostensible anchor of the film—look bland in comparison. Granted, he’s the straight man, but he’s also not a terribly engaging one.

Director Nigel Cole made the winning British comedies Saving Grace and Calendar Girls, but his comic instincts don’t seem suited to this type of film. Though the film contains many well-composed shots, it lacks Cole’s normally strong wit and offbeat sensibility. The timing seems strangely off, which affects both the overall pacing and (most detrimentally) the success of the jokes. Maybe it was the budget constraints, or maybe Cole just didn’t invest much of himself in making the film. I don’t know for sure, and it would be unfair to speculate.

$5 a Day has its moments, but ultimately, the film is just too uneven to recommend. The laughs come too inconsistently, the arbitrary character changes make it hard to empathize, and the sluggish pacing makes everything seem a bit duller than it should. For Walken fans, it might be worth slogging through a so-so film to see his performance. Anyone else should simply avoid it.

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Grilled (2006)

Imagine Quentin Tarantino had written Glengarry Glen Ross, and you’ll have some idea of what Grilled is about. You’ll also probably understand why it quietly went straight to DVD, considering it came on the heels of stars Ray Romano and Kevin James giving up highly successful, crowd-pleasing sitcoms in which they played generally likable people. Few would look at either comedian and say, “I want to see them in a cynical dramedy where they play sociopaths.” Yet, the movie itself is actually pretty good.

Romano and James play, respectively, Maurice and Dave, frozen meat salesmen desperate for a sale. They used to be their company’s top team, but they’ve hit a slump. The slump itself has caused tension in the partnership—the film opens with them angrily trying to go it alone before realizing that’s even worse than working together—but Maurice and Dave subtly imply that their personal problems have impacted their ability to sell. Dave’s wife left him and took his daughter with her; Maurice is a chronic womanizer who fails to close sales because he’s too busy trying to get phone numbers.

Their boss gives them a handful of “sure-thing” leads and vows that if they can’t close one of them, they’re fired. The film takes its time showing Maurice and Dave apply callous, vaguely abusive salesmen tactics to close kindhearted marks. They get a lot of piqued interest but make no sales—until they arrive at the last lead. Loridonna (Sofia Vergara), a Latin sexpot who takes an immediate shine to Maurice, expresses alarming interest in their frozen meat. However, frequent calls from suicidal Suzanne (Juliette Lewis) interrupt the rhythm of the sale. Loridonna forces Dave to impersonate a doctor to calm Suzanne down. When that fails, she insists on going over to see Suzanne personally. Maurice and Dave, desperate to get Loridonna to sign the check, offer to drive her (Dave claims Maurice used to race professionally).

Suzanne, a drunk and a drug addict, lives in a mansion in the Hollywood hills. When Tony (Kim Coates), the mansion’s owner, arrives to patch up a gaping bullet wound, Dave realizes they have a new mark. Tony loves grilling, and he can actually afford what they’re selling (a full side of beef each month, plus a freezer to house it in). However, hitmen (Michael Rapaport and Erik Allen Kramer) show up and make short work of Tony. Suddenly embroiled in the criminal world, Maurice and Dave split their time evenly between running for their lives and trying to sell wealthy gangsters meat products.

Although I understand why this might alienate a huge segment of moviegoers, I appreciated Romano and James for making no effort to gain sympathy from the audience. They find numerous comedic moments in Maurice and Dave’s inherent unpleasantness. The film also goes dark enough to elicit sympathy almost accidentally—Maurice and Dave are in no way good people, but they also don’t deserve to be gunned down in cold blood. Both Romano and James do well in roles that are pretty ballsy attempts to alter the public perception of them. It’s interesting, to me at least, that Romano went on to cocreate and star in the similarly dark, uncompromising dramedy Men of a Certain Age (minus the criminal element), while James has retreated back to ineffectual crowd-pleasers.

William Tepper’s script piles one bad thing on top of another, almost like a British farce, before wrapping it up in a surprisingly neat package. The script and performances are solid, but the film’s thriller elements suffer under Jason Ensler’s workmanlike direction. A veteran helmer of TV comedies, Ensler knows how to find the humor in a given situation, but he doesn’t build the suspense required to make the third act really work. The film also lacks a cinematic visual flair, resembling a mid-’80s movie-of-the-week more than anything else. Honestly, looking like a movie-of-the-week has become a trademark of lazy film comedies for over a decade, but Grilled wants to be more than a lazy film comedy. It largely succeeds, but that’s not strictly a result of the directing.

Overall, Grilled is a bit of a pleasant surprise. It’s not a transcendent film experience, but it does give Romano and James a Punch Drunk Love moment to prove they can be more than sitcom actors. The fact that they both pull it off is less surprising than the fact that the film went direct-to-DVD. Two pretty big stars in a very funny, pitch-black comedy? Nobody wanted to take a chance on that theatrically? Alas, it has found its way into semi-permanent rotation on Comedy Central. Check it out there, or watch it instantly on Netflix. Even if you think you don’t like Romano or James, this movie might change your mind.

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Triage (2009)

I guess I can see why Triage went direct-to-DVD. It’s a very good film, but it’s relentlessly dour and unpleasant. As has been typical of Colin Farrell’s choices over the past few years, he’s challenging himself by playing a difficult character in a difficult film that I found difficult to watch. Still, it’s a lot less oppressive and self-conscious than something like 21 Grams, so shuffling it off to DVD seems like kind of a cruel punishment for a film that’s significantly more passionate than that exercise in ACTING.

Farrell plays Mark Walsh, a cynical photojournalist documenting the Iraqis’ anti-Kurdish attacks in 1988 Kurdistan. His best friend, David (Jamie Sives), has accompanied him, and they’re both a bit shocked at the medical treatment there. Among other things, the triage doctor (Branko Djuric) shoots those he can’t save. Mercy killings, but it’s still very disturbing. David abandons Mark to get home in time for the birth of his first child, and Mark is seriously injured in a mortar attack. He’s taken to the Kurdish triage unit, and it’s only luck that keeps them from mercy-killing him. Although severely battered, he has no serious bone fractures. As Mark recuperates, he begins to develop an understanding of the doctor’s methods. This does not stop him from selling his story as soon as he returns to Dublin.

Once he’s home in Dublin, Mark finds a new set of problems. His lover, Elena (Paz Vega), finds him cold and distant, but she doesn’t know why. He tells her his injuries came from a nasty fall into a river. Also, a knee injury seems to debilitate him despite the lack of any physical reason for it to worsen. Before long, a doctor finds a piece of shrapnel stuck in his brain, and Elena realizes Mark must have lied about how he got his injuries. A neurologist informs her that Mark may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that may be causing his psychosomatic leg problems. Elena brings her psychiatrist father, Joaquín Morales (Christopher Lee), from Spain to treat Mark. She and Joaquin have a contentious relationship—he was responsible for treating soldiers under Franco’s regime, which in her mind makes him a traitor to Spain.

The central question of the film is: What happened to David? He left before Mark, but he never made it back to Dublin. His wife, Diane (Kelly Reilly), is deeply concerned, and Mark’s shady behavior makes everyone around him think he’s hiding something. Is he, or is he just suffering as a result of his injuries? The answer to the question isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s not exactly meant to be, either. Like a less histrionic Salvador, the film is meant to be a brooding, gut-wrenching examination of a photojournalist in wartime. It succeeds, thanks in large part to Farrell’s quietly fierce performance and Lee’s smugly pedantic take on Joaquín.

Writer/director Danis Tanović first made a name for himself with the phenomenal 2001 film No Man’s Land. Triage sometimes shares that film’s dark humor, but mostly Tanović keeps the tone grim and uncomfortable. It may not be easy to watch, but it matches Mark’s dire outlook on things.

If nothing else, Triage deserved a small theatrical run to give it some exposure to critics and/or awards committees. Instead, it’s a forgotten film that will have a hard time developing a cult audience because, frankly, cult audiences tend not to flock to brutal wartime character studies. Still, it’s well worth checking out on DVD if you’re the type to respond to this sort of film.

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The Winning Season (2010)

Sometimes I can understand why a movie gets buried with a quiet direct-to-video release. Relentless corporate satire and explicitly, repeatedly calling “Joe Sixpack” a society-destroying idiot naturally led to Idiocracy‘s sad fate. The David Schwimmer/Simon Pegg vehicle Big Nothing is a very funny, pitch-black comedy about hateful people doing awful things for selfish reasons, which makes it a tough sell for the large segment of people who can’t find the humor in their actions. This doesn’t mean I agree with the decision to bury a handful of gems in order to make room for Shrek 3D, but I get it. Distributing a movie theatrically is still a costly endeavor with a number of pitfalls (topping the list: an unwillingness of theatre chains to exhibit the movie you’re peddling), so if it’s a tough-sell, you might as well try to recoup your earnings on DVD.

Try as I might, I can’t see the logic in The Winning Season heading to DVD after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “theatrical run” for awards consideration. A funny, dark-edged sports comedy featuring Sam Rockwell as a cantankerous alcoholic coach and a plethora of rising stars (Emma Roberts, Emily Rios, Rooney Mara, Shareeka Epps) and comedy ringers (Rob Corddry, Margo Martindale). In a world where trailers frequently mislead audiences into thinking they’re seeing one thing (a good movie) when they’re seeing another (a shitty movie), how could they not cut a trailer making this look like an innocuous teen comedy along the lines of the execrable Easy A? There’s nothing wrong with tricking people into seeing a better movie than the one they think they’re seeing. That’s what Whip It did. Although nobody saw it—but that’s different. People actually like basketball.

Rockwell plays Bill, who we first meet as he finishes off a half-glass of warm beer and a plate of leftover cheese sticks while bussing tables at a family-style eatery in rural Indiana. His old friend, Terry (Rob Corddry), has tracked him down. He’s the principal at Plainview High, their alma mater, and he remembers Bill as the star player on their varsity basketball team. He wants Bill to coach the girls’ team. Bill protests, noting that girls hate him. He’s not wrong. For reasons only explained by his present behavior, Bill’s ex-wife (Jessica Hecht) openly disdains him. Their teenage daughter, Molly (Shana Dowdeswell), follows suit. They see him as he really is: an alcoholic loser clinging to youthful glory and willful ignorance instead of growing up and getting his act together.

Terry refuses to take no for an answer, convincing Bill he has assembled a strong team in need of a winner like him to guide them to the state championships. Bill finally agrees, quitting his job on the spot and stealing a framed photo of Bobby Knight surrounded by restaurant kitsch. The following day, he meets the team, a group of disinterested girls who barely know how to dribble. With the exception of Kathy (Rios)—a phenom ostracized by the others more because of her Mexican heritage than her enviable skills—the girls have joined the basketball team to avoid going home. They’d rather send text messages or do homework than play.

Bill won’t stand for this. He tries to quit in disgust a handful of times, but Terry convinces him to stay on despite his growing impatience (“I told you, girls hate me!” “It’s not just girls.”). His precarious financial situation and Terry’s misguided faith leaves Bill with no choice but to mold these girls into a halfway decent team. After their first, comically devastating loss, the girls realize they’d rather be part of a winning team than a losing one. The combination of Bill’s motivating tactics—which, frankly, aren’t dissimilar from most high school coaches, despite his abrasive, foul-mouthed demeanor—and the girls’ desires to improve cause the team to slowly go from extreme losers to competitive losers to actual winners.

At its heart, though, The Winning Season is hardly a sports movie. It’s a film about a loser trying to earn the respect of his disapproving daughter. He doesn’t earn it by teaching her basketball, or even really having anything to do with her. In fact, when he forces the custody issue one weekend, she runs away from him—not to party with friends, but to go back home, where she wants to be. This devastates Bill and sends him on an alcoholic binge, which not surprisingly has a detrimental effect on his coaching. All he wants in life is for Molly to like him, but he’s a drunk and kind of a bad person. He doesn’t care about anything or anyone, and his alcoholism causes him to alienate the one person he wishes he cared about.

Through his coaching—she plays basketball at a rival school—Molly sees the shades of Bill that we get to see. Instead of seeing him as a drunken monster (which, at his worst, he is), she starts to see him as a deeply flawed person with a few redeeming qualities. Bill, meanwhile, starts to care about the girls on his team as people and becomes an unlikely source of fatherly advice. This slow, subtle transformation never feels like a sentimental cheat. Writer/director James C. Strouse lets the characters and relationships develop naturally, and also allows Bill to give horrible advice when asked. He’s clueless, but eventually everyone comes to realize his heart is in the right place, which is maybe more important than his brain being in the right place.

Another enormous strength of The Winning Season is its focus on the players. Lesser sports movies—of which there are many—wouldn’t take the time to make the girls into anything more than stereotypes. With a few exceptions (like Mindy, the girl on crutches who can only stand on the sidelines, smiling), Strouse gives them each well-defined, complicated personalities that mostly defy expectations. He also never forgets they’re girls trying to navigate the difficult social strata known as high school, entering uneasy relationships with obnoxious boys, coming into their own as people (instead of merely parroting what they hear from their parents, as Lisa (Epps) starts the film doing), and turning to the basketball court as a comforting place where they can work together with people who care about them.

Strouse understands the sports genre and the teen genre well enough to subtly deconstruct them and make the characters in The Winning Season feel like real people living real lives, rather than caricatures following an easy formula. Nothing about The Winning Season is easy for anyone, but the fact that Strouse makes their difficulties so funny and engaging makes the film more rewarding than pretty much any other comedy that has come out this year.

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Messages Deleted (2009)

With more ambition, Messages Deleted could have been a great thriller variation on the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman collaboration Adaptation. The title and DVD box art give the impression that this will be a thriller in the vein of two other Larry Cohen scripts: Phone Booth and Cellular. It’s actually a thriller about a failed screenwriter embroiled in a murder mystery whose victims are right out of his only sold (but unproduced) screenplay, and it spends a lot of time talking about the conventions of movies without really twisting or defying them. Merely acknowledging clichés doesn’t automatically overcome them.

Matthew Lillard plays the screenwriter, Joel Brandt, as sort of an angry Woody Allen. He works as a screenwriting professor at an urban art school, where he’s highly critical of his students despite his own lack of success. One day, he comes home from work to discover a message on his answering machine—a haggard, fearful voice imploring him to help, saying he doesn’t know Joel, but his captor told him to call. Joel thinks it’s a prank from his best buddy, Adam (Michael Eklund), but Adam has no idea what he’s talking about. Joel shrugs it off, until he learns of the caller’s murder. He comes forward about the message to the two detectives on the case, Lavery (Deborah Kara Unger) and Breedlove (Serge Houde), but he realizes he erased his answering machine, thinking it was a prank.

The detectives are immediately suspicious, and their suspicions seem confirmed when Joel gets another message from another victim. Innocently trying to help, it never occurs to him that Lavery and Breedlove think of him as a suspect—until they drag him in for questioning. Left with no choice but to clear his name, Joel starts investigating on his own. He realizes the choice of victims has come from his script, Senseless Killings, but that doesn’t limit the suspects—it was read all over Hollywood. For reasons unknown to him, someone’s reenacting the script and trying to pin it on Joel.

The idea of a writer whose work seemingly comes to life is nothing new, but if exploited properly, Messages Deleted could have been a fun, effective deconstruction of not just thrillers but cinematic conventions in general—something akin to Scream, the franchise that briefly catapulted Lillard into stardom, but a little more cerebral and strange. At times, it seems like producer/director Rob Cowan wants to toe the line between fantasy and reality—is Joel a screenwriter, or a character in someone’s screenplay?—but he never goes all the way with the idea, forcing the film into standard thriller territory. Every twist and turn—from the decoy suspect to the actual killer to the detectives’ bordering-on-comical distrust of Joel—is conventional in every conceivable way.

Some entertainment value can be derived from the detectives’ misanthropic view of a failed screenwriter-turned-killer. Breedlove speculates on Joel’s obvious motive: “Another psychotic screenwriter who got rejected.” Unfortunately, the comedy value of Lavery and Breedlove is purely unintentional, so they don’t enliven the film as much as they should. Much of it boils down to the relationship between Joel and his kiss-ass student, Millie (Gina Holden). Before long, Millie is the only person left to turn to, but if you think she’s trustworthy—well, then, maybe this movie will surprise you.

I don’t know what I expected out of Messages Deleted, but I wanted more than a substandard thriller with a usually decent cast putting forth only enough effort to earn their paychecks. Cowan and Cohen waste a great premise on a ho-hum film.

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Edison Force [a.k.a. Edison] (2006)

As a critic, watching Edison Force is the equivalent to having an out-of-body experience. The critic in me hovers at a distance, knowing I shouldn’t recommend a film with such a silly plot and such over-the-top violence. By most reasonable metrics, it’s a bad film: characters crippled by clichés, a story that simultaneously indicts fascist police states and fetishizes the violence such states breed, a pat (yet exceptionally violent) conclusion, and Kevin Spacey in a laughable hairpiece. Something about it just works, though, so even as the critic part of me rolled its eyes, the rest of me sat on the edge of my seat, hoping everything would work out for the characters. This despite the fact that I knew where the plot was headed after the second scene, and I knew the film wouldn’t have the balls to go for a tragic ending.

Pollack (Justin Timberlake) and Deed (LL Cool J) act as our entry points into this world. Pollack is a young, idealistic journalist who doesn’t work hard enough to please his tough-as-nails editor, Moses Ashford (Morgan Freeman), who fires Pollack for finding a good story that’s mostly conjecture. The story: that Deed lied to a grand jury to protect a crack dealer (Damien Dante Wayans), who also lied to the grand jury about what actually happened during a gun battle between his dealer pals and two members of the First Response Assault & Tactical (FRAT) team, one of them being Deed.

Pollack doesn’t know two things: that his story is true, and that Deed is merely the Ethan Hawke to his partner’s Denzel Washington. Lazerov (Dylan McDermott) is a homicidal maniac prone to fits of rage, all bloodshot eyes and blotchy skin. He’s not right in the head, but FRAT’s okay with that. Like the Parallax Corporation, they specifically recruit shiftless psychos for what amounts to a private army funded by private corporations and overseen by corrupt politicians, including D.A. Reigert (Cary Elwes) and FRAT commander Tilman (John Heard).

Wallace (Kevin Spacey) works for Reigert and is complicit in the FRAT scandal without liking it much. A former investigative journalist, he’s become a cog in a broken machine and feels powerless to fix it. So does Ashford, a Pulitzer winner reduced to running a neighborhood paper because, as he puts it, “I was never known for making the smart move.” Ashford sees potential in Pollack and wants to browbeat him into becoming the sort of journalist he used to be. When Lazerov corners Pollack and his girlfriend (Piper Perabo) in an alley and beats both of them to a bloody pulp (putting her in a coma), Pollack doesn’t need browbeating—he knows he’s on the right track, and he wants to take FRAT down. Wallace, an old friend of Ashford’s, sees the opportunity to shed light on the scandal ruining his city. The three form an awkward alliance, but they’re missing a piece of the puzzle: someone on the inside who can get them real insight into how FRAT literally gets away with murder.

That’s where Deed comes in. Nobody ever explains why FRAT would take him, but he’s different from the others. Most FRAT candidates had mile-long rap sheets before joining the military or the police force. Nobody in FRAT has ever been married or had a close relationship with anyone. Deed is different. He sees the police force as just a job, a way station to earn money while he learns a trade and can work for himself. He’s also engaged to Maria (Roselyn Sanchez). They realize he’s their best shot at learning more about FRAT, but he’s naturally reluctant. The stakes continue to get higher and higher, betrayals and new alliances surface, and the whole thing descends into a surprisingly satisfying orgy of violence that prominently features a flamethrower.

The problem, if one can call it that, is that Edison Force is not mindlessly entertaining enough to work as popcorn fodder. Despite its absurdity, it’s not really a fun film. Writer/director David J. Burke is intent on tackling a serious issue in a serious way, and he constructs a solid thriller with spare parts left over from numerous other films. Part of me wants to criticize him for that, but he puts together those old parts and makes a slick, economical film about problems endemic to big cities that are worth exploring, even if they’re explored in a way that involves graphic depictions of men getting pulverized by heavy, metal objects.

Despite the worthy subject matter, the film lacks the bravery of its own characters. Midway through the movie, Ashford explains that the rights of the press are protected in the Constitution specifically because they are obligated to speak out against what’s happening in their city—tyranny. Granted, Edison Force is not a documentary and Burke is not a member of the press, but he sets the film in the fictional city of Edison, populated by fake corporations and a fake political hierarchy. He doesn’t even call the SWAT team by its rightful name, and although I imagine a lot of that has to do with libel laws, it lacks the verisimilitude of something like The Wire, which takes on identical subject matter using a real city’s real problems. I’m sure it’s unfair to compare this film to The Wire, but it’s hard not to when it tries to tackle many of the same issues.

Early in the film, Ashford also admonishes Pollack for not getting the other side of the story—FRAT’s point of view. The film does a similar disservice, portraying all the politicians and police (except Deed) as unrepentantly corrupt without digging into how things in Edison got that way. A few throwaway lines pay lip service to the idea that FRAT dramatically reduced crime in the city, partly by solving crimes but mostly by scaring the shit out of criminals, but the film never dives into that moral gray area. It never considers the notion that an illegal police state might indeed come from a place of misguided but hopeful idealism instead of cynical corruption. It’s a small problem of hypocrisy, but the film still worked for me in spite of that.

Maybe it all goes back to casting. With the possible exception of Timberlake in the lead, everyone here does outstanding work. It’s easy to think that a bunch of stars in a direct-to-video film would be phoning it in and giving career-worst performances, but everyone—including Perabo in a tiny, tiny role—seems remarkably committed to their characters. Even Heard, McDermott, and Elwes try to give their characters shades of gray not present in the script, which perhaps enhances what could have been stock villain roles. Timberlake himself isn’t bad, but this was his first lead role and it sort of shows. While the other cast members disappear into their roles, Timberlake never lets go of the feeling that he’s ACTING instead of embodying Pollack.

If this review seems wishy-washy, it’s because I have some reservations about a movie I can objectively recognize as a failure. Emotionally, though—it worked for me. It’s not a revelatory experience, but the film absorbed me quickly and held my attention throughout. When I reached the end, I didn’t feel let down or annoyed. Doesn’t that qualify it as a success?

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