On Radio 3 today I discussed Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie, the third feature from the promising South African science fiction director, who shot to fame with his startling, Oscar-nominated debut District 9. I also say a few words about Bennett Miller’s rather excellent Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.
Roland Emmerich’s take on the “Die Hard in the White House” action set-up that was visited earlier this year in Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, is a far bigger, louder and more ludicrous affair. Channing Tatum plays the wannabe Secret Service agent who finds himself – along with his tech-savvy teenage daughter – trapped in the White House just s it’s taken over by some very angry terrorists. Soon enough he has teamed up with young, hands-on Prez Jamie Foxx and the film becomes a buddy action comedy as they attempt to foil the plan and restore order to the capital.
The scale here is far grander, with rocket launchers, car chases on the front lawn and an escalated level of destruction that sees the Capitol Building levelled (this is Emmerich after all), while the threat here proves a domestic rather than foreign one when all is eventually revealed. It’s all rather ridiculous, however, and tries too hard to be knowing, ironic and self-effacing, rather than knuckling down and simply embracing its B Movie genre identity.
For what is purported to be his final theatrical release, director Steven Soderbergh goes for a pulpy trashy thriller rather than anything too highbrow. Rooney Mara plays a troubled young wife whose dependancy on prescription medication has increasingly violent consequences. Channing Tatum plays her recently released husband, whose white collar crimes saw him incarcerated. Jude Law is the psychiatrist caught up in the case, while Catherine Zeta Jones’ high profile shrink is also pulled into this increasingly noirish thriller.
Some people have really taken against the genre-indebted nature of the film, but much like how Danny Boyle refused to go high brow with his latest film, Trance, Soderbergh is clearly out to have fun, and his cast duly delivers. Whether this proves to be Soderbergh’s directorial swan song remains to be seen (his subsequent TV movie Behind the Candelabra has been getting theatrical releases around the world), this should be taken as a playful wink rather than a final bow.
The first G.I. Joe film proved a shamelessly enjoyable piece of throwaway action nonsense, in large part thanks to the playful team dynamic and the fact nobody was expecting anything from the film at all. Jon Chu’s sequel was originally due for release last summer, only to be pulled at the last minute and post-converted into 3D. Rumours abound that the producers also wanted to renege on their decision to kill off Duke, as actor Channing Tatum had in the interim become a major box office draw.
However, for the most part this proves not to be the case. Duke does still buy it in the opening act, leaving Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock to lead the G.I. Joes in retaliation, after the President (Jonathan Pryce) is abducted and the team is all but wiped out by Cobra agents. Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun returns in a bigger, more heroic role than before, while none other than Bruce Willis turns up – as the originial “Joe” – to help bolster some star power and see off the bad guys.
What has changed most is how the team has evolved from being top secret supersoldiers somewhat reminiscent of the X-Men, to nothing more than a goofy Special Forces unit. There are a few impressive action sequences – most notably a cliff-face repelling ecape/chase that was widely screened as a tease ahead of the film’s release, but for the most part this feels forced, dated and incredibly dumb.