Rating: The Ugly – 66.5 Genre: Action Duration: 112 mins Director: Renny Harlin Stars: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker
A truly awful screenplay meets some of the hammiest acting straight on in this entertaining action romp about a group of mercenaries who co-opt a couple of mountain climbers into their attempt to locate briefcases full of money lost in a mountain wilderness. John Lithgow adds yet another impossibly over the top turn to his catalogue as the merciless leader of the bad guys, Stallone is actually a little better than usual as the burly yet modest climbing expert, Michael Rooker offers sound presence to the mix but Janine Turner is much too bland to matter. Where Cliffhanger succeeds is in giving us a veritable kaleidoscope of nastiness in the bad guy department. From Rex Linn’s crooked treasury agent and 24 carat asshole to Caroline Goodall’s murderous vixen and with a couple/three very punchable faces thrown in between, these guys are the best bunch of venom spitting henchmen since Die Hard. Alas, without much of a script to harness the interesting personalities which the actors bring to the party, that’s all they remain and whatever fun there is to be had, is at watching these world class bastards get their well deserved comeuppances.
Rating: The Good – 69.7 Genre: Horror Duration: 103 mins Director: James Gunn Screenplay: James Gunn Stars: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker
A thoroughly enjoyable creature- feature with the always likable Nathan Fillion in fine form as the sheriff of a small town that has been invaded by alien parasites that take possession of their human hosts. Sound familiar? Of course, but that’s not the point. This is escapism at its best so just sit back and enjoy the smart script, the many funny moments, the outrageous special effects, and the various nods to great sci-fi classics.
Rating: The Good – 66.4 Genre: Crime Duration: 97 mins Director: Michael Mann Stars: Scott Plank, Alex McArthur, Michael Rooker
Michael Mann’s TV-movie dry run for Heat is in its own right a thrilling and edgy crime thriller that is sufficiently different to warrant an independent viewing and appreciation. The story is identical in that we have a crack cop and a master thief attempting to outfox each other on the streets of LA while developing a mutual appreciation for each other’s expertise. However, though far leaner and with fewer subplots, the script is burning with Mann’s trademark über-slick dialogue much of which never made it into the remake even though it further elucidates several key sequences. It’s clear Mann axed this surplus dialogue to make room for Heat’s meaty subplots concerning Pacino’s private life and Kilmer’s gambling problems because most of it is just too damn cool to cut for aesthetic purposes. Yes, some of it is slightly overcooked but the same criticism can been levelled at Heat. Heat of course had better actors to compensate and reign it in when needed.
The acting in L.A. Takedown drags the movie down for a number of reasons. Firstly because some of the actors just weren’t up to it, secondly because some characters, important though they were to the story, hadn’t enough screen time to develop (such as Daniel Baldwin and Michael Rooker’s detectives), and thirdly because Mann didn’t seem to know what to do with certain characters just yet (Xander Berkeley’s “Waingro” being the best example of that). That goes for everyone except the two main players who, while never as good as Pacino and De Niro, were great bang for their buck and gave their characters a unique charisma. Alex McArthur is intense (in a role De Niro seemed to define with his ice cold interpretation) and he carries Mann’s words with a compelling conviction. If anything Scott Plank is even more comfortable with Mann’s crime dialect and he adds a modest but effective presence to the film.
From a technical point of view, the film suffers from the types of shoestring budgets typical to TV movies but even still, Mann’s style shines through its production limitations with some striking visuals sprinkled throughout and that commanding holism which the director has always brought to his projects. The action sequences are naturally smaller in scale than the kinetic masterpieces served up in Heat, but their substantially different choreography gives us yet another reason to see this movie in addition to Heat.
The reputation of L.A. Takedown has always suffered under the heavy weight of its comparisons with Heat and it’s very likely that if Heat didn’t exist, L.A. Takedown would have been a sure fire cult hit. But the later film does not negate the relevance of this curious little project. Fans of Mann in particular and film-making in general will get to see how Mann honed many of the techniques and styles he used in Heat and indeed in his later films while fans of terrifically original crime dramas will get a slightly different take on one of the greatest crime thrillers of them all.