Here’s a look at three randomly assembled flicks, though what they have in common is that they are meant to thrill. Think of it as a buy-two-get-one-free “thrill me” deal. I got to see all three this weekend: The Crazies (2010), Legion (2010), and Whiteout (2009). Each has its exhilarating moments, to be sure … but do these sustain each movie as a whole?

The Crazies

This remake of a 1973 George Romero movie of the same name starts out promisingly. The plot develops quickly, from one alleged drunk shot on a baseball field to another loon setting his house on fire—with his wife and son inside—and soon we’re looking at a full-blown epidemic. But all too soon it becomes muddled and disconnected. Are the bad guys the zombie-like maniacs that our heroes were trying to get away from, or are the real villains the government stooges trying to contain what they caused? There are some interesting scenes, but mostly the film is pretty predictable. I felt like I’d seen it before, and I don’t just mean the Romero version. It’s just very similar to many Romero films and plenty of other contagion and zombie movies.

Though the fast pace seemed like a good thing (after all, it’s supposed to thrill, right?), it turned out to be a shortcoming. We don’t get to know the townspeople enough to care that they are exposed to something deadly and then slated for “containment.” One of the pivotal relationships in the movie is supposed to be that of the sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) and his doctor wife (Radha Mitchell), but the pair has no real chemistry, so you don’t really care about them or their interrupted lives. The most likable character is the offbeat deputy (Joe Anderson). The ending has a nice little twist (which, if you read it as I did, makes you like the lead couple even less) but, again, is too predictable to be truly remarkable.  C

Legion

I had some hopes for this one because the trailers made it look darkly atmospheric and packed with stylized action—and of course I’ve been all into the angel apocalypse concept lately. Unfortunately, what it’s packed with is a bunch of real stretches and frustrating dead ends. The cast is terrific. I’m especially a fan of Paul Bettany, who plays Michael, and have always loved Dennis Quaid (yes, even in spite of his recent odd film choices) and Charles Dutton. Lord knows that they, and the rest of the cast, did what they could. But I truly believe that no cast could have overcome the absolutely atrocious script filled with bridges to nowhere.

What the heck are “bridges to nowhere,” you ask. Well, when I was living in Arizona a few years ago, a freeway project had been started and overpass bridges built. Then there was a holdup and these bridges to nowhere sat there for years. I passed them daily and starting thinking of them as a fine metaphor for all things that are meant to be meaningful but in reality are nonsensical. Such are the many sour notes of Legion. We get tidbits of back-story about characters that end up never being used in any way whatsoever. We have no idea why this baby is so important or who/what he’ll grow up to be. We have no clue about what these directions are that Jeep (Lucas Black) is supposed to read, how he’s going to learn to read them, or why they appear when they do. On top of that, people behave in irrational and unbelievable ways: Bob (Quaid) gets drunk when and falls asleep when everyone he loves is in danger; Audrey (Willa Holland) cares that her mother (Kate Walsh) is being bitchy but never even reacts to her father being brutally murdered; and Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) is on her feet and back in action moments after giving birth. And finally, like most of these angel apocalypse tales, it plays fast and loose with biblical mythology about the archangels’ roles.  The redeeming qualities that make this movie worth watching are, as mentioned, a terrific cast, along with some super special effects that are fun to watch.  D+

Whiteout

Save for a few nagging incongruities, I enjoyed this riveting mystery. The setup (a Russian plane crashing in the Antarctic in 1957 with a mysterious locker aboard) is intriguing and the unforgiving setting becomes a fascinating additional character. I agree with some of the critics that Kate Beckinsale may not have been the best choice for the Marshall Carrie Stetko.  She’s gorgeous, but she didn’t display the depth here of someone as haunted as Stetko is meant to be.

What doesn’t work in this film is that there too few characters developed enough to give a wide field of possible suspects. Hence, the complaints of many viewers that the mystery is too easy to figure out. There are some real disconnects in the realism as well. With the brutal environment being such a pivotal force, there should have been closer attention paid to characters wearing the right clothing, covering their faces, and so on. Finally, all the flashbacks of how Stetko became emotionally bruised are annoyingly overdone. And what’s with the opening shower scene? (Granted, I might not be complaining about that had the person showering been Alex O’Loughlin. *grin*)

What does work is that the story of whatever was on the plane carries a few twists that are fun to follow, if not figure out. The way that Stetko gets to the bottom of it is not fat-fetched, as it can be on some mystery films. The unforgiving environment plays a real role in what happens and why.  Those characters who don’t survive don’t survive to the end credits are killed off in some cleverly grotesque ways (naturally, this is a perk only for those of us who get a kick out of our movie gore and violence). Lastly, Gabriel Macht skillfully walks the line that makes us wonder whether his character is trustworthy. This movie is not brave new material, but it is thrilling to watch.  B-

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