This Week's New Releases
dir. Olivier Assayas
A baffling movie that aspires to the condition of "sexy thriller," Boarding Gate, by French director Olivier Assayas, is all about chicks and guns and a bleak, Michel Houellebecqian eroticism that looks like fluorescent lights and smells like the recycled, slightly mildewed air of an anonymous hotel room. Its sole keyword entry on imdb.com is "Italian woman."
Asia Argento stars as Sandra, a chick-avec-gun whose hobbies include fucking some guy or getting ready to fuck some guy or fleeing the fuckers she's just fucked (Sandra is all about toxic relationships). One of her lovers, an American businessman, pimps her out to visiting competitors, hoping she'll hump corporate secrets out of them. Another lover, a Hong Kong businessman named Lester Wang, agrees to help her murder the first lover, then split the money (what money, exactly, is never clear) and meet in Hong Kong.
Things go wrong, as they must. Upon her arrival in Hong Kong, Sandra discovers a dead friend, is kidnapped, escapes, runs across rooftops, is roofied, and does a little more running (breasts always flopping, thong always riding high) for good measure.
The film lurches between low-level action sequences and bleak eroticism, all for the sake of admiring, and pitying, Argento's sad beauty. Argento is sad and beautiful, even if she chews through her lines like she's just come out of her dentist's office and the Novocain hasn't worn off yet. But her character doesn't make any sense: Does she want these men or simply use them? Why does she kill so casually but suffer such remorse? Can't she—a seductress and veteran of the drug trade—think of a better way to raise money than killing the man she used to love? Boarding Gate doesn't fuss with reasons. Sandra is a cipher, struggling through an ominous web of her own devising, programmed to arouse everything except our curiosity. BRENDAN KILEY
dir. Michael Radford
When it comes to managing expectations, it's obviously a stupid idea to title your movie Flawless, even if it is about a diamond heist. (Whoever chose the title could learn a little something from The Bank Job, released a few weeks ago.) Flawless is, unsurprisingly, not without its flaws. It still functions, but it's nothing to brag about.
Demi Moore plays Laura Quinn, a negotiator at the London Diamond Corporation in the early 1960s. (She's also an American, educated at Oxford—one gets the feeling this detail was inserted after she failed to approximate a British accent, since it serves no other purpose.) Miss Quinn is talented: She speaks Russian well enough to charm visiting Soviet emissaries; she grasps the social turmoil in places where diamonds are mined. But she is a woman, and so her bosses (including the delightful Joss Ackland) resent the very skills that make her valuable. She's passed over for a promotion she clearly deserves. Conveniently, a brilliant idea of hers becomes a pretext for her firing (no one who is not upper-level management must know what LonDi is up to!) and also conveniently, a janitor named Hobbs (Michael Caine) learns of her fate. Expertly manipulating her outrage, Hobbs confides that he knows how to swipe a thermosful of diamonds. But he needs Miss Quinn's assistance.
The heist itself is sufficiently entertaining, if overly dependent on a security guard with a penchant for hardboiled eggs. But Moore comes off as dulled by the injustices visited upon her character, not inflamed by them. Caine, for his part, seems bored playing a role he's played so many times before, and the motivations assigned his character are downright ornate. And the buildup and subsequent investigation are as dry as they are meticulous. The central flaw in Flawless isn't in failing to provide its characters with backstories. Plenty of heist films have gotten away with much flimsier motives. But giving the thieves social grievances serves only to undermine their greed—the one motive we can all understand. ANNIE WAGNER
Run Fatboy Run
dir. David Schwimmer
Five years ago, Dennis (Simon Pegg) jilted his very pregnant girlfriend Libby (Thandie Newton) in a fit of panic. Now he works as a lowly security guard at a London boutique, spending his days chasing down panty pilferers and his nights pining for the woman he left behind. Owing back rent on his bleak basement apartment and constantly late for scheduled visits with his son, Dennis needs a major jolt to get his life together—a jolt Libby's new marathon-running boyfriend (Hank Azaria) handily provides.
With pedestrian direction by David Schwimmer (yes, that David Schwimmer), Run Fatboy Run works best when all focus is on Pegg, whose inspired twitchings and dashes of exasperated mania are responsible for the bulk of the movie's highs. But the script (which Pegg cowrote with Michael Ian Black) is an unfortunate mess, veering wildly between slapstick and grating sentimentality. Subplots are introduced and then left to drift; character arcs are far too rushed and convenient—it's cinema schizophrenia, with every moment of lunacy diluted by a yank at the heartstrings. And while the performances are fine (though Newton's freaky lack of facial pores is distracting; next to her, everyone looks like Manuel Noriega), most of the characters are nothing more than setup men for the predictably schmaltzy climax. There's a decent comedy somewhere inside Run Fatboy Run, but you have to wade through overwhelming saccharine to find it. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
dir. Kimberly Peirce
After nearly a decade of nothing, Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) returns with Stop-Loss, a film about the endless war in Iraq. At the center of the mediocre movie is soldier Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), who returns home a decorated war hero. Brandon not only returns home, he returns to a small town in Texas. In short, Brandon, as an American citizen in the age of W., has done everything right. He is from Texas; he joined the army to fight terrorism; and he risked his life to protect his country. Now he wants to relax, deal with a few emotional problems, and adjust to a life that is quiet and normal. But the government will have none of that. He's a good soldier and they want him back in Baghdad fighting the endless war against terror.
To make him return, the army authorizes a "stop loss" injunction. Brandon knows this injunction is wrong, refuses to return to Iraq, and becomes a fugitive. While underground, he discovers that there's no support for those who want to challenge the state, its determinations, its wars, or its injunctions. The entire infrastructure for leftist resistance has been decimated. In the postliberal age, the age of W., black Americans, once at the frontline of the fight for human rights, are a broken people; cosmopolitan Jewish lawyers are morally bankrupt; and life in Canada presents nothing but a hornet's nest of uncertainties. Even the American family is powerless. Antigone (the family) can only offer Creon (the state) a dumb look, a yelp, and a groan. With nothing to back him, Brandon is trapped in a situation that has only one solution. Stop-Loss is an obituary of America's leftist spirit. CHARLES MUDEDE
dir. Robert Luketic
Based on Ben Mezrich's decent nonfiction book Bringing Down the House—wherein a group of MIT students turn their math skills to counting cards in Vegas—21 is a headache of a movie where every camera movement is overbaked and every turn of a card is accompanied by an unnecessary sound edit.
Blank-faced Jim Sturgess stars as Ben Campbell, a big brain on campus whose path to Harvard Medical School is blocked by the obscene amount of cash needed to make tuition. Nerdy even by MIT's standards, Ben falls in with a group of math whizzes led by one of his professors (Kevin Spacey). Promises of easy cash are made, Ben's longtime crush Jill (Kate Bosworth) sweetens the pot, and soon Ben is winging to Vegas on weekends, where the group's secret signals and ability to crunch numbers prove a windfall—until a near-obsolete security expert (Laurence Fishburne) lands on their trail.
With its army of vacant pretty faces (Bosworth may as well have been replaced by a cardboard cutout), 21 begins as a celebration of intelligence and ends as an impressive display of cinematic stupidity. Director Robert Luketic (Monster-in-Law) shows little restraint, pummeling the audience with a barrage of film-school weapons in service of a story that has been completely rinsed of nuance. The gambling scenes are unbelievable, the third-act twist entirely predictable, and if not for a whacked threat made by Fishburne ("First I'm going to break your cheekbone with a small hammer... and then I will kill you") there would be nothing at all to recommend. BRADLEY STEINBACHER