Tag Archives: stupid movies

Self-Inflicted Stupidity

As I wrote before, I like stupid action movies. But they must be cohesive, not just as cinema (which takes out Michael Bay) but as a physical and ethical place. This is where Wanted disappoints.

It starts out very well, setting the rules of a superhuman universe, and then introducing our main character, another narrator from Fight Club, whose Tyler Durden super-ego is a leading super assassin. His father was a member of a band of elite killers, an ancient clan of assassins. The targets for this merry band are written in the weft and weave of the fabrics from a magical loom, The Weaver of Fate. In ASCII, like magical punch cards. Like I said, stupid, and unfortunately the movie tries to reach Matrix heights of mumbo-jumbo by having a black leader, Morgan Freeman, speak in a sonorous voice, reciting the history and meaning of the fraternity.

Neglecting the fact that this loom wasn’t smart enough to pick out the names of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or any number of psychopathic dictators, this merry band of highly-tuned killers has kept balance in the world by following its code, killing only those who deserve it. Without that code they are merely hired mercenaries.

So blah blah blah happens.

The director keeps the comic-book style coming, not quite maintaining the heights of the opening sequence, but giving us gravity defying car chases as our meek Clark Kent becomes the assassin who bends bullets. He becomes a hunter who quickly believes that he is following a law far beyond human law—he has become an instrument of fate.

So blah blah blah happens.

Now, I’m fine with all of this, though it is stupider than the Transporter films. What gets me is near the end of the second act where our hero meets his nemesis, a rogue agent who supposedly killed his father in the kick-ass opening. Of course, the agent is his father and it was all a deceit (see, his name is Cross, and his son is another, so that’s a double-cross. Ha!).

The problem, though, is that it all happens on a train stuffed with people. Innocent people, whose names, I doubt, are part of some fantasy rug. They all die as the train is sacrificed for the spectacle. Naturally, of course, the train suddenly seems empty of bodies as it hurtles down, or maybe we are to suppose they all got out.

The problem is that the movie is inconsistent with its morality. It seeks to establish an honourable law (killing the one to protect the many, that lovely, logical, Star Trek code which Kirk just can’t abide) to justify murder, but then calmly forgets it all as the movie slaughters thousands in order to have a cinematic moment.

Like many, it seeks to have its cake and eat it, too. The Matrix films have this problem, as well. Morpheus and the rest want to free humanity, but in their quest to do so any cops or other authorities, and gloriously dispatched. And as we were plainly told, if you die in the Matrix, you really die. Sure, the cops and security guards were working for The Man (I always think of Robert Altman when I see him, which is somehow fitting), but they were actually trying to protect people. It’s not that their killing may not be justified in the Machiavellian sense; it’s that no one gives any thought to it. “Hey, we are killing a lot of people here? Is what we are doing right?”

We get far more discussion over these things on Battlestar Galactica (Apollo and the destruction of the ship, the whole season on the planet with the suicide bombers and all) and, thankfully, The Dark Knight (which I can’t get away from these days it seems).

Stupid movies should never try to be smart. They only end up shooting themselves.

Consistently Stupid

Back in Taipei, when I was spilling verbiage about movies, I was told I was a movie snob. I hate this since it implies I only like snooty art films with strange titles and/or languages. I simply like good movies, my usual response when someone asks what kind of movies I like.

It’s an unfair answer, but I have some criteria: that it isn’t grossly offensive without a point (leaving out Bad Boys II); it is consistent to itself; and that it doesn’t treat its audience like a bunch of idiots. I don’t want a deus ex machina plucking people out as an excuse of bad filmmaking. If it’s going to be stupid and unbelievable, make it so from the git go.

Included here are musicals (what, do you sing and tap dance all the time?), most of the great HK cinema from the 1980’s and early 90’s (Swordsman, Chinese Ghost Story, the Woo actioners, and, the great, great Bride with the White Hair), porn, The Fifth Element, and another which comes from the Besson stable of insane action, the Transporter movies, of which, I was tickled to find out, there is going to be a third. They all share an uncomplicated narrative structure with porn—spectacle linked by explication. And people don’t go to porn for the talky bits.

The ridiculous actions interspersed with perfunctory but serviceable dialogue is where the Transporter movies, particularly the second, shine. The second, is better because it has less dialogue, less shrieking Shu Qi–though it has more shrieking Matthew Modine— more supermodels in lingerie two-handing some bad-ass guns, and only a cursory nod to real-world physics like gravity. Statham is able to pull it all off with his laconic, stony demeanour because if someone else were to scream “yee ha” as removed a bomb from his car’s undercarriage by using the dangling hook of a construction crane, leaping and spinning the car just at the point of detonation (money shot), we wouldn’t buy it.

It is an unbelievably stupid movie. The director, Louis Leterrier (could it be a better name? Terriers, as Bruce McCulloch knows, are the best breed), is aware it’s a dumb movie and doesn’t pretend it’s anything else (which is why I have a decidedly jell-o-y spot for the Charlie’s Angels movies but may be due to Crispin Glover, Bill Murray, and Sam Rockwell), and you buy it, refusing to shout “jesus, there’s just no way he jumped his car through a cement wall to land on another building” or then ask yourself “wait, just how the f@ck does he get down, the stairs?”

It doesn’t matter. The kinetic energy is such that it plows right through such things. It’s a wormhole, jumping you past the plot holes that exist in our universe. Seijin Suzuki used the same ideas–though far more stylistically–in both Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. As long as the things don’t slow down and keep you entertained without insulting you, it’s fine. Suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing but it has its limits.