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Non-Review Review: Mile 22

Mile 22 is an intriguing and muddled piece of work.

Judged by the standards of contemporary filmmaking, Mile 22 is a deeply frustrating and disjointed piece of cinema. In some ways, it seems strange to describe it as a movie. It is a film with one of the most blatant and transparent sequel hooks in recent memory, cutting to the credits at what feels like the end of the second act. This sense of confusion and bewilderment is only increased by Berg’s direction of action sequences, which are disorienting to the point where they come close to incomprehensibility.

Wahl-to-Wahl action.

However, while these elements add up to an underwhelming cinematic experience, there is something strangely compelling in the way that Berg stitches together this relatively straightforward narrative. The chaos at the heart of the movie makes it hard to enjoy the action sequences, but offers an endearing frenetic energy that sustains the film. There are moments when Mile 22 borders on the self-aware, particularly as at careens towards a climax that seems to have been reverse-engineered from two separate Mark Wahlberg memes.

The results are baffling, but fun to pick at.

Picking up the pace.

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Non-Review Review: Escape Plan 2

Escape Plan was a rather disappointing exercise.

The first Escape Plan had a hell of a hook entirely separate to its central plot. Escape Plan brought together eighties action movie icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the first time as equals; not one cameoing in the other’s movie, not a sly wink or a nod, but as leads in an action movie together. This was the b-movie equivalent to Heat, an opportunity to watch two titans square off against one another inside the framework of a vaguely defined science-fiction b-movie. The results were underwhelming, the film feeling too late and self-indulgent.

Escapes and scowls.

Escape Plan 2 is just a bad movie.

Escape Plan 2 seems to assume that the appeal of the original Escape Plan was not in its combination of two iconic action stars collaborating as equals, instead suggesting that the audience for the original Escape Plan was really there for the reheated prison movie clichés that had been handled much better in other movies. And so Escape Plan 2 drops Schwarzenegger for an even more complicated escape from an even more complicated prison. This feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of what the audience wanted. An unsatisfying prison movie without the Stallone/Schwarzenegger team is just an unsatisfying prison movie.

It’s all going according to plan.

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Non-Review Review: The Commuter

The Commuter is the best Neeson Season movie since The Grey and the best movie about the financial crisis since The Big Short.

On paper, The Commuter is a mildly interesting premise that feels very much of a piece with the typical January awards-fare counter-programming. It is very much a high-concept action film that feels populated from a mad lib. [Liam Neeson/Bruce Willis/Gerard Butler] is a [former cop/current cop/law enforcement official] who finds himself embroiled in a race against time to [protect/rescue/expose/defeat] a [loved one/conspiracy].

McCauley took the instruction not to fire the gun inside the carriage a little… literally.

The Commuter is very much of piece with Liam Neeson’s other collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra; Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night. It is a movie about a weary protagonist embroiled in a situation beyond his control, the perfect fodder for a midweek movie to be enjoyed with a bucket of pop corn and a soft drink of choice. However, what elevated The Commuter above these earlier collaborations is similar to what elevated Collet-Serra’s The Shallows above so many familiar shark movies.

The Commuter has the look and feel of a big dumb action movie, a film inviting the audience to engage on its own terms rather than theirs. However, there is a very knowing and self-aware quality to The Commuter, an understanding of what the audience expects of the film and what the film can expect from the audience in return. The result is a film that always feels smarter and better than it needs to be, very carefully calibrated; just serious enough to work, just self-aware enough to charm. The result is a delightfully enjoyable action film.

Dial “C” for Commuter.

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Non-Review Review: Jack Reacher – Never Go Back

It is a strange experience, to watch one’s action hero icons grow up.

Tom Cruise is approaching fifty five years of age, although Jack Reacher: Never Go Back convincing places his character in his “mid-forties.” Watching the film, this feels entirely reasonable. Cruise is still a lean, mean, action-film-making machine with a dynamism that would put many younger stars to shame. If Tom Cruise isn’t in peak physical condition, he cannot be far off. Watching Never Go Back, it is not Cruise himself that gives the game away. The leading man is as limber as ever, energised at just the thought of another impressive stunt sequence.

You know where to Reacher me, if you have to.

You know where to Reacher me, if you have to.

It is the memory of Tom Cruise that gives the game away. Studies suggest that the peak age for cinema attendance is still somewhere between eighteen and forty. Tom Cruise would have been headlining films long before many modern movie-goers started attending the cinema with any real frequency. From Risky Business to Legend to Top Gun, Cruise has been a cinematic fixture for over three decades. That is a remarkable accomplishment, serving as something of a cultural constant.

For most of its runtime, Never Go Back feels very much like a middling demonstration of Cruise’s action movie bona fides. Like Jack Reacher, this is a standard actioner without the confident direction that has elevated Tom Cruise’s best work of the past few years. However, Never Go Back comes alive in those fleeting moments where it brushes against the idea of its leading man facing adulthood, positioning itself as a weird movie about a nineties action movie hero who inexplicably finds himself saddled with a makeshift family.

Literal life line.

Literal life line.

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Non-Review Review: Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions is an incredibly stupid film. It’s a movie that doesn’t make any real sense. It hinges on a series of set-ups and reversals that don’t even hold together while watching the movie. Anybody expecting an action movie that makes any semblance of sense is probably best advised to look elsewhere. And yet, despite this, there’s a point where the sheer unrelenting absurdity of Brick Mansions becomes fun in a grindhouse “this is probably great fun at 2am” sort of way.

At its heart, Brick Mansions feels like a throwback to a very particular style of eighties science-fiction cinema. It’s an action movie with the faintest trace of a social conscience that really exists just to justify ridiculous plot developments and excuse a central story that makes absolutely no sense. Lacking the awareness or intelligence that defined the best of the socially-conscious eighties science-fiction action films, Brick Mansions feels a lot like the kind of guilty pleasure that eats up the airwaves at the most unsocial broadcast hours.

You don't need that to make out the plot holes...

You don’t need that to make out the plot holes…

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Non-Review Review: Ronin

Ronin is the perfect example of a movie that knows exactly what it is. It’s a high-octane thriller which bends and curves and uncertainties and all manner of similar complications. There’s no tangential elements to the plot, like an awkwardly-inserted love-story or an attempt to humanise any of the people involved. It’s just a well-made thriller with fantastic locations and wonderfully-staged action. At one stage, the grizzled French mercenary Vincent remarks, “No questions, no answers. That’s the business we’re in.” It’s refreshing and honest, and frank.

DeNiro's the big gun here...

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Non Review Review: Cliffhanger

I picked up Cliffhanger on bluray because it was €9 and because I’d never seen it before. My aunt and uncle both suggested that the film would look absolutely stunning in high definition – and they were right. Say waht you (and even I) will about Renny Harlin’s storytelling ability or his difficulties with actors, he does shoot good scenery. The scenery gives the best performance in the film, with the aerial photography give a huge sense of scale to proceedings. Nice mountains, shame about the movie.

No, don't let go! Being in the movie isn't THAT bad...

No, don't let go! Being in the movie isn't THAT bad...

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