As good as TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE and 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, & 2 DAYS (reviewed last time out) were they failed to gain an audience (at my hometown theater at least) so it’s on to a couple of the new Spring crop of movies:

STOP LOSS (Dir. Kimberly Peirce, 2008) The opening scene with mobile phone footage of soldiers in Iraq razzing each other with ethnic and whitebread stereotypes raging brought to mind unpleasant memories of REDACTED. For a short bit this film appears to have a higher purpose than that base insufferable Brian DePalma cinematic bloodstain then it drastically drops to a lower level. With his trademark worried eyes, squad leader Ryan Phillippe serves what he thinks is his last combat mission (involving a particularly hellacious gunfight which kills 2 of his men) and comes home with his surviving men to his hometown. They are greeted with a parade full of applause and teary eyes but Phillippe is told shortly afterwards that he is being “Stop Lossed” – that is, his term of service is being involuntarily extended and he is to be sent back to Iraq. He immediately responds in anger and escapes from the army installation becoming a AWOL fugitive. His plan is to appeal to a Senator who shook his hand and said “if you ever need anything…” back at the celebratory parade so he sets off for Washington D.C.

Phillippe’s squad, who mostly remain back on the Stop Lossed sidelines, is quite the clichéd crew: there’s the thick headed bully (Channing Tatum), the short-fused guitar-playing cut-up (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the religious square nicknamed “Preacher” (Terry Quay), the smooth Hispanic player (Victor Rasuk), and of course, the tough token black guy (Rob Brown). Try as they might neither the characters or the film rise above well worn cliches. Such can’t be disguised by the quick-cutting MTV * technique of flashing hundreds of photographs in front of our eyes at supposedly key moments.

Phillippe talking with an awful Texas accent and brooding squint-eyed as if the movie is a foggy shadowy stage has shown more layers previously like in last year’s BREACH, but here seems to have retreated back to the wood board mode that he walked-through CRASH with. His co-star and somewhat love interest is Abbie Cornish – ex-girlfriend to Phillippe’s fellow soldier friend (Tatum). She travels with Phillippe across country in scenes that have an 80’s road movie sensibility in the same sense that every element of this film feels borrowed. As for being Peirce’s first film for nearly 9 years since BOYS DON’T CRY this is quite a let down filled to the brim with cringe-worthy acting and weak dialogue. For all its anti-war pro-troops posturing STOP LOSS, though based on a very real and hard to stomach government policy, has a extremely low percentage of plausibility.

* The film is an MTV Films Production after all.

RUN FATBOY RUN (Dir. David Schwimmer, 2007)

An unlikely movie-star if there ever was one, Simon Pegg still seems to have nudged a notable niche into the world of hip pop culture. Bit by bit – the first bit being his little seen but great British sitcom Spaced then his and director Edgar Wright’s hilarious satires SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ and now a just revealed big bit is that he is tapped to play the iconic role of Scotty in the new STAR TREK reboot. In the present meantime though Pegg goes mainstream with this romantic comedy about marathon racing. How mainstream? Well, this is directed by David Schwimmer – Ross from Friends! So Pegg is a slacker sloth we gather right off as he abandons his pregnant fiancée (Thandie Newton) at the altar literally running down the street away.

The movie cuts to 5 years later and Pegg’s still running but this time running after shoplifters as a low level security guard for a women’s clothing store. He still pines for his ex and longs to be more of a hero to his son (Matthew Fenton) but that is increasingly difficult as Newton has taken up with Hank Azaria – a well-to-do muscular all too perfect suitor who runs marathons. “Why would you want to do a thing like that?” is Pegg’s reaction to that last bit. He realizes though to gain his son’s respect and possibly win back his ex he will have to take something seriously and see it through to the end and the Nike River-run in London may just be the ticket.

It’s fitting that Pegg’s shabby apartment has a poster of TEAM AMERICA up because as that film told us in song “you’ve got to have a montage!” and so a shaping up sequence of the sort is on. Pegg’s SHAUN OF THE DEADSHAUN OF THE DEAD co-star Dylan Moran, who has some of the best lines, bets on his friend completing the 26 mile marathon as do his landlord’s (Harish Patel) cunning daughter (India de Beaufort). Among the wacky physical humor in the training scenes and the underdog insults there are affecting face-offs with Azaria down to the starting line gunshot and beyond: “I can lose weight… but you’ll always be an arsehole!” Pegg deliriously exclaims.

Though not in the same comedic league as and HOT FUZZ, RUN FATBOY RUN is extremely likable as fluffy and predictable as it is. It’s not a laugh a minute, it’s more a mild chuckle per scene but its big heart and sunny nature made me smile often throughout its running time (no pun intended). Doubt this will make much of dent in the U.S. box office but like the folk that gather behind Pegg FORREST GUMP-style as his lovable louse stumbles through the miles of the marathon RUN FATBOY RUN will no doubt accumulate fans. Pegg may not have completely arrived Stateside yet but this is one cheeky bit closer.

More later…

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