Movie Reviews - 2018 postsSaturday August 25, 2018
Movie Review: Life of the Party (2018)
Since Melissa McCarthy broke big in “Bridesmaids,” three of her movies have been directed by husband Ben Falcone:
- Tammy (2014)
- The Boss (2016)
- Life of the Party (2018
And three of her movies have failed to gross more than $100 million domestic:
- Tammy: $84 million
- The Boss: $63 million
- Life of the Party: $52 million
Downward trajectory, too. Must be rough bedtime conversation.
I’ll give it this: The first half of “Life of the Party” isn’t supremely awful.
McCarthy plays Deanna, a chipper, “Fargo”esque, fortysomething mom whose daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), is beginning her senior year of college. Then Deanna’s husband Dan (Matt Walsh of “VEEP”) drops a bomb: He wants a divorce to marry their bleach-blonde realtor, Marcie (Julie Bowen of “Modern Family”). What’s Deanna to do? Well, she got pregnant a year shy of her archeology degree so why not go back to school?
It’s fish out of water stuff but blithely out of water. That’s the comedy. She buys colorful rah-rah college gear but is stuck with a depressed shut-in (Heidi Gardner), for a dorm roommate. Maddie is freaked for about two seconds but then is surprisingly cool with sharing senior year with mom. So are her sorority sisters. Each has a shtick: Debbie (Jessie Ennis) always asks for permission before commenting; Helen (Gillian Jacobs) was in a coma for eight years and has 3 million Twitter followers; and Amanda (Adria Arjona) is just, I don’t know, really, really good-looking. Like shockingly, nobody-looks-that-good good-looking. So of course at one point Deanna has to make a speech to buck Amanda up and give her confidence. Because girls need confidence. Even the ones who are like crushingly, knee-bucklingly good-looking.
There’s also Mean Girls (Debi Ryan and Yani Simone), who can’t fathom why the old woman bothers and say nasty things to her. Indeed, for a movie in which a woman is dumped by a man, the true villains are often other women.
Early on, Maddie gives mom a makeover to make her look less mommish. And it works. Deanna winds up schtupping Jack (Luke Benward), a tall, handsome, supernice fratboy who becomes obsessed with her. The schtupping I’ll take, but the obsession? That’s tougher to buy. Tougher to watch is how Jack is used in the bitchy melodrama. At an expensive restaurant with her adult friends, including bestie Christine (Maya Rudolph), Deanna runs into Dan and Marcie, and Marcie acts all catty. Then their waiter arrives. It's Jack. More: Jack is Marcie’s son. So trump card for Deanna, right? Yes. But it quickly gets uncomfortable as Christine in particular rubs it in Marcie’s face as if Dan weren’t standing right there. That’s all he does, by the way: He doesn’t defend mom from Christine, doesn’t defend Deanna from mom. He just stands there, a stupid expression on his face, while the others improvise around him.
None of it is funny.
Much of the movie is like this: unfunny improv. Before a family law mediator, Rudolph and Bowen try to outdo each other in outrageousness. Nothing. The usually reliable Stephen Root (Deanna’s dad) doesn’t manage a good line. Everything Gillian Jacobs says lands with a thud.
But it’s even worse in the third act.
Third act, fourth film
So Deanna and the girls show up at Dan’s wedding, inadvertently high but with good intentions. They plan to make nice. Then they see the “wedding propaganda” in the lobby, including a posterboard in which Dan declares he is “upgrading” his wife, and they go off and trash the reception area. Confronted, they skulk out, and Marcie declares that Deanna is cut off financially.
Wait, what? How was Deanna relying on them financially anyway? What did the idiot mediator decide?
Whatever, it sets up our stupid problem/idiot resolution finale.
- STUPID PROBLEM: Now penniless, Deanna is ready to give up college again.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but the others aren’t ready to give up on her! Nope, they throw a fundraising party! Yay!
- STUPID PROBLEM: Except, oh no, the party is on the same night as the Christina Aguilera concert, so no one is there.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but Helen, with her 3 million Twitter followers, tweets that Christina is coming to their party after the show! Now tons of people show up! Deanna is saved! Yay!
- STUPID PROBLEM: Except some of these people are understandably upset when Christina Aguilera doesn't show and demand their money back.
- IDIOT RESOLUTION: Which is when the real Christina Aguilera shows up! Turns out she’s cousins with Deanna’s shut-in roomie! And she sings! And everyone parties! And Deanna is saved! Yay!
The final stupid problem Deanna had to overcome is her fear of public speaking so she can pass her archeology oral exam. She does. And then she graduates. And then ... that's it. The movie just kind of dribbles to an end. It skulks out before we can.
At least Melissa and Ben learned their lesson, right? After the poor reviews and poorer box office? No more movies directed by Ben, right?
Wrong. Falcone's “Superintelligence,” starring McCarthy, is scheduled to open Christmas Day 2019. Fourth time’s the charm?
Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)
In 2006, I wrote the following for a piece on Spike Lee:
Too many of Spike’s choices are political, not aesthetic. In a way Spike isn’t enough like Bleek [Denzel Washington’s character in “Mo’ Betta Blues”). Bleek’s loyalty was always to the music but Spike’s loyalty isn’t always to the story. If he can get in a little speechifying, he will.
“BlacKkKlansman”’s 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with various raves on social media, not to mention the six-minute standing ovation and Grand Prix it received at the Cannes Film Festival, made me think that maybe Spike was finally past all that.
Nope. Heavy-handed as ever.
But first, “Gone with the Wind”
The story is true. In the early 1970s, a black Colorado Springs cop, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), infiltrated the Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He contacted them via phone and used a fellow cop (Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver) for in-person appearances. During that first phone conversation, he mistakenly used his real name, which is why he got a KKK card with his real name on it. He still has it.
That’s a story worth telling. But Spike keeps blowing it. Did he blow it with casting? Stallworth is played by John David Washington, son of Denzel, and until 2015 a football player rather than actor, and he’s rather flat in the lead. He’s uneven. He seems respectful when applying to become the first black cop in Colorado Springs, then a bit of an ass when he’s assigned to the records department. I get it—no one wants that gig—but there’s not much there there.
The movie actually begins with a bang. OK, not so much the “Gone with the Wind” pullback shot of dead Southern soldiers, which I guess sets the scene. I guess for Spike, if you’re making a film about a 1970s Colorado cop and the KKK you begin with a 1939 film based on a 1936 novel about the fall of the South in 1865. In case people don’t know.
No, I’m talking Alec Baldwin’s turn as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard. Wearing slicked hair and dark-framed glasses, he angrily stumbles through a filmed lecture on the racial superiority of white people. It’s got crackle and fire, and made me think of the jolt Baldwin gave “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “I wonder what else he does in this?” I thought. Turns out? Nothing. That was it. It’s another scene-setting but at least within the vicinity of the story.
After Stallworth becomes an undercover cop, his first assignment is attending a speech by Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), whose rallying cries contain the usual Black Power/Black is Beautiful pronouncements of the day. Stallworth finds himself nodding along—as apparently he did in real life. That’s a good bit: He’s inspired by the man he’s supposed to be spying on. Unfortunately, Spike can’t leave well enough alone: He intersperses this with shots of uplifted black faces mesmerized by the words. If Steven Spielberg tends to underline points, Spike underlines then three times; then he gets out the highlighter.
Stallworth winds up romancing Patrice (Laura Harrier, Liz Allen from “Spider-Man: Homecoming”), the black student organizer with the big, beautiful Angela Davis afro dwarfing her small beautiful face. Problem? They don’t have much chemistry and their conversations are uninteresting. Cops are pigs/No, they’re not. Hey, let’s talk about Blaxploitation films for 30 seconds. That first night, Kwame’s entourage is pulled over and harassed by cops, and she’s felt up by a racist cop named Landers (Frederick Weller), and she relays all this to Stallworth at a bar afterwards. His reaction? Almost a non-reaction. He doesn’t even seem angry. And he doesn’t do anything about it until the 11th hour. And then...
Yeah, let’s talk about that. Landers, we’re told, is also responsible for shooting/killing a black kid, and he only got away with it because cops don’t rat out cops. But he remains a thorn in Stallworth’s side, and at the end of the movie, Stallworth, Patrice and like half the force trick him into confessing on tape, and he loses his badge. So why did the cops entrap one of their own after letting him get away with literal murder? Who knows? It comes out of nowhere and smells of bullshit. In the memoir, there is an unnamed cop who got away with shooting/killing a kid, but the rest of it is made up for the movie. It feels like it.
Then there’s the KKK. Of the four main Colorado members we see, the leader, Walter (Ryan Eggold), is most interesting for being least stereotypical. It feels like he has some wheels turning up there. The others? Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen) is simply seething hatred, his wife (Ashlie Atkinson) is dull and mewling, while Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) is so sleepy-eyed and brain-dead it’s a wonder he’s not drooling. The joke is these sad sacks believe in their own racial superiority; the problem is they’re uninteresting. Ivanhoes may exist but are they worth watching? How do you make them worth watching?
Who is interesting? Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman. Just the way he hangs at the police station feels real. It’s in his work as a cop, the way he holds a gun, the way he quietly informs Stallworth he never felt particularly Jewish until this assignment—when he was surrounded by anti-Semites. One of the better undercover scenes is when he shuts down Felix’s Holocaust denials by claiming they’re the weaker racist argument—that they should take pride in killing six million.
But the stuff with Nick Turturro ratting him out? Why is Turturro and his Queens accent hanging in Colorado Springs anyway? I’m sure New York guys live there but mostly it reminded me I’m watching a Spike Lee joint.
It’s like the “Birth of a Nation” scene. Spike intercuts civil rights legend Harry Belafonte telling the Black Student Union about a horrific, early 20th-century lynching with the Klan and David Duke (Topher Grace) watching “Birth of a Nation”—the movie that led to the resurrection of the Klan and that horrific lynching—and I didn’t buy either scene. The lynching I knew was true; I just didn’t buy the students being so respectfully rapt, and so uninformed that any of this came as news. And I didn’t buy the Klan watching a silent film in 1972. But guess what: That part was actually true. Those idiots did that. In a way, Spike’s like the pitcher who keeps missing the strike zone: Even when he gets it close, I don’t give him the call. To me, it felt like more of Spike’s pedanticism. He has to fit in “Birth” like he had to fit in “Gone with the Wind.” Because he has to educate so, so many of us.
The KKK took my country away
What I wouldn’t mind being educated on? What the KKK was like in 1972. According to Wiki, its membership was at historic lows. What made it rise in the late ’70s—when all of this was actually taking place? Did Reagan help? Did his “welfare queen” story? Why didn’t Spike probe that rather than sticking us back in ’72? Was it just for the afros?
At the end, after the Klan is routed and Landers kicked off the force, we get the most stirring scene of the movie: footage from the 2017 Charlottesville protests and counterprotests, and the subsequent comment by Trump that you have “some very fine people on both sides.” Throughout, the movie has reminded us where we were, where we are, and what a huge step backward it’s been. No truer words.
Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
I was bored.
I know: 97% RT rating, good word-of-mouth, “greatest action movie ever.” People I know and respect liked it.
Was it the sense of déjà vu? The fact that no one seems to remember the previous movies so they get repeated, again and again, world without end? It’s the same roller coaster ride, people:
- Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and IMF begin the movie under suspicion
- Introduce new IMF/CIA agent played by handsome B-lister (Dougray Scott, Billy Cruddup, Henry Cavill), who is the real traitor
- Introduce crazy man and his crazy terrorist plans
- Crazy man makes it personal with Ethan
- Include scene of Ethan running through foreign city in his super upright, arm slicing motion
- Include crazy stunt everyone will talk about: outside skyscraper, outside airplane, in helicopter
- Don’t worry about making sense
It’s the “under suspicion” thing that bugs me most. In every movie, Ethan saves the world, and every new movie begins with him back at square one. At some point, Ethan should wonder if it’s all worth it. He should get drunk at a bar and just ramble.
I saved you ... and you and you. And you didn’t even know it. You don’t know shit. I saved you from Chimera, I saved you from Rabbit’s Foot, I saved you from the Syndicate and the Apostles. I stopped San Francisco from getting nuked, motherfucker. That was me. And what did I get for it? Did I get a medal? Do you see any medals on me? Helloooo, medals! No. I got blamed. They blamed me. I went blam blam blam and they went blame blame blame.
I’d pay to see that. Maybe I'd be less bored.
Needs of the many
In the past, Ethan was distrusted for being reckless—blowing up the Kremlin, etc.—but here he’s too caring. In a bit of a “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” ripoff, he’d rather spare the life of one member of his team, the useless Luther (Ving Rhames), even if it means plutonium getting into the hands of terrorists and risking billions. Me, I would’ve taken the plutonium and run. Sorry, Luther, but you were only on the team anyway because “M:I” was made a year after your big splash in “Pulp Fiction.” You’re doing straight-to-video piranha movies now. Time to cut you loose.
I'd forgotten a lot of the last movie. I’d forgotten that the new CIA director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), subsumed IMF into his org. Now he’s such an Ethan fan he’s demoted himself to director of IMF. Except, oops, the new CIA chief, Erika Sloane (Angela Bassett), like all new CIA directors, doesn’t trust Ethan and IMF, so she crashes their party with her own heavy hitter, Walker (Cavill). Ethan is the scalpel, she says, and Walker is the hammer. He’s the real man. He’s the Superman.
He’s also the traitor. The mustache is a dead giveaway.
Last movie’s villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), all whispering brogue, is back, too. His organization, The Syndicate, has morphed into “the Apostles,” and there’s another dude, John Lark, who’s trying to acquire plutonium from an arms dealer, the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, Princess Margaret on “The Crown”). Ethan gets all this intel in the usual tape-recorded message that self-destructs in five seconds. What made me laugh? Lark and the 12 apostles are all represented by blank avatars. U.S. intelligence knows there’s 13 guys, knows their codenames, and can’t get one decent photo? Not even a blurry Bigfoot shot?
As writer-director Christopher McQuarrie moves the pieces around the board, from Belfast to Berlin to Paris to London to Kashmir, I kept losing the thread. Like why did Ethan and Walker need to parachute into that Paris party rather than, you know, walk in the front door? IMF can fake faces but not invites? And how odd was that Eiffel Tower meeting between Walker and Sloane? It’s just kinda stuck there. And what was the White Widow’s game anyway? Just money? She’s giving plutonium to fundamentalist terrorists without a second thought? Does she wind up in prison? Shouldn’t she? Where’s the accountability?
Speaking of: Let’s talk about the movie’s 11th-hour save of Sloane. As CIA director, she forces her right-hand man onto IMF’s search for a terrorist ... when he’s the terrorist. Then after IMF tricks him into confessing that he’s the terrorist, she still insists on sending in her agents ... except half are Apostles, Walker escapes and Hunley is killed. Imagine that. She’s responsible for the death of the former director of the CIA. Her right-hand man is a terrorist ready to kill billions. Yet because she sends a helicopter for Ethan in the end, we’re supposed to forgive and forget?
And, for a change, could the shadowy villain not be one of the five people in the room? There’s seven billion people on the planet. Spread the wealth.
Meet your second wife
This is McQuarrie’s second “M:I” movie. No “M:I” director has ever done that:
- I: Brian De Palma
- II: John Woo
- III: J.J. Abrams
- Ghost Protocol: Brad Bird
- Rogue Nation: McQuarrie
- Fallout: McQuarrie
BTW: What a shame they didn’t stick with the numerals. This one could’ve been called “MI6” rather than subtitled “Fallout,” which is a little flaccid and forgettable.
Cruise? He gives it his all, and he looks great for 56, but his face is getting oddly puffy. An injury? Bad plastic surgery? Age? Is it time for him to hang up Ethan? He won‘t, of course, it’s his only true moneymaker these days, but maybe he should. Consider what Ethan's “Fallout” love interests and nemeses were doing when the first “M:I” was released back in '96:
- Michelle Monaghan was studying college journalism
- Henry Cavill was 13
- Rebecca Ferguson was 13
- Vanessa Kirby was 8
Movie Review: The King (2018)
The fact that I left a screening of “The King” happy and ready to sing its praises should probably be taken with a grain of salt—or two beers, since that’s what I drank during the show. I’d ordered one (pilsner), the concession guy opened the wrong one (IPA), so he offered both. I looked at the bottles on the counter and thought, “Why the fuck not?” It was another shitty day in Trump’s America—the week Justice Kennedy announced his retirement—and I was dispirited. Ninety minutes later, I felt great. I felt ready to fight again. Was it the doc or the beer? Or some combo?
The doc, by the way, isn't exactly uplifting. But it does discuss, on an intelligent, macro level, much of what I feel is wrong with the country. So I felt less alone afterwards.
During the summer of 2016—the run-up to the Clinton-Trump election—director Eugene Jarecki (“The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” “Why We Fight,”) drove Elvis Presley’s 1964 Rolls Royce through the towns and cities that made Elvis who he was. Chronologically:
- New York
- Las Vegas
Jarecki lets different folks into the backseat to play, sing, or just talk about Elvis and the state of the country. Basically, Elvis is seen as a metaphor for America. We took over the world with a sneer and a shake of our hips and without really knowing what we were doing. Then we grew addicted and overweight and addled. We forgot the words. Trump is our late-stage Vegas period. He's our fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. The toilet isn’t far away.
Give Jarecki credit. Not many filmmakers would let a supporting player, two-thirds of the way through the movie, say, in effect, “Your metaphor is all wrong.”
David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” gets to say just that. He gives Jarecki shit for the Rolls. He says he should’ve been driving one of the many American-made Cadillacs Elvis gave away to friends and family over the years. Emmylou Harris echoes a bit of this, too: “I thought he only drove American cars,” she says. In effect, Simon wants to continue the argument from “The Wire”’s second season: “We used to make shit in this country, build shit,” Baltimore dock worker Frank Sobotka says. “Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” But it’s not Simon’s movie. And maybe the opulence of the Rolls is a better metaphor anyway.
Based on the trailer, I was worried the doc would be too much Elvis-bashing in terms of race: that he stole black music and made a fortune on it; that the various country and gospel influences in Elvis’ background didn’t factor in at all. Simon, of all people, is the one who brings up the other influences.
As for “stole,” well, you can argue Elvis was simply playing the music he liked. At Sun Records, he was recording stuff he assumed would be popular—ballads and ‘50s pop—and that just didn’t click for Sam Phillips. It was only between sessions, goofing around, that he launched into an old blues number, “That’s All Right, Mama,” which caused Phillips to perk up and ask him what he was doing. Elvis’ inclination was to apologize. Phillips knew, Elvis did not.
That said, Chuck D has a point, too. Whether Elvis “stole,” “appropriated” or was simply “influenced by” black music, he never repaid the debt. A lot of white stars, without such a debt, participated in civil rights marches and the emblematic 1963 March on Washington, including Paul Newman (born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio), Marlon Brando (Nebraska) and even Charlton Heston (Illinois/Michigan). Elvis stayed silent. He didn’t get involved in any of it. He doubled down on “good ol' boy.”
You could probably do a doc just on “Hound Dog” alone. Most know Elvis made a hit of it in’56; a few know Big Mama Thornton had a hit earlier; fewer still know it was written by a couple of Jewish kids, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who got so screwed from Thornton’s recording they started their own label in 1953. The hand-wringers claim Elvis stole the song from Thornton, but she recorded her version back in ’52, when it was a rhythm-and-blues hit. It went as far as it could under the circumstances. His take is different. It races. It rocks and rolls. You can blame racism for why her version didn't hit bigger. Elvis was just singing a song.
“You have no idea how hard he hit American culture,” James Carville reminds us, and it’s because of what he was bringing into white living rooms: race and sex, the forbidden duo. The white power structure—both South and North—went crazy. Elvis was condemned, mocked, viewed as a freak. He was viewed as low class. Eventually they just drafted him away. When he returned he was tamed: maybe by age, or the Army, or Hollywood, or maybe just by the need to fit in; to not be a freak in the eyes of people whose approval he wanted.
Maybe he was tamed by money? That’s something Ethan Hawke, sitting in the front seat, with a dumbass toothpick in his mouth, mentions. Every chance Elvis had between money and art, he went with the money. But this could also be about his need to fit in; to win over his detractors. Sadly, as he was mollifying one group, others, off his flank, were rising. One mocked him as a thief; another made him irrelevant. Mike Myers tells a great story—probably apocryphal—about Elvis’ early Hollywood days. At the studio gates, girls gathered, hoping for a glimpse and a chance to scream. So Col. Tom Parker had them put a blanket over Elvis in the back seat, and he sailed through. Then when the Beatles broke, the girls went away but the blanket stayed. Before it was to hide Elvis so he wouldn’t cause a frenzy; after, it was to hide from Elvis the fact that he was no longer causing one.
We get a little on Elvis’ early days: the dead twin; how his dad went to prison for a few months. I could’ve used more of this. That background is so sketchy. I’ve read several biographies of the Beatles but none on Elvis. Maybe I should get on that. But what can I say? Their music is more interesting and they’re more interesting.
The doc includes some great music I haven’t heard before: Emi Sunshine & The Rain; Immortal Technique. My favorite backseat drivers are Carville, Simon, Immortal Technique and Van Jones. I'd love to hear them get together and just talk. John Hiatt, meanwhile, gets in the backseat and cries. You think it’s because he's sitting where Elvis sat, and the power of that thought, but it’s the opposite. He sits there and senses just how trapped Elvis was.
Saddest moment? Alec Baldwin in New York talking politics. He makes a prediction about the 2016 election. He's wrong.
Movie Review: Skyscraper (2018)
The people who made “Skyscraper” seemed to say to themselves, “OK, whatever ‘Die Hard’ did, let’s double it!”
So in “Die Hard,” John McClane loses his shoes. In “Skyscraper,” Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) has a prosthetic leg. In “Die Hard,” Nakatomi Tower is pretty tall. In “Skyscraper,” The Pearl is the tallest building in the world. McClane’s estranged wife is a hostage in the building; for Sawyer it’s his entire family.
McClane is a cop, Sawyer is ex-FBI. McClane is buff, Sawyer is The Rock.
Of course, it doesn’t work. In fact, it's just awful.
Why don’t we give a shit about any of it? Why is “Die Hard” so much better? Because McClane has personality? Because he seems like an average joe? He complains in the air duct: “Come to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.” He references pop culture: “Ehhh! Sorry, Hans, wrong guess. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?” He's the smartass in the back row. He doesn’t want to be the hero, he’s just trapped in the building and has to make do until the cavalry arrives; but then he finds outs, no, he’s the cavalry. Half his lines are classics: “Make fists with your toes.” “Welcome to the party, pal.” “Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker.”
(For more on why “Die Hard” rocks, see here.)
Will Sawyer doesn’t have any memorable lines. He doesn’t have a memorable personality. He’s a bland nice guy whose sole mission is to save his family. Even his name is bland: “Will Sawyer” C‘mon, people, it’s The Rock. Give the man at least one hard consonant.
Plus you more-or-less buy what happens in “Die Hard.” You buy that Bruce Willis is a cop, you buy Bonnie Bedilia as his estranged wife and up-and-coming executive. The building seems real, the terrorists seem splashy but kinda real. Most of what McClane does—even the crazy outside-the-building stuff—seems vaguely plausible.
Do I buy The Rock as a security executive? Neve Campbell as a surgeon? Do I believe the size and shape of The Pearl in Hong Kong: 3500 feet, 240 stories, with outside turbines forever spinning? Do I believe that Sawyer, who must weight 250 and has a prosthetic leg, can climb a building crane, swing it close to the Pearl, and leap from the crane’s top into an open window on the Pearl 150 stories above the ground? No, no, no. None of it. The one thing they get right is the duct tape. It’s the best part of the film. It’s the John McClane part of the film.
When the movie begins, the Pearl is nearing completion, and its designer, Zhao Jong Li (Ng Chin Han), has looked at different security experts; but based on the advice of his—I guess—assistant, Ben (Pablo Schreiber of “The Wire” and “Orange if the New Black”), he chooses Sawyer, who is an ex-FBI buddy of Ben’s. Plus Sawyer’s done his homework or whatever. He’s even kind of memorized a Chinese phrase his wife taught him: 很高兴认识你: “Nice to know you.” It’s in Mandarin, but later we hear her speak Cantonese to a Hong Kong police officer. So does she know both languages? And she’s a surgeon? And she looks like Neve Campbell? 好棒啊!
Getting Zhao to hire Sawyer is part of the bad guys’ plot, by the way. Imagine that. They need a patsy, and who better than 250-pounds of solid ex-FBI muscle? Ben is in on the plot, of course, which you can tell by the way he fidgets and because he's played by Pornstache Mendez. Pierce, the accountant (Noah Taylor), is a traitor, too, which you can tell by the way he glowers and the fact that he’s played by Locke from “Game of Thrones.” Everything is telegraphed here. None of it is a surprise.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Pablo told his friends about his new role:
Yeah, and I get into a fight with the Rock!
Well, I’m ex-FBI.
So how long does it last—a second?
No, but he doesn’t expect it.
C'mon, I could totally take him out.
For ice cream?
Here’s the scheme. An international mob organization, run, as usual, by a Scandinavian (Roland Møller, playing Kores Botha), shakes down Zhang halfway through construction, demanding kickbacks sent to encrypted bank accounts. Except Zhang is Chinese and shit, so he un-encrypts it all and gets all their real names, and he keeps this info in a safe in his penthouse on the 240th floor. That’s why they start a fire on the 90th floor and turn off all fire-safety protocol; to get this info. Which I’m sure is backed up nowhere.
The bad guys then get Ben to get Zhang to hire Sawyer because all security measures will be on one tablet, and how hard can it be to steal one tablet away from the Rock? But they do it, Sawyer is blamed by the media, but he eludes the cops, climbs the crane, leaps into the burning building to save his family—all to the cheers of Chinese onlookers. Mother and son get out first but then daughter is held hostage on the rooftop. Sawyer and Zhang have to work together to get her free and beat the bad guys. They do. But even then they’re about to be burnt to a crisp.
Thankfully, back on the ground, Dr. Sarah has already defeated the bitchy Chinese chick with the mod haircut (Hannah Quinlivan), taken back the tablet, and promptly puts the fire protocol back online to save husband and child. Is there nothing Neve can’t do?
We were so much older then
Afterwards, in the helicopter transporting them to safety, Sawyer asks Zhang “What next?” and Zhang contemplates for a second before replying, “We rebuild.” The Rock smiles. Oh, that indomitable human spirit.
Compare this with the end of another obvious predecessor, “The Towering Inferno,” which was released in December 1974, a few months after Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and a more cynical time generally. Its architect, played by Paul Newman, surveys the charred wreckage of his building and says:
I don’t know. Maybe they just oughta leave it the way it is. Kind of a shrine to all the bullshit in the world.
I miss those days.