Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

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Mission Impossible - Ghost-ProtocolThe words Tom Cruise and action blockbuster in the same sentence have long ceased to carry any significance with fare like “Knight and Day” failing to ignite any spark. The “Mission: Impossible” franchise may be the last bastion for the one-time poster-boy though many might argue that it too has passed its use-by date, particularly after the rather slow third entry directed by J.J. Abrams. Nevertheless, Hollywood will never say die to a cash cow and significantly, this fourth film marks the live-action debut of “The Incredibles” helmsman Brad Bird. After all the Pixar movie was a rip-roaring ride of a spy-film tribute, often more accomplished than its inspiration. If Bird could carry this style over from animation, the potential for a very dynamic and entertaining action flick would be strong indeed.

While continuing a broad story arc over the series, number four can safely stand as an independent plot. After a thrilling prison break, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team of IMF agents set about infiltrating the Kremlin but are foiled by a terrorist plot that would see nuclear war end civilisation. As a result, the U.S. government initiates the “Ghost Protocol” that sees the entire intelligence agency disbanded. Aided by agent Jane (Paula Patton), technician Benji (Simon Pegg) and analyst-with-a-past Brandt (Jeremy Renner), acting against orders, Hunt travels to Dubai to retrieve the stolen nuclear codes and save the world once more. Striking is the lightness in tone that Bird adopts from the off, casting Simon Pegg purely as a device for comic relief where both action sequences and respite have their tongue firmly in cheek. And although the film rarely returns to the all-out hilarity of the pre-credits sequence, the Bondian atmosphere is secured for the following two hours: break-neck chases, exotic locales (Mumbai in addition to Moscow and the Emirates) and more cool gadgets than you could shake a Q at. In other words the best ingredients for the best “Mission: Impossible” spirit are correct and present with Bird keeping a cool handle on things and Cruise more than able to hold his own while approaching 50.

And yet, “Ghost Protocol” never quite clicks with the viewer. With the emphasis placed so much on fun, what little plot there is is never given the opportunity to breathe. The imminent threat of an atomic apocalypse seems distant even when a missile is hurtling towards Los Angeles. The villains and their motives are horribly two-dimensional but then, they simply aren’t given any screen time; they exist only on the film’s peripheries which is a bit of a waste considering the presence of actors like Michael Nyqvist or Léa Seydoux. And while jaw-dropping hijinks atop the Burj-Khalifa (that’s the world’s tallest building to you) really are amazingly put together, the disregard for interesting plot and characters are the film’s downfall. Jeremy Renner in particular is in desperate need of fleshing out, ultimately has very little to work with and come the post-climatic scenes, seems extraordinarily throwaway. Whether anyone will care about things like this is doubtful but even the hyperbolic action becomes tired and predictable after a while: Cruise is hit by cars on several occasions and miraculously escapes unharmed for example. Realism surely isn’t the goal here but it’s also possible to over-egg in certain situations. Naturally, this almost slapstick aspect was much better suited to “The Incredibles.”

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol OSTMichael Giacchino’s score to the third chapter was characterised by ballsy action music that lacked thematic development, save the odd statement of Lalo Schifrin’s classic theme. The composer’s approach to “Ghost Protocol” continues in this muscular, percussive and brass-driven vein with one important difference: Due to the location-hopping, Giacchino is able to provide each third of the film it’s own unique identity in all their stereotypical glory: Male choirs reminiscent of Basil Poledouris define Russia while appropriate ethnic flavours are added for Dubai and India. And while not much is done to connect the separate identities, there are enough explorations of the famous theme tune to act as binding material for Ethan Hunt and his team. It’s exciting stuff reflected on an album characterised by Ghiacchino’s obsession with horrible cue-name puns such as “Kremlin with Anticipation” or “Mumbai’s the Word.” Make of these what you will but there’s no denying the entertainment value of the score in its lengthy presentation. Not as heartfelt as “Super 8” perhaps but one for the action nuts.

Entertaining sure, but very little substance behind it. It’s refreshing to sit back and lose oneself in the ridiculous world of “Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol” but if only Bird could have combined plot and wit with the action more fluidly, this could have rivalled De Palma.

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3 Stars

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4 Stars

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Signs (2002)

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SignsWhat if extra-terrestrial life actually existed? And how would you react if amidst the resulting worldwide confusion, they actually turned up on your doorstep? Upon the presumption that no everyman would simply be able to infect the alien’s computer grid with a virus and be done with it, M. Night Shyamalan approaches the subject in a mood far more thoughtful and restrained than most of his predecessors. Because while intrigue certainly features, the focus of “Signs” is undoubtedly on a family drama unfolding in eastern Pennsylvania between a widowed Mel Gibson, his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) and his two children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin). For long portions of the film, from the characters’ initial disbelief through their gradual encroaching on the humans, the alien life-forms remain in the shadows, importantly rooting the film in reality while equally adding the other dangerously Shyamalan horror undercurrent.

Unidentified flying objects are spotted over Mexico city and around the world but after mysterious crop circles appear in his cornfield, retired reverend Graham Hess (Gibson) and his family quickly need to come to terms with the fact that a close encounter with E.T. might be closer than they had initially thought. The family dogs begin acting strangely, shadows steal about the farm at night, certain radio frequencies pick up odd interference and a general sense of foreboding prevails the whole area. Even when his slightly eccentric children decide to don tinfoil hats as a precaution, Hess is far from convinced and is determined to hold the family unit together. M. Night Shyamalan movies are often hit-and-miss affairs, and his follow-up to “Unbreakable” treads a similarly fine line between thrills and the ridiculous: On the one hand “Signs” sells itself as a deep and contemplative family drama, successfully posing a what-if scenario with an added element of psychological horror for vast stretches, while on the other is Shyamalan’s palpable itching to remake “Independence Day.” One can easily get the feeling that the director would have relished a go at a straight-forward alien invasion movie à la Emmerich.

The resulting film is one of baffling paradox and for all of Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix’s fine acting and intricately wrought suspense throughout, the climax is painfully (or laughably depending on your mood) capricious and underwhelming in every way. The sad truth of the matter is that the blame must be laid exclusively at Shyamalan’s door as his screenplay shovels itself a hole it can never climb out of in a satisfactory manner. The world of a film should develop from A to B rather than try desperately try to find its way back to A, no matter how external the forces acting on characters. Similarly, detractors will be quick to point out the director’s reliance on creepy young children as a way of inflating chills, a method that paid far more dividends in the superior “Sixth Sense.” It’s a shame that these flaws and missed opportunities are so marked as they cloud over what is the basis for a genuinely good science fiction premise. The isolated and disconnected farm homestead and local community looking to its priest for guidance is positively brilliant, as is an utterly heart-wrenching last-supper scene (though the religious overtones are thankfully kept in check). “Signs” remains a missed opportunity for many reasons and it remains far more satisfying to watch Steven Spielberg tackle the same subject, something he twice managed masterfully.

Signs OSTJames Newton Howard, Shyamalan’s composer of choice has served the director well, often delivering music superior to what the film deserved. However the music for “Signs” sounds a little like an extended development of “The Sixth Sense” that would only come to full fruition in Howard’s score for “The Village” two years later. That is not to say the score doesn’t fit the film however, in fact quite the opposite: A repeating piano figure of three notes heard in the opening “First Crop Circles” and again throughout the score treads a fine line between delicate beauty and suspense. The alternating chord patterns make the theme suitable for both wonder and fear in the face of new discovery and Howard successfully leans into both. The closing “The Hand of Fate – Part II” rounds out the satisfying copious performance of this theme. The crashing dissonance that defines cues such as “Main Titles” and “Asthma Attack” and represents the aliens is far less interesting however and for listeners will return only for the first theme. Overall, “Signs” is beautiful in parts but not quite on par with some of Howard’s later work for Shyamalan, especially the aforementioned “The Village” and “Lady in the Water.”

“Signs” often displays flashes of brilliance but without the firm grounding of a satisfying resolution (and it’s not easy see how that could have been put together) the entire film seems somewhat pointless. Sci-fi fans might appreciate it but even they will be pushed. It needs to be said: Watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” instead.

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3 Stars

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3 Stars

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Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

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Lesbian Vampire KillersCheap horror schlock has continually existed on the fringes of more mainstream horror most of which is thankfully condemned to the direct-to-video graveyard. With “Twilight” hysteria kicking into overdrive with “New Moon,” and the franchise bordering on parody or many viewers, 2009 saw a resurrection of a different sort but the days of Christopher Lee and Hammer horror sadly now exist as a distant memory. And with a title every bit as daft as the film itself, it may come as a surprise that anyone actually went to see it; at least no one can claim they weren’t warned. It is possible to view the whole affair with a belly laugh and a bunch of mates (and perhaps some alcohol) – the concept is obviously not intended to be taken entirely seriously. However, what Phil Claydon and his unfortunate cast and crew present is nothing short of a new and embarrassing low even in a genre that consists almost exclusively of lows.

It is doubtful whether any plot summary is even necessary. The story of two mismatched friends Fletch and Jimmy (James Corden and Mathew Horne), one of which bears an uncanny resemblance to Robbie Williams, who end up in a gothic rural village ridden by a terrible curse is a tale as old as time, even if the vampires of said curse are predominantly skimpily clad size-zero models with horrendous accents. There’s a few other bits in there somewhere, suffices to say it’s all an excuse for excessive amounts of pointy-toothed canoodling, lobbing of axes and swords with penis handles (appropriately given the title Dildao), and covering as many actors with copious amounts of the sticky creamy-white fluid which here plays the part of vampire blood. It seems what will be deeply traumatising for most of us, it’s as if the entire film plays as out as a highly bizarre wet dream for the writers. As previously mentioned, it would be possible to take the concept lightly and could even service as a time-killer (unintentional pun) if it weren’t so grossly devoid of real laughs. With innuendo jokes that would fall flat even at a drunk party, the writers have clearly not done their Kubrick homework (that would be a reference to the cut pie-fight scene from “Dr. Strangelove”).

Similarly, it seems utterly pointless to flag either the wooden acting, stale script or indeed fallacies of logic. Particularly this latter point, is a recurring problem for the film. As what it presents is essentially soft-core pornography, the vampires’ attraction to the male characters is curiously at odds with the concept and come to think of it, most of the homo-erotic “action” is understated as well, something that is sure to have certain feminist movements up in arms and leave certain other fetishists severely disappointed. Such discourse is of course a waste of valuable words but it all leads to an overwhelming conclusion: this is not a good bad film, it’s just a bad bad film, no in fact it’s an atrociously bad film or, as White Goodman might say, a skid-mark on the underpants of society. Even approaching the film with the lowest of expectations will fail to yield any satisfaction whatsoever. As such it’s a surprise that no Razzie awards were forthcoming (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” took that particular “honour”).

Lesbian Vampire Killers OSTWhat confirms “Lesbian Vampire Killers” as a true film of paradox however is its musical score composed by Debbie Wiseman. Not a huge name in Hollywood, Wiseman did however seriously impress with her music for french crime-thriller “Arsene Lupin and this dreadful movie provides the perfect opportunity for a parody score of epic proportions. Removed from the context on album, the score really shines with both orchestral and choral bombast turned up to maximum levels throughout, ripping off almost every vampire score in history but also finding it’s own gleefully grand voice. The title theme whether performed by soaring vocals or blaring horns is an easy match for the best gothic horror score that even masters like Christopher Young could come up with. Picking out one highlight cue is nigh impossible but the six-minute “The Dawn of the Red Moon” is certainly a strong contender. A harmonious statement for Fletch and the Vicar (an ex-Doctor Who looking suspiciously like Kim Newman) heard in the middle of “The Crypt of Carmilla” is another of too many strong points to mention. All in all, this score reinforces the fact that sometimes the best music is written for the worst films. An excellent effort and though the score can in no way redeem the film, it’s a glorious listening experience on its own, deserving of the highest mark.

By all means invest in the soundtrack but otherwise run from “Lesbian Vampire Killers” as fast as you can. It’s viewing films like this that provides constant pessimistic reminders of humanity’s seemingly endless ability to produce trash, an utterly depressing fact, sad but true. You’d be better off watching “Twilight.” And that’s saying something.

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Rescue Dawn (2006)

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Rescue DawnSurvival against impossible odds is one of cinema’s favourite subjects and while the genre has been plundered to the point of cliché by Hollywood, history is always keen to serve up another ordeal of suffering and escape that this particular well is unlikely to run dry very soon. Certainly the true tribulations of those involved has often been diminished by big screen treatments and this is exactly what Werner Herzog set out to disprove in his retelling of the experiences of pilot Dieter Dengler. Shot down over Laos during the infamous “secret” U.S. bombing campaigns of 1966 Dengler (portrayed by Christian Bale), was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp by Vietcong forces to await his release. With nothing but time on their hands, he and the other prisoners plot a daring take-over to quicken their chances at freedom.

Most of the others, including Gene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies) and Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) have been in captivity for several years, at a physical and emotional end and thus the plan is fraught with danger at every turn and becomes very psychologically taxing on all of them. Waiting for the rainy season, Dengler manages to file a nail in order to open their handcuffs but Herzog quite correctly focuses not on these intrigues but on the prisoners’ quite extraordinary personal stories. Most of them grow close through their combined task and goal but even this relationship is brittle as battles ensue between DeBruin who believes they will be released (and increasingly needs to hold on to this belief) and Dengler who makes the escape plan his life. It’s a fascinating portrayal that rests primarily with Christian Bale – his performance is intense and gripping to watch. He is never made a complicated or even particularly intelligent man but his will to endure is very powerful indeed. The POW-camp setting of course provided another opportunity for the actor to stretch the thin end of his yo-yo diet method acting “The Machinist” style but he seems to have restrained himself this time, quite unlike Davies who is terrifyingly meagre and bony.

Werner Herzog remains curiously anonymous throughout as both the storytelling and camerawork are played straight as it were. The style does not draw you in as in “Fitzcarraldo” or “Aguire” but it’s old-school, no frills filmmaking that simply observes. It’s tempting to call this style-less yet the film is never trite. The opening shot of a countryside going up in napalm flame is especially lingering. In the second half, the film does slow and the harshness of the Laotian jungle can never match the power of Herzog’s other jungle epos or indeed that of “The Killing Fields” to which it bears significant resemblance. While this isn’t the Khmer Rouge, the poverty of Laos seems similarly backward and hopeless, even before the war’s full expansion and Dengler’s tale in many respects mirrors that of Dith Pran. Another quibble must lie in the denouement which exudes a cheesiness that has been so keenly avoided up to that point. In sum however, it is great to see Herzog return to feature films after an extended spell making documentaries (then of course it could be argued that as a true story, this is a documentary as well) after mixed reaction to 2001’s “Invincible.” And certainly, as a powerful story of against-the-odds survival his is not amiss.

Rescue Dawn OSTKlaus Badelt’s score to “Rescue Dawn” is suitably restrained, utilising a minimal string ensemble. The music swings between a beautiful noble or perhaps patriotic theme that also manages to embody pity and a schizophrenic cello solo playing to the wilder psychological aspects of the story. The former is relegated mainly to the opening and closing title but is a haunting theme that deserved repeated visits. The score makes for a strong album presentation that represent’s Badelt’s best effort of 2006 (though nowhere near his masterpiece “The Promise” of the year before) despite being much smaller in scale than that for Wolfgang Petersen’s “Poseidon.” Those wishing to hear the composer write for serious drama rather than his more regular action assignments will find much to like and while minimal, the music is respectful and dignified and perfectly fit for purpose.

“Rescue Dawn” is worth a look simply for another powerhouse performance from Christian Bale that suits him infinitely better than the Bruce Wayne persona. Similarly, it marks a welcome return to form for Werner Herzog who continues to be one of Germany’s best exports.

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4 Stars

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4 Stars

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Sherlock Holmes (2009)

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Sherlock HolmesIt’s been a long time since Guy Ritchie served up a proper hit: The box office reception of his last film “RockNRolla” was less than lukewarm despite many positive reviews and could never match his success with “Snatch” almost a decade earlier. Whether as an attempted remedy or not, “Sherlock Holmes” marks Ritchie’s first true departure from the gangster flick (let’s discount “Swept Away” shall we?) he perfected. Well, not entirely. After all the underworld of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s London was every bit as grim and dangerous as that of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and the cocaine-injecting Holmes of the novels has something bizarrely parallel to something Ritchie might concoct himself. Drug use is only and barely implied on screen however (this being a PG-13 rating after all) but the new Sherlock Holmes is every bit if not more eccentric than fans might expect.

It is 1891 and something mysterious is brewing in the British capital as the villainous sorcerer Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is seen rise from the grave and soon schemes to take control of the empire itself. With the police helpless, enter Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his somewhat reluctant companion Dr. Watson (Jude Law) to try and stop Blackwood before it’s too late. Meanwhile the appearance of dashing crook and Holmes’ old flame Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) with her own agenda threatens to derail the detective further. Robert Downey Jr., in a role that actually suits his acting persona plays Holmes as an utterly (or at least seemingly) catatonic mess; mind racing, keenly observing yet highly frustrating to those around him. As he can speedily predict a bare-knuckle fist fight unfolding, so is he grossly unhygienic and performs medical or “scientific” experiments on himself and his bulldog. Many of these apparent contradictions come across in a manner not dissimilar from Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow – essentially far cleverer than he appears. Watson is the foil of course, Jude Law doing an excellent job of “playing him straight” against Holmes’ schizophrenic strains and ultimately it is their on-screen sparring that becomes Ritchie’s biggest attraction and is genuinely fun to watch.

Which is very necessary because the coils of a rather shallow mystery plot are soon to unwind as Ritchie switches to all out action mode in the second and last third. These sequences are once again good fun (especially a slaughterhouse with added kaboom) and stylishly caught through Ritchie’s lens but come up short on sustaining viewer interest. The final showdown atop a half-completed Tower Bridge seems particularly underwhelming. even though the plot takes one more turn for the better. There are more problems besides: Rachel McAdams’ character is hardly developed at all and it seems one of her key scenes (seen in the trailer) ended up on the cutting room floor. Furthermore, shots of auld-London (again the bridge) make little effort to hide their digital inception and for whatever reason are all rendered in very soft light, thus highly jarring against Ritchie’s sharp live-action work and the fantastic art direction. Thus while “Sherlock Holmes” is an entertaining view, it abandons many elements of the traditional tales and has hardly anything to substitute leaving it without any real spark to ignite it.

Sherlock Holmes OSTRounding out a good year for Hans Zimmer was the rather surprising Oscar nomination for “Sherlock Holmes.” And while the recognition should really have gone to his “Angels & Demons” score, the German maestro clearly had a lot of fun creating the musical sound for the film. Collaborating this time with Lorne Balfe, their score is an eclectic collection of odd sounds, headed by a fun theme that runs into a mad endless loop like Holmes’ mind itself. Guitar, cimbalon, banjo, honky-tonk piano and of course the violin are all used (or abused) in creative ways, incorporating both Irish traditional and gypsy characteristics that make this perhaps the strangest score of Zimmer’s life. The highlight is the monster cue “Psychological Recovery… 6 Months” in which all the action and thematic ideas of the score are explored thoroughly including a mutilation of the Big Ben chime tune. Sadly some work contributed by “The Chieftains” never made it onto the album despite contributing a huge amount to the tone of the film. But still, a strong effort from Zimmer all around.

Downey Jr. and Law make for a great duo but Richie doesn’t quite have tight control over the film’s entirety. The inevitable sequel (already set up by this film) is on the way and there’s a real chance that some of the many good ingredients might gel more easily next time out.

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3 Stars

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4 Stars

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Cloverfield (2008)

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CloverfieldAfter its early post-teaser-trailer hype and no doubt to the great satisfaction of producer J.J. Abrams, “Cloverfield” was filmed in complete secrecy. Thus what began as a low budget horror and monster-movie turned into an international smash-hit that proves once again how possible it is to make money without financial clout or big star names attached. The concept is as simple as it is terrifying in our media-saturated age of citizen-journalism, on the spot as news breaks: Think of “The Blair Witch Project” relocated to the big apple and crossed with “Godzilla.” Whether or not the film is a mashup of previously existing documentary and monster conventions is a valid question and debatable but the attraction of “Cloverfield” will be its execution and its fresh if not unique style.

The film is presented as a home-movie, initially to record testimonials at a going-away party in Manhattan, complete with grainy and shaky footage as well as the obligatory running commentary by the operator. The party is abruptly interrupted by a huge explosion in the lower city and (in a great “Escape From New York” tribute) the Statue of Liberty’s head flung down on of the avenues. As the tagline taunts – something has found us. And whatever that something is, it’s pretty angry. In the ensuing panic five friends, played by Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller (as the cameraman), Michael Stahl-David and Mike Vogel stick together to try and rescue an injured friend across New York, filming as they go. It’s a harrowing experience for the viewer as well as the characters as they dodge between explosions, an evacuation, the home guard and the something itself. Director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Drew Goddard mercilessly (yet, one feels gleefully) exposing us to horror after horror and teasing with as little background as possible (the addition of CGI is prominent yet not intrusive, a welcome feature) to root the film in a sort of bizarre reality most films can never get close to.

Amidst the non-stop action and truly terrifying suspense there’s little room for respite, just enough to catch a breath with some trivial but nevertheless touching footage of what was previously recorded on the tape. The impact and importance of the human story of “Cloverfield” cannot be understated and as is so often the case with sci-fi or fantasy, it can accurately reflect struggle and suffering in a disaster zone without becoming laden with sentimentality. Reeves never allows the story to descend into simple bravado action and even his shaky first-person view seems to enhance the experience on a level that goes beyond mere effect or technique to suggest insecurity. In these moments, it’s place in the the horror genre comes into its own and leaves even the toughest viewer shaken. So much so in fact that on release some theatres displayed a notice, warning of side- or after-effects similar to sea-sickness. If that isn’t convincing enough for you, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

Cloverfield OSTOfficially, “Cloverfield” contains no original score. To aid its docu-style, this feels natural but it didn’t prevent Abrams from asking regular collaborator Michael Giacchino to compose a suite of music for the end credits. The result, “Roar!” otherwise known as the “Cloverfield Overture” has to be one of the most bombastic single cues on film in a long, long time, featuring a full orchestra, bolstered low brass and some very haunting female vocals over the top. Giacchino provides us with twelve minutes of a glorious and very memorable over-the-top action-romp and as such it’s a shame that the idea couldn’t be explored over an entire film. While it pays significant tribute to Akira Ifukube (the Japanese “Godzilla” composer), the piece is littered with Giacchinoisms, a style that would find further exploration in his score to “Super 8” three years later. The piece is only available for digital download but considering the price, every film-score enthusiast should have this in their collection.

While the idea behind it may not be very new, “Cloverfield” is among the best hand-held camera films out there and makes for thoroughly gripping viewing throughout. If you’re looking for some mind-numbing thrills and are prepared to suffer some nightmares afterwards, J.J. Abrams has created the perfect film just for you. See it if you can.

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Friends With Benefits (2011)

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Friends With BenefitsIn a genre where only so many plots types exist it’s not rare that the success or failure of a rom-com hangs on the chemistry between its leads. In the case of Will Gluck’s follow-up to the smart and sassy “Easy A” it was written with two particulars in mind and hell, why not?! After all Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are two it stars of the moment, having both earned respect in Oscar nominated dramas, one as egotistical entrepreneur Sean Parker in David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” the other as the human incarnation of the “Black Swan” itself. Unsurprisingly taking an altogether lighten route, “Friends With Benefits” would have itself stand out not only through the sharp interplay between its protagonists but mainly through an abundance of witty and often edging on inappropriate dialogue and shagging. Lots of shagging. It’s more “Tamara Drewe” than “Notting Hill” but Gluck and his stars do manage to breathe some life into this very modern love story.

Fed up with relationships and especially break-ups, New York headhunter Jamie (Kunis) and art-director on-the-rise Dylan (Timberlake) enter into an agreement to play tennis with each other. Which is, you guessed it, essentially a euphemism for simple, inconsequential and meaningless sex without any personal feelings whatsoever. Right. With a premise this simple (comparisons with “No Strings Attached” will abound) and an outcome as predictable as Hugh Grant’s acting choices, the good news is that the film is still entertaining and engaging. Timberlake and Kunis make a great couple that are just as enviable when they fight as when they get along. She exudes most of the spice and wild energy that dynamically drives both the film and the more restrained Timberlake forward. It’s the combination of both that has a certain x-factor and makes large stretches of the film simply fly by. Even in the third act when Gluck significantly slows proceedings down and takes time to explore some heavier yet rather touching and believable backstory, the film does not falter.

And yet, the film deceives itself in one major point: The filmmakers seem to believe that simply by “achieving” an R rating, it will count as different and fresh. As the film winds down viewers will realise that simply dropping the f-bomb (amongst other explosives) and excessive sex isn’t really enough to qualify as being different. The plot simply lumbers through the gears meaning that “Friends With Benefits” boils down to the most pedestrian among rom-coms. There are several factors that hinder the chemistry between the leads from truly saving the film from floundering, chief among them a very, very terrible film-within-a-film that is supposed to illustrate how Jamie sees her dream life. In fact, the cheesy kitsch on display couldn’t be further from what defines the character and selling it off as emotional confusion or “damage” is very rich indeed. Supporting turns by Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson further liken events to generics and have nothing of interest to offer. A set-piece amongst the Hollywood sign is cringeworthy and reeks of “because we could” vibe. A further if minor quibble is the presentation of some wide-shots that betray over-saturated digital video that has nothing romantic about it whatsoever.

Friends With Benefits OSTThe film contains no original score. The prominent placement of source songs (as well as some source music composed by Halli Cauthery) is doubtlessly utilised as an emphasis of the contemporary New York setting and these feature on the soundtrack album released by Madison Gate Records. Titles by Steppenwolf, Peter Conway and most notably “Closing Time” by Semisonic are among the highlights of the CD. It’s not exactly a very romantic compilation and plays more to the spirit of the film’s two flash mob scenes – a very eclectic mix that will only be enjoyed in its entirety by a minority. It’s functionally sufficient to capture the spirit of the film but cannot elevate it in a way like the “(500) Days of Summer” soundtrack did its film.

Altogether “Friends With Benefits” doesn’t quite sit comfortably in any camp of rom-coms. It’s certainly smart and very enjoyable for a selection of more mature humour but for all the leads’ sparks, they can’t quite set the film alight on their own. However, it certainly cements the stars’ status as actors to watch.

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