Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zoe Saldana: The First Post Racial Movie Star?

Terms like Post racial don’t seem to be much more then empty buzzwords to me. But with Zoe Saldanaa, there seems to be quite a bit of truth to the term. No two ways about it she’s had one hell of a year and if she keeps doing great work in great films, there seems to be no reason why she can’t become the type of crossover star that Angela Basset, or even Thandie Newton was unable to become.

I saw two very different sides of her talent in the theater last week, where she ended up the bright spot in two very different films. But in both cases she proved herself a funny, exciting presence, a singular lanky look, with no small amount of sex appeal and charisma to burn, equal parts likable Tomboy and glamour girl.

Which really sums up the whole of the cast here. The film’s characters are none too deep but coast by on a likable mixture of charm. Chris Evans, like James Marsden (hey!) Proves once again to be one of Hollywood’s secret weapons. Jefferey Dean Morgan, who I’ll admit I’d never noticed before his flawed (I still think the role needed someone older) but committed turn as The Comedian in Watchmen, holds things together, with a mix of machismo and flat out charisma. He’s like a less annoying Burt Reynolds (or maybe its just the righteous stache). Jason Patric channels Sam Rockwell with all his might as The Loser’s nemesis. The only odd man out is Roque who displays non of the intellgence and danger that he did as Stringer Bell on The Wire, and instead just comes off as kind of dumb.

Its by no means a great film, or even that great of an action film, I can’t think of another Popcorn movie that so strenuously removed the consequences of violence from the screen. Everyone always has a reason not to die, despite the Losers firing their many many rounds of ammunition. And when shit finally in the parlance of Michael Bay, Gets real. Anything disturbing is kept conspicuously in long shot.

The whole thing has the agreeable air, and deliberately small scale of a classic Programmer. One could easily see Sam Fuller or Walter Hill cranking this out in (an off?) days gone by (though it would most likely be a more memorable affair). Still the director of freaking Stomp The Yard aquits himself well here. And even if I’m not exactly chomping at the bit for him to make Ronin, that has more to do with the fact that I don’t think anyone whose name is not Alejandro Jodorowsky could bring Frank Millar’s lunatic vision of Escape From New York, meets Sword Of Doom, crossbred with norse Mythology, Nanotech nightmare to the screen, then anything personal.

There is however, a lot I take personal in the Neil Labute’s risible remake of Death At A Funeral. Oddly enough I’m usually something of a LaBute apologist (if not a fan). I feel like people are too eager to use the worthlessness of some of his later films, to discredit Your Friends And Neighbors and In The Company Of Men, because those films frankly make them uncomfortable. But this any more like this and I might have to join the choir.

Because say what you will about him, but LaBute is not a funny man. And he takes what I genuinely think is one of the best comedies of the decade and wrings all the laughs out of it with a thoroughness that is nearly neurotic.

It’s a stupefying poorly done film, any laughs in it purely residual. Chris Rock (who should have directed), Tracy Morgan, James Marsdan, and of course Ms. Saldana are all talented performers. But they just don’t find any fun or interesting way to tackle the material. Even the ever dependable Pete Dinklage overplays in his second turn as the character. The film also fails to land any of the movies big emotional beats.

On the whole the film has the joyless rote feeling of a vaudvielle company on the hundreth night of a tour, staring at the audience with contempt.

It would be the worst movie of the year so far, had it not been for Nightmare On Elm Street.


Simon said...

How is Zoe Saldana crossover, again?

Bryce Wilson said...

...She's in both movies?

And the biggest film of all time?

And one of its largest franchises?

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the question.

Simon said...

See, you started out talking about her, but never really elaborated, and then just reviewed Death at a Funeral. I mean, you never explained why you thought so in the post.

Never mind. It's still a good review, the DaaF one.

Bryce Wilson said...

I explained what I thought her persona and appeal where in the opening, and then explored the films from there.

I probably could have stood to say more about her in Death, but it would have just been repeating the stuff I put in the opening paragraph. She's just plain wasted in the film, as is everyone.

Simon said...

Hm. I guess you did.

My bad.

Bryce Wilson said...

No not a bad at all! On the contrary I appreciate you bringing it up that it was unclear.

Lord knows the day I can't take some constructive criticism is the day I need to get off of the fucking internet. : )