19 April 2010

Round the Twist

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. Given how I'm talking about twist endings, there will be some spoilers here for Remember Me. It's been on release for a good while now, but if you haven't seen it yet and want to, do not read the review.

If you're M. Night Shyamalan, your entire oeuvre revolves around the twist ending. Hell, even your upcoming Last Airbender film will probably follow suit ("The air is bending US!") if his previous works are anything to go by. Seeing as how most film-makers are not M. Night Shyamalan, you'd think they'd be halfway competent at doing twists every once in a while.

And yet rattling around multiplexes at the moment are romantic drama Remember Me and sci-fi action flick Repo Men, both of which resort to lame twists to bolster audience response in the final reel. As mentioned above, there will be spoilers for Remember Me in the review, but the Repo Men review will remain largely spoiler-free, as usual- that comes first...
Repo Men takes place in the near future, where shady medical insurers The Union provide the world with synthetic organ transplants on the terms of a strict payment plan. If you fall behind on payments, the eponymous bailiffs will track you down and take your organs. One of the repo men, Remy, has an accident at work that wasn't his fault, but rather than getting in touch with Claims Direct, he's saddled with a payment plan on his replacement organs. He's also grown a conscience in the process, and seeks to bring down The Union.

Does the beginning of that sound familiar? You may have seen Repo! The Generic Opera, an ultimately ephemeral attempt to make a Rocky Horror equivalent for the torture porn generation. Still, it's succeeded on a moderate level as a cult classic and has Anthony Head, which is always good. This only has Jude Law. But then both films were pipped to the post by a great gag in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, (and Repo Men overtly references said gag) so let's get that argument out of the way before it even transpires.

As mentioned, this does have Jude Law. The man is anathema to me except for a few select roles, including his recent turn as Watson in Sherlock Holmes, which is probably the best screen version of that character ever. Here, Law never convinces as a gung-ho action hero of the American ilk- he's too smarmy and posh. And it's a problem that he's less likeable than Liev Schrieber, because Schreiber is playing one of the antagonists.
One thing that does make Repo Men worth a watch is the turn by Forrest Whittaker. The man has made some mootable efforts both before and after his Oscar win for playing Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, but he's a joy to watch here. His character is like a cross between the buddy cop and the over-the-top villains you'd see in 80s action films. Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz meets Vernon Wells in Commando, and just as funny. Others might sleepwalk through a role like this, but Whittaker actually makes it feel like a bold choice for an actor of his calibre. And kudos to him for it- what the hell have Halle Berry or Adrien Brody done lately?

Sadly, there's not much else to recommend about the film. Like its equally grisly forebear (only without the songs), it falls short of the concept's inherent potential by deploying excessive visual stimulus and next to no substance. The future may not be bright, but does it have to look like Blade Runner with product placement? A few moments are reminiscent of the brainless fun of Crank and Shoot 'Em Up, but these pale next to a misjudged social parallel that's already been explored in last year's Saw VI. Healthcare sucks in America! We get it! Let Obama sort it and stop making sub-par movies.

The lovingly orchestrated violence goes remiss in Repo Men because it's taking itself too seriously. Screenwriters Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner have contrived a few scenes you won't see elsewhere this year, like a 9-year-old surgeon replacing a knee-cap and some unexpected typewriter violence, but its offset by an annoying and smug narration from Jude Law and that downright worthless twist ending I mentioned above. And the ending is borrowed from a much better Terry Gilliam film, which I won't name here. Ultimately disappointing stuff, although that great turn from Forrest Whittaker might be worth a watch once the film comes on telly.

Last warning- here there be spoilers. Remember Me is the latest vehicle for Bicycle Seat Face himself, Robert Pattinson. He plays Tyler, a tearaway university student who nihilistically romps around New York with his family issues in full view. After incurring police brutality from a widowed detective, Tyler's frat boy roommate sets him up with Ally, the detective's daughter, in a plot to seduce her for revenge. Or something. Tyler and Ally pontificate on the importance of living for the moment as they grow closer, because life can be too short. And if that's not foreboding, I don't know what is.

Why the spoilers? For a change, I can't really talk about this film without talking about the ending, because it changes so much of how you view it. For the most part, I'll honestly say that "RPattz" hasn't been in a film this good since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which isn't really saying much, especially as he's still rubbish at acting. But this ending can't even be defended as a tribute to New York and its people's perserverance, as its people in this film are all white and middle-class. Basically, Tyler reaches a turning point in his daddy issues and finds happiness with Ally. As he goes to a meeting in his father's office building, it's revealed that his father works in one of the Twin Towers, and the date is September 11th 2001.

I'd been informed of this twist in advance, and indeed only saw the film to confirm it actually existed. Sadly, it does, and the film-makers were actually brazen enough to evoke the biggest tragedy of the 21st century in a cloying and utterly reprehensible twist. As Kick-Ass has shown, "morally reprehensible" is a phrase that critics use to say "I didn't like this and you definitely shouldn't", so I won't say that outright. But you judge for yourself, whether this largely soggy romantic drama is wrong to use real human tragedy to masquerade as something more profound or emotional.

All of this said, as soggy romantic dramas go, it's not all that bad. Excluding the last five or so minutes (yes, it really comes into play that late), it's a reasonably engaging romance, which is quite an achievement when the lead character is a teaky RPattz. The guy still can't act, as shown most potently in a showdown with his screen father, a surprisingly good Pierce Brosnan. Arms firmly by his sides, he mopes uncomfortably as Brosnan brings a real energy to the argument. Emilie de Ravin does a good job of romancing her driftwood co-star too.

It's not without flaccid character stereotypes though, with Chris Cooper reprising his awkward father figure from American Beauty and Tate Ellington appearing on my radar simply to annoy me as a wacky comic-relief frat boy. I do concede that Ruby Jerins isn't bad as the token younger sister, she's just poorly utilised. As I've said though, the film didn't really raise my hackles until the last five minutes. Inoffensive is exactly the word to use, in direct contrast to the sheer affront of the tacked-on 9/11 twist. I could have respected it a lot more if they'd made the exact same point without such an epic and gratuitous device- the film opens with a young Ally's mother being mugged and murdered by random thugs, why would an ending reflecting that with Tyler have been any less profound?

That ending notwithstanding, Remember Me is still a film that is utterly overshadowed by its competition in the cinemas at the moment. Cemetery Junction is an infinitely more moving and enjoyable portrait of teenage rebellion. Clash of the Titans isn't a masterpiece, but it doesn't invoke Greek mythology as clumsily or as broodingly as this. Kick-Ass is less "morally reprehensible". Vested in a vehicle for Robert Pattinson, the better aspects of the story never really come forward. And sadly, so much of what was decent about the prior 100 minutes is wiped out by the last 5. The highest praise I can grant it as a whole is "almost passable".
Although I reckon you're best off waiting for DVD at the very least, both Remember Me and Repo Men are both playing in cinemas nationwide. If you've seen either of them, why not share your thoughts on the films, the reviews and on Snape killing Dumbledore/other twists in the comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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