Fortune is fine...
There's a "good enough" quality that runs through Guy Ritchie's Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre, an action-comedy that gets by on the charm of its cast, though there's a feeling throughout that it could have been so much more than it is. With a penchant for very fine wine and the ability to get things done in the area of international espionage, Orson Fortune (Statham) is the go-to guy for the British government when they need a dire problem solved.
Seems someone has stolen something that is causing a stir on the black market. This device is being offered up for any taker at the cool cost of $10 billion. At that price, those at MI-6 know this whatsit is likely a weapon of some sort that can cause a great deal of harm. Helping Fortune find the ultimate McGuffin is his new team, consisting of acerbic computer hacker Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), expert marksman JJ (Bugzy Malone) and movie star Danny (Josh Hartnett). He is recruited because their main suspect is an international arms dealer (Hugh Grant) who is a big fan of his and the hope is he will give the actor the access they need to his private world.
There are many good gags here but none developed to their full potential. Plaza is perfect in the role, her sarcastic delivery of the character's cutting remarks getting a laugh every time as they put the pompous Fortune in his place. The film needed many more moments like this, while Malone is very good as the stoic killer with a sense of humor. The action is well done, but this is Statham-lite. To be sure, he is now 55, and while still in great shape, he's slowed down a bit. Ritchie is no stranger to staging well-tuned action sequences and while those on display here are fine, there's nothing to write home about. In the end, that's probably the best way to sum up Fortune. It's OK, but doesn't come close to realizing its potential. In theaters.
Gratuitous violence eclipses Sun
Luther: The Fallen Sun, a feature film based on the BBC television series, has more than its fair share of problems. It wallows in gratuitous violence and outright sadism, while its story has plot holes large enough to drive a Mack truck through.
London police detective John Luther (Idris Elba) has been assigned a difficult case. The dead body of a woman missing for six years has been found in a car, a young man murdered nearby. How and why this occurred is just the tip of an implausible scheme that becomes not simply more and more outlandish but more and more gruesome in its execution as well. However, our hero is quickly taken off the case when evidence of Luther's past vigilante activities is splashed across the press, and he's quickly put behind bars.
While he's in the hoosegow, David Robey (Andy Serkis) unleashes a plan in which he forces various people to do nefarious deeds for him. Seems he has a vast network of computer hackers who eavesdrop on thousands of Londoners via their smart TVs, baby monitors or computers, recording their internet activity and behind-closed-doors intimacies. Surprise! Turns out more than a few folks visit websites or commit acts in the privacy of their own homes they wouldn't want their neighbors to know about.
I was often wondering how this guy has James Bond-villain resources in which to pull off a plan that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And, I know I'm being unreasonable in asking, but just why does he have a penchant for hanging 20-somethings and burning their dead bodies in front of their parents or feels the need to compel many people to kill themselves by simultaneously jumping off buildings around Piccadilly Circus? No reason is ever given. I'm just wondering. This is an incredibly ugly film in tone and intent. Luther: The Fallen Sun isn't entertainment – it's a vicious exercise that eschews logic, opting instead to rub the viewer's face in the gratuitous violence it wallows in. Streaming on Netflix.
Champions walks the line
How do you solve a problem like Champions? Is it a well-intentioned film that shows those with intellectual disabilities can live full lives and are capable of much more than the average person gives them credit for? Or is it an exploitive work that takes advantage of its unique cast, setting them up so that we laugh at their expense? In a sense, I think it's a little bit of both.
A remake of the Spanish film Campeones, the premise is the very definition of simplicity. Beleaguered basketball coach Marcus (Woody Harrelson) is assigned to serve 90 days community service after being convicted of drunk driving. He's charged with coaching a team of intellectually disabled teens, an assignment he's less than thrilled with. It goes without saying that his misconceptions regarding the teens changes, that he falls for one of his player's much-older sister (Kaitlin Olson) and that all narrative roads lead to a third-act championship game.
Much of the humor revolves around the kids saying or acting in ways that run counter to societal norms, their innocence being the foundation of each joke. Is this in poor taste? Does the fact that the actors playing the teens are, in fact, intellectually disabled excuse any objections in this arena? Isn't it a positive thing that they have been given this unique opportunity? I think it depends on each viewer's perspective and frankly, being released during the highly sensitive era we live in, I have a feeling the film will be in equal turns celebrated and vilified. Is it any good? It's fine. I found the humor to be gentle and enjoyed the interactions between the young cast and the veteran actors, which also included Cheech Marin and Ernie Hudson. Again, your mileage will vary, but I think keeping an open mind is the key to Champions. In theaters.