Movie Review: “The Gunman”

Starring
Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Jasmine Trinca, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone
Director
Pierre Morel

Lightning doesn’t strike twice, as proven by director Pierre Morel’s recent output. Since his 2008 smash hit, “Taken,” Morel has been unsuccessful in trying to recapture the magic of his wildly popular B-movie. Though the French filmmaker helped turn Liam Neeson into an action star, he’s failed to do the same for John Travolta and Sean Penn. The latter stars in the director’s newest picture, “The Gunman,” an incredibly middle-of-the-road thriller that’s so light on action that the first 45 minutes doesn’t contain a single set piece.

“The Gunman” is a surprisingly small-scale movie, where most of the action takes place in contained locations. This kind of less-is-more approach is always welcomed, but it doesn’t work in the film’s favor, since none of the characters can hold your attention. This self-serious thriller tries to be more than what it really is. In the vein of “Taken,” the drama is redundant, thin and clunky, but unlike that movie, the emotional conflict doesn’t play second fiddle to the action. This a character-driven film, taking way too much time to tell an all-too-familiar story.

Jim Terrier (Penn) is a mercenary with a dark past, but he’s finally found happiness in the Congo. When we meet the sniper, he’s in a loving relationship with Annie (Jasmine Trinca), but that all ends when Terrier and his team kill the country’s minister of mining. Terrier, without telling Annie, has to go on the run. Years later, he returns to the Congo to do some good working for the NGO, but of course, he’s pulled back into the game after some men try to kill him.

Terrier suffers from headaches and memory loss, so fighting to stay alive isn’t going to be easy. Right from the start of the film, we’re served a trite conflict. A sick operative? We recently saw that character in “3 Days to Kill” and “Dying of the Light,” both of which are fairly mediocre movies that still managed to put that idea to better use. Penn is fine in the role, but the material fails him, which is ironic considering he co-wrote the script. The actor is a great writer and director, and he actually covered a similar journey – a man with a dark past getting in the way of him starting over – in his incredible 2001 film, “The Pledge.”

It’s the supporting actors that help bring some flickers of life to “The Gunman.” At one point, Idris Elba shows up in a glorified cameo playing a character named Jackie Barnes. Who wouldn’t want to see a franchise starring Elba as a mysterious Interpol agent? He’s in “The Gunman” for five minutes, and he makes every second count. Elba has some fairly on-the-nose dialogue to deliver, but an actor of his caliber can make every cheesy line sizzle. Strangely, the same cannot be said for Javier Bardem, playing an old colleague of Terrier and Annie’s new husband, who’s an early candidate for a Razzie nomination. His performance goes so big that his character leaves reality far too quickly. Bardem’s scenery chewing never fits this overly dour film.

If “The Gunman” was 20 minutes shorter and more action-oriented, it could have been a blast. Morel knows how to shoot action. He never shows us anything new, but the action is often impressive – quick and brutal, but never jarring. Morel knows how to put together an exciting set piece, but drama is not his forte. There’s nothing emotional about Terrier’s romance or his attempt to start over. Almost everything about “The Gunman” is by-the-numbers, which is fine, but it doesn’t even tell a familiar story particularly well.

  

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Weekly Web Series Review: Between Two Ferns

Hosted by Zach Galifianakis at his most awkward, “Between Two Ferns” represents what television talk shows might actually be like in a much more interesting world. Filmed to look like a low-budget public access show, but with big-name celebrity guests, the series mines uncomfortable humor to the fullest. Galifianakis frequently mispronounces the names of his guests and openly insults them, creating an environment of hostility that often feels almost too real. When not blatantly mispronouncing names, he is prone to making intentionally terrible puns out of them, like when he asks Jon Hamm if his middle name is “Honey-Baked,” or if he has considered changing his name to something like “Stewart Turkey-Link.”

The discomfort starts strong right out of the gate in the first episode, in which Galifianakis basically molests Michael Cera. There is a common thread of one-sided sexual tension in many of the episodes, and certainly not just with the female guests, though it may be strongest in the episode featuring Natalie Portman. It is a testament to her skill as an “acteress” that this episode is one of the most authentic, as if she were actually just in the midst of a nightmarish interview set up by the most incompetent agent imaginable. Other episodes are more clearly staged, and perhaps the weakest is the one with Will Ferrell, if only because the two are generally too chummy with each other, at least until the end.

The series is at its best when Galifianakis is openly hostile to his guests, like the episodes featuring Ben Stiller and “Brad Lee Cooper.” Though this hostility is common throughout the series, only “Conan O. Brien” gets an explanation, which is that Galifianakis thought he had a shot at “The Tonight Show.” Another especially convincing episode features Galifianakis’ “twin brother,” Seth, interviewing a wooden-faced Sean Penn, who really seems like he might haul off and punch Galifianakis at any moment. As with Portman, it is Penn’s acting skill that pulls off the joke so well.

A pitch-perfect spoof of bad, desperate public access talk shows, “Between Two Ferns” is easily one of the best offerings from the always enjoyable Funny or Die. Even the opening and closing theme music feels authentic, though it is actually lifted from Bernard Herrmann‘s “Taxi Driver” score, which adds to Galifianakis’ creepy, angry vibe. I’m not sure how well it would work as a full-length show on television, but in the small segments available online, it is hilarious.

  

An okay evening at Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” Awards

We’re fussy about Red Carpet events here at Bullz-Eye central. That’s largely because as a lone, online writer you’re pretty much at the mercy of the publicity gods in terms of who you’re going to meet up with and you never know who that’s going to be. One condition we have is that we get to see the show/movie/what-have-you in question so, if all else fails, we can write about that or at least get a bit of entertainment and free food. In this case, that was a good thing. Not because we didn’t get to talk to anybody interesting, but because Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” presentation, which premieres on the network at 9:00 Eastern/6:00 PDT Friday is not your usual award show.

Right down to the sexy female dancers who liven up the breaks and its highly distinctive award statue, “the Mantlers,” it’s easily the most laid back and honestly silly awards show I’ve seen. It’s also the only award show we know of which contains R-rated profanity in one of its award titles: the “Funniest Motherf*cker” award, this year being given to Jim Carrey. It’s safe the say the show was completely irreverent about everything, except for its commendable commitment to drawing attention to the bravery and sacrifices made by members of our armed forces.

Speaking of Jim Carrey, the famed comic provided a remarkable bit of comedy dealing with the always absolutely never hilarious topic of..oh, Lord, we’d better just leave it alone. You don’t want to know. Carrey himself made it clear that children and other sensitive people were better off not hearing the routine before proceeding with a shocking and explosively funny performance, abetted by the sensitive stylings of violinist Neil Hammond.

More traditionally edgy and hilarious at certain points, but a lot longer, was a marathon bit by faux canine Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, aka comic genius Robert Smigel. The latter merited a bad on-camera review from Sean Penn who between this show and his criticism of Ricky Gervais at Golden Globes, seems to be developing a side career as a real-time award show comedy critic.

Mila Kunis at the Spike Guy's Choice AwardsJustin Timberlake less controversially proved himself to be, once again, no comic slouch, while promoting the charms of the co-star of his next flick, “Friends with Benefits,” the beautiful and talented Mila Kunis. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards distinguished himself by simply being alive to pick up his award and being the innately humourous individual he is.

And so it went. I’ll have a few choice quotes from the show at the end of this piece. First, though, let’s talk about the folks we met on the Red Carpet.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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