Despite what you may have read, this is not going to be the worst film of the year. It’s not brilliant, but it’s far from awful.
Unlike most recent superhero/action movies, it doesn’t revel in its fight scenes, and it doesn’t linger over the heroine’s anguished antagonism towards the bad guys. It does spend a lot of time in broody contemplation of Elektra’s sense of isolation and loss, and this is perhaps where the perceived rot creeps in: the film simply doesn’t have a strong enough story to support this meditative aspect.
It’s an Eternal Battle of Good Versus Evil kind of thing, with a Mark IV Chosen-One Prophecy Module strapped on, and powered forward by a 1.6 litre Wayward-Heroine-Makes-Good engine. But it suffices. The villains tread a fine line between vaguely unpleasant and slightly crap, and most of the time end up dead, instead. The climactic fight scene is surprisingly poorly staged, given modern cinematic standards for the martial arts, and the whole final act that surrounds it feels like it was chopped up and mixed together by a committee who didn’t like Jennifer Garner all that much.
It lacks depth and richness of plot, the characters are ropy, the dialogue frequently stinks, it drops the ball (repeatedly) on back story, and it fails to properly activate any sequel hooks. It’s like the producers lost heart half-way through the film, and couldn’t be bothered giving it a thrilling end. And yet, despite all that, I just can’t bring myself to call it bad. The first hour is very watchable, but it should have been followed by another hour. Instead, it peters out with a mere half hour, and little promise of more to come. Pity.
Not as basic an introduction to the game as the authors would like you to believe. Yes, it does give a plain description of the fundamental rules of poker in general, and the specifics of the most popular games (Texas Hold’em, 7-Card stud, Omaha), but it does make some assumptions about your knowledge of cards and betting in general. The first few chapters can be quite confusing if you don’t know how a “betting round” works, because they never explain it. The “rah-rah!” Dummies-style of cheerleading also gets tiresome after a while, especially when you just know that if you step up to a table armed purely with the knowledge in this book, you’re going to get fleeced all the way to Nebraska. As quick-start guide, though, it does the job of setting you on your way.
Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is the big man around campus. The girls want to date him, and the guys want to be him. He’s been there for seven years, and he has no intention of ever leaving–until his father stops his tuition payments. Faced with the prospect of being kicked out of the comfortable home he has made for himself, Van turns himself into a party organiser, charging money for arranging good times.
As seems to be the requirement for comedies of this type, there is a love story driving the plot forward. Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) is the campus reporter trying to write a story on the enigmatic Wilder. In doing so, the two get close, hit it off, yada yada, and Gwen has to decide between Van and her rich frat boy boyfriend. I can’t say that this apect of the film worked for me. Tara Reid is a pretty face, but she has all the charisma of a blob of silly putty. Ryan Reynolds has enough charm and grin potential to make up for a lot, but he still can’t pull the film up much beyond average. Funny, but forgettable.
I find it hard to understand how a film with so much going for it turned out so average. The cast is extraordinary: Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz. And as expected, they all turn in strong performances. The production values are high, the lighting is gorgeous, and the direction is particularly smooth. But for a story that is kicked off with a brutal gun crime, and which revolves around the emotive issue of responsibility for gun-related deaths, it comes across as remarkably heartless. For all its cynicism regarding the firearms manufacturers and the process of law, it fails to make any kind of point about this cynicism.
In fact, the film is all about the plot as distinct from the story: how cleverly the pawns in the game can be manipulated, and how the players strike and dodge and thwart each other at every turn. Every character and every scene is set up as part of this elaborate dance to keep the viewer on their toes. There is anger, but no tension; astonishment, but no surprise; tears, but no pain. It lacks honesty and real emotion.