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Wolfwalkers (2020)

Beautifully animated with painterly water color visuals, Wolfwalkers is another treat from the acclaimed Irish studio that is single-handedly trying to bring back hand-drawn animation. The visuals are a delight and styled in a flat dimensional space reminiscent of Medieval tapestries (and Wes Anderson movies). The story brings to life 17th century Celtic mythology in a way that is still relevant today and concerns weighty themes about family identity, female independence, religious persecution, prejudice, colonial occupation and exploitation, and environmental conservation. It’s part Miyazaki and Brave and also reverent to its own cultural heritage, and it’s emotionally affecting and engrossing as well as being a treat for the eyes. We watch a young girl befriend a wild “wolfwalker,” a girl who can transform into a wolf when she sleeps. their bond will push each other to fight against forces trying to dominate the forest and morality. The filmmakers have carefully laid out the rules of their story and the implementation of the special powers so that everything happens through gradual circumstances where the plot feels as if it is following an entirely organic path. The voice acting is excellent and heartrending and perfectly paired for the exaggerated, wood-block-styled character designs. It’s a lovely and entertaining supernatural fable with enough thematic relevance, girl power, and visual grace to reaffirm just how magical traditional animation can still be.

Nate’s Grade: A-

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

If you’re looking for a pristine example of mediocrity, then let Percy Jackson serve as the new definition. From the acting to the special effects to the story, this movie barely registers anything other than a disinterested shrug. Based on a series of young adult books, clearly the producers were eyeing a potential lucrative franchise, which may explain why they hire Chris Columbus as director. The modern-day scions of ancient Greek gods is an intriguing starting point, until you realize that the film is just going to become one big, dumb retread through Greek mythology without a hint of wit. It’s Greek mythology turned into a kid’s book report who never read deeply into the source material. The film’s best asset is its collection of adult actors (Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Rosario Dawson), which take your mind off the fairly bland teen actors in the lead. Percy Jackson would be a more forgivable drag if it presented any moments of wonder that didn’t feel trite. The plot has the maddening habit of making characters stupid for plot reasons (hey Lightning Thief who wants to start a God-on-God war, when you have Zeus’s lightning bolt, thus sealing an impending war, don’t stop and monologue!). Yet the film has enough going on that you can follow it with ease and a minimal commitment. Consider putting on Percy Jackson when you need to do some household chores; it deserves that kind of attention.

Nate’s Grade: C

Silent Hill (2006)

Video games will never be translated into a good movie. There, I said it. I caught some grief before by this opinion. Think about it. Unlike say comic books, video games are dependent on user interactivity, on game involvement, and not necessarily story or character. A video game requires an audience to be interactive, whereas movies require an audience to be passive, letting a story envelope around them and take them some place. Video games just aren’t structured in a way that lends itself to storytelling. Just look at some recent results: House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Doom, Bloodrayne, Double Dragon (remember that movie?), Mortal Kombat 1 & 2, Street Fighter, etc. Granted three of those are Uwe Boll films, but what does it say when the best video game adaptation yet was Super Mario Brothers?

Now comes Silent Hill based on the very popular horror video game series. The screenplay is written by Roger Avary, who used to be Quentin Tarantino’s writing partner and wrote and directed one of my all-time guilty pleasures 2002’s Rules of Attraction. I guess I foolishly expected more, but with Silent Hill what I got was further fuel to my theory that no video game will make a good movie.

Rose (Radha Mitchell) and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean) are very troubled about their adopted girl, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). She has the habit of sleepwalking and uttering “Silent Hill” repeatedly. So what’s a 21st century mother to do? Look up Silent Hill online, put her tyke in the car, and drive to the ghost town herself, much to the dismay of her husband left behind. It seems that Silent Hill was a town in West Virginia that had a horrible coal mining accident in the early 70s, killing many and condemning the town. We’re told the fires are still burning underground to this day. Along the way, a roadside motorcycle cop (Laurie Holden) gets suspicious of Rose and chases her. They crash their vehicles along the road and wake up to falling ash. Rose’s daughter is missing and she looks inside the nearby Silent Hill, a presumably deserted town. Then there are routine air sirens warning of an approaching darkness. The world changes form and nasty creatures come to life, like disjointed bodies, charcoal-skinned children, and malevolent evil spirits. It’s about here where I’d just say, “Oh well. I can adopt again.”

The movie is paced and structured like a video game, which means it’s just as tedious to sit through. The first two acts of Silent Hill center on Rose going from Point A to Point B, finding clue that leads her to a new point, and repeating this tiresome exercise. There?s a scene where there’s a giant hole in the floor and Rose has to navigate across scattered beams to get to the other side. It’s portrayed exactly like a video game level, as are most of her encounters. Worst of all, the movie follows a code of logic that dares to only exist in video games. Why does Rose instinctively know she needs to reach inside the mouth of a corpse to find a sign? How does she know a hidden room lay behind a portrait? Why does Rose know that light attracts the “Thriller” dance team/nurses with potato sacks on their heads? How come the evil presence that basically created this limbo world of the undead cannot penetrate a church? The plot is mostly incoherent and intentionally surreal, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the story is just plain awful.

Silent Hill completely collapses once the third act begins. It was plodding up until that point, but now the film becomes downright ridiculous and painful. We’re amongst a crazy group of fundamentalist witch burners that, for whatever reason, dress in hazmat suits to venture outside their grounds. It’s at this point that the surreal nature stops and we find the answer to our questions: another vengeful spirit from beyond the grave. Ho hum. The protracted climax goes overboard and practically rapes the stellar ending of Carrie. Also, Silent Hill expects its Big Reveal to be shocking or surprising, but it cannot be anything except redundant because the film spelled it out an hour ago.

The dialogue is howl-inducing. There’s a moment that Rose says, “Don’t worry honey, everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to be alright.” And this immediately precedes the little girl watching the religious cult burn someone’s face off. There’s another moment, more than an hour in, where Rose says, “Something bad happened here.” You think? All of the dialogue can be fitted into two categories: either expository or instructional. It’s like to be true to a video game they also decided to lift the terrible dialogue as well. The plot meanders for the longest time, allowing Rose to visit place to place, and then Avary decides to bludgeon his audience with a 5-minute chunk of exposition meant to clarify everything up to that point.

The acting is pretty bad. Mitchell gives a valiant effort and has a nice scream, but she can’t escape the dead weight of the dialogue and total lack of characterization. Bean is entirely wasted and his “American” accent seems to waver quite a bit for such short screen time. Holden is more a fetish figure fantasy than a character, evidenced by her tight leather pants being the first thing we ever see of her. Still, it’s somewhat interesting seeing the romantic lead from 2001’s The Majestic kickin’ some unholy ass. It’s hard to say if any actors of any caliber could have redeemed the film, but this collection of thespians doesn’t even try to put a polish on the dialogue. You can tell because the howler lines are still howlers.

Lest I forget, this thing is OVER two hours long. There’s no reason Silent Hill should even be teetering over 100 minutes, especially for a film as sparsely plotted as this one, that is, before Avary’s exposition head rush. I don’t know why the filmmakers included the pointless subplot involving Christopher on the search for his wife. The subplot adds no deeper insight, affords no opportunity to help shape the plot, and only serves to whisk the audience out of the moment and remind them how pointless Silent Hill is quickly becoming. And is it ever pointless.

Director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) has a great taste for visuals, Silent Hill‘s only positive marks. Some of the images in this movie are truly horrifying and have, reluctantly, stuck in my head days afterwards. The Pyramid Head man, with a 20-foot sword, makes little sense but is a jarring and memorable image. When those loud sirens sound there is a slight amount of dread, but really it’s more of a morbid curiosity at what kind of hellish transportation will happen next. The excellent production design and cinematography also contribute to the film’s eerie, striking, sometimes suffocating atmosphere. But, alas, an interesting visual palate cannot save a slow, dimwitted, inane movie. Otherwise What Dreams May Come may have worked. But it didn’t.

Silent Hill is pointless, plodding, incoherent, far too long and far too boring. The bad dialogue, acting, and plot don’t seem to help matters either. Gans creates a moody atmosphere with some powerfully nightmarish imagery, but that’s the only thing Silent Hill has going for it. Whether it be a man with a Pyramid for his head ripping the flesh off someone like a coat or a little demonic girl dancing in a literal blood shower, Silent Hill has its small potent visual moments. However, these small moments of visual potency cannot make up for the giant black hole of suck. This movie is simply dreadful and designed too faithfully as a video game adaptation, which means the same gaps in logic and pacing are present. I certainly expected better from Avary. I told my friend Dan that I was embarrassed we’d forever know we saw Silent Hill on its opening night, so much so that I bought him food after the show to make up for dragging him along. This is the first movie I’ve ever attended where I heard booing afterwards from my audience. I would have joined them but I was too busy getting out of the theater as soon as the end credits rolled.

Nate’s Grade: D

Flightplan (2005)

Anyone else tired of seeing that damn trailer for Flightplan? Ever since maybe June, I’ve been seeing Jodie Foster freak out on an airplane. The trailer also had the misfortune of revealing way too much information about the film’s plot, seriously spoiling a key moment. This got me thinking about other movie trailers that spoil the movie. The worst offender I can fathom is 1998’s The Negotiator, where Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey are pitted against each other as hostage negotiators on opposite sides. The trailer had the nerve to reveal that Spacey and Jackson team up in the end to fight The Man collectively. Why does it seem that movie trailers these days spell out film twists? Are movie audiences demanding more investment before shelling out money? Do studios just not have faith in audiences anymore? With all this in mind, I ventured into Flightplan with my family thinking there might be more to the film than one poorly spoiled twist. I was wrong.

Kyle Pratt (Foster) is a very distraught woman. She’s returning from Berlin to the United States with the casket of her dead husband aboard. To make things worse, at 30,000 feet her daughter Julia goes missing. Kyle looks around the giant aircraft that she helped design, still not finding any trace of her absent little girl. Kyle becomes more frantic the more she looks and finds nothing, troubling an air marshal (Peter Sasrgaard) and the pilot (Sean Bean). No one remembers seeing Julia on board. She believes her daughter is somewhere and someone is definitely responsible. Kyle is dealt a crushing blow when word comes from a Berlin mortician that not only is the plane carrying the body of her dead husband but also her dead daughter. Is Kyle right or is she one crazy mamma? And so the drama unfolds.

Flightplan is a rather boring trip. Well over half of this movie is spent watching Kyle wig out and search compartments for her missing kid. She’s frantic and possessed and it’s interesting to watch a woman come undone, especially of Foster’s talent, but after several searches and little progression, the film feels like it’s going nowhere. There’s very little story for very long stretches of time. Flightplan relies on its outlandish final twists to provide a story, because without them the film would just have been 60 minutes of a mother freaking out on a plane. You can see that with home movies.

The premise is a direct homage (or rip-off) of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, but Flightplan could have been something special if it wasn’t so afraid of going against convention. The film sets up our leading lady looking for her missing child, and as the hours tick away she becomes more and more undone, practically terrorizing the other passengers. In a bit of incisive bigotry, Kyle even unfairly blames a pair of Middle Eastern passengers, who then garner everyone’s suspicious eyes. Now, with all this set up, what if Flightplan took a different path and we remained in doubt whether Kyle ever had a living daughter, and then through her grief, confusion, frustration, and misplaced anger she became a terrorist and was the cause of the plane going down. Wouldn’t that be neat? A little thought-provoking about role reversals in a post-9/11 anxiety-riddled world? It’s not like I expected a dour, Twilight Zone-esque ending, but Flightplan presents Kyle as a crazy woman with the entire world against her, and yet the movie virtually winks at you to say, “Don’t worry, this is Hollywood, no matter how outlandish the conspiracy, our heroine will always be right.” At the end, the film even has the distasteful audacity to have a scene where Kyle walks past every airline passenger, shaming them for having ever doubted a crazy loud woman who had terrified them and jeopardizing their safety. Shame on you all, passengers. Don’t you know that she’s Jodie Foster? She has TWO OSCARS! Kyle doesn’t even offer an apology to the Middle Eastern passengers, and they even carry her bags for crying out loud!

There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s Flightplan. The missing-daughter scheme is so ridiculous, so convoluted, so rickety, that it makes Scooby-Doo schemes look downright like Hitchcock. For those who have seen the film, or just want to know the laundry list of variables to allow this plan to work, read on (massive spoilers ahead). Apparently, the ones behind everything are the helpful air marshal and one stewardess. They want to squeeze 50 million dollars from the airline. This is the best way they propose to do so: First, they locate an airline engineer living abroad and kill her husband and make it look like suicide. Then they pay off the mortician so they can stash explosives in her husband’s security sealed coffin. Then apparently they know when Kyle will want to fly again and it also happens to be a flight that the marshal and the stewardess will be scheduled aboard. Now, once the plane is in flight, the marshal somehow manages to steal the little girl, awakening no one, takes Kyle?s boarding pass and doesn’t awaken her, and stows the little girl away without being seen. They then let Kyle go nuts looking for her missing tyke so they can, get this, have a credible hijacker that they can accuse of plotting to blow up the plane unless … she gets 50 million wired into an account. Afterwards, the marshal will somehow get the Feds to kill Kyle and he’ll slip the detonator in her cold dead hand. Oh, and the stewardess changes the flight manifest twice too. What. The. Hell? Does this sound like the easiest way to make money? This plan also involves Kyle wiggling her way into the cargo hold and manually opening her hubby’s casket with the security code so that the marshal can get a hold of the hidden explosives. This entire tortuous plan revolves around a primary assumption that NO ONE will remember or interact with Kyle’s daughter the entire time. This assumes not a single person will remember little Julia, even though mother and daughter boarded first onto an empty plane. What would happen if Julia hit the call button for a pillow? Oops. What would happen if anyone next to them just said, “Hi?” Oops. What would happen if people on the plane contacted anyone at the airport? Oops. The entire conspiracy rests on 400 people’s bad memories. Those do not seem like good odds to me, but then again I’m not a movie villain. The entire heft of Flightplan is built around the revealing of this nefarious, fool-proof plot. The movie can’t help but crash and burn with such a laughable, preposterous Big Twist to give plausibility to the proceedings.

It’s a shame because Foster gives a real nail-biting performance. She’s splendidly rattled and lets the audience see the gears of fear turn in her eyes. The acting as a whole is the lone strength of Flightplan. Foster provides entertainment just from her sheer talent to be able to make a turkey like this flick even remotely watchable. The rest of the cast is okay to good and they all deserve pilot wings for keeping straight faces.

Flightplan is a timid, tedious, tiresome, and painfully preposterous thriller. Foster’s excellent performance is wasted in a film that spins its wheels before unleashing a dreaded torrent of illogical plot twists. You may be twisting your head around just to understand how any of this deeply flawed movie could be plausible. Flightplan should appeal to people that liked 2004’s The Forgotten, a very similar child-vanishes thriller. Another thing both movies have in common is that they’re utterly terrible.

Nate’s Grade: C-

The Island (2005)

To many film critics, director Michael Bay is the devil. He’s the man behind such ADD-edited hits like Armageddon, both Bad Boys, and Pearl Harbor. Each film was more or less savaged by critics and each film was a hit. Bay has always said he makes popcorn movies for audiences and never listens to the critics. That would probably be a good thing since they don’t exactly have a lot of nice things to say about Bay and especially his editing techniques. But how would someone like Bay, who dreams about blowing stuff up with every night’s sleep, handle material a little more subtlety than, say, corpses filled with drugs being thrown at oncoming traffic (see: Bad Boys II or better yet, don’t)? The Island is Bay’s first film without uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and it’s also Bay’s first encounter with science fiction. Can he make The Island into another popcorn miracle or will his blockbuster tendencies get the better of him?

In the year 2020, the Earth has been contaminated by pollution. The survivors live in a series of isolated towers and are monitored, given strict diets and jobs, and even matching white jump suits. There is an upside to this life; every so often there is a lottery where the winning inhabitant gets a trip to The Island, the last uncontaminated spot on Earth. They’ll spend the rest of their days living it up in paradise, or so they think.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) has been at the facility for three years. He has questions for the good doctor Merrick (Sean Bean, your go-to guy for villains when you can’t afford Al Pacino), the man in charge of the place. Lincoln questions his purpose and wonders why he keeps having recurring nightmares with images he can’t place. He’s also been having a very close friendship with Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), though they?re not allowed intimate contact and the living quarters are separated by gender. One day Lincoln finds a butterfly on a different level of the facility and investigates the higher levels. In a few minutes time, Lincoln discovers the truth about the facility: it’s a station harvesting clones to keep rich people going when they need an organ or two. There is no Island but there is an operating room that you won’t return from. Lincoln escapes back into the facility’s population but springs into action when he learns Jordan has been selected to go to The Island. He fights the facility’s staff, grabs his girl, and the two are off to learn the truth of their world and to live.

McGregor is on autopilot with this one but still manages to have some fun, especially when he’s playing two different versions of himself (“What’s with all the biting?”). Johansson looks more beautiful than ever but does little more than stare vacantly. It doesn’t help that a majority of the dialogue after the half-way mark consists of one-word shouts like, “Go!” and “Move!” and of course, “Lincoln!” The best actor by far in The Island is Michael Clarke Duncan who plays a clone who wakes up on the operating table. His mad rush of screaming, tears, confusion, horror, and betrayal may be some of the finest two minutes of acting from the year. Duncan’s cries will hit you square in the gut.

The fish out of water scenario does provide some fun moments of humor, like Lincoln being confused by the phrase “taking a dump.” The Island also asks how people who have never known sexuality deal with their expressions of sexuality (plus it doesn’t even come close to viewer discomfort of something like The Blue Lagoon). The always welcomed Steve Buscemi provides the biggest laughs in the movie as the wise-cracking outsider who helps the runaway clones.

It’s comforting to know that in the future product placement will be as large as ever. I?m normally not too offended by product placement in ads, but The Island seems like it’s contorting to show company names. In one scene, Jordan gazes at an image of herself in a perfume ad, and it’s a real ad Scarlett Johansson did. This got me thinking, what if The Island‘s villains were really today’s actual flesh-and-blood movie stars that wanted fresh parts. The real McGregor and Johansson would become the bad guys. Unfortunately, it seems a little too meta to pull off for a Bay film.

The Island is an intriguing sci-fi movie that doesn’t know what to do once it gets to the surface. As soon and our clones go on their Logan’s run, the movie devolves into a series of bloated, mediocre chase scenes. If the first half is Bay at his potential best, the second half is Bay at his lazy, expected self. The chase scenes aren’t too lively and, except for a late subplot involving McGregor playing dual roles, The Island wilts as soon as it turns into an action movie. There doesn’t seem to be enough plot for this overlong 140 minute movie. Bay’s requisite chaotic grandeur and spectacle has a ho-hum feeling and dulls the viewer right when they should be racing with excitement. Bay’s done this all before and better, and that’s why the first half is so exciting a change for him. It’s thoughtful, tense, interesting, well plotted and visually fun, and then we regrettably hit the second half and it all goes downhill from there.

The movie limps to its over-extended climax and saps all the potential from the opening. The Island really is two disjointed movies slapped together. The first hour is a classic science fiction setup and we are given morsels of information like bread crumbs, which heighten the tension. The second half is an unimaginative, plodding thrill ride that never seems to take off. Sure, the first half may be derivative of a hundred other sci-fi films (most notably Parts: The Clonus Horror) but the second half is derivative of a thousand other action movies. I’ll take smart sci-fi over dumb action most days, even during the bombast of summer. It feels like The Island began as a scary sci-fi film and in order to make it to the big screen the studio had to piggyback a lifeless action movie on top of it. The Island‘s action sequences feel like Bay fell asleep at the wheel.

It may seem like I’m being over cruel about The Island, but the reason I lambaste the second half is because I was so thoroughly entertained by the first half. For many The Island will be enough to quench their summer thirst, but for me it only showed flashes of life in the first half. Once all the explosions, noise, and flying debris kicked in, The Island transforms into any other dumb action movie. Such promise, such vision, all quickly flushed down an embryonic feeding tube. Even if someone prefers the noisy second half they would still take issue with the first half, calling it slow and boring. Fans of Bad Boys II and Logan’s Run don’t exactly mix well. How can a movie possibly work this way?

Bay may be a master maestro of explosions and gunfire, but The Island flat lines when it transitions from thoughtful, eerie sci-fi parable to rote action flick. This feels like two very different movies slapped together, and most audiences are going to like one half stronger than the other so the film won’t work. The action sequences feel unimaginative and all of the film’s potential gets stranded by its about-face in tone. We’ve seen all of these things before, and that’s what’s most regrettable about where The Island leaves you after flashing an iota of glossy potential. Bay may not be the devil but he’s certainly losing his edge, and The Island would have been all the better for it.

Nate’s Grade: C+

National Treasure (2004)

The premise for National Treasure, the newest Jerry Bruckheimer action film, is something of a mess. According to the film, during the Crusades a magnificent treasure was found. The Knights Templar swore to protect it, and the Masonic order carried the vow through the ages. The founding fathers of the Unites States were among this Masonic order, and they went about hiding the fabulous riches and set up a series of elaborate clues to discover its whereabouts. These clues include symbols on the back of our currency and, get this, a secret invisible message on… the back of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, the Declaration of Independence is a treasure map. The silly premise for National Treasure equates the Declaration of Independence with a Denny’s place mat. Can something this outlandish make for a good movie? Well, it depends on your working definition of “good.”

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is somewhat of a laughing stock amongst his peers. His family name is cursed with the crazy belief in some long lost treasure hidden by the founding fathers. His father (Jon Voight) rues the family name being attached to such foolish theories. Of course such foolish theories in Hollywood are always right, no matter how stupid (did I mention the Declaration of Independence is a treasure map?). Ben and his treasure hunting partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean) find a definitive clue, but then Ian double-crosses on Ben and, gasp, wants the treasure for himself. This turns into a race to see who can steal the Declaration of Independence, though Ben wishes to steal it to protect the document and the treasure. Along the way, Ben teams up with a techno-nerd (Justin Bartha) and a hot government official (Diane Kruger) to crisscross historical monuments and sites to unravel the clues before Ian can.

National Treasure is dumb. Little to absolutely nothing makes sense in this film. This is an obvious, embarrassing attempt to ride the popular coattails of The Da Vinci Code and Americanize the quest. Except that National Treasure really comes across as some half-baked movie version of a kid’s educational game show.

There are so many holes, so where do I begin? First off, why would the founding fathers make it so pointlessly, hopelessly elaborate to find this stockpile of treasure? I’m talking crazy complicated, like having one clue involve finding a ship buried in the Arctic Circle. Yes, the Arctic Circle. Supposedly, the founding fathers decided to hide the treasure because they didn’t want the British to get their grubby, nice-fitting gloves all over it. Something tells me that the founding fathers had more important things going on, like, oh I don’t know, a war! It’s purely absurd to have Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and all the rest more interested in hiding some treasure than breaking from England and building an independent nation based on their ideals.

There are some other head-smackers, like the fact that an assembly of clues has been left entirely undisturbed in 200 plus years, like a single special brick. And, for that matter, how does Cage cut through mortar so easily with just a pocket knife? If there’s a gigantic catacomb under D.C., then what’s holding up the city? How come 200 year old oil still burns as well? Wouldn’t that have dried out by now?

Cage reverts back to his manic show-offy character behavior. In Bruckheimer movies, Cage seems to have theoretic spurts here and there, like he keeps sticking some extremity in an off-screen light socket. He’s generally likeable but his character comes across more like some social studies teacher’s daydream. Bartha and Kruger add less-than-snappy one-liners, but their presence never becomes grating. Bean seems to be playing the stock bad guy role he always is, whether it be GoldenEye, Don’t Say a Word, or Patriot Games.

Sure, even the Indiana Jones films had plot holes (how does closing your eyes guard you from the wrath of God?) but their thrilling adventures overcame any quibbles. National Treasure, on the other hand, is an adventure lacking anything thrilling. This is the first action film to put me to sleep. I can forgive an action/adventure flick being dumb but being boring is a capital offense.

The action sequences in National Treasure are never fully thought out; they usually involve Cage and his cronies outrunning Sean Bean’s group of thugs (repeat). The film’s best moment is the actual theft of the Declaration of Independence. This is the lone sequence in the film that feels like thought was put into drawing out suspense, thinking of natural and interesting complications, and, surprisingly, having the sequence not be overcome by idiocy. After this scene, National Treasure descends into ill-conceived chase scenes strung between crazy elaborate clue hunting. By the time the film reaches its anticlimactic ending, you may have rustled through your change, eyeing the backs of quarters and dimes to ensure there’s no hidden message about a sequel.

National Treasure is a ridiculously stupid, inexcusably boring, ineptly plotted historical adventure for people who get their history solely from movies. Bruckheimer and Cage have an up-and-down partnership, but National Treasure starts with the worst film premise of the year and can?t go much further. Fans of clue-hunting adventure tales may excuse the gaping plot holes, and National Treasure has found a sizeable audience willing to go along for the ride, but the movie doesn’t contain much thrills, entertainment, or anything historically resonant. National Treasure should have stayed buried.

Nate’s Grade: C

Don’t Say a Word (2001)

I don’t know about the marketers but something strange is taking place with the public recognition of Don’t Say a Word. At school, church, and home I hear it referred to often as the “I’ll never tell” movie. Which could be great for public awareness, what sinking that ending sing-songy whisper of Brittany Murphy into the populace’s mind, but what good is awareness if they think it’s a different movie?

Michael Douglas is the best child psychiatrist we have, but not only that, why he’s a loving dad as well. He gets called in to inspect a new patient Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy) who appears to be one loony nut to crack. But of course Douglas can because he’s the best. A team of foiled bank robbers kidnap Douglas’ child and order him to somehow dislodge a key sequence of six numbers stuck in the tortured head of Elisabeth. Can Douglas rescue his daughter and topple the bad bank robbers in the process and protect his disabled wife (Famke Janssen) in the process? Well of course. He’s the best damn child psychiatrist we have.

Don’t Say a Word is the type of film that leaves nothing to chance for the audience. It’s a film that paints with broad strokes, forgetting its massive plot holes and frequent missteps with logic, and spells everything out for the audience – but still fowls this up. Word is so by-the-numbers and predictable that it hardly ever muscles up enough of a fight to keep an audience’s attention. A female detective (Jennifer Esposito) is on the case and following the clues to find Elisabeth. We simply know that her only purpose is to come from nowhere and save Douglas in a tense exchange. The bad guys aren’t all bad; some make peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches. In the beginning robbery we know that it’s the past, why? They talk about football and U2 plays over the robbery! Surely this must be the early 90s!

Douglas spends most of the film either scowling at people or trying to look sincere, which comes off looking like an impatient child that has to go the bathroom. This is essentially a Michael Douglas film and I guess Michael Douglas plays the role of Michael Douglas with ease. Too bad the rest of the movie is full of people that look like they don’t know what they’re doing in this mess.

Janssen is confined for the entire movie to her bed. The movie could have expertly veered into her paranoia and feelings of helplessness stuck in her house while her daughter has been taken from her. Instead she’s merely pretty window dressing. The only purpose she has with a broken leg and confined to a bed is that we know that some bad guy will come down and she’ll have to hide and fight for herself.

Bean makes an adequate bad guy (as he did in Golden Eye) but he doesn’t have much to do except mug on a cell phone or in a speeding car. The rest of his posse is basically a central casting call for gang members, from the motor mouth black guy to the biker to the computer whiz. And all of these people are fighting, killing, and destroying mass amount of public property for a ruby the size of a fingernail? And where did they get all this money to pull off a scheme like the one they perpetrate on Douglas’ family? It’s like the team took a trip to Circuit City and bought the store.

Don’t Say a Word is really a thriller that doesn’t thrill, and one that causes you to smack yourself in the head at several eye-rolling moments. Douglas escorts his hospitalized and supposedly dangerous patient out of a hospital with nary a glance or tinge of trouble all because he pulled a fire alarm. Are we back in junior high or something? As well as the moment Douglas first spots Murphy he calls her out by dropping her arm but she supposedly had fooled a legion of trained medical professionals before? Word is a series of contrivances and mounting questions that never get answered.

Don’t Say a Word is so run-of-the-mill that its often times dull and void of life. The audience of Don’t Say a Word might come off thinking they have the power of Miss Cleo with all the predictions they’ll get right. It’s basically a recycling of everything you’ve seen many times before in better thrillers. Murphy’s performance lifts the bar occasionally but this is a dog that is in desperate need of being shot.

Nate’s Grade: C

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