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Rampage: President Down (2016)

rampage-president-down_poster_goldposter_com_1-jpg0o_0l_800w_80qIn the close for my review of the awful 2014 hostage thriller Rampage: Capital Punishment, I was fairly prescient with a concern that sat in the pit of my stomach:

“I fear Uwe Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk.”

Flash to 2015, and Boll and Fletcher are pushing a Kickstarter to raise funds in order to make a third (and final?) Rampage movie that will be guaranteed to be “the film we want to make, and you will want to see.” It seems that the requested $56,000 was to fund a climactic action sequence that would “leave the streets of Washington ruined, in a sequence more explosive than anything scene before in the Rampage trilogy.” It did not meet its target goal, and Boll’s response was titled, “F you all.” Those discerning folks of the Internet couldn’t stop Boll and his ridiculously misapplied love and devotion to the Rampage series, and so my dire warning has come true. The only good thing about Rampage: President Down is it might be the merciful end of this merciless franchise.

003f5364Bill Williamson (Fletcher) has come out of hiding and made big news. He assassinates the United States’ president, vice president, and Secretary of Defense, and inexplicably goes back into hiding in the woods. FBI agents Vincent Jones (Ryan McDonell), James Molokai (Steve Baran), and Murray (Scott Patey) are on the hunt to find out who is responsible, and they’re shocked to discover Bill is alive and well. Not only that he’s a new father, sneaking in visits with his child and baby mama (Crystal Lowe, a Boll acting reappearance stretching all the way back to 2000’s Sanctuary). Bill is making one final stand and has deadly plans for the government agents looking to bring him to justice.

As much as the subtitle was misleading from 2014’s Capital Punishment, with a picture of the U.S. Capitol building that was never featured, this one may prove to be even more of a misleading promise. President Down makes it sound like the president is under immediate threat, and he was, at the ten-minute mark. At that point Bill has taken out the president, the vice president, and even the secretary of defense, which means they must have had the absolute least qualifies team of Secret Service agents. It’s never explained how exactly he accomplishes this feat or whether suspicions creep toward the Speaker of the House (line of succession, folks). You would expect the entire nation to be on high alert, that a manhunt would be under full swing with every agency utilizing very even means to capture the culprit and bring them to justice. If you worried about the NSA spying on people and the defense department’s predilection for of drone warfare, just imagine after a wave of high-profile assassinations at the top of the executive branch. And yet the frantic world of political instability is manifested by two or three mediocre FBI agents who then, when successfully identifying THE U.S. PRESIDENT’S KILLER, go at it alone and miserably. This world lacks any sense of urgency and any sense of reality. The only reason a writer would bump off the U.S. president in the story is to deal with the consequences, and weirdly the consequences almost feel entirely unrelated. The FBI is tracking Bill but they could have been doing that already after he murdered over 100 people. Oh, I’m sorry, he was so remarkably clever that he faked his own death. There is no real chaos at least as it pertains to the movie’s plot. We hear offhand news broadcasts about the world spiraling out of control, possibly nuclear attacks on ISIS. It’s all pretty vague. However, our characters just go about their duty like it was a boring Tuesday. What’s the point of toppling the president if it isn’t significant to the story?

The movie suffers from a plot that struggles to fill out a feature-length running time, stretching this manhunt and then providing a climactic confrontation that doesn’t so much feel climactic as it does a relief from the prior crushing monotony. The first hour is built around the FBI agents getting tracking down Bill but there’s no reason this manhunt even needs to be as long as it is, and that’s because of the contrivance of the magic facial recognition software. If you’re going to through in that device, it might as well find him immediately rather than stretch out this storyline and have to reboot the system to reach the inevitable recognition. It’s delaying what everyone already anticipates, so why wait? The manhunt isn’t even that interesting because it’s watching three stock FBI characters stare at computer screens and occasionally engage in their own political debate. I think one of them might have been a mole who was sympathetic to Bill, but I can’t say for certain because the copy I watched had German subtitles for the onscreen texts. If this is the case, and it might not be, then revealing this mole at the half-hour mark is far too early and robs the film of greater mystery and suspense. This isn’t The Departed. There’s far too little that happens for the first hour. Finally, once the FBI agents raid Bill’s cabin, something does happen, and it’s slow-mo combat and explosions. Why did only two agents try and take down America’s most prolific murderer? Why does the FBI not send out a drone and just blow up the entire area? The ensuing action is pretty pointless. Boll also opens the movie with a flash-forward of this cabin assault, which confuses the timeline of events but also pads out his otherwise meager running time. There’s not enough plot here to justify a feature film and adding more Bill rants is not the answer.

The biggest problem with this series has been twofold: the empty void of its central protagonist and the lack of cohesive or, at times, even existent commentary. I reiterate what I said in my Capital Punishment review: “Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous.” Boll thinks he’s really saying deep things through his mouthpiece but his sputtering diatribes lack direction and articulation. It’s like making a trilogy of movies about the guy who yells at passing cars. Bill chastises the media and his online followers for losing sight: “You’re obsessed with violence. You focus on my body count rather than what I was telling you.” Gee, has there ever been a spree killer that enacted radical social change? I’m fairly certain Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t gunning down innocent people for trivial crimes as practicing yoga (that freaking happened in Capital Punishment! — not the MLK part).

Bill is an attention-seeking hypocrite with a healthy martyr complex and an oversized ego, but where is he really fails is that he’s boring. There’s not one interesting thing about this guy even after three full movies. Boll tries to give him depth through the hackneyed addition of Bill becoming a father with a… fan? It’s not really explained, and Bill does fall into what comedian Paul F. Tompkins dubbed “new dad” sotto voice. Does having a child in this world cause him to reflect? Does it change his perspective? Does it make him think of the hundreds of fathers and mothers that he took from this Earth? There are no insights provided at all except that he occasionally cries. The entire baby mama storyline is a pathetic attempt to humanize a remorseless killer, but it’s even more pathetic as a last-ditch attempt to inject some semblance of life into this empty vessel.

The other major issue that goes directly back to the start of this terrible film franchise is that the violence lacks any sort of relevant commentary. The movie isn’t bereft of social commentary but it’s a messy shotgun blast without a clear direction. Boll has a lot of anger directed at government overreach with modern surveillance and he also takes time to re-litigate the Iraq War and ethically murky War on Terror. There are points to be made here, relevant, searing, and eye-opening points, but Boll cannot focus his thoughts beyond ire and brimstone. I think he wants Bill to be a wake-up call but for what exactly? He points to vague things about income inequality and the rights of the people being taken away, but there’s a dangerous opaque quality to these charges, especially when the end result is that The People are stirred to take up arms and become spree killers. Is random murder of innocent human beings the solution to income inequality? At the conclusion of the movie, a news anchor informs us that George W. Bush, the CEOs of Microsoft, GE, and Facebook have been murdered by The People, along with the likes of singers Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Britney Spears (hey girl, you still got it). Regardless of what you think about their music, do these people deserve to be the first against the wall in a revolution? That seems pretty petty and a wasted grievance.

1106Boll’s misguided view of his lead character can best be summarized by Bill’s baby mama. She’s tear-stricken to discover news that her man has been declared dead by authorities, and she takes great umbrage at their choice of vocabulary: “He wasn’t a terrorist! He was just doing what needed to be done!” It’s fortunate I wasn’t drinking something at the time of this dialogue line because it would have been spat all over my computer screen. What an immensely asinine rationalization. Of course this dude is a terrorist! He literally terrorizes the nation, mowing down dozens and dozens of innocent people, rising in infamy with a record-breaking body count of wreckage. This guy is a definition of a terrorist, although I guess he’s not Middle Eastern of Muslim and so might not fit the profile for some. The revolution was only one yoga-practitioner away from being realized, we just never knew about it before (non-terrorist) St. Bill.

I’ll never understand why Boll hitched his wagon to such a depraved and empty central figure. With the first Rampage film I wondered if Boll was trying to understand the disaffected angry male voice out there, to try and put the audience in the shoes of a human being who would commit horrifying acts of butchery as a means of lashing out against a system that made him feel inconsequential. That wasn’t Rampage, a nihilistic and tiresome exercise in shock value that was mistaken as commentary. The 2014 sequel only reinforced the flaws of Bill and his rise-up manifesto, and once again Boll’s story dawdled with contrived false tension until an explosive climax that lingered on the violence, celebrating the carnage. If Bill wants to complain about the people’s love of violence he might want to direct his fury at his own director. With President Down, Bill is dead and his message has inspired the populace to take control of their lives via the conduit of indiscriminate murder and terrorism. I think the message may have gotten a tad lost along the way. The Rampage films were never good movies but they were even worse intellectual exercises, and I worry about people who charitably refer to them as the “good Boll movies.” They’re not, and as one of the world’s foremost experts on the catalogue of Boll, I can legitimately say he has made some almost-good movies (Attack on Wall Street and Tunnel Rats). I beg audiences not to give Boll an easy pass. If this is the end of the franchise, it goes out with a whimper and no lasting impression beyond angry, misplaced rhetoric and violent nihilism masquerading as social commentary. Follow the lead of the Kickstarter folks and steer clear of this mighty mess.

Nate’s Grade: D

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Rampage: Capital Punishment (2014)

MV5BMTA3MjEzMzI0ODheQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg0NzI4NTIx._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_Rampage was one of the better-received films from director Uwe Boll, with several critics and members of the public declaring it his best work, something that could actually be qualified as “good.” Despite tracking Boll from the beginning, I could not count myself amongst their numbers. I found Rampage to be a rather empty exercise in shock violence that grew tedious and misguided as it continued. A sequel to an intellectually empty and violent film minus meaningful subtext or commentary was not exactly what I would have requested.

Years after his murderous spree in a small town, Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is back with another “important” message to deliver to the masses. He storms a TV news station, rounds u a number of hostages after murdered an equal number, and appoints egotistical anchor Chip (Lochlyn Munro) as his go-between with the police. He insists his message must be heard. You can guess already whether it’s worth the fuss.

brenden-fletcher-mediumRampage 2: Capital Punishment is an exercise in testing your patience with its aimless nihilism. It’s a formless diatribe against all the world’s evils. Topics include the NSA and spying, the war in Iraq, Bush’s status as a war criminal, oil companies, drone strikes, Edward Snowden, Obamacare, the media, reality TV, global warming, Wall Street, and just about every other political target you can think of from an angry reactionary with a healthy sense of outrage. It’s not that these topics are beyond scrutinizing or that Bill might have some legitimate points as he’s skipping around from subject to subject, but he’s too scatterbrained, inarticulate, and just a poor mouthpiece for the revolution he wants to inspire. Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous. This is the problem with Bill as a character and his ongoing rampages. He’s all sputtering outrage without a filter and direction, without honing his fury. It’s easy to tune this guy out because he sounds no more particularly articulate than any other person who legitimately uses the word “manifesto” in daily life. Chances are if anyone in your life refers to something they wrote, un-ironically, as a “manifesto,” get a new friend pronto.

Here’s an example of the overall aimlessness of Bill’s indignation. One of his hostages is quivering in yoga pants. He asks if she does yoga and she nods her head. He demands she perform some yoga poses at gunpoint. “Yoga is not good for the world. It is gymnastics for the egocentric,” he argues. Then he shoots her. He shoots this woman just because she does yoga. Huh? It’s not like this character was going to have any semblance of a moral high ground considering he’s coming off a spree killing with over 100 victims in his wake, but it makes any political points he may attempt null and void. Want one more example of just how incoherently rambling Bill’s diatribes are? Amongst his targets is the 2012 film Lincoln and Steven Spielberg himself (really!). He declares that, “You think the Civil War happened to free the slaves and billionaire Spielberg makes you dumber. The reality is every war is about money, and the stupid people must die because the elite decided it.” I cannot believe this guy has the number of online devotee he has because he’s not charismatic, he’s not articulate, and he’s definitely not insightful. I got bored listening to him. Sadly, that’s what a good majority of the film ends up being: listening to this guy endlessly complain. It’s like the guy who yells on the street corner just got a bigger stage but his act is the same.

One of my major criticisms with Boll’s first Rampage was that it was too limited and without providing any relevant commentary to go with its violence. The sequel doesn’t make much progress. Every victim that Ben shoots has to be given a tighter slow-mo shot so we can better soak up the squib hit of his or her chest exploding with blood. At least Ben’s violence is channeled to a single source rather than unleashing it against the denizens of an entire town, but his message is a messy shotgun blast of social ills. It’s angry and nihilistic but without anything to add. If there is a cogent message it flies completely under the radar and gets lost in all the rambling rhetoric and macho posturing.

Let’s talk about the bait and switch nature of the movie’s title as well as the DVD cover advertising. When you see a masked gunman standing next to a burning Capital building and the title proclaims “Capital Punishment,” I think 99 out of 100 people would correctly assume the majority of the action takes place in D.C. and would be directed at elected officials. Oh how wrong those 99 people would be (the 100th was just dumb luck, so don’t get too smug). The entire plot revolves around Bill holding a TV station hostage. That’s it. No government building, no government officials, nothing even remotely related to Washington D.C., especially when the local gas stations are for “Canada Petrol.” Before viewing, I assumed that Rampage 2 was going to be a combination of the first film and Boll’s nearly good Assault on Wall Street, bringing a populist fury to the lawmakers in Washington. It seems like the next step on Boll’s populist journey. Instead, most of the film is a series of ugly vignettes of Bill terrorizing the frightened station employees by gunpoint, demanding his interview and an airing of his nihilistic rhetoric. Even at a little over 85 minutes, the film feels laboriously padded out and stretched thin. At one point, Chip accidentally breaks the DVD Bill demanded be broadcast. The movie literally spends almost eight minutes on this subject, like it’s a great uptick in suspense. “I’m sure he’s got another one,” a SWAT officer says. “He will not shoot you, trust me,” he says, unhelpfully. Lo and behold, he does have an additional DVD copy. “Always have a duplicate,” he says. Wasn’t that worth spending valuable time on?

f0RcIK5rvwYeJ1EbqWd6M0BvZs1Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) returns to the completely underwritten role of Bill, more uncontrollable mouthpiece than anything resembling a person. He’s effectively peeved but he still doesn’t come across as that threatening a screen presence, which is saying something considered he’s carrying high-powered assault weapons. Munro (Scary Movie) feels like he just got the call minutes before filming. He seems like he’s constantly judging what he should be doing in every scene; perhaps that’s a beneficial sign of his performance since his man is playing it on the fly in a hostage situation. His long speech to the camera as a news anchor is tiresome, circuitous philosophical vomit, which also summarizes most of the dialogue. The one amusing aspect from casting is that Boll himself plays Chip’s advantageous and morally unscrupulous news director. He’s thrilled with the ratings and attention the station is getting. You decide if this is some sort of meta commentary on Boll and his penchant for rolling with the punches.

I fear Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk. The scariest part is that some people will actually think this is good. You might want to reconsider your friendship with these people too, especially if they also use the word “manifesto.”

Nate’s Grade: D

In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission (2014)

MV5BMjE4NDU3NjE4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0NjAyMTE@._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_AL_You ever get a sense of déjà vu while watching movies? The world of cinema is replete with derivative ideas and an intense sense of, we’ll call it, sharing. However, when it comes to notorious director Uwe Boll, the man has a habit of changing his style to suit his newest interest in flattery (i.e. ripping off some other influence). With In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission, he ends up ripping off himself, namely the previous film.

Hazen Kane (Dominic Purcell) is a mercenary looking to get out. He’s been working in Bulgaria ever since a tragic event in his past. His boss (Marian Valev) gives him “one last mission” – kidnapping two preteen daughters of Bulgarian royalty and locking them in a shipping container. Hazen reluctantly goes through with the kidnapping, but after he takes one of the girls’ strange necklace, a portal opens that sucks him into a fantasy kingdom, a kingdom that just also happens to be called Bulgaria. Hazen is befriended by a pair of sisters (Ralitsa Paskaleva, Daria Simeonova) who we learn are deposed princesses. Their uncle Tervin (also Valev) killed their father and usurped the throne. Tervin also has a dragon at his command. The sisters and the people of the land look to Hazen as the man who will save them from their evil king. Oh, and he has to figure out a way back to Real World Bulgaria because he feels guilty about those locked away kids.

There truly is no reason for this movie to exist, which may seem obvious to many simply by having Boll’s name attached. The reason is this: In the Name of the King 3 is pretty much the exact same story as In the Name of the King 2. Sure there are qualifying differences in plot and character, but once again it’s a fish-out-of-water tale as a modern man, with military/mercenary experience who’s gone somewhat rogue, is transported into a magical fantasy world in dire need of rescue. Once again an evil king has slain the good one and the bereaved royal relatives need a hero to topple the current order. Once again the protagonist kinda sorta falls for a lass from the fantasy kingdom. Once again there’s an ancient prophecy to be reckoned with. Once again, there’s a dragon that sort of is forgotten about. It’s the same plot beats just given a “copy and paste” treatment because, perhaps, Boll still had access to the medieval costumes and didn’t feel like returning them just yet. The more interesting aspects of the previous film, namely Dolph Lundgreen’s blasé fish-out-of-water observations, are replaced with a rush to get to the finish line, resulting in one of the most predictable, formulaic fantasy films imaginable. Just given the premise, you can likely foresee every major step in the plot that follows, and the movie puts forth no effort to surprise or entertain if you deign to have higher standards.

in-the-name-of-the-king-3-blu-ray-dvd-IMG_3654_rgbThe shopworn, simple story is also sabotaged by the most one-note of characters, each given futile amounts to work with. These people are more defined by their outfits than anything they say or do. In seconds, I had Purcell’s character figured out. He’s got a woman’s name engraved on his watch he stares at with great despondency, so it’s either got to be a dead wife or a dead daughter. He’s in deep with some shady people but wants to get out, which shows him as flawed but with some form of a moral compass intact, making him dangerous but acceptably bad. Apparently his dead wife (surprise, not daughter) insisted he get a certain tattoo design, and this tattoo just happens to look exactly like the necklace emblem of the kidnapped Bulgarian royal girl. Did his wife have any connection to Fantasy Bulgaria or did she have any sense of clairvoyance when it came to her husband’s destiny? We’ll never know. The deposed Fantasy Bulgaria princesses are just as bland as you would expect, more basic fantasy avatars than people. They ride horses, shoot arrows, and talk tough. Oh, and they’re pretty. The assorted supporting characters, all resigned to sad stock roles, fail to register, so much so that the actually evil king Tervin only has two scenes before the final battle.

The action is unspectacular, routinely unable to conceal the limitations of Boll’s budgets,, chiefly the small number of fighters present. When we flash to Tervin’s castle, it always seems like the majority of the castle guard must be on an extended lunch break because the place is so lightly fortified. If the princesses had just studied the guard lunch habits, they would be able to retake the throne without even having to wait for their Chosen One. The special effects for the dragon are decent for the low budget but it too points out the limitations. If you had a dragon under your spell, why wouldn’t you continuously use that strategically valuable asset to engulf all your enemies in flame? A few of the dragon attacks are then followed by the dragon being mysteriously absent, as if this winged creature was too aloof to follow-through with killing its prey, like a cat with a bug. This dragon is a hard creature to read. In one moment it’s chasing the good guys, then taking out the bad guys, then just doing whatever it wants. Maybe it is like a cat. Anyway, if you like watching people in cloaks and thatched huts talk about prophecies and destinies and a childish notion of good and evil, then enjoy In the Name of the King 3.

I may be reading too much into this film in a vain attempt to search for any sort of meaning, but there was one storyline that left me feeling odd. In Real Bulgaria, Hazen kidnaps two royal sisters and locks them away, and then when he is transported to Fantasy Bulgaria, he’s immediately teamed up with another group of royal sisters. This is no coincidence, right? They have to be stand-ins for the imprisoned gals. For crying out loud, it’s even the same actor in both worlds that threatens them (Valev plays both baddies and no mention is made about this fact). If this all connects, then it’s really uncomfortable when Hazen starts making out with one of Fantasy Bulgaria’s princesses. She’s the analogue for the captured pre-teen girl in Real Bulgaria, and he’s becoming romantically involved with her. Weird, right?

37R1YaKPurcell (TV’s Prison Break) has become the latest actor to assimilate into the Boll Repeat Players, appearing in three Boll flicks in a row. He actually performed well in Assault on Wall Street, a Boll movie that almost worked, but in this movie he’s just the Reluctant Hero set to sleepwalking mode. He’s supposed to be haunted by his past, his gambling debts leading to his wife’s demise, but it never seems like anything rattles Hazen, who just kind of half-heartedly shrugs his way through the entire fantasy journey. He grumbles and spews profanities (the film’s only R-rating quality), but at no point do you ever feel like he has processed just how strange what has happened to him is. He even stops to brew and savor a cup of coffee in the same room he just murdered a bunch of security guards. The rest of the actors are unrecognizable to America audiences and may be to Bulgarian audiences as well. There’s no standout, however, there is one single standout moment. It involves Valev responding to a charge of betrayal. “Betrayal?” he bellows indignantly. “Whatdoyouknowaboutbetrayal?! I’vebeenthroughthisallmylife,” then spills out like a chunk of undigested word vomit, the words falling all over one another. After I heard this awful line reading, my attention refocused. I had to watch the scene again just for this. It’s the highlight of the entire movie.

Another complaint: whoever came up with these character names (presumably debut screenwriter Joel Ross) should be fired and never given this privilege again. The protagonist’s name is Hazen Kane, not to be confused with Raisin’ Canes, the delicious fried chicken restaurant that would be a better use of your time and money (love me that Cain sauce). According to Babynamespedia.com, “Hazen” had its peak of naming around 1901 when it was the 807th most popular baby boy name. Not to be outdone, our villain’s name is Tervin. That’s the kind of name of the kid who gets picked on at school, not a feared tyrant. Other names include Arabella, Emeline, Alys, Ayavlo, Andon, Ana, Alekandar, Kardam, and Sophie. Just from a screenwriting standpoint, it’s not a good idea to have a vast majority of your speaking roles all start with the same letter as it can get confusing to the reader, let alone the eventual audience, if there is one.

By all accounts, In the Name of the King 3 is a step backwards for Boll, both figuratively and literally. It’s a simplistic and lazy fantasy film that doesn’t bother to set up its characters, develop those characters, or even provide much in the way of entertainment. The fact that Boll is essentially repeating the previous In the Name of the King, which makes it even harder to justify its existence. It’s your typical fantasy epic with the epic parts sanded down to the limits of its budget. The characters are nonstarters, our hero is dull, the quest is rushed, the action is plain, and even the dragon is under utilized. I’ve seen considerably worse with Boll’s name attached as director, but rarely have I seen a Boll film where I’m struggling to even come up with anything, good or bad (mostly bad), to reference to possibly validate a derisive viewing. This is just bland, formulaic pap from start to finish and nobody puts much effort into disguising this. Three films is more than enough for this undercooked fantasy film series. Let it stay in Fantasy Bulgaria for good.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Suddenly (2013)

154354-suddenly-0-230-0-341-cropI can genuinely say that director Uwe Boll pleasantly surprised me with the last film I watched that had his imprint, Attack on Wall Street. It almost worked. It felt like Boll had maybe gotten over the hump of mediocrity, and sub-sub-mediocrity, that has become synonymous with his career writing and directing movies. Then one day, Suddenly suddenly popped up on Netflix, available for consumption, and 90 very tepid minutes later, my renewed hopes for a turnaround had been dashed and trashed once more.

The President of the United States of America is stopping by the sleepy mountain town of Suddenly. The secret service is canvassing the neighborhood to secure locations. Officer Todd Shaw (Ray Liotta) is working off another bender and may just get suspended. Ellen (Erin Karpluk) and her teenage son Pidge (Cole Corker) are living up on the mountain with a great view of the town. Agents Baron (Dominic Purcell), Conklin (Michael Pare), and Wheeler (Tyron Leitso, though he’s referred to as “Agent Young” several times) come knocking on her door to inspect. Except they aren’t real secret service agents. They’re posing to coordinate an assassination on the president, a hit ordered by the “Committee” that they work for. The assassins in suits lock Ellen, her son, and her elderly father (Don MacKay) in the basement, and wait for the president to arrive. There’s just the problem of keeping their cover and making sure Todd doesn’t intervene. Oh, and the town has a shop that advertises “fetish” in its name. So there’s that.

y1PJvKnGiven the assassination premise, Suddenly is shocking in just how overwhelmingly boring it is. There’s a noticeable lack of urgency in just about every scene despite the stakes of men with guns threatening people’s lives. A solid majority of the movie is an almost comically low-key hostage situation where we watch Ellen’s family bumble around the basement as captives and try to outsmart the relatively dimwitted assassins. It’s nothing quite along the lines of, say, Home Alone, but it feels comically off in tone, aided by an inappropriate musical score. These people don’t ever feel scared or panicked, and their conversations show it. The stupid grandfather character in this feels like he was plucked from a different, more broadly comical movie. Oh look, he’s fussing about with things; oh look, now he’s going to tell one of his old stories. In the context of a hostage thriller, it doesn’t work. Grandpa half-heartedly relates a tale about being snowed in with grandma where, surprise, they got out (the man is standing there after all). “See, it all works out in the end,” he reasons with no convincing evidence. And then (spoilers) he dies in the most idiotic way possible. During a light scuffle, he gets shoved and falls over. “He has a heart condition,” Ellen screams, informing us for the first time of this malady. I’m thinking he’s faking, so as to strike when the attacker draws near. Nope, he just lies there and dies in the most pathetic way possible, as if the plot had just decided it didn’t need him after all. One of the armed men actually tries to revive him, how nice.

Suddenly literally takes its sweet time getting to that presidential moment, saving that for the last few minutes of the film. Almost all of Raul Inglis’ (The Killing Machine) screenplay revolves around one scenario: will the bad guys’ cover be blown as different people keep finding their way back to Ellen’s secluded home. Oh no, the deputy will spoil things! Oh wait, he’s easily fooled. Well thank goodness that problem was solved in a not interesting manner. This takes up an hour of the movie, and it’s rather repetitious without any escalation. The entire setup feels like a series of lame stalling techniques to save the good stuff for the very end, rather than dealing with reversals and rising action. Then there’s the nature of the ending, which is so abrupt and without a single trace of resolution. As soon as that shot’s fired, the film ends a minute later. We learn via the news that the gunman shot himself… in the chest? At a distance? None of this holds together and the ending does not justify the time it took, and wasted, to get to that point.

There is exactly one point where this movie flashes the kind of quality story it could have been and it happens 70 minutes into the picture. Baron miraculously deduces how Ellen’s husband was killed: friendly fire, and Todd was the culprit. It was naturally an accident, one that haunted Todd deeply, but he returned home and everyone started throwing around the word “hero.” So he kept the truth to himself. Now, right there is an interesting premise that could produce a flurry of intriguing and complicated drama. Todd would live his day feeling like a fraud but also not wanting to disappoint his loved ones, the people he cares about, and so hiding the truth could be a justifiable evil, or could it? This little reveal of character backstory is only intended to explain Todd’s penchant for drinking, and the movie just skirts along a few minutes later, already over this revelation. Suddenly should have dropped all of the cheesy and half-baked thriller aspects and gone in this other direction.

VRc1dr7The villains in this movie lack conviction and competency. First of all, they just leave Ellen and her son and father unattended in the basement rather than tying them up. Then there’s just their general unconvincing nature when speaking with locals. They pose as secret service agents but there are actual secret service agents still in their midst. These turncoats are plotting to murder the president because the “Committee” they work for has demanded such. This phantom “Committee” is only known through one agent, Baron, and each man is selected for duty. They have a cause, though none of them can articulate exactly what that would be. At one point Conklin insists not killing the hostages because it would be bad PR and dissuade the public to the merits of their unexplained cause. Are these guys thick enough to think that killing the United States president will win over the public, just as long as they have good reasons for killing the president? It seemed obvious that Baron was going to be the lone person of this “Committee,” and yet the film doesn’t even tie up this loose end. We never know whether Baron was making it all up or whether there is a clandestine organization that has its sights set on the president.

Boll’s diffident direction mirrors the lack of enthusiasm throughout the production. This just doesn’t come across as a story that separates itself from your bargain basement, straight-to-DVD action flick. In fact there isn’t any action in the movie short of a few tidy scenes. And as far as thrills and suspense, they’re undercut at just about every turn, thanks to the lack of urgency and the comical misuses of Ellen and her family. At no point will you be watching Suddenly and get the sensation that anybody really cared about making this movie as best it could be. Usually Boll’s movies feel pasted together and derivative of other, better movies and visual influences; this movie is too dull to even be derivative. The movie even has the temerity to reuse that trite cliché, having the villain remark, “Under other circumstances you and I could have been friends.” The dumb villains, the dumb characters, the lackluster pacing and suspense, the lack of resolution, it all contributes to making what is easily the most boring movie in Boll’s filmography.

Usually these kinds of thrillers are churned out into the straight-to-DVD market, a glut of recycled plots and tortured/reluctant action heroes. There’s a formula that works and there’s been a proven audience that enjoys something cheesy, thoughtless, and familiar. And that’s what puzzles me even more about Suddenly because every somnambulist second of the film leaves you with the stark impression that nobody cared. The tale of a hostage thriller mixed with a presidential assassination, with some war drama thrown in, could work as far as the genre goes. All you need is a solid premise and some gung-ho execution, which explains why we had two DieHard-in-a-White-House films last year. Suddenly is nothing special, which we all suspected from the particulars involved, but it’s not even worthwhile or workable genre pap, which is even more insulting. From the wacky grandfather to the idiot villains who blindly trust their leader to the abrupt ending, or how about the fact that a kid is named Pidge, this is just one bad movie.

Nate’s Grade: D

Assault on Wall Street (2013)

101460_galWhen it comes to notorious German director Uwe Boll, many are still waiting for what could be the man’s first genuinely good movie. The man has been prolific over the past ten years but sure-fire candidates for First Good Film, like Max Schmeling or Attack on Darfur, inevitably have some tragic flaw or approach that places them back in mediocrity, the company of many of Boll’s other movies. After reviewing more Boll films than a human should be allowed to willingly, I feel like I’ve been beaten down enough that when I find something that genuinely works, be it an actor or a sequence or plot turn, that I should be just as vocal as with the contingent of failure. So allow me to refreshingly applaud Boll for Assault on Wall Street, on coming up with a topic and a story structure that… actually… works. It not just works, it succeeds, and if a more polished professional screenwriter got a hold of this, I think it could actually impress the masses. If it weren’t for the surprisingly effective war drama, Tunnel Rats, I’d say without a doubt that Assault on Wall Street is the best work of Boll’s much-maligned career. And yet… it has just enough minor faults that hold it back.

Jim (Dominic Purcell) is a regular guy working as an armored security transport. His wife Rosie (Erin Karpluk) suffers from a rare tumor that requires an expensive series of injections to keep it at bay. Their insurance company won’t pay, and so they have to rely on Jim’s savings. Except those are gone as well. Jeremy Stancroft (John Heard) has ordered all his brokers to dump toxic assets, eliminating most investor savings but profiting the shareholders. Jim and Rosie are broke. Vowing vengeance, especially after some drastic decision-making by Rosie, Jim sets off to make the high-priced traders and corporate raiders on Wall Street feel the pain of what they have wrought.

102358_galThe setup is concise and Boll does a nifty job of compounding Jim’s problems and showing how all the industries are interconnected to put the squeeze on. Because of unscrupulous health insurers, his wife’s medical treatment, deemed experimental, is quite expensive and they’ve reached a cap. With the brokers pushing their clients assets into junk stocks, at the behest of the betters and for commissions, Jim loses his entire financial cushion. He hires a lawyer (Eric Roberts) but has to pay $10,000 just to retain him to fight the $60,000 penalty his broker says is owed. He goes into debt and refinances his skyrocketing mortgage (variable rate) to pay for his wife’s treatments. His employer takes notice of his perilous situation and is uncomfortable with enlisting someone in deep financial woes with guarding money. He loses his job. The bank is poised to foreclose on the house. His wife won’t get her treatments to save her life. All of this leads to a drastic and completely understood decision of desperation and sacrifice. Admittedly, Boll does a compelling job of connecting all the dots, making each new pitfall a result of the previous, each compounding the misery of Jim. It takes a little long to go through all these points, and I think Boll could have trimmed it down so that a key event happens at the Act One break point, but I was flabbergasted that the man found a story structure that succeeds.

The second half of the film is Jim planning his vengeance, and after all of the callous movers and shakers have bled him dry, you’re onboard for some sort of righteous payback. Boll takes on Wall Street and the healthcare industry (double the populist outrage). Jim as a character could be made much more compelling, but he’s really serving as a symbol for how the forces are ganged up against the little guy, how the fix is in. When confronted, the big CEO of the brokerage firm barks that it’s always the same old story, that the titans of industry were all crooks and manipulated the system to their advantage, and he’s no different. In short, the little guy always loses.

What holds back Assault on Wall Street, beside the fact that the titular assault is reserved for the last fifteen minutes of the film, is its too slick ending and Boll’s obvious transparency when it comes to his political message. After Jim suffers loss after loss, he puts together a plan pretty quickly, utilizing that Army training we’ve heard about. It’s actually too easy with little complications that can’t be solved in a David Fincher-style montage of death. It’s a full 70 minutes before he takes out his first Wall Street fat cat, and that’s just way too much dawdling. And then from there the climax involves Jim just going on a rampage in an office building, shooting several faceless employees who could very well be innocent for all we know. I think Boll is satisfied with a guilt-by-association catch-all for Jim’s fury, but it would be more satisfying just from a payoff standpoint if we saw these people in villainous lights prior, kind of like what Saw 6 did with its insurance characters before turning the tables on them. The last thing we need in our populist screed is to worry that the wrong people were dispatched. And what kind of office building fails to evacuate after a confirmed shooter has attacked?

102366_galThis storyline could have also worked in a Falling Down turn, where a man consumed with evening the scales of a system broken loses his moral bearing and lumps all guilty parties together and condemns them all. Perhaps it was meant to examine the slippery slope of vigilante justice and how this too can decay one’s sense of self, sort of like what Jodie Foster went through in 2007’s The Brave One. However, I don’t think Boll was intending this direction because he’s not very subtle about anything in the movie. Oftentimes the characters just become mouthpieces for ideological talking points: “We’re busy busting some homeless guy when the real criminals are on Wall Street.” The bad guys actually say, with no hint of self-awareness, “We all took a loss. When I told my wife we couldn’t vacation in Barbados any longer…” It’s all just a little too on-the-nose to remind you of the overall intent rather than the story. Therefore, I think Boll is just going for a sense of (misplaced?) justice in the end, in a ludicrous plan that somehow invalidates witnesses, forensic evidence, and security footage to pin the blame on someone else. It’s too clever by half that it undercuts the final payoff. It gets even worse with the Batman-esque voice over to close out the film with a promise to all evildoers.

With such a tight focus on the plot, the acting is a marked step up from previous Boll outings. Purcell (TV’s Prison Break, Killer Elite) doesn’t exactly come across as a regular Joe but he has enough onscreen presence to pull off his character’s anguish as well as the requisite badass stuff. And apparently Boll has become fond of him because Purcell is scheduled to appear in future Boll films. Karpluk, a Canadian actress best known for the TV show Being Erica, has a natural grace to her, forgoing big moments to concentrate on the gnawing guilt and concern her character feels. While she’s a bit too willfully ignorant early on, Karpluk makes you care and provides whatever depth can be applied to Jim. I’m actually curious to see her comic skills since she has a face tailor-made for romantic comedies. Heard (Sharknado, Home Alone) doesn’t seem to embrace his duplicitous CEO role with enough gusto, appearing to be annoyed when he should be menacing. This is not the kind of movie to hold back.

There are plenty of other Boll Players, including Edward Furlong (3 appearances), Lochlyn Munro (2 appearances), Tyron Leitso (5 appearances, also stars in Being Erica), Michael Eklund (8 appearances), Natassia Malthe (4 appearances), and the stalwarts of Clint Howard (6 appearances) and Michael Pare (13 appearances). It’s been 13 years since Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) last appearance in a Boll film. Most of these are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, but then there’s Keith David (The Thing, Cloud Atlas) in a thankless role that didn’t need to exist. But hey, I’ll take Keith David in anything.

A welcome surprise, for the most part, Assault on Wall Street is a finely structured revenge tale with clear and precise plot points and a natural buildup. It’s Boll on a soapbox and the naked transparency of his ire and populist messages limits the effectiveness of his storytelling, but you might not mind, especially if you are a person who has slogged through far less competent Boll ventures. There is a marked improvement in just about every facet of filming. It genuinely works, that is, until the pacing becomes lopsided and the end just reverts to celebratory action mode. A more professional writer could take this film and whip it into a crowd-pleasing populist thriller. It’s got so much that works, and genuinely works well, that I feel like a buzzkill to keep harping on the elements that do not succeed. But if Boll wants to earn an undisputed victory, he’s got to earn it without lowered standards. Assault on Wall Street is so tantalizingly close to being Boll’s First Good Film but it doesn’t capitalize enough.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Fist of the Reich (2012)

936full-fist-of-the-reich-artworkIt’s been too long since I’ve last had the pleasure of viewing a Uwe Boll movie. The man is downright prolific when it comes to spitting out multitudes of projects every year sometimes three or four. And yet there’s no guarantee I’ll have a speedy and easily accessible avenue to watch the man’s finished products. Take for instance his biopic on Max Schmeling, finished almost three years ago, and undergone a title change for American audiences to Fist of the Reich. Americans might not know who Max Schmeling was but by God do we know ourselves some Nazis. I can understand why this one was put on the shelf for as long as it was. There’s the fact that it’s entirely in German, Boll’s first completely foreign-language film since 1997. There’s also the fact that it’s still a pretty dull and uninvolving movie, and given the figure and subject matter, that may be enough to make Fist of the Reich the most disappointing film of Boll’s career.

600full-fist-of-the-reich-screenshotFrom 1930-1948, Max Schmeling (Henry Maske) was Germany’s most prolific athlete. He boxed overseas in America quite often, earning the world title in a controversial bout where his opponent was disqualified after a below the belt punch. Schmeling romances a movie star, Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest), and proposes to her the day their courtship hits the gossip pages. Schmeling also has to fight the growing nationalistic influence of Hitler’s Nazi party, which looks at him as a powerful propaganda opportunity. After a high-profile loss to Joe Louis, in a rematch no less, Schmeling loses value to the Nazi machine and he’s drafted into the oncoming war.

When I say “most disappointing” I know that’s going to strike a chord given Boll’s oeuvre of craptacularcinema, but I really mean it. The biggest failing of the two-plus hours of Fist of the Reich is that it does not provide adequate evidence why Schmeling is a compelling figure of history. It’s a biopic that doesn’t have enough juice to justify why its central hero should even earn a biopic. I don’t think I’ve seen too many movies based upon real people where I left thinking, “Well that person didn’t deserve a movie.” And the ridiculous thing is that Schmeling of course deserves his own movie. The man was an international superstar, the pride of a nation during a tumultuous time, one of only three men to beat Joe Louis in his career, and then became a propaganda pawn for the Nazis. The man was even forced into service in the war and was one of only two survivors during a hellish battle. His manager was Jewish, his wife a Czech movie star, and they had to flee their country home to escape from the advancing Russians. That is some compelling stuff even before you get into the psychological depth at play with a man being pushed as a tool of Nazi propaganda and how that constrictive, humiliating, and infuriating chapter would have taken its toll on Schmeling’s soul. There is a wealth of material there to stage a rousing and engrossing biopic, and the fact that Boll and screenwriter Timo Berndt cannot is just inexcusable.

There’s very little depth given to Schmeling as a character; all the edges are sanded off and we’re left with a rather bland do-gooder that really just wants to box. He’s sort of this nondescript, milquetoast nice guy who trudges from scene to scene, doing bland but nice things. You won’t dislike the lug but you’ll find it hard to explain why he’s interesting. This shallowness just compounds as the movie continues, going further into the war as well as the downturns in Schmeling’s boxing career. His relationship with Anny is also pretty bland. They’re nice together and loving in appearance but also mundane. It’s like the movie is progressing scene-by-scene establishing facts and plot points rather than exploring the relationships of characters. Max gets married. Max gets a big bout. Max wants to give Joe Louis a rematch. The film seems so devoid of passion, bled dry by going through the checklist of what audiences desire in their biopics. The movie even attaches a weak framing device where Schmeling and a war prisoner are walking to a border and Schmeling recounts his life. Except this framing device ends with thirty minutes left to go. Can it be termed a framing device if it doesn’t frame a quarter of the movie? It’s not even necessary except to throw in a bit of war violence at the opening to hook an audience. It feels like nobody knows what to do with Schmeling so they’ll just breeze through his life’s big events, make him seem like a charitable fella, and then pray the audience understands the man’s historical significance.

Another reason for the stilted drama is quite possibly the noticeable acting limitations of our lead, Maske. The man is a former champion boxer in Germany who reportedly underwent eight months of acting training to prepare for this movie. Well, apparently eight was not enough (did I just backend into a pun?). He may be a great boxer but he is a very poor actor. His monotone, caveman-like warble reminds me of the speaking tones of early Arnold Schwarzenegger. I don’t think the guy has more than two sentences at a time. Again, I’d rather have my actors learn how to do something rather than teach a non-actor how to act. Actors can fake singing or boxing, plus there’s editing. Was it really substantial to have an actual boxer in the role? I know Schmeling himself actually wanted Maske to play him in a would-be movie, so there’s some passing approval, but there’s a reason that Maske hasn’t acted in a movie since this one. Maske’s pained acting, limited emotional range, and overall stiffness, combined with the thin characterization, makes for a void at the center of the movie.

MS-ImageI also assumed given Boll’s own background in boxing (he famously boxed a group of critics several years ago in a publicity stunt) that the onscreen bouts would be thrilling to watch. The excitable German ringside announcer seems to be watching different fights than I am. The fighters just don’t have any fight in them, carefully going through the motions, but when they hit they do so like they’re timid, afraid to put any force behind it. The camerawork and editing also fail to mask this feeling. Boxing is such a ferocious sport and we need to feel the danger and ferocity within the ring, but all too often it just feels like another ho-hum occasion for Schmeling, one where he’s rarely put to the test. Even the boxing matches that go to 15 rounds show us two fighters without any blood on them or bruises or any sign, beyond a glistening coat of faux sweat, that these two men have spent over an hour beating the crap out of each other. This limited sense of realism handicaps the movie as well as drawing out the accomplishments of Schmeling.

Boll’s direction also seems rather remote on this movie, curiously so. He relies almost entirely on bobbling handheld camerawork that can get a bit tiresome when it feels like the camera rarely settles. The movie is almost entirely comprised of a series of medium shots, which further adds to the overall blandness of the movie. The cinematography by longtime collaborator Mathias Neumann is entirely lackluster and downright incompetent. The visual compositions are supremely lacking; I don’t think Boll and Neumann even stumble into one engaging visual shot. And we’re talking about a boxer’s career here. The colors of the movie feel so drab and restrained but not in any sort of elegant artistic manner. It just looks like a drab movie, which suits a drab script with a drab lead actor.  I’m also fairly certain that Boll’s longtime musical collaborator Jessica de Rooij borrows liberally, if not outright lifts, the musical themes of John Williams’ score for Saving Private Ryan. Has anyone else caught this?

It may seem foolish of me to admit, especially after twenty movies reviewed, but I actually had some semblance of hope that Fist of the Reich was going to be Boll’s first actual good movie. As it stands, Tunnel Rats is still the best Boll film, relatively speaking. I really thought that Boll’s background and boxing experience would carry over and we’d get a handsomely made, reverent, and absorbing look into the life of Max Schmeling, but time after time, the movie settles for bland. There’s a lot of meat to this guy but it feels about as in depth as a child’s book report, skimming over the drama to cover the significant signposts of the man’s life. As a result, we get an overview of the guy’s life but lack the evidence why we even took the journey. Saying a guy’s a great boxer, or a great humanitarian is one thing, but we need to see this, we need to feel it, and that’s the saddest failure of Fist of the Reich, that it takes an important historical figure and squeezes out all the lingering resonance.

Nate’s Grade: C

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (2011)

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds has a tenuous at best connection to the original 2008 In the Name of the King, noted as the most star-studded Uwe Boll film and the last Boll film to get a theatrical release. I think that highest-profile belly flop, and the revision of the German tax code loopholes, is what banished Boll to the little league of direct-to-DVD movies. I suppose the movie does involve things happening in the name of a king, but that’s being overly generous. There’s barely a mention of Jason Statham’s (The Transporter) character from the first flick, a commoner who arose to become king and who was slain by an enemy that is pathetic and embarrassing. The only meaningful connection lies in the title and the prospect of Boll trying to draft attention to his sequel off the momentum of his pitiful predecessor.

Granger (Dolph Lungren) is a former Special Forces soldier who has retired and runs a karate studio for kids now. Then one day he stumbles upon a mysterious woman being chased by ninjas (Vancouver’s ninja crime rate has skyrocketed since 2008). A portal to another world is opened and Granger gets sucked back to a feudal kingdom. The King (Lochlyn Munro) has awaited for a special visitor who would restore balance to the kingdom, drive away the Dark Lords. The prophecy says that Granger is their man. He’s a little skeptical and even turns down the services of a concubine, though still accepts a little cuddling. Manhatten (Natassia Malthe) is the king’s medic of sorts and accompanies Granger on his journey to defeat the evil sorceress and save the Kingdom of Whatever.

After having viewed 19 different Boll movies, all to certain degrees of willingness, I can safely say that this is the most boring of the bunch, and hopefully those words will still have meaning. The plot never really evolves further than its premise, another rehash of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or to genre fans, a rip-off of Army of Darkness, or to idiots, a rip-off of Black Knight. Granger goes back in time, bumps around some rather stock characters, gets told about prophecies and destiny, and then there’s a fight and a dragon and a jump back to Earth and we’re done. In between is very little to care about. This is the first movie I’ve seen that feels completely constructed as one long saggy middle. Just about every scene takes place in the forests of Vancouver (I mean… whatever the hell the other world is called). It gets repetitious very quickly, never seizing on the fish-out-of-water comedic possibilities or just giving in completely to the genre elements of a medieval sword and sorcery flick. It’s all just irritating blather; a “chosen one” here, a “dark one” there, something something “prophecy.” When people badmouth fantasy, they think of this kind of stuff. I kid you not at one point Malthe’s character says, “You are the villain of this tale” to the said villain. Thanks for clarification, but the third act betrayal was telegraphed well over an hour ago.

The writer, Michael Nachoff, has written exactly one other movie, Bloodrayne 3, and served previously as an office coordinator, post-production assistant, and in material serving. That last one sounds like a made-up job or some kind of finessing that a prostitute would put to make her resume sound more professional. Whatever the case, Nachoff has shown that after two movies he cannot be counted on to deliver anything resembling a competent plot. This is the laziest more yawn-inducing hero’s journey I’ve ever witnessed. The movie literally put me to sleep. There are all sorts of dropped setups and subplots, including the notion that Granger must complete three trials, though we only ever get one. That’s bad sooth-saying, but then again the seer gets murdered so I can’t imagine she was first in her class at prescience. Nachoff keeps using the phrase “time travel,” and so do I, but I think what they really mean is dimensional travel. I’m fairly certain that Granger is not just from the future but an altogether different world. Yet at one point a character says, “Your fear will carry you to the pits of hell.” Ah, I see that Christian missionaries must have visited this alternate dimension. Oh well, the character also seem to keep erroneously saying “biological weapon” when clearly the bad guy assembled it out of various powders and chemicals. They even refer to his skill as alchemy, which of course is all about biology, right?

The action is mirthless and hastily thrown together, often becoming incomprehensible because the villains, the Dark Lords, wear dark cloaks and our heroes too wear dark clothes. Good luck deciphering who’s who on the battlefield. Maybe you’ll be like me and just become crippled by apathy. Granger isn’t a very compelling hero either. Under Nachoff’s compliant attention, he is strictly stock: 1) he is retired, 2) he helps kids, 3) he has a past that haunts him, 4) he drinks to cope, 5) he is entirely boring. If you’re going to go fish-out-of-water, at least have your guy be funny. Granger’s quips just seem too surreal even given the nature of the movie. After killing a baddie and sampling his stew: “Underdone.” On entering the Black Forest: “Given the name, bigger is probably better,” and brings a larger broad sword. Oh boy. Nobody’s gonna miss you, are they?

The production seems to be taking a cue from Lungren (The Expendables), who is unfazed from beginning to end despite some strange goings-ons. The man just sleepwalks through the whole film, cracking wise in the same somnambulant tone. It’s like Lungren swallowed an entire bottle of Quaaludes. Lungren isn’t exactly the most charismatic or expressive actor on the planet given that he’s made a living being tall and beating up smaller men, but I would have hoped for some life in the guy. He’s so straight-laced that it’s absurd. It drains any potential interest from the character, sapping our time-traveling hero of empathy. Who cares if he can’t be bothered to care? Malthe (Bloodrayne: The Third Reich) is just as uninspiring as his sidekick. She’s just so impassive, probably because she doesn’t get to wear a corset in this Boll movie to highlight her assets. Letting her speak medieval vernacular and syntax was a mistake. Usually actors can at least adequately hide their displeasure about their participation in a lousy movie. Either these actors aren’t even good at that or they just don’t care, take your pick.

And now it’s time for my regular reoccurring segment in a Boll film review – who got ripped off this time? Allow me room to pontificate. The concept of a fantasy world mixed with some adult themes, like strong bloody violence, nudity, sex, profanity, and darker themes, would lead me to believe that Boll was inspired by HBO’s hit fantasy reinvention series, Game of Thrones. Then again Boll shot this movie in December 2010, a full four months before Thrones’ aired its excellent pilot episode. Then again who’s to say that Thrones didn’t influence Boll during the editing stage or at least make him itchy for some reshoots to tart up this tedious movie. At least that would give the viewer something worthwhile to look at besides an oft-used castle exterior that LARP-ers would howl at.

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds just reeks of lethargy and indifference. Devoid of interesting characters, an engaging story, even tasty genre elements, this low-budget fantasy flick would falter in comparison to the cheesiest Sci-Fi Channel original movie. I cannot overstate how boring this movie is. I’m struggling even to effectively communicate how monotonous this movie is; I’m tempted to just write “boring” a thousand times but you, dear reader, deserve better. And so I rack my brain to come up with more specific and sarcastic criticism of what is execrably an awful movie. Boll’s no stranger to awful movies, but In the Name of the King 2 is the first time where I felt like even he didn’t give a damn about his final product in any shape. And it shows.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Blubberella (2011)

The action/horror spoof Blubberella is Uwe Boll’s second attempt at (intentional) comedy. He did re-release a “funny” version of his 2003 disaster, House of the Dead. That seems like the same opportunistic rebranding and dubious retconning that Tommy Wiseau pulled when he tried to claim that his magnus opus of suck, The Room, was always intended as a “quirky black comedy.” Sure, Tommy. Boll’s first attempt at comedy, 2007’s Postal, almost worked despite itself; the taboo-smashing genre of wacky comedy seems like a better fit for Boll’s cinematic tendencies. Blubberella is proof that Boll should stick to schlock and leave comedy to the professionals.

Blubberella (Lindsay Hollister) is a dhamphir, half-vampire/half-human, but really she’s just looking for a good man and a good meal. It’s 1944 Germany, and Blubby has joined forces with a resistance group lead by Nathaniel Gregor (Brendan Fletcher). Together, the group, along with the sassy gay soldier Vadge (William Belli), must battle a mad scientist (Clint Howard), a vampire Nazi general (Michael Pare), and the prospect of an immortal Adolf Hitler (Uwe Boll himself!).

Leaden puns, obvious jokes, clueless pacing and comedic construction, tiresome one-liners, incessant yet flaccid sex jokes, a desperation to be shocking, Blubberella is a bizarre and staggering failure even by Boll standards. Rarely does the movie actually land a funny line (you want to know the best line? Here it is: “My friend says I replace sex with food… but then he raped me, so that kinda shot that theory.” Yes, that is the best one). The jokes aren’t textured in the slightest and can’t be bothered with basic constructive issues like setup, context, and payoffs. Instead, the movie is rife with random sexual and scatological references. It’s like the film is the living embodiment of a Tourette’s child. Belli (TV’s Nip/Tuck) is a braying gay stereotype that wears out his abrasive welcome in no time flat. At one point Pare just goes into a garbled Marlon Brando impersonation for no clear reason, and then it’s done. This would-be comedy, in name only, confuses randomness for clever. Here’s an example: a group of characters are crouched waiting for an all clear signal, and Vadge blurt out, “If you’re going through the drive-thru get me a Frosty.” Just because it’s a random line and anachronistic does not cover up the fact that it’s simply not funny in any context. There is no joke there. Everything in the movie just seems like a meaningless throwaway gag, never accumulating or having any connection to situation. Randomness does not excuse sheer ineptness. Given the understated title, I’d expect there to be a plethora of fat jokes that the movie would routinely fall back on for easy punchlines. I actually counted: there are approximately 35 fat-related jokes; at barely 75 minutes, that comes to about one fate joke every 45 seconds. I’m shocked they had that much restraint considering the opening minute of the movie featured Blubby walking into a giant walk-in freezer filled with enough blunt Flintstones-style sight gags.

Even worse, Blubberella relies on pitiful attempts to be “shocking” to rouse the audience into laughter. And so we endure scenes like the resistance fighters relocking a boxcar full of concentration camp victims (“No wonder they took you. That hat does nothing.”), Blubby killing a man by farting on his face, playing RISK with Hitler and then there’s the blackface. In the movie’s most obscene, whiplash-inducing moment, Blubby suddenly morphs into a Caucasian version of Precious being berated by her abusive and spiteful mother. Belli portrays the monstrous mother in drag and blackface. Amazingly, this is not the only character Belli plays in blackface. There’s another regrettable moment during that Hitler RISK sequence where Belli plays Hitler’s black assistant (“One of our new allies from Africa,” Hitler explains), and the guy can’t go a single sentence without referring to people as MF-ers. Whoo boy. Here’s the thing about the attempted Precious parody: just taking a situation and copying and pasting it to a new location doesn’t make it a parody. The blackface moments, in particular the Precious aside, feel completely out of place and tacky at best. Just because something is supposedly shocking or in bad taste does not mean it is funny without due context and setup. Blubberella does not understand this comedy truism, and so we get more of the same wearisome crass crap.

Blubberella was shot simultaneously with Bloodrayne: The Third Reich, utilizing the same sets, costumes, actors (literally everybody does double duty), recycled action footage, and more or less the same script. It’s not like the script for Bloodrayne 3 was that strong to begin with to warrant a copycat. It’s like Boll’s version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, though with more Nazis. Actually, just that very description is giving the movie far more credit than it could possibly ever hope for. There’s nothing clever about Boll’s alternative spin on his third Bloodrayne vehicle; just replacing Rayne with a 300-pound actress and making her go through the same motions doesn’t mean it’s a comedy. The laziness on display is powerfully lulling. I don’t think anyone on the entire planet was praying for a wackier retread of Bloodrayne 3. The funny thing is I don’t think the change of tone makes that much difference to Clint Howard.

Blubberella plays out like a tired improv game that has gone on for an eternity. The film is stuffed with scenes that just seem to spin on and on, lacking momentum and any discernable direction. Scenes will just wander aimlessly like Boll is just waiting for his actors to somehow produce quality jokes spontaneously. Newsflash: this isn’t a Judd Apatow movie. Hollister and company will just spout random lines and riff off one another, acting like a troupe of lobotomized circus acts that have stumbled into a war zone. The results are pitiful, though occasionally they will hit a somewhat amusing idea that will be aborted in the next breath/stab at improv. It’s merely a numbers game and if they fire 100 jokes maybe 2 find some footing. Such shrug-worthy moments include Blubby holding a soldier’s hand to her stomach and saying, “If there wasn’t a baby in there, would that be okay?” Huh? At one point, Boll’s narration pops up to declare the following scene “boring,” and yet the entire scene from Bloodrayne 3 plays out uninterrupted or unedited. What was the point of that? If you’ve already made an attempt to side with your audience by declaring your scene boring, then why leave it unabridged? Why is keeping this scene vital from a plot standpoint for what is intended to be a silly spoof? Why does plot continuity even matter?

I noted with Bloodrayne: The Third Reich a theory that Boll, a notorious cinematic pick-pocket, was trying his hand at recreating Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning WWII drama, Inglourious Basterds. Well after sitting through this movie, I can confirm without a doubt that Boll has a raging hard-on when it comes to Tarantino homage. The movie is broken up into chapters, including such delightful titles as “Titty Titty Fang Bang,” the score will resort to periods of long whistling, Hitler screams “nein nein nein,” and for older references, one character says, “Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey,” and another, “I’ll kill every last mother fuckin’ last one of you.” Are you going to tell me that is all a coincidence?

The lingering problem with Blubberella, besides its overwhelming incompetence and inexplicable existence, is that it feels more like a gag reel accrued for the cast and crew of Bloodrayne 3. This doesn’t feel at all like a movie or even an attempt at a movie. I’m of a mixed mind when it comes to Hollister. The central Ohio native (represent, girlfriend!) is probably not going to get many starring roles, though she has shined in guest roles on numerous TV shows like My Name is Earl, Big Love, Law and Order: SVU, and Scrubs, so I can’t blame her for jumping at the chance to be the lead star, the headliner (she and Belli are also listed as co-writers). Hollister is actually a pretty nice actress and has strong comedic instincts; however, that doesn’t mean she will rise to the occasion if left to her own devices by Boll’s paucity for scripted jokes. Boll isn’t exactly the most creatively nurturing collaborator. It’s all one big fat mess. You want the most telling moment? It occurs during the dull outtakes peppered throughout the end credits. One of the actresses, little seen in the flick, remarks astutely, “It’s not working. It’s not funny.” In six short words, she has summarized Blubberella better than I could ever hope to.

Nate’s Grade: D

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2011)

It took five years and three movies, but notorious film director Uwe Boll has finally gotten to the original time period of the Bloodrayne video game. The popular game concerns a lithe, redheaded half-vampiric lass killing nefarious Nazis in World War II. You would have thought that would make for a decent starting point. But Boll instead took his time, possibly always envisioning a trilogy to due the character and his storytelling ambition proper service. Or it was just a way to make more money. So after stops in 18th-century Romania and the Wild West, Rayne comes home, so to speak in Bloodrayne: The Third Reich. What if somebody was adapting the Grand Theft Auto franchise into a film and took Boll’s dawdling approach? The first film would probably start with horses and buggies.

Rayne (Natassia Malthe), our favorite dhampir, is back at slaying them dead. She teams up with Nathaniel (Brendan Fletcher) and his band of resistance fighters on the Eastern front. They rescue one train filled with prisoners and get into a shootout with Commandant Ekhart Brand (Michael Paré). But Rayne makes the unfortunate mistake of biting the Commandant before impaling the guy. She has unknowingly turned the Nazi officer into a vampire like her, one that can walk in daylight. You would think after 200 years of existence she would have a handle on this. The Commandant is educated in the ways of the vampire by a mad scientist, Dr. Mangler (Clint Howard), who enjoys torturing human and vampire alike for science. At one point the doc says, while slicing up a living body,” Vampires no longer have any bonds to the moral laws of man.” That seems like a pot/kettle situation to me. The Commandant assembles his own undead army of vampire soldiers. Rayne feels responsible for this ugly mess and vows to kill the Commandant again and to a satisfying degree of dead this time.

For a while, Bloodrayne III looks like it might be the best in the trilogy, admittedly a dubious honor. Despite all my misgivings, Bloodrayne III almost works on its own lowered-expectation exploitation genre level. Almost. The campy combination of Nazis and vampires is a wild premise, though hardly original, and should reap some ripe and schlocky exploitation entertainment. The locations in Croatia are terrific and add just enough authenticity for a story about a vampire lady killing Nazis. In fact one sequence plays like Boll’s take on Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, involving a tavern showdown where people play a tense game of secret identities. There are moments that work, little bursts of promise, but they get reaped all too quickly. Boll’s action choreography is sadly limited in scope and editing. He sticks too close to his characters, never allowing for complicated tussles or expanding the scope of the action. There are a few serviceable explosions, some minor gore effects, but Boll does nobody any favor when the action is too brief and brittle. Everything feels pared down so most of the fights involve minimal players and the sequences themselves mostly give way to redundant posturing.

The failings of Bloodrayne III are roughly the same failings that dogged Bloodrayne II: Boll does not embrace his film’s inherent cheesiness. I wrote about 2007’s Bloodrayne: Deliverance: “Boll seems uneasy about embracing its supernaturally campy potential. Bloodrayne II has little blood, zero gore, no nudity, no sex, and a pitifully scant amount of action. In other words, it’s missing all of the exploitation elements that make a movie like Bloodrayne II worth watching.” While Boll has seen fit to correct the absence of certain genre elements, notably blood and boobs, he still cannot seize the pulpy premise into Grand Guignol. Nazi vampires, an immortal Hitler, a 200-year-old ass-kicking woman with signature arm-blades AND Clint Howard as a mad Nazi scientist and this is the best you can do? That’s unacceptable. The supernatural potential is wasted here. Rayne’s vampire side is barely utilized. She bites people, she jumps high once, but there’s nothing really vampiric about her beside one scene where she complains about having to drink pig’s blood. She might as well be anything else if you’re not going to take advantage of what makes a vampire a vampire. At one point, the Commandant turns his best tracker into a vampire for the purposes of finding Rayne (her secret hideout turns out to be a not very discreet large castle). That idea had great promise, all things considered, but like most of the other fights, it’s one-and-done. Rayne takes out the guy and we move along. Rayne is betrayed by one of the brothel girls who has her eyes set on running the business (“You’re a cocksucking entrepreneur,” someone declares, though I wouldn’t put that exact terminology on a resume). She gets turned into a vampire too. All right, she could work as a character that could get close to Rayne. But then she too is dispatched with mercurial swiftness. Why the hurry? Bloodrayne III runs a total 72 minutes before end credits. The film could have used a lot more fleshing out, and it could have benefited from being less serious with something so flatly ridiculous.

It wouldn’t be a Boll movie without the whiplash-inducing shifts in tone. One second we’re dwelling on the campy idea of Herr Hitler becoming a powerful vampire (there’s even a goofy dream sequence where Rayne is terrorized by Adolph with fangs) and the next minute the film descends into soft-core porn territory. Rayne visits a brothel to get an oiled massage, because apparently being a centuries-old undead slayer of evil can really cause some killer knots that only hookers are properly trained to knead away. Anyway, Rayne saves one of the brothel girls from an abusive Nazi john, and the women of the brothel wish to show their gratitude via some sex “on the house.” We’re then treated to a solid four minutes of heavy breathing and gauzy soft-focus shots of hands, nipples, and crevices. To Boll’s credit, it’s on par with most soft-core porn productions. When Rayne is beating the Nazi john she becomes a feminist mouthpiece: “I can’t punish you for the legions of women who have been brutalized by men, but I’ll give it my best shot.” If Sucker Punch proved anything, it’s hard to stand on a feminist soapbox when your characters are pure male fantasy figures. The onscreen lesbian tryst would fit the context of the film better if Boll kept a continuity of tawdry sensuality. I don’t recall any other lesbian leanings in previous entries but I suppose spontaneous lesbians/opportune bisexuality just goes with direct-to-DVD territory. The only other element of sexuality occurs late in Bloodrayne III, like ten minutes to credits. Rayne and Nathaniel decide it’s time to get it on. Oh, did I mention that they come to this decision while in the back of a German transport truck on the way to Berlin. Nonetheless, an awkward and deeply unerotic sex scene follows before their rescue. They appear to be making the most of their time, though curiously both participants leave their fingerless gloves on while they copulate. I call it “hobo lovemaking.”

Boll doesn’t seem to understand what a truly juicy concept vampire Nazis are so we are treated to a lot of talking. But it’s not talking that really establishes character, setting, or plot; it’s mostly a jumble of self-aggrandizing, hyperbolic asides as heroes and villains are constantly reconfirming the stakes. Vampire Nazis. Trust us, we get it. But alas, the Commandant keeps gripping his fists and speaking about being “power incarnate” and how everyone shall bow to his power and how he’s “the prodigal son of the Third Reich,” which I don’t think is the proper analogy to apply. Dr. Mangler (too on-the-nose or an attempt to reference Dr. Mengele? You be the judge) will not let any situation to bray about the obvious go to waste, sometimes with peculiar anachronisms. Over the course of the film, this talkative evil scientist will reference Shakespeare, say “the world is your oyster,” and even, “The times they are a changin’, gyspy.” He even slams the father of penicillin, saying, “Alexander Fleming had his fungi. I have [Rayne].” But the worst offenders have to be Rayne and Nathaniel. At one point they bellow, “He’s not just a vampire! He’s a vampire with an entire German army behind him!” You know, in case you couldn’t grasp the subtleties of the narrative. Rayne is given to long passages of voice over where we get to listen to her wax poetic about man’s inhumanity to man, the cycle of violence, and other hilarious grasps at being mistaken as having, you know, depth or thoughts. This is the same character who ends the film saying, “Guten tach, mother fuckers!” Yeah, this one’s a regular Rodin.

The film is populated entirely with Boll’s stock players, so you know the acting returns will be fairly diminished. Malthe (Elektra) returns for her second go-round as the titular half-vampire half-human heroine. For what reason, I could not say. Perhaps the former Maxim model had a large gas bill one winter. Malthe hasn’t advanced much as an actress in the layover between sequels. She fills out a bodice heavenly, but her acting is about as emotionless and dryly ineffectual as a corpse. Speaking of, Malthe looks deathly pale in the film with alabaster skin. Apparently in the 60 years since the events of Bloodrayne II, she decided to keep the cleavage-accentuated fighting outfits but lose her skin tone and her heretofore signature red hair. But fear not video game aficionados because this Rayne has streaks of bright red amongst her otherwise jet black tresses. I suppose she found the one Hot Topic open on the Eastern front. Malthe is a fine-looking woman who will look the part, no matter what improbable form-fitting outfit she chooses to slay evil in, until she opens her mouth and destroys the illusion. There’s a reason not too many Maxim models have transitioned over into being award-winning actresses. To be fair, the Rayne character is mostly defined by costuming and weaponry. Don’t believe me? Read the user reviews by fanboys and see what they quibble over most.

It wouldn’t be a Boll film without his lucky charm, Paré (11 Boll film appearances!). The plainspoken actor was actually a fine fit in Bloodrayne II as a cowpoke. He’s not so well a good fit as an evil Nazi officer. Paré is never truly threatening in any capacity as a Nazi or a vampire. That’s pretty sad. He’s given tough guy things to say, and he bites people, but he never comes across as menacing. He’s letting the uniform do the acting for him. Likewise, Howard (first Boll appearance since 2003’s House of the Dead) gets lost in the broad generalization of his character. Howard always seems like he’s on the verge of breaking into third person. He seems lost in a daze too often. Howard comes across as more Igor than mad scientist. He’s definitely not going to be one the scientists other countries offer asylum for at war’s end.

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich could have been a ridiculously yet enjoyably campy B-movie that knew how to play to its strengths – vampire Nazis, attractive woman killing vampire Nazis. You would think that salaciously junky concept would write itself. The problem is that Boll seems to have made a movie that seemed like it would write itself. It’s not enough to just have a handful of genre elements (vampires, Hitler, lesbians!), you have to present those elements in an appealing manner. The premise is workable but the plot, characters, action, and tone are not given necessary attention. I never thought I would say this, but there’s just not enough holding together a movie about vampire Nazis. The dialogue is mostly characters talking in circles, rehashing what should be obvious, explaining why the bad guys should be threats when they fail to be credible onscreen. The film might be the best of the ongoing trilogy, but what exactly is that saying? Barely covering 75 minutes, with negligible action and an overall rushed pace, Bloodrayne III is a sterling example of disposable entertainment that hasn’t even been given the necessary components to be “entertainment.” Instead it’s just eminently disposable. The saddest part is knowing it’s only so long before this character gets resurrected for a fourth movie. Perhaps by then Boll will have figured out what to do with his vampire-killing hottie. Fourth time’s the charm, right?

Nate’s Grade: C-

Attack on Darfur (2010)

The idea of a filmmaker of Uwe Boll’s caliber tackling a subject like contemporary genocide seems like an artistic stretch. The man is mostly known for the poorly made, poorly received video game adaptations. It would be like the Wayans brothers making a stirring expose on supply side economics. The topic just seems far beyond their purview. I mean, maybe if somebody created some Darfur video game I might start thinking of Boll circling the project. Apparently, the despised German filmmaker had something Important to Say About Society. Attack on Darfur (or Darfur in some listings) is a well-intentioned cry for justice for a conflict often ignored by Western media. It’s a disturbing and grueling experience; however, the shortcomings of the script hinder the impact of the film and its crusading message. It ends up being a message movie subsumed by its message.

The Darfur region in southern Sudan has been the site of great atrocities. Thousands of people have been injured, raped, killed, and displaced. It is an ongoing civil war pitting Arabs against black Africans. The Sudanese government has been accused of working with death squads and militias, particularly the Janjaweed group. The Sudan government and the rebel groups formed a ceasefire after intense international pressure. But those in the Darfur region still report violent raids. The United Nations has dispatched a group of journalists to investigate a village for evidence that the ceasefire has been breached. Along the way are reporters (Billy Zane, Kristanna Loken, David O’Hara), a photographer (Edward Furlong), a cameraman (Matt Frewer), and others. Shortly after departing the village they can see the Janjaweed approaching in the distance. If they continue to leave then the village will most certainly be slaughtered. If they stay, perhaps they can avoid a bloodbath due to the presence of Western media. Some will go back to help fight for the condemned village and lay their lives on the line.

Attack on Darfur is Boll’s attempt to be a serious filmmaker. He’s targeted a serious issue and he’s going to give it serious attention. And he does, mostly. The first half of the movie is almost entirely expository, attempting to educate an audience ignorant to the depths of the genocide. The film even ends on a post-script lecturing us that because action has not taken place that the world has learned nothing. It’s easy to see Boll had some very good intentions with his film, and it follows an Edward Zwick path of preaching. Except while Zwick buries his lessons in easily digestible action. Boll doesn’t bury his message. His message is all you will get for 90 minutes. The opening focuses on many establishing shots of village life, and it’s truly amazing that the film doesn’t condescend or pander. Attack on Darfur feels authentic without having to ratchet up the differences with Western culture. Well, it tips into that territory when Loken hands out deflated balloons to the village kids as a treat. The problem is that all those horror stories end up blurring together, which is a horrible statement. This is because during this 40-minute chunk of exposition, Boll doesn’t fully educate about the conflict. All we know is that one group is getting treated really really badly. We don’t know about the people’s history, about the intricacies of the conflict, or the particulars of who belongs to what.

When the massacre is unleashed Boll doesn’t hold anything back. We witness mass murder, rape, baby smashing, baby impaling, baby slicing, child burning, and, oh, more rape. It’s a harrowing montage of death and destruction and dehumanization. It’s hard to watch, and that’s exactly the point. Boll overwhelms with the emotional appeals, trying to raise people’s collective sense of outrage. People are lined up and executed. Kids are locked into a hut and then the hut is burned to the ground. Nobody escapes this hellish nightmare. At last, Boll is utilizing commentary with his displays of exploitative violence. However, because of the lengths of degradation, it’s hard to even the scales from a storytelling standpoint. The leader of the Janjaweed militia (Sammy Sheik, Charlie Wilson’s War) is a way to put a manageable face to a problem too difficult to fix. It introduces a villain that can be vanquished so there’s some small sense of satisfaction by the time the movie draws to a close. We yearn for somebody to right these egregious wrongs, and that’s who our white journalist characters are supposed to be. I don’t exactly know what their plan is considering three head back to save the village and two of them have minimal to no experience with firearms. Three guys with guns vs. much more than three guys with guns? It’s even more confusing when our journalists-turned-gunmen stick with their handguns. They fail to grab the automatic weapons from the bad guys they kill, and naturally they run out of ammo when they need it most. While the third act produces some minor level of satisfaction as the bad guys are picked off here and there, we all know where this is headed; there will be no happy ending because that would disrupt the Message.

In the end, despite all the good intentions and horrific displays of violence, I’m left wondering why this story needed to be told? I’m not talking about the backdrop of the Darfur genocide, which clearly needs more attention. But what about this story did Boll and co-writer Chris Roland deem worthy of being their vehicle to garner attention to a worthy cause? The structure follows a very Edward Zwick approach; we’re introduced to the moral atrocity and then expected to stand up and make a difference. The first 40 minutes of Attack on Darfur is nothing but characters holding a microphone. That is the only purpose for the majority of our above-the-title recognizable faces. They are mic holders, and perhaps that’s a metaphor for the film as a whole but I doubt Boll has thought that deeply. We’re treated to extensive montages of village life and the testimonials from actual survivors of genocide (a nice touch by Boll). But what purpose do all of these characters serve if only THREE go back to fight against the Janjaweed? Billy Zane (Titanic, Bloodrayne), Edward Furlong (T2, Stoic), Matt Frewer (Dawn of the Dead, Rampage), and Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3, In the Name of the King)? They all stay in the car.

Completely ignore the poster/DVD cover art. Judging from that artwork, you would think very differently about where the story will head. With Zane front and center, sporting sunglasses and an automatic weapon, you’d naturally think Zane is going to lead a team to defend the victimized. And the bottom half of the artwork contains men in combat armor and attack helicopters looming overhead. But then would you ever guess that those same steely looks and explosions add up to… the advertised thespians sitting in a car looking glum? Their role is to serve as the shocked white faces of anguished reaction so we can truly know how bad things are, because otherwise how would we even know?

Boll is definitely trending upwards in his directing abilities. It’s not leaps and bounds but progress is unquestionably being made from the days of House of the Dead. He seems to be aping the visual aesthetic of a different artist with every film. Due to the true-life nature of the genocide it’s no surprise that Boll makes use of the Paul Greengrass docu-drama approach: quick edits, swishy camerawork, and extreme close-ups angling to keep the actors faces inside the frame. This visual aesthetic works effectively during the chaos of the massacre, but it proves to be a distraction beforehand. There’s no reason that the edits have to be so choppy and the camerawork so self-consciously handheld when characters are just standing around talking. It also somehow manages to minimize the visual urgency of the ensuing massacre. The concluding shootouts are efficiently entertaining without packing any thrills. Boll’s command with actors has improved, though this might owe up to the fact that his last couple of his movies have been devoted entirely to improvised dialogue. Reportedly the actors created exhaustive research to study the habits of journalists and create elaborate back-stories for their characters. That’s nice. It’s also a gigantic waste of time considering the actors have little to do.

Attack on Darfur is a hard film to watch and a difficult one to justify beyond raising awareness. What’s the point of the movie’s story? Why introduce characters to only have them turn away when danger mounts? I understand Boll wants to communicate the frustration of the inaction to the Darfur genocide. He wants us to get angry when our U.N. peacekeepers keep to the line that they can do no more than observe. Boll wants to compel us to make sure what happens in Darfur will never happen again. Never forget. But this intent to shock and horrify overwhelms his narrative. The message becomes the movie and the characters just get pushed to the edges to make room for more atrocities. Boll would have served his message and his movie better by building a better story.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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