Who woulda thought that you could concoct a recipe including heartthrobs Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, supporting actors like Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and Rufus Sewell, all directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (2007 Oscar® winner The Lives of Others for best foreign language film) and come up with such a plodding turkey as this?
Maybe it was predictable after all since Donnersmark wasn’t the first choice as director, or the second, even. He was the third director on the film, and then he walked, too. When Jolie became affiliated with the film, Donnersmark returned. Depp was the third choice for the male lead, after Tom Cruise and Sam Worthington both of whom left due to “creative differences.”
After sitting through the film, Cruise and Worthington and all the other directors knew what they were doing. The lack of chemistry between Depp and Jolie is stunning, since their romance is at the core of the film. Shouldn’t superstars be able to create chemistry where none exists off-screen?
One problem with the film might be that all the producers (eight, count them, eight, get credit) couldn’t decide on a screenwriter, so they apparently tried just about everybody in Hollywood but me, only three or four of whom get credit, which is good fortune for everyone else.
The plot is that Jolie picks up Depp on the train to confuse people trying to find her real boyfriend. She takes him to Venice, Italy, where lots of bad guys are out to get poor Johnny.
There are some twists and turns, but for a thriller this is incredibly slow. It failed the watch test in the first half hour. Donnersmark doesn’t seem to be cut out for the thriller genre if this is any indication.
One of the locations is the Danieli hotel in Venice. I’ve stayed there. It didn’t look anything like this when I stayed there. Maybe it’s a different Danieli. I’m sure it was the right Venice.
Jolie has shown herself to be a better actress than she shows here. She basically sleepwalks through the role, which is more than I can say for Depp. Neither superstar shows any emotion other than being alive.
The only positive about this film is the travelogue-like cinematography by John Seale. The views of Venice and the locations are gorgeous. There is one good line in the movie. Unfortunately, it is the last one uttered, hardly worth waiting for.
Hard on the heals of Alex Gibney’s propaganda film Casino Jack and the United States of Money, comes this fictional portrayal of the notorious Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), who was a powerful influence peddler during the Bush administration. At least Gibney used archival films and based everything on what actually occurred, even if he did present the story entirely from his point of view.
Both pretty much ignore the fact that Abramoff was peddling influence with both Republicans and Democrats to concentrate on the corruption of Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) with Republicans, specifically about how they scammed an Indian tribe. While the film accuses only Republicans of being tarnished by Abramoff, the facts are that of the approximately $85 million in tribal money entrusted to Abramoff, his employers, or his related organizations, over $4.4 million was directed to at least 250 members of Congress. Democrats received approximately 1/3 of the funds, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND).
Contrasted with Gibney’s use of archival films and interviews with people involved, in this, to the contrary, director George Hickenlooper, who passed away two days before my screening, creates everything out of whole cloth, helped in large part by a poorly written screenplay by Norman Snider. The dialogue and situations are basically absurd.
While Spacey gives an adequate performance, there are at least three performances that stand out. Kelly Preston gives a fine performance as Pam Abramoff, Jack’s long suffering wife. Maury Chaykin (who passed away in July) comes through as a believable mobster, Big Tony, and Jon Lovitz is very good as a mob-connected pal of Jack’s, Adam Kidan.
Unfortunately, more than counter-balancing these performances is Barry Pepper as Jack’s partner, Michael Scanlon. His performance is so out of touch with reality that it exacerbates the amateurish direction and script that lacks credibility. Hickenlooper was apparently trying to be comedic because before the screening, a co-producer spoke to us and told us to enjoy the movie because it was basically a comedy. If so, I didn’t see much at which to laugh with. At, maybe.
Hickenlooper was not without talent. He directed The Man from Elysian Fields, which I thought one of the best films of 2002, although he followed that up with the disappointing Factory Girl, about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.
Hickenlooper missed a big chance to draw a dichotomy between how leniently crooks like Abramoff and Scanlon are treated and the way common criminals are treated. If you use a gun to hold up a bank and take, say, $10,000, you can count on 20 years in jail at a maximum security prison. Abramoff and Scanlon apparently robbed the Indian tribe of many millions of dollars but Abramoff was sentenced to only 6 years in a minimum security prison and got paroled after serving 3 ½ years.
In short, “amateurish” is the word that kept wafting through my mind throughout the film.
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