Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Zany Romantic Action Comedies

I know they're formulaic, with impossible situations and silly action, but this genre blending the action movie with the romantic comedy makes for fun viewing.  Blending the male fantasy of being dashing, handsome, living a heroic, adventurous life battling evil, and the female fantasy, of romance, being swept off her feet by a dashing, heroic man, these movies have broad appeal, with happy couples leaving the theaters smiling, as they return to their boring lives.

That life is typically boring provides the starting point for each of these movies.  I accept that reality.  The cool thing about these movies is that they don't demean the boring, domestic life.

Poor Phil is a bit intimidated by Claire's buff client.

Date Night features the most boring couple of all.  Stuck in their rut of work, kids, and home, Phil Foster (Steve Carell) decides to take his wife (Tina Fey) out to dinner, not to the usual neighborhood restaurant, but to a trendy hot spot in Manhattan.  Of course they can't get a table, but when someone's name is called, Phil decides they'll claim that reservation.  Unfortunately, the no-shows have key evidence that the bad guys want to get their hands on, and the Fosters, mistaken for the other couple, can't convince the bad guys that they're just the Fosters from the suburbs.  Now, why this other couple, who live in a shabby apartment and appear to be poor, petty criminals, would have a reservation at a trendy, expensive restaurant, and why they would make the reservation in their own names when they're running from the bad guys, I don't know.  But it makes for good fun as the Fosters enter the underworld.  Guns, fast cars, corrupt politicians, seedy clubs, it all adds up to that fantasy life.  When Phil works it all out in the end, he doesn't have to win the girl--he already has her--but he sure is her hero!  And he affirms to Claire, "I'd do it again, you know?  Us, you, me, the kids, all of it.  I'd do it again.  I'd choose you every time."  Boring wins.

"My husband has a gun!  And he's shooting it!"
Killers starts with the beautiful Jen, who recently broke up with her boyfriend, on vacation with her parents.  She runs into the buff, handsome Spencer, another American on vacation.  A professional assassin, Spencer's unhappiness in his career coincides with his falling for Jen.  He decides to quit and take on the boring married life with Jen.  Boring wins again!  Three years later, with a baby on the way, Spencer's old job comes calling.  The boss, who had discouraged Spencer from quitting, wants him to take a job, but Spencer refuses.  Inexplicably, people all around him start trying to kill him.  He has no choice but to let Jen know about his former life as they run around dodging bullets.  That's pretty much the whole movie: dodging bullets and banter between the couple.  But in its stark simplicity, Killers is still pretty fun to watch, with silly action sequences and a surprising ending.  I was glad because for a little while I was thinking, this is stupid, why are all these people trying to kill him?  But they tied it all up nicely.  By the way, Tom Selleck is great as Jen's dad.  I haven't seen him in anything in forever.

This scene was pretty ridiculous, in both senses of the word.
The most high-octane movie of these 3, Knight and Day, definitely plays up the action, but doesn't skimp on the comedy.  Tom Cruise plays himself--OK, I guess he's played this type of role often enough that it seems like he's just playing himself--as a rogue FBI agent who's being hunted by the FBI.  He falls in with Cameron Diaz, a boring single girl who restores classic cars.  Cruise's hunters think she's his accomplice, and she has to decided whether Cruise is a good guy or a bad guy.  The best humor is Cruise's calmly coaching Diaz through their various crises, with Diaz playing the nervous, on-edge blond.  Inevitably, the romantic sparks fly and the truth (about who are the good guys and bad guys) wins out.

Sexist?  Maybe.  Good fun?  Absolutely.  These three movies provide a great mix of action, comedy, and romance.  Bottom line:
Date Night, 2 1/2 stars
Killers, 2 1/2 stars
Knight and Day, 3 stars

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The worst examples of human depravity can sometimes yield the best stories in human courage and inspiration.  The twentieth century has no shortage of depravity and oppression on a large scale.  Apartheid may not have been the worst social ill of the century (after all, it had tough competition from the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot), but the breadth of apartheid made it somewhat unique.  Invictus demonstrates perhaps apartheid's most unique characteristic, the way in which it ended.

The rise of Nelson Mandela from long-time political prisoner to president of South Africa shocked many around the world and dismayed many whites in South Africa.  The prejudices against blacks, ingrained as they were, did not instantly fall away.  But rather than reverse the lines of oppression, like Mugabe has done, oppressing whites in Zimbabwe, Mandela worked for reconciliation among all South African people.  He caught a vision for a means of uniting the people: rally around the national rugby team.
Freeman is taller than Mandela; Damon is shorter than Pienaar.

Invictus tells the story of Mandela's stubborn, quiet leadership, and his championing the Springboks, the national rugby team, in spite of their less-than-stellar performance.  Mandela inspired the Springboks, and they together inspired a nation.  Morgan Freeman portrays Mandela perfectly, overshadowing Matt Damon's adequate performance as the Francois Pienaar, the Springbok captain.

As with all post-apartheid literature and movies, the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation dominates.  I loved the scene in which Mandela's security detail is met in the presidential offices by the white presidential guard detail, carried over from the previous administration.  Mandela has invited them back to their old role.  When his men object, reminding Mandela that these men and their cohorts had beaten them and their neighbors.  Mandela calmly insists that this is a time of reconciliation and forgiveness, and that it will start in his office.

Invictus, an inspiring sports movie, goes way beyond the underdog to championship tale, but tells the story of a broken nation being brought back together under the leadership of one of the most remarkable statesmen of the century.  Watch this movie.

Bottom line, 4 stars.