The ‘Total Recall’ Remake is as Unnecessary as Many Remakes Are

After watching Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall,” I wanted to ask my fellow audience members what they thought of it in hopes of finding a few who hadn’t seen the original directed by Paul Verhoeven. I actually found myself getting bored while watching this particular cinematic interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” and I figured it was because I had seen the original dozens of times. But in retrospect, I don’t think it would have made a difference because my attitude towards this new version would have been the same in that it does not work in the slightest.

This is really a shame because Wiseman, best known for his “Underworld” movies and “Live Free or Die Hard,” had me coming into this remake with high hopes. I figured he would make this material his own and create an endlessly entertaining action flick. Instead, he drains all the fun out of the story, and what we get is a depressingly bland and uninspired motion picture which will be easily forgotten regardless of its excellent visual effects.

The story remains the same as before. Construction worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is living an ordinary existence with his loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and wonders why his life isn’t further along than it already is. He attempts to remedy this by going to Rekall, a company which specializes in artificial memory implants, but it all goes haywire when he is met by a SWAT team whom he quickly eliminates. From there, he is on the run as he comes to discover is life was never what he thought it was to begin with.

The only real difference between this “Total Recall” and the original is that Wiseman keeps the action earthbound. No one gets their ass to Mars this time around as the future presented here shows Earth having been decimated by a global chemical war which has divided it into two superpowers: the United Federation of Britain and The Colony. They are both battling one another for supremacy, and transportation to and from each nation is done via “The Fall,” an enormous gravity elevator which functions like the Lex Luthor’s Escape ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain.  If there is a difference, it is that the characters here have long since gotten used to the speed of the drop.

With this “Total Recall” not taking its story to Mars, I was convinced Wiseman would be giving us something other than the same old thing with this remake. Having said that, events here are not much different from what Verhoeven gave us years ago. Even if this particular version did get its ass to Mars, I’m not sure it would have made things all that more interesting. Even with actresses like Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, I’m surprised this remake didn’t go all the way to Uranus (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Speaking of Beckinsale, she is one of “Total Recall’s” best assets. Some will say her Lori is not much different from her character of Selene from the “Underworld” movies, and that the only difference is that Lori is not wearing any tight-fitting leather clothing here. Whatever the case, I don’t really care because it’s a lot of fun watching Beckinsale kick butt at any chance she gets. That fierce look in her eyes is hard to pass up as she aims to eliminate her antagonists, particular Douglas Quaid, with extreme prejudice.

Biel is also fun to watch as Melina, and that’s even though her character feels like the same one she played in “The A-Team.” Other actors like Bryan Cranston who plays President Vilos Cohaagen and Bill Nighy who portrays rebel leader Matthias are wasted in roles which are ridiculously underwritten. This is a shame in the case of Cranston who looks to be having some fun playing such a corrupt leader.

Now Colin Farrell is a far more accomplished actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even the former Governor of California proves to be the better Douglas Quaid. Farrell isn’t bad, but Schwarzenegger had such a strong screen presence in the 1990 film which is hard for anyone to compete with.

I’m guessing that ever since Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, filmmakers have done their best to avoid campiness in action films. The original “Total Recall” did have a level of campiness about it, but that made ir all the more entertaining to watch.

For Wiseman, his “Total Recall” represents a total immersion into the realm of CGI effects. With “Live Free or Die Hard,” he didn’t rely on as he was determined to use the real thing as much as possible. That made the action in that sequl all the more invigorating, and I wish he got more of an opportunity to go in that direction with “Total Recall.” True, the special effects are amazing especially in the design of the cities which the characters inhabit, but the action scenes lack friction as you cannot past the fact that you are watching something which is nothing more than a visual effect.-

With Verhoeven’s “Total Recall,” you could never figure out if what you were watching was real or a dream, and he teased you with the possibilities throughout. but Wiseman instead makes the story more straightforward which frustratingly robs the story of its more suspenseful moments. The tension ends up disappearing at key moments which makes what we see utterly frustrating as a result.

In a sea of endless Hollywood remakes, “Total Recall” proves to be one of the most unnecessary. Someone like me is at a disadvantage here because I’m huge fan of the 1990 version, but this one is nowhere as much fun.

As for Wiseman making more movies which are dominated by CGI effects, he should consider this a divorce. Come on Wiseman, you are so much better than this!

* * out of * * * *

‘Passenger 57’ – Wesley Snipes is Great, The Movie is Not

There was a time long ago, before he decided against paying taxes, when Wesley Snipes was one of the biggest action stars working in movies. When you see an actor like that suddenly sink into the almost inescapable realm of direct-to-video films, you cannot help but feel a little sad. Seriously, Snipes is a better actor than many give him credit for these days. He wowed us in “New Jack City” and the “Blade” movies among others. But in between all that, he starred in crappy movies he usually proved to be the most watchable thing in. “Passenger 57” is one of those crappy movies but, for what it is worth, it is never boring for a second.

Snipes stars as John Cutter, a security specialist for an airline corporation who is taking a flight to Los Angeles to take a new job. He is the kind of character you might see in Sylvester Stallone movies like “Cliffhanger;” a man who has suffered a terrible tragedy and is now heading on to the road to redemption. Cutter watched his wife get shot to death in front of him during a convenience store robbery, so you can understand why he doesn’t smile a lot. Along with him on the plane is flight attendant, don’t dare call her a stewardess, Marti Slayton, played by Alex Datcher. Cutter just got through a training session with her where he chewed Slayton out for improvising a move where she succeeded in disarming a terrorist. Now he is trying to make it up to her, but she is not making it easy for him. Ironically, the thing Cutter chewed Slayton out about becomes their only option for survival.

Unbeknownst to Cutter, aboard the plane is terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) who is being shipped under the guard of FBI agents to await trial where he will most certainly be found guilty. Payne plays the villain of the piece with a seething glare you can find in any Stanley Kubrick film. It is a one-note performance, even if his character has the excuse of feeling no pain. At the same time, Payne does create a threatening presence as a villain to where he has us desperately wanting him to experience the most intense pain humanly possible. Seriously, karma has got to visit this asshole at some point.

Now this brings me to one of the key idiotic moves in this film. Charles Rane is responsible for all of these terrorist acts of destruction, many of them involving airplane explosions. So of course, the FBI has the bright idea of transporting him to trial via airplane. Not by car, train, or even in a cage or some contraption that they would use for Hannibal Lecter. Of course, if they didn’t take him on a plane, there would be no movie. I doubt it would have been anywhere as exciting to see Mr. Rane hijack a 1970’s Pinto. Then again, that might have made for some interesting fight scenes between him and Cutter.

Some movies have gaping holes in plot logic which don’t bother me because I don’t always realize they are happening while I am watching a movie. But when you have plot holes as big as the ones those dinosaurs could have walked through, it’s kind of hard to not notice them. “Passenger 57” is full of plot holes, and they left me scratching my head constantly. We have already gone over transporting an airline hijacker by airplane, but how does this terrorist manage to get on board after being taken off by the police? He has some guy shooting the officers taking him back on board, but how did he get all the way out there? Did the FBI even bother checking the backgrounds of the flight crew and passengers? Really, you can see it in the eyes of Rane’s henchmen. Then again, looks can be deceiving. And is it really possible for Cutter to get inside an airplane by sneaking up through the landing gear while the plane is taking off and not get crushed or blown away in the process?

To a certain extent, it almost shouldn’t matter as “Passenger 57” is entertaining enough. But if these logic loopholes give you a big enough headache, like being in the front row and staring right up at a movie like “JFK,” then it does. You can only be allowed to insult the intelligence of the audience so much before they get right back up in your face.

The other really big problem is that the majority of the acting here is God awful. Granted, Snipes is always fun to watch, and I even have good things to say about Elizabeth Hurley as well. The other actors, however, all speak as if their feet are nailed to the floor, and they emote more than anything else. This is especially evident on the ground when Snipes is confronted by a bunch of hillbilly cops that are clichéd and racist in inescapable ways. How rare it is that you see this much bad acting in a motion picture which was released theatrically.

Then again, you do have Tom Sizemore on board as Cutter’s friend of sorts, Sly Delvecchio. Even if he was on drugs while acting in this movie, he is never ever boring and raises the acting level ever so slightly for the rest of the cast. Then again, that helped only so much.

The movie was directed by Kevin Hooks who has done a lot more work these days in television than he has in feature films. But considering that he has worked on such shows as “24,” “Alias,” and “Homicide – Life on The Street” among others, it is clear he has a good hand for action and character than this particular motion picture would quickly suggest. Maybe the movie was so low budget that they didn’t have time to work on things more. If they did have more time, it would have ended up being far more entertaining and enthralling than what ended up onscreen here.

As I write this, Snipes has since gone through a career renaissance thanks to the combined efforts of Craig Brewer and Eddie Murphy who allowed him to let loose and go crazy in “Coming 2 America” and “Dolemite is My Name.” Seeing him in “Passenger 57” serves as a reminder of the kind of action movie star he was once upon a time, and he does make this one more watchable than it might be otherwise. Thanks to Snipes, he keeps me from giving this particular movie a more brutal review.

In the end, I can’t say I hated “Passenger 57,” but I never got bored by it either. This was made back when we had dozens of “Die Hard” knock-offs, and this one can safely be described as “Die Hard on A Plane.” If you want a better version of this movie, check out “Executive Decision” with Kurt Russell and Steven Segal which has better acting and characters. Better yet, check out “Air Force One” which stars Harrison Ford and was directed by Wolfgang Peterson.

After all this time, I can’t believe Roger Ebert liked this movie more than “Air Force One.”

* * out of * * * *

‘Bullet Train’ – A Bumpy but Entertaining Ride Thanks to Brad Pitt

Bullet Train” is one of those movies which takes you on an adrenaline-fueled ride and leaves you wrung out at its incredibly chaotic conclusion. Now I usually begin writing movie reviews soon after I watch one, but I had to sit down for a bit after and gather my thoughts when it came to this particular feature film. Yes, it is furiously entertaining, but the story does drag from time to time and there are moments which defy simple logic. Also, some have accused the film of trying to be Tarantino-esque as the director wants the characters to look and sound cool when they talk. My response to those criticisms is this: didn’t the trailers spell out to you that this is a motion picture which you will need to check your brain at the door while watching it?

Based on the Japanese novel “Maria Beetle” by Kōtarō Isaka, “Bullet Train” is not a perfect movie, few movies are for crying out loud, but for the most part I found myself really enjoying the chaos on display as we watch Brad Pitt portray an American assassin who makes his way through a Japanese train going at a speed of about 200 miles an hour through the country’s vast railway system.

Pitt’s character has no name here, but he is given the codename of Ladybug by his contact and handler, Maria Beetle (voiced by an Oscar winning actress whose voice you will recognize). His mission is a snatch-and-grab one as he is to collect a suitcase on a train heading to Kyoto and then get off at the next stop. Ladybug is also an experienced assassin who has been doing his job for far too long, and this looks to be one of those last mission before retirement gigs for him. Also, he is trying to find some inner peace in the midst of all his deadly deeds and is quick to encourage others to do the same. Yes, “Bullet Train” is that kind of movie.

Now Ladybug is quick to acquire the briefcase which acts as this movie’s McGuffin, but getting off the train quickly turns into an insane comedy of errors as he keeps running into other assassins whose missions prove to be very similar to his. Among them are British assassins Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Japanese assassin Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) who looks to avenge his son who lies in the hospital in critical condition, a Mexican assassin known as The Wolf (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio, a.k.a. Bad Bunny) who has a special grudge against Ladybug, and Prince (Joey King) who is a British assassin who received her codename only because her parents really wanted a boy instead of a girl.

With everything set up, we know these characters will eventually collide with one another in inventive and creative ways as their individual missions have an inevitable connection. Seeing it all happen on a train traveling at a very high speed is especially exciting as, while these assassins are trying to kill or trick one another, the rest of the passengers are sitting in their seats as, to quote a line from another movie starring Pitt, “calm as Hindu cows.” Oh yeah, there is a venomous snake which manages to escape its cage and slither about the train in the same way that spider crawled around the McCallister house in “Home Alone,” and you sit in fear of it striking at the least suspecting passenger.

Directing “Bullet Train” is David Leitch who helmed the very first “John Wick” film, the insanely entertaining “Deadpool 2,” and “Atomic Blonde” which starred Charlize Theron who gave a performance which should have had you saying, “not bad for a human.” Clearly, he is out to give us a fun-filled ride, and he delivers for the most part. Not everything lands in the way it should as some moments fall flat, but those which do hit had me enthralled and laughing my ass off. While it may not be as thrilling as “Top Gun: Maverick” or the vastly underappreciated “Ambulance,” Leitch for my money gives this motion picture more entertaining set pieces than not, and that makes it worth seeing in my opinion.

The other actors go out of their way to fully inhabit their roles regardless of whether or not their screen time is long or short. Both Taylor-Johnson and Henry work off of one another very well, and that’s even though I could not always understand every word coming out of their mouths. As for Henry, his character of Lemon goes out of his way to give us all a special appreciation of the British children’s television series “Thomas & Friends” and of all the different kinds of trains there are in the world.

One of my favorite performances comes from Joey King as the oddly named Prince. From the first time we see her, she proves to be an alluring presence as she uses her disguise as a schoolgirl to gleefully throw her antagonists off-balance in an almost sublime manner. Her eyes show us a character who is infinitely dedicated to taking out her main target with extreme prejudice, but she also succeeds brilliantly in deceiving those around her ever so easily. Seriously, King steals every scene she is in.

But yes, the one person who manages to connect everything together here is Brad Pitt who once again proves why he is one of Hollywood’s best and most dependable of movie stars. Even if his performance threatens to be too broad at times, he made this film especially fun and looks to be having the time of his life. There’s also a scene where we see him traveling through the train cars in slow motion (you will now what I am talking about when it happens), and the expressions he gives off prove to be absolutely priceless.

Now I cannot say that “Bullet Train” will remain in the mind long after you have watched it but watching proved to be a blast for the most part. While many may say it pales in comparison to other films from its genre, I was never quick to compare it to others. There may a few bumps and lags on this particular train ride, but I still enjoyed this film for what it was, and that was enough for me. And, like “Where the Crawdads Sing,” it makes me want to read the book it is based on.

Oh, there are some truly brilliant celebrity cameos to be found here, especially towards the end. Seriously, they are alone worth the price of admission, particularly when it comes to the one actor playing an assassin named Carver.

* * * out of * * * *

Paul Williams and Stephen Kessler Discuss ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’ at the Nuart

WRITER’S NOTE: As the opening paragraph indicates, this article was originally written ten years ago.

On June 27, 2012, singer and songwriter Paul Williams along with filmmaker Stephen Kessler appeared at the Nuart Theatre in support of their documentary “Paul Williams Still Alive.” After its conclusion, both men were greeted by a packed audience that had been deeply moved by what they just witnessed. The documentary follows up with Williams years after his enormous success back in the 1970s, and it finds him experiencing happiness and fulfillment in life he didn’t have back then.

Kessler has described making this documentary as “a labor of love,” but Williams quickly pointed out that it didn’t start that way. Their relationship when filming began was an uncomfortable one, but Williams eventually warmed up to Kessler, and their strong friendship proved to be very authentic as they talked with the audience at the Nuart. Kessler even went out of his way to say the following:

“I’ve never said this in front of people before, but you (Williams) were brave to do this movie.”

No one in the audience disagreed with this assessment. Williams described this as a “warts and all documentary” that shows him at his best and worst. One particular sequence, when he was co-hosting Merv Griffin’s talk show while on drugs, was one he originally wanted to be cut out as he was terribly afraid of what his kids would think about him. His son Cole, however, was in the audience, and when asked about what he thought of the documentary, he said, “It’s great dad!”

Kessler made it clear he had no intention of putting himself in this documentary, and he even said he “can’t stand movies that do that;” directors becoming the subject of their own films. His increased participation in “Paul Williams Still Alive,” however, helped to illuminate the songwriter much more than it would have without him. While Kessler keeps going back to the past, Williams looks to the future instead.

When Williams was asked when he reached his bottom as an alcoholic, he responded it happened when he started looking out the window for what he called the “tree police.” He even joked and said, “You know you’re an alcoholic when you’ve misplaced an entire decade.” What made him say this was the embarrassing truth that he forgot for a time that Ronald Reagan was once President of the United States.

Since becoming sober, Williams says he now knows what it feels like to be around people he feels safe with. He has also entered into what he calls his “Paulie Lama” period of life as he goes out of his way to pull people off of bar stools, and that he would be thrilled to work at the Betty Ford Center if asked.

1992’s “A Muppet Christmas Carol” marked the first project Williams ever did sober, and he remembered going into it feeling very scared. But after he finished working on it, he found he was able to approach his work in a more productive way:

“Success for me has to be about authenticity and honesty. Today I have to trust that I am enough. Never again will I ever let tension and my ego keep me from writing songs.” The emcee of the Nuart told us not to ask either of the two how much “Paul Williams Still Alive” cost to make or when it will come out on DVD. This is because he wants to see it again with as a big an audience in the midst of all these summer blockbusters being thrust at us. It is certainly one of the sweetest documentaries you will ever see, and to see Williams today is to see a man very comfortable with who he is and who does not need another cup of fame to feel better about himself.

Underseen Movie: ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’

Going into this documentary, I thought it would be one of those great comeback stories of a fallen celebrity who gets their dormant career resurrected through the help of one die-hard fan. But while filmmaker Stephen Kessler seems intent on reminding the world of what this gifted songwriter has given us, “Paul Williams Still Alive” is not that kind of documentary. Instead, it’s a story of a man whose life was run into the ground by a strong addiction to fame and drugs, and of his journey back to a place of happiness and fulfillment he is ever so thankful for today. This is not an artist looking to make a comeback, but of one who appreciates what they have to where not much more is needed than that. As a result, this makes “Paul Williams Still Alive” one of the sweetest and most life affirming documentaries I have seen in some time.

Kessler is best known for having directed many popular television commercials and “Vegas Vacation,” a sequel which rated high in test screenings, but still turned out to be a dud. Kessler starts off this documentary recounting how he grew up being such a big fan of Williams and of how the songwriter seemed to be everywhere in the 1970s. Williams appeared on “The Muppet Show,” made numerous appearances on television shows such as “Beretta,” and he became an incredibly popular guest on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. On top of that, he composed the music for “The Muppet Movie,” the cult classic “Phantom of The Paradise,” and eventually won an Oscar along with Barbara Streisand for the song “Evergreen.”

Somewhere along the line, Kessler assumed Williams had passed away at far too young an age. But while ordering one of Williams’ albums on the internet one night, he discovers to his surprise that the singer and songwriter is still very much alive and continues to create and perform music throughout the world. From there, Kessler makes it his mission to make a movie about Williams in an effort to let the world today know how much of an impact his music has had on all of us and still does to this day. Remember, he was a featured artist on Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories.”

Kessler started filming Williams when the songwriter visited Winnipeg, Canada where a fan convention for “Phantom of The Paradise” was taking place. This collaboration gets off to a rocky start as Williams shows a sharp reluctance to being filmed. There’s even a moment where he is singing in a San Francisco nightclub and gets the house manager to dim the lights so Kessler can’t get a good view of him onstage. As for Kessler, his solution to this problem provides this documentary with one of its funniest moments.

In some ways William’s reluctance is refreshing because, in a time where we are constantly flooded with reality shows with people becoming famous just for the sake of being famous, he is not keen about being part of this. In fact, it doesn’t take long to see he is not the least bit interested in becoming famous again like he once was as he has described the pursuit of fame as being in his own words, “pathetic.” As this documentary goes on, the narrative focuses much more on the person he is today, a much healthier human being who is humble and thankful for what he has.

“Paul Williams Still Alive” does give us a brief biography of the songwriter and of how he grew up with an alcoholic father who made him sing “Danny Boy,” and that his being so short ended up ostracizing him from his classmates at school. He comes to blame his lack of height on hormones being injected into him early in life. This was done to make him taller, but it ended up having the exact opposite effect. After moving out to Los Angeles to become a film actor, he ended up finding success as a songwriter which eventually turned him into a huge celebrity. The attention it gave him was something he came to live for, and it would eventually become an even bigger addiction for him than drugs.

As time goes on, Williams eventually warms up to Kessler, and this becomes clear during a trip to the Philippines. Williams even encourages Kessler to join him in front of the camera instead of just staying behind it, and that is saying a lot. Now this might have proven disastrous as “Paul Williams Still Alive” could have ended up becoming more about the filmmaker than his subject, but Kessler’s increased involvement proves to be a major plus. The relationship between these two men helps to define Williams as he is today.

While Kessler constantly looks to the past, Williams only wants to look forward. The one scene which makes this clear is when Williams watches himself guest hosting Merv Griffin’s talk show. Clearly high on drugs and making an absolute fool of himself, the realization of what he was doing back then forces him to stop watching the rest of the footage. The person Williams was back then is so different from who he is today, and the pain which crosses his face over his embarrassing past deeds is impossible to hide.

Near the end, Williams gives Kessler a whole bunch of videotapes he has in storage, having no idea of what’s on them. One particularly disturbing video has Williams celebrating Christmas with his family, and then later going upstairs to film himself getting high. Watching this illustrates just how far down the songwriter’s drug addiction took him and, looking at him today, it’s almost like we’re looking at a completely different person.

It should be clear by now that Kessler is not out to embarrass Williams in the slightest. Instead, his intention is to bring the songwriter back to the world’s attention, and this is a noble intention indeed. Williams is the same man who wrote the song “Rainbow Connection” for Kermit the Frog, “We’ve Only Just Begun” for the Carpenters, and “An Old-Fashioned Song” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” for himself. Heck, he even did the music for “Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas,” one of my favorite holiday specials ever.

Today, Williams continues to make beautiful music which deals with themes like love, loneliness and alienation, and he definitely deserves to be recognized for the countless music contributions he has given us. Maybe not everyone has forgotten who he is, but we do need to be reminded of what he has created.

Now some have accused “Paul Williams Still Alive” of not including more of his music, but this documentary is not intended to be a career retrospective. In actuality, it becomes more about how Williams is a better, not to mention a far more interesting, human being today compared to when he was an overindulgent celebrity. He has been clean and sober for over 20 years, and he is even a certified drug and alcohol counselor. Looking back, it seems as though he lives to be a counselor more than he wants to create new music, and that is saying a lot.

With “Paul Williams Still Alive,” Kessler has given us far more than the average showbiz documentary. He has given us an individual worth appreciating who, while having made some serious mistakes in life, has come out of it on the other side a proud and happy person. All of this is all accomplished without Kessler ever trying to be manipulative or play at our heartstrings unnecessarily. This is a warts-and-all documentary which doesn’t hide anything, and I came out of it with not just a deep respect for Williams, but also for his healthy perspective on life.

During a time which sees certain celebrities desperately grasping for whatever fame is available to them, here is one who has found the happiness we all mistakenly thought we would get when we became a super star in everyone’s eyes. In the end, “Paul Williams Still Alive” is more about what it means to be happy, and Williams has more than earned the happiness he has today. Like he says, he does not need “another cup of fame” to make him a satisfied man.

* * * * out of * * * *

The First Trailer For ‘Halloween Ends’ is Here, But Are We Truly Prepared for It?

2022 has been a year where Hollywood keeps reaching back to the past to where we got “Top Gun: Maverick” or “Jurassic World: Dominion,” and this will continue in the fall with “Halloween Ends,” David Gordon Green’s third and final “Halloween” movie in which Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) looks to have her last epic battle with the force of nature known as Michael Myers who destroyed her life decades before. And now, the first trailer for “Halloween Ends” has been released for the whole world to see, and while it may make expectations raise very high, you may want to check how high they end up going.

The trailer opens up on another Halloween night in what looks like Haddonfield, but it might actually be somewhere else. Nevertheless, we are caught up in the point of view of someone entering a quiet little house while breathing rather heavily. Even before he steps slowly and quietly up the stairs, we know it is Michael Myers. But the real first shock of this trailer is not the sight of Michael, but of him pushing open a door to where we see Laurie is hiding right behind it, ready to blow his brains out. That’s right, Laurie is prepared for Michael now more than ever to where we hear her say, “Come and get me motherfucker!”

Of course, the more the good people at Blumhouse keep pushing the climactic battle between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, the more I wonder if this trailer is truly preparing fans for “Halloween Ends.” Truth be told, the filmmakers and executive producer John Carpenter have described this “Halloween” movie as being quite different from the two which preceded it, and this trailer does not necessarily illustrate this.

What we know about this movie so far is that it takes place four years after the events of “Halloween Kills.” Laurie has been living with her granddaughter, Alyson (Andi Matichak), and she is on the verge of finishing her memoir. As for Michael, he has not been seen in years and no one has any idea where he has wandered off to. But when Alyson’s new boyfriend, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), is accused of killing a boy he was babysitting, violence erupts among the townspeople to where Laurie is made to confront the force of evil known as Michael Myers one last time.

 “Halloween Kills” was seen as something of a step down from Green’s phenomenally successful 2018 “Halloween” movie, but looking back, I wonder if that was the result of unrealistic expectations. Carpenter himself described the sequel as being the “ultimate slasher movie,” but many were not in agreement with his thoughts on it.

Also, we recently got word of a test screening for “Halloween Ends” which had several audience members having an indifferent reaction to it. From what they told us, this movie focuses more on Alyson than anyone else, and Laurie does not even show up until the last act. This is not made the least bit clear from this trailer which features the return of several other characters including Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) and Sheriff Barker (Omar Dorsey) as some many quick cuts are made to where we cannot make the faces of everyone out right off the bat.

Curtis has said this movie will be shocking and that it will make people angry, producer Malek Akkad has stated it will be more contained than the previous sequel, Carpenter has said it will be a departure from the previous entries, and Green has described it as being a coming-of-age film and a more intimate film like Carpenter’s “Christine.” I bring all this up because I am not sure this trailer makes any of this the least bit clear, but hopefully the next trailer will as expectations need to be tempered a bit.

Right now, I am convinced people will be disappointed in “Halloween Kills” for all the wrong reasons, and I want them to view it for what it is as opposed to how they picture it in their minds. From all the talk about it, Green and his fellow filmmakers aim to give us something a bit different from what we have previously seen, and that cannot be a bad thing, right?

Nevertheless, we can at the very least expect another terrific music score from Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and we can be assured this will be the last “Halloween” movie released under the Blumhouse banner. After this, the rights to the franchise will revert back to the Akkad family, and odds are they will keep this franchise going on in one way or another. Seriously, remember what Carpenter said:

“Let me explain the movie business to you: if you take a dollar sign and attach it to anything, there will be somebody who wants to do a sequel. It will live. If the dollar sign is not big enough, no matter what, it will not live.”

Remember, evil never dies.

“Halloween Ends” will arrive in theaters on October 14, 2022.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’

I pride myself on having a vast knowledge of movies. While my many of my friends stumble across a movie they don’t recognize, I am usually quick to name it even if I have never watched it before. Everyone is amazed at how I could know such things. Still, when it comes to older movies and the great filmmakers who ever lived, there are still many I need to catch up on.

One of those filmmakers I really need to catch up on is Akira Kurosawa who is considered by many to one of the greatest of all time. Until I saw “Ran,”, the only movie of his I had previously watched was “The Seven Samurai” which really is one of greatest movies ever made. Of course, I got exposed to the American remake, “The Magnificent Seven,” beforehand, but anyway.

“Ran” was the very last movie Kurosawa made on such an epic scale, and as amazing as it looked when it was first released, this is even more the case more than 30 years later. Kurosawa clearly had the power to request literally thousands of extras, and it is easy to see well-dressed studio executives looking at him to where, had he made this movie today, would have asked him:

“Can’t you just add all these people in with CGI? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper just to hire like 50 guys instead of 1200?”

If they didn’t ask them that, they would obviously come up with the obvious solution:

“We’ll solve it in post!”

Looking at the title and scenes from the movie trailer, I figured the title “Ran” meant the main characters were running from certain doom throughout like it was a big chase. This should show you what I know about the Japanese language, and that is not much. “Ran” actually means “revolt” or “chaos,” and Kurosawa’s movie is filled with so much of both to where this is ends up being a cinematic experience both physically and emotionally draining.

Kurosawa based the story on the legends of the daimyo Mori Motonari and of how he had three sons who were intensely loyal to him. This led him to look at the story a little differently and say the following:

“When I read that three arrows together are invincible, that’s not true. I started doubting, and that’s when I started thinking: the house was prosperous and the sons were courageous. What if this fascinating man had bad sons?”

Of course, anyone familiar with William Shakespeare will say that “Ran” is heavily influenced by the tragedy of “King Lear.” Indeed, the story very much resembles that of “King Lear” as we watch a powerful leader abdicate his throne, and he ends up being betrayed by his own blood in the process.

The powerful leader at the center of “Ran” is Hidetora, leader of the Ichimonji clan. The story starts with Hidetora abdicating his throne to his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. The majority of the power is given to Taro who is his eldest son, and Jiro and Saburo are ordered by their father to support him no matter what. Saburo, however, does not agree with Hidetora’s decision to disperse all of his powers, reminding him how his kingdom came about through his own treachery and massacre of others. Hidetora starts acting all uppity as if he’s a superstar celebrity who is not used to hearing the word “no” much, and he banishes Saburo from the clan as well as his servant Tango who speaks in Saburo’s defense. It’s amazing what breaking three arrows together can do to a man’s ego.

From there, it is a vicious downfall for Hidetora as he is banished from his kingdom ever so coldly. Many characters here profess to believe in a god, be it Buddha or someone else, and they pray for their assistance in this little world which is quickly collapsing. If there is a god watching over them, he, or she, is blind to their sufferings or deaf to their endless prayers. Hence, this is quite a bleak movie from a thematic and visual standpoint.

After watching “Ran,” I was compelled to learn more about it. While researching the movie more deeply, It turns out “King Lear” never really entered Kurosawa’s mind until he was deep into pre-production. Along the way, he did incorporate different elements of the play into it, and he had this to say about Shakespeare’s classic tragedy:

“What has always troubled me about ‘King Lear’ is that Shakespeare gives his characters no past. … In Ran, I have tried to give Lear a history.”

Now this is what gives Hidetora, among others characters, such gravity throughout the nearly three-hour running time. He was not a leader who earned his kingdom through family succession, but through the pillaging of villages and murdering those who were against them. Perhaps he would like to forget this, but his power and family are forever stained by his deeds, and he is reminded of this in the most painful of ways.

With this in mind, it is no wonder two of Hidetora’s three sons end up turning against him. What his legacy has taught them is you can’t get anywhere in life without beating the crap out of the other guy and stealing everything he and his followers have. Only Saburo is fearless and selfless in telling him this and of pointing out the fact he will always be seen as a killer. Saburo at least cares enough to tell him this instead of just sucking up to him like his brothers do. Some people hear the word “yes” once too often when they need some others say “no” every once in a while.

As we see Hidetora losing his mind and in a state of disbelief, I was reminded of Will Munny, Clint Eastwood character from “Unforgiven.” Both these characters become sick, and in their feverish state they become haunted by the lives they ended ever so coldly. They have tried to convince themselves they are not the same people they once were, and Hidetora appears to develop amnesia in an effort to block his mind of his past deeds. But nightmares abound in his sleep reminding him of the price he has yet to pay. You could even compare this character to Anakin Skywalker who becomes the very thing he fought against in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” In the process of trying to prevent the love of his life from dying, he gives up everything he believes in. Hidetora believes that by passing the leadership duties to his oldest son his clan will continue to prosper. The more we fear of something bad happening, the more likely that bad thing will happen.

Taking this into account makes me realize one of the most important elements in the Kurosawa movies I have seen; they are very dependent on the depth of their characters as much as they are on spectacle. Granted, this is only the second movie of his I have seen, but it feels like just enough to understand why his cinematic works made such a strong impression on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (“The Hidden Fortress” is said to have been a huge influence on “Star Wars”). Most movies today are just about spectacle, and the characters are usually a distant second to it. But it is this focus on character which makes “Ran” so involving and gives its epic scope much more meaning.

But let’s talk about the spectacle of “Ran” which is incredible to say the least. One of the key sequences is the horrific massacre which takes place at the third castle where Hidetora takes refuge. What really struck me was how Kurosawa put Tōru Takemitsu’s music score over the sounds of violence perpetrated by his sons as it gives what is being presented to us with far more emotional power. Takemitsu’s music further illustrates the immense tragedy tearing this powerful clan apart which leaves Hidetora in an endless state of shock. Without the music, it would still be a cinematic high mark of capturing battle on celluloid, but it would not have the same effect.

The bloodbath of the massacre is made all the more vivid by Kurosawa as “Ran” was made long before the advent of CGI effects. With this sequence, Kurosawa brilliantly captures the ugliness and viciousness of war, and of the cruel nature which dominates these characters’ humanity.

All the acting is nothing short of excellent from as the entire cast invests each of their characters with various complexities which allow them to surprise us in unexpected ways. Hidetora is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, and he immerses himself completely into playing a man whose own pride and self-righteousness proves to be his undoing. Without saying a word in the last half of the massacre, Hidetora communicates his utter regret of his thoughtless decision making which has led to the decimation of what he once had. Nakadai makes Hidetora’s eventual descent into madness all the more vivid, and his performance never ever descends into camp.

I also loved Mieko Harada’s performance as Lady Kaede, Kurosawa’s version of Lady Macbeth. Through her deceitful ways, viciousness and endless manipulation, she always seems to get her way and turn the men around her into quivering jelly. Harada’s moments onscreen are among my favorites as she exploits the fears of the men around her and seduces them despite their mistrust of her. Never let it be said that Kurosawa ever writes weak roles for women because it certainly isn’t the case here. Lady Kaede wants to maintain her high status in the clan, and she is ruthless in how she pursues it.

You could say they don’t make movies like “Ran” anymore, but it did come out in a time when they weren’t being made much. For many, it serves as the culmination of all his talents, of what he has accomplished in his career, and of all the struggle and tears he shed while making this movie. During the making of “Ran,” Kurosawa’s wife passed away. By the time he got around to shooting the movie after working on the script for ten years, he was almost completely blind. Regardless of these setbacks, nothing stopped him from making this movie.

Years after its release, “Ran” stands as one of the classic movies from one of the best filmmakers ever. No one can or should doubt the heart and soul Kurosawa put into it for years and years, and getting to see it on the silver screen was a real treat. When all is said and done, the silver screen is where this movie belongs.

* * * * out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘The A-Team’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

The movie version of the 1980s television show “The A-Team” is one of those examples of how, as U2 put it in their song “Numb,” too much is not enough. The plot is razor thin, and the stunts defy all things we see as logically possible. And you know what? I didn’t care because I HAD SUCH A BLAST WATCHING IT!!! Many reviewers have been bemoaning how it was not what it could have been. I, on the other hand, prefer to see it for what it is, a highly entertaining film and the kind we usually expect to watch during the summer season.

After a prologue that shows how this team of Army rangers came together, we get thrust right into the action as we catch up with Hannibal, Faceman, B.A. Baracus, and the consistently insane Murdock as they are about to wrap up their tour of duty in Iraq. But before they can leave, they are given another mission to retrieve U.S. treasury plates that insurgents intend on using to make counterfeit money; the same kind of plates we would love to have in our possession as they would allow us to quit our day jobs. Without going into much detail, the plan goes awry, and they get set up to take the fall for something they are completely innocent of. The rest of the movie has them going on a mission to get the plates back and clear their names.

The director behind this unrestricted mayhem is Joe Carnahan. This is the same filmmaker who began his career with the $7,500 budgeted “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane” and later directed one of the best crime thrillers with “Narc.” Not once does he allow us to take the characters or what they are doing at all seriously, and it is clear from the get-go how he wants us to take joy in the utter insanity of everything going on. For those who think this movie could have been more serious and reality-based, you came into it with the wrong expectations.

Just look at the insane things these guys do here. They parachute out of a plane in a tank, and they are forced to steer it by firing the turret. There are other moments that defy simple description, and you just have to watch it without wondering too much over how they pulled this insanity off without a hitch. These are characters who prepare for their missions by doing the impossible, or so it would seem. While Carnahan at times gets caught up in the current trend of action film editing which features quick shots that leaves us a little confused as to what we are watching, he keeps us entertained throughout and even allows us to breathe when we need to. Not every filmmaker allows us to pause for a moment, so this is worth pointing out.

Seeing Liam Neeson here as John “Hannibal” Smith was great fun as it allows him to let loose in a way he doesn’t often. Typically, we see him as a mentor in movies like “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and “Batman Begins,” but as Hannibal, he doesn’t have to be his old serious self. Once you see him pop a cigar into his mouth and light it up, you can see why Neeson was eager to join this project. The “Taken” actor wanted to have fun and lighten up for a change.

Bradley Cooper plays Templeton “Faceman” Peck, the Casanova of the group who, despite his womanizing ways, still has eyes for Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel). Cooper has come a long way from beating the crap out of Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers,” and he manages to convince us of his various intentions and has us believing this despite all the craziness he keeps getting caught up in.

The part of B.A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus is played by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, former UFC Light-Heavyweight champion. I kept thinking that his nickname of “Rampage” won him the part. Taking on a part made famous by Mr. T could not have been an enviable position to be in, but Jackson pulls it off. Is this role a stretch for him? It doesn’t matter because he has us believing in Baracus, and that’s even when this character says he has become a pacifist. We all know that can’t last, and Jackson does surprisingly good work here and without the use of gold chains. Not one is he ever a fool we have to pity.

But the real scene stealer of “The A-Team” is Sharlto Copley who takes on the role of H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock. It is only when he slips back into his South African accent that you remember he was in one of the very best movies of 2009, “District 9.” Having said that, he actually pulls off a compelling southern accent here, showing us he is a far more talented actor than we first realized. Watching him go utterly nuts, be it jump-starting a car with a defibrillator or singing a Dead or Alive song while hanging onto a rotor blade of a helicopter had me in stitches.

Jessica Biel is on board as Faceman’s eternal love interest Charisa Sosa, and she makes for a convincing badass female soldier here. It’s in some ways the same kind of role she played in “Blade Trinity,” and it is nice to see her doing it again in an infinitely better movie.

For those of you wondering if the show’s famous theme song is at all featured, it is. While some say it is not in this movie enough, they should be happy it was included. The score was composed by Alan Silvestri, famous for writing the music for such classic movies like “Back to The Future” and “The Abyss.” Listening to his work here, it is great he still has it in him to create such rousing action scores to keep our adrenaline up and running.

“The A-Team” also proves what I have been saying about how the US military is treated in movies today; they are not anti-troop in the slightest, they are anti-mercenary. Whether it is “Rambo” or “The Hurt Locker” or “Green Zone” we are dealing with, troops are shown to be a dedicated bunch to their country. The main villains are mercenaries who don’t even try to hide the fact they make more in one day than an American soldier makes in a year. Now tell me, who do you think is more patriotic?

You could complain about how absurd this movie version of “The A-Team” is, but Carnahan plays on what made the show so appealing back in the 1980s, and he pays homage to it without making a simple carbon copy of what many of us grew up on. Every once in a while, we need a movie that is brainless fun and does not require us to overthink everything going on. “The A-Team” succeeds on this front, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought it would.

Oh, by the way, be sure to stay through the end credits. You’ll see why. Like the average Marvel movie, it has some surprises up its sleeve.

Like Eddie Pence of “The Ralph Report,” I very much appreciated this cinematic adaptation of this 1980s television classic. What a shame it is that this movie never got a sequel.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ – A Highly Unusual War Movie

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2009.

“More of this is true than you would believe.”

You know something? It’s really nice to see a movie use a phrase other than “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events.” Those descriptions have all but lost their meaning because even if what we are seeing actually did happen, it has all been watered down into a formulaic feel-good movie we have seen over and over again to where we want to gag. Even worse, we keep getting suckered into seeing them even when we should know better. Either that, or there’s nothing better to watch. But this year has proven to be great as filmmakers have worked hard to subvert those worthless phrases with movies like “The Informant.” That Steven Soderbergh film made it very clear how it was based on actual events but that certain parts had been fictionalized, and it ended by saying:

“So there!”

Now we have “The Men Who Stare at Goats” which opens with the sentence at the top of this review. The story behind this one is so bizarre to where it’s almost impossible to believe any of what we are watching could ever have happened. All the same, it appears a good portion of these happenings did take place, and it makes for what is truly one of the more unique war movies I have seen in a while. The film is based on a non-fiction book by Jon Ronson which looked at how US military forces used psychic powers against their enemies. They look at New Age concepts as well as paranormal activities to achieve these goals, and of how they worked to use these methods to their advantage. The movie takes place during the Iraq war, but not to worry, the filmmakers is not trying to shove any politics down your throat (not consciously anyway).

Ronson serves as the inspiration for Bob Wilton, an investigative journalist played by Ewan McGregor. Bob’s wife has just left him for his editor and, of course, he is depressed and decides he needs to do something more important with his life in the hopes he can win her back. As a result, he travels to Kuwait to do firsthand reporting of the Iraq War, with hopes of finding someone who can get him across the border. Bob ends up having a chance meeting with a Special Forces operator named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who was in the military, but now runs a dance studio. Lyn reveals to Bob he was part of an American unit that was trained to be psychic spies or, as he eventually calls them, “Jedi warriors.” From there, Bob learns everything about this special unit which sounds like something out of a science fiction novel.

I love the irony of all the talk about “Jedi warriors” here, especially since McGregor played one in the “Star Wars” prequels.

Anyway, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is really a cross between a war movie and a road movie as Lyn and Bob traverse the sandy dunes of the Middle East to where not everything is as it appears. This film is also a mix of comedy and drama the same way “Three Kings,” another war movie which starred Clooney, was. While the tone is largely uneven, especially towards the end, this was definitely an inspired film which kept me entertained throughout and proved to be quite unpredictable.

McGregor is playing the main character here, but let’s face it, Clooney steals the show right out from under his feet. His performance as Lyn Cassady is truly one of his most surprising and inspired. Despite how ridiculous Lyn may seem, Clooney plays him straight and never appears to be self-conscious. Seeing Clooney trying to burst clouds with his mind, and trying to reach into his enemy’s mind by staring right at them has the actor going through emotions ranging from serious to funny to downright tragic. Having gone from playing dramatic roles in movies like “Syriana” to “Michael Clayton,” Clooney once again shows he is really good at comedy and never has to strive hard for a laugh.

I don’t want to take away from McGregor though, who pulls off a convincing American accent. In many ways, his role is more of a reactionary one as he is subjected to conditions one is never fully prepared for. Bob is bewildered at what Lyn is telling him, and yet he still wants to journey further and further into Lyn’s head. I also have to give McGregor a lot of credit because he could have made it look like he was consciously aware of all those “Star Wars” references, but he never did.

But one of the great delights is watching Jeff Bridges channel his inner-dude-ness from “The Big Lebowski” into his role of Bill Django, a military leader who, after being wounded in Vietnam, has a New Age vision of combat he wants to develop. This leads him to study concepts which he incorporates into a special unit called the New Earth Army. Bill becomes a teacher of using non-lethal techniques to gain advantage over the enemy, and his training techniques are unorthodox to say the least. Bridges plays the character broadly, but not too broadly. As funny as Bridges is, he infuses Django with a disappointment which threatens to render him useless to those around him, and with a deep sense of fear and tragedy as his techniques are misused or taken advantage of by those who seek to profit from them.

Having been in London doing tons of theater, it seemed like it would require a herculean effort to bring Kevin Spacey back to the big screen. Seeing him here is a kick as he plays the real antagonist of the film, Larry Hooper. Larry is basically the Darth Vader to Bill’s Obi Wan Kenobi and Lyn’s Luke Skywalker as he takes the non-lethal methods of the New Earth Army and ends up using them for more lethal purposes. Larry ends up doing this not so much out of greed as he does resentment since Django does not consider him in the same light as Lyn. His actions bring about the downfall of the New Earth Army, and he turns all these abilities they developed into something far more insidious. From there, you will see why the movie and the book it is based on has the title it does.

Spacey has great fun as he channels the inner smugness which has enveloped Larry over time. While his role is a little more serious than the others, he still has great moments of comedy which remind us of what a talented actor he is as he balances out the serious and comedic aspects of Larry without tilting too much in one direction.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” was directed by Grant Heslov, Clooney’s business partner on many films. He has his work cut out for him here as he must find a balance between the humorous and dramatic aspects of the story. Granted, Heslov doesn’t always succeed but he creates a most unusual war movie, and it is all the more entertaining as a result. Even more telling is the way he portrays the Iraqi people in certain scenes. They are not shown as gun toting terrorists, and he captures the look of their helplessness in having to deal with a military occupation they did not ask for.

Like I said, there’s no serious politicizing of the Iraq war in this movie, so don’t feel like you are walking into some sort of trap. Like “The Hurt Locker,” it merely focuses on what those Americans in Iraq were doing in the midst of the chaos, albeit in a more comical way. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” seems almost far too bizarre to be real, but a part of you just might want it to be real. One thing’s for sure, you will never look at “Barney and Friends” in the same way ever again, assuming you ever watched it in the first place (c’mon! Don’t deny it!).

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘Premium Rush’ Lives Up to Its Name

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2012.

David Koepp’s “Premium Rush” is the best cycling movie in some time. Come to think of it, when was the last time a cycling movie was made and released? I keep thinking it was Hal Needham’s “Rad,” but that came out in 1986. There’s also no topping the classic “Breaking Away,” the cycling movie many aspire to be like. There was also “American Flyers” which was released in 1985 and was written by Steve Tesich, the same one who wrote the screenplay for “Breaking Away.” But when it comes to “American Flyers,” I think its fantastic music score easily upstaged the film itself.

Anyway, none of that matters because “Premium Rush” delivers the goods like any cycling film should, and it does so with terrific acting, sharp writing and what looks like the real thing with a wonderfully severe lack of CGI as we watch these daredevil bike messengers throttle their way through the insanely busy streets of New York City.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, one of the very best bicycle messengers in New York who gets things to where they need to be and on schedule. Of course, this requires him to travel at breakneck speeds through busy traffic where a car can break down at the most inconvenient time, and he also has to deal with various members of the NYPD who have it in for him and others in his line of work. One other thing, Wilee’s bike of choice has only one gear, and he’s taken the brakes off of so that nothing will slow him down. Seriously, that is how he rolls.

Taking this into account, I wonder if Wilee has a death wish or if he’s just an adrenaline junkie. What we do learn about him is that he came close to becoming a lawyer, but the idea of sitting behind a desk in some office did not appeal to him in the slightest. Of course, it probably wouldn’t appeal to anyone who has seen “Office Space.”

His ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), however, entertains thoughts of working in an office as she doesn’t want to be a bike messenger forever, and that’s even though she says it beats waiting tables. There’s also Tito (Anthony Chisholm) who doesn’t let his advanced age make him any less useful in this line of work (nor should it by the way), and Manny (Wolé Parks) who competes with Wilee not just on a bike but for Vanessa as well.

On this one particular day in which this movie takes place, Wilee is delivering a package that has caught the attention of NYPD cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). Now Bobby wants what Wilee has, but while Wilee is not always one to obey the rules of the road, he does follow the strict guidelines of his job which states messengers will not hand over the package they are delivering to anyone other than who it is meant for. As a result, Bobby begins chasing Wilee down as we find out that this NYPD cop, like any other stupid gambling addict, has a ridiculously high debt to pay off.

The film’s director, David Koepp, is best known as a screenwriter, having written such exciting movies like “Jurassic Park,” “Spider-Man” and “Panic Room.” Along with co-writer John Kamps, Koepp has great fun telling the story of “Premium Rush” in a non-linear fashion. The story goes back and forth in time as the characters’ actions are made very understandable and given more depth throughout. This way of storytelling may alienate certain audience members, but I liked it as it plays around with our perceptions of what we believe to be true. Just when you think you know what’s going on to happen, something comes along which obliterates your predictions.

As a director, Koepp has had varying degrees of success with movies like “The Trigger Effect,” “Stir of Echoes” and “Secret Window,” but here he manages to keep the action exciting and never lets it drag for a second. It also helps that the cycling we see here is done for real, and it makes me wonder how it was choreographed and who these stunt people are. Clearly, they dared to pedal fast while cars come at them in various directions, and even the best cyclists have to be scared in these situations.

Now people may debate about whether or not “Premium Rush” might serve as a recruitment gig for bike messengers, but it also shows how painful it can be when you crash into something, and odds are you will. There’s also a scene during the end credits which shows Levitt’s arm all bloody after he hit the back window of a taxi cab, and that makes up for the lack of a disclaimer.

Levitt has had great success in the last few years with “(500) Days of Summer,” “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” and he is fantastic here as a character named after that coyote who chased the Road Runner endlessly. This role could have been given to some actor who would have annoyed us with their overwhelming ego, but Levitt makes this character likable despite his insane bike-riding habits.

You also have ace character actor Michael Shannon on board as an undeniably dirty cop. It doesn’t matter what movie he’s in because Shannon never disappoints in giving us a great performance. As Bobby Monday, he makes what could have been a mere one-dimensional villain all the more colorful and threatening. We have seen corrupt cops like this one in so many different movies, but Shannon makes him seem more intriguing than what must have originally appeared on the written page.

The rest of the cast includes Dania Ramirez (whom you may remember as AJ’s girlfriend on “The Sopranos”) to the always entertaining Aasif Mandvi, and they succeed in making this movie all the more entertaining to watch. The action is also given an exciting and propulsive score by David Sardy and a beautifully sunny look by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen. Heck, watching this movie makes you very sweaty even if you are viewing it in a theater or in the comfort of your air-conditioned home.

“Premium Rush” is nothing spectacular, but it is fun to watch. It’s a shame it did not do better business at the box office, but Columbia Pictures did kind of screw up its release. Watching it reminds those of us who do not ride bikes anymore how much fun and very dangerous cycling can be. If nothing else, it does make wearing a helmet while riding a bike far more appealing than it ever has been in the past.

* * * out of * * * *