On this week’s episode, I’m running down a quintet of action movies that feel like comic book movies, but without existing source material. I had a great time putting this list together and a lot of fun watching these movies. I hope you do too!
I was pretty excited about Gamer from the get go. Gerard Bulter playing an 80s-style bad ass running around shooting people and being controlled by some kid? SOLD! I didn’t realize until I got it from Netflix that the movie was actually written and directed by my favorite co-writing and -directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, that’s right, the brains behind Crank and Crank: High Voltage, two of the raddest movies to come out in…ever. And, damn, Gamer holds up to the same level as those two flicks.
Like I said, Butler plays a soldier being controlled by a kid in a giant real-life video game where real human are being controlled. The bad guy, played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, has developed some science that allows people to be controlled. He invented the tech around a game called Society where people get paid to play as human avatars for gamers sitting in their houses. It’s like Sims, but with real people. Then, he created Slayers, which allows people to control death row inmates in a Halo-like game but without aliens, just other people. If you win a certain number of battles, you get set free. Whew, okay, that’s just the set up. There’s also this group called Humanz led by Ludacris who wants to reveal the truth behind Hall’s evil master plan (to control everyone in the world). They set it up so the kid playing Butler can actually talk to him and Butler breaks out, finds his wife and sets out to take Hall down (he also has Butler’s kid).
Butler’s as awesome as you would expect him to be. He’s got all the heft and badassery of an 80s action hero, but he’s also got a charisma and real acting chops the peek through the blood and grime. And boy, is this movie bloody. There are several big huge battles with Butler but one of 50 or so dudes running around, blasting holes in each other. People get blown up and tossed around and shot in the head. They really did a good job of capturing the weirdness of first person shooter games in the first few moments with all the craziness hitting you right away. Eventually, you get the jist of what’s going on and it goes on from there.
I also liked how the future in this game (it’s called “many years from this moment” or something like that) is portrayed. None of it really seems too far off, though I think people actually watching other people kill each other on television is much further away than writers seem to. I really liked the technology of the future. The kid controlling Butler goes to a small-ish circular room that’s covered in video screens displaying everything from his games to music to communications with other people, but when it’s game time, all that goes away and he’s miming the actions of his avatar in the game. It was all very cool.
If you’re a video game fan or even remotely like action movies, definitely check this one out, you won’t be sorry.
Fred Claus wasn’t a great movie. I give Director David Dobkin, who also directed star Vince Vaughn in one of my favorite movies Wedding Crashers, a lot of credit for trying to bring some grown-up elements to your basic Santa Claus story (someone wants to stop Christmas and while it looks like the villain will succeed, in the end good wins over reformable evil). But, in the end, without Vaughn, I don’t think this would have been much of a movie. He basically plays the same character he did in Crashers, which is pretty much the same character he plays in everything. That’s not a complaint mind you. Vince Vaughn is like AC/DC records, I don’t care if they keep doing the same thing over and over again because I generally like the end product. I will say that there were lines seemingly lifted right from Crashers. I didn’t make any notes, but I feel like there are a lot of lines borrowed/re-used from Vaugn and Owen Wilson’s opening with the couple who are getting a divorce. Anyway, the plot revolves around two brothers, Nick (Paul Giamatti) and Fred (Vaughn) Claus. Nick’s generosity makes him a saint somehow (though God is never mentioned oddly enough) and when you become a saint your parents, immediate family and spouse all become immortal (huh?). So, while Nick’s making toys at the North Pole, Fred is a repo man who wants to start his own business, but he needs some start-up money that he asks his brother for. In exchange for the cash, Nick says Fred has to come to the North Pole and work in the naughty/nice department. MEANWHILE, there’s an efficiency expert sent from some kind of holiday executive board (as far as I know this is never actually explained, but this bad guy says his organization is getting rid of the Easter Bunny among other holiday changes). The bad guy is played by Kevin Spacey. Spacey does all kinds of things to sabotage Santa, which means he’ll get shut down and operations will be moved to the South Pole. While he’s there, Vaughn tries to get the elves and other folks to loosen up and have fun.
Everyone does a good job in their roles. John Michael Higgins and Ludacris play elves, while Elizabeth Banks plays a more human-sized character (again, this isn’t really explained as far as I caught). I kept comparing this movie to Elf, which is my favorite Christmas movie to come out in a decade. It’s got similar themes with the real world and Santa’s one interacting, relationships being built, nearly destroyed and then rebuilt and lots of funny moments, but Fred Claus just doesn’t get it’s emotional hooks in me like Elf does. There are really fun moments like when Vaughn gets the elves dancing and an early one in which Vaughn gets chased by a bunch of Salvation Army Santas for panhandling in a Santa hat without authorization. I think what threw me off most was that the tone kept shifting between a family movie and a more adult one. Heck, my two favorite moments speak to that. The dancing is very kid-friendly and fun while the Santa fight is a bit more mean spirited. Elf seemed to balance those varying elements majestically, while Fred keeps shifting quickly and obviously back and forth, pulling you out of the story. There’s also an underlying darkness that Vaughn brings that I’m not sure was intended (when he’s framed for doing bad things and gets tricked by Spacey into disliking his brother even more, he looks like he’s riding the Horse instead of just feeling betrayed).
So, I wouldn’t really recommend Fred Claus to you unless you’re a Vince Vaughn completist (and if you are you’ve probably already seen it) because of the strange tone shifts. Instead, go watch Elf or White Christmas, it’s an oldie but a goody.