Bangkok Dangerous, High School Musical 3

Film reviews for December 4: Nic Cage in a disasterous hitman flick, Zac Efron & Vanessa Hudgens in the latest Disney teen musical.
Bangkok Dangerous

Directed by The Pang Brothers. Starring Nicolas Cage, Nicolas Cage, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Charlie Yeung, Panward Hemmanee, Nirattisai Kaljaruek, Dom Hetrakul, Tuck Napaskorn, Steve Baldocchi, Chris Heebink, James With, Peter Shadrin. Written by Jason Richman, from The Pang Brothers’ 1999 film.

For those that don´t get enough slam-bang Nic Cage action in their Lost in Translation-like arthouse fare, here´s Bangkok Dangerous, a woefully misconceived picture that is nevertheless good for some unintentional laughs. Routine hitman saga is inspired by everything from Jean-Pierre Melville´s Le Samourai to Leon: The Professional, but apparently the Pang Brothers felt a Nicolas Cage-starring remake of their own 1999 film might play well on the arthouse circuit as a sequel of sorts to Leaving Las Vegas. As such, this entirely inept, dreadfully slow concoction plays out like an episode of 24 directed by Wong Kar Wai; action fans will be put to sleep in the first half hour while the rest of us get a few chuckles out of not one, but two gratuitous romantic subplots.

A distressingly downtrodden Cage – though there is a blink-and-you´ll-miss-it heroin addiction subplot that might explain his appearance – plays professional hitman “Joe”, who begins the film by assassinating a police informant in Prague, receiving payment, and then tasering his delivery boy to death. Up next is the titular city, where he´ll pull off that giant cliché that seems to drive all of these films: the final hit (actually a series of 4), for which he´ll receive a payment large enough to retire to the Bahamas. Of course, we know what´s gonna happen here from the 5-minute Prague sequence, not to mention every other movie of this ilk we´ve ever seen: he´ll have second thoughts about his assignment, second thoughts about killing his delivery boy, and maybe, just maybe, he´ll fall in love with the deaf-mute Thai drugstore clerk who recommended some pills and a cream that really helped his gaping flesh wound.

Yes, shortly after arriving in Bangkok, Joe hires pickpocket Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to become his errand boy and retrieve the details of his next assignment. Despite proving mostly unreliable, after Kong is mugged he asks Joe to “teach him”. So Joe, for some reason, decides to teach him in the deadly art of assassination. Next up: Joe falls for the aforementioned drugstore clerk, while Kong goes for the dancer who acts as a liaison between him and Joe´s employers. Minor distractions as Joe successfully pulls off the next three hits, including a doozy where he attempts to shoot a man from a canoe in a busy tourist district as snapshots are being taken from all angles. But that last assignment, a political assassination: if only Kong hadn´t conveniently mentioned the target was a “good guy” in an unrelated conversation! Now what will Joe do? His employers won´t be happy.

It´s all entirely laughable, and at least warrants half a star for its unintentional entertainment. And that might be more – the film frequently crosses into so-bad-it´s-good territory – if it weren´t all so incredibly dull. The main character is so weak we simply don´t care about any of his ordeal; lingering shots and high-contrast lighting don´t help to build empathy. Best moment: when Joe´s deaf-mute girlfriend turns her back and he murders two would-be muggers in cold blood. Heartbreak city when she turns around.

Cage is completely, ineffectively subdued, and this is easily the worst he´s ever appeared on camera (he often seems to slowly be morphing into a Vincent Schiavelli). The drug addiction subplot is so haphazardly thrown in here – Joe´s employers look at his list and question the inclusion of heroin, and then we get some random shots of baggies in a briefcase – that I´m tempted to suggest that someone took two look´s at Cage´s appearance here and said to themselves “well, we´ve gotta explain this somehow.”

Bangkok Dangerous is certainly stylish and often nice to look at. In all other departments, however, it´s a disaster.

Early scenes were set (and shot) in Prague, though you wouldn’t know it outside of a couple establishing shots and a Herold advertisement.



High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Directed by Kenny Ortega. Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Bart Johnson, Alyson Reed, Olesya Rulin, Chris Warren Jr., Ryne Sanborn, KayCee Stroh, Matt Prokop, Justin Martin, Jemma McKenzie-Brown, Leslie Wing, Socorro Herrera. Written by Peter Barsocchini.

Mild and inoffensive, though a tad too subversive to be considered harmless, Kenny Ortega´s High School Musical 3: Senior Year arrives in cinemas after the first 2 direct-to-Disney Channel films became massive hits on cable and DVD. Firmly made for its built-in fanbase, the uninitiated certainly shouldn´t start here; the magical, wonderful, candyland High School world this film creates – where none of the characters smoke, drink, or use drugs, fight with their parents, have acne or struggle through puberty, are confident in their sexual identity, and romance ends with a snuggle (no kissing!) – is so patently bizarre that they might as well have set the film in an alternate reality like Mad Dog Time. While young fans should be pleased, the lack of any real depth is alarming; this really pales beside the teen films from previous generations, up to and including the Beach Blanket Bingo series from the 60´s.

There´s no backstory here, but don´t worry if you haven´t seen the previous entries: all the characters are stereotypes and the situations cliché, so as long as you´ve seen any previous movie you´ll get the picture. Zac Efron stars as Troy Bolton, high school hunk and basketball team captain, sharing a puppy love romance with good girl Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) at trendy East High. Troy wins the Big Game for the Wildcats as the film opens, and then the story kind of peters out. It´s Senior Year, and Troy is getting offers to play basketball in college; or will he go for theatre at Juilliard? Will Gabriella stay with Troy or go to Stanford? The answer to these questions, and not much more, is expressed through a number of song and dance routines that take place during Senior Prom and the big School Play and some other curious venues (a junkyard?)

Efron has legitimate screen presence but co-star Hudgens seems to disappear into the background scenery for much of the movie. Padding out the cast are your token minorities, African-American best friends of the main characters played by Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman, who have absolutely nothing to do. Also: there´s fabulous twins Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), pseudo-villains who are actually more sympathetic than the other characters (and the film knows this). I was astounded by the Ryan character, who is obviously intended as a homosexual stereotype, and yet because the topic of sex is never broached in this G-rated Disney movie, the film never explores this.

Always easy on the eyes, the choreography and costume design is actually quite impressive here (from something I was expecting cable-level quality). Music, however, is awful, every song instantly forgettable, and we just go on and on through an interminable 112 minutes.

While it´s unlikely that anyone over a certain age can enjoy the High School Musical films, they somehow have an strong appeal to younger viewers. Crank up some decent tunes on your mp3 player if your kids drag you to this and I daresay you´ll have a good (or at least bearable) time.

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Sample dialogue that no one needs to hear: “I wouldn’t sing with you if my hair was on fire and you were the last bucket of water on Earth.” What?

Note: while the film is playing only in a Czech-dubbed version on most Prague screens, you can catch it in English (with Czech subtitles) at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům or Village Cinemas Anděl.


Also: This week’s other big release is Kdopak by se vlka bál (showtimes), a “family movie, child horror, adult romance and Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale” from director Maria Procházková. Screening only in Czech, without subtitles.

And: be sure to catch the Filmasia 2008 festival, which takes place at cinemas Světozor and Aero until Sunday December 7th. Screening are some highlights of recent Asian films, most of which will be screening with English subtitles.

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