Wednesday, November 25, 2009

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

(Gordon Hessler, 1978)
Hessler, you idiot, you are sitting on a gold mine! You've got KISS with superpowers, you've got a mad scientist, you've got an amusement park - what more do you need? Don't try to blame it on the drunken fools in the band - their garbled loutishness gives the film the only entertainment value it's got, and even then they're stuck with the lifeless wide-shot compositions and stupid cop-show repartee. And you don't even allow them on screen for the entire first act! Anthony Zerbe's ostensible supervillain does nothing but sit at a video switcher and hang around with a great number of mimes pretending to be automatons - are we supposed to be impressed? And with the whole park to play with, the best you guys can come up with is to have Zerbe maniacally turn on the machines, spin them for a couple minutes, then maniacally turn them off again. With sponsors Hanna-Barbera leaving their thumbprints everywhere in the form of stupid cops and laser beams, it can't help but retain a lot of camp value. But they never could figure out how to put together a proper feature, and no movie containing this particular Gene Simmons performance has any right to drag this badly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One More Time

(Ray Dennis Steckler, 2008)
No craft-versus-content tension here. Self shot on retina-scouring Hi 8, Steckler's final film is incredibly ugly and formless - not least because it expends half its running time on huge undigested slabs of "Incredibly Strange Creatures," to which it purports to be a sequel. It gains only the most passing smidgen of resonance from Steckler's autumnal moodiness. The downcast panorama of Santa Cruz, the extended run-ins with his shrink, the hairy bar band playing Steckler's Greatest Hits, the starlet's rejection at the pizzeria, the video store owner who can't scare up an investor for his next movie - all these things add up to a lament for the unfulfilled promise of his own career. But budget or no budget, it's hard to believe that someone who has been making movies for almost half a century could present these themes in such a crudely artless way - swinging his camcorder around aimlessly, squelching from one orphaned unlit episode to the next, the thing is damn near unwatchable. Rest in peace, Ray.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

(Ray Dennis Steckler, 1964)
Far and away the most tiki movie I've ever seen - and if it is bad, then it is bad the way tiki is bad: tasteless, delusional, and full of fun. With absolutely mesmerizing cinematography, competent editing, and constant surprises on the soundtrack, an obvious amount of technical know-how is on evidence behind the camera - the problem is that the director is in front of the camera. Not that Steckler/Flagg's monumentally perverse sensibility doesn't define the thing top to bottom. But the reason it works so well is the obvious tension between the dazzling cinematic presentation and the yard-sale Freudian antics onscreen. Every single character provides a new level of incongruity: the incomprehensible Atlas King, Madame Estrella's halloween-hobo sidekick Ortega, Sharon Walsh's dunderheaded square brother, Steckler's own hoodied layabout - all these clashing poverty-row types coalesce into a discordant symphony of quirk. And while you are right to be suspicious of any horror movie that is fifty percent musical performances, here they actually add to the momentum for once, growing more baroque and hallucinatory with every number.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The King's Regiment

(Allan Levine, 1984)
With zero production values, an incredibly blunt disregard for historical fact, and a bunch of outrageously inaccurate Scottish and English and Yankee accents, this tall tale of 1812 is in fact a glorious and (I think) quite self-aware farce. With its smart-asses and dumb-asses prancing around the Bruce Trail in tall hats and epaulets, it should by all rights have been a turgid disaster, but in fact it's as close as Emmeritus ever came to Cormanesque lightness and verve. The villains bug out their eyes and stamp their feet, the good guys wisecrack and riff and twinkle, and everyone puts out with such bounding enthusiasm that it transcends nitpicking questions of artistry. The narrative makes no sense whatsoever - how did the King of Spain get mixed up in this? What kind of moron would fall for this document-switcheroo scheme anyway? - but that only adds to the fun. The real giveaway is when one of the gratuitous arr-arr pirate guys lapses into - I kid you not - a word-for-word Captain Highliner tribute! What a hoot.

Tropic Thunder

(Ben Stiller, 2008)
How does a movie with this much talent and this many clever ideas wind up so resolutely unfunny? It's like a pitch session suspended in amber - a funeral march of high concepts. That potty-mouth dancing executive was no more or less of a laughless dud after I found out it was Tom Cruise in disguise. Also typical is the fate of the central conceit - they think they're making a movie but it's real! This idea could have been played for a lot of comic mileage, with clever variations stemming from the delusions of each lead. Instead it's worth about three gags in five minutes and then it's over. Whereupon Stiller gets shoved violently into the background - presumably he had his hands full directing, but with him gone the film loses its through line, its momentum, its point. Downey's faux-black routine and Jack Black's heroin withdrawal thing are genuinely inspired, but they are shtick in a vacuum, not least because they are saddled with two Zeppos - Jay Baruchel has a funny organ-loss shtick in the opening scene and then bubkes, while Brandon T. Jackson is there solely to provide distancing commentary on Downey's racial neurosis. This latter is a transparent market-driven plea for clemency and is the most offensive thing about the movie - if half their target audience had been Asians or 'retards', you know damn well they'd have hedged those juvenile burlesques as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Hijacking of Studio 4

(Joseph A. Gaudet, 1985)
This latest offering from the Emmeritus pile is surprisingly concentrated and coherent. Most of the first act consists of the crazy guy silently planning his terror campaign, and surprisingly enough it works pretty well - when they aren't looping transparently bogus dialogue over the back of his head. It was quite a task to measure this extended sequence into a narrative comprising some two dozen characters, and sure enough the arcs get lumpy and ends are left dangling; but while the individual players never mesh into an ensemble, that is appropriate to the varied neurotic preoccupations of the characters, and taken one at a time they're functional enough. The recasting of the terrorist as a heroic crusader in the third act is silly, and the expose of corrupt third-world dictatorship is not particularly daring or insightful, but at least they implicate first-world corporatism in the critique. And at the center of that critique is television itself; this made-for-TV movie is startlingly cynical about its chosen medium. Station grunts utter countless home truths about the gap between talent and success, and from very early on the film shows examples of how facts are bent to ideological and economic agendas. The commentary is lent flavour by the control-room procedural stuff, which is quite fun in its mid-80s detail, and it's pretty funny that the evil station owner is portrayed by none other than the Emmeritus mastermind, Lionel Shenken himself. Likable trash.

Panic in the Streets

(Elia Kazan, 1950)
It may be about plague in New Orleans, but it's really about the nature of power and authority in America. City cop Paul Douglas and federal health agent Richard Widmark duke it out among themselves, while testing their jurisdiction over crooks, longshoremen, and the media. Meanwhile, "Walter Jack Palance" demonstrates his remarkably complex reign over the streets - with benevolence, persuasion and coercion all in the kit alongside his startling bursts of violence, he often seems to hold more cards than the 'authorities' themselves. The domestic power structure isn't ignored either, with wives asserting themselves all over the place and Widmark's young son at the center of a dozen tiny battles; the near-mutiny when the ship's captain tries to slough off the plague is another demonstration of the fragile consent on which authority rests. This latter insight insures that there's nothing pat or triumphalist about the film's conclusion; the game continues. The staging is as rich as the themes, strikingly modern in its approach to dialogue and character, and gorgeously designed to boot. Kazan is really on top of this material, and if it doesn't quite pack a knockout punch, that's only because he's playing a different game.


(Lewis Milestone, 1932)
"Yeah, too bad about the soundtrack! Was it the print or the projector?"
"I dunno, but it zapped me for the first half hour or so."
"I thought I heard you breathing heavy."
"Yeah I woke up when Crawford gave her first big speech though."
"Jeez she was wearing a lot of eye liner! I was so glad they ended it like that, with her tricking Walter Huston."
"Oh! Oh. Is that it? I had a different read."
"Yeah, totally, she was doing it to get to him. Otherwise that part where she goes down on her knees going 'our father who art in heaven' would be totally over the top."
"Well, it was theatrical but it was also beautifully modulated. Gee, I thought that she really did convert, but that Huston then came in and violated her and she was like, fuck this."
"Oh, that wouldn't be anywhere near as good."
"Wait though. Then why does Crawford still act all saved when the guy comes to take her to Australia? Huston wasn't even around then."
"Well, it was just a movie thing."
"No way, it would totally screw up the internal logic. I mean, I can't be sure because I missed the setup, but I think the point of the end is that Huston gets everything he wants, and then sees that it's all wrong. That face-drama he goes through in his last scene is incredible!"
"It was very silent-movie. But she seduces him!"
"No no no he responds sexually to her, but it's not about seduction. It's all about him getting power over her through his missionary thing, and about how there's a Freudian angle to that. It's totally ANTI-production code, incredible."
"Aww well I'm disappointed then. I thought it was about woman power."
"Oh come on, the woman doesn't have to be a superhero for it to be good. Isn't it more interesting for the woman to make a mistake, and to learn to be herself from that? I mean, she does go and get married, but still. And isn't it more radical for Huston's fundamentalism to implode on its own than if Crawford is like, ha ha I fooled you?"
"Yeah. Put some Snickers bar on that soy ice cream."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Heatwave Lasted Four Days

(Doug Jackson, 1974)
At the dawn of the era of Canadian sleaze, the National Film Board itself actually got a piece of the action with this film, originally serialized on CBC. Gordon Pinsent plays an amoral TV cameraman who neglects his family in favor of hard drinkin' and wooing bikini-clad teenagers. When he accidentally captures escaped convict Lawrence Dane on his news camera, he tries to play the situation to his advantage, but then things get complicated. In a sense this is the mirror-image of "The Silent Partner" - no one is particularly clever, and the ending is designed as a stern lesson that crime does not pay. Unfortunately the lack of shifting power dynamics between antihero and villain means that Pinsent, who is a great heel, doesn't really have that much to do; he simply disappears for a big chunk of the second half, tripping up the momentum as he cedes center stage to the criminals. The film-manipulation motif of the early scenes is not followed through, Al Waxman's news director disappears well before the climax, and the musical commentary is absurd. Still, while the film's moralizing anti-thriller posture is ultimately an annoyance, the film does have a decent bag of tricks - there's a respectable attention to internal logic, and a real sense of malevolent tension runs through it. Also, the costume and set design are 70s to the max, a genuine bonus.

The Highroller

(Peter McCubbin, 1984)
If you can cut through the usual Emmeritus chintz, this familiar tale of an immature shlub bilking his own bank is pretty watchable. As usual, its relative success relates to character and theme rather than style: we see enough of Jeff Holec's daily routine to establish him as a character, while the genuinely painful yacht party intrusion toward the beginning sets up a pervasive class-consciousness. While the sound editing is notably bad, the camera placement is more considered than usual; there's even a few reasonably elegant dolly moves. Sure, gambling shots can get almost as tiring as driving shots; and at the climax they ask us to believe that Holec's escort girlfriend could safely remove and run off with his diamond-packed shoe when security has already shot him for smuggling and has him surrounded. As the heist plot climaxes it looks like the film will just nudge into the upper tier of this company's output, tighter and smarter than usual while remaining typically dull and ugly and missing something at its center. However, nothing - and I mean nothing - can prepare you for the big twist ending, which comes out of absolutely nowhere, undermines everything the film had going for it up to that point, and suddenly transforms the whole into some kind of camp masterpiece. I nearly fell out of my chair; the sheer dunderheaded audacity of the thing is hugely entertaining and takes the whole enterprise to a new, unexplored level of glorious trashiness. It works better if you don't see it coming, so please try to forget you read this review!

The Last Tycoon

(Elia Kazan, 1976)
As the profoundly enigmatic object of movie mogul Robert De Niro's affections, Ingrid Boulting presents a riddle you may not be patient enough to figure out. On the most obvious level, she is a real-life riposte to the perfect-woman idealism that De Niro demands of his scriptwriters, shaped and distorted by his sorrow for a lost love. Boulting is gorgeous and sensual, yes, but also contradictory, remote, and ultimately unknowable; and while her halting self-assurance and intrusively elusive backstory do prevent her scenes from getting too predictable, Kazan's mannered staging here is almost as remote as her character. At least Boulting gets two bookending scenes which partake of the otherwise pervasive razzle-dazzle - the disintegrating diagetic orchestra of the dancing scene and the eye-contact-through-the-lens of the finale are as perfect as the two-part earthquake gag that sets things up. The first act is all insouciant energy and satire, as a mind-boggling array of powerhouse performers fill the screen in perfect harmony and balance. Later on Jack Nicholson shows up to show everyone how to underplay with wit and energy, and De Niro responds well to his cue, finally turning his relentless deadpan to outright comic effect. Theresa Russell's inspired sassy kid plays Bel Geddes to Boulting's Novak, but while the middle third may be valid and even profound, I still wish that it was more entertaining.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Brood

(David Cronenberg, 1979)
OK - ever read any Philip K. Dick? One of his novels is called "Clans of the Alphane Moon," which on one level is an allegory about psychiatric disorders but in the main is a book about this detective in outer space whose wife is a total bitch! No way to put a positive ideological spin on that one either, but also no getting around that the man was a brilliant, eccentric visionary who could spin gold out of that kind of trash. With this film - although far from his best work -Cronenberg took a big step toward Dick's league. Same shit going on here - the viciously contrarian self-help mutation satire is a mere sidebar to the impassioned, delirious estranged-wife-as-monster misogyny, and Art Hindle's bland normality leaves no room for self-criticism either. We're just trapped in a room with this raging divorcee, rubbing our noses in his inchoate, flesh-rendingly hateful metaphors, and because he happens to also be some kind of genius, his imagery gets under your skin and the film generates tons of horrific impact. Howard Shore's music is like fingernails on a blackboard, and the devious shock cuts are no more or less unnerving than what lies lingering in plain view. If it's frequently horrifying for all the wrong reasons, well, at least it makes art out of it.

Blue Murder

(Charlie Wiener, 1985)
Coming as it does from the director of "Fireballs", it's a wonder this movie provides even a couple scant pleasures - one perfectly played running gag built around the phrase "pinched the wrong guy's bum", and a few performances that are at least relaxed. They even bring in good ol' Bob Segarini for soundtrack and cameo. But this Blake guy at the center of things is a total vacuum - no backstory, no motivation, none but the most arbitrary relationship to the main action. The who's-murdering-the-porn-magnates plot is halting and disjointed; you can easily guess the killer in his first scene, characters appear and disappear at random intervals, and the ending would be supremely anticlimactic even if it weren't predicated on Blake suddenly developing psychic gifts. Apparently shot on film, it remains drenched in Emmeritus's trademark cheese nonetheless; fun to hoot at, but not one camera placement or edit point adds an iota of interest to this hopeless script.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


(William Sachs, 1980)
What few points this movie scores are almost entirely creditable to a young Chris Walas, whose creature design is silly and cute. I was rooting for Dorothy Stratten, really I was, but her transformation from robot sex object to human sex object lurches forward in such unconvincing spasms that she couldn't have impressed even if she was in fact capable of impressing. And funny? Forget it. The script is adrift in some misbegotten hyperspace between Fleer Funnies and strip-club standup, Avery Schreiber's ultra-cornball overstatement is the closest thing the movie contains to a performance, and the direction is almost obsessively lethargic. Sure, OK, "Dark Star" was lethargic too. Only "Dark Star" was about lethargy, and reeked of intelligence and invention too. This reeks like it was scribbled on the wall of a Borscht Belt toilet.


(Les Rose, 1981)
Some kind of mutant beast - this gas-crisis caper oozes money from every frame, yet it's as shoddily conceived as the worst zero-budget hack job. Its manic smut smells vaguely like the lowbrow commercial cinema of European lore, and there are frantic memory cues to everything from Curly Howard to the Keystone Kops to...Robert Altman? But it's as though everyone involved were promised a second draft that got lost in the mail. Donald Sutherland, Sterling Hayden, Susan Anspach - they all look desperate and depressed. Somewhere buried under the unrelenting clutter is Sandee Currie's potentially appealing love interest, but even she's sandwiched between a barely-there Howie Mandel and Peter Aykroyd doing Kung Fu. Down below that are three skids full of vile regurgitated race humour, mainly generating horrified empathy for the performers; an orgy of crashing cars standing in for a third act; and let's not forget the fat ladies. Such an absolute piece of shit that its technical competence compounds the waste.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Propos de Nice

(Jean Vigo/Boris Kaufman, 1930)
This priceless, jokey little movie has got to be one of the very first self-conscious assaults on the 'documentary' aesthetic. Purporting to do for Nice what Walter Ruttmann did for Berlin, in fact the movie is constantly delving below surfaces, or else simply defacing them, with the obvious intent of generating as much outrage as possible. There's plenty of shots of the various goings-on about town, but from the opening animation of tourist puppets being swept up by the croupier, everything is subject to the most explicitly subjective commentary imaginable: a rich lady is intercut with an ostrich; a filthy alleyway precedes a lavish ballroom dance; grotesque papier-mache parade mascots give way to closeups of the miserable guys inside the costumes, and soon the whole parade devolves into a violent flower-flinging riot. One hilarious scene cuts from street musicians to countless citizens dozing in their chairs, then to a shot of a woman, which turns out to be staged as we dissolve to her in outfit after outfit, until finally she sits naked! Another sexual outrage comes toward the end, as a gang of excitingly plain women mug carnally for the camera while we look casually up their skirts. Definitely driven by contempt, but it's healthy and well-aimed contempt, ridiculing the artifice and inattention that has typified tourist-bureau cinema since the genre was invented. And it's more than justified by the mad invention and energy that the filmmakers - and their subjects - bring to the project.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Far Shore

(Joyce Wieland, 1976)
It is said that Wieland had a difficult time making this movie, and as someone who comes at film from the visual arts, it figures - narrative film has its own rules and hierarchies. Also its own cliches. This antique tale of a woman (Celine Lomez) who abandons her high-society husband for a Group of Seven-type nature artist worked well enough in the early scenes for me to cagily suspend my animus against mannered period dramas. The staging is precise as well as deliberate, the scenario scores a couple nice points off puritan philistinism, and Larry Benedict's neurotic social climber is fitfully charming as well as tight-assed, leaving the pure hateful stuff to professional drunk Sean McCann who provides some welcome counterpoint. As soon as things truck up to the woods, though, we're in big trouble, as narrative and characters alike dissolve into hackneyed metaphor: one guy is Civilization, the other guy is Nature, and in her escape to the latter the girl finds Freedom. As a result, the relationship between Lomez and the painter never gets a chance to develop; there's plenty of ambiguity about how this woodsy loner could sustain a relationship with this cultured, strong-minded woman, but the film unwisely abandons such concerns in favour of the usual shots of canoes and big rocks. And one good dynamite-at-the-picnic gag cannot make me forgive the Easy Rider-style climax - the worst and most familiar kind of sentimental fatalism. How did the creator of "Rat Life And Diet In North America" get dragged into exactly the kind of obscurantist nature-mystic claptrap which that film lampooned so brilliantly? By getting in over her head, is my wholly uneducated guess.


(Paul Lynch, 1986)
Here is a movie that really does not know what it wants to be. The triple-crossing gangster narrative might conceivably make some kind of sense if you applied yourself to it I guess. But who cares? Whenever Harry Caul, I mean Harvey Keitel, is on screen, the movie is a brooding surveillance procedural with dark overtones of tragedy and loss; when he's not, the movie is an overdrawn melodrama bordering on farce. All the 'clever ideas' - the surveillance tape in the hi-fi store, explaining the corpse at the RIDE checkpoint, the yelling at Santa Claus - make the Keitel stuff seem even more alienated, while simultaneously making the menacing criminals look like utter buffoons. Not that Michael Rudder's lead thug needed any help; his sneering grandstand routine makes you want to avert your eyes and plug your ears. And anyway why does everyone keep conducting their highly sensitive conspiratorial dialogues at top volume in public places like shopping malls and porcelain museums? Rudder and conspirator Alan Fawcett even rent adjacent rooms, but there they go trudging out to the gas station. Everyone was clearly so awestruck at having Keitel on set that they forgot to call upon him to act; he mostly just stands there, except for one scene where he throws an inexplicable hissy fit on Lolita Davidovitch and then they go camp out in a used car for no good reason. The most unforgivable botch yet from Paul Lynch, who was handed a mismatched bunch of parts and crafted them into...a mismatched bunch of parts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Crimes of the Future

(David Cronenberg, 1970)
Cronenberg's second feature length shot is no radical departure from the first - still obscure, still static, still dwarfed by that hypermodern architectural location. But it is an advance. The color cinematography is more precise than that of "Stereo", and the silences are broken by bizarre, muffled sound loops that sound like nature LPs put through a Seth Brundle telepod. The narrative has taken on more forward motion this time, and is better integrated with the voiceover. And the absurdist humour is more precise, more pervasive, and less improvisational: you feel he's got control over the actors as well as the camera. And in the final sequence he pulls a real gotcha, as the rebel doctors set out to impregnate the little girl they have kidnapped; this palpably tasteless, horrifying scenario could have been played for easy irony, but the scene carefully choreographs a series of complex and challenging emotional reactions to this 'strange, unfathomable captive', sending us out the door on a mind-bending curve that both foreshadows and illuminates his later bravura nose-thumbing atrocities.


(David Cronenberg, 1969)
Cronenberg's first feature is a bizarre, distended thing, whose real star is the location. I'm guessing we're looking at York University campus; regardless, every obscure tableau he stages is self-consciously dwarfed by the forbidding institutional architecture that houses it. The sporadic voiceover that occasionally rises from the silence suggests that we're watching a narrative about a sexual telepathy clinic whose mandate goes seriously awry. If you concentrate, you can see how this relates to the onscreen shenanigans in a linear and probably even preplanned way - it's not just precious mannerisms, although it is that as well. The film makes the most of its visual material with a special thing for fisheye pans, and it runs free love through a dystopian sci-fi wringer in a way that will be familiar to fans of his later work, even including a giveaway throw to "Scanners". But after a while it does get tedious, and while Cronenberg's iconoclasm remains enjoyable and felt, minimalist sci-fi on no budget was always easier to pull off in print than on screen.

Fast Company

(David Cronenberg, 1979)
Unless "The Devil At Your Heels" counts, this is the best racecar film I've seen, which is naturally to be credited to the director. Out to prove that he could sublimate his signature quirks into a workmanlike commercial approach, Cronenberg does his best work with actors to this date: the genre's usual range of saints and evildoers and women with hearts of gold are so free of histrionics it's almost disorienting. He even finds space to get a little perverse; the obligatory sex scene prominently involves motor oil, and the way the men melt into the machines in the racing sequences is as distinctive as the attentive accumulations of mechanical detail that set them up. Also check out his striking and atypical use of silence during the speedway's downtimes. You could even argue that the lurid flaming death at the climax plays to his preferences as well, but that would be stretching things - more likely it's another booby-trap courtesy of the derivative hack-job script he's been given to work with. That he can wring any dinner at all out of this dish rag is a credit to his talents, but come on - he's a director, not an alchemist.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Changeling

(Peter Medak, 1979)
Dogged by a vague feeling of emptiness - of mobile fisheye lenses and dutch angles overcompensating for flat patches, of Scooby-Doo like sleuthing rationalizing the horror away. Perhaps because of the latter, some of the supporting performances bring to mind seventies TV rather than Val Lewton - shallow and silly. But you don't really go looking for depth or high seriousness in a haunted house movie, do you? You go looking for the creeps. And there's some real good ones here. I'm partial to the extended sequences centering on the rubber ball and the well; the wheelchair is a good idea too but they milk it a bit too hard. George C. Scott may not get much of a workout, but he does carry the film almost single-handedly for long stretches, and the leads are each given one fleeting emotive moment to heighten our engagement. In short, a shaggy dog with a couple new tricks, executed with economy, a dandy sense of rhythm and composition, and that special Drabinsky touch of chintzy 'class'.

The Blood of Others

(Claude Chabrol, 1984)
The great concern of this film is the way love interacts with the inhumane psychological pressures of war. It offers three case studies: Jodie Foster's callow fashion designer joins the resistance in the name of personal love, Michael Ontkean places his convictions above his emotions, and Sam Neill is a Nazi whose crush on Foster ties him in gordian knots. Based on Simone de Beauvoir's novel, and directed by old master Chabrol, it's not for lack of brains that this movie hits the dirt. But if Chabrol can speak English at all, he can't direct it. The entire first hour is impossibly stilted and distant; Foster's refusal to emote generates more frustration than insight, and she sets the tone for the rest of the cast. It's a relief when Neill finally shows up, because he's not so on guard against melodrama; but by then he has to cram his broad character arc into such a small handful of scenes that he ultimately fares little better. Even the reasonably tense third-act suspense sequences fail, because they don't advance Foster's character; if she's progressed beyond romantic self-interest by then she's keeping it to herself, and she's pretty much along for the ride in the climactic jail break. Lots of small moments and nuances that never add up to anything are crammed between loving shots of expensive set design and the kind of gratuitous cameos (Kate Reid, John Vernon) that signal the worst kind of international coproduction - too many cooks in the kitchen.