Wednesday , October 18 2017

‘Bodyguard’ fun, action-packed escape – ‘Dave Made a Maze’ whimsical fantasy

There’s not a whole lot that’s new about “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”. Its mismatched-pals premise is the stuff of classic buddy comedies. Stars Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson play their typical character types: Reynolds the handsome do-gooder; Jackson the unflappable … whose favorite word is … And like many movie heroes past, they’re tasked with taking down a brutal dictator.

Yet that kind of familiar framework is what makes this action-packed mashup of gun battles, car chases, fist fights and international intrigue such a delight: Leave reality’s chaos at the door, and lose yourself in a world where the bad guys get what’s coming to them and Sam Jackson spontaneously breaks into song.

And did I mention there’s a love-story subplot?

Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a well-manicured, tightly wound, type-A personality who works in “executive protection”, providing high-end, high-stakes bodyguard services for society’s unsavories. His career and polished image take a nosedive after a weapons dealer he was protecting is killed by a sniper. Bryce blames his Interpol detective ex-girlfriend, Amelia (Elodie Yung), for the deadly mistake, believing she leaked information to her law-enforcement colleagues.

A couple years later, Amelia is tapped to transport notorious hit-man Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to International Criminal Court, where he’s to be the sole witness testifying against murderous Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman, always perfect). Dukhovich deploys his bottomless army of goons to take out their convoy and ultimately eliminate Kincaid, who promised his testimony in exchange for the release of his wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), from jail.

Outgunned and desperate, Amelia turns to Bryce for help, promising to help restore his career if he can get Kincaid to The Hague safely. Thus begins the odd-couple pairing of Reynolds and Jackson and premise for various physical and verbal throw-downs, with the bad guys and each other.

When Bryce says he’s there to keep Kincaid out of harm’s way, Kincaid replies, “I am harm’s way”.

And he proves it, taking out baddies even while handcuffed and outracing a fleet of armored cars while whipping a speedboat through Amsterdam’s canals. Jackson soars in roles like these, and his performance is as bulletproof as Kincaid is rumored to be. The 68-year-old is as thrilling an action star as any decades younger. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn he does his own stunts, and insisted on manning that speedboat himself.

Jackson’s Kincaid is also the story’s wise elder, giving Bryce romance advice as they dodge Dukhovich’s thugs.

Superhero

Reynolds works his comic and superhero action chops and Hayek is at her fieriest as a barmaid unafraid to cut a guy’s carotid with a broken bottle.

Director Patrick Hughes (“The Expendables 3”) keeps the action grounded in the story’s narrative without compromising the excitement. The movie is loud, with several explosions that could shake a nervous viewer from her seat, but the chases are epic, especially the speedboat scene, during which Reynolds’ character kept pace on a motorcycle.

Screenwriter Tom O’Connor mitigates the serious matter in his story — the trial of a tyrant for war crimes against his own people — with brisk banter and thrilling fight sequences, along with a touch of sweetness as it becomes clear that both Bryce and Kincaid are motivated by love.

If only movies could make that universal.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”, a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong violence and language throughout”. Running time: 118 minutes. Three stars out of four.

“Dave Made a Maze” is a whimsical fantasy about a dude who gets lost in a living-room labyrinth of his own making. Bill Watterson’s directorial debut is itself like an awesomely scaled home craft project. The idiosyncrasy and resourcefulness are impressive, even inspiring to a point. But at 80-odd minutes, the self-conscious novelty begins to seem stretched, enough so that you notice this clever conceit is never particularly funny or meaningful — just cute. Nonetheless, it’s just the kind of project that’s bound to accrue a cult following.

Dave (Nick Thune) is an artist plagued by creative block. When his girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), leaves for the weekend, he devises a wee craft project to get the juices flowing. Upon her return, Annie is nonplussed to discover the results occupying their entire apartment living room: Dave has built a cardboard maze, and while he responds cheerfully to her greeting and sounds just inches away, he cannot seem to make his way out.

“It’s bigger on the inside”, he calls, pleading with her not to rattle the sides (which he experiences like a major seismic event), nor to come inside. He does give her permission to call his bestie, bearded and bespectacled Gordon (Adam Busch), for advice. But all too soon the absurd crisis has evolved into a party, with the couple’s friends — including insistent documentarian Harry (James Urbaniak) and his crew — promptly barging into the cardboard confines to “rescue” their hidden host.

They discover right away that, impossibly, it is indeed bigger on the inside — much, much bigger. Dave’s imagination can be credited for certain peculiarities, but the maze appears to have taken on a life of its own, defying directional as well as spatial logic. It also springs booby traps for the unwary. The first to die is overenthusiastic Jane (Kristen Vangness of “Criminal Minds”). Still, her gory demise is depicted in terms of red yarn and confetti, making “Dave Made a Maze” not so much a horror movie as an antic riff on genre conventions. Other perils encountered include an attack by origami birds, a “giant growing lady part” whose appetite is all too Freudian, and the labyrinth’s very own Minotaur (WWE wrestler John Hennigan in a cardboard bull mask).

Gordon succinctly analyzes Dave’s problem: “He gets all fired up about stuff but never finishes anything”. The solution Dave himself hits upon is that for once he simply must complete this project — actually finish constructing the maze — in order to save himself, Annie and any other survivors.

“Dave Made a Maze” purportedly utilized more than 30,000 square feet of scrap cardboard to realize its fantasy world. That note of trivia is almost a more satisfying curio than the film itself, which is amiably goofy, admirably resourceful — and seldom more than just mildly amusing. Actor-turned-first-time director Watterson delights in the invention of his design collaborators, but the script he co-wrote with Steven Sears feels like a clever comedy sketch idea expanded to feature length without developing the substance or bite needed to sustain itself. (Agencies)

Dave’s generic slacker angst (“I’m 30 years old and my parents are still giving me money”) isn’t thematic weight enough to anchor an episodic endeavor enlivened only so much by decent comedy talent dealing with absurdist situations in a hip deadpan that grows monotonous, with dialogue that too often sounds less-than-inspirationally improvised.

And yet as a sheer stunt, the movie is always watchable, whether in its imaginatively handmade sets (production design by John Sumner and Trisha Gum, art direction by Jeff White), a puppet interlude, or several diverse animations (credited to Musa Brooker/Platypus Pictureworks). Like a viral baby-goat video, “Dave Made a Maze” is very cute. For some, that may be more than enough. And even those who want considerably more will have to admit that its brand of twee is at least as distinctive as anything in a line of similarly thin but puckish films like “Forbidden Zone” or “Be Kind Rewind”. (Agencies)

By Sandy Cohen

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