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Backtrack: Adrien Brody Tries His Best in Underwhelming Horror
Saddled with an overworked air of mystery that turns into vagueness and a little too much of a sullen atmosphere for its own good, Michael Petroni's Backtrack finds one seemingly committed and haunted-looking Adrien Brody a little lost for guidance in how to bring about this effectively moody, but not at all frightening ghost-fest fiasco to light.
Set and shot in Australia, Backtrack tells the story of a troubled psychotherapist, Peter Bower (Brody sporting a relatively decent Aussie accent), who has recently moved to a new town for a fresh start with wife, Carol (Baird), after the loss of their young daughter Elvie (O'Farrell) to an incident caused by his own negligence. Unable to come to terms with her death and still very much haunted by crippling flashbacks, it takes some time for Peter to realise that a large portion of his most recent clientele – who all seem to be believe it's 1987 - are actually ghosts, including one spooky-looking young girl named Elizabeth Valentine.
Unsure whether what he is seeing is real or if he's having some sort of a mental breakdown, Peter decides to seek advice from friend and fellow therapist, Duncan Stewart (Neill wasted in his role), who thinks that there is a connection between his own personal tragedy and his latest array of patients, especially young Elizabeth, forcing him to go back to his hometown and investigate the repeated reference to 1987.
While the presence of the committed and reliable Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody, adds a note of credibility to proceedings, there is still a deep lack of complexity and originality in Michael Petroni's derivative script which, unlike Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense which clearly is the main source of 'inspiration' here, seems to favour the style-over-substance approach. Predictability and familiarity are also plaguing factors and the fact that the audience can probably work out where the story is headed long before its leading man, doesn't really leave Backtrack with enough storytelling power to pull itself out of the mess.
In the end, it's relatively safe to say that Petroni's second feature film – see 2003's Till Human Voices Wake Us - leaves a lot to be desired. There is a decent idea in there somewhere and the air of intensity is somewhat effective, but what might have sounded good on paper doesn't really necessarily translate on the screen. It's as if the film tries so hard to set the mood, that it forgets that in needs the occasional pop.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.