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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Entertaining Action-Thriller
Sometimes small is better. There are times when all you want is a basic, straightforward action film that doesn’t require you to turn a blind eye to the rules of logic; one that doesn’t consider good action and decent characters to be mutually exclusive. How I Spent My Summer Vacation is that film. It’s not a blockbuster but it’s very entertaining and does what it sets out to do really well.
Mel Gibson plays an unnamed criminal who steals a few million from an American businessman and runs off to Mexico only to get caught by a couple of corrupt border police. The policemen take the money and throw Gibson in a jail that’s more of a shantytown surrounded by snipers than your classic cells-with-bars set-up. In there, he meets a young boy (Hernandez) who shows him the ropes and teaches him about the power hierarchy. Gibson adapts pretty well and starts to carve out a little niche for himself, until the robbed businessman sends some of his henchmen to find him and retrieve the stolen money. Gibson has to find a way to break out of jail, taking the kid, who’s about to have his liver stolen by the prison’s head inmate, and the kid’s mother (Heredia) with him.
The main factor that pushes this film from average into surprisingly good is the decision to have the Mexicans speak in Spanish instead of accented English. A sizeable chunk of the film is subtitled which automatically gives the film a sense of reality and makes it so much easier to take the characters seriously. Add to it the City of God style visuals and the Latin soundtrack and you have a film that feels authentically Mexican. And even though the Mexican characters are mostly corrupt officers, criminals or dirt poor - sometimes all three - they’re not walking stereotypes; both due to the sheer variety of the characters and the acting. Even the criminals, who are basically everybody other than the kid, are not portrayed as one hundred percent evil; they’re given human sides and motives that shine a light on the logic behind their actions.
Gibson gives a pretty understated performance, biding his time until his character’s given a chance to let loose and show flashes of borderline insanity, but he’s thoroughly watchable whether he’s eavesdropping, pick pocketing, brandishing a gun or lobbing grenades. His charisma shines through and he turns his character into a criminal worth rooting for. And speaking of grenades, the film is big on violence though it hardly feels gratuitous. It has some pretty sweet, well filmed, action sequences - ones in which you can actually see what’s going on - and quite a few cool-guy-walking-away-from-explosion type shots, which while ridiculous, are still completely entertaining.
Honestly, this film was a surprise. Not only is it far better than its marketing campaign lets on, but it’s genuinely entertaining. It’s a solid action film on all counts.
Embodying pretty much everything a bona fide espionage thriller should, Our Kind of Traitor - adapted from John Le Carre’s novel of the same name - is a solid entry into the author’s long-list of book-to-screen adaptations which include hits such as, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and A Most Wanted Man. However, while it rides on an interesting premise of money, corruption and lies, there is a sense of implausibility that detracts from an otherwise thought-provoking and visually enticing basis.
The story opens in Marrakesh, Morocco where poetry professor, Perry Makepeace (McGregor,) and his semi-estranged lawyer wife, Gail (Harris), have travelled to in an attempt to rekindle their relationship after Perry’s recent indiscretion with one of his students. One evening at a bar, Perry meets an over-the-top Russian businessman named Dima (Skarsgard) who, after inviting the couple to lavish party, openly admits to having laundered money for the Russian mob.
He asks Perry for help in delivering an USB stick containing all of the vital information that the British intelligence will need to capture his boss who goes by the name of Prince (Dobrygin) in exchange for a safe passage into asylum for him and his family. Reaching out to an MI6 agent, Hector (Lewis), Perry delivers on his promise, only to find himself and Gail dragged into a dangerous game of cat and mouse which soon sends the naïve couple on an espionage escapade around the world.
Adapted to the screen by Iranian writer Hossein Amini - see Drive, 47 Ronin - Our Kind of Traitor is told entirely through the eyes of someone who is not a skilled professional but an everyday man who knows very little about the dangerous world he finds himself in, ultimately, making it easier for the viewers to identify with the leads. Filling the story with a great deal of suspense, tension and overall atmosphere, director Susanna White shows a level of confidence behind the lens, packing the screen with an unusual touch of class - very little espionage movie clichés make their way into the story - whilst the action sequences are pleasantly engaging.
The movie’s slight drawback, however, comes in the form of a series of far-fetched situations that the characters find themselves facing and a lack of chemistry between McGregor and Harris, offering very little conviction in their personal connection and overall predicament. The committed performance from Skarsgard - as the tattooed Russian mobster who will do anything to keep his family from harm - however, is what manages to save the film from completely failing, with the talented actor exuding a boisterous presence and charisma that is hard to deny.
As far as B-movies go, there’s the good kind of bad, there’s actual bad and then there is just downright awful. Chuck Russell’s latest dip into the B-grade action pool, the exceptionally dreadful and contrived I Am Wraith, has unfortunately fallen somewhere right in the middle proving once again that John Travolta’s faltering career is still very much on the decline.
Written by Paul Solan, the story is set in Columbus, Ohio and it is centred on Stanley Hill (Travolta); a former special ops agent who has decided to leave the dangers of his job behind and now works in the car industry. His wife, Vivian (De Mornay), is an EPA analyst and, as the movie opens, we watch her excitedly welcoming her husband home from a long trip away. However, their reunion is short lived when, seemingly out of nowhere, a group of thugs kill Vivian and wound Stanley before he escapes.
Devestated by the loss of his wife, Stanley is left with no choice but to return to his old line of work as a trained CIA assassin, quickly reuniting with old partner Dennis (Law & Order’s very own Meloni) who is excited to help his buddy chase down the killers. With his daughter Abbie (Schull) very much in the dark about her father’s intentions, Stanley’s plan of revenge soon gets complicated when he realises that there are people up at the top – including Governor Meserve (Esprit) and local kingpin, Lemi K (Sloan) – connected to the murder.
Juggling one too many ideas at once, director Chuck Russell doesn’t seem to have a clear idea about what he wants his movie to be; is it a bloody revenge thriller? Is it an actioner with a political conspiracy undertone? Or is it a buddy-cop movie? It’s very unclear and the story serves up a stream of tough-guy-fighting-bad-guys clichés. Switching the focus and overall tone numerous times during the course of the movie, the action sequences are decent, though the overuse of slow-mo shots proves a little tiresome at times, while the plot’s pacing and emotional is all over the place.
Sporting a ridiculous wig, Travolta switches on his macho mode and, for the most part, we believe him. However, the novelty of watching the sixty-plus year old actor fighting his way through the bad guys – all the while indulging in atrocious dialogue with the slightly more affective Meloni – wears out pretty darn soon. Generic, clichéd and exceptionally tiring, I Am Wrath fits in well within the ‘geriaction’ genre of movies that Taken kicked off, but without any of the conviction of the Liam Neeson-starring adventure.