Talking Movies

December 3, 2019

From the Archives: Strength and Honour

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

People with gravelly voices shouldn’t try to do Cork accents, or Welsh accents, or any accents requiring a lilt. Michael Madsen’s speaking voice resembles a cement mixer. Suffice it to say that his mercifully sporadic attempts at a Cork accent don’t work. Madsen certainly has the physique to impress as a retired fighter who killed his brother-in-law in a sparring session. Likewise Vinnie Jones as Smasher O’Driscoll, psychotic Puck of the Travellers at bare-knuckle boxing. But can actors rescue a script which is a riff off the back-story of The Quiet Man? Michael Madsen’s Sean Kelleher promised his wife never to fight again but after she dies and his son is diagnosed with the same fatal heart condition he must return to the ring. So far so corny, but this film never becomes so bad it’s good. The problem is Mark Mahon’s George Lucas-like credit as writer/director/producer. Even directors as great as Spielberg and Lean need that oppositional voice on set that says “Yeah, we thought about it and then…NO”.

There are far too many ‘very handy indeed’ coincidences floating about this film. The operation for Kelleher’s son Michael will cost $300,000. “Where am I going to get that kind of money?” rumbles Madsen, briefly attempting a Cork accent. Well, if he can raise $250,000, the government will provide $50,000 under the radar. Entering the Puck contest could win him $250,000…Billy Wilder said plot points were more effective the better you hid them. These ones are lit with flashing neon. This is the sort of obvious writing that Rodriguez had such fun with in Planet Terror. Strength & Honour though somehow never becomes enjoyably silly, even when the Champions League theme music is used for the build up to the climactic bout it never becomes absurdist, thanks to the committed playing of the cast especially Madsen and Patrick Bergin. The emotional impact of the relationship between Kelleher and fellow boxer Chaser McGrath (Michael Rawley) exemplifies how hard work by the actors can overcome the ham-fistedness of the script.

The visual flair shown by an in-jokey use of Ocean Colour Scene’s ‘100 Mile High City’ for a tracking shot across a number of bare knuckle boxing bouts in a Fight Club style grimy locale is quite startling, and suggests a level of inventiveness that Mahon also displays in his theatrical opening with a boxing ring of white light in pitch darkness. The fight scenes are well choreographed, especially the final showdown between Kelleher and O’Driscoll, and Richard Chamberlin has great fun as the hard-bitten boxing coach urging our hero through the pain barrier. Mahon proposes to direct an Irish Braveheart about Brian Boru. There is enough promise in this predictable outing to suggest that with a talented writer and a strict producer that might not be an embarrassment.

2/5

October 17, 2013

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally properly co-star together, and the result is a superior slice of prison break nonsense.

THE TOMB

Ray Breslin (Stallone) begins the film getting sent to solitary in a federal prison in Colorado for shanking a vengeful fellow prisoner. He promptly escapes with the help of an explosive diversion outside. And then explains to the warden how he did it, because that’s Ray’s job. Aided by his colleagues Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis Jackson), Ray is sent to prisons by his business partner Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio) to compromise their security, so that weak-points can be eliminated. However, when CIA agent Miller (Monaghan’s Caitriona Balfe) employs Ray to test a new black site things go sideways. Victimised by vicious guard Drake (Vinne Jones), Stallone finds the warden Hobbes (Jim Caviziel) is not his contact, but his nemesis. Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), an associate of a master financial hacker, is Ray’s only chance of escaping from Hobbes’ unbreakable The Tomb.

Director Mikael Hafstrom is obviously aware of the silliness of proceedings. The first appearance of Schwarzenegger is accompanied by a deliriously knowing camera swoop to reveal his face. And then a later slow-mo extreme close up on Arnie’s eyes accompanies an appropriately massive gun finally being given to him. The dialogue at times creaks under the weight of expectation for good one-liners that it can’t quite deliver. But there is so much to love in this film. Arnie freaking out in German in an extended sequence in which he recites the entire ‘Our Father’ as well as riffing on Nietzsche’s Gay Science is oddly glorious. And Stallone’s emphasis on brains over brawn is a pleasing acknowledgment of his age: his strength is his tactical nous in assessing how structural weak points best combine with the blind moments in guards’ routines.

Hobbes beautifully uses Ray’s very life work against him. If you’d read one of Cosmo Landesman’s more ridiculous rants you’d note that Caviziel’s wearing of a waistcoat, fastidious dusting of his tie, and studious hobby of pinning butterflies resemble Christopher Eccleston’s alleged coders of homosexuality in Gone in 60 Seconds. Landesman’s quite odd sometimes… Far more interesting is noting Republican Schwarzenegger’s involvement in such a politically subversive script. Hobbes dispenses with the niceties of water-boarding to simply insert a hose in Rottmayer’s mouth and let rip. Faran Tahir’s Javed becomes an integral and sympathetic part of the escape, so that suddenly either we’re rooting for a mujihadeen to get back to business or accepting that the CIA quite frequently renditions the wrong man. Escape Plan is also a needlessly star-studded film. Sam Neill gets very little to do as the sympathetic prison doctor, while the great Ryan is similarly underused.

Escape Plan, excepting some expansive pull-outs, prioritises physical sets and choreography over CGI, and is the escapist fun The Expendables franchise fails to deliver.

4/5

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