Hercules: Extended Cut (2014)

2016 #10
Brett Ratner | 102 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English

The answer to the question, “Hey, remember Brett Ratner? Whatever happened to him?”,* Hercules stars Dwayne Johnson in full The Rock mode as the eponymous demigod. In this comic book adaptation, we’re introduced to Hercules at a point in his life after the famous labours but before he’d passed into legend, when he’s just a mercenary… or maybe he’s always just been a mercenary, and the legends are a tall tale to help him and his band of warriors sell their wares. Their latest mission is to defend a kingdom from a vicious warlord, but all may not be as it seems…

A belated entry into the swords-and-sandals-and-epic-CG-action subgenre that Gladiator started, and which begot the likes of Troy and 300 a decade or more ago, Hercules is much closer to the latter than the former pair. It’s cheesy as heck, but passably exciting when the action kicks in, and also frequently funny (intentionally so, I should add), making it decently entertaining in a brain-off lazy-weekend-evening kind of way.

Johnson has the physique for Hercules, obviously, but the role as written doesn’t play to his real talents, which lie at the more comedic or knowing end of the action spectrum. It’s not his fault the part is the boring heroic lead and everyone else gets to have all the fun, though. Quality Brits like John Hurt, Ian McShane, Peter Mullan, and Rufus Sewell add not so much class as skill, knowing just how much to ham it up to sell their characters while maintaining the light-ish tone. Elsewhere, warrioress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is the spitting image of (a younger) Nicole Kidman.

This extended cut wasn’t included on the UK Blu-ray, so no BBFC rating (it’s about a 15), but it is available on Netflix over here (it’s not listed as the extended cut, but it is). It’s no great shakes, though, adding only a couple of minutes. That’s made up of three short scenes, another half-a-dozen additional lines of dialogue, a couple of extra seconds of action, and some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it CG blood (full details here). An entire subplot about a traitorous scout was excised from the theatrical cut with the deletion of just three lines — a wise cut because, as the simplicity of its removal might suggest, it’s not so much half-arsed as sixteenth-arsed.

Hercules is not quite good enough to earn 4 stars, but if you’re in the mood for a fantasy-ish swords-and-sandals adventure which doesn’t offer anything challenging but is moderately entertaining and doesn’t outstay its welcome, you could do much worse.

3 out of 5

* You may recall that there were two competing Hercules movies released in 2014. The other, even-more-forgotten one is the answer to the question, “Hey, remember Renny Harlin? Whatever happened to him?” ^

Rush Hour 3 (2007)

2012 #6
Brett Ratner | 84 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | Germany & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Rush Hour 3Belated sequels are often the worst kind, an actor/director/studio returning to past glories in the hope of creating new success. Even when they work, they’re not a patch on the original. (I’m sure there must be exceptions, but nothing comes to mind.) The third entry in the Rush Hour series was moderately belated (it was released six years after Rush Hour 2), but, perhaps more significantly for this review, it’s the best part of a decade since I watched the other two. I enjoyed them back then, but after a significant period of growing up, I have no idea if I’d be so fond now. The other point of that is, I don’t think I can accurately say if Rush Hour 3 matches, surpasses or falls short of the quality of the other two.

Judged in its own right, then, it’s a film of variable quality. The plot jumps around tenuously, an excuse to string together acrobatic action sequences and stale comedy routines — one involves two Chinese characters named Yu and Me. Imagine the hilarity. It does manage a few good gags, now and then, but it’s not one to watch for consistent laughs.

Gratuitous photoIt’s ostensibly a thriller (albeit a comedy-action-thriller) and so there are plot twists, but they’re wholly predictable. It also lacks clarity in its villain, I felt — who it is, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and so on. It weakens the film, especially the ending: there’s the usual big action climax, followed by a little bit of business that dilutes the impact of the ending. It’s just badly structured.

Ratner’s direction lacks total competency. Never mind allowing unfunny routines to run too long — or meritless ideas to even be included — his framing is off at times, making his 2.35:1 frame sometimes look cropped from something taller, sometimes something even wider. It’s kind of impressive, in a bad way. Jackie Chan’s fights are mostly well shot though, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the man himself had a hand in that.

Those fights aren’t amongst Chan’s best action sequences, but they’re still quite entertaining. I love sword fights and I love Chan’s acrobatic choreography, so a climax combining the two — Fight!plus some sparing atop the Eiffel Tower (or, I presume, a surprisingly good set thereof) — is occasionally spectacular and single-handedly almost justifies the entire film’s existence. A car chase/fight through the streets of Paris is the other best bit, buoyed by both unusual choreography and Yvan Attal’s French taxi driver George, who’s probably the film’s best character.

Rush Hour 3 isn’t a good film — it’s too inconsistent, too indulgent, too unfocussed in its storytelling — but it has some fun bits, mainly thanks to Jackie Chan. If only for some of his bits, I’m glad I bothered with it.

2 out of 5

Rush Hour 3 is on Channel 4 tonight at 9:45. Which is a coincidence because I was going to post this review anyway.

After the Sunset (2004)

2008 #67
Brett Ratner | 93 mins | TV | 12 / PG-13

After the SunsetI’ve never had as much of a problem with Brett Ratner as some others. I quite enjoyed the first two Rush Hour films (though, admittedly, I was relatively young) and also liked Red Dragon (though, at the time, I hadn’t seen Silence of the Lambs), and would lay the blame for X-Men: The Last Stand at the feet of the producers who decided to save all the Wolverine backstory stuff for a spin-off, in the process disconnecting the threequel from the Wolverine-obsessed first two — what was left was pretty decent, if you ask me. After the Sunset, on the other hand, is like Woody Harrelson’s character: not much cop.

The story concerns a retired jewel thief goaded into performing one last job by the FBI officer who never caught him (that’s Harrelson’s character — you see, he’s not much of a cop! Geddit?) A decent enough premise, suggesting something Ocean’s Eleven-like; but someone didn’t think this was enough story — or, perhaps, couldn’t come up with a complex-enough security system for the jewel — and so tacked on a buddy comedy. It’s a pretty illogical one as well: the two men hate each other, so why would they spend so much time together? It feels like padding around the heist plot, but takes up more screen time. Other subplots, like Don Cheadle as the unspecified Caribbean island’s resident gangster, who wants the jewel to fund something or other, also don’t go anywhere.

Each of these plots seem to have originated in different films — some serious, some light, some thoroughly comedic. When stuck together they make for a constantly varying tone, and it’s difficult to work out which was the intended one. By the end there’s so much going on (though, barely) that the ending goes on forever, wrapping up its various near-unrelated threads in as drawn-out a manner as possible, apparently just to make the film hit a decent length. The final twist is almost good, but remains a bit underdeveloped and consequently isn’t clever enough to be worthwhile — it winds up as just another pointless extension.

Despite all this it does have its moments, thanks primarily to a skilled cast… not that I can remember any specific good bits now. It does at least mean that, if you can put the tonal and structural oddities to one side, it can be a moderately pleasant way to pass an hour and a half.

3 out of 5