This week in film proves to be a surprisingly strong one. Oh sure, there’s at least one not-so-great movie on deck (I’m looking at you, Abduction!), but there is at least one bona fide Oscar contender shoved in with the swill. Unless you plan on living in the multiplex this weekend, you really only need one movie worth seeing anyway.
With baseball season drawing to a close, Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane can take solace in the fact that a damn good movie has been made about his life in Moneyball even though his team is just narrowly out of last place at the moment. If good movies aren’t your style, there’s always the craptacular Taylor Lautner spy movie, Abduction. Or you could split the difference and go for the latest Jason Statham action flick, Killer Elite. That gravel-voiced Brit sure knows how to blow stuff up real good. This time he’s even been given Robert De Niro and Clive Owen as sparring partners.
So, whether you want to experience intelligent baseball entertainment, ogle an untalented, shirtless teen actor, or just watch stuff explode, you’re all set this week at the movies. It could have been so much worse. Sarah Jessica Parker could have released another movie this week. I shudder at the thought.
The Good: Moneyball
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Moneyball is the fact that it takes a concept that really shouldn’t work and spins it into cinematic gold. For baseball fans, Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane’s radical, cost-effective, stats-based means of discovering undervalued players was an exciting and game-changing way of building a team. For outsiders, it’s just a bunch of baseball geeks crunching numbers and making intelligent guesses that make little or no sense to anyone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Yet somehow, Oscar-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fisher) and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) and Capote director Bennett Miller have turned this tale of baseball math into handsomely crafted mainstream entertainment. That’s a pretty impressive achievement, although throwing Brad Pitt into the mix probably didn’t hurt.
Pitt stars as Beane and admirably it’s not merely a glossy movie star version of the character. Though Pitt flashes his trademark grin and movie star charm, the rendition of Beane pulls a little out of screenwriter Sorkin’s Social Network playbook. Though this character is by no means as complex as Mark Zuckerberg, he’s not merely a movie star hero either. A failed baseball player himself, Beane barks orders at his players and has no problem playing the bad guy to get what he wants. There’s a sub-plot wedged in involving Beane’s loving relationship with his daughter that needlessly enhances his likability, which is a bit of a shame. Otherwise Billy Beane is a slightly more harsh character than we’re used to seeing in Oscar-bait movies and Moneyball is a more compelling film for it.
As a sports movie, Moneyball follows the traditional underdogs-done-good formula and does it well. Stuck with a $39 million budget and losing his three best payers to rival contenders with $100 million budgets like the Yankees and the Red Sox, Beane hires a stats guru played by Jonah Hill and together they round up a collection of reject players with undervalued skills to build an unlikely contender (much to the chagrin of the team’s manager, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman at his defeated hangdog best).
The film exaggerates the importance of certain players and ignores the 2002 A’s established stars for dramatic effect, but for the most part sticks to the facts. History isn’t rewritten to make Beane’s experimental team a World Series champion, but it doesn’t need to be. After his surprise success story, every team in baseball started using Beane’s techniques to re-evaluate players.
There’s a dramatic home run moment in the film straight out of The Natural, but at least it actually happened. Moneyball should please baseball geeks and people who don’t care about the sport alike. It’s the best baseball movie to come out of Hollywood since Kevin Costner seemingly dedicated his career to perfecting that genre in the '80s. Sure, it ain’t Bull Durham, but what is? Expect to see Moneyball on the awards short list later this year.
The Bad: Abduction
I can picture the pitch meeting for Abduction. Some none-too-bright producer wandered into a studio executive’s office and blurted out, “Hey you know those Bourne Identity movies that are popular? Why don’t we do that again, but with a sexy teen?” Then the studio executive with mounting coke debts sighed in disgust and replied, “Okay, but only if you can get one of those Twilight kids. We wanna make some f***ing money here.”
What happened next is probably unfit for print, but it did lead to the world getting to experience Abduction. Now girls who can’t wait the next few agonizing months to see Taylor Lautner take his shirt off in the next Twilight abortion can see him take his shirt off while beating up bad guys as a teenage superspy (because apparently those exist). Somebody shoot me.
The funny thing about Abduction is how openly it rips off the Bourne Identity concept, just with teen melodrama substituted for political commentary. Even the poster boasts the same basic art and an identical light blue tint. It’s a pretty flagrant knock-off, but fortunately the teen audience that Abduction is aimed at probably think those movies are dated now anyway. “Those Bourne movies are so 2000s, you old loser,” some teen would probably say before looking down on me and playing with his fancy new phone (that didn’t actually happen, I swear).
Perhaps the saddest thing about this whole crap-pile is the fact that John Singleton was responsible for directing it. Now, admittedly Singleton hasn’t worked in about five years and probably needed a gig, but a Twilight action movie from the man who was once the youngest ever to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar for Boyz 'N the Hood? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Fortunately, Singleton has plans to make an NWA biopic with Ice Cube next, so a much deserved comeback at least isn’t far off. For now, let’s all just pretend that Abduction doesn’t exist. If we all agree to ignore it, hopefully it will disappear that much faster.
The Statham: Killer Elite
Oh, Jason Statham. No action star working in their prime today is better at kicking in the skulls of bad guys and growling out one-liners than you. The great Statham returns this week in Killer Elite, where he plays a mercenary who opens the movie doing one last job, but as always happens with action heroes, the last job is never truly a last job. He’s drawn back into contract killing when his mentor (Robert DeNiro) is kidnapped by an oil-owning sheik who forces him to assassinate a collection of high profile British army officers. The Stath sets about his ass-kicking ways and is pursued by Clive Owen who plays a British special agent who knows something is up, but just can’t convince his superior officers that it’s worth checking out.
Killer Elite is supposedly based on a true story and there is a thread of political commentary running through the movie that is honestly hogwash. Don’t worry about having to fill your head with facts or intrigue though. The political content is just window dressing used to set up action scenes and the film doesn’t really work as any sort of serious thriller. No, the joys of this movie are found in watching Statham kill a bunch of bad guys and he does it well (at one point even beating up two guys while tied to a chair — classic Statham).
As far as dumb action movies go, this is thoroughly average, but worth seeing if you could use some shootouts and explosions to spice up your weekend. At the very least the film is mercifully CGI-free and filled with great stunts and pyrotechnics. They don’t make action flicks like this that often anymore and they should be cherished in all of their cheesy, blood-drenched glory. It’s a shame that all Jason Statham action movies aren’t as hilarious, sneakily inventive, and batshit insane as the Crank series, but I’ll takes what I can gets.Also opening this week: Dolphin Tale (sometimes humans save dolphins and sometimes those stories make audiences cry; I’ll never know because you couldn’t get me to touch this thing with a ten foot dolphin-feeding pole), The Whale (hey, documentaries about whales are fun!), Puncture (an underdog legal drama about a nurse pricked by a contaminated needle; I think we can assume it won’t quite be as exciting as Chris Evans’ last movie), and Humans vs Zombies ('nuff said).