An interview with Elisabeth Rasmussen, Director of “The Heart of Bruno Wizard” at STILL/MOVING DSLR Film Festival.
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It’s De Niro versus Stallone. It’s Raging Bull rumbling with Rocky. It’s a film which no one thought needed to be made, but which, by sheer willpower and determination alone, overcame all the odds to win our hearts, enrich our spirits, and restore our faith in America once again.
Well, not quite. With a premise as obviously pasted together as “what if one now old in the tooth classic actor from a boxing film fought another old in the tooth classic actor from a boxing film in a NEW boxing film”, it was never going to reach the heights of Raging Bull’s stylish cinematography, or even the straight up gung-ho patriotism of Rocky. Nevertheless the plot itself is pretty classic fare – two former boxing rivals (De Niro as Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, Stallone as Henry “Razor” Sharp) with a score to settle over a girl (the almost pointless Kim Basinger) who are finally tempted back for one last fight. Before that can happen however, the boxers have to get in shape, allowing the scriptwriters to gleefully throw in almost every “look they’re old now” joke they can think of.ADVERTISINGPromote health. Save lives. Serve the vulnerable. Visit who.int
That’s not to say that some of these jokes aren’t very funny – De Niro and Stallone clearly had a great time duking it out verbally as well as physically, creating a chemistry that makes the scenes they appear in together stand out as some of the film’s best. Other characters don’t fare so well – Kevin Hart as the fight’s promoter Dante Slate Jr. wins the Chris Tucker Award For Most Irritatingly Stereotypical Depiction Of A Black Man and Jon Bernthal as The Kid’s estranged son B.J. doesn’t have much to work with, apart from his “nice guy” smile and several cringe worthy jokes about his character’s unfortunate name.
When the boxing match finally does take place it’s pleasing to see that director Peter Segal doesn’t shy away from filming the heavy blows – with thuds, smacks and chops aplenty. Indeed, the brutal punches almost come as a surprise given the film’s general tones of light comedy leading up to the rematch. In a way this sums up the film’s main problem as well as its positives -on the one hand it’s a film trying and occasionally managing to be taken seriously, following two major actors joyfully sparring with witty jokes and tight action. On the other, it’s a film with a single plot line rehashed time and time again for laughs, gradually feeling as if it’s got as much proper meat left on it as a beaten up old cow carcass hanging in a slaughterhouse.
And so, whilst the film has just enough punch lines to stay on its feet, it hasn’t got quite enough stamina to be the knockout it clearly wants to be.
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Perhaps it’s the various changes of actors, plot and title that “The Watch” went through before being brought to the cinema, but something about this comedy seems to be suffering from Jason Bourne syndrome – in that it just isn’t quite sure what on earth it really is.
At first the film is certain it’s another “guys on the beers” buddy movie, as local busybody Evan (Ben Stiller) recruits town residents Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) as part of a Neighbourhood Watch, after a shocking murder at the nearby Costco. But then, as if accidentally discovering a file marked “Top Secret: True Identity”, it flips into a mild “who is really human” Stepford Wives thriller, as Evan and the gang discover that aliens are behind the strange goings on, and it’s up to them to stop an eminent full scale invasion. The buddy elements are still there, but the strange twist, rather than adding depth, only serves to conjure up an image of the film’s producers madly leafing through files and papers, finally holding one aloft, and proclaiming “Aliens! That’s what we’ll stick in there!”
It’s a shame, because the plain and simple bromance comedy elements on the whole work quite well. The humour is admittedly pretty smutty and disgusting in parts, but hey, what do you expect with Superbad’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg at the writing helm? It’s also great to see Brit Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd) overseas and hanging out with the gang, although at times it appears as if the writers weren’t quite sure what to do with him, and so fell back on the “naive, English geek” routine.
If the gang work best as a group when quips and tradeoffs are flying through the air, they fall down considerably when apart. Alongside the problem of aliens decimating the entire planet and killing all life as we know it, Evan is also having trouble conceiving a baby with wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) – proof of Sod’s law if I ever saw it. Why this romantic problem was needed on top of everything else I’m not sure, as it only adds to the identity crisis of the film – as well as adding an entirely pointless and irritating wife character who, as is often the case in these films, takes no time at all to be convinced that aliens a) exist and b) are living in a Costco warehouse. There’s some joy to be had in the final action sequence with the gang kicking alien hide together, but the confusion of the various middle strands sucks a lot of that joy in the meantime. It appears that someone realised just too late that a film focusing on four well known, funny actors isn’t enough without anything coherent happening for them to be funny about.