The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
This has been on Netflix Instant for a while now, and with names like 50 Cent, Robert De Niro, Forest Whitaker, and Dane Delany, I needed to check it out. I didn't know what to expect. We'd seen 50 Cent before and liked him, so hopefully that will continue. On the other hand, we've had high hopes for movies before, and been sorely disappointed.
Freelancers stars 50 Cent as a guy fresh out of the police academy who, with his two buddies, is ready to start on the beat. Unlike his two buddies though, he's off uniformed patrols and put straight into plain-clothes duty by Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker. Why? Because 50's father used to work with De Niro and Whitaker before his untimely death, and De Niro wants to do him a solid. Also, De Niro is a big time corrupt cop, which has its benefits to 50 too. As we know though, if a thing sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
This didn't work for me, and I was trying to figure out why. I went back through the other reviews I've done of 50 Cent's movies, and in every case I liked his performances, so was it his fault he wasn't fitting here? Not really, but acting opposite De Niro, Whitaker, or even Delany, it was obvious that he was punching above his weight class. Is that a knock on him? Not at all, in De Niro we're talking about one of the greatest actors of the past 50 years, and in Whitaker we're talking about another Oscar winner, and Delany has two Golden Globe nominations for her work in China Beach. What happens though, is 50's character, who looks like he's walking in water compared to the sprinting we're seeing with De Niro and Whitaker, is sold to us as the guy that outsmarts those two, and that really has no veracity. A big part of that is the writing though. We're supposed to believe that a rookie with no police experience can take down two heavy hitters like this, and it doesn't work. The writing in general had too many weak spots, I think because it tried to cover too much, and ended up not being focused enough. At the beginning, we had the classic "backstory conversation device", where plot exposition comes through in an unnatural conversation between characters-- the kind of thing that might as well have just been scrolling text before the credits. From that point on we have moments where the story works, where the social message makes sense, and then it loses itself, and we wonder where those messages went. It's not a horrible movie by any stretch, but overall it's a no for me.
That's not to say that De Niro and Whitaker don't bring it, and that we don't see how good they are. They absolutely kill it every time they're on screen. De Niro reminds us of his great roles in Goodfellas and The Godfather II with his street wise corrupt cop character. In fact, had he mailed it in a little we might have believed that 50's character could get the better of him. Same with Forest Whitaker, and I think we see what the difference is between him and 50 in how they look next to De Niro, because Whitaker fits, and both his and De Niro's characters build off one-another. Whitaker was downright scary, and his ending as a character was really fatuous compared to the performance he put in. For people that are fans of them, you'll love seeing what they do in this film, but might be disappointed like I was in how their characters devolved into I don't know what so quickly.
We live in this zero-sum binary society where everything is couched in terms of winning and losing, black and white. In that sense, it probably sounds like I'm saying 50 Cent didn't do a good job in this, or that he turned in a bad performance that killed the film. Nothing could be further from the truth. To say that 50 Cent, who has only been acting seriously for a few years now, isn't at the level of De Niro, Whitaker, or even Dana Delany, isn't a knock on him. I think if the character had been more like his one in Streets of Blood, where he's playing more of a veteran cop with some experience-- and a character that was closer in age to his actual age of 37-- when we get to the end and he needs to bring De Niro down, we can believe it more. I think too, it would've given him more to work with opposite De Niro and Whitaker, if maybe he's a veteran cop just promoted to De Niro's unit, and he has misgivings about what they're doing. I don't know though, no matter what, if you give 50 the lead in a film that co-stars De Niro and Whitaker in main roles, he'll look out of his league, no matter how well the character is written. Again, not a knock on him, more a compliment to how good those two are.
Rounding out the cast, we had the already mentioned Dana Delany, who has a small role as the wife of a deceased district attorney that had a hand in raising 50 Cent's character. I think she's in two scenes, but I thought she was great in both of them. DTVC favorite Vinnie Jones is back in a one scene cameo as a drug dealer or something. Always great to see him. Finally, we had the late great Pedro Armedariz Jr. as the main crime boss. According to imdb, this was one of his last roles, released after he passed away in 2011. Like the people I mentioned above, he doesn't have many scenes, but like them, he makes the most of them.
Finally, this character was credited simply as "White Girl", and her short time on screen doesn't end well, but she made quite an impression me. You have the neck tattoo, the baseball cap, and what you can't hear, is the Ebonics she speaks. Be still my heart. What a pair we would make, huh? Me reading Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, she calling me the N word in public, and me telling her in an angry whisper that she's going to get us hurt talking like that. Maybe at 1AM I get a phone call with her on the other end telling me she got "caught up in some shit", and she needs me to bail her out of jail. I tell her I have no money, and she tells me to just call a bail bondsman. I tell her I have no idea how that works, and things become tense. On the one hand, the jail visits are great because I get to read more Turgenev in the waiting room; on the other, it's jail.
It's time I wrapped this up. While we had great performances, especially from De Niro and Whitaker, this movie has too many short comings for me to give it an out-and-out recommendation. Ultimately this was felled by a script that tried to do too much, to tell too much, and over reached. Not the worst thing ever, but not the best either.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1815708/