Quick Movie Review: Wild Things (1998)

wild things

If you take this film for what it is, it’s really entertaining. The plot twists not only surprise you, but move the story in different and unexpected directions each time.

Wild Things is towards the top of the guilty pleasures list for many movie fans. It can often be found right next to Showgirls and Grease. It’s not good because it’s good, it’s good because it’s not. Yet this one has something that those other two don’t–a pretty good story.

The premise starts out with Matt Dillon playing Sam Lombardo, a high school guidance counselor who is framed for rape by Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), the daughter of the richest family in town.

Right off the bat, the main theme seems to be how even the accusation of rape can haunt you for your whole life. It makes you think that this is where it’s going. Pretty interesting concept. We’re invested. But then it departs from that and proceeds to get absolutely insane.

Spoiler alert: There are a good amount of plot twists in this film. I won’t tell you what they are. But my review references their existence on several occasions.

The name of the game in this film is how many crazy plot twists can they fit into a 2 hour film. I’m not complaining. It’s a lot of fun. You usually don’t see them coming. Even when you think you’re starting to catch on, they throw you another curveball.

The constant twists create an unconventional narrative–placing beats in parts of the film you don’t expect them to be. The exposition is pretty roundabout, rather than being handed to us on a silver platter–even before all the craziness happens.

It’s really not as convoluted as it seems. If you stop to think about it, you can easily piece everything together. As opposed to some films that make themselves confusing so that you can’t see the plot holes. And Wild Things actually seems to avoid most of these anyway.

There’s another girl involved–Suzie (Neve Campbell), who comes out and says that Mr. Lombardo raped her as well. There’s also an obsessive cop, played by Kevin Bacon, and Mr. Lombardo’s attorney, who’s surprisingly played by Bill Murray.

The dialogue is pretty silly at moments, and the acting is marginal. But both Murray and Campbell stand out as far superior to the rest. At times, it’s like they’re reading from a completely different script altogether.

You can almost always tell when characters are lying–almost like the director does it intentionally. And due to the twisting and turning nature of the plot, it’s hard to establish any depth for the characters. The motives are usually suspect at best.

The film’s biggest downfall is perhaps the very thing that makes it enjoyable. We love the who-can-you-trust type of thrill, but at the same time it fails to give us a character we can actually like.

As much as we love that initial plot twist, part of us is sad to realize that everything before it is a lie. But then we realize that this whole film is all about who you can or can’t trust. That nobody is who they appear to be. The basis of liking this film depends on how well you can handle that fact.

Twizard Rating: 83

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Quick Movie Review: Blade Runner — The Final Cut (1982)

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I don’t deny Blade Runner’s influence on modern sci-fi. It brought the cyberpunk sub-genre to the film medium–creating the palette for what we still see in movies today. The visuals are superb and highly advanced for its time–even technically brilliant. It gets all its points from its aesthetics.

I’m just denying the fact that this movie is entertaining. I’m not trying to criticize Ridley Scott’s overall vision. It’s just not for me.

The world it’s set in is one we’ve seen many times in film since. Dystopian films are interesting. Especially futuristic ones. They’re a fun what-if scenario, as well as a comforting reality check of how bad this world could be. We also like seeing what creatives have in mind for our future, like flying cars, robots, etc. The futuristic films from the 1980s tend to be in a genre of their own. They showcase fun future elements while still being stuck with the ’80s mindset.

Blade Runner’s setting is fun, but at no point is this film fun to watch.

It’s set in Los Angeles in 2019. Our main character, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), is an ex-police officer–or blade runner–forced out of retirement in order to track down and kill bioengineered beings known as “replicants”. Replicants look and act exactly like humans, and were sent to an off-world colony to become slaves. But a small group of them have violently come back to Earth in attempts to extend their programmed 4-year lifespan.

At first you merely think the film is having a rough time setting up its already-convoluted premise, but we soon find out that the whole story is really much ado about nothing. The underlying themes are important, but the film doesn’t need all of its allotted time to get there. Maybe if the characters or events were interesting, we’d feel differently, but it seems the concept has taken precedent over the audience actually caring.

Along the way, Deckard befriends a more peaceful replicant, causing him to question his motives. But this isn’t all that obvious, as no one in this film seems to communicate properly or act rationally.

Blade Runner is unconventional. It isn’t Terminator or Mad Max. It doesn’t carry you at all. It’s not even plot driven. There aren’t any twists or dramatic turns, and we’re hardly invested in our characters. It has a point to make and that’s the only point.

It’s making a statement on how the humans and the robots may very well be indistinguishable in the sense that even the humans lack human qualities–perhaps even more so–yet the two species hate each other. But when your point is how humans lack humanity, then what’s going to make us care about our characters? In order for the point to be driven home, we have to be somewhat invested.

We get absolutely no backstory on Deckard, and no reason to really be interested in him. Where did he come from? Is he a robot too? We have no real reason to think otherwise. Even Ford can’t save this one.

Blade Runner is dated and sluggish. Many of the scenes feel unnecessary or just drag on far too long.

There’s no way this film’s pacing would fly nowadays without people branding the movie as pretentious or self-aggrandized. Critics apparently didn’t approve back then, but somehow its influence has made it a classic.

So for those of you who value ambiguity in movies you watch, you’ll likely enjoy Blade Runner. But entertaining, it isn’t.

I will say, however, that the last 5 minutes is somewhat thought-provoking and probably the deepest part of the film. It’s too bad the rest of it is an anti-climactic bore. A 2 hour build-up is hardly time well spent.

The two characters who meet during the climactic scene haven’t spoken or interacted for the entire duration of the movie, so when dramatics ensue, we feel robbed of what potentially could have been instead. We grasp at the emotions we should be feeling, but are consciously aware that it could have been much more if the plot was just rearranged a little bit. The payoff would have happened how it was supposed to have happened.

As an aside, the film’s score by Vangelis is one of the best I’ve heard. Also, Daryl Hannah’s performance is a standout as the twisted replicant, Pris Stratton. She’s so creepy and probably the most memorable part of the movie.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: American Made (2017)

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Tom Cruise often gets stigmatized as a guy who plays the same role a bunch of different times. This may be true in most cases. Some outliers, though, would be his character in the films Collateral, Far and Away, and a few others. And now, moviegoers can throw in American Made.

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who gets recruited by the CIA to take secretive aerial photos of Central America amidst the Cold War in the late 1970s. He quickly finds himself running drugs to and from the States for the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar.

In his most enjoyable performance in years, Cruise brings a different-than-normal charisma to his role. Usually, he plays a character that can’t be beat. You know he’s always going to be okay in the end. You know that if trouble comes, he’ll get out of it scot free. This is also something that can distance audiences from his characters, often coming off as unrelatable. But in American Made, he’s vulnerable, he’s likable, and he’s actually pretty funny.

There’s a very realistic dose of levity throughout the movie. Not like Wolf of Wall Street, where you feel like the humor is grossly over-exaggerated. Here, it’s as though Seal was an advisor during the script writing.

The special effects are very appropriate to the time being depicted. They feel practical. There are no real big explosions or chase scenes–something else out of the norm for a Tom Cruise film.

While being a statement on politics of the 1980s, American Made is also a lot of fun. It’s commentary is mostly ironic. While you’re laughing at the true events, you’re also realizing that they’re simply that.

The momentum builds the crazier it gets. The events start off slow, and the filmmakers refrain from creating any false suspense early on. Then it gets out of control and you feel it.

The only issue with this film is the lack of conscience of the characters involved. Cruise plays a likable guy. “He’s good people,” I’m pretty sure another character says at one point. Yet, he seems to have no qualms about helping out the supremely violent drug cartel in Colombia. However, he doesn’t seem to be in it for the money, because he’s constantly complaining about having more than he needs. He never really spends any of it. And he also never really makes it seem like he’s doing it because he’s too scared to leave, either. At one point, he expresses concern that he’s transporting weapons, but soon forgets about it, inexplicably. I suppose maybe we are to assume that he’s scared, but he never once seems like it. Whatever it is, it’s not nearly transparent enough for those of us invested.

But the film is really fun. It’s about as political a popcorn film can get without making you think too hard. Its narrative doesn’t skip any beats. And preserving the fluid tone is perhaps why we don’t get too much introspection on the lead character’s behalf–or anyone’s behalf for that matter. It gets its point across without it.

Twizard Rating: 94

Quick Movie Review: mother! (2017)

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Before stepping foot into a theater to watch mother!–if you actually decide to–you must know that this film is entirely an allegory. It’s not meant to be real. It’s meant to be told from the perspective of Mother Nature. I tell you this because if you don’t know this ahead of time, most of you will not understand what’s happening and the film will alienate you before you’re able to read into it.

And there is a lot to read into. This isn’t a film to just decide to throw on. It’s a piece of work. It’s exhausting. Something that you must dedicate some time afterward reflecting upon. Otherwise the 2 hours you spend watching it will be in vain. Or you could just not watch it. Which is what I would suggest.

I don’t mind a metaphorical film. Life of Pi is one of my favorites. But with mother! there is no humanity to tether down the film. You can relate to the protagonist’s plight and suffering, maybe, but not to the protagonist herself. The characters are human in appearance, but hardly act as a human actually would. It’s void of all emotion, dragging on for way too long as you sit there, tired, waiting to find out what the point of it all is.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother, who’s married to Javier Bardem’s character, who’s a struggling author. They live alone in a house in the country while Bardem is amidst a creative drought. Things are disrupted when an older married couple intrude on their lives and move in. Before this couple shows up, Lawrence and Bardem’s life together is supposed to be peaceful, but director, Darren Aronofsky, doesn’t really depict it this way. In fact, there is tension and suspense even before the couple shows up.

From there, a series of wild and nauseating events occur that I can’t even fully explain. It basically goes through the story of mankind from Adam and Eve to the apocalypse. It’s 2 hours, but feels like 3. It’s pretentious and honestly, not a film that should be widely distributed. There are art houses for a reason.

Aronofsky is creating an exploitation as someone must actually believe. If he didn’t, he would have no film. Why would he try to satirize followers of a being he doesn’t believe in.

The film isn’t an attack on Christians as much as it is an attack on those who claim to be Christian without knowing why. If it were an attack on Christians, it wouldn’t make much sense because then the film fails to show us what happens to those Christians who do obey and love their Creator. In his vision, there are no good people whatsoever. It depicts followers as mindless, yet doesn’t show what their reward is once they die. It doesn’t show the counterargument.

The metaphor, here, is taken too literally that, at times, we end up laughing at the ridiculousness or becoming frustrated with Lawrence’s willingness to put up with all this for as long as she does.

With all of it so carefully crafted, Aronofsky makes one mistake. Mother Nature isn’t in the Bible. In fact, it seems that he’s made Mother Nature and Mary, the Blessed Mother, as one in the same. Which wouldn’t make much sense because Mary is depicted as patient and kind, constantly vouching for humans’ actions, while his Mother Nature is wrathful and protective of Earth rather than the people living on it.

With films like Life of Pi, the main character is an actual human. We go through the entire film thinking that these events could have actually happened, only to find out at the end that perhaps it was all a metaphor.

mother! is different. The events in this film are so bizarre that we know they’re impossible. Not in a sci-fi kind of way, because a good sci-fi makes you feel like the events could actually happen. The metaphor in mother! is taken way too literally that nothing feels realistic. We sit there waiting for a human reason for why everything is happening, but we slowly get less of one. Metaphors only work when you can relate on a human level. This has the opposite of that.

The film is interesting enough until the second half, when Aronofsky decides to plummet the viewer into his own opinion of religion and Christians, themselves. Bardem’s character writes a piece of work (the Gospels), which is terribly misunderstood by his fans, causing them to go crazy and turn his house into a living hell.

The problem is, Aronofsky is criticizing people for acting upon a misunderstanding, yet he gives us something that is so abstract that it almost begs for us to misunderstand it.

He gives us a, many would say, sacrilegious piece of work all while criticizing those who exploit God. So is he condemning people? Or is he trying to leave it open to interpretation, himself exploiting the Creator?

The worst part is, if a filmmaker wanted to prove these points, he could have done so without making it so head-scratching and convoluted. Maybe then, the audience could actually understand his point. Because this film, unlike the Bible, isn’t significant enough for people to spend their lives trying to figure it out.

Twizard Rating: 42

Quick Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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I’m not the type of moviegoer who likes to know much about a film’s premise prior to going to see it–especially a franchise film. With Star Wars it’s never really mattered in the past, since they fill you in during their famous opening crawl sequences. Unfortunately, Rogue One does not contain one of these. It was probably a conscious decision, since the film isn’t technically part of the main Star Wars series. But it’s in canon. It’s very closely tied in, and helps catalyze paramount events in Episode IV, so maybe they should have filled us in a bit.

They don’t. Because of this we spend the better part of the first hour playing catch-up. We find out that Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, is the orphaned daughter of the main scientist who acquiescently created the Death Star. However, he’s also secretly created a way for it to be destroyed (which clears up a lot of confusion I’ve held on to over the years).

As a young adult, Jyn is picked up by a Rebel officer, Cassian (Diego Luna)–a character mirroring a similar role to Han Solo, but not as good. He’s dry, unfunny, and uninteresting. He is, however, accompanied by a humorous droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who gives us some of the only humor throughout the film.

The lack of humor isn’t actually a bad thing. It never tries to replicate the modern humor that Marvel films have now popularized. It almost feels like a product of the 70s and 80s. Taking place immediately before Episode IV, the film does a great job of keeping that era’s technology in tact, so not to make it feel like it couldn’t fit in chronologically.

Aesthetically it’s very pleasing. We get some genuinely amazing shots throughout the film, which may at times be mistaken for a brisk narrative.

Other than the new droid and a blind warrior, Chirrut (Donnie Yen), who uses the force to win battles against Stormtroopers, we don’t get any new iconic characters to gush over. But I guess there is no need for them since this is a standalone film.

Another issue is our lack of interest towards the two main characters. Chirrut, who is a support character, is far more compelling than Jyn or Cassian. It doesn’t help that I was unclear of Jyn’s name for half of the film. I was detached. It’s like the writers realize that this is won’t be made into a series and forget that character development is allowed to exist over the course of one film. After all, Obi-Wan Kenobi dies in the first movie (spoiler alert?).

As nebulous as the first act may be, it pales in comparison to the 30 minute battle scene towards the end. It’s boring and far from captivating. But surprisingly, the film finishes brilliantly, and we appreciate again the fact that this is a standalone movie.

If you’re expecting something as jaw dropping as last year’s The Force Awakens, don’t get your hopes up. Rogue One isn’t a bad movie by any means. It’s just not undeniably good, either. People will think it’s better than it is because they want it to be, but it is what it is–a film for Star Wars completists. True fans. But with this new wave of Star Wars films being cranked out at an annual rate, I suppose it’s okay for them to toy around with spinoff stories like this.

Twizard Rating: 87

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Quick Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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A lot has changed since the first Harry Potter film was released in 2001. Heck, a lot has changed since the LAST Harry Potter film was released in 2011. The franchise helped change our modern interpretation of what a film series can be. And this prequel spin-off is proof of that. While this isn’t a Harry Potter movie, it’s part of the same world.

In the 15 years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, blockbuster films have become consistently good. Critically acclaimed. It’s not just popcorn entertainment anymore–we have higher expectations. And as the blockbusters strive for the quality of the more highbrow indie offerings being nominated for Oscars, they begin resembling them in a way.

The Harry Potter films, especially the first few, had a sort of snappy storytelling to them. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does not. It’s much slower like the later films in the previous series. Yet, the difference is, this is the setup to the next four films. By the time we got to the last few Harry Potter movies, we weren’t exactly looking for a brisk narrative. And I was hoping for this in Fantastic Beasts–albeit, probably unrealistically.

Set in 1926, an English wizard, Newt (Eddie Redmayne), comes to America for McGuffin-like reasons (and unclear, at that). He gets into some trouble as some of the fantastic beasts escape from the suitcase where he’s keeping them. As this is happening, he gets mixed in with a normal non-magical human, Jacob (Dan Fogler).

Other assorted things happen that are appealing to the audience. We get to go inside this magical suitcase and see dozens of unique creatures in this new expanded universe. It’s really cool and aesthetically pleasing.

The movie is long and not enough happens to truly justify it. Instead of using the time to thoroughly explain some of the overarching story lines, the filmmakers spend it drawing things out. Perhaps because they feel like they have to.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is great. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. It does most of the things a good film should do. While the storytelling isn’t quick, it’s still very even.

This is what director David Yates is good at, as evident in the last four Harry Potter films he directed. Though Fantastic Beasts is missing the magical world that is Hogwarts, Yates knows how to bring alive New York City in the ’20s and make it feel magical.

You will most likely enjoy Fantastic Beasts. If for no other reason than the fact that it’s the ingress back into the beloved world of Harry Potter.And Easter eggs are scattered all around. Just don’t go into it with the same expectations as its predecessors.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016)

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As I’ve said a thousand times before, the lack of live-action comedies for the younger members of our society saddens me. In the ’90s, when I grew up, you couldn’t get away from them. It was awesome. But nowadays, pre-teens’ only options for movies are of the superhero variety. Or some other big budget franchise. Unless they merely want to watch animated films with characters that aren’t human. And I’m not knocking computer animation. It’s just that during a time when empathy is getting further and further away, it’s nice for kids to see “tangible” characters that they can actually relate to.

And there have been some good live-action options for kids semi-lately. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, for example, was perfect. But many others dumb themselves down for children. And when this happens, you lose the parents as well.

Middle School isn’t like that. It’s full of quality humor and an engaging storyline that will find both kids and adults laughing out loud–the latter might even be surprised with how much they like it.

The film follows Rafe (Griffin Gluck), a middle schooler who’s been inexplicably kicked out of his previous two schools. His active imagination, along with problems with authority, get him into trouble. Especially at his new school, where the principal (Andrew Daly) acts as a warden, creating asinine rules. The kids aren’t allowed to talk in the hallways, wear colorful clothes, or even draw pictures.

Rafe isn’t having any of this nonsense and wages a war with his principal in a Home Alone-type of way. It’s highly entertaining seeing what he comes up with and how his life progresses with those around him, including his best friend, Leo (Thomas Barbusca), his sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), and his cool insouciant teacher, Mr. Teller (Adam Pally).

And with the quality talents of Rob Riggle, who plays Rafe’s borderline-abusive future stepfather, and Daly, Middle School has humor for young and old.

Yeah, the script has some issues with a couple of jarring tonal shifts, but it also refreshingly surprises us when we least expect it.

I have a hard time knocking a film that does its job. It never talks down to kids–in fact, it gets kids all too well. There isn’t some over-exaggeration of how much they use their phones. Even the banter feels lifelike. It speaks to adolescents who are at that “middle” stage between childhood and responsibility-hood. It’s a fun time that most of us took for granted. But Middle School pleasantly brings us back so we can live it over again with Rafe–in a stunningly committed first-person narrative.

This film isn’t just going through the motions, folks. There’s a lot of genuine intent throughout. Plot points and jokes that are obviously very well meditated upon. While sitting and watching this movie, I legitimately thought to myself, “This isn’t just a moneymaker for them–they actually want it to be good.”

Even if it were among the other classic live-action kid films of yesteryear, I would still go out of my way to watch it. I wish I had this movie when I was growing up. But at least I have it now.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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I feel like I’m dreaming each time I watch this movie. It’s one of my favorites and has meant a lot to me in my life.

Definitely one of a kind, due to it’s adamant surrealism, it appeals to both kids and adults.

The elusive Wonka chocolate factory is holding a worldwide contest so that 5 lucky winners can finally get a glimpse inside the factory walls and win a lifetime supply of chocolate.

It’s supposed to take place in America, but maintains an industrial European feel. Charlie Bucket, our protagonist, lives with his mother and 4 grandparents. They’re very poor, and rely on Charlie’s paper route money to get by. Which is why Charlie wants, more than anything, to win this contest.

Anyone who’s ever known they wanted something more than anyone else in the world can relate to Charlie’s childlike desire to win Wonka’s contest. It may seem frivolous, but that only highlights Charlie’s desperation. He can only imagine luxurious things. And that ingenuous mindset is what just may give him what he needs.

The film enraptures you within the first 35 minutes, before we even get inside the magical factory. And once we’re in, the film ascends to a whole new level. So full of unique ideas and concepts. Set pieces that made people depressed about the movie’s fictionality long before Avatar’s ever did.

And Willy Wonka, himself, portrayed by Gene Wilder, is a marvel. No other man could have given us such a brilliant performance. He’s sweet, he’s creepy, he’s sincere, and he’s mischievous. Roald Dahl’s original 1964 novel could be adapted for film one thousand times over, yet Wilder will always remain exclusively synonymous with the role.

Oh yeah, and the music is phenomenally perfect.

For being a “flop” from 1971, this film holds up better than most, if not all, of its contemporaries.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Sully (2016)

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I was initially wondering how they would make a 30 minute event into a full-length feature. But then I remember, this is Hollywood–they can do whatever they want.

Sully is based on the true story of 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson” where Captain Chesley Sullenberger had to safely land a plane after a flock of geese flew into both engines, causing them to fail.

The event was traumatic enough, but this film mostly details the airline investigation following the incident. Director Clint Eastwood wisely circles the narrative around, sprinkling the action amidst the drama, keeping the pacing up and saving us from having to experience a long, uninterrupted National Transportation Safety Board hearing.

Throughout the film, Sullenberger is seen interacting with his wife, played by Laura Linney, on the phone. It’s an interesting choice not to have them face to face in person. I’ve struggled to find a good reason why. Perhaps keeping them apart is to emphasize the film’s “delay is better than disaster” theme. Or maybe it’s to distance Sully from his family and show how he just longs to be home, creating irony around how he was nearly never to be home again. Or it might just be an interesting quirk that Eastwood decided to include. Whatever it is, it’s unique and adds to the film’s appeal.

Perhaps the only thing that’s distracting, though, is Linney’s acting. It might seem like it’s good on the surface. She shows a lot of emotion, yet is strong when she needs to be, but her delivery is just so off much of the time. It’s not believable. It feels like she knows she’s acting and is trying her best to sell it. Maybe it’s because she was acting into a phone the whole time.

But that’s a minor setback. The film is uplifting, just like the 2009 event itself. It gives us a glimpse inside the mind of an American hero. A normal, everyman who lifted our country’s spirits during a time when we really needed it. The film doesn’t ruffle any feathers (believe it or not, pun actually not intended). Nor does it ever really make you ever second-guess our protagonist–which is for the best, I think, in this situation. But it takes what it has and does its very best turning the material into one heck of an ode to a memorable person and event of the early 21st century.

Twizard Rating: 98

Quick Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

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It’s not the prequel to Oceans Eleven, but coincidentally it is from the same year. The Magnificent Seven is a Western remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 film, Seven Samurai.

In this 1960 version, seven gunslingers from America are hired to protect a small Mexican village from local bandits.

The ensemble cast led by Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen is not quite a sum of its parts. While McQueen and Charles Bronson boast strong performances, Brynner displays one of his weaker ones.

It’s odd, considering director John Sturges does an excellent job with McQueen film, The Great Escape, three years later. It’s as though these two films have a different director entirely. Or maybe the script is just not quite as strong. Evidence mostly points to the latter.

The plot is stretched far too thin, and the ending is not quite as climactic as we want it to be. Every once in awhile, they’ll throw us a nice line or two, but overall, the dialogue is weak. Much of the film is slow and boring, only to be saved by either McQueen or Bronson–who are as good as ever.

Also, the two leads, Brynner and McQueen have absolutely no chemistry. The writers try several times to bolster their relationship, but to no avail.

It’s not all bad. The premise is intriguing, and it gives us nice characters to root for. The production value is top-notch for the time. The set pieces are impressive, as are the shootouts. And we can’t forget about the score, which is one for the ages–granting the movie some extra points. But they’re not enough to save this disjointed film. It’s a part of history, and I could see it being impressive back in 1960, but it hardly holds up well today.

Twizard Rating: 74