Sunday, February 12, 2012

Keep Your Enemies Close

If you’ve seen the Kevin Costner thriller NO WAY OUT—and probably even if you haven’t—you’ll guess the not-so-stunning twist early in the screenplay by 3:10 TO YUMA and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS’ Michael Brandt and Derek Haas.

To be fair, they expect you to guess it (hell, the trailer gives it away), which is why they reveal it in the first half-hour and then pull a new one out of their asses at the end. Sloppy scripting and the miscasting of sitcom actor Topher Grace (THAT ‘70S SHOW) as a rookie FBI agent help make THE DOUBLE no more than a steady espionage thriller of little resonance. Perhaps that's why it only slipped onto 45 theater screens in the fall of 2011.

And the storytelling is indeed clunky. Debuting director Brandt not only expects us to believe nobody will chase a Russian assassin who escapes from a hospital room, but that he can be killed fifty yards from the door, and no one will find the body until the next day. Richard Gere, looking as sleek as ever, does his best to charm his way through the adventure, starring as Paul Shepherdson, a former agent called out of retirement by CIA director Highland (Martin Sheen).

In the 1980s, Shepherdson was instrumental in chasing the Cassius 7: a group of Russian hitmen trained by the mysterious Cassius. All but Cassius were captured or killed, and because the leader hasn’t been heard from in more than twenty years, Shepherdson believes him to be dead. Until someone using Cassius’ M.O. murders a U.S. senator. Highland assigns the reluctant Shepherdson to work with young Ben Geary (Grace), who wrote his Harvard thesis on Cassius and knows the faceless killer better than anyone else. Except Shepherdson, of course.

Although THE DOUBLE is narratively shaky, Brandt shows promise as a director. The action is framed nicely, and the complicated story isn’t difficult to follow. Grace isn’t believable, but he isn’t laughable either, and all the performances are competent. Brandt even stages a decent car chase, as these things go in the 21st century, and caps it with a very nice stunt. He also manages to make Michigan look like Washington, D.C. and photograph his locations well. With a better script at his disposal, Brandt could very well become an assured journeyman behind the camera.

No comments: