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The Two Franks

Hello again everybody, and welcome back to the column you can safely ignore. This week I bring you a disquieting tale of extremes, of sin and repentance, of broken rules and broken diets. It isn't actually a film, it's my own life, but I've cunningly managed to work a couple of
reviews in to justify Shazz publishing it in the Post...

The Moronico Grand Prix

I can't help but think back to one of the hardest decisions I've had to make recently. It was a matter of long-term gain set against short-term self-gratification, one of integrity versus greed. Yes, I was sitting in a pizza restaurant trying to decide whether or not to have
the sticky toffee pudding. If I did, I would feel guilty afterwards. It would do me no good beyond the immediate warm glow of sated gluttony. It would make a mockery of my resolution to diet this year. (But it came with custard, so I decided to - ahem - diet another day, and had
it anyway.)

And now I'm faced with much the same dilemma as I lie here on my chaise-lounge, dictating this to one of the footmen, thinking about saying some positive things about the new action movie The Transporter. I want to say nice things about this film as I enjoyed it so much, but I'm well aware that I really shouldn't because it is blatantly a very bad film indeed. I will feel guilty later. I will probably regret it. What little credibility I have left will probably desert me. But I must do what I must do.

In the mid 1990s Luc Besson looked like becoming a genuine Hollywood player, following the successes of Leon and The Fifth Element. But for some reason he's turned his back on the big studios and nowadays seems content to midwife mid-range action movies
like Kiss of the Dragon and now The Transporter (which he co-wrote and produced). Apparently directed by Cory Yuen (although there seems to be some deliberate obfuscation about this), this is the tale of Frank, an army veteran who has settled on the French Riviera. Sometimes he hails from North America. Sometimes he hails from North
London. It all depends on which accent Jason Statham, who plays him, decides to employ in that particular scene. Frank is a freelance criminal specialising in getaway driving and being a courier of illicit materials. He is, of course, icily professional, living by his own set of rules. (Rule Number One is not 'no women, no keeds' but apart from this he is basically Leon with a driving licence.) But his carefree life, doing the odd job with the connivance of the local flics (happily, this means he doesn't have to wear disguise at work and can do most of his getaway driving in his own car!), comes to an end when he discovers a package he has been contracted to deliver contains the lovely, if occasionally unintelligible Lai (Qi Shu). His client, the oddly-monikered Wall Street (Matt Schulze), takes umbrage at Frank's peeking at the merchandise and tries to have him killed. (Refreshingly, Frank isn't at all bothered about the kidnapping, only becoming outraged when his car is blown up.) It all turns out to be something to do with slave-trading, illegal immigrants, Frank taking his shirt off a lot and kicking people in, and a bizarre amount of product placement for an obscure brand of beer...

Jason Statham is one of those compellingly bad actors who only rarely come along. (My kitchen can act better than Statham.) His wandering accent is quite alarming enough but when coupled to a role which borders on the self-parodically clich├ęd, well, we're in for something a bit special. That said, however, this man can do the business in the fight sequences, believably crunching his way through legions of goons before all is done and dusted. He's part Bruce Willis, part Peter Ebdon, and always entertaining to watch.

Qi Shu struggles a bit in comparison, mainly because it's obvious that she's not acting in her first language. The script tries to help her out by restricting her contribution to high-pitched squeaks or unsubtitled Chinese for much of the film, but inevitably moments
arrive when she has to speak in English. And what dialogue she has! Her first line is 'I have to pee! Do you want me to do it in your car?' (Statham's face at this point must surely resemble Wittgenstein's after just discovering a logical fallacy in the Tractatus.) Later on we get the gnomic 'He brew up your car! He brooned down your house!' which to me only suggests the producers couldn't afford to have her part redubbed, and (said with an admirably straight face) 'He was a bastard, but he was still my father.' As the villain, Matt Schulze is weak, and the only other acting contribution worth mentioning comes from Francois Burleand as a world-weary detective, whose rather sly performance suggests he's entirely aware of the quality of the film he's appearing in.

The script has no truck with conventional niceties like logic, characterisation, motivation, or plausibility (Frank never bothers to ask Lai why she was being delivered to the villain!), instead lunging about from one action sequence to another. And this is the saving grace of the film, because the fights and chases are outstandingly well staged. (Even if the climax is nicked piecemeal from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Licence to Kill.) Yuen directs with enormous energy and pace (occasionally at the expense of the film's coherence) and the cinematography is beautifully warm and vibrant - so much so that it rather resembles a car advert for much of the running time.

Ludicrous script. Atrocious acting. Frenetic direction. Great fight choreography and stuntwork. The results are terrible, but it's an enormously entertaining sort of terrible. A guilty pleasure, and already a hot favourite for success at next year's Lassie awards.


Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit

I did my best to atone for the sticky toffee pudding by going for a long walk round the local marina where the family yacht, the Rampant Laddie, is currently having fresh barnacles applied. But how to do penance for The Transporter? Well, there was only one thing for it, make the trip out to the local (in the broadest possible sense of the word) art-house cinema and spend some time absorbing serious culture.

As luck would have it, this week's film turned out to be Donnie Darko, which attentive masochists will recall was on last year's list of films I was annoyed at having missed. (This week's Senior Citizens pic, I noticed with interest, was the axe-murderer horror movie Frailty. Hmmm.) The debut picture from writer-director Richard Kelly, this really is one for the 'how in hell did this ever get made?!?' file as it's certainly the most comprehensively weird movie to get a major release since Being John
Malkovich
.

It's the tale of the eponymous teenager, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Donnie is a brilliant but disturbed young man living in the quiet suburban community of Middlesex with his parents and sisters. Already seeing medicated and seeing a psychiatrist (Katharine Ross) following an undetailed incidence of arson, Donnie's life gets even more peculiar when he receives a visitation from the mysterious Frank, a seemingly-demonic presence in the shape of a man in a bunny-rabbit suit. Frank saves Donnie's life when a jet engine falls out of an empty sky
through his bedroom ceiling, and slowly begins to exert a strange influence over Donnie's actions...

A simple synopsis can't do justice to the sheer scope and range of Kelly's incredibly eclectic script, which slides easily from John Hughes-style high school comedy-drama, to bizarre, unsettling fantasy. There are also echoes of Heathers in the film's black humour and dark tone. Kelly runs the pop-culture gamut from the Smurfs to Evil Dead to the work of Graham Greene, and quite happily shifts from a hilarious scenes such as Donnie's haranguing a worthless motivational speaker (a surprisingly good Patrick Swayze) to mind bending discussions of destiny and the nature of the universe, and strange dream-like fantasy sequences.

This is a massively, deceptively complex story, and probably a film you need to see twice to even begin to fully understand. Is it about time travel, parallel universes, the nature of fate, or something else entirely? Personally I found the conclusion - where all is not quite
made clear - to be bleakly romantic, but I think everyone seeing the film will come away from it with their own idea of what it actually means (and there are some very detailed explanations of some of the theories out there in cyberspace).

The cast do it full justice - as well as the previously mentioned performers, there are great turns from Jena Malone as Donnie's girlfriend, Maggie Gyllenhaal as his sister, Drew Barrymore (who exec-produced and whom we therefore should probably thank for the film
being made at all), Mary McDonnell, and Beth Grant, to name but a few. There's a terrific 80s soundtrack, too.

Apart from the fact that it's one of many current movies and TV shows that mention child abuse in such a way as to simply devalue the seriousness of the crime, there's not much I can find wrong with Donnie Darko. It's a film that entertains and amuses at the same time that it's prying your subconscious open and inserting a lot of very strange material indeed. I saw the lunchtime showing and for the rest of the day images and concepts from the film kept erupting, seemingly at random, into my mind's eye, a rather peculiar and distracting experience. Donnie Darko probably shouldn't work at all, let alone as well as it does. But Kelly pulls it off, and has made one of the most distinctive and absorbing films of recent
years. Recommended.


Awix


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