Skeet Ulrich

Armored (2009, Nimród Antal)

Antal’s composition is so strong, I would have thought Armored could get away with almost anything and still be a solid diversion. The action direction is good but not anything special–the chase sequences are boring, for example. But Antal’s composition for conversations? It’s amazing; sort of a cross between Michael Mann and seventies Steven Spielberg. It’s just stunning.

Armored‘s ending is rather weak. They close fast instead of spending forty seconds to make the resolution make sense. This incomplete ending comes after a particularly perfunctory action sequence. It’s a gimmick picture–Die Hard in an armored truck–and writer Simpson maybe has enough script for seventy-five percent of the film’s ninety minute running time. They can pad, but not enough to cover.

The acting is good–the cast is better than one would think, especially Columbus Short. Simpson’s script is just good enough Short can deliver a phenomenal performance. It’s too bad it wasn’t better though, since the role should have gotten Short some recognition. It’s not a dumb action movie, it’s a flawed heist movie with a lot of potential.

Matt Dillon and Larry Fishburne are both solid in supporting roles. These days, both are playing world weary heavies. Armored is not different. It’s interesting to see former teen heartthrobs Dillon and Skeet Ulrich in this one, playing unglamorous “regular” guys. Ulrich is fine. He’s finally learned to act.

Milo Ventimiglia is unexpectedly good. Fred Ward and Jean Reno are wasted. Amaury Nolasco barely makes an impression.

So, Armored is nearly mediocre.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nimród Antal; written by James V. Simpson; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Armen Minasian; music by John Murphy; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by Joshua Donen, Dan Farah and Sam Raimi; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Matt Dillon (Mike Cochrane), Jean Reno (Quinn), Laurence Fishburne (Baines), Amaury Nolasco (Palmer), Fred Ward (Duncan Ashcroft), Milo Ventimiglia (Eckehart), Skeet Ulrich (Dobbs), Columbus Short (Ty Hackett) and Andre Kinney (Jimmy Hackett).


As Good as It Gets (1997, James L. Brooks)

As I recall, there were lots of production issues with As Good as It Gets, specifically in terms of boosting Cuba Gooding Jr.’s role (after winning his Oscar) and maybe shortening Skeet Ulrich’s. It all shows, as does the uneasy rewrite Brooks did of Mark Andrus’s script. I have no idea what Andrus’s original script read like, but the filmed version is a confused mess. A lot of As Good as It Gets feels like the filmmakers grafted the Helen Hunt character and plot on to the Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, and cute dog plot–especially given how there’s a natural flow to that plot, but not a natural one to the romance. The final scenes with Kinnear and Nicholson play really well, while the final scene with Nicholson and Hunt plays like a romantic comedy unsure how to finish and doing the best it can.

The problem with As Good as It Gets–one encompassing the script problems too–is the lack of atmosphere. It’s competently directed, but artlessly made (John Bailey’s photography is dull and Hans Zimmer’s score is trying for cute). A lot of it filmed in California–sitting in for New York–and while it doesn’t quite show, the tone is wrong. It feels like a sitcom, especially in the first hour with the scenes at the restaurant. It’s as real as an episode of “Friends” and a lot of the pseudo-quirky casting lends itself to that tone–Jamie Kennedy in a practically dialogue-less role, Harold Ramis popping in (even if Ramis is really funny). And the lack of weight to Hunt’s kid’s medical problems. Seven and a half years of dire medical problems get wiped away in order to make for an easy movie. The lack of any real medical reasoning for Nicholson’s condition (he’s a bigot, where’s he get the pill to fix that one?). The absence of resolution to Kinnear’s assault… As Good as It Gets wipes them all away.

The (very) general filmmaking competence and good performances carry it. Gooding is a lot of fun and any additional scenes for him are welcome. Ulrich is awful, but he’s barely there. The Oscar-winners… well, neither of them deserved them, especially not Hunt. She’s fine, but all of her acting tricks are the same she used on “Mad About You.” And her sometimes implied Brooklyn accent is mistake. Nicholson’s good, but it’s kind of pointless. It’s not an ambitious performance for him–and the scene where he talks about playing the piano, bringing up Five Easy Pieces, just reminds he should have been doing something much better. Then there’s the one who didn’t win, Kinnear, who certainly deserved it. Kinnear’s performance is fantastic, as he brings this cookie cutter character to a real level. Only Kinnear manages to convince he’s not a sitcom character.

Given James L. Brooks’s pedigree, As Good as It Gets ought to be a lot better. But it’s amiable and well-paced for two hours plus and occasionally real funny. And a lot of the acting makes it worthwhile… but it’s a shame about Brooks.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James L. Brooks; screenplay by Mark Andrus and Brooks, based on a story by Andrus; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Richard Marks; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea and Brooks; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Melvin Udall), Helen Hunt (Carol Connelly), Greg Kinnear (Simon Bishop), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Frank Sachs), Skeet Ulrich (Vincent), Shirley Knight (Beverly), Yeardley Smith (Jackie) and Lupe Ontiveros (Nora).


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