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August 25, 2002

Movie Reviews: Blood Work and

Movie Reviews: Blood Work and Undisputed

It's been a movie kind of weekend. I went to see Clint Eastwood's "Blood Work" on Friday, and today, while I had a tire puncture plugged, I went to see "Undisputed" with Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. Maybe I'll go see another movie tomorrow. "XXX" or "Signs" or something that's been out a while, like "The Bourne Identity" or "Minority Report". I meant to see both of those earlier in the Summer, but something else always came up. Anyway, I think I was due for a movie weekend. I've been wearing braces for the last 27 months and they finally came off on Tuesday. I can finally eat Milk Duds again, and those are my favorite movie candy and I have enjoyed going to the movies and eating Milk Duds and popcorn again. My teeth are nice and straight, BTW. Braces were well worth every penny of the nearly $6000.00 I shelled out for them.

So I went to see movies.

"Blood Work" stars Clint Eastwood as an FBI agent (Terry McCaleb) who made his living profiling and tracking serial murderers. The premise is that, while in hot pursuit of a particularly nasty "Code" killer, McCaleb suffers a heart-attack and is forced into retirement before the case can be solved. The killer is never caught, and is assumed to have died after taking a slug in the chase.

Two years later, McCaleb is enjoying retirement and a new heart, courtesy of a woman who was murdered in a convenience store robbery. The woman's sister enlists his help in tracking down her killer and before you know it, McCaleb is back on the trail of the Code killer.

After watching "Silence of the Lambs", the original "Red Dragon (Manhunter)" and other movies involving the tracking of serial killers, I find that "Blood Work" is a little tired. McCaleb is the gifted profiler that's a little too good at his job, picking up all the clues that the regular cops have missed, developing a connection with the victim and the killer. I seem to remember reading "Red Dragon" and I think the lead detective in that book was extraordinarily gifted and got inside the mind of the murderer. I have a feeling we've seen profilers like this in other movies too. Maybe some of the Morgan Freeman detective stuff. "Seven", "Kiss the Girls", etc. Most of those movies did it better, by the way. McCaleb eventually follow the trail of clues to the killer, just like you knew he would.

I won't give away any plot twists, but I will say that the movie telegraphs the whodunit bit early and often. I knew who the killer was inside of 15 minutes and pointed out plot twists before they happened throughout the movie, much to the annoyance of my movie watching partner. Yes, I talk during movies. I blame it on "Mystery Science Theater 3000". It's a deep-seated need to provide running commentary throughout a show. My friend seemed to be a bit flummoxed as to how I deduced who the killer was so early on, but if you've seen enough of these types of movies, you too can predict it pretty easily.

Some of the acting was pretty poor, too. Eastwood did a pretty good job, and he provided at least one Dirty Harry moment, which I found entertaining. There were moments when he was supposed to be old, pale, and tired. You knew this because the characters around him commented on it. But I never really got that feeling. Clint managed to pull off old a few times, but he was a little too tan to pull off pale and tired. (Al Pacino did a MUCH better job of this in "Insomnia".) Anjelica Houston played the concerned doctor pretty well, but the movie could have easily been made without her. Jeff Daniels plays the bumbling sidekick a la "Dumb and Dumber". That should be a good enough description of the acting work he had to do for most of the movie. Wanda De Jesus was thoroughly wooden in the role of the bereaved sister out for justice. Paul Rodriguez was supposed to provide comic relief, I think, but the character was so stereotypical and trite that it didn't really work. Tina Lifford deserves mention as an ex-partner of McCaleb's.

In the end, I didn't find the movie suspenseful, which I think is what the really good movies in the genre tend to be. I didn't feel the tension that I think the movie would have liked to convey. Given that, the movie is ultimately forgettable. I was entertained, but I think that was mostly because I was puzzling out the plot. If you've been wanting to go see it, I would probably say go. If you are an Eastwood fan, you'll probably enjoy it. It's at least a good excuse to eat popcorn and Milk Duds for dinner. Rating: C+ or 2 1/2 stars.

I liked "Undisputed" more, though I think I expected to enjoy it less. I tend to think that the previews they show before a movie is an indicator of how good the movie will be. I was getting pretty nervous about the film as I watched previews of teen schlock movies "Abandon" with Katie Holmes and "Swimfan". (I guess the filmmaker's figured that "Cruel Intentions" was a fairly good remake of "Dangerous Liasons" (though I don't know why they would think this after actually watching the movie), so they could make another Glenn Close film, "Fatal Attraction", into a teen movie too.) Things got better when they showed the preview for "Red Dragon" with Ed Norton and Anthony Hopkins. I relaxed a little. And then they threw me a curveball. They showed the preview for a movie called "Shaolin Soccer". It starts off innocently enough. It's "Kung-Fu Theater". Great. I loved Kung Fu movies when I was growing up. And then they started playing soccer. I didn't know how to feel. I don't generally like soccer. But I like kung-fu. But I don't like soccer. Will I go see this movie or won't I? Hmmm. Well, they do show some fairly nice effects in the trailer. And even if it's soccer, it's kung-fu. I'm guessing I'll probably see it at some point.

So, I didn't know what to expect with "Undisputed". I mean, I expected lots of boxing and lots of men hitting each other, which is why I went to see the movie, really, and I wasn't disappointed. I just didn't know whether to expect the movie to be any good or not.

You'll all be happy to know that I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the movie has it's share of machismo, but it also takes some pain to flesh out the motivation of the major characters, played by Snipes and Rhames. Snipes plays an ex-professional boxer, Monroe Hutchen, who has spent the last 10 years of his life in prison for murder, fighting and beating all comers. He's the undisputed champion of the prison boxing circuit. Rhames plays James "Iceman" Chambers, a Mike Tyson-esque undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, convicted of and sent to prison for rape. Hutchen seems to seek solid proof that he could have been a contender if he had stayed out of prison. Chambers is out to prove no one can take away the things he fought for and won, no matter who tries.

I found myself going back and forth trying to figure out who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. I spent a large portion of the film wondering who was going to win in the inevitable confrontation, and who would lose. This movie really doesn't work that way. I couldn't figure out who to pull for. Chambers seems to be the bad guy of the film, but he's a bad guy that you find a lot of sympathy for, which kinda makes him the good guy. The film does a good job of not giving answers as to who is right and who is wrong and who should win and why, and I respect the picture for that.

One of the more noticeable things about the movie was the camera work. The camera moves around a lot and the scenes are stilted and chopped, but not in a distracting way. It seems pretty fresh and "artistic". It really adds to the film, rather than detracting from it.

The main character in the film is definitely Chambers, and Rhames does a really good job providing depth in the role. I have been kind of a fan of Rhames since "Pulp Fiction", but I always thought that his acting was a little shallow. I think he finally proves his acting chops in this movie. I think it'll get him some better roles in the future. I was impressed. I think Snipes has been one of the better action heroes in American film over the last decade or so, but he gets away from that with some serious acting in this picture. He didn't have a lot of time on screen necessarily, and he didn't have a lot of dialogue, but he was really believable as the no-hope-for-redemption inmate-for-life. Peter Falk is the only other actor in the film worth mentioning. He plays an aging mobster slash lifelong boxing fan slash fight promoter. There is one humorous scene in which Falk does a pretty good job of making the warden an "offer he can't refuse".

All that being said, there is still a lot of men hitting other men with their fists, which is why I really went. No one who has seen an actual heavyweight boxing match would claim that the boxing in the film was real. For one thing, real heavyweights tend to hit each other a lot less and hug each other a lot more. You could tell that Rhames and Snipes had done their homework as far as boxing goes, though.

As with all boxing movies, to judge how good the movie is, the comparison must be made with the original "Rocky". "Undisputed" isn't as good as "Rocky". It doesn't provide quite the character insight that "Rocky" does, and the fighting is a lot more idealized, but it does try to do some of the same things. Rating: I give it a solid B+, or 3 stars out of 5.

Posted by Kehaar at August 25, 2002 12:15 AM | TrackBack
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