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"Catch a Fire"

Directed by Phillip Noyce.
Written by Shawn Slovo.
Starring Derek Luke, Tim Robbins, and Bonnie Henna.

Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  10/12/06


Who doesn't love a little political thriller intrigue set in Africa?  The new apartheid-era drama "Catch a Fire" has maybe the worst title of the year but some interesting material to cover in 197X South Africa.

Director Phillip Noyce ("The Quiet American", "Clear and Present Danger" and "Dead Calm" are probably his best efforts) helms the true account of factory foreman-turned-guerrilla Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke, from "Antwone Fisher" and "Pieces of April"), who spends the better part of what feels like a couple of years being harassed by South African anti-terror cop Nic Vos (Tim Robbins).  Vos, investigating a mysterious explosion overnight at the same plant where Chamusso happens to work, becomes convinced that Chamusso is, after dragging him into custody and torturing him for weeks, he discovers the truth from Chamusso (which we see early on)--that he was playing hookie that night from work and skipping out on his wife (Bonnie Henna) and his family by hangin' with another woman.  After Vos lets Chamusso out of imprisonment, he spends the next few months with the local activist/terror group in the region, the African National Congress...and makes an effort to get back at those that wrongly imprisoned him, Vos among them.

At times, "Catch a Fire" (STILL can't believe how bad that title is) is great stuff, especially as we follow Patrick through his life as a good man trying to stay out of trouble with the law.  We get a little culture, we get to watch Patrick as a family man, we get to watch him try to keep the business of his co-workers clean to keep them out of the hands of the cops.  Even when we first get to see Patrick post-cop-abuse start his training to become a violent terrorist, Noyce does good work to keep us hooked by making us see a man's situation when the majority is strangely out of power and are slaves to the vast minority, in this case the purported 8-to-1 black-to-white ratio at the time the action of the movie is taking place.

But the movie's switcheroo once Patrick decides to desert his family to become a militant mostly takes a turn for the worst; the strong family elements that make "Catch a Fire" such a great study in what a man would do to right wrongs imposed against him disappear, and all of Patrick's personal relationships essentially end.  The action in the second half isn't as well filmed as in past Noyce efforts; the Robbins character--already approaching stereotypical menacing bad guy by the time his character finds the heart to let Patrick go free after those made-up charges from the intro--becomes even less interesting, thanks to poor development in the script of his character and the nearly-complete deletion of his family in the second half.  Now that I think about it, nearly all of the backstory writing for characters in this film was leaves a big void when you've got no other characters to speak of besides our hero.

But, I still think that "Catch a Fire" is worth seeing, especially for the subdued-yet-forceful Luke performance and the first-half storytelling.  I'm sure that I am partially biased because I saw the film for free tonight...but, give it a shot if you're hangin' out at a theater on a weekend afternoon.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09