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2004 Roundup
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"Man on Fire"

Directed by Tony Scott.
Written by Brian Helgeland.  Based on the novel by A.J. Quinnell. 
Starring Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning and Christopher Walken.
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  4/25/04

Folks--

There's a distinct moment of change in the new Tony Scott film "Man on Fire" where a former soldier-of-fortune, John Creasy (Denzel Washington), is talking to the mother (Radha Mitchell) of the little girl that Creasy has been assigned to protect.  You see, the little girl, Pita (Dakota Fanning), has been kidnapped by thugs in Mexico City, and although Creasy seems like a nice enough guy, he tells the mother how he's going to get the girl back from the kidnappers.

Mom:  "What are you going to do?"
Creasy:  "Anybody that gets in my way, anybody that was involved in the kidnapping...anybody that blinks an eye at me...I'm gonna kill 'em."

Then, this hard rock music plays over the soundtrack, and Creasy goes out to do just that:  get Pita back at any cost.  Along the way, lots of otherwise nice Mexicans get maimed, stabbed, blown up, tortured, shot and burned as Creasy starts a small war with dirty Mexican cops, politicians, and assassins.

But, before this, the movie was so different; at times, in fact, it was quite a nice tale of redemption for a man that has nothing to live for; when Creasy meets Pita, he warms to her quite slowly.  Creasy has (naturally) an alcohol problem, no family, and is a decorated covert operative that has killed so many people that he has tried to get "out of the game"...but the game keeps pulling him back IN!!  When he takes an assignment from an old former soldier (Christopher Walken, chewing on a hambone as he "acts" in his scenes) to protect the little girl, Creasy goes from insensitive soldier to loving bodyguard in just a few days...and, these scenes between Creasy and Pita are the best sequences in the movie.  A great scene that details Creasy's difficulty in managing a smile with the little girl will make even the stingiest of bastards grin.  For the first hour of the film, nobody has to die, everybody seems reasonably happy, and you can feel yourself getting set up for something terrible, which occurs when Pita is kidnapped by a dozen thugs who attack and leave Creasy for dead.

Then, the movie changes so drastically that when Creasy is torturing a suspect ten minutes after a ransom scene, some folks in my theater were a little (understatement) uneasy as Denzel does the hard-edged bit that worked so well in "Training Day."  Director Tony Scott, who employed many of the exact same filmmaking tactics in "Spy Game", seems to love this scatterbrain, dizzy, MTV-style filmmaking technique, which has become his modus operandi over the last ten years since his glory days of "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop 2."  Hey, if you like revenge flicks, then "Man on Fire" goes into overdrive as one baddie after another gets it the hard way, some of which is just good times, like when one guy...well, there's a remote, a timer, and a pager, and by the time Creasy takes off those surgical gloves...

I wasn't in love with the ending, but the 146-minute film is never slow, and it has great movie moments scattered throughout, like a throwaway where the Walken character is sitting on a park bench, and he spends five seconds staring at some senorita's ass.  Or when Mickey Rourke, as (you guessed it) a dirty American lawyer, drops jewels like "Just tell that prick to blankety-blank-blank."  Or the requisite sequence where Creasy--who has "connections"--hits the local gun-runner's house, to load up on roughly 20 firearms, a thousand rounds of ammunition, a dozen grenades and a rocket launcher...JUST IN CASE shit gets live.  (As you can imagine, he uses not even 5% of all of this; why do characters always go to the gun-runner's house to get all of these weapons, only to use one handgun and the sawed-off???  Chi, I want some answers.)

I thought "Man on Fire" was a good time.  It never aspires to greatness, but it doesn't bog you down with details, just the way daddy likes it.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

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 bad...man, 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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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09