Saturday, August 4, 2018

Movie Reviews: Traffik, Truth or Dare, Laws of Attraction

directed by Deon Taylor
It is ironic that a movie which wants to make some points about the modern sexualized abuse of women, and which makes some hamfisted allusions to historical American slavery, and which was produced by its Black female lead, also spends a lot of time showing off said female lead in a manner which invites the (male) viewer to do a lot of leering. 

Not that I'm complaining. Patton does look really good in Daisy Dukes and tight and/or low cut tops. There's no doubt about that. My problem was that the story's writing and some of its acting weren't enough to make this movie a real winner. All the closeups of Patton's legs or cleavage, wonderful as they are, don't change that. 

Traffik was an update of similar 1970s movies that starred such Black actresses as Tamara Dobson or Pam Grier. Like those cinematic forerunners Patton combines victimization with a willingness to fight back. I liked the grindhouse style/close up camera work. I liked the invocation of fear that many Black citizens can experience when they are surrounded by whites who have made it clear that Blacks aren't welcome in their neck of the woods.

But some of the writing choices took me out of the story repeatedly. I wish thriller writers would retire "We don't have any cell phone service here" or "Look no one needs to get hurt" or other tropes that only serve to make people do stupid things. 

Brea (Paula Patton) is an idealistic and annoyingly self-righteous reporter for the Sacramento Post. Brea's tendency to ignore deadlines, include obscure literary or political references in articles, or needlessly editorialize annoys her down to earth boss (William Fichtner). Her boss gives Brea's big scoop to another reporter. Obviously, Brea doesn't like this and shares her displeasure. The boss suggests that Brea take some time to decide if journalism is really for her. He doubts that it is. Well that stinks. But what the hell, right. It's Brea's birthday. Brea's good guy mechanic fiance John (Omar Epps) takes her on a romantic retreat to a northern California mansion. John also intends to pop the question. 

Unfortunately the mansion is owned by John's boyhood friend, the sports agent and commitment phobic Darren (Laz Alonso) who (1) has a knack for ruining John's plans and (2) somehow always seems to be in the right spot to see Brea when she's partially undressed. Darren's long suffering girlfriend is Malia (Roselyn Sanchez).
En route to the mansion Brea has a weird encounter with a strange trashy woman (Dawn Oliveri-basically reprising her role from Taylor's movie Supremacy) while John has his own confrontation with some racist bikers. Brea and John only have a brief romantic interlude before Darren and Malia show up uninvited. The biker gang leader (Luke Goss) believes that one of the friends has his property. Can the friends negotiate or will they have to fight? Can they get help from the local sheriff (Missy Pyle)?
This movie could be Deliverance for black folks. It plays to the apprehension that some have for overwhelmingly white rural areas as well as the cultural memory of mass rape/sexual assault. There's plenty of violence, tons of cleavage, and people acting mindlessly for plot reasons. Cheesy entertainment if you're in the mood but no more than that.

Truth or Dare

directed by Jeff Wadlow
This movie was the very definition of formulaic. It ran long at one hundred minutes. This film could have been easily contained in 45 minutes or even a half hour. I have seen almost the exact same scenario handled much better in a SupernaturalCharmed, or Friday the 13th episode. There are certain rules to this stuff, as rather humorously detailed in Zombieland and to a lesser extent Shaun of the Dead. Characters do stupid stuff. In fact watching this movie made me wonder if every character had been repeatedly hit in the head with a shovel at birth.  

The protagonists are medical students who are about to graduate college. They need more binge drinking and guilt free hedonism. So they head to Mexico which is of course where every entitled American goes to get wasted. Getting bored, for whatever reason the group allows a stranger to join their party. He invites them to play a game of truth or dare at an abandoned church. 

Revealed secrets and homoerotic acts involving both sexes follow. The interloper disappears while one of the women (the responsible one and we know this because she'd rather be building homes for Habitat for Humanity) has some strange visions. The Americans return home. But the game follows them. Each friend starts to have visions and see demonic distorted faces who ask them "Truth or dare?"

Choosing truth will produce an answer that will hurt a friend or loved one. Choosing dare will require a stunt that is suicidal or homicidal. Refusing to play is deadly. The students search for the fellow who inveigled them into playing this game and try to discover if anyone else is playing. 
There's no emotional link to any character.  Stories such as Final Destination or even And Then There Were None built more suspense and excitement. To add insult to injury, the special effects stunk. Don't waste your time on this. Even as a cheap Saturday afternoon thriller, this didn't deliver.

Laws of Attraction

directed by Peter Howitt
If you have an IQ higher than a carrot you already know how most romantic comedies end up. Usually such films aren't in the habit of changing that formula. The drama and fun is in the chase and dance of life, not the ending. In this iteration, an older film, the two crazy kids chasing after each other aren't young at all but two massively successful middle aged New York divorce attorneys. 

Aubrey Woods (Julianne Moore) is a by the book buttoned up partner at a large law firm. Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) is a flamboyant chaotic solo practitioner lawyer who seems to live by the maxim that he'd rather be lucky than good. Of course he's a lot smarter than anyone, including Aubrey initially, gives him credit for being. Daniel will go to almost any extreme to win a case, including using Aubrey's panties as a court prop. As you might have guessed this film was made long before the #metoo movements. 
Daniel is unashamed of his success or masculinity. He's unwilling to hold back in the court room against Aubrey. He thinks that would be patronizing her. He doesn't patronize women he respects. Much, anyway.
Aubrey gives just as good as she gets. Over time the duo becomes famous for their battles against each other in New York courtrooms. They also become more interested in each other beyond the physical. Until they met each other neither Aubrey or Daniel had ever lost a case. Aubrey's mother (Frances Fisher) is a woman with a pretty high husband body count, something that has made Aubrey cynical and gun shy about marriage. Despite his daredevil love em and leave em pose, Daniel is ultimately a romantic.

When Aubrey and Daniel find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter divorce case between a lecherous rock star (Michael Sheen) and an arrogant fashion model/designer (Parker Posey), the two lawyers discover that their attraction to each other may have finally tipped over into something Aubrey didn't want to admit. This was a silly little film that was better done years ago in the old film Adam's Rib. As I wrote, this movie hits most of the romantic comedy cliches, including a mad dash to and through the airport by one person trying to prevent their special rider from leaving them forever. Moore and Brosnan looked like they had good chemistry together. This is an optimistic movie. Nevertheless, this film is resolutely nothing special. It's good comfort food.

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