May 14th, 2014

CHARADE (1963) *** ½

Audrey Hepburn learns her husband has been killed and returns home to a completely empty house. While trying to get her bearings, three men try to muscle her, believing she has a briefcase full of money that belonged to her dead husband. Cary Grant is a smooth-talking rogue in cahoots with the villains who tries to romance the location of the briefcase out of her. But when the men start dying off in vicious ways, Audrey slowly begins to suspect that Cary is the murderer.

Charade is a lot of fun. The chemistry between Hepburn and Grant is rather sensational and they are a total joy to watch together. They play their romantic scenes with their tongues firmly in their cheek, and the witty banter between them is pretty funny too.

The flick also gets a lot of mileage out of the awesome supporting cast. James Coburn and George Kennedy are fun to watch as the bad guys trying to get their hands on the loot. And Walter Matthau is excellent as the CIA operative helping Hepburn.

Charade has a lot of plot twists and double and triple-crosses. I’d say about half of these twists are predictable. The ones that actually manage to surprise make up for the ones that don’t though.

The film was directed by Stanley Donen. And as with Funny Face and Saturn 3, it features a leading man almost twice the age of the leading lady, which I’ve come to believe is just one of his directorial touches. However, since the chemistry between Hepburn and Grant is so genuine, it’s a lot easier to take than in his other films.

Next week at The Clayton: It Happened One Night!

PAIN AND GAIN (2013) ****

Pain and Gain is Michael Bay’s apology for the Transformers movies. I’ve read that he’s wanted to make this film for a long time, but his commitment to that noisy, soulless franchise has kept him from it. Pain and Gain is proof that if given the right script, game performers, and a little creative wiggle room, he can deliver the goods. Apology accepted, buddy.

Bay-bashing has been a hot trend on the internet for the past decade, and Lord knows I have been guilty of it from time to time. But those Transformers movies are so bad that I think that in most cases, the bashing is justified. After three awful robot movies in a row, I think it’s easy to forget though Bay also directed one of the best action movies of the ‘90s: The Rock. The fact that the real The Rock; Dwayne Johnson is in this flick I think was a sure sign this was going to be a winner.

Marky Mark stars as a personal trainer who believes in the American Dream. He wants to get rich quick, and he figures the only way to do that is to kidnap a wealthy client (Tony Shalhoub) and make him sign over everything to him. Mark gets his two musclebound friends (The Rock and Anthony Mackie) to help with his scheme and they dress up like Ninjas and take their victim and lock him up in a warehouse full of adult novelties. Eventually Shahloub relents and signs on the dotted line. And for a while, the ruse works. Even after Shahloub goes to the cops, the police never buy his story because 1) He’s a shady character himself and 2) They don’t believe his story that two musclebound dudes dressed as Ninjas tortured him in a dildo factory. But a crusty PI (Ed Harris) does some snooping and learns that the trio’s in the midst of another potentially deadly get-rich-quick scheme.

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, Pain and Gain (which, incredibly is based on a true story) does a great job of showing the audience how the American Dream can become twisted and perverted to the point of disgusting excess. Bay does some especially fine work in the final act at detailing the lengths Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch will go through to get theirs. The scene of The Rock barbecuing human hands will stay with me for a long time. And the scene where they try to return a chainsaw to Home Depot because it got jammed in their victim’s scalp is priceless.

Bay keeps the Bay-ish camerawork to a minimum and is content on just letting his cast do what they do best. You couldn’t have asked for a better duo of leading men. No one does the “sensitive, well-meaning, but dumb as a bag of hammers lunkhead” number like Marky Mark and he gives his all-time best performance in this flick. And no one does this “naïve, good-natured, but incompetent man-child” routine like The Rock. They are simply great together and I hope they get paired together again in something sometime soon.

This movie in a lot of ways reminds me of True Romance. Most people wrote Tony Scott off as a guy who just made brainless blockbusters. But Scott proved that with a great script and actors, he could make a bona fide classic. The same goes for Michael Bay. This is his True Romance. And in time, I do believe Pain and Gain will be considered a classic.

This movie is so great that yes, I even want to see the new Transformers movie, just because Michael Bay and Marky Mark are working together again (OK, and the prospect of robot-dinosaurs doesn’t hurt either).

THE BIG SCORE (1983) **

Fred Williamson, John Saxon, and Richard Roundtree are cops who bust a slimy drug dealer. Naturally, his lawyer gets him off Scot free, which gets Fred’s blood boiling. Soon after, Fred guns the thug down during a drug deal gone wrong. When the money from the transaction goes missing, the blame is put on Williamson. Fred is then taken off the force and he sets out to find the money and clear his name.

If you can’t already tell, The Big Score is pretty routine in just about every way. The script by Gail Morgan (Death Wish 4: The Crackdown) Hickman offers no surprises. And the direction by Williamson is workmanlike to a fault. There are also some pretty bad musical numbers that stop the movie on a dime.

The reason the film remains watchable throughout is the stellar cast. Fred is excellent once again and carries the flick with charisma to spare. John Saxon and Richard Roundtree also have some good moments as Williamson’s wisecracking partners (although they disappear at about the halfway mark). We also get a great turn by Ed Lauter as the Yelling Captain of the piece, as well as Dolemite’s D’Urville Martin as a hood. Plus, you get Maniac’s Joe Spinell as the big boss. Seeing him acting alongside Bruce Glover is a real treat. But while the cast helps to make the many clichés go down a bit smoother, you can’t help but think what they could’ve done with a better script. The moody Jay Chattaway score also helps.

AKA: Terminal Force. AKA: Chicago Cop.