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Monday, July 2, 2018

Battle of the Rubbish Action Flicks: The Hurricane Heist vs Braven

I would like to say this was planned but, honestly, I just forgot to post my Braven review last week. This is one way to make Hurricane Heist look good, I guess but, eh, it can't really look too much worse.

Both, my Braven and Hurricane Heist reviews can also be found on Channel 24.

What it's about

When Joe Braven, the head of a logger company, finds a bag of drugs in his remote forest cabin while visiting there with his young son and dementia-riddled father, he and his family soon find themselves going head to head with a group of drug runners who will stop at nothing to get their drugs back.

What we thought

If there's one thing to be said in favour of Braven, it's that, though he doesn't quite have the charisma of John Cena, let alone Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Momoa once again proves himself to be a perfectly solid screen presence. Would that I could say that his character is even remotely interesting or that the film he's in is anything more than a boring rehash of thousands of other action movies with nothing whatsoever new to bring to the table but, alas, I can't. Braven – stupid title aside – isn't so much utterly awful as it is so mind-numbingly boring in its mediocrity that I could only wish it was more actively terrible to at least give it some semblance of life.

Sure, it is almost impressively stupid in the way that none of its characters does anything even remotely logical – the whole plot of the film could have been avoided, in fact, had the baddies just waited for our hero and his father and son to leave the cottage where they left the drugs – but it's not even stupid in a way that's remotely fun. The aforementioned Dwayne Johnson (and his British counterpart, Jason Statham, come to think of it) has made an art out of turning a film's stupidity into one of its most enduring qualities but the dumbness of Braven is just that: dumb.

It has dumb characters doing dumb things to other dumb characters in a dumb plot that just gets dumber as it goes on. That's a whole of dumbness but the film's resolute refusal to be anything other than head-bangingly idiotic is only the first of its many sins. Amazingly, it's not even its worst or greatest sin. Not by a long shot. Nor for that matter, is its worst failing that it plays out exactly as you would expect a mix of a generic home-invasion movie with First Blood (that's the first Rambo film for those of you too young to remember or too unbothered to work out how the bonkers titling of that particular series works) to play out or that it has nothing discernible to set it apart from any other straight-to-video, d-grade action movies of its ilk, except that those films at least had the decency not to stink up our cinemas.

Nope, the reason why Braven isn't simply bad but is, quite simply, beneath contempt is that it's just so unbearably dull. Its action scenes aren't unimaginative but are still weirdly monotonous and uninvolving; its characters make no impact whatsoever, and its plot doesn't take a single twist or turn that can be described as unpredictable – all of which adds up to almost nothing at all. It's a film whose whole is less than the sum of its parts where all of its parts are equal, almost exactly, to zero. That it is entirely without humour or a sense of style is almost a given at this point but that it can't even do anything memorable or eye-catching with its beautiful, snowy forest setting is almost impossible to believe. If everything about the film didn't smack so heavily of laziness, it would almost be impressive that stuntman-turned-director Lin Oeding managed to put together something this wholly unremarkable.

The film has, it has to be said, gotten some perfectly decent reviews overseas so perhaps the fault lies with me. Perhaps I just sat through so many action thrillers in my teenage years that something this nuts-and-bolts just feels particularly uninspiring. Perhaps, even, unless its mixed with outside elements like comedy, scifi/fantasy or a keen sense of its own absurdity, I've just outgrown the action genre. Maybe I really do need more from my movies than endless action scenes and am looking for silly things like story, characterization and a sense of actual personality.

But, come on, surely this sort of thing should be at least a little bit fun? In a week where we have the delightful quirkiness of Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs or the genuine fun frivolity of Ocean's 8 – though, yes, you have to be a certain kind of person to enjoy the unbearable British repression of On Chesil Beach – why on earth would you waste your time with something like this? Even if none of these appeal to you and you're looking for something more squarely in the action genre, there are countless films almost exactly like this that won't cost you the increasingly prohibitive price of a cinema ticket. Why, in short, does this film need to exist?

What it's about

Will and Breeze Rutledge are brothers who saw their father killed by a hurricane when they were both young boys. Now, twenty years later, another hurricane of equal size threatens their hometown but before they can get out of town they are roped into working with a Treasury agent, Casey Corbyn, to stop a group of thieves who are using the storm as cover while they rob the US treasury.

What we thought

Director Rob Cohen is probably best known for launching the Fast and Furious franchise with a film that had none of the madcap OTT fun of the later Dwayne-Johnson-starring instalments and had to rely purely on, heaven help us, the “charisma” of Vin Diesel to carry it through. His filmography is significantly longer than that particular film, to be sure, but it is perhaps most endemic of a career made up almost entirely of directing adequate but not particularly great action movies. At his best, you get solid stuff like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story; at his worst, well, I think The Boy Next Door speaks for itself.

The good news is that The Hurricane Heist is much, much better than the truly execrable Boy Next Door, which happens to be his previous film. The bad news is that it isn't anywhere as good as much of the rest of his canon – and when you consider that the very height of his powers only ever gave us OK-ish stuff like Dragonheart and Alex Cross, that's more than a little worrying.

The very best things you could say about The Hurricane Heist is that the actual hurricane looks pretty cool – if a bit too beholden to obvious CGI – for a very modestly budgeted film and that it is, at times, so unbelievably stupid that it manages to be (very) intermittently entertaining. Plus, for something that must surely just be another paycheck for perfectly decent actors like Maggie Grace and Toby Kebbell (the latter actually playing a hero and leading man for once), they half-ass their performances slightly less than you might expect.

That's kind of it for the good stuff, though. Ralph Ineson, a generally reliable British character-actor is very, very bad here as the film's main baddie whose entire schtick seems to be playing the nice guy until he gets (rather unconvincingly) angry where he gets all up close and shouty. It's embarrassing stuff, especially when compared to the film's secondary villain (name withheld for nominal spoiler purposes) who may not have much in the way of personality but does at least boast a threatening presence.

Of course, the human villains really aren't the focus here, fortunately, and the hurricane itself is a much more convincing antagonist for our heroes to deal with. At its best, it doesn't just throw a spanner into the works but entirely overshadows any conflicts between the heroes and villains; making the most of the film's on-the-nose title. Unfortunately, the Hurricane Heist does far too often forget this and the hurricane just becomes background noise for a bunch of very unimaginative gunfights that grow very boring, very quickly. More Hurricane, less heist would have gone a long way, in other words.

The resulting film is ultimately all over the place, quality wise. Not that it's ever actually good but the way that it occasionally throws in “so bad it's funny” moments into what it is largely a very dull action flick that constantly threatens to lull you to sleep is... interesting, if a bit obnoxious. I mean, I should thank the filmmakers for throwing in a laugh every half hour or so but it really gets in the way of what the film would really be best suited for: an excuse to take a nap.

It's probably lazy to just write the Hurricane Heist off as Fast and Furious meets Twister but it's pretty unavoidable. That's almost exactly what it is. A pity, then, that it's nowhere near as fun as the former franchise at its demented best or as, frankly, notable as the latter (Twister was a huge deal back in the '90s, lets not forget) but, hey, at least it deserves to be on the big screen just a bit more than some of the real sub-straight-to-DVD trash that so often clogs up our cinemas.

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