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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vantage Point

Usually when I go to a movie I wait for a day before I write something about it. I literally do “sleep on it” and hope that my muddled mind will find some connection between the film and my own dysfunctional existence worth commenting about or at least find something about the movie that sits in my craw and bugs me and will continue to do so until I spit it out here. That’s what’s happened after I saw Vantage Point yesterday at the Essex Cinemas.

Vantage Point is this butch manly-man story about terrorists who attempt to assassinate a fictional American President while he is attending a rally of like-minded peaceniks gathered in a plaza in Spain where he is visiting to attend a summit on the always popular “War on Terror.” Don’t you think that by this time the Bush Administration or (at least Fox News) would have copyrighted that phrase and we’d all have to put a © after The War on Terror©, like it personally belonged to them, and, it some ways, I suppose it does.

Actually, to clarify,
Vantage Point is not just about the terrorists, although as terrorists go they are an interesting mix, mostly because we see glimpses of them before their reign of terror, which includes exploding a bomb to cause as much collateral damage as possible in the aftermath of the shooting. These bombers are actually kind of a friendly bunch as killers go. They stroll throughout the crowds and chat with those present to see the President fully aware that the people they are making chit-chat with are the same they are dooming in only minutes with their incendiary device. In other words, if these folks weren’t self-styled terrorists, they’d be perfect working for the IRS. Friendly, yet with killer instincts.

Vantage Point is also about the two high-profile secret service agents assigned to protect the President, Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid; American Dreamz) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox; Smokin’ Aces). I think just repeating those testosterone-drenched names alone over and over might make any woman grow testicles. They’re sort of the male equivalent of Dorothy’s “There’s no place like home.” Quaid’s character is the more interesting of the duo because it is established early on that this is his first assignment since returning from a year-long leave after already taking a bullet for the President in a previous assassination attempt. Obviously this President has a popularity index that makes George W’s look higher than his IQ. No wonder Barnes is just a little bit jumpy. He is standing next to a bullet magnet and meanwhile his partner, Fox’s Taylor, appears almost somnambulant (or, dare I say Fox seems “Lost”?). You’d almost think Taylor had taken all of Barnes’ anxiety prescription meds and replaced the rightfully nervous agent’s bottle with placebos. Either that or it could be what Fox calls acting.

As for President Ashton himself (William Hurt; Mr. Brooks), he seems like such a passive,
unfettered sort but you have to wonder about his politics. After all, this is the second assassination attempt on his life in three years. That alone tells me he’s just got to be a Republican. I’m sorry, but you know it’s true. Nobody gets that worked up about the Democrats unless one of them is getting a little somethin' something in the oval office. It’s weird though. I always think of William Hurt as a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it was all that peyote he smoked back in 1980’s Altered States or the wanton sex and murder he engaged in with Kathleen Turner in 1981’s Body Heat. I can never get those roles out of my head, and I could never see Nixon, Reagan, or (God forbid!) George W naked in a bathtub with Kathleen Turner, not that I’d want to, and I doubt she would either.

Covering the story about the summit is the fictional Global News Network, driven by the ball-busting Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver; Be Kind Rewind), a high-powered news producer who treats this seemingly routine Presidential speech as if it was the most important memorable moment in of all their lives, which, ironically, it may well become. Leave it to a male screenwriter (Barry Levy in his debut script) to give the strongest woman of the picture the name of a German Shepherd dog. I’d complain more, but Rex is the kind of woman you can easily imagine would rip the heart out of a competitor with her bare hands if it was necessary to get her story to air first. Or if she was just in the mood for a little bloodlust.

Also in the mix is a forlorn American tourist who recently separated from his wife. Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker; The Great Debaters) has fled from his home to get some space between himself and the Mrs. and ends up, with video camera in hand, to record this day with no idea that what he expects to be an innocuous event is going to put him in a pivotal role in history.

This is exactly why it is always important to dress your best whenever you go out of the house because, hey, you never know. Poor Forest/Howard is wandering around through the entire film in what looks like a tarp made out of cafe curtains from a cheap Italian restaurant. I learned my lesson when I was 23 or so and I opened my front door once simply planning to retrieve the mail. Suddenly I found there were two escaped convicts scaling my side yard fence. Do you think I was expecting half a dozen police cars AND an overhead news helicopter at my steps? Obviously not, since I was wearing a pair of ratty sweats and a five-sizes-too-big tee shirt and no make-up. I had been cleaning the house, but if I’d known the local NBC affiliate was going to be airing footage of me on the 6:00 pm newscast I guarantee you I’d have been in pearls and stilettos. Maybe Forest Whitaker should’ve done the same.

At least the seemingly worthless young mother, Marie (Dolores Heredia; Tr3s), also in the square during this story, was better dressed. She was downright lovely, which is a good thing, because clearly she is going to have to rely on her looks since she has the maternal instincts and brains God gave a cantaloupe. I tend not to criticize the mothering skills of other women as I have been accused of being less than maternal. Just because I packed my own kids’ bags for them instead of attending their high school graduations does not mean I am not a good mother. I had to be home anyway because the locksmith was scheduled to come change the locks while they were out of the house. After all, they weren’t going to need those keys anyway since they’d be moving away to college or who-knows-where as soon as they came by to collect their belongings on the front stoop thus freeing up space for my new home office and their father’s new den. But I digress. Anyway, this Spanish slag apparently doesn’t know enough Espanola to tell her cloying eight year old daughter Anna (Alicia Zapien; Mexican tv’s "Mientras haya vida") not to play in traffic and not to copy Dakota Fanning’s annoying acting tics. Maybe they keep the population regulated differently in those predominantly Catholic countries. I know they don’t believe in abortion, so perhaps they just don’t educate their children about highway safety matters and leave it to God to sort out.

So, with all these people’s stories being told in the context of their paths crossing in one afternoon, mostly in the course of 23 minutes, which are played and replayed from the different experiences of these characters, Vantage Point is a barely controlled bit of chaos with each bit of the grander tale revealed piecemeal from all these various Vantage Points (hence the title, eh?) surrounding the dramatic attack in the Square and the events that follow. Oh, did I mention? The shooting of the President is just the beginning of this little drama. How many movies can consider the assassination of the President only an appetizer to the action to follow?

Okay, so as I said at the beginning, I try to get something from every film I see. From
Vantage Point I definitely realized a few things: The older Dennis Quaid gets the more he is beginning to morph into Randy Quaid, which is too bad, but on the other hand, he remains head-and-shoulders above Randy when it comes to his acting ability. Damn, but Dennis gets better and better with age when it comes to acting. Tragically, on the other hand, the further Matthew Fox gets away from his island the more obvious it is that he should always perform with a beach nearby to draw attention away from his limited delivery, or he should at least try to co-star with paper-thin talents like Lindsay Lohan or Jean-Claude Van Damme if he wants to look skilled. Playing with pros like Quaid, Whitaker, Weaver, and Hurt makes for a heady atmosphere and it takes more than a hit tv series to keep one from getting “Lost” amongst this crowd. Oh, and like it comes as any surprise: I learned that in “Big Boy” movies like Vantage Point the men are always strong, smart, heroic, and invincible (as long as they are on the “good” side). On the flip side, women are slow, cowardly, and somewhat dumb or they are evil seductresses, calculating, ball-busting, and pushy. In other words, the “good” men are all exactly like my perfect husband and the women are all based on the panel from “The View.”

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