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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Monday, January 25, 2010

Movie Review: "The Book of Eli"

I participated in the on-air review of "The Book of Eli" for the Rotten Tomatoes Show on Current. The long-form / written version of my review appears below.

Directed By: Albert & Alan Hughes
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis
2 Stars

I like Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mad Max, crusty wandering sages, martial arts, machetes, chainsaws, cannibals, dystopian near-futures, westerns, the Hughes brothers and the Bible.

But I didn't like "The Book of Eli."

"The Book of Eli" is well-intentioned, made by smart people and starring an incredible cast. So what went wrong? Well, for starters, the moralizing is beyond heavy handed as it patronizingly slaps the audience upside the head.

There's a moment in the film where the aforementioned crusty wandering sage, played with stoic authority (despite some of the ham-fisted cliches he's forced to spit out) by Denzel, is distracted on his seemingly never-ending slow-motion walk West (just "West," thank you) by an attempted rape and robbery in progress.

At this point, we've already seen him kill a cat and eat it. We've seen plenty of the burned out cars and broken buildings that are oh-so-familiar from "The Road Warrior" (yes!) through "Terminator Salvation" (blah). We know he's walking, carrying something precious (the words printed on my ticket stub sorta let me know that, too). And yet, the writer (Gary Whitta) and directors (Albert and Alan Hughes) feel the need have Denzel say, OUT LOUD, something like, "Don't get involved. Stay on the path! STAY ON THE PATH!"

He might as well break the fourth wall and just look at the camera and say, "Here's my character's dilemma right now! In case you're wondering what I'm thinking!" Even a voiceover would be less insulting, or better yet, an animated comic book style thought bubble could've appeared over his head.

Spoiler alert: Denzel is Eli and his Book is the Bible; a mystery built up in the trailers that is unraveled quickly on the screen. The preachiness plays out in exactly the same fashion. People had too much. The Bible might have been the reason for the great calamity, but it might also be the salvation of humankind or -- and here's where Oldman's bad guy comes in -- a great weapon of control. We know Oldman is the bad guy because the first time we see him, the camera lingers on the book he's reading about Mussolini before panning to his face. See what I mean?

Couple that with some utterly unbelievable factors: Mila Kunis, stepdaughter to the Oldman character who learns how to say Grace at the dinner table from Washington and promptly decides to abandon her mother and somewhat safe haven to follow him on his journey despite having just watched him massacre a bunch of goons in a bar with a knife that would make Crocodile Dundee blush, somehow manages to have unblemished skin, white teeth and an incredible hairdo in a world where people kill each other over water and KFC wet-naps. The moment her gorgeous face appears on screen asks more of the audience than the redonkulous ret-con plot twist at the end.

There are a few things worth admiring in The Book Of Eli: most of the acting (Washington and Oldman's delivery add a lot here, despite the best efforts of Kunis' radiance and blink-and-you'll-miss him Malcolm McDowell's wig) and much of the Hughes directing. For example, they refuse to pander to the lazy quick cutting action style. The first time we see Denzel fight, he dispatches a bunch of murderous nomads in one long, gorgeous, silhouetted shot.

Tom Waits (!) has a pretty cool little part as something of a post-apocalyptic pawn shop owner. And as a Christian, I'm all for creative takes on spreading the Christian or really any sort of positive spiritual message through art.

But "The Book Of Eli," even moreso than the directing duo's underappreciated but nevertheless flawed "From Hell," fails to deliver on the restless promise of "Menace II Society." Nothing feels urgent, meaningful or thought-provoking (unless retroactively trying to reconcile earlier scenes with the third act's big reveal counts). And it's a shame that even a movie with as many tastefully done, artful notions as this one still thinks audiences are too stupid to know what's going on.

1 comment:

Tom Bejgrowicz said...

Okay, yes – that's great, but all that aside… MILA KUNIS!!! Oh yeah… ;)