Film Review: Cold Pursuit (dir by Hans Petter Moland)

Released back in February (just in time for Valentine’s Day!), Cold Pursuit was this year’s Liam Neeson revenge flick.

This time, Neeson played Nels Coxman, a snow plow driver who speaks in a raspy tone of voice and tends to walk around with a thousand-yard stare on his face.  After his son is killed by gangsters, Nels sets out for revenge.  It turns out that Nels’s father was some sort of mob enforcer so both Nels and his brother (William Forsythe) have apparently inherited the “instinctively know how to kill” gene  So, while Nels’s wife (Laura Dern) stays at home and has a nervous breakdown, Nels heads out and starts killing folks.  Since the gangsters are led by an idiot named Viking (Tom Bateman), they all assume that they’re being targeted by a rival drug gang, one which is led by a Ute named White Bull (Tom Jackson).  So, while the two drug gangs are killing each other off, Nels is busy killing any stragglers that he comes across.  It all adds up to a lot of killing.

Cold Pursuit is different from other Liam Neeson revenge films by the fact that it’s an out-and-out parody of the genre.  So, while Neeson walks through the film with his usual glum expression and commits all the usual mayhem that we’ve come to expect from a vengeance-driven Neeson, everyone else plays their role as broadly as possible.  Tom Bateman leaves not a single piece of scenery unchewed in the role of Viking while Tom Jackson is stoic to the point of insanity in the role of White Bull.  Whenever a gangster gets killed, a title card appears, listing his name, his nickname, and his religion.  Meanwhile, two cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) prove to be comically ineffective.

And I will admit that I did laugh a few times while watching Cold Pursuit.  The scene where Neeson asks his brother to explain why everyone has a nickname made me smile.  Some of the murders are clever and the action scenes are frequently so over-the-top that you can’t help but be amused by them.

That said, Cold Pursuit didn’t really work for me.  I think the problem is that the filmmakers spent so much time trying to parody Neeson’s films that they didn’t consider that the majority of those films are themselves already parodies.  I mean, just watch The Commuter and tell me that film isn’t cheerfully winking at the audience.  Since Neeson’s screen persona hasn’t really been a serious one for close to ten years now, parodying it isn’t quite the subversive act that Cold Pursuit seems to think it is.  The difference between Neeson’s other films and Cold Pursuit is the difference between merely winking at an audience or pulling a gun on an audience while demanding, “LAUGH, DAMN YOU!”  Sometimes, the funniest jokes are the ones that you pretend you’re not making.

On the plus side, the film looks gorgeous.  It takes place in the Colorado mountains and makes great use of the frozen landscape.  And George Fenton’s score is nicely evocative and well-used in the film.  Finally, Liam Neeson is always fun to watch, even when it’s in a somewhat flawed film like this one.


Film Review: High School Lover (dir by Jerell Rosales)


So, this is an odd one.

Tonight, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere.  The film was called High School Lover and, in many ways, it was a typical Lifetime film.  As you might guess from the title, it’s tells the story of a teenage girl who defies her overly protective father and enters into a relationship with an older man.  Since it’s never a good idea to defy your parents in a Lifetime film, the older man turns out to be an obsessive psycho, the type who shows up at his ex-girlfriend’s house with a crowbar and demands that she love him.

As I said, typical Lifetime film.  Plotwise, this was almost identical to almost every thriller that Lifetime has premiered on Saturday night.

However, there were a few things that set High School Lover apart from something like Killer Coach.

Number one, the obsessive psycho was a movie star.  That’s right — Christian Booth (Francois Arnaud) is a celebrity.  He’s such a celebrity that, at one point, his teenage girlfriend is upset when she reads an article in US Weekly that claims that Christian is getting back together with his ex.  And yet, for a celebrity who is well-known enough to appear on the cover of US Weekly, it was remarkable just how much Christian was able to do without anyone noticing.  For instance, if Justin Bieber showed up at someone’s house with a crowbar and started breaking all the windows, you can be sure that the paparazzi would be right behind him, taking pictures and shouting out questions.  If Ryan Gosling picked up a teenager in a limo and then flew her around in his own private helicopter, you imagine that it would at least be mentioned on TMZ.  Yet, somehow, superfamous Christian Booth is able to do all of this without anyone noticing.

This leads me to suspect that Christian may not have been human.  Though it’s never specifically stated, I suspect that Christian may have been a vampire, an alien, or a time traveler.  He had to have some sort of mystical power to get away with everything that he did.

Secondly, this film was not only executive produced by James Franco but it also starred Franco as well!  What’s strange is that this wasn’t a parody like A Deadly Adoption or Franco’s previous Lifetime film, the remake of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?  Instead, this was a totally typical Lifetime movie with James Franco in the role that would usually be played by a former cast member of One Tree Hill.  

And yet, James Franco fit right in.  He gets to flash his winning smile and there’s a scene where he shows off some dance moves that deserves to be put in the Hall of Fame of Fearless Franco Moments.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that James Franco woke up one day and said to himself, “I want to make some movies for Lifetime just because.”  And that’s what he proceeded to do!  And let’s give some credit where credit is due.  Instead of slumming his way through the film, James Franco gave a good and sincere performance, as did Paulina Singer in the role of his daughter.

Anyway, if it sounds like I’m struggling to be objective when it comes to reviewing this film, you’re right.  I love Lifetime melodrama and, though Arleigh likes to make fun of me for this, I love James Franco too.  And really, that’s the best review that I can give you.  If you like Lifetime movies and/or James Franco, you’ll like High School Lover.

It’s just an odd little movie.  When I get around to writing my study of the career and accomplishments of Mr. James Franco, High School Lover will, at the very least, get a chapter or two.