Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Avoid this 'Contract'

If you are browsing through a video store and come across “The Contract” keep walking. Don’t allow yourself to be taken in by the pair of A-listers (Morgan Freeman and John Cusack) on the cover, “The Contract” is a stinker through and through.

“The Contract” went straight to DVD, which is rarely a good sign. The world of direct to video filmmaking includes but is not limited to cheapie sequels, low budget horror and action films starring aging former genre stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. They are easy to stop and easy to avoid, but every once in a while a film that looks like it could be worthy gets a direct to video release.

Reading the premise of “The Contract” it seems like it has the potential to be exciting entertainment. Freeman plays an assassin that through a chain of events comes into the custody of Cusack and his son (Jamie Anderson) who are hiking in the Washington wilderness in hopes of bonding after the loss of their wife/mother. Cusack decides to take Freeman to the police, but Freeman’s men are also in the forest eager to rescue their leader.

It is a hardly a new story, the remake of “3:10 to Yuma,” which is currently playing in theaters covers similar ground, but with the excellent Freeman and the underrated Cusack you at least expect there to be a well acted mind game.

“The Contract” is the worst kind of bad movie, the sort of film that wastes its talent and teases the audience with glimpses of a good movie mired in the mangled collection of celluloid that is spooling out in front of you instead.

Every component of this film is flawed. The score is overwrought, the editing slack when it should be tight, the acting poor with only Freeman coming out unscathed and the writing clumsy and stiff. The dialogue is so stilted, obvious and forced that it is clear the actors can do little with it. At one point Cusack’s son has to shout at him “Just to listen me for once Dad!”

The characters are flat at best, mere archetypes and nothing more. There’s a throw away line explaining Cusack was a former cop that is there to justify some of things he does later in the film, but why he quit isn’t explored.

In the making of feature on the DVD, Freeman explains it is more fun for an actor to play a bad guy. There is some zeal in Freeman’s performance and he is clearly relishing the opportunity to play bad. Freeman manages to make some of the hackneyed dialogue shine, but most is so awful even velvet voiced Freeman can’t salvage it.

Cusack just looks embarrassed as if he knows there’s no reason to be in this film. Lately, Cusack seems to be drawn to playing characters grieving the loss of loved ones. In “1408” it was a daughter. In the forthcoming “Grace is Gone” and “Martian Child” it is a wife. What this has to say about Cusack’s state of mind could probably fill a psychiatrist’s notebook, but for my purposes it is merely a justification for why he appeared in something so below his talents.

The supporting cast is populated with uninteresting, annoying cookie cutter characters. The most infuriating of the bunch is the tired cliché of hick rural cops that don’t know anything about city things. At one point an FBI agent asks for a croissant and the sheriff replies they never heard of them in town. That’s the level this film is on. You have been warned.

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