Thursday, September 11, 2008

'Dangerous'ly dull

Foreign directors remaking their own film in Hollywood is an exercise in futility. It is a feeble attempt to get a wider audience by playing off the cynical assumption that most Americans are too lazy to watch a subtitled film, even an action based one. They’re probably right.

“Bangkok Dangerous” is the latest foreign film to get made over for American audiences. The Pang Brothers of Hong Kong were brought into retool their 1999 film of the same name. The original centered on a deaf-mute assassin, but in an effort to pander to the masses the new version stars Nicholas Cage hearing just fine and talking up a storm through a cliché laden narration.

The Pangs' first Hollywood film was the uninspired “The Messengers,” which, while not a remake of an Asian horror film, was so derivative it might as well have been. Now the Pangs are dumbing their own work down. What’s the point in coming to Hollywood to simply make conventional junk? Hopefully they’re taking their paychecks and making more interesting films back home.

Cage is a good actor with a terrible eye for scripts. With the right material he is very good as can be evidenced in “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Adaptation,” “Matchstick Men” and “Lord of War.” With bad material he can be just plain dreadful as was the case in 2006’s “The Wicker Man,” one of the most unintentionally hilarious films of recent years.

Sometimes Cage’s quirky way of delivering lines and his oddly dynamic screen presence is just enough to make a bad or mediocre film watchable. Such is the case with “Bangkok Dangerous,” at least for awhile. Cage is just fine as Joe, a lone assassin who grows a conscious when he breaks one of his cardinal rules of not making any human connections.

The film opens promisingly with a prologue in Prague that reveals Joe’s methods. Soon Joe arrives in Bangkok for a series of hits that will take place over the span of a month. He hires an errand boy (Shahkrit Yamnarm), who becomes his student, and falls in love with a mute girl who works at a pharmacy (Charlie Young).

The dynamic between Yamnarm and Cage, though awfully familiar and not presented with any freshness, works in spite of itself, but any of the scenes with Young bring the film to a halt. The love story is boring at best and completely extraneous at worst. Young is meant to help Cage see the error of his ways, but Yamnarm serves the same purpose more effectively.

This is an action movie, so at the very least it should deliver the goods in that regard. The assassinations are well-staged and paced. One set underwater in a pool is particularly interesting. Another leads into an elaborate chase that wears out its welcome but has a jaw-droppingly unexpected outcome.

The film barely gets by for awhile on its stylish direction and muted cinematography that utilizes its Bangkok locations well. Things completely unravel, though, in a laughably bad final sequence in which Cage essentially becomes Rambo. These final scenes are set in the most over-used, unimaginative action setting: the abandoned factory.

In the final moments, the film nearly redeems itself with a surprisingly unconventional end, but even that is undermined by lingering too long on a critical moment. Cage can do better. And so can the Pangs.

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