It’s been an astonishing decade-plus since Cuba Gooding, Jr. picked up his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jerry Maguire. Since then, he’s starred in a handful of quasi-honorable films that didn’t catch on (What Dreams May Come, Instinct, Men of Honor) and made some dubious-to-say-the-least commercial choices (Chill Factor, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip), all before tripping headlong into misguided, “bold” indie fare (Shadowboxer, Dirty) in an effort to recapture his mojo. (We won’t even dote on the faux-Oscar bait embarrassment of Radio.) Now — an entirely decent, if small and begged-for supporting role in American Gangster notwithstanding — Gooding has arrived at straight-to-video-ville, with flicks like End Game, The Land Before Time XIII and his latest muddy action drama, Hero Wanted.
Written by brothers Evan and Chad Law, and helmed by stunt coordinator
and second unit director turned first-time feature filmmaker Brian
Smrz, Hero Wanted centers on a widowed, small town trash collector, Liam Case (Gooding), who we see rescue a little girl from a car accident while his co-worker Swain (Norman Reedus) stands on. Years later, Liam finds himself caught up in the middle of a bank robbery in which teller Kayla (Christa Campbell) is shot, and slips into a coma.
It’s soon revealed that Liam not only knows the group responsible for the shooting — a group that is led by Skinner McGraw (Kim Coates), and includes Swain — but in fact wanted to stage the robbery in order to impress Kayla, whom he had admired from afar. Naturally, this perfectly nutty plan now FUBAR, a bloody trail of revenge and cover-up ensues, with Liam trying to maintain a respectful relationship with Kayla’s mother, Melanie (Jean Smart, delivering a few good scenes), while also cutting down those he views as responsible. Oh, and did I mention Liam seeking both absolution and gun training from a Vietnam vet friend of his deceased father, Cosmo Jackson (Ben Cross)? Or spurning the confused, romantic advances of 12-year-old Marley (Sammi Hanratty), the girl he saved in the aforementioned auto accident? No, because those would seem like weird, potentially forced inclusions, right? Sigh…
Ray Liotta also shows up to pick up a paycheck, as Detective Terry Subcott, the requisite lawman slowly piecing things together as he finds dead body after dead body of criminal lowlifes. He’s essentially the third or fourth male lead, and his role is hardly well integrated into the movie, though — coincidence places Terry at the same bar as Liam, where he can then recollect Liam’s previous heroics, and somehow surmise his potential complicity in this latest chain of events. Tommy Flanagan (Smokin’ Aces), Steve Kozlowski and Todd Jensen also co-star, meanwhile.
The brothers Law don’t have a firm sense of where they want to take this story, so they employ the kitchen-sink strategy of stylistic and narrative devices, throwing out jumps back and forth in time, flashbacks and, most damningly, some awful, awful narration. Gooding needs to escape movies requiring this sort of voiceover work from him, especially when it involves on-the-nose reminiscences about his character’s “obligatory father figure,” or when it opens a movie thusly: “I really wish we hadn’t started here… it’s too easy to get the wrong idea about me.” Oh brother, is it. Look, the problem here isn’t necessarily Gooding’s performance; he trots out the usual welling-tears thing he does so well, and gives it a pretty game effort, all things considered. No, the problem is that the script here is an awful, careening mess, and the movie is both hamstrung by limited means and also just not that well cast and directed. Coates, and Kozlowski, as his little brother, are each sneeringly over-the-top, and Hero Wanted never locates a satisfying, or convincing, tone.
The movie’s DVD releases comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks in both English and French, and optional subtitles in English, French and Chinese. Distributor Sony seems to understand that it faces a tough sell with Hero Wanted, so it’s tricked out in smoke-and-mirrors fashion with a couple things designed to elicit the inner myna bird in consumers — namely a lenticular, 3-D cover with Gooding and Liotta’s mugs transposed over a giant explosion that doesn’t occur in the film, as well as a huge sticker boasting a “bonus digital copy” of the movie.
Proper DVD special features include only an amiable, relatively congratulatory audio commentary track with Gooding, director Smrz and co-writer Chad Law, in which the three discuss homesickness brought about by the movie’s Bulgaria shoot, as well as other production anecdotes. Smrz also lets slip that Liotta dictated the reinsertion of at least one scene involving his character. As mentioned, there’s also a free digital copy of the film, which purchasers can transfer to their PC, PlayStation 3 or PSP (PlayStation Portable) system, pending minimal memory requirements. That’s a plus for some, I guess, who favor portability over all else. But an extra version of something so utterly shrug-inducing is, to me, no great shakes. To purchase the movie via Amazon, however, click here. To view its trailer, click here; to view a scene between Gooding and Liotta, click here. D (Movie) C- (Disc)