So Joaquin Phoenix is permanently retiring from acting (old news)… to become a rapper? And brother-in-law Casey Affleck is filming a documentary about it? I call bullshit. Oh, it might be happening. Just like Ewan McGregor once grew a crazy prospector’s beard, joined the circus and rode motorcycles across six continents or whatever with Charley Boorman. But I prefer to think of this as some art project dare conceived after 10 or 12 Red Bull and Stolis at a party with Brett Ratner, or a bold-stroke mid-life pause button (after all, nothing helps one endorse whimsicality quite like a comfortable bank account), all before an eventual reinvention. I’d place the odds that Phoenix never does another film at less than half of one percent, and I’d put my savings account on that. I don’t think he’s totally full of shit, I just think he’s… aggressively feeling the moment.
I have an inkling… and that inkling is that Khloe Kardashian, who previously got out of not paying months of rent at my apartment complex by having her late father threaten baseless legal action, is in fact a man.
Yes, it does feature a canine nut chomp and a tumble into a dumpster with bags full of poop, but there’s enough misdirection to mask those expected moments, and Hotel for Dogs, opening today, is actually quite a nice, well-made, adolescent-pitched film — one that “aims up” a bit for 8- to 11-year-olds, and doesn’t suffer for its extra effort.
The ongoing legal dispute between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox over distribution rights to this March’s Watchmen has, according to Variety, been settled. Warner Bros. retains the right to open the sprawling superhero film that it produced on March 6, as planned, while Fox will emerge with an upfront cash payment that sources peg between $5 million and $10 million, coverage of millions of dollars in legal fees incurred during the case and, more importantly, a gross participation in the film that scales between 5 and 8.5 percent, depending on Watchmen’s worldwide revenues. Fox also participates as a gross player in any sequels and spin-offs, sources said. Ca-ching! Not a bad payout for a film they never had any significant interest in producing.
You can frequently gauge the monetary outlay and impending quality of a thriller with the sort of computer programs they display on-screen to show the tracing of cell phone calls and the like. Bad films feature cheap-looking gimmickry, high-budget affairs look state-of-the-art — with seemingly often light-blue text, and menu screens with lots of graphic elements — and low-budget flicks that are smart about what sort of field upon which they’re playing do a good job of faking things, by just having people look busy, and/or harried. Contract Killers is one of those films that cuts away to a cheesy-looking screen in an already chintzy-looking office, and thus earns cringes early on that never really subside.
Co-written by Ric Moxley and Justin Rhodes, and directed by Rhodes, Contract Killers follows Sarah Bentley (Swedish-born Frida Farrell, aka Frida Show), a former CIA agent (codename: Jane) who finds herself on the lam after she’s framed for the murder of her husband. Forced in order to uncover the mystery of his death to return to a life that she tried hard to abandon, Sarah/Jane discovers that the particulars of her last official mission were entered into a database before it was ordered and completed, and that her former boss, Witkoff (Nick Mancuso), is behind a conspiracy. Now, she must get to the bottom of Witkoff’s dark secret before he and his men catch her first.
There’s no cool, breezy Mr. & Mrs. Smith-type snappishness to Contract Killers, and the film isn’t briskly shot or slickly constructed enough to stack up with any of the Bourne films, a wayward spy series that it clearly wants to emulate. I guess Jennifer Garner‘s kick-ass Sydney Bristow would be a good sort of comparison, but the dialogue here is marked by a preponderance of empty, coded vagaries (“Reality is just a buzz deep in your skull, isn’t it?” a character asks at one point, in a line that’s not even meant as a tossed-off, dismissive quip), and the action sequences aren’t particularly clever or interestingly staged. There’s lots of squib-hit cutaways, in other words — close-range shooting and missing by paid assassins.
Then there’s the acting. Physically, just in the face and as far as her body type, Farrell (above, in close-up) comes across as a cut-rate Amanda Peet, but she has problems convincingly wielding both dialogue and a weapon. Rhodes, meanwhile, directs the entire affair like an episode of 24, which is to say heavy on the lingering frames and handheld camerawork. In episodic television this sort of tack can take on an extra gravity or importance, because viewers have presumably come to know and identify with the lead characters over a significant period of time; if the story in a feature isn’t sufficiently gripping, however, it comes off as empty distraction, which is unfortunately the case here.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Contract Killers is presented in 16×9 widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and Dolby 2.0 stereo audio tracks, as well as optional English and Spanish subtitles. Apart from a four-minute music video for Machel Montano’s “Toro Toro,” featuring Shaggy, and a collection of five trailers for other First Look releases, there are no other supplemental features. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) D (Disc)