21 August 2015

Road to Blockbuster: Pothead Bourne Takes Us Out

This is it, people. It'd been a long and zany summer, but we've finally reached the end of the Blockbuster Season. And actually, all this weekend's releases are decidedly minor, so we probably could have skipped this shit altogether. Nevertheless, we'll take you out one last time and check out three pretty doofy movies premiering today. On our way to taking one deep breath before the arduous months of Chilly Prestigious Autumn, let us bask once more in the glory of Stupid, Stupid Summer.

None of these releases are especially great. Late August is a notorious dumping ground for lots of films, mostly because no one wants to go to the movies this time of year. Precious College Students are preoccupied with moving, little wiener kids are trying to get their class schedules right, and the rest of us schmucks are pulled in for the ride. Even us in coveted young-but-not-too young age demographics tend to find ourselves pulled back into an annual work cycle after taking a little time to chill in the Sun because no one cares in Summer. So, okay, American Ultra (2015).
This alone convinced me to see this movie.

American Ultra is a spin on MKUltra, a top-secret CIA mind control project from the 50s and 60s. Here it's applied to Jesse Eisenberg as the pothead spy who doesn't know he's a spy. Think of it as a slacker twist on Jason Bourne, which is pretty great in every sense of the premise. He's joined by Adventureland (2009) co-star Kristen Stewart in what looks like to be a pretty equal role in drug-fueled slackerdom.

These two actors are actually weirdly exciting right now. Eisenberg can apparently play anything, from loser stoner to brilliant supervillain to bureaucratic stooge with relative ease. It's kind of incredible. Stewart has also really managed to step away from her Twilight upbringing, cranking out much smaller indie fair like Anesthesia (2015) and Still Alice (2014). Robert Pattinson, who has become an unlikely Cronenberg collaborator is somehow pushing his acting career into even more unexpected territory.

None of this means a ton when it comes to American Ultra, because even though it's an Eisenberg/Stewart comedy, it's not totally in the wheelhouse of either actor. Perhaps Eisenberg, but with only Zombieland (2009) and 30 Minutes or Less (2011) under his belt as major comedies, it's not like his following is that huge. This flick looks pretty fun and it's pretty distinctive, even if it can be seen as a Bourne riff, at least in plot and pretty clearly not tone or theme. It doesn't have a ton of competition right now because no August release has done very well at all, except for Straight Outta Compton (2015), which I imagine wins the day, particularly because there's got to be a similar audience there.

Next we have Hitman: Agent 47 (2015), whose existence is baffling. Hitman (2007) grossed $39 million domestically ($99 mill worldwide) and has been totally forgotten in a staggering eight years since its release. And it's not like Timothy Olyphant is a major A-list star, and that film may have done better released in a post-Justified world, but there's just no way you replace Olyphant with Rupert Friend (whose name I definitely had to look up) and make a better movie in any sense of the word.

Does anybody even play Hitman video games anymore? The last one was released in 2012, and there's actually a new one coming out in December of this year, but it just doesn't feel at all like a popular enough video game to earn this much of a following. Give me another Mortal Kombat movie, for goodness' sake.

The highest profile actor in this flick is Zachary Quinto in a supporting role, and after that we have a slew of character actors until we hit Dan Bakkedahl. It's an inconceivably bad call from top to bottom to put this thing out and I can't imagine that it earns any kind of commercial success, critical praise, or leaves a cultural footprint worthy of discussion. It'll bomb, but not even in a Fantastic Four (2014) way that will leave us talking for a few weeks. No one will ever care that a few dozen people worked pretty hard to craft this thing.

Lastly we have Sinister 2 (2015). Sinister (2012) is a pretty well regarded horror film, although I've got to believe that Scott Derrickson had a lot to do with that. He's still on as writer/producer but everything about the marketing of this second one has been real weird, to the point of being laughable. Like, almost M. Night Shyamalan The Happening (2008) laughable. "They get the kids!" or whatever. Pass. Kids aren't scary. You can punch kids, or just jump up on a shelf or something and call for help. It's not that big of a deal.

I think Ethan Hawke also anchored Sinister, even though it has weirdly felt like he's been in a ton of these kinds of films lately. I guess it boils down to this and The Purge (2013), but it feels like more. Maybe that's just Getaway (2013), Regression (2015), and the terrifying Boyhood (2014) doing their work. It could also be because he's easily confused with Patrick Wilson. But Sinister 2 has no anchor, and so it's more reliant on its concept and spookiness selling itself, which isn't totally shitty, but it's more like every other horror movie out there, which is far less interesting.

Some horror flicks have had success this time of year, but the critical component is that they're good horror. I don't get that impression from Sinister 2, which actually looks exactly like Sinister. It's getting tough to tell all these films apart from each other. I can't see us bothering with this film at all a few months from now.

So, that's it. How will you spend your final Summer Weekend? We have a few weeks left for sure, but as you can clearly tell, our Era of Blockbusters is over. What do you feel like seeing?

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