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Badges-of-Fury

Jet Li headlines this action comedy as “vintage” cop Huang, who, along with young comic relief partner Wang (Zhang Wen), is tasked with investigating an odd series of “smile murders”, in which each victim wears a mysterious grin at the time of his death. Moderately funny, Badges of Fury would have been strengthened by more shared screen time and bickering/bonding between mismatched partners Huang and Wang, who spend much of the film acting independently; but scenes between the comical Wang and sassy but insecure sergeant Angela (Michelle Chen) are also highly rewarding. The silly, CGI-facilitated action sequences, complete with crazy cartoon sound effects, will probably be too goofy for fight fans accustomed to western sensibilities, so these scenes are best judged by the standards of slapstick.

3.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Badges of Fury is:

4. Pro-gay, from the standpoint that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Wang has a run-in with two camp homosexuals who criticize his attire.

3. Asian supremacist. A coroner, citing the superior findings of western medicine, claims there is no such thing as an acupuncture point controlling smiling; but Wang, standing up for Eastern traditions, proves him wrong and makes a major breakthrough in the case by demonstrating that each of the victims died by strategically inserted needles.

2. Pro-family. “Cherish those closest to you,” Badges of Fury advises viewers.

1. Feminism-ambivalent. In the tradition of Hong Kong action, women cops are tough and scrappy; but a telling look on Angela’s face during an interrogation scene suggests that a woman, even an emancipated professional, needs a man in her life to make her happy. Angela is also insecure about her weight and looks. Huang injects further political incorrectness when he reacts to a suspect’s appearance. “You know why we see so many harassment cases? Look at what she’s wearing.”

 

Set aboard a melodrama-plagued pleasure cruise, writer-director Je’Caryous Johnson’s soulful examination of love among African-American couples and singles benefits in energy from being a filmed production of a live play as opposed to a conventional film.  Johnson is a talented jokester with a heart and creates compelling characters brought to vibrant life by an emotionally present and engagingly boisterous all-black cast.  Think Neil Simon keepin’ it real.

A neurotic tension and sense of panic constantly inform Love Overboard, with Johnson portraying African-Americans as a people ever prey to the supernatural forces in their lives, their bodies the eternal, intensely contested battleground of spiritual warfare as they navigate between their fear of God and obsession with sexual satisfaction.  Two types of entity, appropriately, are apostrophized in Love Overboard: Jesus Christ and the male sexual organ.  Love Overboard gets so overheated at times, with a man and woman apparently unable to stop themselves from flying into each other’s arms and grinding in public in one instance, that it starts to make Three’s Company look like I Married Joan.  “Y’all think this is a leg I’m standin’ on, dontcha?  I gotta take my shoe off every time I go pee.”

Running the gamut from shockingly crude to genuinely touching, Love Overboard front-loads most of the bawdy humor and concentrates in its second and third acts on depicting in very human terms people fraught with insecurities and struggling seriously with their relationships, their values, and faith.  The subject of marriage especially frightens and frustrates everyone on the ship.  Those who already are married wonder if staying together is worth the trouble; those unmarried fear the commitment.  Can healthy, excitingly black sex thrive within the constraining cage of a monogamous matrimony?

The ensemble cast is consistently praiseworthy in imbuing the various threads of the story with zany life.  Everyone involved in the production is either highly expressive in speech or song or excels at physical comedy.  Zacardi Cortez, who plays Big Daddy, has the most affecting musical moment; while Rhona Bennett and Tammy Townsend are probably most tender among the women as they hold their end of the line in this floating battle of the sexes.  Je’Caryous Johnson’s humor and humanity as it comes across in his writing probably has the best claim to top billing, however.  Recommended without reservation.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Love Overboard is guaranteed fun and:

6. Anti-gay.  An opening monologue mocks San Francisco Christians.

5. Black Uber Alles.  Racial solidarity seems to be of importance.  Oprah’s book recommendations are valued.  “You rollin’ with Obama?” a woman asks, hearing that one of the men works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Women want a man like Obama: “fine”, “intelligent”, and “able to protect me.”  “Chocolate’s out now that Barack is in,” a lighter-skinned man teases a darker one.  Characters enjoy their own and others’ variations of flavor and blackness.

4. Capitalist.  Despite the suggested endorsement of President Obama, the characters give every evidence of not buying into his demagogic desecration of the American dream.  These are people who, rather than playing the victim and begging for coddling by the welfare state, have succeeded or failed according to their own talents and decisions.  One runs a car dealership; another is a stripper; all work for a living or aim to do so.  “Life is what you make it,” Russell (Khalil Kain) observes; or, “Take yo ass to work,” as Johnson puts it bluntly elsewhere in his screenplay.

4. Anti-miscegenation.  Vianessa Castanos warrants special mention for her role as the Latin temptress who threatens black marital stability and wins a unique award from Ideological Content Analysis for displaying the GREATEST CLEAVAGE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

3. Traditionalist/pro-family.  “This is a family cruise,” the opening monologue explains, raunchy content notwithstanding.  A pregnant woman refrains from drinking and wants her child to have a good man for a father.  One character does, however, reveal herself to have been horribly wronged by a family member.

2. Christian.  Buck wild though they may long to get, these are people with a fear of God.  “The body according to the Word should be governed by modesty,” pious Lea (Rhona Bennett) reminds herself.

1. Pro-marriage.  Divorce is discouraged.  Couples having troubles should work it out for themselves and for their children’s sake.   The “hit it and quit it” lone wolf mentality loses its appeal with maturity.

Flippantly violent after the Tarantinoid tradition and frenetically ADHD-afflicted and visually gimmicky in the Guy Ritchie mold – with whooshing split screens, speed-up/slow-down action, and more than one trip to the old follow-the-bullet-in-slow-motion trough – Cat Run is a high-energy Euro-flavored action comedy graced with fine performances and a few good laughs but ultimately let down by its director, John Stockwell (Top Gun‘s Cougar, not the CIA whistleblower), its beat machine editing, and its pervading air of triviality and gratuitous vulgarity.

When upscale prostitute Cat (Paz Vega) witnesses U.S. Senator Bill Krebb (Christopher McDonald, whose face has always connoted an intelligent sleaze) murdering one of her coworkers at a decadent party thrown by arms dealer Branko Jakovic (Branko Djuric), she flees with the security footage and soon has corrupt police and ex-MI6 assassin Helen Bingham (Janet McTeer) on her trail.  Meanwhile, two dweeby American expatriates, wiz kid and bad cook Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz) and sex-obsessed Julian (Alphonso McAuley) have opened an amateur detective agency and hope to establish their credibility by locating Cat before anyone else can beat them to her.

Janet McTeer, whose Helen is a darker version of Helen Mirren’s character in Red, is, along with lovable comedic talent McAuley, one of the two biggest incentives to watch Cat Run.  Every laugh in the film belongs to McAuley, who has something of the energy of a young Michael Winslow or Richard Pryor; and McTeer is charming whenever the gruesome script and costuming allow it (with her cleavage utilized to commendable effect in the film’s climactic action sequence).  Another noteworthy component of the cast is Europe itself, with several beautiful locations lending the story a touch of class.

Ultimately neither horrible nor noteworthily good, the film earns itself a modest 3 out of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cat Run is deeply conflicted and:

12. Egalitarian.  Bleeding-hearted Anthony sympathizes when Cat steals his car, saying in earnest, “She must really need it.”

11. Anti-drug.  Amputee secretary Dexter lost his first arm after using a dirty needle.

10. Racist!  Enter into evidence the segue from Julian to a chimpanzee.

9. Anti-Christian.  “I thank God every day for what happened,” Dexter says after explaining his disabilities and recounting how his wife was eaten by a shark.  His faith fails to save him, however, when Helen lops off the arm with which he brandishes his Bible.  Schubert’s “Ave Maria” grotesquely accompanies this scene.

8. Antiwar.  Neoconservative fearmongering with respect to Iran is a scam driven by defense contractors and greedy politicians.

7. Selectively xenophobic, with Slavs depicted as seedy and untrustworthy.

6. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation.  White Anthony and black Julian are best friends, and Julian has “saved him from many brutal beatdowns.”  Julian charms European women and at one point lifts his kilt to reveal his cartoonishly gigantic penis.  All of his ex-girlfriends appear to be white.  Polyglot black amputee and communications specialist Dexter has a Purple Heart and valuable services to offer despite his disability.

5. Anti-police.  The Montenegran police are all in the employ of Branko Jakovic.  One policeman fails to report an abandoned car, hoping he can sell it instead.

4. Anti-family/anti-marriage.  Anthony has moved to Europe to avoid his meddlesome family.  “My father used to beat me with a belt and make me sleep in the barn with pigs,” Cat recalls.  Evil arms dealer Jakovic is married with children.  Julian recalls a college dean whose wife shot him in the face.

3. Feminist/pro-castration.  Cat Run appears to fancy itself highly original in repeatedly depicting a woman getting the best of the various men who confront her: kicking their testicles, shooting them, punching them, stabbing them, blowing them up, making snooty quips at their expense, amputating limbs, and even removing a penis with a cigar cutter.  Helen also effortlessly relieves an overburdened porter of one of the suitcases he is able to carry only with difficulty.  Wimpy heroes Anthony and Julian are favored over macho men, who meet with bloody and painful demise.  A pornographer is an “exploiter” of women and dies the most horrible death.

2. Pro-slut/pro-bastard.  Cat Run presents a sympathetic portrayal of whore and single mother Catalina.  “A blowjob provider?  That would be like calling Caravaggio a housepainter.”

1. State-ambivalent.  Senator Krebb is a murderous lecher, alcoholic, and warmonger.  Intelligence agents delight in torture and mayhem (“We’ll always have Angola”) – which, however, seems to be intended as entertaining, giving rise to an ambiguity in the film’s attitude toward state crimes against humanity.  Cat Run is bizarrely indulgent toward ex-MI6 psycho Helen, who wears a ghoulish pendant made from the teeth of an Arab she interrogated, but is celebrated as a sexy and empowered heroine whose sadistic mutilation and killing of innocents (and implied willingness to murder even babies) are apparently forgivable and negligible in the grand scheme of things because she is “killer cool”.

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