Friday, January 31, 2020

Bland, unsteady 'Rhythm' makes Oscar-nommed 'Le Mis' a wiser choice

If you're searching for a viable thriller at the movies this weekend, a French-made gem borrowing the title of a Victor Hugo classic might be a better selection than a way-out-there spy film searching for a franchise.

Almost unrecognizable Lively begins a less-than-rhythmic quest.
The latter is "The Rhythm Section," with talented Blake Lively playing a devastated young Brit literally left an orphan by a terrorist-instigated airplane bombing that killed the rest of her happy family.

The story, based on the first of four intrigue-heavy novels by the screenwriter, Mark Burnell, starts with Lively's substance-addled Stephanie Patrick holding a silencer to the head of someone in Tangier. Then the shaky flashbacks begin with the murder of a journalist and -- based on some coordinates Stephanie finds on the dead guy's computer -- the introduction of a rough and tumble operative (Jude Law) she tracks down in a foggy corner of Scotland. Easy peasy, right?

Equally absurd is our soon-to-be-heroine's quick transformation from Law's character calling her a "cliche" (for apparent years of drowning herself in prostitution and drugs) to a stone-cold killer. It's likely some kind of shortcut symbolism but -- voila! -- the change occurs almost immediately after he forces Stephanie to cross a long and ice cold river alone, all despite the impairment of her not knowing how to swim. Huh?

The rest does us no favors, either, with Sterling K. Brown appearing as an ex-CIA guy consistently talking in whispers to this ever-grieving, avenging angel who constantly keeps seeing and thinking about members of her long-gone family.

Obviously, with prominent "James Bond" producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson at the helm, their hope is to put one or two more Stephanie Patrick movies on the big screen, too. Very good luck with that, folks.

Rated "R": sexual content, language throughout, and some drug use; 1:49; $ $ out of $5

"Les Miserables," so named because Victor Hugo wrote his 1860s literary classic in the same poor Paris neighborhoods where this one takes place, at times pulsates with the kind of suspense "The Rhythm Section" (above) might only wish it had.

There are four sides to its urgent surge of power: street kids, cops as cowboys, a criminal authority, and a group of Muslims actually acting as peacemakers during the film's more tense moments.

Early on, though, all sides are unified as soccer fans during a spectacular opening sequence of flag-waving, marching and muscular support for the country's World Cup champion football team.

The contrast between beginning and climax becomes slowly startling, and the shades of gray that director and co-screenwriter Ladj Ly paints on most of his characters delivers a portrait of crime and alleged justice that Hugo might have enjoyed.

By the way, this "Les Miserables" has been nominated for Oscar's first ever "Best International Feature" (formerly called "Best Foreign Language Film"). Though it has no chance against the universally praised, South Korean "Parasite," Ly's often sizzling tale surely will live on as one of the best movies of 2019. Meanwhile, since we're talking Academy Awards, please return here next Friday for our annual predictions in an Oscar year where winners certainly appear rather cut and dried.

Rated "R": language throughout, some disturbing/violent content, and sexual references; 1:44; $ $ $ $ out of $5

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