|A scene from Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.
Good, bad or indifferent: The thriller genre hits many quality levels.
For this column, I threw three genre titles together and randomly ended up with something really good, something really bad and something that -- despite indifferent filmmaking -- maintains an intriguing story at its core.
The good one is Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Good is not good enough as a qualifier. This Brazilian movie shimmers with a beautifully savage brilliance. Wagner Mauro offers an exceptional performance as the flawed hero, Rio de Janeiro's toughest policeman.
The bad one is Bounty Hunters. Bad is not grim enough. This Canadian movie bumbles through an incomprehensible plot. Only Trish Stratus, the former pro wrestler with the square jaw, hot bod and piano keyboard of shiny white teeth, makes things interesting as the heroine.
The indifferent one is Puncture. Indifferent does not apply to the compelling true-life tale behind it. This American movie is the uneasy intersection of Erin Brockovich, The Grapes of Wrath and The Basketball Diaries, with dire consequences for the damaged hero Chris Evans plays with a rare passion.
All three were recently released (in February) to DVD or Blu-ray or both:
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN
This 2010 production is a sequel to the 2007 original, which was enormously popular in Brazil. It is welcome here in both DVD and Blu-ray. This is simply one of the most sophisticated action thrillers around, a perfect companion to City of God. The films share a screenwriter.
The latest Elite Squad starts with cheek: "Despite the many similarities to reality, this film is a work of fiction." But guilty parties know whom director Jose Padilha attacks so vociferously.
Most critical is that Mauro's character evolves in a remarkable way. After a jailbreak turns into a massacre, he finds himself hailed as a populist hero and reviled by politicos who are embarrassed by human rights activists. So Mauro is pushed into a bureaucratic job in government security.
In the halls of power, he discovers how militias of crooked cops in league with rancid politicians are even worse than the scumbag drug dealers he once battled. When his private life is suddenly compromised, we join him for an extraordinarily visceral, violent ride.
DVD and Blu-ray offer the same strong bonus, a 59-minute documentary on the evolution of the sequel and its scorching depiction of corruption in Brazilian society. Next up for Padilha is a Hollywood remake of RoboCop.
Hilarious! The movie is so inept it could become a cult favourite, especially if Stratus develops a movie career. Her fights are the best thing about the flick, which is DVD only. Her featurette interview is sweet, if naive. Otherwise, hack director Patrick McBrearty (Psycho Ward) reminds us of the worst days of tax shelter cinema, when pseudo-American movies were made on Canadian taxpayers' backs and most were horrible. Like this one.
Evans plays a drug-addled, drunken Texas lawyer seizing upon the biggest case of his life, which involves safety needles that prevent accidents and control diseases such as HIV. With Tom Joad's idealism, but no life skills, he lurches into a class-action suit against big corporations, which deliberately sabotage hospital staff to earn bigger profits, including kickbacks.
The Brothers Kassen, Adam and Mark, do not quite hit the right tone or maintain the right flow. But Evans is excellent and the true-life story gives the movie a gravitas it would not have had otherwise.
Puncture is available on both DVD and Blu-ray. Neither has extras. Too bad, because the Kassens could have given us a full bio of the real Michael David Weiss, "lawyer, genius, fool, son, brother, visionary, playboy, madman, druggie and friend."