The Loft

the loft poster

Welcome to the 2015 winter dead-zone, where the studios are so spent from their respective Oscar Season blowouts that they feel safe enough to release the heaping mounds of filth neither blockbuster-ey enough for summer nor award bait-ey enough for fall. This is when stuff like Blackhat, Mortdecai, Seventh Son, and indeed The Loft comes out, because at time of writing the actual Oscars haven’t happened yet, meaning that everyone’s still caught up in the speculation and not really paying too much attention to new releases.

The history of The Loft is an interesting one. The film, directed by Belgian filmmaker Erik Van Looy, is based on a 2008 Belgian film simply titled Loft, also directed by Van Looy. At time of release, Loft enjoyed generally positive reviews and, in fact, proved to be the most commercially successful Flemish film ever made. Apparently not content to leave well enough alone, Van Looy was determined to remake a not particularly old film for an American audience and, spoiler alert: it’s absolute shit.

Now, I haven’t seen Loft and I don’t really care to after having seen The Loft, but surely the story had been told adequately well the first time round. It’s not like the tech had vastly improved in the intervening six years, so honestly, why even bother? More money, probably; but the fact that the project inexplicably attracted a handful of high-profile talent and still managed to suck is really a marvel. Karl Urban, James Marsden, and Eric Stonestreet star and, as a big Karl Urban fan myself, I hate to see these otherwise adroit actors flounder through this poorly written mess of a film.

The original story—the Belgian version, that is—was written by Flemish comedian and screenwriter Bart De Pauw, though the screenwriting credits in the remake are afforded to De Pauw and another gentleman by the name of Wesley Strick. Strick, responsible for a number of B-horror/thriller films is, in short, a hack. One of my major problems with the film is that the dialogue sounds as though it was written by someone with no conception of human interaction. Every line of dialogue seems forced and unnatural and conversations flow like a cement waterfall. Frequently, we have entire exchanges where characters just spout exposition at one another, engagement of the audience be damned.

It’s ridiculous! They expect us to care about these characters and become invested in their struggles, but the problem is that there are not characters! There’s just a bunch a passionless cyphers with precisely one character trait apiece, trying to weave their ways through what could laughingly be called a plot. I can generally dig it when movies ask us to suspend our disbelief—that’s the fun of the movies, after all—but the “twist” ending in The Loft was so jarringly out of nowhere and relied on a huge number of assumptions and coincidences, and that’s that kind of thing that really takes me out of movies.

Like Blackhat, The Loft tries to incorporate this slick and modernistic visual style with lots and grays and dark-blues, and lots of semi-transparent glass panes, but also like Blackhat, the film seems to neglect the notion that a compelling visual effects only works when there are interesting characters to populate the world. Remember: visual effects are used to tell a story; a story, alternatively, SHOULD NOT be used to tell visual effects.

All in all, The Loft is a one big, stinking mess from beginning to end. It’s a dull, uninspired death-march across an unforgiving landscape littered with clumsy dialogue and lifeless characters. Why does this film exist when the film that inspired it was, and still is, perfectly serviceable? Beats me. But maybe don’t waste your time with this one.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Riddick Review

Between a busy collegiate schedule and my own general incompetence, I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. Be that as it may, I thought I’d kick things off again by covering a nice, cathartic action flick; in this instance, Riddick. Now, way back in the ancient and mystical year of 2000, a little movie that could was released, entitled Pitch Black, which unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace the character of Richard B. Riddick, a psychotic killer with a strangely charismatic air, despite having killed more people than the West Nile Virus and being a generally unlikeable anti-hero. Then, in 2004, a sequel to Pitch Black was released, titled The Chronicles of Riddick, intended to capitalize on the character’s dangerous yet charming mystique as well as the rich and dense universe, despite it’s having done neither of those things and kind of being a lame, unfocused mess in general. Now, we have the third installment in the series, simple called Riddick, which is technically a direct sequel to Chronicles but in a much more practical sense a straight remake of Pitch Black.

Written and directed by series veteran David Twohy, who seems to be a one-man conservation effort these days as the character of Riddick is about as relevant in 2013 as a zoetrope, Riddick the film seems at the outset to be nothing more than a rehashing of the last thing that Twohy knew was any good- namely Pitch Black– in lieu of doing any actual work. The story deserves close examination as it endeavors to make the audience forget about RIddick’s prior exploits, which is kind of a herculean task in light of the fact that he was essentially crowned Emperor of the entire universe at the end of Chronicles. As you might imagine, attempting to “reset” Riddick’s status might come across as kind of contrived, and indeed it is, as the story of how he was betrayed by the Lord Vaako and deserted on an unnamed planet is told in a single flashback and never referenced again for the duration of the film. From there, Riddick must learn how to survive in the planet’s harsh environment and survive the deadly wildlife that seems to an inherent part of the Riddick universe. Events proceed as you may expect until Riddick learns that the wildlife is even more hostile than he originally thought and manages to active a distress beacon inside of an abandoned outpost, thereby summoning two distinct teams of bounty hunters who want nothing more than to take home Riddick’s head in a box.

The film stars Vin Diesel, who, in a instance of admirable litigation demanded the rights to the Riddick franchise in exchange for a cameo appearance in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift. At the very least, it’s a comforting thing to know that Diesel and Twohy are both exceedingly passionate about the Riddick character and the universe in which he lives. Admittedly, it becomes difficult to criticize the acting in a production like this as the extent to which Diesel actually performs has historically been growling the occasional one-liner while looking poignantly into the middle distance. The entire first half of the film, involving RIddick being stranded alone on the hostile planet, probably includes less than ten lines of dialogue, but then again Riddick’s role has always been one more concerned with physicality than with sissy words (because expressing one’s emotions is for girls) and in that respect, Diesel has quite an imposing screen presence when Twohy isn’t over doing dramatic shots to the point of self-parody.

Riddick can essentially be split into two distinct parts: first, the fight for survival amid a dangerous and unforgiving environment, which was actually pretty entertaining and unique in a Bear Grilles kind of way, and second, the beginning of Pitch Black proper, with the only appreciable difference being that the carnivorous creatures in question are brought to the surface by rain instead of darkness- so not only is the film borrowing ideas from thirteen years ago, it’s doing it exponentially worse.

The weird thing about Riddick is that it seems so juvenile by today’s standards and it’s pretty clear that the character hasn’t aged well since his inception in the primordial year of 2000. For instance, a lieutenant on one of the bounty hunter teams self identifies as lesbian- and by God, she’s quick to remind everyone- which would have been fine, were it not for Riddick’s professed intention to “bone her straight” by the end of the movie. You see what I mean? I’d probably be offended if the whole sentiment weren’t so unabashedly childish.

Riddick can certainly be seen as an attempt to get back to basics after the lackluster performance of Chronicles, but I can’t for the life of me see why this film needed to exist at all. We’ve seen better action and more character development in Pitch Black as well as Chronicles, and with the introduction of Riddick into cannon, it just seems like a negation of everything that has been accomplished in the series so far. That being said, the film serves to pass the time, but fans of the franchise and action fans in general will be better served elsewhere.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5