Category Archives: FILM REVIEW

Review – QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight


FILM REVIEWQT8: QUENTIN TARANTINO, THE FIRST EIGHT. A documentary written and directed by Tara Wood. Featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Zoe Bell, Jamie Foxx. Unrated but contains profanity and violence. 120 minutes.

qt8-poster-37ba44cfd4efc93e492f8ffc07f4d885No filmmaker of the past three decades has inspired as much adulation or more controversy than Quentin Tarantino. The video store geek turned rock star auteur is a bigger celebrity than most of his cast members, a household name in a field that has historically had room for very few. (Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg might be the only other directors boasting comparable brand recognition among casual moviegoers.) Tarantino films – nearly all of them unlikely, enormous blockbusters – are bona fide cultural events as well as rich, deeply idiosyncratic texts rewarding close examination. There’s a fascinating documentary to be made about the massive footprint Quentin Tarantino has left upon cinema history. QT8: QUENTIN TARANTINO, THE FIRST EIGHT is not that documentary.

Written and directed by Tara Wood, who previously served as co-director on the similarly rah-rah “21 Years: Richard Linklater,” the film gathers longtime Tarantino friends and collaborators – and notably not the filmmaker himself – to gush for a bit about what a genius Quentin is and share an amusing anecdote or two. It’s not unenjoyable to watch, even if most of these tales are old hat to film fans by now. “QT8” dutifully ticks off the origin story of the overzealous Video Archives clerk whose potty-mouthed heist script found its way into the hands of Harvey Keitel and caused a phenomenon at the Cannes Film Festival. A goofy animated sequence depicts the director’s sudden celebrity status after that first screening of “Reservoir Dogs,” when all of the sudden Oliver Stone, Paul Verhoeven, and James Cameron were climbing over each other to meet this kid.

I was 17 years old when I ducked out of school at lunchtime and went to see “Reservoir Dogs” on opening day at the long-gone Loews Harvard Square Cinema. (I’d read a bit about the stir it caused at Sundance and back then had a standing rule to automatically go see any movie that had Harvey Keitel in it as soon as possible. Actually, I still have that rule.) I spent the following months dragging everyone I could convince to see it at other vanished venues like the Charles or Allston Cinemas, as the film struggled and sputtered in its initial theatrical release. “Dogs” didn’t really find its audience until home video, when all of the sudden everyone you knew wouldn’t stop quoting it.

“Pulp Fiction” came out when I was a sophomore in film school, an event we students received with similar composure to those shrieking girls watching The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” In “QT8,” producer Stacy Sher attempts to explain the sense of liberation – the combination of high art and low culture that made Tarantino’s sensibility so shockingly exciting and new. Like the French New Wave before him, he filtered disreputable genre tropes through a post-modern sensibility, turning “trash” into “art.” SXSW founder Louis Black is on hand for some surface critical analysis of why Tarantino struck such a chord, but for the most part the movie’s content to stick with “that was awesome” as a default approach.

What you won’t find in “QT8” is any consideration of the controversies that have followed Tarantino throughout his career, nor a word about his personal life. There’s no mention of the messy falling out with his “Pulp Fiction” co-writer Roger Avary, or “Natural Born Killers” producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy, the latter of whom Tarantino famously brawled with at a restaurant. The accident that seriously injured Uma Thurman on the set of “Kill Bill” is glossed-over in two minutes of screen time, and her lack of participation in this project is telling. The disgraced Harvey Weinstein gets a scant six minutes near the end, despite their careers being so entwined his Miramax Films used to be known as “The House That Quentin Built.”

Tarantino’s famous feud with Spike Lee is dismissed by Jamie Foxx, who profanely brushes the whole thing off without Wood giving fair airing to legitimate qualms about Tarantino’s unseemly infatuation with the n-word. I can tell you from recent re-viewings of “Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” that these days it clangs coming from certain white characters’ mouths, feeling more like a young man’s naughty art-punk posturing than the verisimilitude with which it is deployed in his later historical films.

But then I am of the opinion that most Tarantino films are controversial because they deserve to be, and are often designed to inspire extreme reactions in the audience, which is why I’m always kinda surprised when they become consensus blockbusters. Wood’s upbeat, collegial “we all have so much fun on the set” vibe of the documentary runs counter to the deliberately provocative content of the pictures being made, and to my mind gives the work short shrift. These are complex films worthy of much further discussion than all this anecdotal back-patting. I mean jeez, it’s a two-hour documentary about Quentin Tarantino movies that never once mentions women’s feet.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Over the past twenty years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Zombieland: Double Tap


FILM REVIEW – ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAPWith Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson. Written by Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content. 99 minutes.

zombieland_double_tapOne of the unexpected surprises among a spate of “undead” films was “Zombieland” (2009), which managed to combine comedy and horror without shortchanging either. Did we need a sequel ten years later? Probably not, but ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP recaptures the comic momentum that drove the original. It may not be “The Godfather, Part II,” but on its own terms, it’s a worthy follow-up.

At the film’s opening, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are still together. Of course, things have changed. They’ve moved into the White House where Columbus and Wichita share the Lincoln Bedroom (and cover up the eyes on the portrait of the president). It’s clear there are tensions among the four that they’ve been avoiding, leading to the unexpected departure of half the crew.

What follows are a serious of misadventures where new characters are introduced as they variously wend their way to Babylon, a supposedly zombie-free enclave. Meanwhile, the zombies have evolved, including a variety who are seemingly indestructible. What makes the film fun is that the surviving humans remains as quirky as ever even as they’ve adapted to their new zombie-infested reality. For instance, the macho Tallahassee constantly carps about their having to travel in a minivan, with every other alternative proving a dead end.

Unlike other genre spoofs, the “Zombieland” movies only require knowledge of zombie movies in general, not any one film in particular. The one exception here is that a running joke – including a cameo by Bill Murray – requires some knowledge of the original. Like “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), these movies take the genre conventions as a given and then set their characters loose in this alternate reality.

Among the new arrivals here are Madison (Zoe Deutch), a Valley Girl who has been hiding out in a freezer at a shopping mall, Nevada (Rosario Dawson), operator of an Elvis shrine near the abandoned Graceland, and Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), a zombie-fighting team who bear an uncanny resemblance to characters we already know. The last two are part of the off-the-wall humor that was a hallmark of the earlier movie.

As for the principals, all four have been Oscar-nominated for other films with Stone a winner for “La La Land.” They slip back into their characters with ease, with the biggest challenge for Breslin who was 13 in the original and is now 23, with her character fighting to be treated as an adult. Little Rock’s romance with Berkeley (Avan Jogia) allows her to slowly reveal aspects of how growing up works in a zombiefied world.

There’s not likely to be any talk of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at next year’s Oscar ceremony, but for fans of the first movie, and those who can enjoy the mix of laughs and horror, it’s a winner.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie


FILM REVIEWEL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE. With Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Robert Forster, Scott MacArthur, Bryan Cranston. Written and directed by Vince Gilligan. Rated TV-MA for profanity and graphic violence. 124 minutes.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie • Poster“Breaking Bad” aired its series finale six years ago last month, but it really had more like three final episodes, with the show’s waning weeks sneakily providing viewers every endgame imaginable for Bryan Cranston’s chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin Walter White. Personally, I like to think of him breathing his last all alone in that snowbound cabin with nothing to watch but “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” on DVD (two copies) while I know plenty of folks who prefer the absurd, robot-machine-gun blaze of glory with which Walter went out rescuing his onetime pupil and seemingly doomed sidekick Jesse Pinkman.

The show’s creator Vince Gilligan was lauded for making “Breaking Bad” one of the precious few popular programs to give fussy fans the closure they were looking for, in part by giving them all the endings they could possibly have ever wanted. Maybe that sense of oversaturation is why I’ve never quite cottoned to “Better Call Saul,” Gilligan’s prequel series that’s gone back in time to dot all the i’s and cross the t’s on a fictional universe I already feel quite finished with, thanks. Recent, wonderful re-visitations to “Twin Peaks” and “Deadwood” wrapped up shows that had been abruptly canceled without being given the chance of a proper send-off. But did “Breaking Bad” really leave anything left unsaid?

As it turns out, no. But EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE throws another ending onto the pile all the same. It’s a completely unnecessary and terrifically entertaining exercise in fan service answering questions nobody asked. When we last saw Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman he was (literally) screaming down the highway in a stolen car, having just been sprung from the cage where a bunch of scary Aryan Brotherhood bikers were making him cook meth according to Walter’s secret specs. “El Camino,” named after Jesse’s getaway vehicle, chronicles his attempts to get the heck out of Albuquerque.

It’s an agreeably stripped-down affair, more like an epilogue to the series than a standalone feature of its own. Written and directed by Gilligan, the movie conjures that familiar “Breaking Bad” mojo in which characters are constantly escaping out of a dangerous situation into an alternative that’s infinitely worse. So much of the story relies on reversals and surprises it’s probably only fair for me to say that Jesse’s on the lam and trying to come up with enough cash to buy a new identity and safe passage to Alaska from Robert Forster’s unassumingly sinister vacuum cleaner salesman.

Forster’s once again magnificent in a role that probably reads as ridiculous on the page, his gruff, flatline authority like a brick wall off which Jesse’s jumpy energy bounces in vain. His time in captivity has left Pinkman covered in scars and racked with PTSD, and Paul brings a hollowed-out sadness to the character that’s a far cry from the electric doofus routine he perfected on the program. In flashbacks (which are perhaps over-abundant and filled with star cameos from your favorites) it’s shocking to once again see the light that’s since gone out of his eyes.

“El Camino” has it’s share of white-knuckle set-pieces, and you’d swear at least 20% of the movie is Aaron Paul hunched quivering in the forefront of shots trying hard not to be discovered by folks milling around the back. Some of these situations call to mind Gilligan’s famous writers’ room trick of starting out by sticking the characters in the most impossible scenario they could come up with and then trying to write their way out of it. In fact, there are quite a few spots in the movie where I was expecting the show’s old cliffhanger commercial breaks.

I guess this is all a long way of saying that “El Camino” is often enormous fun to watch even if it’s rather redundant and has no real reason to exist. Cleverly bookended by contrasting shots of Jesse driving down the highway, the film ends on a quiet note of hard-won comfort and the hope that all these talented people will now move on and find new stories to tell.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Over the past 20 years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

forsterPOST-SCRIPT:
I filed this story a few hours before the news broke that the great Robert Forster had passed away at the age of 78. One of those guys who made you smile the moment he walked onscreen, Forster’s warmth and easygoing authenticity had a way of making whatever he was in that much better. He was the sweetest guy I’ve ever interviewed, and what better sendoff to a working actor of over fifty years than to still be stealing scenes on your dying day. He’ll be terribly missed.

 

Review – Lucy In The Sky


FILM REVIEWLUCY IN THE SKY. Starring Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz, Ellen Burstyn. Written by Elliott Di Guiseppi, Brian C. Brown and Noah Hawley. Directed by Noah Hawley. Rated R for language and some sexual content. 124 minutes.

d7skgemwwaa2zdj“All that astronaut dick is making you soft,” says the 87-year-old, Academy Award-winning president of The Actor’s Studio Ellen Burstyn during one of the more dignified moments granted her by LUCY IN THE SKY, which is as puzzlingly terrible and pointless as any movie you’ll see this year.

Prestige television’s golden boy Noah Hawley has made a forehead-smacking mess out of the lurid real-life tale of Lisa Nowak, the former naval flight officer and Space Shuttle Discovery Commander whose attempted kidnapping of a co-worker’s new love interest made headlines back in the aughts because she wore adult diapers during a 900-mile drive to the scene of the crime. It’s one of those weird tabloid tidbits that lodge in a reader’s mind, in part because it’s such a sterling example of NASA ingenuity and mission discipline.

Attempting to inflate this tawdry true crime tale into some sort of metaphysical meditation, Hawley leaves out the diaper detail, which is a shame because the movie’s so full of shit it could’ve used one. Now named Lucy Cola and played by an up-for-anything Natalie Portman, our unhinged space oddity has been re-routed from the real-life astronaut’s Maryland upbringing to a generic “Hee-Haw” American South, with Burstyn as her potty-mouthed granny and Dan Stevens playing Ned Flanders of “The Simpsons” as her ineffectual cuckold husband. But once Lucy gets a glimpse of the cosmos she can’t go home again so easily, finding herself unable to re-adjust back to day-to-day life after seeing beyond the stars.

Hawley attempts to convey her dislocation by mucking with the aspect ratio, the screen’s width undulating sometimes according to Lucy’s moods and other times for no apparent reason at all. I suppose our expanding and contracting field of view is meant to represent how narrow she finds the world after being in the vastness of space, but then why switch to super-wide cinemascope for an establishing shot of a golf course? Like most of the creative decisions behind the film, this one doesn’t seem to have been thought through for more than five minutes.

Lucy can only find her equilibrium by throwing herself into a passionate affair with a co-worker played by Jon Hamm. The man who Tina Fey once described as looking like “a cartoon of a pilot” is almost too perfect for this movie’s louche, 1960s Playboy magazine idea of a hard-drinking, ladykilling space ranger. Hamm hilariously plays him as a cross between Don Draper and Buzz Lightyear, though the movie doesn’t seem to be in on the joke.

He and Portman indulge in lusty, inter-office encounters overloaded with phallic symbolism like launching rockets, their somber sex morosely laden with intonations of mortality. One of the more curious interludes finds a drunken, shirtless Hamm obsessively re-watching footage of the Challenger explosion like a character in Cronenberg’s “Crash,” while an earlier desktop cunnilingus scene is awkwardly intercut with a helmet breach that almost drowns Lucy in a training accident. (Both events appear to get her off.)

Probably presuming that she’d found her own “I, Tonya,” Portman goes all in on this nonsense with great gusto and a Holly Hunter honk. (She makes “spayce” into a two-syllable word.) I know I’m in the minority here but I love it when Portman lays on a big, broad accent like in “Jackie” or “Vox Lux.” She’s typically such a tight, over-controlled performer that wacky voices seem to liberate her entire physicality. It’s fun to watch her fling herself around, “y’all”-ing it up in sleeveless crop tops and denim skirts, even though her performance makes it impossible to buy for a second that Lucy would have a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.

It’s also impossible not to wonder what the hell Hawley was trying to get at here, overloading every scene with show-offy camera tricks and heavy-handed intonations of meaningfulness that don’t actually seem to mean anything at all. I’ve enjoyed some of the Coen brothers cosplay on his TV adaptation of “Fargo,” while having reservations that Hawley entirely understands the film from which he’s working. “Lucy in the Sky” is a spectacularly incoherent text, with the general takeaways being that women are far too fragile to go to outer “spayce,” and that sex with Jon Hamm is so amazing it’s worth committing multiple felonies in order to try and keep having it. At least I believe the second part.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past 20 years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

 

 

 

Review – Mary


FILM REVIEWMARY. With Gary Oldman, Emily Mortimer, Jennifer Esposito, Stefanie Scott, Chloe Perrin. Written by Anthony Jaswinski. Directed by Michael Goi. Rated R for some terror, violence, and language. 84 minutes.

maryMARY, despite its pedigree, is a conventional horror film crossed with a dysfunctional family drama of a kind we’ve seen many times. What makes it stand out are its cast including Oscar winner Gary Oldman, along with Emily Mortimer, and Jennifer Esposito. Why these actors chose this project is a discussion best left between them and their agents. Beyond the cast, what probably earned the green light for this movie was that director Michael Goi was nominated for primetime Emmys for his work on “American Horror Story” and “Glee,” plus a presumably tight budget given that the film consists primarily of two locations and was shot in and off the coast of Alabama.

The story begins with a detective (Esposito) questioning the survivor (Mortimer) of an explosion at sea. We the cut back-and-forth between extended flashbacks and the detective’s skepticism over her increasingly bizarre story. It seems that David (Oldman) has decided to set out on his own rather than work on someone else’s boat, having sunk the family’s money in a refurbished wreck he dubs Mary, after their younger daughter (Chloe Perrin). We get scenes between husband and wife about their marriage and his making the purchase without any discussion.

Soon, the family (including a teenage daughter played by Stefanie Scott) and crew are at sea, and strange things begin to happen. The film dutifully hits the expected beats and jump scares – mother finds Mary drawing a mysterious dark figure, one of the crew members (Owen Teague) turns unexpectedly violent, the family starts turning on each other as they discover that the ship is cursed – all of this leading to a “surprise” ending that should only surprise you if you’ve never seen a horror movie.

That’s the problem. The script, which is credited to Anthony Jaswinski (who wrote the tight shark tale “The Shallows”) is so formulaic that even with the story cutting between the police station and the flashbacks to the boat, it isn’t hard to connect the dots. That doesn’t make it a bad film, but it does make it a very basic horror entry. It’s the difference between having a fancy meal or generic fast food. This is very much the latter.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Joker

FILM REVIEWJOKERWith Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen. Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. 121 minutes.

joker_ver3One of the most anticipated films of the year, JOKER is likely to divide moviegoers and critics alike. It may well develop a strong cult following, but for many it will come across as overwrought and disappointing. In spite of an intense performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the movie can’t overcome director/co-writer Todd Phillips’ character arc for him where the protagonist turning into a homicidal sociopath is what passes for a satisfying ending.

The movie is set in the “Batman” universe but focuses on Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who works as a party clown for hire and aspires to be a comedian. The location is Gotham City and the time is unclear but from various cues seems to be sometime in the ‘70s or ‘80s. For three-quarters of the film’s two-hour running time we watch Fleck be abused and humiliated. Spinning a sign in front of a store, teens steal the sign, beat him with it, and then savagely attack him. The result is his boss telling him he must produce the sign, or it will be docked from his pay.

His mother (Frances Conroy), is a doddering old woman who keeps writing to businessman Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) asking for help. One of the few things brightening their bitter lives is Murray Franklin’s (Robert DeNiro) TV talk show. Fleck dreams of performing on Franklin’s show and gets his “break” in as cruel a manner as possible. Fleck also becomes attached to Sophie (Zazie Beetz), a single mom who lives down the hall. There are a number of twists in the story – none to be revealed here – that brings us to the final half hour where Fleck, having hit bottom, assumes the identity of the Joker.

The film has a number of problems. Its depiction of Gotham City is beyond bleak. Except for Sophie and the children we see (including future Batman Bruce Wayne played by Dante Pereira-Olson), everyone is evil or indifferent. There are two scenes where total strangers brutally attack Fleck, simply because they can. The city is in the midst of a garbage strike, so piles of refuse – and the rats it attracts – are the constant background. And Thomas Wayne, who is running for mayor, declares that those who do not help themselves are “clowns.”

As a psychological study of watching Fleck become so destroyed that it causes him to go mad, the film is of interest, but ultimately it makes Fleck the hero of the story by not providing any sympathetic viewpoint but his. It will be noted that the movie owes something to two DeNiro movies by director Martin Scorsese, “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.” Phoenix’s Fleck is kin to the De Niro characters in both films, both the borderline psychotic Travis Bickle of the former and the obsessive aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin of the latter.

Director Phillips, best known for the inane “Hangover” movies, wants to show he can be serious and profound, but has bitten off more than he can chew here. His “Joker” is slow and ponderous, with moments that will work for some but not enough win over the general audience. If the intent is to pit Phoenix’s Joker against a newly cast Batman, this may serve as an overlong prologue. On its own, though, “Joker” is a disappointing gag that falls flat.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Running With The Devil


FILM REVIEWRUNNING WITH THE DEVIL. With Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Leslie Bibb, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper. Written and directed by Jason Cabell. Rated R for violence and disturbing images, drug use, strong sexual content and language. 100 minutes.

running_with_the_devil_xlgIt’s not often you get to watch an actor out-hambone Nicolas Cage, but writer-director Jason Cabell’s RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL allows a deliriously twitchy Laurence Fishburne to go way over the top as a double-dealing wannabe drug kingpin with a sweaty, full-tilt brio that recalls his swaggering breakthrough performance in Abel Ferrara’s “King of New York.” Cutting his cartel stash to side-hustle a toxic cocktail of cocaine, fentanyl and heroin, this perpetually gacked, hooker-happy horndog is always trying to stay one step ahead of his employers, the feds and his ex-wife’s child support lawyers. As long as the movie sticks with Fishburne it’s a blast.

Unfortunately, Cabell has bigger ambitions. “Running With The Devil” aims to be a sweeping epic covering all facets and fallout of the cocaine trade, rather unconvincingly depicting interactions with peasants, police and politicians. When a Canadian druglord (played as a corporate shark in a suit by the always amusing Barry Pepper) discovers that his shipments are being tampered with, he calls an old partner out of semi-retirement to track and test the packages at every stop along the way from Colombia to Vancouver.

That partner happens to be a taciturn pizza chef played by Nicolas Cage with splendid sideburns and 1970s sitcom dad glasses, and a good chunk of the movie’s running time is given over to him threateningly inspecting bags of blow in various locales. There’s a pretty good joke in the disconnect between Cage’s doofus demeanor and his lethal reflexes, but it’s not enough to carry off the dry procedural nature of these sequences. Besides, we already know that the coke is being cut in Seattle and everything’s more interesting there.

Fishburne ropes a dumbbell buddy (an agreeably against-type Adam Goldberg) into his scheme, arousing the attention of a possibly psychotic DEA agent (Leslie Bibb) who just lost her sister to an overdose. Yes, this time it’s personal. I’m not sure if Bibb’s flat, laissez-faire line readings are a deliberate stylistic choice or just ordinary incompetence, but either way the performance brings a refreshingly counter-intuitive approach to police brutality.

“Running With The Devil” tries some narrative trickery and fake-out twists in its later reels, to ends more frustrating than entertaining. The further it gets away from Fishburne’s manic energy on the grungy Seattle streets the more rote the picture becomes. Meanwhile, as the merchandise slowly makes its way north you can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a more efficient way to traffic this stuff. (Maybe this is why we haven’t heard of too many Canuck drug lords?)

Cabell’s onscreen title cards announcing the increasing price of the product along its journey might leave you doing the math in your head, wondering what exactly the margins are on such an expensive operation. (Fishburne was in “The Mule.” Doesn’t he know you can just hire Clint Eastwood to drive your dope around?) Any credibility is off the cliff for good when the delivery hinges upon sending two out-of-shape guys in their 50s on a dangerous mountaineering trek through the snow. Distribution plans like this could single-handedly solve the drug problem.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Over the past 20 years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.