The Road Movie (2018)


Russians, it seems, can’t drive for toffee. And not just when their roads are blanketed with snow and ice, which they often are, of course. No, it’ll be a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, and some Eastern bloc-head will come barreling down on you on the wrong side of the divided highway.
     C-R-RRRUNCH! Ouch. That smarts.
     Fortunately for those rubberneckers among us, most Russian vehicles are outfitted with dashboard cameras (they’re a litigiously-minded people, I guess?) which record much of the mayhem on their roads. And we get to witness some 70 minutes worth of it in Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s The Road Movie, a spectacular “found footage” compilation of head-ons, side-swipes, t-bones, fishtails, jackknives, and roll-overs, as well as threatening forest fires, floods, psycho pedestrians, petty thefts and punch-ups, even comets—and the odd parachutist—falling to earth, all from the comfort of our living rooms… unless you paid actual money to view this YouTube-like experience in an honest-to-goodness movie theater, of course.
     Obviously some people, and occasional critters, are hurt during all of this vehicular insanity—we hear at least one passenger claiming to have broken her leg following a crash—but thankfully the fixed dash-cams don’t show us anything much beyond the fiery explosions and the mangled metal and the occasional oddities out there on route shest’desyat shest. More fun, for me that is, are our stoic, in-car narrators who provide a running commentary on the gonzo goings-on beyond their windshields with an unusually calm sense of detachment, peppered with unsavory subtitles. Like when one of them takes a sharp curve a little too fast and winds up in a river (“we’re sailing!”), or a low-flying mallard collides with the windshield (“can we see it, Daddy?”), or a couple of prostitutes proposition our driving companions along the way (“3000? Maybe we’ll stop on the way back”).
     I’ve been driving for nearly forty years and haven’t seen anything approaching the kinds of calamities that befall our haplessly droll comrades, so in that regard the film is a definite eye-opener. Some might question whether The Road Movie is an actual film—probably the same people who like to argue about Andy Warhol’s Empire, say—but it makes for a pretty effective public service announcement if nothing else.
     I, for one, was a lot more vigilant about double-checking my blind spot after taking in this incendiary excursion.

(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth

Running with the Devil (2019)


“It’s Nic Cage. How bad could it be?”
     Running with the Devil is the answer to that rather hopeful question: bad, very bad. It’s a terrible film, dull and tedious and mostly incoherent, with scenes that just sit there, dunce-like. It’s blandly written and inconsequentially directed (by Jason Cabell, an ex-Navy SEAL, who should know something about action at least), and while Cage is known for doing pretty much anything for money, his co-star Laurence Fishburne is not. Fishburne performs nobly, creating a totally despicable character, but even his efforts aren’t enough to warrant a viewing.
     Cabell’s film is essentially about a bump in the road, a hiccough in the supply chain of a venal, Vancouver-based entrepreneur whose cocaine shipments keep winding up a little lighter than when they left Colombia. The Boss is played by Barry Pepper, who first came to my attention in Tommy Lee Jones’s intense The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. He’s a lot broader here. Said boss puts his best men on the job, a cook—another puffy, bespectacled Cage creation—and a degenerate who’s addicted to coke and prostitutes (Fishburne). Slim pickins in the drug underworld, apparently.
     For dramatic tension, the feds have their best man on the case trotting along too—Iron Man’s Leslie Bibb plays The Agent in Charge who’s not averse to using a few underhanded tactics (read: torture) to get what she wants. Adam Goldberg, a snitch, winds up on the business end of a cattle prod I think.
     Everyone in this film, pretty much without exception, is a lowlife and as the trail bops from Bogota to Tijuana to Seattle and just about every port of call in between, the shipment’s street value rises exponentially—that part was sort of interesting, actually. But with all the running around it’s hard not to get a little seasick, a little airsick, a little rather a lot sick of the whole nasty business.
     Shouldn’t a Nic Cage movie be, at the very least, ridiculous fun? Running with the Devil is just plain ridiculous.

(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth