Vern returns to tell you all about the new Wesley Snipes DTV effort: THE CONTRACTOR!!!
Published at: July 2, 2007, 5:55 a.m. CST by quint
THE CONTRACTOR, which comes out July 10th, is probaly the best DTV Wesley Snipes picture so far. Sure, it's got that usual DTV vibe - Avid farts, cheesy electronical music, somber tone, not gonna make you smile or laugh too much, definitely not original in any way. But for this type of movie it's pretty solid, and it takes advantage of Wesley's talents. He runs alot, he gets in some shootouts, some car stunts, one quick but impressive fight. But most of all they let him act. He plays the sort of quiet, unfriendly-but-ultimately-kind badass he excels at. He gets to communicate what's going on with facial expressions and posture more than with words, which is his thing. He gets some good bonding moments, including with his adversary after he mortally wounds him. In a DTV movie if there's anything other than black and white/good and evil, any grey area at all, it deserves a shiny star on its sticker chart. I like that kind of shit.
When I got a screener for THE CONTRACTOR I got kind of nervous because I hadn't seen his last one, THE MARKSMAN. And since the front cover for THE CONTRACTOR calls him "the world's greatest marksman" I thought this might be an unadvertised sequel like Seagal's BLACK DAWN was to THE FOREIGNER.
So I rented THE MARKSMAN first. In that one he plays a man with no name who leads a group of bland soldiers on a mission, I already forget what the mission was. Something to do with a nuclear power plant. This is the worst kind of Snipes movie, the kind where he obviously wasn't on set very much, and the whole movie is built around the idea of doing as many Snipes-free scenes as possible while still pretending he's the main character. The result is generic and incredibly boring, and the one and only moment I liked was at the end when the soldier he got along with least tried to talk to him buddy-buddy and he responded only with facial expressions. I bet they actually scripted something for him to say but Snipes knew he could do it better without words. Most of the movie has to do it without Snipes at all, though, and that's a problem because the movie sure doesn't have anything else to offer.
So THE CONTRACTOR, which turns out to not be related to THE MARKSMAN, is a relief. Right from the beginning Wesley is in the middle of everything. In his everyday life he's some kind of hick, he lives on a ranch, rides horses, wears a red plaid shirt and a cowboy hat. But his CIA contact comes to visit and gives him a mission written on the inside of a match book. Some time in the past Wesley had a clear shot on a dangerous terrorist, but he saw the guy's daughter and hesitated, got stabbed and the bastard got away. Now that bastard is in custody in London, and the U.S. needs to assassinate him so that he doesn't launch terror attacks from his jail cell. Who knows what he could do in there, it's dangerous.
Of course Wesley pulls it off. He is, after all, the world's greatest marksman, and the guy's daughter isn't there to get in the way this time. But Wesley's escape gets messy, his accomplice gets killed, he gets shot and limps back to an apartment. (His partner had given him this safe house address earlier - an address that changes all the rules.)
One thing that makes THE CONTRACTOR stand out from others of this type is his relationship with a little girl who finds him in the safehouse and looks after him while he heals. They do a good job with that. The mission he was given was "Moscow rules," which apparently is different from Olympic rules. According to these guidelines, the mission has failed and he is "already dead." So his CIA contact shows up in town, butts in with the Brit police and tries to get in there so he can disavow Wesley through the medium of bullets. So Wesley's new mission is to get out of there or clear his name or at least not get killed. And the little girl's mission is to harbor a fugitive assassin without grandma finding out. He feels bad for her because her parents are dead and she's lonely. You know how these go. Their friendship is as much the story of the movie as the whole trying-not-to-get-assassinated-by-the-CIA-or-caught-by-Scotland-Yard thing is. And you get to know his character through the way he first grimaces at and ignores her and eventually warms up to her, in his own way. (don't worry, this movie is not French, there's no uncomfortable pedophile moments.)
The adult female lead by the way is Lena Heady of 300 and not-Linda-Hamilton fame. It's not a huge role (which is a good thing - we don't need a romance in this thing) but she's good at playing the glamorous but tough lady role.
In previous Wesley Snipes reviews I have questioned why a guy who's such a unique combination of actor and action performer could go from the height of his career (BLADE 1&2) to an endless slew of generic DTV action. And now he's got that whole tax problem. So I might have to get used to Wesley only existing on the small screen.
Well, if that's true then maybe I'm going about this backwards. Instead of begging for filmatists to rescue Wesley from DTV, I should politely ask them to raise DTV to Wesley's level. So this is your annual reminder that you motherfuckers are wasting the opportunity of DTV. Previous generations had their outlets for low budget filmmaking. You've heard about all of Tarantino's heroes, the drive-in directors, the so-called grindhouse. You know about the wave of directors that started out working for Roger Corman, or by funding their own classic low budget horror debut, from George Romero to Sam Raimi. Shit, Steve Spielberg started out doing TV movies! But he didn't say "it's just a TV movie, who gives a shit, I will put no effort or imagination into this," instead he said "eat it motherfuckers, I'm making DUEL!" (paraphrase).
These were outlets with many drawbacks and limitations that made it hard for the movies to be good. In many cases they weren't even meant to be good, they were just meant to be cranked out so there was product out there. So alot of these forms are shit, but shit makes good fertilizer. Eventually some roses are gonna start growing out of it and they might even be better than the roses that grow out of the plain old dirt of the studio system.
But in the shitpile of DTV there aren't a whole lot of roses yet. Somehow I don't see 20 years down the line any directors talking about how they were influenced by the CGI giant snake subgenre. In some other countries they actually try, for example I believe the original JU-ON movie was made as a straight to video feature. But you don't get much of that here in the States. I sure hope I have missed the best American DTV movies, because I don't know about too many that are worth writing home about. "Not completely terrible" is about the biggest surprise you tend to get watching these things. Almost every time it feels like somebody just trying to complete a contract to get paid. So far there doesn't seem to be a Jack Hill or Larry Cohen type who decides to have fun with it.
This is coming out of nowhere, but what the hell. There's a guy I would like to draft to the DTV team: Robert Rodriguez. This might be a bad time to ask, because he currently has BARBARELLA on his plate and must be consumed with the task of not fuckin blowin it. But when I heard he was gonna really do MACHETE as a DTV movie I was pretty happy. A name director with plenty of hits under his belt willingly going straight to video? Sounds too good to be true, and of course soon they started talking about it being a theatrical release, and then they stopped talking about it at all, so who knows if it will happen. I'd love to see it in a theater, of course, but I was actually more excited for DTV. Hell, release it in an oversized VHS box if you want. Personally I'm more of a Tarantino guy than Rodriguez, but I like alot of his movies and I think he would be the perfect guy to prove you can make a real good DTV movie and not have to worry about the pressures of studio executives fretting over your budget and assholes counting every penny you make on the opening weekend.
Let's look at Mr. Rodriguez's qualifications:
1. The tools. This guy has a god damn movie studio in his house. He has the first digital cameras that actually look good, his own special effects company, complete editing and music recording facilities, everything. I bet he has a green screen set up in his bathroom so he can do pick up shots while he's takin a shit. Also he seems to be able to get everybody from Bruce Willis to Johnny Depp to just come over to his house and film some scenes at the drop of a dime. Hey superstar, here's a dime, come stand in front of a green screen. And he can stretch a budget and make something like this more personal than the current system seems to allow.
2. The track record. This guy has made plenty of interesting movies and many of them on low budgets. Of course we can never forget the $7,000 EL MARIACHI, somehow that's probaly a fraction the budget of even THE GINGERDEAD MAN. But I'm sure alot of people still consider it Rodriguez's best movie. My favorite is DESPERADO but I am all for the simplicity of those earlier movies. The more he gets involved in these digital effects he kind of loses some of that energy and focus that made him good in the first place. Imagine him taking that fancy camera down to Mexico (or wherever) and taking a couple weeks to shoot another one guerilla style. I fuckin KNOW this guy could make MACHETE good. I want to see this.
3. Danny Trejo. He does all kinds of DTV but nobody makes him look as cool as Rodriguez does.
4. A rich DTV heritage. Rodriguez had a hand in what I still consider the best DTV sequel to date, TEXAS BLOOD MONEY: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2. And part 3 (which he was more involved in) has its moments too. Regardless of what you think of those two, they were a rare moment in DTV history when the people behind the movies were putting genuine elbow grease into them. They saw the opportunity to have fun with sequels that would not be economically feasible for a theaterical release, but took advantage of their under the radar DTV status. They were not just rehashes of the original. They didn't have the same production values but they had good-for-DTV-casts and clever ideas and were totally different from each other. We need more people trying to show off in DTV instead of just trying to be passable.
5. Wesley Snipes. As far as I know Rodriguez doesn't know Wesley Snipes, but I bet if he wanted to he could make a movie for him. Wesley is DTV's secret weapon. He's not some guy past his prime, he's not bloated, he looks great. He is still a great actor, he can still fight as good as ever, he can be a badass but can do a non-action role and nobody will laugh. Unless they're supposed to. If somebody doesn't snatch him up and put him in a truly great movie then we, as a society, have failed.
So whattya say bud, let's do this.
Until then, THE CONTRACTOR is pretty good as far as instantly forgettable goes. So Wesley maintains dignity.