At The Movies

Disaster movie needs rescuing

The Midnight Sky stars (both right) George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall.
The Midnight Sky stars (both right) George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall.PHOTO: NETFLIX

THE RESCUE

PG13, 133 minutes, opens today

3 Stars

Because it was supposed to be released in January this year, this was always going to be a 10-course Chinese New Year gut-buster of a meal. Still, nothing will prepare you for just how much has been jammed into this two-hour-plus record of the lives of heliborne heroes.

Hit-making Hong Kong director Dante Lam (the action thrillers Operation Mekong, 2016; Operation Red Sea, 2018) builds the story around Eddie Peng's captain Gao Qian, a character who suffers from a tragic case of Disaster Movie Syndrome, an affliction that makes the hero strong in one scene then weak in another, or be a maverick in one situation yet snap into team player mode should the need arise.

He leads a team at China Rescue and Salvage, the government agency charged with ensuring the safety of those around the nation's coast. The single dad looks after Cong Cong (Zhang Jingyi), a child of unsurpassed adorability. When he and his team are not plucking workers from burning oil rigs or lifting sailors from sinking tankers, the rescue bros hold clean-cut beach parties and comfort worried girlfriends.

An interesting wrinkle develops when new pilot Fang (Xin Zhilei) enters the picture. She and Gao are at loggerheads immediately, but the friction between them has little to do with gender politics. Rather, it is about their differing views on what makes a rescue too risky to attempt.

This being a Chinese production and reportedly created with the help of the Chinese Ministry of Transport, the absence of sexism in the workplace should not come as a surprise. Nor the fact that every member of the force, especially the seniors, are perceptive, sensitive and wise beyond all measure. Correction: Gao has one character-defining flaw. He is too brave, he cares too much for the people he is trying to save.

It must be said that this is not merely a Chinese movie issue. It crops up in films from China, Hollywood or Singapore that require the use of symbols, ships and aircraft from national agencies.

Those restrictions, however, have a couple of blind spots, such as when the film lurches into a romantic direction. It is a plot development that causes crack pilot Fang, who for much of the movie appears to have iced water in her veins, to morph into a stereotypically blubbering woman under the stress of seeing her beloved in mortal danger.

Along with the romance, family drama, epic rescues and bro-bonding, director Lam also throws in a dash of soft porn - of the male kind, seen in shots of Peng's rippling rear, along with those of a teammate's, in the shower.

That bit of burlesque and the touch of gore, seen in shots of victims of explosions and crashes, are a couple of weirdly human and therefore interesting touches in an otherwise overlong and predictable production.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY

NC16, 118 minutes, Netflix

2 Stars

George Clooney the actor has worked with the best directors, from Alfonso Cuaron (science-fiction thriller Gravity, 2013) to the Coen brothers (the comedies Burn After Reading, 2008; O Brother Where Art Thou?, 2000).

He is a director himself. You might remember his second feature, the biopic of journalist Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, And Good Luck (2005), for which he earned an Oscar nomination.

His last few tries at directing have not produced duds exactly, but they have not set the world on fire either. This Netflix movie, a science-fiction piece that feels like a distant relation to Gravity, points to a couple of his weaknesses as a film-maker.

The story begins with a character played by Clooney himself. It is set in the future and he is Augustine, left alone on an Arctic station as everyone else evacuates underground to escape an unspecified radioactive event creeping across Earth, killing everything.

He uses the station's equipment to send a warning to the spaceship Aether, which is on its way home after a long trip to Jupiter. The crew, which includes Dr Sullivan (Felicity Jones), Adewole (David Oyelowo) and Sanchez (Demian Bichir), are unaware of Earth's impending doom. Augustine's isolation is shattered, however, when he discovers Iris (Caoilinn Springall), a girl left behind by the evacuees by mistake.

What develops from this work, adapted from the 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, might be called "emo science fiction". The plot does not hinge on technology getting characters into and out of trouble; rather, the story concerns itself with matters of regret, grief, hope and love.

The setting is grand, but there is too much jarring Arctic survival and space adventure filler. The space segments bring to mind Ad Astra (2019) and, yes, Gravity. And like Ad Astra, which stars Brad Pitt, Clooney's movie feels like a session of meditative reverie interrupted by scenes of frantic astronaut action. Some directors know how to make adventure movies that seamlessly blend action with feelings of loss and heartbreak - Clooney is not one of them.

I REMEMBER

(PG, 100 minutes, opens today, not reviewed)

Angelababy and Lee Hongchi star in this Mandarin romance seen from the point of view of Fei Li (Lee), a shy computer technician secretly in love with Zhao (Angelababy), a colleague. Both are on a company trip to Finland when Zhao has an accident which erases her memory.

Now that she is a clean slate and has forgotten that she has a boyfriend back home, Li seizes the chance to make her fall in love with him before her memories return.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline 'Disaster movie needs rescuing'. Print Edition | Subscribe