Reviews

The Wall is a taut, engrossing military thriller

In contrast to the family comedy that goes on for too long, period drama My Cousin Rachel and military thriller The Wall up the tension by going no-frills

The House (NC16, 88 minutes, opens tomorrow, 1.5/5 stars) is the kind of suburban-parents-gone- wild comedy that seems to be in fashion: Nice couple react to crazy neighbours (Neighbors, 2014), nice couple get mistaken for spies or are roped into a caper (Date Night, 2010; Keeping Up With The Joneses, 2016).

A few have been passable, but the majority are terrible, including this one. This suffers from the usual problems, such as the writers' belief that movie jokes, compared with television jokes, must be bigger and more outrageous.

No surprise then that the writer behind Neighbors and its sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016), is directing and co-writing this one. Andrew Jay Cohen likes his jokes the way Michael Bay likes his stunts in the Transformers movies: loud and frequent.

Scott and Kate (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are a nice couple whose daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) has been accepted into an expensive college. Neighbour Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) hits upon an idea that will help them afford the tuition: They should start an illegal casino in his house.

The rest of it, as in past Cohen films, are a series of loose set-ups that involve the couple breaking social norms reluctantly, then enthusiastically. Cue the inevitable slow-motion sequence, set to hip-hop, in which a middle-class white couple congratulate themselves for being total gangsters.

The underground casino, like the frat house in Neighbors, serves as a device for cramming in as many clips as possible of people behaving like self-harming idiots. It's like watching a series of funny viral videos, the kind people send one another on WhatsApp.

Ask yourself: Would you like it as much if the clip was more than an hour long?

My Cousin Rachel (NC16, 106 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars), is not brief either, but time spent on it will be rewarded. This is a rare work: a thriller set in the 19th century that is neither grimy and dark nor eroticised and psychological.

This is, in other words, not an arthouse picture, though it could easily have been.

Based on the 1951 Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, the story is set in the 1830s and revolves around Philip (Sam Claflin), an orphaned boy who grows up in the home of his wealthy relative Ambrose.

While in Italy taking in the warm weather, Ambrose meets and marries the previously unknown cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and shortly thereafter dies in mysterious circumstances.

Philip is convinced that she had a hand in it and vows revenge.

This restrained and faithful adaptation of the classic novel loses little by taking the no-frills approach.

Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, 1999) prefers clarity above all, as shown in the linear timeline and sticking with Philip's point of view at all times - his version of reality alone tells the story.

There is one nod to current trends, however. Rachel is shown to be something of an early feminist, a woman who lives by her own rules. Her lack of deference to Philip infuriates him. He reads it as an insult to his masculinity and this escalates the drama in this good-looking, highly watchable adaptation.

Wrestler-actor John Cena plays an American sniper in Iraq who is pinned down behind a crumbling wall by an unseen Iraqi sniper.
Wrestler-actor John Cena plays an American sniper in Iraq who is pinned down behind a crumbling wall by an unseen Iraqi sniper. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Rising tension of another kind drives The Wall (M18, 90 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars), a taut, engrossing military thriller that is as stripped-down as it could possibly get.

Think Ryan Reynolds' entombed truck driver in Buried (2010) and you get an idea of how this version of a closed-room drama works.

Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (wrestler-actor John Cena) are American snipers in Iraq who are themselves pinned down behind a crumbling wall by an unseen Iraqi sniper. That's it, as far as plot goes.

Do not look to this for military realism. In the mind games that the two opposing sides play with each other, liberties are taken.

But director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, 2002; Edge Of Tomorrow, 2014), working with a screenplay that was on a shortlist of Hollywood's best unproduced works, is a master at using edits and camera angles as a tool for heightening anxiety.

Overdrive stars Scott Eastwood (left) and Freddie Thorp as half-brothers who are genius car thieves.
Overdrive stars Scott Eastwood (left) and Freddie Thorp as half-brothers who are genius car thieves. PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Tension, anxiety, drive - whatever you call it, vehicular thriller Overdrive (PG13, 93 minutes, opens tomorrow, 1.5/5 stars) does not have it.

The speed indicator goes from zero to, well, not much higher than that in this Euro-clone that blends the car porn of Gone In 60 Seconds (2000) with the multi-vehicle stunt action of the Fast And Furious series.

Andrew and Garrett are half-brothers, played by the mono-expression Scott Eastwood, paired with hyperactive British actor Freddie Thorp, as if to compensate.

They are a team of genius car thieves forced into doing an impossible caper, with the help of Andrew's girlfriend Stephanie (Ana de Armas).

There are several solid car chases, but there is just too much patience-testing nonsense in between, in the form of lazy national stereotypes, groan-worthy dialogue, bad jokes and contrived plot twists.

European genre pictures sometimes offer slick reboots of styles that Hollywood has forgotten how to do properly. Taken (2008), for example, was a great remix of the revenge thriller. But often, as in this movie, insufficient imagination goes into the mix; the result is an engine in dire need of a tune-up.

DOSE OF REALISM IN PERIOD THRILLER

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'The House is like a funny viral clip that never ends'. Print Edition | Subscribe