Sunset Beat (1990)

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by Sam Weisman
Starring George Clooney and James Tolkan

    A feature-length pilot for a TV series about a unique unit of undercover cops that ride around on motorbikes solving crimes (and who says there's no original ideas left in Hollywood anymore).
    George Clooney plays 'maverick' cop Chic Chesbro (no really) who, along with having a psycho, drug-addict ex-wife, also has rock star pretensions and plays guitar in a band called Private Prayer.
    After a disastrous gig where George's guitar solo is rudely interrupted by a huge riot (instigated by his ex-wife climbing on stage and shouting, "You suck!" at him; at least someone had the heart to tell him). George hops on his Harley and rides off in a huff, moodily starring out across the ocean as the opening credits sequence (and sub Bon Jovi rock theme tune) play out.
    Then within seconds he literally stumbles across an overturned truck filled with a billion dollars of embezzled notes belonging to Adolph Hitler's illegitimate son, Peter Schmidt, who needs the cash for a sex change operation in Mexico (I swear to God I'm not making this up!).
    With the cash in the hands of the cops, Schmidt starts torturing and killing people leaving messages with (or on) them saying "I want my money back"
    Can the five cops stop Hitler Junior before he murders his way across L.A in the name of sexuality?
    Can they bollocks!

What's wrong with it?

    It might as well have been made by 'By the numbers productions'. Clunking and predictable, with characterisation of the "I dropped out of medical school" and "Say didn't you used to be a American footballer for Ivy League state?" variety. The acting is what you would expect from a bunch of L.A lugs with silly 1990's haircuts. All these cops do is break police procedure and exchange snappy patter with each other, rather than actually doing any work despite supposedly being the saviours of the police force. The 'emotional' subplot of George Clooney's crazed junkie ex-wife is laughable due to some cod acting, over-egged soft rock music and Clooney's mullet. In short, the whole affair comes across like a 'Simpsons' parody of a predictably dull police cop show…Except this is real. And deadly serious.

What's right with it?

    George Clooney. With a mullet. Trying to be Jon Bon Jovi. Playing a character called Chic Chesbro.
    Ha ha ha, I'm laughing already!…Oh wait, it's not a comedy!

How bad is it really?

    With a production of such startling ineptitude it's no wonder it never became a TV series. (Oh, but it did - The Prophet)

Best bit?

    George Clooney playing his 2nd guitar solo of the film, only for it once again to be rudely interrupted this time by Adolph Hitler's son dropping a dead body on him from a helicopter.

What's up with?


Production Values - Dull TV show locales and stunts (the old classics, a car driving off the docks into the sea and a toy helicopter blowing up for the finale). Plus there's a really naff bit where Clooney is performing a duet with Alison Moyet (well it looks like her) which is interspersed with stock crowd footage that would be fine, except Clooney and the band were obviously filmed at night, and the crowd weren't. Also Clooney's stunt double's wig falls off at one point during the finale. 18

Dialogue and performance - Nothing memorable in the script, except for the "First you go undercover, then you get your ears pierced, then you get motorbikes and then you turn into John MacEnroe" line, simply because it makes no sense and has no relevance to anything in the story. Maybe it's a taster for the next episode "Clooney goes undercover at Wimbledon". The actors universally suck, that goes for Georgey boy too, he morosely plods around disobeying orders and riding motorbikes in leather jackets for 90 minutes like his acting career is over at the age of 25. 14

Plot and execution - The plot is all over the place, and simply serves as a flimsy pretext to set up the main characters. The direction was a joke; I had little or no idea what was going on or why. 17

Randomness - When reviewing a film in which Hitler's illegitimate son is trying to raise a billion dollars for a sex change operation in Mexico, randomness becomes a bit of a moot point, however when Peter Schmidt is finally given a name it's over an hour into the film. Plus I had no idea why he had loads of cash, why he lost it, or why he kidnapped the President only to then seemingly leave him behind in favour of nicking a conveniently parked helicopter. Clooney's wife disappears halfway through the movie (probably a wise move). And how does George get from a Harley on Hollywood Drive, to hanging on the undercarriage of a helicopter in a matter of seconds? 20

Waste of potential - A bunch of maverick cops on bikes solving crimes. It could have had a hokey T J Hooker-esque charm, but however it more churns than charms. 16

Overall 85%


Smilla's Feeling for Snow (1997)

Snow covers everything...except the truth.

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by Billie August
Starring Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne and Richard Harris.

    Smilla Jaspersen, an emotionally ice cold Gencalogist (Study of snow and ice. Natch!) returns home to find her only true friend, a 7 year old boy called Isiah, has died from an apparent suicide off the roof of their Copenhagen apartment block.
    Smilla senses something rotten in the state of Denmark and suspects foul play. She goes all Angela Lansbury (although I can't see Jessica Fletcher stabbing someone with a screwdriver or punching a woman in the crotch!). Taking the law into her own hands, in that way that only people from thriller novels and Hollywood films do, she's soon breaking into police file banks, abseiling off ships and getting cosy with Gabriel Byrne.
    Suddenly, and almost without warning we are introduced to a sub X-Files plot about 'living meteors that generate energy from the farthest reaches of the galaxy that have revived a long extinct killer parasitic worm that's in danger of wiping out mankind'. Then the film shifts genre again and becomes some pseudo Bond movie when Smilla finds the baddies' (lead by a cold looking Richard Harris) underground Arctic lair. Getting captured, the bad guys tell her their plans for world domination then have one inept guard take her outside for assassination who is subsequently shot with a harpoon gun.
    Richard Harris falls in the sea, and the underground base blows up.
    Murder she wrote was never like this!

What's wrong with it?

    Once again we have the curse of a deep and thought provoking 400-page novel (by Peter Hoeg) compressed into a two-hour film that makes no sense. The film shifts tone and genres too radically, which in turn makes the characters motivations hard to follow. Any suspense or narrative is sadly destroyed due to the heavy handed editing and obvious last minute reshoots. 
    Many characters (mostly credible actors too) just show up for one scene to further Smilla's quest/ explain the plot. The moment the best character - Jekkelsen, a wise cracking drug addict with dreams of a modelling career - starts being interesting and sympathetic (and saves Smilla's life on two occasions) you know he's toast. He even has the indignity of being creamed by some unidentified assailant off screen (although his Dad does avenge his death by shooting his murderer with a harpoon gun then kicking Tom Wilkinson into the killer parasite pool of death). Plus whoever thought it would be a good idea to put dress Peter Capaldi up as Oscar Wilde and have him act like Tom Baker in Dr Who needs to be ritually killed by a killer parasite.

What's right with it?

    To the film's credit, the first half is fine. If the whole film had been about Smilla trying to solve Isiah's death it would probably have been a decent little thriller. However as soon as the killer parasitic worms and energy producing meteors are introduced it just becomes silly. Billie August makes the most out of the impressive Greenland tundra, and the bleakness of Copenhagen.
    Julia Ormond plays Smilla with strange mixture of wooden detachment and Sarah Conner ass kicking, which actually works for the character. Julia gets stuck into the female Bond action role with aplomb, hanging off the side of ships, diving from explosions into the Copenhagen canal, sticking people with screwdrivers (clearly doing her own stunts too!) but all the while being sad and lonely beneath her harsh exterior. You go girl!
    The supporting cast (including Bob Peck, Jim Broadbent and Vanessa Redgrave) give their thankless roles a bit more clout (although no one could be arsed to even try a Danish accent).

How bad is it really?

    Starts promisingly, with stunning cinematography and above average acting. Then degenerates into implausible plotting and a cod ending.

Best Bit?

    The impressive opening in which a Innuit on a dog sled tries to outrun an avalanche caused by the falling meteor.

What's up with?


Production Values - Impressive cinematography and production design. Decent Morricone style score from Hans Zimmer. Some good stunt work. And a funky avalanche. 4

Dialogue and performance - I've not read the book, so I couldn't tell you what parts of the dialogue survived from the original source. There's nothing too memorable here (apart from a few script clangers and a couple of nice retorts from Smilla).
The acting fares better. Ormond and Byrne both good, but without much chemistry. The flashbacks involving Smilla and Isiah are more touching and poignant (and Isiah is soooo cute!). All the other classy actors are wasted. 7 (+ 4 as Peter Capaldi was so completely pants) 11

Plot and execution - The plot, looks like a drama/thriller, moves like a drama/thriller, steers like an X-File. The direction has some moments of excellence, other moments of crud. A lot of wasted potential for suspense scenes and drama in favour of histrionics and inexplicable action sequences. 14

Randomness - The film has lots of characters that show up then disappear before you've even worked out who they are. You tend to recognise them from the actors rather than any discernible characters. The whole meteor plot doesn't really have any baring to anything, and there's no real conclusion. 17

Waste of potential - This was so close to being a good thriller, but then someone mentions 'energy generating meteors' and it becomes bizarre. With a sharper narrative (maybe a longer running time) this could have been a corker. 17



Bones (2001)

This Halloween, unleash the Dogg

Reviewed by James Holloway

Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Starring Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Michael T. Weiss, Clifton Powell

    In 1979, Snoop Dogg is Jimmy Bones, a gangster who rolls around the neighborhood accompanied by his sidekick Shotgun, doing nice things for people. 

    Skip forward to the modern day, where a clueless group of multicultural teens are buying Bones's old house to open their nightclub in. Despite warnings from neighborhood psychic Pam Grier and her attractive daughter, the club opens... only to be terrorized by the revived Bones, eager for vengeance on the people who killed him long ago.

    Surprise surprise, the idiot young folks are descended from one of Bones's murderers. Bones goes on a killing spree, knocking off his killers and their descendants one by one until finally only Patrick ( Khalil Kain) and aforementioned attractive daughter Cynthia (Bianca Lawson) have to track him to his lair and banish him.

What's wrong with it?

    Godawful cheesy-ass special effects, particularly the blood, which looks like red paint mixed with Pepto-Bismol. The plot more or less makes sense, but the execution is irritating. Performances are terrible, including a particularly disappointing turn by Ginger Snaps star Katharine Isabelle. Snoop Dogg is actually one of the best performers in the film, since he's basically just playing his stage persona. It also has a cheesy nightclub sequence, gratuitous scantily clad women, and the obligatory Snoop-dominated soundtrack.

What's right with it?

    Snoop Dogg is, funnily enough, pretty good, but the real scene-stealer is Ricky Harris as local crime kingpin Eddie Mack. Bones severs Eddie's head and carries it around with him, still wisecracking. As a gothic horror movie, it's OK, but a little limp.

How bad is it really?

    Bad enough to be funny, if it weren't for the long, dragging scenes with the earnest young people. Not hip enough to inhabit their roles well and not old enough to ham unabashedly, they stumble through the hoary plot, failing at every turn to provide us with reasons to care about them - or even distinguish one of them from another.    

Best bit?

What's up with...?


|Production values - not too bad, I guess. Competently shot, if a little dim. The 70s flashback sequences are pretty neat. Special effects are dismal, though. 13

Dialogue and performances - rotten. Snoop, Grier, and Harris are worth your time, but the charismatic young leads are dull enough to drag the average down. 14

Plot and execution - well, it's pretty much just a standard revenge-from-beyond-the-grave scenario. The scenes are strung together with no real relation to one another, particularly Bones's manifestations in the early part of the film. 14

Randomness - high randomness, particularly in the first half and right toward the end. 16

Waste of potential - well, it's hard to say. With some hipper young leads and a good unifying idea for the ghost-Bones, it could have been a lot better, but it's pretty much a blaxploitation horror flick, so what did you expect? 14

Overall : 71%