The SmarK DVD Rant – Old Dogs, New Tricks

The SmarK DVD Rant – Old Dogs, New Tricks

I don’t know if it’s the aging baby boomer population that’s to thank, but there seems to be a new sub-genre now: Old geezers killing people. Thankfully, the people making these movies tend to be smart enough about their craft to pick good scripts, thus avoiding any more Wild Hogs or Old Dogs or other Travolta-related disasters. Oddly enough, both of the movies I’m taking a look at this time feature retired Marines caught up in an escalating violent war, although the movies couldn’t be more different outside of that.


I was hesitant to go see this one in the theaters because I wasn’t familiar with the graphic novel and the title was so vague as to be meaningless (for those who don’t know, in the movie world it’s a CIA acronym for “Retired: Extremely Dangerous”), but it’s got Helen Mirren shooting the crap out of people, so I gave it a look on DVD. It ended up being one of those movies that I enjoyed and then enjoyed less and less the more I thought about it, so I’ve decided to stop thinking about it and hold onto the good memories of it.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA black ops agent (like, the kind that only exists in the movies), so super-efficient and deadly at his job that he might as well just go into peoples’ dreams like Freddy Kruger and dispatch them that way. After weeks of flirting on the phone with pension agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, who in Hollywood is a plain Jane who can’t get a decent boyfriend), he suddenly discovers that bad people want him dead again, which likely includes Sarah. So after dispatching a stereotypical death squad with his bare hands (and without millions of rounds firing attracting any attention from the police whatsoever…sorry, I’ll stop thinking about it again), he does the logical thing and kidnaps his new girlfriend for a road trip to hunt his would-be killers. Along the way he reassembles his former team (Mirren as last-name-less assassin Victoria, John Malkovich as paranoid Marvin Boggs, and Morgan Freeman as the Token Black Guy. Oh, and Brian Cox as a Russian named Ivan. Of course.) There’s actually kind of a disconnect with the movies around the middle part, as the first half is an intriguing look at how a retired agent reacts to being forced back into the field, filled with imaginative special effects and snappy dialogue. The second half, however, turns into a standard Hollywood action movie, complete with the world’s deadliest assassins firing thousands of rounds at each other without hitting a damn thing. Plus the plot, which actually tries to introduce a twist in terms of who The Real Villain is, kind of forgets what the movie was originally about. Really, by the end Sarah has been reduced to the usual useless damsel-in-distress instead of adding anything to the movie, and the script kind of forgets about Boggs past a certain point.

But that’s all OK, because this is enough of a fun romp that it can overcome the sillier points by being charming and entertaining through sheer force of willpower. Obviously Bruce Willis is totally believable as a bad-ass former agent, and Karl Urban chews the scenery as a hotshot field agent tracking him for reasons even he doesn’t know about. Plus Malkovich gets to say “I’ll get the pig!” and then carries a stuffed pig around with him for the next few scenes. Clearly these are people having fun with the material, and I can appreciate that. Recommended!

Harry Brown

I kind of forgot about this one, as I also got it to review a while ago and kept putting it off until RED reminded me of it. There is similar material here, as Michael Caine is also a retired badass called back into the war one more time, but this one has more to do with Gran Torino or even Taken, than Death Wish.

Caine plays Harry Brown, long retired and living in the slums of Britain because that’s all he can afford on his pension. His wife is newly dead and his one refuge from the endless drug dealers and gang wars in his section of town is a chess game with an old friend. Unfortunately, his friend is as sick of the gang activity as Harry is, and chooses to go into the gang-infested subway with a giant knife one night to settle the score. Things go very badly for him (the “fight” ends with him dead and the punks pissing on his corpse), and that’s about all that Harry can take without seeking revenge. Seeking vigilante justice in Britain is tricky, however, especially if you want to buy a gun, because you can’t. This leads to Brown having to deal with two incredibly skeevy drug dealers in order to get weapons, in a scene that’s very raw and off-putting, but also leads to a moment from Harry that shows just why he was able to survive in Northern Ireland all those years ago. It’s awesome stuff from Michael Caine, as even his descent into moral darkness (murder and arson!) leaves you cheering for him as you’re wondering how far he’ll go to get rid of the criminal element in his little world. It probably helps that the kids who run the drug trade are such repulsive little punks, and this movie pulls no punches in Harry’s treatment of them. At the very beginning of the movie, two of them are shown stealing a motorbike and shooting a young mother in the head, just for fun, while videotaping it on their phone, so this a film that makes no pretenses about the targets deserving sympathy for Brown’s cruel treatment. Even the police aren’t overly concerned about an 80-year old pensioner with emphysema possibly offing the scumbags of the street, because really why would they object?

That being said, this is a VERY British movie, with accents and slang so thick that subtitles are probably a must to follow what’s going on. It’s not enough to affect my enjoyment of it, but some of the finer points of the dialogue might get lost. That’s a minor point, as this was a movie that totally caught me by surprise and proved extremely enjoyable. It probably helps that Caine is a great actor and a likeable guy to start with, but this is well worth checking out if you’ve never heard about it before. Highly recommended!

The winner this time: Both are great in their own way, but Harry Brown is my recommendation if you have to choose one.

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