Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Cap’n names his Top Ten Movies of 2009

2009 was a bit of a down year at the movies, but there was plenty to see if you knew where to look. When thinking back over the course of a year you always search for patterns. This was a year for films about soldiers (four made my list), high quality animation (the top two found their way here, but there were other contenders), and the strongest year for science fiction in recent memory (including three who earned spots). Throw into that mix my favorite drama of the year, and a spot-on teenage coming of age comedy, and maybe 2009 wasn't such a bad year after all.

I tried my best to see everything but a few slipped by me including Broken Embraces, Red Cliff, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and A Single Man. And I'll take a moment to give a shout out to a pair of films just missing the cut in Sin Nombre the Coen Bros. A Serious Man.

But enough about what didn't earn a spot. Let's get on to the list...

"We are doing the work of pathetic, lazy, morons"

Teen comedies are a dime-a-dozen these days. So for me to include a film like Adventureland in the best of the year category it must be something special. And it is. Director Greg Mottola has given us an instant classic in the genre. This belongs on your DVD shelf next to Say Anything..., at least that's where it is on mine. Mottola's semi-autobiographical coming of age tale gives us more than we expect. Yes, it wants to make you laugh, but it also sets out to be a lasting film with an easily relatable personal story of young love and that crappy summer job everyone remembers so well. Currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Last Outpost of Humanity

In the future all of the Earth's energy needs will be met by a single man working on the Moon. Sam Rockwell stars as a man nearing the end of his three-year assignment with no direct contact with Earth and only a robot as a friend. A shocking discovery leads him to doubt his own sanity and question everything he knows and believes about himself and the nature of human existence as he knows it. With a budget of only $5,000,000 director Duncan Jones gives us a tight psychological drama about what it means to be human. Available on DVD and Blu-ray January 12th.

Part Mockumentary, Part Social Commentary, Part Action Flick

Speaking of strong sci-fi films made on a modest budget. With $30,000,000 director Neill Blomkamp takes a hard look at segregation, under-the-radar government experiments, class structure, and xenophobia through the lens of one man's (Sharlto Copley) journey and slow transformation from bureaucrat, to fugitive, to alien life-form. This is District 9. Somehow this thinly-veiled allegory to Cape Town's District Six never comes off as preachy or pompous. Blomkamp earns major points here by combining weighty ideas with some seriously cool effects, and all without a name star to help sell the film. Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

James Cameron is Back

If Moon represents one side the the sci-fi genre (the quiet, science-heavy introspection), James Cameron's Avatar is the other. Costing upwards of $300, 000,000 (reports differ), the film is less about story than providing a lasting memorable experience unlike anything you have ever seen. This tale of humans attempting to survive on a hostile alien world, and one soldier's (Sam Worthington) attempts to learn from the native population, is big budget sci-fi spectacle at its best. Part Dances With Wolves and part Star Wars, Avatar succeeds in structuring intriguing characters, lush visuals, amazing 3-D, and an amazing fleshed-out new world, around a rather pedestrian story. It's quite possible in five years that this is the film everyone remembers from 2009. Currently in theaters and IMAX.

"You know, you really are fantastic"

I'm not Wes Anderson's biggest fan. Other than Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited I tend to come away from his work conflicted, saddened, and ultimately disappointed. With Fantastic Mr Fox Anderson uses his unique style and quirky sense of humor to its fullest. This beautifully rendered stop motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's book is as good as anything the director has ever done. Every choice is right here, and in a normal year for animation this would be handsdown the best in of the genre, but we still have a Pixar film to discuss. Currently in theaters.

Ben Foster Grows Up

It's hard for me not to think of Ben Foster as the lead character in the teen comedy Get Over It, but the The Messenger makes it easier. Foster stars as a decorated soldier coming off an eye injury who is given a new assignment (working as a Casualty Notification Officer) and a new commander (Woody Harrelson), neither of which he's all that sure of. Foster carries the film with a depth I never knew he was capable of, and Samantha Morton chimes in with a memorable supporting performance as a widow of a fallen soldier. Currently playing in select cities.

"My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you"

You and me both Dug. Up has it all. The humor, craftsmanship, and Pixar's usual fine touches earn it a spot on the list, but it's those early heart-wrenching scenes involving Carl (Ed Asner) and Ellie's life together that push it into the top five. And here's another film where animals (dogs) are more than just anamorphized human characters... *SQUIRREL!*... Where was I? Oh yeah, they think and act like dogs! This isn't just a great animated film. Up is a great film. Period. Currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

"War is a drug"

Director Kathryn Bigelow throws us into the action following members of a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Iraq. Although I think the second-half of The Hurt Locker is a little too preoccupied with Sgt. James' (Jeremy Renner) concern over a missing young boy, Bigelow delivers a great war film without much of the usual trappings and cliche of films of this type. Renner's performance is first rate as the team leader, who seems just as likely to get everyone killed as save the day, in a film filled with strong performances. Available on DVD and Blu-ray January 12th.

Simply Glorious

I have never owned a Quentin Tarantino film, until now. I've always respected the man as a filmmaker (and never needed to buy Pulp Fiction, as it's seemingly always on television), but this was the first film of his I felt I needed to won. Inglourious Basterds takes on history itself with this tale of a Jewish band of Nazi killers (led by Brad Pitt), a Nazi officer known as "The Jew Hunter" (Christoph Waltz in a performance which should snag him an Oscar), and the women (Mélanie Laurent, Diane Kruger) who have their own roles to play in ending the war. Given it's offbeat nature (I still argue the film is a comedy with some great dramatic moments) it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought it was bloody brilliant. Currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Best Film of 2009

The easiest choice on the list was naming #1. This isn't the first time Jason Reitman has earned a spot on my best of the year list, but Up in the Air does mark the first time the director has snagged the top spot. Sometimes the right movie hits at exactly the right time. This is that film. This tale of a hatchet man for hire (George Clooney in one of the year's best performances) trying to protect his own job (and lifestyle) from the new ideas of young Cornell graduate (Anna Kendrick), deal with his sister's (Melanie Lynskey) impending wedding, and examine his feelings for his new lady love (Vera Farmiga), is clever, witty, sly, and awfully charming (just like the film's star). Up in the Air is a great film getting the most out of the talents of a young director and a movie star at the top of his game. Reitman also carefully blends in scenes with both actors and real people dealing loosing their jobs, a love of travel, and a philosophy of an untethered life. The result is magic. A film about firing people has never been this funny, and rarely this moving. Currently in theaters.

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Complicated

Not everything released around Christmas is Oscar-worthy. Now, It's Complicated certainly has some talent. Meryl Streep collects awards like I do comics, and Alec Baldwin (as I have often said before) just reading a phone book can be funnier than almost everyone else on the planet.

This new rom-com from writer/director Nancy Meyers (The Holiday - which I liked, What Women Want - which I didn't) is exactly what you'd expect going in. Thankfully there's enough humor that guys won't have to struggle too much when they're dragged by their better halves to see this over the holiday weekend.

Love the second time around is a complicated business, or so the film tells us. Divorced for ten years, emotions resurface for Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) while attending their son's (Hunter Parrish) college graduation.

Also thrown into the mix are the couple's son-in-law (John Krasinski) who catches the pair on a rendezvous, Lake Bell as Jake's demanding new trophy wife, Steve Martin as a possible new romantic interest for Jane, and a group of Jane's friends (Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Alexandra Wentworth) to cheer on her new affair.

The cast is solid but doesn't breakout from the thinly-written characters on the page. Streep carries the film through a mix of enjoyment and guilt over her new affair. Baldwin does the charming slimy routine he's had down for years. Martin is so constrained and understated through most of the film that you wonder why someone of his comedic talent was even chosen for the role. Krasinski plays shocked fairly well, and Parrish, Caitlin Fitzgerald, and Zoe Kazan all have a couple of nice moments and the pair's children.

Some of the humor works well, but at other times Meyers falls back on some much overused clichés such as characters making bad choices in the wrong place at exactly the right time. There's even on scene where Martin and Streep showing up to a family party high on pot. You can guess what happens next.

And, if I have any real complaint about the film it's just that - you know what will happen next. As complicated as the film wants to be, there's no suspense about where events are heading or how it will end.

It's Complicated isn't a bad film. It's just predictable. Too predictable. And although the stars shine for moments, they are too often they are buried by the burden of the script they've been forced to bear.

There are certainly stronger films to see, but if you go you can expect to have a few laughs before you leave the theater and never think back on the film again. I guess it's not that complicated after all.

The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria is a solid effort from screenwriter Julian Fellows (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair).

Emily Blunt proves capable of capturing a young woman on the verge of controlling an empire and struggling with advisors, her mother's power-hungry lover (Mark Stong), and her own ideas for her country's future.

And yet, something is missing.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed The Young Victoria. The sets, cinematography, acting, and costumes all demonstrate talent and a keen eye for the period. Maybe I've just seen too many of these paint-by-number historical dramas, or perhaps this film does too little to distinguish itself from all the others.

The film is an attempt to show Victoria (Blunt) blossoming into womanhood, her rise to power, her early years as Queen, and her romance with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). And it does exactly that, and nothing more.

One of the film's biggest flaws is it's choice of time period. Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain for almost 40 years, but that Victoria isn't the one captured on screen. This Victoria doesn't know who she is yet, and neither does the film. As a result, the film struggles, especially in the first act, as it tries to find a voice for its main character.

Instead of focusing on the breadth of Victoria's reign, director Jean-Marc Vallée is content to only give us a look at her personal life of the young Queen. In essence, it's a blander version of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette without the style, elegance, and daring filmmaking.

It's quite possible I'm being too hard on The Young Victoria, and by my comments you might be thinking of avoiding the film.

I wouldn't go that far. For those who enjoy historical films like these, you are going to get your money's worth. And had the film not been released during award season (and didn't reek a little of Oscar bait), I might have found it a little more to my liking.

Besides Blunt, there are several strong performances including Friend, Strong, Paul Bettany, and Jim Broadbent. Blunt carries the story, but each actor adds something memorable to the film. These performances coupled with the design of the film makes it an easy recommendation.

The Young Victoria is not a great film, but it is quite good. I'd compare it to something like 2008's The Duchess. It's definitely worth a look, but it's not in the class with the best films of this year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Up in the Air

Every couple of years it seems director Jason Reitman is putting out a movie that ends up on my best of the year list. Oh wait, that's exactly what he's been doing.

Starting in 2005 with Thank You for Smoking followed by 2007's Juno, Reitman has quickly made a name for himself creating smart, funny, off-beat, award-winning films with heart, wit, and a little bit of sass.

Another two years have gone by, and Reitman returns once again with tale of a salesman. In Thank You for Smoking Aaron Eckhart made smoking not only palatable, but patriotic.

Here Reitman casts George Clooney as a termination specialist, a man who is selling unemployment - with a smile. And as he did with Eckhart, Reitman allows the man's natural charm and the wit of the script to soften the hard edges of what it is he's selling. If you've never believed a movie about firing people could be this entertaining, you're about to be proven very wrong.

"I work for another company that lends me out to pussies like Steve's boss who don't have the balls to sack their own employees."

In Up in the Air our hero is Ryan Bingham (Clooney) a man who makes his living firing people he's never met and selling them on the idea that the promise of tomorrow might be just enough to make it through the misery of today.

Ryan spends most of his life in airport bars, hotels, and flying from one city to the next. He has a bare apartment he never sees, few real friends, barely speaks to his family, and a constant urning to remain on the go.

This isn't just his preferred lifestyle, it's his philosophy. In his spare time the man gives seminars on living a life of solitude, on removing the burdens of objects and relationships which weight you down, and living a life untethered and uncluttered.

"I tell people how to avoid commitment."
"What kind of fucked up message is that?"

As philosophies go I've heard worse, and one of the strengths of Up in the Air is the film allows others to judge Ryan's life, but never feels the need to do so itself. It may be a fucked-up worldview, but it has its own logic and certainly works well fro him. That solitude provides Ryan the necessary room, both physically and emotionally, to spend an average of 275 days a year firing complete strangers, as well as living most of his life among them.

To save money Ryan's boss (Jason Bateman) grabs onto the ideas of young Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who is instituting a plan of grounding the company's army of axe-men, incluing Ryan, in favor of a cost-cutting measure of terminating people remotely. This, as you may guess, doesn't sit too well with our hero.

A challenge, of sorts, leads the unilikely pair on a road trip as Ryan tries to teach Natalie the ropes of the business and argue for a more personal appproach instead of the more impersonal choice of firing someone over the Internet. Along the way Ryan meets woman much like himself (Vera Farmiga), but with a vagina, equally obsessed with status, travel, and the lure of life on the road.

"We're two people who get turned on by elite status. I think cheap is our starting point."

Their meeting in the hotel bar, where they discuss everything from rental cars to the mile-high club, could hardly be cuter. And the "morning after" which takes place well-before dawn as the pair traverse the myriad nature of their schedules looking for another rendezvous should bring a smile to your face.

At this point you may think the film is moving into romantic comedy territory, thankfully it's not. Although his new relationships with Alex (Farmiga) and Natalie begin to soften his shell, the film never devolves into a sappy simple life-chaging experience trap it could all too easily have fallen into.

After all, Ryan and Natalie have a job to do. In some of the hardest scenes to watch Reitman inter-cuts actors (J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis) with real people giving honest reactions to learning they no longer have jobs. Each one of these individuals volunteered to recreate one of the hardest moments of their lives for the film, and, with a deft touch, Reitman expertly captures and weaves the raw emotion of each scenes into the film.

There's one other storyline which I haven't mentioned which involve Ryan's estranged sister (Melanie Lynskey) and her wedding to a man he's never met (Danny McBride). Ryan can hardly believe he's being tasked to take pictures of a cardboard cut-out of the couple, in a variety of odd locations, much less take the time to make the trip back to northern Wisconsin for the wedding.

It's where these threads come together - Ryan being pulled of the road, Natalie's influence and prodding to become more connected to those around him, the burgeoning relationship with Alex, rethinking his philosophy of the "Empty Backpack," and the need to reconnect with his family - that the film comes dangerously close to schmaltzy. However, it's also in these moments where Ryan finds a new kind of peace in the company with others as opposed to the pleasures of solitude.

Reitman, who began working on the screenplay in 2002, makes some smart choices throughout, both great and small. At times the film delivers exactly what we expect, only to swiftly make a 180 degrees and defy the basic Hollywood convention and expectations.

"I'm like my mother, I sterotype. It's faster."

Even as our hero begins to internally think over his life, the film never takes away his edge or try to instantly transform him into someone new. Though smooth in a crisis, he can often go short, especially with the protege he's been saddled with. The film is never afraid to let Ryan be a jerk, self-involved, and spending most of his time thinking primarily about himself.

Although there is a love story between Alex and Ryan, the real love story is the love and joy of travel. The order to Ryan's universe is expertly shown in quick cuts of suitcases being closed and loaded, cards swiped, hassle-free service, tickets scanned and cars provided. Ryan's dreams aren't marriage and children. His dreams are to keep flying, to accumulate enough frequent flyer miles to put himself into an elite class.

And with each new stop Ryan and Natalie fly Reitman provides an overhead shot of the city. It may seem like a small thing, but this gives each location, no matter how long or short they stay, a personality of its own.

"We are here to make limbo tolerable. To ferry wounded souls across the river of dread to where hope is dimly visable. Then stop the boat,shove them in the water, and make them swim."

In a year in which Clooney has played a fox, he's even more sly here. Although rough around the edges, sarcastic, self-involved, and saddled with the job of firing thousands of people a year, Ryan is still a likable character who cares more than he ever lets on. But the film isn't afraid to let Ryan be harsh and brutally honest with Natalie, at time bordering on cruel. It's a testament to both Clooney's charisma and Reitman understanding how far he can allow the character to go in each scene.

His two supporting ladies are also worthy of recognition. Kendrick is great as the young professional who finds herself quickly over her head and Farmiga provides a nice contrasting older woman's perspective to Natalie's idealism. There's a scene where the three discuss relationships and the compromises with age that is both depressing and illuminating for Natalie. Although not necessary to the film's plot, its one of those moments that allows you see into each character and make a few educated guesses as how you see things turning out.

I love everything about this film from the open credits looking down on the world from Ryan's vantage point set to "This Land is Your Land" to the closing credits which inlcude a song sent to the director by unemployed man looking for a break. And the more I watch it (I've now seen it three times) the more I like it.

"Everybody needs a co-pilot."

This isn't a film which will wow you with special effects, or make some surprising leap in cinematic history. It doesn't redefine the genre or set out to shock or awe. As memorable as some films which do those things are, they are usually quite hollow, and over time fade compared the luster of a film that not only is well-made but also connects with the audience on an emotional level. As High Fidelty's Rob Gordon would say: "It wasn't spectacular either. It was just good. But really good." To put it another way, if this film were a girl it might not be a supermodel, but it would be the girl you'd marry.

Up in the Air is not a happy movie. Although quite entertaining it isn't afraid to take on hard subjects, and is filled with as much humor as it is raw emotion and pain. Happy moments don't always last, but neither do the saddest and most lonely. If the film has a message perhaps its not to become lost in the moment but continue to move forward, strive, and live.

I've seen the film three time so far, and I'll tell you I plan to watch dozens more over the years. If you want to take odds on the film ranking rather high on my best of the year list I'd say it would be a safe bet. It's one of those films that just works, in every way possible. It's just good. But really, really good.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Invictus is a project Morgan Freeman has been trying to get off the ground for more than a decade. Although I think it's a quality film, and the story is definitely worth telling, I can certainly see why it took this long for the film to get made. It feels at least one more rewrite away (the script was adapted from John Carlin's book by Anthony Peckham) from cashing in on its full potential.

Invictus centers around an event, the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The focus is split between that of the newly elected President Nelson Mandela (Freeman) and the captain (Matt Damon) of the South African Rugby team, the Springbok.

The film certainly captures the importance of the event and what it meant to a new South Africa coming out of the days of apartheid. It also succeeds in demonstrating the change in attitude of the South African people to the team, and effectively spotlights how sports can truly unify people in a very unique way.

All that said, I would have preferred if director Clint Eastwood had concentrated on the either of the two men, Mandela and Francois Pienaar, or the relationship between them, rather than the event itself. There is much about Mandela's plans and his obsession with this match, or Pienaar and his team's struggle to achieve their goal, that could have been used to craft the heart of a more character-driven tale.

Instead the film tries to give us small pieces of each men without truly painting a picture of either. We don't really get to know Mandela or Pienaar, and in the short time they appear on screen together we get only a cursory glance at their relationship. There's more than enough here for several movies, but what Eastwood chooses is to hit the big scenes which sadly leave us a scarcity of the smaller (and much more personal) moments which would have been the backbone of a stronger film.

It's obvious Pienaar respects Mandela. In one of the most memorable scenes the Rugby team takes a trip to the jail which housed the President. Damon's character remarks, "I was thinking how a man could spend thirty years in prison, and come out and forgive the men who did it to him." It's a strong moment, but not one that is built upon. Pienaar never thinks or acts on this ephiphany, his life isn't changed in any way, nor does the event shed any more light on the film's depiction of Mandela or the motivations behind his actions.

And as quickly as a moment like this appears it is swept aside to return to the sports story it so desperately wants to tell. Those who enjoy, or know more about, Rugby than I, might enjoy the movie more. Almost all of the final half-hour of 135-minute running time is devoted to the World Cup Final.

As a sports movie the film also struggles. Even with so much of the film devoted to the actual match, for someone who doesn't follow the sport, the action on screen was hard to follow. I saw the events on the field cut together and changes on the scoreboard, but there was no reference provided of how the game was played or how these small moments fit together.

So what should have been dramatic, dragged, and what should have been a fascinating piece of history, wasn't given its due. The players run, hit, huddle, and kick. The score changes (or doesn't). Repeat. I certainly don't fault Eastwood for choosing not to talk down to the audience or hand-hold them through these events, but surely a middle ground might have been reached.

With all these quibbles you might get the feeling I disliked the film. That's far from the truth. My concern isn't that the film is bad, but that it wastes the opportunity to be so much more than just a sports movie that takes place with the backdrop of South African politics.

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are, well, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Both give strong performances worthy of recognition, though both have been better in other films.

And Eastwood does supply some tense moments throughout the film. Though it further split the films focus, taken alone, I especially enjoyed those scenes dealing with the protection of the new President by his staff of guards learning to work together.

Invictus is a quality film. It's not really a must-see, nor do I feel it lives up to its potential. If you like underdog sports stories with strong dramatic overtones (Cinderella Man, We Are Marshall, Rudy) you might give it a try, but if you are mainly interested in who these people were, how they accomplished what they did, and how those accomplishments changed the face of their country, then you might want to pick up a book instead.

The Princess and the Frog

It's been awhile. For more than a decade Disney has been, well, very un-Disney. In many ways, with the latest animated feature, the company returns to the roots. We've got a classic tale, a princess (of sorts), talking animals, big musical numbers, true love triumphant, a wicked villain, and a curse.

The Princess and the Frog, Disney's 49th animated feature film, might not be in the same class as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, but for the first time in a long time the studio has released a movie that feels like a Disney film (and not an animated feature that any studio could have produced).

That's not to say the movie doesn't have its warts. The Princess and the Frog is at least 15 minutes too long, the story meanders a bit in places, and the animation isn't as crisp as I'd like. That said, over the course of the film you can feel (at least in places) the old-time magic being re-awoken. In many ways through the process of making this film it feels as if the studio is slowly rediscovering itself.

Our heroine is young Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a Louisiana waitress with dreams of owning her own restaurant. She is caught off-guard by the spoiled gallivanting Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) who has gotten himself turned into a frog by the evil voodoo magician Docter Facilier (Keith David).

Though hesitant, Tiana agrees to kiss the talking frog who promises to reward her with after he is returned to human form. Unfortunately her attempt to turn him human only curses her webbed toes of her own.

In true Disney fashion, the film gives us memorable supporting characters including a Cajun firefly (Jim Cummings) in love with the Evening Star, a trumpeting alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley) with a passion for jazz, and a wise old woman (Jenifer Lewis) with words of wisdom and some magic of her own.

And I'm happy to report that Disney finally, FINALLY, has returned to the musical. Although there's no big number that will knock your socks off there are several strong numbers including "Almost There" and "Dig a Little Deeper."

And it seems kids like it too. At the screening I attended the misadventures of two young frogs and their companions as they search for a cure and learn about each other seemed to keep most of the children entertained.

I don't see The Princess and the Frog earning a spot with Disney's classics but it certainly can find a place with later films from the last twenty-years such as Oliver & Company, Pochantas, Tarzan, or Hercules. And for those, like me, who have been waiting for Disney to rediscover the twinkle in their eye and the song in their heart, it's a good first step.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The "best" bad movie of 2009

Over the next few weeks we'll take a look at the best and worst of 2009. To start things off we begin with the "best" bad movie of the year.

There are bad movies, there are awfully bad movies, and then there are movies so ridiculously bad they force you to bellow with laughter and titter with glee as they instantly earn guilty pleasure status.

Street Figther: The Legend of Chun-Li isn't a good movie, let's get that straight. It is however a enjoyable trainwreck and one of the most unintentionally funny films I've ever seen.

Based on the Street Fighter video game character Chun-Li, the film tells the story of a young girl who grew up to be world renown concert pianist. The sudden arrival of mysterious scroll coinciding with the death of her mother leads her to Bangkok. There she will learn the art of Wushu to kick ass and save her father from Bison (Neal McDonough) and the terrorist organization called Shadaloo who controls him through threats of harm against his family. (You follow all that?) Not exactly Shakespeare, but as action scripts go I've seen worse.

All movies rely on the audience's level of disbelief, often asking the audience to accept some downright dumb ideas. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li asks more than most.

We are expected to believe a young Asian orphan grows up into a beautiful Canadian actress. This is only slightly harder to swallow than the idea that a few martial arts lessons during her childhood and a few weeks living on the streets and training with a mysterious master (Robin Shou) can prepare her to take down one of the world's deadliest fighters, and all his minions.

Throw in plenty of martial arts sequences which all find ways to sneak in moves from the Street Fighter games, Chris Klein doing an impression of the worst of Nicholas Cage (complete with weird hair), the mysterious spider tattoos, and Bison's secret pact with the devil to divest himself of the goodness within him, and you've got the makings for a truly awful film.

There are also convoluted issues involving Bison's land scheme, the odd couple buddy cop relationship between the American cowboy (Klein) and the local cop (Moon Bloodgood), and plenty of horrific dialogue that will make you laugh and wince simultaneously.

What makes The Legend of Chun-Li work despite itself is the level of earnestness in the proceedings. Everyone involved here is playing it straight, believing (despite the script and dialogue) that they are making a kick ass action flick with strong dramatic moments. Had someone attempted to purposely create the level of camp the film delivers without trying the results would be disastrous.

The action scenes are mostly well done (nothing special I grant you, but for those who enjoy a "good" Seagal or Van Damme flick, you should feel right at home). Yes, they include several forced video game moves which don't work well (or, sometimes, at all), but the wire work is competently done and you can tell the actors and stuntmen trained hard to get the fight scenes to work visually.

Kreuk, though miscast, does a fair job with the absurdity of a out-of-work concert pianist turned kung fu warrior out for vengeance. It's obvious she put in the time to meet the physical demands of the role. If anything, the script fails her, not the other way around.

Klein is impossible to take seriously and with every glance or word gives you a new reason to burst into laughter. Bloodgood is well-cast as tough but hot eye candy (and that's about the limit of what her role calls for). McDonough is constantly chewing up large chunks of scenery as the big bad, and Taboo and Michael Clark Duncan make passable flunkies.

For those wishing to check it out the film is available on both DVD and Blu-ray. Both include extras such as both the theatrical and un-rated version of the movie, commentary by McDonough, Klein, and producers Patrick Aiello and Ashok Amritraj, trailers, storyboards, stills, and deleted scenes. Also included are featurettes on the character of Chun-Li, the intensive workouts and martial arts training the actors went through for the film, bringing the video game to life, and the casting of Kreuk.

For those who have a taste for bad movies which are under the delusion they are something more I would heartily recommend Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Is in a bad film? Hell yeah, but it's the "best" bad film I saw this year.