Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Want to Avenge My Video Rental Fee: "The Avengers" (1998)

Foisted on an unsuspecting public, this British try at a new franchise other than Bond flopped at the box office and with good reason(s).

Ralph Fiennes is the very dapper agent John Steed, working for the Ministry led by "Mother" (Jim Broadbent) and "Father" (Fiona Shaw). A company called Prospero is destroyed by Dr. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman), or at least her double, and Steed and Peel team up to track down the culprit and put an end to the nefarious deeds. Enter Sir August DeWynter (Sean Connery), the obvious villain, who has created a weather machine and plans to freeze London to the tune of ten percent of the gross national product. He has been working with "Father," a plot point my cat could figure out, and Peel and Steed race against the clock to save the world...blah blah blah...

I am not going to go any deeper into the plot because I do not care. If Warner Brothers does not respect its audience enough to release a decent film based on a cult television show, why should I bother with the intricacies of a standard action flick plot? You could plug any other buddy cop characters into Steed and Peel's places, take away the sexual double entendres, and you have "Lethal Weapon 5" or "Still Another 48 Hrs."

Fiennes is okay as Steed, but he plays him like his umbrella has been placed where the sun don't shine. Instead of looking unflappable during fight scenes, he looks uncomfortable. Thurman is a different choice as Peel, and the best thing in an otherwise dreary film. She was also the best thing in "Batman & Robin," which makes me wonder if she is reading entire scripts or just her parts before signing to do action films. Poor Sean Connery is a victim of great casting (A villain! Cool!), but is given nothing to do. The lack of direction forces him to act kind of crazy and kooky, and he does not get to chew any scenery or play the part big.

The film is less than an hour and a half, and feels like a long preview for a better film. The action is there, the impossible effects, heroes and villain, but the effort is too muddled. It seems like this idea read great on paper, but no one had any confidence to put it onscreen, resulting in a loud movie full of explosions and effects, and nothing more (like "Super Mario Bros.")

Steed and Peel, the two smartest people on film and television since the Crane brothers on "Frasier," never rely on their smarts to solve the case. The big break in the case? Steed finds a map...I kept looking for a paw print from Blue, since my kindergartener could follow the weak plot. Steed kicks butt with his umbrella, but never just sits down and figures the crime out. Even Bond must do some brain work once in a while. Add to this mess Bailey (Eddie Izzard), DeWynter's henchman who is silent for the entire film. He is one of those screenwriter's devices who, when he does finally say a word, is supposed to be funny. He isn't. I knew going in the reputation this film had, but I never imagined it to be this fantastically awful.

A snowed-in London? DeWynter doesn't know what cold is, try forgetting your gloves in ninety below zero wind chill in a North Dakota January. "The Avengers" left me just as cold. (*) out of five stars.