Friday, June 1, 2012

The Fan

Year 4, Day 153 - 6/1/12 - Movie #1,151

BEFORE: New month, new topic.  Once again I'm forced to abandon a topic without covering it completely - I passed on adding "The Recruit" to the list, and no premium channel has run "The Expendables" or the new "Mission: Impossible" film yet, so I'll have to circle back to this sort of action-hero special agent film later.  I'm hoping that someday I'll get the list down to just 20 or 30 films that don't play on cable, and I can sign up for streaming Netflix or buy the last few films on iTunes.  Who knows, by then people will be having movies beamed right into their brains via radio waves or something.  At least then I won't have to wonder when films are going to premiere on HBO or Showtime.

Sports-based films should keep me busy for the next three weeks or so.  Which sports, you might ask?  How about, all of them?  I've done chains before based around baseball or football films, this time I'm batting clean-up, so to speak, so they may get all mixed together.  Hey, all sports films are the same, right?  I'll get back to football in a bit, let's start with "America's Pastime".

I can't believe my luck, Bruce Dern was in a 1970 film called "Bloody Mama" that also co-starred Robert De Niro (last seen in "Little Fockers").  I did not see that one coming - but I bet at this point I could probably find a way to link any two films together.

THE PLOT: An all star baseball player becomes the unhealthy focus of a down on his luck salesman.

AFTER: Oh, good, De Niro plays a hunting knife salesman.  Because playing with knives is a sure sign of sanity.  Again, I feel that's another little bit of movie-script shorthand.  Although, maybe it's the salesman part that makes him snap - don't they say that working in sales is one of the most stressful jobs, right after bomb squad technician?  I do think this film did a better job than "Black Sunday" did of getting inside a crazy person's head.  Sorry, do we still say "crazy", or is the correct term "mental defective", or perhaps "differently thought-oriented"?

The world of baseball is a perfect framework for a story about an obsessive type - and I happen to know a thing or three about obsessiveness.  All those people who pore over stats, or draft fantasy leagues, or just spend hours listening to sports radio - if you add up all the hours spent talking about sports before the game, and all the time wasted by analysts after the game, it's probably 10 times longer than the game itself.  Why can't the game just be the game, and when it's over, we can forget about it?  Not gonna happen.

I admit there was a time when I paid a lot more attention to the standings and rosters of the Red Sox and/or NY Mets.  I even programmed the entire MLB roster's worth of averages and ERAs into one of those Playstation baseball games - not to play the games myself, but to let the computer simulate the games and predict the World Series winner that year.  (For the record, it was 2003 and the Red Sox were the virtual champions, a feat they repeated in the real world the following year.)

And there couldn't be a greater gulf between the major league players, who make tens of millions, and the Joe Six-packs who attend the games.  Wait, that's probably not true any more, because only rich people can afford to go to the games these days.  The middle class all stay home and watch the game on TV, or perhaps on their phones now.  But I digress.

De Niro's character loses his job, and has a strained relationship with his son and ex-wife, so about all he's got going for him is his love of baseball, the S.F. Giants in particular.  Perhaps he sees his troubles mirrored in that of their new all-star player, who's also in a professional slump.  Or perhaps he's jealous of the outfielder's money, or the relationship he has with his own son (though, in reality, that's kind of strained, too - things are sort of tough all over).

There's no one moment that you can really point to where De Niro's character arrives in crazytown - as in "Taxi Driver", it's a long, slow slide.  We know he's gonna get there, but no one else around him does.  And by the time they've figured out what he's done to help/hurt the object of his obsession, it's too late to prevent it.  What's great is that it's semi-logical and twisted as heck at the same time.

There are a number of nitpick points on IMDB, which seem to be mostly points made by obsessive baseball fans (ooh, irony!), and they didn't bother me - some are easily explainable anyway by later plot points, so why bring them up?  I've got more of a problem with the soundtrack, which featured mostly Rolling Stones song you've heard in a trillion movies ("Start Me Up", "Sympathy for the Devil") and tired rock hits you usually hear at the ballpark ("Devil With a Blue Dress").   They tried to use one of those hip (for 1996) songs from Nine Inch Nails, "Closer", to set the mood, but they had to edit out the best lines because they didn't fit with the action on screen.  The lyric "I want to f--- you like an animal" would have been very out of place.  In that case, it might have been better to find a more appropriate song that was just as moody.

Yes, people can be just as obsessive about watching, and making, (and reviewing) films as anyone is over one of those sporting competitions.  Remember, the word "fan" is short for "fanatic" - so when you use the word to say you like something, you're also admitting to some level of obsessiveness, or at least some type of imbalance.  I say this as a comic book fan, and a Star Wars fan.  I don't collect as much SW merchandise as I used to, but I do read all the novels that take place before/after/between the films, and then there's the autograph collection.

In 9 years of going to the San Diego Comic-Con, and 5 years at the NY Comic-Con, I've amassed a very respectable collection of signed 8x10s from about 75 or 80 actors.  (Outside the world of Star Wars, I've got only about 10 autographs that hold any meaning or value for me)  Oh, and there are rules about which actors are worthy of being in the collection, and which aren't - I mean, come on, we've got to draw a line somewhere.  "Third stormtrooper from the left" doesn't make the collection.

My interactions with the community of Star Wars actors have been overwhelmingly positive.  Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams - all were very gracious mega-stars (who were happy to accept my autographing fee).  But right down the line - Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Ray Park, Daniel Logan, they've all been great sports and very personable.  I also behaved myself when I was given the opportunity to have my photo taken with Natalie Portman - I followed the rules and didn't ask for an autograph, or for anything other than the Polaroid record I was offered.

Only one time (so far) did my autograph-hunting turn a bit obsessive, and that's when I semi-stalked a semi-famous comedian who did a voice for one of the Star Wars films.  I paid to see his stand-up act, and thought that maybe entitled me to get an autograph on a photo I "happened" to be carrying, with a convenient silver Sharpie.  Well, said comedian wasn't in the mood to do any autographing that night, so I waited.  And waited.  I didn't make a scene, but the club staff probably thought I was nuts.  Oh, I got the autograph, but I got it begrudgingly, and that's not how I wanted it.  I didn't get into this game to piss off comedians.  But, didn't he realize I've got a collection I'm trying to build?  That's kind of where the madness starts, isn't it?

Also starring Wesley Snipes (last seen in "Brooklyn's Finest"), Ellen Barkin (ditto), John Leguizamo (last seen in "Carlito's Way"), Benicio Del Toro (last seen in "The Wolfman"), Patti D'Arbanville, Dan Butler, with cameos from Jack Black (last seen in "Gulliver's Travels"), two "Twin Peaks" actors (Don Davis and Chris Mulkey), John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Mercury Rising") and also Aaron Neville.

RATING: 5 out of 10 autographed bats

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Black Sunday

Year 4, Day 152 - 5/31/12 - Movie #1,150

BEFORE: When I planned this chain, I guess I thought there would be more secret agents and anti-terrorist actions in it - I didn't realize I'd see mostly internal conflicts between different U.S. government agencies.   But just as cops led to criminals, FBI and CIA guys led me here, to a film about a terrorist plot.  And this will be the bridge to the next topic, sports.  Linking from "Mercury Rising", Bruce Willis was also in "The Astronaut Farmer" with Bruce Dern. Also in "Last Man Standing", which was a crime film that looks like it might have gone with "Miller's Crossing" - oh, well.

THE PLOT: An Israeli anti-terrorist agent must stop a disgruntled Vietnam vet cooperating in a plot to commit a terrorist act at the Super Bowl.

AFTER: I found the first half-hour of this film to be quite confusing - it opens with an Israeli raid on a Palestinian stronghold in Beirut.  The raid is successful, as valuable information is obtained, but the lead terrorists survives, to continue with the plot.  It made me wonder why the head Israeli agent let her live, which made me wonder if he was a conspirator.  He wasn't - but it was enough of a suggestion to throw me.

The film is unfortunately very prophetic - not about the result of the Super Bowl (since it features footage from the Steelers/Cowboys Super Bowl in 1976) but because it's about a terrorist act on U.S. soil.  It's got future-echoes of 9/11, plus since a disgruntled veteran is in on the plot, it also sort of predicts the Oklahoma City bombings.

I wish the movie had gotten a little more inside the head of this individual - other than to suggest that he's crazy or unbalanced.  Back in the mid-1970's, it seems like it was understood that a Vietnam vet would be angry, if not completely off his rocker - at least, that's the movie shorthand.  Years later, it's a little harder to make the connection.  I get that he was held captive by the enemy for years, and the film falls short of suggesting any kind of "Manchurian Candidate"-style programming, so we're left to assume that he's angry about losing his commission, his wife, his dignity.  Still, it's a long leap from there to "I want to kill 80,000 people in a public place."

I suppose filmmakers today are guilty of the same sort of shorthand, whenever they portray a Muslim suicide bomber, or a backwoods militia-man - it's assumed that they're some kind of lunatic, but really, that's a storytelling crutch.  No shades of grey in those characters, and there are none here, either.  In this film Israeli = good, Palestinian = bad, but I know the decades-old conflict can't possibly be that simple.

Especially when the Israeli agent is willing to go to such lengths to track down the Palestinians in the U.S. and figure out the plot before it goes down.  He threatens, tortures, and kills to get what he wants, which made it harder for me to separate the good guys from the bad guys.  Where do we draw the line on acceptable behavior?  What sins or crimes are acceptable in the process of saving lives and preventing a terrorist attack?  I can't say as I have the answers - especially since I was distracted by the only Israeli agent with a thick Irish accent.

The Palestinians also seemed a little off - one had a German accent (the story claimed she was raised in Belgium), and this led me to feel there was something German about the whole plot - she kept saying "All is in order", as my German grandmother used to say, and the Vietnam vet also seemed like he had OCD, which is a concept that works along the same lines.

NITPICK POINT: An international agent doesn't know what what the Super Bowl is?  Is there seriously anyone on the planet who doesn't know what the Super Bowl is?  It's a cute line, but a cheap joke.

Also starring Robert Shaw (last seen in "Robin and Marian"), Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver, with cameos from William Daniels, and Asian character actors Robert Ito and Clyde Kusatsu.

RATING: 3 out of 10 customs documents

And, with that, I'm halfway through the year.  Assuming I watch 300 films this year, that is - which I think is a good cap.  I still haven't been able to shorten the list to where it was when I went on break last October, I'm close.  The list is hovering just above 250 films right now, and it was 270 on Jan. 1.
After the sports chain I'll be back on war films, then comes road films, a few Westerns, and a tour through classic literature.  Then films about heaven, hell and space aliens, then I can begin the real location-based trip around the world.  That should get me very close to the 1,300-film mark to end the 2012 chain.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mercury Rising

Year 4, Day 151 - 5/30/12 - Movie #1,149

BEFORE: From Bruce Willis as an ex-CIA agent to Bruce Willis as an FBI agent - this one's a no-brainer as a follow-up.  And with the summer temperatures settling in here in NYC, the meaning of the title is an extra bonus.

THE PLOT: An outcast FBI agent is assigned to protect a 9 year old autistic boy who is the target for assassins after cracking a top secret government code.

AFTER: This is another one of those films with different government agencies fighting each other, something I've seen a lot of lately.  Last night we had the new CIA vs. the old CIA, and tonight it's the FBI vs. the NSA.  (National Security Agency, aka "No Such Agency")

This is also a film with a heavy buy-in.  First, you have to believe that the NSA could create a master code, the best ever, one that can't be cracked.  Which is a fallacy in itself, because codes are made to be decoded, so that a message can be transmitted and understood.  And any code needs a key for decryption, or else what's the point?  So, really there's no need for anyone to make better codes, there's just a need for better protection on the key, or a better key. 

You also have to believe that a couple of cryptographers, without authorization from their superior, would have the code published in a puzzle magazine to see if it is "geek proof" - meaning that there's always the chance someone out there can decipher a code, if they're skilled enough.  Which is also bunk, because there are codes and ciphers that have stood the test of time, simply because someone didn't keep track of the key - I'm thinking of the famous Beale ciphers, of which only the first of three ciphers has been decoded, with the key being the Declaration of Independence.  Yes, I realize that a recent History Channel show has determined the ciphers to be a hoax (most likely a scam to sell newspapers in the 1880's).  But there are others.

Then you have to believe that this 9-year-old kid, who has to be reminded daily that stoves are hot, is capable of breaking the code just by looking at it.  This is what I call the "Rain Man" fallacy, the Hollywood-inspired belief that kids with autism, or Asperger's, are hidden geniuses or savants.  This is also being used in a Fox TV show called "Touch" right now.  I'm sure every parent with a kid who has a learning disability, or A.D.D. wants to believe that their kid is going to be super-smart someday, or a whiz playing the violin, if they just receive enough instruction.  I understand there are savants and prodigies, but I'm guessing there's a ratio here, maybe 1,000:1 in favor of kids who aren't.

I don't pretend to understand autism, or Asperger's, or A.D.D. - but I just know that we didn't have these things when I was a kid, or at least they didn't have names.  We just had kids in my school who acted up, or had trouble learning.  So the stats on these syndromes are way up in recent years - I have to wonder if that just means there are better or different methods of detection now.

NITPICK POINT: The magazine in question is called World of Puzzles - it's an offshoot of Games magazine, and I subscribe to both (though I haven't had as much time to read them, since starting the movie project).  In fact, my grandfather gave me a copy of the first issue of Games, back in 1976.  And it didn't turn me into someone who wanted to work in cryptography, it just made me an adult who likes crosswords (regular and cryptic), acrostics, sudoku and the like.

NITPICK POINT #2: Games and World of Puzzles magazines do feature contests (I was particularly happy when I won a Games T-shirt a few years back - they're not for sale, so they're like the Holy Grail for puzzle-solvers) but if they printed a puzzle or tough code in W.O.P. without the solution in the back, there would be hell to pay.  Letters would be written, and subscriptions would be cancelled.  It looks like the code was disguised as a word search, but one with symbols and Greek letters mixed in.  They've been known to do a bit of this to make word searches harder, but the whole grid can't be made up of symbols, that just wouldn't work as a puzzle.

They used to do a "Hidden Contest" about 4 times a year in Games magazine - meaning that somewhere, in some puzzle or hidden somewhere on the pages, there were instructions on sending something (a blue letter "A", for example) in to the address on the masthead, and those people would be eligible for a randomly-awarded prize.  One time, it was hidden in the uncircled letters of a word search - but they never repeat themselves, so ever since, the unused letters on those puzzles have formed a poem, or a short essay on a particular topic relevant to the puzzle.  I don't see the puzzle editors changing this tradition because the shadow-ops division of the government asked them to.

Also starring Alec Baldwin (last heard in "Cats & Dogs"), Chi McBride (last seen in "What's Love Got to Do With It"), Miko Hughes, Kim Dickens, Bodhi Elfman, John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Gran Torino"), with cameos from Peter Stormare (last seen in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"), Camryn Manheim, and blues singer Koko Taylor.

RATING: 4 out of 10 cups of cocoa

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Year 4, Day 150 - 5/29/12 - Movie #1,148

BEFORE: Perhaps I should have watched this film on Memorial Day, since it's about ex-CIA agents - that's a lot like veterans, right?  Maybe I'm stretching a point.  Linking from "The American", George Clooney was also in "Burn After Reading" with John Malkovich (last seen in "Jonah Hex").

I don't know if I mentioned it, but while we were upstate last week, we took a tour of the C.I.A. - that's the Culinary Institute of America, not the one depicted in this film.  It's easy to distinguish them, one is a clandestine organization that produces highly skilled professionals who do important work, and the other one works for the U.S. government.

THE PLOT: When his peaceful life is threatened by a high-tech assassin, former black-ops agent Frank Moses reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive and uncover his assailants.

AFTER: This one shares a lot of its DNA with "The Losers" and "The A-Team" - all three films were released in 2010, and feature a group of mercenaries/soldiers who are targeted or framed by their own superiors, and have to devise an elaborate plan to clear their names and save their own lives.  So, yeah, it's a bit formulaic - mix in some cool stunts and a big dash of humor, and you've something that will entertain the masses.

I did not know that this film, like "The Losers", is also based on a comic-book property, one I apparently don't read.  My guess is that after the Spider-Man and X-Men movies hit big, nearly every comic-book property got optioned as a film - everything from "Kick-Ass" to "30 Days of Night" and even "Ghost World" got turned into a movie.  I think we're still riding that wave, and the success of "The Avengers" is only going to turn it into a tsunami.

I think this film was the most fun of the three - it gave me the most enjoyment, anyway.  Some tricks that I've seen before (all three films happen to feature shoot-outs in shipyards among those giant storage containers) but this film also had quite a few new ones.  And it had more heart than the others, which now just sort of feel like soulless shoot 'em ups by comparison.

Sequel, please.  Or even a prequel, set in the 1980's.  I'm not picky.

NITPICK POINT: Here the C.I.A. is depicted as an agency that's so big and mysterious, that not only are there shadow groups working within it, but the agents don't seem to know their agency's own history.  Why have a records room at all, if most of the agents don't access it for information, or even know that it exists.  Anyway, wouldn't all the C.I.A. records be computerized now, not in outdated paper folders, so its own people could, you know, look things up?  For an intelligence agency, this doesn't seem very intelligent.  Still, it did get around the old bugaboo of having someone sneak into an organization's headquarters to download the needed information to a disk or a flash-drive, which we've all seen too many times before. 

NITPICK POINT #2: This was already covered by the Mythbusters, and involves the result of shooting a pistol at an already-fired rocket.  So I defer to Jamie + Adam. 

Also starring Bruce Willis (last seen in "Nancy Drew"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "The Sum of All Fears"), Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren (last seen in "The Madness of King George"), Richard Dreyfuss (last seen in "W."), Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, Brian Cox (last seen in "Rob Roy"), Julian McMahon (last seen in "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer"), with cameos from James Remar (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Ernest Borgnine (last heard in "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2").

RATING: 7 out of 10 pension checks

Monday, May 28, 2012

The American

Year 4, Day 149 - 5/28/12 - Movie #1,147

BEFORE: Well, at least I tried to program something appropriate for Memorial Day.  Now that I read the plot description, I might have miscalculated, but the chain is the chain.  Here I set up this great progression from cops to robbers to safe-crackers, to secret agents to mercenaries to superheroes and then FBI agents.  Geez, now that I look back at the last 3 weeks of movies, maybe the transitions weren't as smooth as I thought they'd be.  I kind of lumped all these different action heroes (and villains) together - oh, well.  Linking from Val Kilmer to George Clooney (last seen in "Out of Sight") should be easy - since they played Batman in successive films, I can easily justify linking through Chris O'Donnell or Michael Gough, who were common to both "Batman & Robin" and "Batman Forever".

THE PLOT: An assassin hides out in Italy for one last assignment.

AFTER: OK, so I tanked with my Memorial Day pick.  This film has nothing to do with soldiers or the military in any way.  I could have gone straight to war films, but I'm saving those for the week of July 4.

So, what does happen in this film?  Clooney plays a hitman (great, I love it, greenlight that sumbitch) and that's really all you need to know.  That, and the fact that other hitmen, from a certain Scandinavian country, are trying to kill him.  That being said, there's a lot of inaction between the action sequences - you can call that "tension", or you can prefer to think of it as long periods of nothing.  Your choice.

The film seems more notable for what doesn't happen, which may be a neat trick.  I'm going to paraphrase wildly here, because I'm not in the habit of giving away plot points (I'm sure I occasionally do, but not intentionally).  We've seen it happen many times in movies - a professional (thief, killer, forger, etc.) gets hired to do a less-than-legal job, and before/after/in addition to getting paid, he gets taken out.  Really, he's nothing more than a loose end at that point, someone who knows too much about the crime (theft, murder, forgery, etc.)  Of course, if he reported the crime he'd be reporting his own part in the crime, but some crime bosses just need to be thorough.

Two questions - does this accurately reflect actions in the real-life crime world?  Not that I know, most of what I know about crime comes from movies.  And, if this is so commonplace, why doesn't anyone ever see it coming.  OK, third question - can said criminal undertakings survive without their best thief, or assassin, or forger? 

So this film becomes a character study of a shady individual, who realizes he's like a chess piece that can be removed from the board at any time.  Is the next job from his employer a legitimate one, or is it a set-up to take him out?  Remember, it's not paranoia if someone really is out to get you.  Why did everyone suddenly leave the cafĂ©, all at the same time?  Do they all know something's about to happen?  Who's that guy in the blue shirt, and why does he keep turning up?  We see the main character being careful and suspicious, so we end up feeling it too.

The life of the hitman is complicated further by his instructions to lie low between assignments, and to not make any friends.  Our anti-hero can't quite seem to do that, however, and the movie is stronger for it.  After all, how exciting would the movie be if he just found an Italian villa and stayed there, staring at the walls?  He seeks out company, and this all adds to the movie's tension as well - is this person really who they say they are?  Or were they sent there to keep an eye on him?  I've been trying not to read professional reviews during this process, but something from Roger Ebert's review, which got quoted on the IMDB page, pointed out something that I didn't catch that puts a whole different spin on this film.  It's possible that the film has a lot of depth to it that may be revealed by multiple viewings.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Vespas

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Year 4, Day 148 - 5/27/12 - Movie #1,146

BEFORE: We got the stray cat back from the vet today, and we were showing her what a great place our backyard might be to live in, since we have these two plastic storage bins that were converted to house cats during the winter.  But, as we were letting her out of the carrier, I looked into one of the cat houses and saw there was something in there, and it had a scaly tail.  Turned out to be a possum - yes, a possum in Queens, NY.  I chased it away with a mop handle and then some water from the garden hose, so it moved on.  God knows how long it's been back there, sleeping in the plastic bin during the hot day and dining at night on rotten peaches from our tree and garbage from the Chinese restaurant next door.  What a nasty creature.  But in dealing with a cute cat and an ugly possum, it makes me wonder where I draw the line on which animals I help.  Why did I spay the cute cat, and shoo away the possum, giving it a chance to procreate?  At what point do I interfere, and at what point do I leave nature to run its own affairs?

Anyway, Val Kilmer carries over from "The Saint".

THE PLOT: A young mixed-blood FBI agent is assigned to work with a cynical veteran investigator on a murder on a poverty-stricken Sioux reservation.

AFTER: Weird coincidences again - the main character in this film adopts a stray dog, and his partner gets bitten by a badger hiding under a house.  I've been helping a stray cat, and had to contend with a possum hiding in my yard.  

The film is set in the 1970's, back when people still used the term "Indian" instead of "Native American" (or is it "aboriginal-American" now?)  And it seems like a fine idea, sending an agent who's part Native American in to help with a case - but it only leads to more conflicts the more he talks to the locals and finds himself getting in touch with his heritage.  He doesn't really know the customs, or seems to even want to at first, but slowly he begins to suspect that something big is going on at the tribal lands, and he wonders how big the conspiracy is.

The Native American cop is an even more interesting character, since he knows the lay of the land, the customs, and also exhibits Sherlock Holmes-style powers of observation and deduction.  He can tell how heavy a person is from his boot-print, and that's just for starters.  Eventually the main character learns how valuable his skills are, and starts to take his advice on the evidence he's seen.

It works as a murder mystery, it works as an action film, and it works as a commentary on the tricky American/Native American relationship.  It doesn't make my list of top films, but it's at least a solid story.

Also starring Sam Shepard (last seen in "Baby Boom"), Graham Greene, Fred Ward (last seen in "30:Minutes or Less"), Fred Dalton Thompson (last seen in "Class Action"), with a cameo from David Crosby.

RATING: 6 out of 10 pick-up trucks

The Saint

Year 4, Day 147 - 5/26/12 - Movie #1,145

BEFORE: Back from our trip upstate, we hit a giant outdoor flea market and a diner on the way back to Queens, and we still had 2 1/2 days left in a holiday weekend - all part of the plan.  I had to work on clearing 2 DVRs today so they won't fill up, but I also didn't want to lose my momentum with movies.  I pity the film that has to follow "The Avengers" though.  Linking from that film, Robert Downey Jr. was also in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" with Val Kilmer (last seen in "The Ghost and the Darkness").

THE PLOT: Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, is hired by the Russian Mafia to steal a cold fusion energy formula from a scientist.

AFTER: In another nice bit of coincidence, the plots of both "The Avengers" and this film concern the development of unlimited energy sources - here it's not a tesseract, but the concept of cold fusion.  In the film cold fusion is a theoretical possibility, but one which can't be supported by any repeatable experiments - which is essentially where the concept is in the real world as well, though many also regard it as a form of "junk science", like perpetual motion.

But we're here to talk about The Saint, who's sort of a low-rent James Bond in many ways.  He's more like Remington Steele, a man with a shrouded past (though some is revealed here in a flashback) who goes under an assumed name (here it's always a variation on the name of one or two Catholic saints) and is famous for his narrow escapes.  Here he's also a master of disguise, but for the audience's sake, all of his disguises end up looking like Val Kilmer wearing fake teeth or a wig.  There's none of that "false face" stuff that gets overused in films like "Mission: Impossible".

There is an acting challenge here, but it's not in the look, it's in the voice.  It may be an actor's dream to play a character whose disguises involve realistic accents - it's one more thing he uses to throw people off, sounding at different times like an Australian, Russian or German.  To me, that's more work than putting on make-up or a wig.

Templar pulls a heist off some Russians, then uses this as leverage somehow to get hired by his victims (nope, can't see any way THAT can possibly go south) to steal the cold fusion formula from a scientist, who turns out to be an attractive woman he can seduce.  You know, because all female nuclear scientists are smoking hot, in addition to being brainy.   And because all important nuclear secrets can be written on a couple of post-its, not in a thick journal or on a hard-drive.  Seriously?

Like "The Shadow" was to comic-book films, and like "Cutthroat Island" was to pirate films, this film seemed to be hamstrung by being released just a few years too early.  A couple years later, "Mission: Impossible" was released, and then the Bourne saga - so spy films and mysterious secret agent films were about to go big, and I believe this one fizzled.  False start.  Maybe it was just a bit too far-fetched, and hadn't hit upon the secret yet.  There are no car chases to speak of here, for example, and the stunts didn't quite go far enough to dazzle.

NITPICK POINT: The people who work at airports, or for the police, who are experts in facial recognition should have seen right through Templar's shoddy disguises.  They're trained to look for things that don't change, like earlobe shapes and cheekbones, or how far apart someone's eyes are.  Changing the length of your hair, or putting on a phony moustache just ain't gonna cut it.

NITPICK POINT #2: So, in the fictional spy world, does cold fusion work or not?  I found the film's ending to be confusing - the formula's only valuable if it works, but the notes were found to be incomplete, but then someone said they're not incomplete, they're just in the wrong order.  Which is it?  The scientist is still looking for funding, so to me that suggests that it doesn't work yet.  So how come the paperwork is so valuable?

Also starring Elisabeth Shue (last seen in "Hollow Man"), with cameos from Emily Mortimer (last seen in "Elizabeth") and the voice of Roger Moore (last heard in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore").

RATING: 5 out of 10 lock-picks