Thursday, 8 May 2008
A Better Way To Die
A BETTER WAY TO DIE (2000)
Director: Scott Wiper
Screenplay: Scott Wiper
Starring: Andre Braugher, Lou Diamond Phillips, Joe Pantoliano, Natasha Henstridge, Mirjana Jokovic & Scott Wiper
Ah the eighties action flick. It has a lot to answer for. Tough guys acting tough, burnt out cops, comic book villains, obligatory car chases and sex scenes, huge leaps in logic and huge, huge explosions (obligatory of course…. damn you Joel Silver). The eighties action flick existed in a heightened reality, where our hero can destroy as many buildings, vehicles and people as he likes and nobody bats an eyelid. That’s the best way to view A Better Way to Die: an over the top action film made by a star/writer/director who has seen one too many Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Seagal/Van Damme action flicks.
Our hero Boomer (Wiper) is a burnt out and slightly kooky (his obsession with having meals at a certain time is odd and never fully explained) Chicago cop. After the over familiar big bust goes wrong (i.e. everyone dies), Boomer decides to quit the force and drive across country to rekindle a romance with a former girlfriend (Henstridge) and start a new life. However, due to some mistaken identity (which is just too convoluted and contrived to go into here) Boomer is chased and harassed by an ever-increasing number of cops (including Philips), oddball hit men (Braugher), attractive immigrants (Jokovic) and even a wacky private investigator (Pantoliano). Of course, Boomer finds this all very exasperating as all he wants to do is meet up with his missus for the obligatory sex scene.
Basically, all this adds up to is an ever increasing amount of action clichés, with all rhyme and reason being thrown out of the window, to compensate for an overabundance of swearing, shooting and cardboard characters. Pantoliano’s off beat P.I. with his cool camper van is in the film all too briefly, serving only to kick-start the plot (shame, as he was the most fun character). Braugher’s hit man is on screen too little (despite top billing) and is so all over the place in his motivations that by the time he has a change of heart your patience may be wearing thin. The ever reliable Lou Diamond Philips has no more than a glorified cameo, though he is sinister enough in his role, bringing an extra edge to the proceedings. Henstridge, meanwhile, has been relegated to the worst of action clichés: window dressing.
Wiper is ok as the perpetually confused hero, but perhaps succeeds better behind the camera. As writer and director (how did he manage that and where did he come from??), the film is competently made. The visuals are slick and some of the action scenes are well staged (the shootout in the grocery store being most thrilling). Despite a hardboiled kookiness that works in the film's favour, the writing is strictly by the numbers. No characters are ever fleshed out, the love scenes don’t convince, and some of the plot twists are so absurd: it’s like Wiper was throwing everything he could think of into his script in hope of making it an original, twisty, turny thriller. Unfortunately, it ends up resembling any number of other decent action films, especially those of an 80’s flavour. Despite the amusing “Do you have to swear all the time…” opening scene, it’s a case of seen it all before.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to enjoy. As mentioned there is a certain hardboiled kookiness to it and Wiper’s direction is infectious. So if you like a good meat and potatoes action movie, you could do a lot worse than A Better way to Die: i.e. a recent Steven Seagal flick.