NO, it's not the story of a guy and his
persistent battle with jock itch. It's Man on Fire, the
latest movie with Denzel Washington.
Of course, this isn't the
first Man on Fire (not including Richard Pryor or Michael
Jackson)...there was also
this version, available on VHS, starring Scott Glenn. This is
a remake of that one. They even re-used the character names.
There's also a 1957 Man on Fire with Bing Crosby, but that has
nothing to do with this one.
The Masked Reviewer doesn't want to give anything away here, but in
the most general terms, this is a revenge flick. And, isn't it
refreshing to have a film in theaters these days that's all about
gruesome, bloody, vigilante payback? We haven't had one of those
for a long time...other than last week, when we had two of them (The
Punisher and Kill Bill Volume 2) at the box office. Of
course, there's also The Passion of the Christ but some have
suggested that's more of a snuff film.
In any event, Denzel Washington is good. He's a guy on the
edge, doing whatever it takes. And, isn't it refreshing to have a
film with Denzel Washington on the edge, doing whatever it takes?
We haven't seen that since John Q or Out of Time or
Ricochet, or arguably Crimson Tide or Malcolm X or
Training Day. He's intense and believable as a cold-blooded
This movie also features Christopher Walken, so for many of you,
that's all you need to know. Just go and see it. Walken is
Walkeneriffic. He's...crazy! Not only that, Mickey Rourke is
also featured...wow! Imagine that wrap party! Unfortunately,
they have no screen time together.
Dakota Fanning (who you may remember from Uptown Girls and, if
you're unlucky, Cat in the Hat) plays a little girl. It
seems that over the last few years, Dakota Fanning has become
pigeon-holed in that type of role, and hopefully over the next ten years
or so, she'll break free of the mold (with a little luck and by the
grace of good agency representation!). She's good, as always,
though she seems too smart for a kid that age. The Masked Reviewer
is suspicious that she might be digitally altered to look smaller, like
Elijah Wood in The Lord of the Rings.
The characters use each others' names a lot. "Hello Creasy."
"Hello Pita" "Pita, have a nice day, Pita." "Thanks, Creasy.
I'll see you later, Creasy." Perhaps it's more noticeable because
they have weird names like "Creasy" and "Pita". The Masked
Reviewer wasn't sure if the name Pita was being used as some kind of
subliminal endorsement for meat-hating leather-scoffers, or perhaps an
effort to increase sales at Lebanese bakeries. Then again, Creasy
could have been picked as a name to boost business at "Man on Fire Dry
Cleaning". Who knows?
The point is, the movie is fine. Violent, over the top,
vengeful. That's all good. The problem, however, is that
it's much too long. It rings in at about two and a half hours,
which is about an hour too much. The first hour is spent on the
relationship between Dakota Fanning and Denzel Washington, the last hour
and a half are nothing but ass-whoopage. It's done well, but it
drags. The pacing isn't even bad, per se, it's just too much.
Tony Scott directed the film. You may remember him from such
films as Top Gun, Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance,
Crimson Tide, The Fan, Enemy of the State and/or Spygame.
If you haven't seen any of those, what's wrong with you? Get to a
video rental place and watch some of them. Not all. In any
event, the direction is fine, but it seems purposefully stylish.
At times, that style can be distracting. There's a lot of blurry
and jerky camera work (similar but more exaggerated than that used in
Spygame). There are also a lot of subtitles used, though
they're not used consistently and they sometimes are done with effects
and sometimes placed on unexpected parts of the screen. The result
is that you become aware that you're reading subtitles and it takes you
out of the moment occasionally.
Here's a quote from the film. Denzel says "They say a bullet
always tells the truth." Okay. Who says that? NO ONE.
He made it up. Why would anyone say that? It makes no sense.
It's that kind of wild literary license that is leading to the downfall
You may also be left wondering whether it is a true story or not.
The Masked Reviewer doesn't know. It's hard to tell. They
don't say it up front, so probably not, but the way it ends kind of
makes it look like it might have been. But it probably isn't.
If it were a true story, it would've been over a lot faster than two and
a half hours.
Expectation from the Title: The story of a guy and his
persistent battle with jock itch.
Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):
Denzel is so handsome, he could go on a murderous killing spree and
still look good.
The Pros: Solid acting, decent story, a good revenge fix.
The Cons: Too long, nothing new or particularly shocking,
though it tries.