Movie reviews: Man Up, Danny Collins, The connection, The Dead Lands
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Man Up, Danny Collins, The Connection and The Dead Lands.
There's a whiff of desperation to the two main characters in Man Up (3*, 15A, 88mins), and about the film in general. A British romcom directed by Ben Palmer, it asks us to believe that the beautiful and charming Lake Bell is a single, unhappy 34-year-old called Nancy, who hasn't been on a date for years and only ends up finding one by accident. She's on her way through a London train station when she meets a divorcee called Jack (Simon Pegg), who mistakes her for Jessica, his blind date.
At a loose end, Nancy goes along with it, but their romantic evening will be disturbed by drunkenness, sudden revelations and an unfortunate encounter with his ex. The chemistry between Mr Pegg and Ms Bell (sporting an impressive English accent) is actually pretty good, and Man Up has funny moments, even a certain bumbling charm. But like most modern romcoms, it feels obliged to trade in tiresome dick jokes and ultimately lets a simmering giddiness overwhelm its story's thrust.
In the opening scenes of Danny Collins (3*, 15A, 106mins), an ageing rock star dons the make-up and corset in his dressing room before taking to the stage of a packed auditorium to belt out his greatest hits to an audience of adoring but rather elderly fans. He is Danny (Al Pacino), who used to be a big deal back in the 1970s but is now a wealthy joke. But when his manager Frank (an excellent Christopher Plummer) gives Danny a lost note that was sent to him from John Lennon, the singer is inspired to change his ways.
And so he leaves his LA mansion, flies to New Jersey and tries to make amends with his grown-up son. Dan Fogelman's film is hackneyed and manipulative, but impossible not to like, thanks mainly to the exuberance of Al Pacino's performance. His charm and charisma make a thinly drawn character seem believable, and real.
Though set in 1970s Marseilles, and conducted in French, The Connection (3*, 15A, 135mins) feels more inspired by the American crime thrillers of Scorsese and De Palma than anything in the Gallic tradition. Directed by Cedric Jimenez, it's a solid and entertaining attempt to tell the French Connection story from the French point of view. But it sticks more closely to real events than William Friedkin's classic, and stars Jean Dujardin as Pierre Michel, a dynamic Marseilles police magistrate who's determined to put the city's biggest gangster out of business.
Tany Zamba (Gilles Lellouche) has gotten fat by controlling an ingenious and hugely profitable drug smuggling racket. Half the police force is in his pocket, and when Pierre Michel takes over investigations of him his colleagues are dubious, and dismiss him as a pen-pusher. But they've underestimated Michel, who quickly becomes Zamba's implacable nemesis.
Slickly made and directed, The Connection is very nice to look at and diligently recreates the look and feel of 1970s Marseilles. But in attempting to cover too much ground it fails to round its two main characters, and Michel in particular seems wooden and one-dimensional despite Jean Dujardin's best efforts.
Toa Fraser's drama The Dead Lands (3*, No Cert, IFI, 108mins), is set in pre-colonial New Zealand and follows a nasty spat between two tribes of Maori warriors, who seem to have taken offence at the drop of a hat. When one of them rubs excreta on the skull of a rival tribe's ancestor (ok, that is offensive), all bets are off, and a callow youth called Hongi (James Rolleston) sets out to avenge the slaughter of his people with the help of a ghostly warrior (Lawrence Makoare).
There are elements of the western, Japanese ghost stories and samurai films to Fraser's energetic, dreamy film, which lacks the thrust and dynamism that might have turned it into something special. And the constant chest-puffing and tongue-waggling of the warriors grows tiresome, almost comical after a while.