Friday, 10 March 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Saved By Great Monsters, John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly: The only thing resembling a human being.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Scr. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Sty: John Gatins
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson,
John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Why it took four writers to come up with the lame, dull Kong: Skull Island screenplay is beyond me. Then again, given the sheer emptiness of most studio pictures these days, it shouldn't surprise anyone since it takes a whole lotta boneheads to generate a whole lotta stupid. An American President called Donald Trump is proof of that.

If truth be told, I can almost even forgive inept imbecility. What I can't forgive is tedium and this mostly horrendous reboot of the Kong franchise is nothing if not mind-numbingly boring for most of its interminable 118-minute length. Much of what makes the movie dull are the missed opportunities it took four writers to conjure up.

Things begin promisingly enough with the pre-credit sequence. It's WWII and two soldiers - one American, the other Japanese - crash on the remote Skull Island. Ah, tantalizing! Perhaps we will be afforded a lovely action-packed nod to John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific? But, no. We're handed two dull anonymous actors - no Lee Marvin or Toshiro Mifune here. Jesus, I'd have even settled for something resembling Peter Sellers/Burt Kwouk Pink Panther martial arts slap-schtick shenanigans. That, however, would be too politically incorrect by contemporary standards (and sadly, the movie's endlessly shoe-horned P.C. sensibilities are another big problem with the picture). So instead, we get a dull sprint up a mountain and our warring soldiers meet with a far more formidable enemy - Yup, you guessed it, King Kong, the big hairy ape. (But don't worry, ain't nothing too Eugene O'Neill about this hirsute monkey.)

Our movie launches into an annoyingly wham-bam credit sequence detailing American history from the last Great War and eventually leading up to the turbulence of the 1970s. Thank God it stops here - a real decade. Alas, the period detail, in virtually every respect, is woefully inadequate - most annoyingly with the contemporary-speak of the dialogue and the decidedly 2017 timbre of the delivery of said dialogue.

Of course, this being 2017, in spite of the movie being set in the 1970s, we don't get to meet a cool adventurer seeking passage to Skull Island, say along the lines of showman Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong in the 1933 version, Jack Black in Peter Jackson's 2005 entry) or even a delectably sleazy oilman like Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin in 1976). What we get is the supremely unimaginative, ineffectual government hack Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his earnestly plucky African-American geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins). Randa is such a useless schmo that it takes his right-hand Houston to convince a Senator to bankroll the expedition.

Welcome to 2017. And not that I have a problem with this smooth young Black male weaselling dough out of the Senator instead of boss man Whitey, but it might have been far more interesting to have a character like Randa, written-for and played by someone with some balls, like Laurence Fishburne for example. The role of this character, or character-type, requires - Nay, demands someone in his august years (or at least in the case of 1976's Grodin, one of those 30-something guys who feels like he's in his 50s or 60s) and more importantly, someone who has the smarts to squeeze oil out of an empty drum.

But, I remind you - it took four writers to generate this screenplay.

Can't go too wrong with a cute prehistoric muskox.

So, off to Skull Island we go. Randa assembles a stock, boring team that includes former British Special-Ops mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, a great actor in a nothing role), gung-ho army dude Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, a great actor, but more boring than usual in this stock role), looking for more carnage now that the Vietnam War is over and perhaps most sickeningly, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, a great actress with a completely idiotic role), a self-proclaimed "Anti-war photographer" (whatever that's supposed to mean). Of course the team is replete with other soldiers, scientists and bureaucrats in order to provide ample food for the monsters.

The movie plods through all of its uninspired machinations as our team essentially needs to get off the island as soon as they land on it - there are monsters, after all. Our leading lady is, of course, not the "beauty who killed the beast", but rather, the beauty that the beast thinks is kind of okay and not a danger to him. Our leading man is boring and does little more than argue with the gung-ho army guy and acquiesce to the madman's needs to kill monsters to avenge the deaths of his soldiers. Of course, the ineffectual adventurer Randa is so useless that we almost forget he's in the movie until he gets eaten. Then, we get to forget about him all over again.

Happily, the movie introduces us to Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, playing the older version of the American soldier introduced at the beginning of the movie). Marlow has been living on the island since WWII in the protective custody of the island's indigenous Native population. Thank God! A real character with an irascible sense of humour. Reilly not only makes us laugh, but he's really the only person we care about. Stupidly, the writers have relegated Marlow's Japanese counterpart to that of a corpse - someone who is talked about fondly, but whom we don't get a chance to know. It would have been amazing to have a great veteran Asian actor quipping with Reilly and doing battle with the monsters, but you know, there were only four writers, so you can't expect creative miracles.

Even more boring than most of the film's non-characters are the island's tribesmen. What a ho-hum lot. They appear to be pseudo-Buddhist types who do little more than cast inscrutable glances every which way. This is strangely even more ethnocentric (and perhaps even downright racist) than the previous incarnations of "ignorant", "bloodthirsty" "savages" in the 1933 and 2005 versions. At least those people had something resembling "life" infused in their ooga-booga personae.

Kong looks forward to some yummy octopus tentacles.

Other than Reilly's delightful performance, the only thing else left are the monsters. I won't bother attributing any of the picture's "success" in this regard to the by-rote direction of Jordan Vogt-Roberts (his boring nods to Apocalypse Now notwithstanding), but rather, all the magnificent SFX geniuses who designed the myriad of creatures. Kong's battles with the other behemoths are pretty damn spectacular and perk things up ever-so thrillingly. There's a phenomenal aquatic cage match twixt Kong and a humungous octopus which culminates in a wonderful moment in which Kong slurps up a few tentacles. One can, I suppose, attribute this to one of the four writers. Kudos, dudes!

That said, all previous incarnations of the Kong story were a whole lot more than just the monsters. They had, uh, characters, a solid story arc and were chockfull of wonder. They were sheer magic. There's nothing like that here - just a whole lotta tedious expository (and stupid, 'natch) nonsense to setup the inevitable sequels and franchise "universe". I'm coming to hate that word. "Universe" should conjure up feelings of expanse and possibility - not more of the same.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-Half Stars

Kong: Skull Island is in wide release via Warner Brothers