Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan co-star in Iron Mask, out on VOD
VOD Roundup is a weekly feature looking at films being released across video-on-demand platforms.
Above Suspicion, directed by Phillip Noyce
There was a time where Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) and the screenwriter of Mississippi Burning teaming up to tackle a seamy, ripped-from-the-headlines story of a torrid affair between an FBI agent and his informant would’ve been an exciting proposition — a grown-up, tawdry, slightly trashy bit of mainstream entertainment that would line video store shelves. Alas, Above Suspicion’s sell-by date is pretty far in the past, and the film that results from this pair-up finds its talents working at less than their optimal levels. The story at hand remains pretty interesting, but the film is boxed in its more familiar aspects, not to mention some truly ghastly visual choices.
Susan Smith (Emilia Clarke) never had much of a chance in life, stuck in the wilds of Appalachia with her abusive, drug-dealing husband (Johnny Knoxville) and kids, running a shitty, possibly underground bar for local lowlifes. When she’s busted for the aforementioned drug operation, Susan decides to take the bait and become an FBI informant, working closely with newly arrived G-man Mark Putnam (Jack Huston) to identify and arrest local miscreants. Their working relationship soon turns into a torrid affair that the newly married father soon tries to suppress, much to the displeasure of Smith, who sees the affair as a chance to move up in the world — especially once people around her become aware that she’s working with the feds.
Noyce leans heavily into the doomy Appalachian setting, telegraphing from very early on that this isn’t going to end well even if it takes a while to get there. It’s appreciatively dark in tone, but Noyce and cinematographer Elliot Davis have opted to shoot / grade the film in muddy, unnatural blues and yellows that give the entire film an artificial sheen that’s both extremely annoying and unpleasant to look at. Noyce pulls out all the stops — Dutch angles, laborious herky-jerky digital slo-mo effects — to a point where the film becomes distractingly flashy on the surface to distract from a narrative that soon becomes repetitive. Clarke is surprisingly convincing as a flinty hillbilly (who would’ve thought she would handily best Amy Adams at that particular task?) but Above Suspicion’s curiously low-rent, DTV-action approach to the material can only carry it so far.
Above Suspicion is on VOD now. For more details about the film, please visit its IMDB page. Watch the trailer here:
Emilia Clarke and Jack Huston star in Above Suspicion
Iron Mask, directed by Oleg Stepchenko
I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone got it together to put Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan in a movie together. But, as in most situations where ageing action stars are finally paired in a film decades after their prime, there’s a catch. Chan and Schwarzenegger only really exist in the margins of Iron Mask, a Russian-Chinese blockbuster that borrows liberally from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in order to build its chintzy, spastic narrative. Iron Mask (which is actually a sequel to a 2014 film loosely based on a Nikolai Gogol story) is really the story of British cartographer Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) as he embarks on an international adventure to China that eventually winds up having something to do with a dragon — though not for a while.
Schwarzenegger plays James Hook, a British prison warden who shares a name with Captain Hook but is (probably?) not related to the Pan nemesis, while Chan plays one of his prisoners. Their sequences essentially bookend a film that I can most charitably describe as Dolittle if all of the talking animals were instead replaced by vaudevillian supporting characters and one single CGI dragon-puppy thing. Iron Mask is bright and zippy and colourful and energetic on the surface, which betrays a confused story that struggles with its excess of characters and general overzealous tone. Scattershot dubbing (in true coproduction fashion, everyone speaks their own language and is dubbed in English afterwards) only adds to the rinky-dink aura of the whole thing, with its brightly-coloured CGI and frequent pratfalls.
There are some decent martial arts scenes and even a few jokes that land, but what Iron Mask most reminded me of was misbegotten late-’90s blockbusters like Lost in Space or The Avengers, where attempts to please everyone resulted in a soupy mess of elements, tones and ideas. Chan and Schwarzenegger completists may feel the need to check this one off the list, but everyone else can rest easy knowing they’re not missing much.Iron Mask is on VOD now. For more details about the film, please visit its IMDB page. Watch the trailer here:
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan co-star in Iron Mask
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