Review: ‘Die in a Gunfight,’ starring Alexandra Daddario, Diego Boneta, Justin Chatwin, Billy Crudup, Wade Allain-Marcus, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Travis Fimmel

July 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Diego Boneta and Alexandra Daddario in “Die in a Gunfight” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Die in a Gunfight”

Directed by Collin Schiffli

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Die in a Gunfight” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ne’er-do-well heir from a wealthy media family tries to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend, who comes from a rival media family, while a hit man and her jealous former bodyguard, who wants to marry her, get messily involved in the lives of this would-be couple.

Culture Audience: “Die in a Gunfight” will appeal primarily to people who want to watch a painfully dull and unfunny action comedy inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Justin Chatwin in “Die in a Gunfight” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

If William Shakespeare were alive, he would retch at how “Die in a Gunfight” shamelessly steals from “Romeo and Juliet” and rots it down to the tackiest levels. It’s an action comedy that’s boring and witless. And it’s one of those mind-numbingly bad movies that doesn’t have enough of a story to fill a feature-length film, so it just bloats the movie with the cinematic equivalent of hot air.

There are some bad movies that at least should be given credit for trying to be original. However, “Die in a Gunfight”—directed and Collin Schiffli and written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari—has absolutely no originality in any of its ideas. In addition to the “Romeo and Juliet” storyline for the movie’s would-be couple, “Die in a Gunfight” regurgitates plots and tropes that have been seen in too many other movies.

There’s the wacky hitman. There’s the love triangle with a jealous third person who wants to tear the would-be couple apart. There’s the “snitch” who’s been targeted for a murder plot. There’s the forgettable series of gun shootouts, fist fights and chase scenes. And it’s all tangled up in moronic dialogue and substandard acting.

“Die in a Gunfight” takes place in an unnamed big U.S. city (“Die in a Gunfight” was actually filmed in Toronto), where two media mogul families have been feuding for years. Billy Crudup, an Tony-winning and Emmy-winning actor, provides anonymous voiceover narration for “Die in a Gunfight.” He spares himself the embarrassment of not appearing on camera in this messy slop of a movie. Someone must’ve called in a big favor to have an actor of Crudup’s caliber in this movie, because he’s definitely slumming it here.

As the unidentified narrator explains, the Gibbon family and the Rathcart family have been feuding with each other since 1864. That’s the year when patriarch Theodore Gibbon’s newspaper published an unflattering story about patriarch Carlton Rathcart’s shoes. An argument ensued, and Theodore shot Carlton to death. The two families became bitter enemies ever since.

In the present day, each family owns a media empire—Gibbon Telecommunications and Rathcart Corporation—that fiercely competes with each other. Two married couples currently lead these two dynasties: Henry Gibbon (played by Stuart Hughes) and Nancy Gibbon (played by Nicola Correia-Damude) for Gibbon Telecommunications, and William Rathcart (played by John Ralston) and Beatrice Rathcart (played by Michelle Nolden) for Rathcart Coportation.

The husbands are the CEOs of their repsective companies, while their wives don’t seem to work and are socialites. Henry and Nancy Gibbon have a 27-year-old son named Ben (played by Diego Boneta), while William and Beatrice Rathcart have a daughter named Mary (played by Alexandra Daddario), who’s about the same age as Ben. It should be noted that, just like their mothers, Mary and Ben don’t seem to have jobs. It would explain why Ben and Mary have way too much time on their hands to get involved in the stupid shenanigans that this movie has for them.

The jumbled storytelling in “Die in a Gunfight” doesn’t reveal this family information from the beginning. Instead, the opening scene has animation and the narrator explaining that Ben has been in about 32.8 brawls a year since he was 5 years old—and he’s lost every single one of those fights. (You’d never know it though, because Ben is a pretty boy whose face doesn’t look banged up at all.) Ben was living an aimless, detached life until he fell in love with Mary when they were in high school. Needless to say, their parents didn’t approve of their romance.

However, Mary (a privileged rebel who’s been kicked out of every private school she attended) was shipped off to boarding school in Paris. The two teens had made plans to run off together to Mexico when they got old enough to legally do what they want. Ben sent her frequent letters by email, but Mary never answered them. A heartbroken Ben assumed that Mary lost interest in him, and that ignoring his email was her way of breaking up with him. Haven’t these people heard of phones or text messages?

A flashback shows that a depressed Ben, sometime in his mid-20s, ended up going to Mexico by himself. He was about to hang himself from a tree, but there was a mishap and he tumbled down a cliff and right into a guy around his age named Mukul (played by Wade Allain-Marcus), who was being held at gunpoint by a thug who was about to execute Mukul. This random tumble ended up saving Mukul’s life because it also knocked the gun out of the thug’s hand, and Mukul was able to chase him away his would-be killer.

Seven months later, Mukul and Ben became best friends who vowed not to tell anyone the real way that they met. Mukul moved to the U.S. with Ben, where they are seen in the present day crashing a high-society party that’s being held at a mansion. At this party are Mary, Ben’s parents and Mary’s parents. Mary’s parents are predictably annoyed that Ben is there.

Ben hasn’t seen Mary in years, but they look at each other as if they still have have a romantic spark between them. They don’t talk for long, and their conversation is awkward and uncomfortable. Ben and Mukul decide to leave the party, but not before they steal a bunch of fur coats as they exit the mansion.

Ben sees Mary again at a nightclub, where she is trying to avoid someone from her past: Terrence Uberahl (played by Justin Chatwin), who used to be her bodyguard hired by her father. Terrence currently works as a corporate executive/fixer for William Rathcraft. But what Terrence really wants is to marry Mary.

Terrence isn’t afraid to tell Mary that he’s in love with her, but it’s not real love. It’s an obsession. At a private back room in the nightclub, Terrence (whose persona is a mixture of sleazy and dorky) proposes marriage to Mary. He even bought her a diamond engagement ring. Mary is turned off because she’s never been interested in Terrence and never gave him an indication that she wanted to be his romantic partner. Mary immediately says no to this marriage proposal.

Meanwhile, Ben has found himself in another private back room in the nightclub. He’s randomly ended up in the room with a horny married couple named Wayne McCarty (played by Travis Fimmel) and Barbie McCarty (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui), who soon make it known to Ben that they’re swingers. Wayne (who has an unhinged demeanor throughout the movie) encourages Barbie to try to seduce Ben, because apparently Wayne likes to watch Barbie be with other men.

Here’s the awful dialogue that’s in this scene: Wayne tells Ben, “My wife thinks you’re cute—like a rabbit.” Wayne tells Barbie, “Why don’t you go over there and play with your new pet rabbit?” Ben tries to fend off Barbie’s advances, but Wayne gets offended.

Wayne asks Ben how Ben wants to die. Ben replies, “I want to die in a gunfight.” The next thing you know, Wayne gets in a fist fight with Ben. And since the movie’s narrator has already stated that Ben always loses in fights, viewers already know how this brawl is going to end. But before that happens, Wayne kisses Ben on the mouth during the fight.

Not long after this bizarre encounter, Ben and Mary rekindle their romance. It’s about the same time that Mary’s ruthless father is about to possibly experience a scandal that could ruin him financially and send him to prison. A Rathcart Corporation employee named Pamela Corbett-Ragsdale (played by Caroline Raynaud) is about to come forward in a press conference with some bombshell information about the company that directly implicates William Rathcart.

In a private meeting between William and his lackey Terrence, William orders Terrence to hire a hit man to murder Pamela before this whistleblower press conference can happen. Guess which hit man gets hired for the job? Terrence also uses this deadly assignment as an opportunity to ask William for his blessing to marry Mary. William doesn’t seem thrilled with the idea of having Terrence as a son-in-law, but he says he will approve of the marriage if Pamela is murdered.

The rest of the movie is a tedious and irritating dump of bad ideas and even worse acting. Fimmel is the only one in the cast who makes an attempt to have a little campy fun in what he must have surely known was a stinker of a film. However, the rest of the cast members just embarrass themselves with acting that is either too stiff or too hammy. The characters of Barbie and Mukul are completely useless.

The action sequences, which should be among this movie’s biggest assets, are uninteresting and sloppy. As for the movie’s romance, it’s the epitome of empty and shallow. It doesn’t help that Boneta and Daddario do not have convincing chemistry with each other. The only thing that really dies in “Die in a Gunfight” is the expectation that this movie will get better as it goes along, because the ending is just atrocious and the worst part of this idiotic movie.

Lionsgate released “Die in a Gunfight” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 16, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 20, 2021.

Review: ‘New Order’ (2021), starring Naian González Norvind, Diego Boneta, Fernando Cuautle, Mónica Del Carmen, Eligio Melendez, Dario Yazbek Bernal and Lisa Owen

June 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Naian González Norvind and Fernando Cuautle in “New Order” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“New Order” (2021)

Directed by Michel Franco

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Mexico, the dramatic film “New Order” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wedding celebration at a wealthy family’s estate is invaded by rioters protesting against the elites of society.

Culture Audience: “New Order” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about conflicts between social classes, but some of the brutal violence in the movie might be too much for some viewers to take.

Diego Boneta and Fernando Cuautle in “New Order” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“New Order” raises provocative questions in this raw and disturbing depiction of clashes between the “haves” and the “have nots.” One of the biggest questions has to do with blurred lines of morality when people who think they are oppressed become the oppressors. And the movie brings forth the ongoing debate over social protests, when some people think violence isn’t the answer, while others have a “by any means necessary” set of beliefs.

Written and directed by Michel Franco, “New Order” is also a blistering commentary on political violence in Mexico, although the movie’s themes can apply to any country that has been divided over official or unofficial civil wars. The movie is told mainly from the point of view of the well-to-do protagonists who start off thinking that they’re going to an elegant wedding but end up experiencing horrors beyond their worst nightmares.

Much of the first half of the movie takes place on a wealthy family’s estate, where the wedding is scheduled for that day. Outside the estate, there are hints that angry protests have caused a lot of upheaval in the surrounding area. Roads have been blocked off by police. And the protesters have been splattering green paint on people and property.

What they are protesting is never explicitly stated, but it doesn’t really have to be, because it’s clear that it’s an uprising against a society that the protestors think needs to be radically dismantled. Meanwhile, the people at the mansion are doing their best to ignore what’s happening around them because they think whatever is happening outside in the streets doesn’t really apply to them.

Franco’s message in “New Order” isn’t exactly subtle. It seems like he made this movie to say that it isn’t just wealthy people who have a sense of complacency, but it could be anyone who wants to ignore the reasons behind civil unrest. Letting this discontent fester without properly addressing it can have disastrous and tragic results.

The first half of the movie takes viewers into the world of the bride’s upper-crust family who is hosting the wedding. These scenes give a sense of how privileged and fortunate the family and their guests seemed to be before the chaos of the street protests changed their lives forever. The family members and the wedding guests have lulled themselves into a sense of security. It’s not necessarily pure arrogance in thinking that they’re “untouchable,” but it’s more out of ignorance of not knowing or not being able to relate to what’s making the protestors so filled with rage.

The movie’s main protagonist is Marianne Novello (played by Naian González Norvind), the 25-year-old bride-to-be, who is in a blissful romance with her handsome architect fiancé Alan (played by Dario Yazbek Bernal), who has an easygoing personality. They are so happy and in love that they can barely keep their hands off of each other at a pre-wedding party, hours before they are scheduled to exchange marriage vows. Alan is very supportive of Marianne and sees her as an equal partner.

Also at the wedding are:

  • Marianne’s older brother Daniel (played by Diego Boneta), who is a somehat cocky architect colleague of Alan’s.
  • Daniel’s pregnant wife Blanca (played by Ximena García), who is more introverted than Daniel.
  • Alan’s mother Pilar (played by Patricia Bernal), who is happy about his upcoming marriage.
  • Marianne and Daniel’s parents Ivan (played by Roberto Medina) and Rebecca (played by Lisa Owen), who also approve of the marriage.

The Novelo family has several servants, but the ones who get the most screen time are housekeeper Marta (played by Mónica Del Carmen) and her son Cristian (played by Fernando Cuautle), who’s a driver and occasional handyman. There are some security personnel at the wedding too. But viewers will eventually see that these security staffers will be outnumbered and not all of the Novelo family employees are loyal.

As the party guests celebrate inside the gated walls of the estate, there are signs that the effects of the street protests have been seeping into the festive atmosphere. When Rebecca goes into a bathroom and turns on a faucet, she sees that the water has turned green. It’s the same green shade of the paint being used by the protesters. An alarmed Rebecca tells Ivan about this strange and possibly dangerous alteration to their plumbing.

But when they both go in the bathroom to test the water faucet, the water has gone back to normal. Meanwhile, some of the guests arriving have splotches of the green paint on their cars, while a few of the guests have the paint on their clothing and faces, as if they couldn’t avoid getting splattered with the paint. There’s also talk at the party about how hard it was to drive from the airport to the wedding site because of all the police and protesters in the streets.

Before the home invasion, members of the Novelo family are faced with a decision on whether or not to help a former employee. An elderly man named Rolando (played by Eligio Meléndez) shows up at the front gate of the mansion, just a few hours before Marianne is supposed to be getting prepared for the wedding ceremony. Rolando, who hasn’t worked for the Novelo family in eight years, has not been invited to the ceremony, but he’s there to make a desperate request.

Rolando asks to see Rebecca and tells her that his wife Elise needs emergency surgery for a heart valve replacement. Because the protestors have raided the hospitals, Rolando had to take Elise to a private clinic. And the medical expenses will cost 200,000 pesos. With an embarrassed tone of voice, Rolando says that doesn’t have a credit card, so he asks Rebecca to lend him the money.

Rebecca is polite but somewhat dismissive when she tells Rolando that it’s bad timing for him to ask her for money. She tells him to come back the next day. But when Rebecca sees the expression of despair on Rolando’s face, she changes her mind and tells him that she can only give him 35,000 pesos in cash that day and that he can come back for the rest later.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Marianne both find out that Rolando has shown up to ask to borrow money for his wife’s heart surgery. Rolando and his wife Elise were beloved employees who left the employment of the Novelo family on good terms. However, Rolando’s sudden and unannounced appearance at the Novelo family home is awkward because he didn’t keep in touch, and the family hasn’t seen him in several years.

Daniel and Marianne have very different reactions to Rolando’s request to borrow the money. Daniel gets irritated and thinks that Rolando is being too much of a distraction. He goes outside to the gate, gives Rolando the rest of the money, and angrily tells Rolando never to come back. Rolando is grateful but also seems ashamed about alienating Daniel.

Marianne doesn’t know that Daniel had this interaction with Rolando, so she decides she’s going to give Rolando the cash that he needs. When she finds out that Rolando has left the property, she impulsively asks Cristian to go with her by car to Rolando’s home address, which isn’t too far away, so that she can give Rolando the cash herself. Although some viewers might think it’s far-fetched that someone would go to this type of trouble on that person’s wedding day, there are a lot stranger things that have happened in real life.

It can be assumed that Marianne is a very kind-hearted and generous person, so it’s not hard to believe that someone with this type of personality would make this decision. Marianne’s biggest lapse in judgment is not being aware or underestimating how bad the violence was out on the streets. She and Cristian are about to find out the hard way.

Marianne’s decision to leave the mansion just a few hours before her wedding causes some panic with her loved ones. But they don’t think it’s a good idea for any of them to go out and try to find her. They hope she’ll come back in time for the wedding. But then, all hell breaks loose and there’s a massive home invasion.

The rest of “New Order” takes a very dark turn with mayhem that includes kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, torture and murder. Some of the violence is gratuitous when it focuses a little too long on random characters who are never seen in the movie again. And viewers might be divided over a plot development involving ransom money, bounty hunters and how the government handles the chaos.

As believable as the acting is in the movie, one of the flaws of “New Order” is that not enough time is given to get to know any of the characters and their backstories. Marianne seems like a nice person, but her fateful decision to help Rolando and her determination to make it happen (she won’t give up when she and Cristian encounter obstacles on the road) are about all that viewers see of what type of personality she has.

Despite the unrelenting grimness in the last half of the movie, “New Order” isn’t really a rallying cry for one side or the other. It’s more like a wake-up call or a warning. It’s as if writer/director Franco, with all of the movie’s in-your-face and unsettling violence, seems to be saying, “If you think this can’t happen to you, think again.” As troubling as it is to see all the horrific crimes against humanity that are depicted in the movie, it’s a somber reminder that these acts are not an exaggeration of ongoing atrocities and there are worse things in real life that weren’t in this movie.

Neon released “New Order” in select U.S. cinemas on May 21, 2021.

Review: ‘Monster Hunter,’ starring Milla Jovovich

December 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa in “Monster Hunter” (Photo by Coco Van Oppens/Screen Gems)

“Monster Hunter”

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and in an alternate world, the sci-action flick “Monster Hunter” has a racially diverse cast (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the U.S. military and otherworldly warriors.

Culture Clash: Members of the U.S. military find themselves transported to another world, where they have to fight off monsters with other people from that world.

Culture Audience: “Monster Hunter,” which is based on the videogame of the same name, will appeal primarily to people who like simplistic, formulaic action movies with little to no surprises or substance.

Rathalos in “Monster Hunter” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems/Sony Pictures)

The sci-fi/action time waster “Monster Hunter” is a perfect example of why most video games that get made into movies have bad reputations for being dumb, predictable and lacking a compelling storyline. Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who’s best known for the critically panned “Resident Evil” movie franchise, which is also based on a video game), “Monster Hunter” is based on Capcom’s video game of the same title. At least with the video game, audiences can control the action. With the “Monster Hunter” movie, audiences have to sit through an often-incoherent mess that seems recycled from countless other generic sci-fi/action flicks that have been done before and done much better.

The plot of the movie is as simple as its title. It’s really just a series of battles against giant monsters. Some of the creatures live in desert sand, while others live in caves. The monsters have names like Rathalos, Nerscylla and Black Diablos and resemble everything from giant scorpions to oversized versions of the deadly creatures in “Gremlins.” And just like many other sci-fi movies of this ilk, there’s a mysterious gateway portal that separates Earth from the world where the monsters live.

The beginning of “Monster Hunter” shows a glimpse of the other world, when a ship traveling in treacherous icy waters is attacked by giant monsters. Two of the people on the ship end up playing a pivotal role later on in the story: The ship’s captain named Admiral (played by Ron Perlman, wearing a silly-looking blonde pompadour wig) and Hunter (played by Tony Jaa), a bow-and-arrow slinging warrior who also has the stunt skills of a trained gymnast. It’s also shown that Hunter has a few superpower tricks.

The movie then cuts to an unnamed desert on Earth, where a small squad of U.S. Army soldiers are making their way across the land in jeeps. The squad is led by Capt. Lt. Natalie Artemis (played by Milla Jovovich, also of the “Resident Evil” franchise), who is tough and fearless but also shows a compassionate side and a sense of humor during the course of the story. She might be tough, but she also makes a lot of ludicrously bad decisions.

The soldiers in the squad don’t have much character development in the movie, but they are named Dash (played by Meagan Good); Marshall (played by Diego Boneta); Link (played by Tip “T.I.” Harris); Axe (played by Jin-Au Yeung); and Steeler (played by Josh Helman). Axe and Steeler seem to be good buddies since they have a rapport where they joke around with each other. However, the personalities in this group are fairly interchangeable because they’re so generic.

A tornado-like massive sandstorm with electrical current suddenly appears and overwhelms the squad. They soon find themselves in an even more isolated desert area that they can’t find on their map. Their GPS and communication devices aren’t working. It doesn’t take long for them to discover that they’re not on Earth anymore, because giant monsters (larger than dinosaurs) emerge from the sand and attack the humans. The military firearms and other weapons are no match for these monsters.

Dash is the only one in the group who openly disagrees with Artemis when Artemis tells her squad that they have to fight back against the monsters instead of hiding. Through a series of very predictable events, Artemis ends up meeting Hunter. And there’s the typical long stretch of the movie where Artemis and Hunter clash and don’t know how much they can trust each other.

The visual effects in a movie like “Monster Hunter” should be one of the main attractions, but the quality is uneven. The monsters are convincing in most scenes, but then there are other scenes with cheesy effects, where it’s obvious that the actors were in front of a green screen. One of the main reasons to make a video game into a movie is to have the movie look better than than the video game, but “Monster Hunter” falls short of that intention.

Even worse than the visual effects are scenarios where Artemis sustains injuries that would cripple most people, but she’s later able to demonstrate superhuman strength later on in the story. And let’s not get into the continuity and logic problems, where weapons are used that seem to come out of nowhere. And there are several scenes where Artemis is covered in dirt and grime everywhere except her face.

There are also some scenes that don’t make any sense at all. In one of these moronic scenes, Artemis (who’s already injured, exhausted and getting very dehydrated) is seen on top of a stone structure that’s about as tall as two skyscrapers. It’s a climb that would take several hours, but she’s suddenly shown standing on top, as if she’s some kind of super mountain climber.

Why would Artemis make this long and grueling climb that would deplete her energy and make her even more desperate for water? She did it so she could throw a rock onto the sand to see if any monsters would react. And sure enough, after she throws a rock, a monster emerges from beneath the sand and tries to attack. Keep in mind, this idiotic “test” is well after Artemis barely survived a vicious attack by several monsters that she already knows exist.

Jovovich seems to be doing her best to bring a sense of adventure to her role in “Monster Hunter,” but Artemis is really just a variation of her Alice character in the “Resident Evil” movies. Jaa’s Hunter character isn’t that memorable or unique. And viewers will have a hard time taking Perlman’s Admiral character seriously as a badass leader when he’s wearing a hot mess of a mane that looks like a reject from the Joan Rivers Wig Collection. And let’s not get started on the Meowscular Chef, the humanoid cat character that looks very fake and out of place with the humans.

The script problems, the tacky visual effects and the mediocre acting in “Monster Hunter” might be more tolerable if the action in the movie was truly innovative and suspenseful. But most of the action is very uninspired and at times can be considered quite dull, especially for viewers who’ve seen a lot of action movies. And the movie has an over-used action gimmick of making it look like someone is dead but the person was actually unconscious.

The fight scenes in “Monster Hunter” take a very lazy approach of gunfire, explosions, rinse, repeat. The movie also has a few laughable moments where Artemis believes a hunter-sized knife will be enough to kill these monsters. In one scene, she slices a monster’s skin with the knife, but the result is what would be the equivalent of a paper cut on a human. It’s unfortunate that “Monster Hunter” was made as if the filmmakers think the audience is as stupid as this movie.

Screen Gems released “Monster Hunter” in U.S. cinemas on December 18, 2020.