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.

Review: ‘The Big Ugly,’ starring Vinnie Jones, Malcolm McDowell, Nicholas Braun, Leven Rambin, Lenora Crichlow and Ron Perlman

July 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vinnie Jones in “The Big Ugly” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Big Ugly” 

Directed by Scott Wiper

Culture Representation: Taking place in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, the crime drama “The Big Ugly” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the wealthy, middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash:  British criminals who are in Virginia for a shady business deal find themselves at odds with a longtime American ally who is a powerful oil baron with a troublemaking son.

Culture Audience: “The Big Ugly” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic B-movie crime thrillers and don’t mind if the movie’s pace is much slower than it should be.

Brandon Sklenar in “The Big Ugly” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

British footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones is known for starring in high-octane B-movie action schlockfests that showcase his fighting abilities, so viewers of “The Big Ugly” (written and directed by Scott Wiper) might be disappointed to see how slow-paced this movie is. And it’s not just because the movie takes a long time (about two-thirds of the film) before a really big fight scene happens. This is the type of movie where the people speak with long pauses in between sentences, as if they’re zonked-out on medication or their brain cells are being killed by some of the moronic dialogue that they have to utter.

The movie begins with a group of British criminals on a private plane, as they fly to Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains to do a business deal: laundering money with a local millionaire oil baron named Preston (played by Ron Perlman, in yet another menacing role as a ruthless and shady character). The movie’s title comes from an area of the Appalachians called the Big Ugly, where Preston’s employees do a lot of their work.

The story’s main protagonist is a brooding thug named Neelyn (played by Jones), and he’s accompanied on the trip by his girlfriend Fiona (played by Lenora Crichlow), whom he’s been dating for six years. Also on the plane is the British crime group’s boss: a suit-wearing, bespectacled overlord named Harris (played by Malcolm McDowell), who has his underlings do his dirty work for him. “Back in London,” Neelyn says of the criminal hierarchy there, “Harris is the king.”

Harris is on this trip because he personally wants to deliver $32.7 million (which is about £25 million) in cash to Preston, who owns a large swath of land in the Appalachians, where he employs a loyal group of redneck types to mine the land for precious resources, such as oil. Harris and Preston are longtime allies who became friends after one of them saved the other’s life years ago. (It’s shown as a flashback in the movie.)

The reason for the trip, as Neelyn explains in one of his many gruff, Cockney-accented voiceovers in the film: “Preston needs cash flow. Harris needs a cleaner. Win win—for most.” It isn’t long before viewers see that Neelyn and Harris have a strained relationship with each other because Neelyn tends to be a bit rebellious. We see later in the film that Neelyn is the type of employee who will sometimes question what his boss tells him to do instead of blindly following orders.

The cash tradeoff happens smoothly after the private plane lands on the tarmac. Preston might be involved in illegal deals, but he wants everyone to know that he’s got a noble conscience when it comes to race relations and respecting the environment. But when it comes to murdering people who might get in his way, well let’s just say that Preston’s “morality” flies right out the window.

After he gets Harris’ money, Preston has several employees gathered outside, when he sees that a few of his scruffy male employees have arrived in a truck displaying a Confederate flag. Preston immediately rips the flag from the truck, because he says he’s “read history” and he knows that the flag represents divisiveness. When the employees object to Preston taking the flag, he reacts by throwing the flag in a nearby garbage can. “This shit offends me,” Preston growls. “Riding around with [this flag] just says, ‘I’m a fucking loser.'”

Preston also starts lecturing to employees about his political philosophies: “You know, one of our biggest crimes as Americans is that our righteous morality towards nature rarely extends beyond our own backyard … I don’t frack. I don’t use bullshit chemicals. I treat the land with honor and leave it like God intended it to be.”

Now that viewers know that Preston is a criminal who hates the Confederate flag but loves the environment, it isn’t long before the source of the story’s conflict is shown: Preston’s only child Junior (played by Brandon Sklenar), a sleazy and entitled troublemaker who uses his father’s power to bully people and commit all kinds of mayhem because he knows he can get away with it. Preston has some loyal enforcers to carry out his wishes (and clean up Junior’s messes), including top henchman Mitt (played by Bruce McGill), Thomas (played by David Meyers Gregory) and Stoney (played by Dan Buran).

Now that Harris and his posse have done their business deal with Preston, these British criminals don’t expect to be in town for long. There’s a random scene in a barn, where Neelyn is pointing a gun at a older man who arrived with the group on the plane. “We had a good run, you and me,” Neelyn tells the man, who clearly knows what’s going to happen next. The man replies “Yeah,” before Neelyn shoots him dead.

What is the purpose of this poorly written scene? Harris shows up near the barn right after the shooting, so it’s implied that Neelyn shot the guy because Harris ordered him to do it. But it’s never really explained what this murder victim did to deserve being killed in such a cold-blooded manner. If Neelyn has any remorse over this murder, he doesn’t show it.

Meanwhile, at a local bar called 86 Roadhouse, which appears to be the only hotspot in town, Neelyn and Fiona party with their group and some of Preston’s employees. In one of the restrooms, Neelyn and Fiona do cocaine together. Harris looks very out of place in this seedy bar, as if he’d rather be downing cocktails at the ritzy Savoy Hotel in London.

And when Harris sees a coked-up Neelyn, he expresses his disapproval at Neelyn’s intoxicated condition. You see, Harris wants his people to be “classy” criminals, as if he somehow forgot that murdering someone in cold blood in a dirty barn isn’t exactly “classy.” Neelyn inevitably gets in a rough physical fight with a couple of bar patrons, and Neelyn is thrown out of the place.

Harris is outside of the bar and furious with Neelyn. Harris yells at Neelyn: “Only you can can get eighty-sixed from a bar called the fucking 86! I mean, wild animals can’t get thrown out of that fucking place! You are a humiliation to us! You are a fucking embarrassment!”

Neelyn replies, “You finished? Or shall I pull up a chair?” Harris snaps back, “Wind your neck in son, or I’ll cut it off.” That’s a typical example of the cringeworthy dialogue in this movie.

While Harris is verbally ripping into Neelyn outside, Junior is inside the bar making moves on the paid escort named Jackie (played by Elyse Levesque) who accompanied Harris on this trip. Junior’s seduction technique is to ooze out cheesy lines such as “Your beauty is so bright, it hurts my eyes,” while holding up a hand to his face. Jackie is either really drunk, desperate or both, because Junior’s smarminess works on her.

The next thing you know, Jackie and Junior are having sex outside in a not-so-secluded area near the bar. One of the people who sees this impromptu tryst is mild-mannered Will (played by Nicholas Braun), one of Preston’s employees. Junior happens to be Will’s immediate boss, so Will (just like most people who don’t want to see their boss having sex) backs away and says nothing.

Meanwhile, Neelyn and Fiona (who are both drunk and high) are in their hotel room, where they get into a little bit of a lovers’ spat because she wants him to talk about where their relationship is headed, after six years of dating each other. Neelyn is not in the mood for that kind of talk, so Fiona storms out of the room in a huff.

While she’s smoking a cigarette outside, Junior comes sidling up to her like a snake ready to pounce. (He definitely gets around fast.) Junior starts flirting with Fiona and invites her to go back to 86 Roadhouse with him. She politely declines, but he keeps insisting. And then when he walks away, he says she can still change her mind.

When a very hungover Neelyn wakes up the next morning, he notices that Fiona is missing. Harris and the rest of his group are getting ready to board their plane back to London, but Neelyn is frantic over finding Fiona. Harris and Neelyn get in another argument, where Harris orders Neelyn to leave with the group, but Neelyn insists on staying so that he can find Fiona.

Meanwhile, Junior has moved on to another potential sexual conquest: Will’s girlfriend Kara (played by Leven Rambin), who works as a bartender/waitress at another local bar. Kara rebuffs Junior’s aggressive advances (and he uses the same “you’re too beautiful, it hurts my eyes” line with her too), but it’s clear that he doesn’t want to take no for an answer.

Junior later tells Will that Kara is a “hot piece of ass” who doesn’t need to belong to one man. It’s a test of Will’s moral strength in defending his girlfriend from Will’s sexual harassment, but Junior is also testing how far he can abuse his power as Will’s supervisor. People in the area know that Junior is an out-of-control bully, but they’re afraid to do anything about it because they know that Junior’s powerful father Preston will protect him.

Neelyn does some private-detective sleuthing into Fiona’s disappearance. Actually, he just goes back to the 86 Roadhouse and bribes the owner/manager Tomi (played by Joelle Carter) to give him information. To no one’s surprise, Neelyn finds out that Junior was the last person seen with Fiona, because they were hanging out together at the bar until closing time, and Fiona and Junior left the bar together.

Fiona left her wallet behind (a sign of probable foul play), and Neelyn checks his phone and finds a disturbing voice-mail message from Fiona that sounds like she’s being attacked and is yelling for help. When Neelyn confronts Junior about being the last person seen with Fiona, Junior insists that he walked Fiona back to the hotel and that she was perfectly safe the last time he saw her. (No one in this movie bothers to ask for any surveillance video.)

Junior is obviously the main “person of interest” in Fiona’s disappearance, but when Neelyn tells Harris about his suspicions, Harris tells Neelyn to back off of going after Junior. Harris knows that Preston is very protective of his rotten son, so Harris doesn’t want anything to happen to put his own friendship with Preston in jeopardy

Does Neelyn obey Harris’ orders to “back off” of Junior? It’s pretty easy to see where the rest of the movie will go from here, so when the inevitable showdown happens, there’s nothing really unique or surprising about it. “The Big Ugly” isn’t an unwatchable film. It’s just a very forgettable and derivative film that tries to be very lofty and serious-minded, as if it’s pretending that it’s not a substandard B-movie.

In the very beginning of the film, Neelyn is heard declaring in a monotone voiceover: “God. Land. Oil. It’s often said that war is waged for just these three … I didn’t come hear to West Virginia for God.” Actually, the battles in this movie are about none of those three things. “The Big Ugly” might give the impression that there will be a lot of thrilling fight scenes, but instead the movie is an often-tedious drama that takes too long to get to the real action.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Big Ugly” in select virtual U.S. cinemas on July 24, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is July 31, 2020.

 

Review: ‘Run With the Hunted,’ starring Michael Carmen Pitt, Ron Perlman, Dree Hemingway, Mitchell Paulsen, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sam Quartin and Kylie Rogers

June 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Michael Carmen Pitt and Dree Hemingway in “Run With the Hunted” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Run With the Hunted”

Directed by John Swab

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the crime drama “Run With the Hunted” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) portraying the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A 13-year-old boy runs away from home after killing a man, and he grows up to lead his own group of runaway lawbreakers.

Culture Audience: “Run With the Hunted” will appeal primarily to people who like emotionally dark movies about people haunted by their past, but the film fails to deliver a well-written, well-paced story.

Kylie Rogers and Mitchell Paulsen in “Run With the Hunted” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Much like the hoodlums in the crime drama “Run With the Hunted,” the movie wastes a lot of potential to have a better purpose in existing and instead wallows in self-indulgence and excessive violence. Written and directed by John Swab, “Run With the Hunted” benefits from solid acting from most of the cast. However, the movie ruins a compelling story idea with nonsensical scenes and uneven pacing.

“Run With the Hunted” (which takes place in unnamed U.S. cities) has an intriguing but dark concept of a boy who runs away from home after murdering a man and who grows up to become an adult leader of a gang of lawbreaking children. The first two-thirds of the film are told from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy named Oscar Grey (played by Mitchell Paulsen), who lives in a very rural area with his mother Josephine (played by Mykle McCoslin), his father Augustus (played by William Forsythe) and his sister Lollie (played by Tatum Stiles).

Josephine, nicknamed Jo, is a nurturing and loving person, while Augustus is stern and judgmental. In the beginning of the movie, Augustus is seen asking Oscar if he listened to the sermon that day while they are both standing by a small pond. Even although Augustus and his family are apparently churchgoing people, apparently Augustus doesn’t believe in being charitable to neighbors, because he scolds Josephine for wanting to give their dinner leftovers to a neighbor family who’s financially struggling.

When Josephine asks Oscar to take the dinner plate over to the neighbors’ place, Augustus warns Oscar: “I don’t want you to catch whatever virus lingers in that house.” The neighbors are the Robbins family, consisting of a drunk and mean-spirited father named Persey (played by Brad Carter) and his kids Amos (played by Evan Assante) and Loux (played by Madilyn Kellam), who are around the same age as Oscar. The children’s mother isn’t in the home, and it’s implied that she’s dead.

It’s clear from the first few minutes of Oscar being in the house that Persey is violent and abusive. Not even Oscar escapes from Persey’s physical aggression and shouting. Persey rudely refuses Oscar’s dinner and orders him to leave the Robbins’ run-down and messy house. Persey growls to Oscar: “I want you to tell that daddy of yours that I don’t need your mother’s backhanded charity. Take it back. Get the fuck out of my house!”

In a later conversation that Oscar and Loux have by themselves while outside in a field, Loux tells Oscar that she wants to escape from her home, but she can’t. It’s implied, but not shown in detail, that Persey has been sexually abusing her, since there’s a creepy scene where Percey makes Loux sit on his lap, strokes her hair and tells her that Loux that reminds him of her mother.

One night, while Percey is passed out drunk on his living room couch, Oscar sneaks into the house, takes a fire poker from a lit fireplace, and stabs Percey to death. The gory details are shown later in the movie as a flashback. The next thing you know, Oscar is about 100 miles away in a city that’s big enough for him to hide for a while but not so big where the city has a large police department. (“Run With the Hunted” was actually filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)

While he’s homeless and alone in the city, Oscar is picked up for violating curfew. Since he has no identification and presumably won’t tell the authorities who he is, Oscar spends the night locked up by himself in an adult jail cell. While Oscar is sitting in jail, a police officer on duty at the station named Jim Flannery (played by Slaine) gets a faxed alert that Oscar Grey is wanted for murder.

Even though the alert has a clear photo of Oscar, Flannery stupidly assumes that the kid locked up in the jail cell couldn’t be the same boy, because he thinks a boy who lives in that rural area wouldn’t have the means or intelligence to travel 100 miles away by himself. He also comments to a desk-clerk colleague named Keryn (played by Renée Willett) that the boy who’s in the jail cell doesn’t look like a murderer. Keryn cynically agrees that all these delinquent kids start to look alike. Therefore, Oscar is let back out onto the streets.

This is a badly written part of the movie, because even if Flannery wanted to assume that Oscar wasn’t the same boy who was wanted for murder, an obvious underage runaway like Oscar would not be let back out on the streets so quickly by police, since child-protective services would be called. And people watching the movie won’t get over the fact that the photo of Oscar in the alert looks exactly like him.

The only purpose of this gaping plot hole is to establish that Flannery (who’s in the latter third of the story too) is a dumb, corrupt cop. This plot hole is also a set-up so that Oscar is free to be on the streets when he has a fateful meeting with another street kid named Peaches (played by Kylie Rogers), who takes a liking to Oscar. She shows him the abandoned, remote warehouse where she and other kids around their age hang out and get training to become thieving criminals. Their leader is a scruffy middle-aged loser named Sway (played by Mark Boone Junior), whose real name is Neville.

Sway is excited to have a new recruit join their ranks. He tells his boss Birdie (played by Ron Perlman) while Birdie is at beauty salon getting a pedicure. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds. This slightly comical scene is also supposed to establish that Birdie is well-connected to corrupt politicians, since he’s meeting with a congressman (played by Darryl Cox) at the salon.

Peaches and Oscar start to have a teen romance (she’s his first kiss), and he confesses to her that he’s a fugitive for murder, but that he killed an abusive man to save his kids from the abuse. Oscar doesn’t go into details by telling Peaches the last name of the family involved, but Peaches understands.

Peaches tells Oscar: “Someday, Loux will find you. For now, you have me. I believe fate brought us together.” Peaches makes it clear that she wants Oscar all to herself, and she tells him to promise that he will never leave her.

And there’s something else about Peaches: Her father is Birdie. In one scene, he has a father-daughter talk with her in his car while she’s eating an ice cream cone. Birdie gives this advice to Peaches: “You’ve got to grab what you want, because no one is going to give it to you.”

Meanwhile, Sway is having second thoughts about having Oscar in his gang of juvenile delinquents and he wants to kick Oscar out of the group. The word gets back to Birdie, who wants to keep Oscar in the group, especially since Oscar and Peaches have started dating each other. How far will Sway go in defying Birdie’s orders? That question is answered in the movie.

When the movie flashes forward 15 years later, it’s shown that Oscar (played by Michael Carmen Pitt) and Peaches (played by Dree Hemingway) are still together. Peaches works as a stripper, and she and Oscar have a very co-dependent relationship where she’s still very needy.

However, Birdie and Peaches have kind of a sleazy father-daughter dynamic that looks borderline incestuous. There’s a scene where Peaches sits on Birdie’s lap and she sort of acts like she’s his girlfriend by the way she hugs and kisses him. (Peaches’ mother, just like Loux’s mother, is nowhere in sight.)

The dumbest scene in “Run With the Hunted” is one that has absolutely no bearing on the overall story. It’s 15 years after Oscar has committed the murder, and he’s now tutoring a gang of four teenage hoodlums to commit armed robbery. They rob a grocery store and hold everyone hostage. And not surprisingly, one of the customers gets shot. (This isn’t spoiler information. It’s in the movie’s trailer.)

What’s incredibly moronic about the scene is that Oscar and his gang do nothing to disguise themselves when they commit the robbery. Even if there’s the unlikely possibility that the store doesn’t have surveillance cameras, there were several hostages as eyewitnesses. And a grocery store, compared to a bank or jewelry store, isn’t exactly the best place to get a large haul of money to steal. Most grocery stores keep a limited amount of cash in their registers, so it’s no surprise that Oscar and his gang don’t end up with a lot of money from the robbery.

What’s also laughable about this badly written part of the movie is that Oscar and his four teenage followers (two who are white, two who are black) all live together in the same house, which is not a remote house but a place on a suburban-looking neighborhood street. Therefore, it’s obvious that this motley group would stick out in any neighborhood and would be easy to identify after the robbery.

Oscar is supposed to be 28 in this part of the story, but Pitt (the actor playing the adult Oscar) looks like he’s closer to 38. Any respectable neighbor would think, “Why is a man that age living with underage teenage boys who aren’t related to him? Who and where are these kids’ parents?” That unusual living arrangement would be enough to attract attention to Oscar, who’s supposed to be an “underground” criminal.

Wherever this city is that Oscar ran away to and now lives, the city must have the dumbest law enforcement not to catch on to the fact that there’s a coordinated gang of young criminals who are committing a lot of the thefts (including pickpocketing) right out in the open on the streets and in stores where there should be surveillance cameras. The city is obviously not isolated enough for these kids to be able to stay in hiding for long.

And just as Peaches predicted years before, an adult Loux (played by Sam Quartin) does come looking for Oscar. (Again, this is not a spoiler, since the movie’s trailer already revealed this part of the story.) Loux ends up in the same city and gets a job working for a private investigator named Lester Rineau (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a widower who might or might not be helpful to Loux’s stealthy investigation into Oscar’s childhood disappearance.

As a crime thriller, “Run With the Hunted” is a lot duller than it should have been, with much of the pacing dragged down by the relationship problems of the adult Oscar and Peaches, who have grown up to be very miserable human beings. And after Loux comes to town, the plot basically goes down the toilet, in terms of how people in the story react to her investigation.

One of the best things about “Run With the Hunted” is the talented performance by Paulsen as the young Oscar. He gives a completely credible and effective depiction of a kid who’s caught up in circumstances that are way over his head. The casting of Paulsen in this movie was definitely a very good choice.

Pitt and Perlman have been typecast (Pitt often plays troubled souls, Perlman often plays villains), so there’s not much of an acting stretch for them in this movie. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. The few women in this movie aren’t given much to do except react to whatever the men are doing.

“Run With the Hunted” has the expected violence and foul language, but sensitive viewers should be warned that the film has violence that usually isn’t seen in crime dramas—scenes of underage kids killing other people. It’s a disturbing aspect of “Run With the Hunted” that comes across as exploitative for the sake of appearing provocative and “edgy.” It’s also an example of how “Run With the Hunted” is more concerned with having violent scenes instead of having a coherent and plausible story.

Vertical Entertainment released “Run With the Hunted” on digital and VOD on June 26, 2020.

Review: ‘Clover,’ starring Mark Webber, Jon Abrahams, Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Chazz Palminteri, Tichina Arnold, Erika Christensen and Julia Jones

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Jon Abrahams and Mark Webber in “Clover” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media)

“Clover”

Directed by Jon Abrahams

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed big city in the U.S., the campy crime drama “Clover” has a predominantly white (with some African American and Native American representation) cast of characters involved in the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: Two Irish American brothers who owe $50,000 to an Italian American crime boss go on the run when they get blamed for the death of the crime boss’ only son, and a teenage girl gets involved in their shenanigans.

Culture Audience: “Clover” will appeal mostly to people looking for a very lowbrow crime caper for escapist entertainment.

Chazz Palminteri in “Clover” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media)

The title of the campy crime drama “Clover” is kind of misleading, because the title character—a teenage girl named Clover—isn’t the main character of the story, and she doesn’t show up until 23 minutes into this 101-minute movie. “Clover” is really about the bickering Irish American fraternal twin brothers who are at the center of the movie and whose actions propel almost everything that happens in the story.

Mickey (played by Jon Abrahams, who directed “Clover) and Jackie (played by Mark Webber) are the owners of a seedy bar, which they inherited from their late father. Their mother has also passed away. From the get go, viewers see that the brothers are complete opposites and they don’t get along with each other. Mickey is the responsible brother who has more common sense, while Jackie is the screw-up brother who makes a lot of dumb decisions.

One of these dumb decisions is Jackie losing $50,000 in a blackjack game, when the money was supposed to go to repaying a debt that the brothers owe to local crime boss Tony Davallo (played by Chazz Palminteri, in yet another gangster role). When Mickey finds out, he and Jackie into a knock-down, drag-out fight before heading to Tony’s lair (a bar located in the basement of a bowling alley) to tell him that they don’t have the money and hope that they don’t get assaulted or worse by Tony’s goons.

Tony is every bit the stereotypical crime boss that’s been portrayed in dozens of movies and TV shows. He’s angry that the brothers don’t have his money, but he makes them a deal: He’ll erase the debt if Mickey and Jackie accompany Tony’s only son Joey (played by Michael Godere) to collect a debt from another deadbeat, who owes $80,000 to Tony.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just collecting a debt. Mickey knows it, and senses that they’re about to get involved in a violent crime, even though Joey (a cocaine-snorting thug) not very convincingly denies it. Mickey tries to talk his way out of going, but he and Jackie don’t have much of a choice, so they go with Joey and break into the man’s home.

The guy who owes Tony the $80,000 debt is named Barry (played by Sky Paley), and he’s surprised by this late-night break-in. In short order, Barry is brought down to a basement, tied up, and beaten by Joey, who then shoots and kills Barry, as horrified Mickey and Jackie look on. A fight ensues because the brothers don’t want to be involved in a murder. Joey loses his grip on his gun, and the next thing you know, Joey is shot dead by a girl wearing a hoodie, who says she’s Barry’s 13-year-old daughter Clover.

Mickey and Jackie know that Tony will blame them for Joey’s death. Meanwhile, Clover (played by Nicole Elizabeth Berger) thinks that Mickey and Jackie killed Barry, even though they tell her that Joey really committed the murder. Clover doesn’t seem to know what’s the truth. So, in order for her not to go to the police, Mickey and Jackie force Clover to go on the run with them, which takes up nearly the rest of the movie. And where is Clover’s mother? She tells Jackie and Mickey that her mother is dead, but that might or might not be true.

“Clover” is the type of silly “mobsters are after us” movie that has a lot of gun shootouts where people corner each other with guns, but then stand around talking and insulting each other before anyone actually starts shooting. Mickey, Jackie and Clover’s panicky race to outrun and hide from Tony and his henchmen take them to different places during the course of the movie.

The first place they run to is a bar owned by a tough-as-nails family friend named Pat (played by Tichina Arnold), where they barely escape when Tony’s thugs catch up to them there. Somehow, Mickey (who’s supposed to be the smart brother) is shocked that the thugs would think of tracking them down at the bar, even though it’s owned by a known family friend of the brothers. Yes, it’s not a good idea to try and hide at the most obvious places.

Another hideout that the brothers try is the apartment of Jackie’s ex-girlfriend Angie (played by Jessica Szohr). She’s reluctant to help them at first, but she takes pity on Clover. Angie also still has feelings for dimwitted Jackie (of course she does), so that’s why Angie ends up driving with all of them in her car to go where they need to go. They also stop along the way at the home of their childhood friend Stevie (played by Johnny Messner), a cop whose father co-founded the bar with the father of Mickey and Jackie.

For people who are trying to lay low and hide, they sure are hopping all over town. Mickey, Jackie, Clover and Angie then end up in an abandoned train station (where the pace of the movie starts to drag for a while), which is the scene of another unrealistic shootout. And then there’s another stop, this time at an abandoned warehouse occupied by Mickey and Jackie’s loopy cousin Terry (played by Jake Weber), who has escaped from a psychiatric institution. The scenes with Terry have the best comedy in the movie, which isn’t saying much because “Clover” isn’t exactly a treasure trove of clever and funny dialogue.

Also in the mix are female assassins Gertie (played by Erika Christensen) and Virginia (played by Julia Jones), a lesbian couple who argue over things like whether or not coal fire or wood fire is better for making pizza or burning bones. Gertie and Virginia are hired by Tony to find Mickey and Jackie. They are ruthless, cold and calculating—making them possibly more dangerous than Tony’s bumbling thugs.

And there’s another character, who’s seen only in the beginning and end of the film: a mysterious wealthy guy named Mister Wiley (played by Ron Perlman, who clearly had fun hamming it up with this over-the-top character) whose connection to the story is made clear at the very end. The only thing that viewers really see of Mister Wiley in the beginning is that he’s a mean-spirited control freak who yells at a house employee for entering a meeting room he’s in when the door was closed. He also says things like, “The pecking order must not be disrupted or else we will have chaos.”

To its credit, “Clover” doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the screenplay by Michael Testone is still so awful (including the story’s big plot twists) that viewers might find themselves laughing at scenes that weren’t really intended to be funny. “Clover” takes place in the present day, but it also tries to have a 1970s vibe. The soundtrack tunes from little-known artists such as Charles Bradley and El Michels Affair try to evoke the same aura as gritty crime movies that Al Pacino or Pam Grier would’ve starred in the mid-1970s. However, the ’70s-styled retro music choices would work better for a movie that’s more authentic than “Clover” is, because “Clover” is about as realistic as a “Ren & Stimpy” cartoon.

With “Clover,” Abrahams shows that he can capably direct himself in a movie—he’s the best actor out of the characters who are on the run from crime boss Tony—and the action scenes are adequate, but they’re often ruined by the terrible and corny dialogue. The well-known veteran actors in the cast don’t really add much substance, because they’re playing character types they’ve played many times before—”angry crime boss” for Palminteri; “menacing villain” for Perlman; and “tough-talking woman” for Arnold.

As bad as “Clover” is, it isn’t the worst movie someone can see all year—and that’s mostly because the film’s main actors are at least compatible with their roles. The movie’s appeal certainly isn’t in its poorly written, clunky screenplay that tries to throw in a few curveballs to make it look a lot smarter than it really is. “Clover” is the kind of movie that people can watch if they’re extremely bored and want to see a movie where intelligence is not required.

Freestyle Digital Media released “Clover” on digital and VOD on April 3, 2020.