Review – Lara Croft Is On Fire (“Those Who Wish Me Dead”)

Based on the novel by Michael Koryta, this is not a Lara Croft or Evelyn Salt sequel, but it still manages to star Angelina Jolie in some mighty precarious predicaments involving assassins, protecting a child, and trying to escape a raging forest fire. Yikes!

Her name is Hannah Faber (Jolie) and, even though she’s suffering from some PTSD and survivor’s guilt from a past experience where some kids were killed, she still manages to goof around with her firefighter smokejumping crew like nothing ever happened. Assigned to a lonely and isolated fire lookout tower in the beautiful Montana hills (New Mexico substituted for the real on-location shooting), she contemplates her life choices and tries to come to grips with the inner demons that still haunt her.

While that’s going on, we meet two hired assassins, brothers Jack & Patrick Blackwell (Aiden Gillen & Nicholas Hoult) who are sent to wipe out the family of Owen Casserly (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant who knows certain secrets that are never revealed to us. Jack & Patrick manage to kill Owen, but his young tween son, Connor (Finn Little) escapes and flees into the wooden mountains of Montana where he eventually meets up with Hannah. Trusting her, Connor tells her about his plight, but dang it! All the communication is conveniently knocked out! They’re gonna have to hike to civilization. . . during a thunderstorm. . . and then a forest fire.  

Meanwhile, Jack & Patrick aren’t giving up on finding Connor and that means not only setting a forest fire to cover their tracks, but brutally attacking Allison Sawyer (Medina Senghore), the pregnant wife of Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), and then kidnapping the sheriff for him to track down the boy. Pretty soon, all of them meet up in the blazing forest as the inevitable showdown comes to its anti-climax. If you saw the trailer, as I did, and thought you were going to see a movie punctuated by dramatic forest fighters plying their trade with bravery and moral strength, forget it. This is just a dull, generic, kid-in-distress rescue movie with a hero’s redemption arc thrown in for good measure.

Strange coming from brilliant co-screenwriter & director Taylor Sheridan, who gave us the wonderful Sicario movies and Hell or High Water. His co-writers, novelist Michael Koryta (his first-ever script) & Charles Leavitt (K-Pax) added to this movie, which should have been called Inconsistency: the Movie. There were SO many plot holes, unanswered questions, smart people doing dumb things, and the laws of nature and physics being thrown out the window, that I couldn’t help but LOL at all the stupidity happening on the screen. But I DO have to give the writers one point, having assassin Jack bear the brunt of all manner of injuries set upon only him. That was funny.

Angelina Jolie has had better roles and this movie just wastes her talents. Thankfully, she has nice chemistry with Aussie actor Finn Little, new to our shores and packing a wallop acting next to Jolie. This kid has real potential and needs to be on Stranger Things or some other YA major project. Gillen & Hoult play great assassins who are quite believable as brothers, but Hoult excels as the steely blue-eyed killer, a far cry from the kindly X-Men (Hank McCoy) we all know him from. Bernthal reminds me of a young Fred Ward (Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins) and Medina Senghore is just terrific as the bad-ass pregnant wife. Oh, and that’s Tyler Perry in a brief, but cool little cameo.  

**Now showing concurrently in theaters and on HBOMax

Cliffhanger (1993)  

Ripped, buffed, and sporting impressive arm guns, Sylvester Stallone had to make a come-back in film after his disastrous Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! This actioner with John Lithgow boasted high-adventure in the Italian Alps and direction by Renny Harlin. What could go wrong?

In an opening scene, which was deliciously parodied in two other movies, Rangers Gabriel “Gabe” Walker (Stallone) and Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner) are dispatched to rescue their friend, Hal Tucker (Michael Rucker) and his girlfriend, Sarah (Michelle Joyner), who are stranded on a peak in the Colorado Rockies. BUT! As they try to rescue Sarah, part of her harness breaks and, although Gabe tries desperately to grab her, her gloved hand slips out of his hand and she falls to her death. Hal blames Gabe for Sarah’s death and Gabe is overcome with survivor’s guilt and quits.

Months later, Gabe returns tries to persuade Jessie to leave with him. While there, she receives a distress call from a group of stranded climbers. Hal goes to locate the climbers and Jessie is able to persuade Gabe to help out, even though Hal still remains bitter towards Gabe over Sarah’s death. When they find the climbers, they discover it was a fake call, and they’re taken prisoner by the psychotic international thief, Eric Qualen (Lithgow with a weird accent) and his sadistic minions. Y’see, Qualen, along with treasonous U.S. Treasury agent Richard Travers (Rex Linn), were able to steal three suitcases full of uncirculated bills valuing over $100 million, but their escape backfired when their plane crashed in the snow-covered Rockies and the three suitcases got lost. Luckily, they’ve got tracking devices on them!

Naturally, the bad guys want the good guys to help locate the cases, rescue the money inside, and then they’ll be picked up by a helicopter later. But this involves scaling up sheer mountain walls (of course!) and that’s where expert climber Gabe upsets their plans when he finds and destroys each suitcase one by one. Qualen isn’t happy about this and sends his gun-toting goons to kill Gabe. But when Gabe fights back, Qualen kidnaps Jessie for insurance, just in case. Just as you’d expect, the explosions and violent bloodshed commence as Gabe goes for full-out revenge, so much so, that this movie almost got an NC-17 rating!

Even though the screenplay was credited by Michael France (Goldeneye, Hulk), it was re-written by Stallone who decided to “spice it up”. You can guess where all the added violence came from, huh? As a result, this movie is pure action with a total disregard for character development. All the bad guys are cardboard cut-outs who are written purely as lambs to be slaughtered, while Stallone and his friends serve no more purpose than to move the story forward with very little definition. Stallone’s Gabe Walker should have had some kind of an emotional arc and backstory, but forget that! He’s got evil thugs to tear apart with his bare hands! As Tom Servo would call him, “Manbear Beefcake!”

But, to his credit, director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea, Cutthroat Island) does one thing really well, and that’s directing the BIG picture with BIG shots! The man knows how to film action shots, as silly, bombastic, ridiculously over-the-top, or epically nuts. Look at his plane-to-plane aerial transfer scene that cost a cool million to pull off. No CGI! That was a real guy doing that eye-popping stunt! The movie was an official blockbuster, even though it received four nominations at the Golden Raspberry Awards and got ripped by many reviewers. It’s just mindless, ridiculous fun with Stallone running, jumping, climbing, and killing a bunch of people. Hey, what’s not to like? 

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