Goosebumps creator R. L. Stine said that there are four elements to a story: the beginning, the middle, the end, and the twist. And in this Netflix exclusive movie, you get all four, plus bits of the movie Becky, Law Abiding Citizen, John Q, and a certain M. Night classic.
It’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and we meet the Cooper family, but there’s about to be one less. Amanda Cooper (Adria Aronja) is dying of cancer and her loving & devoted husband, Ray (Jason Mamoa), along with their teenage daughter, Rachel (Isabella Merced) are struggling. Ray finds out about a new, potentially life-saving drug called Sparrow that might save her, but it’s suddenly pulled off the market because that douche-bag, BioPrime CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) secretly wants more money. Ray threatens Simon’s life on CNN live TV if his wife dies, and you guessed it, Amanda dies
Six months later, Ray receives a call from an investigative journalist (Nelson Franklin) who says he’s got the inside dirt on Keeley, BioPrime, and the bribes he took from a third party. But when they meet on a subway, a hitman named Santos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) almost kills both Ray & Rachel. Two years later, Ray is still investigating Keeley on his own and manages to sneak into a gala honoring Keeley, getting info from him about the bribes and who sent the hit on him. But now that Ray has murdered, he and Rachel are on the run, much to the dismay of his mood-swinging daughter.
Meanwhile, Rachel contacts FBI Agent Sarah Meeker (Lex Scott Davis) and tries to convince her that her dad is NOT a killer but, y’know, just misunderstood. After more contracts killers are sent, the pair are on the run again, trying to stay one step ahead of the law, the FBI, and whoever is sending hired guns after them. Not a good week for these two! Finally, Ray learns about Keely’s boss: the mysterious millionaire, Vinod Shah (Raza Jaffrey), but Santos gets to him first. Nuts! In a gripping scene, Ray & Santos exchange pleasantries as Santos reveals the true architect of the whole fraud scheme, and it’s exactly who you thought it was.
BUT! In the film’s big (not-so-surprising) third-act twist, as Ray is going after the puppet master behind the bribes and schemes, a dramatic “wait, what?” reveal is thrown at you. Screenwriters Phillip Eisner (Event Horizon) and Gregg Hurwitz (The Book of Henry)–both movies having bizarre twists in them–have written a film that, on the surface is a standard, ho-hum, paint-by-the-numbers, revenge yarn that hits all the typical beats, but then a WTH third act revelation pops up that, if you were following the story, does NOT make any sense, as there are gaping plot holes that don’t support it. I won’t give the prestige away, but trust me, the ‘surprise’ is just an okay one. I wasn’t shocked or blown away like I was with something like that Sixth Sense reveal.
Making his directorial debut, Brian Andrew Mendoza shows a nice style, but he relies too much on that ‘floating camera’ nonsense; the kind where it looks like a documentary being filmed, slipping in and out of focus and moving like the camera operator is drunk. Sheesh! Dude, plant the camera and shoot the scene! Thank goodness he’s got a great cast to offset the iffy script and sophomoric direction. Jason Momoa is amazing here, really sinking his teeth in his paternal side, as he tries to connect with his troubled teenage daughter. His breakdown in the hospital is utterly heart-breaking.
Isabella Merced, fresh from her stint as that rascally Dora the Explorer (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), is terrific; going from a loving, confused kid to a bi-polar, rage-filled teen that you do NOT want to mess with! And though he’s not on screen that much, Garcia-Rulfo has a nice monologue in the diner with Mamoa. If you want to waste about two hours, it’s not too bad, but the popcorn better be real good!
**Streaming exclusively on Netflix
Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
In a twist worthy of the movie’s plot, Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx were originally signed on to be their script characters, but after reading the screenplay, they insisted they should be the other one’s part! The producers nixed that idea and we have who we have in the final film.
It’s a typical Friday night in the City of Brotherly Love (that’s Philadelphia, folks) and a family is brutally attacked by two thugs in a home-invasion robbery gone horribly wrong. The lone survivor is Clyde Shelton (Butler), an ex-spy, tactician, and super-genius. He gets a rude awakening into the judicial system when rising-star lawyer, Nick Rice (Foxx) tells Clyde of the plea deal made by the two criminals that butchered his wife and little girl. One gets the death penalty, but the other will walk after a few years. Disgusted, appalled, and wanting sweet revenge, Clyde bides his time as he sets his plans in motion.
Fast-forward ten years and Clyde starts his reign of terror and butchery, starting with the two home-invasion killers. Clyde videotapes one of them as he slowly dismembers him! Eeuuww!! But like a comic book where a super-villain taunts a super-hero, Clyde allows himself to get caught and then starts to murder everyone that had anything to do with the trial; the judge, the legal team, the prosecuting attorney, the cops, everyone except Nick, who helplessly watches and can do nothing to stop Clyde who’s behind bars. Could he have an accomplice? As the bodies start to pile up, Clyde says he’s “teaching” Nick that the system is broken and he plans on “bringing it all down on his head”.
Meanwhile, Nick, Detective Dunnigan (Colm Meaney), and the Mayor (Viola Davis) are running scared that this criminally insane mastermind can’t be stopped until Nick and Dunnigan discover, what can only be described as, Clyde’s secret underground villain lair, and figure out how’s he’s been pulling off his evil shenanigans and what he has planned in the future! The ending is quite the shocker! Written by Kurt Wimmer (Salt, Point Break), this movie packs a wallop from start to finish, with some very clever twists and turns along the way. It’s also a strong performance for Butler who goes from an ordinary family man, desperately trying to maintain his sanity, to a lethal criminal genius that would make Lex Luthor jealous. In fact, with a few tweaks here and there, this could have been a perfect MCU movie!
Jamie Foxx is also excellent as the hot-shot lawyer trying to out-think the bad guy. Director F. Gary Gray’s (The Italian Job, Be Cool) doesn’t waste any film here as he delivers a dangerous and wickedly unnerving cat ‘n’ mouse game between Clyde & Nick. This movie almost got an NC-17 for its graphic, bloody violence. . . the steak bone scene is not for the squeamish!