A flashback to a much earlier action film came to me while watching the ridiculous over-the-top “Furious 6.” And no, I don’t mean “Smokey and the Bandit.”
By the way, “Furious 6” is the actual title. If you’ve seen the movie, did you notice that despite all the marketing materials that say “Fast & Furious 6,” when the title shows up on the screen it says simply “Furious 6.”
Get it? The previous entry was “Fast 5” and this one is “Furious 6.” Kind of makes you wonder what they’ll come up with for No. 7. Something clever or just plain old “Fast & Furious 7”? We won’t have to wait long to find out — it opens July 2014!
Anyway, toward the end of “Furious 6,” during a spectacular computer-generated confrontation with a cargo plane, when good guys and bad guys are jumping between speeding cars and the aircraft as it picks up speed on what must be the longest runway ever, it made me think of a moment in the old 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Commando.”
About a third into that movie Schwarzenegger is forced to board a passenger airliner by bad guys who want to get him out of the way. But as it travels down the runway he works his way into the cargo hold, climbs down onto the wheels and as liftoff begins he drops from the plane into a body of water, then runs back to the airport to take out said bad guys.
OK, it’s not really all that similar to “Furious 6,” but at the time it was a pretty sensational, if implausible, stunt involving a big airplane at a big airport, and there was no CGI to make it easy. I remember thinking at the time how silly and unbelievable this sequence was, along with much of the rest of the film.
But that, of course, was nothing compared to what was coming.
Flash forward to 2007 and “Live Free or Die Hard” (speaking of silly titles), and Bruce Willis watches as a flipping car bounces over him, a stunt replicated in 2011 for Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” Of course, Willis also takes out a helicopter by driving a car into it and Cruise scales the tallest building in the world.
Now we have “Furious 6,” taking movies defying the laws of physics one step further with stunt after stunt. And the more CGI that is used to enhance them, the more cartoony they become.
Not that any of this hinders the enjoyment. Though I found “Fast 5” a better movie, I still enjoyed “Furious 6” on its own level. And I liked “Live Free” and “Ghost Protocol.” I even liked “Commando” for the first hour, until it devolved into a free-for-all as Schwarzenegger seems to be trying to outdo “Rambo” in the body-count department.
The visceral thrills, the humor — those things can make up for a lot. But only so much and so far. I do occasionally find myself yearning for something that could actually happen.
Still, none of this is nearly as irritating as a movie that runs along pretty smoothly for most of its running time only to unravel at the last minute.
Take “Now You See Me, "for example, which, like “Furious 6,” is now in theaters and doing better than expected at the box office. It’s a heist movie in magician trappings. And despite dizzying camerawork that swirls so much you’d swear it was filmed from a moving carousel, it’s a lot of fun … right up until the end.
Like so many crime pictures today, “Now You See Me” goes for one too many toppers, finishing with a twist ending that is just too much and essentially undermines all that has gone before.
Can’t tell you what it is, of course. That would be “spoiling.” But suffice to say it felt like a cheat. It doesn’t track. If you go back over the events that preceded the twist, it makes no sense.
Movies like this are, of course, supposed to be taken at face value. “Now You See Me” is fast and snappy and full of eye-popping (and, as mentioned, sometimes too swirly) moments that are meant to keep you distracted from the plot.
You’re not supposed to think about it too much. You’re not supposed to backtrack the story and see if it still fits together.
But you actually can do that with the best twist endings. When I saw “The Sixth Sense” for the first time, I didn’t see the twist coming and it was not only a genuine surprise but it seemed to work perfectly with the rest of the movie. When I saw it the second time, knowing what the twist would be, I found myself looking for clues to see if it really worked in the context of the entire film. It did.
And the same can be said of “The Sting.” And “Chinatown.” And “Planet of the Apes.” And “Citizen Kane.” These twist endings are not only like a missing puzzle piece that firmly fits into and completes everything that has gone before, they each had something to say about the story. They weren’t just twists for the sake of having a twist. They had obviously been thought about and massaged so that they were integral to the story.
With “Now You See Me,” the twist feels more like: Well, it doesn’t really play and it makes no sense in context, but what the heck, it’ll be a surprise. Isn’t that enough?