The assumptions of fear and pity that keep people from documentaries about the disabled are shattered in the opening minutes of Murderball. Quadriplegic rugby players are introduced against the sledgehammer-to-the-face ferocity of Ministry’s “Thieves.” Rage sidesteps maudlin outsider perspective, readying viewers to accept the subjects as human. At its most basic, Murderball is an Inspirational Sports Movie. The twist is that the gap between the players’ limits and the game’s extremes has widened. With wheelchairs renovated with what one player describes as armour out of a Mad Max movie, disabled athletes compete for the gold medal at the 2004 Paralympics. The main focus is on Mark Zupan, a 29-year-old member of the US team, drawn to this extreme sport after being injured when he fell from the back of his best friend’s moving pickup truck. Zupan and his teammates are followed as they party, get introspective on life, hit on girls and prep themselves for the quad rugby victory. Most of the coverage is of US athletes, excepting the controversy surrounding veteran Joe Soares, whose move to coaching the Canadians is seen as retaliation for not being readmitted to the US team. But Murderball isn’t resigned to casting heroes and opponents. Its sophistication as a movie on disability is in its unwillingness to let that infringe on its sport story triumphs.
MTV Films’ hand in distributing Murderball suggests the studio recognized its youthful energy. That’s something music video director Marcos Siega doesn’t grasp in Underclassman. Most discourse about film disregards how the video format is suited to extend on Soviet Montage and Impressionism. The feature work of short-form filmmakers like Michel Gondry, Tarsem, Joseph Kahn, David Fincher and Spike Jonze should open dialogue on how imagery is applied. Unfortunately, it’s countered by prejudice-affirming movie work of video directors Brett Ratner, McG and now Siega. Underclassman lacks a vital musical element: rhythm. Nick Cannon stars as Tracy, LA’s youngest detective, who unwittingly volunteers to go undercover as a student at a rich white high school. He’s The Fresh Prince of Beverly Hills Cop. Acknowledging the multiculturalism of major US cities that most movies ignore, Underclassman still keeps things too facile. Tracy’s work is cut out for him when his basketball skills don’t land him friends with popular snobs, and when a football game requires high-cut shorts. But the more diverse world of his police station headquarters (with Chinese Kelly Hu and Mexican Cheech Marin) is subject to the same level of bad jokes. Siega’s quick to let it deteriorate into a routine cop thriller. Cannon, who has been good in better movies, isn’t so willing to let his guard down — frequently appearing to be enjoying his gags far more than his viewers are.
The Transporter 2
The 2002 action picture The Transporter got the job done, but it was too easy to forget. Memories of the sequel may come with as much difficulty in three years, but it has two things going for it right now. The action scenes have an in-the-moment charge, where car chases and a martial arts-meet-firehose fight reach for adrenaline with invention. Louis Leterrier, who also made Unleashed, hasn’t the morally precise eye for violence that Walter Hill brought to his similar The Driver (1978). Yet the relative modesty of its mayhem, without too many distracting effects, is just real enough to be thrilling. Secondly, the lead of Frank Martin is given a palpable hero’s charisma in star Jason Statham. As the introverted man hired to protect the son of a pharmaceutical CEO, he causes traffic accidents and bodily harm like the best of them. It’s his conviction in telling his child sidekick that the first rule of the car is to wear a seatbelt that reveals Statham’s star power.
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