ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

WATCH­ING a se­quel to the ul­tra-vi­o­lent In­done­sian gang­ster film re­leased two years ago, I was re­minded of re­cent at­tempts by our leg­is­la­tors to out­law lethal one-punch as­saults (other­wise known as king-hits). I fear our an­tiv­i­o­lence laws would be of lit­tle use in In­done­sia. There are no one-punch as­saults in The Raid 2. Ev­ery as­sault en­tails a pro­longed bat­ter­ing with fists, clubs or iron bars, with the vic­tims show­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers of re­cu­per­a­tion and re­turn­ing to the fray to rain more blows on their as­sailants.

The num­ber of punches in each as­sault rapidly ex­ceeds dou­ble fig­ures. And since roughly 90 per cent of The Raid 2 con­sists of fren­zied fight scenes, and at least 50 blows are landed by each com­bat­ant in ev­ery fight, I cal­cu­late that the num­ber of punches landed in a film last­ing a mind-numb­ing 2½ hours is around 12,450. Cor­rect me if I’m wrong.

It’s true that other meth­ods of killing are used from time to time. In the first film, the pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive was a bul­let through the head. In The Raid 2, bad guys are lined up to have their throats cut, and bash­ings, stab­bings and mu­ti­la­tions all get their share of screen time. You would think that in a city the size of Jakarta, where the ac­tion is set, there would be no lack of firearms among the crim­i­nal classes. But this is a film whose sole rea­son for ex­is­tence is the de­pic­tion of vi­o­lent com­bat, so it prob­a­bly makes sense that guns are in short sup­ply. If the char­ac­ters were despatched quickly and cleanly with bul­lets, The Raid 2 might have been over in a half hour. Ac­tion junkies would be de­mand­ing their money back.

Gareth Evans, the di­rec­tor of this ugly trav­esty, is a Welsh-born film­maker based in In­done­sia, where he is con­sid­ered some­thing of an author­ity on Asian mar­tial arts. He boasted of his pre­vi­ous film: “I’m the guy who makes stunt per­form­ers take mul­ti­ple kicks to the head for the plea­sure of what I hope is a cap­ti­vated au­di­ence.” And plenty of cap­ti­vated au­di­ences loved it. The Raid at­tracted a cult fol­low­ing and en­joyed some dis­grace­ful suc­cess at in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals.

Be­ing even more nau­se­at­ingly vi­o­lent than its pre­de­ces­sor (and duly re­warded with an Rrat­ing by our cen­sors), The Raid 2 may well be­come an­other hit. So is there any­thing to be said in its favour? I sup­pose you could say it’s “well made” — a vague term of ap­proval im­ply­ing snappy edit­ing, plenty of moody cine­matog­ra­phy and a choice of ex­otic lo­ca­tions. And yes, there’s a story of sorts — ri­val king­doms, a young man’s quest for re­venge, a study in broth­erly guilt and a doomed fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship. Now I’m mak­ing it sound like Ham­let. Enough is enough.

Rama (Iko Uwais) is an un­der­cover cop who does time in prison as part of a plan to in­fil­trate a drugs gang and track down the crooked cops and politi­cians at the top of the heap. It’s no­table that the ri­val gangs con­sist of mem­bers who are racially pro­filed in the film — a lapse of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness that no Hol­ly­wood film would get away with. And this in an In­done­sian movie where the leading heart-throb (and one of the bad­dies) is a good-look­ing white guy (Arifin Putra).

In a truly aw­ful way, the film is ac­tu­ally rather funny. Ev­ery landed punch sounds like a car crash, and watch out for the dreaded Ali­cia (Julie Estelle), who will take on a room­ful of at­tack­ers armed only with a cou­ple of ham­mers. Af­ter seem­ingly end­less fight scenes I han­kered for a good old-fash­ioned car chase, and sure enough we get one — though it’s more like a game of dodgems, with the oc­cu­pants of the cars still brawl­ing and punch­ing away while their ve­hi­cles speed out of con­trol. I need hardly add that the di­a­logue is rich in subti­tled ob­scen­i­ties. The f-word-count closely matches the one for body blows. And I’m still not sure what the fword sounds like in In­done­sian. I’ll be pay­ing closer at­ten­tion dur­ing The Raid 3. HOW long can Hol­ly­wood rely on comic strips, toys, ac­tion fig­ures and old TV car­toons to pro­vide the raw ma­te­rial for its an­i­mated sum­mer block­busters? There must be a limit some­where. I thought we’d reached it with The Ad­ven­tures of Tintin, Steven Spiel­berg’s hard-work­ing ven­ture into com­puter an­i­ma­tion. But no, there’s more. A Lego movie is on the way, and here we have drawn from a 1960s TV se­ries, The Rocky and Bull­win­kle Show, among whose char­ac­ters was a talk­ing dog and his adopted hu­man son. Baby boomers may re- mem­ber them bet­ter than I do, which many ex­plain why Rob Minkoff’s an­i­mated sci-fi com­edy isn’t pitched at kids but at le­gions of gen X and gen Y au­di­ences with an ear for the kind of savvy, wise­crack­ing di­a­logue that young­sters prob­a­bly find bor­ing.

Mr Pe­abody (voiced by Ty Bur­rell) is no or­di­nary dog. He’s the most in­tel­li­gent crea­ture in the uni­verse. This makes him a good deal smarter than my cats, but not nearly as ap­peal­ing. All those en­dear­ing ca­nine qual­i­ties — docil­ity, obe­di­ence, play­ful­ness, un­stint­ing af­fec­tion — are miss­ing from his make-up. In­stead, he’s bossy, ar­ro­gant and su­per­cil­ious. And he’s good at ev­ery­thing. He’s a cap­tain of in­dus­try, an ac­com­plished chef and a bril­liant mu­si­cian. He’s in­vented a time ma­chine and won a No­bel prize. He re­minded me of the Tom Hanks char­ac­ter in For­rest Gump, who mixed with all the great fig­ures in his­tory and could teach them a thing or two. Pe­abody has adopted the boy Sher­man (Max Charles) as his son. Mr Pe­abody cares about cul­ture, aes­thet­ics and the pur­suit of knowl­edge, and con­sid­ers such doggy ac­tiv­i­ties as chas­ing af­ter thrown sticks an “ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity”.

Once I’d sur­mounted my in­stinc­tive dis­like of Mr Pe­abody I found quite a bit to en­joy. Es­cap­ing into the past in his time ma­chine to avoid the dread­ful dog-hat­ing Ms Grunion, the town’s of­fi­cial ca­nine in­spec­tor, Pe­abody takes us on a quick tour of the his­tory of the world. We’re ac­com­pa­nied by Penny (Ariel Win­ter), a girl in Sher­man’s class at school who has un­wisely re­ferred to Mr Pe­abody as “just a dog” and been bit­ten for her pains.

First stop, the French Revo­lu­tion, where Mr Pe­abody nar­rowly escapes the guil­lo­tine at the hands of Robe­spierre. Then it’s on to the Tro­jan Wars (some busi­ness with a wooden horse) and the glo­ries of Re­nais­sance Florence, where Leonardo da Vinci is hav­ing dif­fi­culty get­ting Mona Lisa to smile for her por­trait. No prob­lem for Mr Pe­abody. Shake­speare, Ein­stein, Beethoven, Marie An­toinette and var­i­ous US pres­i­dents from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton to Bill Clin­ton are en­coun­tered along the way.

Ev­ery­thing moves at a brisk pace, the voice cast has plenty of talent, and there’s no short­age of witty lines. Minkoff was one of the di­rec­tors of The Lion King and knows how to wring the last drop of sen­ti­men­tal­ity from sto­ries of fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ships, es­pe­cially among our four-footed friends.

As I say, it’s not for the youngest au­di­ences, un­less they’re ad­dicted to 3D an­i­ma­tion for its own sake, as many may be. Among other things we learn the ori­gin of the ex­pres­sion “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. Most of the jokes are bet­ter than that, but I can’t re­mem­ber any of the oth­ers. Trust me when I say that Mr Pe­abody & Sher­man of­fers plenty of agree­able fun and games.

March 29-30, 2014

A se­ri­ous bout of vi­o­lence in The Raid 2, top, and a hu­mor­ous jour­ney through the past in Mr Pe­abody & Sher­man

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