ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES
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