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Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009 04:18 pm

A bankrupt thriller and the same old killer

The International and Friday the 13th

Naomi Watts as Eleanor Whitman and Clive Owen as Louis Salinger

“The purpose of a bank is to make us slaves to debt.”

A more timely sentiment could not be spoken and when this line was uttered in Tom Tykwer’s new thriller, The International, a collective groan of acknowledgment rippled through the audience. The bank at the center of the film, the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), has more ambitious plans than simply getting you to take out a second mortgage on your house. No, their scheme is to do the same thing with small, and eventually, larger countries. By providing not only credit but the means to launder dirty money and even supply arms, the IBBC plans to leverage this debt into control over these nations, which could have a ripple effect on various parts of the world.

Though it sounds like a plot from a James Bond thriller, Eric Singer’s script is based on a similar real-life scandal that occurred in the late ’80s and early ’90s involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. The film’s hero, Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) bears more of a resemblance to Travis Bickle than 007. He’s paranoid, volatile and unkempt as he attempts to pull together enough hard evidence to topple the bank before it puts through a major arms deal. Yet, despite his best efforts, he’s thwarted at every turn as the IBBC is an organization with many connections, which also foils the efforts of Salinger’s one true ally: New York District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts).

The film was originally slated for release last summer but was delayed because it was thought necessary to shoot additional action scenes to woo the multiplex crowd. It’s a plan that backfires as the movie proves ungainly in Tykwer’s hands. The director is unable to provide a sense of tension throughout, with the pace languishing at key points and the narrative itself is curiously unengaging. While the film’s set piece, an incredible shootout that leaves the Guggenheim Museum torn to shreds, is one for the ages, the story lacks an

overall sense of urgency.

A large part of the problem is that we never feel truly engaged with either of the two principals. Owens’ performance is far too over the top for Salinger to be taken seriously and we are provided with very little background on him. He’s nothing more than a cog in the narrative machine and as such, we could care less about what happens to him. Meanwhile, Watts proves she’s in over her head in this genre. She delivers her lines with too much earnestness to be believable and the actress comes off as an ingénue who’s thrown into an adult’s role before she’s prepared. In the end, The International winds up being a bad cinematic investment. It wastes its potential as well as its considerable resources.

Derek Mears stars as Jason Voorhees in New Line Cinema’s upcoming release, Friday the 13th.

Same old killer, same old victims.Throughout the Michael Bay reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise, director Marcus Nispel does his best to dispel the notion that you can’t polish a turd. He almost succeeds. The filmmaker creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere, giving Camp Crystal Lake, Jason Vorhees’ shack and the tunnels that run beneath it a menacing feel with effective low-key lighting and an attention to detail that subtly alludes to the monster’s long history of being the cinema’s most effective serial killer. As far as generating an eerie tone is concerned, give the director an A+.

Too bad the material he’s working with is no improvement over the original film’s script. Attractive teens are still being dispatched with alarming efficiency by Jason and I’ll be darned if I can tell you why. The original camp counselors who let him drown were killed long ago and the poor saps who wander on his property, well they’re just looking for wild pot to harvest. This guy really holds a grudge and is a stickler for trespassing. The very least he could do is post a “Beware of Machete-Wielding Goon” sign as a courtesy. Then again, what fun would that be?

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