MACHINE GUN PREACHER
THE true story of a drug-dealing criminal who is moved to help kidnapped children in war-ravaged Sudan, Machine Gun Preacher has explosions, sermons, and Gerard Butler in the lead role of Sam Childers. The real-life Childers found God in 1992 after years of violent crime and travelled to Sudan on a Christian charity trip. Met with scenes of unspeakable horror, he vowed to help and, after his memoirs were published in 2009, writer Jason Keller thought to turn his plight into a movie. With director Marc Foster (Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner) at the helm, what could go wrong?
Well, quite a lot. Keller’s script gives Butler nothing to work with except stereotype. At the start, “bad” Childers has sex in cars, yells obscenities at his wife, shoots up in the toilet and wears leather. After getting baptised, “good” Childers sports lighter clothes, works in construction, reads his daughter bedtime stories and gets kicks from building churches. This is only in the first twenty minutes, and it’s not exactly subtle.
While on a Christian outreach programme, the horrors suffered by children at the hands of the Lord’s Rebel Army (LRA) – training them as soldiers as early as ten-years-old, are suitably shocking and Childers’ desire to help is understandable. What’s not understandable is the clunky script. The fact that the events on screen feel ridiculous and unbelievable says an awful lot. Key plot points are reduced to throwaway lines. Characters pop up merely to spout expositions and then leave. A complex political situation is reduced to a few references about Joseph Koney (leader of the LRA) and some men in vans shooting at kids while Butler heroically saves them. Crucially, it’s impossible to care about Childers himself. He’s a cartoon with no clear motivation or solid personality aside from loving God and feeling bad for taking all those drugs.
With a better script, and less heavy-handed approach, maybe this could have worked. As it stands, Machine
Gun Preacher is clichéd, confused and lacking in heart.
SNOW FLOWER AND the SECRET FAN
Wendi Murdoch, Rupert’s wife, produces her first motion picture – an adaptation of Lisa See’s best-seller Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. The tale of two female friends in 19th century China bound by Laotung – a secret contract of loyalty between female friends – is indeed powerful, unlike director Wayne Wang’s (The Joy Luck Club) cringingly sentimental version. The film, prehaps unsurprisingly, is released by Murdoch-owned Fox Searchlight.
Wang focusses on the descendants of penniless Snowflower (Gianna Jun) and wealthy Lily (Li Bing Bing), living in modern day Shanghai. Career woman Nina is told her free--spirited best friend Sophia is lying in a coma, and has written the story of their ancestors. Unsurprisingly, there are parallels between past and present.
As the stories play out, set to a grating soundtrack and increasingly clichéd, stilted script, Jun and Bing Bing can do little but stare, look sad or gaze adoringly at each other. It feels, uncomfortably, made-for-TV.
The staff at luxury apartment block The Tower – overseen by manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) – put their pensions in the hands of a corrupt investment banker to suddenly find him arrested and all their money gone. Thanks to an outburst, Kovacs, his concierge (Casey Affleck), the bellboy (Michael Pena) also get fired.
When an FBI agent (Tea Leoni) conveniently lets slip that the banker may have £20m hidden in his apartment, Kovacs decides to organise a heist. It’s straightforward fare, with Horrible Bosses director Brett Ratner squeezing out as much humour as possible from an averagely funny script.
Stiller coasts through, Affleck is diverting, Pena tries hard despite an array of tired “jokes”, but everything is very unchallenging. Eddie Murphy, as fast-talking criminal Slide, is entertaining but overall it’s a little flat and overambitious.
They may clamber up elevator shafts and hang off skyscrapers but it’s not quite funny enough, not quite energetic enough to sustain the 104 minute running time.