2004-05-14 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

‘Man On Fire’ – Scott Too Hot

Director Tony Scott loves mucking up his movies.

At least, that’s what he is doing to his latest, "Man on Fire," the Denzel Washington revenge thriller. The film is so awash with post-production color saturation, speedy camera effects and super-stylized subtitles that we have a hard time finding Oscar-winner’s performance in the movie mess. The filmmaker should cool down and let the story come to the surface.

The film starts "Apocalypse Now"-style, as ex-CIA assassin John Creasy (Washington) arrives in Mexico City with a Bible and a bottle of Jack Daniels to experience purgatory over past sins, while commiserating with former colleague Rayburn (Christopher Walken). A title card tells us that in Latin American countries, relatives of rich people are kidnapped one every 60 minutes, so Rayburn asks Creasy to do a high-risk baby-sitting job for a friend. Warning that he is an alcoholic, the retired assassin reluctantly agrees. Before long, Creasy is squiring around adorable little 9-year-old Pita (Dakota Fanning of "I Am Sam"), the daughter of wealthy Mexican factory owner Samuel (Marc Anthony) and his American trophy wife, Lisa (Radha Mitchell).

Because Creasy wants to remain miserable, he acts cold to Pita’s cuteness. Ultimately, however, he caves in and becomes her best pal and mentor, guiding her to a successful showing on the swim team. The bonding makes Creasy a better man — he now realizes that life is worth living.

The Brian ("Mystic River," "L.A. Confidential") Hegeland script has the inevitable kidnapping of Pita occur during a blaze of bullets on an urban street. Creasy sustains more holes than Swiss cheese, yet rallies back big time and vows to kill anyone and everyone involved in the abduction which, he believes, resulted in Pita’s death.

And, killings are not done with any degree of decency by the ex-assassin. He uses methods that would have impressed Saddam Hussein’s sons. The idea is that if you kill a cute American kid, your brutal torture is totally justified. At one point, an elderly man in an apartment where Creasy is setting up a grenade launching attack reminds him that the Bible preaches forgiveness. Creasy’s response: "It’s for God to forgive. I just arrange the meeting." This reasoning is further explained when Rayburn says of his friend, "He’s an artist of death. And he’s about to paint his masterpiece."

The final act of "Fire" is sickening enough to keep Dakota’s parents from allowing their daughter to see it. Among the horrors are scenes that involve the agonizing amputation of body parts and explosives detonated in a bad guy’s rectum. The problem is that the executioner is our hero. The only relief from the torture is provided by Scott’s distracting camera tricks.
 Washington appears to have an affection for brutality. "Training Day" had him playing a bad brut. Here, he gets to show the "good" side of torture. Maybe, his next movie should be directed by Mel ("The Passion of the Christ") Gibson.

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