Man on Fire

Bomb Rating: 

I like to think of director Tony Scott as director Ridley Scott's even less talented brother. While Ridley has made garbage like "G.I. Jane" and "Black Rain", Tony has been dragging the family name through the mud with films like "Top Gun", "The Fan", and my all time favorite dung brick, "Revenge". One suspects that Tony was the baby Momma Scott used to test the formula. If the baby smiles, the formula is okay. If the baby grimaces, it's no good. If the baby grows up to direct "Days of Thunder", it's time to sue somebody.

Tony has always been long on style and short on substance, and "Man on Fire" is no exception. Making matters worse is the fact that the film is nearly two and a half hours long, which makes it seem something like a PTA meeting gone horrible awry. Here Scott tries to make a classic anti-hero film using Denzel Washington as Creasy, an alcoholic ex-Marine who takes a job as a bodyguard in Mexico City then goes on a murderous revenge spree when the girl (Dakota Fanning) he's supposed to guard is kidnapped.

Typical of a director who wouldn't know authentic emotion if his scrotum got ripped off in a ferret mauling, Scott succumbs to what is known in the industry as the "cute child syndrome" which basically states that "only a cute kid can make the audience give a flying fart about your celluloid ode to mediocrity". Of course, anybody who's seen a movie within the last two years will find this cheap emotional ploy as transparent as the sincerity of a Dick Cheney speech. Apparently, ugly children never get kidnapped.

The anti-hero film has a long tradition. Generally, the films fail miserably when writers and directors deviate from the simple plot of "man kicks ass". Here, that happens in the worst way, and the film swirls away like Kleenex in a flushing toilet. Screenwriter Brian ("Mystic River") Helgeland -- apparently auditioning for a future job writing soap operas -- allows unnecessary plot twists to wander onto the screen like so many cockroaches.

I suppose the film ends somewhat appropriately, with a thank you to Mexico City for being "a very special place" after the final fade-out. This produced the kind of laughter at my screening usually reserved for somebody else's bad indigestion. After explicitly stating that a kidnapping occurs in Latin America every 60 seconds and making a vacation to Gaza look positively peachy by comparison, Scott apparently wanted to make sure that the next time he's ordering nachos at the local L.A. eatery, the salsa doesn't include broken glass and cyanide.

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