Monday, November 9, 2009

Saint be Praised

I don't care what anybody says: we like Val Kilmer, and enjoyed The Saint. In this 1997 movie, Kilmer plays Simon Templar as a man of many faces - an international thief who is always in disguise, and always goes by pseudonym, based on the name of a saint.

He doesn't much resemble Roger Moore's suave TV Saint, or Vincent Price's radio version, or Leslie Charteris' written version. Once we got over that, we liked this fine.

Kilmer's disguises are great - they start with the voice. Several scenes feature him trying different accents on for size, and you can hear him dial it in in a few words. Not exactly subtle but convincing. And the personalities he adapts: Some are plain (a Russian officer), some are flamboyant (a gay German, just for fun). The key personality he adopts, a wandering poet, is too precious for words.

In order to steal atomic secrets, he needs to get close to a nuclear scientist Elizabeth Shue. By invading her privacy and reading her journal, he discovers that she has a Percy Shelley fixation, and sets out to become her perfect man, handsome, soulful, brooding, poetic, with a nice South African accent. And asking Kilmer to do handsome and brooding is like asking Keanu Reeves to play cute but dumb.

I know Val Kilmer doesn't get a lot of critical love. But we happen to like several of his roles a lot: Willow, Gay Perry in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the rabbit guy in Masked and Anonymous. Can't say he was my favorite Batman, but I even liked his Jim Morrison - I didn't like the movie much, but it was an amazingly realistic impersonation.

We liked him so much, we went on to watch another Val Kilmer movie: Red Planet. This was released in 1999, right around the time of Mission to Mars. It's a lot less flashy than De Palma's space opera, but has a lot fewer flaws, in my opinion.

Captain Carrie-Ann Moss and a crew of five are on their way to Mars to see why the engineered algae that was sent up had stopped producing oxygen. The crew includes Terence Stamp, as the ascetic philosopher/scientist soul of the mission, and Benjamin Bratt, Tom Sizemore, Simon Baker and Val Kilmer as astronaut/grunts. The trip to Mars has a nice, realistic SF feel to it, with some barracks-room philosophy and a little sexual tension over the captain (not between the cute astronauts, though, so cool your jets). Then, when it comes time to land, everything goes very, very wrong.

After this, the movie resembles Robinson Crusoe on Mars - the horror of being trapped alone on an inhospitable planet, slowly running out of heat, food, water and oxygen. The rust-red landscape (NSW Australia, mainly, not Crusoe's Death Valley) and pink sky inspire the same otherwordly feeling. The menace and the near escapes work the same way. The only thing missing is the space chimp. (There is a friendly killer robot companion, though.)

Unfortunately, Stamp's role is a small one. Carrie Ann Moss in not that inspiring as a space captain. She is supposed to be tough and competent, but in an emergency, she is reduced to just hitting the console. This is even lampshaded when she tells Ground Control, "I've tried everything, even hitting it!" Maybe if she tried something other than hitting it...

Kilmer is also a little lost in the ensemble, although he is marginally the leading man. That's ok, though. This movie doesn't seem to want flashy acting, just like astronauts don't want flashy heroics. Strong and competent, steady workmanship are what is called for, even in the most extreme situations. And that's what this movie seems to be about. Good special effects, sense of wonder, but no reaching for cosmic epiphanies. This is a movie that will entertain you, get your blood pumping and leave you with some beautiful images.

If it doesn't exactly "make you think", that's fine.


mr. schprock said...

Carrie Ann Moss should ask Ground Control to download the Troubleshooting program into her head. I seem to recall it worked one time for a Black Hawk helicopter.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Carrie Ann Moss was in Black Hawk Down!?!? Are you sure you're not thinking of Josh Hartnett?

mr. schprock said...

No, in The Matrix. She needed to know how to fly a Black Hawk or Apache helicopter in a hurry, so Dozer or the other guy downloaded the training program right into her head. Come to think of it, I could use Dozer's help to learn Dreamweaver CS4.