Wednesday 28 December 2016


In many respects, this is a very convincing film: it’s a heist movie that leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve actually been robbed.

That’s right. Just check your watch at the end, and you’ll realise that those canny criminals from Takers (2010) have shamelessly robbed two hours of your life without so much as a please or thank you.

But that’s not even this movie’s biggest crime.

Oh, no. Not content with pilfering your hard-earned downtime, the film-makers have also brazenly nicked the entire plot from Michael Mann’s classic movie, Heat.

Now, that wouldn’t be a problem if Takers was a sizzling hot thriller. (Some of Exploding Helicopter’s favourite movies have been, ahem, a touch derivative. Yes, we’re looking at you, Firebirds.) Unfortunately, this low budget knock-off is little more than a lukewarm rehash of the original. They should have called it Reheated.

The plot

The story follows a group of gentlemen thieves who, when they’re not helping the poor and dispossessed (as most criminals are famously wont to do), execute elaborately staged robberies against high-value targets.

But as they plot their biggest ever payday, our merry band of outlaws find themselves pursued by a dogged cop who’s determined to bring them to book.

As the clock to the big job ticks down, we’re left wondering: will the Takers escape with the take, or will the Takers become the Taken? (At which point, Liam Neeson might well start issuing gravelly-voiced ‘Oirish’ threats on his mobile phone again. You know what he’s like about showing off his ‘special set of skills’.)

The cast

Idris Elba: "Give me the lead in a big film or I will shoot."
Given that Takers is a cheap, second tier enterprise, it’s no surprise to find that the cast is a curiously eclectic hodge-podge of nearly men and has-beens.

The dubious honour of topping the bill goes to Idris Elba, an actor for whom A-lister status remains frustratingly elusive. After justifiably coming to fame in The Wire, old Stringer Bell’s desperate efforts to elbow his way into the elite premier club have become increasingly painful to watch. And there’s literally nothing he won’t do achieve it.

Puppyishly eager to please, the aspiring star has deftly chiselled away at his own credibility with a series of unwise choices. In particular, he seems to think that any role in a big budget blockbuster is a good idea.

So he’s been a glorified doormen with a silly hat in Thor, an expendable extra in Prometheus and a tedious, cliché-spouting soldier in the execrable Pacific Rim. And who could forget his unrecognisable ‘blue muppet’ in last year’s Star Trek Beyond? Answer: everyone. (Note to Idris: There’s little point being in a film if the prosthetics mean no-one can actually see you).

Not content with these big banner bad choices, our Idris is also something of a cameo machine – with a peculiar weakness for schlocky horror pics such as Prom Night, The Reaping and 28 Weeks Later. (Complete-ists should also definitely check out his five-minute turn as a gangsta exorcism priest in ‘scary’ yawnfest The Unborn, a self-harming career choice so marked it almost counts as a cry for professional help.) And let’s not even get started on his tiresome campaign to be the next 007…

Joining the wannabe Bond in this movie are two other perennial B-listers: Paul Walker (whose pre-crash career consisted of action flicks even less memorable than the Fast & Furious series). And, wait for it: Hayden Christensen. Yes, the human balsa wood block who, in a spectacular feat of reverse alchemy, transformed an almost unprecedented career break in the Star Wars prequels into two Razzie Awards. (As Yoda might croak: “Truly terrible as an actor he is.”)

Matt Dillon: from Eighties nearly man to Noughties nobody
This unlikely trio are pitted against a resolute cop played by Eighties has-been Matt Dillon. With his immaculately chiselled cheekbones and soulful eyes, Matty oozed charisma in some of the decade’s touchstone films (Rumblefish, The Outsiders and Drugstore Cowboy). He was once even hailed as the best actor of his generation by no lesser figure than uber-film critic, Roger Ebert.

But perhaps, like the sensitive-type characters he typically played, the quiff-coiffured star didn’t quite have the mettle for the cut-throat world of a Hollywood career (where success is mostly enjoyed by robotically-driven sociopaths with the personality traits of an apex predator. Hi, Tom!). By the Noughties, Droopy-eyes Dillon’s slow descent into run-of-the-mill fare like Takers was well and truly under way. Still, it beats queuing at the job centre.

A lukewarm Heat

As Exploding Helicopter has already mentioned, Takers ransacks the plot of Heat – focussing on the ‘cat and mouse’ between the cops and robbers.

But while Heat gave us stunningly filmed LA cityscapes, a noir-tinged script, and superlatively staged action sequences, Takers instead splutters up epilepsy-inducing shakey-cam, cliché littered dialogue (“Just like old times!”) and derivate set pieces.

Such uninspired aping is bad enough, but it’s when Takers tries to be different that the problems really start.

Unlike Michael Mann’s deliberately chill portrayal of ruthless professionals, Takers desperately wants us to like the criminals. Cue awkward attempts at creating empathy.

Big Idris is given an entirely pointless sub-plot where he dutifully tries to help his drug-addicted sister. And there’s a hugely unconvincing scene where the gang divvy up the swag from their last robbery, only for Paul Walker to suddenly ask: “Ten per cent to the usual charities?” (See kids, they’re not all bad!)

The cast of Takers. Or possibly a crap Nineties boyband. 
But it’s during the central heist that the film’s bloody-minded determination to preserve the villains’ ‘good guy’ status reaches absurd levels. As their plan goes awry, our heroes find themselves locked in a gun battle with heavily armed security guards.

Despite standing just a few feet apart and spraying automatic weapons fire at each other, not one bullet hits a human form. It’s ridiculous. Star Wars’ famously target-shy Stormtroopers look like crack shots in comparison.

Exploding helicopter action

While the film blanches at depicting flesh and blood casualties, it’s fortunately not so squeamish when it comes to showing the fiery end of one of our favourite rotor-bladed friends.

Takers opens with our criminal brothers-in-arms robbing a jewellery store located on the upper floor of a skyscraper. To make their escape, Elba and his gang flee to the roof and commandeer a helicopter that, with credulity stretching convenience, just happens to have landed there.

After making their aerial getaway, our plucky anti-heroes abandon the chopper in a deserted car park. As they stroll away, one of the thieves triggers an explosive killing off the helicopter. Rest in pieces, whirlybird.

Artistic merit

Pretty good. The fuselage of a very realistic looking helicopter is blown-up without the need for any obvious digital effects. The explosion is nice and juicy with a soupcon of dramatic slow-motion. Nice.

Exploding helicopter innovation

As everyone knows, cool guys don’t look at explosions. So naturally, Elba and his gang studiously ignore the chopper fireball that erupts behind them as they slowly saunter towards camera.

We’ve seen this action movie cliché countless times before – the earliest one Exploding Helicopter has discovered is in Blue Thunder (1983). And more recently, The Expendables 3 kicked off with Sly, Stath and the rest walking away from a digital chopper explosion so terrible you almost expected to see an ‘Atari’ logo in the corner of the screen.

While we don’t object seeing this trope trotted out yet again, it would have been nice if director John Luessenhop given the scene an original twist somewhere.


Exploding Helicopter loves a good tagline (“In space no-one can hear you scream”; “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” etc). So it’s genuinely painful to encounter piss-poor examples of the marketing art. And Takers has some of the worst ever written.

There’s the meaningless: “Money doesn’t count.”

The feeble: “Taking theatres soon.”

And the unutterably mundane: “Everybody’s after something.”

One gets a very clear sense that, having watched the movie, the marketing team must have decided: Well, if even they couldn’t be arsed to put in any effort…

Review by: Jafo

Saturday 17 December 2016

Alone In The Dark

Given that notorious schlockmeister Uwe Boll recently announced his retirement from filmmaking, now seems an apt time to look back at what may be his most infamous film.

Adapted from a popular computer game series, Alone In The Dark (2005) was – like the rest of his unheralded cinematic canon - released to universal critical derision. Reviewers panned the terrible direction, incomprehensible story, shoddy special effects and awful acting.

Unsurprisingly, the film received a brutal thumping at the box office. And poignantly, the film’s title accurately described the audience experience for those few unhappy souls daft enough to actually traipse to a cinema and sit through this impenetrable merde.

Today, Alone In The Dark languishes in IMDB’s 100 worst movies list and has just a 1 per cent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But does it deserve its reputation as a bona fide stinker?

For reasons solely related to cataloguing an invented micro-genre of film, Exploding Helicopter sought to find out.

The plot

A paranormal investigator, Edward Carnby, hunts down artefacts belonging to a fictional Native American culture called the Abkani.

Carnby believes these objects hold the key to stopping sinister supernatural forces that are threatening the world. Not only that, the ancient artefacts could also unlock the secrets of his own mysterious childhood.

To achieve this goal, the psychic private eye must confront forces from another dimension, a shadowy government agency and most terrifyingly of all (at least in Exploding Helicopter’s experience of dating) his former girlfriend.

The cast

Christian Slater: karaoke Jack Nicholson
Our ghost-hunting hero is played by Eighties teen icon Christian Slater. Once upon a time, Young Cheeky Eyebrows was the mainstream star of cult favourites such as Heathers and True Romance.

However, he always was a one-trick pony, and his cloying karaoke-version-of-Jack-Nicholson routine inevitably started to wear on audiences. His ability to land plum roles also wasn’t helped by a string of drug, alcohol and assault convictions.

Still, one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain, and Junior Jack’s non-ringing phone meant he was available to lend the tarnished lustre of his talent to ‘paying gigs’ like Alone In The Dark. And while this won’t ever rank among the boy’s finest work, his smirking charm and mischievous air do admittedly give the often flaccid proceedings some much needed ‘watchability’.

The same cannot be said for his co-star, LA party girl turned actress, Tara Reid. Having made her name playing vacuous blondes (i.e herself) in teen comedies like American Pie and Van Wilder, the air-headed fembot was perhaps not the obvious casting choice as a brainy archaeological expert.

Those who manage to sit through the movie may not be entirely surprised to hear that young Tara’s turn resulted in a Razzie nomination. Flatly intoning her lines like a first-grader in French class, the Sharknado star proves singularly incapable of reacting to any of the events taking place around her.

Tara Reid trying to read her cue card
Whether she’s confronting life-threatening peril, learning the secrets of an ancient civilisation, or enjoying a bit of ‘how’s your father’ with Christian Slater, the blonde moppet maintains the same blank ‘where’s my cue card?’ expression throughout.

Elsewhere, Stephen Dorff (Blade, Immortals) gives a performance of workman-like competence. You get the sense that, among those used to grander roles, there was an on-set calculation that the sooner everyone did their job, the sooner everyone would be able to go home again and forget they ever appeared in this guff.

How bad is this?

Ah, we must all tread carefully here, friends. In the past, reviewing Uwe Boll’s work has proven to be dangerous business.

A few years ago, angered by so many negative reviews of his films, the prickly German challenged his worst critics to a boxing match, threatening them to either “put-up or shut-up”. (In a telling comment on the strength of their critical feeling, four journalists took up the challenge and fought the cranky kraut in a televised contest).

But even in the face of a pugilistic pummelling, this blog promises never to pull its critical punches. Exploding Helicopter will always give you a straight verdict straight (before quickly hiding behind a big lad and threatening to tell teacher).

Anyway, everything the critics say is true. The story really is a convoluted mess of impenetrable mumbo-jumbo. (Even Dan Brown - the patron saint of highfalutin nonsense – would be rolling his eyes at some of the unlikely japes on display here.)

The ‘special’ effects are anything but, and somehow worse than the graphics from the computer game which inspired the film. Many scenes are directed with staggering ineptitude (one supposed action scene sees Slater and Reid blaze away on machineguns at an enemy you never actually see).

Yet, for all those lamentable failings, Alone In The Dark just isn’t as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Exploding Helicopter has witnessed, and had the misfortune to review, far worse films. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Deadly Prey).

Never shy of self-publicity (self-released videos of the temperamental Teuton slagging off Michael Bay and Eli Roth went viral), Boll is really just a victim of his own inflated public profile. He may be the worst filmmaker you’ve heard of, but he’s not the worst filmmaker.

Hard though it may be to believe, many other film-makers are even worse – they’re just wise enough to stay in the shadows.

Exploding helicopter action

During the film’s climatic battle, Carnby and a team of soldiers have to fight a horde of otherworldly creatures. Luckily, a couple of helicopters are on hand to give aerial support to the embattled troops.

So that’s alright, then. But wait, what’s this? In an all too familiar mistake, the pilot - when will they ever learn? - flies too close to one of the supernatural animals. The beastie leaps into the air and grabs on to the tail of the chopper. The aircraft spins round clipping the second whirlybird, which then falls from the sky and explodes.

The first out-of-control whirlybird continues to spiral dangerously towards the ground. Finally, it crashes into the earth in front of the camera. But just before we get a chance to see a second explosion, the action cuts away.

Artistic merit

In a word, dismal. Boll completes fluffs the staging of this sequence, depriving us of the action we want to see.

In a directorial cheat, the helicopter that explodes drops out of the frame before a mushroom cloud of flame erupts back into shot.

It’s quite cool watching the second helicopter spin to its doom and crash right in front of the camera. It seemed a prime opportunity to deliver a close-up chopper fireball, but the special effects department must have considered if too much work. So in a huge anti-climax the action just cuts away. Outrageous.

Exploding helicopter innovation

That’s a negative.

Interesting fact

In 2015, Boll opened a restaurant in Canada called Bauhaus. The eatery has subsequently been awarded a Michelin star, making it the best reviewed project he’s ever been involved with.

Review by: Jafo