Father Stu

This was a film that was not on my radar, and although it features two actors I have enjoyed immensely over the years, I had no plans to see it. Other members of the family however think differently and so we went to Saturday afternoon screening, with several people behind us who were advancing in age a bit faster than I, and we all enjoyed an inspiring story for a couple of hours. I doubt that I will ever see this again, but there was nothing wrong with it, it just was very obvious what it was. 

Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long, a ne’er do well boxer who at an age when most boxers have already retired, decides that he can make it in the movies and he heads to California to be a star. As a recruiting film for the Catholic faith, this is an interesting story of how a man finds his calling through adversity. Stu is not a religious zealot, but a man changed by the world he encounters and the spiritual feeling he gets in recovering from a major trauma. The juxtaposition of Stu’s life before and after this experience, is the stuff that these kinds of inspirational movies thrive on. This just happens to be a grittier, down and dirty story when it comes to Stu’s language and behavior. The charm that let him skip through life early on, slipping past the disasters his family lived through, is not enough to get him what he thinks he wants. His spiritual choice has to come from a different place and this story tries to show that to us, warts and all.

Catholic dogma on redemption and baptism are heavily interspersed with the biographical elements of Father Stu’s story after he has come to a realization of his calling. For dramatic purposes, the story includes another acolyte with doubts about his calling, and some unflattering economic assessment by the church itself.  I can’t say how accurate Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Stu’s long absent father is, but Gibson and Wahlberg are very good together and Jackie Weaver as Stu’s conflicted mother is both infuriating and endearing. I was pleased to see Malcolm McDowell in a non-sinister role, I always enjoy seeing him on screen. 

The only flaw in the film is that it is not very surprising. It is sincere in it’s message and it wants to be inspirational. I found it admirable but I was rarely moved by the events in Father Stu’s life, I was mostly just interested in what was happening at the moment. If a movie like this does not grab your heart, it is not doing completely what it intends. I wanted to understand more about the paths that Stu was following, but the film is so tied into the biopic structure, that I never felt involved with the spiritual elements the way I should have been. 

As a drama with some comedic elements, it worked well enough that I was glad I saw it. As a spiritual film designed for an Easter Holiday emotional magnet, it missed the mark. I’m glad there there are Father Stu characters in the world and that these stories get told, for the faithful it may be enough, but for the audience, we need a little more. 

AMBULANCE

I am not a Michael Bay hater, there are plenty out there who can take up that mantle, but I understand why some people find his style intolerable, it’s because of movies like this. “Ambulance” is an action chase film, that takes every camera trick you can imagine and inserts it into every scene in the movie, for no reason other than to try to convince you that you are watching something exciting. Sometimes it works, when we can see all the cars in a chase at once, or when we switch to an aerial view occasionally, but often it is simply distracting and annoying. Every sequence set inside the ambulance does not really need to be highlighted with ten different camera angles and constant shaky cam photography. One in a while, a static shot of the details would make us focus on the event, rather than how it is being shot.

At times Bay appears to be parodying himself. The characters actually reference “The Rock” and “Bad Boys” so the film is self aware that it is just an action piece of entertainment, not to be taken too seriously. I would be ok with that if the plot made a little more sense.  This is a movie based on a Danish film that was only 80 minutes long, somehow they manage to add an extra hour to that, and I suspect you can pick out a series of plot complications that make up that extra time. The paramedic performing surgery directed by two doctors on the golf course using Face Time, would be one of those additions. The gang cartel connection would be another. This film finds several ridiculous concepts and strings them together to fill in story. 

“Ambulance” looks like it is going to start as a heist film, but we mostly see the after effects of an escape and  that is probably a good thing. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Danny, is supposed to be a world class bank robber but he has hired the biggest bunch of goons to help him carry off the film, you wonder who he used in all the other crimes he is supposed to have committed, where are they? Some of the guys look like standard Black Ops Mercenaries, and some look like hippie recruited off the street. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays his adopted brother Will and he is supposedly not a criminal but a war hero. As a driver he is dragooned to replace some other clown at the last minute and you can see that this is just a justification to get a “good” brother “bad” brother story which does not feel at all organic.L

In the poster title of the film, they draw attention to the location of the movie by highlighting two letters in the title

“AMBULANCE”, so if you like movies set in L.A., you should like this right? Well, as a sixty year former resident of the city, this movie continues to make the same mistakes a hundred other films have made. Twenty minutes of driving at high speeds in downtown, leaving destruction in your wake, will not result in your finding clear roads in the same area you drive to five minutes later. Tourists will be disappointed to learn that the airport is not ten minutes from the civic center. Oh, and the biggest laugh of the film is the reference the lead S.I.S. captain makes to “rush hour starting in 45 minutes”. In Southern California, there has not been a distinct rush hour for three decades, it is pretty much 24/7 bumper to bumper on all the roads that get referred to in the film. If you want the film to be about a car chase in L.A., you factor that in, there are car chases on the local news there once a week and they are more compelling than the stuff that happens here. 

The best parts of the film are the credits, which only last a couple of minutes. If only Hollywood would steal that concept and leave the visual mayhem to Bay for the movies he makes. Eiza González as the EMT that gets caught up in the story is fine, but she is asked to do the impossible, play a rational character in an irrational scenario.