By G. Michael Dobbs
A film that will probably turn up at your Red Box and one that won't are featured in this week's movie review column.
Someone clearly understood that the words "French" and "action film" might not be accepted by American audiences to describe a film they would like to see. The rule of thumb is the French make films better suited for art houses than multiplexes.
Of course, like all conventional wisdom there are many exceptions and "Special Forces" is one of them.
Diane Kruger (last seen by American audiences in "Inglourious Basterds") plays an investigative journalist who is kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. A group of elite Special Forces troops is dispatched by the French government to rescue her.
The soldiers accomplish that goal, but are faced with an impossible task: having missed their pick-up time by helicopter they must make their way from Pakistan to Afghanistan by foot.
What gives this film its edge is that part of the story. It's a harrowing depiction of people who have two choices: either keep walking or die.
Director Stéphane Rybojad wanted to give his film a very realistic look and feel and he had his actors go through training with real French Special Forces personnel and shot the film on location in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The extra effort detailed in a pretty amazing "making of" feature shows up on screen.
What hinders the film is the stereotypical dialogue and somebody's decision to take out as many references to the French elements of the film as possible. There are a number of awkward cuts in the movie that suggested to me there has been footage deleted that might have added some additional strength to the story.
Rybojad certainly can handle the action sequences well and there is plenty for action fans craving multiple firefights.
For the price of a Redbox rental, "Special Forces" is not a bad way to kill 90 minutes.
Sleepwalk with Me
There are times when I wonder whether or not the folks quoted on the cover of a DVD actually sat through the same film I watched. I found it difficult to believe that this Woody Allen-style comedy actually warranted the praise it received from the likes of Roger Ebert, Judd Apatow and Richard Corliss.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia teamed up with Ira Glass, the producer of the acclaimed radio show "This American Life," for an adaptation of Birbiglia's book and play based on his own life.
Perhaps the book was better. Perhaps as a play or stand-up this would work. As a film, though, it comes off as amazingly self-indulgent. Birbiglia plays a rather aimless guy who years after college thinks he wants to be a comedian but apparently is either too lazy or clueless to actually pursue it.
He has a great girlfriend who supports him but is wondering if he will ever make a commitment to her. That pressure, which is exacerbated by his own doubts about the relationship, apparently causes him to begin sleepwalking.
As he finally starts to get some headway in his career, the sleepwalking continues, so it's not related to the stress of the relationship. This point undermines a major part of the story and weakens it considerably.
I really wanted to like this film, but for the life of me, Birbiglia's character just needed a dope slap and the story just petered out. The concluding scene designed to tie everything together was pretty weak.
There are plenty of good comedies out there, but this wasn't one of them.