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Thursday, July 19, 2012

U-571 (2000)

Jonathan Mostow’s WWII actioner has gone stale at warp speed. Here’s the nifty, if factually-challenged set up: US Navy unit fakes its way onto a crippled German U-Boat to snatch an ‘Enigma’ Coding Machine, but then must sail the damaged sub back to safety when their home ship gets blown to bits. ‘Hey! Somebody wrote all these instructions in God-Damned German!’ Hailed as good old-fashioned entertainment (by folks who apparently have seen little good old-fashioned entertainment), almost nothing plays out in convincing fashion. Mostow has his cast turning screws & dashing thru narrow corridors, but his incessant camera moves feel imposed and almost everyone in the cast hopelessly contemporary. (The token black character is a real head-scratcher, straight out of a 70s sit-com.) The film was a major early showcase for Matthew McConaughey, but he’s crucified by his military buzzcut and a habit of dropping his jaw and letting his mouth hang open to express emotion, like some cartoon character. And, just in case you're still confused on how to react, tv composer Richard Marvin is around to swamp the scene with patriotic musical goo. Second-rate & second-hand as it is, it’s tough to completely miss with any WWII sub pic; those underwater PINGs generate a Pavlovian response in just about any movie maven. But you may still stand up & boo at the end when the film belatedly acknowledges the actual roll played by the Brits in solving ENIGMA. Maybe it was all part of the Lend-Lease program.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Under Robert Wise, Clark Gable & Burt Lancaster RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP/’58; and many swear by the German DAS BOOT/’81. But the best sub pic of recent times is the Cold War thriller K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER/’02. A major commercial bomb for Kathryn Bigelow, it’s superb once you get past the fake-out opening sequence, with phenomenal perfs from Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford & Peter Sarsgaard. OR: See how the famous Enigma Machine worked for British Intelligence in Michael Apted/Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Robert Harris's ENIGMA/'93. A near success, produced by SNL's Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger!

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