John Cusack disengages with his lively, political and often funny twitter feed to bring some of his long-storied thespian good humor and timing intact to BLOOD MONEY, which, taking place entirely in a forest of browns and grays and featuring only 4 characters, three of them “young,” sounds like it might be the quickest way to catch up on 90 minutes of sleep.
Instead, it ends up being an involving cat & mouse thriller that keeps you on your toes notwithstanding its scanty budget, with director Lucky McKee, a guy I’ve been hearing about for years without actually seeing a damn thing of his, exhibiting an ability to craft some offbeat character development and reasonable suspense despite the film’s familiar trappings. Cusack, for a reason he’ll perhaps explain on one day, has been dressing almost exclusively in black for several years now in his genre-driven low-budget exercises, but at least in this one he smokes real cigarettes rather than vapes as he did so conspicuously as the bad guy in RECLAIM, the not-so-bad guy in DRIVE HARD, and the sort-of-reformed bad guy in THE PRINCE . In BLOOD MONEY he is a comparatively humanistic thief who drops his ill-gotten gains from a small aircraft he then parachutes from, faking his own death, I presume (the film never actually explains his plan). He doesn’t count on the money plopping down in a river and drifting far from where he lands. So he starts off aggravated, then gets rather bemused when he witnesses the dysfunction of the three rafter “friends” he comes across who apparently know more about the stolen money then they’re letting on. He gives (basically correct) relationship advice to one and by and large feels bad when he wounds/kills people, and when he finally gets the chance to get into it conversationally with Willa Fitzgerald, the girl from the group who has a convoluted (and intriguing) agenda driving the choices she makes, I wished the scene developed further than it does, a good sign from an impoverished people-trying-to-kill-each-other-in-a-forest flick. So kudos to Cusack, Fitzgerald, who is especially good in a tricky role, and McKee, who doesn’t rise above his budget, but does create a sound entertainment with a few memorable bits, and a theme that (inadvertently?) resonates in this #MeToo moment in history.
Well, they can’t all be winners. Cusack grabs a paycheck playing a rather taciturn genius madman-designer-of-the-earth’s-doom-I-don’t –know-what-he-is-really who unleashes a robot, Kronos, who instantly attack and kill off most of mankind. However a few humans are left, and he also unleashes a young man (actually another humanoid robot, or something) in the hopes he/it will ingratiate itself with the Hunger-Games like heroine who is making her way to the last oasis of mankind on earth. Or something like that. The film doesn’t make any damn sense, it’s naked ambition to cross HUNGER GAMES with TWILIGHT, with some TERMINATOR thrown in, a total, uninvolving jumble. One review I found does help clarify what went on here, as apparently the film was finished a couple of years ago by very young filmmaker Robert Kouba, and featured the two young leads wandering around Czech forests but no Cusack; the sequences with Cusack were added long after the fact to make it sellable, I suppose. Some of the low-budget effects are OK, the leads (Julian Schaffner and Jeannine Wacker) aren’t hopeless, but Cusack (still dressed in black, although this time a suit) really doesn’t seem to have any sense of what to do with this character so, like many accomplished performers before him, he underplays to the point of catatonia rather than risk humiliation giving his all for what is clearly a quick hit-the-marks-and-take-the-check job. If our talented hero is going to stay in the low-budget realm, I’d recommend more BLOOD MONEYs and less of this nonsense, as it does “devalue” his brand; I simply can’t envisage a soul on earth liking SINGULARITY.
A Jewish-American Doctor (CASTLE’s Stana Katic) teams up with a Muslim-American government agent to explore the Middle East in search of something or another (ok, ok, an ancient script that could result in the end of days) in this unexpectedly agreeable ROMANCING THE STONE rehash. I was sad when CASTLE fell apart due to the reported irreconcilable differences between Katic and Nathan Fillion, and joined team Katic (not that she’s made any public statement about what went down) when fans took sides. Fillion comes off funny and smart but too self-satisfied and has fame is far beyond reason because of sci-fi fandom nuts about anything FIREFLY, which he starred in for its single season on Fox. CASTLE was called CASTLE, but to me it was really about Katic’s character Beckett, a smart, but too-serious and reserved detective having this buffoonish but charismatic mystery writer (whom she secretly adores) drop in her lap, and Katic played her bewilderment, annoyance, and attraction to Fillion’s broad character well. She acquits herself well here too, and Raza Jeffrey (from CODE BLACK) is a fitting mystery-man of adventure who leads her into the picturesque Middle-Eastern settings. If you’re in the mood for escapist entertainment with an unusual pairing of lead characters (though not much conflict or anything arises out of their religious differences) , THE RENDEZ-VOUS will do. While the film isn’t exactly high-style in the spirit of CHARADE or even ROMANCING THE STONE, it is spirited, the locations decorative, and the leads engaging. Katic fans note: she has a new show, ABSENTIA, debuting on Amazon.