Because I a) own a Sky dish and b) apparently hate myself, I have seen every film in The Fast And The Furious Quintology (“The Fast And The Furious“, “The Faster And The More Furious“, “The Fastest And The Furiousest” and “The Ludicrously Fast And The Positively LIVID“). I even quite enjoyed one and a half of them. So I’m not speaking from a place of ignorance or sneering middlebrow dismissiveness when I tell you that Fast 5 might be the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen.

And, you know. I’ve seen The Happening.

This is a film where the opening scene sees its protagonists deliberately forcing a fully occupied prison bus into a high-speed crash, causing the bus to roll at least half-a-dozen times. It then shows us a news broadcast from the scene where a reporter tells us with a straight face that “miraculously, there were no fatalities.” Somehow this doesn’t even crack the top three most ridiculous things that happens over the next two hours. If you count the casting of the two leads  it might not even make the top five.

Fast 5 stars Vin Diesel as an ambulatory side of beef. Even twelve years ago you’d have charitably described the Vinster as someone whose physicality did most of his acting for him, like mid-period Sly Stallone or any-period Arnie. At this point, Diesel seems to have lost the ability to emote altogether. Now, Diesel might be a dead-eyed mumbling shambles but at least he’s got a modicum of screen presence. This is more than can be said for co-star Paul Walker, a man so utterly lacking in charisma that I kept forgetting his character’s name despite having already seen three films centred on the same character. McSomething? O’Something? And then there’s The Artist Formerly Known As The Rock And Also Pretty Much Currently Known As The Rock, who spends the entire film being gruff, striding purposefully and dripping with a frankly distracting amount of sweat. Seriously, it looks like they were actually hosing the man down with water between takes.

These powerhouse thespians lead us through what’s less a plot and more like a series of things that apparently happen. Halfway through the film it suddenly decides it’s going to be an ensemble heist movie and uses the opportunity to reintroduce such beloved characters as That Guy Who I Think Was In The First One Oh Actually Maybe The Second, One Of The Baddies In Blade 3 Wait Was He In Fast And Furious As Well? and, of course, I’ve No Idea Who That Bloke Is. There’s no easier mark for a good cinematic caper than me (and I’ve got the Gone In 60 Seconds and (bad version of) The Italian Job DVDs to prove it), which is why it’s such a disappointment that Fast 5 makes such a hash of it. When you assemble a team of people who are The Best At What They Do you’re supposed to give us a chance to see each of them Doing the thing that they are Best At! If you don’t, all you’ve done is give yourself a much-too-big supporting cast of borderline-indistinguishable characters who’re now just clogging up screen time that would be better served going to your leads… Oh. Actually, scratch that. Point being, where’s your respect for genre conventions? Further point being where are the montages? I NEED MY MONTAGE.

You know what, though? I didn’t hate it. Fast 5 has the same go-for-broke, throw-everything-at-the-screen attitude as Doomsday. It’s nothing like as good as Neil Marshall’s underappreciated b-movie gem, but in an era when most action movies are nasty, boring or both there’s something to be said for Fast 5’s cheerful live-action cartoon excess. It’s a complete mess but hey, at least it’s an inventive mess. And it might be the film best suited getting some mates together and MST3K-ing the hell out of it since that wildly hilarious ode to Steven Seagal’s towering hubris, On Deadly Ground.

RANK: C

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While watching the BBC’s coverage of U2’s Glastonbury set, I had a sudden, uncomfortable epiphany. I’ve always believed that U2 had been a decent band throughout the eighties but turned bloody awful shortly after the release of Achtung Baby. Watching God trying to drown Bono on stage in front of umpty-thrumpty thousand people, all of whom seemed to equally value U2’s nailed-on classics and their parody-of-themselves output of the last 20 years, I was struck by a blinding flash of the obvious.

U2 didn’t suddenly become terrible in 1992. I suddenly became 17 in 1992.

Pre-Achtung Baby U2 were music I’d grown up with, songs I got attached to before I had anything approaching critical faculties, before I had a taste in music that had developed beyond absorbing whatever was on the radio and whatever my friends listened to. This same period has left me with an affection for Roxette, A-Ha, Fleetwood Mac and Poison’s “Flesh And Blood“, so it’s actually a little amazing that I never questioned myself before now. 1992-93 represents the crest of the wave I was being carried along by, the point at which I picked up Floodland, New Miserable Experience and Little Earthquakes, the point at which I started developing and defining my own opinions for good or (largely) ill. Without the candy-coloured fog of childhood attachment it became laughably clear that Bono is a tool and his band are a bunch of stadium-bothering dad-rock merchants.

For the sake of sanity, let’s not consider this principle in relation to the Star Wars movies.

And so: The A-Team.

I loved the A-Team in my preadolescence. Yes, it was rubbish. But it was fun rubbish. Face’s white Corvette with the red go-faster stripe was literally the most glamorous thing my ten-year-old self had ever seen. There was Mr. T, whose appearance and demeanour was so far outside my experience he might as well have arrived from Mars. Plus: a VAN! HELICOPTERS! ENGINEERING! One of the FIVE BEST TV THEME TUNES EVER!

Turning those ingredients into a generic action movie just seems like such a missed opportunity. Turning it into an impossibly boring generic action movie with three-and-a-half charisma vacuums in the lead roles (headlined by a Liam Neeson performance embodying the Where’s My Paycheck? intensity of late-period Gene Hackman) seems a little tragic. Then there’s the bizarre subplot that treats it as a bad thing that one of the characters has decided to stop killing people, and the film’s delight when he decides that actually properly-applied brutal murder is a really good thing. What the ACTUAL hug?

Still, Bono has now opened my eyes to the fact that this is almost certainly nostalgia talking. Thanks, Bono. By the way, wearing those stupid shades at night makes you look a right git. And you do KNOW that we all realise your hair’s not really that colour any more, right?

RANK: D

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Watching Kick-Ass is like being trapped in a lift for an hour and a half with the sort of 13-year-old sociopath that dominates YouTube comment threads. “Look at MEEE! Look at what I’m DOING!! Isn’t it just so WRONG?!!! ARE YOU OFFENDED YET??!!!!” Kick-Ass is mildly irritating for about 25% of its running time and boring for most of the rest. Kick-Ass is Watchmen for absolute idiots, which is something of a surprise because up till this point I thought that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen had done a passable job of being Watchmen for absolute idiots. Kick-Ass drips with cynical contempt for its characters and audience, but it’s so patheticly eager to be a bad-boy and so artlessly superficial it can’t evoke any sort of emotional response at all. Kick-Ass really wants to be hated. Instead, the correct reaction is to remember the teachings of Bill, just say it’s rubbish and walk away.

Still, Nic Cage’s Adam West impersonation is quite good fun. RANK: E

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Here’s the problem with Mark Wahlberg – he’s got exactly no ability to elevate the material he’s working with.

That’s not the worst problem in the world to have. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, it’s just that he hasn’t got the charisma to carry a film on his own the way, f’rinstance, George Clooney or Bruce Willis or Will Smith can. But neither is he a Keanu Reeves who’ll drag anything he’s involved with down to his level. He’s a safe pair of hands, a decent complimentary piece. Give Marky Mark a great script, a great director and a great supporting cast and you end up with Boogie Nights or Three Kings. Give him a mediocre script, a mediocre director and a mediocre supporting cast and you end up with The Italian Job. Give him one of the worst scripts in the history of motion pictures, a toweringly awful director and a helpless supporting cast and you end up with The Happening.

The Happening opens with hundreds of people in and around New York’s Central Park abruptly deciding to commit suicide. This leads to a moderately eerie scene of construction workers throwing themselves from the top of the building they’re working from and hitting the ground like sacks of tomatoes. From there on, it’s downhill all the way.

The rest of the film follows Mark Wahlberg (for it is he), a high school science teacher in Philadelphia as he flees from the “terrorist attacks” that are hitting the north-east coast of the US with his wife (Zooey Deschanel and her enormous Manga eyes – they could have cast her in that bonkers new BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU anti-drugs ad and saved themselves a fortune in CGI). It’s vaguely reminiscent of the Spielberg version of War Of The Worlds, with the majority of the movie spent showing its main characters running away from an implacable, unbeatable enemy before an anticlimactic deus ex machina ending. The reasons why War Of The Worlds works while The Happening very much doesn’t are many but the two most important are the presence of Tom Cruise, who despite being a batpoo insane religious cultist has screen presence out the fundament, and the drama that develops between the Cruise character and his two children being at least as interesting as the wider conflict with the aliens. You empathise with those three people. You care about what happens to them. It’s hard to give a toss about anyone in The Happening because they’re all so brain-bludgeoningly boring you find yourself rooting for their bloody and violent death just to temporarily alleviate the monotony.

M. Night Shymalan’s second movie, Unbreakable, was a film about comics written by someone who’s never read a comic in his life. Without wishing to give too much away in case you’re still inclined to see this terrible, terrible movie The Happening is a film about the arrogance of science and humanity’s impact on the Earth’s ecosystem written by someone who’s never spoken to a scientist in his life. Although given that the film hardly contains a single line of dialogue that sounds like something a real person might conceivably say, it seems to have been written by someone who’s never spoken to a human, either.

The first time we’re introduced to Marky Mark he’s telling a roomful of students about how millions of bees have suddenly vanished and inviting them to speculate as to what might have caused it. “A disease?” “But there are no bodies.” “Global warming?” “Could be. The temperature goes up a fraction of a degree, the bees can’t tolerate it any more and die.” EH? For a kickoff, wouldn’t that leave just as many bodies as a virus? And if bees were so sensitive that they couldn’t withstand a minute temperature fluctuation, wouldn’t they all die every time the sun went down? Plus, it’s stated this is happening all over the country, so presumably the bees in Arizona are being killed by an increase from 30 to 30.2 degrees centigrade at the same time that bees in Seattle are being killed by an increase from 18 to 18.2 degrees. Really? That’s your best guess? That’s your theory, is it?

Of course not! He’s got a much better answer than that. “They’ll come up with an explanation to put in a book but the truth is, it’s an act of nature. We’ll never know why it happened.”  Yes. Because that’s what science is, isn’t it? It’s basically just a load of hand-waving to fob people off. Really, science can’t hope to understand Nature in any significant way. And yes, it does deserve a capital N. You could write this attitude off as just being the wrong-headed attitude of one chump of a character, except that at the end of the movie another “scientific expert” repeats the line almost verbatim. They don’t say that there are various different theories. They don’t say that there hasn’t yet been sufficient study into the phenomenon to hazard a guess as to its cause. They don’t even say that we might never fully understand what happened. No, it’s stated as a hard fact – act of nature, we’ll never know why, end of discussion. Mark Wahlberg’s character and the TV talking head are presented as the face of enlightened science, they survive and thrive because they accept man’s place in the scheme of things. If that’s your attitude, fine. If that’s the message you want your film to convey, fine. But you can’t put those words in the mouth of your characters who’re meant to be flippin’ scientists because it makes them and you sound like cavemen cowering in fear at the sight of the giant golden ball of fire floating in the sky.

Beyond the heavy-handed fable it’s hard to work out what sort of film The Happening is trying to be. It’s not an action movie, because there’s sod-all action. Somehow, Shyamalan’s managed to make a film called The Happening and forgotten to include anything, well, happening. It’s not a twist thriller or a whatdunnit because the source of “the terrorist attacks” is made obvious half an hour in, explicitly stated about fifteen minutes later then repeated about three more times after that. It’s not the story of two people resolving their differences against the background of A World Gone Mad because the two protagonists barely have any differences. There’s not a single moment in their relationship or indeed the film as a whole that rings true intellectually or emotionally. There’s no character development. There’s no character depth. There’s no character conflict. To be honest, there are barely any characters. Instead, there’re just a bunch of cardboard cutouts riding the world’s least interesting ghost train trying not to step in the metaphor.

If you feel it’s been too long since you’ve properly hated something, The Happening might be just what you’re looking for.

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