Luc Besson, who wrote this, is a highly-overrated Frenchman who made one film I liked (The Professional), and lot of crap (The Messenger, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita, The Big Blue). Oh, yeah, all those films were interesting to look at, but they had one failing I just can’t abide: They were dumb. Really dumb. Besson’s reputation has kept me away from two other films that I suspect are dumb, too: The Transporter, and Crimson Rivers. And I have to remember something next time, too. Roger Ebert doesn’t mind if a picture is stupid, if the action is huge and overblown. I rented this on the strength of his thumb, which was pointing up, as well as those of a lot of other reviewers who support the Besson cult.
I suppose the only way one can approach a movie like this is like grand opera, or Broadway musicals. True, no one in real life sings their words, like Carmen, and nobody breaks into song and dance like the Jets in West Side Story. Well … I just happen to like those theatrical conceits. I don’t have to believe them.
But when a story gets as gritty and bloody as this, I find that belief is important. I’m told that I should view the silly and boring fights as choreography, and of course it’s easy to see that real skill and art is involved. I just don’t like it. In fact, it leads me to wonder what has happened to our culture, and other deep thoughts like that. I’m not being holier-than-thou here; I liked Kill Bill. But I loathed Sin City. A razor’s edge of difference, maybe, but as important as the distinction between erotica and pornography, in my book. It’s funny when Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy Duck, without fatal effects. It’s just plain stupid then two men whale at each other for five minutes with fists and hard objects, and both emerge unscathed. It is stupid when one man takes on 50 guys, and wins. Ask any martial arts expert in the world. One against three … one is going down, every time. In a real, serious fight with people who know what they’re doing, it might take a bit of time before any real engagement happens, but once it starts it will be over in seconds, and one man will be dead.
One scene here summed up the idiocy of the whole genre. Bob Hoskins, who has absorbed enough punishment to pulverize a blue whale, is conked over the head with a flowerpot and promptly goes to sleep.
Too bad, because the concept was good. A man is raised pretty much as a dog, trained as a killer (I don’t know how he got the training, given how they were treating him, but never mind), and unleashed to kill or maim the enemies of the Big Boss. He gets away, and has to learn how to be human. You think of The Wild Child, and operant conditioning like in A Clockwork Orange. But halfway through our hero is tossed into a concrete combat pit against 4 fighters with weapons for a fight to the death … with an audience of hundreds of slavering rich people. Do commercial fights to the death really occur on this sorry planet? Probably. In the heart of Glasgow, with an audience of effete thrillseekers? Naw. This type of movie takes place in an alternate universe where there can be a 30-minute shootout and building-destroying fight, bodies littering the pavement … and never a siren. Plenty of time to play a long, slow scene later. Cops don’t exist. And Danny the Dog is a bow-wow.