Scrap ‘Iron,’ and creaky ‘Kon-Tiki’

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FS, Contributing Writer

 

“Iron Man 3”

 

After going the super-hero ensemble route with The Avengers, Robert Downey Jr. returns to solo action with Iron Man 3 (wide release), the latest installment of the mega-franchise centered on the armor-plated alter-ego of genius entrepreneur Tony Stark. The movie will make a mint, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.

As refashioned for the screen, the comic-book character is a perfect fit for Downey, who again is provided with a slew of wisecracks the actor reels off with snarky precision.

Apart from his one-liners and a deliciously hammy performance from Ben Kingsley as a villain called the Mandarin, however, the movie—directed and co-written by veteran Shane Black (of the Lethal Weapon series)—proves a pretty gloomy affair, predicated on a society filled with corruption and terrorism that’s not unlike the Gotham of the Dark Knight pictures.

Also on hand is a gang of lethal humans who have super-strength, a nasty outlook and the ability to regenerate after they’ve supposedly been terminated. (There’s nothing more boring than villains that come back to life again and again.) They have a knack for tracking down poor Stark, who’s subjected to so much pummeling that he becomes a virtual punching bag. And as if that weren’t bad enough, his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) is captured and tortured, too.

When you add the avalanche of fights, explosions and various other forms of mayhem that extends from first reel to last—all presented in 3-D and ear-splitting sound (and accompanied by a particularly bombastic music score)—you have a movie that depresses rather than exhilarates. The final dockyard confrontation is a chaotic mess.

There’s an interlude in Iron Man 3 when Stark is given shelter by a Tennessee tyke before going on the lam again. Usually that kind of sentimental drivel would be a low point, but in this case you actually long for it to continue.

That’s a sign of how bad the rest of the picture is. Sad to say, it’s time this franchise was sent to the junkyard.

 

“Kon-Tiki”

 

Thor Heyerdahl was an adventurer with some peculiar scientific notions. Believing that Polynesia had been settled not from Asia but from South America, he and five companions journeyed in 1947 on a balsa-wood raft from the coast of Peru to the South Pacific islands, in order to prove the viability of his theory.

That dangerous 5,000-mile trip is dramatized in Kon-Tiki (Angelika), which was also the name of the vessel (named, in turn, after an Incan deity) on which the expedition sailed. (It was also the title of Heyerdahl’s best-selling book and Oscar-winning documentary on the voyage.)

One would expect this to be the stuff of exciting drama, but though beautifully filmed, Kon-Tiki is nothing more than a boring boys’ adventure story for grownups, filled with melodramatic conflicts among the crew (mostly invented by the screenwriter) and rubbery sharks. Heyerdahl, meanwhile, is depicted less as a charismatic figure than a cult leader.

Read the book and watch the 1950 documentary instead.

 

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

 

Attempting to understand how a Muslim immigrant can turn to radicalism after living for years in America is a worthy undertaking—especially now. But Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Magnolia), about an Ivy League graduate who returns to his Pakistani roots after suffering discrimination following 9/11 and growing increasingly disenchanted with his Wall Street career, takes too schematic an approach.

Trying to adopt the form of a spy thriller, it tells the story of Khan (Riz Ahmed) in flashback, as he’s questioned in Lahore by an American journalist about the kidnapping of a western teacher. But it presents Khan’s life in the U.S.—as well as the later thread about American intelligence operatives in Pakistan—in a one-sided fashion that fails to deal with the complexities of the situation, despite a good-faith effort to do so.

The result is a film one can admire for its ambition while regretting its flaws.

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