Tag Archives: Dash Mihok

Inherit the Viper (2019, Anthony Jerjen)

Inherit the Viper is an unfortunately titled but acceptably mediocre crime drama about rural siblings Margarita Levieva, Josh Hartnett, and Owen Teague running an opioid business. Levieva’s the merciless boss, Hartnett’s the reluctant muscle, Teague’s the enthusiastic but uninvolved teenager. Everything’s going fine—well, outside the occasional fatal overdose for customers—until Teague decides he’s got to go into business for himself. Only he’s not very bright and his idea is to steal his family’s product to sell on the side, forcing Levieva (who wanted to get Teague involved) and Hartnett (who didn’t) to make some tough, momentous decisions. Renewed interest from local law enforcement (Dash Mihok) and a justifiably enraged recent widower (Brad William Henke) complicate matters.

So, a fairly standard family crime drama.

Andrew Crabtree’s script throws a lot at the characters but in targeted bursts. Viper never overreaches. Crabtree and director Jerjen never do anything they aren’t sure they can successfully execute. The film’s got some great production values—Jerjen, cinematographer Nicholas Wiesnet, editors Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda put some drone shots to great use for establishing shots, showcasing the desolate, failed rural community. Jerjen’s composition for the talking heads scenes, which are most of the film until the final third or so, is usually the same parallel shot, giving the actors each their space. Even though Jerjen’s got the patience for the talking heads and showcasing the actors (really, the film often plays like a demo reel for its stars more than a serious dramatic effort), he never gets in close enough to really look. When Levieva finally shows her humanity, when Hartnett finally shows his fear, Jerjen doesn’t have any way to help the actors rise above the script, which is fairly pat as far as character motivation and development go. Both the script and the direction posit the characters as somewhat tragic, even though the point of Levieva is she would reject that tragedy and it would be consuming the soulful Hartnett, who has a much better understanding of the world—ostensibly due to his time in Iraq War II, but more because the script needs it—than his peers.

Well, except of course how the film then positions other people as the good folks just facilitating the opioid ring without actually getting their hands too dirty (special guest star Bruce Dern plays a bar owner and friend of the family’s absent, smalltime crook dad).

Instead of Levieva or Hartnett, the film focuses on Teague. It’s both a trope—the child grows up—and the most economical. Hartnett getting more of a focus would mean more to do with pregnant girlfriend Valorie Curry and, even though the film starts spotlighting Levieva, she barely gets any character development throughout. And, when she does, it feels like the film’s trying too hard. Because to transcend the material, the script would need to be better and there’d need to be more of a budget (the film looks great, moves well but it’s obviously streamlined as can be). Jerjen does what he can with the constraints the production’s got and it works. The drone shots do get tiring by the end but more because they never really impact how the narrative plays; they’re always technically solid. Especially set against Patrick Kirst’s score.

For over half the film, Viper acts like it isn’t going to rest the whole thing on whether or not Teague can carry it through the third act to the finish, then it hands it off to Teague and, sure, he can get it to the finish but… not spectacularly. It’s a pass and no pass situation. Teague passes, adequate, no reason to rejoice.

Levieva’s the film’s best performance, even with her character going off some rails in the third act. Hartnett’s good, but it’s a propped up majorly supporting role; Teague’s not compelling enough, Hartnett picks up the slack for it. It’s unclear whether Jerjen would be able to do more. He’s got a lot of technical chops as a director and he’s pretty good with the actors, but Viper never seems thoughtful enough. Jerjen’s successfully realizes the script but without any imagination. It’s like he’s too good, technically, to have to be inventive.

Inherit the Viper—the title’s even worse once you find out what it means—isn’t bad, it’s just rote, even with its cast’s solid efforts.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Jerjen; written by Andrew Crabtree; director of photography, Nicholas Wiesnet; edited by Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda; music by Patrick Kirst; production designer, Tracy Dishman; costume designer, Emily Batson; produced by Michel Merkt and Benito Mueller; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Margarita Levieva (Josie Conley), Josh Hartnett (Kip Conley), Owen Teague (Boots Conley), Valorie Curry (Eve), Dash Mihok (Kyle), Chandler Riggs (Cooper), Brad William Henke (Tedd), and Bruce Dern (Clay).


Punisher: War Zone (2008, Lexi Alexander)

Punisher: War Zone got a theatrical release (sorry for the passive voice, but pointing out Lionsgate released it in the theater sort of kills the emphasis). I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to describe the terrible script. Watching an early exchange between mobsters, I kept wondering if Italian American associations were aware of the film (I’m guessing they aren’t). The characters are so stereotypical, the portrayal so offensive… it’s incredible. But the mob being the movie’s big villains elucidates War Zone‘s biggest (narrative) idiocy–it’s just a hodgepodge of superhero movies. The movie rips off an opening scene from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One comic book, but then cribs the entire approach from Batman Begins (where the hero doesn’t actually fight crime unrelated to the plot’s main villain). But there’s a Superman reference in the subway hideout and some other malarky I’m sure. The script’s idiotic.

So why watch Punisher: War Zone? The terrible opening credits don’t give any indication of it, but Michael Wandmacher’s score is good and Steve Gainer’s photography is fantastic. The photography seems to go for HDR (high dynamic range), which makes the Panavision frame wondrous at times. Lexi Alexander intercuts Manhattan skyscrapers with Montréal streets to poor effect–actually, Montréal’s a decent stand-in, physically, for New York, but Alexander’s movie New York is one of the most absurd I’ve ever seen. It’s like she’s not only never been there, she hasn’t even watched a movie set there. Alexander’s actually a decent director. She has an annoying Panavision habit of putting people, in cuts, on opposite sides of the frame, but by the end of the movie, she’s got it working. She’d direct great commercials or music videos, since she can’t impart any emotionality to her work. There isn’t a single subtle moment in War Zone, it’s just too stupid.

Some of the stupidest developments in the film are the inclusion of Wayne Knight as a sidekick and the revelation the Punisher dropped out of seminary. I don’t know why the latter got included, maybe so they could have a dumb scene with the Punisher at church, but it’s one of the stupider things in the film. Knight’s sidekick, who seemingly funds the Punisher’s war on selected criminals from a tiny apartment, is also something else. Knight–even with the goatee–isn’t bad. He’s got some dumb lines, but he isn’t bad.

Producer Gale Anne Hurd has made some big movies and some good movies. Presumably, while on set, she must have noticed Ray Stevenson couldn’t act. He’s atrocious as the lead. Punisher: War Zone has a future as a drinking game. Alexander barely gives him any lines, but he flubs every single one of them. Julie Benz (is she the Lionsgate version of 1990s Miramax Neve Campbell or something?) is awful. Colin Salmon, who’s usually good, gives a terrible performance. Talking about him, I forgot to mention the stupid last names. Everyone in the film has a super-ethnic last name, presumably to make it more authentic. Dash Mihok, in the movie’s supposedly comic role, is terrible. Alexander and the script don’t understand humor. They should have brought Rob Schneider or the guys who wrote Beverly Hills Ninja in to give it some oomph.

But talking about the actors brings me to the real reason to watch Punisher: War Zone. Dominic West. He’s not stretching any thespian muscles in his portrayal of a psycho (oh, another comic book movie reference, the Burton Batman), but he’s a joy to watch. Given the filmmakers were able to hire West to appear in this cinematic turd, it’s a testament to their jaw-dropping lack of intelligence they didn’t fire Stevenson and put West in the lead. If he can make this underwritten goober of a role work, imagine what he could have done as the Punisher.

As West’s cannibal sidekick, Doug Hutchinson is fine. He’s been acting for a long time, so Alexander’s ineptness at directing actors mustn’t have contaminated him.

Punisher: War Zone is watchable dreck. The movie looks good–Alexander’s action scenes concentrate too much on the gore instead of, well, any action–and West is a joy to watch. I wonder if anyone involved in the film has seen “The Wire,” but all evidence suggests not. And it’s definitely one of Lionsgate’s less appalling pictures.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lexi Alexander; screenplay by Nick Santora, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Steve Gainer; edited by William Yeh; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Andrew Neskoromny; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Ray Stevenson (Frank Castle), Dominic West (Billy Russoti), Doug Hutchison (Loony Bin Jim), Colin Salmon (Special Agent Paul Budiansky), Wayne Knight (Microchip), Dash Mihok (Det. Martin Soap) and Julie Benz (Angela Donatelli).


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