THE SQUEEZE

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/JAM FILMS (95 minutes; Rated PG-13); 2015)

The Squeeze

Can I tell you guys something? I don’t like golf. Never have and, considering my curmudgeon-like obstinacy and advanced years, probably never will. Everything about the sport (at least ’til Tiger came along… and, maybe, John Daly before him) is too quiet, too polite! I’ve only ever played the game (rather accurately dubbed by my father, “Cow Pasture Pool”) once. I shot a 64… I quit after the first hole. Here’s another little secret: I don’t like golf movies; except, of course, CADDYSHACK (and, yeah… I’ll even throw CADDYSHACK II in there, as well). Until now. THE SQUEEZE is more of a caper movie or a gangster movie but, with golf as the central element behind all of the intrigue and death threats, I think we can fairly safely call it a “golf movie.”

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter) (production stills)

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stills)

Most “based on actual events” stories are only marginally based on those events; THE SQUEEZE is no exception. Jeremy Sumpter (who was apparently in a television show called FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS… I’m sure the little girls know the one I’m talking about) plays golf savant Augie Baccas, a character loosely based on a guy named Keith Flatt. Baccas – like Flatt – is the Meadowlark Lemon of his small town’s golf club, winning a one day tournament by a course record fifteen shots. The flick begins, as most do, with Augie indulging in a game of cross country extreme golf with his friends, including his girlfriend, Natalie (played by Jillian Murray, whose resume includes the latest installment of the CABIN FEVER horror franchise). With Augie bemoaning his financial state and his inability to make a better life for his mother and little sister (all three are under the thumb of the abusive Baccas patriarch), golf and Natalie are his only escapes; he dreams of joining the PGA Tour and qualifying for the US Open.

THE SQUEEZE (Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stll)

THE SQUEEZE (Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stll)

After a particularly brutal confrontation with his father, Augie is offered a way to make enough money to remove his family from his drunken lout of a father. That offer comes from a gambler named Riverboat (a sleazy, almost endearing character portrayed by Christopher McDonald) who, driving cross country to Las Vegas for a poker tournament, after hearing a report of Augie’s phenomenal feat on the local radio station, changes course to locate the young man to convince him to come to Vegas and use his talents in high-stakes matches against unsuspecting golfers. Along for the ride is Riverboat’s high-maintenance wife, Jessie (Katherine LaNasa), whose provocative dress and coyly flirtatious demeanor are so distracting to opponents that she is as important to Riverboat’s game plan as are his gambling skills. Naturally, Natalie is concerned and angered that Augie would compromise his reputation and integrity for a quick buck, earned in a rather dubious fashion under the tutelage of an obvious shyster. She has Augie leaning toward turning down the offer until Riverboat waves a stack of hundred dollar bills under his nose. The decision made, Augie asks Natalie to look after his sister and mother and, though she refuses to speak to him, she does agree to keep an eye on his family.

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald) (publicity still)

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald) (publicity still)

Working their way to Las Vegas, Augie, Riverboat and Jessie play the best of the best at every course along the way, amassing a nice little nest egg for the ultimate Vegas fleecing: Riverboat plans to engage notorious card sharp and mid-level gangster Jimmy Diamonds (Micahel Nouri) in a poker game. After winning big, Riverboat suggests a golf match between Augie and Diamonds, giving the latter a chance to win his money back. Diamonds knows a ringer when he sees one and counters with a ringer of his own, reigning NCAA champion Aaron Bolt (Jason Dohring, who was in some movie about some television series that I never watched), who has made his own deal with a much more violent devil. Diamonds sets Augie up and, breaking in to his hotel room, tells Augie that if he does not lose the next day’s million dollar round to Bolt, he will end up in the deep end of a swimming pool with lead weights tied to his ankles. When Augie tries to get out of his deal with Riverboat, the gambler tells him in no uncertain terms that if he does not WIN the million dollar challenge, HE will kill him. With Augie caught between a rock and very hard place, the final third of the movie features enough twists and turns and all-out action (as well as some questions best left unanswered) to make THE SQUEEZE one cool thrill ride of a caper flick.

THE SQUEEZE (Christopher McDonald; Katherine LaNasa) (publicity stills)

THE SQUEEZE (Christopher McDonald; Katherine LaNasa) (publicity stills)

The attention to detail in the golf sequences is amazing. Sumpter (and, I understand, Dohring, as well) can really play and most of their golf shots – even the trick shots – are real and were generally first takes. Sumpter, in fact, could probably qualify for a spot on the Tour. Of course, the main reason that everything looks so legitimate is because writer/producer/director Terry Jastrow was a junior champion himself and actually caddied for Arnold Palmer; he also became a producer at ABC Sports at the age of 22, winning seven Emmy Awards for his groundbreaking golf coverage. The fact that he’s married to actress Anne Archer is merely a bonus as regards THE SQUEEZE. The family, relationship, gambling and action sequences range from stilted to over-the-top, though, honestly, a couple of the characters call for an over-the-top performance (particularly Jessie and, to a lesser extent, Riverboat); Sumpter’s portrayal of Augie is the most grounded and believable but, overall, the cast does a good job.

THE SQUEEZE (Michael Nouri) (publicity still)

THE SQUEEZE (Michael Nouri) (publicity still)

I’ve seen THE SQUEEZE reviewed as a “Faith-based” production and, I suppose, it does have certain elements that could cause it to be considered a morality play of sorts. However, there are also some dirty, gritty elements (coarse language, some drug use and sexual situations, not to mention the violence) that would probably exclude it from most “Family” movie lists. Having said that, parents shouldn’t necessarily shy away from making it a family movie night option; I wouldn’t be too concerned about allowing a twelve year old to watch it. The film would also make a great date night offering for Mom and Dad. If the actual game of golf was more like a cross between this flick and CADDYSHACK, I might actually find myself a bit more interested in it.


PLASTIC

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/GATEWAY FILMS (101 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

PLASTIC

To be quite honest, I was going to give this one a pass; on first blush, it just didn’t seem to be my particular cup of tea (either Raspberry or Cherry Vanilla… or, maybe, a simple English Breakfast Tea). To say the least, I was dead wrong. PLASTIC is a thrilling roller coaster ride of deceit, theft, violence, sex, drugs and a thumping electronic soundtrack. The film is based on (or inspired by) a true story but, then, aren’t they all?

The story revolves around four university con artists working a brilliant and seemingly flawless credit card scam. Ringleader Sam (played by Ed Speleers, who looks genetically produced from equal parts Eric Stoltz, Topher Grace and Rick Astley; he apparently, occupies an abbey located downtown) has gone to great lengths to insure the loyalty of his three co-conspirators (he hacked into their e-mails and used the information he found to either blackmail them or play on their sympathies). Fordy (Will Poulter), ostensibly, the group’s second in command, is the cool-headed realist, biding his time before he makes a move on Sam; Rafa (Sebastian De Souza) is a big dreamer stuck in a dead-end job; Yatesey (Alfie Allen, who stars in that one show about thrones) is the loose cannon, who would like nothing better than to excise Sam from his life (and, possibly, this earth). Yatesey and Rafa decide to freelance, attacking a man and stealing a briefcase in his possession. The owner of the briefcase, a gangster named Marcel (a delightfully evil Thomas Kretschmann), has gone to great extremes to protect his property, including placing tracking devices and cameras in it, which, of course, leads him (and two very large assistants) right to the boys’ lair (or dorm room, as the case may be). Marcel gives them until the end of the day to acquire a long list (about £60,000 worth) of items with their stolen card information, or else. They manage to fill Marcel’s wish list and discover that the “or else” is a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere. The lads make a deal with Marcel to obtain two million bucks in two weeks in exchange for their lives.

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

That deal sends them looking for help. The help is a girl both Sam and Yatesey had previously met at a bar. Sam remembered that Frankie (Emma Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Jill Ireland… plus, the Red Queen looks really good in a bikini) works for a credit card company as a data processor in overseas accounts. Sam’s plan is to be empathetic to lure Frankie into the scheme; her father is very ill and the family is drowning in medical bills. Once the girl is on board, she tells the guys that the best plan would be to go to America because, according to her inside information, she knows of several high-budget card holders that spend a lot of time and plenty of cash in Miami. So, using other people’s money (as they have since the beginning of the story), they head for the sunny beaches of Florida. Infighting, mistrust, jealousy and greed are at work, eroding the plan virtually from the time they land in Miami; The two low men on the totem pole, Yatesey and Rafa, plot against Sam, looking to get their fair share; initially, the plot takes the form of Yatesey using one of the fake cards at a strip club after Sam specifically tells the team to be careful how they are used. Of course, when the card is refused for “suspicious use,” the junior partners (including Fordy) run afoul of several very large bouncers.

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

From that point, things take a decidedly dark turn. As more and more people and ancillary businesses are drawn into the conspiracy, an international noose begins to tighten around the throats of the five thieves as police and Marcel seek justice in their own ways. From the scene in the strip club, the crosses and double-crosses begin to stack up, eventually pitting too rival criminal cartels against each other, with Sam’s team squarely caught in the middle. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. To say more would be undermining the purpose of this review, which is to get you to watch (purchase) this movie. Let’s say that the climax of PLASTIC is a thrill-a-minute, action-packed and wholly implausible ending… but, then, it based on a true story.

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

The R rating is for the violence, strong language, some nudity and drug use. Though it does drag in some parts, the payoff is definitely worth the price of admission. Bonus points are awarded, by the way, for the casting of Malese Jow (she plays Beth, the secretary and arm candy of one of the sleazier business-types that gets sucked into the scam). The role is small, but Malese has a way of commanding every scene she’s in. The DVD has a “Making of… ” special feature which is quite entertaining in its own right. The producers briefly interview a man named Saqib Mumtaz who, in 1997, was a member of the fraudulant group the film is based on; I would guess that, from the interview, the character of Rafa was based on Mister Mumtaz. Overall, a great movie, though you may wanna keep it away from the kiddies.


RAGE

(DVD/Blu-Ray and Digital; Image Entertainment/Hannibal Classics/Patriot Pictures (98 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

RAGE

After decades of watching THE THREE STOOGES and slasher movies, I thought I understood brutality. After living through the onset of the TWILIGHT saga, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, I realized just how wrong I was… that was true brutality. Now, along comes Nicholas Cage in RAGE and I humbly bow to the utter brutality, the unbelievable carnage of this tale of redemption lost, revenge and blind, uncontrollable… well, you read the name of the movie, right? I‘vealways considered Nicolas Cage to be the poor man’s John Travolta. As the only role I ever liked Travolta in was Vinnie Barbarino in WELCOME BACK, KOTTER (okay… maybe he wasn’t horrible in PULP FICTION, but still… ) you can understand where Mister Cage falls on my list of favorite actors. Every Cage performance I’ve ever seen is one dimensional; like Travolta (and Jim Carrey and Will Farrell), the guy plays the same character every time out! I loved KICK ASS; Nicolas Cage’s acting in KICK ASS… not so much. Having said that, even though he really doesn’t change his MO this time out, he somehow manages to carry the film in a rather impressive fashion, facial contortions aside.

RAGE (Nicolas Cage and Aubrey Peeples) (publicity still)

RAGE (Nicolas Cage and Aubrey Peeples) (publicity still)

Cage stars as Paul Maguire, a man who – though a loving father and husband and well-respected businessman – has a few dark secrets in his past. The presumed gangland kidnapping and subsequent murder of his teenage daughter sends Maguire into a spiral of grief and anger, fueling a violent rage that he thought was a distant memory, a part of his past never to be visited again. As the story progresses, we learn that the death of his first wife (and the mother of daughter Caitlin) saved Paul from himself and the self-destructive criminal activities of his youth. We’re never really sure where his money comes from (though we have a pretty good idea), but it seems that the mayor, as well as Detective Peter Saint John (portrayed by a stoic Danny Glover) know of his mob connections and his criminal past, possibly turning a blind eye, as Maguire’s company continues to bring prosperity to their city.

RAGE (Danny Glover and Nicolas Cage) (publicity still)

RAGE (Danny Glover and Nicolas Cage) (publicity still)

As the distraught Maguire continues to deteriorate mentally (and morally), he seeks out his old gang, also respected businessmen by this time, to mete out – not justice – a horrible retribution on those responsible for his misery. The “old gang” (a brooding, in debt bar owner played by Max Ryan and a troubled, womanizing drunk played by Michael McGrady) are – at least on the surface – willing to back Paul’s play, no matter what. It seems that the three had a bit of a run in with the Russian mob as teenagers and, now, it looks like someone has been talking out of class. That’s the only explanation in Maguire’s mind that makes any sense; who else would want to see him suffer? The trio go on a brutal rampage looking for the head of the Russian mafia, a man named Chernov (deliciously portrayed by Pasha Lychnikoff, the go-to guy in Hollywood if you need a cold and calculating, quietly violent Eastern European criminal type). Ryan’s character, Kane, is eventually captured by the Russians and, as he’s being tortured for information, Maguire frantically tries to contact Danny (McGrady) for help. Remember what I told you about him earlier? Booze and women?

RAGE (Pasha Lychnikoff) (publicity still)

RAGE (Pasha Lychnikoff) (publicity still)

As Detective Saint John continues to confront Maguire about his actions, it is painfully obvious that he has no clue how to bring this killing spree vendetta to an end; arrest is apparently not the answer (an officer actually has him in ‘cuffs after a car chase that results in much vehicular damage and scores of insurance claims; Saint John releases him). The body count continues to rise, as does the property damage. Maguire continues his downward spiral, reliving the incident with the Russians from his youth until the audience has the full backstory and a fairly cohesive idea of who the killers are and why. This is far as I go in revealing the plot to RAGE; anything else would ruin the whole thing for you. There is a psychological element at work here that will have you examining your own life, thinking, “How would I react if someone I loved were kidnapped and murdered? Would I go to these extreme measures for revenge or justice?” Obviously, RAGE, takes the answers to the ultimate extreme. So, let’s just say that this flick is a thrill ride of revenge and betrayal and, in the end, the bad guy doesn’t always win, but… neither, necessarily, do the good guys!

RAGE (Max Ryan, Nicolas Cage and Michael McGrady) (publicity still)

RAGE (Max Ryan, Nicolas Cage and Michael McGrady) (publicity still)

For those of you who are into such things, the DVD (and, I’m assuming, the other formats, too) has a few bonus features, including some “making of… ” featurettes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending.


JESSE

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes/Rated R); produced 2011, released 2014)

Jesse 2D

JESSE is the story of a troubled cop seeking peace in a bottle… actually, several bottles. She has recently returned home only to become the third cog in a severely dysfunctional family wheel, alongside her dope smoking (and very loud) mother and her dope selling (and very large) brother. When her brother goes missing – except for a foot – Jesse (played to the “Jersey Jewish Princess” hilt by Stephanie Finochio, a former professional wrestler known as Trinity) seeks retribution on the Mafia types who she believes killed him because he owed them more than ten thousand dollars in gambling debt. Along the way, she meets several dubious characters and an even greater number of dubious bottles of booze. Eric Roberts shows up (as he is wont to do) as a sympathetic bartender who recognizes Jesse from a news report about her walking into a market (or a liquor store… who knows with her) in the middle of a robbery. The bad guys yell at her; she doesn’t care for that, so… she shoots them, becoming an instant hero. Of course, she has sex with the bartender.

JESSE (Stephanie Finochio) (publicity still)

JESSE (Stephanie Finochio) (publicity still)

After threatening the mob guys with various kinds of pain and suffering, she goes home to find that her mother has been savagely beaten. Her next stop? A gun store where she purchases an over-the-counter cure for her problems: A sawed-off shotgun. After a series of strange sidetracks that muddle the plot and do nothing to move the story along, Jesse finds out about a meeting of several of the racketeers she believes are responsible for the discomfort recently visited upon her brother and mother (and ex-dog). Upon arriving at the scene, she discovers… her brother (minus one foot – in a brilliant strategical move, he amputated his own foot as part of a moneymaking scheme to sell his product at sports memorabilia shows, disguised as collectible baseball cards). Brother Mitchell (played by bad actor Mitchell Walters, swimming in a rancid cesspool of bad actors) is busy scamming the crew he used to scam the guys that wanted him dead… but, that was all a scam, too. Guess who gets the first shotgun blast from Jesse. So now, Mitchell has a hole in him almost as big as the plot of this film.

A JESSE gallery (Tamara Markowitz; Richard Lampese, Anthony Trentacosta and Dave M Lipsky; Stephanie Finochio and Michael Wright) (publicity stills)

A JESSE gallery (Tamara Markowitz; Richard Lampese, Anthony Trentacosta and Dave M Lipsky; Stephanie Finochio and Michael Wright) (publicity stills)

It all sounds like fun, huh? Yeah… it’s all fun and games ’til someone loses a foot. Or until you have to sit through JESSE. To be fair, I really wanted to like this movie… the premise sounded so promising. So, thinking that I may be wrong or having a bad day or whatever, I asked a friend to watch JESSE, too. He made it through less than five minutes before shutting the thing off, declaring, “You’re kidding, right? I can’t handle any more of this screeching. It’s like watching JERSEY SHORE. Except those people were less annoying.” I don’t know; I guess somewhere there’s somebody who’s gonna watch this thing and think it’s the greatest flick they’ve ever seen. Maybe Snooki, if she gets her ADD under control. Wait… that’s it! Everybody involved in this movie obviously suffers from ADD and were off their meds! No, that theory doesn’t fly because Eric Roberts, Armand Assante and William Forsythe (generally fine actors if they’re given a decent script) are in it. Okay… I got it: Everybody but those three suffers from ADD; Assante, Forsythe and Roberts were paid truckloads of money to appear in an attempt to class up the proceedings. But, even they shoulda realized that you can’t shine a turd. No matter how hard you rub, you just end up getting it all over your hands. And on your resume. If you must watch, please place all sharp objects out of your reach. That way, you won’t be tempted to jab things in your eyes or ears to make JESSE go away.