This edition of the Chewer Reviewer is brought to you by Spinal Tap. Dig entries from Ian Pratt, Simon Rowson and Albert Schwartz. – Jeremy

by Ian Pratt

STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $18.99
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
Trivia Track
Endgame: Inside Five Finger

The Pitch

The Usual Muslim Suspects

The Humans

Laurence Fishburne, Ryan Phillippe, Gina Torres, and Touriya Haouid

The Nutshell

Eastern Europeans aren’t the only people prepared to inflict Hostel on you. North African terrorists are at it, too, as one unlucky Dutchman finds out in Morocco. Repeatedly.

The Lowdown

Rare is the action-thriller that’s high on theme as well as octane. Too often spectacle takes precedence (Mission: Impossible 3, Little Women), relegating the more rewarding elements of the genre to negligible status. Five Fingers, then, should come as a relief. It values character over catastrophe and draws the viewer into the topical, oft-misunderstood world of counter-terrorism with a tense battle of wits and genuine intrigue. The good news is that Five Fingers isn’t afraid to do its own thing. The bad news is that, much like Girls Aloud after a stint in make-up, it’s not nearly as hot as it thinks it is.

After being discharged from Starfleet for strident racism, “the hero of
Setlik III” could be found wandering through departure lounges,
drinking cheap lager, and muttering about “spoon heads.”

Martijn (Phillipe) is an idealistic Dutch banker. His passions include playing piano and relaxing at the beach with his lovely ladyfriend, Saadia (Touriya Haoud.) After much lamentation, he departs for Morocco to “help the kids.” To do so, he plans to set up a “food program” of some kind. Being separated from his beloved in a strange land is hard enough without being saddled with Gavin, a loudmouth, bigoted Brit (Meaney) for guidance. Martijn’s concept of a bad time is swiftly given a radical re-evaluation, when he and Gavin are kidnapped and blindfolded by Muslim terrorists, before being bundled into a squalid warehouse in who knows where. Amazingly, Gavin remains optimistic, even defiant in the presence of his captors. Ahmat (Fishburne), the terrorist leader, does not appreciate this. He unmasks Martijn, then illustrates the AK-47’s longevity with a brutal display of its effectiveness all over Gavin’s person. 

What follows is, essentially, a game of cat and mouse between Martijn and Ahmat. The former wasn’t abducted arbitrarily and the latter is determined to learn the particulars of his journey. If given a choice between waterboarding and the severe digit-bothering/lavatory deprivation he then faces, Martijin would surely have responded “surf’s up!”

“What did you say the safety word was again?”
“Camera makes thoughting fun.”

Rather than play out their struggle by chasing across roof-tops, Martijn and Ahmat engage in a mental game of chess, planting semantic traps and trying to stay one step ahead of each other. And just in case anyone missed the figurative version played out during the film, the protagonist and antagonist literally play chess. It’s more engrossing than it sounds, thanks in no small part to the effortless dread that Fishburne generates. Phillippe, too, does a commendable job of conveying Martijn’s struggle to maintain his integrity and bodily functions (SPOILER: he fails.) His plight brought even this usually unapologetic viewer to wince at some points during his mental and physical undoing. Gina Torres and G.I. Joe‘s Said Taghimaoui deliver the requisite scowls and menace as Ahmat’s cronies.  

Despite its non-linear approach, it’s easy to see the theatrical potential of Five Fingers. Granted, attempts are made to deliver a truly cinematic experience. Expansive, beautiful shots of Morocco and the Dutch countryside, in particular, are welcome, but, with so much of the film restricted to a static set, it takes more than admittedly winning flash-backs to avoid stage comparisons. The script by Chad Thumann and director Laurence Malkin deserves praise for its grace. Lesser writers would likely have employed horrible archetypes to round out the small cast, in an attempt to “fill the screen.” Had this been the case, Taghimaoui’s Dark Eyes would likely have become a “lemme’ at ‘im, boss!” henchman, as opposed to the memorable, silent assassin he delivers. For Thumann and Malkin, these people aren’t inhuman monsters (or “savages”, as Gavin quipped.) They’re just doing their job, something that gives the film’s climactic twist an impressive punch. 
Fishburne makes a fair fist of an undeniably tricky accent. For the most part, he gets by on sheer confidence and the obvious fun he’s having. Though, he does sound like he’s auditioning for Goodness Gracious Me, at times (yes – if you laugh at his delivery of “velly goot”, you are a racist.) Colm Meaney does an enjoyably silly Cockney twang and Phillippe’s Dutchman sounds curiously Scottish. By rights, this should undermine the film, but it actually lends some much needed respite from the unrelenting suffering through comedy, albeit unintentional.

T-Bone was finding out the hard way that cleaning one’s aft with
nothing but a busted chair and one arm was neither sanitary nor fun.

While the movie’s stage-friendly feel is a welcome change from typical globe-trotting, explosion-laden political mysteries, it does suffer from a case of the Ghost In The Shell‘s; even at a neat 87 minutes, the film feels too long. The same interrogatory ground is re-tilled to the point where drinking games will likely be created for each time the phrases “food program”, “the people”, and “your friends” are used. Even with the second act lull, Five Fingers is a brave and surprisingly accomplished thriller that’s a cut above most direct-to-DVD fare.

The Package

Not bad at all.  ‘Endgame: Inside Five Fingers’ is a brief but fun documentary filled with enthusiastic, sometimes congratulatory interview clips of Phillippe, Meaney, et al. This is worth watching just for Fishburne’s assertion that his wife and co-star Torres’ performance is “some really hot s*it.” Elsewhere, the Trailer Track should stand you in good stead if you’re about to appear on Mastermind with “boring economic trivia” chosen as your specialist subject (“Morocco’s textile industry has suffered a decline, due to competition from Chinese and Indian markets”, apparently.) English and Spanish Subtitles are optional. This crisp Widescreen presentation also offers English 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio, allowing Phillippe-haters to savour his faux agony and bone crunchings in style.

OVERALL 6.0 out of 10

by Simon Rowson

STUDIO: Lions Gate
MSRP: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 528 minutes

The Pitch

Dad John Ritter contends with the wacky stress and drama of raising his two teenage daughters and a rambunctious son. Pour on laugh track and stir vigorously. In the event of untimely RitterDeath, add in David Spade and a 139 year old James Garner.

The Humans

Katey Sagal, Kaley Cuoco, Amy Davidson, Martin Spanjers, James Garner, David Spade and John Ritter.

The Nutshell

Paul Hennessy (Ritter) is a married sports writer living at home, juggling his work with raising his children, contending with all manner of daughterly school and boyfriend hassles and all the usual stock TV dad drama, while wife Cate (Sagal) works as a nurse. When Paul tragically dies of a heart attack, Cate is tasked with suddenly being a single mom, struggling to handle three teenagers, with the help of her grouchy father (Garner) and irresponsible nephew (Spade).

The Lowdown

John Ritter had filmed just three episodes of 8 Simple Rules on the day of his untimely death. Rather than scrap the show entirely, ABC decided to incorporate Ritter’s death into the show instead.

No amount of comforting could help the girls – they’d been exposed to the mutated genitals of Barry Manilow, and there was simply no way of repairing their shattered psyches now.

In terms of the show, the loss of Ritter is both the worst and, surprisingly, the best thing that could happen to it; Ritter’s an undeniably wonderful talent with great presence, and the series isn’t quite the same without him, but in his absence, it’s forced to be something ever-so-slightly different, and with the addition of Garner and Spade, there’s a shift from the well-worn ‘married with 2.4 children’ paradigm to something a tad less generic. There’s an added pinch of melancholic drama, foremost in ‘Goodbye’ – the first episode sans Paul, which is surprisingly heartfelt, touching and free from any ‘A Very Special Episode’ melodrama – and the characters grow from stock archetypes into something ever-so-slightly more substantial, with Bridget shifting from boy-hungry jailbait to, well, underachieving jailbait striving to be something more than her social status, while Rory becomes less the mischievous trouble-making ‘tardchild and more the wounded son struggling to find his place without his father.

As Rory soon discovered, Kelloggs’ new recession-friendly Gravel-O’s™ are incredibly cheap, have the robust taste of
freshly-diced sidewalk and can shred a colon in just one painful digestion.

That’s not to say it’s anything revolutionary – it’s not high art by any stretch of the imagination, these still aren’t profoundly unique characters, and it’s still a family-friendly that doesn’t strain any real boundaries or cover any wildly unique ground – but in the wake of Ritter’s death, the writers take the opportunity to divert from the standard sitcom set-up at least a little, with the cast channelling their real-life grief into performances well beyond the average family comedy trappings. And with the addition of Spade, it’s also a great deal funnier than the previous season, with a little added biting, witty snark. Of course, your mileage may vary, depending on your tolerance for Spade, but on the whole, it’s an above-average, entertaining show as far as family sitcoms go.

The Package

Missing the opportunity to include some kind of John Ritter retrospective, have seen fit to include absolutely no extra material on the Second Season set. Which is odd, since apparently the Ritter episodes originally aired with introductions from the cast, Buena Vista Home Entertainment produced a cast tribute to Ritter and ABC filmed their own 45 minute special – ‘A Life of Laughter: Remembering John Ritter’.

It’s a shame Lions Gate didn’t go the extra mile to include anything at all, but at least fans of the show will be happy to get a 16:9 widescreen transfer, although the Second Season gets a downgrade from the 5.1 audio included in the first DVD set – there’s only a 2.0 track included this time, though with a laugh-track sitcom, it’s unlikely you’ll need the eardrum-bursting bass of a DTS track.

OVERALL 6.5 out of 10

By Albert Schwartz

MSRP: $26.98
Building Labou
The Casting Process
The Making of Labou
The Music of Labou
Special Effects
New Orleans: Points of Interest

The Pitch

“We have the funding secured to make a children’s movie.  What kiddie pitches have we gotten lately?”
“Well, I got a pirate treasure-hunt story, a cute-creature buddy flick, a ghost story, a kiddie music group story, and a kids vs. evil developers eco-adventure.”
“Sure, let’s do that.”

The Humans

Bryan James Kitto, Darnell Hamilton, Marissa Cuevas, Chris Violette

The Nutshell

Labou fancies itself a homage to the kind of 80s children’s adventure movies its creators were raised on.  But those damn kids these days, they have such short attention spans (what with their ipods and text messages and bukkake videos) that you can’t just rip off The Goonies or ET or any other successful PG movie and be done with it.  No, you have to rip off every kids movie you ever saw and cram it into one 90 minute feature.

The Lowdown

A trio of New Orleans kids decide for no particular reason to track down a legendary lost pirate treasure in the bayou.  They reason that the treasure must be someplace where nobody’s ever poked around before and, in a scathing indictment of New Orleans Public Schools, decide this means they should look for it at a nearby country manor. There, they run afoul of a lunatic hermet who spends his days (but clearly no more than $8.99) dressing up as a pirate to scare off trespassers.  Then they meet his great-great-great grandfather, who is a real pirate in addition to being a real ghost.  Fleeing into the woods, they get lost and meet the titular Labou, a cutish animatronic reptilillian creature whose species has gone undocumented despite its size, distinctive musical calls, and unusual-for-a-swampbeast friendliness toward humans. Upon making the crypto-zoological find of the century, the kids do the only natural thing and join it in an improvised country jam session with harmonicas and washboards and such.  Then they stumble across a pair of unscrupulous oil developers who want to buy up and destroy the wetlands/pirate manor/puppet habitat, and at a mere 40 minutes in, we finally have antagonists, an understandable conflict, and a desperate need for another 10mg of Ritalin.

A gremlin, a pirate, and a black kid with glasses walk into a bar.  Very little of interest ensued.

Labou is even more addled and kitchen-sink than the semi-plot summary above indicates; I didn’t even mention the pointless 1800s prologue, wise Jazzman psuedo-narratorr, or how Ray Nagin (really, the actual guy) factors in as the corrupt Nawlins mayor. But it is a kids adventure movie, and a low budget one at that, so in the grand scheme of things it’s a fairly harmless way to distract some young ones on the alternate weekends the county has you saddled with them. But even within such a forgiving framework, Labou takes some rather broad and pointless liberties. Does it matter that you wouldn’t really need a buried pirate treasure to protect the only known habitat of a newly discovered, and apparently intelligent, species of reptile?  Not really. But it does matter that the main villain is an utterly non-threatening buffoon played with the subtly of community theater understudy, or that the young protagonists have not only an adult on their side, but a magical forest creature and a pirate ghost to boot. The evil oil developers should never feel like underdogs against them scrappy, meddlin’ kids, no matter how forgiving your target audience.

While controversial, the decision to cast only kids who had never
previously encountered Goatse did allow the performers to fully inhabit
the moment during a pivotal scene.

There is one real, no caveat asset to the film, and that’s the titular Labou.  As a character, he’s oddly superfluous to the story named after him, but as a creature, he’s very well designed and brought to life almost entirely through old-fashioned puppetry, and the only aspect that seems like it could fit comfortably in a genuinely mediocre kid flick.

The Package

There are a surprising amount of special features detailing such a microbudget production.  Most of them deal with the troubled shoot, which was interrupted by an industrial accident and then Hurricane Katrina.  It’s a little off-putting to hear the filmmakers talk about such a great national tragedy solely in terms of how it complicated their attempts to toss off a cheap bit of children’s entertainment, but on the other hand, it’s not like I’m really looking to the Labou special features for meaningful political commentary on the event, so this more honest approach is probably for the best. In any case, the best stuff is about making the Labou creature, while the worst is the half-hearted pitches for New Orleans tourism and filming, which mainly serve to remind how thoroughly underused the city was as a location in the actual movie.

OVERALL 3.5 out of 10