I thought about quoting lyrics from the White Stripes, since they have a line about a boy having a ray gun (and the band is from Detroit, where this takes place). But since the boy’s name is Eli, I decided I’d go with the Laura Nyro song Eli’s Coming, but the lyrics didn’t work as well. If only Three Dog Night would’ve mentioned a ray gun somewhere in there.
It just seemed the best way to start this review was with song lyrics, because to tell the premise just seems so…bizarre. It’s about a 14-year-old kid that has a tough dad that wants to teach him morals, and brother that’s just out of jail and wants to get the kid involved in strip clubs and crime and…there’s a ray gun from another planet that the kid uses to blow stuff up. I also thought it was bizarre what my wife leaned in and said. She whispered, “What happened to Dennis Quaid’s face?”
I responded, “Uh…64 years. That’s what happened to his face.” I mean, the dude looks pretty good for his mid-60s to me. Do we want to compare him to his older brother Randy? But I digress.
Aside from Quaid, who is great in the cliche dad role, there’s newcomer Myles Truitt (Queen Sugar). He’s terrific as Eli. When he’s being lectured to by his adopted father, it feels like a kid that’s maybe a tad rebellious, but not so much that we dislike him. Especially since he got suspended from school for punching a classmate that was talking about his dead mom. Hard to dislike a dude like that.
Older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor, who was a much better big brother in Sing Street) is just out of prison, and he’s nothing but trouble. Although the first sign the movie would be in trouble is…they want us to like this lowlife. He wants a job with his dad, which he’s not going to get. Then he tries to reason with some bad guys (one played by James Franco, who’s a blast). He owes them $60,000 for the protection he got in jail. When he can’t cough it up, they decide to rob dad’s work. Any guesses on how that’s going to turn out?
Eli scrounges around empty buildings for scrap metal to sell, and he finds a few dead bodies, along with some futuristic weaponry in one. He takes the ray gun home, but we soon find out, it has a tracking device. And the folks that left it behind are going to go all terminator to get it back.
The two brothers end up on a road trip, which is a bit of fun, until you start realizing — we should hate Jimmy. Audiences won’t, because they’re often dumb when it comes to this sort of thing. They think he’s just a goof, taking the younger brother to strip clubs and letting him down soda while he downs shots of whiskey.
That’s where we meet a stripper with a heart (and braids) of gold, played well by Zoe Kravitz. She ends up on the road trip with them because…well, the guy at the club called her a bitch; so what’s a girl to do? I mean, they have a bag filled with money, and a ray gun. What’s to stop ‘em?
There came a time when I thought about the Blues Brothers, because so many people were on their tail. They had Franco and his goons, some terminator dudes, and strip club owners that were ripped off during a big poker game at a dairy farm (I know, I don’t really get that either).
A lot of the scenes are well done (I loved a subtle scene with the boy looking up at an owl in the early morning light), but the movie just doesn’t come together as a whole. Especially the sci-fi exposition dialogue we get at the end (with the possibility of sequels).
This is expanded from a short film (Bag Man) by directors Jonathan and Josh Baker. It reminded me how much I loved The Endless, by two San Diego filmmakers (find it, and thank me later).
Every time there’s a great scene in this movie, there’s another scene that’s frustrating. For example, watching Franco go into a gas station and ask to use a bathroom only to find out it’s for employees only…was a better scene than when Javier Bardem goes into the gas station asking the old cashier “heads or tails?”
I did like the funeral pyre he had going for his brother. It was so strange and intriguing to watch. I mean, a eulogy that involves your big brother getting your Walkman back by stabbing the guy six times that took it…is good stuff.
Yet you wonder why he thought the guy he protected in prison would have the money to pay him, and you wonder why he’s going across country to catch him. Especially when he does figure out where he is, and the idiotic lengths he goes to finish him off. It didn’t make a bit of sense.
There’s decent cinematography, and a fine score by Scottish band Mogwai (they also scored Miami Vice, The Fountain, and the documentary Before the Flood).
Usually I’m tired of movies using that joke where a badass character likes a song that doesn’t fit their character, yet Franco plays this nutjob with such gusto, hearing him sing along to Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” is kind of fun.
A better combination of the sci-fi and drama needed to be made. The drama was just a bit depressing and the sci-fi not as fun as it should’ve been. That being said, the audience at the screening loved it, and burst out in applause when it was over.
2 stars out of 5. One of those stars for casting a future star — Myles Truitt, instead of an awful actor like Jaden Smith.