Marauders

2 out of 5

Directed by: Steven C. Miller

After a few of these Emmett / Furla / Grindstone produced pics, you get a better sense of the aim and thus of the degrees of quality; these are the modern DTV, with two week shooting times and some pre-contracted casts and a make-it-on-the-cheap mentality.  But given affordable technologies – namely digital filmmaking – that doesn’t necessarily have to short the common DTV genres of action / thriller of popcorn panache, or even quality.  By the same token, the demand isn’t for quality, so much as getting the job done.

With that adjusted scope, Marauders isn’t that bad of a film.  Director Steven C. Miller, off of the sub-par Extraction, shows a steadiness behind the camera while working in the Emmett / Furla conditions: By ditching the quick-cut formula of Extraction for something more patient, he frames scenes simply but effectively, and with his DP, adopted an appropriate grimey Fincher tone for his low-rent heist flick.  However, “his” is a relative term; an auteur’s company Grindstone is not.  As such, these flicks’ qualities are raised and lowered dependent on other factors: Script and cast.  Marauders actually scores a win in both of those columns, allowing Miller’s abilities to be more evident.  …However, his focus on modern filmmaking styles and clear boredom with dialogue ends up encouraging way more slo-mo than makes sense – characters slowly walking / glaring in the rain every ten minutes?  check – though the same visual sensibilities are a plus / minus for intended contemplative character moments, where he spares us some unnecessary exposition but also holds the shot for too long.  Either side of the analysis you fall on, his comments during the commentary (with his DP Brandon Cox) show an awareness of the type of film he’s working on and the desire to make the best of it, which is definitely more grit than I perceived from him during Extraction.

Script-wise, Marauders has some spookily-masked bank robbers perpetuating some odd-logic heists – specific targets, killing only specific people, donating the stolen goods to charity – that would seem to be affecting evil bank manager guy Bruce Willis, leaving Feds Chris Meloni, Dave Bautista, Lydia Hull, new recruit Adrian Grenier, and sorta crooked cop Jonathon Schaech to piece together the why and put a stop to it.  The explanation is definitely too heavy for this type of film (or perhaps isn’t interpreted well by Miller’s zip-past-the-dialogue style) and the ending is almost hilariously without consequence, but the escalation of events during the course of the film is well-handled, the dialogue isn’t excessively swear-laden (often a problem with these flicks), and select characters seem to have a tad more background than just one-line attributes, even if those backgrounds are overwrought cliches.

The notch up the script adds would be meaningless without the cast.  Melon is perfect, chewing and spitting out his tough guy dialogue perfectly and nailing the ‘troubled personal life’ look during staredowns.  You absolutely buy him in the role.  Bautista, suggesting that the showmanship of wrestling can produce some great screen presences, is wonderfully chummy, and though he gets to be the tough at one point, I like that he acted as a counterpoint to Meloni’s hard-as-nails persona, and wasn’t just slotted in to the punch-stuff-break-stuff role.  He’s fun to watch.  Adrienn___ is a bit stiff, but it would seem to be his conscious take on his role.  His line delivery and the way his character studies his environment are good details, and make his bit as an ex-special forces dude believable as well.  Even Schaech, often guilty of over-acting in these things, adds dimension to a part that would otherwise have come across as a rather despicable character.  Again, I think everyone here got the benefit of having some extra script to work with.  No, I didn’t mention Lydia Hull.  She is a classic B-movie actor: Plug and play.  In the extras, she speaks of some of the research she put in for her part, which is appreciated, but doesn’t change much with her flat delivery.  Still, it’s not a lazy performance per se, just stiff.

And Bruce.  Ah, Bruce.  Here’s the thing: I’ve written, others have written, about the actor’s laziness in these DTV roles.  I’ve partially attributed it to him being the contracted cast – he has no stake in the character whatsoever – and also, though I haven’t stated this elsewhere, likely his acting seniority in comparison to the newbie directors he’ll be paired with.  There’s not enough time needed to work with him for a better reading, both in terms of working around that seniority as well as the general Why Bother We’re On A Schedule drive.  But after watching Marauders – in which he actually has a few scenes with multiple actors (often it’s all one room, with maybe one of the principles) – I’m thinking there’s another basic problem here: Bruce is contracted to the movie, you only get him for X amount of hours, and so you have to slot him in where it seems most prudent.  And in every scenario, they’ve chosen the bad guy.  Unfortunately, Bruce doesn’t play a very good bad guy.  This can be traced to other films wherein he actually has a starring role; in particular, I’m thinking of Perfect Stranger.  He obviously does the quiet threatening thing well, but it works better when he’s the one at the end of the barrel.  His overwhelming Willisness always makes him a much more appealing underdog than overlord.  So in Marauders, he gets some good, hammy bad guy dialogue to say, but it’s just not right coming from him.  Cast him as a hero side character next time and we’ll see how it goes.

So Marauders isn’t bad.  The flick ends with a shrug but the script is above average for the genre. Director Miller’s reliance on slow motion – and, not mentioned above, a nigh-absence of a score, or a noticeable one – ends up making the film a bit of a slog.  But edited down it would make for a well-shot, competently acted, hour long procedural.  At 100 minutes it’s more of a stretch.

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