Tuesday, August 29, 2023

MR-9: Do or Die.


I've mentioned the idea that for foreign and indie movies really have to get lucky with their release date to show up at the local multiplexes here in Boston, and MR-9 feels like it got just about as lucky as one can - it's not very good at all, but its distributors found a week where not much of anything was coming out in the USA to the extent that some theaters had a couple of showtimes and apparently figured that the crossover between the local Bangladeshi population (which has shown up occasionally for movies at Fresh Pond) and fans of direct-to-video action might get a kick out of seeing Michael Jai White and Frank Grillo. And, hey, it worked; between all that, having seen some good Bangladeshi stuff at Fantasia, and figured why not?

Well, because it's bad. Really bad. Like, wondering if the folks booking it even saw a trailer, and if the market for the Korean sci-fi film that opened elsewhere last week would really have dried up just because it wasn't opening weekend. It may have - I wouldn't have been surprised if Well Go just completely shifted its promotion elsewhere after the first week - but who knows? It's odd AMC chose this over the animated Chinese adventure they've been advertising for a while.

I hope the Bangladeshi-Americans in the audience had a good time with it, although I wonder, because it almost feels like there's some kind of scam going on, between it looking so cheap and often only barely seeming to have a toe in Dhaka with a mostly-Western crew and cast. Like, someone got the rights to this long series of novels that haven't been made into a film in 50 years after the writer died, raised good money off just how popular they are in Bangladesh, and then did the absolute minimum necessary to show their funders that they were making a movie while pocketing their funds.

Or, I suppose, the Bangladeshi-American direct-to-video filmmaker might legit love the Masud Rana books, or have family who does, and was shocked to find the rights were available so cheap. Maybe a little of both. If that's the case, well, I'm sorry your passion project turned out so poorly.

MR-9: Do or Die (aka Masuda Rana)

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2023 in AMC Boston Common (first-run, DCP)

Look, if you're going to make a shot-on-VHS-quality James Bond knockoff, at least have the common decency to have it clock in at 85 minutes rather than over two hours. It's not like cutting the better part of an hour from this thing is going to render it more incoherent than it already is. And, who knows, maybe picking up the pace and cutting out a bunch of repetition and filler keeps the viewer occupied enough to not be cataloging all the ways in which it's a story-telling disaster.

When a CIA plan to turn TLF financier Subir Shen (Kolten Jensen) before his meeting with R&R Robotics head Roman Ross (Frank Grillo) goes sideways, agents Duke (Michael Jai White) and Paul (Niko Foster) recruit Masud Rana (ABM Sumon) of Bangladesh's Bureau of Counter Intelligence to take his place, which will also require "MR-9" to fool TLF's Shula Devi (Sakshi Pradhan), although she seems to be onto him very quickly.

It's at least amusingly bad to start, as Shen falls to his death after trying to land a flying kick on Duke only to basically bounce off and over the side of a building when the latter doesn't even stagger a bit. That's maybe a joke, at least, but the film follows it up by introducing the title character in the most obviously doubled assault on a rich guy's compound with the worst sense of action geography you'll ever see, at least until later in the movie, as Rana puts up a hood and is mostly shot from behind for good measure, with the interior of this South African mansion apparently made of easily destroyed plasterboard that never catches a stray bullet because the gunplay is all CGI muzzle blasts and people breaking blood packs as they clutch at their wounds. It's an early warning that this movie is not going to be very good at all, in any way, and that the earlier eccentric bit was apparently an accident.

And it somehow gets worse, like they were scripting and shooting scenes at random without any idea how they'll fit into a movie. MR-9's Q equivalent shows him devices he never gets close to using, the villains are owners of a robotics company that never does anything with robotics, just planting a bomb at Hoover dam (and, maybe, one set to explode in Dhaka at about the same time) for some reason. Devi switches sides for little reason. The moment an action setup threatens to be good, it's full of cuts to establishing shots and people with no part of the fight at seeming random. Even a pointless flashback to the title character winning a swim meet as a kid looks like the producers couldn't bother to find kids who are actually good at swimming. It's a damn near constant mess, right up to the elongated, incredibly pointless epilogue that threatens the audience with "to be continued".

I can't speak to how well ABM Sumon embodies Rana, the lead character of a 550+ book series by the late Qazi Anwar Husain (that's a new pulp cranked out every month for 46 years or so); maybe the character is supposed to be sort of blandly handsome and quietly cool until he encounters a genuine supervillain, but he never comes off as cool enough for a new audience to feel like he deserves the deference the other characters give him. Sakshi Pradhan does do more than fill out a nice dress, at least, recognizing that this sort of spy needs to cop an attitude in meetings where everybody is thinking of killing each other. Michael Jai White seems to either be aging out of this sort of role or picking up a paycheck, at least compared to producer Niko Foster, who lands somewhere between "pro wrestler" and "bad James Remar impression" chewing scenery as his partner.

The film gets a grudging extra half star for a couple fight scenes with White where the action crew seems to have at least tried to give the other filmmakers something useful, even if it does wind up terribly edited, and for Frank Grillo showing up and growling like he has some pride in his work and figures someone casting a good movie could be watching. Still, it's kind of shocking that something this inept cracked a multiplex screen even on a slow week: It looks cheap and mailed-in, and not like the work of actual professionals.


Anonymous said...

Liked your review

Anonymous said...

Best movie