Edison ForceReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/17/06 19:16:38
David J. Burke wants so very desperately for his new thriller “Edison Force” to be a good movie. He’s concocted a nifty conspiracy story, rounded up an impressive cast, piled on the action… and yet winds up delivering a monumentally unimpressive B picture.About that cast. Check out this lineup: Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, LL Cool J, Dylan McDermott, John Heard, Cary Elwes, Roselyn Sanchez, Piper Perabo, and Justin Timberlake. Talk about a knock-out combination of talent and star power - and before you go off thinking the obvious joke about Timberlake’s presence, take note that the pop singer actually delivers a pretty decent performance. As his character is quite underwritten, there’s not much here that requires him to stretch, but at least he doesn’t come off like a goof while sharing the screen with Freeman. (Indeed, it’s McDermott who delivers the movie’s worst performance, an eye-rolling parade of scenery chewing; he attempts to be a truly vile bad guy, but he comes off as a yuppie with bad stubble. Heard, meanwhile, plays along with the film’s idiocies and doesn’t bother doing anything but limping along with some lazy line readings followed by a dopey, over-the-top take on his final scene.)
So with a cast like that, why’s it getting dumped as a direct-to-video clunker? Is it that bad? Well, yes and no. The no: There are moments here that really work well on a low, B level, and some of the more solid performances help elevate the thing to becoming a rather decent little thriller. The yes: Everything that works in this picture is undermined by lousy writing, dopey situations, and a climax that goes off in all the wrong directions. “Edison Force” sat on the shelf for a year following a terrible reception at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival (where it played under its original title, “Edison”) and even worse test screening reactions. When you have a movie with this many big names and it still gets tossed onto the DTV pile, you know you’re in trouble.
Our film opens with a bit of narration by a macho cop (LL Cool J) who explains to us that “reality is a motherfucker,” adding, “It’s a dirty world. Without us, it’d be a whole lot dirtier.” That “us” is the First Response Assault and Tactical, or FRAT, a secretive SWAT-like police group patrolling the streets of the fictional city of Edison. When a couple of FRAT cops do their usual routine of killing off some druggie and slapping together a cover-up, rookie journalist Joshua Pollack (Timberlake) decides he’s going to blow the lid on the whole thing. Except, you see, Pollack works for the Heights Herald, a community weekly more interested in printing up coupons for local grocers than hard-hitting investigative journalism.
Now, somehow in all of this, we learn that the editor of the Herald (Freeman) is a Pulitzer Prize winner who uncovered all the nastiness in Cambodia decades ago. Why he’s working for a cheap weekly rag these days is never explained; it must’ve seemed like a great twist at the time.
Anyway, the further Pollack digs, the more trouble he exposes, and pretty soon, half the city police force is out to kill him. You know, for a group that’s gone way out of their way to keep their dirty dealings secret for so long, they sure don’t seem to mind trying repeated public attempted murder.
The film is remarkably dumb and even occasionally very, very silly - Pollack escapes from the bad guys on a bicycle, which probably has some realism to it but still comes across as a pretty darn laughable sight - yet there are many moments that actually work, thanks entirely to the cast. It’s a real treat to see Freeman and Spacey together, as they find little things to get the scene working despite itself. (Spacey, perhaps to ward off boredom, delivers his lines in a bizarrely low bass tone that’s highly amusing.) LL Cool J gets stuck with the clichéd role of the bad cop who’s second guessing himself and just might turn good; it’s a poorly written character, yet LL gets some hefty mileage out of it by bringing a sincerity to the proceedings.
It almost works. The cast is good enough to get us looking past the inanities of the plot and the embarrassment of the bad dialogue, and even the convoluted conspiracy bits become involving, because the cast does such a fine job of making us curious. But then Burke (who wrote the abysmal “Women vs. Men” and who worked on such TV shows as “Wiseguy” before writing and directing this, his feature directorial debut) gets it in his head that he’d like everything to wrap up just like one of those cheapjack action flicks that clog up video store shelves. And so the quiet conspiracy thriller is suddenly replaced by a sloppy, limp shoot-’em-up, with car chases and ’splosions and even a flamethrower. Burke might love it when stunt guys catch on fire, but he doesn’t seem to understand that this is not the movie for such a thing.For a movie that struggles so hard to get the audience interested, it falls apart so quickly, leaving us only to contemplate everything that goes wrong here - the pointless split-screen editing in one scene; a seemingly endless parade of clichés; the pointless addition of side characters that clog things up; the horrible, horrible dialogue; etc.; etc. There’s a lot to want to like, but that’s all courtesy of the cast. Once they shut up and the bullets start flying, we see past the glossy sheen of an all-star ensemble and discover that “Edison Force” is nothing more than a sub-average DTV actioner with a few A-listers stuck in the leads. Slap Casper Van Dien, Tom Skerritt, and Ice-T in here instead, and nobody would be paying any attention.
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