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Man On Fire

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell, Giancarlo Giannini, Mickey Rourke, Rachel Ticotin

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Academy Award winner Denzel Washington (TRAINING DAY and GLORY) is terrific as Creasy, a first-time bodyguard in Mexico City who loses his young charge, Pita (Dakota Fanning, THE CAT IN THE HAT), to kidnappers. The same compliment can't be said of the movie, MAN ON FIRE, by director Tony Scott (ENEMY OF THE STATE), which is needlessly riddled with self-inflicted wounds. Given the storyline, the movie could easily have been called THE PUNISHER, since the last half of the movie is one long violent revenge sequence as Creasy attempts to torture and kill every one of Pita's kidnappers. Chopping off fingers one by one is just one of his techniques to elicit information before murdering the kidnappers.

A bloated thriller that runs two-and-one-half hours, it starts with a full hour of touchy-feely pabulum about Pita learning how to win a swim meet and Creasy learning how to be a human being again. He has spent fifteen years working for the U.S. government as a "counter-insurgent assassin" before trading in his career for a life as a full-time alcoholic. Nothing happens during this hour long setup to the rest of the story. Once the action starts in the second hour, Scott shows that his priorities are style first and story second. Most of the movie was constructed in post-production when the film stock was subjected to hyper-editing, overexposing, speeding up, slowing down and everything imaginable to add pseudo-energy and to try to be the next TRAFFIC.

In this story of corrupt Mexican cops and bloodthirsty kidnappers, the best part, other than the wonderful performances by Washington, Fanning and the ever reliable Christopher Walken, are some unintentionally hilarious, over-the-top lines, including: "Do you ever see the hand of God in what you do?" "Revenge is a meal best served cold," "Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece," "Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting," and "Think God'll forgive us for what we've done?" With all of the references to the All-Mighty, maybe the filmmakers want us to think of MAN ON FIRE as some sort of religious allegory.

After the movie's ridiculous ending, the movie has the audacity to thank Mexico City and call it a "very special place." Since the film opens with statistics claiming that there is one kidnapping every sixty seconds in Latin America and since the movie makes Mexico City look just slightly less scary than Hell itself, I suspect that any potential tourists to Mexico may be inclined to cancel their reservations in fear after watching MAN ON FIRE.

MAN ON FIRE runs needlessly long at 2:26. It is rated R for "language and strong violence" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2004 Steve Rhodes

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