I am not opposed, every once in awhile, to turning off my brain at the movies, for a bit of dumb fun. For instance, I liked John Carter more than pretty much every other person on the planet and even found Battleship a harmless screen spectacle. (I give outlandish science fiction a lot of leeway, as long as it’s showing me sights I’m not used to seeing.)
But two movies opening this week, The Last Stand and Broken City, demand much more from their audiences than simply shifting their minds into standby mode for a couple hours. These films — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first lead role since before his political career began, and another Mark Wahlberg vehicle in which he plays an unassuming blue-collar guy in a world rigged to favor the conniving white-collar crowd — seem to expect each paying customer to undergo a lobotomy in order to enjoy them.
The question is: Which requires the lower IQ? Let’s break it down systematically:
Last Stand: Schwarzenegger as an ex-Los Angeles narcotics cop who’s settled down to the relatively quiet life of working as a small-town sheriff in Arizona after having seen his friends die violently.
Broken City: Mark Wahlberg as an ex-New York City cop who’s resigned himself to life as a private investigator snapping photos of cheating spouses after being forced to resign because he shot a suspected killer under suspicious circumstances.
Which needs the dumber crowd? Push
Last Stand: With the help of an army of henchmen, a Mexican drug lord escapes from prison and races from Las Vegas to the border in a car capable of reaching speeds of 197 mph (without, it appears, needing to stop for gas along the way). What he’s not counting on is Sheriff Schwarzenegger waiting to stop him.
Broken City: The mayor of New York hires Wahlberg to follow his wife, who he claims is cheating on him, just days before he faces re-election. What he’s not counting on is Wahlberg P.I. sussing out what’s really going on.
Which needs the dumber crowd? Broken City. The Last Stand at least has the decency to know that it’s a B-movie. Broken City loses the point for masquerading as a competent political thriller.
Last Stand: Director Jee-woon Kim has never met a bloody wound he doesn’t want his camera to linger on for several beats longer than is necessary.
Broken City: Characters repeatedly arrive in the nick of time to advance the plot, as when Wahlberg gets to the offices of some evil developers just as two guys are putting a box of incriminating documents in the dumpster out back.
Which needs the dumber crowd? Broken City. Again, I’ll take pointless spectacle over faux intelligence.
Use of a Friday Night Lights Alumnus
Last Stand: Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen on FNL) plays a hapless deputy sheriff, whom the bad guys are kind enough to shoot only once even as they riddle with bullets everything else in his vicinity, so that he might die slowly and thereby provide further emotional motivation for the hero.
Broken City: Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor) plays the idealistic campaign manager of the mayor’s opponent. His small role also exists to provide further emotional motivation for the hero. As on FNL, the man knows how to deliver dialogue filled with earnest inspiration.
Which needs the dumber crowd? Last Stand. Matt Saracen deserves better.
They’re in This Too?
Last Stand: Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman
Broken City: Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jeffrey Wright
Which needs the dumber crowd? Broken City. With a cast of that caliber, you can’t help but think of other, much better films. Unless you’re not too bright yourself, of course.
Last Stand: Schwarzenegger and the drug lord face off, mano e mano, in a ridiculously bloody fight on a bridge over a desert canyon.
Broken City: Wahlberg and the mayor face off, mano e mano, in a ridiculous scenario in which the big reveal is a supposedly secret document that (in real life) couldn’t help but have been public information for many years beforehand.
Which needs the dumber crowd? Broken City. When a movie so clearly aspires to be considered “smart,” and yet contains such bizarre leaps of logic, it’s just begging you to decrease your brainpower to make it all more palatable.
They’re both bad enough, so I’m nitpicking here to declare a winner (or loser, depending on your point of view.) According to my system, by a final record of 4-1-1, it’s Broken City that needs the dumber audience to succeed. So, if the movie just can’t be avoided, throw back an extra beer or two before entering the theater.