Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott reunite (Scott directed Washington in 1995’s “Crimson Tide”) for “Man on Fire,” the story of a mysterious solider of fortune named Creasy who is hired to protect the daughter of a wealthy couple living in Mexico City. ‘Course, we don’t know he’s a former black ops badass when he’s hired, but it’s pretty easy to figure out. He’s a former professional acquaintance of Christopher Walken’s, after all, and – while visiting his old pal in Mexico – asks cryptic questions like, “Do you think we’ll be forgiven for what we’ve done?” Walken, obviously eager to get this killjoy out of his house, secures a gig for Creasy as a bodyguard for young Lupita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), whose parents (the cadaverous Marc Anthony and the toothsome Radha Mitchell) understandably fear for her safety following a spate of kidnappings in the Mexico City area. Creasy reluctantly takes the job, solely for the paycheck, and is determined not to grow too close to the girl.
You can imagine how well that turns out. “Pita” disarms the gruff mercenary with her doe eyes and incessant questioning about his past. Before long, he’s coaching her in swimming and helping her study for exams. He’s having such a great time, in fact, that you know things are about to go horribly, horribly wrong. Sure enough, Pita is kidnapped (give Creasy credit, he kills four of the six thugs attempting the grab), and when the ransom drop goes awry, Creasy draws upon 16 years of experience doling out state-sanctioned violence to punish those responsible.
One could say Creasy works his way up to the ringleaders, but the correct phraseology would be, “Creasy tortures his way up:” he cuts off fingers, blows apart hands, and even inserts explosives in one villain’s Bad Place in order to smoke out the mysterious “Voice” behind Pita’s kidnapping. Indeed, the most enjoyable parts of “Man on Fire” are watching Denzel as Creasy bringing the pain to the deserving bad guys. As vengeance flicks go, Creasy out-punishes “The Punisher,” going about his deadly mission in a chillingly methodical fashion. With the help from a world weary crusading reporter (is there any other kind?) played by Rachel Ticotin, Creasy eventually uncovers the awful truth behind Pita’s abduction, leading to more inspirational revenge-based carnage.
So here are the two things you need to know going in to “Man on Fire:” Denzel Washington shows his typically formidable chops, capturing Creasy’s initial reluctance and eventual cold rage in expected form, and Tony Scott should get a couple refills on his Xanax.
Seriously, someone needs to stage an intervention, sit Scott down, and tell him that repeated jump cuts, slow-motion shots, and fiddling around with the exposure don’t enhance the viewing experience, they detract from it. It works in something like “Requiem for a Dream,” but only serves to annoy in an action movie. There must be some aspect of Scott’s personality that enjoys pissing off his audience, because I can think of no other reason why he’d try so actively to take us out of narrative. Sitting through his latest attempts at “edgy” transition work, I kept thinking of those children who got seizures watching “Pokemon” in Japan and asking myself why the hell a person would agree to direct a movie with Denzel freaking Washington , then surround him with so much crap. It’s hard to argue against going to see a movie with Washington in it, especially when he’s dealing out death in such a competent manner, but Scott’s wannabe cutting edge direction is almost enough to make me do so.
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