Man on Fire

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     Since this new movie stars Denzel Washington, it can't pass unnoticed but Man on Fire is so formulaic that I don't really need to tell you the plot. But I will anyway. The only thing that makes it at all interesting is seeing 10-year-old Dakota Fanning out act her two-time Oscar winning co-star and also to enjoy the idiosyncratic casting of the support players who include Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin, and Giancarlo Giannini.  Man on Fire tells the story of an ex-special-forces operative (Washington) who is drunk and suicidal. He gets a chance at redemption when an old buddy (Walken), who settled down below the border with a Mexican wife, sets him up with a job as bodyguard to the young daughter (Fanning) of another American/Mexican couple (Anthony & Radha Mitchell). Much is made about the large number of kidnappings each day in Mexico City so the actual kidnapping of Fanning is heavily foreshadowed.  Before this, of course, we have to see Fanning win over the recalcitrant Washington, who goes by the silly name of Creasey, and make him want to live again, if only to love and protect Fanning. Fanning even names her teddy bear, Creasey. Feel free to puke. Washington is gravely wounded when the kidnapping inevitably happens and then arrested by the corrupt Mexican police who were involved in the crime. He is saved by his old buddy, Walken, and a couple of intrepid crime-fighters (Giannini & Ticotin). Meanwhile, the parents' lawyer (Rourke) unsuccessfully negotiates with the kidnappers.  The upshot is that something goes wrong, the ransom is stolen and Fanning is not returned. The kidnappers say they are going to kill her. Washington comes out of his coma and hearing that Fanning is dead (ya, we believe that), makes a miraculous recovery (God is everywhere in this movie) and sets off to kill all the kidnappers.

    Maybe you didn't want to hear all this but I'm trying to save you the trouble of actually seeing this movie.  The only question left, at this point, is who, among the apparent good guys, is really a bad guy. The suspects are Fanning's parents, Washington's buddy, the lawyer or one of the duo of crime-fighters. No, I'm not going to tell you. It wasn't who I guessed it was. Ok, I didn't like Man on Fire very much. Washington seemed to be sleepwalking through the movie or maybe he really was drunk and depressed. Fanning is quite good although it scares me that, at the age of ten, you can see that she is really acting. Walken is a joy as always. That guy must be the most natural actor ever. Giannini & Ticotin are very good but pretty much wasted. Giannini had a memorable role as the Italian cop in Hannibal.  Ticotin, of course, has been a favorite of mine since she was "sleazy and demure" in Total Recall. Mickey Rourke is possibly trying to rehabilitate himself, in that he is appearing in a movie that didn't go straight to video, and Marc Anthony is best known as being J-Lo's boyfriend when she is between boyfriends.

    Man on Fire just isn't very good.  It clunks along, really two movies pasted together, the first where Washington and Fanning have a lovefest, and the second where Washington blows up and shoots everything that moves. This doesn't work very well and the ending, that this has all built up to, makes no sense. If you want to see a decent, latin-american, kidnap movie with big stars, go see Proof of Life. That movie, starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, has got some heart and is much, much better. Put it on your Netflix list.