Friday, September 19, 2014

Dim Despite Star Power: 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' and 'This Is Where I Leave You'

Private investigator Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is on the trail of a murderer in "A Walk Among the Tombstones." Photo courtesy of Universal Studios.

A private detective is in search of a killer, while an eccentric family mourns the death of its patriarch. Two films with high-wattage star power – middling efforts, both – open in U.S. theaters day.

“A Walk Among the Tombsones,” is based on the novel of the same name by Lawrence Block. The crime drama stars Liam Neeson as an NYPD policeman-turned-private detective. Matthew Scudder is in search of the killer of a woman. Not any woman, but the wife of drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens).(See video below).

“A Walk Among the Tombstones,” directed by Scott Frank, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn't really offer any surprises. It is a typical big screen crime film. Here is a troubled man doing his usual good job with some usual roadblocks, challenges, nonsense and mendactiy. What sets it apart, however, is the casting of LN. In fact author LB likes the actor in this role.

“Readers often ask who'd be my ideal Matt Scudder, and I usually change the subject,” said LB who producers (a long list, including Danny DeVito) invited to the “A Walk Among the Tombstones” set. “But now it's safe to tell you that, ever since I saw him in “Michael Collins,” Neeson has been up at the top of my personal Scudder wish list.

Of course, this is no “Michael Collins,” but the presence of LN raises the material above the merely pedestrian. For his part, LN is in one of his best roles in a spell; certainly, a couple of rungs above that “Taken” series.

Alas, the presence of Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and Tom Olyphant namely, do not raise “This Is Where I Leave You.”

Much is afoot when the Altman siblings return to the family seat to sit Shiva `– in the Jewish tradition, a week of mourning following the burial during which the main family receives visitors and generally comports itself solemnly – at the request of their father before he passed. But none of it is particularly interesting. (See video below).

In fact, the goings-on `– much ado (adults behaving atrociously) about nothing`–- are puerile, bordering on vapid. TF's Wendy character punching a man is not funny. Similarly, using the boob job of 70-something mom, Hillary (JF), as part of the punchline misses the mark.

The problem in “This Is Where I Leave You” is not the acting. Neither is it the material, actually. This is the stuff of life after all. Perhaps this film, based on the book of the same name by Jonahan Tropper who also wrote the screenplay, should have remained a book. Another thought is that someone other than JT might have written the screenplay.

In any case, “This Is Where I Leave You” will leave viewers wondering why they bothered to watch.

“A Walk Among the Tombstones” is rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity; visit to learn more about the film. “This Is Where I Leave You” is rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use; visit to learn more about the film.

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