Thriller fails to generate much suspense

02:52, Jun 19 2014
INSIDE JOKES: 22 Jump Street sticks to its winning formula for the just-out sequel.

The Two Faces of January. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac. Directed by Hossein Amini. M. State Cinema. 3.5 stars

Author Patricia Highsmith's works have been adapted for some memorable films, from Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train to Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley. Hollywood has looked to Highsmith's catalogue of moral compromise again for The Two Faces of January, another tale of Americans getting up to no good under the Mediterranean sun - but despite a top-notch cast, it doesn't come close to Mr Ripley's levels of drama and suspense.

It's 1962, and expatriate American Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is working as a tour guide at the Acropolis - and scamming tourists on the side - when he meets Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst) MacFarland, a wealthy couple doing a grand tour of Europe. They strike up a friendship, though Chester senses that Rydal is less than trustworthy.

TOP CAST: The Two Faces of January is a thriller set in Greece in the early 1960s.

Chester is no stranger to crime himself, however, and when his past catches up with him, the trio are forced to go on the run. Tensions build when Rydal becomes attracted to Colette and all the mistrust and lies come to a head.

Both men appear to be simple criminals who suddenly find themselves in too deep and are forced to work together, due to a tragic mistake. But there are moments when you wonder who is manipulating whom. Is Chester more than just a suave conman, and is Rydal more than just a directionless youth who's strayed into bad habits?

First-time director Hossein Amini has won plenty of plaudits as a screenwriter (The Wings of the Dove, Drive), and he gives The Two Faces of January a languid neo-Hitchcock style, with a constant backdrop of glowing, sun-baked Mediterranean scenery.


The three leads put in good performances, especially Dunst, but the film's noirish edges are dulled by a plot that substitutes common suspicion for psychological tension.

The three-way dance between Rydal and the MacFarlands fails to generate much suspense, with nothing much happening in the way of clashes and near-misses as Chester and Rydal circle each other like wary dogs. There's not much chemistry between Dunst and Isaac, either, and any moments of illicit passion remain unseen. The Two Faces of January tries hard but is a reflection of its source material - a competent but peripheral Highsmith story, which comes a distant second to Mr Ripley's intricate suspenseful delights.

22 Jump Street. Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. R13. State Cinema. 3.5 stars

Johnny Depp fans were the ones crying foul the loudest when Hollywood got its hands on 21 Jump Street and turned it into a semi-lowbrow comedy, but it turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable by following the lead of The Brady Bunch Movie - plenty of inside jokes and double entendre humour. The sequel manages to be just as good by sticking to the same formula.

Undercover cops Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are at university this time, and their experiences at high school are reversed. Jenko becomes popular thanks to his skills on the football field, while Schmidt is snubbed by the in-crowd but finds a kindred spirit in a fellow student (Amber Stevens), who comes with her own complications.

The second Jump Street has the same predictable Scooby-Doo-type plot about busting a drug ring and nabbing the Mr Big behind it, but Tatum and Hill's chemistry gives it a solid centre. Schmidt's well-meaning clumsiness and Jenko's thickneck malapropisms become almost endearing - but Ice Cube quickly becomes tiresome (again) as their terminally angry boss.

As before, a lot of the humour comes from referring to Jenko and Schmidt's partnership in terms of a bromantic or even homoerotic relationship. Schmidt proposes that "we should investigate separate people", before they moan and snipe at each other like a real couple, trading double entendres . . . you get the idea.

Other below-the-belt humour is kept to a minimum, though, and a fun set of twins and a hallucinogenic drug trip help to spark things up. But, again, it's the self-aware humour that makes 22 Jump Street smarter and better than the average throwaway comedy.

The other students constantly question Jenko and Schmidt's real ages, while their captain asks whether anything is ever as good the second time around, and laments the quality of his officers compared with those he had in the 90s. If you're a fan of the original 21 Jump Street, you're well qualified to judge that for yourself - and be sure to stick around for the credits.

The Nelson Mail