DVD Tuesday: ‘The Soloist’ & ‘Race to Witch Mountain’

by W. Andrew Powell

Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. in The Soloist

Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. in The Soloist

New on DVD this week, Robert Downey Jr. stars alongside Jamie Foxx in the obvious, heart-tugging drama, The Soloist. Also available, Disney revisits the family franchise from yesteryear with Race to Witch Mountain, and Idris Elba stars with Beyoncé in the thriller Obsessed.

The Soloist
The big Film studios like nothing better than a film that can be promoted with the words “inspirational” and “based on a true story”, which pretty much sums up The Soloist. Of course, I’m not going to get into how often reality makes its way into these true stories, but that’s all part of the filmmaking whitewash for the most part.

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Steve Lopez, a newspaper columnist who discovers that a homeless man, played by Jamie Foxx, is actually an incredibly talented musician. In fact, Nathaniel Ayers developed schizophrenia while he was training at Juilliard, and Steve takes it upon himself to try to set things right for this lost, but gifted man.

Directed by Joe Wright, who brought Atonement and Pride and Prejudice to the screen, the film had its original theatrical release date moved twice, effectively taking it out of contention for the Academy Awards. Those delays may hint at troubles in the filmmaking process, which seems to make some sense once you get into the film.

It’s not that the film is bad, not exactly, but it dips into the common pool of banality that ruins the best of ideas. You can see the plot points coming a mile away as Steve works on his story idea, and tries to get closer to Nathaniel, and then attempts to help him.

The performances are decent, and I like both lead actors in their respective roles, but neither of them pushes far enough. Downey is a gifted actor, and he lightens up the mood of the film substantially with his usual offbeat style, but his performance is simply a carbon copy of work he’s done before. Foxx is acceptable too, but the problem with the character, at least as far as it was written for this film, is that he feels very one-note, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Despite my complaints, The Soloist is a very good film, but it’s never great, and it’s always following what I would call the clichéd path of least resistance. That makes the story one that might be more easily accepted by audiences, but it never accomplishes a mood that feels particularly challenging, or one that does any special favours to this otherwise intriguing stories.

As far as the fictionalization of this true story is concerned, that’s just another day at the movies as far as I’m concerned. Most of the viewing public won’t even notice, unless they dig a bit deeper, but it’s hard to believe that any screenwriter is actually a better storyteller than reality itself.

Race to Witch Mountain
Disney reboots yet another of their popular franchises from yesteryear with this action adventure starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a taxi driver caught up in the lives of two super-powered teens.

AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig co-star as two young aliens, gifted with a strange array of powers, who are trying to escape from a group of menacing people, including an alien assassin and a crew of government alien hunters.

This marks the fifth time that a movie has been made under the Witch Mountain title, and perhaps unlike some of Disney’s other reboots, the idea behind this film is actually more of a follow-up to the 1975 original, rather than a complete restart.

That said, Disney falls into common ground with a film that is all flash-bang, but no distinctive mood. There are laughs, gigantic action sequences, and some pretty good looking special effects, but nothing about the film is really that unique. We’ve all seen this kind of film before, and I’m certain family audiences will be turned off from this lack of originality as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m still waiting for the House of Mouse to learn the error of the last fifteen years of filmmaking and find their collective muse again. Films like Pirates of the Caribbean have been a step in the right direction, but they seem to be few and far between junk movies like The Pacifier, and cheap remakes like 2006’s The Shaggy Dog.

Idris Elba stars in this sexual thriller as a happy and successful guy who just earned himself a big promotion. And how can he not be happy? He’s married to Beyoncé, after all, who plays the loving, but clearly protective Sharon.

Trouble lands in paradise when he has to hire a secretary and he finds himself with an apparently obsessive young woman named Lisa, played by Ali Larter. Soon, he’s fighting off the woman’s advances, which prove to be far more serious than he may have realized.

While this thriller could have been entertaining, since the cast is actually pretty good, Obsessed essentially boils down to what you might call a cat fight. The filmmakers also don’t instil me with a lot of confidence since this is Steve Shill’s directorial debut, and writer David Loughery has done a few films, but none worth bragging about.

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