Black Mass

Director: Scott Cooper (2015)

After series of flops including Mortdecai (2015), Transcendence (2014) and The Lone Ranger (2013), Johnny Depp’s career is in desperate need of a hit.

Here he hides his leading man looks under extensive make up, false teeth and a receding wig.

Although he’s great as the ruthless American gangster ‘Whitey’ Bulger, it’s a clunking biopic that’s far less than the sum of it’s parts.

It’s fine looking with a nice contrast between the faded grandeur of the locations and unfortunate 1970’s fashions.

Boston is inherently photogenic and offers a variety of unfamiliar settings.

But strong performances from a great cast are undermined by an unfocused script and uninspired direction.

Whitey feeds information on his mafia rivals to childhood friend turned FBI agent in return for a blind eye to his gangster activities.

Joel Edgerton’s central character is sidelined in order to give more screen-time to Depp.

Neither are sympathetic, despite early attempts to portray Whitey as a loving family man.

Supporting characters such as Jesse Plemons’ are introduced, forgotten about and wheeled back in again.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s role is even more reduced as Whitey’s Senator brother.

There’s an interesting story to be told how the lives of these two brothers took very different directions.

But the film ignores this, preferring to indulge in macho posturing and bloody violence.

The setting, soundtrack, language and violence are very much the milieu of director Martin Scorsese.

However not only does Black Mass feel like Martin Scorsese lite, it feels like poor Martin Scorsese lite.

Black Mass calls to mind the maestro’s weak, albeit Oscar winning The Departed (2006).

What’s more interesting is it’s also Ben Affleck light. Black Mass suffers in comparison with the actor turned director’s Boston set crime thrillers Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010).

I say that as a fan of both Affleck’s films.

Depp may have to wait a while longer for his next success.


Director: Robert Schwentke (2013)

This misfiring celestial cop caper should be locked up for a long time – for crimes against cinema.

Corrupt cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is shot dead by a colleague over some ill-gotten gold.

Halfway to the afterlife he is offered redemption if he joins the RIPD (Rest In Peace Department) – a supernatural police force tasked with ridding Earth of “deados” – spirits hiding there hoping to evade judgment.

Walker is coerced into a partnership with Wild West sheriff Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), forming a demonically dull duo who share no tangible chemistry.

In many ways Reynolds is perfectly cast as a spook as it’s difficult to register his presence – while Bridges indulges himself and provides a pantomime performance.

Being dead and therefore indestructible adds lack of tension to the film’s extensive charge sheet – which includes ropey special effects, excessive use of formulaic scriptwriting and failing to provide wit, logic or excitement.

Action scenes are directed in a video-game style and the voice-over and flashbacks at the beginning smack of desperate editing to add some energy to the lacklustre and limp proceedings.

To disguise themselves from living loved ones (such as Walker’s wife) the pair appear to everyone as an elderly Chinese man and a glamorous blonde woman.

The script fails to do anything interesting with this idea and then forgets about it whenever it’s inconvenient.

Despite ascension imagery and allusions to paradise and the referencing of the staff of Jacob: God, the devil, heaven and hell are conspicuously not mentioned – presumably to avoid offending any religious types who may be watching. But there’s more chance of your sense of humour being offended by the paucity of fun on offer.

The pair pursue Walker’s killer and former partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) and uncover a deado plot to take over the world.

Bacon seems to being enjoying himself and Mary-Louise Parker is nicely spikey presence. There’s occasionally some interesting imagery but even that looks purloined from A Life Less Ordinary or The Last Action Hero.

The detectives are suspended from the case after a deado escapes due to their incompetence.

With only 24 hours before hell literally breaks loose, the pair predictably go rogue and set about saving the world.

But they can’t also save this action comedy which is dead behind the eyes.