Synopsis – A guy wanted around town by various hit men hopes to stay alive long enough for his life insurance policy to kick in and pay out for his estranged daughter.
My Take – Ever since Liam Neeson took over the reigns of the ageing bad ass in 2009s Taken, almost every worn out actor in Hollywood has been trying to do the same to ignite some light into their dying careers. But honestly who would have thought of a once successful comedian Vince Vaughn to pick this act up! Who’s next? Jim Carrey? Eddie Murphy? Matthew Broderick? As it was pretty obvious from the trailers, the film is quite bad! The film went into some production troubles when Universal cancelled the film back in October 2013, just a month after Hailee Steinfeld was cast in. Lucky for them QED International and Palm Star Entertainment revived the film and co produced it. Nevertheless the film is as bad as Vince Vaughn’s hairstyle in the film. Based on a graphic novel of the same title written by A.J. Lieverman and Nick Thornborrow, the story follows Nick Barrow (Vince Vaughn), a career criminal who plans bank heists, big ones, and he’s very good at it. But his last job goes sour and he ends up on the bad end of a conversation with the Mexican mob boss Victor Fuentes (Jordi Mollà), who thinks Nick knows more than he’s letting on. Meanwhile some dirty cops, led by Detective Keenan (Bill Paxton) are also wanting him dead.
His estranged daughter Kate (Hailee Steinfeld) gets marked so she and Nick go on the run as he tries to figure out with his close friend Harper (Jonathan Banks) how his plan brought him into so much trouble. Directed by longtime Vaughn associate Peter Billingsley (Couples Therapy)—still best known as the kid from A Christmas Story—this vapid genre exercise doesn’t have much going for it beyond the over-qualified supporting cast, who are given little to do in roles than rarely amount to more than a couple of scenes. The premise, which pits crooks on both sides of the law against each other in the aftermath of a heist gone wrong, might bring to mind the foul-mouthed Tarantino imitations of yesteryear, but this style-less ‘Take Your Daughter To Work Day’ release doesn’t even have the personality of a knock-off. The screenplay is based on a graphic novel and I have to imagine the comic book is nowhere near as unbelievable as this hack of a screenplay. Because the story in the movie relies on supposed smart people doing things they wouldn’t do but do them because apparently because the writer couldn’t come up with anything better to get where he wanted to go. The film is also a strange mix of black comedy, thriller, action and parody, though none of those descriptions come easily the movie is never really good at any of them. With names like Vaughn and Jon Favreau, you might expect some comedy and to be sure, there are some moments that elicit laughs, though it’s hard to tell if it’s intentional. That starts with Vaughn’s hair (which is even poked fun of in the movie), a mop top that looks like he’s a member of 60s pop band revival. There’s the deadpan narration throughout as well that sounds like the filmmakers used the first practice recording Vaughn made the day he showed up on set. There’s a lot of mediocre gunplay, dirty cops and double crossing, and the most compelling element of the story (Nick and Cate’s relationship) becomes a secondary plot point.
I could maybe overlook the flimsy screenplay if the movie was well made, but it’s not. The whole debacle feels like something a bunch of friends made in the backyard while playing around with a video camera. There are moments that make you question what your watching, like you should be observing more carefully as if the filmmakers are doing something so creatively ingenious it’s transcendent. But that’s wishful thinking. Nick talking to his daughter on a park bench while eating ice cream talking about how to rob a bank is so perversely rudimentary it’s almost offensive, yet you watch, waiting, feeling like there is something you’re missing. You want it to be meaningful, clever and poetic somehow, and in the hands of people who understand that better, say the Coen brothers, it would be. Here, it’s empty and so obviously setup to make a future scene work, it’s downright frustrating. Then there’s moments when it does work. Paxton has a tremendous scene with Shea Whigham that is the most jarring in the film and makes you wonder why anyone didn’t see that and decide this is where the movie should be going. It seemed it desperately wanted to echo Shane Black’s better thrillers, but considering that the R-rated language is mostly witless and the action is surprisingly bloodless, it just ends up feeling totally safe and trite. The action is not great either, one can see from the first brawl that the choreography is tedious. It’s definitely not the caliber of high pace fisticuffs or intense shootout. In fact, any fighting seems a bit underwhelming and might even be detrimental to thriller aspect the movie is setting up for. Director Peter Billingsley isn’t much of a talent behind the camera, and the who’s-who parade of his impressive posse of buddies (including Bill Paxton, Taraji P. Henson, Terrance Howard, Mike Epps, Jonathan Banks and Jon Favreau) feels like hasty rather than inspired casting. One things for certain: these actors are too good for these pitiful roles. I have never been a fan of Vince Vaughn’s one tone comedy, if you all though casting him in the second season of HBO’s True Detective was mistake, his role and performance here reassures the fact he should strictly stay away from dramatic roles or might I say any role which has him doing action. Bill Paxton comes off best as the cornered detective feeling the pressure and trying to tie up the loose ends. The character is typical and does typical things as that character, but Paxton is effective given what he must do. He has some genuinely good moments, as do the rest of that cast, but is wholly stunted by a script that lets them down and sadly, a director who simply can’t do anything to make this interesting. The lovely Steinfeld is a mildly entertaining here and certainly the least embarrassing of the main cast. Honestly, I actually think the best thing about the film was Vince Vaughn’s haircut. It is a thing of ridiculous beauty and if not for that hairdo, this movie would’ve lost me even more quickly that it eventually did. Jordi Mola seems to have amped up his act from recently released ‘Criminal’. On the whole, ‘Term Life’ is a poorly made film which falters in every direction it takes. Its neither an engaging drama nor an adequate crime thriller.
Directed – Peter Billingsley
Rated – R
Run Time – 93 minutes