I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Empire State

tn_empirestateDito Montiel is a director I’ve kept an eye on since I saw his underground fighting movie FIGHTING. That one’s not good for action filmatism, but it’s really enjoyable as a more realistically textured take on the LIONHEART type of movie, and it has alot of personality. The example I always give when I try to convince somebody to see it is that the ultimate goal of the fight manager character played by Terence Howard is to get enough money to franchise an IHoP. So see that one, everybody. Totally underrated.

EMPIRE STATE is Montiel’s first movie that doesn’t have Channing Tatum in it, instead it stars an occasionally Tatum-esque Liam Hemsworth, a.k.a. the only expended Expendable as of part 2 (spoiler). There’s something odd about an Australian doing a New York meathead character, but Thor’s little brother has more range than I knew. Maybe Tatum was Montiel’s DeNiro, and Hemsworth will be his DiCaprio. I guess we’ll know that’s what’s up if Tatum starts doing a bunch of DTV cop movies with 50 Cent.

This is another true crime-based movie featuring The Rock, but he’s not the star. The Hems plays Chris, a guy who gets a job at an armored car company where he sees all kinds of sloppiness and shady business and decides it would be worth his time to figure out how to rob the place. This place didn’t even keep track of how much money they had! That seems like a pretty big oversight. From what I’ve read the movie’s not real close to the facts, but the opening shows a bunch of vintage news clips of ’80s Tom Brokaw and others talking about the biggest robbery in New York history, but giving a bunch of different figures about how much was stolen. So that part must be accurate.

(The real guy is interviewed in the extras, by the way. It really seems like he was just a dude who did this because he noticed how easy it would be. Kind of an unusual dude to make a movie about.)

mp_empirestateThe Rock plays a police detective on the case, and I think we can assume that just like in PAIN & GAIN he’s not exactly based on a specific real guy. I guess adding The Rock into sequels as “franchise Viagra” was so successful they thought they should start inserting him into true stories. He’s starting to turn into Dwayne “The Composite” Johnson.

He’s a supporting player in this one, but he’s really cool, utilizing a bunch of the basic elements of the Dwayne Johnson repertoire: hyper-competent, in control, capable of being the most awesome buddy you ever made, also able to suddenly switch from genuine buddy to fake buddy if he realizes you stole a bunch of money and wants you to shit your pants. Now everything nice he says is obviously really a threat. It’s fun to watch him walk into a place and menace a bunch of gangsters while pretending the whole time that he’s making friendly conversation.

He’s also the type of detective character who sits back and watches and it seems like he’s figured out most or all of what’s going on, but he takes his time, staying quite about what his move is gonna be. Creating the suspense.

It’s a very New York movie in a pretty cliched way, a world made up almost entirely of schlubby, foul-mouthed assholes who talk about how hard they work and get in trouble with various factions of small time gangsters. The most important one here is this Greek guy Spiro (Chris Diamantop–

[HOLY SHIT. I have to interrupt myself here because I had to look up the actor on IMDb to get the name and I am flabbersmacked and gobgasted that it’s the same guy who played Moe in the Farrelly Brothers THREE STOOGES movie! I’m not gonna try to convince anybody but I thought that was a funny fuckin movie, and this guys is fantastic in it, a pretty much unknown guy that must’ve done a great audition and won the role over a thousand better known actors.]

chrisdiamantopoulos

–oulos) who just fired Chris’s dad Tommy (Paul Ben-Vic–

[WHAT THE FUCK!? Paul Ben-Victor also played Moe Howard, but in that 2000 TV movie that Mel Gibson produced. What is going on here, man? It’s kinda turning into a Moe-fest.]

paulbenvictor

-tor) from a club where he worked. This guy Spiro is a total asshole so when Chris, his friend Eddie (Michael Angarano) and two guys they know from the club decide to do the robbery they know they gotta leave him out of this deal. And it’s clear this will cause problems. But let’s be honest, The Rock is a big enough problem already, who has time to worry about dumbass Spiro? Who gives a shit?

Eddie is a funny scumbag-best-friend character, a shitpile of New York working class male stereotypes, a slimy arrogant dick strutting around complaining about various ethnicities and yelling at people across the street while his mouth is full of food and his friend is holding him back “it’s not worth it” style. I think it’s kind of a silly but impressive performance from the kid that got carjacked by Mallory Kane in HAYWIRE.

Emma Roberts is on the cover and gets a funny, likable intro as a waitress who’s a family friend of Chris’s, but she’s only in a couple other scenes. This is a total dude movie, there’s not even any fighting over women. The only other ladies that figure in are three girls Eddie sexually harasses on the street…

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and Chris’s feisty take-no-shit mom.

Roger Guenveur Smith (DO THE RIGHT THING, MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE) shows up briefly as a cop – he was also in Montiel’s FIGHTING and SON OF NO ONE. The most impressive bit part is by Dan Triandiflou, in a brief appearance as a young Rudy Giuliani. He did a good job! Good impersonation without being cartoonish.

EMPIRE STATE is more solid and focused than SON OF NO ONE, but not nearly as filmatistically impressive or entertaining as FIGHTING. I gotta give it up for one minor detail though: not only does Hemsworth get the rare credit-over-his-first-appearance-in-the-movie, but he gets it as he’s leaping out of a car punching a dude! That’s the way to enter a movie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 30th, 2013 at 11:45 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Empire State”

  1. Lookin’ forward to the THREE STOOGES review.

  2. KNUCK KNUCK KNUCK!

  3. Nice to see some THREE STOOGES love here. I laughed my ass off at it and while a Stooges movie with new actors in the same roles shouldn’t work on paper, it totally did. Also I’m glad that the Farrellys went with semi-unknown TV and stage actors. Sure, we all would have loved to see Benicio del Toro as Moe or Jm Carrey as Curly, but the three actors they got instead were so damn fucking perfect!

  4. Also am I the only one who really likes Michael Angarano? I noticed him the first time in Disney’s underrated superhero comedy SKY HIGH and since then he carved himself a niche as seriously good character actor in stuff like HAYWIRE, GENTLEMEN BROCOS or RED STATE.

    And now it gets weird: I just checked his IMDB profile and he apparently had a recurring role in WILL & GRACE, where Sean Hayes aka Larry from the Farrelly’s STOOGES co-starred in. And he was in two episodes of LESS THAN PERFECT, a show that featured Will Sasso as supporting actor, who of course played Curly in THE THREE STOOGES.

    Coincidence?

  5. So the guy who played Moe plays a Greek guy named Spiro in this one, and the other gut who played Moe and who also stars in this movie is the guy who played a Greek guy named Spiro in the TV show THE WIRE?

  6. “Also am I the only one who really likes Michael Angarano? I noticed him the first time in Disney’s underrated superhero comedy SKY HIGH and since then he carved himself a niche as seriously good character actor in stuff like HAYWIRE, GENTLEMEN BROCOS or RED STATE.”

    Nope, you’re not the only one. He had a memorable supporting part in the TV show “24” as well. He’s one of those actors who I won’t go out of my way to see but whose name on a film makes me sit up and think about what kind of character he could be playing.

  7. I watched this movie out of sheer curiosity because I was in New Orleans while they were filming it and saw baby Hemsworth (who was being tailed by a gaggle of teenage girls) shooting some of his scenes. Now, New York and New Orleans don’t share any characteristics besides the “New,” so I was wondering how this was going to turn out, and I have to say it’s as completely bland and generic as a film supposed to be set in NYC but shot in New Orleans might be.

  8. Fighting was dope. Kind of Lionheart meets Boiler Room (the hip hoppishness) meets Midnight Cowboy. Nothing life changing, but solid.

  9. So this one wasn’t as good as Fighting but it was a passable way to spend 90 minutes. Hemsworth is good, Johnson is always good doing his thing, and yeah, it’s kind of funny how little Emma Roberts is in this and how little of a character she has since she’s on the cover.

    But this is Angarano’s show, for better or worse. He plays one of the must brazenly obnoxious and punchable characters I’ve ever seen, moreso than Vince Vaughn in Made, moreso than Seann William Scott as Stifler. The sleazy friend who drags the main character into trouble (or as I call it, the Michael Rappaport role) is a tricky one to pull off, and Angarano is so stupid, so obnoxious, so loud-mouthed, that I can’t tell if he’s terrible or brilliant in this. (His best movie and performance remains Sky High in my opinion though)

    And you’re right about Diamantopolous. He’s awesome here – he’s got that calm, quiet menace that Johnson always has, and their one scene together is so good I’d rather watch a movie about those characters than this one, honestly.

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