The Numbers Station (2013)

John Cusack is Emerson, a hit man who suffers a breakdown and is reassigned to a babysitting job. Malin Akerman is Katherine, the girl he's supposed to protect. And the title refers to the location - a bunker from where coded messages are sent out to agents in the field. Needless to say, if anyone got in a position to use one of these stations for nefarious purposes, it wouldn't be good. Well, guess what happens next...

The Numbers Station sounded like an intriguing premise. I was imagining a sort of mix between James Bond and Lost. A tight location, a siege situation, and lots of secrets.

That's why the opening is so disappointing. First there's the "oh this is like totally based on real things in the real world, for real"-caption. Look, if you want me to enjoy a film like this, the worst thing you can do is remind me of reality. Then there's the classic hitman-is-tired-of-his-job opening, which doesn't do the film any favors (though it does have one cool shot). And then there's John Cusack...

I'm not sure where it went wrong for for Mr. Cusack. He used to be the very definition of cool, now he looks like a man who has lost the will to live. That's the way he looks in every film these days. Every time he shows up he drains a scene of energy. It's worse than an actor just cashing a paycheck, or when you can tell they would rather be somewhere else, no, Cusack looks like a guy who doesn't even want to be. Because his performance completely fails, there's zero chemistry between the two leads. Malin Akerman tries heroically to make it work, but it's no good. She's acting opposite a lump of wet clay, and let's face it, she's not exactly A-list material herself. This is rather unfortunate, since most of the film takes place in a locked-down bunker, with only these two people to keep us company.

Which brings us to the basic setup. When Emerson and Katherine arrive for their shift - there are two teams covering this post - they discover that the station has been compromised, and that something happened to the other guys. This is the meat of the story. They have to find out what happened, protect themselves and protect the code.

Unfortunately many of the scenes are so poorly staged that it's completely unclear how big the facility is, what areas can be locked off, and what the general geography of the place is. This means there's no sense of claustrophobia at all, even though that's clearly what the film is going for. Also, if this station really is that important, why is it so badly designed and so hard to defend?

So the location doesn't work, what about the story?

Frankly it's a mess. What happened to the previous shift? This is explained via surveillance tapes, which the characters go through, but they can only find the sound. While they listen to this, we watch the events as proper flashbacks, with both sound and images, and yet, it often feels like the characters have seen the same clips we have seen, with images! That comes across as incredibly awkward.

Then there's the bad guys. I don't want to spoil anything, let's just say that we need a clear and present danger for the story to work, and we never get that. The writing is just so damn sloppy. Why does Emerson explain the code system to Katherine, when SHE is the code expert? Or why does Emerson vigilantly walk Katherine to the train at the end of every shift, but then he lets her ride home alone. Is he protecting her or not? Or is this just a feeble attempt by the writer to force a bit of bonding into the story?

When all is said and done, this is just a very simple story about two people briefly trapped in a bunker. The plot just goes around in circles, the same scenes playing out over and over again, and the film runs out of plot after a little over an hour. The remaining 20 minutes or so is just wrapping up.

The Numbers Station is crippled by a combination of lackluster direction, bad writing and a lead actor who is barely awake. It could have been a tight little thriller, but it's so full of plot holes and there are so many gaps in the logic that it's hard to enjoy it even as a silly B-movie.

Insert your own joke about making a movie "by the numbers" or stuff "not adding up" here.

Full cast and credits at IMDb.

Room 237 (2012)

You know that moment, when you're watching a bad film and you think to yourself "that's it, I'm out"? It's the moment when you realize there's no way the film is going to be able to turn it around. It's dead in the water. A done deal. You just know nothing good can come of this.

For me that moment happened 92 seconds into Room 237.

Ostensibly this is a documentary about the many "theories" on Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie The Shining, and all the hidden clues. It's supposed to be a unique view into the mind of an unusual director. In reality, this is a 1,5 hour soapbox that gives the microphone to people who should never ever open their mouths. Oh, how bad can it be, your line goes. It's beyond bad. This is the single most baffling film I've seen since Battlefield Earth.

The film plays out like this: A handful of insane people have been interviewed about their The Shining theories. We hear their voices, but we never see their faces. The video is comprised of clips from The Shining, clips from other Kubrick films, and clips from films like Schindler's List or just random titles. Like when one of the interviewees mentions that he went into a parking garage, we see a clip from All the President's Men, where Robert Redford walks into a parking garage. Yeah, it's just as stupid as it sounds.

The theories go from the laughable to the ridiculous. The Shining is really about the genocide of the American Indians. No no, it's about Holocaust. No, it's about - deep breath - Stanley Kubrick being frustrated, because he HELPED NASA FAKE THE MOON LANDING. Yeah, you read that right. I'm not going to go into details on these theories, what's the point? Every single moment of this movie is complete and utter NONSENSE. Not a single sane word is spoken at any point during its hundred-minute running time. All the theories spring from either a fundamental lack of understanding regarding film, symbolism, and any aspect of the creative process, or simply from continuity errors. Not a single valid, useful piece of information is presented here. Not one.

You might think that's funny or relatively harmless, but it's not. The biggest problem with Room 237 is that all these theories go completely unchallenged. There's no voice of reason in the film. In other words, for all intents and purposes, the film completely supports every moronic statement put forward and treats them all as fact.

Now, I'm not going to suggest that everyone involved in this film should be hunted down and killed, or that their faces should be reduced to a bloody pulp with a three-inch thick Film Analysis 101 book, because that would be equally irresponsible. However tempting it is, to think up wonderful gruesome ways that these people could be mutilated and eventually slaughtered, I realize that's not the proper way to handle this. They are, of course, very sick people and they should be helped. Let's lock them up in an institution, strap them to a bed, and pump them full of drugs. We'll make the world a little bit better, I promise you.

If the film had challenged these morons, it might have worked. If it had proper collaboration from people who know something about the subject and could have shut down the delusional theories, it could have worked. As it stands now Room 237 is one of the worst documentaries I've ever seen. It fails on every possible level. It's completely irresponsible, offensive, and an utter waste of time.

Full cast and credits at IMDb.