Man on Fire

2 stars (out of 5).

There's an old joke about two old ladies in a nursing home. "The food here stinks," gripes the one. "Yeah," says her neighbor, "and the portions are so small!"

My complaints about this movie are along the same lines.

On the one hand, this flick is totally formulaic and predictable. Gruff, tormented ex-spook loner, hooked on Jack Daniels and water, signs on as a bargain basement bodyguard to a cute little kid who captures his heart before the bad guys capture her. He spends the rest of the movie trying to get her (and himself) back.

But that's not what happens here. Twisting the formula, the girl is dead a third of the way into the two and a half hour movie, and thus Denzel Washington's motivation throughout the over-long remainder is revenge, not rescue. And, the girl being beyond redemption, so therefore is he.

I would have expected to see Steven Seagal in this, or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Denzel, despite his over-the-top creepiness in Training Day, is too nuanced and thoughtful a guy to carry out this bloody vendetta. And the reverse twist, at the end of the movie, is just plain bizarre. Not to mention the fact that he takes bullets to the chest better than I take splinters. That JD and water must have medicinal properties even I never suspected.

Redeeming things, somewhat, are some great supporting performances by Dakota Fanning (adorable as the kidnappee), Radha Mitchell and Marc Anthony as her parents (note to J. Lo: your new hubby might not make the best dad -- just saying...), and Christopher Walken as I've never seen him before: likeable. Good turns, too, from Rachel Ticotin and Giancarlo Giannini. Mickey Rourke plays himself.

Oh, and the most bizzare thing of all: a caption, before the closing credits -- Tony Scott must have gotten himself a new caption machine or something, the way he over-uses it -- dedicating the film "to Mexico City, a very special place." After 146 minutes of kidnappings, corruption, and an exploding Rave club (cheered on by the Ravers, of course), this is not where I want to spend my next vacation.

I'm going to Disney World!

[GET IT]

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