Directed By: Luis Llosa
Screenplay By: Alexandra Seros
Based on the novels by John Shirley
Produced By: Jerry Weintraub
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, Eric Roberts
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes
Review Date: July 23, 2010
The Specialist is a very misleading title for this film. A specialist is a man (or woman, for that matter) who makes wonders come to life. If he is a painter, then he is Picasso in his cubist period. If he is a musician, then his band just recorded Exile on Main Street. And if he is to be a fictional bomb technician in a ludicrously plotted film then I expect to witness glorious explosions, innovative traps, and flying limbs. Luis Llosa’s film,The Specialist, does have flying limbs, but it leads to a climax that is anything but special. This is your standard Sylvester Stallone vehicle, fraught with gratuitous violence and objectified women. It will certainly leave a sour taste in your mouth.
The plot is so arbitrary that it is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. It revolves around May Munro (Sharon Stone), a woman with a taste for revenge after she witnessed the murder of her parents as a child. The film opens with a mind-numbing prologue set in Bogotá that pits former “Agency” partners Ray Quick (Stallone) and Ned Trent (a supremely evil James Woods) against one another. Flash-forward 20 or so years (during which time, nothing has apparently happened) and Trent is now working for the mafia family that killed May’s family and is fronting as the chief of police in Miami. Improbable? Oh yes, but it gets better. May inexplicably finds Ray, a man who claims to have given up this kind of work, and convinces him to take down the family that killed hers. His reason for taking the job? He liked the sound of her voice (as proclaimed by the oily, invariably sweaty man himself). It then descends into such a convoluted plot that it isn’t worth mentioning, but essentially it involves May having to choose between bringing down the bad guys and risking Ray’s life. It’s really all very silly, but it could have been salvaged if the action were good. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
I imagine the action had the potential to be very compelling, possibly in the vein of the Tommy Lee Jones thriller, Blown Away. That film was fun and entertaining not because of its plot (which happened to be good) but because of its interesting set pieces. There is a severe lack of these in The Specialist. None of the traps are particularly unique (save the parking lot sequence) and they most certainly don’t allude to Ray’s expertise in the field. We are just supposed to accept that Ray is good at what he does because he stoically stares and grunts at his craft as he sweats. The dialogue is atrocious, employing such lines as “You like taking them down? Well, now I’m taking you down!” and “They’re my problem now, and I am theirs”. Are these lines meant to intimidate his foes or make them laugh? I ask because they would fit quite nicely in any Leslie Nielsen film. I hate to beat the film on the head like this because I’m generally very accepting of the art, but there wasn’t a lot to like about it. Fortunately it does have a few redeeming qualities.
Sharon Stone, as always, is utilized more for her pristine looks and jaw-dropping sexiness but she does show potential here. She does her best to pout when she’s sad and glare when she’s mad but would have been better off if she didn’t take the material so seriously. James Woods chews, spits, and re-chews the scenery whenever he is present but he does claim the one truly good scene in the film that involves a police station, a ballpoint pen, some plastique, and his signature rage. If you can make it through the film to that point, it can stand as a visual aid to the proverb “A Diamond in the Rough”. I only wish it were in a better film.
There really isn’t much else to be said. The explosions are glitzy, the cinematography is competent, and the overall direction is somber but passable. As bad as this film is, I feel that somewhere inside, a better film was trying to break free, but the self-conscious acting, generic action, and abysmal script held it back from being anything more useful than a DVD coaster. Go on YouTube and watch James Woods’s notable scene, otherwise, steer clear.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.