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View Full Version : The Collected DTV Works of Cuba Gooding Jr



Paul L
07-09-2011, 06:43 PM
I never liked Cuba Gooding Jr when he was on the cusp of making it big in Hollywood, but since he’s started making DTV action pictures there’s often been a moody humility to his performances – probably because he’s realised that he’s entered DTV purgatory. In these films, the morose misery oozes off the screen.

If some of the DTV films appeared in cinemas instead of the bloated ‘A’ list action films that dominate the modern multiplexes, I’d probably go to the cinema much more often. Seriously. The films are often more interesting, and more ‘tight’ in their structure, than the bigger budget films they imitate. Some of Gooding Jr’s DTV action films have been among the best of those made during the 2000s, with Gooding Jr often cast as a noirish anti-hero. HERO WANTED was an interesting little film. Plus it had Ray Liotta, Norman Reedus, Kim Coates and Tommy Flanagan as the heavies. The next year’s WRONG TURN AT TAHOE was even better at giving its viewers DTV neo-noir, one-upping HERO WANTED with its casting of Harvey Keitel and Miguel Ferrer as supporting players. That’s Harvey Keitel and Miguel Ferrer, in the same film! If the casting directors of these films know how to do one thing, it’s how to find strapped-for-cash actors and surround Gooding Jr with good heavies – better heavies than the films deserve, arguably.

This week, I had the delightful company of two Gooding Jr DTV action flicks, THE HIT LIST and TICKING CLOCK.

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THE HIT LIST is an interesting film. In it, Cole Hauser (son of Wings ‘RAM-fuggin’-ROD!!!!!’ Hauser) – who also cropped up in DIRTY, the Gooding Jr-starring DTV pastiche of TRAINING DAY - stars as a corporate lackey who is also being cuckolded by his wife. His character has the world turned against him, like the protagonist of a David Goodis novel (or, more fittingly, a modern Jason Starr imitation of a David Goodis novel). After having a confrontation with his unfaithful wife, Hauser meets Gooding Jr in a bar. Gooding Jr plays a professional killer who works for a shadowy, unnamed governmental agency; he is apparently dying from radiation sickness (an unnecessary and fairly ridiculous plot contrivance that is foregrounded in the final sequence and signalled throughout the film, whenever Gooding Jr seems to remember or can be bothered, by a persistent cough) and has gone rogue. Early on, he wins the audience’s sympathy by killing a homophobic talk show host – so we know that for a dealer in death, he’s not entirely bad and is a pretty progressive guy.

Gooding Jr proposes to kill five people for Hauser, who thinks that Gooding Jr is joking. He isn’t, as Hauser soon finds out. As the people on Hauser’s s/hit list are killed one-by-one, gradually working towards the number one name on the list (Hauser’s wife), Hauser becomes the chief suspect and must fight to clear his name and save the life of his wife.

It’s interesting stuff, nicely-paced and sufficiently dark. The blurb on the DVD case compares the film to COLLATERAL, but truth be told it’s more like a big, loud shooty-shooty-bang-bang version of Patricia Highsmith’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, or perhaps RIPLEY’S GAME, with Gooding Jr as Bruno (or Tom Ripley), and Hauser as Guy Haines (or Trevanny) – or, if you prefer a more classical point of comparison, the fisherman in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS who struggles to put the genie back in the bottle.

If that’s not recommendation enough, there’s a wacky titles sequence that apes the animated/rotoscoped titles sequence to Martin Campbell’s CASINO ROYALE.

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TICKING CLOCK is, on the other hand, entirely craptastic. Gooding Jr plays a burnt-out prizewinning journalist who's hooked on the sauce. We know he’s a burnt-out, alcoholic prizewinning journalist because in an early scene we get a loving panoramic shot of his home, taking in a series of bizarre Photoshopped photographs of Gooding Jr in various warzones, etc, and bookcases laden with empty fast-food cartons and half-full bottles of the strong stuff. He’s also got a weird John Waters-style ‘tache. He may have grown that after he got hooked on the booze, because no sober person would think to put a John Waters moustache on Cuba Gooding Jr. Oh, and to hammer home the ‘burnt-out case’ archetype, he’s also got an estranged wife and a son who he feels increasingly disconnected from.

He comes into conflict with Neal McDonough, who plays a crazy-bloke-from-the-future. We know he’s a crazy-bloke-from-the-future because he wears a leather jacket without a shirt. SF films tell us that all of the people in the future subscribe to crazy fashions like that. That’s just how they roll.

McDonough is a grudge killer with a flashy pocket watch that allows him to travel through time, and he is committing all sorts of nasty crimes (and, to confirm this, the film’s got an '18' certificate in the UK) which he's carrying out according to detailed diagrams contained in a journal he brings with him from the future. Gooding Jr susses this out after getting hold of the journal, and he tracks down the younger McDonough, questioning whether or not it is ethical to kill the clearly damaged child in order to prevent him from carrying out the savage murders that he is destined to commit in adulthood. It all ends with a bizarre, illogical climax, and there might as well be a title card at the end of the film saying 'Got Ya' to the audience.

McDonough’s pretty good in the film, to be honest, although he’s about ten years too old to play the character – something that could easily have been addressed by making a few minor changes in the script. However, the film is filled with so many clumsy sequences and stereotypes that it’s hard to take seriously.

I’m tempted to track down THE DEVIL’S TOMB next, with Gooding Jr and Ron Perlman, or SHADOWBOXER, which features Gooding Jr against Helen 'hubba hubba' Mirren. Has anyone seen either of those films?

Paul