Mladen and Del review ‘Extraction’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Extraction” Starring Chris Hemsworth, Bryon Lerum, Ryder Lerum, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Shivam Vichare, Randeep Hooda, David Harbour, and others. Directed by Sam Hargrave. 116 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Think of “Extraction” as a John Wick movie with two John Wicks. The film is as good as “John Wick Chapter 3,” which was less good than “John Wick Chapter 2,” which was less good than “John Wick Chapter 1,” a delightful action blockbuster and the Gold Standard for depicting personal violence on the big screen. “Extraction” is worth seeing. It’s closer to a B+ than an A-. And, don’t confuse this “Extraction” with the “Extraction” starring Bruce Willis. Apparently, the Willis film is the opposite of good.

Hemsworth’s character Tyler is a PMC with a guilty conscience. It’s the guilt that yields some banal chatter between him and his teenaged ward and even, get this, tears. The emotional putridness is what pushes this hostage rescue movie into the upper B range. Hell, I expect touchy feely Del to condemn me for my dislike of the effort to introduce warmth to the movie. So, Del, let me be clear. I find it more endearing that Wick whacked a bunch of people for killing his dog and stealing his classic Ford Mustang than Tyler’s decision to save a privileged youth who lives in a society built on unimaginable inequities. The income gap, houselessness, and medical insurancelessness in America ain’t nothing juxtaposed to what upper caste Indians do to lower caste Indians.

The action, violence, and tension in “Extraction” are a whole ’nother story. Give that subset of the film a sparkling A.

On this side, we have Tyler and his Australian army commando good looks and pumped body and, on the other, Saju, portrayed wonderfully by Randeep Hooda. Tyler and Saju, a former Indian army commando with flowing long, dark hair and chiseled jaw, are initially foes and ally later in the movie to execute the good deed. They are the muscular playthings of a feud between an Indian drug boss and a Bangladeshi drug boss. Much of the action takes place in Dhakka.

The fight sequences of the two Wick mimickers against each other and corrupt Bangladeshi army troops are top-notch choreography. There’s hand-to-hand. There are close-in pistol shots to heads and thoraxes. Thoraxi? Thoraxae? There are assault rifle gun-downs at medium range. And, there are exploding heads via snipers at long distances. Damn fine Wick-y-ness. But, though I hate to admit this, there is one prolonged gun battle toward the middle of the movie that ran too long. It was reminiscent of a battle sequence in “Battle LA” that also held children in peril for an interminable period.

Tyler and Saju absorb wicked abuse. It’s the sort of abuse that none of the other shooters in the movie could take. The PMCs recover faster from lacerations, contusions, and blood loss than Donald Moron Trump and William Stay Puft Barr violate the U.S. Constitution. The good part? There’s no effort to explain Tyler’s and Saju’s resilience by pointing out that they are forces of pure will. The two are well-conditioned dudes with a single goal driven, ultimately, by self‑interest. Plausible.

It would be a mistake to ignore the potent character played by David Harbour, as brief as his appearance in “Extraction” is. Harbour portrays another PMC and is Tyler’s long-time buddy. Slimmed down from his days as the sheriff in “Stranger Things” and imposing, Harbour is terrific as the merciless, though he argued otherwise, mercenary. He almost persuaded me to back doing what he wanted to do. Remarkable. Ten million dollars is a lot of money, after all.

“Extraction” also benefits from a very good original score by Henry Jackman. Its tone fits the film. The score’s moodiness, modernity, despair, and a touch of “everything-will-be-all-right” move the movie by helping pace it and adding atmosphere. Maybe this also means that streaming services are now starting to attract capable composers. What would “Jaws” or “Star Wars” be without John Williams? “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” or “The Thing” without Ennio Morricone? Almost nothing, I argue. To me, the sound in a movie, including its score, is more important than the visuals. That means what? Yep, to enjoy “Extraction” correctly you need an AVR pushing as many speakers as possible at decibels that will annoy your neighbors up and down the block.

Finally, yes, the ending of “Extraction” set up a sequel. Who was that stranger standing poolside?

Del’s take

I expect to visit Mladen one day and find him sunning on a rock with the lizards that make up his band of cold-blooded brothers. He might flick his tongue to catch a fly, then bask in exothermic bliss as he digests his snack, untroubled by emotion or feelings, a Mr. Spock among iguanas.

But enough hissing.

I thought “Extraction” was a much better movie than Mladen’s fussy take and I’m surprised he went in that direction. The movie is a bloodbath that by comparison reduces John Wick to a milquetoast Mr. Rogers guest starring on a Richard Simmons workout video. I was black and blue from just watching it. Sure, Hemsworth gets choked up when remembering the death of his little boy. Who wouldn’t? It was 30 seconds of characterization that lifted Hemsworth from the realm of Van Dammit and Rambot into the arms of relatable human beings. I don’t mind seeing my heroes bleed.

The story is simple: The 14-year-old son of a jailed drug lord is kidnapped by a rival cartel chieftain. The boy’s father is understandably pissed and tells the boy’s chagrined guardian to get him back, or else. You’ve probably watched enough episodes of “Narcos” to know what “or else” means in drug lord-speak. Problem is, the government has frozen the drug lord’s assets, so there’s no money to hire the army necessary to free the boy.

The solution? Hire Thor.

And that’s it. Get the kid back. A hammerless Chris Hemsworth swings into bloody action, laying waste to corrupt Bangladeshi soldiers, hired triggermen, a band of rotten brats sprung from the imagination of a methed-out Charles Dickens, and even a former pal who wants to retire but lacks the necessary funds … until now.

The mayhem is fast and very, very furious with lots of shooting, beatings, car chases, stabbings, and even one scene where Hemsworth pummels a guy into a senseless stupor with a stove pot. It makes a delightful clonky sound and I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the pot or the guy’s head.

Hemsworth’s character, Tyler, is motivated to go above and beyond by the memory of his child. When the boy was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Tyler chose another tour of duty in Afghanistan over remaining stateside to preside over the boy’s decline and eventual death. His wife left him over that – deservedly so. And now he must atone for that sin of abandonment by not abandoning another child in need. Yes, his teenaged ward is the son of a drug lord, as Mladen pointed out. But he’s 14, for Christ’s sake. He hasn’t made any of his life’s choices, except which PornHub channel to bookmark. You can’t blame him for his father’s poor choices.

The movie was well-done in many ways, from the setting to the script and even Hemsworth’s performance, which was not overbaked and in some ways contained surprising and, dare I say it, heartwarming subtleties.

So the movie worked for me and I’m rating it a solid A. The only thing that could top it would be a movie that paired Hemsworth with immortal Charlize Theron to kick Godzilla’s ass. Take THAT, Mladen!

You want action without caricature? You want “Extraction.”

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.

“Sputnik” Starring Oksana Akinshina, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov, Anton Vasiliev and others. Directed by Egor Abramenko. Music by Oleg Karpachev. 113 minutes. Amazon Prime. Should be rated R for at least gore.

Mladen’s take

If the commie pinko fascist reds of the Putin regime savaging Russia today ever build an economy and arsenal like a few of that luckless nation’s citizens built the film “Sputnik,” the U.S. is in trouble. “Sputnik” is Grade A sci-fi horror nicely balanced with the correct doses of well acted storytelling, a world class score, and sophisticated, non-overbearing CGI. The movie is in Russian, so it’s captioned. Inevitably, something must’ve been lost in translation to English, but don’t let that discourage you from seeing the film. The captioning is good enough to convey its neat ideas and the character of the characters.   

The Soviet Union is only seven years from disintegrating when this movie takes place. It’s 1983. It’s still the first Cold War. And, the Politburo needs a nationalistic win to boost the country’s sagging morale. The U.S.S.R. war in Afghanistan ain’t going well. Consumer goods are in short supply, unless you’re privileged. The Communist Party is going through leaders like Donald Moron Trump goes through unqualified cabinet secretaries. So, the addled Soviet Union turns to one of its few semi successes, space travel, for a taste of accomplishment. Two of its cosmonauts go into low-earth orbit, but three passengers return.

What unfolds next will have movie reviewers inevitably drawing comparisons between “Sputnik” and one of the two greatest sci-fi horror films ever, “Alien.” Labeling “Sputnik” an “Alien” derivative would be a false equivalency, however. It’d be like bashing “Alien” for mimicking “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” There’s nothing new in moviedom about films creature featuring critters living inside us. “Invasion” with Donald Sutherland is a terrific movie, as is “Alien” with Sigourney Weaver. In “Sputnik,” Oksana Akinshina is top notch as her character, neuropsychiatrist Tatyana Klimova. Amiably menacing Fyodor Bondarchuk as Colonel Semiradov, charming survivor cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov played by Pyotr Fyodorov, and Anton Vasiliev donning the role of ambitious but riven Dr. Yan Rigel are excellent, too. Even the movie’s title is well executed. “Sputnik” means “fellow traveler” or “companion,” but, generally, in a friendly way. That’s not what we get here.

 “Sputnik” is one of the finest sci-fi movies I’ve seen in years. It’s better than “Life,” “Annihilation,” “High Life” or “Ad Astra.” It approaches “Europa Report” and “Arrival” in quality in terms of applying science to decipher what’s occurring, as well as acting and atmosphere. As with “Arrival,” for example, there’s a strong and intelligent female as the principal player in “Sputnik.” There’s tension and a twist or two as the characters develop. There’s realism. In “Arrival” the militaries of the world take the lead in trying to understand the aliens that have parked ships above certain spots on Earth. In “Sputnik,” the Soviet army’s Semiradov is trying to weaponize the trilling, cute-ish, slimy symbiont emerging nightly from the esophagus of Veshnyakov to feed. Pay attention to that part, the feeding. The food the alien needs is produced by a human’s endocrine subsystem. The way the creature ensures that happens is one of the movie’s provocative and original ideas. Loved it.

Come to think of it, there’s one other parallel between “Arrival” and “Sputnik.” This one falls into the category of irritating with a caveat. Both films have annoying time spanning flashes that involve children. Where that was needed to tell the story in “Arrival,” it was not needed to tell the story in “Sputnik.” But, that’s a minor quibble.

Disregard Del’s take, if he even suggests in his introduction that the film stinks. To dislike “Sputnik” is to demonstrate short-circuited sensory response, poor reasoning, a flawed recollection of movie history, moral turpitude and full-on soullessness. Watch “Sputnik.” It’s so good that I’m hoping to buy the film on Blu-ray. This way, when some National Security Agency trained, white hat hacker blows up the internet in anger after losing his Luke Skywalker figurine still in the original package that he put up as collateral to speculate on cryptocurrency futures, I’ll be able to watch this film again and again without worrying about access to a streaming service.

Del’s take

Man, what a stinker!

(I am picturing Mladen frothing at the mouth, his eyes goggling out like one of those squishy rubber chickens.)

On second thought, mark your calendars, folks, because today is one of those rare occasions – snow falling on Labor Day, the Florida unemployment compensation site actually working – when Mladen and I agree on something. “Sputnik” is a splendid film, the kind once made in America before the MBAs took over Hollywood.

“Sputnik” is a period piece, set in that happy time frame – for the United States, anyway – of the 1980s when MTV played music videos, imported beer became all the rage and many of us had waistline measurements that did not begin with the number 4. Except in “Sputnik” we are mired in the drab, run-down Soviet Union where people seem drab and run-down themselves, perhaps wearied by the relentless and dispiriting reality of communism. Neuropsychiatrist Tatyana Klimova, who has lost her job because of her unorthodox methods, has been summoned to a remote military facility to examine one of two recently returned cosmonauts – the other is deceased – who is experiencing amnesia. Except there’s a complication and I like the way Mladen put it: “Two of its cosmonauts go into low-earth orbit, but three passengers return.”

That’s a creepy premise and the movie delivers on creep, offering start-to-finish tension that lets up only briefly to set the stage of an original and surprising finish, one I’m surprised Mladen didn’t crab about seeing as how it’s laden with sentimentality.

Mladen is right. “Sputnik” has drawn comparisons to “Alien,” but the world of fiction, be it print or moving picture, provides a surfeit of tales about small groups confined to small spaces facing a singular threat – the Agatha Christie novel “And Then There Were None,” the lighthouse couple in “Day of the Triffids,” and even the happy gang of “The Walking Dead” to name a few. “Sputnik” may tread familiar ground but it strikes its own path.

It is no coincidence a movie about a man afflicted with a destructive internal force and the woman determined to save him takes place in a creaky totalitarian regime that is rotting from the inside, and Americans should pay heed to the cautionary aspects of the movie, which equally reflect the intellectual and moral rot eating the heart out of this country. That comment may not sit well with the Sieg Heil crowd that seems to be running Washington these days, but you know what? They’ll get over it.

The Russians and Chinese are improving their movie-making skills – “Winter of the Dead” and “The Wandering Earth” are two examples – and “Sputnik” continues that trend. I don’t draw any political conclusions from this fact – I think the improvements have come in spite of their no-fun, no-inspiration political and economic systems. Like Klimova of “Sputnik,” some moviemakers in those repressed states have risen above their hopeless surroundings to find some measure of success. Let’s hope that trend is just the beginning.

I give “Sputnik” an A.

There, Comrade Mladen. Are you happy now?

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.