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Foolproof
(2003)

Director: William Phillips   
Cast:
Ryan Reynolds, Kristin Booth, David Suchet


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Canadian movies suck. Oh, occasionally you'll get something like Rituals or Back In Action, but such occurrences are rare exceptions to the rule. As I've mentioned before, the typical Canadian movie concerns a turn of the century suicidal and terminally ill Saskatchewan farmer having gay sex with a dead moose. In other words, movies that aren't real movies, that being movies that contain fun stuff like mass murder and giant explosions. But even the few Canadian movies being made that strive to be real movies generally don't work, ending up being dreary messes like Expect No Mercy or Shadow Dancing. Why is the state of Canadian filmmaking so filled with lack of success? Well, there are a number of theories to that. Most Canadian films have small budgets, which limits the things the filmmakers can do when making the movie. There is also the lure of Hollywood; that center of filmmaking has lured away so much Canadian talent in front of and behind the camera that many of those who elect to stay can be considered second-rate or plain incompetent. But I think the root cause for the dismal state of Canadian filmmaking boils down to the evil Telefilm agency. Telefilm, if you don't know, is the government agency that subsidizes film production in Canada. The problem with them is that since the early '80s, they have funded almost nothing but arty crap that meets no demand at all. Not only has this policy produced an unwatchable national cinema, it has prevented directors from practicing and improving their skills in the art of making real movies.

But there are signs that things may be changing. It all started a few years ago, when the government realized that for the past 20 years or so, Canadians had not been going to see Canadian movies. (At least in English Canada; in Quebec, French-language Canadian films currently take a Ryan Reynolds examines the inner workings of the movie to find out what went wrongwhopping 20% of the box office *.) The government decided to research this, asking for feedback from both insiders in the industry and regular citizens. The most popular opinion in all the reports that came in was the most obvious one; the Canadian movies being made were not real enough. So Telefilm approved some sweeping changes to its film funding policies. For example, they stated that films would not get more than $1 million in funding if they didn't have a reasonable chance to make $1 million or more at the box office. For more than a year now, the first films coming from the new policies have been released. There has been the teen sex comedy Going The Distance, the medical comedy Intern Academy, and the sci-fi thriller Decoys. There was also the heist film Foolproof, which was the first major release coming from the new policies. It received the biggest promotion of any Canadian film to date, beating even some Hollywood movies. It had a $2 million marketing campaign, and was released to over 200 screens. Yet it bombed, grossing a poor $200,000 in its first weekend, and was gone from most screens in a couple of weeks.

After the movie bombed, there was a lot of talk behind the scenes as to why audiences rejected the movie. There were expectedly cries from the art movie makers and fans that Canada could not compete with Hollywood in making commercial movies (somehow forgetting or not knowing that plenty of countries do so and succeed.) One theory that was proposed was that Foolproof was a heist movie involving and aimed at youthful audiences - and that youthful audiences are not interested in heist movies. Perhaps so, but I personally think that the movie bombed because of a bungled marketing campaign. There was a fast food tie-in, but it wasn't McDonalds or Burger King, but Pizza Hut. There were reportedly commercials, but I never saw any with any of the popular shows I watched. There was a theatrical trailer for the movie with The Matrix: Reloaded, but the most exciting thing about the trailer was - get this - a car driving from one side of the screen to the opposite side! Still, it's been a proven fact that good movies have sometimes received poor marketing campaigns, and that fact plus my curiosity in this new wave of Canadian filmmaking made me decide to check out this first effort.

The first and most obvious question that comes up: Is Foolproof a real movie? After all, the credits for the movie reveal that Atom Egoyan was one of the executive producers, and he's been responsible in the past for making efforts that There was plenty of finger-pointing when it came to who was to blame for the movie's failuremasqueraded as real movies. Let's take a look at the plot. Ryan Reynolds (National Lampoon's Van Wilder) stars as Kevin Kraft (ooh, cool name!) an insurance worker who has an unusual hobby. Together with his friends Sam (Kristin Booth, Salem Witch Trials) and Rob (Joris Jarsky, Vampire High), the three of them play a game that's entitled "Foolproof". The game involves them staking out places containing things of value, and planning how to rob these things of value without being detected. The twist is that they don't actually act out the robberies; they recreate the various locks, alarms, and other security devices at their homes, and challenge each other to defeat them. In other words, it's a mental game, not one of any monetary gain. But one day, their activity stops being fun and games. A shrewd professional criminal, Leo "The Touch" Gillette (Suchet, TV's Hercule Poirot) learns of their game, and steals one of their plans, afterwards enacting it for real. After successfully doing the robbery, he blackmails the three into planning and actually enacting a robbery of $20 million in bearer bonds enclosed in a high security building that will really put their skills to the test.

You have to admit it, that plot description sounds like it comes from a real movie. And surprise surprise, Foolproof indeed plays out like a real movie should; there are no hidden subplots about incest or any other dismal subject matter that plague your typical Canadian film. And the movie is made with professionalism - no microphones entering the frame, bad lighting, or similar things to that. There is even use of computer graphics that is seamless, blending into the live-action footage perfectly. It looks more expensive than the $8 million (Canadian dollars) spent to make it. So is Foolproof a real movie? I am forced to admit that it is indeed a real movie. Is it a movie worth seeking out? Well, that's another thing. I'll start with the characters and the actors playing them. I didn't care much for Ryan Reynolds' performance in the movie. His character has to act differently in several different situations, and all the performances got on my nerves. When he dresses up as a nerdy delivery guy in order to stake out a place, his bumbling is grating. When he delivers a report in the insurance company where he works, he delivers the report in a smartass fashion. When he's interrogated by the police, he acts so completely clueless that it's amazing that the police don't seem to suspect anything. In fairness to Reynolds, the screenplay plays a part in all of this, giving him dialogue and actions that forces him to act clueless, a bumbler, and a smartass. Later scenes have him act in a more likable manner, but the memory of those early scenes still make it hard to sympathize with this character.

On the opposite side, Suchet does very well, in fact stealing the show with his performance. His character has been written to act in a more subtle fashion, and Suchet performs in a manner suitable for this character. "Does this light under me make me look evil enough?"He never speaks loudly, instead talking in a dry tongue, barely louder than a whisper at times. He keeps his movements to a minimum, only shifting his pose when he wants to emphasize something he said - and nothing more than a slight lean, or a hand on the shoulder. It may sound like a minimalist performance, but quite the opposite; Suchet oozes evil, and he's a delight to watch in every scene he's in. Sandwiched between his performance and Reynolds are Booth and Jarsky. They are not bad, but there's nothing in their performances that make them especially memorable. This may in fact to be that their roles are not very well written, giving them little to work with. There are several examples of this, the main one being that the screenplay does little to expand their characters before the trio are blackmailed. We have no grasp of these two characters as a result, so you can't sympathize with them or feel anything at this point. The movie later tries to add some quirks to the characters, but they fail to serve their purpose. For example, at one point in the movie, Sam pulls a wrestling move on Leo's bodyguard. This comes totally out of the blue, and it feels out of place after spending so much time with this vanilla bland character.

The rest of the movie runs hot and cold - mostly cold. I enjoyed the opening sequence, a split-screen simultaneously showing Kevin going through the robbery motions at home, while an imagined self is also seen taking the same steps at the actual location. The security system guarding the vault where the bearer bonds are kept is more down to earth and believable than the ludicrously overdone security systems found in some other caper movies. But for everything that's done right in Foolproof, there are two or three negative things that prevent us from letting go and having fun with the film. The break-in scenes are slick- too slick; there should have been more of a roughness in the characters' actions that shown they are still amateurs when it comes to doing things for real. (It also would have made a bigger payoff, because one of the ways a smart screenwriter gets the audience to root for the heroes is to not make the challenge an easy one.) The subplot about a nosy cop is forgotten about for a long time, then is left unfinished when it's suddenly brought up again. And there's the repeated question as to just where do the trio get all the stuff they need for their games and the actual break-in, as well as the money to pay for it all. Foolproof isn't a bad movie, but in the end it does little more than pass the time. At least it's a start. Does this mean Canada has a brighter future in feature filmmaking? Maybe, but it's too early to tell at this point. Remember, until I tell you otherwise, Canadian movies suck.

* Quebec filmmakers have been making real movies for some time now. For some reason, Telefilm has freely funded these movies, while simultaneously being reluctant to fund proposed English-language real movies until recently.

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See also: Fast Money, Special Delivery, Year Of The Comet

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