Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Operation: Endgame" (2009)

Starring Joe Anderson, Odette Yustman and Rob Corddry
Written by Sam Levinson and Brian Watanabe
Directed by Fouad Mikati

Operation: Endgame [Blu-ray]It sucks when you can describe a movie simply as "meh."  It sucks more when the movie in question has some potential in its setup and some inspired casting to boot.  Such is the case with "Operation: Endgame," an action/comedy with an ensemble cast that includes names like Jeffrey Tambor, Ving Rhames, Emilie de Ravin, Maggie Q and Zach Galafianakis.

The Fool (Joe Anderson) has been hired as a thief by The Factory, a secret government organization split into two teams, Alpha and Omega, which function as spies and assassins in secret operations across the globe.  The two teams oppose each other (for some reason which is never made clear), but are overseen by the Devil (Jeffrey Tambor) who sends each on their respective missions.  The Fool is hired shortly after an operation known as Safehouse has gone horribly wrong, killing a member of Omega.

The Alpha team, led by Empress (Ellen Barkin), consists of Magician (Adam Scott), Temperance (Odette Yustman) who happens to be the Fool's ex-girlfriend, Tower (Brandon T. Jackson), and Hierophant (Emilie de Ravin).  The Omega team, which Fool is joining, is Chariot (Rob Corddry), High Priestess (Maggie Q), Judgement (Ving Rhames) and the Emperor (Bob Odenkirk).  During the daily briefing, it is discovered that the Devil has been murdered and a message is delivered by computer telling them that they have two hours escape the facility before the auto-destruct kills them all.  To make things worse, the Alpha team turns on the Omega team. 

Soon enough, only Fool and Chariot remain of the Omega team.  But Temperance disobeys her orders, her old feelings for Fool coming back to the surface.  They must elude the survivors of Alpha team and discover a way out of the locked down facility before time runs out. 

The last wrinkle is Hermit (Zach Galifianakis), a diabetic former assassin with allegiance to neither team, and whose behavior is entirely unpredictable. 

Despite this great cast and a setup that could be fodder for some great action and comedy, "Operation: Endgame" fails to provide much of either.  The first ten minutes or so are a riot, mostly due to Rob Corddry's Chariot, who spends the entire film drunk.  His angry rants are a highlight of the movie, but after the beginning they come few and far between.  There are flashes of funny material elsewhere in the movie, but nothing like what Corddry manages in the film's opening.

The film is pretty short, much of the cast gets wasted.  Most of these characters feel like cameos, since both teams are effectively slaughtered at the outset.  Entirely too much time is wasted on two security guard characters who watch much of the action unfold safely from a remote location via surveillance cameras.  Neither of these guys is all that funny, and what should have been a one-off joke is padded out through the entire runtime of the movie.  Zach Galafianakis is entirely wasted.  He gets exactly two funny lines in the entire thing, and only appears briefly anyhow (despite his prominent placement on the DVD cover, which I'm sure is 100% marketing). 

The film is obviously low budget, taking place almost entirely on soundstages designed to look like a fairly generic office setting.  Why assassins need cubicles, I'll never know.  Still, this wouldn't be a problem if the script or the action could handle it... but it can't.  The fight sequences are poorly staged, without much impact at all.  Here again, Corddry is somehow the one who shines through when he gets the film's best kill (two words: paper shredder). 

There's a lot about "Operation: Endgame" that doesn't make much sense.  The setup, for example.  Why in the hell would the government have two competing spy teams working under the same roof?  Some lip-service is given to the idea that this is some sort of 'checks and balances' spy game, but that's pure nonsense.  Few of the characters are given any motivation; the two teams seem to hate each other intensely, far more than mere competition would imply.  Temperance's switching sides is pretty random; one moment she seems to hate the Fool, and the next she's jumping his bones and saving his life.

This again is something I could forgive if the action or the comedy could overcome it, but it can't.  The first ten minutes are hilarious, and there are a few scattered moments throughout the rest of the film, but otherwise, this one is just... meh.