Friday, July 10, 2009

GRAN TORINO (now playing at home where grandma asked if you'd gotten a toupee--but it was just the cat sitting on your head)

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood channels the spirit of Dirty Harry--senior citizen style. But it's like a Christmas tree with a shiny star on top and...oops...nothing else to fill out the branches.
Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a cantankerous old fart--a decorated Korean war veteran who lives next door to a Hmong family (immigrants from southeast Asia). He's an up front racist--a product of the era he grew up in and his experiences during the war. Living in close proximity with the Hmongs stirs up Walt's old prejudices-- but things gradually begin to thaw, (global warming?) and Walt's humanity begins to peep through when he takes the neighbor boy, Thao, (Bee Vang) under his wing. Thao's a good kid at heart--but he's torn between remaining that way, or getting mixed up with a local street gang.
When his hand is forced, Walt starts kickin' ass and taking names with the gang punks, and this is where Eastwood's scowling Dirty Harry persona emerges for one last hurrah. Walt sums it up when he says: WHAT THE HELL IS IT WITH KIDS, NOWADAYS? If there's any part of Gran Torino you could call satisfying, it's when the gang scum start getting their comeuppance courtesy of the Walt man.
His prized 1972 Gran Torino--which stays mainly motionless (a mistake) in the garage--serves as a symbol for all the old fashioned values (minus the racism) Walt is trying to defend. This would have been a more exciting film if Walt had taken that baby out, gunned the sucker, and chased the gang bangers all around the city while listening to some Glenn Miller music on the radio. But maybe he didn't want to mar the finish.
There's a bit of amusement when Walt attempts to teach Thao to "talk like a man." It's a quaint mixture of B.S. and bravado--the kind of raunchy trash talking guys used to do all the time (and still do when the political correctness police aren't around).
Unfortunately--and there's no other way to say this--the acting in Gran Torino is so awful that it's embarrasing at times. Yes, Eastwood (who produced and directed the film) has surrounded himself with inexperienced actors--but if I run an auto repair shop and Clint is paying me to work on his car, the fact that I may be employing unseasoned mechanics doesn't absolve me of the responsibility to get the job done right. While his fledgling cast mostly drones in monotone, Clint frequently over does it. When he sneers out the side of his mouth, he kinda looks like Popeye.
Too bad, because the screenplay--which is about the triumph of human decency over hate--had a lot of potential. This group just couldn't pull it off.
So I'm sorry to bring you the bad news, Mr. Eastwood...but there's no way in heaven or hell to save this clunker from the scrap heap.
GRADE: D- (and I'm being generous)