NOTHING SHORT OF DYING by ERIK STOREY (2016, Simon & Schuster, 314pp) ***
Blurb: Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he’s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him. By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her. Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.
Erik Storey’s debut novel is an assured riff on the loner action hero popularised by Lee Child and Vince Flynn. Where Clyde Barr is different is that he has a family of sisters, one of whom experienced with him abuse as a child by a succession of their mother’s men, giving him a personal stake in the story. The plot here is a basic kidnap plot serving to introduce a character to an audience Storey hopes will invest in through a series (a taster for the follow-up, A Promise to Kill, is included in this paperback edition). Here Storey succeeds admirably making Barr a seemingly more human hero than say Child’s Jack Reacher, if no less indestructable. The violent action scenes are also well-written and there is a good establishing relationship between Barr and saloon girl, Allie, who he falls for. Whilst Allie’s willingness to accompany Barr plays a little conveniently as a device to give Barr someone to worry about, it does allow for some good character interplay. The psychotic Zeke, who Barr enlists for help, is a little too caricatured and the villains are your typical violent and charmless drug dealing thugs. We even get the Feds in the black SUVs. The resolution is straight-forward and there are no twists or stings in the tail. As an action thriller it works well and is a cinfident debut. It will be interesting to see whether Storey can add depth and variation to the formula going forward.
Air Force One (1997; USA/Germany; Technicolor; 125m) *** d. Wolfgang Petersen; w. Andrew W. Marlowe; ph. Michael Ballhaus; m. Jerry Goldsmith. Cast: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, Paul Guilfoyle, Glenn Close, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Tom Everett, Jürgen Prochnow, Donna Bullock, Michael Ray Miller. Hijackers seize the plane carrying the President of the United States and his family, but he (an ex-soldier) works from hiding to defeat them. Those who buy into the premise of this outlandish thriller in the DIE HARD mould will find much to enjoy in Ford’s heroics. Oldman relishes his bad guy terrorist role and Petersen’s classy direction helps keep this just the right side of comic book territory. 
Kong: Skull Island (2017; USA; Colour; 118m) ***½ d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts; w. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, John Gatins; ph. Larry Fong; m. Henry Jackman. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Will Brittain, Miyavi, Richard Jenkins, Allyn Rachel, Robert Taylor, James M. Connor, Thomas Middleditch. Re-working of KING KONG (1933). In the 1970s, a diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted but beautiful isolated island that goes by the name of Skull Island, in the Indian Ocean. They soon discover that the island is home to a wonder of colossal proportions — the gigantic and prehistoric ape known as King Kong, who possesses great strength and semi-human intelligence. Fast-paced and CGI heavy monster-fest is great fun with a witty script. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in spectacular breath-taking action set-pieces. Hiddleston is wooden in the lead, but Reilly excels as a discovered veteran who had been trapped on the island 28 years earlier. Jackson adds brio and Larson is appealing. Kong may be an impressive computer-generated creation but lacks the personality of the 1933 original. Also shot in 3-D. 
North Sea Hijack (1980; USA; Technicolor; 100m) ***½ d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Jack Davies; ph. Tony Imi; m. Michael J. Lewis. Cast: Roger Moore, James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks, Faith Brook, Lea Brodie, David Hedison, Jack Watson, George Baker, Jeremy Clyde, David Wood, Philip O’Brien, Anthony Pullen Shaw, John Westbrook, Jennifer Hilary. When terrorists take over two oil rigs and threaten to explode them if their demands are not met, a unique commando unit is sent in to stop them. Entertaining boys-own nonsense with Moore revelling in an atypical role of woman-hating/cat-loving head of elite anti-terrorist unit. It is a taut, efficient thriller with elements of humour. Perkins relishes his role as chief villain. Davies adapted his own novel “Esther, Ruth and Jennifer”. Aka: FFOLKES and ASSAULT FORCE. 
Patriots Day (2016; USA; Colour; 133m) ∗∗∗½ d. Peter Berg; w. Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson; ph. Tobias A. Schliessler; m. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Wolff, Melissa Benoist, Michael Beach, Khandi Alexander, Erica McDermott, Lana Condor, Dean Neistat, Vincent Curatola, John Enos III. The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible. Stirring and heartfelt recounting of the events, authentically recreated and only occasionally does the script lapse into genre conventions. Performances are strong and the inclusion of real footage into the mix brings home the horror of the bombings and their aftermath. Touching scenes at the end of the film capture interviews with real victims and police officers. 
Unstoppable (2010; USA; DeLuxe; 98m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Tony Scott; w. Mark Bomback; ph. Ben Seresin; m. Harry Gregson-Williams. Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suples, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, Lew Temple, T.J. Miller, Kevin Chapman, Jessy Schram, David Warshofskyt, Andy Umberger, Elizabeth Mathis, Meagan Tandy, Dylan Bruce. With an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train barrelling toward a city, a veteran engineer and a young conductor race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe. Fast-paced, crowd-pleasing thrill ride. Washington and Pine make for a great combination as unlikely heroes. Superbly directed and edited it makes the most of its popcorn script. The film was loosely based on the real-life CSX 8888 incident in the U.S. state of Ohio in 2001. Unfortunately, the film was Scott’s final one before his death in 2012. 
Executive Decision (1996; USA; Technicolor; 133m) ∗∗∗½ d. Stuart Baird; w. Jim Thomas, John Thomas; ph. Alex Thomson; m. Jerry Goldsmith. Cast: Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, David Suchet, Joe Morton, J.T. Walsh, Mary Ellen Trainor, Len Cariou, B.D. Wong, Whip Hubley, Andreas Katsulas, Marla Maples, William James Jones. When terrorists seize control of an airliner, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando unit for a mid-air boarding operation. Well directed and suspenseful thriller that makes the most of its formulaic script. Russell scores as fish-out-of-water analyst thrown into the heat of the action and Suchet is also excellent as the single-minded terrorist leader. Only downside is it produces one grandstand finale too many. 
Wild Geese, The (1978; UK/Switzerland; Eastmancolor; 134m) ∗∗∗ d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Reginald Rose; ph. Jack Hildyard; m. Roy Budd. Cast: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Kruger, Stewart Granger, Jack Watson, Frank Finlay, Jeff Corey, Winston Ntshona, John Kani, Jack Watson, Kenneth Griffith, Barry Foster, Ronald Fraser, Ian Yule. A British multinational seeks to overthrow a vicious dictator in central Africa. It hires a band of (largely aged) mercenaries in London and sends them in to save the virtuous but imprisoned opposition leader who is also critically ill and due for execution. Whilst this action thriller may be littered with cliches and weighed down by a by-the-numbers script, there is still much to enjoy. The lead performances are strong and the action sequences well directed. Some clumsy and dated handling of the racial politics aside this makes for diverting viewing. Based on the novel by Daniel Carney. Followed by WILD GEESE II (1985). 
Unknown (2011; UK/Germany/France/Canada/Japan/USA; Technicolor; 113m) ∗∗½ d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano; m. John Ottman, Alexander Rudd. Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceq, Rainer Bock, Mido Hamada, Clint Dyer, Karl Markovics, Eva Lobau, Helen Wiebensohn. A man awakens from a coma, only to discover that someone has taken on his identity and that no one, (not even his wife), believes him. With the help of a young woman, he sets out to prove who he is. Intriguing idea is let down by a hokey script and routine direction. Neeson does his best and brings some class to the proceedings and Ganz is impressive as a German PI with a past. Those willing to accept some of the absurdities of the screenplay may find elements to enjoy. Based on the novel “Out of My Head” by Didier Van Cauwelaert. 
Jack Reacher (2012; USA; DeLuxe; 130m) ∗∗∗½ d. Christopher McQuarrie; w. Christopher McQuarrie; ph. Caleb Deschanel; m. Joe Kraemer. Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney, Vladimir Sizov, Joseph Sikora, Michael Raymond-James, Alexia Fast, Josh Helman, Robert Duvall, James Martin Kelly, Dylan Kussman, Denver Milord. A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims. Cruise delivers an excellent performance, despite being miscast, in this well-crafted crime thriller. The plot is involving and the action scenes well-staged. Pike offers strong support as the lawyer and Duvall shows up late in the day to add some class. Based on the novel “One Shot” by Lee Child. The character from Child’s book series is described as 6’5″ tall and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds (Cruise is 5’7″ tall). Followed by JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK in 2016.