Greg Eichelberger reviews 'The 1517 To Paris'

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

When you try to exploit a gimmick in the entertainment industry, you have to make sure — whatever it is — that it works. And director Clint Eastwood, who has pulled of a few novelties himself (filming an English language and a foreign film simultaneously, bringing back the Western after "Dances With Wolves" had killed it, etc.), should have known better than to do what he did with "The 1517 To Paris."
While very well-intentioned, the concept of using the actual men involved with stopping a possible terrorist action in France in 2015, makes this an awkward and haphazard attempt to honor their heroic real-life accomplishments.
There are also irritating gaps in the narrative, which begins when the three, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, meeting in middle school.
These scenes cause more audience anger and apathy than any empathy, since the kids (played by William Jennings, Bryce Gheiser, "Wonder," and Paul-Mikel Williams, "Westworld" TV series) are pretty much jerks, cursing, skipping class, idolizing war and battles, vandalizing neighborhood house and generally causing problems, while Williams' mother, Joyce (Judy Greer, "War For the Planet Of the Apes," "Ant-Man"), and Heidi (Jenna Fisher, "Blades Of Glory," but best known as Pam in "The Office" TV series) constantly defend them. No mention of father's however, so maybe male role models are no longer necessary in movies during this "MeToo" generation.
There is an even greater sin for Eastwood ("Sully," "American Sniper") in these scenes, though, utilizing Jaleel "Urkel" White ("Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer") as the boys' history teacher.
Then, suddenly, things move to Spencer (the center of the plot now played by himself) in college having failed at everything he does.
He can't keep a job or evidently even pass a class, so he joins the Air Force (and, of course, washes out of every billet he attempts to complete, but somehow becomes an EMT). Meanwhile, Alek joins the Army and is briefly seen in Afghanistan.
Anthony stays out of the military, so consequently, we hear nothing about him until the other two plan a European vacation which sets up the third act.
Unfortunately, that third act also contains mostly postcard card shots of Venice, Berlin and Amsterdam, constant drinking, loud music and a disco scene which can cause blackouts to those who have epilepsy and just plain nausea for those who do not …
Finally, the trio boards the bullet train which features the attack by Ayoub el Khazzani (Ray Corasani, "Fireflies"). Those scenes are compelling and frightening (Ayoub evidently had hundreds of rounds of ammunition and the three, especially Spencer — who made the initial tackle — possibly saved dozens of lives).
Be prepared, though, for the annoying, herky-jerky cinema verte hand-held camera nonsense with which many directors today have fallen in love.
Still, the trey beats the potential murderer (he did get off one shot, severely wounding a passenger) savagely and French police haul the unconscious shooter away.
The last scenes are basically feature news footage while the 87-year old Academy Award-winning director just phones it in.
In fact, if Eastwood was hands off in "Scully" (another true story of heroism under a stressful situation), then he was almost complete absent here. And while getting the actual individuals to portray themselves on screen may seem like a worthy and nobel endeavor, it nevertheless makes what could have been a unique interpretation into a train wreck (pun VERY much intended).
Yes, there are certainly precedents of non-professional acting. In 1946, a double amputeed U.S. Navy veteran, Harold Russell, was cast with professionals in William Wyler's "The Best Years Of Our Lives," and came away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
British author/playwright Noel Coward took on several well-received roles, while director John Huston made cameo appearances in his films, even garnering an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor ("The Cardinal" 1963) Huston also played consummate evil in "Chinatown” (a film in which director Roman Polanski also made a memorable cameo).
Here, however, the men, while certainly brave and their toughness and strength unquestioned, never seem to be real. It isn't entirely their fault, though, having to mouth a stilted and frankly boring script by neophyte Dorothy Blyskal.
Nevertheless, despite it's many faults, "The1517 To Paris" still is the best of a crop of newly-released pictures, including "Peter Rabbit" and "Fifty Shades Freed. Thank goodness for small miracles, indeed.
Grade: C-