xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
When the Chicago Film Festival held its evening with Busby Berkeley a few years ago, the effect of three straight hours of production numbers was, well, stupefying. Seen maybe three to a movie, Berkeley’s geometric arrangements of smiling girls were sort of fun. But when you got his entire career in one spliced-together dose, you couldn’t help realizing how little imagination he really had.
Berkeley liked to anchor his camera and give us sterile symmetrical variations on a theme. He got his effects with sheer excess: A hundred dames on a hundred grand pianos was outta sight, all right, but even in the 1930s there were alternatives. In movies like “Swing Time” and “Top Hat,” Astaire and Rogers were creating musicals that feel fresh today. They were supremely talented, of course, but that wasn’t their whole secret.
What they did with a series of directors (and with Astaire usually having a creative hand in the choreography) was to make musicals that were really movies, that weren’t stage bound, and that weren’t riveted to an anchored-down camera. In their movies, we somehow inhabited the same space with them, instead of being omnipotent observers positioned up in the rafters. We moved as they moved, and space unfolded logically.
All this helps us put a finger on the fundamental visual poverty of Ken Russell’s “The Boy Friend.” His musical is supposed to be a spoof on Berkeley-type 1930s musicals, of course, but after a while we realize that Russell belongs on Berkeley’s side. Even when he’s not deliberately doing Berkeley takeoffs, his camera is so joyless that it undermines every scene.