It's not hard these days to spot the diet soda version of cinema. The class and soul of movie-making can melt away without the proper care provided by professionals who believe in producing true entertainment. Something new and invigorating to chew on after leaving the theater.
Take a look around at the summer entertainment, and you see a lot of duds. Sequels to "Men in Black" and remakes of "Aladdin" sat with critics about as well as a cold bowl of chili after a brisk run in hot weather would. They were disposable and often laughable (not for the right reason) examples of filmmaking. I don't care how much money they made. Where has the integrity gone? Why is everything being green-lit?
Now, take a look at what Frank Grillo and Joe Carnahan are doing with their production company, WarParty. They are aiming for authentic entertainment with one goal in mind: show you something that may look familiar, but never this cool and innovative. Also, these movies are a lot of fun, but minus the artificial sweeteners that make your stomach ache long after a flick.
Example No. 1: 2017's "Wheelman", which represented the official commencement of WarParty. Jeremy Rush's debut film saw Grillo's getaway driver race against time on the mean streets of Boston against an unknown enemy in an effort to save his family. Only Rush put the camera behind Grillo inside the car, filming the majority of the 83 minutes from one point of view. The action sizzled, the dialogue crackled, and it all happened on Netflix.
A year later, WarParty produced the fighting documentary, "Fightworld", which cast a heartfelt light on warriors all around the globe fighting for what they believe in, against all costs. Grillo traveled to exotic locations such as Senegal and Israel with a singular goal on showing us how the other half lives ... and grapples with life's fiercest punches. The five episodes, directed by Padraic McKinley, provided a glimpse of civilization and combat that the entertainment industry was too afraid to explore before, or didn't know how to.
This past spring, Carnahan co-wrote the first Latin superhero film, "El Chicano", with his best friend and former stunt man, Benjamin Bray. In a story pulled straight from Bray's childhood, the movie followed a cop trying to avenge the death of his twin brother in the crooked arena of East Los Angeles. While the movie wasn't received well by critics or audiences, Carnahan and Bray showed courage and willpower in making their movie on their own terms. If you didn't watch it because you felt the Avengers would feel left out, do the right thing and watch the film July 30 on DVD or Blu Ray first. Avenge a wrong decision.
This Friday, WarParty reunites Marvel adversaries, Grillo and Anthony Mackie, in Joe Lynch's "Point Blank", a remake of a French film in name only, re-imagined by screenwriter and actor, Adam G. Simon. In a recent conversation, Simon told me this movie would put the Grillo-Mackie team on the map, and was only the beginning of big things.
The trailer oozes crazy cool vibes, with Mackie's nurse and Grillo's career criminal battle deadlier criminals and corrupt cops (including a sinister Marcia Gay Harden) to save Mackie's family. Instead of the ordinary buddy comedy, you have small nuances. Grillo's criminal is unforgiving, and there are twists and turns promised. There is a car wash fight and lots of cursing. So much cursing, theatrical consumers may get offended. An old lady is verbally dressed down by Grillo's tough guy in one of the funniest parts of the trailer, but she gives it back to the two leads. That's right. Humor and action are vividly present in this film. It's like "Lethal Weapon" made with juicier meat.
It is the comedy laced in Grillo and Carnahan's (who first worked together on 2012's "The Grey") "Boss Level", which hits theaters next month, that makes it unique. Grillo's ex-special forces operative finds himself in a never-ending time loop up against adversaries like Mel Gibson in an effort to save his family. He's dying over and over again but has to find a way out. Naomi Watts shows up and Michelle Yeoh does as well. There's science fiction, action, drama, and comedy all in one picture. They made the film in 28 days and will release in conjunction with Entertainment Studios on Aug. 16. Once again, on their own terms or not at all. The WarParty mantra.
Last month, the dynamic duo signed a deal with China's Starlight Entertainment Group to partner on future movie productions. A remake of "The Raid" could be in order as well as other foreign-powered action adventures. Remember "Wolf Warrior 2", which Grillo co-starred in, made almost as much money as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"? In 31 days in China, "WW2" grossed over $800 million. You may see more of that with the Starlight partnership.
What you will see is truly unique and original entertainment. That's a promise. There will be the common themes of characters existing in the gray area between good and bad, as well as the "family in peril" subplot. Remember the 1970's? Those films didn't overly dress a plot, but always delivered on their promise to entertain and grab your attention.
Grillo and Carnahan have been friends for a long time, sharing experiences in Hollywood that run the gauntlet of good, bad, and ugly. Out of the thick of harsh lessons and realizations about the business, they created WarParty as a means to better ends.
"Wheelman", "Fightworld", "El Chicano", "Point Blank", and "Boss Level" are only the beginning. I'll take these fiery pieces of cinema over the drab that theaters are routinely putting out. Show me something different, please, instead of going back to the well.
Instead of the diet soda that Hollywood is giving us, give me the steaks that WarParty has promised and delivered on. It's not always about box offices receipts. It's about integrity and entertainment in one package.
Making movies on their own terms. That's the Grillo and Carnahan way.
"Point Blank" hits Netflix's streaming waves Friday morning. Watch it, take your time, and try not to be entertained.