Lionsgate // 2011 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 20th, 2011
Friends for life. Enemies forever.
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson has a lot of money. We know this to be a fact. He's sold millions of records and performed live to huge audiences. A few years back, he made tens of millions of dollars (if not more) on a deal with Vitamin Water, in which he was a part owner. What I'm saying is the guy has bank. Cabbage. Mad scrilla. And it's this fortune that he has amassed that can be the only logical explanation for the fact that he continues to be able to make movies.
Not that he's making movies for a wide audience. After trying his hand at mainstream stardom with Jim Sheridan's Get Rich or Die Tryin' -- the movie that tried to do for 50 Cent what 8 Mile did for Eminem -- Jackson took a few supporting roles in bombs like Home of the Brave and Righteous Kill. Failing to make an impression in those movies -- as well as any impression in their box office -- Jackson migrated over to the direct-to-DVD action movie. In that genre, he's practically Steven Seagal; it seems as though a new 50 Cent actioner is hitting shelves every other month, many of them starring an actor who appears to have swallowed Val Kilmer.
Kilmer doesn't show up in Jackson's latest starring vehicle, Set Up, but some other big stars do -- chiefly Bruce Willis and Ryan Phillipe. 50 stars as Sonny, one part of a trio of thieves who are plotting a diamond heist. Once they pull the job, Sonny is double crossed by his partner, Vincent (Phillipe, Way of the Gun), who kills the third guy and leaves Sonny for dead. That doesn't sit well with 50 Cent, who still intends to either get rich or die tryin', so he heals very quickly and then goes on a revenge mission. Along the way, he crosses the path of powerful gangster Mr. Biggs (played by Bruce Willis of Cop Out fame, and, yes, Set Up is so deficient of creativity that it practically names its main gangster character "Mr. Big"), his violent henchman (Randy Couture, The Expendables), and a pretty girl who may or may not have set up the whole job (played by American Virgin's Jenna Dewan).
I'm not entirely sure why a movie like Set Up gets made. I'm not suggesting it shouldn't exist (that's a different argument, and one which is too dismissive of everyone involved), just that I can't figure out the filmmakers' intentions here. This is the kind of movie that's been cobbled together entirely out of recycled bits of other, better movies. Is this what the director was going for? To make a movie with a worldview which is only informed by similar movies? I thought the purpose of making a movie was to distinguish yourself -- to offer something that may feature elements of those things for which we go to the movies, but is different or unique enough that it might stand apart from everything else in the marketplace. Set Up only distinguishes itself through a series of bad decisions and questionable performances. Phillipe is serviceable but bored; likewise for Bruce Willis, who must have been collecting quite a paycheck to appear in something this lame. Jackson, on the other hand, is not a leading man; what he lacks in acting ability he fails to make up for with charisma. What's left is a placeholder instead of a performance, and that's not the best thing to have at the center of your movie.
But the bad decisions got beyond just the casting. Set Up also offers a screenplay which makes very little sense. We're told that Sonny is hell bent on revenge, yet every time he interrogates some thug for the whereabouts of his enemy, he simply tells the informer -- who is willing to give up useful information -- to "tell him an old friend is looking for him." So, rather than actually find out where Phillipe is, he would rather warn him that he's coming? And that he's still alive in the first place? This is a terrible strategy. The script also keeps throwing obstacles in Sonny's way, but has no interest in watching him work his way through each problem. Bruce Willis forces him to rob some Russian gangsters to save his own life. Ok, interesting, I'll see where this goes...NOPE he points a gun in their faces and robs them. No problem. Another terrible scene has one of Willis' goons accidentally shooting himself in the head (it's very, very stupid and makes no sense, but, hey, it happened in Pulp Fiction and people like that movie, right?). Now Sonny has a body to dispose of and a death to cover up. No problem! The body is gone in the next scene and no one has a hard time buying his explanation of what happened. Why are these roadblocks even introduced into the story if the movie has no interest in treating them as actual problems and work through them?
At least Set Up looks and sounds good in high definition. The Blu-ray of the film comes courtesy of Lionsgate -- one of the last remaining purveyors of exploitation horror and action junk like this, for better or for worse -- and offers the movie in a very handsome and detailed 2.40:1 widescreen transfer. Though the actual photography of the movie is kind of cheesy, relying heavily on natural outdoor lighting and bluish hues that became popular in the mid-to-late '90s, the HD image offers tremendous fine detail and very little visible digital tinkering, noise reduction or artifacting. The 5.1 Master Audio track features thumping music and absolutely thunderous gun battles, while still keeping the dialogue clear and, for the most part, balanced with the rest of the movie (there are times where the action sounds are significantly louder, but I suppose that's to be expected). Unfortunately, there's nothing the audio track can do to get Jackson and Phillipe to stop mumbling and swallowing their lines. Even lossless audio can only do so much.
In the supplement section of the disc, you'll get an audio commentary from writer/director Mike Gunther and stunt coordinator Kyle Woods. It's a mostly technical talk, and there's a lot of dead space in between comments. There are two featurettes: the first, a standard "making of" promotional piece, and the second, "Inside the Gun Locker," is a piece about the guns used in the movie. There is a gallery of brief interviews with Gunther, Jackson and co-star Randy Couture, all presented in HD, as well as a collection of bonus Lionsgate trailers, several of them red-band. Nothing special to be found.
A halfway decent cast can't save it. A great looking, great sounding HD treatment can't save it. Even action movie junkies are likely to be bored by Set Up. It's really bad.
You're better than this, David Addison.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R