Opening today in theaters and on VOD is “Assault on Wall Street,” the latest movie from notorious director Uwe Boll. With reasonably human characters, a believable relationship between the leading man and woman, a few good supporting performances, and a brutally disheartening storyline, it might be Boll’s best movie to date (I haven’t seen “Blubberella” yet, so I can’t be certain).
Boll rose to infamy ten years ago, when he started churning out atrociously horrible movie adaptations of video games; “House of the Dead,” “Alone in the Dark,” and “BloodRayne” in rapid succession, each more laughably bad than the next. More than any director since Edward D. Wood Jr., Boll’s name became synonymous with epically and often comically bad directing. Even worse than Wood, he didn’t seem to care; as the story goes, most of Boll’s video game adaptations were funded by people exploiting a German tax loophole that turned Uwe into a real life version of “The Producers”‘ Max Bialystock — for a time, he could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit.
Eventually the tax loophole was closed and Boll was forced to attempt the one thing he’d been so reticent to do previously: try. And so he did — and guess what? His movies got better. Unfortunately, they also got significantly less fun, especially if you happen to enjoy that particular brand of so-bad-its-goodness.
Still, Boll’s later work was clearly more technically proficient. Scenes made sense, plots were (mostly) coherent, the handheld camerawork was slick, and the acting wasn’t quite so desperately phoned in by a cast of sad Hollywood cast-offs. Yes, Uwe Boll’s movies improved. But even as they improved, something else about them got much, much worse.
You may recall the infamous (and, frankly, ingenious) publicity stunt where the German-born director challenged his critics to try to defeat him in a boxing match. Wired has the definitive account of that day’s events, but the short version: Boll, a former amateur boxer, absolutely decimated the four film geeks who were dumb enough to step in the ring with him. That two of Boll’s opponents had never actually written bad reviews about him hardly mattered. Watch this video of Boll’s bout with Richard Kyanka from Something Awful. Kyanka treats the whole thing as a goof; running around the ring, playing to the crowd. Boll, on the other hand, was not kidding around. He was out for blood.
The fights generated some headlines for Boll, along with plenty of dismissive eye-rolls — what, after all, does punching a critic prove? That you’re a good boxer? It certainly doesn’t prove you’re a good director. Put it this way: Martin Scorsese made “Raging Bull;” Uwe Boll beat the shit out of a guy who wrote for Ain’t It Cool News. ‘Nuff said.
Actually, while the fights may not have proved Boll’s filmmaking chops, they did reveal an important facet of his personal philosophy. When people criticized Boll, he responded with violence. Increasingly, when characters in Boll’s movies are criticized, they do the exact same thing.
Critics were mean to Boll, therefore he was totally justified in giving them all mild concussions. Bosses, bankers, and even God himself are mean to Dominic Purcell in “Assault on Wall Street,” so he’s perfectly within his rights, according to the movie, to grab a mask and a machine gun, walk into a stock brokerage and kill every single person on the trading floor. In Boll’s movies, hurting the people who annoy you makes you a hero.
Boll first pursued that idea in a serious way in 2007’s “Postal” — although “serious” is probably not the right adjective to use in conjunction with this tasteless goof on America, greed, wealth, religious zealotry, Osama Bin Laden, President George W. Bush, and even Uwe Boll himself, who appears as “Uwe Boll,” terrible movie director and German theme park owner. At one point he pays Verne “Mini Me” Troyer for attending an event in Nazi gold. Later he gets shot in the crotch and moans “I hate video games!” Hilarious!
The string tying all of Boll’s scattershot attacks on pop culture and politics together is the crappy life and, later, the violent revenge, of a pathetic loser named Dude (Zack Ward). Dude lives in a trailer park, is married to an enormously obese and perpetually unfaithful woman, can’t get a job, and is dismissed by the clerk at the local unemployment office when he tries to apply for benefits.
According to Boll’s twisted logic, Dude’s undeniably crummy life gives him permission to go postal. The clerk at the unemployment office was rude to him, so it’s okay for Dude to run her over with a truck. Dude’s wife cheats on him, so Dude’s well within his rights to kill her and whoever she’s slept with. Boll doesn’t condemn Dude’s anger; he revels in it. When a bunch of religious zealots from an end of the world cult and al-Qaeda both turn up looking for trouble, Dude’s the one who gets to save the day.
In many of Boll’s movies, bad behavior justifies worse retaliation. At one point Dude tells someone “Don’t be a dick, dick,” and then shoots him in the face. If you act like a dick to Uwe Boll, he will fight you. If you act like a dick in an Uwe Boll movie, odds are you will be killed in a scene played for cheap, crude laughs. In Boll’s work, killers are rarely the villains. They’re not even anti-heroes; more like mass murderers and righteous saviors all rolled into one.
A few years later, Boll followed up “Postal” with “Rampage,” which takes almost the exact same premise — a miserable young man living in small town America snaps and goes on a kill spree — and plays it without the leavening agent of outrageous comedy. The movie is pure, unbridled bile, one of the cruelest and most depressing films I have ever seen. Bill (Brendan Fletcher) assembles some homemade body armor, straps on some weapons, and commences his wave of sadistic violence. Once again, early scenes establish his horrible life: cruel parents, almost no friends, a regular barista who makes bad macchiatos. Once again, this seems to entitle Bill to his despicable acts — so for God’s sake, if you ever find yourself making Uwe Boll some coffee, make it the fuck right.
Both “Postal” and “Rampage,” along with other Boll films from around this time like “The Final Storm,” are packed with doomsday imagery. “Postal” ends with an image of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden walking through a field as nuclear bombs incinerate all life on Earth. “Rampage” is stuffed with constant cutaways to “news reports” about global warming, overpopulation, and war. Remember: bad behavior, worse retaliation.
Society is so sick, these movies seem to argue, that the only way to fix it is to destroy it first. With the environmental destruction all around us, with so much poverty and hunger, with so many coffee shops making crummy espresso drinks, the only solution is to kill everyone and start again from scratch. We brought this death, pain, and misery on ourselves, Boll’s movies insist. We deserve to suffer.
Which brings us to “Assault on Wall Street,” Boll’s latest piece of propaganda about morally acceptable violence. It might his saddest and most effective yet. Poor Jim (Purcell), a humble security guard and loyal husband, suffers a perfect financial storm: his wife Rosie (Erin Karpluk) gets cancer, they reach their coverage cap limit on Jim’s insurance, the housing market collapses, Jim’s stock broker makes some bad investments, Jim loses his job, and gets sued for his broker’s incompetence. It’s another Boll end-of-the-world scenario; for Jim, at least, this is the apocalypse.
I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal what happens next; the movie is called “Assault on Wall Street,” after all. Jim, a former Special Forces something-or-other decides to fight back. After hitting rock bottom, he targets the people he feels most responsible for his bad fortune — Wall Street fat cats — and begins following them. Slowly, he accumulates information about their activities and their crimes, and begins arming himself with machine guns (purchased from Clint Howard, of all people).
Once he’s fully prepared, Jim doesn’t try to rob a bank to pay his debts. He doesn’t try to bring Wall Street criminals to justice. He doesn’t even try to use his knowledge of armored cars from years working security to steal a bunch of money and retire to some deserted island in the Pacific. He simply decides to kill people. He doesn’t want to save himself; he wants revenge.
As usual, Boll does everything he can to mitigate his protagonist’s crimes. He portrays him as a blue-collar champion rather than a psychopath. He basically turns Jim into The Punisher, if The Punisher’s family was killed by bankers instead of the Mafia, and then decided to wage his one-man war on high-ranking members of the financial industry. If “Assault on Wall Street” doesn’t totally condone Jim’s actions, it certainly sympathizes with him — and so does Boll, who told Filmdrunk in an interview he “would totally” understand anyone who performed the acts in his movie in real life. “We should just fucking rip Wall Street apart,” he added.
It’s possible it’s just a coincidence that Boll has made three movies in six years about men who go on brutal (but, in the movie’s eyes, reasonable and perhaps commendable) murder sprees. But I doubt it. In fairness, Boll told The Village Voice this week that he doesn’t “want people to get shot for real.” But he also said he does want “[Wall Street executives] to get scared. In a way, they deserve to be miserable.” Once again, bad behavior justifies worse retaliation. Like, say a halfway decent Uwe Boll movie.