Dec. 06--Boy, I feel like I've written a lot about death since I took this gig. I wrote columns about troubled singer Amy Winehouse, "Jackass" star Ryan Dunn and comedian Patrice O'Neal after they passed. Recently, I wrote about the late Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed and even a dead cartoon dog (rest in peace, Brian Griffin).
At the rate I'm going, the News-Press is going to move me from entertainment to obituaries.
Needless to say, I was hesitant to write about Paul Walker in this week's edition of The Shuffle. The actor best known for playing risk-taking street racer Brian O'Conner in the "Fast and Furious" movies died rather ironically last weekend, as he was in a Porsche that slammed into a tree in California. "Speed was a factor in the solo vehicle collision," the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.
His death was rife for jokes and I knew it would be. I was going to let this one go, but then I started seeing some of the smart-aleck comments people were making online.
"Seriously, who cares about Paul Walker?"
"I'll really miss those blank stares he gave when he said, 'brah.'"
"This just in: A guy I've never heard of died doing what he does in those movies I've never seen, while in the middle of making another one of those gems. (#7 ... Really?) SPOILER ALERT: This new one is about some cars that drive super, super fast."
I felt the need to respond after reading these. Now, I'm not writing this to stand up for Paul Walker's body of work because, frankly, it's terrible. Not only did he play a dull dude in a bunch of mostly bad street racing movies ("Fast Five" was the only one I liked), but he also played a stereotypical jock jerk in "She's All That," an injured stud quarterback in "Varsity Blues," and he starred in stinkers like "Timeline," "Joy Ride" and "The Skulls." I heard he was decent in "Running Scared" and "Eight Below," but I also heard that from people who think the "Fast and Furious" franchise is a cinematic triumph. I don't value their opinions much.
If Paul Walker had died a year earlier, I probably would have been making some of those same wisecrackin' comments. Honestly, I thought he was one of the worst actors in Hollywood.
My tune changed in March when I went to SXSW in Austin and took in about 20 independent movies. Among the smattering was a little film called "Hours."
It was the last movie I saw that week and there's a good reason for that: I avoided it like the plague. My girlfriend had planned to take me to four different screenings of "Hours" and I found an excuse to get out of all of them. "I have to meet up with the band." "Well, that's playing later in the week and the other movie is only playing tonight." "But I'm hungry now!" I had no intention of seeing a drama starring Paul freaking Walker.
On the final Friday of the festival, we went to a concert that was mind-numbingly boring, so my girlfriend offered an ultimatum: We could stay or we could go across the street and watch the last screening of "Hours." I reluctantly chose the movie and I haven't regretted the decision for a second.
In the film, Walker plays a New Orleans man whose wife dies giving birth on the day Hurricane Katrina rears its ugly head. His premature daughter is placed on a ventilator in order to breathe, but it's not long before the levees break, the doctors flee and the hospital loses power, putting his baby's life in the hands of a machine with a faulty battery that has to be hand-cranked every three minutes. The rest of the film firmly puts the spotlight on Walker's character as he fights exhaustion and ruthless looters to keep his daughter alive.
"Hours" is gripping, well-written and incredibly original. And I have to admit, Paul Walker -- the guy who has the charisma of a box of rocks in the "Fast and Furious" movies -- puts forth an excellent performance in the film. He's in nearly every frame, yet he skillfully balances desperation, grief, shock, intensity, fatigue, heartbreak, fear, defensiveness and true love.
The movie was only supposed to get a limited release on Dec. 13 (the same week "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" comes out), but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets a bigger push now that Walker has passed away. My advice: Go see it -- even if you have to drive to Kansas City.
It's Paul Walker's tour de force. It's the first and, sadly, only movie that made me realize how much talent he really had before he left this world. I hope "Hours" makes you and those snarky commenters realize it, too.
Shea Conner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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