Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 7, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Central Intelligence (PG-13, ***): Not since Twins have two stars made so much hay from their mismatched statures. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber and his screenwriters manage to expand the comedy beyond that one running joke, but just barely. Mostly the movie relies on hyper-charismatic stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson to generate the laughs as a mismatched buddy team in this action-tinged broad comedy. Hart tones down his persona a few notches to play straight man Calvin, a former high-school standout in a middle-age rut. His life takes a turn for the interesting when an old classmate, former bully target Robbie (Johnson), shows up musclebound, working for the CIA, and in need of help. Literally every other character in the movie is a plot device. This is a world completely engineered around its stars, who manage to thrive in the artificial atmosphere despite the lackluster support. Fine character actors like Amy Ryan, Ryan Hansen, and Jason Bateman are mostly wasted. Still, it’s fun stuff. Hart and Johnson have made careers out of redeeming otherwise forgettable movies. Here at least they have a pal to help out.
The Conjuring II (PG-13, **): Not only does the sequel to James Wan’s 2013 surprise hit fail to capture the spooky atmosphere of the original, it actually renders the first movie less enjoyable by highlighting all the flaws Wan papered over with aesthetic and technique. Pious ghost hunting couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) travel to England where a single mother (Frances O’Conner) struggles with the haunting of the shabby house she shares with her four children. Toy trucks drive on their own accord, old playground equipment squeaks in the mist, and little girls mutter threats in gravely demonic voices. All the old familiar tricks are pulled out, but with surprisingly little inventiveness. Wan is capable with jump scares and occasional frightening images, but this stuff is uninspired at best and fumblingly manipulative at worst. It’s a baffling pop hagiography of the Warrens, two real-life paranormal “experts” who time and again have been proven to be fakes. But here they’re holy warriors, a perfect nuclear family whose love of Jesus and tradition can save the sad single mum. It’s icky, paternalistic stuff in a movie not nearly fun enough to distract you from its boring conservative subtext.
Finding Dory (PG, ***): Pixar’s perfunctory sequel to the 2003 animated hit tags all the bases and looks uniformly handsome, but never for a moment does it dazzle. The studio has set an awfully high bar for itself, one it seems increasingly willing to not even try to clear on its safer projects, like this one, which repackages the original with a slightly different (and less-interesting) setting. This time around it’s sidekick Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) turn to search for her missing parents, a task made difficult by her lifelong memory disorder. She enlists the help of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and the formerly wayward Nemo (young replacement Hayden Rolence), along with a kooky new cast of characters from an aquatic-rescue facility and amusement park. Those include a cranky octopus (Ed O’Neill), a nearsighted shark (Kaitlin Olson), and a finicky whale (Ty Burrell). The voice actors are all in top form, but the tiresome cycle of getting lost and found again wears thin, especially as the new setting lacks the visual splendor of the original’s undersea world. It’s fine, inoffensive, and perfectly pleasant. By the end, all but the youngest audience members might find themselves sharing Dory’s syndrome: You’re smiling and feeling generally positive, but you really can’t remember why.
Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13, **): If ever a title was indicative of wishful thinking, it’s this one. The resurgence refers not just to the aliens who return to finish the job they started back in 1996, but implies a similar revamping of a would-be franchise. Nevermind that the original bit of blockbuster megacheese is perhaps so well-regarded because it was never sullied by shoddy sequels. No, this lame attempt at a reboot spends half its time gazing into the past and the other half looking toward a potentially more interesting second sequel it never earns. All the major players are back, excluding Will Smith, who’s killed off with a line of dialogue and replaced by Jessie T. Usher as his son, the leader of a squadron of space pilots who first encounter a new alien probe. Soon after Earth is attacked by an even bigger spaceship than before, bringing the whole surviving gang back together, including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and even Judd Hirsch. They run through all the familiar beats from the original— disaster-sequence opening, vain fight back, stirring presidential speech, gimmicky technical solution to their problem— while trying to cram in new characters played by Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, William Fichtner, Sela Ward, DeObia Oparei, and a ghastly comic-relief character played by Nicolas Wright, basically the human Jar Jar Binks. After the brief tinge of nostalgic pleasure wears off, the movie grates on the nerves, leaning more heavily (and ineptly) on sci-fi than the original, which was more of a disaster movie with space aliens as the sentient calamity. It’s a bleep-bloop invasion of your eyes and ears that fails to inspire anything more than a flickering memory of a much better time quite awhile ago.
The Purge: Election Year (R, ***): The premise for the Purge movies is hyperbole doused in popcorn butter: In the near future, balance to the American economy is restored by the institution of the Purge, an annual night when all crime is declared legal— either to vent our national bloodlust or to do away with the troublesome underclass, depending on whom you believe. This second sequel follows cop-turned-reformed-killer Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) who now works as the head of security for a popular senator (Elizabeth Mitchell) running for president on an anti-Purge campaign. When her political enemies opt to use Purge night as a convenient excuse to do away with her, Leo must team up with a kindly shopowner (Mykelti Williamson) and his surrogate family. This third installment borrows a little too heavily from the superior sequel and the dialogue is still cover-your-ears bad, but DeMonaco occasionally spins horror-movie gold from the anxieties of the day. The numbed acceptance of the hunted, contrasted against the cartoonish fury of the Purgers, has a dark resonance in a country where we react to mass shootings with blasé shrugs and where one of our very own presidential candidates eagerly channels atavistic neo-libertarianism.
The Shallows (R, ***1/2): Director Jaume Collet-Serra has previously excelled in movies with self-imposed limitations: confined to an airplane cabin (Non-Stop), taking place over a single night (Run All Night), or costarring Paris Hilton (House of Wax). He mostly succeeds again with this survivalist thriller that pits Blake Lively against a shark on a deserted beach. Lively stars as a med-school dropout trying to find herself on a vacation to a secret beach when she’s bitten while surfing and stranded on a rocky reef by a circling shark. Collet-Serra beautifully establishes the character, drenches the beautiful setting with menace, and stages a harrowing attack. Lively is excellent as the wounded but resourceful surfer. Alas, the shark becomes increasingly visible, increasingly crazed, and increasingly silly as the movie wears on, and it breaks the spell the actress and director have cultivated so nicely. Still, it’s a taut, thrilling summer movie that satisfies even if it doesn’t entirely live up to its early promise.
Swiss Army Man (R, *): In this ostentatiously oddball indie designed to provoke, Paul Dano stars as a lonely, suicidal castaway who finally escapes his deserted island with the help of a new friend— a corpse he dubs Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe. The multi-purpose corpse— the man of the title— is supernaturally flatulent, which Dano’s Hank uses to turn him into an aquatic conveyance, a fart-propelled jet ski. Manny also has a prehensile boner that points the way to safety, can be turned into a Gatling gun with nuts and the Heimlich maneuver, and even starts to talk, although he can barely remember anything about human custom. The bulk of the movie is Hank trying to teach Manny the ways of life and love by simulating an imagined event from his own life where he actually gets the courage to talk to a beautiful stranger (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on a bus. Yep, all this outlandishness just to tell another story about a lonely white nerd who’s afraid to talk to girls. Directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert wallow in their own outlandishness without using it to say anything interesting at all. It’s a fundamentally dishonest movie that dares you not to like it, as though indulging the creators in an arthouse stunt is a litmus test for open-mindedness. Nope.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
The B.F.G. (PG): Steven Spielberg directs this adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl story about a young girl (Ruby Barnhill) who befriends a soft-hearted giant (Mark Rylance) cast out for his lack of interest in eating humans.
Free State of Jones (R): Matthew McConaughey stars in this based-on-a-true-story war drama about a Southern farmer who stages an uprising against the Confederates. Featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell.
The Legend of Tarzan (PG-13): Alexander Skarsgård stars as the famous hero of the jungle, called back to the wild from his new home in London to save his animal friends from an evil mining company. Featuring Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Christoph Waltz.
> Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (R): A pair of good-time dude-bros (Zac Efron and Adam Devine) hatch a plan to hold a national audition for dates to a big wedding, only to be scammed by a couple of crafty floozies (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza).
Now You See Me II (PG-13): The godawful, ridiculous movie about magic that could only work with digital special effects inexplicably returns for a sequel. Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, and Dave Franco return, joined by Daniel Radcliffe, for a followup to a heist movie that— in case you couldn’t tell— I really hated.
> The Secret Life of Pets (PG): In this computer-animated comedy, housepets only reveal their sophisticated emotions and intellects when their owners are away. Louis C.K. voices Max, top dog in his household until his owner brings in an annoying new pup (Eric Stonestreet). Featuring the voices of Albert Brooks, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Dana Carvey, and Steve Coogan.