Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 28, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
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.
Ghostbusters (PG-13, ***): This women-starring reboot of the 1984 classic is at its best when it’s not retreading plot points and piling on references to the original, which it seemingly spends half its time doing. When director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold venture beyond the confines of nostalgia, they make a pretty fun movie. A credible physicist (Kristen Wiig) and her less-credible old pal Abby (Melissa McCarthy) recruit a kooky young scientist (Kate McKinnon) and a brassy former metro transit worker (Leslie Jones) to create a business catching and trapping ghosts, which are in sudden abundance in New York City thanks to the supernatural meddling of a weaponized internet troll (Neil Casey). This is a shinier, cartoonier take on the material that’s played as more straightforward comedy. It’s pretty funny thanks to the kickass leads and a fun supporting turn from Chris Hemsworth as a hipster himbo. If only it was more willing to be its own movie.
< The Legend of Tarzan (PG-13, ***1/2): Tarzan is a near-impossible character to modernize, not the least because the notion that a white castaway baby could become the King of the African jungle— only to be civilized by an Anglo damsel who spends the rest of her life getting kidnapped as bait for our hero. Director David Yates does his best to elide these regressive attitudes, giving Tarzan a black friend and a mission to stop an imperialist slave trade. If you’re willing to embrace the old-school pulp-fiction storytelling, Gates’s new movie provides ample rewards. It’s a rousing, thrilling adventure movie, with the excellent Alexander Skarsgård starring as Tarzan, now civilized and returned to his English homeland and aristocratic birthright. He, Jane (Margot Robbie), and their new American pal George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) return to Africa to investigate atrocities committed by Belgian emissary Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who’s scheming with a local leader (Djimon Hounsou) with a vendetta against our vine-swingin’ hero. After a slow-paced setup, Yates finally lets our guy let loose his inner beast man— and that iconic roar— for some stupendous action scenes. The same computer effects employed in the new Planet of the Apes series transforms Tarzan’s ape friends into real, emotive characters. It’s a complicated but impressive marriage of old-fashioned storytelling and high technology that, despite some ingrained flaws Yates can do little about, turns out to be one of the summer’s nicest surprises.
Lights Out (PG-13, **1/2): David Sandberg’s feature-length expansion of his own terrific short film of the same name makes a lot of mistakes, but none bigger than blowing his core gimmick in the first five minutes of the film. The rest of the movie is an unnecessary explanation with little room for escalation. Teresa Palmer stars as a commitment-phobe traumatized by an eerie childhood and bad relationship with her mentally ill mother (Maria Bello). But when her stepfather (Billy Burke) is killed, she must step in to help her half-brother (Gabriel Bateman) from falling victim to the same dark force that used to haunt her. What Sandberg lacks in compelling macro storytelling he partly makes up for with an ability to ratchet up suspense within a single scene. Alas, he rushes through his most shocking, frightening sequence at the same pace he moves through a bunch of perfunctory exposition and lackluster character development. The movie has some superbly eerie moments, though, and Sandberg has the potential to be a tremendous scaremonger in the future, even if this one won’t quite motivate you to keep the lights on.
< 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.
Star Trek Beyond (PG-13, **1/2): Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are back, this time sent off on a dangerous rescue mission through an unstable nebula to rescue the crew of a downed ship— but exactly what downed them will prove to be trouble for the Enterprise. All the characters are in place, as perfectly cast as any group in remake history. Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock are a terrific mismatched-buddy team, Simon Pegg is a hilariously amped-up Scotty, Zoe Saldana would shine as Uhura if the filmmakers would give her something to do, and John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin round out the group nicely. But the storyline here is simplistic and unmemorable, with a generic villain (played by the more than capable Idris Elba) whose character and motivations aren’t revealed until the very end, when it’s easy to be far past caring at all. Nothing about the plot affects the characters, and nothing endemic to the characters is relevant to the plot. This is a plug-and-play sci-fi blockbuster with some familiar characters dropped in, enough to serve as passably glittery entertainment, but nothing interesting or distinguishable enough that would ever convince anyone these stories need to be remade fifty years from now.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Bad Moms (R): Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn costar as a trio of overworked mothers whose attempt to let off a little steam goes haywire in this comedy also featuring Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Wendell Pierce.
< Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party (PG-13): Let’s face it— wherever you sit on the political spectrum, there’s a lot of legitimate reasons to dislike or not vote for Hillary Clinton. Thoroughly discredited conspiracy theorist (and a boring one at that) Dinesh D’Souza will not offer any credible ones in his latest screed. (Wissmann)
Ice Age: Collision Course (PG): In this improbable fourth sequel to the computer-animated family comedy, Manny the mammoth and his pals Sid and Diego must help fend off a meteor strike that would render them all extinct. Once more featuring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary.
< The Infiltrator (R): Bryan Cranston stars in this true-crime drama about a U.S. customs agent who uncovers a money-laundering conspiracy that traces back to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Featuring John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, and Amy Ryan.
> Jason Bourne (PG-13): Star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass return for a fourth (ahem, ignore that other one with Jeremy Renner) installment in the series about the amnesiac spy searching for the truth behind the conspiracies of his past. Featuring Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, and Alicia Vikander.
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).
> Nerve (PG-13): A high-school girl (Emma Roberts) discovers the online game she’s playing has real-life stakes— increasingly deadly ones— in this thriller from Paranormal Activity sequel directors and O.G. catfishers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, also featuring Dave Franco.
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.