Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 4, 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.
Jason Bourne (PG-13, **): Star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass reteam nine years after the last outing for a sequel to the Bourne trilogy, but alas, like the title character, the movie is stuck in the past. Bourne (Damon), having learned the truth behind his secret identity as a brainwashed assassin, is living a life of mopey masochism when old cohort Nicky (Julia Stiles) clues him in to a new Central Intelligence Agency program that harks back to his own past. From there it’s a return to the Bourne formula, one as increasingly ossified as the Bond franchise but a good deal less fun. A control room of frantic typists overseen by an aging character actor (Tommy Lee Jones this time) track Bourne while an anonymous assassin know as the Asset (Vincent Cassel this time) hunts him. The car chases and fistfights retain their verve, but the story around them is a dull mess of clichés and shoddy logic. A vast amount of the screentime is taken up by Alicia Vikander as a naïve intelligence agent and Riz Ahmed in a frustratingly tangential subplot about a social-media mogul. At least Ahmed is an especially welcome presence, as is ace character actor Bill Camp. Better to focus on the little highlights and supporting players, because the sum of the parts is awfully unadventurous for a globe-hopping action movie.
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.
Nerve (PG-13, ***): This flimsy, fun modern B-movie looks a bit like a prognostication in the wake of the Pokémon Go phenomenon. Goody-two-shoes Vee (Emma Roberts) is prompted by her thrill-seeking best friend (Emily Meade) to join an online game called Nerve, where paid-subscriber Watchers suggest dares that Players can complete for money. The Player with the most Watchers and money prevails, winner take all. But after Vee is swept up in the game with a fellow player, handsome mystery man Ian (Dave Franco), the dares escalate in intensity and she begins to suspect a conspiracy propelling the Players forward. During a delightful middle stretch, the movie escapes from the inelegant formula of its first act to have some harrowing adventures before retreating to a clumsy, didactic climax. Roberts, Franco, and Meade help class up what could easily have been a straight-to-Redbox throwaway. A few memorable sequences suggest there’s a superior movie in here somewhere, even though as a bloodless PG-13 teen horror movie it’s already probably better than it has any right to be.
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.
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.
< 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).
Nine Lives (PG): Kevin Spacey stars as an uptight businessman who learns lessons about what’s truly important in life when he’s stuck inside the body of a cat. Yes, this is an actual, unironic movie, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and also featuring Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken.
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.
Suicide Squad (PG-13): A group of DC Comics bad guys (played by Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Common, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, and Jared Leto as the Joker) team up for a secret government mission for the promise of freedom if they return.