Stuber

This weekend was all back to basics at the movies. “Crawl” is a straightforward horror/thriller and “Stuber” is a honest to goodness action/comedy. Once in a while there were bits and pieces of social justice issues raised, but they are ultimately mocked or conventionally accepted and the film is about the jokes and the laughs rather than anything serious.  Kumail Nanjani did not write this screenplay, but it fits him as easily as the part he wrote for himself in the Oscar Nominated screenplay for “The Big Sick“. He plays Stu, a meek guy trying to make ends meet and get the girl of his dreams at the same time. His part time Uber gig brings him into contact with a hard as nails cop, played by Dave Bautista.

Buddy cop movies have been around for a long time and the variations are numerous. We’ve had old cop/young cop stories, goodcop/bad cop morality tales, and cops paired with dogs, Russians, Zombies, and even a T-Rex. Some of those movies were action films with a little comedy thrown in, “Stuber” is the opposite, it is a comedy with a little action added to it. The reason that the cop has to take uber is that he is recovering from lasik eye surgery and has basically become Mr. Magoo with a gun. This movie is filled with slap stick moments, some as simple as tripping or banging your head accidentally because your vision is impaired, but other moments of slap stick involve shooting people in the head or running them over with a car. The tone of the film sometimes tries to play it seriously, but we never do because there is way too much screaming.

The two main actors are solid in what are likely to become their signature character types. Nanjani is the striving outsider with difficulty expressing himself. Bautista is the bull in a china shop, ready at any moment to break something within arms reach. It may be a little unfair to pigeon hole them at this point, but let’s face it, stereotyping is  what casting is all about, and we know immediately what these characters are by who is playing them. The plot of the story is fairly standard cop movie stuff [dead partner/rogue cop/drug gang/duplicitous superiors etc.] What is creative here is the use of contemporary culture touchstones like cell phones, spin classes, and uber itself, to tell the story. Stu has movie culture to refer to in trying to cope with the circumstances he has found himself in. There are a half dozen cues picked up from other films that tell him how to behave or what to expect. Of course none of that comes out the way it is supposed to. As a straight man, Dave Bautista is solid but he has something else going for him, His charisma would allow him to play the part straight, but he has good comic timing and a voice that can make a joke work, even when it is not very good.

You will not remember the plot of the film for long after you see it. There are so many cliches involving the cop story that it will run together with dozens of other films. Heck, even the strained relationship between Bautista’s character and his daughter, is a trope that was mined in “Crawl”  . Parents and their adult children sometimes have issues, big surprise. The thing that will hold over in your head however is the comic relationship between the two leads. It’s a silly premise and there is no reality to the cop procedural stuff, but who cares about that when you are laughing.

I’m willing to endorse a film if it gives me four or five good laughs, and maybe one hysterical moment. Although I think they overdo the screaming moments of the film a bit, there were at least a dozen times that I laughed out loud. As someone who is suspicious of the range of an electric car, there is a joke waiting to happen, and it does. There were also some outright slap sticky moments with gun play in the film. And just for good measure as Henslowe advised in “Shakespeare in Love”, it’s always good to add a bit with a dog.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Video is NSFW)

Normally on this site we try to keep it at a PG-13 for the readers. If it is something I am writing, than I want it to be in my voice and I use vulgar language in a fairly narrow spectrum of circumstances. The trailer above however is an accurate reflection of the vulgarity and coarseness of the interactions in the film we are talking about here, so if you can’t guess how the maestro of the “MF” word does in this film, the clip will give you plenty to chew on. Reynold’s character actually suggests that Jackson is single-highhandedly ruining the word.

This kind of movie is mostly bulletproof. It is not critic friendly, it will be obvious as to what is going to happen, and it will offend a few people both intentionally and unintentionally. It will also entertain you for a couple of hours while you enjoy a refreshing beverage and some popcorn in a cool theater on a hot day. I prefer my popcorn with a good amount of butter flavoring and then I dump in a box of Hot Tamales to sweeten things up. The popcorn taste, mixed with the sweet but spicy candy is solid, but as the candy gets coated with the butterflavoring it adds an extra texture to the treat. If you are dieting, you should not go to see this film, because it demands that you consume things that are not good for you but taste delicious.

Mosaic electronic poster at Hollywood Achlight

Ryan Reynolds has become a very successful film star, although his most successful film is also one of his most recent. “Deadpool” has a few things in common with this movie, an irreverent sense of humor and a willingness to go for big action, but otherwise they are very different films. Samuel L. Jackson could make this movie in his sleep. He simply brings his usual bravado and colorful vocabulary and supplements it with the kind of gleeful violence we used to get from “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. The premise is simple, a professional bodyguard ends up trying to protect a contract killer that has crossed his path before. This is a bickering buddy film, each character has quirks that make them appealing and repulsive, and we spend a lot of time with the two of them togeteher matching insults.

If there is a pretender to the crown of “Most Colorful Cursing in the Movies”, it might be the character played by Selma Hayek in this film, plus she does it bi-bilingually. If you ever feel a bit overwhelmed by the language, let me suggest some Junior Mints to go along with the popcorn. A refreshing mint might take the edge off of the palate enough that you can tolerate a few more curse words, in at least two languages.

Now leaving the snack bar menu for a bit and talking about the movie, I will say there are a couple of things that were nice about the film. The locations for the last act are in Amsterdam and take advantage of the city’s quaint architecture and street layouts. There may have been an Alister MacLean film that used the canals of Amsterdam for a chase, I have a vague childhood memory, but it was certainly not as elaborate a chase scene as we get here. The integration of  boats, cars and motorcycles made for a terrific sequence. The main problem is that there are at least two more car chase scenes after this and neither is as exciting. Gary Oldman is in this thing collecting a paycheck and playing another evil villain. His part is so underwritten that when he gets to the big moral equivocation his character launches into, we are already laughing before Samuel Jackson does.

Mostly, I’m just filling space here. There are some moral qualms you can have about using genocide as a plot point in a comedy, and the use of vehicles as terror weapons may be offensive as well. This movie is too silly to take seriously. Go get a refill on your Dr. Pepper or other beverage of choice. Don’t worry about missing anything while you are gone, they will still be cracking wise and shooting crap up when you get back. As a matter of fact, you might want to go to the bathroom as well.

Jurassic World

The world is a different place than it was twenty two years ago when the original “Jurassic Park” stormed onto screens, made CGI the standard by which special effects would be measured from then on, and crowned the king of Hollywood with his greatest commercial success the same year he achieved his greatest artistic success with “Schindler’s List”. Spielberg’s dinosaur movie was the start of freeing our imaginations with digital images and the story was fresh. Here we are all those years later, and everyone knows that the dinosaurs are going to be spectacular, and the setting is going to be lush and the action intense. Even if it is the first time you see any of the Jurassic Park films, “Jurassic World” can never repeat the magic of that 1993 event picture.

Having said that, and giving anybody with bloated expectations a way to let a little air out of the bubble, “Jurassic World” is a terrific summer film that should fill the pockets of everyone involved because it does exactly what the times call for. It entertains us with spectacle, danger and action. There is one important element missing from this film that was much more abundant in it’s three precursors, humor. Other than that, you will have a great time at the movies as long as you are not really expecting a science lesson.

The park has been open for a while now. It is still unclear to me after the events of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, how “i-gen”, the company founded by John Hammond can still exist. They must have had their assets sold off to pay for the lawsuits that would have followed the company after the T-Rex eats half of San Diego. They could not even afford security to keep people off of site B in the third Jurassic Park film. That is all just nit picking however, the point of this movie is to give us something to marvel at and be frightened of. The real monsters continue to be the scientists who play with genetic power and don’t consider the consequences. These films must have inspired a lot of the Monsanto hate out there, because the researchers come across as indifferent to the work they are doing and it’s consequence, they simply see it as something to exploit.  B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu is older but not wiser, making all new mistakes with the current endeavor. Vincent D’Onofrio has the Paul Reiser role as a corporate hack who has visions of defense contracts dancing through his head. It’s Bryce Dallas-Howard who ultimately has to redeem herself as a cold fish of an executive, looking at marketing before she considers the ethical and responsible things to do. She does get to the point where we do root for her, but in the beginning, she is as guilty as anyone for what happens.

If you were worried that the velociraptors of the early films had turned into trained house pets, be assured that is not the case. Chris Pratt, channeling Harrison Ford, is working with the deadly pack hunters, but the story is much more realistic than the trailer would lead you to believe. He needed to have more of “Star Lords” one liners and facial ticks, to make the movie sing more. The fault is not in the performance but the script. Jeff Goldblum owned the first two movies with his sardonic sense of humor and his well timed jabs at the corporation and scientific processes. Pratt only gets one or two moments to show off his comic chops, and then once the story takes off, there are no moments of levity at all.

There are several thrill moments in the film, but nothing to match that T-Rex attack from “Jurassic Park”. The sequence with the gyroglobes is meant to stand in for the attack on the jeep in the first film, and it does have a few great elements to it, but it is not as sustained as that first brilliant sequence that Spielberg used all of his skills to put together. Director Colin Trevorrow copies the master but can’t quite match the terror achieved in that sequence. His strongest effort is in the final fight sequence which does manage to use the characters , both real and digital, to their best effect. Composer Michael Giacchino has done a good job in building a soundtrack for the movie but his work will always be overshadowed here by the theme from the first film, composed by John Williams. That motif is repeated in several sections and at the end of the picture it is as if Williams himself did the score for this. It may be an unfair thing for me to say, but it was the way I felt about it.

The movie succeeds in creating a monster to chase the characters that really is scary. The park looks fantastic and reasonably crowed, at least until the climax. I would want to do several of the rides and attractions we saw in the build up. Kayaking with dinosaurs, riding a Triceratops, or traveling by monorail through a forest are all attractions that would made me want to go through the turnstile. Some times the themes get a little big for the movie. Asset management and investment are certainly important, but a guy who manages to make it to being the eighth richest man on the planet can surely see that losing a $26 million project is small potatoes next to the disaster staring him in the face. Of course if people did not make some stupid choices, there would be no movie for us to thrill to, so ignore some of the improbable s, and sit back for what will surely be the thrill ride of the summer.

San Andreas

I understand the commerce behind a film like this. Big action, a big star, and over the top visual sequences make money. Look, I put down my twelve bucks so I guess I should not complain too much, except what does it say about me and the rest of humanity when we watch disaster porn? Are we confronting our fears and our own mortality or are we revealing in the destruction and enjoying watching millions of people die? I just can’t answer. I feel a little dirty but it is also such a stupid movie that I feel silly for feeling guilty, talk about mixed emotions.

Southern California is the only home I have ever known, and I know that we are all going to be very unhappy when the “Big One” does show up. I rode out the 1971 quake in Sylmar, the 87 Whittier Narrows Quake that killed my hometown theater, and the 94 Northridge quake which made the area sit up and beg. Every once in a while we get a good sized movement of the earth that reminds us that stuff is happening below our feet. This movie wants to bitch slap you into alertness and then make you care about five people while the whole west coast is going to hell in a handbasket. If anyone is better prepared as a result of seeing this, that would be a good thing. The problem is that this movie suggests that we are all pretty much screwed unless we have a helicopter, a plane and a boat at our disposal. Also, pack Dwayne Johnson in your EQ kit because mere mortals are not going to survive without this kind of hero.

The former “Rock” has been a movie star for fifteen years now. He is in one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood, and he gets better as an actor each time out while keeping the charisma that made him a star wrestler before he moved over to the silver screen. He loads this unbelievably derivative story on his broad shoulders and powers though it as if it were Shakespeare. He does not play it camp and he does a credible job playing the hero that everyone will need in a disaster. If Liam Neeson and others are the Old Guy fantasy of competence, Johnson is right there with them, assuming the old guys look like Arnold Schwarzenegger reborn.

Take three parts “Earthquake”, one part “The Towering Inferno”, one part “The Poseidon Adventure”, throw in a dash of “2012” and “The Day After” and you have this movie. Match it with state of the art visual effects to depress the hell out of anyone who remembers 9/11 and you will see what I mean. This movie is cheesy as hell but also sadly familiar. I spent hours watching tsunami videos after the Japanese disaster a few years ago, and I felt like a gawker at the scene of a car accident, but still not able to look away. The dramatic action scenes in this movie still manage to involve you because the main characters are likable and we have followed them through the whole story, but look around and there are a hundred other stories that end in tragedy every time our leads make it thorough ( which they would never do it this was real.)

Paul Giamatti is credible as a Cal Tech scientist, and he adds a little gravitas to the proceedings but the whole scenario is so over the top that in the long run it does not matter. If you can swallow your self loathing and just load up on popcorn, you will be moderately entertained. If you are at all conflicted about the idea, then maybe you should wait for the next comic book movie, where it is easier to laugh off the ludicrous amount of destruction as just being a movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Post Apocalyptic stories have been a go to film genre for me since the glory days of the 1970s. I guess since “Planet of the Apes” ultimately counts in this category, technically I have been hooked since 1968. I really loved stories about a group of survivors, struggling against the environment and other treacherous obstacles in a world that has changed dramatically. “Damnation Alley” , a not very good film, featured a cool vehicle with a rotating set of triangular wheel axles. “A Boy and His Dog”, mined sex and loneliness and survivors in ragged clothes and armed to the teeth for it’s entertainment value. None of those movies prepared me for the experience of first seeing “The Road Warrior” in the summer of 1982. In the rest of the world it was “Mad Max 2”, but here in the States, it was a stand alone film that introduced a new film maker to a much bigger audience. Action movies have not been the same since.

Just as in 1985, when my most anticipated Summer Film was a sequel to the “The Road Warrior”, 2015 brings on a sense of deja’ vu. “Fury Road” has taken a long route to get here, but it has arrived with the kind of force that you would expect. This is a take no prisoners action flick that grabs you with a strong stunt sequence in the first two minutes, followed by a foot chase and combat fighting within five minutes, and in about ten minutes the rest of the chase begins. This is a chase film that goes on for two hours and has maybe three segments when the chase pauses, not for long, just enough to get some exposition in and then back on the road. There are some new gruesome twists on the survivor story. Factory farming will be seen in a whole new light next time you open a bottle of milk. The future is a depressing place if you are not in control of the power, and Max our titular hero is close to powerless at the start of this story.

The vultures that preyed on the weak in “The Road Warrior” and created a twisted economic system in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, have evolved into a extended family cult of malignant children of the deformed patriarch of Immortan Joe. For reasons that become obvious early on, a set of women flee his power and Max becomes part of the exodus by accident. The father figure god is unwilling to give up his possessions and so begins an elaborate pursuit by super charged dune buggies, modified big rigs, and and hundreds of Warrior Boys, convinced that their death will result into admission to Valhalla at the feet of their demi-god father. The two previous films in this series, thirty and thirty-three years old, spent most of their time building up to the climactic chase. This movie is all chase and it sustains the chase through a series of set pieces, plot twists and brilliant design that will keep you hanging on from the moment it begins. Plot is thin but the action is thick and the visualization is visionary. Renegade clans in the outer desert are encased in vehicles that resemble porcupines. The washed out white skin of the Warrior boys make them appear to be an army of spooks, descending on the pursued from all angles.  The grimacing regulator that Immortan Joe wears becomes a death mask that follows the heroes from their nightmares to the waking world. There are spectacular crashes and innovative weapons and a disturbing cult of death that brings them all together. Imperator Furiosa, Charlize Theron, seems appropriately named. She is without humor, and determined to save her group of women. Her strategy is to run and keep running and anything that tries to slow her down needs to be mowed down. The war carriage she drives is a moving fortress that is vulnerable to attack only by having overwhelming forces swarm the wagon. Even then, it turns out that she has a secret weapon she herself did not know about, Max.

I have nothing negative to say about Tom Hardy. I think he was well cast and fits the character like a glove. The two criticisms I have of the film do center around Max however, so Hardy may end up a little worse for wear based on my assessment. As great as I think Hardy might be, he does not have the visual charisma that Mel Gibson radiated off the screen in 1982. If you have not seen those earlier Mad Max films with Gibson, I suggest you wait to do so until after you see this and then the comparison that inevitably ensues will not be nagging you through out the film. The character Max is supposed to be cryptic, but as written here, he feels impenetrable and we can’t quite commit to him as we might want to. Maybe having to play a second leading role with his face covered by a mask for larger parts of the film is the thing that holds back my full endorsement. Nicholas Hoult on the other hand is surprisingly compelling as a Warrior Boy in  the right spot at the right time. His character had more dimension in the nearly characterless plot than anyone else. Hardy is stoic, Theron is fierce but young Mr. Hoult gets to play despair, joy, confusion and be disgustingly winsome at times. 


The action and explosions and fights are choreographed wit a frenetic pace that stays involving for long periods at a time. Director George Miller invented this kind of Apocalyptic mayhem with the original Mad Max, now he has a budget and enough time to see this vision play out in the grandest scale possible. I am now willing to cancel his debit to me for the irritation that “Happy Feet” brought to me. There is enough credit on his ledger from this film to balance out any more dancing penguins that happen along.