Hobbs and Shaw

Remember how much backlash there was to the last Pierce Brosnan Bond film?  You know the one with the surfing and parasailing ski sequence and let’s not forget the invisible car. People moaned so much about those elements that they dumped Pierce, rebooted the whole 007 series and went back to basics as much as possible. Now imagine that the producers had ignored fan grousing and only paid attention to the box office, after all “Die Another Day” was a huge success. The result would have been a series of films that got more outlandish and cartoon like  and the series would simply be a mechanical assembly of parts to pick our pockets every few years. That’s basically what happened with the “Fast and Furious” series. “Hobbs and Shaw” is a road runner cartoon without the plot.

Both Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson are charismatic action stars who remain able to open a movie on their own. This team up is a spin off of the “Fast and Furious” films where their characters have basically established a tenuous working relationship but a terrible personal relationship. In other words, they were ripe for a bickering buddy comedy, so hear it is. This film could have been quite successful just putting the two of them in a car, plane or locked room together and let them verbally and physically battle it out. That however would be too subtle for this series. When you are making a deep fried Twinkie, you might as well dip it in chocolate, dust it with powdered sugar, add some sprinkles and then provide some whipped cream to dip it in as you are consuming it. There is nothing that is off the table in these movies and if you are in the mood to over indulge in CGI mayhem, hokey plot twists and some scenery chewing performances, then this is a movie for you.

The chase scene through London in the early part of the film is a good example of this excess. The Maclaren that our duo are using to escape the bad guys is instantaneously able to turn without skidding, hit the perfect speed in a bit of cross traffic and generally out perform the Batmobile on city streets. It is pursed by a magic motorcycle that can levitate, defy the concept of inertia and survive collisions that would disable a military vehicle weighting a hundred times as much. Later in the movie there is a vehicle that does a 360 degree rotation in mid-air. Even though the Bond film ruined their stunt with a pipe whistle effect, you could see that it was real and impressive. In this film, it is simply one more CGI moment to stack on the pyre. By the time the climax shows up, we are already overstuffed with these visual confections and the resolution means much less. You have to suspend disbelief and common sense to enjoy this stuff. If you are willing, then go for it.

On a side note, like many other films of the last few years, there are a number of sequences that take place over the credits, mid-credits and at the end of the credits.  People, if you are holding your bladders to get through something in the middle of this film without missing anything, you are defeating your purpose when you leave your trash in the aisle and rush out of the theater with the commencement of the closing music.  You won’t be missing anything essential, but you would not have missed anything essential an hour earlier if you visited the loo then. There are some very amusing moments in those last minute appearances of our characters, why skip a good joke? To get to the parking lot five minutes earlier? It makes no sense. Maybe a dozen people out of the couple hundred in the theater stuck it out for those bits. People, you paid for this and you are leaving product on the plate uneaten. Shame on you.

You could rightly describe the first “Fast and Furious” as “Point Break” with cars. “Hobbs and Shaw” is “Lethal Weapon, 2, 3 and 4” with spies instead of cops. If it’s hot where you live and the local cinema has good air conditioning, this is perfectly satisfactory. Maybe the best part however is next winter, when you are channel surfing and this is on, you can watch it again and it will feel like a new experience because there was nothing notable about it the first time around.

The Meg

So i have been away from a movie theater for a couple of weeks and I have missed some films that I hope to catch up with soon. This weekend’s big release is something that I did look forward to, so as soon as I got the chance this weekend, I took a dive into South Pacific waters, along with Jason Statham, in search of “The Meg”. Director Jon Turteltaub is not so much of an auteur as he is an audience serving professional. The story of a giant, pre-historic shark suddenly being let loose on the world doesn’t call for a cinematic light touch. It demands that you push the right popcorn buttons, and as the guy who brought us the two National Treasure movies, Mr. Turteltaub seems to be a good fit.

In terms of entertainment value for your summer dollars, which Hollywood depends on, “The Meg” is on a par with the recent Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Skyscraper“. In fact, I was thinking of another comparison when this came to mind. Back in the 1970s, Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were regular faces on the silver screen, especially in the summertime. Both of those guys had big charisma that carried films that were not always great but were worthy because of their presence in them. Burt had a whole host of summer films in the 70s ; “The Longest Yard“, “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings“, “Smokey and the Bandit“.  Clint of course was the cowboy of the 70s but his summer output included films; “The Eiger Sanction“, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” as well as “The Outlaw Josey Wales“.  Together, those two icons dominated several of the summers of my youth. In forty years. this generation will look back on the films off Statham and Johnson in a similar way. Although Dwayne Johnson is the natural heir to the Schwarzenegger/Stallone mantle, he has a comedic persona that those two never managed to quite get, despite “Kindergarten Cop”.  Statham is more closely connected to the Charles Bronson mold of tough guy. What I think is effective for both Statham and Johnson is that they appear in a variety of films but their persona and personality are what makes the movies work. That’s why I like the analogy to Reynolds and Eastwood. “The Meg” is Jason Statham’s summer film an the same way that “Skyscraper” is Johnson’s entry for the hot season.

Fortunately, Jason Statham’s tough guy facade is just right for this movie. He is a reluctant deep sea rescue expert who gets called upon to effect a rescue that he wants nothing to do with. Just like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” and Johnson in “Skyscraper”, Statham’s character Jonas is the right guy in the wrong place at the right time. While he is not required to spin kick the shark in the face, he actually does end up going toe to fin with it at the climax of the movie. In a sort of Ahab with kung fu skills moment, Statham manages to make the completely ridiculous seem reasonable and fun. That is why they hired him. He does get some chances to act as well but since the rest of the story is paper thin, you are not going to pay much attention to any of that.

The film riffs on several elements from other shark based movies. “Jaws” has the greatest number and the most obvious tribute/ripoff moments. When the Megalodon does make it to a beach, there is a whinny kid who wants to go swimming, a frustrated mother, a selfish guy willing to roll over others in trying to escape from the shark and even a dog named Pippen, just a switched consonant away from the sacrificial dog of that great film.  We also have a pig headed billionaire, who has financed the project which brings the Megladon to the surface. Rainn Wilson may not have Samuel Jackson’s vocabulary. but he does have a similar story line to the one in “Deep Blue Sea”. There is also an L.L. Cool J stand in with moments of comic relief.

This movie does not aspire to be an adventure film like “Jaws” was. It is closer to the action film of “Deep Blue Sea”, with a science fiction component and a “Jurassic Park” mindset. There is a little bit of lip service paid to the notion of man screwing up Mother Nature, but frankly Winston Chao is no Jeff Goldblum and the screenwriters are not collaborating with Steven Spielberg for character ideas. This is a simple movie that is closer to the chase the victim plot of “Jaws 2” than the man aginst nature brutality of the original “Jaws”. Plus Jason Statham can swim and beat up a shark a thousand times bigger than him. Extra butter on the popcorn will help. I chose to see this in 3-D, because if you are going for the cheese, you might as well add the mayonnaise.

 

F8 of the Furious

OK, it’s time to fill your tank, strap yourself in and forget everything you learned in science class. We have another entry in “The Fast and the Furious” franchise to watch.This logic defying, cheesy dialogue spewing, CGI mismash, is what I like to refer to as “Craptacular”. It doesn’t need to make any sense, it just needs to entertain us for a couple hours on a sunny weekend afternoon after we’ve had a nice lunch and we are looking for some air conditioned silliness. “F8 of the Furious” as I insist it should be spelled, has a lot of things going for it despite the cockamamie story telling, paper thin characterization and 1000 yard stare machismo. I don’t anticipate these films like some people do, In fact I was not even sure I would see this one. But when the history of my life is written, I won’t hate myself for having enjoyed these movies a bit. They feel like summer.

From where I sit, the best things about this series are it’s most recent additions. I missed the film where Dwayne Johnson first showed up as a character in these, but he is a guy that oozes charisma. Jason Statham is in his third one of these movies, having a brief cameo in 6 and then being the main bad guy in 7. Whatever they are paying these guys it is worth it because they inject the most energy into the movies of any of the actors. Kurt Russell shows up in a suit and tie for a few scenes, and his swaggering smarminess as a spook with no name, brings a smile to my face. If only Scott Eastwood were as much fun as the intern version of Russell’s character.

Two new additions for this film are the ladies that figure heavily in the plot. Charlize Theron steps in as the villain for this edition of the story. She has tightly weaved hair extensions and a badass attitude. It looks like she was saving all her action chops for “Atomic Blonde” later this summer, because in her role as Cipher, she primarily barks orders and frantically types. In another of the mindless film sequences over the years, cyber hackers attack, block and outwit each other as we see who can really reach 70 words a minute on their laptop. Maybe if we edit it together tightly enough and inject some screen shots of computer graphics, it will feel like an action piece. [No it doesn’t]. After giving us a dozen reasons to hate her and be ready to cheer for the comeuppance that we have been waiting for, there is an unsatisfactory close to her story. In all probability, we will see the same plot twist that has happened in every one of these films happen in the next one. Also stepping in in a brief scene is Dame Helen Mirren. She doesn’t get to do much but she can act everyone else in the film right off the screen just by sitting there.

For thirteen years people have piled on Pierce Brosnon’s last outing as 007, for some of the same reasons that they have embraced this franchise. CGI cars that defy gravity, preposterous super villains with all powerful knowledge, stunts that induce as much laughter as excitement, and jokes that don’t produce either laughter or much character. With the exception of Statham’s sequence on a plane, the humor here largely falls flat. Since I am at heart a sentimentalist, I sometimes find myself being drawn into the “Family” motif that strings these films together. Who doesn’t like a hardy laugh as you celebrate your victory of a new bad guy by breaking bread and forming an alliance with the last bad guy. As I said earlier, it doesn’t make a lot of sense but cracking the whip on a movie like this is a little like kicking a puppy. It ties so hard to please you that it is just wrong to punish it when it drops a turd on your carpet. fate_of_the_furious_ver3

If you think you can take a giant grain of salt and choke it down, than you will almost certainly enjoy a car chase with a submarine, or a parachute jump that would make D.B. Cooper proud. You probably won’t care that a convoluted double cross is arranged without any explanation or that people leaping out of cars traveling well in excess of the speed limit results in no physical consequences. “The Rock” doesn’t need the force to levitate his opponents off the ground, Statham doesn’t need gravity to interfere with a good fight or foot chase, and Vin Diesel doesn’t need to act to star in a movie. All of these things are still more believable than finding enough clear road to chase on in New York City on a weekday afternoon.

The Mechanic Resurrection

Let’s get this out of the way up front. This movie should not exist. If the remake had followed the hard edged, cynical original that was the subject of one of my Charles Bronson posts last week, the lead character would not be around for a sequel. In updating, it might have made sense if his apprentice had survived and was now the lead character, but this does not sit right with me. But I went and saw it anyway because it had Jason Statham in it and they used the name from the previous title, so marketing works and I guess it’s my fault when the third one shows up in three or four years. Sorry everybody.

The movie is as lazy and tired as you expect it to be. Sure there are a lot of fight scenes but never any tension. Statham kills more people in this than Schwarzenegger killed in “Commando”. That does not make it any good. Hundreds of hired bad guys stand in front of his bullets and fists and they die. None has any interesting trait to them, they are like space invaders continuously moving forward to be destroyed in line.  The fights and shootouts are acrobatic but silly, and the CGI blood is tastefully splattered around but never on the hero. Oh, and here’s another thing, what the hell are they trying to do making Arthur Bishop a hero? He should be like  Parker/Porter from the Donald Westlake stories, a grim single minded individual with a sense of self entitlement that ignores the rest of the world (Did he do a Parker Film?). The film makers here try to make him sympathetic, with a love interest motivated by charity.

I like Jason Statham, but I think unless the role is tailored to him, he works better as a side character like in “Fast and Furious 7” or “Spy”.  “Death Race” and “The Bank Job” are two of his better roles although acting is least required behind the wheel in a mask. The silliness of the “Crank” series or “Transporter” is what they are getting with this film, instead a of a good character driven story. When Bishop is plotting the executions he is carrying out, that is when the movie feels like something, but as soon as it reverts to shootouts and fisticuffs, it’s just another yawner that kills time on a Saturday (or Holiday) afternoon.

The trailer above is more suspenseful and interesting than most of the movie. The poster below shows how little thought went into trying to market this. Jessica Alba is eye candy but sometimes gets called on to act and that is a mistake. Michelle Yeoh must not be getting much work, her character in this could have been played by anyone, no martial arts or bad ass attitude was required. Tommy Lee Jones shows up as a target at the end of the film. Fifteen years ago, he would have been the bad guy, now he is a plot device.

This movie is strictly for dopes like me who have a loyalty to a character brand, no matter how miss used it is, and a high level of tolerance for Statham killing everything in sight. I’m not sure I’d even say catch up with it on streaming, rental or cable, unless your alternative is “Independence Day Resurgence“, in which case, see this masterpiece instead.

SPY

After the horrid reviews of “Tammy” from last summer and seeing the horrible poster for this film featuring the star dressed down and colored gold, I thought this would be one to skip. The word of mouth though has been really strong, the Rotten Tomatoes score was impressively at 95%, so I decided to take a chance and I can say I was rewarded. This is an amusing spy parody that gets a lot of credit for playing off the Bond film tropes but then adds the Melissa McCarthy vulgarity in appropriate doses.  When you throw in a couple of extra performers that I have an affinity for, well you end up with a solid piece of summer entertainment.

The titles and title song are perfect reflections of a Bond opening with Maurice Binder like silhouettes and a soft rock piece of cheese that isn’t Adele but make you think of her. Jude Law plays as typecast as a spy who is good, and of course good looking, but is extra special because of the control operator he has back at CIA headquarters. He’s not incompetent, but he appears to be a little less perfect than 007 would be in the same circumstances. Ultimately, the comedy turns on getting McCarty out in the field, as an unlikely spy with equally unlikely cover.

There is an amusing sequence with the CIA equivalent of “Q”. A spy quartermaster that is dismissive of the agent and also expert at his job. Michael McDonald plays a stone-faced bureaucrat in this sequence and to make it work, he has no joy in his eyes. One of the reasons the film works is because they don’t play it as a parody but rather as a straight spy film with comic overtones. “Q” might smirk, or make a sarcastic comment, but this quartermaster has no sense of humor. Neither does deputy director of CIA operations Elaine Crocker, played by the always great Allison Janney. She is the straight man to a number of jokes in the set up of the film, I don’t know if I knew she was in the movie before today, but ultimately the movie is carried by other performers.

There are three performances that ultimately make the movie work, and then just as a little frosting, there is a fourth actor I want to mention. McCarthy is the big gun here. She knows her way around this kind of material and so far people don’t appear to be tired of the familiarity. Her disappointment at the covers she is given is a nice contrast to the hard edged character she ultimately pretends to be (and it turns out, actually is). As the star of the film, most of the focus is on her and if you don’t care for her, then this film will not be for you. I was impressed with the cold bitch persona that Rose Byrne manages for her villain character. The dry, dull tone that she uses to pass out orders, insults and backhanded compliments was amusing and matched the tone the movie was trying for.  Jason Statham was hysterical as a spy who can’t keep from tooting his own horn in the most outrageous and self delusional fantasies you can imagine. His comic chops are great as he plays against the type of character that he played in “Furious 7”. If there is a sequel to this film, look for he and McCarthy to be paired in the mismatched partner story that a sequel would beg for. Also, stick around through the credits for a couple of stingers and an out-take that will make you laugh one more time. Bobby Cannavale is a comedian turned actor who gets to play a handsome in a slick bad boy kind of way, villain. After seeing him in “Win-Win” and “Blue Jasmine” in the last few years, I am increasingly impressed with his work.

The worst poster of the year winner.

This film is not likely to be seen as a classic. The jokes are good the first time through but I doubt they will have a high degree of repeatability. There are several visual gags that help the film earn it’s rating, as well as the potty mouth of the star. The people behind this get the joke and they know how to tell it. I thought “The Heat” from two years ago was alright but it was a big stretch to believe the two characters as tough cops. This movie suffers from the same problem but covers it up the same way, by making enough jokes that connect to outweigh the improbability of any of the story.

Furious 7

I can’t say I am a big fan of these films. I saw the first one when it came out and did not return to the series until the previous film, Furious 6. That film had a convoluted plot, brought back a dead character, and pushed the limits of what is believable in a car chase film. Somewhere along the line the gang of criminals featured in these stories became the good guys and they now are working as intelligence operatives because they pissed off the wrong people. I don’t buy a second of any of it, but watching it was not annoying in any way and if you are willing to give up any sense of realism, recognize that gravity and physics don’t mean anything to making movies any more, than there are worse ways to pass a couple of hours.

Vin Diesel and crew are the continuing attraction. They race cars manically and they take dangerous stunts to the ultimate level. Paul Walker’s death in late 2013 delayed this film as they had to create a way to tell the story with bits of his role that had been filmed and plug in spots where there was no footage to work with. I guess you could spend the time playing “spot the CGI double” but that is too much effort for such a weightless film.

To me, the two best things the movie has going for it are reliable veteran film tough guys, Kurt Russell and Jason Statham. “Handsome Rob” is playing the villain here. He is an unstoppable tornado of violence that kills at the drop of a hat. It looks like in the introduction there is already a body count in the dozens and the movie is just starting. I like Statham as a tough guy and he is appropriately menacing in this, however, he is much like one of the vehicles that gets thrown into the story, indestructible because it would slow things down. His character shows up in places that he has no reasonable ability to be and we never see any planning from this bastardized version of James Bond. The most elite military teams in the world can hit him with a single shot despite the presence of dozens of  high tech weapons. He is a cardboard bad guy made to a boogeyman that is hard to enjoy.

Mr. Russell shows up as a surrogate for Dwayne Johnson’s F.B.I. agent. The Rock’s character is sidelined early on but he did get a nice fight sequence with Statham and he picks up a big machine gun at the end of the movie and does the best impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger ever. Kurt is cool and smarmy and gets involved in only one real action scene and it is the most believable character arc in the story and it is ridiculous. Just having him swagger in and smile is worth whatever they paid him and I would not be surprised to see his character pop up again if the series gets another film, which given the box office seems inevitable.

furious_seven_ver3

In a movie assembled from action pieces, strung together by oversimplified spy tropes, and depending on dialogue written as if it is going to be delivered in a big balloon over the characters head, the cast does what it can to sell the emotional components of the film. There is a nice epilogue with Paul walker that seems to be a fitting goodby to their co-worker. Now it is time to get back to work, crank out another one and make another couple of billion on the shallowest  movie franchise this side of “Scary Movie” parodies. The cheese is laid on thickly, and it goes down quickly and will not upset your stomach too much.