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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"

            Every five years or so, we get a new “Mission: Impossible” movie to prove that Tom Cruise can still carry an action movie. There are always a few things you can count on in these types of spy thrillers: cool technology, elaborate fights and chases, dry humor, unnecessarily dangerous covert missions, twists where it turns out that one character is actually another character wearing a mask, and of course Tom Cruise (now 53) making it all look easy. The films basically consist of some memorable action sequences, some decent jokes, and a whole lot of forgettable plot. I don’t mean it’s easy to forget the plot after the movie, I mean it’s easy to lose track of the plot during the movie.

            Cruise once again stars as Ethan Hunt, agent of the Impossible Mission Force, a group that accepts missions the CIA won’t touch. The IMF was all but eradicated in the last movie, now a CIA bureaucrat (Alec Baldwin) wants them dissolved for good. With Hunt gone rogue and the IMF without an official director after the last movie, he gets his way. Several IMF agents get absorbed into the CIA, including interim director Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and tech guy Benji (Simon Pegg). But it’s not long before Hunt resurfaces and pulls Brandt, Benji, and longtime ally Luther (Ving Rhames) into an unauthorized mission to stop an evil organization long thought nonexistent.

            Hunt is on the trail of the shadowy Syndicate, led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), one of the better villains this franchise has had in a while. He makes it a point to antagonize Hunt, who never knows if he’s actually hurting the Syndicate, or playing right into their hands. While trying to eliminate the Syndicate, Hunt has to contend with British Intelligence, who are also trying to contain the Syndicate, but in a way that doesn’t exactly sit right with him. Specifically, he’s constantly crossing paths with an agent named Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) who is undercover in the evil organization. Hunt never knows if she’s going to help him, help her own agency, or help the Syndicate just so she can get in deeper with them.  

            These films are known for their perilous action sequences, and this one is no exception. My favorite comes right at the beginning, where Hunt is clinging to the side of a cargo plane as it takes off. I like this sequence for two reasons; one is that I’m afraid of heights, so it’s especially thrilling for me, and the other is that it allows the characters to engage in some George Carlin-style “on the plane/in the plane” banter. The one most people seem to be loving is one where Hunt has to infiltrate a giant water tank so he can alter a security system, all without using an oxygen tank. The sequence has some admirably tense moments, but all I kept thinking about how ridiculous it was that Hunt was having to hold his breath. Okay, it’s established that he can’t bring in a metal tank, but someone as resourceful as him (not to mention his team) should be able to come up with something else.

            Like the other films in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, “Rogue Nation” does action and humor right. What it doesn’t do right, and what none of the films seem to be able to do right, is pull off its tangled web of a story. Loyalties bounce around so much that it’s not interesting anymore when somebody turns. Or when it turns out that somebody’s wearing a mask (I was actually able to predict it correctly this time, which should never happen). Or when there’s a twist of any kind. By all means see it if you like your typical “Mission: Impossible” movie, but don’t expect much of a deviation from the formula.


Two Stars out of Five.


“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity. Its running time is 131 minutes.

5:35 pm edt          Comments


            A common complaint about the recent films of Adam Sandler and Kevin James is that they seem to be using their projects as glorified vacations, making minimal efforts just so they have an excuse to goof around in places like South Africa (“Blended”), Las Vegas (“Paul Blart 2”) and New England (“Grown Ups”). “Pixels” might be just as self-indulgent as these other films, but this time it’s not so much about traveling to an interesting location as it is about living out their fantasies onscreen. I can’t say I blame Sandler and James for choosing to do a movie where Sandler gets to save the world playing video games and James gets to play the President of the United States, but I wish they were doing so in a more thoughtful project.

            Sandler plays Brenner, a former child video game prodigy who was able to instantly recognize the patterns necessary to conquer game after game. But ever since he lost a major tournament he’s been a loser, not getting into a good college and having a dead-end job installing electronics. But at least he’s still the drinking buddy of President Cooper (James), a friend from childhood who is obviously doing better, though crumbling under the scrutiny of the position.

            Earth falls under attack from aliens who represent themselves with blocks of energy that take the form of famous video game characters from the early 80s. They do this because of a far-fetched backstory involving friendly communication being taken as a declaration of war and for some reason the aliens think they need to fight us in the form of giant real-life games. The aliens challenge Earth to a best-of-five series where the winner gets to rule both planets. President Cooper feels he has no choice but to play along, and enlists Brenner to help. Also on the team are Ludlow (Josh Gad), another former child prodigy who’s now a conspiracy nut, and Eddie (Peter Dinklage), who beat Brenner in the video game tournament when they were kids.

            The movie is at its best when it doesn’t play as a Sandler/James comedy. In fact, it’s at its best when there’s not much dialogue at all, since any kind of explanation for the ridiculous action is just convoluted babble. But boy is it fun to see the games play out. The major sequences see our heroes do battle in “Centipede,” “Pac Man,” and “Donkey Kong” (Brenner is supposedly really bad at Donkey Kong, but he took the expert Eddie to the limit in a game that lasted over 20 rounds in the tournament). Plus there’s a sequence at the end where Earth is invaded by every character the aliens can muster that I wish went on longer. It also helps that the soundtrack is filled with pump-up 80s songs that work perfectly with the action.

            But then there’s the film’s humor, and it’s here where things fall apart for “Pixels.” Sandler plays the part with his usual immaturity (he’s particularly unlikeable in his interaction with a love interest played by Michelle Monaghan) and James is, as always, a bumbler. And unlike with the last “Ice Age” movie, Gad and Dinklage aren’t off the hook either. Gad has always been about an inch away from the Annoying Zone, and here not only does he enter it, he lands with a belly flop. Dinklage can somewhat fall back on the excuse that his character is supposed to be an unlikeable jerk, but did he have to give the character such an excruciating voice?

            “Pixels” is a film that could have been so much more. The action sequences are excellent for what they are and there should have been more emphasis on them. But the film is ultimately brought down by being yet another lame Adam Sandler/Kevin James comedy. At least it’s one of the better ones in recent years, but that isn’t saying much.


Two Stars out of Five


“Pixels” is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments. Its running time is 105 minutes.
5:34 pm edt          Comments


“Ant-Man” is the second movie this summer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which at this point pretty much means the world of The Avengers), and it serves pretty much the same purpose as last summer’s second MCU movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Each year brought us two MCU movies: the first with one or more of The Avengers, the second with someone new, but still connected to The Avengers. Marvel wants us to know that they’re not limited to The Avengers, they’re just not going anywhere. Another thing this movie has in common with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” they’re both among the funniest movies of their respective years.

            Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, an ex-con who stole from his greedy employer and redistributed the wealth among people who were cheated. He can’t get a job now because prospective employers don’t see past the “stole from his employer” part. He’s not even allowed to visit his daughter, who loves him unconditionally. His friend Luis (Michael Pena) tells him about an unguarded safe belonging to an old rich man who has plenty of money anyway. Scott has sworn off stealing, but he’s desperate, so he breaks into the safe only to discover that it merely a bodysuit and a helmet. He steals them anyway.

            The safe belongs to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who used to work for Howard Stark (as in Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s father). Pym has developed the technology to shrink people, which increases their speed, strength and stealth. He had a falling out with Stark, left to start his own company, got forced out by his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and now devotes his time to honing his Ant-Man technology so that someone can put on the suit and stop Cross, who barely hides his villainous tendencies. Pym is too old to put on the suit himself and he won’t risk the safety of his daughter (Evangeline Lilly), but the thieving-but-good-hearted Scott seems to be a good candidate.

            Of course Scott eventually agrees to become Ant-Man, but film works better as a plain human comedy than it does as a superhero movie. Paul Rudd had a hand in writing the script, so he was able to combine the character’s voice with his own, resulting in an unusually heartfelt performance. He, Douglas, Lilly, and an army of trained ants have good chemistry as they get acquainted and you won’t mind the film putting the larger plot on hold for a bit. There are also some decent gags with Scott’s unsuccessful run at an ice cream franchise and some scene-stealing antics from the Pena character. I’ve heard people complain that the character is annoying and I can see where that could have easily been true, but Pena is just so endearing in the role.

            The film works hard to remind you that it’s part of the MCU, especially when it comes to The Avengers. I’ve already brought up Howard Stark, but the connections only begin there. Scott asks Pym why he can’t just call The Avengers to help stop Cross, and Pym shoots down the idea (I can’t help but wonder how the suggestion would come off in other non-Avengers movies. Imagine if James Bond pulled that). Ant-Man actually battles a lower-tier Avenger at one point whose mere presence will get a rise out the audience. And there are some ending and post-credit sequences that promise more Ant-Man/Avengers crossovers to come.

            As a superhero movie, “Ant-Man” doesn’t break any new ground (which is ironic given the function ants usually perform). The setup isn’t unique, the characters are typical and predictable, and except for a few gags involving oversized items, the action is brief and unmemorable. But when it’s not trying to be an action movie, the film is fun and makes for a blast of an experience.


Two and a Half Stars out of Five.


“Ant-Man” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. Its running time is 117 minutes.
5:33 pm edt          Comments


            Let me open by admitting that I am not the target audience for “Minions.” The target audience for this movie is people who do not completely despise the Minions; the gibberish-spewing, jellybean-like henchmen from the “Despicable Me” movies. I believe the Minions are annoying little dummies who shouldn’t have been allowed to ruin two otherwise fine family films. If you have kids who like the Minions, or if you like them yourself, you’ll probably get more of a kick out of this movie than I did.

            I had always assumed that the Minions had been created by either Gru or Dr. Nefarious of “Despicable Me” since they seem to be the result of botched experimenting. But according to this movie, the Minions have a long and storied history. They live to serve despicable masters, though they don’t seem to believe in behaving despicably (not in a moral sense anyway). The masters actually don’t seem that despicable themselves, they’re mostly just huge animals who happen to be hungry. Even when it comes to humans, the Minions mostly just join up with grand-scale thieves instead of real monsters throughout history.

            We open with a montage of the Minions serving and accidentally killing their masters over millennia. A misfire with Napoleon forces them into hiding for over a century. Eventually, one of them named Kevin decides to set out and find a new master. He enlists two other Minions named Stuart and Bob and they venture to 1960s New York City. From there, they travel to Orlando for a villains convention (there’s a brief road trip with a family of aspiring villains, which is amusing but isn’t important to the story and I’m guessing the whole angle was tacked on to pad the film’s running time).

            At the convention, the trio bumbles their way into passing a test that makes them the new henchmen of supervillain Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock). Overkill is a master thief who wears red, so this is probably the closest we’re ever going to get to that Bullock Carmen Sandiego movie that is constantly rumored but never manages to materialize. She tasks the Minions with stealing the Crown Jewels of England so she can become Queen, at which point she’ll send for the other Minions. It seems out of character for Overkill to order the Minions to steal the crown when she takes so much pride in her own abilities. As you can probably guess, the job doesn’t go quite as planned and various hijinks ensue.

            There are laughs to be had in this film, all at the hands of human characters. Bullock is having fun gnashing the scenery and Jon Hamm as her scientist husband is even more excitable. The criminal family led by Michael Keaton and Allison Janney are a hoot and deserve more than their throwaway storyline. I imagine this film will get a sequel, maybe they can show up there in an expanded role. Even Queen Elizabeth (Jennifer Saunders, underrated as the Fairy Godmother in “Shrek 2”) manages to steal a few scenes.

            The film’s humor is very much like film’s plot: any time the humans do something right, the Minions are right there to screw it up. The Minions aren’t inherently funny with their incoherent babbling and they aren’t funny in their actions with their lame slapstick, cheap tastelessness, and general stupidity. Even if you like the Minions, the plot of this movie is threadbare and there’s an inconsistency to how loyal the Minions are to Scarlet in any given scene. The Minions are everywhere right now due to the film’s marketing. If you’re not sick of them yet, you might like this film. But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone not being sick of them.


One and a Half Stars out of Five


“Minions” is rated PG for action and rude humor. Its running time is 91 minutes.

5:32 pm edt          Comments

"Terminator: Genisys"

            “Terminator Genisys” is one of the most confusing movies I’ve seen in a long time, or at least since “Interstellar.” If I assigned pushpins to the events of this movie, put those pins on a bulletin board, and tried connecting them with string in order to follow them, I would wind up with a spherical ball of string. This is a movie that features time travel, multiple timelines, and lots of changes to the past that make for even more changes in the future.

            The movie requires knowledge of the first “Terminator” film from 1984. In that film, an evil robot army sent a Terminator robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor, whose son John would grow up to be the leader of the human resistance. The humans, in turn, sent back a man named Kyle Reese, who not only saved Sarah Connor but ended up fathering John.

            The short version of the plot of this movie is that Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is still sent back in time by John Connor (Jason Clarke) to 1984 to save Sarah (Emilia Clarke, no relation to Jason), but it turns out that she’s already being protected by a good Terminator robot she calls “Pops” (Arnold again, there’s some hooey about robot skin aging the same way as human skin to explain the actor’s aging) who saved her from an assassination attempt when she was a child. The three fight off some evil Terminators and use some leftover pieces to build a time machine of their own. Kyle and Sarah travel to 2017 (Pops takes “the long way”) where they can stop the robots from rising up in the first place. A grown John Connor is there to meet them, but the happy family reunion is short-lived.

            I’m sure that summary didn’t make much sense, but trust me, the movie doesn’t spell it out any better. At around the halfway mark, the movie thankfully gets to a point where you probably still won’t understand the time travel business, but at least you can afford to forget about it. Here’s all you need to know to follow the second half of this movie: an evil Terminator wants to start the robot uprising in 2017 and it’s up to the humans and Pops to stop it.

            So how does the film fare as an action movie, convoluted plot aside? Not well, I’m afraid. The action consists mostly of toothless chasing, fighting, and explosions in underwhelming CGI. We see a lot of guns, but the PG-13 rating tells us that the impactful shooting is going to be kept to a minimum, as is the potential for flavorful creative violence. I know it seems insensitive to complain about a movie not being violent enough, but one expects a certain level of intensity from a movie called “Terminator.”

            Nor does the film do well with the franchise’s trademark humor. It isn’t as self-important as 2009’s “Terminator: Salvation,” it just goes for a lot of laughs and misses. The characters are constantly pointing out the ridiculousness of their situations, which is supposed to play as self-aware meta-humor, but just comes off as whiny. There are also, as always, jokes about the Arnold robot not quite fitting in socially, but they’re as forced as the awkward smile he flashes whenever the movie wants a cheap laugh.

            There’s not much to like about “Terminator Genisys.” The movie is bland when it’s not confusing, which to reiterate, is often. Its sole appeal is based on seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger revisit his most famous role, but that attraction can only carry the movie so far, like the length of a trailer. And even then I’m only talking about the film’s tempting first trailer, not the infamous second trailer that is overflowing with spoilers that makes the full-length feature even more useless.


One and a Half Stars out of Five


“Terminator Genisys” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language. Its running time is 126 minutes.

5:30 pm edt          Comments

"Ted 2"

            Seth MacFarlane is quickly losing his clout in the entertainment industry. “The Cleveland Show” has been cancelled, “American Dad” has been bumped from a major network to basic cable, he bombed as an Oscars host, and as for his last movie, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” he was lucky there was a “Transformers” movie to soak up the title of Worst Movie of the Year. Now he’s returning to “Ted” as writer, director, and star to see if there’s any life left in that franchise. I’d say there wasn’t much life in it in the first place.

            The film once again follows sentient teddy bear Ted (MacFarlane) as he gets married to his girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), tries to adopt a child to clear up their relationship troubles, and is forced to fight a court battle to prove that he’s a person and not a thing. He’s aided by his human best friend John (Mark Wahlberg), who pursues a relationship with Ted’s lawyer (Amanda Seyfried). The movie completely negates John’s relationship with the Mila Kunis character from the first movie, which seems like a heartless move at first, but turns out to be an upgrade as the game Seyfried character is much more likeable.

            The biggest problem with the film, as with the first, is that it relies too much on the novelty of a swearing, smoking, bad-mannered teddy bear to carry it to a nearly two-hour running time. Ted jokes fall into two categories: vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity, and unfunny deliberate jokes that, coming from a teddy bear, are supposed to be automatically punched up. There isn’t enough funny Ted material to carry a half-hour TV show, let alone a movie, and definitely not two. I wouldn’t even say that Ted alone is funny enough to carry a second one of those red band trailers that I watched over and over again with the first movie.

            Something I’ve noticed with MacFarlane’s projects is that he’s really bad at ending scenes, which badly affects the story’s pacing, and it’s apparent here too. Most of the scenes in this movie either trail off or end with a cheap laugh. “Family Guy” has a notoriously painful running gag about lazily ending scenes by abruptly cutting to Conway Twitty performances. The equivalent in this movie has to do with Google searches gone wrong. It’ s funny the first time, less funny the next few times, and then you actually look forward to it because at least it means the movie is finally about to move on.

            The movie does do some things right. I’ll bashfully admit that I laughed at a fight between Ted and Tami-Lynn and a detour involving Tom Brady. There are some left-field gags that work, like a surprise celebrity in a supermarket who wants to know how seriously Trix takes its “for kids” policy. What made me laugh the hardest was a climatic chase and fight sequence at a New York City venue where I once met Henry Winkler (he’s a great guy!). The only problem is that the sequence is over too quickly. All the scenes in this movie that drag on forever and the one I like feels rushed. It also left a bad taste in my mouth because it ends with a character making an important sacrifice, but it’s the wrong character.

            From what I’ve heard from other critics, “Ted 2” seems to have a spot already reserved in the Unfunny Comedy Sequel Hall of Fame. I actually think it’s funnier than the overrated original, but that’s in a strictly relative sense. If you only take two things away from this review, remember that I don’t think that the crude little teddy bear is funny for more than five minutes at a time and that Henry Winkler is awesome. He’s not in this movie, I’m just saying so on an unrelated note.


Two Stars out of Five.


“Ted 2” is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use. Its running time is 115 minutes.

5:29 pm edt          Comments

"Inside Out"

            After a year off following a bit of a critical slump, Pixar is back with “Inside Out,” as original a concept as it’s had in a while. The film is sweet and funny and brimming with creativity. That creativity is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

            The film follows the adventures of the personified (well, converted to some kind of beings anyway) emotions inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Their leader is Joy (Amy Poehler), who feels constantly threatened by Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Also in a prominent position are Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The five of them operate a control panel in Riley’s head in relative harmony, though Joy is a bit dominating and lately Sadness has been getting a little grabby with both the panel and happy memories, which she can turn sad just by touching.

            Things are shaken up when Riley and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle McLaughlin) move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley has to start a new school, leave her friends behind, accept that ice hockey isn’t typical in her new environment, etc. Joy tries to lead as usual and put a positive spin on everything, but Sadness keeps interfering. Eventually she interferes with Riley’s “core memories,” the really important ones that shape her entire personality. A fight over a core memory leads to both Joy and Sadness being sucked out of “headquarters” and into the labyrinth of Riley’s long-term memories.

            Joy and Sadness adventure back not only through Riley’s long-term memory, but her entire subconscious. They meet up with a long-dormant imaginary friend (Richard Kind); shake things up in Dream Production Studios, face Riley’s greatest fears, brave a canyon of forgotten memories, and learn why a chewing gum jingle keeps getting stuck in her head. Along the way they learn that while it might not be preferable, Sadness does play an important part in one’s development, though I still don’t see why she has to taint already-happy memories.

            The film’s humor is just about perfect. The emotions are simultaneously super-logical and super-touchy, and it’s interesting to see their take on such situations as eating broccoli, taking a long car trip, and going to new school for the first time. Plus we get some movie-stealing looks inside the heads of minor characters, all of whom have similar lineups of emotion-beings. There are sad moments too, such as when happy memories fade away forever, and conflict between the suddenly-irritable Riley and her loving parents. The movie does laughs and tears very well.

            It’s on the logistical front where I see cracks in this movie. I know it seems silly to complain about logistics in a clearly made-up world like this, but these characters are definitely playing by some sort of rules, and the movie needs to do a better job of explaining what those rules are. For example, the “islands” linked to Riley’s core memories fall into an abyss one by one. What happens if they all go away? Will they eventually be replaced by new islands? Does Riley go catatonic? We don’t know what’s on the line here. I also had a problem with a few scenes of daring escapes. Some of the ideas that the characters cook up feel like cheating because we had no idea they were an option.

            To be sure, there a lot to like about “Inside Out.” It does a lot right, from the chemistry between the characters to the gags to its many creative concepts, though sometimes that creativity gets out of hand. Maybe the filmmakers could have used some Sadness-like discipline to flesh out some of their Joy-ful inventive ideas. Maybe I’m overthinking things and not allowing the film to be exactly as silly as it wants to be. By all means see it for yourself and feel free to tell me I’m wrong.


Two and a Half Stars out of Five.


“Inside Out” is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. Its running time is 94 minutes.
5:28 pm edt          Comments

"Jurassic World"

            “Jurassic World” takes place in a future where dinosaur cloning technology has existed for a few decades and the novelty of living dinosaurs has worn off. In real life, we live in a world where the “Jurassic Park” franchise has existed for a few decades and this movie took in $204 million in its opening weekend. We are not yet sick of dinosaurs, and we don’t even have the advantage of them being real.

            Jurassic World is the dinosaur theme park overseen by the workaholic Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Her nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) are visiting the park, but she can’t pull herself away from work to be with them. The park can’t call itself Jurassic Park anymore because of the deaths associated with its former name, though I wouldn’t say it’s enough of a separation; it’s like calling an ocean liner the Titanish. The theme park is actually just a small chunk of a larger dinosaur-inhabited island, the rest is reserved for experimenting with more dangerous dinos. This includes a pack of raptors being trained by Owen (Chris Pratt), whose work is about to be usurped by a military official (Vincent D’Onofrio) who wants to weaponize the cold-blooded killers.

Also on the experimental part of the island is the Indominus Rex, the world’s first dinosaur spliced together from the DNA of other animals. Supposedly it looks more terrifying than any of the other dinosaurs, but I thought it looked pretty average for a huge ferocious dinosaur. It’s extremely deadly, but don’t worry, the park’s guests aren’t in danger… unless someone leaves the gate to its pen open. Someone leaves the gate to the pen open and the park’s guests are very much in danger.

From here, the audience gets to spend the rest of the movie playing a rousing game of Guess Who Gets Eaten. Rich people, rude people, and people who don’t take their jobs seriously are all likely candidates. Military assassins are going to have the resiliency of crackers, but you know the kids are going to be plucky enough to avoid being snacked upon. Owen is going to last a good long while because he respects the raptors and Claire is going to last because she means well.

            Our human heroes obviously spend a lot of time on defense, ducking and covering so the dinosaurs can approach them menacingly and then leave them alone, sometimes to pop back up again once they think things are safe. Offensive strategies usually consist of pitting the dinosaurs against each other, which then leaves our heroes with the problem of having new hungry dinosaurs in the mix. It’s a poorly conceived strategy, but at least it gives the movie an excuse to use the raptors and a few others.

            The movie is lacking in charm. You wouldn’t want to spend time around the human characters. Claire is icy, the kids are annoying, the park’s tech people are sarcastic, and even Owen is less affable than a Chris Pratt action hero ought to be. The dinosaurs, on the other hand, do inspire a connection. Some are cute, some are cool, and one is downright heartbreaking. I wish the film had more confidence in their personalities, because the little we do get makes the film much more tolerable.

            “Jurassic World” has no delusions that it’s anything other than a dumb summer blockbuster, but it could still afford to be a better dumb summer blockbuster. The jokes could be funnier, the action more exciting, the ravenous dinosaurs more terrifying (not to be confused with the successfully-sympathetic “good” dinosaurs). There’s fun to be had, just not a dinosaur-sized amount.


Two Stars out of Five


“Jurassic World” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. Its running time is 124 minutes.
5:26 pm edt          Comments


            Few actors, male or female, comedic or dramatic, have a better track record than Melissa McCarthy. She’s carried “Bridesmaids,” “Identity Thief,” and “The Heat” all past the $100 million mark and even the critical flop “Tammy” managed to laugh sparsely all the way to the bank. I trashed most of these films (I did have some nice things to say about “Bridesmaids” in between complaints that it went on forever) and they became successful, but now that I find “Spy” moderately funny, I’m finally okay with watching its box office soar.

            McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a CIA desk jockey who serves as the eyes and ears for debonair secret agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). She yearns to do more with her job, which I found odd because she launches a missile from a satellite at one point, so it’s not like she’s filling out requisition forms all day. She’s also tired of being stuck in the friend zone with Fine, who is too stupid to see that he’s constantly breaking her heart.

            On a “too easy” mission, Fine gets taken out by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), possessor of a deadly bomb. She lets the CIA know that she knows the identity of all of their agents and she’ll know if they’re coming after her (she should probably be keeping that to herself, but this is a movie where villains always talk too much). So the head of the CIA (Allison Janney) decides that she needs to send out an employee who’s not a field agent. Cooper volunteers, wanting to avenge Fine. She is chosen over a headstrong veteran agent (Jason Statham) who decides to quit the CIA and pursue Rayna himself, even if it compromises Susan’s mission.

            Susan is given a series of embarrassing secret identities (frumpy soccer mom, frumpy cat lady, frumpy suburban makeup seller) and makes a lot of rookie mistakes in the field that somehow always turn out okay. A particularly sketchy mission actually sees Susan “befriend” Boyanov, and an emergency leads to her creating her own secret identity. This tough, vulgar switch-up leads to by far the biggest McCarthy-related laughs in the movie, absolutely zero of which can be quoted here.

            The supporting cast is apparently playing a game of “Who Can Steal the Movie?” Statham is trying the hardest, sending up his macho persona with a series of dubious tales of grandeur (I’m told that some of them are relayed directly from his movies). Law has fun sending up the stereotypical suave British agent. Bobby Cannavale relishes in his villainous role as an arms dealer. Miranda Hart has a juicy role as Susan’s weirdo best friend, as does Peter Serafinowicz as an amorous European agent. But my vote goes to Rose Byrne as Rayna. Sometimes the character is cold and calculating, sometimes she’s crude and clumsy, but she’s always played to snooty perfection.

            A lot of the individual gags work fine, but the movie as a whole is a mess. The plot is overly complicated with a never-ending parade of bad guys and flip-flopping allegiances. Also, for the story to work the CIA has to be incredibly incompetent, which makes the first third of the movie play like a less-witty episode of “Archer.” Perhaps worst of all is that so many gags rely on Susan’s awkwardness, which gets grating after a while. Are people really coming to this movie for scenes where she rambles on, digging herself deeper after a faux pas?

            I can see where people would like “Spy.” It’s easy to identify with the taken-for-granted Susan and the film has plenty of funny one-liners and quirky supporting characters. But I’m not sold on the film overall. I don’t see what makes it any better than dozens of other spy spoofs about bumbling amateur agents. The film does have its moments, but the movie surrounding those moments isn’t as memorable as it wants to be.


Two Stars out of Five.


“Spy” is playing at Hershey Cocoaplex and Flagship Cinema in Palmyra. The film is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity. Its running time is 120 minutes.

5:25 pm edt          Comments


            “Tomorrowland” is an uneven film. It gets off on the wrong foot, builds promisingly, has a terrific middle, but then stumbles and meanders its way toward an underwhelming conclusion. Let’s get the worst scene out of the way first. At the 1964 World’s Fair, young Frank (Thomas Robinson) presents a homemade jetpack to the judge of an invention contest (Hugh Laurie). The judge asks him what purpose of the jetpack serves. Frank responds, “Why can’t it just be fun?” The line is supposed to paint Frank as a wise, whimsical dreamer. The problem is that a jetpack is going to have a much higher purpose than just fun. Frank has theoretically revolutionized transportation with a device that allows man to fly independently of an airplane, and here he is assigning it the same purpose as a pair of novelty chattering teeth. It’s hard to take Frank seriously as a genius after that.

            The film manages to pick itself up. Frank is given a mysterious pin by cryptic child Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who invites him to stealthily follow her. He stows away in a prototype of an iconic Disneyland ride (ironically one not located in the Tomorrowland section of the park) and winds up in the intellectual paradise of Tomorrowland. Flash forward to present day. Teenage science-lover and perpetual optimist Casey (Britt Robertson, too old to be playing a high-school student) is given one of the mysterious pins. The pin gives her a vision of Tomorrowland and she is so entranced that she goes on a cross-country adventure to find out how to get there. Eventually she teams up with Athena, still as cryptic and childlike as ever, and an older, jaded Frank (George Clooney), who thinks that Casey might just be the key to saving humanity.

            The trio does make it to Tomorrowland around the film’s two-thirds mark, but the best stretch of the film is the time between Casey’s imagined trip and the actual trip. The early visions of Tomorrowland are spectacular (think of an entire city designed by World’s Fair architects with people dressed in the most extravagant futuristic fashion), the three characters are funny and endearing in their chemistry, and we get some mature action sequences for a kids’ movie. Casey is hunted by some evil robots who turn intrusive humans to dust, and Frank doesn’t think twice about absolutely brutalizing the killing machines. Even Athena takes a nasty hit that’s shocking to see happen to a child. I’m not necessarily saying that kids won’t be able to handle this violence, just that violence is definitely present.

            The movie winds up in Tomorrowland, which has lost its luster under the leadership of Governor Nix (Laurie). Nix has been sending out a doomsday prophecy to all of humanity, and rather than do anything about it, we’ve all subconsciously chosen to accept it. He, in turn, has long since accepted that we’re not going to do anything about it, so he’s not going to do anything about it either. But at least our heroes are determined to do something about it. The message of the film is that you shouldn’t just accept that the world is doomed, but you also have to make an effort to save it. It’s a good message turned annoying by being hammered in too frequently.

            There were parts of “Tomorrowland” where I thought it was going to go down as one of the best movies of the year. It has some of the best sequences of the year, especially Casey’s initial vision of the city (which is going to get some Oscar nominations for about two minutes of screen time), but the movie as a whole loses its way toward the end with a convoluted “mankind is dooming itself” storyline that you can get from any number of recent action movies. It’s an ambitious movie that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.


Two Stars out of Five.


“Tomorrowland” is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language. Its running time is 130 minutes. 

5:23 pm edt          Comments

"San Andreas"

            “San Andreas” may not be a great movie by normal standards, but it is the best “San Andreas” it can be. Its goal is to be the epitome of disaster movie schlock and oh how that goal has been achieved. If you like crumbling rock, rushing water, plummeting extras, impossible rescues, and laughable dialogue that’s only intentionally funny about half of the time, then this is the movie for you.

            The film follows an estranged family as they try to survive the worst earthquake in human history. Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a rescue helicopter pilot about to be divorced from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in the middle. When the San Andreas Fault takes a turn for the worse and effectively destroys California, Emma is in Los Angeles and Blake is in San Francisco with her soon-to-be-stepfather (Ioan Gruffudd), who you can tell is going to turn out to be a self-preserving jerk. There’s also an awkward-but-brave love interest for Blake (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his annoying kid brother (Art Parkinson). It’s up to Ray to rescue and reconnect with his family. Best not to think about the other people he could and frankly should be saving through his duties as a rescue pilot.

An unnecessary subplot follows a Caltech scientist (Paul Giamatti) attempting to study and warn people about the earthquake from a relatively safe area. A character like this is supposed to have the people around him think he’s crazy, but he’s gotten to a prominent position at Caltech, so clearly he’s a respected authority on the matter. There’s a great sequence with him at the beginning where he and a colleague are on the Hoover Dam when it bursts but otherwise he serves little purpose other than to spout exposition about earthquakes. Around the halfway mark, the film pretty much forgets about him.

The film largely focuses on the five main characters (Ray, Emma, Blake, the boyfriend and his brother) trying to stay alive. They have to avoid falling out of skyscrapers; being inside skyscrapers when they fall; having skyscrapers fall on them once they’re outside; falling into fault lines; dangerous driving, flying and boating conditions; tsunamis; tidal waves; and other forms of deadly water. There are also gun-toting looters, but they’re not really a threat. Dwayne Johnson’s in this movie, he can just punch them out.

Ray passed on some good survival instincts to his family because they always know where to go, even when everyone else is running in the opposite direction. And of course they’re rewarded for their counterintuitive thinking. This movie loves seeing extras get swallowed up by the catastrophe of the minute. Needless to say there’s also a lot of damage done to scenery. It’s done using some less-than-stellar CGI, though I can’t say I blame the CGI for being subpar when the film has the monumental task of destroying entire cities every ten minutes.

“San Andreas” is a disaster movie that is staggeringly typical of the genre. It isn’t so investing that audiences will gasp and the multitude of dangers, but they will go “oooh.” They will, however, probably cheer and clap as much as the movie wants them to, and that should count for something. A few lines of dialogue will elicit either healthy laughs or horrible groans (I’m looking at you, ending of the parachute sequence). It’s a corny movie that stands out in a field of corny movies because it’s a student of the other corny movies. It knows exactly what it wants to be, which means that it doesn’t make many missteps, but it also doesn’t do much that’s original.


Two Stars out of Five.


“San Andreas” is rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language. Its running time is 114 minutes.

5:21 pm edt          Comments

"Pitch Perfect 2"

            “Pitch Perfect” was a plucky little musical comedy from 2012 that followed the adventures of an all-female college a cappella group. It only made $65 million at the domestic box office, but it has since taken on more fans thanks to endearing characters, enduring humor, and a popular soundtrack. These new fans came out in droves this past weekend, when “Pitch Perfect 2” opened to $70 million, more than the original did in its entire run.

            The new film follows the Barden University Bellas during most of the members’ senior year. Aspiring music producer Beca (Anna Kendrick) has an internship at a record label. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) needs to make a decision about her future with her boyfriend Bumper (Adam Devine). Chloe (Brittany Snow), a senior in the first movie, is in her seventh year of college, unable to move on. The sole incoming member is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a freshman trying to live up to the legacy set by her mother (Katey Sagal) as a Bella decades ago.

            That decades-long legacy of the Bellas may be coming to an end. The group is banned from competition after an embarrassing performance in front of President Obama. Frankly the performance is embarrassing enough given the song selection of “Timber” and “Wrecking Ball,” but then Fat Amy makes a gaffe that really gets them in trouble. Never fear, there’s a loophole that allows them to compete in the World Championships, and if they win there, they’re reinstated. So all they have to do is be the best college a cappella group in the world.

            This is actually easier than it sounds. Almost every other team decides to cover a lesser Journey song (seriously, we couldn’t get more variety for the World Championships?) and their main competition from Germany does a Fall Out Boy song that needs a pile of pyro to seem interesting. I was ready for the Bellas to knock it out of the park and then they choose one of my least favorite Beyonce songs (thankfully the performance is a medley, but even then they use a tactic that got a team disqualified in the first movie, if the rules are different for this one competition the movie should say so). In the first movie, there were about a hundred variations on the line “we’re never going to get to Nationals with a song selection like that” and now here the teams make one pathetic song choice after another.

            As for the humor, there are some hits and a lot of misses. The highlight of the film is a scrimmage of sorts between five teams (that is, four a cappella teams and a bizarre fifth team from another field) that allows for some fun choices. Fat Amy steals the show with a rendition of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” now officially the go-to song for comedic makeout scenes. It’s the spoken jokes that are rough. There seems to be a need to go for shock value in the script and it doesn’t pay off. We get a lot of cheap jokes about gender, race, sexuality, and random weirdness that at best don’t work and at worst are downright mean.

            At least the main characters in “Pitch Perfect 2” are as likeable as ever, even if the some of the minor ones seem to have been downgraded to one-note stereotypes. At least some of the musical performances are entertaining, even though they definitely should have chosen some different songs. And at least this movie is a better female-geared comedy than “Hot Pursuit,” even though I would have preferred to see both films get trounced by “Mad Max: Fury Road” which has a terrific female lead in Charlize Theron and action sequences that live up to the well-publicized hype. That film is good for at least Three Stars out of Five, while this one is merely good for…


Two Stars out of Five.


“Pitch Perfect 2” is rated PG-13 for innuendo and language. Its running time is 115 minutes.

5:20 pm edt          Comments

"Hot Pursuit"

            “Hot Pursuit” is a witless action comedy opening in the enormous shadow of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Its appeal is based solely on being the only new game in town. Its box office is going to drop off a cliff as soon as it has fresh competition, which is fine because it doesn’t deserve even the mild success that it’s enjoying at the moment.

            The film stars Reese Witherspoon as Cooper, a disgraced cop with a chance at redemption. She’s assigned to protect Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), the wife of a cartel snitch. The Riva house is compromised, the husband is killed, and Cooper and Mrs. Riva have to go on the run until they can get her into proper protective custody. This is a buddy/road movie, one where the two leads don’t like each other at first, but they form a begrudging friendship and then that friendship is tested.

            For a throwaway comedy, the film is surprisingly heavy on plot. There are two competing teams of assassins after Cooper and Riva. Allegiances keep flip-flopping around. And Riva lies so much we wonder if she’s ever told the truth. For all I know she isn’t even Columbian, she’s Scandinavian.

            What can I say about the humor in the film that isn’t in the trailer? Riva is loudmouthed and materialistic, Cooper is by-the-book and socially awkward (and short, as we’re relentlessly reminded). They bicker a lot without developing any real rapport, they only end up as friends because the plot requires them to save each other. They outsmart the male bad guys by being only moderately dumb while the men are astoundingly dumb. Here’s how dumb the average male is in this movie: Cooper is able to sneak into girl’s birthday party by convincing security that she’s Justin Bieber. It’s a mildly funny, though cheap laugh to see Witherspoon dressed up as Bieber, and if I were one of the guards I would compliment her on her costume, but there’s no way she’s passing for the real thing.

            Actually, the one bit in “Hot Pursuit” that does work is one that isn’t in the trailer. It’s the opening montage of Cooper growing up riding in the back of her father’s police cruiser. The sequence is funny and sweet and I wish the rest of the film had as much heart. The bumbling Cooper that we see in the rest of the film is practically an entirely different character, played by Witherspoon in an annoying performance that is sure to make Academy voters rethink her Oscar. I’ll say the same thing about “Hot Pursuit” that I’ve said about most of the painful comedies I’ve seen lately: I laughed just barely enough to keep from absolutely despising it, but there’s no denying that it’s a bomb.


One and a Half Stars out of Five


A Note on Star Ratings


            I would like to take this opportunity to clarify my star rating system. There is no need to convert the star ratings to percentages and then convert the percentages to academic letter grades. For example, although One and a Half Stars is 30% of Five Stars, that doesn’t mean I’m flunking “Hot Pursuit” at 30%. If you feel more comfortable converting my star ratings to letter grades, please use the following system:


Five Stars – A+

Four Stars – A

Three Stars – B

Two Stars – C

One Star – D

Zero Stars (which I’ve never used, as I’m saving it for something truly vile) – F


At One and a Half Stars, “Hot Pursuit” straddles the line between C and D. Call it a C-. It’s just above the Dreadful D’s, but hardly a source of pride.


“Hot Pursuit” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material. Its running time is 84 minutes.
5:19 pm edt          Comments

"Avengers: Age of Ultron"

            “The Avengers” is just about the biggest movie franchise in the world. Movies starring the individual members do big business, but when they team up, they make an immediate impact on the all-time box office records. In other words, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is going to get everybody’s money no matter what I say. But I actually have some good things to say.

            All your favorite heroes are back, but let’s run through the checklist really quickly. The six main Avengers are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Returning supporting heroes include Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). We also get a debuting minor hero in the robotic Vision (Paul Bettany).

            The plot is set in motion when Tony Stark (the billionaire tech genius alter ego of Iron Man) creates a robot named Ultron (James Spader) designed to protect the planet so the Avengers don’t have to. Unfortunately Ultron thinks that the best way of protecting the planet as a whole is to eliminate the threats posed by humanity, and I mean all of humanity. He hatches a plan to rip an entire city out of the ground, raise it up in the air, and launch it back at the Earth to cause an extinction-level impact. All for the greater good, apparently. To deal with the Avengers (who inadvertently cause quite a bit of destruction to the Earth themselves), he enlists the help of Hydra leftovers Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is really fast, and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who can read minds and cause haunting and distracting hallucinations. Ultron also finds a way to duplicate himself so the movie has an excuse to have The Avengers take on an army.

            With all the crowding in the cast, you wouldn’t think we’d get much time for character development, but actually we do. We get new insights into Hulk, Black Widow and especially Hawkeye. Turns out the least popular member of the group leads a quaint, secret personal life. These storylines may not be terribly interesting, but I appreciate the effort. I guess the movie gives these characters time to shine since there apparently aren’t any plans to give them solo movies any time soon. These quieter moments don’t slow the movie down so much as they provide well-timed, necessary breaks from the copious action sequences.

            The action is crisp and relatively easy to follow for a movie with this many characters. We get some decent fights and chases between the heroes and bad guys, but actually the most memorable sequence in the film is between two heroes. Hulk freaks out and goes on a rampage and it’s up to Iron Man to stop him. The ensuing battle gives new meaning to the phrase “tough love.” It also provides the biggest laugh in the film with a series of punches. Trying to punch someone into submission may not sound very funny, but this movie sure finds a way to do it right.

            You definitely get your money’s worth with “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Nobody is going to leave the theater feeling cheated because the film doesn’t have enough action, humor or heart. I do wish it had a little more suspense. This franchise is planned out for about the next ten years, so there’s no point in speculating if the major characters are going to make it. You end up wondering only about the villains: are they going to be destroyed or still have a sliver of life left so they can come back refreshed for a sequel? But predictability aside, the film is fine. Overall it’s an enjoyable summer blockbuster that makes good use of a winning formula.


Two and a Half Stars out of Five.


“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments. Its running time is 141 minutes.

5:17 pm edt          Comments

"The Age of Adaline"

            In case you can’t tell from the chilly April temperatures outside, we’re not in summer yet. Weather-wise, we won’t hit summer until June 21. Movie-wise, summer starts on May 1. The month that includes Memorial Day is known as the start of the summer movie season, kicking off with the new “Avengers” next weekend. No movie wants to do moderately well for one weekend and then get hammered by Thor, so this past weekend was a weak one for new releases; the calm before the storm, if you will. The only wide release brave or stupid enough to open in this slot was “The Age of Adaline,” a film that attracted so little interest that it opened in third place behind the fourth week of “Furious 7” and the second week of (ugh) “Paul Blart 2.” It’s a shame that the film didn’t drum up a lot of business, because it’s not as brainless as a lot of the films I’ve been seeing lately.

            Blake Lively stars as Adaline, a 29-year-old widowed mother whose life changes forever one snowy winter’s night in 1937. She gets into a car wreck and things happen to her body that are both highly scientific and highly made-up (I got a hearty laugh out of the narration in this scene) and as a result, she doesn’t age. That goes for both her outward appearance and inside mechanisms. Flash forward to 2015: Adaline is 107 years old, her daughter (Ellen Burstyn) is moving to a retirement community, and she is still essentially 29.

I have to say, there are worse things you can be cursed with than looking like a 29-year-old Blake Lively for most of a century. This movie has a serious problem with explaining exactly what’s so bad about Adaline’s condition. Sure she’s seeing her loved ones grow old and die, but that would be happening even if she lived to be 107 the regular way. There’s a made-up conflict about her having to keep her condition a secret and run from the government because she’s afraid they want to turn her into a science experiment. I figure that even if government scientists do want to study her (and maybe save lives with what they find), I highly doubt that they’re going to jump right to dissection. Mostly Adaline just suffers from social anxiety which comes from hiding a secret, which is understandable but unfortunately boring.

We follow modern-day Adaline as she enters into a rare romantic relationship with Ellis (Michiel Huisman). He takes her home to meet his parents and it turns out that his father (Harrison Ford) is a former lover of Adaline’s from over 40 years ago. Adaline has to somehow protect her secrets (both her condition and her past) and figure out what in the world she’s going to do about her relationship with Ellis.

The film disappoints by focusing too much on the former. We have a million movies where characters have to protect secrets, but how often do we get to see a woman decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with the son of a former lover? Some would argue that there’s a good reason why we don’t see it often, but this film is tasteful enough that it could go a little deeper without being creepy.

“The Age of Adaline” has a unique premise that is carried out in a less-than-unique way with typical romantic banter and a tired secret-keeping storyline. At the very least, it could have done more with Adaline’s view of history; we get little more than a few scenes where she gives a firsthand account of an event that a 29-year-old could not have witnessed and then she punctuates it with, “or so I’ve been told.” Still, the film invests heavily in an unusual (some would say unappealing) setup at a time when most of what’s playing is frustratingly familiar.


Two Stars out of Five.


“The Age of Adaline” is rated PG-13 for a suggestive comment. Its running time is 110 minutes.
5:15 pm edt          Comments

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

            It has been over six years since the first “Paul Blart,” which is too long to ask people to stay loyal to such a piddling franchise. To compare it to a superior series, the time between has brought us four “Fast and the Furious” movies, and clearly more effort goes into them. Heck, more effort goes into washing the cars. But somehow audiences are expected to retain their love of the bumbling mall cop (Kevin James). It’s actually working: the film made an impressive $24 million this past weekend. I don’t know whether to be disappointed with the moviegoing public for its poor taste or impressed with it for its long memory. Wait, I do know, I’m definitely disappointed.

            The new film finds Blart traveling to Las Vegas with his teenage daughter (Raini Rodriguez) for a security guard convention. He makes a fool of himself at every turn, much to his daughter’s embarrassment, but he still hopes to be selected to give the keynote speech at the convention (the venue for the speech gets downgraded, making for one of the few funny gags in the movie). If he was supposed to give the keynote speech, that seems like the kind of thing they would have worked out with him in advance, but what’s common sense compared to Blart’s impossibly high hopes? Meanwhile, a crew of thieves led by Vincent (Neal McDonough) is planning to steal paintings from Blart’s hotel. It’s up to Blart to stop them.

            Early scenes depict Vincent and his team as polished and precise, but if they were any good, Blart wouldn’t last a minute against them. These guys have guns, and Blart is – how can I put this? – an easy target. But these guys are so idiotic, falling into obvious non-lethal traps and losing fights they have no business losing. One scene sees a henchman encounter Blart’s empty Segway scooter, with Blart hiding in a nearby cranny. The henchman shoots at the abandoned scooter. It’s infuriating how stupid this is. It’s not like Blart can hide on the scooter, the way he could say, slouch down in a car. He’s either on the contraption or he’s not. He is at many points in this movie because Segways are supposedly funny, but in this instance, he’s clearly not.

            The movie is one joke after another that doesn’t work. Not once but twice violence against old ladies is played for laughs. One instance (depicted often in the film’s advertising) is actually redeemed a bit by the character’s impossibly forgiving attitude, but the other is just mean and unforgiveable. Blart loses his likeability by constantly treating the hotel staff with a condescending attitude as we wait for him to inevitably be humbled. And of course, there are plenty of gags about Blart being out of shape and mall cops not being “real” cops, in case you had forgotten in the last thirty seconds.

Here’s how pathetic this movie is: the camera lingers on Blart as he meticulously unwraps a Hershey’s Kiss. I grew up right next door to Hershey, PA, and I currently work at Hershey’s Chocolate World in Times Square. I should have gone crazy for the reference to our signature product. But the scene is so plodding that I was just doing that hand gesture where I was moving my hand around in a circle, futilely trying to tell the movie to go faster (it’s the same gesture Kevin James does much more successfully in his standup act where he wants a dull friend to pick up the pace on a voicemail message). It’s not even that long of a movie, but with pacing like that, it takes forever. I laughed maybe once every ten or fifteen minutes during “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” keeping it from being truly horrible, but there is very little to redeem this collection of annoyances that calls itself a comedy.


One and a Half Stars out of Five.


“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” is rated PG for some violence. Its running time is 94 minutes.
5:09 pm edt          Comments

The Longest Ride"

            “The Longest Ride” is the latest movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. He specializes in romance, and movies based on his works are notoriously mushy. “The Longest Ride” is no exception. The film is filled with young lovers on picnics, beach trips, lake-swimming, horse rides and in PG-13 love scenes. If that’s not your thing, let’s just say you’re in for a long ride. If that is your thing, you probably still won’t love this movie because its characters and conflicts aren’t that interesting.

            The film’s main couple is Sophia (Britt Robertson) and Luke (Scott Eastwood). She’s a promising art student and he’s a professional bull rider. They fall in love despite her not seeing the appeal of bull riding and him not seeing the appeal of modern art. While driving home from a date, they see a crashed car and pull an old man named Ira (Alan Alda) out of the wreckage. He forms a friendship with the young couple, and tells them stories about his own romance with his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin to Jack Huston as young Ira). It should go without saying that there are a few parallels between the relationships with lessons to be taken away.

            Young Ira and Ruth hit a rough patch when she wants a big family and he can’t give her children because of a war injury (Alda is about 15 years too young to play a modern-day WWII veteran, which is distracting). Ruth becomes a teacher and tries to take custody of a neglected student, but it doesn’t work out and she has a falling out with Ira over the kind of life he can provide for her. He makes a sacrifice for her, she makes a sacrifice for him, and the lesson is if you truly love someone, you’ll make sacrifices for them.

            Sophia and Luke are of course conflicted over their individual passions. If the two stay on their currents paths, they’ll end up living in different cities carrying on an icy long-distance relationship. Or maybe they’ll just break up entirely. At any rate, we wait impatiently for them to realize that they may love their vocations, but they love each other even more. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out who has to sacrifice what for the other.

Luke’s bull-riding is especially problematic for the relationship. He’s already had to spend a year on the shelf with an injury, and next time he gets bucked off he might not be so lucky. Sophia constantly has to worry about his safety. Luke insists he has to ride for dubious financial reasons. He never seems to get a rewarding feeling out of it. The movie never succeeds in making bull-riding look appealing, if that’s what it’s trying to do. The rides are only eight seconds long, the riders are in danger, their loved ones are scared, and the bulls don’t want to be ridden. Nobody wins except maybe airheaded girls in the audience who like to ogle the male riders in their cowboy getup.

            There is an incredibly stupid twist at the end of this movie at an art auction. A few seeds are planted as to what it is, but I thought there had to be another way. Maybe I was misreading the clues. Or maybe the movie would carry it out, but do so in a more rational way than I was picturing in my head. Nope, they just go ahead and do it with full-on craziness. As a romance, this movie is going to be quickly forgotten. As a movie with an awful twist, it will go down in history as one of the doozies.


One and a Half Stars out of Five


“The Longest Ride” is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action. Its running time is 139 minutes.
5:07 pm edt          Comments

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