The Fate of the Furious (***): Don’t think. It’s Meat


The Fate of the Furious – 2017

Director F. Gary Gray
Screenplay Chris Morgan
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron

Don’t think that I don’t know that this series is as dumb as anything I have ever seen.

Don’t think I don’t want to see someone beaten like a Cherokee drum.

Don’t think that I don’t know that there is some serious man crushing going on between The Rock’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard.

Don’t think that it isn’t kind of cool to see all those cars fall from above in NYC.

Don’t think that it isn’t cool seeing Dom turn heel when they run out of story-lines.

Don’t think for a minute I can’t tell you’re trying to make Scott Eastwood a star eventually. And I hope it works well enough to give him a personality, too.

Don’t think I buy for a second that anyone who dies in this series is really dead. And the one guy who died outside the series will ever be shown as dead.

Don’t think I am any less tired of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman than I am of Dom “Meathead” Torretto.

Don’t think I don’t miss Sung Kang and Gal Gadot.

Don’t think I don’t know it’s not random choice that Theron’s Cipher makes when doling out punishment. It’s about as Random as Gadot dying just before her boyfriend Kang in part 6.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching The Rock kicking ass.We always need more Statham.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching Luda as a techno Wiz. I would buy anything he’s selling.

Don’t think that the snow chase isn’t as dumb as it is cool. More submarine, please.

Don’t think I can ever get enough of Helen Mirren.

Don’t think the laws of physics on this or any planet will apply.

Don’t think I don’t want to hear Roman stop yelling.

Don’t think any of this will ever make sense.

Don’t think that the grand master antagonist isn’t working for some other grand master antagonist in another movie down the line.

Don’t believe there won’t be a full immunity or full reinstatement at the end of every film.

Don’t think I don’t want to see Hobbs beat down Torretto.

Don’t think. It will all be better that way.


Moana (****1/2) continues to change the game for Princesses


Moana – 2016

Directors Ron Clements and John Musker
Screenplay Jared Bush
Starring (Voices)  Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

Lin-Manuel Miranda is everything right now in the world of show music, and that certainly was the predominant word rushing through early buzz of Moana. Luckily, when one sees the film, it’s not the only thing that anyone will remember. Based on Polynesian history and legend, in which story creators Clements and Musker discovered that the culture stopped travelling about 3000 years ago. Then about 1000 years later, they started up again. Early versions of the story centered around the character of demi-god Maui (Johnson), but the winds of Disney change caught on.

Now we get a young teenage princess (Cravalho) with her pet chicken Heihei (Tudyk) who is destined to redeem the sins of the afore-mentioned Maui. He stole the heart of the island Goddess Te Fiti to bring it to humanity as a gift. Kind of like he envisions he is. If Gaston had some charm, he’d be Maui. Oh and yeah, she says she isn’t a princess. Maui dispenses with that faulty logic with one of the films many clever lines:

If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.

Moana is the daughter of the chief (Morrison) of a small Polynesian Island Motunui and she dreams of life beyond the reef. Her grandmother (House) encourages the dreams, but her father thinks it’s foolish. Upon her Grandma’s dying wish Moana makes her escape and comes across Maui, who has been stranded on an island for a millenia. Before the film falls into the familiar rhythm of so many Disney movies that preceded it, we are reminded that Maui is brash and stubborn in his insistence that he has done nothing wrong. Oh, and he’s a little scared.

Moana isn’t scared though. She’s a girl. And this time around, the girl doesn’t need a man to finish the job so she can fall in love with him.

Moana the film is beautiful in much the same way that Tangled is in its palate of deep resonate colors that jump off of the screen. One could watch this movie 1000 times and still not catch up with the detail imbued within the frame. It’s the most beautiful film of 2016.

The characters and situations are memorable. Heihei, as dumb as the chicken is portrayed, has a usefulness that is endearing and never detracts from the film as so many sidekicks in Disney films have in the past. Johnson excels in a role that allows him to be as manly as we all know he is, but still play second fiddle to a girl on a journey to find herself.  If only they could find a way to make him heroic without being foolish and still have room for Moana’s heroism, too.

Similarly effective are the various nemeses that they encounter. The giant coconut crab, Tamatoa (Clement) has a humorous number. The best part of the film is the chase scene involving scads of pirate coconut clad creatures called the Kakamora. It’s a brief interlude, but without a doubt, the best thing in the film. We need more Kakamora.

Moana is a worthy discovery for Disney. For once, we have a Princess character whose voice and body can’t fit into the mold of all the others before her. This is a great thing. She looks Polynesian. She sounds Polynesian. She still dreams her dreams like Disney, but she doesn’t need a man to save the day.

Cravalho does a great job singing various renditions of the centerpiece song How Far I’ll Go. She is, more importantly, the actual age of the hero she portrays. This is great because there is no question mid way through the story, she and Maui are not going to be an inevitable couple. Maui is too old and they don’t go creepy on this one. I am not sure how much farther we go with the story of Moana, but hopefully she continues to find a way to mine her talents.

Get used to hearing the soundtrack, because once the movie is released on home video no one is going to be able to avoid it in any house with kids under 10. Johnson’s You’re Welcome is a great farce and he has a good singing voice. The only place it falters is the song Moana does with her grandma’s ghost. It meanders like something from Into the Woods. They stay centered around How Far I’ll Go, for the most part and it works as an inspirational theme.

There is a recipe out there somewhere to make a valiant woman’s story without sacrificing her male counterpart. They almost made it here, but the “let me clean up your mess” feeling of the story doesn’t quite make it. Still, it’s message is good enough to accompany it’s remarkable visuals. I am going to assume no one will need to say “she persisted” someday. They will just say the protagonist persisted.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Central Intelligence (**1/2): A measure of the Rock’s comedic flexing ability


Central Intelligence – 2016

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Timothy John Smith, Megan Park, Ryan Hansen, Thomas Kretschmann, Phil Reeves, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Kumail Nanjiani

If there are two actors in the universe making more movies than Samuel L. Jackson, they are Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. The range for Hart and Johnson may not be extreme, but they sure have the recipe for someone who is looking to forget about life for a while on a Friday night.

Johnson, aka WWE’s The Rock, has grown into an action movie icon. He’s got a large presence, but an astute self-awareness. There have been some bumps in the road and he’s taken some risks, but he’s been bankable if not award worthy.

Central Intelligence is a step in the right direction. We get a healthy dose of his action skills, but his comic timing is sharpened to the point where he’s actually funny. We’re not talking Arnold funny, either.

The story is about Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) and Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart). In High School, Wheirdicht is (Johnson given a bad digital makeover) a fat dweeb. Inexplicably, he is caught singing in the shower while the rest of the school is at an assembly celebrating Calvin being the best High School student ever. Yeah, it’s not subtle, but it gets worse. While he’s accepting his award, he gets surprised by seeing Wheirdict’s naked body sliding across the floor. So Calvin covers Robbie with his massively decorated letterman’s jacket.

Cut to 20 years later. Calvin has a good job, but is dissatisfied with his life as he sees younger employees promoted over him. He is in the midst of one of his bouts of self-pity, about to decline an invitation to his High School reunion when he gets a friend request from a “Bob Stone,” on Facebook. Cutting to the chase, Bob is Robbie and he’s now a very studly CIA agent.

The story is no great shakes. Someone is on the lamb after losing his partner. For some reason, this plot needs Joyner as an accountant. Let me tell you a secret…there was no need for Joyner as an accountant.

Central Intelligence is at its best when it’s awkward. Hart is good as it gets these days when it comes to that. Johnson is even better. Playing against his manly stereotype places him atop the list of one note action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel. It’s the first step towards better performances that no one else his size can approach.

Let’s be serious though. This isn’t mensa material. It’s a big dumb action comedy. There is nothing here as funny as Thurber’s Terry Tate, Office Linebacker and thank goodness there is nothing nearly as bad as We’re The Millers. It might get a few sequels, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure I won’t remember one joke in 5 years, but I will smile when I think about it, just the same.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Furious 7 (***1/2): Meatball Hallmark Card

Furious 7 – 2015

Director James Wan
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham
Screenplay Chris Morgan

If one could sum up the entire Furious franchise in 3 phrases, it would be:

I don’t have friends. I got family.

I live life a quarter-mile at a time.

One last ride.

At this point, the gang is on their 3rd consecutive last ride. This time it was made especially poignant in the untimely death of co-lead Paul Walker. The filmmakers made the wise choice to re-shoot parts of the film as an impromptu tribute to a person who had become a key figure in the lives of the cast and crew of this most uniquely enduring franchise. To think it all started as Point Break in fast cars…

In a strange twist often mentioned in the past, the movies went to the edge of American Pie Presents Band Camp status, backed up and headed right into Italian Job and then James Bond. To say this was planned would be disingenuous. Most of the actors, including Diesel, have tried and failed to come up with outside franchises. Fast and Furious, though, is like the really big fuel injected engine that could. The success of the franchise has made many fans that were casual into looky loos. And even if each film produces as many cringe-inducing moments as awe-inspiring ones, it is a tribute to the people involved that they have made it into the Juggernaut we see today.

This time around finds the group looking down the barrel of Deckard Shaw. Deckard is the brother of Owen, the antagonist from the last film who now is resting comfortably under maximum guard at the hospital. That is until Deckard obliterates the guard and most of the hospital just to tell the staff to take good care of Owen. This is ridiculous of course, because by destroying the facility, he has negatively affected the chance of his brother getting said good care. As if that is not enough of a reminder, we then see more of what we ended the last film with; the death of Han (featured in 3 films now), the explosion of a package that has arrived from Deckard (seen in two) and the maiming of Hobbs (Johnson). Apparently, the creative staff think the viewers have short memories.

Dom goes to visit Hobbs in the hospital, then goes to pick up Han and gathers the team together for Han’s funeral. If you can’t guess what will happen at the funeral, you get no Parmesan for your meatball. Dom gets acquainted with the new antagonist, and then gets to meet the new covert ops guy, Petty (Russell). That this meeting prevented the conclusion of the movie from happening 30 minutes in is not lost on either Dom or Petty, but that’s okay, we have another 1.5 hours to fill. Petty tells Dom he and his team need to get a MacGuffin called God’s Eye from some bad guys, capture the person of interest that has something MacGuffinish to do with God’s Eye and get them both back to Petty. Then, Petty says, Dom can use the God’s Eye to track down Deckard, who was just in front of him minutes ago, until Petty interfered. That’s okay, though, because Petty is a professional who was smart enough to hire an amateur for…one last ride.

Or three last rides.

Now the real jet setting begins. Dom and company go from the Los Angeles Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and then back to Los Angeles. They drop in cars from a military cargo plane, crash down a mountainside multiple times, dress up and sneak into a party, crash, jump, crash, jump and crash again through the Etihad Towers, fight it out in an old abandoned warehouse, and then tear the hell out of downtown L.A. before they approach a conclusion. There is literally more damage in this film than the last Godzilla movie. If you think I have ruined any part of this for you, you have not seen the rest of these movies. Literally the only surprise they’ve ever had was dragging the safes through town in Fast Five.

It’s completely taken for granted that whenever they arrive in a new country, they will immediately arrive in a row of expensive cars. What is also a given is no matter how much damage they cause, no one will ever question them and they will never have a problem walking out of that scene and driving into the next in another bunch of expensive cars.

All of this ridiculous action is augmented by the fact that they have collected a group of characters that we have learned to care about through sheer force of the will of all involved in making the film. They each have a few moments to shine in each episode, along with many requisite scenes that hammer the limitations of their characters into the story. This would normally be for the uninitiated. Until I brought my friend Binage, I had not met someone who hadn’t seen at least one of the films who started with in the middle somewhere. He enjoyed it though.

I enjoyed it too, despite all the belly laughs of incredulity. Through all the explosions, all the crashes, the litany of bullets, and the absolute defiance of the concept of gravity, this film really works. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the film is how all of the characters (and the people who play them outside of Bridges, Russell and Johnson) completely lack any sort of self-awareness. It’s almost like a joyful, loving Bronson film. Were it not for Walker’s tragedy, perhaps the defining point of the series would have been when Diesel stomps on a parking garage roof as it is cracking…and a large part (perhaps a quarter-mile) of the concrete  actually breaks away! We should never think of Vin as a short guy again.

The glory in lacking an understanding of who you are results in other great moments, like when, in a flash back scene, we see two characters get married. My friend Binage, until now caught up in the action, leans over and says:

“What kind of guy wears a wife-beater to his own wedding?”

Through it all, the acting is consistent, if not Shakespearean. Walker gets a fitting tribute for the simple fact that they did not take the easy way out. It’s a beautiful statement that choose to alter the formula of the surprise mid-credits scene to set up the next film to give the character the kind of closure he did not get in life.

Throughout the story, however, one gets the sense of déjà vu. Brian is in the midst of fatherhood, now driving a mini-van. He’s frustrated, saying he misses the bullets more than he misses the cars. His woman, Mia (Brewster), hems and haws much like she did last time and tells him over the phone that they are expecting another kid, this time a girl. So if one kid didn’t make him want to retire, the second should do the trick. What would they have done if he’d been around for the next few films? I get the feeling that 5 kids would not be enough to prevent him from taking yet another last ride.

Despite it’s flaws, or maybe because of them, Vin Diesel and company have created a memorable franchise out of ashes. And I am sure this “family” will be around for a while more. In the haze of bad dialogue and forced dramatic tension, there is a brilliant line delivered by Dom that steals the show and demonstrates the draw that the little lug has on the heartstrings of ‘Murica. In a tender moment shared with Letty, she asks him why he had not revealed more of their past together before she recovered from her 3 movie amnesia spell. With complete sincerity, he looks at her an says:

You can’t tell someone that they love you.

Right about now, I think everyone involved with this unlikely saga knows that they are loved.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Fast & Furious 6: High Tech Lemonade


Fast & Furious 6 – 2013

Director Justin Lin
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson,Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Sung Kang, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, John Ortiz
Screenplay Chris Morgan

Into the void of PG-13 summer action sprang forth the 6th film in the Fast & Furious franchise.  There is a point to all of this speed and fury, I am sure of it.  To date, the most interesting point in the series happens in the credits of this film, which harkens back to the 3rd, seemingly throwaway episode, Tokyo Drift.  The rest of the films have been a progression from “…stealing DVD players, trades up, ends up heisting over $100 million in Rio,” as stated so eloquently by the film’s generic bad guy, Owen Shaw, played with almost no memorable traits by Luke Evans.  Evans has the ability to be great in films that should be mediocre (The Three Musketeers) as well as the ability to hide his charm completely (The Raven).  Here he is all charm no greatness.  What he does have is a fast, flat car with tires that don’t pop when flipping bigger cars.  The car doesn’t slow down at all, either.

That’s the movie, though, isn’t it?  Muscle cars, and musclebound guys.  Both facets are most capably represented in the form of Vin Diesel, who is at home in all the glorious hogwash.  He rips through the clichéd script and action sequences with a beautiful smugness that shows he is in for the ride of his life, even if it comes in 20 parts.  Judging by the struggle he’s had to make Riddick into a practical commodity, it make take 20 parts to keep his other projects going.

Truth is, as powerful of a supporting cast as is present in the Fast & Furious series, none of the other cast, outside of Johnson, have the ability to carry a film.  In this way, it’s kind of a supporting actor’s version of The Expendables.  That might be cutting it a little or a lot short.  The latter series is a continued act of desperation to salvage the career of Stallone, whereas, the Diesel series feels more homogenous, and like there is an overall plan, even if the scripts are rip offs of films like Point Break, The Italian Job or The French Connection.  At this rate, the next theft should be Citizen Kane.

Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster look like an awesome runway couple.  It still doesn’t look like she’s had a baby, and I haven’t seen either of these kids in anything outside the series since it started.  Walker get’s his own sequence inside the clink here, and even if it is a bit superfluous, it still looked cool.

Gibson has the Transformers series going for him, and he may be approaching Samuel L. Jackson numbers in the next decade if his luck holds out.   My favorite scene in the film occurs when he and Kang get their asses kicked by one bad guy.  It takes a confident pair of actors to not be the swiftest onscreen and still keep smiling.

Chris Hayes doesn’t do much this round.  He’s there to figure stuff out on computers and exuberantly remind the rest of the crew when things are not going well.  I’ll take that.

Michelle Rodriguez is back, with the requisite memory loss required for many characters who die off-screen.  There is a pleasure to behold when she goes up against MMA fighter turned actress, Gina Carano.  The first one is a draw.  I will give you one guess who wins the rematch between the girl Girl Fight and the mentor from Fight Girls.

Dwayne Johnson doesn’t do much here but glower, trade clichés with Diesel and fight the big guys.  That leaves Evans for Diesel in the end.

Let’s be frank, this stuff is crap.  The amount of tough guy language uttered in this film make Die Hard 2: Die Harder look like Bard.  For all the talk of family, going it alone, and this one’s on me, there is the feeling of comfort food.  It makes you dumber, bit by bit, but it also feels good.  I haven’t tried watching any of the films twice, though.  I don’t want to risk Cabin Fever in my homey utopia.   

I will leave you with some of the coolest dialogue in the film.  It’s verbose, but concludes with perhaps Diesel’s best delivery in the series:

Owen Shaw: You know, when I was young, my brother always said, “Every man has to have a code.” Mine: Precision. Use what you have, switch them out when you need to until you get the job done. It’s efficient. But you? You’re loyal to a fault. Your code is about family. It makes you predictable. And in our line of work, predictable means vulnerable. And that means I can reach out and break you whenever I want.
Dominic Toretto: At least when I go, I’ll know what it’s for.

I can’t wait for the next chapter.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Pain & Gain: Meat


Pain & Gain – 2013

Director Michael Bay
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris
Screenplay Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely based on the book by Pete Collins

Let’s not get down to the nitty-gritty on this.  No one will benefit from knowing whether the events in the movie are true or not.  What is remarkable is the type of narrative that would stop in the middle of absurd action to tell you that everything you have seen to that point is, believe it or not, true.  Whether it is true or not, what a great line.

As Daniel Lugo and Paul Doyle, Wahlberg and Johnson are a couple of sides of beef directed by Bay, another side of beef.  Bay has gotten a free pass for some crappy movies (Bad Boys, Armageddon), gotten slammed for crappy movies (Bad Boys II, Pearl Harbor) and has been bypassed for credit for some not so crappy movies (The Rock, Transformers).  To his immense credit, he understands his role in life, even if he never shoots any higher than that.

 “I make movies for teenage boys.” he once said, “Oh, dear, what a crime.”

This movie details another crime, or a couple of them.  The lengths that the duo goes to avoid common sense is what makes the movie work.  It’s not great, by any stretch.  It is certainly better than most of the work Bay’s been involved with.  Normally, Bay follows a plotline like a cat follows a red laser.  It does not matter if it goes in a straight line, it’s just bright, red and shiny that counts.  He jumps around, chasing the elusive common sense, and it works within the framework of the plot.

Wahlberg is a known commodity.  His efforts, in films good (ted) or bad (Date Night) are consistently entertaining.  He knows what the audience wants, and he injects acting into that quotient.  The Rock is less reliable, but here he does a commendable job.  I am not sure any other actor could be as believably funny with a wound to his foot.  Anthony Mackie and the consistently excellent Shalhoub are equally effective.

There are moments that will be unsettling, especially if you are queasy about holes in feet, some torture and a loose association of body parts.

If you like Bay, you will like this film.  If you like Wahlberg, you will like this film.  If you like Dwayne Johnson, yeah, you know it.

(***1/2 out of *****)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Caricatures will die…


G.I. Joe: Retaliation – 2013

Director John M. Chu
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, D.J. Cotrona, Byung-hun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Luke Bracey, Walton Goggins, Joseph Mazzello, Robert Baker, James Carville, RZA
Screenplay Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Probably on video.  Definitely.  One had every reason to look forward to the second installment of G.I. Joe, and almost as many reasons to be disappointed.  Like the first one, Retaliation has the ridiculous Pryce in the role of the President.  What’s worse, he also plays a guy who is imitating the President.  Thankfully, we can be assured that one of them (two if we’re lucky) will expire by film’s end.  By now, everyone knows that Tatum bites it relatively early in the film.  This is not before he shares a funny scene with the Rock playing video war games.  As if that were enough, we get to hear the duo refer to themselves as friends about 50 times verbally.  That’s a lot of reassurance.  When I saw my friend the other day, I greeted him by calling him an ass.  I did this very subtly, however.

Park and Lee return as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.  Snake Eyes has less to do now, mainly shrugging his shoulders and fighting.  He’s kind of like Bumblebee, without the Paramount film sound bites.  Lee has what amounts to the most character development, if that is what you can call it.  His clear charisma exceeds everyone else in the film, including The Rock and Willis, and it’s a positive maneuver for an otherwise cardboard plot.

Maybe it’s the constant reference to names like Roadblock, Snake Eyes, Jynx, Destro, Zartan, Firefly and my two particular favorites, Grunt and Clutch that keeps me from sitting back and enjoying the ride.  Maybe its the absolute refusal to obey the laws of physics and common sense.  Maybe it’s seeing yet another large group of highly trained military élite making camp right out in the open desert after the big raid.  Nope.  I know what it is…the Rock walking through the open desert for seeming days with a bald head and not getting sunburned.  That walk gets them to Washington D.C., however, where they finally get a car to travel in.

Willis is here, I think, to drum up box office.  He has perhaps 4 scenes, most of which are shown in the trailer.  Call me shallow, but that mole between Palecki’s eyes would make her easy enough to find that it should not need a computer program.  Ray Stevenson continues his streak of not being that good in anything since the excellent HBO series, Rome.  RZA brings his special brand of non-acting to play.  The only time it feels like he is truly blind is when it comes to guessing if he read the script.

Chu’s direction is adequate, but there is no sense of build up whatsoever.  The lack of tension and the planning sessions that lead to meandering attacks give the viewer a feeling that it is just a series of disconnected scenes.  It’s another in a long line of films designed not so much to make money in the U.S. as much as the rest of the world.  And it works, as this film made 2X as much outside of America.  Apparently plot is not as important as the international language of cliché.

(** out of *****)

Snitch: Big Truck…small payload.


Snitch – 2013

Director Ric Roman Waugh
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Benhamin Bratt, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams
Written by Justin Haythe and Waugh

So why would any fan of Dwayne Johnson want to see this film?  There are no guns.  There are no fast cars.  There are no explosions.  We don’t get to see the people’s eyebrow, the people’s elbow or any other remnants of the people’s champion.  He even gets his ass kicked by some punks near a convenience store.

What we do get to see is Johnson at his desk, making calls and doing what appears to be paperwork.  He has a few conversations with Sarandon, playing her approximation of a conservative US District Attorney and continuing her trend of reading lines instead of acting them.  We see him getting the lowdown from Shane of The Walking Dead, who plays an ex-c0n with a “conscience” in the form of a son.  For the most part, Bernthal does a believable job.  All of his scenes, especially without Johnson hovering, feel authentic.  More so than most in Snitch.  Maybe this should have been his film.

I don’t have anything against Dwayne Johnson, most movies, I find him to be quite enjoyable, even when he pushed himself in the otherwise questionable Be Cool.  Just like Sarandon, he does not have the wherewithal to rise above this wooden script.

Unbelievable is one thing, but this story pushes the ridiculousness with boring sameness that we see in every modern drug dealing tale.  We have the disheveled detective (Pepper) and the chain of dealers going from the white low man on the totem, to the black guy above him (who did time with him), then a hispanic Kingpin (Bratt, at his usual worst) above them both.  The only way they could have made it better was to have the guns supplied by the FBI.  It would be an ironic choice for a movie not called Fast or Furious.  The need for this lousy approximation of what the drug dealing life is like was removed with the creation of Saul Goodman and Gus Fring.

Sarandon…what the hell has happened?  I am beginning to wonder if her career has been a mirage.  I am right there with her on the hole Hollywood throws you in when you reach Searching for Debra Winger age.  It’s one thing to take any role they will give you.  It’s quite another to mail it in every time.

We all know that Johnson wants to get past his “John Cougar” phase, but to do this, he needs to get away from small time films with medium budgets.  He’s done enough Walking Tall remakes.  He needs to do the big stuff, collect his checks, and see if he can convince someone the caliber of John Sayles, David Mamet or Gregory Nava to work with him.

(** out of *****)

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island; There will be a third.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – 2012

Director Brad Peyton
Starring Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman
Screenplay by Brian and Mark Gunn

  • Luis Guzman has been in a bunch of good films, and he has done well in them.  Films like The Limey, Carlito’s Way, Boogie Nights, Traffic and Dreamer.  He’s also been in a lot of crap, and done horribly in those films.  You can add this to that list.
  • Michael Caine had perhaps a career performance when he played Alfred for the last time in The Dark Knight Rises.  Now he’s in this.
  • Josh Hutcherson plays Peta in The Hunger Games and its upcoming sequels.  He was grandfathered into this film by being in the last one as a child.
  • Vanessa Hudgens’ only other success to this point as been 3 High School Musical films.  This is the best she has to look forward to in her future.  At least she’s not Lindsey Lohan.
  • As for The Rock.  This is his career.  Past, present, future.
  • The first movie made $240 million.  This wasn’t enough for Brendan Fraser to be in its sequel.  This is a guy that has been in 3 Mummy movies so far.  That’s right: 3.
  • This movie made $325 million.  The profits are getting better.  The movies are not.
  • The special effects seem like they were made to be in 3D, in that way where you have lots of crap (literally, if you are Guzman) heading towards you at all times.  That’s not quite Scorsese level.
  • This is the kind of film where you get somewhere that is seemingly really cool and the moment you get there, the place is about to be destroyed in a very short time span.  That time span often coincides with the amount of time left in the movie.
  • I still have a schoolboy crush on Kristen Davis.  The first time I saw her I was in my early 20’s.
  • Good news: the whole gang will be back for the next film.  It’s supposed to be on the moon.
  • I think that the story will have as much to do with Jules Verne stories as the first two films did.  Location and title.
  • If I was to ask a question, it would be “Why is the Nautilus still there?” but I really don’t care for the answer.
  • This film was not nominated for a Razzie…but announcements have yet to be made.
  • They have my preliminary vote, God bless them.
  • Here is a picture of a tiny elephant:
It’s a small elephant. Awkwardly cute.

Fast Five. Duh.

Fast Five – 2011

Directed by Justin Lin

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Joaquim de Almeida, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang

Written by Chris Morgan

This series is never going to end.  At a point where most franchises have long run out of steam, this one made the most money of any of the films in the franchise.  In fact, the only thing disappearing from the films are words in the title.  At this rate, by the time we get to the 10th film, it will be called, simply, appropriately F.  To celebrate or lament that this franchise is going to be a part of our lives for a good, but definitely not great, while.

The Good  

  • Any time a movie can start out in Rio, the customary shot is the big statue of Jesus, known as Christ the Redeemer.  It’s kind of a way of saying, yes, Jesus looms large, but he’s not going to do more than watch us flex our muscles as we drive in fast cars.  Even if the number one lunkhead wears a cross.
  • Reaction to the big reveal of Mia’s pregnancy showed that the series, vacuous as it is,  has a lot of heart.
  • The Rock kicks ass in this film, but he doesn’t think much.
  • “Gonna do one last job…” is kind of a funny line when it comes from Vin Diesel, who has done bupkis outside of this series lately.
  • de Almeida is a great bad guy who’s never been in a movie he deserves, since Clear and Present Danger.
  • Seeing a bunch of wanted guys driving through the middle of town keeping tabs on the bad guys seems unlikely, especially when the bad guys are all looking for the good guys.
  • Ballsy to not even bother showing how they won the little light blue Ducati.  And then to drive it around the warehouse so smoothly like that?  Sweet.
  • Nice touch to let the Asian guy (Kang) get the hot Mossad agent (Gadot).
  • Vince is Fredo, but Dom is not Michael, he’s nicer than Michael.
  • The chase with the two cop cars towing the vault, while against all laws of physics, is pretty bad ass.

The Bad

  • A prison break with a bus rolling a dozen times with no one getting hurt?  Likely.
  • “If there’s anything illegal happening in Rio, Reyes is involved,” is a good sign that perhaps the cops should hang out in front of Reyes’ house.  They don’t, of course.  They chase the guys who have fast cars.
  • Why rebuild a car just to find out the computer in the dashboard has a chip missing.
  • The big bad guys always kill little bad guys in front of number 2.  This is not to show the number 2 he is bad.  This is to show us that he is showing the number 2 he is bad.  Any number 2 would be well aware of this by the time he reached number 2.
  • “Stick to the plan,” is code for, “it’s not even the middle of the movie.  Keep doing cool stuff for a while.”
  • The good cops always find out “something big is going down” but are powerless to do anything but linger behind.
  • For a series that is supposed to be about stealing and racing cars, it’s beginning to look a lot like Ocean’s 14.
  • Dominic (Diesel) versus Hobbs (Johnson) would be much cooler if Hobbs wasn’t a foot taller.
  • I am pretty sure that Walker’s Brian is just in the film to be the token white guy.
  • Jordana Brewster seems to be even more anorexic with the progress of the pregnancy.
  • The big fight between Rock and Diesel was totally useless, given that there were guns on everyone else at that point, but it goes on for another minute or so anyway.  Of course no one really gets hurt, or even a scar.
  • Everyone without flak jackets or armor survives the ambush, while all the tough guys in T-shirts stand in the middle of the road and kill all the snipers, leaving number 2 alive, of course.
  • “You know I can’t let you go…” means, “Have fun, I am letting you go.”

The Ugly

  • “Go walk it off!” is another way of saying, “You’re lucky my chick’s here.”  Really they just mean, save the fights for later in the film.
  • Asking a cop if she is the only cop in Rio that one can trust is not usually a good sign.
  • Too much is made about the difficulty of breaking into police stations.  It happens all the time in movies.
  • No one beats Vin Diesel’s Dom in the movie, even when they win.  He’s the producer.
  • “We’re one hour away from the rest of our lives…” means you have to do a bunch of stuff, likely taking you more than an hour.
  • It’s clichéd brother is “It’s a suicide mission,” which means everyone will make out just fine, even the cop that was just your enemy who joined your team.
Overall, it’s a good Saturday movie, even on a Monday.
(***1/2 out of *****)