Godzilla King of the Monsters is a miserable moviegoing experience. The movie is loud and bleak and chaotic and it’s populated by characters who are impossible to invest in, aside from Millie Bobby Brown; and that’s more about her as an actress than her character. Even if you think you are going just for the big monster fights between Godzilla and a coterie of big bads, you will find yourself miserably making your way through the muck of waste of space human characters only to find loud, unimpressive fights on par with the robot fights of Transformers.
(That Transformers comparison is not a good thing, if you enjoy Transformers fight scenes, this is not the review for you.)
Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown make up the Russell family, Dr’s Mark and Emma Russell and their precocious daughter, Madison. The Russell family suffered a tragedy the last time that Godzilla was seen in 2014. Mark and Emma's son was killed amidst the battle against Godzilla in San Francisco. Since then, Mark has dropped out of society, and only recently gave up drinking, while Emma has secretly continued working for Monarch.
Monarch is a private firm operated by Dr Serizowa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) and its mission is to study what they refer to as ‘The Titans.’ The Titans are the many monsters living below the surface of the Earth, some of which are in some form of stasis, others of whom have been captured and held sedate. Dr Serizawa believes the Titans are necessary to the world to maintain balance between good Titans and bad Titans. He’s convinced that humans won’t be able to control or fight some of the Titans and thus having an ‘alpha Titan’ on the side of humanity is the only way to survive.
Opposing Dr Serizawa, though their philosophies are similar, is Col Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), a former military man turned Eco-Terrorist. Some kind of personal trauma has convinced the Colonel that unleashing the Titans on an unsuspecting humanity is the only way forward. Jonah wants everyone dead for whatever reason, the movie is intentionally vague on this point because the movie isn’t very good.
Jonah takes Emma and Madison hostage with the intent of using a device Emma created to control the Titans to set them free. Dr Serizawa recruits Mark to help locate Emma and try to recreate her device to stop the monsters and Godzilla is apparently on the side of the humans against the new alpha Titan, King Ghidora, a three headed Dragon that may also be an alien(?) and is controlling a dozen other Titans, I believe.
Convoluted barely describes the nonsense plot of Godzilla King of Monsters and that is surprising considering that the film was directed by upstart director Michael Dougherty. Dougherty is the director of cult horror anthology Trick R Treat and the equally culty Krampus. Dougherty is beloved among a small crew of hardcore horror fans who will find themselves desperately disappointed by his beyond mediocre monsters here.
Godzilla King of the Monsters has none of the anarchic spirit or invention that Dougherty’s low budget horror movies thrived on. Rather, it plays like a movie where the director was noted to death by studio executives who didn’t get the memo that monster movies are supposed to fun and not weighed down by too much explanation or pushed aside by human actors and needless melodrama. Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra are the stars, the movie needed to get out their way.
I honestly cannot tell if the little monster on monster action we get in Godzilla King of the Monsters was intended to look low rent, like a modern take on the classic man in a rubber suit style of the classic Godzilla movies, or if the effects were botched. The effects are too dark and poorly rendered, they’re especially poorly edited, and almost unbearably loud. I was reminded of the clattering cacophony of chaos of Transformers which repeatedly assaulted our eyes with quick cuts and so little verisimilitude that you can hardly understand what monster is fighting what other monsters.
Godzilla King of the Monsters isn’t as miserable as Transformers, Millie Bobby Brown elevates the movie with the kind of likability that no one in a Transformers movie ever came close to. Unfortunately, she can’t fix the whole movie which is more than 2 hours of complete and utter nonsense.
Booksmart stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, a long way from her role on Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, as Molly and Amy, High School best friends who believe they have the whole school thing locked down. Molly and Amy have done little but focus on getting into the best colleges and owning student government in order to make sure their college resumes were strong. The pair's plan appears to have worked as both are off to amazing schools.
I say the plan appears to have worked but appearances can be deceiving. On the final day of the school year, Molly overhears some classmates making fun of her high achieving ways but when she tries to show them up by talking about getting into Yale, she finds that her fellow classmates have also gotten into good schools. This includes a girl Molly had dismissed as a tramp, Triple A (Molly Gordon), the name gets explained, trust me, who has also gotten into Yale.
As Molly begins to confront other students about their school plans in the fall she finds that even her nemesis/crush, the jock football goof, Nick (Mason Gooding, Cuba Gooding’s son, FYI), has landed a scholarship to Georgetown in the fall. All of the time and effort that Molly and Amy put in to getting into a good school wasn’t in vain, per se, but the realization is that they could have both achieved and still found time to enjoy themselves and party.
Thus, with one night remaining before graduation, and Nick the jock throwing a raging party at his aunt’s house, Molly convinces Amy that they deserve one night of classic High School debauchery with drugs, drinking and bad choices. But first, they will need to find out where the party is actually taking place and find some way of getting there. This leads to a series of bizarre encounters on the way to the party.
My absolute, unquestionable, favorite part of Booksmart is Billie Lourde, Carrie Fisher’s remarkably brilliant daughter. Lourd plays Gigi, a debauched rich girl who pals around with Jared (Skyler Gisondo), a sweet, misguided rich kid with a crush on Molly. Gigi pops up at random moments throughout Booksmart and gets a big laugh every single time. Lourd is boiling with charisma and charm and comic timing and I wanted more of her even as I recognize that any more of Gigi would ruin the magic of the character.
A close second in the race for best supporting player in Booksmart is former Daily Show correspondent and co-host of the podcast ‘2 Dope Queens,’ Jessica Williams. Williams plays Ms. Fine, Molly and Amy’s favorite teacher. Such big fans of each other, the girls actually get their teacher’s phone number in class so they can stay in touch. Williams will re-enter the story later at the party and has a funny running gag about a student with a crush on her. Williams is brilliantly funny, never going for the easiest laugh and finding ways to twist a good joke.
The whole of Booksmart falls under the direction of actress turned first time feature film director Olivia Wilde and what a remarkable job she has done. Taking a screenplay with four credited writers, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskin, and Katie Silberman, who has the ‘written by’ credit on IMDB, and shapes it with strong direction into a movie with memorable characters and big laughs. For a first time director, Wilde directs Booksmart with the confidence and competence of a veteran director.
This is a wonderfully strong outing for someone with only a few short films on her directorial resume. Olivia Wilde has come out of the gates with a movie that demonstrates a director with a strong authorial voice. Wilde appears generous with her cast, giving them the time to find the jokes while shaping the scenes to the overall narrative. The film is notably raunchy, as the trailer indicates, but Booksmart also has a strong emotional component that plays into the ending I won’t spoil. It’s a lovely coda and one you should see and enjoy.
I can’t believe I have gone this far without talking about the young stars of Booksmart, but here we are. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are, no surprise if you’ve read this far, wonderful in Booksmart. Feldstein consistently subverts expectations and gets laughs and pathos in equal measure. Dever, playing an out of the closet teenager in authentic and achingly real fashion, has an emotional arc that is also exceptionally funny because she is naturally talented and draws the laughs out of the real. The chemistry between Feldstein and Dever is off the charts and you can’t help but adore their dynamic.
Booksmart is one of my favorite movies of 2019. Wildly funny, smart and emotional, it’s an exceptionally strong debut feature for director Olivia Wilde. I can only imagine incredible things for Wilde’s directorial future. The raunchy humor and comparisons to Superbad may be what gets audiences in the door, but they will remember Booksmart for a terrific cast and Olivia Wilde’s smart, funny directorial choices.
As Disney continues their mercenary, commerce over art, traipse through bringing their animated classics to CGI life, we find ourselves at Aladdin, the movie Robin Williams made famous, now without Robin Williams. Now, in fairness, Will Smith is taking on the role of the Genie that Williams made into an animated classic and Will Smith is a movie God, but he’s still not Robin Williams in terms of his style of performance.
What set Aladdin the cartoon apart was the manic, over the top, non-stop energy of Robin Williams. Williams’ remarkably fast paced riffing and pop references may appear a tad dated, Jack Nicholson impressions aren’t exactly in vogue anymore, but his manic energy and lovable, charming innocence, made that character and that movie more than the sum of its rather average parts. For a moment, imagine Aladdin without Robin Williams: Sappy love songs and bland romance with no flavor and a great deal less fun.
Will Smith is not that kind of performer. Smith is charming and charismatic and he can be goofy when it’s called for, but the Will Smith brand hasn’t been goofy and charming in some time now. When Will Smith grew up and left behind childish performances as in the original Men in Black and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, he developed a more serious and stolid persona. He didn’t become completely un-fun but movies like 7 Pounds, I Am Legend and Suicide Squad are not exactly laugh riots. Not since Men in Black 3 in 2012 has Will sought to make audiences laugh and he hasn’t played straight comedy since 2005’s Hitch.
That raises the question: Is Will Smith funny in Aladdin? Yes and no. Yes, in that in a couple scenes, in the strong second act of Aladdin, Will Smith gets a couple of chuckles. Is Smith the laugh riot that Williams was in the animated Aladdin? Not by a long shot. Smith’s introductory gags, immediately following meeting Aladdin and introducing himself as The Genie, are a little cringe-inducing, rather of the Dad Joke variety. He’s certainly amused with himself but we in the audience are, for the most part, politely smiling while waiting for something to be funny. That said, Smith is the best thing about the new Aladdin.
It occurs to me now that I am 5 paragraphs into a review of Aladdin and all I have done is talk about Will Smith and the faltering comparison to Robin Williams. The reason for that is, if Will Smith is, as I mentioned earlier, the best thing about Aladdin, you can imagine, there isn’t much more to say about the rest of Aladdin. Weak songs, a bland leading man performance from Mena Massoud, and some odd direction from Guy Ritchie are all that’s left and I don’t dislike Aladdin enough to linger on those flaws.
If you are somehow not aware of the plot of Aladdin, the story goes that Aladdin is plucked off the streets by the evil Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to enter the cave of wonders. Because Aladdin has a true heart he is allowed to enter, along with his monkey, Abu, and he retrieves the lamp which he proceeds to rub. Out of the lamp pops Genie Will Smith, wishes are made, the heart of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) is won and all is well with the world.
The plot is the same as the animated feature only flattened out to a too long 2 hours and 6 minutes. The extra time is dedicated to extra musical numbers, including one brand new original song from composer Alan Menken, "Speechless," sung by Naomi Scott. Speechless is a fine song in and of itself, a power pop ballad about female empowerment. That said, the placement within the film is wonky and off-putting. The song is shoehorned in as a fantasy sequence with all the finesse of a sledgehammer.
I’m being unkind again, let’s talk positives. Once Aladdin makes his wish to be a Prince and becomes Prince Ali of Ababwa, the movie manages to find a new gear. Smith switches from the buff, big, blue genie to his more familiar persona and digs into a belter of a reimagining of the centerpiece tune “Prince Ali.” Smith isn’t much of a singer but the song is smartly paced and it slows to give Smith the chance to rap rather than being forced to try and sing.
From there is a charming party scene where even Mena Massoud’s Aladdin finds a little life, thanks to a little bit of Bollywood musical magic, and for a time you think that Aladdin might just work out. That momentum dies as we turn to the third act and the films flavorless villain, Jafar, takes far too much of the center stage. Marwan Kenzari isn’t bad but this is not a great, memorable villain. The plot pushes hard but Jafar is more wet blanket than super-villain. His defeat isn’t nearly as satisfying here as it was in the animated feature which is surprising considering they are virtually identical.
I’m coming off like I really dislike Aladdin and I don’t. It’s… it’s… fine. It’s okay. I don’t mind Aladdin. I am resigned to the notion that Disney is going to, without a care for art or originality, continue to pump out mediocre live action rehashes of their animated classics because well known I.P is more important than art. The marketing department at Disney may as well start getting producer credits these days as they seem to be the ones making the decisions.
But that is the cry of the artist in a medium of capitalists. It’s not fair to condemn a business for attempting to make money. That said, I don’t have to enjoy it or endorse it, I just have to tolerate it and hope for the best. The best, in the case of Aladdin, is a genuinely charming second act and a not terrible performance by Will Smith. It’s not much but we have to find our pleasures where we can in the mercenary world of Disney remakes.
The John Wick franchise is the best thing Keanu Reeves has done in his career. I realize that won’t be a popular statement with the fandoms of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or The Matrix, but it's true. The role of supreme assassin John Wick fits Keanu Reeves like a perfectly tailored bulletproof suit. Reeves’ very physical being seems to have been crafted to act out John Wick’s incredibly choreographed violence. It’s a joy to behold for fans of action cinema.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (Prepare for War) picks up in the immediate aftermath of John Wick Chapter 2. John now has a $14 million dollar bounty on his head and is considered Excommunicado by the community of assassins amongst whom he’d been considered the greatest of all. Now, thanks to his old friend, Winston (Ian McShane), John has one hour to get his affairs in order before his own contract goes live and he becomes a target.
Writer Derek Kolstad and Director Chad Stehelski, who’ve each been with this franchise from the start, have a remarkable talent for world building, as they’ve demonstrated in each of the first two Chapters of the John Wick story. The layer upon layer of dynamic mythology that Stahelski and Kolstad have crafted within this John Wick universe kicks right back in with John Wick Chapter 3 and draws you right back into this unique world in mere minutes.
The odds are well stacked against John Wick and yet, the screenplay does a remarkable amount of work to sell you the idea that an army the size of a small country won’t be enough to slow down our hero. The same mythologizing that gave us such compelling details as The Continental, a hotel for assassins only, a service that caters to killers by removing large numbers of dead bodies, and so on, also gives us a John Wick personal mythology that makes Wick both the Devil incarnate and Death in human form.
John Wick carries this remarkable air of menace and invulnerability, it’s like rooting for a horror movie villain. John Wick could come up on Jason Voorhees and you would fairly assume John Wick is the more fearsome of the two. That comes from Derek Klolstad’s exceptional script which takes care to include dialogue that never lets up in putting over the idea of John Wick as the most remarkable killer since the plague.
The fight choreography in John Wick Chapter 3 is insanely awesome. A fight scene inside what appears to be a weapons museum is gloriously staged with gut wrenching violence that also happens to be incredibly witty. The audience I was with watching John Wick Chapter 3 groaned and hollered and giggled with delight at the various unique ways John Wick murdered potential assassins. Knife throwing, neck cracking, close quarters combat, all of it at a breakneck pace that never feels too fast. It’s damned brilliant and director Chad Stahelski and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio deserve all the praise imaginable for this remarkable work.
Keanu Reeves, as I mentioned, has never been better than when he’s in John Wick’s black, bulletproof suit. His blank slate face is a perfect mask for the baddest killer on the planet. The character calls for an actor who masks his emotions and never betrays his thoughts to his opponents and Reeves is remarkably great at not letting anyone in on his inner thoughts. In the past, that might be me calling Reeves boring, or dim, but in John Wick, it comes off as the perfect choice for how to play this character.
John Wick doesn’t show weakness, he rarely appears to register pain, he’s never cocky or flashy and he doesn’t smile. All of those qualities are exactly the kinds of things that have held Keanu Reeves back in other movies and yet, with John Wick, it’s as if the character were tailored for Reeves’ unique acting talent. Reeves’ wiry physicality, and powerhouse use of angles and leverage, it could be a stunt person or CGI, whatever, it looks awesome. He doesn’t just play John Wick, his body appears to have been built specifically for the balletic violence of this character.
I completely adore John Wick Chapters 1,2 and 3. This is a great franchise with a remarkable pace, incredible style and a performance by Keanu Reeves that is relentlessly entertaining. John Wick is incredibly violent and that should be noted here for those who think they want to see what is likely going to be the number 1 movie in America on opening weekend. John Wick Chapter 3 is filled with bloody, gory, brutal violence, of the hard R-Rated variety. If violence is a turn off for you, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is not the movie for you.
The Hustle is a remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Scoundrels itself was a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. So yeah, this material has been traversed on multiple occasions and that’s not even accounting for the numerous movies that Bedtime Story was heavily influenced by. Con artists have long been figures of fascination at the movies as they provide a rich playing field for actors and screenwriters alike.
The Hustle stars Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect’s Amy, as Penny, a boorish Australian con artist who uses a scam involving a sick sister, and a little bit of catfishing, to get men to give her the little amounts of money she needs to get by. It’s small potatoes and when she’s seemingly run low on gullible Tinder dates, she decides to give Europe a shot. Penny is headed to the French Riviera in hopes of finding bigger game for her cons.
On a train to a place called Beaumont Del Sur, Penny meets Josephine (Anne Hathaway), a fellow con-artist, though Penny doesn’t know that yet. Josephine has set up shop in Beaumont Del Sur for years, using its lavish, expensive hotels as her hunting ground for rich husbands looking for a good time on the sly from unwitting elderly wives. Josephine isn’t worried that Penny will provide competition, she’s worried that her clumsiness will scare away the bigger fish marks.
When Penny proves herself to be a little more formidable than expected, Josephine takes her in and begins to teach Penny about higher level cons. A con-job, codenamed Lord of the Rings, is the centerpiece of this early portion of the second act and I really enjoyed it. All three movies, Bedtime Story, Scoundrels and The Hustle, feature this sequence and it proves to be a durable comic sequence, earning some unexpectedly big laughs.
Unexpected laughs are a hallmark of The Hustle. The disjointed narrative of The Hustle, a series of setups and payoffs with a bare minimum of connective story tissue, works in spite of the structure. The laughs are so big and so often that I actually didn’t mind the obvious flaws in the structure. I somehow didn’t mind that The Hustle isn’t much of a traditional movie and is rather a series of gags, skillfully performed by the talented duo of Wilson and Hathaway.
On most occasions a movie as faltering in structure as The Hustle would not work for me but I have a notable soft spot for Rebel Wilson. Few people in Hollywood make me laugh as hard as Wilson, who has become one of the most remarkably ingenious comediennes on the planet in recent years. Her Isn’t it Romantic from back in February of this year remains one of the highlights of 2019 at the movies and Wilson makes it impossible for me to dislike The Hustle or dismiss it over some very noticeable flaws.
Those specific flaws are embodied in the character of Thomas played by newcomer Alex Sharp. Sharp is central to the film’s third act and he’s completely overmatched in attempting to keep up with Wilson’s brilliant comic chops and Hathaway’s skillfully light touch comedy. I get that this part requires a performer who appears at a loss consistently opposite the brilliant cons on either side of them, but Sharp is an almost non-existent presence. Those who’ve seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels know where his character arc is headed and I will tell you, Glenn Headly struggled to pull it off in Scoundrels and Sharp doesn’t even compare to her.
The Hustle was directed by Veep veteran, Chris Addison. Addison has demonstrated a strong talent for gags on Veep and he shows that same flare for setup and punchline in The Hustle. The Hustle unfortunately doesn't have the advantage of being a weekly television series that can more simply perform setup and punchline and pick up narrative strands as needed. Characters have time to grow and for us to get to know them on television. The Hustle doesn’t have time to develop these characters or a deeper narrative, which necessitates the reliance on big gags over what makes movies great.
That said, the laughs in The Hustle are often so big that I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it. I can levy a number of complaints about the film, but what matters is that I laughed and laughed loudly and quite often at The Hustle. I can’t say my fellow critics who don’t care for The Hustle are wrong about the movie, they are right in many instances and complaints. I just happen to be in a position to be a great deal more kind about The Hustle due to my adoration for Rebel Wilson.
Lower your expectations of an actual movie and get set for some funny set pieces and you can enjoy The Hustle as much as I did.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu is some hardcore fan service. In fact, if you are not immersed in the universe of Pokemon, you aren’t likely to find much to enjoy beyond the occasional Ryan Reynolds quip. Reynolds himself is a kind of Pokemon fan service as giving this franchise the voice of one of the world’s most popular and charismatic actors is akin to one of the cool kids passing up the cool kid table in the cafeteria so he can sit with the A.V Club and they can absorb some of his aura.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu opens in pure, visual chaos. A car is escaping from a mysterious lab facility while being chased by a powerful Pokemon called a Mewtoo. The Mewtoo appears to blow up the car, knocking the vehicle over the side of a bridge. The driver appears to have been killed but the swirling vortex of CG chaos makes it impossible to know what happens and since this is our introduction to the story, we are at a loss to care much for what is happening.
The film slam cuts from the car crash to a field in a small, vaguely Asian town. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is one of the few people in his small town who doesn’t have his own Pokemon, a tiny, animal like creature, who people capture using a special ball that opens up to capture the Pokemon, but only if the Pokemon likes and trusts its new owner or master or trainer? I’m not familiar with the terms and the movie is less than forthcoming for newcomers.
Tim’s lack of interest in Pokemon is a reaction to his father’s dedication to Pokemon, as a law enforcement officer with his own Pokemon partner named Pikachu. Work took his father away and Tim resents Pokemon for his dad not being around when his mom died. Tim is soon to be thrust back into his father’s world however when he receives a message that his father was in a deadly car accident.
Tim must travel to his father’s home in Ryme City, the rare place where Pokemon and humans live in harmony together. Everyone has their own Pokemon and peace reigns as the two species live in harmony under the watchful leadership of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy). Howard created Ryme City as a utopia for Pokemon and human alike. Naturally, however, there are snakes in this Eden and Pikachu is on the look out.
Pikachu was believed to have died in the crash that killed Tim’s father so when the two come face to face in Tim’s father’s apartment, they nearly kill each other. In what we are told is a completely unfathomable anomaly, Tim has the ability to hear Pikachu speaking English. No one else on the planet has the ability to communicate with a Pokemon directly and this will not be used in any useful way beyond quips, lots of quips, mildly amusing, inoffensive, only occasionally funny, quips.
Together, Tim and Pikachu will team with ace, junior reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) to find the source of some strange Pokemon behavior. This strange behavior harkens back to the days before humans and Pokemon became friends and it is the key to finding out who is behind Harry’s disappearance, the dangerous Mew-Too and the apparent intention to create a rift between Pokemon and humanity.
Rob Letterman directed Pokemon Detective Pikachu and he has packed it full of stuff that Pokemon fans will adore. There are easter eggs on top of easter eggs with appearances by fan favorite Pokemon doing fan favorite Pokemon things. Characters from the longtime Pokemon cartoons make cameos, I am assuming, special attention is paid, ever so briefly, to a character even I recognized from years of cultural osmosis. Fans will be excited and the inclusion could hint at a wider Detective Pikachu-Pokemon cinematic universe.
Or so I assume, only Pokemon fans will be able to tell me if I am right or wrong about that. The bottom line issue that I have with Pokemon Detective Pikachu is with the remarkable amount of fan service. The movie is very bland and basic in its general storytelling and so the only thing left in terms of making Detective Pikachu special would either come from making it funny, which it really isn’t or in making it so packed with Pokemon stuff as to render story unnecessary for the hardcore devotees. The makers of this movie went with the second option and leave non-Pokemon fans scratching our collective heads waiting for Ryan Reynolds to get funny.
The story takes elements of the mystery genre and mushes them up into a highly predictable story arc. The opening scene is meant to provide a mystery that will play out over the course of the movie but the story cheats this opening repeatedly throughout the movie to fit the narrative. This particular narrative feels as if it was altered numerous times, something strongly indicated by 6 credited writers for Pokemon Detective Pikachu.
If you can’t tell who the bad guy is from the cast list you aren’t really trying. It’s glaringly obvious throughout where the movie is headed, albeit the actual endgame of the story is a tad bizarre, but by then it was hard to care. In fact, a lot of fans might really have liked what the movie plays as an evil scheme, but that’s an odd digression for another, spoiler filled time. Weird ending aside, there isn’t a story beat in Detective Pikachu that will surprise you from the mismatched partners, the convenient bouts of amnesia, to a third act separation that is so perfunctory the screenwriters should step on screen to introduce it while thanking and giving credit to every screenplay guide ever written.
But, as I stated earlier, I am not the audience for this movie. I am not a Pokemon fan. I have nothing against Pokemon, I know plenty of people who find Pokemon delightful. I am just not into it, it doesn’t do anything for me and since the movie isn’t very funny, even Ryan Reynolds is missing that classically Ryan Reynolds wit, there isn’t much for me to invest in. Fans of Pokemon will likely flip for all of the neato Pokemon stuff in Detective Pikachu but if you are not part of the cult of Pokemon, you’re better off sitting this one out.
The mindless simplicity of Uglydolls is almost charming. The guilelessness, the complete, earnest, lack of edge, approaches something genuinely appealing. I can’t sit here and tell you that I, a 43 year old, single, male, film critic, enjoyed anything about Uglydolls but there is a limit to the amount of disdain I can set aside for something so legitimately harmless. There is nothing remotely offensive about Uglydolls, even as there is nothing particularly interesting about it either.
Uglydolls features the voice of pop-reality star Kelly Clarkson as Moxy, an uglydoll who is not aware that ‘ugly’ is meant as an insult. She, along with the rest of the denizens of Uglyville, have no notion that they are not simply, acceptably, who they are. The people of Uglyville have no pretension, they have no capacity to judge the others who have judged them as lesser. That many of them are not aware that a world beyond the walls of the city exist probably helps matters.
Moxy however, is obsessed with the notion of an outside world where she can fulfill her destiny as a beloved stuffed animal to a child in need. In order to get to the outside where, she recruits her dog, Uglydog (Rapper Pitbull), Luckybat (Leehom Wong), Wage (Wanda Sykes) and Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) to climb to a giant hole in Ugly mountain that she believes must lead to the outside world and to kids and homes and love.
For the most part, Moxy is right. The real world exists but to get there, the Uglydolls will have to cross through, Perfection. Perfection is where perfect dolls are built and judged on whether or not they are perfect enough to go through the portal to the real world. Even among the perfect there are those who aren’t quite perfect enough, a fact we learn in song from the dreamiest man in Perfection, Lou (Nick Jonas).
Lou acts as a gatekeeper who only allows perfect dolls to go through and become a cherished friend to a child in need. Lou uses his handsome looks and big, beautiful singing voice as a cudgel against anything deemed imperfect. Though he welcomes the Uglydolls initially, it only takes singing a few bars for Lou to unleash his evil toward the newcomers. Lou’s desire to appear benevolent toward Moxy and friends kicks the story into a perfunctory third act teaming with simplistic metaphors.
Getting annoyed at the predictability or over-familiarity of Uglydolls is a fool's errand. This is barely a movie and what is there is of an actual movie isn’t all that much. Uglydolls features a cast of well known and charming singers and actors who bring a good deal of energy and good cheer to their otherwise unmemorable performances. Strangely, the villain, voiced by Nick Jonas does most of the singing during the movie. Lou has multiple songs and a reprise of one of the songs during what is only an 87 minute movie.
Uglydolls is a musical though none of the songs in the movie are particularly memorable. Each of the songs are either mindless child self-esteem boosters or plot heavy exposition by Jonas’s villain. None of the songs are likely to have a life outside of the movie on pop radio, spotify or YouTube. Kelly Clarkson, Jonas and Blake Shelton have name recognition and huge fanbases but even devotees of their work are unlikely to even be aware of Uglydolls and its bland soundtrack.
There aren’t many laughs in Uglydolls. For the most part, the film is mildly amusing at best. The kindest thing I can say, from my admittedly not all that valuable perspective of this genre, is that the film is not offensive. Uglydolls is harmless, brainless, minor entertainment that kids 8 years old and under can safely consume and forget about, aside from maybe wanting to buy their own Moxy doll or one of Moxy’s fellow Uglydolls.
There is perhaps more money in merchandising Uglydolls than there is in making this movie. The sales of stuffed Uglydolls will likely go well beyond the box office of Uglydolls and there’s nothing wrong with that. Uglydolls is one of those rare, utterly inconsequential movies that doesn’t need to exist but doesn’t change anything by existing. The world will not remember Uglydolls in a fews after release and I can feel it already leaving my mind even faster.
I do recommend Uglydolls however, for parents in desperate need of a TV nanny, something for little, little kids to enjoy for bright colors, a forgettably safe empowerment message and something so ridiculously safe for their developing minds, it might as well be a nap in the form of a movie.
Long Shot stars Seth Rogen as the unattractively named Fred Flarsky. Fred is a journalist who just quit his job working as a liberal activist journalist after his newspaper was bought by a right wing media conglomerate. Looking to drown his sorrows, Fred meets up with his pal, Lance (O’Shea Jackson), a rich investor type, who promises to take him for a fancy night out. This night out, with drugs and booze of all sorts, culminates with a fancy party where Boyz II Men is performing.
While Fred is excited to see his favorite 90’s R & B group, his night gets even more exciting when he spots Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), in the crowd. Charlotte and Fred knew each other in middle school when Charlotte babysat for the three years younger Fred. Fred relays a remarkably embarrassing story about humiliating himself with a kiss attempt on Charlotte before she actually has him summoned for a chat. Seems she remembers him and the two strike up their old friendship.
Against the better judgment of her staff, headed up by Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), Charlotte decides to hire Fred as a speech writer. You see, Charlotte is about to leave the job of Secretary of State behind and make a run for the Presidency and one of her weaknesses, according to polling data, is her sense of humor. She hopes that Fred’s writing can make her funny. She also just simply finds his oafishness charming.
Charlotte has secured the endorsement of President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), a Hollywood actor who once played the President on TV who somehow became the real President. Odenkirk is a scene stealer on par with the all time greats and he makes this cameo performance a spiky delight, indicting the audience and American politics for being attracted to flashy politicians. Yes, it’s a transparent dig at our current President, but Odenkirk make it more singular and very funny. Watch for the scene where he describes why he’s decided to leave office. It’s a classic.
Charlotte is embarking on a world tour and she is bringing Fred along to write her speeches and while that happens, the two develop a genuine bond. The chemistry between Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen is really strong. She’s an incredible actress who really sells why she is attracted to Fred and Rogen is charming enough in a rather far-fetched role to make us buy into why a woman as ungodly gorgeous and smart and unattainable as Charlotte would go for him.
That’s really the conceit of Long Shot. Sure, there are more than a few political jokes, the film has a particularly left wing view, but the central gag that the film’s plot turns on is convincing us that a goofball like Fred Flarsky could be someone who a Charlotte Field could fall in love with. This is a romantic comedy so these aren’t spoilers. The journey of Long Shot is in how you get there and not where the movie is going.
The ending is especially hard to swallow but, once again, the winning combination of Rogen and Theron makes it work. I accepted that what happens is possible because these two terrific superstars convinced me that under these remarkably heightened and outrageous circumstances, this story is plausible. The incredible chemistry and the really big laughs of Long Shot easily defeated my skepticism about the plot and the R-rated convolutions needed to make it work.
Long Shot was directed by Jonathan Levine whose unique career includes the Amy Schumer Goldie Hawn flop Snatched, the underwhelming zombie romance Warm Bodies, and the brilliant comic drama 50/50. That last one, 50/50 gave Seth Rogen a really terrific comic dramatic performance opposite an equally brilliant Joseph Gordon Levitt. Levine indeed tries hard to bring some genuine dramatic beats to his comedies with rather mixed results.
The dramatic beats of 50/50 work solely because of the brilliant and sharp cast. The few dramatic beats of Long Shot also work because of a brilliant cast that make you forget that there is genuine drama taking place. Long Shot is a great deal more broad and jokey than 50/50 but each film shows a director who knows how to trust his actors to deliver a mix of the real and the broadly comic. Levine is blessed to have the Oscar winning Theron who has proven she can convince audiences of just about anything.
Long Shot is mostly delightful, even when it is remarkably raunchy and R-Rated. Be prepared, this movie is not for the easily offended. Long Shot goes for some big bawdy, R-Rated laughs regarding sex and drugs and you definitely need to leave the kids at home for this one. The film’s biggest flaw however, is not raunchy humor, it’s length. At more than 2 hours and 15 minutes, the film struggles at times to maintain pace and drags in a few spots.
Oh, I was wrapping up there, but I cannot end this review without praising O’Shea Jackson. Ice Cube’s son is a brilliant scene stealer. This man is a star in the making. Lance is a wonderful character who is full of life and unexpected comic invention. Even when he is given a questionable bit of forced back story late in the movie, Jackson makes it work and is very funny while doing it. I adore this performance, one of my favorites of the year thus far.