It’s Friday, so that means its time for Fast Five Film Reviews. Have the whole spectrum today; comedy, science fiction, drama, and action… something for everyone in theory. Let’s get to it.
22 Jump Street (2014)
22 Jump Street is about as perfect a sequel as one could wish for the screwball farce comedy that its predecessor was. Not a single scene in this movie is played straight. Every single second someone is doing something to remind us that this movie is pointless and does not deserve to be taken seriously, and therein lies its greatness. There’s all sorts of great in jokes about everything being exactly the same as the first time around, and budget cuts etc… The best part of the movie by far is in the credits reel where they show previews for the next thirty or so entries into this series. That’s not a knock on the rest of the movie though, as I found it to be a laugh riot all the way up to that point as well. This series has done a tremendous job of over-delivering on expectations. I remember no one thought the first one was going to be any good, and then it was, and then when the sequel was announced there was just this lingering feeling in the air that a giant turd was about to be dropped, but instead, I think you could arguably make the case that this movie is indeed better than the first 21 Jump Street if only because it seems even more self aware with its shenanigans than the first one did. As a “turn your brain off” comedy this movie flat out works, and as a biting piece of satire on the business of action movies and sequels, it works even better. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have real comedic chemistry, and Ice Cube is also great as the hardass boss of their outfit. Go see this one, and the original if you haven’t already.
Official Rating: 3 ½ stars
Scarlett Johansson seems to be making a career of playing insanely over the top genius characters. After this movie, any role she plays short of ‘God’ will seem like a sort of a let down. That being said, I thought this movie was an absolute mess and a chore to sit through. Scarlett’s character begins the movie as the lowly girlfriend of some shady gangster dude who has gotten in way over his head. He double crosses her and she winds up being injected with some experimental poison by these crazy Asian Mafioso’s , only the crazy experimental poison has the unintended side effect of allowing her to tap into the “unused” 90% of her brain, which as Morgan Freeman explains throughout the movie (which must make it true) the more of her brain she can access the more control she has over the world around her. For starters I’m not going to be a killjoy and talk about the myth of the whole “we only use ten percent of our brains” crapola. That’s neither here nor there, and as a premise, what I described above actually seemed fairly interesting. The problem was all in the execution. There’s a thing needed in action movies, or movies in general, that this movie could not create, and that is sympathy for the lead character. Once your lead heroine becomes so all powerful, all knowing, etc… that no human force can possibly oppose her anymore, the whole thing loses any semblance of drama. The problem is this movie can’t decide if it wants to be a straight up popcorn revenge flick or an artsy commentary on the nature of human intelligence. Instead it wound up being a real drag on my intelligence. This one’s a pure headache. Stay away.
Official Rating: 1 ½ stars
The Family (2013)
The advertisements for this movie made me think this was going to be a straight up gangster movie about Robert De Niro’s character coming out of retirement to kick some ass, which I was pumped for. That said when this turned out to be an action comedy I was a little let down, but after I settled in I realized that it was still a pretty enjoyable little flick. The story revolves around De Niro’s character who is basically a take off on Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill from Goodfellas (more on that later) who is being hunted by every mobster in the world it seems, and is constantly being moved to new cities all around the world to assume new identities with his quirky family. This time around the town is Normandy, France. Yes, that Normandy. De Niro could play this kind of role in his sleep, and he also gets to riff off of a pretty great cast including Tommy Lee Jones as his long suffering FBI overseer and Michelle Pfeiffer as his longsuffering wife . There’s some great in jokes in the movie such as DeNiro’s character having to attend a screening of Goodfellas for a local film society and then making a speech on the accuracy of said film. The children in the family here are also well played, especially the daughter (Dianna Agron) who is arguably the main character of the film. All in all it’s not at all what I was hoping for, and it’s not that memorable of a movie in the grand scheme of things, but if you are a fan of De Niro and gangster pictures, and have a sense of humor, this is a perfectly acceptable way to kill an hour and a half of your time.
Official Score: 2 ½ stars
The Judge (2014)
Robert Duvall is 83 freaking years old. It’s an age where many people no longer can still function in their everyday lives (of course not everyone) but Duvall not on functions, he can still do his job, and do it better than just about anyone else in movies ever has. The Judge is not really a great movie. It is a formulaic family drama and courthouse drama that goes through the motions with its story. Duvall plays a small town judge who, on the day his wife dies, gets into a late night car accident that kills a man he, years prior, had let off the hook on an assault charge who later went on to murder a 16 year old girl. Charged with murder, the Judge’s only option for a defense lawyer is his long estranged son who moved to the “big city” years prior. The beauty of this is in the performances. Robert Duvall as said is just astounding. Robert Downy Jr. also puts in fine work as his high paid lawyer son who winds up representing his domineering dad in a murder trial. There are also fine supporting performances from the beautiful Vera Farmiga (The Departed) as a long lost hometown girlfriend, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong as Duvall’s other two children, and Billy Bob Thornton as a ruthless prosecuting attorney. The movie may be a touch overly long, as I was waiting for it to wrap all of its loose ends about thirty minutes prior to its ending. If it is overlong and formulaic, which it is, the benefits of that is that there are a lot of great scenes in here where all of the aforementioned actors get to establish their characters and make you care about them. With a lesser cast, this movie could have been a lifetime movie of the week. With this cast, it is well worth seeing. Duvall is beyond a national treasure at this point.
Official Score: 3 ½ stars
3 Days to Kill (2014)
Ethan Renner is a retired CIA assassin, who finds himself in a Snake Plisken like situation of having only a few days left to live, unless he can pull one more job for his former employers. This movie is more or less how I expected The Family to be like. It’s another comedic blending of the action comedy/family drama movie. Costner is awesome as the hard boiled, nihilistic hitman with a soft side when it comes to his wife and daughter. The action in this movie is straight up enough to be acceptable in a serious action movie of the variety we’ve all been accustomed to getting since the first Taken movie. The mix of tongue and cheek family comedy and gritty nihilistic spy/action movie is awkward at points overall I thought the relationship between Costner and his daughter/wife in this picture was solid enough to serve as a good base for the rest of the movie. Amber Heard is great as the uber sexy and dangerous femme fatale CIA assassin who pulls Costner’s strings the entire movie. Hailee Steinfeld, the amazing young actress who first wowed me in her role as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers “True Grit” remake is, while not as impressive, still very effective here. While it is clunky in parts, in the end the pendulum swings more towards the good than the bad with this one for me. Probably my second favorite McG movie behind Terminator Salvation. Although, as a kid I did love the Charlie’s Angels movies for purely pubescent related reasons.
Official Score: 3 stars