CVIndependent

Mon10262020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I was surprised as heck when Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, still doing relatively well at the box office, beat the new Star Wars movie to iTunes. Man, the significance of in-theater revenue dips with each passing second.

Well, I missed this in theaters, and I feel a relative amount of shame about that. As a critic, I should’ve raced out to see this box-office darling. Sometimes, I’m just a lazy asshole. Anyway, I’m not so lazy that I can’t click “download” and watch and stuff on my iTunes account, so I jumped into the latest from Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart as soon as the damned thing showed up as rentable.

I can see why people flocked to it. It’s a lot of fun, and much more enjoyable than the Robin Williams original, a movie I enjoyed, even though it was definitely flawed. In this one, a bunch of high school kids in detention wind up in a video game (instead of a board game). They become avatars that don’t necessarily represent their real-life personalities: The geek becomes the muscle-bound explorer (The Rock); the cheerleader becomes a middle-aged chubby guy (Jack Black, killing it); the jock becomes a scientist (Kevin Hart); and the introverted girl becomes a badass akin to Lara Kroft (Karen Gillan).

The results aren’t groundbreaking, but they are consistently enjoyable, especially in scenes dominated by Black and Gillan. Gillan has a scene in which she is forced to flirt that is one of the film’s best.

This was a big hit, so a sequel is certainly on the way. I’ll probably see that one in theaters.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A bunch of comedians lend their voices to some cartoon characters, and the results are moderately entertaining. The Secret Life of Pets is good for a laugh or two, and the occasional wacked-out moment makes it a semi-original animated movie.

Yeah, this is not a ringing endorsement.

Louis C.K. voices Max, a Jack Russell terrier who loves his master, Katie (Ellie Kemper, of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), with that undying loyalty that makes dogs so damn cool. However, when Katie brings home a new brother for Max, a big, brown shaggy dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), it creates turmoil in the household.

This leads to that, with Max and Duke eventually winding up in the hands of Animal Control, and eventually fending for themselves inside the sewers of Manhattan. There, they become enemies of the Flushed Pets, a group consisting of alligators, lizards, snakes and furry critters, all led by Snowball the Rabbit (Kevin Hart, on a sound-booth tear).

Trailers and advertisements have suggested that the movie is about what our pets do around the house when we leave home. That part of the film is out of the way in the movie’s opening minutes. (They basically eat all of our food, have parties and listen to punk rock.) The rest of the movie follows the band of pets in Max’s neighborhood who are trying to find Max and Duke after they get lost.

Some of the sequences are borderline deranged. Max and Duke wind up in a sausage factory, where they gobble down hot dogs in an almost-hallucinatory scene set to Grease’s “We Go Together.” This doesn’t feel like the stuff of kids’ movies; it’s a sequence that seems as if the animators took a little LSD break, came back to their computers, and conjured up some wild shit.

The same can be said for the sewer stuff, which might terrify kids younger than the age of 8 (as well as some of the softer, sweeter adults in attendance). For starters, there’s a snake down there that initiates new members of the Flushed Pets crew by biting or eating them.

Directors Yarrow Cheney (making his feature-film-directing debut) and Chris Renaud (the Despicable Me movies) use a very frantic pacing style that becomes a bit of a headache at times. Much of the movie goes by at whiz-bang speed, although the action is fairly coherent.

The animators came up with a fun vision of New York City, with apartment buildings squished into each other, and a compressed Manhattan skyline. They manage to make the city look friendly and crazy at the same time, which is the way many of the city’s residents would describe their home.

One of the greater joys of the movie is hearing Louis C.K. toning things down for PG-rated animated fare. He has a gift for playing a dog, and Max even looks a little like him. Louis C.K. is a passionate endorser of NYC, and he’s right at home.

Hart goes for something a little more evil with his rabbit, giving the killer bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail a run for its money. With this, and his recent pairing with Dwayne Johnson in the sort-of=OKCentral Intelligence, Kevin Hart is having himself a sort-of-better-than-average, slightly-better-than-fair-to-middling summer.

Where does The Secret Life of Pets rank on the list of animated movies released so far in 2016? It’s well below Zootopia, and somewhat short of Finding Dory, but still OK. No, you don’t need to run out and see this one, but if it should play in front of your face, there’s a good chance you will enjoy substantial parts of it.

The Secret Life of Pets is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

While it’s far from original, Central Intelligence winds up being an above-average action/comedy buddy movie thanks to its stars, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. These guys belong together.

The plot feels like a bunch of parts from other movies were cobbled together to make a whole. It has elements of Lethal Weapon, Grosse Pointe Blank, Just Friends and even a bit of Sixteen Candles, all stitched together, albeit capably, by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). It’s a well-oiled movie Frankenstein.

Johnson actually scores most of the laughs. Meanwhile, Hart delivers one of the more well-rounded, warm performances of his career.

The pre-opening-credits sequence gives us Calvin (Hart), the most popular guy in his high school, getting honored at a pep rally. In the boys’ locker room, obese Bob (Johnson, aided by some pretty funny CGI) is taking a shower to the tune of his favorite jam, En Vogue’s “My Lovin’.” Bully Trevor (Dylan Boyack) and his cronies spy Bob, pull him from the shower, and slide his naked body into the pep rally. Calvin takes pity on him and drapes him with his letterman jacket; Bob vanishes from school, never to be seen again.

Cut to the present day; Calvin is an accountant getting passed over for promotions. He gets a Facebook invite for beers from somebody named Bob Stone, which he accepts, because he’s bored. He winds up in a bar with a totally transformed Bob: He has gone from being morbidly obese to looking a lot like the Rock.

Bob, who admits to worshipping Calvin over the years, turns out to be a rogue agent in the CIA who is being pursued by his superior (Amy Ryan). He enlists Calvin’s help in detecting codes, or some nonsense like that, and Calvin finds himself in the adventure of his life.

Again, this movie feels a lot like movies that have come before it. Heck, even that recent Netflix Adam Sandler film, The Do-Over, has essentially the same plot. What puts this over the top is the chemistry between the two stars: They have a very winning presence together.

Johnson makes Bob childlike in many ways, making it a mystery: Is he really a man-child, or is it all just an act to pull Calvin into his scheme? Johnson plays Bob as overly polite, with echoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.

Countering Johnson’s simple yet centered character is Hart’s uptight, unsatisfied Calvin. There are moments in the movie, especially during the opening sequence, when Hart plays the part perfectly, mixing his patented brand of hyper humor with a certain sweetness. He makes it easy to root for Calvin on his road to redemption, while Johnson’s Bob is so likeable, you’d accept him as a good or bad guy.

The film ends with the requisite high school reunion featuring some welcome cameos. The producers have managed to score some big guest stars. In a credited performance, Aaron Paul shows up in a small role as Bob’s former partner. There’s a nod to Breaking Bad that gets a good laugh.

This is the sort of movie that goes down easy in the summer time. I actually watched it at a drive-in, and the movie perfectly suited the drive-in experience. So, yeah, I’m encouraging you to find a drive-in playing Central Intelligence. (Drive to Riverside, perhaps?) Close your windows, though. Mosquitoes can ruin a flick.

This probably won’t be the last we see of Calvin and Bob. Central Intelligence has “franchise written” all over it.

Central Intelligence is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

For me, a new Will Ferrell movie is usually a cause for celebration. Hey, I even liked Land of the Lost, a film that was unjustly dismissed by the masses.

Alas, even the great comedic masters misfire from time to time, and Get Hard goes on the dung heap with his Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched.

Ferrell plays a finance guru who gets convicted for crimes he allegedly didn’t commit, and is sentenced to hard time at San Quentin. In an attempt to not get raped when he goes to jail, he hires his car-washer (Kevin Hart) to train him in prison ways—you see, he immediately assumes the man did time because he is black. In other words, we are supposed to feel sorry for the Ferrell character, even though he is a racist ignoramus—and that just doesn’t happen.

Ferrell and Hart labor for laughs in a sea of dick and ass-rape jokes, and it’s all quite ugly and mostly unfunny. There are some highlights, including a simulated prison riot in a wine cellar that inexplicably includes the appearance of an angry baboon; however, the jokes are mostly duds.

You know you are in trouble when your plot is mostly identical to a failed Rob Schneider movie (the equally offensive Big Stan).

Get Hard is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The 11th Annual Desert Smash delivered a day full of expected humor and generosity—as well as some unexpected last-minute program changes—on Tuesday, March 10.

World No. 1 ATP pro Novak Djokovic, who has contributed to the hilarity and star power in previous years, was a no-show. Instead, No. 20-ranked John Isner stepped into the program, joining No. 31-ranked Fernando Verdasco in the final match of the day. Earlier No. 43-ranked Sam Querrey, a repeat volunteer himself, partnered with pro Mardy Fish to deliver the most entertaining real tennis of the day, as they took on the No. 1-ranked doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan.

On the women’s side, WTA No. 7 Genie Bouchard was unexpectedly joined by No. 47-ranked Daniela Hantuchova in the opening singles match, which offered the most purely competitive tennis display.

In the middle two matches, comedy moved to center court at the La Quinta Resort as host Will Ferrell (who suffered a muscle strain in the morning’s VIP Pro-Am competition—the tape job for which he proudly displayed) moved into the role of chair umpire to supervise a surprise treat of a match featuring Justin Bieber, actor/comedian Kevin Hart and talk-show host Billy Bush.

Throughout the afternoon, spectators enjoyed themselves as cocktails and champagne contributed to high spirits and generous support of multiple impromptu donation challenges directed toward Cancer for College’s fundraising for the college educations of cancer survivors.

See pictures from the event, at the La Quinta Resort, below.

Published in Snapshot

About Last Night is definitely not just another unnecessary remake of an ’80s film: Kevin Hart and company have made the latest adaptation of David Mamet’s play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a wildly entertaining endeavor.

Hart lights up any film—even when they stink. Here, he plays Bernie, a player who finds himself in a relationship with the fiery Joan (Regina Hall). While Bernie and Joan experience a wild rollercoaster ride of sex and spats, Bernie’s best bud, Danny (Michael Ealy), winds up dating Joan’s best friend, Debbie (Joy Bryant). The two have a one-night stand that turns into a long-term relationship—replete with all the problems of a relationship that heated up too quickly.

The main reason to see the film is the pairing of Hart and Hall, who are a crack-up under the direction of Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine). However, Ealy and Bryant also make an appealing and intriguing screen couple, so the movie doesn’t nosedive when the action switches to them. Pink shows that his strengths go beyond broad comedy; he handles some of the stronger dramatic elements just fine.

It’s better than the original, which starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and flippin’ James Belushi. Screw that movie—even if Moore was naked for half of the film. 

Special Features: There’s not much to watch on the special-features front, although there is a relatively interesting look at how they remade the movie.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Talk about your blown cinematic opportunities. Man, this should’ve been fun: Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, riffing on their iconic boxing characters Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, have one last boxing match. It sounds to me like the setup for something great, nostalgic and even funny.

Instead, director Peter Segal managed to make this undertaking a morose, unfunny slog. Stallone plays an unhappy character, while De Niro plays a total jackass. Their characters wind up in a scenario that gets their almost 70-year-old bodies into the ring for a rematch 30 years after their last fight. Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart are wasted in supporting roles.

The fight itself is OK, with both men looking fit for their age. However, everything leading up to that fight is oddly paced, and sometimes painful to watch, especially when Kim Basinger is on screen as a confused love interest.

Stallone and De Niro show the more negative, unappealing aspects of their once-great characters. While they aren’t named Rocky and Jake in this movie, those characters are certainly on the brain. De Niro should’ve allowed his character to be a little more punchy, and Stallone should’ve shot for something a little more lovable and virtuous. Both performers seem truly lost, as if they signed up for a fun movie and discovered it was depressing.

This seemed like a sure thing, but Segal blew it. This counts as one of 2013’s biggest movie disappointments.

Special Features: You get an alternate opening and some alternate endings; some extras with Stallone, De Niro and Hart; and some fun with Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield. The extras are much better than the movie.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Don’t disregard this film as just another unnecessary remake of an ’80s film: Kevin Hart and company make the latest adaptation of David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago a wildly entertaining endeavor.

Hart—who lights up any film he shows up in, even when the movie stinks—plays Bernie, a player who finds himself in a relationship with the fiery Joan (Regina Hall). While Bernie and Joan experience a wild roller-coaster ride of sex and spats, Bernie’s best bud, Danny (Michael Ealy), winds up dating Joan’s best friend, Debbie (Joy Bryant). The two have a one-night stand that turns into a long-term relationship replete with all the problems of a relationship that started up way too fast.

The main reasons to see the film is Hart and Hall, who are a crack-up under the direction of Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine). However, Ealy and Bryant make an appealing and intriguing screen couple, so the movie doesn’t nosedive when the action switches to them.

This remake is better than the original, which starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and flippin’ James Belushi. Screw that movie.

About Last Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Grudge Match should’ve been really fun. Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro—riffing on their iconic boxing characters Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta—have one last boxing match. It’s a setup for something great, nostalgic and even funny. Instead, director Peter Segal manages to make this undertaking a morose, unfunny slog.

Stallone plays a generally unhappy character, while De Niro plays a total asshole. Their characters wind up in a scenario that gets their near-70-year-old bodies into the ring for a rematch 30 years after their last fight. The fight itself is OK, with both men looking pretty fit for their age. However, everything leading up to the fight is oddly paced, and sometimes painful to watch, especially when Kim Basinger is onscreen as a confused love interest. Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart are wasted in supporting roles.

This seemed like a sure thing, but Segal blew it. The film takes itself too seriously, and it doesn’t know when to smile.

Grudge Match is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews