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In The Fate of the Furious—easily the dumbest title in the Furious franchise, even dumber than Tokyo Drift—you get to see the most disgusting, stomach-churning moment in cinema so far this year.

That would be Charlize Theron planting a big, sloppy kiss on Vin Diesel, the visual of which creates a “girl from Monster meets the Pillsbury Doughboy on steroids” nightmare. Five years ago, I made a list of five things I never wanted to see, and that came in at No. 3, right under “Donald Trump as President” and “Spiders in My Scrambled Eggs Being Served to Me by a Man With Weeping Hand Sores.”

Somewhere along the way, the Furious franchise went completely bonkers and became less about cars racing around and more about dudes, with upper arms the size of a bull’s torso, who think hair on the top of their heads is total bullshit. It also went off on some sort of international-spy-team tangent. That worked to a hilarious degree in Furious 7, but in The Fate of the Furious, the trajectory becomes ridiculous without much fun: It’s just dumb and plodding. The big thing here is that Dominic Toretto (Diesel) has gone rogue and turned on his family, which has something to do with a cyber villain named Cipher (Theron) and her crazy dreadlock extensions.

The film opens with Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) having a good old time in Cuba, where we last saw them. Dominic gets into a car race that involves his vehicle catching fire, and him speaking in a growling, marble-mouthed manner. Post-race, he’s approached by Cipher, who is wearing a stunning outfit involving denim shorts. Dominic takes a look at something on her cell phone, mumbles and groans a bit—and the international intrigue begins.

Cipher is after nuclear launch codes and electromagnetic pulse contraptions, and Dominic becomes her pit bull. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) are eventually employed by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to get with Dominic and see what’s going on in that big, Barry Bonds-sized head of his.

The portions of the film that involve Johnson and Statham are good—good enough to inspire thoughts of a spinoff film in which their characters join up and solve crimes while fighting Batman, Sylvester Stallone, Godzilla, etc. However, a very real chance at something like that apparently got squashed because Diesel screamed, “Mine, mine, mine, all mine!” and put the kibosh on it.

The biggest problem is that the film takes itself too seriously, with heavy doses of drama being ladled into the mix. The movie even makes way for Vin Diesel to have his Denzel Washington-in-Glory tear moment—that moment in which a single, solitary tear rolls down his cheek while the actor does his best to remain stone-faced.

The whole premise of Dominic going rogue has zero dramatic tension; I’ll simply say that there’s little mystery behind his “traitorous” actions. Also—and this goes without saying—he mopes a lot.

Theron is a great actress, but her supposed computer-genius Cipher is a character who mostly stands in a room barking out commands while everybody else does the legwork. Yes, there’s a scene or two in which she types really fast on a keyboard, but the notion that she is a cyber-terrorist goddess gets lost somewhere in those crazy dreadlocks.

The Furious franchise will go on, obviously. Hopefully, producer Diesel will remember what makes the whole thing fun and shift the emphasis from him squirting tears back to cars going, “Vroom, vroom!” and jumping between skyscrapers and over the Grand Canyon.

And, hey, let’s keep these things around 90 minutes in the future. This one clocks in at 156 minutes. That’s almost an entire other movie too long.

The Fate of the Furious is playing in 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

If you love Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and you think L.A. sucks balls, you are going to love San Andreas.

In this movie, you not only get two hours of The Rock’s winning smile; you get to see Los Angeles and San Francisco smacked down with a fury matched only by The Rock in the ring during his fake-wrestling heyday.

Seriously, if you hate the San Francisco Giants, the Hollywood sign and that triangle skyscraper thingy in San Francisco, this movie is total porn for you. The film contains plenty of glorious visual mayhem involving earthquakes, tsunamis and Johnson’s totally out-of-control upper body art.

Sadly, it also contains dialogue so vapid, and so shitty, that it crushes you like The Rock’s enormous, meaty hand squishing a beer can.

Johnson plays rescue-pilot Ray, a gutsy and virtuous man on the job who can’t keep things together on the home front. He gets divorce papers from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), on the day he’s supposed to take his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), on a trip. Before he can pout and dwell on things much, the earth starts shaking.

The first quake hits the Hoover Dam—and we soon learn that director Brad Peyton has no sentimentality for treasured landmarks: The dam is history. World-renowned scientist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) just happens to be standing next to it when it goes, and he heads back to his lab, where he sets out to warn the world of impending, bigger quakes via the worst dialogue of Giamatti’s career—and this guy was in Lady in the Water.

These quakes are The Big Ones, with catastrophic temblors starting in Los Angeles and leading up to San Francisco. Johnson commandeers a helicopter and sets out to rescue the wife in L.A. and then his daughter in the Bay Area, because, you know, millions of people are dying, but he has this little inkling that he can still work things out with the wife and kid.

Now, I don’t go to a movie like this expecting dialogue equivalent to the latest Paul Thomas Anderson movie. Films like this are meant to kill a few brain cells, and I’m willing to sacrifice a few cells to see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson race a boat straight up a tsunami’s ass. However, when the dialogue becomes so bad that it makes the dialogue from a Michael Bay film comparatively sound like dialogue from the latest Paul Thomas Anderson movie, I cry uncle. Or, I just cry in general. Lost film opportunities hurt me so.

The special effects in San Andreas are good enough to keep you fighting through the movie, even when it devolves into the worst of soap operas. Personally, I was on the fence until the final scene, when Ray and his family are surveying a completely annihilated San Francisco. They are rather happy and smiley for people who have just witnessed the death of millions. Then, a huge flag unfurls on the wreckage of the Golden Gate Bridge. Let me make this clear: Given that the worst earthquake in recorded history just ended mere minutes ago, procuring a flag of this magnitude, securing it on a very unstable structure, and getting it to unfurl just so would be virtually impossible. Then The Rock’s final line of dialogue did me in.

As disaster movies go, San Andreas provides plenty of visual carnage. Unfortunately, one usually has to listen to a movie while one is watching it, and when the words sneak past the ears and up to the brain, bad faces and disgruntled throat sounds ensue.

San Andreas is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Furious 7 says goodbye to Paul Walker while taking car chases to seriously outlandish and fantastical extremes. In some ways, the film is more of a science-fiction offering than a car-chase movie.

That’s fine by me.

I have to admit: Part of me was uncomfortable watching Paul Walker racing around in cars after he died in a fiery car crash. You can say Walker died doing something he loved, but I’m thinking irresponsible and reckless speeding dropped way down his “favorite things” list during the final moments of his life. That said, Furious 7 does spark some life into a tired franchise by going totally bananas—and it’s pretty remarkable how Walker, who had only filmed half of his scenes before he died, is inserted into the movie posthumously.

Yes, you can spot some of the moments when his face is grafted onto one of his brothers’ bodies, or when archival footage is inserted, but it still looks pretty darned good. It’s not too distracting, like when Ridley Scott sloppily pasted Oliver Reed’s face onto a stunt double in Gladiator.

Director James Wan, primarily known for horror movies like Saw and The Conjuring, has delivered the franchise’s best offering since the first film. He goes balls-out crazy with stunts and scenarios. It’s still a task to watch and listen to Vin Diesel, but the addition of Jason Statham as a seriously bad guy helps balance things out.

This movie gets my blessing for the sequence involving Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Walker’s Brian O’Conner jumping a car through not one, but two skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. There’s no way in hell that anything like this could actually happen without people getting creamed, but you won’t care once you see how Wan and friends present this nuttiness. Logic doesn’t matter when the special-effects choreography is this good. While Wan won’t necessarily make you believe that cars can fly, he will put a stupid smile on your face as you watch watch cars fly.

While the skyscraper sequence is far and away the franchise’s high-water mark, the film contains a couple of other sequences that garner second and third place: A car chase in the mountains that ends with Walker’s character trying to escape a truck teetering on a cliff is epic, as is a parking-garage street fight.

The film also features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson battling a helicopter with a really big gun, Rambo-style, and Toretto avoiding capture by driving his muscle car off a mountain. This is a movie that gets a big rush out of continuously topping itself, and it could care less about things like reality.

On the bad side, there’s a stupid subplot involving Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) having amnesia (Christ, I hate amnesia subplots!) and another stupid one involving the home life of Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster). Then there are the moments when Diesel is required to emote, which is always a sketchy affair.

In Diesel’s defense, he does look pretty badass during his street fight with Statham. Statham, who I can only take in small doses, is used perfectly in Furious 7. He’s this franchise’s equivalent of the liquid metal Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Throw in Kurt Russell as a craft-beer-loving federal agent named Mr. Nobody, and you really can’t go wrong, even with the dopey and sluggish moments. For the first time in a long time, the good outweighs the bad in a Furious movie.

Will there be an eighth film, even though Walker is no longer with us? Um, given that the movie made nearly $144 million during its opening weekend, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Universal will find a way to keep the engines running.

The bigger question: How will they ever manage to top that skyscraper-jumping sequence? I think they are going to have to add dinosaurs or rampaging gorillas to keep things interesting.

Furious 7 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Dwayne Johnson follows Steve Reeves, Kevin Sorbo and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the role of the Son of Zeus in Hercules.

Actually, this film suggests that the title character might not be immortal, and is part of a scam. That’s one of the many sly touches that make this movie enjoyable.

Johnson is good in the lead, and his band of battle disciples, in fine form, includes Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell.

The film is directed by Brett Ratner, the man who got himself into trouble with legions of rabid fans for screwing up X-Men: The Last Stand. (I didn’t think it was that bad.) Ratner does a lot with a medium-sized budget. (Yes, $100 million is a medium-sized budget for a blockbuster these days.) The movie looks good, and is quite clever at times.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this to be very good given its pedigree, but the results are enjoyable. Johnson has developed into a fun movie star, and Ratner can make a decent movie—even if he is the guy responsible for the Rush Hour films.

Hercules is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 844-462-7342); the Ultrastar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 and IMAX (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342).

Published in Reviews

Rest in peace, Paul Walker. I didn’t like a lot of your movies, but you were pretty damned good in many of them, including these silly fast-car movies. I really liked you in Eight Below, Pleasantville and especially Joy Ride.

The first film in the Fast and Furious franchise was a blast, but it now feels like a million years ago. This franchise could’ve ended with that first film, and that would’ve been fine by me.

Vin Diesel mumbles his way through another installment—although I must admit that Fast and Furious 6 features some fine driving stunts. The plot involves nonsense about Vin and his crew (including Walker) going after some bad-guy driver who is threatening the world. He also has Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) working for him, even though she was blown up in a previous movie. Actually, I’m OK that she inexplicably survived: Rodriguez is one of the franchise’s better elements.

Dwayne Johnson is in there, too, as a bad-ass lawman, and future installments will also involve him, another one of my least-favorite action stars, if the post-credit footage is any indicator. I like to watch good pyrotechnics, yes, but I hate it when just about anybody in these films opens their mouths.

The next installment, which was due for release next year, has had its production halted in the wake of Walker’s death, and is now not expected to hit theaters until 2015. I don’t like these movies, but I am hoping they are able to salvage some of Walker’s final footage and give him a worthy goodbye in the next one. He deserves it.

Special Features: Director Justin Lin does a commentary, and you get some deleted scenes and various behind-the-scenes shorts. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Pain and Gain has all of that Michael Bay crap that makes him one of my least-favorite directors.

Actually, that’s an understatement. I think Michael Bay is a satanic cinematic force, with most of his films sustaining an artistic level similar to that of a sickened elephant farting in a circus tent that’s been set aflame by dangerous clowns.

However, he has made a few movies that I don’t hate. My favorite Bay film would be Bad Boys II, in which he seemed to be poking fun at himself. (That slo-mo tracking shot of a bullet passing through Martin Lawrence’s ass is the apex of Bay’s career.) I also liked his innocuous sci-fi offering, The Island, which actually featured edits more than a second long.

I reluctantly admit to also sort of liking Pain and Gain, mainly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are a total crackup as two bodybuilders who take part in a kidnapping/extortion plot. This messed-up movie is actually based on a true story, and it’s remarkable how much of this insanity is accurate.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a fitness instructor who is one of recent American history’s greatest stupid assholes. Lugo feels like his life is in a rut, so he hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy gym member (Tony Shalhoub) and extort money from him. With two gym members (Anthony Mackie and Johnson) in tow, he goes through with the plan, and things quickly spiral out of control.

Bay uses the film to satirize the vapid 1990s, with his lecherous camera lingering on many bikini-clad asses and boobs. We get plenty of Bay slo-mo and, of course, the below-the-chin, looking-up, 360-degree tracking thing he loves so damned much. The edits are at breakneck speed, and get a little tedious. At 129 minutes, the movie is a bit too long, and yet somehow too fast at the same time.

Its saving grace is that much of it is quite funny in an over-the-top, outrageous kind of way. Just the sight of Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie, all swollen with extra muscle pounds put on for the shoot, is funny. At one point, Bay gets Wahlberg to strip down to his Calvin Klein white boxer briefs, a nice homage to the infamous advertising campaign.

As he did with Bad Boys II, Bay celebrates disgusting excess entertainingly. No, we don’t get a vehicle chase with corpses spilling out of a truck and getting run over (Darn!), but we do get Shalhoub sloppily eating a taco while blindfolded. (This somehow manages to be funny.) We also get dogs with severed toes in their mouths, Rebel Wilson using nunchucks during a sex scene, and a dude getting his head crushed by weights.

Wahlberg is fun when he does comedy, always playing it straight during the most outrageous of situations. Johnson is amazing as a big religious hulk who just wants to be a lover, although he can’t help but beat the crap out of every other person he meets. This may be my favorite Johnson performance yet.

Is Pain and Gain sloppy? Yes. Is it way too hyper at times? Yes. Does Michael Bay commit many of the usual cinematic affronts that have made him hated by those of us who sometimes like to watch a movie without having our eyes and ears violated? Oh, hell yes.

Pain and Gain is OK, which actually makes it some sort of movie miracle when considering the dumbass who made it.

Up next for Bay would be Transformers 4, of course. I’m thinking that film will once again remind us that Bay is a scourge on the land who only gets it right on the rarest of occasions. 

Pain and Gain is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Yes, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over the original, but don’t get your hopes too high.

Dwayne Johnson joins something like his 18th franchise, as does Bruce Willis, in this confusing yet sometimes entertaining follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Sucky First Movie. There are some good action sequences, including a snowy-cliff sword battle and the destruction of London. There’s also a lot of clatter about Cobra Commanders and Snake Eyes and a bunch of other toy names.

Channing Tatum and Johnson have a great rapport, and a whole movie with them together could’ve been fun. Unfortunately, Tatum makes an early exit, making way for The Smirk. Willis is OK, but he doesn’t add all that much. Jonathan Pryce is fairly menacing as two characters: the president of the United States, and his evil impostor.

I’d tell you some plot details, but that would be a waste of space. Just know that if you plunk down for this, you will see a couple of good action sequences and a whole lot of mindless crap.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Dwayne Johnson has so much ink, yet he doesn’t show off any of his tattoos in Snitch. Not one tattoo shot!

That’s because Johnson wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and his performance indeed shows he’s capable of more than making his pecs dance or firing guns while his tattoos sexily vibrate. (He’s leaving the sexy tattoo vibrations for the other 172 films he will be starring in within the upcoming year.)

Johnson plays John Matthews, a flawed but well-meaning father. He provides for the family he has living in his lush house, thanks to a semi-lucrative trucking company. He also gives his ex-wife and son from the former marriage enough so they can get by; however, he has little to do with the upbringing of that son, Jason (Rafi Gavron).

Of course, Jason has gone a little bad. He likes to smoke a pot and take Ecstasy. His love of Ecstasy leads to a bunch of it being sent to him by a drug-dealer friend, and this is where the big trouble starts. Jason gets pinched; John gets pissed; and a long jail term for the young dummy seems in order.

That is, until Matthews takes matters into his own hands, and offers to help the federal government nab drug-dealers in exchange for leniency toward his son. This leads to a lot of scenes with Johnson looking concerned, and Gavron doing a bang-up job looking freaked out. I found myself caring for their characters fairly early on, and that got me invested in the picture.

Snitch isn’t great, but it’s a serviceably good action film featuring fine lead performances and a decent supporting cast. Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire) offers a scary presence as Malik, a drug-dealer unknowingly participating in John’s scheme. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) garners plenty of sympathy as an ex-con employee of John’s company who can’t resist a chance to make a lot of money for his struggling family. And Barry Pepper is his reliable self as a drug-enforcement agent with extraordinary facial hair.

Surprisingly, Susan Sarandon is the film’s weak link; she plays a typical government type with political aspirations who will do anything to get votes. She feels out of place.

The problem with watching a film like this is that it’s obvious things are all going to come out OK in the end. Therefore, there’s no real sense of tension when John is driving a big truck down the freeway and being shot at while trying to carry on a phone conversation. And you know the ending is going to involve tears.

Still, I enjoyed the film on some levels. For example, the scene in which John is being shot at while driving that truck is well-staged, even if it is predictable.

Do I think Dwayne Johnson will ever take a walk toward a podium to pick up an Oscar? Hell no. Do I think he will be able to handle future roles in thrillers that require some acting muscle beyond his HGH-enhanced, rippling tattoo muscle? Certainly. His work here shows that he is capable of taking things to the next level.

Now we can sit back and await the arrival of Johnson in Fast and Furious 6, Pain and Gain, Empire State and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which are among his other 2013 offerings. Or check him out as The Rock in a recent visit to his old haunts at WWE Wrestling. This man apparently wants to be everything at once.

Snitch is now playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews