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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t catch a break. He’s looking good, and he’s delivering nice “Arnie” performances—in films with scripts that make Commando look like Citizen Kane.

In Sabotage, he plays a drug-enforcement agent who, along with his team of ragtag miscreants, tries to steal money from a drug cartel. When the money gets stolen, each of them starts to get picked off, one by one, in increasingly grisly fashion.

The film suffers from poor casting. Olivia Williams, who is British, cannot sell an American accent, even when she’s chewing gum. Mireille Enos is unintentionally hilarious as an undercover DEA agent who can’t shake the drugs off the job. Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway and Terrence Howard all put on their tough faces, replete with heavy sneering and scowling. In the end, you get a bunch of characters you could care less about in a movie with a plot that is far too convoluted.

Arnie soldiers through for director David Ayer, who did the very-good End of Watch—but can’t ride the wave of goodwill that film created into this one. It’s sloppy, clichéd and not worth your time.

Sabotage is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

For a good part of its running time, Prisoners seems as if it could be one of 2013’s best pictures. It has a good premise and a shocking middle.

Alas, the film falls apart a bit at the end, with a finale as stupid as the rest of the film is gripping.

Hugh Jackman delivers a fierce performance as Keller Dover, a survivalist who goes into vigilante mode after his daughter and her friend are kidnapped. When a semi-irritable detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) apprehends a mentally challenged suspect (Paul Dano), Dover and the detective go head-to-head on how to deal with him. When the suspect is set free, Dover captures and tortures him.

These parts of the film are solid, showing the lengths a parent could go to in order to find a missing child. As for the film’s mystery element: That’s where things fall apart. It strains so hard to be clever that it becomes ridiculous by the time credits roll.

Gyllenhaal is quite good here, even when the screenplay lets him down. The same goes for Jackman and his justifiably maniacal turn. He’s a sharp actor, and he makes the goofy ending watchable. Supporting performances from Maria Bello and Terrence Howard are decent.

The movie was shot by cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins, so it looks good. Prisoners is worth seeing for the most part, but it’s a bit of a disappointment.

Special Features: You only get a couple of short behind-the-scenes features.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Fourteen years after the original The Best Man, writer-director Malcolm D. Lee and friends finally got around to making a sequel. The results in The Best Man Holiday are mixed, with a likable cast straining to keep Lee’s script vibrant—until the overly silly end.

Harper (Taye Diggs) is experiencing a lull in his writing career, and looks to get a former friend, NFL star Lance (Morris Chestnut), to OK him as the writer of his biography. (It’s cool to see Chestnut playing a football star; it’s as if his aspiring athlete in Boyz n the Hood never got shot.) So Harper, and much of the cast of the original (including Monica Calhoun, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau and a very funny Terrence Howard), unite at Lance’s house, where decent comedy and terrible melodrama commences.

The film gets some good laughs, especially when Howard is on the screen. But as a drama, it has a mawkish, Hallmark Movie Channel feel that derails it.

The Best Man Holiday is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Prisoners, the new kidnapping thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, is one of those movies that is impressive while being watched—but it loses some of its power upon reflection.

By the time I got to my car after the screening, my head started going “Wait a minute … that part didn’t make much sense, now did it?”

I enjoyed the film on many levels. It’s 2 1/2 hours long, and the time went by fairly quickly. The two leads are at the top of their games, and you just can’t go wrong with the visuals when Roger Deakins is working the camera.

But somewhere around the third act, the kidnapping-mystery element starts going a little haywire. Director Denis Villeneuve and his writer, Aaron Guzikowski, are so determined to trip viewers up that the movie traipses over to the ridiculous side. This doesn’t derail the film, but it downgrades it a bit.

Keller Dover (Jackman) and his wife Grace, (Maria Bello), are having a Thanksgiving get-together with friends Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) when both of the couples’ daughters go missing. Keller’s son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) saw a messed-up looking RV near the house earlier in the day, and he reports it.

Det. Loki (Gyllenhaal) is called away from his Thanksgiving dinner at a greasy spoon when the RV is spotted. They arrest Alex Jones (a freaky Paul Dano), a man with an IQ of a 10-year-old, on suspicion of kidnapping.

Loki does his best to get info out of Alex, to no avail. The suspect is released due to a lack of evidence—and Keller goes ballistic. He takes matters into his own hands, resulting in Keller kidnapping Alex—and leading to some rather harsh torture scenes. Dano spends much of the film under heavy gore makeup.

Up until this point, Prisoners is a movie that focuses on the dilemma of what lengths a parent would go to in order to find a child. Keller brings Franklin to the torture chamber, and the two put Alex through hell. The victim keeps dropping possible hints, with no real solid info—so the torture amplifies. It’s brutal, and credit goes to all three actors for convincingly conveying the humiliation, fear, regret and sadism that must go with such a situation.

Det. Loki is in what sometimes feels like another movie; he’s trying to solve the kidnapping while stumbling upon other crimes along the way. Around the time he was uncovering bloody storage bins full of snakes, the movie started losing a bit of its cohesiveness. Still, Gyllenhaal is rock-solid as Loki, a quiet man laced with a bad temper that gets him and others into trouble.

The film is set in an often gloomy, gray, rainy Pennsylvania where everything looks plain and safe—but dark things are happening in those old houses. Villeneuve and Deakins use this setting to maximum effect, and the film is always interesting visually. (Film geeks know that Deakins is the go-to cinematographer for the Coen brothers.)

The film successfully keeps viewers guessing as to the identity of the kidnapper/kidnappers until late in the film. Everybody in the cast behaves suspiciously enough at one point or another, meaning almost nobody can be dismissed as a possibility.

This ambiguity hurts the film in many ways, as the film strays from a core moral message and becomes a preposterous whodunit. The eventual revelation struck me as a letdown—perhaps even a copout.

Stretches of this film will draw comparisons to the 1988 Dutch classic The Vanishing (Spoorloos). Unfortunately, stretches can also be compared to the crappy 1993 American remake of The Vanishing in which Jeff Bridges took a shovel to the mouth. At least Prisoners has a great final moment, so it ends on a good note.

The film contains some of the year’s best acting and best visuals, and it maintains a fierce intensity for much of its running time. That said, I can’t deny its flaws. With a slight rewrite and tighter editing, this could’ve been one of the year’s best pictures. 

Prisoners is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford directs himself as an upstate New York lawyer with a past who must flee his life when a nosey journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity.

The film gives us fictional characters who were former members of the very real Weather Underground, played by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie. LaBeouf does much of the heavy lifting, and it’s some of his better work in quite some time.

Redford is just OK, though—as is his movie. I can’t say it blew me away, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It gets by with semi-competent directing and acting, without truly wowing you.

Others in the cast include Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott.

The Company You Keep opens Friday, April 26, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-4466); and the Century Theatres at The River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews