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Fri05292020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

There are many reasons to head to the cinema for a showing of Guy Ritchie’s gangster-comedy return, The Gentlemen.

Chief among those reasons is the cast, led by Matthew McConaughey and an extremely amusing Hugh Grant. Throw in Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery and Eddie Marsan, all in top form, and you are talking about one of the best casts of the 2020—and it’s only January.

Also, if you are a big fan of weed, you should go see this movie.

The film, directed and co-written by Ritchie, isn’t an amazing piece of scriptwriting. It feels like the other gangster-comedy/drama films he wrote and directed (Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) in that it has zippy dialogue and a fairly routine mystery at its core. However, The Gentlemen is a lot of fun from start to finish, and you will forgive its familiarities and foibles.

McConaughey is at his best as Mickey Pearson, a gangster who has built a large illegal-weed empire as the plant seems headed toward legalization. He’s toying with getting out, and offers his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong) for a tidy, semi-reasonable sum. Wife Rosalind (Dockery), a shrewd businessperson, is fine with him retiring—as long as that doesn’t mean he will always be hanging around and bothering her while she’s trying to get stuff done.

However, bodies start piling up as Mickey’s farm locations are getting raided—and somebody in the cast is responsible. That includes Farrell as Coach, a local boxing trainer who has shrewdly constructed a little side game involving street thugs; Ray (Hunnam), Mickey’s right-hand man, who seems loyal but, hey, maybe he’s looking to move ahead in the crime world; and both Lord George (Tom Wu) and Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who have the motive to screw Mickey over because, like Matthew, they want his empire.

Then there’s private-investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has been following everybody around, gathering evidence to blackmail Mickey—while also writing a screenplay based on the whole mess. Fletcher, in what counts as a framing device, tells Ray his observations throughout the film, and the action plays out along with his storytelling.

Grant gets a chance to act completely sleazy—and it becomes him. Bearded and bespectacled with a full cockney accent, Grant is a crack-up, one of the only real reasons to call this movie a comedy. McConaughey, in contrast, is not a laugh riot; his role combines his laid-back strengths with flashes of full on, brilliant rage. This movie might contain two of my favorite McConaughey-raging moments.

Starting with In Bruges, Farrell moved into my “favorite actors” file and has managed to stay there. His Coach actually feels like an offshoot of his In Bruges persona—with, perhaps, a dash more bravado. His part is smallish, but he makes the most of all his minutes.

Everything plays out in a way that is not surprising, so if you see The Gentlemen looking to judge it on the basis of its mystery contents, you might find yourself disappointed. It’s nothing extraordinary on that front … but it’s not bad, either. When everything is revealed, the results are slightly ho-hum. That doesn’t prevent the film from being an overall good time.

The Gentlemen offers viewers a chance to see a cast having a blast—and to see Ritchie playing in a sandbox that suits him after a slump that included dreck like Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. He’s definitely more at home with snappy, profane dialogue and comic violence than he is with magic carpets and blue genies.

The Gentlemen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Will Smith’s big blue Genie is the surprising highlight of the fair-to-middling Aladdin, the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic.

Smith does just fine in the role the great Robin Williams voiced in 1992, and the character gets fleshed out in a manner that is genuinely moving at times—even if his blueness is perhaps a bit creepy from some angles. (It also looks like he’s pushing a big poop out the top of his head, thanks to that hairstyle.) In fact, if they decided to make a horror spinoff where the blue genie starts biting off heads, that would be kind of awesome. He’s scary already.

Director Guy Ritchie goes the full musical route, and while he has a reasonably talented cast, the whole enterprise feels a bit unnecessary. This is not a bad movie by any means, but it is overlong—and one cast member in particular ultimately brings things down.

Mena Massoud is a halfway decent Aladdin, while Naomi Scott provides a luminous Jasmine. Both do good jobs singing the famous songs, and they certainly look the parts. Their magic carpet ride while belting “A Whole New World” is charming, and they make a cute couple. It’s a shame this is all in the service of something that, no matter how much money is being thrown at the screen, feels hollow.

Beyond the general been-there, done-that vibe, the film’s downfall is Marwan Kenzari being woefully miscast as Jafar. In the animated movie, Jafar was a demonic force. Here, he’s a little whiny guy wearing a goofy hat—and his parrot is nowhere nearly as memorable as the one voiced by Gilbert Gottfried in the original. If Kenzari’s Jafar registered even the slightest level of menace, it might’ve been enough to render Aladdin recommendable. But … man, this guy really stinks up the place. Each time he walks onscreen, it’s like a steel-tipped boot kick to the movie’s crotch.

Nasim Pedrad of Saturday Night Live fame is a welcome presence as Dalla, Jasmine’s handmaiden. She’s good here, and it would be nice to see her score some higher-profile roles, because she hasn’t been doing enough since departing SNL.

Many of the songs from the original make it into the new version, as do a couple of new tunes. Smith puts fun spins on “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” and Scott hits the post on “A Whole New World” and the new “Speechless.” Besides “World” and “Friend,” the music isn’t all that catchy. It wasn’t all that catchy in the original, either.

Disney is remaking its animated classics into live-action films like crazy. Aladdin winds up somewhere near the top of the bottom half. It’s not nearly as good as The Jungle Book or Cinderella, but it’s better than Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. Disney isn’t stopping anytime soon, with The Lion King coming out later this summer and Mulan on the horizon.

So … Aladdin is not very good, but it’s not the travesty it looked like it was going to be. The blue Genie is indeed weird and a little scary, but Smith makes it a fun kind of weird. As for Jafar, he’s Jar Jar Binks bad—the kind of bad you just can’t get around. The film seems to be suggesting a sequel that would most assuredly include Jafar, so recast strategies should be put into play immediately. Recast Jafar! And get Gilbert Gottfried back as the parrot!

At this rate, Disney is going to run out of animated movies to remake somewhere around 2023, at which time it will probably start remaking the remakes. I’m expecting a live-action redo of the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake somewhere around 2025.

Aladdin is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews