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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.

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Spy is yet another spoof of the James Bond/spy-movie genre—and it’s a good one, thanks to the presence of Melissa McCarthy.

It doesn’t hurt that the film is written and directed by Paul Feig, who gave McCarthy an Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids. The two followed up that piece of comic brilliance with fun police-buddy comedy The Heat.

Now comes Spy, in which McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent chained to a desk in service of her field partner, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). However, circumstances call for Susan to go into the field for the first time, and she must leave her bat-infested CIA basement behind.

While Susan is hoping for a cool spy name and awesome spy gadgets, her commander (an acerbic Allison Janney) insists upon cat-lady cover identities and gadgets disguised in rape whistles and hemorrhoid wipes.

In the field, Susan must do battle with an evil arms trader, Rayna (played by a deliciously nasty Rose Byrne), while contending with rogue agent Rick Ford (a surprisingly hilarious Jason Statham) who doesn’t believe she is up to the task. The mission takes her all over the world, to locales like Rome and Paris, and requires her to sport some embarrassing grandma wigs.

One of the film’s great running gags is how relatively unattractive the whole spy racket is. While James Bond gets to race around in an Aston Martin, Susan does her chasing on a clumsy scooter. While Bond had the best of hotel accommodations, Susan is put up in a hotel full of rats. While the CIA basement has awesome computers and high-tech gadgets, it is infested with bats and rodents that shit on birthday cakes.

Another great running gag: Susan, despite years of sitting behind a desk, turns out to be quite the badass in a fight. Some of the best scenes in the movie involve her in impressive knife and gun skills.

While McCarthy is impressive as a physical comedienne, McCarthy’s true strengths lie in her ability to shoot off rapid-fire insults at unsuspecting victims. She and Byrne have a couple of verbal square-offs in this film during which you have to believe the two actresses were given permission to just go at it and see what happens. Trust me: You don’t want to face off with McCarthy in an insult contest. The deck is stacked against you.

Speaking of “face off”: Statham’s boneheaded and extremely funny character firmly believes the CIA has a face-off machine like the one used in the classic Travolta-Cage showdown. Statham has never really been given a chance to show his comedic chops before. Not only does he rise to the occasion; he demonstrates that perhaps his career has been going in the wrong direction. Get this man into more comedies!

Next up for the Feig-McCarthy combo is Ghostbusters, a new film featuring a female roster. Fellow Bridesmaids alum Kristen Wiig is in the fold, as are Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Leslie Jones, all from Saturday Night Live.

I still think the best Melissa McCarthy movie moment is her outtake at the end of Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, but there’s no doubt that Feig gets the best film performances out of her. Spy gets credit for letting her show off her entire comedic arsenal rather than just having her fall down a lot.

Spy is playing in 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.

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Sylvester Stallone and his awesome band of old crows take some major missteps in The Expendables 3—an unfortunate leap backward for the aging-action-star franchise.

Stallone and company jettisoned the smarmy Bruce Willis in favor of the growly Harrison Ford, and this is a great change. They also added Wesley Snipes as Doctor Death, Antonio Banderas as fast-talking comic relief and, most notably, Mel Gibson playing himself (aka The World’s Biggest Asshole).

Stallone and director Patrick Hughes should’ve stopped right there and given the group (which also includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and many others) a decent script. This is a sufficient cast for any action movie—so get cracking with the pyrotechnics, and focus on a story that makes sense!

Alas, that didn’t happen. Perhaps because the production could only afford the big guys for a minimal amount of time, the script has Stallone’s Barney Ross putting the old guys on ice after the first 30 minutes in favor of a new, mostly younger crew—and most of that new crew is uninteresting and lacks the charisma of their older counterparts. Too much screen time is given to the likes of mixed martial arts superstar Ronda Rousey, who can most certainly kick the shit out of people, but can’t act for squat. Names like Kellan Lutz (the Twilight films) and boxer Victor Ortiz round out the boring faction of the new cast.

The plot is a mish-mosh of action-movie clichés, as Barney finds himself gathering the new team to go up against Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable turned arms dealer and bad guy. Gibson gets a couple of scenes to show off his catcher’s-glove face (seriously … stop smoking, Mel!) and act all crazy.

After some tedious scenes introducing the new crew (featuring Kelsey Grammer, of all people), Barney eventually lets the old guys back into the movie, and this results in a halfway-decent finale during which many things blow up. It also has a typical showdown between Barney’s good guy and Stonebanks, during which the villain gets the upper hand, yet throws away his weapon in favor of hand-to-hand combat. Gibson vs. Stallone is a bit outlandish, even if Stallone is something like 95 years old.

I did like the sight of Harrison Ford piloting a helicopter, Han Solo-style, and Snipes is fun in his few scenes. The screenplay has a lot of inside jokes about his tax-evasion jail sentence that warrant a chuckle or two. Dolph Lundgren’s “Sore Loser” T-shirt also put a smile on my face, as did Terry Crews, once again letting loose with his really big gun.

I don’t understand the Jason Statham phenomenon. He’s been OK in a couple of films, but most of the stuff he slums in is trash. I’m sort of grateful that this movie puts him into more of a background role.

In an effort to give the film more earnings potential, it was made for a PG-13 rating (while the previous installments were R-rated). Dumb move. The target audience for this sort of stuff likes movies filled with bloody carnage and F-bombs. This boneheaded move, along with a pirated copy of the film that has been downloaded by millions, resulted in The Expendables 3 having a bad box-office opening.

Unless this movie catches fire overseas, the franchise may be in jeopardy. If you can’t get it done in the third installment, you are usually toast in Hollywood.

The Expendables 3 is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jason Statham and James Franco star in this piece of silliness from the pen of Sylvester Stallone. While I can’t say I liked Homefront, I can say that fans of Statham and Franco won’t be too disappointed, because they do good jobs of presenting the stupid material.

Statham stars as Broker, a former drug-enforcement agent looking for a new life with his young daughter—in a place he obviously should’ve avoided. Franco stars as Gator, a small-time meth dealer looking to go bigger. When Statham’s daughter punches his nephew out on the school playground, Gator decides to get involved, and things go haywire.

Statham is better than usual here, while Franco is actually kind of great as the bad guy. The problem: Stallone’s screenplay is so routine that you can guess the plot points 10 minutes before they happen. Still, it does have Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as meth-heads, so you could do worse at the movie theaters.

Homefront is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews