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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Christopher Landon follows up his somewhat creative original Happy Death Day with Happy Death Day 2U, an overly ambitious sequel that starts off great, but gets lost in its second half.

Jessica Rothe returns as Tree, the college student who got stuck in the Groundhog Day murder loop in the original. The sequel starts with Ryan (Phi Vu), the character who walked in on Tree and Carter (Israel Broussard), stuck in a brand-new murder loop with a seemingly different baby-mask killer. Landon and friends establish a fascinating a reason for the whole murder-loop thing (a quantum-physics experiment) and set up some scenarios that openly acknowledge the plot of Back to the Future 2, featuring doppelgangers and everything. So far, so good.

Then the plot begins to center on Tree—specifically about her fixing other elements of her life, leaning hard on emotional stuff rather than the clever gimmicks of the film’s first half. In fact, the movie basically drops the doppelganger element completely, becoming just another murder-mystery that feels like a bad Scream sequel. Too bad.

At one point, I was looking at this movie as one of the greater sequel ideas I had ever witnessed. Then Landon squandered that idea and ultimately delivered a movie that feels like a copout.

Happy Death Day 2U is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Oh … Legos. My mom asked me for Legos this past Christmas, and I thought, sure, why not? That’s kind of cute, buying Legos for your mommy on Christmas.

So I grabbed a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter Lego set at a well-known department store (OK, since we are already advertising Legos here, I’ll name it: JCPenney), and figured my Christmas shopping was off to a good start. No, I did not look at the price.

After the lady at the cash register announced my total, I stood aghast and realized Mom had her big gift already. Damn … Legos are expensive!

Incidentally, earlier today, Mom sent me a photo of the fully operational X-Wing built and ready for play. It’s pretty glorious. It might even be worth the money.

Why did I tell you this story? First, to let you know how commercially out of touch I am when it comes to gift-giving, and second, as a sort of preamble to my thoughts on The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

Taking some cues from Mad Max, the Book of Revelations and, yes, Radiohead, The Second Part is another healthy dose of family-friendly fun, with plenty of laughs. One of my favorite things to hear at a movie theater is an adult laughing, with his or her kid following suit. Either the kid is, indeed, in on the joke, or he/she just wants to be like his or her parent. Either way, it’s a lot of fun and really cute when a movie produces these reactions for its entire running time.

It’s five years after the end of the first movie, and our hero, Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt), is happily buying coffee in Apocalypseburg, a devastated Lego land with sullen tones and broken dreams. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) has taken to dramatic narrating at all times, and things are getting knocked down as soon as they are built up. Invading aliens called Duplos are mostly to blame—forces that are undeniably adorable, yet unabashedly destructive.

It’s a crazed world in which Batman (Will Arnett) winds up engaged to Queen Waterva Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), leader of the Duplo, and Emmett winds up running with a Kurt Russell-type antihero who is suspiciously like Emmett. The reasons for all this craziness will not be revealed here; find out for yourself.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller do not return as directors, but they did contribute to the screenplay. Directing chores go to Mike Mitchell, whose illustrious career has included Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. While this is easily Mitchell’s best directorial effort, some of the charm and zest of the original is lost in the transfer. The movie feels a bit repetitive at times, and some of the action is too fast to be taken in properly.

Flaws aside, the movie is still a lot of fun, especially when Arnett’s cranky Batman is at the forefront. There’s also a slightly dark underbelly here; it’s fun to see a kids’ flick that doesn’t totally play it safe. As I mentioned before, there’s plenty here for adults to appreciate, too. There are some great gags involving raptors (which is funnier considering Pratt’s Jurassic World participation), and a terrific small role for an iconic action hero who spends a lot of time in air ducts.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part has a feeling of finality, as if these characters are being closed out. But, let’s face it … money talks, and with Toy Story 4 on the way (Chapter 3 was supposed to be the last), it’s clear that animated movies can keep on trucking as long as adults and kids line up. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find a way to keep the Lego movie ball rolling after this.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opens Thursday, Feb. 7, at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

After one of the more tumultuous productions in recent film history, Solo: A Star Wars Story has made it to the big screen—completed by a different director than the ones who started the gig.

About a year ago, director Ron Howard took over for the directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) after producer Kathleen Kennedy showed them the door. Howard took the reins when principal photography was near completion—but then wound up re-shooting 70 percent of the movie.

The film definitely feels like more than one director had their hands in the pot. It’s sloppy; it’s tonally challenged; and scenes crash into each other at times, killing an otherwise brisk and fun pace. There are moments in this movie that feel like they were shoehorned in to fix a story problem.

Yeah, there are some definite negatives at play here—but there are plenty of positives, too. The positives aren’t enough to keep Solo from being one of the weaker Star Wars films, but they are enough to keep it recommendable, and make it a relatively good time at the movies. Diehard Star Wars fans, years from now, will probably shrug and say, “Eh, it was OK,” when asked to re-examine their feelings. In the end, Solo will probably fall somewhere in between The Star Wars Holiday Special and Revenge of the Sith.

Stepping into the iconic role of Han Solo is Alden Ehrenreich (hilarious in the Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar!), and he’s a guy who has very little in common with Harrison Ford. He doesn’t look like him; he doesn’t sound like him; and he lacks that bemused Ford swagger. However, Ehrenreich does have his own charms, and is a likable actor, so he puts his own spin on Solo. While he didn’t feel like “the” Han Solo to me, he gets by as an enjoyable variation on the guy. Hey, not all of the guys who played James Bond were alike, but there’s more than one good Bond in film history, right?

The film is an origin story, which begs the question, “Does Han Solo really need an origin story?” As a fan, I don’t really need to know the reasons why Harrison Ford’s Solo was a scoundrel with a heart of gold, willing to shoot first and ask questions later—and also put his life on the line multiple times to save the universe. I just liked his attitude, and had no need to see how his past romantic relationships formed that attitude.

That said, it is undeniably enjoyable when he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the first time. Han’s budding bond with Chewbacca is a constant smile-inducer, and Glover does Billy Dee Williams proud as the new Lando. In fact, his portrayal of the younger Williams is far more convincing and buyable than Ehrenreich’s younger Ford. Glover is the film’s shining star.

Not faring as well is Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, an early Solo love interest who just doesn’t catch fire as a worthy character. Clarke has a hand in many franchises (including the latest, failed attempt to reboot the Terminator franchise), and while she is terrific on Game of Thrones, she’s yet to find a feature vehicle that suits her. She seems a bit lost here—perhaps one of the fatalities of the director switch. As an early Han Solo associate in his young gangster days, Woody Harrelson has a little more luck as the crusty Beckett.

As the film’s central villain, Dryden Vos, Paul Bettany might be the dullest Star Wars bad guy yet. This film needed Jabba the Hutt, but instead goes with a guy who sits around in a dark room, sniveling.

There are a couple of fantastic action set pieces, including the infamous Kessel Run and a terrific train heist. When the film is in action mode, and when the Millennium Falcon takes flight, and when Glover occupies the screen, Solo: A Star Wars Story soars. When Han pauses to chat or make out, it stops in its tracks. I enjoyed it … but barely.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is playing in theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

I totally lost it thanks to a laughing fit during 22 Jump Street. There’s a pivotal scene in this always-funny sequel that had me laughing to the point where tears were coming out of my eyes, and I couldn’t breathe.

I noticed that a lot of folks around me were having the same problem.

I won’t tell you about the scene; you’ll know what I’m talking about when it happens. I will tell you that this sequel is as good as the film that birthed the franchise.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, an unlikely duo if there ever was one, basically repeat the same steps of the very funny 21 Jump Street, and they do it in a way that keeps things fresh—while recycling the same plot. This film acknowledges what it is—a run-of-the mill sequel—for its entire running time. It’s a self-mocking technique that works well thanks to its stars and the deft comic direction of returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. (Lord and Miller are on a roll; they also directed this year’s The Lego Movie.)

This one picks up where the first film left off, with Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, in serious comic overdrive) giving Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) an undercover assignment at a college, where they will do exactly what they did in the first movie: Infiltrate the drug-dealers, and find the supplier.

Once they show up in college and put their stylin’ beanbag chair in their dorm room, Schmidt and Jenko set about making friends and looking for the new drug of choice, called WHYPHY. Of course, the two ingest the drug at one point, which leads to a hilarious trip in which Schmidt ends up in some sort of hell where Creed plays on the loudspeakers, while Jenko has a more pleasant time involving rainbow colors and getting tickled.

Schmidt continues to be the only one who gets lucky in the Jump Street universe, this time scoring with Maya (Amber Stevens), who, much to his surprise, happens to be related to somebody prominent in his life. Jenko definitely has a better time in college than he did in high school, hitting it big with Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell), the football team’s quarterback. Jenko becomes a star athlete while Schmidt has girl problems and eventually finds himself ostracized.

Some of the film’s best gags occur while Ice Cube is on the screen; there’s also a great bit involving Maya’s roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), and her hilariously deadpan observations after having to endure sex noises all night. Twins the Lucas Brothers (that’s how they’re credited) play Keith and Kenny Yang, Schmidt and Jenko’s odd neighbors across the dormitory hall, who share thoughts and are responsible for Schmidt and Jenko’s surprise WHYPHY trip.

As for cameos, Rob Riggle makes a triumphant return as Mr. Walters, who lost a very important piece of his anatomy in the first movie, and Dave Franco is back as Eric the drug dealer, who’s living a life of pure hell as Mr. Walters’ cell-block husband. Stick around for all of the credits for a final joke involving those two, as well as a short cameo by Richard Grieco as Booker, a vet of the 21 Jump Street TV show. Nothing beats Johnny Depp’s cameo in the first movie, but Riggle and Franco’s cameo come close.

Some of the film’s biggest laughs occur during the credits, during which Schmidt and Jenko keep getting assigned to new schools (magic school, dancing school, etc.), with accompanying fake movie posters.

It seems as if the post-credit future-premise jokes exhaust all ideas for new installments. Please don’t let this be true. I want more Schmidt and Jenko movies.

22 Jump Street is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Lego Movie is a most welcome surprise. Fast-paced, frequently hilarious and visually fun, this is the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Pixar—one that appeals to both kids and adults on many levels.

However, this isn’t a Pixar film; instead, it’s a product of the formidable but inconsistent Warner Bros. animation wing.

Sure, it’s a big commercial for Lego toys, but the product placement is more of a sly wink than a hammer over the head. I’m more offended by, say, frequently placed Subway sandwiches in an Adam Sandler movie than the constant presence of Legos in this one. Lego has developed its own universe over the years, especially with its video games, so I never felt like I was watching a commercial.

Instead, we get a movie that hurls jokes at breakneck speed, to go along with its super-kinetic visuals. The voice talent is a who’s-who of subversive humor, including Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt, Will Forte, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill and Charlie Day. It also has Morgan Freeman as a God-like character—and he is given some of the movie’s greatest lines. It’s co-written and directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the decidedly non-kid-friendly 21 Jump Street.

The plot follows Emmet (Pratt), a “generic” builder who goes about his homogenized life, building structures under strict deadlines and listening to the same song (Tegan and Sara’s terrific “Everything Is Awesome”) every minute of the day, while following the rules of the omnipotent President Business (Ferrell). President Business demands conformity in a decidedly socialistic way—but he keeps everybody at bay by promising Taco Tuesdays.

Things change instantly when Emmet meets Wyldstyle (Banks), who reveals to Emmet that there’s the possibility for real life beyond the walls of his pre-programmed world. (There are echoes of The Matrix and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.) Emmet joins forces with Wyldstyle and her extremely cool boyfriend, Batman (Arnett), to take down the establishment and restore freewill.

I confess to being totally blindsided by the ending, which warmed my heart in a way that is on par with the wonderful endings of Pixar’s Up and Toy Story. It is, without giving anything away, brilliant, ingenious and wholly satisfying. It also manages to tie the whole movie together in a way that is beautifully mindboggling.

There are terrific cameos along the way, including members of the Star Wars universe, other heroes from the Justice League, Gandalf and others. Liam Neeson is killer funny as Bad Cop/Good Cop—and even his father, Pa Cop, who is constantly breaking and kicking things. (He’s this movie’s Darth Vader.)

The film relishes random humor. At one point, a cowboy in a saloon asks quite earnestly, “Are zeppelins a good investment?” (I laughed out loud to an extent that was a little embarrassing.) Arnett’s Batman is arguably on par with those played by Christian Bale and Michael Keaton. Stick around for the credits, and Arnett’s Batman theme, “Untitled Self Portrait,” which repeatedly touches upon Batman’s dead parents and penchant for dark things.

The Lego Movie is a bit exhausting at times, but the constant stream of activity is super-intelligent. It’s a cliché, but I’ll say it: “Fun for the whole family!” Sorry to be so cookie-cutter here, but it’s the truth. 

The Lego Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews