CVIndependent

Sat12072019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a skunk blast to the face for those of us looking for a fun superhero movie earlier this year. Well, Suicide Squad looked like a fine chance for DC Comics movies to get back on the right track. With David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) at the helm, and a cast including Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad had the potential to be a fun blast of movie mischief.

Sadly, Suicide Squad does nothing to improve the summer blockbuster season. In fact, it is the equivalent of a big, stinking torpedo of shit. After a first-half buildup that does a decent job of introducing bad-guy characters like Deadshot (Smith), Harley Quinn (Robbie) and The Joker (Leto), the movie becomes a spastic colon, resulting in that big turd referred above.

The script—if one could call it that—involves some nonsense with a government sort named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembling a squad of villains to help in case a superhero goes bad. An alliance of bad guys is formed that includes Deadshot, Quinn, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and others. When a kooky villain called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) starts some sort of apocalyptic tornado in the middle of Gotham, the Suicide Squad launches into action.

I have no real idea what the Enchantress was up to with her blue-tornado dance show extravaganza; man, it’s weird and confusing. She’s busting moves on some sort of stage while carrying on strange conversations with those questioning her motives. The Squad has to fight mushy humanoid monsters on their way to the Enchantress, and it’s unspeakably odd … in a bad way.

At the core of this mess are potentially fun performances from Smith and, especially, Robbie. Actually, a movie that simply featured these two would’ve been more than enough. Other villains like Diablo, Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Fantastic Mustache Man Pizza Pants (OK, I made that one up) don’t register and steal quality time from the characters that are interesting.

As for the much-hyped Joker: Jared Leto is reduced to a few preening moments; his part is nothing more than a glorified extended cameo. That marketing ploy that had you thinking the Joker was a leader of the Suicide Squad? It was a ruse. Much of his role consists of texts to Harley Quinn letting her know he’s on the way. Then he shows up, shows off his metal teeth and tattoos, and runs away laughing like an idiot.

Considering the power of some of Ayer’s past work, it’s surprising to witness such a mess. Perhaps this disaster is the result of studio meddling after the critical car crash that was Batman v Superman? Perhaps it’s because he never had a script worth shooting?

On the red carpet for this film’s premiere, Robbie and Smith both boasted that they signed on for the movie without seeing the script. They just wanted to work with Ayer. Well, I’m thinking Robbie and Smith should’ve gone against their instincts on this one. Demand a script the next time—and if that script involves a climax with somebody named the Enchantress delivering ponderous monologues while disco-dancing in front of a bright-blue dust devil, flanked by large humanoids with severe acne, run away … and run away fast.

Maybe there’s a three-hour cut of this thing somewhere that makes a little more sense. Or, based on the record-breaking opening weekend, maybe Warner Bros. knows by now that people will always shell out money for this crap, and quality is of no concern.

Suicide Squad is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Concussion is an odd, misguided movie.

Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist studying the cadavers of former football players who are dying in mysterious ways. His studies eventually lead to the discovery of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain disease resulting from repeated concussive hits to the head.

Director Peter Landesman’s film makes the mistake of focusing on Smith’s character, and pushing the stories of the suffering football players into the background. Does anybody really care about Omalu’s love life when football players are killing themselves after retirement? The story of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster (played movingly by David Morse) only gets a few minutes of screen time, while Omalu’s television habits and dancing prowess get more than one scene.

The film goes for a strange emotional payoff regarding Omalu’s triumphant discovery rather than really focusing on the treacherous cover-ups by the NFL when it came to CTE. Again, a movie that pushes the stories and fates of suffering NFL players into the background in favor of giving a big Hollywood star a beefed up role feels mighty self-indulgent.

This could’ve been the incisive, important film the subject needs, rather than a melodramatic excuse for Will Smith to try out a new accent. 

Concussion opens Friday, Dec. 25, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It’s been a couple of years since Will Smith and his mopey kid inflicted After Earth upon us. Still, Smith has to eat, so it stands to reason he’s making movies again, even if his once-adoring public is a little gun-shy at this point.

Focus is a relatively small movie for Smith—it’s a semi-standard conman film that allows him to utilize his wisecracker persona. It does a good job making Smith likable again, even if he is playing a lying scumbag.

Nicky (Smith) is enjoying a fine meal at his hotel one night when Jess (Margot Robbie), who must be the hottest girl on God’s green Earth (plus all of the icy and desert parts, too), sits at his table.

This starts a movie-long relationship between the conman and the conwoman wannabe. Nicky co-runs a thievery ring that specializes in little scams and robberies; he claims that the smaller stuff adds up. Jess, his trainee with a perfect touch when it comes to lifting watches, craves the “big sting.” Nicky wants nothing to do with that.

Or does he?

The first half of the movie is actually quite good, as we see Nicky showing Jess the ropes and battling an urge to gamble. His gambling addiction leads to a high-stakes game of WTF? as Nicky squares off with a cigar-chomping BD Wong at a football game: Wong’s character overhears Nicky and Jess doing some small-time bets regarding the game, and he wants in. Needless to say, the stakes go very high.

The second half of the film goes a little off course as Nicky goes to work for racecar mogul Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) involving some sort of speed-reducing scheme. Gerald McRaney shows up as a grouchy bodyguard, and he helps to elevate the material.

The scams in this film—even the simple pickpocket stuff—are all outrageous to the point of implausibility. It also doesn’t help that Smith’s character is a selfish liar, and as a result, every big reveal is neither surprising nor clever—he’s clearly bullshitting all of the time. Still, the scams are somewhat fun to watch at times, even if they are a bit too nutty to take seriously.

The main reason to see the movie would be Robbie, who is taking the movie world by storm. She absolutely stunned in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and she is lined up to play Harley Quinn in the upcoming Suicide Squad (alongside Smith and Jared Leto). At just 24 years old, she’s one of the more interesting up-and-comers in Hollywood.

Will Smith is a solid second-best reason to see Focus. His role shows off his humorous, fast-talking side that was glaringly absent from After Earth and Seven Pounds. (He did have a funny cameo in Anchorman 2, and Men in Black 3 was OK.) His recent stinkers had me forgetting that I usually like his movies. It’s good to see him back in decent form.

The film is co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the team responsible for Crazy, Stupid, Love. and the vastly underrated Jim Carrey vehicle I Love You Phillip Morris. In some ways, Focus is their least-engaging venture yet, which says a lot about their abilities, because it’s still good. Next up for them is be the wartime comedy Fun House—starring Robbie.

As a conman movie, this one falls way short of films like The Sting, but is much better than crap like Now You See Me. As for Will Smith films, it also falls somewhere in the middle. As for Robbie … well, she steals the movie, lifting that sucker right off of Will Smith’s unsuspecting wrist.

Focus is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Will Smith plays royal king douche of all douchebags in director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest travesty, the unwatchable, intolerable After Earth.

Conceived by Smith (he gets a story credit) as a project for himself and his son Jaden (they were cute together in The Pursuit of Happyness), After Earth focuses on a father and son stranded on Earth long after humans have abandoned it. It seems humans can no longer breathe on the planet’s surface, yet all manner of wildlife (buffalo, huge-assed birds, baboons, lions, etc.) have no problem. Go figure.

They wind up on the planet after their transport ship drives through an asteroid field, and everyone else on board is killed. After the harrowing crash sequence (the best thing in the movie), Will Smith’s Cypher Raige (this year’s pick for dumbest movie name!) is severely injured and must stay behind in the crippled ship as son Kitai Raige (wait … that’s this year’s dumbest movie name!) ventures out into Evil Earth to retrieve a rescue beacon from the ship’s tail section.

Actually, there was another survivor: The ship was also carrying an alien monster that can’t see you unless you are afraid of him, and therefore shooting off stinky pheromones. Being able to shut off all fear is Cypher’s calling card: He’s not afraid of anything, so he’s not going to get eaten. The kid, on the other hand, is scared shitless and therefore prime bait.

I mentioned that Will Smith is a major douche in this movie, and that’s an understatement. He’s one of those badass military dads who has a problem expressing emotion and barks orders at his kid during suppertime.

Will Smith has made previous movies fun due to his charisma. In this film, he’s barely got a pulse, and to make matters worse, his character just sits around with a broken leg, basically guiding his son via a futuristic Skype-like communication.

Proving that anything is possible, Jaden’s performance is actually worse than that of his dad. Both speak with ridiculous accents that I’m thinking are supposed to be a mixture of Earth accents (a little British, crossed with Rastafarian and a touch of German). While Will sounds merely silly, Jaden sounds completely ridiculous.

I’m picturing the following conversation between Shyamalan and Jaden Smith on the set:

M. NIGHT: “Hey Jaden: Your dad is really dragging ass in this movie. I need some emotional juice out of you to balance things out. I need you to cry and scream and whine and stuff like that. Also, please pretend that the thing chasing you is a real lion and not just crappy CGI. Understand?”

JADEN: “Screw you, M. Night! Will Smith is my dad, and I can do whatever I want! And The Village sucked!”

M. NIGHT: “Why, you little bastard! I made The Sixth Sense … and Signs!”

JADEN: “Yeah … you also made The Happening and The Last Airbender, bitch!”

WILL SMITH: “Son, do what the director told you, and stop bringing up the bad movies. It makes the dude withdraw and shit, and then we won’t get any work done.”

JADEN: “Dad … shut your mouth, too. Your performance is leaden, and you are making my inexperienced ass carry this whole damned thing! I want to go home and do karate!”

WILL SMITH: “Yeah … whatever. I’m going to make another Hancock or Bad Boys after this bombs. You go ahead and start that big music career of yours. Ha ha.”

JADEN: “I hate you!”

WILL SMITH: “I hate you, too. Ha ha.”

M. NIGHT (crying and hugging himself in the corner): “I made The Sixth Sense …”

Trust me: This fictional exchange is more compelling than anything that happens in After Earth. Jaden was a true charmer in The Pursuit of Happyness, and I even dug him in The Karate Kid remake. Therefore, I’ll blame his dad and M. Night for most of what goes wrong in this movie.

As for M. Night, this continues an unholy string of bad movies that should get his ass shut down for good. His last good movie was Signs … 11 years ago. Since then, he’s made five films, all of them wretched.

It looks like his next project is something called Wayward Pines, and it’s for TV. Incidentally, Wayward Pines, starring Matt Dillon and Melissa Leo, has a story summary that sounds a lot like Twin Peaks. While that might sound a little cool and promising, I’m sure M. Night will screw it up, M. NIGHT STYLE!

Here’s something funny: As bad as After Earth is, it’s actually Shyamalan’s best film since Signs. That shows you the miserable state of affairs for all things M. Night.

Will Smith allegedly wanted After Earth to be the first movie in a franchise. Further films won’t happen unless he writes the checks himself and stays far the hell away from Shyamalan.

After Earth is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews