The Identical

September 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Blake Rayne, Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta
Directed by: Dustin Marcellino (debut)
Written by: Howard Klausner (“Space Cowboys”)

Chalk up “The Identical,” the new unintentionally-hilarious-bizarro-world-Elvis-Presley-wannabe-fake-rock-‘n’-roll-era-church-sermon, as one of the worst musicals ever made. This is not hyperbole. We’ve hit the motherload.

Move over “From Justin to Kelly,” “Glitter” and “Spice World.” In the last 30 years, nothing will make audiences wish a hip-gyrating, sequin-flashing Sylvester Stallone would make a stage appearance singing country music like he did in the horrendous 1984 comedy “Rhinestone” to save us from the styling of newcomer Blake Rayne and whatever the hell first-time feature director Dustin Marcellino and screenwriter Howard Klausner (“Space Cowboys”) have sloppily thrown onto the screen and actually considered watchable.

Playing out like a dramatic version of the 2007 musical parody “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (just think about that: it’s a drama that feels like an inadvertent comedy reminiscent of a comedy that satirizes a drama), “The Identical” takes the little known fact that Elvis Presley was born an identical twin in 1935 (his older brother was stillborn), and turns the story on its head to create this awkwardly meta narrative that offers up a laughable “what if” scenario of pathetic proportions. Suppose this: Instead of dying at birth, what if Elvis’ brother was adopted to a God-fearing family (Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta) and, instead of following in his father’s footsteps to become a preacher, grows up with a passion for music and unknowingly idolizing his twin brother who goes onto become a superstar rock ‘n’ roll icon? Make sense? It doesn’t have to.

See, this isn’t an Elvis Presley story. It just so happens to be about a couple of Alabama boys, who grow up and look like dead ringers for Elvis and also happen to sing. One of the problems with the believability of the story, however, is that these circumstances aren’t taking place in an Elvis-free world. Are we to believe that the main fictional character Ryan Wade (Rayne), a popular singer in the 50s who moves and shakes and croons like Elvis, would be taken seriously in the music industry when the real Elvis Presley was already doing the same exact thing? “There’s only one Elvis,” a producer tells the faux-Elvis at one point in the film. It’s an obvious lie Klausner hoped audiences would overlook since, well, there’s also this other guy going around the country acting like Elvis, too! Is anyone even paying attention to what’s going on here? This quickly turns into ignorant self-parody.

Let’s regress. The careless storytelling, which includes terrible narration throughout the overlong film, is only a fraction of what turns out to be a painful cinematic experience. Aside from Rayne’s gooberish performance (he plays both brothers and does so without giving an ounce of personality to either one of them), every song he belts out is a slap to the face of music lovers everywhere. From “Boogie Woogie Rock N Roll” to “Bee Boppin Baby” to the migraine-inducing “City Lights,” the soundtrack to “The Identical” sounds like it was produced by someone who did research on 50s rock ‘n’ roll by reading a 30-year-old encyclopedia Britannica…once…while dozing off. If the studio hopes they’ll be able to recoup some of the money they’ve wasted on this production by peddling a collection of hokey tunes destined to do worse than a Kevin Federline Christmas album, they better have a solid back up plan. Our advice: a Ryan Wade World Tour. First stop: the Sahara.

Olympus Has Fallen

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger (debut) and Katrin Benedikt (debut)

Yes! Yes, Gerard Butler, “Olympus Has Fallen” is exactly the kind of film you should be making nonstop! Enough with the horrible romantic comedies. They absolutely do not work with you in the lead, and society is general is worse off for having to experience them. Stick to action and we’ll all be golden, okay? Even if the screenplay is utter crap. We can deal with that as long as there are some cool explosions and fistfights and such.

In “Olympus Has Fallen,” Butler stars as Mike Banning, a dedicated Secret Service agent tasked with protecting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd), and their young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). After a terrible accident leaves Banning disgraced, he is moved from the President’s detail and reassigned to a desk job at the U.S. Treasury. Eighteen months later, when a rogue C-130 gunship soars over Washington, DC, mowing down citizens and law enforcement alike in a hail of bullets, Banning springs into action. The target is the White House (code named Olympus). When the building is taken by foreign terrorists, Banning slips inside and becomes the last hope for saving President Asher–and the nation itself.

If you aren’t the kind of moviegoer who can sit back and let the testosterone and jingoism of a political action film just wash over you, then “Olympus Has Fallen” makes an easy target for scorn. The script from first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt is overflowing with action movie cliches and is unashamedly aping “Die Hard.” Butler delivers another meathead performance, complete with an American accent as shoddy as the special effects on display. And Morgan Freeman (as the Speaker of the House pushed into action when both the President and Vice-President are held captive) is clearly phoning it in after having played roles like this seemingly dozens of times. Throw in unstoppable super-weapons, genius computer hackers, and a sneering foreign villain along with everything else and you’ve got the recipe for Generic Action Movie #876, right?

Well, yeah. But in spite of it all, it still works. The “what if?” scenario of the White House succumbing to a terrorist assault is juicy stuff, and it’s hard to get tired of Butler tossing out curse-laden one liners while stabbing bad guys in the brain. And as the Secretary of Defense, Melissa Leo is having a blast as she gets to spit foul-mouthed venom in the face of her captors. When she’s dragged down a hallway screaming the Pledge of Allegiance (as corny as it may be), it’s hard to not be on the edge of your seat waiting for Butler to come to her rescue and put a bullet in someone’s face.

Dolphin Tale

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick, Jr., Cozi Zuehlsdorff
Directed by:  Charles Martin Smith (“Air Bud”)
Written by:  Karen Janszen (“Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home”) and Noam Dromi (debut)

Suspected to be among the planet’s most intelligent animals, dolphins offer humans the opportunity to interact with what is essentially a wild animal that can actually understand us. While we don’t share a language or opposable thumbs, things like the concept of compassion seem to be a common trait. That notion is at the center of “Dolphin Tale,” loosely based on the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin found trapped in a crab net off the coast of Florida. The ordeal results in an injury to her tail so severe that amputation was the only option.

After rehabilitation at a local aquarium, Winter is fitted with a custom-made prosthetic tail, enabling her to swim in proper dolphin fashion once again. While the bones of that story remain in place, the movie piles on the fiction in an effort to craft a family-friendly inspirational film.

The movie’s story centers on an introverted 11-year-old named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), a lonely boy who retreats into gadgets and Game Boys instead of making friends or taking part in his cousin’s send off to the military. A bike ride to summer school results in the discovery of a beached dolphin. Sawyer cuts her free before a team from a local aquarium, led by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his young daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), arrives to whisk the injured cetacean away for emergency care. His curiosity piqued, Sawyer sneaks into the aquarium to check on the dolphin, now christened “Winter” by Hazel. Initially turned away by Dr. Haskett, Sawyer is ultimately allowed to stay after Winter seems to react positively to his presence.

The first half of the film makes for decent if typical family film fodder, even if it features a mugging pelican you’ll want to punch in the beak. But then you realize you’re almost an hour into a movie you’re supposed to see with restless children and you haven’t met Morgan Freeman’s character yet or seen a single prosthetic tail. Yikes.

The second half of the movie slows to a crawl, stretching the story and the audience’s patience with a hurricane, a combat injury, and a lengthy series of artificial fluke beta-testing sessions. Like the similarly-themed “Soul Surfer,” the movie takes an intriguing real-life story of inspiration and smothers it in schmaltz.

The Tooth Fairy

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews
Directed by: Michael Lembeck (“The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause”)
Written by: Lowell Ganz (“Fever Pitch”), Babaloo Mandel (“Fever Pitch”), Joshua Sternin (“Surviving Christmas”), Jeffrey Ventimilia (“Surviving Christmas”), Randi Mayem Singer (“Mrs. Doubtfire”)

There was a time when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson first retired from his wrestling career when it was possible to see the former grappler become a big action star. With roles in kid-friendly puff pieces like “The Tooth Fairy,” however, someone should really try and talk the muscle-head actor into climbing back into the ring before it’s too late. In this script-by-committee attempt here, Johnson is following the movie career of another wrestler-turned-actor, Hulk Hogan. Hogan is an icon in the squared circle, but there’s only so far one can go with “Santa with Muscles” on your resume. Take note, Rock.