Baywatch

May 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses,” “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”)
Written by: Damian Shannon (“Freddy vs. Jason”) & Mark Swift (“Friday the 13th”)

Somewhere in the world, there’s someone upset about the state of the industry of turning corny, old TV dramas into theatrical tongue-in-cheek raunchy comedies. A grown man is angry right now because “21 Jump Street” was turned into a hilarious meta-commentary on the ridiculousness of action movies and their sequels instead of a gritty reboot, or that “CHiPs” was made into, well, I don’t know because no one saw “CHiPs,” but it looked like it was supposed to be a comedy, too.

Anyway, now we’ve got a comedic reboot of “Baywatch” on our hands—once certifiably the most popular show in the world—and I imagine there are a few lost souls desiring an existential crisis-filled lifeguard movie highlighting the psychological rigors of saving people while you yourself are lost or some other horse shit, but nope. Instead, it’s kind of just as doofy as a normal “Baywatch” episode caught mid-transformation into a half-baked mess of a comedy drowning in weak dick and boobs jokes and not much else.

Borrowing loose characterizations from the syndicated cleavage- and slo-mo-filled TV show, “Baywatch” focuses on hotshot lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his posse of crime fighting lifeguards, including no-nonsense Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and blonde bombshell CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). Several spots have opened up on the squad, and just in time, too—the beach (now apparently somewhere other than Los Angeles, for tax reasons I guess) is being overrun with a new drug called Flakka and a ruthless realtor (Priyanka Chopra) is looking to gobble up beachfront real estate. Enter a trio of candidates: sometime dim-bulb disgraced Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), sincere, dedicated Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and schlubby-but-determined Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass). Will they have what it takes to make the squad and save the beach? Yeah, of course.

Clearly modeled after the “Jump Street” films, “Baywatch” belly flops when it comes to effective satire and face plants into the sand when it comes to raunch. Forgive my crassness here, but some movies demand nudity, and a simple prosthetic penis won’t do the trick. The screenplay, which well-known script doctors of unsalvageable crap Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have a story credit on, never decides what to do with its willing cast. Is Efron’s Ryan Lochte send-up the dumbest guy in the room, or the only guy who can see how weird it is that a bunch of lifeguards fancy themselves as crime fighters? Is Mitch a bullying alpha male or a too-sincere leader? Is CJ running in literal slow motion absurd humor, or a weak attempt at “Naked Gun” style parody? It’s all these things and more, but mostly it’s an awful misfire.

The Fate of the Furious

April 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Furious 7,” “Fast 5”)

I’ve run out of ways to express my bewilderment for “The Fast and the Furious” series, so, with the latest film, “The Fate of the Furious” fresh in my mind, I’m going to go back two years and re-purpose what I wrote about “Furious 7” because the exact same thoughts crossed my mind. Sue me:

“If nothing else, the evolution of the ‘Fast & Furious’ series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait. Is de facto family leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals?”

I fully admit, I don’t know how to deal with these movies. They baffle me. But I’ll be damned if the ramped-up cartoonish action of “The Fate of the Furious” didn’t come closer than the shaves on the scalps of the leading men to winning me over than most of the previous entries in the series, “Fast Five” excluded.

While on their honeymoon in Cuba, portrayed here as an eternal, multi-ethnic party where lawlessness is trumped by honor, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) do the usual American touristy things, like wearing linen and engaging in high-stakes street races with the island nation’s famously old vehicles. During a stroll to a bodega, Dom stumbles up a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows Dom something on a cell phone that’s enough to get him to betray his family (be ready to hear that word a lot) and help her execute her confusing world-domination plan.

Reminder: 16 years ago Dom was a street-racing gearhead who ran stolen DVD players. Anyway.

When Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his team to help swipe an EMP (again?) in an off-the-books mission that could send Hobbs to prison, Dom makes his move and Hobbs gets locked up. While inside he meets up with “Furious 7’s” villain Deckard (Jason Statham) who, while he still hates Hobbs, turns out to be a good guy now so that when they both are inevitably freed, he joins the team. Which seems sudden, but whatever.

Now Hobbs, Deckard, and the rest (including Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and a “Game of Thrones” actress, Nathalie Emmanuel, who reprises her role as an unconvincing hacker) have to take down Dom before he gathers enough weapons to start World War III on Cipher’s behalf.

Dom’s betrayal, especially as the dull, monosyllabic patriarch of the film’s oft-grunted-about family, is pretty thin gruel that no true fan will buy for a second, and new director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) knows it. Instead, he chooses to showcase things like a ridiculous cartoon prison brawl involving a raging, Hulked-out Johnson (the real star of the franchise now, let’s face it) deflecting rubber bullets and punching guards through walls in his pursuit of a parkour-ing Statham or some batshit lunacy involving hacked cars remotely chasing down a motorcade and driving themselves out of a high rise parking garage to trap a Russian ambassador under piles of burning metal. By the time a few characters blasted their way into frame via jetpacks, I was damn near won over.

By the time Dom’s plot is wrapped up, though, and the movie ends with a rooftop barbecue, the stupidity overwhelms you again, and you forget about the entire franchise for another two years.

Ep. 57 – Pixels, Paper Towns, Cartel Land, Dwayne Johnson to star in a Baywatch movie, the changes Pixels made for China, and where is Kiko?

July 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “Pixels,” “Paper Towns,” and “Cartel Land.” They also discuss the upcoming Dwayne Johnson led “Baywatch” movie, the changes that Sony made to “Pixels” to appease China, and Cody and Jerrod try to figure out where Kiko went!

[0:00-11:31] Intro/where is Kiko?
[11:31-22:41] Dwayne Johnson to star in post-modern Baywatch movie
[22:4-40:04] Pixels made some script changes for China
[40:04-57:27] Pixels
[57:27-1:13:56] Paper Towns
[1:13:56-1:27:07] Cartel Land
[1:27:07-1:37:50] Teases for next week and close

 

San Andreas

May 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”)
Written by: Carlton Cuse (debut)

Disaster movies are so late-‘90s. When photorealistic computer-generated graphics really tightened their grip on the summer box office blockbusters, filmmakers couldn’t wait to use these pixels to destroy major cities and landmarks the world over. From “Independence Day” to “Deep Impact” to “Armageddon,” we spent our summers watching the world get destroyed over and over again. Alas, the fad died down and something else took over…historical action-adventure epics, maybe? Anyway, with “San Andreas,” we’re thrust back into the 1998 style of tent pole filmmaking: amazingly-realized destructo-porn special effects and a story with the depth of an empty swimming pool.

As an LAFD rescue helicopter pilot, Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is introduced doing what he does best: saving a young woman from a car perched perilously on a cliff face. But when a massive earthquake destroys the Hoover Dam—a phenomenon grimly predicted by Paul Giammati’s Cal Tech scientist using magnetic pulses or something—Gaines has to skip out on driving his estranged daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to college in order to go save lives in Nevada. Blake instead hitches a ride with her mom’s (Carla Gugino) billionaire architect boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) to San Francisco, only to be abandoned by the suddenly-evil Daniel when a huge earthquake traps her in a limousine. Blake manages to make a cell phone call to Ray, who promptly whips his chopper around to pick up his ex-wife from a collapsing Los Angeles high rise and hauls ass toward San Francisco.

While the effects are well done and Johnson is as likeable as ever, “San Andreas” lacks any tension at all. The obstacles Johnson faces in an effort to save his daughter would be harrowing if it didn’t feel like he was playing in God mode in a video game—we know he isn’t going to die, but he still has to get through all of the levels in order to finish the game. Crash-land a helicopter? Yep, hold on! Disarm a man with a gun to his head? Yeah, no big deal. Parachute out of a small plane into the infield at AT&T Park? Easy. Power a small motor boat over a goddamn tsunami before it crests in San Francisco Bay? You’d better goddamn believe it! But hey, it’s summer, it’s hot outside. Might as well go watch The Rock and company narrowly dodging falling skyscrapers for a couple of hours.

Fast & Furious 6

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Justin Lin (“Fast Five”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Fast Five”)

In his fantastic “How Did This Get Made?” podcast, comedian Paul Scheer referred to “Fast Five” as “‘Ocean’s 11’ with Axe Body Spray.” As hilariously apt as his description was, “Fast Five,” even with its innate cheesiness, was ultimately a pretty decent and entertaining film, ushering the transformation from a series about street racing culture to a full blown heist movie. In this installment, tables are turned and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their gang work with the law to help bring down a criminal. Clearly, this ain’t your slightly older brother’s “Fast and the Furious.” So strap on your seat belt, tighten those spark valves and crank that motor rotor, cause here comes “Fast and Furious 6.” (Sorry, I know nothing about cars.)

After the events of “Fast Five,” the crew has spread out and is living their lives in luxury. Things change, however, when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) pays a visit to Dominic to recruit him and his team to help take down an international criminal. While Dominic resists at first, Hobbs convinces him by showing photos proving that his presumed dead ex-girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still alive and working for the criminal. To rally around Dom, and to get their full pardons to allow them back into the U.S., Dom, Brian and the rest of the crew team up with Hobbs to catch the bad guy.

It is no secret that Diesel is not the world’s best actor. Joining him this time around is MMA fighter Gina Carano (“Haywire”), who while kicking plenty of ass in her hand-to-hand combat scenes still hasn’t figured out the whole acting thing either. Together they form a duo with the acting ability and personality of a bag of lugnuts. Since the film does a fair amount of globe and character jumping, the structure leaves a never-ending string of peripheral characters without anyone truly taking the spotlight. Johnson, who we are apparently not allowed to call “The Rock” anymore, is one of the characters who stands out above the rest, displaying the charisma that gave him an entrance into the acting business in the first place.  Also making an impact is Tyrese Gibson, who is fed virtually every humorous line in the script and delivers each of them well.

From the opening credits, which include a montage of scenes from the previous “Fast and Furious” films, it is clear that “Fast and Furious 6” serves to tie the franchise together. It’s certainly an interesting decision for a series of films that wasn’t exactly begging for more in the way of a true anthology. While it isn’t necessary to re-watch (or even watch) the previous films, “Fast and Furious” historians (Fastorians?) should be pleased with unanswered questions being paid off.

The script for “Fast and Furious 6” is a disaster. Sure, people don’t really go to see a “Fast and Furious” movie for whip-smart dialogue, but when Rodriguez’s character tells a bulky meathead who is part of Team Muscle, “Don’t make me go over there and make you Team Pussy,” you can’t help but sigh in disbelief. The previously mentioned constant jumping around to characters couples with a boring story to construct a film that is clearly only there for its action pieces. And those action scenes are about what you’d expect – a car that flips over other cars; a tank that drives on a highway and pancakes cars in its path; and plenty of fight scenes. The problem, however, is that the majority of the bigger sequences feature stunts and action beats that are entirely implausible and unrealistic. Play a game with your movie-going friend and count how many times you say, “Oh, come on!” over the course of the film.

Without question, “Fast and Furious 6” caters to its audience, so if you stuck with the film through it’s first five installments, you should know what you’re getting into. It’s loud, completely brain-dead and lacks the set pieces and tension that made “Fast Five” a success. Even with a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, “Fast and Furious 6” sets new levels for absurdity in its action sequences. Regardless, there’s an audience for these films, and with the 7th installment already teased, casted and in pre-production, don’t expect Diesel and company to drive off into the sunset anytime soon.

Snitch

February 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Joe Bernthal
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh (“Felon”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“Revolutionary Road”) and Ric Roman Waugh (“Felon”)

Look no further than his current WWE resurgence and the fact that he has major movie roles in the next four consecutive months to tell you that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a popular guy. After making his debut in supporting roles in the early 00’s, and a strange stretch of becoming a family film star, Johnson has now worked his way to regular occurring leading-man status in action-packed films.

“Snitch”  begins with Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) agreeing to receive a package of drugs and hold them for a friend. The box is tracked and Collins is arrested, falsely implicated for drug distribution, and subjected to a mandatory minimum sentencing of 10 years.  To try to lessen his sentence, John Matthews (Johnson) agrees to become an informant for the DEA, a job that becomes more and more dangerous as he is forced to infiltrate the underworld of drug dealers and cartels.

Johnson, who has apparently ditched his recognizable wrestling name “The Rock” in his billing, unspectacularly gets his way through the films deeper moments. Though he has made strides as an actor since his first foray, he still doesn’t quite reach levels of legitimacy during the scenes that call for emotion.  Of course, the script is at fault for some of that.

There are a couple of supporting roles that are pretty good including the ex-con employee role from Joe Bernthal, perhaps best known for his role on TV’s “The Walking Dead.” The best performance in the film goes to veteran Berry Pepper in his role as a DEA agent. Ridiculous goatee aside, Pepper is able to use his experience as a character actor to give gravitas to scenes and pull up the performances of those around him. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast including those actors who play his son, wife and ex-wife are given absolutely nothing to do throughout the duration of the film. They are simply wasted characters.

The most pressing problem with “Snitch” is the cliché, and painfully mediocre screenplay during the first half of the film. Moments of dialogue truly sound like they were constructed for a made-for-TV movie and as a result the actors (especially Johnson) struggle making an impact. One of the biggest issues with “Snitch” lies in the very motives of the protagonist. Director Ric Roman Waugh does not flesh out the relationship between Matthews and his son and despite a few scenes of father and son talking through a jail-cell phone booth, their relationship feels hollow and thin. Though he states his reasons for risking so much over and over again, it is at times difficult to buy into this relationship completely.

The second half of “Snitch” is on a slight uptick, with some mildly entertaining gunplay and action sequences. One thing that can be appreciated is Waugh’s ability to show restraint and not turn the normal everyman Matthews into some murderous badass who is suddenly a combat and strategy expert. Instead, the things Matthews does are (relatively) conceivable and the actions sequences work a little better because of that. That certainly doesn’t mean that these sequences are great, but rather decent enough to keep interest in the film.

Johnson’s presence in the film is a little flat and at times lifeless, which is curious considering Johnson’s infectious charisma is the sole reason that he was able to successfully jump from the wrestling ring to the big screen. The last frame of “Snitch” also takes the opportunity to make a social commentary statement on the war on drugs in the United States, which agree or disagree with the point, is a little annoying in its own right. Throughout the film, the messages are mixed and the plot details are often flimsy. Ultimately, “Snitch” ebbs more than it flows and the film turns out to be a forgettable addition to “The Rock’s” repertoire.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens
Directed by: Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”)
Written by: Brian Gunn (“Bring It On Again”) and Mark Gunn (“Bring It On Again”)

Dear Dwayne Johnson,

While I was never a fan of wrestling, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Even if I didn’t smell what the Rock was cooking or respect the People’s Elbow, I recognized your talent was too big for the squared circle, and I looked forward to your inevitable transition into movies. You were the perfect post-modern action hero: beefy and intimidating, yet funny and self-aware. Your easy charm would have been a welcome presence as action movies evolved away from the bombastic cheese of the ’80s. You started off with smart choices, like when Arnold Schwarzenegger unofficially passed the torch to you in “The Rundown,” or when you stole the show in the otherwise-terrible “Be Cool,” especially when you performed the monologue from “Bring It On.” You even took crazy chances, working with a madman posing as a director to play a dual role is the psychotic fever dream “Southland Tales.”

So…what happened?

Look, I’m well aware this isn’t your first family movie, but this seems to be a new low. I’m no Hollywood insider, but my guess is that any project that features as much pre-production drama as “Journey 2” had is fairly creatively compromised. In case you weren’t aware, Brendan Fraser passed on this sequel out of loyalty to the original film’s director (Eric Brevig, who wasn’t finished with post-production on “Yogi Bear” in time to start shooting). Didn’t more red flags raise when the studio replaced Brevig with “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” director Brad Peyton just to meet the their desired release date? I mean, look at that murderer’s row of crappy movies and add that to the fact that Brendan Fraser, who obviously never says no to anything, said no to this.

And you said yes.

But hey, no one’s ever backed up a dump truck full of money in front of my house asking me to take over something Brendan Fraser decided not to do, so I really have no point of reference. Heck, maybe you read the script and saw you’d be filming in Hawaii for a few months and you read the part about punching that giant lizard square in the face and thought, “Eh, why not?” Sure, you probably rolled your eyes at the expository dialogue your character would have to spout, like the nonsense about recognizing soil liquefaction thanks your time in the Navy and such, but you probably just cracked a smile and shook your head, because it’s just a stupid family movie, right?

Maybe you wanted to work with Michael Caine, who hasn’t slummed it this bad since “Jaws: The Revenge.” He’s got two Oscars, after all. By taking the part you get to spend a big chunk of the movie trading jokes and insults with him. That’s cool. And Luis Guzmán seems like a great guy to work with. He’s super funny. His Polynesian(?!) helicopter pilot Gabato provides some much-needed laughs that aren’t about how ridiculous some plot points are, like how our adventurers are somehow able to pilot giant bumblebees like they were Sopwith Camels (it’s a fighter plane, Dwayne). For all I know you’ve been wanting to work with Vanessa Hudgens. Who wouldn’t? She’s a gorgeous actress. Or, I don’t know, maybe you’re a “Sex and the City” fan and wanted to work with Kristen Davis. Maybe you just loved the first movie so much you wanted to work with that kid…you know…the one that was in the first movie, for some reason runs from the cops on a motorcycle at the beginning of this movie…hold on–

Josh Hutcherson. His name is Josh Hutcherson.

Why, Dwayne? Why would you sign on to a ham-fisted, Jules Verne-defiling sequel filled with lousy special effects and idiotic leaps of logic? You’re the hero we need, Dwayne. Please, for Pete’s sake, never sign on to another movie where you punch a reptile in the face, the upcoming “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” notwithstanding.

Your pal,

Jerrod

P.S. At least you can take comfort in knowing you had nothing to do with the blasphemous computer-animated 3D Daffy Duck short, “Daffy’s Rhapsody,” that preceded “Journey 2.” Yeah, it featured the voice of the late Mel Blanc and Elmer Fudd firing an honest-to-goodness shotgun, but rendering Looney Tunes characters in three dimensions should be grounds for deportation.

Faster

November 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino
Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious”)
Written by: Tony Gayton (“Murder by Numbers”) and Joe Gayton (“Bulletproof”)

While we’re ecstatic Dwayne Johnson seems to have ditched embarrassing kiddie fare like “Tooth Fairy,” “The Game Plan,” and “Race to Witch Mountain” by starring in “Faster,” his stock isn’t much higher since the ultra-violent action flick is without personality.

It’s not entirely Johnson’s fault. As “Driver,” an ex-convict out for revenge for the death of his brother, the ex-WWE star proves he still has everything it would take for him to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s actually kind of surprising that he’s not closer to that distinction yet since he’s been out of the wrestling ring for six years. It’s not charisma, attitude, or primal instinct Johnson is lacking. High-quality scripts keep dodging him for some reason.

That’s where screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton come in with “Faster,” a film with all the violence one could want, but without a true sense of adventure. In the film, “Driver” does his share of point-blank shooting and engine revving, but it all feels very unoriginal in a genre that usually needs a distinctive touch to stand out. Director Quentin Tarantino has recently mastered it with films like “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds.” It doesn’t help that Johnson has already starred in “Walking Tall,” another less-than-stellar entry into the revenge genre. Johnson carries a small hand cannon in this one and not a two-by-four, but it feels all the same nonetheless.

Aside from Johnson’s no-nonsense attitude, the Gaytons fail to give any depth to the characters that are thrown in “Driver’s” way. Billy Bob Thornton plays “Cop,” a drug-addicted officer who never comes off as an actual threat. Then there is a character identified as “Killer” (Oliver Jackson Cohen), a slick assassin who has absolutely no reason to even exist. Actually, all the secondary storylines are weak and uninteresting, which puts all the pressure on Johnson to maneuver the film past all the pointless junk.

“Faster” is well shot, but there’s simply not enough material here to create a memorable vengeance movie. When the twists and turns start happening, it’s far too late to save face. Most of them have been blown off anyway.

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.

Planet 51

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel
Directed by: Jorge Blanco (debut), Javier Abad (debut), Marcos Martinez (debut)
Written by: Joe Stillman (“Shrek”)

There’s literally been an alien invasion this year at the movies. From the entertaining extraterrestrials of “Star Trek” and “District 9” to the less than stellar offerings of the animated “Aliens in the Attic” and the thriller “The Fourth Kind,” life forms from galaxies beyond have taken over the cinema.

With the new animated film “Planet 51,” audiences are bound to go into alien overload. The excess of little green people isn’t the problem, however. Instead, it’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter Joe Stillman (“Shrek”) who doesn’t know when to let up on other sci-fi references. It makes another alien encounter feel like a worn-out welcome.

Humans and aliens trade roles in “Planet 51” when astronaut Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands on a planet inhabited by anatomically incorrect creatures living in what is reminiscent of small-town America in the 1950s. As much as Chuck is scared of them, he is actually the one that has “invaded” their planet. With a much-anticipated movie about alien invasions about to hit theaters, the aliens go into full panic mode when they find out something from another world has made contact with them.

Desperate to get back to his abandoned spacecraft, which he parks in the middle of a suburban alien neighborhood, Chuck puts all his trust in Lem (Justin Long), a typical high school dweeb and aspiring astronomer who can never muster up enough courage to ask the alien of his dreams Neera (Jessica Biel) out on a date. Lem takes on the responsibility of getting Chuck safely back to his ship before General Grawl (Gary Oldman) and his army captures him. There’s also a mad scientist, Professor Kipple (John Cleese), who wants to dissect his brain.

While most of the slapstick humor will sit well with younger kids, “Planet 51” is far too imitative to give it a pass. Sure, it’s always fun to see a couple of really nifty movie references sprinkled into the story at just the right times, but when Stillman delivers them in droves, it’s hard to tell where his admiration for the sci-fi genre ends and unoriginality begins. From “E.T.” to “Alien” to “Star Wars,” no sci-fi film of the last 30 years is left unturned. Even a joke about the 1983 Oscar-winning film “The Right Stuff” gets overused so much, it becomes trite and obvious.

In a year where animated films are just as abundant as alien ones, “Planet 51” floats aimlessly in the cinematic solar system. It might be harmless enough for the most nonjudgmental of tikes, but everyone else will only be reminded of movies that have pushed the genre to the outer limits instead of simply rehashing the past.

Race to Witch Mountain

March 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig
Directed by: Andy Fickman (“The Game Plan”)
Written by: Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”) and Mark Bomback (“Godsend”)

If former WWE entertainer the Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson is really serious about becoming an accomplished actor now that his wrestling career is behind him, he needs to quickly turn around because he’s already taken a few steps in the wrong direction.

After family-friendly, safe, and overall meaningless fare like “Gridiron Gang,” “The Game Plan,” and “Get Smart,” Johnson has decided to stick with the mind-numbing screenplays, this time with “Race to Witch Mountain,” a reimagining of the 1975 Disney movie “Escape to Witch Mountain” adapted from the 1968 book by Alexander Key.

In the film Johnson plays Jack Bruno (you won’t forget his name since it is annoyingly repeated throughout the film), a Las Vegas taxi cab driver who is a former muscle head for a group of mobsters. Now working as a cabbie, Jack (Bruno, that is) spends his days picking up passengers and trying to avoid his former colleagues who he owes money.

A big payday comes when Jack (Bruno, that is) picks up Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), a couple of teenagers with a wad full of cash and an unspecific destination. Jack (Bruno, that is) has no idea, however, that his most recent customers are aliens from another planet who have crash-landed on Earth.

With clueless investigators from the U.S. Department of Defense on their trail, as well as an assassin who has been sent to kill them, Sara and Seth are on a mission to find their confiscated spacecraft and save the planet from total annihilation. Actress Carla Gugino is an afterthought as Dr. Alex Friedman, an expert in all things geeky, who is reeled along for the dull sci-fi ride.

There only so many tough-yet-sensitive guy roles any actor can accept and Johnson has definitely reached his limit. It’s too bad he plays a hockey player-turned-tooth fairy (seriously) in his next movie. Donning a tutu is a surefire way to lead him to the same ranks Hulk Hogan found himself in with “Mr. Mom” or Arnold Schwarzenegger with “Jingle All the Way.” And from that point, there’s really no turning back.

Get Smart

June 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Peter Segal (“The Longest Yard”)
Written by: Tom J. Astle (“Failure to Launch”) and Matt Ember (“Failure to Launch”)

Mel Brooks is an acquired taste, even more so in 2008.

Coming into the production of the film version of “Get Smart” as an advisor with fellow TV series writer Buck Henry, the duo attempt to inject some of the old show’s spirit into only the second feature of Tom Astle and Matt Ember’s screenwriting career.

While the dryness and silliness are there for the most part, some of the jokes sink fast on the big screen as people think back and wonder if “Blazing Saddles” is really as funny as every one says it is.

Brooks is a comedy auteur, and well he should be. No one was making films like “Young Frankenstein” and “Spaceballs” during their time and his enthusiasm for emulating peculiar characters in his own way was both creative and absurd. But now, the comedy feels worn out. It’s proved so in 2005’s “The Producers,” when the film wasn’t as well-received as the Broadway show or the 1968 film of the same name directed and written by Brooks.

In “Get Smart,” Brooks’ characters are revived for an adventure in the 21st century after the original show ended 38 years ago. Like other TV shows of that era that have also been updated for a new generation (“The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Bewitched,” “I Spy”), “Get Smart” has a rough time translating over.

Although cast well (Steve Carell is the perfect to replace Don Adams as secret agent Maxwell Smart), the script falters as it plays out more like an episode of “Mr. Bean” than a bumbling “James Bond.” It’s a nicely constructed cast with Anne Hathaway taking Barbara Feldon’s role as Agent 99 and an addition of Agent 23 played by the always suave Dwayne Johnson.

For something filled with so much deadpan humor, “Get Smart” gets more laughs than the reimagining of Steve Martin’s new “Pink Panther” shtick, but only gets as far as the dry wit takes it. In this case, slapstick and action sequences get most of the screen time and in turn ruins what the original show was all about.

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