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Mini Reviews (April 2018)

Pacific Rim: Uprising, Blockers, Inside, Leatherface, Indian Horse, Borg McEnroe, I Feel Pretty

Pacific Rim: Uprising (April 6/18)

Picking up 10 years after the events of 2013's Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim: Uprising follows John Boyega's Jake Pentecost as he reluctantly agrees to join the fight against the deadly Kaiju. There's little doubt that Pacific Rim: Uprising fares best in its surprisingly decent opening stretch, as first-time director Steven S. DeKnight delivers a couple of surprisingly exciting action sequences that are heightened by Boyega's charming turn as the movie's protagonist. The film almost immediately segues into a progressively underwhelming midsection, however, as DeKnight, along with co-writers Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin, offers up a vast selection of hopelessly, utterly one-dimensional periphery characters - including Scott Eastwood's bland Nate Lambert and Tian Jing's unconvincing Liwen Shao. It's consequently not surprising to note that one's efforts at working up any interest in the heroes' exploits fall entirely flat, with the aggressively arms-length atmosphere compounded and perpetuated by a storyline that couldn't possibly be less engaging (ie there's ultimately not a scrap of momentum within the movie's second act). DeKnight attempts to liven things up by including a whole host of aggressively pointless subplots, including a tedious emphasis on Charlie Day's Newton Geiszler's broad shenanigans, and there's little doubt that the movie's shift from barely tolerable to interminable comes with a seemingly endless climactic battle (ie it's a cacophony of loud noises and obnoxious special effects). The end result is a sequel that never quite reaches the reprehensible depths of its awful predecessor, admittedly, but it remains incredible that a series about robots fighting monsters continues to be this unwatchable.

out of

Blockers (April 6/18)

Tedious and unfunny virtually from start to finish, Blockers follows three parents (John Cena's Mitchell, Leslie Mann's Lisa, and Ike Barinholtz's Hunter) as they embark on a quest to prevent their teenage daughters from having sex on prom night. It's a fairly stupid premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by first-time filmmaker Kay Cannon, as Blockers, which progresses at an often excessively sluggish pace, suffers from an atmosphere of sitcom-like blandness that's compounded by a dearth of laughs - with, as well, the somewhat ineffective nature of the movie's lead performances perpetuating the lackluster environment (ie all three stars deliver lazy, overly familiar work based mostly on their previously-established personas). And although the picture boasts an extremely small handful of amusing sequences (eg the parents attempt to decipher their daughters' emoji-heavy texts), Blockers has predominantly been saddled with jokes and bits of comedy that simply don't work in the slightest and, even worse, come off as desperate. (This is especially true in terms of the movie's smattering of misbegotten gross-out gags.) The film's dreary vibe reaches its peak in its poorly conceived and executed third act, with the unearned sentimentality that closes the proceedings ensuring that Blockers ends on as anticlimactic a note as one could envision - which certainly does cement the movie's status as an almost typically uninspired modern comedy.

out of

Inside (April 11/18)

A remake of 2007's À l'intérieur, Inside follows Rachel Nichols' very pregnant Sarah as she's stalked and attacked by a crazed intruder (Laura Harring) within her home over the course of one long night. It's a pretty solid premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by director Miguel Ángel Vivas, with the movie, though generally quite stylish, suffering from an ongoing lack of momentum that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. And although Nichols delivers a consistently solid turn as the likable protagonist, Inside's three credited screenwriters, Jaume Balagueró, Manu Díez, and Vivas, have suffused the proceedings with stilted dialogue that remains a distraction virtually from start to finish (ie much of what's spoken here sounds as if it's been translated directly from another language). The smattering of appreciatively brutal instances of carnage does buoy one's waning interest on a periodic basis, admittedly, although the almost total absence of suspense or tension ensures that it's generally impossible to work up any real sympathy (or even interest) in the protagonist's plight. By the time the somewhat ineffective final stretch rolls around, Inside has unfortunately confirmed its place as just another lackluster horror remake - which is a shame, certainly, given the potential afforded by the setup and Nichols' strong performance.

out of

Leatherface (April 16/18)

An ill-advised prequel to 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Leatherface primarily follows several disparate figures, including Sam Strike's Jackson and Vanessa Grasse's Lizzy, as they attempt to evade a crazed police officer (Stephen Dorff's Hal Hartman) bent on vengeance. Filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury deliver an admittedly strong opening that's slowly-but-surely squandered over the course of the movie's brief yet padded-out runtime, as Leatherface, for the most part, details the exploits of several terminally uninteresting characters within the context of an often aggressively generic storyline. And although Bustillo and Maury have peppered the picture with engaging sequences and images - eg there's an escape from a mental-hospital type building that's actually pretty exciting - Leatherface suffers from an erratic atmosphere that drains one's waning enthusiasm and ensures the whole thing peters out rather significantly. It's worth noting, too, that the film rarely even feels like it belongs within the same universe as the original Massacre (or any of its sequels), as the sparse franchise-specific elements seem to have been shoehorned into a pre-existing screenplay detailing a fairly run-of-the-mill road-trip-from-hell scenario. The third act, which boasts an unexpected yet needless twist, fares slightly better if only because it begins to deliver on the promise of the title, but it is, in the end, hardly enough to compensate for a movie that is, up to that point, utterly disposable and forgettable.

out of

Indian Horse (April 19/18)

Based on true events, Indian Horse follows Saul Indian Horse, a First Nations Canadian, as he endures vicious racism and institutional mistreatment over the course of his adolescence and adulthood. It's clear immediately that Indian Horse is almost entirely lacking in elements designed to capture (and sustain) the viewer's interest, as the film's been infused with a disastrously pedestrian and by-the-numbers sensibility that grows more and more problematic as time progresses - with the picture's subtle-as-a-sledgehammer atmosphere effectively highlighting its myriad of overt deficiencies. Filmmaker Stephen S. Campanelli's aggressively heavy-handed approach is certainly reflected in the movie's many misbegotten attributes, and it's clear, too, that Indian Horse suffers from Campanelli's inability to wring a single effective performance out of his various actors - with, especially, the three individuals playing the central character proving hopelessly unable to comfortably step into Saul's tortured shoes (ie it's just amateur hour from start to finish, ultimately). The end result is a well-intentioned yet catastrophically misguided endeavor that feels like one of those old Heritage Minutes shorts ungainly and clumsily expanded to feature length - which is a shame, certainly, given the decidedly intense and important nature of the story being told here.

out of

Borg McEnroe (April 26/18)

An erratic yet watchable biopic, Borg McEnroe details the rivalry between Swedish tennis pro Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and brash upstart John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) - with the movie relying heavily on flashbacks to fill in the protagonists' respective backstories. It's director Janus Metz's relentless use of said flashbacks that ultimately wreaks havoc on Borg McEnroe's momentum, as such moments suffer from a decidedly repetitious feel that proves more and more problematic as time progresses - with the movie at its best when focused on the current-day exploits of its two central characters (eg McEnroe suffers through an increasingly contentious press conference, Borg attempts to single out his childhood garage during an interview, etc). The often electrifying work by leads Gudnason and LaBeouf goes a long way towards smoothing over the narrative's various speed bumps, while Metz's admittedly stylish visuals remain a consistent highlight within the otherwise hit-and-miss proceedings. (In terms of the latter, Metz delivers a downright stunning opening stretch that is, unfortunately, not exactly indicative of the fairly routine drama that ensues.) The exciting (albeit somewhat overlong) climactic battle ensures that Borg McEnroe ends on a fairly positive note, with the subject matter (and performances) deserving of a more polished and engrossing execution, ultimately.

out of

I Feel Pretty (April 26/18)

I Feel Pretty stars Amy Schumer as Renee Bennett, an insecure thirtysomething whose self-esteem goes through the roof after she hits her head during a workout session - with Renee's belief that she's now a beautiful woman affording her the confidence to behave in a decidedly brash manner. (This includes going up for a coveted job at her company and brazenly asking out a random guy at a dry cleaners.) It's ultimately clear that I Feel Pretty fares best in its fast-paced and often laugh-out-loud funny first act, as filmmakers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein suffuse the narrative with a handful of agreeably wacky misunderstandings stemming from Renee's new (yet erroneous) self-image (eg Renee believes a work-related whistle from construction workers is for her, Renee enters a bikini contest at a sketchy bar, etc, etc). There's little doubt, however, that the narrative adopts a decidedly repetitious and meandering feel in its midsection, with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by Kohn and Silverstein's growing emphasis on elements of a woefully less-than-subtle nature (eg Renee shuns her homely friends as she becomes more and more confident). By the time the Renee-learns-a-series-of-life-lessons third act rolls around, I Feel Pretty has certainly squandered its appealing premise and confirmed its place as a misguided (and seriously overlong) little comedy.

out of

© David Nusair