Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Full Review)

If you grew up in the 90’s, odds are you remember Jumanji, the movie about a jungle themed board game being brought to life. Starring the late great Robin Williams, this movie has become a classic fun family film. But nothing is sacred in Hollywood. So you had to know it was only a matter of time before someone reentered the world of Jumanji whether you want it or not.

Jumanji_Welcome_to_the_JungleJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is technically a distant sequel. Taking place years after the original, this time the board game has magically changed into a video game. After a nerd (Alex Wolff), a jock (Ser’Darius Blain), a popular snob (Madison Iseman), and a quiet loner (Morgan Turner) get detention and discover the Jumanji game, they are sucked inside where the nerd becomes the macho hero (Dwayne Johnson), the jock becomes the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), the quiet loner becomes the sexy bad ass (Karen Gillan), and the popular girl becomes a tubby old male archaeologist (Jack Black). To escape the game, they’ll need to get assistance from a pilot (Nick Jonas) and defeat a villain with the ability to control animals (Bobby Cannavale).

If you’re going to revitalize an old, popular property you can go one of two ways: Do the exact same thing over again or try something new. Welcome to the Jungle does more of the latter and it makes the film much more successful. This movie doesn’t try to be anything like the original, instead focusing more on the gimmick of being set in an adventure video game while keeping the same family fun tone.

The cast is what makes the movie a thoroughly entertaining experience. Johnson, Hart, and Black are all equally hilarious and play their roles well. They take turns owning each scene with some memorable physical comedy. The one weak link is Gillan, who is understandably a bit out of her element in a comedy. The younger cast isn’t terrible, but they aren’t on screen long enough to come off as anything more than stereotypes.

There are a few cheesy moments and the story is basically void of any real twists or turns, but the action is popcorn movie good and the laughs are heavy. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ends up being a movie worth a watch with moments that resonate well after its viewing. If you disassociate it with the original, it becomes that much more enjoyable and it could easily be just as memorable for a new generation of younger viewers.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Quick Reviews (November 2016)

There are a couple of movies that have come out recently that are worth checking out (The AccountantKevin Hart: What Now?) and one you should wait for on Red Box or not see at all (Keeping up with the Joneses). Here are some quick thoughts for the film critic and critic reader on the go.

keeping_up_with_the_joneses_filmKEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES At one point in the movie, during a neighborhood barbecue, Zach Galifianakis’ character hands Jon Hamm’s character a beer bottle. Hamm’s undercover secret agent uses his wedding band to suavely open the bottle with ease. When Galifianakis’ wholesome character tries to imitate, he ends up turning his hand into a bloody mess. There. That’s the only time I did anything more than a light chuckle while watching this movie.

There are other slightly humorous moments. Most of them are from the trailers and the rest you’ll forget as soon as you walk out of the theater. Keeping Up with Joneses,  a movie about a boring couple (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) who get caught up in a generic spy flick with their undercover neighbors (Hamm and Wonder Woman), is as bland as can be. It almost feels like a Saturday Night Live parody of something more interesting. The plot has no twists or unexpected turns making it feel like something written in a day and even the action is less inspiring than Kevin Hart’s lousy Ride Along movies. FINAL GRADE: D- 

the_accountant_2016_filmTHE ACCOUNTANT Batman… I mean Ben Affleck, stars as Christian Wolff, a high functioning autistic who is an accountant by day and a highly skilled vigilante by night. When auditing a tech company lands him in the crosshairs of a dangerous assassin (Jon Bernthal), he and a middling company accountant (Anna Kendrick) must go on the run. Also on his trail are two government agents (J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who are coming close to uncovering his secrets.

The film is fun and entertaining until its final act, when it goes from thriller to predictable B-movie. Twists can be seen a mile away and the moment meant to be the biggest reveal (at the very end) seems too farfetched even more than the idea of an autistic superspy. But overall, the movie is exciting and filled with a likable central cast, headlined by Affleck’s admirable performance. The action is also as thrilling as a Jason Bourne movie. FINAL GRADE: B

fb_img_1424255884706KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW? Kevin Hart hasn’t made too many memorable movies, but his stand up specials are always laugh out loud funny. Hart returns to his niche with his latest stand up special taped at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Complete with more bells and whistles than any stand up show should have, Hart navigates through hilarious stories about his family and newfound mega stardom.

The film opens up with a James Bond spoof where Hart works with Halle Berry to secure funds for his global tour. This part serves only to make the movie worthy of a feature length film, but it is just as funny as the stand up. Several actors make cameos and it actually made me wonder why Hart’s narrative films often aren’t as enjoyable. Some jokes aren’t as fresh as those from his older specials, and the repetitive need to create quotables is a bit too obvious, but nonetheless What Now? manages to have enough gut busting laughs to exemplify why he’s the current king of comedy. FINAL GRADE: B+

 

 

The Secret Life of Pets (Full Review)

You don’t have to own a pet to know how much fun they are. These animal companions bring compassion and a playful spirit to our lives that many can’t imagine living without. So it’s fitting, that in a week where we have every reason to feel disheartened, a movie about pets comes along to make us smile a bit.

The_Secret_Life_of_Pets_posterThe Secret Life of Pets stars comedian Louis C.K. as Max, a dog living happily with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) until she adopts a larger dog from the pound named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). After their squabbling causes them to both get lost in New York City, they find themselves on the run from Animal Control and from a psychotic bunny rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who hates humans and the pets who love them. Their hope for rescue lies in the neighboring pets led by a prissy Pomeranian with a crush on Max (Jenny Slate), a chunky, apathetic cat (Lake Bell), a lonely hawk (Albert Brooks), a feisty parakeet (Tara Strong), and a pair of dogs with a major attention problem when squirrels come around (Bobby Moynihan and Hannibal Buress).

The premise may not be all that fresh; think Toy Story meets Homeward Bound. But everything Secret Life of Pets lacks in story, originality and pacing it makes up for in laughs. There are far too many characters in the movie, but each one that pops up on screen will deliver a side splitting joke whether it’s a guinea pig lost in an air ventilation system or a paralyzed, nearly blind basset hound that throws parties because his owner is always away. A fine voice cast helps, and each member of the ensemble fits their character almost perfectly. No one is an example of this more than Kevin Hart, whose hilarious performance as Snowball alone makes the movie worth seeing.

You don’t have to own a pet to find this movie both funny and endearing. And there are certainly more poignant animated films or ones with a better story and flow. But when it comes to sheer humor, The Secret Life of Pets delivers for adults and their kids and I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard in an animated family film.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Central Intelligence (Full Review)

Kevin Hart has made some great movies. Unfortunately, all of those were stand-up comedy specials. As for his movies where there is actually supposed to be plot and character development, he hasn’t quite figured that out yet. He played the supporting character well in movies like Think Like a Man and About Last Night, but movies like Get Hard and those God awful Ride Along movies have hardly established America’s top comedian as a home run leading man. Finding effective chemistry with his co-star has been one glaring issue, and luckily for him, he has the charismatic Dwayne Johnson to help him out with his latest film.

CentralIntelligencePosterCentral Intelligence stars Hart as a former high school golden boy turned middle aged accountant. Despite marrying his high school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet), Hart feels like an underachiever stuck at a dead end job. That is until he is contacted by former classmate Robbie Weirdicht. Now a fugitive CIA agent going by the name Bob Stone (Johnson), “Fat Robby” has transformed from tormented, overweight geek into… well… The Rock. And after reuniting over drinks, Hart’s Calvin Joyner gets roped into Stone’s mission to clear his name with the CIA and foil a secret terrorist transaction.

The most important thing in a comedy is to be funny. The biggest reason Hart’s movies have mostly fallen flat is because they simply aren’t funny enough outside of the brief moments in their respective trailers. From Calvin’s first interaction with his annoying coworkers, it’s clear that this movie has a much better set of writers than any of Hart’s other films. The jokes come relentlessly and for the first time in a Kevin Hart led movie, I found myself crying laughing more than once.

Much of the comedy is due in large part to the chemistry between Hart and Johnson. Atrocious chemistry between Hart and Ice Cube weighs down the Ride Along movies, but here it seems like a match made in comedic heaven. The Rock’s dinky, tough guy routine plays well with Hart’s manic everyman and the two are able to provide a perfect comedic balance to drive the story through its more ludicrous and hokey moments.

The plot isn’t too shabby either. Aside from fleshing out the two main characters, Central Intelligence also delivers enough twists and turns to its action film elements to keep you from being bored. Throw in some unadvertised, but welcomed cameos and Central Intelligence feels like the comedy we’ve been waiting for from Kevin Hart. It seems all he really needed was a worthy co-star.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Ride Along 2 (Full Review)

Ride_Along_2_posterI didn’t like the first Ride Along. In fact, it was one of my least favorite films of 2014. The premise was funny enough, but the actual movie itself seemed to rely on the same gimmicks over and over again. So, needless to say, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea of a sequel. But I decided to keep an open mind going into Ride Along 2, thinking “Hey, there’s nowhere to go, but up.”

The movie picks up with rookie cop Ben Barber’s (Kevin Hart) continuous efforts to gain the approval of his soon to be brother-in-law, Detective James Payton (Ice Cube). In another attempt to scare him out of law enforcement, Payton brings Ben on an undercover investigation in Miami. There they team up with Homicide Detective, Maya Cruz (Olivia Munn), and a hacker (Ken Jeong) to try and expose a wealthy crime lord (Benjamin Bratt).

The plot being generic shouldn’t be a big issue for comedies, because we aren’t watching the movie for an intricate story, we’re watching for laughs. The problem is, Ride Along 2 just isn’t funny and like its predecessor, relies on the same tricks to try and justify its existence. Kevin Hart does his physical comedy routine and it makes for a few snickers, but never anything above that. And he gets absolutely no help from his co-stars. Ice Cube just grimaces the entire film, while Olivia Munn seems to be hell bent on giving as dry a performance as possible. As for Ken Jeong, I honestly haven’t found him funny since the first Hangover movie, so his lousy presence isn’t anything surprising.

I’ve always found Kevin Hart’s stand-up to be hilarious, but the antics of his movie characters are getting old. If seeing a short, loud, man-child fall down or scream over and over again is worthy of an hour and a half of your time, then by all means enjoy Ride Along 2. But I can’t help but hold my comedies to a higher standard. Good comedies are the ones where you can still laugh about certain moments long after you’ve seen the movie. A year from now, if I ask someone to name a funny part from either Ride Along movie (that isn’t in the trailers), I’ll be surprised if they don’t draw a blank.

FINAL GRADE: D-

Spring Quick Reviews

While you were prepping for Furious 7 and watching the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer over and over again, some other movies came out. Here are some quick thoughts on the other films from this month.

It_Follows_(poster)IT FOLLOWS This supernatural horror flick by little known filmmaker David Robert Mitchell originally made the film festival rounds in 2014 before coming to wider audiences. It tells the story of a sexually transmitted curse that slowly, but constantly follows its victims until it can catch them and kill them. Maika Monroe stars as Jay, a girl who receives the curse from her boyfriend and must get her friends to believe her and help her before she is killed or driven mad by the creepy entity.

This film gets tons of points from a filmmaking aspect. Beautifully shot and edited despite a budget obviously not up to the usual horror film standards, if it were a project done by a college student, it might be the greatest ever created. But it isn’t, it’s a major motion picture. And it’s well crafted production, solid 80’s vibe, and intriguing premise can’t save it from being a bore. The characters are dull, the suspense is rarely suspenseful, and by the end I felt appreciative, but hardly entertained. FINAL GRADE: C+

Home_(2015_film)_posterHOME Dreamworks’ latest animated adventure is actually based on a 2007 Children’s book about an alien race called the Boov that invade earth and put all of the humans in zoo like captivity, led by their vain and pompous leader Captain Schmeck (voiced here by Steve Martin). This film follows a little girl named Tip (Rihanna) who, along with her cat named Pig, are the only non Boov left behind. After a chance encounter with a clumsy, socially awkward outcast Boov called Oh (Jim Parsans of Big Bang Theory) the two must learn to put their differences aside to find Tip’s mother (Jennifer Lopez) and save the planet from another hostile alien race.

Unless you have a heart of coal, you’ll find little Oh to be a captivatingly charming character. Children of all ages should be able to identify with his story of being a social outcast who just wants to make friends and be liked. Unfortunately, the first half of the movie feels sloppy and rushed as the two main characters go from odd couple to best friends far too quickly. Still, if you can mange to stay awake through the jokes only a toddler will find funny, the end will be as heartwarming of a finale as I can remember from any recent animated film. FINAL GRADE: B-

Get_Hard_film_posterGET HARD Comedic gurus Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell team up for this film about a wealthy investment manager (Ferrell) who is sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison for embezzlement and fraud. After mistaking his car washer (Hart) for an ex-con he hires him to toughen him up before prison life. Craig T. Nelson stars as Ferrell’s shady boss and rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris cameos as Hart’s actual gangster cousin.

We know these two men can be funny. All you need to do is watch Anchorman or any Kevin Hart stand up. But together the chemistry isn’t quite up to par. There are plenty of chuckle worthy moments, but not a single part was laugh out loud funny. Most of the movie is the two men giving their usual routines: Kevin Hart being little and screaming and Will Ferrell saying something random and being socially awkward. The other parts are filled with penis jokes or homophobia (which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise based on the film title). The story is a bit predictable, so the laughs should be what get you through. That’s hardly the case… and now I wonder if these two comedic All-stars are past their best days. FINAL GRADE: D+

January 2015 Quick Reviews

It’s January, so suffice to say any movie out is either up for an award of just flat out lousy. I’ve already reviewed some of the more critically acclaimed films of the month. Here are some quick thoughts on the rest of the pack.

TheWeddingRingerPosterTHE WEDDING RINGER By now you should be accustomed to Kevin Hart’s antics. And if you are a fan than you’ll undoubtedly enjoy him in this role as a businessman who lends himself out to desperate grooms to be their impromptu best man. But as Ride Along so eloquently taught me last January, Kevin Hart antics are not enough to make for an enjoyable comedy.

Luckily, this time around, there is more to like than just Kevin Hart. Co-Star Josh Gad (you might recognize him as the voice of Olaf in Frozen) is actually pretty funny and loveable himself as the groom who hires Hart in hopes of impressing his attractive, but shallow fiancé (Kaley Cuoco of Big Bang Theory). Like with many comedies nowadays, some parts of the movie go for the raunchy factor instead of just attempting to have good comedic timing, but overall this generic comedy packs enough genuine heart and laughter to make for a worthy couple of hours spent. FINAL GRADE: B-

Mortdecai_posterMORTDECAI Johnny Depp stars as eccentric art collector Charlie Mortdecai in a comedic caper apparently based on a 1970’s book series. Supporting roles include Gwenyth Paltrow as his witty wife who struggles to get passed his newly grown mustache, Paul Bettany as his loyal best friend and bodyguard, and Ewan McGregor as a police detective who enlists him to help solve a murder and find a missing painting worth a fortune.

The movie certainly is zany, sometimes to a fault and sometimes perfectly enough to squeeze out some strong laughs. And if you can get past the scattered pacing and the classic-Brit vernacular, the story isn’t all too bad. Or, you could just skip it all together and watch the much more solidly staged The Grand Budapest Hotel. The latter is probably the wisest. FINAL GRADE: C

The_Boy_Next_Door_posterTHE BOY NEXT DOOR Jennifer Lopez is still incredibly attractive into her mid 40’s. But we all know that already. So ogling her shouldn’t be that big of an incentive to see this movie about an affair between a divorced mother/teacher and a barely legal psychopath. We’ve seen this all before. In fact, movies like this seem to come out every January and each seems to grow more forgettable than the last.

If the acting were good, or even if there was a hint of a twist thrown in, I could possibly understand the intrigue with seeing this movie. But, there is nothing memorable here. There is nothing that you can’t find in dozens of other thrillers. So don’t bother. Even if watching Jennifer Lopez in a steamy love scene is your sole mission, you can save yourself some time (and some brain cells) by getting up and walking out a third of the way through. FINAL GRADE: F (YES… my first “official” F)

TOP FIVE is a top five comedy (Full Review)

Do movies always have to be about something? Do they always contain underlying subtext or cultural references? Or can a movie sometimes be just a movie? Can it just be seen and enjoyed strictly for entertainment? Top Five, written and directed by comedian Chris Rock, wastes no time in raising such questions and many more.

Top_Five_posterChris Rock stars in his film as Andre Allen, who like himself is a former stand-up comedian turned movie star. But Allen isn’t in his prime anymore, a fact his agent (Kevin Hart in a hilarious cameo) repeatedly reminds him of. He no longer wishes to make comedy films, due to his newfound sobriety, and is determined to distance himself from the ridiculous (yet sadly realistic) “Hammy the Bear” trilogy that his fans and the media won’t let him forget. Stressed with what appears to be a sham marriage to a Reality TV socialite (Gabrielle Union), Allen just wants to be taken seriously as he promotes his new, more serious movie that is doomed to flop.

Enter Chelsea Brown (the radiant Rosario Dawson), a smart, feisty reporter for the New York Times who wants to do an interview on the struggling comedian. As you might guess, the two bring out the best in each other, causing some of the movie to play out like your typical romantic comedy. But even at its most cliché moments, Top Five manages to stand out as a well acted exposé on the nature of doing what makes you happy. Rock does an outstanding job making the character a likable one. The supporting cast, a who’s who of cameos including Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, and many many more, are all complete delights that either add high laughs or important lessons.

The irony of the earlier questions is that the film itself is both a critique on the nuances of fame and popularity as well as a laugh out loud comedy. Sometimes the best stories are the truest ones. And in this case, Chris Rock’s self referential tale is without a doubt as worthy of a standing ovation as his classic stand ups. It may not make as much money as the low brow, “hammy”-esque comedies commonly shoved in our faces by Hollywood, but Top Five is satisfyingly the first must see comedy of 2014.

P.S….  Andre 3000, Elzhi, Phonte, Kanye West, and J.Cole

FINAL GRADE: A

Think Like A Man Too… Full Review

ImageDo I even need to say it? *Sigh* I think I do…. *Stands on soap box and clears throat*. EVERY MOVIE DOES NOT NEED OR WARRANT A SEQUEL!!! Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I feel like I can proceed forward with my actual review of Think Like A Man Too.

Based on Steve Harvey’s book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, the first movie was a romantic comedy built around the archetypal personalities of men and women in relationships. Comedian Kevin Hart, as the happily divorced comic relief, served as narrator in a story about: The Mama’s Boy (Terrence J) and the single mom (Regina Hall), the dreamer (Michael Ealy) and the Independent woman (Taraji Henson), the player (Romany Malco) and the wholesome girl (Meagan Good), and lastly the man-child (Jerry Ferrera) and the woman who wants him to grow up (Gabrielle Union). Despite some flawed logic and falling into the usual romantic comedy clichés, the first movie was actually comically enjoying.

This time around the whole gang and a few new faces, some necessary and some not, head to Las Vegas for the mama’s boy and single mom’s wedding. Antics ensue when the Best Man, Kevin Hart’s Cedric, goes over the top to make bachelor party night a success. Meanwhile the girls just want to get away from the overbearing mother-in-law to be (Jenifer Lewis).

It isn’t that Think Like A Man Too is a bad movie. That isn’t the case at all. Kevin Hart is still funny, perhaps even more so than in his previous big screen outings this year. The problem is that not an ounce of it is necessary. None of the characters go through anything that isn’t just an extension of the same problems they had in the previous movie. And for a movie set in Las Vegas, the plot sure is bland and uneven. Maybe it’s just me setting the bar too high, after all, every unnecessary sequel can’t be as great as Best Man Holiday. Still, I can’t help feeling like this was something I could’ve waited for on Red Box.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Kevin Hart Movie #2… I mean… About Last Night Full Review

If Ride Along proved anything, it’s that throwing Kevin Hart on a movie screen does not guarantee worthwhile entertainment. And while it’s hard to argue that Kevin Hart is Hollywood’s reigning king of comedy, even his antics can get stale after an hour and a half. That is, if you don’t focus the entire story and film around said antics. Enter About Last Night.

ImageThe film is a remake of the 1986 film by the same name that included Rob Lowe, Jim Belushi, and Demi Moore in the starring roles.  Just like the original, it follows a year in the love lives of two sets of friends. Only this time, the major characters are African American and reside in Los Angeles instead of Chicago. The character names, personalities, and major events of the two films are all pretty much the same. But I know you haven’t seen the original, so let’s explain it anyway.

While on a double date with his fun loving best friend, Bernie (Kevin Hart… duh), recently dumped Danny (Michael Ealy) is introduced to Debbie (Joy Bryant), roommate and best fried of Bernie’s new fling, Joan (Regina Hall). The relationship that evolves from a one night stand between Danny and Debbie is the focal point, but there’s nothing they do or go through that you won’t see in every other romantic comedy. Pig headed fights, irresponsibility, the inevitable return of the ex (Paula Patton in a fairly comedic cameo)… yeah, it’s all that jazz.

But obviously, whether they’ll end up together (c’mon… you know they will) isn’t what makes the movie worth viewing (Unless you are swooning over Ealy or Bryant’s physical attractiveness… which is perfectly reasonable). And believe it or not, Kevin Hart’s presence isn’t quite the winning factor either. It’s actually his partnering with Regina Hall that manages to make this movie comedic gold. They’ve got fantastic onscreen chemistry from start to finish. Her ability to hold her own opposite Hart should come as no surprise as Hall got her start in comedic roles with the Wayans Brothers in Scary Movies 1, 2, and 3 (Ya know… the watchable ones). Romantic comedies may be a dime in a dozen, but anytime you can combine two solid comedic performers, you can set yourself apart from the rest.

FINAL GRADE: B+