The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the megaplex.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (C). Ugh! I’m on Day 10 of a cold. So I looked for some cinematic comfort food, and I settled on this sleeper hit that’s still hanging on from the Christmas season. According to IMDB, it has grossed about $370 million domestically on a $90 million budget, so not bad. I didn’t see the 1995 Robin Williams version, so I had no expectations (except that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be likable, which he of course was). It was a mediocre experience—utterly predictable, but with a few amusing scenes here and there. Four high schoolers get sucked into a video game, where they are given new bodies reflecting their in-game avatars. It’s somewhat entertaining that they are cast against type: the nerd becomes beefy Johnson (Moana), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart (The Five-Year Engagement), the awkward loner girl becomes Lara-Croft-esque Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the oddest twist the beautiful social-media queen becomes . . . Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels). They have to complete a quest to “win the game” and escape back into the real world. The suspense is less than minimal, but as I mentioned there are a few laughs here and there. And Gillan is very attractive, so there’s that. Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language (most of the latter two arising, I believe, from the situation of a high-school girl’s consciousness getting stuck inside a middle-aged guy’s body).
Moana (B). First we have a short–a cute little story that dramatizes the battle between an office drudge’s fearful brain on the one hand and his excitable heart and stomach on the other. It’s kind of like a radically shortened and simplified Inside Out. The main feature is set in a Polynesian South Seas-type milieu. Moana is the high-spirited daughter of an island chief, and she thrills to her grandmother’s ancient stories of Maui, a trickster demigod who stole a gemstone from an island goddess, only to lose it in a battle with a lava demon. Could the tales be true? Lo! The Ocean itself brings the gemstone to Moana, and she must go on a quest to find Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas) and force him to return the gemstone to its rightful place, lest a looming wave of darkness overwhelm her people. I give Moana high marks for beautiful visuals, enjoyable musical numbers in the early going, and an appealing heroine. The adventure plot is a little pedestrian, so I wouldn’t put this movie in the same category as first-tier Disney like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or Zootopia. Nevertheless, it’s a solid, family-friendly effort.
San Andreas (D). I went to this disaster flick with low expectations, but plainly they were not low enough. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Hercules) stars as a hot shot member of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s rescue team. Massive earthquakes hit the left coast, and it’s up to The Rock to rescue his almost-ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino, Race to Witch Mountain) and their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) from the calamity. The movie is terrible. Vast computer-generated cities are levelled, huge computer-generated skyscrapers topple into each other, and I could barely muster a yawn over it. Talented actors like Ioan Gruffudd (Amazing Grace) and Paul Giamatti (Win Win) are wasted in small parts. There’s a scene that should be horrifying (and might be horrifying and upsetting to some people, especially parents who have lost a child), but it is so ridiculously unbelievable that I just rolled my eyes. The movie’s sole bright spot is that the lovely Daddario has a fair amount of screen (and scream) time. But that’s not enough to save this turkey.
Hercules (C). I did not expect the latest Dwayne Johnson (Get Smart) movie to be a masterpiece, and I was not disappointed. It had potential. In this version, the twelve labors are long behind Hercules, and he now leads a small band of mercenaries who wander throughout the known world looking for jobs that will pad their 401(k)’s. The film shows a little cleverness by gradually revealing that the legendary labors may have been mostly the product of good P.R. work, and that Hercules may in fact be nothing more than a muscularly gifted orphan rather than the son of Zeus himself. But on the whole it’s a pretty ordinary exercise in the old hack-and-slash. John Hurt (Snowpiercer) shows up as a king who hires Team Hercules to train up an army and defeat some marauders who may not be what they seem. The redoubtable Ian McShane (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising) is underused as the eccentric seer Amphiaraus. I was mostly distracted by the gal who plays the Amazonian warrior in Herc’s troop, Ingrid Bolsø Bergdal (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters). She looked an awful lot like a slightly bulked-up Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man), and she even sounded a little like her. I wonder if she has any more movies coming up . . . .
Planet 51 (B-). Although nothing to write home about, this is a perfectly pleasant little animated feature that turns the tables on the usual alien-invasion story. In the early going, we meet the happy green humanoids of the titular planet. Their culture is very Eisenhower-America, right down to the music and the cheesy alien-invasion movies that are popular at the local cinema. A visit by a hapless astronaut (voiced by Dwayne Johnson, Race to Witch Mountain) rocks their world, triggering a military lockdown a la The Day the Earth Stood Still. A plucky teenaged boy-alien named Lem (Justin Long, Drag Me to Hell) helps the astronaut hide from the military, while the spaceman’s Wall-E style probe Rover tries to help him get back to his lander before the mother ship in orbit returns to Earth. (I assumed Lem was named after Stanislaw Lem, the sci-fi author who wrote Solaris, but I’ve read an alternative theory that his name is a goof on the astronaut’s lander, which looks like a Lunar Excursion Module.) Anyway, it’s a harmless way to pass an hour and a half. Rated PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor.
Race to Witch Mountain (B-). This is the new remake of Disney’s 1975 classic Escape to Witch Mountain. A UFO crashes in the Nevada desert, and government baddies are in hot pursuit of the footprint-leaving aliens who flee to nearby Las Vegas. Meanwhile, a down-on-his-luck cab driver (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Get Smart) picks up a couple of youngish teenagers who talk like aliens (you know — overly formal, no contractions, that kind of thing) and have remarkable super powers. Oh, and there’s a seemingly indestructible alien assassin chasing the kids too. Nonstop action ensues. It’s not bad, but the action scenes are so poorly edited that you really can’t tell what’s going on. Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!) has a small role as a government guy. AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn Dixie) is not bad as the more memorable of the two aliens, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Kim Richards, who had the role in the 1975 original (and apparently had a cameo in this movie that I missed).