Tag: dwayne johnson

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw


Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Intelligent people will most likely get bored of “Hobbs & Shaw” about twenty minutes in because it reveals its hand too early. Instead of consistently finding new or creative ways to entertain, it offers only two tricks: loud and busy action set pieces and rapid-fire banter between the titular characters (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, respectively) who despise each other. The strategy suffers from diminishing returns and by the end one cannot be blamed for finding any excuse to get up from his seat without the intention coming back. I stayed all the way through and regretted it. I could have spent one hundred thirty-five minutes enjoying the outdoors.

The bombastic action film is directed by David Leitch and his penchant for complex sequences shows, whether it be a car-motorcycle chase across the busy streets London or hand-to-hand combat in a sanitized Russian underground laboratory. He proves to have an eye for what looks good during wide shots or, by contrast, shots that are up close and personal. However, it is surprising that there are screenwriters at all (Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce). Because for every well-lit and marginally impressive choreography, there is at least three cringe-worthy dialogue to go with them. It feels as though the script is written by people without imagination or at least an inkling of how people actually talk in every day conversations. Action movies must be grounded in some way; not everything must be elevated.

This is most problematic during the occasional dramatic moments, particularly when Luke Hobbs (Johnson), a federal agent, and Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an M16 agent who also happens to be Deckard Shaw’s (Statham) younger sibling, find similarities in each other. These exchanges are forced and superficial—awkward and uncomfortable at best. The dialogue also fails to work when the subject of family, particularly being estranged, is broached. These would-be personal moments lodged between action sequences are worthy of the biggest eye rolls. To say the quality is television-like would be an insult to good television with well-written dialogue.

Even the action scenes fail to command a high level of excitement despite increasingly elaborate skirmishes. Here we have a villain named Brixton (Idris Elba) who is part-human and part-machine. Despite all the talk surrounding Brixton being a formidable enemy, notice how he and his team loses in every key confrontation. As a result, especially during the second half, he becomes significantly less intimidating. Introducing science-fiction elements in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is not the problem; the issue lies in the lack of more profound or intriguing ideas behind them. Due to this shortcoming, the work comes across as just another lazy cash grab.

“Hobbs & Shaw” fires blanks. Although it is loud, busy, and appears to look expensive on the surface, it offers an empty, nearly joyless experience. It does nothing to push Johnson, Statham, Kirby, and Elba as performers. The work rests on the actors turning on their charisma and nothing else. At least they are getting a paycheck to sleepwalk though a subpar film. We, on the other hand, must pay money and put in the time to sit through it.

Skyscraper


Skyscraper (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those who may try to dissuade others from seeing the action-thriller “Skyscraper” may claim that its offerings have been done bigger, better, and more realistically in other films—and they are not wrong. Yet despite combined familiar templates of one-man missions and disaster flicks, it does not take away the fact that the highly energetic work, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, is entertaining, ludicrous, and highly watchable. This is big summer blockbuster that is not a superhero picture done just right.

The action sequences are surprisingly meticulous despite chaos and violence unfolding inside and outside the burning building in Hong Kong. Fistfights, for instance, are well-choreographed; they last long enough so that we appreciate every bone-crunching hit; and they are edited sharply but precisely so that the viewer always has a complete idea when it comes to what is happening to whom. Because the material bothers with the details, although the story is standard and uninspiring, it creates an impression that is worth investing our time and attention on it.

Although the dialogue is not its strong point, it goes out of its way to provide details about the tallest building on the planet, named The Pearl, such as its capability to generate and sustain its own energy, that it is three times as tall as the Empire State Building, the complex security and safety systems, its exact number of floors, how it is divided in half—its upper floors for residents while the lower floors for sightseeing and shopping. The script could have gotten away with simply stating—or showing a simple graphic—that the fictional building is the tallest man-made structure and no one would blink an eye. And so it is fresh, then, on two fronts: that it bothers with details and it uses some of these attributes to reward those who paid attention with words and graphics during the expository sequences.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer who is hired to assess The Pearl’s various levels of security before the owner (Chin Han) opens the upper-half for public residence. A stolen bag while on his way to an off-site facility escalates to an explosion, which appears to be a terrorist attack from the outside, on the floor where Will’s family (Neve Campbell, Noah Cottrell, McKenna Roberts) is staying. The security assessor must find his way back to the building to rescue them after his face is shown on television for being the prime suspect.

A misstep lies in the utilization of amusing one-liners—there simply isn’t enough of them. This could have been easily solved by having another pass at the script and noticing that they are so sporadic, when it is time to deliver the chuckles, it disturbs the tension in a negative way rather than giving us a chance to inhale while laughing at the silliness. While it is not meant to be an action-comedy, spacing moments of relief in action-thrillers is also critical. John McTiernan’s “Die Hard” is a classic because comedy and tension depend on one another that is almost a balancing act on a tightrope.

“Skyscraper” functions on a lower level than the best of the genre, but it gets the job done. Its special and visual effects are convincing; particularly suspenseful are action sequences that unfold at great heights, especially when Will—prosthetic left leg and all—attempts to break into the burning building with the help of a construction crane’s hook. It’s preposterous and you can’t look away.

Rampage


Rampage (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

It is too bad that Brad Peyton’s “Rampage” does not aspire to become anything more than a brainless giant monster movie. While it does deliver the expected destruction that the title promises, those who have experienced the sheer madness and imagination of modern monster films such as “Shin Godzilla” and “Pacific Rim” are likely to walk away disappointed, for its numerous generic images escape the mind like trash to be taken out by the end of the day in order to make room for healthier, better alternatives. The screenplay is helmed by four individuals—Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel—but not one of them bothers to steer the story, the source material being a video game, toward more daring and interesting directions.

The opening title card mentions the acronym CRISPR, a genetic editing tool that can be utilized with a certain level of precision. While not perfect, generally speaking, it is better than current alternatives when it comes to price and efficiency. Because I work with this technology, the title card excited me. I thought that the picture just might take the opportunity by the horns, despite being a sci-fi action picture first and foremost, to communicate the power and implications of this gene editing tool for the mainstream public. Because let’s be honest: Most scientists, especially scientific articles, do not do a good enough job when it comes to putting scientific information in layman’s terms. But just as quickly all hope is lost; the succeeding scenes show that it is not at all interested in science. And that is all right. However, as a popcorn flick, the film is not that entertaining either.

And so the movie must be evaluated based on what it is interested in achieving: escapism in the form of devastation and loud noises. On some level, it delivers. Special and visual effects are first-rate; when one does not look at them closely, they are passable and occasionally impressive. However, squint just a little and notice how, for example, George the gorilla does not interact with any of the people visiting the zoo as he makes a desperate escape. For a nine-foot agitated primate—that grew a shocking two inches overnight after having been exposed to a man-made pathogen that crashed in the enclosure the night before—it is quite unbelievable that not one person is nudged a little, knocked down, or hurt during his getaway. This is a symptom of a problem.

In other words, the material plays it too safe—preposterous because it is a monster movie after all and everything should be laid out on the table. Its brightest spots are actually instances when, for instance, a gargantuan monster eats a person and the camera shows it front and center, in delicious slow motion. Why not show more of this type of gallows humor so that viewers are constantly surprised? Skyscrapers falling, tanks and planes exploding, and shooting monsters to no avail suffer from diminishing returns. At least thirty minutes is dedicated to this exercise of increasing boredom.

Dwayne Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye and it is shown that he has a friendship, a special bond, with the albino gorilla. While Johnson, as expected, is able to deliver his signature charm and swagger, the problematic screenplay fails to develop their relationship in a meaningful way. After the initial fifteen minutes, the expressive CGI gorilla is reduced to another monster that goes wild and people having to run away from it. Meanwhile, Naomie Harris’ scientist character serves as decoration. She is so talented and it pains me that she ends up playing these thankless roles.

“Rampage” could have used a whole lot of ambition in order to become more memorable. The aforementioned “Shin Godzilla” criticizes the role of self-imposed red tape that the government ends up tripping itself over in the face of national emergencies. “Rampage” could have sharpened its screenplay by aiming to criticize how promising science is eventually perverted by hawk-eyed businesspeople—a subject that concerns every person in our modern world of today. Sometimes it makes more sense for a monster movie to not just be another forgettable monster movie—sometimes a monster movie is a statement piece.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle


Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Anyone who has played role-playing video games from the ‘90s is likely to be entertained by “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” a clever, self-aware adventure-comedy propelled by charismatic and energetic performances. Credit to the team of screenwriters for making the smart decision to depart from the beloved 1995 classic in nearly every way, from the setting of the story to the overall tone, mood, and characterization. With a twenty-year gap between the original and its sequel, it is critical for the latter to come across contemporary while remaining tethered to the spirit of its predecessor. It is a welcome evolution.

Casting directors Nicole Abellera and Jeanne McCarthy deserve a pat on the back for selecting four performers (Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan) who are more than up to the task in embodying in-game characters, or avatars, playing out-of-game characters (Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner) who just so happen to be high school students, teenage baggage and all, on top of being complete opposites of how they look like. It is a winsome twist in body-switching teen archetypes.

For example, Black must play a female teen, the popular princess type who thinks the world revolves around her and her selfies. But Black’s character, the avatar, is obviously male, and one who has more on his mind than taking pretty “no filter” pictures for likes on social media. Rarely does a movie make me want to watch the outtakes because the actors seem willing to do anything for a laugh. Perhaps their near-hits or misses are pretty funny, too. Each finds a way to have fun in his or her respective role without relying on being campy or loud all the time. I enjoyed moments when the film manages to sneak up on the viewer and makes us realize how much we care that the four teens in adult bodies make it out of the game with the lessons they learned, about themselves and one another, intact.

The special and visual effects are not particularly impressive. For instance, by comparison, I find the wildlife stampede in the original “Jumanji” picture to be more visceral, exciting even though the chaos is unfolding in a suburban area. In fact, here, some set pieces look rather fake, clearly shot in a studio. Movies shot in actual jungles, particularly war films set in Vietnam and other countries by the Pacific, tend to capture the looks of vegetation and sounds in a matter-of-fact, occasionally haunting way. Here, at times plants look as though they have been purchased at a dollar store, clearly dummies, plastic.

Still, the energy of the film is so infectious, I believe most viewers will overlook such details. A shortcoming not easily ignored, however, is a lack of a great villain with strong presence. Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) is a recognizable name in the “Jumanji” universe, but the writers neglect to create an interesting character who has more to him than looking mean with bugs crawling all over his face. Had there been something else to the antagonist, a self-awareness perhaps, even a sense of humor, Van Pelt might have been a formidable opponent.

Because Jake Kasdan’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” succeeds in modernizing a brand, it is possible that a new franchise is born. Surely box office numbers will tell, but the real question is, if it does continue, would the screenwriters be able to tap into a wellspring of new ideas and put them together in such a way that is focused and relevant? Time will tell. But hopefully not another two decades will pass.

Baywatch


Baywatch (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Fans of sophomoric comedy are likely to walk away somewhat satiated by Seth Gordon’s “Baywatch,” but those hoping for a range of comedy equal to the talent of the cast are certain to be disappointed. There is a reason why comedies are usually only about ninety minutes and this film, which is about two hours, wears out its welcome by repeating one too many jokes. Here is a picture that suffers from diminishing returns.

The plot is simple and has potential to entertain. Three potential lifeguards (Zac Efron, Jon Bass, Alexandra Daddario) are recruited to be a part of Baywatch, an elite team of lifeguards (Dwayne Johnson, Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach) who do more than save drowning people in Emerald Bay, Florida. Being a part of Baywatch is a lifestyle, being a family, doing other people’s jobs before the official professionals arrive at the scene. It is most unfortunate that the plot revolves around catching a drug dealer (Priyanka Chopra).

At times it turns into an action film instead of focusing on being a comedy. The chases are self-serious, usually manically edited, and there is little to no tension behind them. Part of the problem is because the screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift is so empty that it uses action as a crutch, attempting to pass whatever is on screen as entertainment. But there is no entertainment value created when not for a second do we believe that the protagonists are in any real danger. Notice how the material’s structure is quite episodic. Divide it into three parts and a three-episode arc is revealed. Still, many television shows nowadays are better than what this film has to offer.

I enjoyed all six members of the Baywatch team because the performers are wiling to make fun of themselves. It is apparent that the actors were encouraged to ad-lib. It works occasionally, especially when Johnson and Efron exchange barbs, but it would have been preferred if the material is able to support its performers. There is only so much an actor can do or say; they certainly do not have control over the freshness of the plot, how characters are developed individually as well as a part of a team, and the range of jokes provided given a particular situation. Filmmakers cannot depend on actors to carry the work.

The film, in a way, is about new beginnings and so it is curious—and a missed opportunity—that the material does not capitalize on this. It is about new beginnings in two ways: introducing “Baywatch” to a new generation (while satisfying the fans of the original television series) and introducing trainees to a particular lifestyle. Pertaining the latter, we do not learn much about what the job entails outside of the obvious, the personal characteristics necessary to excel at it, and some of the surprises one might encounter on the job. And with the former, the writing fails to capture a certain level of excitement. The filmmakers probably assumed that just because they cast actors who are physically appealing, audiences would inevitably follow.

In a nutshell, “Baywatch” is hampered by laziness. If a sequel were to follow, it would be wise to hire writers who do not depend on the usual tropes, writers who are aware of how interesting comedies work, writers who have something to say about how it is really like to hold a job even though this particular universe is tongue-in-cheek. Contrasts and variations are interesting; regurgitation and recycling of ideas is death to comedy.

Central Intelligence


Central Intelligence (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although a silly and an inconsequential buddy action-comedy, “Central Intelligence” delivers big laughs and expected, sometimes surprising, level of entertainment because of the energy put forth by the effortlessly charismatic Dwayne Johnson and fast-talking funnyman Kevin Hart. Casting two actors who look very different physically is a common strategy in buddy comedies, but it works because the duo here are able to find a magnetic rhythm despite their different approaches on how bring out laughter from the audience.

The picture starts strong but the weakness is its plot involving bank account transactions. In a comedy like this, dragging out the conflict is a mistake because it takes away precious time from what it showcases best: the quick banters between Bob Stone (Johnson) and Calvin Joyner (Hart), a CIA agent suspected by the government of someone who had gone rogue and an accountant who feels disappointed with how his life has turned out, respectively. The picture runs close to two hours; it might have been stronger if it were closer to ninety minutes because there are a handful of slow moments between the action where not much happens.

It offers a surprising amount of heart. Bob was a fat high school student and was consistently bullied for it while Calvin was deemed to be someone who would do great things given that he was very smart, athletic, and personable. Scenes that stand out between the running and flying bullets involve Bob, well-built and strong as an adult, having moments where he still sees himself as the fat kid in school and Calvin admitting to himself, and his wife (Danielle Nicolet), that he could have been so much more. Many viewers are likely to find themselves able to relate, not to these characters specifically but to the overall thoughts and feelings of sometimes not being good enough because the past has made a considerable stamp in one’s identity—and it cannot be undone.

The gun battles and hand-to-hand combat are nothing special, but they are entertaining and amusing because it is apparent that everyone is having fun. We encounter ad-libbed moments from time to time; while the jokes do not always land, they are delivered with verve and conviction that I found myself chuckling anyway. And when they do land hard and right on target, they are funny, clever, and never repeated exactly again. Credit to the screenwriters—Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and Rawson Marshall Thurber—for striving to give the audience more than just scraps. Numerous comedies within the sub-genre tend to bring up the same jokes without any kind of twist or not coming from a different perspective and so they inevitably suffer from diminishing returns.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, “Central Intelligence” balances comedy and action in such a way that potentially trite and hackneyed material is turned into a highly watchable romp. Hart and Johnson share strong chemistry. We believe their characters can be friends not because they share similar interests—in fact, one of the running gags is that they are so different, one of them is actually into unicorns and fannypacks—but because they are good guys as teenagers and they are still good guys twenty years later.

San Andreas


San Andreas (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

There are two major elements that determine whether a disaster flick is successful. First is whether the special and visual effects coupled with sound effects force us to have a visceral response—an out-of-body experience, if you will, while watching the picture unfold. Second, whether the characters that we follow are creative, resourceful, strong, or smart enough to make their way out of prickly or downright unlucky situations. It is very necessary that they justify making it all the way to the end. No one wants to see a weak or unlikable character make it through the incredible trials.

“San Andreas” then, based on the screenplay by Carlton Cuse and directed by Brad Peyton, is a successful disaster film. It is entertaining, has some moments of humor, and is genuinely terrifying once the ground begins to shake relentlessly. It is limited, however, by too many conversations during the middle section between a couple (Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino) on the verge of signing the divorce papers. Right from their first interaction during the first act, we are able to tell immediately that they still have remaining feelings for one another. If they had been written more sharply, with more differing thoughts in their minds, these exchanges might have been necessary. Alas, it is not a character-driven picture—and it does not need to be.

The action pieces are stunning. The first earthquake in Nevada, as we follow two seismologists (Paul Giamatti, Will Yun Lee) on the precipice of making a potentially game-changing discovery, is very nicely executed. The camera is active, the score is carefully modulated, and one can believe the two performers as genuine scientists who work at Cal Tech. Giamatti is not a stranger to playing somewhat eccentric, really smart, ordinary-looking men but he surprised me here. When he looks directly to camera, I felt that his character really cared about the people about to lose their lives in the series of massive quakes—“the swarm effect.” With the few scenes he is given, he is able to inject some heart, as well as a bit of camp, into the science of tectonic shifts.

Most central is the annihilation of San Francisco Bay Area. The aforementioned couple’s daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) meets two British brothers (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson) prior to the first earthquake in the city and they team up eventually in order to survive. They are young and a romantic connection is established so one might expect that this strand of the story would be at least somewhat annoying.

It is a breath of fresh air that it isn’t. The key, I think, is that there is a sweetness in the relationship between the brothers and also a sweetness between the eldest and Blake. It would have been so easy to make the brothers be somewhat combative or embarrassed by one another. Instead, there is a real bond to them that is relatable without being sitcom-like or boring. I would have liked to have seen more threats toward the well-being of all three because when one ended up injured or on the verge of dying, I found myself wondering if he or she could make it—and if they did somehow then I wondered how much further.

Although “San Andreas” does not redefine the sub-genre, it has a lot to offer when it comes to entertainment value. Appropriately, it is highly driven by astonishing visuals and sound work that really puts the viewer into the situation. Test this by closing your eyes for a few seconds when an earthquake is unfolding. Lastly, compare the performances here against lesser modern disaster flicks and one can really notice the difference. Thus, what we have here is a piece of work that can hold its own against similar movies released during the 1970s, the golden age of disaster films.