Best Served Cold

Cold Pursuit

by Hope Madden

Liam Neeson, everybody.

If we’d ever wondered what fueled Neeson’s on-screen obsession with a character who can turn from perfectly ordinary, even good guy to blindly bloodthirsty avenging devil, now we know. His movies were more fun before, weren’t they?

In Cold Pursuit, Neeson’s ninth riff on the theme since his 2008 career-changer Taken, he takes on mainly white guys (whew!).

Kehoe, Colorado’s most beloved snow plow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) learns of his son’s heroin overdose death. Not believing his son to have been a junkie, he does some digging, and some retaliatory murdering.

One thing leads to another, the holy bonds between father and son are honored without being explored, Laura Dern (as Mrs. Coxman) vanishes from the film by the end of Act 1, and a rival drug gang complicates the revenge fantasy.

This is director Hans Petter Moland’s reboot of his own 2014 Norwegian thriller, In Order of Disappearance. Both films employ a dark and absurd humor that keep the well-worn material from feeling stale. The weird tone and Moland’s flair for fantastic visuals—not to mention his joy of carnage—keep the film intriguing from start to finish.

A game supporting cast doesn’t hurt. Tom Bateman (listen close and you can hear him say, “holy shit” in The Interview) chews enough scenery to balance Neeson’s quiet brood.

Plenty of peculiar turns and quirky moments between odd characters elevate this one above your garden variety Neeson thriller. It offers a mildly entertaining time—assuming you can get past the actor’s own disturbing relationship with revenge.

Clowns Against Humanity

Game Night

by Hope Madden

Nobody does dry, self-deprecating humor as well as Jason Bateman. He’s such a natural as the put-upon husband/brother at the center of the Game Night tension, he becomes the action/comedy’s effortless center of gravity.

And the way this story orbits, circles back, veers around and comes back again, gravity is important.

Bateman plays Max who, with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), hosts a weekly game night at his house. But Max’s super cool brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) wants to host this week, and Max’s creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons, creepy perfection) wants to come. Well, things are spinning out of control, aren’t they?

A tight script by Mark Perez gives a game cast (see what I did there?) plenty of opportunity to riff on each other and nerd up the place. The chemistry onscreen, particularly between couples—each of which is given the chance to create believable unions—elevates the hijinks.

McAdams steals scenes with comic charm, reminding us again of her spot-on timing and ability to generate plausible relationship backstory with anybody. Meanwhile, funny bits from Sharon Horgan and Lamorne Morris, in particular, keep the larger Game Night ensemble from letting the storyline lag.

The easy humor spilling from this cast pulls the film away from absurd comedy and turns it into something more comfortable. Because, even though there may or may not (or may?) have been a kidnapping and they may or may not (or may?) be making things worse, they have actually trained for this moment for years.

Because what is it that will help these couples live through the bizarre and twisted mess their game night has become?

Teamwork.

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation) keep the action low key. This allows the entire effort to indulge in the “so this is happening right now, then? Ok, let’s deal with that” kind of humor that is so characteristically Bateman. The comedy is upbeat and fun (though sometimes surprisingly violent) and true to the characters and their relationships.

It’s consistently fun and ultimately forgettable. Like a game night.

Badass Bromance

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

by Hope Madden

Who remembers Safe House, the passable 2012 action flick that sees Ryan Reynolds in over his head trying to keep an international assassin, played by Denzel Washington, safe?

Well, lobotomize Safe House, swap in Samuel L. Jackson for Denzel, trade grit for humor and you have the mid-August version of an action comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

Jackson is Darius Kincaid.

No he isn’t. He’s an underwritten tough guy, filled out with characteristic Jacksonisms: foul language and swagger. He’s Samuel L. Jackson, motherfucker.

Likewise, Reynolds may go by Michael Bryce, but this is prototypical Reynolds, all sarcastic charm and self-loathing.

Bring them together: glib meets badass. They take a bullet-riddled road trip, Bryce trying to keep Kincaid safe long enough to testify against the former president of Belarus, a war criminal and all-around evildoer, played, naturally, by Gary Oldman.

Of course he is.

No, not a lot of acting muscles are being overworked in this one.

Writing muscles either, for that matter. The film coasts on mostly ludicrous but sometimes fun set pieces energized by the silly sniping happening as the Jackson/Reynolds bromance blossoms.

Director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3 – did we know there were 3?) relies heavily on his cast and their individual brands. It’s like shorthand. No reason for character development, which is a good thing because scribe Tom O’Connor isn’t strong.

Hughes has trouble balancing the action, humor and unexpected romance. Reynolds’s security expert pines for the Interpol agent that left him; meanwhile, Jackson’s assassin misses his Mrs. (Salma Hayak, funny).

But, hey, do you like Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman? Because the three of them play the three of them in a disposable action comedy coming out this weekend.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Nice Nice Baby

The Nice Guys

by Hope Madden

Tell me you’ve seen any of the countless trailers for Shane Black’s new action comedy The Nice Guys. Funny! I haven’t had such high expectations for a new film yet this year.

Ever since Black announced his presence with authority, penning ‘87’s iconic buddy cop action flick Lethal Weapon, he’s been one to watch. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his directorial debut, suggested he might even be keeping his best stuff for himself. But after a while, his tics and tendencies grow tiresome.

The Long Kiss Goodnight, anyone?

And though his newest effort absolutely revisits most of the filmmaker’s by-now obvious predilections, his craftsmanship and casting have never been better.

Hey girl, guess what – Ryan Gosling is a hoot! No, no, I didn’t say he’s hot (as that goes without saying). He’s a hoot. And if you found his scene-stealing performance in last year’s gem The Big Short a refreshing and joyous change of pace for the award-bedecked actor, you will surely enjoy this masterpiece of comic timing and physicality.

Gosling plays Holland March, an alcoholic PI with questionable parenting skills who reluctantly teams up with muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). What begins as a low-rent missing persons case snowballs into an enormous conspiracy involving porn, the government, and the all-powerful auto industry. (It is 1977, after all.)

Aah, 1977 – when everybody smoked, ogled women, and found alcoholism a laugh riot. Black puts this time machine quality to excellent use in a film that would have felt stale and rote during his Eighties heyday, but today it serves as an endlessly entertaining riff on all that was so wrong and so right about the Seventies.

A brightly lit (if smog-choked) Southern California noir-turned-buddy-action comedy, The Nice Guys does a surprisingly good job at finding its tone. All the lurid, twisty plot fodder could easily weigh the film down in gritty drama, but Shane’s heart is in the budding, unsanitized bromance.

Gosling’s impeccable hilarity is custom-made for Black’s machine gun fire dialog, but Crowe also manages to get comfortable in the script, allowing both the conversation and action to breathe and take shape. The pair’s chemistry is a joy to watch, and is aided immeasurably by Angourie Rice’s flinty, intelligent turn as March’s disappointed daughter, Holly.

Ultimately, the twists and surprises don’t amount to much. The Nice Guys is a shiny Shane Black toy that begs to be played with now, even if it’s forgotten later. Kind of like the Seventies.

Verdict-3-5-Stars