Martial arts legend Jackie Chan jumps back into the action genre feet first with The Foreigner, a film with more depth than you might expect.
Chan plays Quan, a restaurant owner in London who loses his daughter when a rogue faction of the IRA bombs a bank. Quan believes Irish Defense Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), who rose to power after a violent IRA past, knows the identity of the bombers. After his polite requests for information are rebuffed, Quan resurrects his own bloody roots to get those names by force and have his revenge.
Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) knows you’re ready for the latest take on Taken, but mixes some satisfying fight choreography with long stretches of political intrigue that might disappoint those looking for nothing but bad guy beatdowns. There’s nothing overly original here, but Chan provides just enough layers to be mysteriously sympathetic, Brosnan brings the seasoned gravitas, and The Foreigner keeps its head above some gaps in logic to remain interesting.
A spin-off movie of the LEGO Ninjago television show, the new LEGO movie once again centers on the relationship of a dude and his boy.
Like the first LEGO Movie, the main story is nestled within the frame of events happening in the human world. A live-action sequence starts Ninjago when a young boy wanders into a Gremlins-esque antiques shop run by Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan). The lad seems a bit lost, possibly bullied, so Mr. Liu lets him hang out and spins a yarn about another troubled boy. Chan’s story comes to life, portrayed by LEGO minifigures, set in the island city of Ninjago.
In the animated story within a story, we are introduced to Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco), the abandoned son of Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a warlord intent on destroying Ninjago. Everyone knows who Lloyd’s dad is and they direct their anger and frustration on the son.
Thankfully, Lloyd does have some friends who happen to be part-time ninjas…just like him, who fight Lord Garmadon in supercool mechs.
Like LEGO Batman, Ninjago is more than willing to take elements of other intellectual properties and play around with them. However, where Batman came off gloriously snarky and peppered with pop culture references, having creatures like Doctor Who’s Daleks’ interact directly with baddies like Lord Voldemort, Ninjago feels like the scriptwriters put their favorite fiction in a blender and hit pulse—Star Wars, Godzilla, Power Rangers, Austin Powers, Captain Planet, Voltron, Team America World Police with a little bit of Sharknado thrown in there, too.
The resulting film is muddled—confused about what it wants to be and derivative. The philosophical frame of the first LEGO Movie and the rapid-fire in-jokes from LEGO Batman are missing, letting the adults in the audience down. There’s a sameness to the supporting characters and a dearth of fun cameos. (Although a troublingly flamboyant “Fuchsia Ninja” does pop up for a moment.)
The action is pretty run of the mill, sacrificing the opportunity for what could have been some truly great physics-defying fight sequences for mech vs mech battles that seem like commercials for (admittedly probably pretty cool) playsets.
The hero’s quest that forces father and son together comes off as somehow both rushed and ponderously slow. And the father/son drama so heavy-handed that you can almost hear Cats in the Cradle playing behind a particularly fraught conversation.
LEGO Ninjago is the weakest offering in Lego’s growing collection of colorful family drama action movies, just serving to remind me that I should probably rent one of the previous two and have a night in instead.
Nut Job 2 is here, which immediately raises a question.
Was there a Nut Job 1?
There was, in 2014, and despite being completely forgettable it raked in enough cash to warrant a sequel. Plus, there’s a third installment already on the docket whether the franchise deserves it or not.
It doesn’t, as Nutty by Nature offers another uninspired, completely forgettable adventure that can’t find the depth to render its political themes effective.
We catch up with Surly the squirrel (voiced by Will Arnett) and his rodent friends living large off the forgotten inventory of the now-abandoned nut shop from the first film. Andi the squirrel (Katherine Heigl) thinks they all are getting too fat and lazy, but when a corrupt mayor (Bobby Moynihan) levels their habitat to build a theme park, the gang must work together to provide a successful…ahem…resistance.
Despite a couple scene-stealing moments from Maya Rudolph (Precious the Pug) and Jackie Chan (Mr. Feng, the Weapon of Mouse Destruction), director/co-writer Cal Brunker (Escape from Planet Earth) offers precious little in the way of personality, humor or resonance. Music sequences cranked up to dialogue-obscuring volumes are no help.
Just last year, Zootopia set the bar for socially conscious animation very, very high. While it’s commendable that Nut Job 2 has similar ambitions, the result will be appreciated only by the youngest viewers who just like watching the silly animals.