Pants and Skippy

Jungle Cruise

by George Wolf

Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) wears trousers in 1916 London, so she’s “pants.”

Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) is the skipper Lily hires to guide her and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) into the Amazon jungle, she he’s “skippy.”

As Lily and Frank’s verbal sparring grows more and more flirtatious during the swashbuckling adventures of Jungle Cruise, the sheer charisma of the two leads succeeds in steering the film away from dull waters.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra fills Disney’s latest with plenty of wink-wink spirit from the original theme park ride, right down to the cornball jokes Frank insists on telling to his tour boat clients.

But Lily is no tourist. She’s a botanist in search of the Tears of the Moon, a legendary tree said to contain magical healing powers. The closer Frank gets them to the prize, the more dangers come out of the jungle. Not only does Kaiser Wilhelm’s son Joachim (Jesse Plemons) also want the magic flowers, but a 400-year-old undead conquistador (Edgar Ramirez) is seeking to break the curse that ties him to the jungle.

Yes, there’s much going on, but Collet-Serra keeps the CGI action sequences (some of which will remind you plenty of Pirates of the Caribbean) front and center on a journey that never loses the family adventure vibe.

Not that the five credited writers have forgotten about us grown-ups who took this actual Disney ride as kids. An extended bout of Blunt v Johnson innuendo becomes a frisky delight, while the subtle nods to marriage equality and the savagery of colonialism are fleeting but effective.

The film’s third act delivers a major surprise, which results in extended exposition and the first signs of treading water. But even at its most formulaic, there’s enough humor, heart and genuine movie star appeal here to make Jungle Cruise an excursion full of rollicking good fun.

Crazy Train

The Commuter

by Hope Madden

In 2014, Jaume Collet-Serra directed Non-Stop, a Liam Neeson thriller that saw the down-on-his-luck Irishman with a particular set of skills trapped on a speeding vehicle with a killer, a mystery, and an outside force looking to pin some wrongdoing on him.

In 2018, Jaume Collet-Serra directed The Commuter. Same movie. Train this time.

This go-round, happily married devoted father Michael MacCauley (Neeson) gets chatted up by the lovely and mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) as he heads home on his nightly commute. She poses a question: would you do one little thing—something you are uniquely qualified to do—if it landed you 100k and you had no idea of the consequences?

Well, it’s not a game and next thing you know he’s dragging his lanky frame up and down the train cars trying to find a mysterious person with a mysterious bag before his family is nabbed or someone else gets killed.

How many times do we have to see this movie? We get it, Neeson is not a man to be messed with. He’s savvy, noble and he can take a punch.

Farmiga’s always a welcome sight, plus Sam Neill and Patrick Wilson contribute as they can. But mainly it’s just you, Neeson and a host of stereotypes trying to test your mystery-solving skills but not your patience.

At its best, The Commuter is a B-movie popcorn-munching ode to the forgotten middle class good guy. At its worst, a boldly predictable waste of talent littered with plot holes and weak CGI.

It’s a Liam Neeson movie. What do you want?





An Irishman in New York

Run All Night

by Hope Madden

Who wants to spend St. Pat’s with a badass Irishman? Run All Night is just your latest chance to see Liam Neeson show off his particular set of skills.

An aging thug and unrepentant lush, Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon relies heavily on the good will of his best friend from the neighborhood, Shawn (Ed Harris). Shawn runs a business that used to be shady – maybe still is – but Shawn’s legitimate. Shawn’s son is strictly shady, and when Jimmy’s estranged son sees something he shouldn’t, the dads have to sort things out. With bullets.

After Non-Stop and Unknown, this marks the third time director Jaume Collet-Serra has filmed Neeson as the damaged, aging loner with regrets and a bunch of people to shoot – but at this point, who hasn’t? While this film certainly doesn’t feel fresh, it’s a more accomplished movie than their last two collaborations, offering emotional pull and fine performances.

Neeson’s haunted tough guy Jimmy is one of his more memorable action movie roles, even if the father/son angle telegraphs the redemption theme from up the block. Full of regret and just barely daring to hope, Jimmy’s last attempt at fatherhood is a complicated, bloody affair.

Ed Harris is characteristically excellent as well, and the two veterans invest in their characters and the history they share. Because the relationship feels honest, the payoff maintains some emotional punch.

The supporting cast is solid from top to bottom. From Vincent D’Onofrio’s good cop down to an uncredited Nick Nolte, they’re not flashy, but they are committed enough to their characters to keep the drama tight.

Collet-Serra’s film begins as a Seventies’ style gritty NYC street drama, but as the night wears on, little glints of modern action flick start to tear through that fabric. It’s too bad, even if it is inevitable. Contrivances pile up, and wildly obviously plot twists appear only to resolve in exactly the way you expect them to.

Much of Run All Night – too much, really – is familiar and predictable. It’s a credit to Collet-Serra’s pacing that the film can keep your attention, and a nod to the talent of his cast that you can feel caught up in their dysfunctional family drama regardless of the threadbare script.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Airport 2014!

 

NON-STOP

 

by George Wolf

 

The long, national nightmare is over..the Airport franchise is back, baby!

Okay, not really. There’s no George Kennedy, or Charlton Heston, and no Love Boat-style parade of guest stars hoping for more face time, but Non-Stop brings the mid-air disaster back to the big screen with plenty of B-movie chutzpah.

Liam Neeson stars as Air Marshall Bill, a boozy grump with a tragic past who isn’t too happy with his latest assignment on a transatlantic flight. His particular set of skills is tested a few hours after takeoff, when he begins getting text messages from an unseen passenger. Wire 150 million dollars to a secret account, Bill is told, or every twenty minutes, someone on the plane will die.

It amounts to an interesting setup from a team of writers, one with a Hitchcock-meets-Agatha Christie vibe that director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, another Neeson thriller) has no trouble fleshing out.  Things move fast and deliberately, as suspicions fall on a collection of interesting passengers, including the friendly redhead who insists on sitting next to Bill (Jullanne Moore, classing up the joint).

The clearer the resolution becomes, though, the more the film struggles with flimsy contrivance. Yes, it’s a bumpy ride, but Neeson again proves his mettle as a late-blooming action star, and there is just enough fun in Non-Stop to make it an enjoyable, if easily forgettable, trip.

 

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars