Tag Archives: John Cena

Squad Goals

The Suicide Squad

by Hope Madden

What, did you think Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, glorious goddess that you know she is) only did that supervillain black ops thing that one time? No. Don’t fix what ain’t broke—she has access to expendable bad guys and lots of very sticky situations to deal with.

Now is just the time for another Suicide Squad.

Actually, writer/director James Gunn’s clear purpose is to fix what David Ayer broke last time. And what did he break? An exceptional idea that rid us of those tedious superheroes and gave us an adventure strewn with the far more colorful characters: the bad guys.

How did he fix it? Step 1: an R rating. He’s not kidding, either. If you only know Gunn from his family-friendly Guardians of the Galaxy adventures, then you may not expect quite this much carnage. If, however, you know him from his early Troma work or his sublime creature feature Slither, then you might have a sense of what’s in store.

Also fixed—the cast! Bring back the good ones (Ms. Davis, Margot Robbie), add exceptional new faces (Idris Elba, John Cena), pepper in Gunn-esque cameos (Michael Rooker Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Lloyd Kaufman), and voila! Joel Kinnaman’s back, too, and he has to be elated that his character gets to have a personality this time around.

The very James Gunn soundtrack delivers from the opening seconds through the closing credits and brings with it a wrong-headed sense of fun that pervades the entire effort. Gunn’s writing is gawdy, bedazzled, viscera-spattered glee, but there’s a darkness along with it that suggests he understands better than most the ugliness of these characters and their assignment.

Robbie’s Harley Quinn steals scenes, as is her way. Cena’s true talent shines brightest when he’s put in the position to be the butt of jokes, and as such, his Peacemaker gets off a lot of great lines. Elba is the solid skeleton to hang all this nuttiness on.

Not everything works, though. Stallone’s shark man feels like little more than this film’s version of Groot, only with less purpose. There’s a rat subplot that goes nowhere, and the film is as leaden with daddy issues as every comic book movie in history.

But the way Gunn handles the mommy issues that plague Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, unnerving as ever) is nothing less than inspired.

Is The Suicide Squad a cinematic masterpiece? It is not. It is, however, a bloody, irreverent good time.

John Cena’s In This One

F9: The Fast Saga

by George Wolf

So if this is the ninth installment, that means all laws of physics went out the window 7.5 Fast films ago. Just remember that when there’s a Plymouth Fiero in space for reelz.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have been trying to live a quiet life in the country with little Brian, but they’re going to need a sitter.

Seems Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) sent the gang an S.O.S. not long after he captured Cipher (Charlize Theron). Now Mr. N. is missing, Cipher’s on the loose, and everybody’s trying to get their hands on both halves of a device that, when made whole, will take control of every weapons system in the world.

And you know who already has one half? Dom’s bigger little brother Jacob (John Cena). We haven’t heard about Jacob until now because the boys have serious beef about who was to blame for their father’s death in a 1989 stock car race.

So Dom’s ad nauseam mantra of “family” has its limits.

Lighten up, right? Don’t take it so seriously, this franchise is about the action! I get it, and when the tone is right (like it was with director James Wan in Furious 7) I’m right there with you.

But this film takes itself waaay too seriously. Director/co-writer Justin Lin is back for his fifth go ’round, and after an opening filled with the usual auto gymnastics, settles into a story surprisingly heavy on the spy game.

Cena gets no chance to flash his charismatic mischievous side, as he and Diesel seem intent on making steely stares and jaw clenching an Olympic sport. Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) try to fill the playful void left by Hobbs and Shaw, but their hi-jinx seldom rise above silly wise cracking.

Plenty of familiar franchise faces return (Lucas Black, Shad Moss, Helen Mirren, Jordana Brewster and Sung Kang), often bringing with them a good amount of exposition explaining what their characters have been doing or why they aren’t really dead.

There’s so much nostalgia, you’d think they were actually trying to put a bow on this whole thing if the film wasn’t simultaneously inventing new threads. And as the running time keeps running, it all starts to feel pretty tedious.

But if you want your flying cars and electro-magnet explosions on the biggest screen possible, F9 will eventually give that to you (even in IMAX where available). Just don’t expect the self-awareness to realize how close they are to self-parody.

Also, hang through the credits and you’ll get a stinger with a big clue about what’s coming in the tenth round: a Prius on top of Mt. Everest.

Not really. But at this point, why not?

Dolittle Jones

Dolittle

by George Wolf

Man, when I was a kid I wanted a Pushmi-Pullyu so bad.

I would try to get all the way through “If I Could Talk to the Animals” without messing up a lyric, and imagine how fun it would be to get one of those mythical Pushmis delivered in a crate, just like Rex Harrison in 1967’s original Dr. Dolittle.

Over thirty years later, Eddie Murphy ditched the tunes for a more straightforward comedic approach in two franchise updates, and now Robert Downey, Jr. steps in to move the doctor a little closer to Indiana.

Jones, that is.

But’s it’s Indy by way of Victorian-era Britain, as Young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) calls on the famous animal-taking doctor with a dispatch from Buckingham Palace and an urgent plea to help the deathly ill Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley).

As suspicions arise about Royal Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) and the true nature of the Queen’s ills, Dolittle and friends (some human, most not) set sail on a grand adventure to acquire the cure from King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who just happens to be the father of Dolittle’s dear departed Lily (Kasia Smutniak).

Plus, there’s a big dragon.

Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) re-sets the backstory with an animated fairy tale, then ups the ante on action while letting Downey, Jr. and a menagerie of star voices try to squeeze out all the fun they can.

From Emma Thompson to John Cena, Octavia Spencer to Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Kumail Nanjiani to Selena Gomez and more, the CGI zoo juggles personalities, while Downey curiously chooses a whispered, husky delivery that sometimes makes his Do a little hard to understand.

But, of course, he still manages to craft an engaging character, even centering the Dr. with a grief just authentic enough for adults without bringing down the childlike wonder.

This is a Dr. Dolittle set on family adventure mode, with plenty of talking animal fun for the little ones and a few clever winks and nudges for the parents. But as the start of a possible franchise, it’s more of a handshake than a high-five. It may not leave you with belly laughs or tunes stuck in your head, but it’s eager to please manner doesn’t hurt a bit.

Parentus Interruptus

Blockers

by George Wolf

Is it me, or is there an encouraging trend building here? In the last few years, mainstream teen comedies such as The Duff, The Edge of Seventeen and Love, Simon have shown more smarts and diversity, with less reliance on the same old same old pandering.

Blockers starts with a cliched teen sex premise – gotta get some before college! – and turns it sideways, managing solid laughs (and some self-aware winks at romance fantasies) in the process.

Julie, Sam, and Kayla (Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan) are three Chicago-area high school seniors who vow to all turn in their V-cards on prom night (so they can commemorate the occasion every year at the Olive Garden).

The girls’ respective parents (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena) uncover the plans for “sexpact2018” (after a hilarious bit of emoji code-breaking) and set their own quest in motion: less cocking and more blocking.

Veteran writer Kay Cannon (30 Rock, the Pitch Perfect films) makes her directing debut, giving some nicely paced zest to the winning script from Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe. Even the film’s most outlandish moments (a “chugging” contest gone way wrong) seem to serve the film’s purpose.

Young adults are capable of making intelligent choices, and young women don’t need saving. Adults can be juvenile in their own self-interest, and some raunchy laughs can be had making all of those points.

Yes, the points come on a bit strong time and again, but the cast (especially Mann) keeps it  lively and relatable. If Blockers means this movie trend is working, keep ’em coming.

Giggle.

 

 

 

 

 





Seeing Red

Ferdinand

by Hope Madden

I’m thrilled to announce that Ferdinand, the new animated feature from Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio), did not ruin my childhood.

Whew!

The story of a peaceful if enormous bull who’d far rather sniff flowers than fight matadors was my favorite book as a little kid, but to stretch these 32 or so sentences into a 90-minute feature-length film, there would have to be padding.

I worried about the padding.

Credit a team of six screenwriters for finding—for the most part—organic ways to develop the story. We meet Ferdinand as a young bull being raised with a handful of other bulls specifically to fight in the ring. Then we follow him on his adventure to freedom from the ring and back into the sights of the matador.

That doesn’t mean the film never feels padded. It definitely does. But a slew of vocal talents including John Cena, Bobby Cannavale and Kate McKinnon helps to keep the film afloat.

Rarely laugh-out-loud funny, a bit bloated and a tad dark at times, Ferdinand still manages to entertain. It looks good, bears a social conscience and remains more or less true to the simple “be who you are” core that made Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s picture book so lovely.





Who’s Yer Granddaddy?

Daddy’s Home 2

by George Wolf

It’s weeks from Thanksgiving, but already the hot toy this season seems to be the onscreen Christmas countdown, marking off time until the big day.

We saw it just last week, to disastrous results, in A Bad Mom’s Christmas, and now Daddy’s Home 2 arrives carrying stockings with slightly better surprises inside.

By now, macho Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and sensitive Brad (Will Ferrell) have settled into a comfortable “co-Daddy” arrangement with their blended families, so much so that they’re planning one big blendy Christmas this year. The kids won’t have to run from place to place. It’ll be great, right?

Enter Dusty’s mas macho dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s uber sensitive pop (John Lithgow), and we’re all headed through the woods to a luxurious mountain cabin for some contrived, snow-covered shenanigans boasting rampant ridiculousness and only scattershot payoffs.

Writer/director Sean Anders returns from the first film with the standard playbook for lazy comedies: a series of zany skits loosely connected with little regard for logic or continuity. We’re prodded to laugh at Brad’s suitcase being left at home, and then again when Brad has to wear a women’s bathrobe since he has no clothes of his own!

Moving on, Brad has an endless supply of wardrobe changes the remainder of the film.

Anders’s resume features solid comedic work (She’s Out of My League, Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2), but also embarrassments (Dumb and Dumber To, That’s My Boy). DH2 can manage only a few sequences that recall his creative peaks.

A fight over the cabin thermostat leads to some inspired laughs, as does Brad’s attempt to prepare a young boy for life in the friend zone, and Ferrell’s natural comedic gifts are able to squeeze a chuckle or two from Brad’s constant attempts to prove his parental worth.

With the additions of Gibson and John Cena (as the ex of Dusty’s girlfriend) the sequel ups the ante on the crises of masculinity that anchored the first film. The female characters are still afterthoughts, and some of Gibson’s antics (considering his rep and the current revelations coming out of Hollywood) seem awkwardly ill-timed.

By the time a completely over-the top-production of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (“I love that song! I play that song in August!”) is happening, Daddy’s Home 2 seems content to aim no higher than the guilty pleasure aisle.





Of Vice and Men

Trainwreck

by Hope Madden

Ten years ago, The 40-Year-Old Virgin introduced the new voice of cinematic comedy. A decade later, 40 writer/director Judd Apatow is – for the first time – directing a film he didn’t write. Why? Because there’s a new sheriff in town and Apatow has the clout to ensure that the next voice in cinematic comedy gets heard.

Trainwreck is the bawdy, wise, hilarious, about-fucking-time romantic comedy written by and starring Amy Schumer. Startlingly honest and utterly lacking in pretension, she followed up years of refreshingly raw stand-up comedy by destroying cable TV with her brilliant Inside Amy Schumer. (YouTube 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer immediately to see just how savvy a writer she is.)

She and Apatow collaborate on this sometimes touching, boisterously funny upending of rom-com clichés. (As Amy narrates the lovey-dovey montage backdropped by the Manhattan skyline, even she finds it cloying, quipping, “I hope this love montage ends like Jonestown.”)

Schumer plays Amy, a heavy drinking, sexually active (very active) writer for a magazine that runs stories like “How Does Eating Garlic Change the Taste of Semen?” and “You’re Not Gay, She’s Boring.” Her editor – the ever glorious Tilda Swinton – assigns her a piece on a sports doctor (Bill Hader), and Amy is reluctantly pulled into the world of monogamy.

The screenwriting is ingenious. This is a role reversal romantic comedy, basically, but it’s far too crafty to rely on that as a gimmick. On the surface, Amy’s the same protagonist trapped in an extended adolescence that has become commonplace in Apatow’s filmography, but there is no denying Schumer’s ability to find something new and authentic to bring to the mix.

She’s aided by an impeccable cast. Bill Hader has quickly become one of the most versatile and authentic actors of the SNL alum. Swinton’s magnificent, LeBron James is deadpan hilarious and a very good sport, as is John Cena, and Dave Attell is a hoot. Cameos galore draw belly laughs in a comedy that has something to say underneath hundreds of well-aimed gags.

Trainwreck might be the best romantic comedy since Bull Durham.

Verdict-4-0-Stars