Without Explanation

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

by Hope Madden

Michael B. Jordan is a bona fide movie star, a butts-in-seats celebrity ready to front his own spy thriller franchise. He’s ready to Harrison Ford.

He definitely is ready, there’s no doubt he has the talent, charisma, looks and mass appeal to bring a Tom Clancy story to the big screen. But should he do it?

Jordan’s John Kelly finds himself in an unexpected operation in Aleppo. He loses a friend and nearly loses his commanding officer (Queen & Slim’s Jodie Turner-Smith, wasted), much thanks to a cagey CIA operative (Jamie Bell) who’s hiding something from the team. Something Russian.

Well, those Russian secrets keep resurfacing, and they rack up a heavy body count. Next thing you know, Jordan has to take off his shirt and splash water on his bare chest because…I don’t know. It might honestly just be a contractual thing now.

I’m not saying I’m sorry it happened.

Stefano Sollima directs this espionage thriller, and he has even less luck than he did with his last feature, Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The problem this time around is not that his film suffers terribly by comparison. (Man, that was the problem last time.) The problem is that writers Will Staples and Taylor Sheridan just don’t seem to be trying very hard.

And Sheridan can be one of the finest writers working in film (Sicario, Hell or High Water). But you would not know that here.

The thrills are mediocre, the shootouts and fights are middling, and the only thing more obvious than the plot points are the performances. Worse still, the writing is sloppy and convenient. There’s an unmanned, unlocked, running vehicle right when John Kelly needs one, and don’t even ask how he gets unconscious villains from point A to point B. I guess that’s confidential.

It’s not that Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a terrible movie. It isn’t. But there’s no excuse for it to be utterly mediocre, which it is. The director’s proven to be competent and the co-writer has proven to be genius. Plus there’s a bona fide movie star at the height of his wattage leading the effort.

I blame Putin.

Dia de los Muertos

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

by Hope Madden

How’s your summer going?

It may be good, but I bet it’s not Josh Brolin good.

He’s having a one-of-a-kind summer. The kind that follows blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 with the sequel to the film that should have earned him his second Oscar nomination. (It also should have won Benicio Del Toro his second Oscar.)

But can Sicario: Day of the Soldado accomplish as much insightful commentary, intimate drama and visceral action as Denis Villeneuve’s riveting 2015 peek behind the curtains of the drug war?

The first piece of great news: writer Taylor Sheridan returns, scripting another border war with the cartels, this time focused less on drugs, more on smuggling terrorists across to the US.

Now for the bad news. Visionary director Villeneuve does not return, nor does legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. Or Emily Blunt.

Dude, that hurts.

But del Toro and Brolin are back, and they were so fun last time. Brolin’s brash, deceptively easygoing Matt Graver has another mission requiring that he get dirty, which means more work for his favorite operative, played with shadowy precision by del Toro.

Cleveland’s own Isabela Moner joins the cast as a kingpin’s daughter, and for a moment you might think that the hole Blunt left has been filled. Defiant and solitary, Moner’s Isabella Reyes quickly becomes an enigmatic character you long to get to know better.

Unfortunately, we don’t. Equally underused is the great Catherine Keener, playing the administrator who holds Graver’s leash.

Dariusz Wolski is a gifted cinematographer, but he’s no Roger Deakins, whose brutal cinematic lyricism gave Sicario its arresting beauty. That fluidity is missing from the sequel, along with the fierce idealism that so perfectly balanced the cynical nature of the story.

Gone, too, are Graver’s eccentricities. Though Brolin’s performance is strong, the character himself has become little more than the traditional conflicted mercenary.

Likewise, del Toro is given a more ordinary man’s role. Not entirely ordinary, but that enigma that haunted Sicario serves more to keep the story moving forward, his time on screen rarely allowing a glimpse at who he is or, more frustratingly, how he and Moner’s Isabella respond to each other.

It sounds like it’s all bad news, and it’s not. Director Stefano Sollima serves up a fine, edgy piece of action for the summer. It’s just that I’d hoped for more.