Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviews: Central Intelligence, Finding Dory

Kevin Hart is a one trick pony these days.  He consistently stars in buddy comedies as the short, manic African American alongside a funny, TALLER partner.  Having performed on-screen shenanigans with Will Ferrell, Ice Cube, Josh Gad and other comedic talents, Hart is fortunately good at what he does and I find him to be very funny overall as a comedian.  Thankfully his partner in Central Intelligence is the supremely talented Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) who gives a flawless comedic performance and balances Hart perfectly.  The result is one of the funnier movies of the year and a reminder to all of us that The Rock is cemented as a legitimate actor in today's Hollywood landscape.

Hart plays Calvin Joyner, a former high-school star athlete and homecoming king who is stuck in a boring accounting job 20-year-later with a troubled marriage.  The Rock stars as Bob Stone, a former fat kid who was picked on and bullied at the same high school but grew up to be and a is-he-or-isn't-he CIA agent.  Joyner and Stone get mixed up in a national security snafu as they meet us for a 20-year high school reunion.  Amy Ryan plays the CIA operative who tries to track down the whereabouts of Stone.  Hart as always plays the scared fish-out-of-water character perfectly and the audience can totally relate to his Joyner character as he tries to make sense of all the craziness that occurs during the movie.  The real star here though is Johnson who does a great job of playing a happy-go-lucky dimwitted big guy with a heart of gold.  His awe-shucks demeanor is refreshing and you really see his range as an actor.  Unlike Hart's one-note performances, The Rock bring unique characteristics to most of his roles.

The film is paced well and features a variety of quality cameos including Jason Bateman as the older version of the bully who picked on The Rock in high school, and Aaron Paul as a CIA agent.  NOTE: There is a line towards the end of the film that gives a great shout out to Jessie Pinkman from Breaking Bad.  Another note to mention is that the CGI early in the film that shows The Rock's face superimposed on an overweight actor is pretty awful.  All of those sequences are critical to the film's plot but I couldn't help but find the visual effects to be distracting and definitely not well-executed.

This movie is worth a rental for sure (don't really need to see something like this in the theater) and it sets itself up for a sequel down the line.  I laughed a lot throughout and give Hart's latest effort a 4 out of 5 JR rating.  It's good to see The Rock balance comedy with action (Fast & Furious franchise) and I expect him to be a very busy man on-screen over the next decade.  He currently has the charm and physical skill set to work on big budget films like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his prime.

Finding Dory is the latest offering from the Pixar machine and yet another sequel.  (If you love Pixar sequels, get ready because Cars 3 and Toy Story 4 are two of the next three offerings from the Lamp Laboratory)  Andrew Stanton is back in the director's chair and he submerges us once again in the underwater world of Nemo, Marlin, Dory and other sea creatures who return from the first film Finding Nemo.  Voice actors Ellen DeGeneres (Dory) and Albert Brooks (Marlin) return along with a new cast of characters including Hank the Octopus (voiced by Ed O'Neill), Destiny the nearsighted Whale Shark (voiced by Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the Beluga (voiced by Ty Burrell although I was 100% sure when watching the film that it was Jim Gaffigan in that role).

Themes of disability, fear and family are all touched on throughout the movie and the addition of Hank and some other new characters are welcome additions but the overall synopsis is a little similar to the first film.  Instead of tracking down Nemo, Dory and friends are tracking down Dory's lost parents.  The journey brings Dory to the Marine Life Institute (an aquarium/research center on the coast of California in which Sigourney Weaver's voice narrates the action) which features a variety of exhibits that Dory gets mixed up in.  The highlight of which is a children's touch area where little rugrats try to touch Dory and her friends in a humorous setup that makes children's fingers look like objects of war.  Dory must overcome her disabilities, work with her friends and try to escape the Institute and find her parents in the process.  The end sequence featuring a crazy truck-chase (yes, a land-based truck chase) is well executed and the final action scenes are shot beautifully along the California coastline.  Hank is probably the best part of the film as his character gives the Pixar animators a lot to work with due to his tentacle-powered movements and ability to camouflage within any environment.

This movie is entertaining and I had fun seeing it with my kids on Father's Day, but I just found myself looking for more from Pixar.  There isn't much revolutionary in this film and while everything looks great under the sea and in the Marine Life Institute, I wasn't really blown away by what I was watching.  Inside Out was a far superior and more original film and I really can't give Finding Dory much more than a 3.5 out of 5 JR rating.  It's kind of a shame that the now #1 animated movie opening weekend belongs to a so-so sequel instead of a more deserving entry.  In fact I think I might have liked February's Zootopia a little bit more than this movie.

BONUS Netflix Review for the movie Creep that was recommended to me by one of my friends and co-workers.  Mark Duplass (who can really do no wrong in my book) plays a man with terminal cancer who lives in a cabin in a remote area.  Director Patrick Brice plays a videographer hired by Duplass' character to film his last few moments of life for his unborn son to see.  The movie is essentially a found-footage mystery with a few jump scares and a dark plot.  I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't seen it but Duplass does a great job of being "creepy" and demented and the movie churns along at a brisk pace (only 76 minutes long) leading to a satisfying/disturbing ending.  This is small-budget gem and another reason to watch anything that Duplass is involved with (even if HBO TAKES IT AWAY FROM YOU!!!!). I don't give ratings for rental films of previous-run movies I see on Netflix, but this movie would probably get a solid 4 out of 5.


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