Movie Review: “Horrible Bosses 2″

Starring
Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey
Director
Sean Anders

The basic rule for sequels is to make everything bigger than the original. For action movies, that makes sense, even if it’s often unwise. For comedies, it makes no sense whatsoever, and “Horrible Bosses 2” is the proof. The three leads go from likable bumblers in the 2011 original to complete idiots here. Jennifer Aniston’s character has been grossly compromised, emphasis on “grossly.” Kevin Spacey is the only returning actor whose character survives with his dignity intact, but his character is an even bigger square peg than Aniston’s. The movie’s most egregious offense, though, is that it’s lazy. Not only is the plot a “22 Jump Street”-type rehashing of the original, but the opening scene would make the cast of “American Pie” blush. Really, guys, you’re sending love letters to “American Pie”? You’re better than that, or at least you used to be.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have decided that the best way to avoid having a boss is to be the boss, and the three launch a new product that attracts the interest of global shipper Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). Bert and the boys agree to a deal where they will supply his company with a huge order of their product, but Bert double-crosses them after they’re up to their eyeballs in debt, with the intention of stealing the product from them for pennies on the dollar. After ruling out a few extreme ideas, the three decide to kidnap Bert’s son Rex (Chris Pine), and hold him for enough ransom to make up their expenses. Much to their surprise, Rex is down with the plan, and encourages them to raise both the ransom and their game in return for a larger cut. The boys quickly realize, though, that Rex causes more headaches than the ransom money will solve.

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Blu Tuesday: The Expendables 3, The Giver and What If

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Expendables 3″

WHAT: When a former Expendable turned war criminal (Mel Gibson) resurfaces years after his supposed death, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) puts together a new, younger team to take him down. But after their mission is compromised and his teammates are captured, Barney must rely on the former members to help him finish the job.

WHY: The “Expendables” films have never exactly been subtle, but that’s part of their charm. The other part is seeing the world’s greatest action stars share the screen like a kid playing with all of his favorite action figures at the same time. The best thing about this model is that it allows for fresh additions with each new installment, and the third movie takes full advantage with another round of dream casting. Though the “new blood” (including Kellan Lutz, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and boxer Victor Ortiz) fare just fine alongside their larger-than-life counterparts, the real treat is seeing old-timers like Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas back on the big screen. Not only do they belong on this team (even more so than Randy Couture and Terry Crews), but they don’t waste any time proving it, with Banderas stealing every scene he’s in as the motor-mouthed new recruit. Harrison Ford also seems to be having fun as Bruce Willis’ replacement, while Mel Gibson’s funny but ruthless villain is easily the best in the series. (Take that, Jean-Claude Van Damme.) Unfortunately, you have to suffer through a bunch of terrible one-liners and puns, generic PG-13 action and an overlong 126-minute runtime just to get to the good bits, and despite the talent involved, there aren’t enough to make it worth your time.

EXTRAS: There’s a pretty substantial making-of featurette, profiles on the new recruits, a behind-the-scenes look at filming some of the action scenes, and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Giver”

WHAT: Set in a dystopian future without emotion, color or choice, a young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to become the new Receiver of Memory – the person in charge of storing all past memories before the period of Sameness – and begins his training under the previous receiver (Jeff Bridges). But when he realizes that their community is a shadow of what existed before, Jonas sets out to unlock those repressed memories and restore order.

WHY: Stuck in Development Hell for nearly two decades despite being a passion project for co-star Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” probably would have languished there forever were it not for the recent success of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” Though the 1993 novel by Lois Lowry has become a mainstay on many middle school reading lists over the years, “The Giver” is a tricky book to adapt for the big screen, not only in the way that its protagonist begins to experience more of the old world, but the heavy themes that it broaches along the away. For what it’s worth, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job, but the problem with director Philip Noyce’s adaptation is that for a movie about the dangers of uniformity, it’s strikingly vanilla, with barely an original idea to be found. Bridges delivers a solid performance as the title character (you can tell that the source material means a lot to him), but the rest of the cast – from its wooden leading man to Meryl Streep’s chief elder – is as underwhelming as the story itself. This is one book that would have been better left untouched.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray releases includes an interactive study guide, a featurette on adapting the book for the screen, highlights from the original script reading, footage from the press conference, an interview with author Lois Lowry and a deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“What If”

WHAT: More than year after a messy break-up, med school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) hits it off with a cute animator named Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at the house party of a mutual friend (Adam Driver). Although Chantry already has a serious boyfriend (Rafe Spall), Wallace decides that he’s okay with just being friends… until he realizes that his feelings are a little more complicated.

WHY: Though its premise is somewhat unique in that one of the characters is already in a relationship when the movie begins, “What If” is a pretty formulaic romantic comedy that follows all the beats you expect and rarely strays off course. Luckily, director Michael Dowse has assembled a fantastic ensemble cast that elevates the material beyond its genre conventions. Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis and Rafe Spall are all good in supporting roles, but it’s the two leads – and their chemistry with one another – that makes “What If” better than the typical rom-com. Zoe Kazan has carved out a nice little niche as the indie love interest (the girl next door who’s cute and attainable, but with just enough edge to ensure she’s never boring), while Daniel Radcliffe radiates charm in one of the best roles of his post-Potter career. Some of the humor is a bit over-the-top, but for the most part, it boasts a playfully sarcastic tone that provides Kazan and Radcliffe with plenty of fun banter. “What If” doesn’t revolutionize the genre in any way, but if you enjoyed “(500) Days of Summer,” there’s a good chance you’ll like this as well.

EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at making the film, there are three brief (but very similar) featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Movie Review: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″

Starring
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks
Director
Francis Lawrence

Upset over Lionsgate’s decision to release “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” as two films instead of one? Blame Harry Potter. That was the first movie franchise based on a popular book series to split its last installment into the dreaded two-part finale. But while that decision appeared to be made only partly due to studio greed (this was Harry Potter, after all, and it was an event meant to be celebrated and savored), every successful YA book-to-film adaptation since has taken it upon itself to use a similar strategy for no other reason than to squeeze more money out of moviegoers. The “Hunger Games” trilogy (except that it’s no longer a trilogy at all) is the latest series to go this route, and quite predictably, it’s resulted in a “Part 1” that’s almost completely void of excitement, proving once again why this model is never a good idea.

After being rescued from the Quarter Quell by a secret resistance group headed by former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is transported to District 13 along with her fellow Tributes, Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and the survivors of District 12. It seems that Katniss’ actions in the last Hunger Games have stoked the flames of rebellion throughout Panem, and District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) intends to use her as the figurehead for the revolution. Katniss agrees on a few conditions – namely, that they rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who’s being tortured and used by the Capitol as the voice against the resistance, as soon as possible – and begins filming a series of propaganda videos intended to recruit more soldiers for the war effort.

One of the biggest problems you typically run into with two-part finales like “Mockingjay” is that the filmmakers are no longer forced to think economically in terms of what material is essential to telling the story. Though it made sense to split up “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” due to the sheer size of J.K. Rowling’s book, “Mockingjay” doesn’t have that issue, especially when “Catching Fire” (which is the exact same length in book form) was adapted just fine into one movie. Add to that the fact that “Mockingjay” is hands-down the weakest entry in the series, and it was always going to be an uphill battle for director Francis Lawrence and writers Danny Strong and Peter Craig. There are some really powerful emotional beats littered throughout, but it often feels like Lawrence is just twiddling his thumbs in fear of getting too far ahead, with most of the film spent setting up the next installment. It’s a necessary slog in order to get to the good stuff (and one that fans of the Harry Potter and “Twilight” series will be all too familiar with), but it’s a slog all the same.

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Blu Tuesday: 22 Jump Street, Sin City and Into the Storm

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“22 Jump Street”

WHAT: When they humiliate the police department during their latest assignment, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are sent back undercover, this time at a local city college to find the source of a new synthetic drug called WhyPhy. But when Jenko makes friends with the main suspect (Wyatt Russell), his relationship with Schmidt becomes strained as they split up to investigate different leads, which threatens to derail the entire mission.

WHY: For a while, it seemed like everything that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller touched turned to gold, adapting challenging source material into successful comedies with a flair for visual gags. But they haven’t had quite the same luck with sequels, as evidenced by recent films like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “22 Jump Street.” Striking the same self-mocking tone as the original, “22 Jump Street” skewers Hollywood’s formulaic sequels by openly acknowledging the rinse-and-repeat plotline and noticeably larger budget. Although it’s a clever approach that earns some laughs, it doesn’t change the fact that the film is still a complete retread from top to bottom. Lord and Miller inject the movie with the kind of silly, manic energy that’s become a touchstone in all their projects, but there aren’t enough truly laugh-out-loud moments, with many of the recurring jokes failing to hit their mark. Even when it starts to drag in the middle, however, there’s rarely a dull moment thanks to its two leads, especially Channing Tatum, who’s so funny as the dim-witted jock that he makes every scene more enjoyable. As a result, “22 Jump Street” isn’t entirely good or bad, but rather a perfectly mediocre comedy with just enough laughs to remind audiences what they loved about the first movie while failing to validate the need for a sequel.

EXTRAS: There’s a ridiculous amount of bonus material here, highlighted by 22 deleted scenes and an audio commentary by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Also included are four production featurettes, a collection of cast improvisations, Line-O-Ramas for five different scenes, a “Dramatic Interpretation” of the film and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

WHAT: An anthology of intersecting stories set in Sin City. Private detective Dwight (Josh Brolin) is tricked into helping out his dangerous former lover (Eva Green); a young drifter (Joseph Gordon Levitt) faces the consequences of beating Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at the poker table; and stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) plots her revenge against the man responsible for the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis).

WHY: Robert Rodriguez has been talking about a “Sin City” sequel since the first film hit theaters, so what took so long for the prolific director to finally deliver on his promise? Your guess is as good as mine, especially when he wasted that time making garbage like “Shorts,” “Spy Kids 4” and two “Machete” movies. A lot has changed in those nine years, and whereas the original was pretty groundbreaking both visually and technically, the long-awaited follow-up feels stale in comparison. Though only two of the four stories featured are from Frank Miller’s graphic novels – the titular centerpiece “A Dame to Kill For” and the Marv-centric prelude “Just Another Saturday Night” – the best of the bunch (featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s perpetually lucky gambler) is an original story written by Miller for the movie. Unfortunately, the other new segment is hands-down the weakest entry from either film, not only because Jessica Alba’s stripper is a complete bore, but because it makes a huge mess of the overarching continuity. In fact, the sequel as a whole isn’t nearly as captivating as its predecessor, and although it’s great to see Mickey Rourke reprise his role as the unstoppable brute Marv, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” lacks the wonder and excitement of experiencing something for the first time.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a high-speed green screen version of the movie that lasts about 15 minutes, featurettes on the stunts and make-up effects, and some character profiles.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Dumb and Dumber To”

Starring
Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, Steve Tom
Directors
Bobby & Peter Farrelly

Sequels are rarely a good idea, but particularly when the original was released so long ago that part of the new film’s target audience wasn’t even born yet. Though there had been rumblings of a follow-up to Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s 1994 cult classic “Dumb and Dumber” for a number of years, the pieces never fell into place until now. Unfortunately, while the promise of seeing Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne together again may have sounded like a fun slice of nostalgia, it’s obvious within minutes of “Dumb and Dumber To” that, despite trying to recapture the goofball magic of the first movie, it never quite clicks.

It’s been 20 years since Lloyd (Jim Carrey) had his heart broken by Mary Swanson, and during that time, he’s been living at a mental hospital in a catatonic state… only to reveal to his friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) that it was all an elaborate prank. Harry appreciates the commitment to the gag, but he has much bigger things on his mind, like the fact that he’ll die unless he gets a new kidney. When Harry discovers that an old flame, Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner), gave up their daughter for adoption 22 years earlier, Harry and Lloyd set off to track her down in the hope that the gorgeous but dumb Penny (Rachel Melvin) is willing to donate a kidney to the biological dad she never met. Along the way, the duo gets caught up in a plot to kill Penny’s adoptive father (Steve Tom) by his duplicitous trophy wife (Laurie Holden) and groundskeeper (Rob Riggle), who are after the scientist’s large inheritance, including a mystery box that he’s entrusted to Harry and Lloyd to deliver to a TED-like science conference where Penny is accepting an award on his behalf.

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