I’ll admit that I wasn’t very eager to write my column this week due to the lack of quality new releases, but because I had to skip doing one last Tuesday for personal reasons, it seemed irresponsible to miss another week without a better excuse. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really make these movies any better, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?
As a fan of the first “Underworld” movie, I really wish that Screen Gems would stop making these horrible sequels already and just let the franchise die a quiet death. While it was natural for the studio to want to continue the story after the breakout success of the original, every successive installment has been shoddier than the last, and “Underworld: Awakening” is no exception. Not even the spandex-clad return of Kate Beckinsale can save the film from being as bad as it is, because it simply has too many problems to overcome. Although I enjoyed the addition of series newcomers Charles Dance and Theo James as a father/son pair of vampires with conflicting ideas on how to save their race, the story is generic, the dialogue isn’t much better, and the CGI is incredibly inconsistent. But above all else, “Awakening” is just plain dull, and that’s probably the worst thing you could say about any action film.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s quite a bit of bonus material packed onto the disc, but as you might imagine, the standout extra is creature related. By far the most detailed of the included featurettes, “Building a Better Lycan” covers how the suits were designed, the performers that wore them, and the improvements made from the previous three films.
“Gremlins 2: The New Batch”
I’m not as crazy about Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” as most people my age, but the movie is still an amusing, family-friendly spin on the classic creature feature that holds some nostalgic value. Believe it or not, it took Warner Bros. six years to release the inevitable sequel, and although it contains a handful of laughs, “The New Batch” is mostly a campy cash-in that goes way too far with its wackiness. The idea to transport the titular creatures to New York City definitely had potential, but the movie quickly devolves into a hodgepodge of random ideas that feels more like than an excuse to dress up a bunch of Gremlins in different costumes than anything else. Dante does have a bit of fun satirizing movie sequels as well as the original “Gremlins” with some clever references that are sprinkled throughout, but despite trying to avoid rehashing the events of the first film, “The New Batch” feels oddly familiar. Plus, it’s surprisingly short on screen time for its furry star Gizmo, and that’s just not cool.
Blu-ray Highlight: The audio commentary with director Joe Dante, star Zach Galligan, writer Charlie Haas and producer Michael Finnell isn’t particularly entertaining, but there’s enough good information here about the making of the movie to interest fans.
I’ve joked in the past about January being a dumping ground for all the misfit movies that the studios deemed unworthy of a more attractive release date, but the truth of the matter is that there are 12 months in a year, and you can’t expect every month to be overflowing with quality programming. With that said, however, this year’s pickings don’t look as bad as usual, with a surprising amount of action films led by big-name stars, some of which have real sleeper hit potential. The general lack of confidence by the studios suggests otherwise, but when expectations are this low, anything is possible.
Who: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and Ben Foster What: To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills. When: January 13th Why: It’s pretty funny that a movie about counterfeiting should turn out to be an imitation itself (the Icelandic film on which its based featured the U.S. version’s director, Baltasar Kormákur, in the lead role), but despite the fact that its clichéd plot seems to have been ripped off from a number of generic action thrillers just like it, “Contraband” has one thing that a lot of those films didn’t – a killer ensemble cast. Mark Wahlberg has had his share of duds over the years, but he’s always entertaining to watch, and guys like Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster and J.K. Simmons are some of the best character actors in the game. It’s probably not something you should rush out to see on opening weekend, but “Contraband” at least looks like it’ll be a fun way to kick off the 2012 movie season.
Who: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, Stephen Rea and Kris Holden-Ried What: When human forces discover the existence of the Vampire and Lycan clans, Selene leads the battle to protect both of their species. When: January 20th Why: For as entertaining as the first “Underworld” movie was, I’ve never understood how the series has managed to stick around for as long as it has. The second film was really bad and the third one was even worse, but for some reason, Screen Gems is intent on milking the vampire/werewolf franchise for as long as they can. And until people stop blindly handing the studio their money, they’ll keep making them. The only reason anyone should even consider seeing this fourth installment is for the leather-clad return of Kate Beckinsale as vampire heroine Selene, because the rest of the film reeks of desperation. Why else would they be releasing it in (undoubtedly subpar) 3D?