By now, you know the drill…Rather than review each bad or lesser-known movie when it hits theaters, I bundle a bunch of the shittier ones together in the film review equivalent of bad Wall Street bets on junk mortgages.
How to be a Latin Lover…A movie that some people will love—if you like “broad” (dumb) comedy and contrived situations, you’ll now have a movie option that doesn’t include Tyler Perry or Adam Sandler—but most people will recognize this film for what it is: a painfully dated 90’s-era comedy that Jim Carrey might’ve starred in before “Ace Ventura” hit it big. It’s a film about a Latin playboy who dates/marries rich older women, and is forced to move in with his widowed-single mom sister (Salma Hayek) after his near-dead wife of 25 years leaves him for Michael Cera, of all people. A game supporting cast gives it their all including a terrific Rob Lowe (who comes off the best), three more Robs for good measure (Corddry, Riggle, Huebel), the ageless Raquel Welch, and Kristen Bell. But no one performer can quite overcome a film where brain-dead gags mix with sentimental life lessons about “familia.” It’s the kind-of movie where the second someone is revealed to be a double amputee, you just know their arms are going to get snatched off their body. Grade: D+
Sleight…One of the rare movies where a lower budget might’ve benefitted it. This film where a street magician moonlighting as a drug dealer has to use magic tricks to get out of a tight spot would’ve been perfect for a looser, livelier, more handheld feel taking advantage of natural lighting and an energy that this version of “Sleight” just doesn’t have. Nothing about it feels particularly memorable or convincing—like Dule Hill’s “gangster” who goes from Old Navy ad to street-psycho in a way that doesn’t really work—and I’m disappointed to see SNL’s hottest comedienne ever (Sasheer Zamata) keep getting sidelined into sexless “Auntie”-esque roles, like this and “Diedra & Laney Rob a Train.” Although the final shot ends the movie perfectly and there’s something sweetly compelling about the central romance (Jacob Latimore and Seychelle Gabriel, freed from the dismal “Falling Skies”). That this is the rare movie that features a positive portrayal of an interracial couple makes it at least worth watching, I just wish we’d gotten to see more magic and the tight spots it gets our hero out of. Grade: B
Fist Fight…Right from the start, we can tell this is a type of American public “High School” that exists only in leftover 80’s movies, as the students rock the security guard’s car, plant paint-bomb booby-traps around the school, let loose a live horse perfectly timed to wreak maximum havoc, and spraypaint dicks from floor to ceiling. I’m not saying there aren’t schools where the students are pretty much running the place, but some of the pranks here involve an understanding of engineering most of those schools don’t possess, and the schools that do would more likely call in homeland security if you parked the principal’s defaced car in their hallways. It’s also the kind-of movie where it’s smart enough to know hooligan kids run some of our public schools, and dumb enough to think an educator could tell off a school board member or an English teacher could leave his class unattended pretty much all day (to run countless errands trying to thwart an afterschool fight with a hotheaded fellow teacher) or that two teachers could beat the hell out of each other in a fight with seeming thousands watching on school grounds, and the principal would beg them to come back next year, rather than have both facing criminal charges. Grade: C-
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers…Even if you were excited to watch a “Power Rangers” reboot—and there have been worse ideas for a movie studio desperate to cash-in on our nostalgia-driven times—you probably weren’t thinking “I wish they’d make it needlessly dark, joyless, cliche-driven, and devoid of any personality.” The five “rangers” are not just only-in-the-movies stereotypes (bad cheerleader who signals rebellion by cutting her hair, prankster jock, Asian dumbass, sexually-confused weirdo girl, and supposedly “on the spectrum” black nerd who becomes much more “street” when he gets superpowers) that meet in detention like a shallow version of “The Breakfast Club,” they also don’t realize their powers until very late in the movie. Any kids in the audience thinking they’ll be in for a fun time will leave disappointed as they’ll mostly get Elizabeth Banks (in a career-worst performance) trying to give them nightmares, poorly plotted-direction, cinematography and style that owes a debt to Michael Bay, and a movie where the Rangers don’t even show up until deep into the final third. By then, the people most excited for this reboot may very well have fallen asleep. Grade: C-
Worlds Apart…A movie I wanted to like more than I did, but I do think some people will love it. It’s a “Babel”-esque tell set against the backdrop of the Greek economic crisis, detailing three love stories involving a Greek and a foreigner. Like most stories involving multiple narratives, you’ll probably have a favorite in the tales involving a young Greek student (whose dad has been economically ruined by the Greek crisis, and has become a leader in an anti-immigrant movement as a response) and a Syrian refugee; a stressed-out Greek executive and an icy-Swedish “efficiency expert” who’s been sent to downsize his company; and an elderly Greek housewife who strikes up a perhaps even more unlikely connection with J.J. Simmons’s German academic. To me, it was this whimsical last story that threatened to swamp the movie in “love is love, love is…good, and…lovely, we are turtles in the sea of love” pseudo-deep faux-philosophy, and the problem is that the angrier, earthier, hardier story that begins the film also gets the least screen-time and you almost forget about it by the time we circle back. The “twist” of the film that connects all three stories is easy to figure out since the cast is so small, and the ending is a little bit of a cop-out that suggests the film struggled to really make sense of its own complex issues. And why make a film about the power of transformative international love if two out of three of those couples don’t have a happy ending? The film is more an unintentional cautionary tale than it realizes. Grade: C
The Comedian…Sometimes bad, character-driven indies perform a type of Stockholm-Syndrome on their audience. Robert De Niro’s titular comedian isn’t particularly funny (his comedy seems like Andrew Dice Clay’s material coming out of Don Rickles’s mouth) or likable, but you begin to root for him regardless because…well, he’s on screen and most of the other characters (Patti LuPone’s sister-in-law, a near-dead Charles Grodin’s rival comic, and Harvey Keitel’s blowhard) are set up as foils for De Niro’s sitcom has-been-trying-to-make-a-comeback. The movie’s best moments are the sweet scenes between De Niro and Leslie Mann, especially when they begin to really like each other. The two have a surprisingly easy chemistry, and if the whole movie were a bit more focused in a May-December version of “Before Sunrise” then you might really have something. Of course, that would deprive of us of scenes where De Niro sings a song about “making poopie” to a nursing home, and in one of the film’s many credibility-straining moments, it goes viral. Grade: C+