If you had told me a week ago, I’d wind up preferring a light Adam Devine-starring rom-com to a new sci-fi drama from “Moon” visionary Duncan Jones, I might not have believed you…
The Ritual…A group of British friends go to Northern Sweden to hike an isolated trail. All is well until they take a shortcut and then some spooky goings on worthy of “Blair Witch” take place. The middle-section of the film is the best part, mysterious and tense. Unfortunately, the more we learn about what’s hunting them in those woods, the less scary it becomes, and by the time we actually see the creature it loses something eerie. Also, the performances (led by an annoying Rafe Spall) and characterizations are never better than cut-rate, and one of the main white male characters is revealed to have a black wife seconds before he dies because, well, why not get in one cheap shot against interracial couples on your way out the door? Grade: C-
Mute…A film that fully earns its lousy 9% Rotten rating, but there’s something fascinating about this misfire, starring relatively big name actors fastened into thankless roles like “mute avenger,” “angry asshole doctor,” and “less angry pedophile doctor” (that last one played by Justin Theroux, not off to a great post-Jennifer Aniston start). You begin to wonder what Duncan Jones was thinking: why did he shoehorn in a cameo from “Moon”‘s Sam Rockwell clones (the two movies appear to be entirely unconnected without this)? Is he creating a lousy extended-universe of quirky sci-fi “thrillers?” Why is Paul Rudd’s character such a relentless, flaming asshole? In fact, why are pretty much all the actors besides the lead (Alexander Skarsgard) so unlikable? These are mysteries you’ll have lots of time to ponder since this thing is at least 30 minutes too long, and the lackadaisical pacing doesn’t even liven during the action scenes, with even dramatic plot developments handled like filler moments where the actors just hang out. Grade: D
When We First Met…A clunky first third follows a man (Adam Devine, a thinner Jack Black channeling one of Jim Carrey’s MadTV characters) who is in love with his best female friend. On the day of her engagement celebration he keeps pondering their first night together at a Halloween party three years ago where he was put into the friend zone only hours before she met the guy she’s engaged to. He gets to revisit that night in what—at first—starts off as a “Groundhog’s Day” rip-off not much better than Marlon Wayans’s nearly unwatchable “Naked.” And you might dread you’ve stumbled upon another rom-com that has neither laughs nor a genuine romance.
But things soon deepen and get better, with DeVine’s character scoring actual belly laughs by trying out different versions of himself (irresistible asshole, responsible rich cuckhold) before stumbling into real truths about the woman he only thought he was in love with for all these years. It’ll bring up real questions about fate’s pull on your love life, and the premise is just universal enough (who hasn’t had a promising first date they’ve blown?) to make you reflect. Grade: B+