Reviews: “Going in Style,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4,” “Underworld: Whatever,” “Unforgettable,” “Drone”

By | September 14, 2017

I’m a completist. It doesn’t matter how badly reviewed a movie is or how much it tanks at the box office or maybe both (as is the case for most of these films). No matter how unnecessary a film might be to watch for reviewing purposes—is anybody really coming to Alabama Liberal with baited breath to see a review for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul?”—I just watch it anyway, because “My name is Alabama Liberal, and I just might be a movie addict.”

Going in Style…To say this is the best film of the bunch is a back-handed compliment that might land like a slap to the face. This is the movie where Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin (not quite in their league in terms of on-screen charisma or bankability, but usually cast as the 3rd lead in these type of “Codger Gangster” films like “Stand Up Guys”) are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore after being swindled by their bank and the company in charge of their pensions. There’s some real points in here about the way the elderly are bamboozled by a country that promised to take care of them (any film where the phrase “reverse mortgage” is uttered negatively gets me going), and Freeman and Caine are effortlessly charming and watchable, but you’ll be rolling your eyes quite a few times before the end credits roll, and that’s before you realize Trump’s Treasury goon Steve Mnuchin executive-produced this film. [For those unaware, Mnuchin has his tentacles in film production, especially financing, including “Wonder Woman,” so you may be unwittingly increasing his net worth.] It’s an especially cruel irony that a film all about working class heroes sticking it back to the banks is only really contributing to the wealth of one of America’s top Banker-Assholes. Grade: B

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4: The Long Haul…I never saw the first three films, but since this one has an almost entirely new cast (and a plotline that pretty much anyone can follow), I’m not sure that really matters. Needless to say, my exposure to the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series—somehow, I’ve also missed out on the books, damn—wasn’t a pleasant one, as this movie is essentially 100+ minutes of toilet gags, Alicia Silverstone nagging as the “come on guys!” mom, and an almost-surreally unappealing Charlie Wright as Wimpy Kid’s older brother Rodrick (no wonder the Rodrick recasting inspired so much hatred on social media). Grade: D

Underworld 5: Blood Wars…It’s my policy to take every film I review here seriously. Go back and look at almost any review and you can see that no matter how ridiculous the film is, how poorly conceived or acted or financially unsuccessful (especially if they’re flops), I try to take them seriously enough to give a proper review. Even an absolute turd like the Marlon Wayans flop “Naked” got a full paragraph, but the “Underworld” films test my patience. I believe the last film in the series set an Alabama Liberal record for brevity with a review like “This film sucks.”

Well, the worst thing about the “Underworld” series is how they keep casting interesting actors like the great Bill Nighy in previous films or Lara Pulver, Tobias Menzies, or “Game of Thrones”‘s Charles Dance here as prestige window dressing, but they keep refusing to give them much of anything to do. You keep thinking it’d be fun to watch Nighy or Dance indulge in their campier instincts and we know “Outlander”‘s Menzies can play a great villain, but the dirt-road “Underworld” films keep short-changing their screen-time, character arcs, or dialogue to give more screen time to blandos like Scott Speedman (previously) or Theo James here. Most of the action scenes are as compelling as watching somebody play videogames on YouTube, and there’s apparently a big audience for that, which is why the “Underworld” movies are so successful. Grade: D+

Unforgettable…Another Steven Mnuchin-produced movie! It’s an epidemic! Somebody call…anybody that can help! Luckily, this film wasn’t too big a hit for him, and although I’m loathe to see another movie where an interracial couple gets terrorized (Geoff Stultz clueless white husband who doesn’t know his ex is psycho, and Rosario Dawson’s at first unsuspecting new girlfriend), at least this one is sympathetic to them unlike “Get Out.” [Which may also be why it wasn’t one-tenth the hit that film was, sad where our tastes are in 2017.] They get harassed by a convincingly crazy Katherine Heigl, finding her niche as the blonde ice-queen ex who just can’t accept that the father of her daughter has moved on (to fully symbolize her upper-class insanity, she wears riding gear and likes proper horseback jumping). It’s the insanity of a new upper-class taken to its logical conclusion, and you may find yourself liking this movie more than you thought you would, especially as Rosario makes the interesting decision to underplay most of her scenes—a convincing retreat into character since her Julia is the past victim of an abusive boyfriend, which of course Heigl uses mercilessly, and for a while their dynamic takes on one not all that dissimilar from an abusive relationship. Heigl shines by portraying a new type of psycho who sees vulnerability as a disease and Dawson’s world-weariness seems to signal that she’s aware of just how lame this set-up is, but also of just how tired her character is of psychos trying to spoil her happiness. [It’s just too bad Stultz’s husband is so clueless, Dawson keeps not telling him vital things (although that’s probably because he’s too clueless to believe what she’d tell him), and the rest of the movie around Heigl and Dawson is so conventional.] Grade: B-

Drone…Like last year’s “Snowden,” this is a movie people may like because of the points it makes, but nobody will really love for the film it is, a somber, almost relentlessly boring affair swallowed whole by a sense of genericism where there should be outrage. This movie—about Sean Bean’s drone operator being confronted by a man personally affected by one of his strikes—wants to be a thoughtful, relevant “War on Terror” thriller where “you’re not sure who the real bad guys are,” but just winds up coming across lackluster and tired. Part of the problem is Sean Bean is an actor uniquely unsuited for nuance, and you may find your mind drifting to how Liam Neeson might’ve fully brought out the pathos of this part. And even though the contrived script doesn’t probe nearly deep enough, it also suffers from uncrisp staging (it can be hard to tell exactly who is where at a given time) and haphazard pacing. Except for an explosive, well-choreographed free-for-all fight to the death around a kitchen, there’s very little memorable about this. Grade: C

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