Movie Revue is a collection of short but sweet reviews of the week's latest releases in theaters, On Demand, and everywhere in between.
RIDDICK. Having recaptured a good chunk of his fame by stepping back into the Fast & Furious franchise, Vin Diesel could have gone anywhere with his career. And, where does he decide to go? Back to his Riddick character. Thankfully, Riddick sheds the misguided epic scope of the second film in favor of a more back-to-basics approach that mirrors the low-key charms of the original Pitch Black. The movie works best in its first 35 minutes, when Diesel is the only human character on screen and has to interact with a series of wildly dangerous CGI creatures on a foreign planet. The minimal dialogue and imaginative creature design go a long way, and prove downright compelling. But, once Riddick sends out a rescue signal and more humans arrive, the quality instantly dips. To the film's detriment, Diesel/Riddick takes a back seat to a bunch of stock characters quarreling. While it's always nice to see Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff on screen, I wish she had been given a better character than the "tough lesbian who eventually falls for Riddick." Writer-director David Twohy makes up for the lack of originality with an endearing, offbeat sense of humor. Slight but mostly entertaining. It's no Pitch Black, but miles better than Chronicles of Riddick, for whatever that's worth. **1/2 out of 5 stars.
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2. Director James Wan is on a heck of a roll lately. He followed up the first (and hugely successful) Insidious with this summer's even-more-successful The Conjuring, and now he's back with an Insidious sequel. This one picks up right where the first left off, with Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson trying to recover from the haunting of their son. Wan continues to prove his horror mastery behind the camera - knowing how to most effectively stage a sequence, use sound, and deliver jolts. The problem this time around is that many of the scares are rendered silly by the cluttered, loosely connected plot threads devised by the screenwriters. Chapter 2 takes a "whatever works" approach to the material, and it proves less focused and intense as a result. Both films have some truly harrowing sequences and spine-tingling imagery that sticks with you. But, the first kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat at all times, and the sequel doesn't quite get there. True to form for sequels, I guess. Enjoyably scary enough, and fun to watch in a crowded theater, but a step down for Wan. **1/2 out of 5 stars.
THE FAMILY. There are two things of note in this tepid, instantly forgettable action comedy about a family of mobsters hiding out in witness protection in a small town in France. The first is the fact that this is Luc Besson's (The Professional) first English-language film in over a decade. He's written and produced movies like The Transporter and Taken in the interim, but this is his only time directing in English since that Joan of Arc movie with Milla Jovavich. The second is the sight of Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer re-treading familiar ground by playing mob characters that recall those they've played in the past (i.e., him: everything; her: Married to the Mob). And, while those two things may have gotten me in the theater, it wasn't too long before I started regretting being there. The tonal shifts between violent action and comedy can be a bit jarring, but the bigger problem is that it's not funny and the action is not exciting. This is a dull, lifeless film that, surprisingly given the cast, only seems to spring to life when Glee's Dianna Agron is on screen (as DeNiro and Pfeiffer's daughter). Besson is a talented guy, but I find it hard to believe he felt compelled to make THIS his comeback film. Even Tommy Lee Jones is wasted in a supporting role. *1/2 out of 5 stars.
SHORT TERM 12. Festival audiences have been raving about this little indie for a while now, and though it's certainly a quality film that's worth seeking out, I left the theater feeling a tad underwhelmed. This is one of those slice-of-life, character studies. It's keenly observed, nuanced, and well-acted by its young cast. Bree Larson is particularly good in the lead as Grace, a caring staff member at a foster home for at-risk kids. There is more going on with Grace than it initially seems, and her neuroses and troubled past are slowly doled out as the movie progresses. Short Term 12 isn't going to set the world on fire, and it won't win points for originality, but writer-director Destin Cretton and his actors made me care about these characters, and I was sufficiently invested in the outcome. *** out of 5 stars.
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