‘Men in Black: International’
“Men in Black: International” calls itself Men in Black. That’s just not true. There is only one “Men in Black.” It’s the 1997 film with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Smith’s wide-eyed terror and Jones’ flat, Jack Webb “just the facts m’am” delivery gave the film originality and was flat-out-outrageous. It took us all by surprise and we laughed our collective butts off.
Then came the tepid sequel in 2002 and another awful one in 2012, and now this one.
Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star as Agents M and H. They’re tasked with finding out why some aliens are killing other aliens to acquire the most powerful weapon in the universe. Also starring are Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson and “The Big Sick’s” Kumail Nanjiani who gives voice to their chess piece companion Pawnie.
Sadly, these men and women in black have no personality and neither does their movie. Thompson and Hemsworth have good chemistry but not much to do except smile, show off perfect teeth and run from scene to CGI-pumped up scene. Outside of a couple of bits where M and H aren’t talking to each other, “MIB: International” isn’t very funny.
Worse. It’s not that much fun nor even close to interesting.
Nanjiani is the only actor that seems to be having a good time. He tosses off some pretty good lines. I suspect many are ad-libbed which is why his character is the only one in the movie that seems spontaneous.
By the way, this is the first of the Men in Black series that hasn’t starred Smith and Jones, and that hasn’t been directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Apparently, they knew better and that waiting a few years between movies doesn’t change things.
Worn out is worn out.
Director F. Gary Gray (“The Fate of the Furious,” “Straight Outta Compton”) and his CGI magicians try hard to put some magic into the movie. They never quite get there. Part of the struggle is trying to top the original’s character surprises. The great writing, brilliant directing and, as noted before, two great actors made the movie a once in a lifetime experience.
As audience members we quickly figured that out and it led to that rare symbiotic movie experience where audience, filmmakers and actors become one. The sequels — and now this one — just don’t have that.
Gray and writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum (“Transformers: The Last Night,” “Iron Man”) don’t even give us a decent outtake to push a sequel. That alone speaks volumes.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and there won’t be one.
▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 2 out of 5
“Shaft” is the third movie to have the title,“Shaft.” This is a sequel to a film done by John Singleton in 2000. In it, Samuel L. Jackson played the original John Shaft’s nephew. He’s the character done by Richard Roundtree in the 1971 movie. Roundtree went on to do two more films and a TV series.
All except the original were a total bust. Singleton’s film wasn’t all that hot either.
Director Tim Story (“Barbershop,” the “Ride Along” movies, “Think Like a Man” & “Think Like a Man Too”) and writers Kenya Barris (“Barbershop: The Next Cut”) and Alex Barnow (TV’s “The Family Guy”) do a little character reworking. Shaft is no longer a nephew. He’s the son of the 1971 Shaft and has a son. That son works for the FBI and needs his estranged father to help him find out who killed his best friend.
What makes this version much different than the others, and what makes it a lot of fun, is the sense of humor. Story, the writers, Jackson, Jessie T. Usher (“Independence Day: Resurgence”) who plays Shaft’s son, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Method Man and others have a blast with this material.
Things really start cooking when Roundtree is finally brought into the movie in the third-act. Story and the writers should have found a way to get him there sooner.
While this is an ensemble cast, the movie clearly belongs to Jackson who averages something like five-movies a year and seems to be in almost every movie these days. Jackson can deliver the straightest, most menacing lines imaginable and still make you smile.
You believe him but you don’t.
That’s perfect for a film that requires the oh-come-on-now, laugh-out-loud, suspension of disbelief. All this also makes you wonder why it took 19-years to get around to doing a sequel to the 2000 film. What you can expect is a much faster turn around this time. “Shaft” is going to be a big hit and in Hollywood when hits happen, sequels aren’t far behind.
▪ Rated R for language, violence and mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 4 out of 5
‘The Dead Don’t Die’
Every year there is a most disappointing movie of the year. It’s a flick that should be fabulous but that tanks on almost every level. So far the front runner for this year’s bomb is the packed-with-star-power, “The Dead Don’t Die.”
All through “The Dead Don’t Die,” Adam Driver’s character Officer Ronnie Peterson tells his boss Chief Cliff Robertson and partner Officer Mindy Morrision, “This isn’t going to end well.”
His utterances are prophetic on a number of levels.
The most obvious has to do with the dead rising from their graves in the small town of Centerville where he serves with Bill Murray’s Robertson and Chloe Sevigny’s Morrison. It turns out the dead are coming back to life there and in other parts of the country. The three cops and some townsfolk do what they can to stem the tide.
It’s predictable stemming.
Jim Jarmusch writes and directs. He did the so-so vampire flick “Only Lovers Left Alive” in 2013. This one is the same. “The Dead Don’t Die” is an obvious comedy but it’s missing the subtle comic fun of a “Shaun of the Dead” and the gut-busting laughs of “Zombieland” where a real life Bill Murray is hiding out from zombies and is accidentally killed while being mistaken for one.
That’s funny and so was Woody Harrelson’s desperate search for Twinkies in “Zombieland’s” post-apocalyptic world. That leads to — more subtly — why Driver’s line is the perfect description of what’s wrong with “The Dead Don’t Die.” It not only ends badly but it starts badly and has a middle that pretty much fits that description.
Yes, in “The Dead Don’t Die,” the dead don’t die. Unfortunately, and disappointingly, their movie does.
Rated R for mature themes, language, blood and gore. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.
▪ Rated R for mature themes, language, blood and gore. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.
▪ Rating: 2 out of 5
“Late Night” is done in “The Devil Wears Prada” formula. It has an arrogant, egocentric, all-business boss who terrorizes her staff and a clever, sometimes fearless but effective underling who gains her trust.
Emma Thompson stars as the irascible Katherine Newberry. Until recently she’s been the nation’s top late night TV host. Not known for being all that nice to anyone, the comedian’s numbers are plummeting. The network boss wants her gone.
Newberry is determined to stay.
“Late Night” is written by “The Office” and “The Mindy Project’s” Mindy Kaling. She also does double-duty playing a woman who lands a job as one of Newberry’s writers. It’s a dream job — yes — but she’s also a staff token hired to make her boss look good. In typical sitcom manner, she ends up as — as you know she will — the writing team and Newberry’s most valuable player.
Though it looks a lot like a TV sitcom, the film has enough laughs, joy in spots and decent characters to make it worth a trip into all that TV-like goo. Mostly it works because of Thompson. All of the humor — and a tiny bit of drama — centers around her rock-solid performance.
To her credit, director Nisha Ganatra — mostly known for TV directing — and Kaling do a great job of casting. Chemistry is key in selling a sitcom-like movie and giving it life.
This one — like “Prada” — has it in spades.
▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5