REVIEW: “Wrath of Man” (2021)

When it comes to action stars Jason Statham just has “it”. I can’t clearly define what “it” is, but you know it when you see it. It’s a healthy mix of charisma, grit, and physicality. Since Statham’s leading man breakthrough in 2002’s “The Transporter”, he has shown over and over that his anti-hero brand is more than enough to carry an action flick. Even more, he often brings a sharp wit and a surprisingly disarming charm to his usually hard-nosed characters.

That being said, you won’t see a glimmer of that sly humor or charm in his new film “Wrath of Man”. This action thriller directed, co-written, and co-produced by Guy Ritchie is darker and edgier than any of Statham’s lighter, albeit violent affairs. The film (a remake of 2004 French film “Le Convoyeur”) marks the fourth collaboration between Statham and Ritchie, their first since 2005’s “Revolver”. And it seems they already have another movie in the can that we’ll probably see sometimes in 2022.

If you break it down “Wrath of Man” is part revenge film, part heist flick, part hard-boiled crime thriller. Its time-hopping narrative is built around two interwoven stories with Statham’s character being the connecting tissue. He plays the cold, stone-faced Harry “H” Hill who we first meet as he’s interviewing for a position with Fortico Securities, an armored truck company who transports money for banks and businesses all across Los Angeles. It’s a dangerous line of work as evident by a recent robbery that resulted in two company drivers and one civilian being gunned down. Here’s the catch, the dead civilian was H’s son and now the vengeful father is determined to find out who pulled the trigger.

H gets the job and is immediately put under the wing of Bullet (Holt McCallany), a chatty seasoned driver who shows him the ropes. Later H is paired with the big-talking Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) and immediately proves his value by single-handedly thwarting an armed robbery, killing all six of the thieves. Just like that, the other drivers learn H can carry his own weight and he’s not somebody you mess with. At the same time he’s still a mystery both to them and to us. So Ritchie jumps back in time, dedicating a chapter to unpacking H’s backstory. And then you get more time-jumping as Ritchie tells a second story about a group of disgruntled military vets (led by Jeffrey Donovan and a very good Scott Eastwood). Andy Garcia even pops up as a crime boss fittingly named The King.

All of this could have turned into an indulgent convoluted mess, but to Ritchie‘s credit he along with co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies keeps everything coherent and engaging. He still packs the movie with many of his favorite ingredients – a meaty ensemble cast, snarky dialogue, offbeat nicknames, non-linear storytelling. And to add a little extra flair Ritchie tosses in some fun and fitting chapter titles like “dark spirit” and “scorched earth”. At the same time, the macho wisecracking does wear a little thin (particularly in the first half) and there are a handful of plot holes that left me shaking my head.

Still “Wrath of Man” is an all-around solid effort from Guy Ritchie and a return (of sorts) to his earlier form. It’s also a lot different than your standard Statham beat-em-up. It trucks along with a relentlessly grim tone, never winking at the camera, and leaving none of its characters with completely clean hands. And it’s centered by Statham, whose stoic, hard-as-granite exterior fits perfectly in Ritchie’s bloody world where crime thrives and violence begets violence. “Wrath of Mine” arrives in theaters on May 7th.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

First Glance: “The Misfits”

I’m always up for more Pierce Brosnan, but I’m not sure what to think of his new film “The Misfits”. It comes from director Renny Harlin who’s perhaps best none as the director of “Die Hard 2”. The film is built around a very familiar premise – a ragtag group of (you guessed it) misfits team up to pull off the ultimate heist. While nothing new, these movies can still be fun with the right people in place. After seeing the first trailer it’s hard to tell if “The Misifts” has the right people or not.

Brosnan plays a brilliant architect and international thief who is persuaded by a group of young Robin Hoods to help them swipe a ton of gold from a ruthless businessman (Tim Roth) known for funding terrorists. And it just so happens the architect and the businessman happen to have a history. The film co-stars Nick Cannon, Jamie Chung, Rami Jaber, Hermoine Corfield, and Mike Angelo. The trailer doesn’t leave the best first impression, showing a movie that seems content to mimic numerous other films. Hopefully I’m wrong.

“The Misifits” releases June 11th. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

REVIEW: “Superintelligence” (2020)

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There’s an undeniable sweetness to comedian Melissa McCarthy making movies with her frequent collaborator and real-life husband Ben Falcone. Not to be a wet blanket, but they may need to rethink their filmmaking strategy. Prior to this one, Falcone had directed McCarthy in three previous films: “Tammy”, “The Boss”, and “Life of the Party”. At the risk of sounding sour, they are three pretty dreadful movies that I have no interest in ever seeing again.

“Superintelligence” came out last November on HBO Max after a nixed big screen release. First off, it isn’t as glaringly bad as something like “Tammy”. At the same time, it doesn’t exactly set McCarthy and Falcone team-ups on a fresh and exciting course (just look at their latest “Thunder Force” as evidence). Instead “Superintelligence” languishes somewhere in the middle. I guess you can call it an inoffensive but unimaginative comedy that feels right at home on a streaming platform.

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Photo Courtesy of HBO Max

Set in Seattle, Melissa McCarthy plays Carol, an unemployed former tech company executive who left a lucrative job at Yahoo so she could “make a difference in the world“. Now she spends her time as a west coast activist and social worker, scraping by while working for various non-profit organizations. She tries re-entering the work force with the help of her best friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry), a computer techie working for Microsoft. It leads to Carol going for an interview with an old college “friend” (Jessica St. Clair) who runs a trashy but popular online dating service. That scene comes in the first few minutes and it’s the film’s funniest. From there the humor dries up pretty quick.

In a nutshell Carol is the most ordinary person on planet Earth (the movie’s description, not mine). That catches the attention of a powerful artificial intelligence who has unlimited access to the world’s entire digital network and speaks in the voice of talk show host James Corden (and is of course voiced by Corden). You’re probably wondering why a super-intelligent A.I. would be interested in someone like Carol. Well, it’s because the A.I. needs someone aggressively average for its weird social experiment. For three days the superintelligence will observe our plain Jane and then determine whether to save, enslave, or destroy humanity. Why? I guess A.I.’s just do that sort of thing.

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Photo Courtesy of HBO Max

The majority of the film follows Carol as she is empowered by the A.I. with several million dollars in her bank account, a fancy makeover, a state-of-the-art Tesla, and a swanky downtown penthouse. There’s also a pretty hamfisted reunion with her old flame named George (Bobby Cannavale), a creative writing professor and the proverbial ‘one that got away’. Meanwhile the A.I. sits back and takes notes, inexplicably using all of that stuff as a means of understanding (and ultimately judging) the whole of humanity. So much for A.I.’s being smart.

All of this silliness would work if “Superintelligence” infused it with anything interesting or insightful. But the film is content with just being as average as its protagonist. There’s a touch of sweetness in the reconnection between Carol and George and the 100 minutes zips by fast enough. Also kudos to McCarthy, an actress I’ve always been hesitant to embrace. Here you can see a performer who is much better than her material working hard to make the movie work. Sadly it doesn’t, but it’s not because of her. “Superintelligence” is streaming now on HBO Max.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

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First Glance: “Awake”

Netflix’s upcoming apocalyptic thriller “Awake” sees Gina Rodriguez playing a mother protecting her two children after society plunges into chaos following a mysterious end-world event. The film is directed by Mark Raso whose last film was the 2017 road-trip drama “Kodachrome”. Along with Rodriguez, “Awake” stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barry Pepper, Finn Jones, and Shamier Anderson.

The first trailer dropped earlier today and opens things up quite a bit. It looks like Rodriguez and her kids wake up in a world where all access to technology has been wiped out. To make matters even worse, no one is able to sleep. As scientists frantically look for a cure, humanity quickly begins falling apart. Without question it’s an interesting concept with a lot of potentially fun and fertile ground to cover. At the same time it needs to have some kind of reasonable explanation. Hopefully Raso and company can pull it off.

“Awake” premieres June 9th on Netflix. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

First Glance: “The Last Letter From Your Lover”

Good news for those movie fans itching for a love story. Yesterday Netflix dropped the first trailer for it’s time-hopping romantic drama “The Last Letter From Your Lover”. The film is based on a 2008 Jojo Moyes romance novel and features two interwoven stories, one set in the 1960’s on the French Riviera and the other in present day London. It’s helmed by Augustine Frizzell and stars Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, Callum Turner, and Nabhaan Rizwan.

Jones plays an enthusiastic London journalist who discovers a collection of love letters from 1965. They chronicle an intense forbidden love affair between the wife of a wealthy businessman (Woodley) and a journalist (Turner) assigned to cover her husband. It looks like Frizzell’s movie will bounce back-and-forth between present day and the past as two different romances unfold. The film looks beautiful but it’s hard to get a read on it. Will it be a sweet and heartbreaking or sappy and schmaltzy? I’m anxious to see.

“The Last Letter From Your Lover” premieres on Netflix July 23rd. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

It’s Star Wars Day!!!!

It’s May 4th which means it’s Star Wars Day. Sadly I dropped the ball this year. Due to the load of movie screeners I STILL need to watch, I wasn’t able to put together a big post celebrating that galaxy far, far away. But that couldn’t stop from at least geeking out a little. After all, that’s what this day is all about and as an unashamed Star Wars geek, I feel it’s my duty.

This year’s highlight is the premiere of a new Disney+ animated show “The Bad Batch”, a spiritual successor of sorts to the acclaimed “The Clone Wars” series. I had the privilege of seeing the first two episodes early and let me just say the series gets off to a stellar start. The 72-minute pilot is available now on Disney’s streaming service and you don’t want to miss it.

So how can I pay tribute to this franchise that has meant so much to me over the years? How about with a simple gallery of some of the greatest, most unique, and utterly unforgettable characters who have populated this incredible universe over the years? Enjoy them, let me know which are your favorites, and share some of your favorite Star Wars memories. Oh, and of course, May the 4th be with you….always.