REVIEW: “Smile” (2022)

2022 has been a weird year for horror movies. Per usual, there has been no shortage of them; some good and others not so much. But what’s been strange is seeing fair-to-middling horror flicks (à la “Barbarian”, “X”, “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, “Scream”, etc.) being granted ‘instant classic’ status by some truly passionate fan bases. Now don’t get me wrong, these films aren’t as bad as this year’s “Firestarter” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” reboots. Not even close. But it’s strange to see this level of enthusiasm over such unremarkable genre entries.

Thankfully 2022 has had a few good horror movies, including several originals (“Fresh”, “The Black Phone”, “Hatching”), a killer prequel (“Pearl”), and an unexpectedly satisfying sequel (“Orphan: First Kill”). Now we have another one to add to the list of bangers. “Smile” is a genuinely creepy chiller with all the ingredients genre lovers will be looking for. But it’s also surprisingly cleaver in how it deals with depression, trauma, and even suicide. The film peers beyond the cheery facial expression of its title to show that many things can be hidden behind a simple smile.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A really good Sosie Bacon plays Dr. Rose Cotter, a therapist at a New Jersey hospital’s emergency psychiatric unit. The film opens with Rose meeting a new patient – a traumatized young woman named Laura (Caitlin Stasey) who recently witnessed the suicide of her college professor. Laura begins telling Rose about her horrific visions. “I’m seeing something,” she says, visibly rattled but unable to put who or what she sees into words. All she can describe is the sinister, blood-chilling smile carved into its face.

Much of Rose’s job is spent trying to convince disturbed people that what they’re seeing is in their minds. But Laura is convinced that her visions are real. Then their session takes a horrifying turn. Laura suddenly calms, an eerie smile spreads across her face, then she slits her own throat right in front of Rose. Cut to title card!

That brilliantly orchestrated opening helps set the tone for the entirety of “Smile”. And it maintains that same unsettling mood for its duration. It’s not often that a horror movie can keep an audience in its clutches quite like this. But first-time feature director Parker Finn (who also wrote the script) deserves a ton of credit for creating and keeping a disquieting atmosphere. He also tells a story that’s simple on the surface, but with harrowing layers, often rooted in truth, that keep us on edge. The film’s biggest weakness comes when Finn loses faith in what he’s crafted and resorts to annoying over-used jump scares.

Reasonably so, Rose is shaken by the events of the opening and after the stress starts affecting her work, she’s asked by her boss (Kal Penn) to take a paid week off to clear her head. But when Rose starts having terrifying visions similar to those described by Laura, suddenly she’s the one who must convince those closest to her that she’s not crazy. It starts with her paper-thin fiancé, Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), by far the weakest of the movie’s characters. Then it’s her self-centered sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser), her former therapist, Madeline (Robin Weigert), and even her ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner).

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Of course rather than believing Rose is being tortured by a malevolent spirit who smiles a lot, those close to her think she’s having a mental breakdown. And that gets to part of the genius of “Smile” – the indescribable nature of the entity itself. It makes the victims sound delusional despite describing the evil to the best of their abilities. As she’s constantly doubted, Rose’s growing feelings of isolation and despair only intensifies and opens the door for her own personal traumas to resurface. Soon she’s fighting two wars – one with a devilish supernatural evil and the other within her own head.

With the subtle (and some not-so-subtle) metaphors for mental health and its rich theme of processing past trauma, Parker Finn thrusts us into a world that pulsates with real-life resonance despite its outlandish (yet undeniably fun) premise. Not all of the dot-connecting works particularly well, and the above-mentioned jump scares cheapen things a bit. But Finn creates and sustains a gnawing tension, leaning on some gruesome visual effects, DP Charlie Sarroff’s disorienting camera, and the droning and wailing of Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s mood-setting score. It all makes for a gnarly cocktail; one packed with as many surprises as frights. “Smile” is out now in theaters.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

REVIEW: “The Silent Twins” (2022)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, “The Silent Twins” is based on the book of the same name by investigative journalist and author Marjorie Wallace (portrayed briefly in the film by Jodhi May). Wallace met June and Jennifer Gibbons in 1982 after they had been committed to the notorious Broadmoor Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire, England. Over several years and numerous visits, Wallace eventually earned the sisters’ trust and was given the opportunity to chronicle their troubling story.

For those unfamiliar with June and Jennifer Gibbons, this isn’t an easy watch. The approach by Smoczyńska and screenwriter Andrea Seigel is unconventional, but it sharply captures the emotional complexity of the sisters’ story. The film can be sweet, heartbreaking, insightful, and even a bit bizarre at times. But it’s the humanity that matters most in a movie like this. The filmmakers understand that and never lose their grasp of that truth.

The film begins during June and Jennifer’s childhood (they’re played by two talented young actresses, Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Eva-Arianna Baxter). Their family are immigrants from Barbados who moved the UK as part of the Windrush Generation. Their father Aubrey (Treva Etienne) is an air traffic controller while their mother Gloria (Nadine Marshall) is a hardworking housewife.

Image Courtesy of Focus Features

While the film doesn’t explore it, there’s a racial dynamic at play especially at school where June and Jennifer are the only black students. This leads to some disturbing scenes of bullying and abuse that impact the girls’ lives in a significant way. But what affects them most is a pact of silence they make, developing a form of cryptophasia and refusing to communicate with anyone other than themselves. Their utter silence crushes their parents and siblings and drives a wedge between them and their family. It also creates an unhealthy dependence between them.

The longer the sisters stay closed off, the more isolated the pair become. They begin seeing the world through their imaginations rather than experiencing it. To get us inside their heads, Smoczyńska periodically inserts these stop-motion puppet sequences inspired by June and Jennifer’s unique perceptions. They’re often cryptic and metaphorical; sometimes borderline macabre and unsettling. But it’s an ingenious way of conveying the way the two girls think and feel.

Another way Smoczyńska explores their mindsets is through DP Jakub Kijowski’s camera. We often get these daydream sequences which visualize the romanticized way June and Jennifer imagine certain experiences. These scenes often have a bright golden hue, and Kijowski plays with focus which accentuates their dreamy quality. Contrast that with the cold, harsh color palette whenever Smoczyńska switches back to reality.

Image Courtesy of Focus Features

While the entire movie is achingly sad, it’s most despairing moments come after the story shifts to June and Jennifer’s late teen years. Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance are extraordinary in portraying this darker phase of the sisters’ life. They share a dream of becoming published authors, but their lack of real-world connection leaves their stories lacking. But their attempts at rectifying that leads them down some bad paths. It begins when both June and Jennifer develop an infatuation with an abusive jock named Wayne (Jack Bandeira). He introduces them to drugs and takes advantage of them in a number of cruel and vile ways.

From there the girls watch their lives spiral, leading to them getting into trouble with the law and eventually being institutionalized in Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital. Through it all their pact of silence remained intact. But it’s also a key reason they find themselves confined and more isolated than ever before. And we watch every painful step through Smoczyńska’s ever-observing camera. Sometimes we feel like the third person in the room. Other times it’s as if we’re peering around corners or through doorways. These visual choices allow us to see these two lives in significantly different ways.

While Smoczyńska’s approach to the story gives us a lot to admire, there are times where her flourishes don’t quite connect. And the movie’s fleeting interest in the factors that led to June and Jennifer’s mental descent leaves too much untold. At the same time, “The Silent Twins” is most interested in capturing their experiences rather than exploring roots causes. And by keeping its focus directly on them, it gives us a better chance at understand where the two sisters are coming from even if we only get sketches of where they’ve been. “The Silent Twins” is now showing in select theaters.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

REVIEW: “See How They Run” (2022)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

First time feature film director Tom George teams with screenwriter Mark Chappell for the old-fashioned mystery caper “See How They Run”. With a strong cast and plenty of nostalgic charm, this playful and thoroughly enjoyable whodunit is a full-blown homage that balances suspense with a healthy dose of chuckles. It’s as much of a comedy as it is a murder mystery – one full of dry humor, deadpan deliveries, and a not-so-subtle air of absurdity that had me laughing quite a bit.

Among the many amusing things about “See How They Run” is its connection to Agatha Christie’s renowned stage play “The Mousetrap” which opened in 1952 at London’s Ambassadors Theater. Now here we are, 70 years later, and it’s still being performed in London’s West End. Despite a 14-month mandatory shutdown in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Mousetrap” remains the world’s longest-running play, with nearly 29,000 performances to date.

Yet there has never been a proper film adaptation of “The Mouse Trap”. That’s because Christie had worked a clause into her contract that said no film could be made until six months after the production closed. Seven decades later and the show is still going strong. “See How They Run” waggishly plays with that obvious constraint by creating an original whodunit around Christie’s beloved whodunit. More specifically, the film is loosely based on early plans to make “The Mouse Trap” into a movie. But with a little fictional murder thrown in, of course.

Image Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Set in 1953 London, the cast and crew of “The Mouse Trap” are at the Ambassadors Theater celebrating the play’s 100th performance. This snappy opening is narrated by the ghost of Leo Köpernick (a terrific Adrien Brody) who’s recounting the events that led up to his murder. Leo describes himself as a “big shot Hollywood director“, but he’s more of a condescending lush. And within the film’s first few minutes, he’s bumped off in the theater’s backstage costume room. But why is a Hollywood guy like Leo at the party? Even more, who would want him dead?

We learn in Leo’s introduction that prominent theater impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) has sold “The Mouse Trap” film rights to John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), the famed British producer behind “The African Queen”. Woolf has hired Leo to direct his adaptation once the play closes (and following Christie’s six month stipulation). While at the party Leo butts heads with the film’s preening and forcefully proper screenwriter, Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo). He even comes to comical blows with the play’s dashing young star, Richard Attenborough (Harrison Dickinson) after Leo makes a play for the actor’s wife, Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda). And just like that, we have the first draft of our suspect list.

In very Agatha Christie fashion, George and Chappell offer up ample motives for these characters to want Leo dead. Could it be creative differences? Maybe he has dirt on them? Perhaps it’s something more complicated? All we need is someone the untangle this mess of a mystery. Enter the unlikely Scotland Yard duo of Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan).

Image Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The not-so-hard-boiled Stoppard looks fresh out of a low-budget 1950s noir with his felt hat, frumpy suit, and wool topcoat. He checks off many of the boxes – cynical, world-weary, prefers to work alone. But Rockwell brings an understated goofiness to the character and pulls some good laughs out of the Stoppard’s obvious detachment. The chatty, enthusiastic Stalker makes a perfect foil for her aggressively aloof partner. Ronan is delightful and channels a similar comedic energy as in her movies with Wes Anderson. She not only gives us the story’s most likable character, but also its funniest.

“See How They Run” is full of creative flourishes that work really well. Take Leo’s opening narration where he gets sidetracked talking about how whodunits work (“You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”). He amusingly recites the very rules our movie will be playing by. You also have George’s clever incorporation of flashbacks and his stylish use of split-screen which may feel a little arbitrary at first, but that makes sense once you realize what the movie is going for. There are also some fun inside jokes for theater fans and some good ribs at Old Hollywood. And the movie looks great and period proper, from Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s fantastic costumes to Amanda McArthur’s stellar production design.

Now I don’t want to oversell it. “See How They Run” isn’t something revolutionary. Yet I kinda love this cheeky throwback. Sure, it plays it safe and doesn’t take its genre to any bold new place. But you could say that’s the point. As Leo emphasizes, we know the rules. We’ve seen these movies before. Yet (much like “The Mousetrap”) they’re still here, we still watch, and we still enjoy them. George and Chappell look to celebrate these classic whodunits while poking fun at them along the way. It turns out to be a charming mix. “See How They Run” opens today in theaters everywhere.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

REVIEW: “Samaritan” (2022)

Samaritan and Nemesis were super-powered twin brothers who went down dramatically different paths after their parents were killed. Samaritan served and protected the people of Granite City. Driven by fury and revenge, Nemesis fought against law and order. The two became sworn enemies which culminated in an epic battle ending in the deaths of both brothers. The loss of their superhero now hangs over the city like a shroud.

That’s the gist of the opening setup for the new movie “Samaritan”, a superhero action film but not in the tradition sense. In fact, you could call “Samaritan” an anti-superhero movie with the way it gleefully tosses aside both the tropes and expectations commonly attached to modern day superhero flicks. To its credit, “Samaritan” has its own ideas, and there’s enough originality in the story to make this feel surprisingly fresh. It also has a welcomed edge to it – something that caught me off guard.

Julius Avery directs from a script by Bragi F. Schut, and the film is produced by Sylvester Stallone’s Balboa Productions. The story follows 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walton), a Samaritan super-fan who soon begins to suspect that his neighbor, a grizzled, blue-collar sanitation worker named Joe Smith (Stallone), is his beloved (and long thought dead) hero. To no surprise the truth eventually comes out, but it’s the path to that reveal that ended up being far more entertaining than I anticipated.

One of the first things you immediately notice is the impressive inner-city world-building. The poverty-stricken Granite City is on the verge of collapse. Union strikes and unemployment has hit the urban areas the hardest with homelessness and crime on the rise. Avery captures the decaying city with remarkable detail. The weathered concrete and asphalt; the rust and grime; the graffiti covered walls and the trash collecting along the streets. Avery gives us an authentic sense of place.

Image Courtesy of Amazon Studios

This is the world Sam lives in with his struggling single mother (Dascha Polanco). She works long hours at low-paying jobs just to pay their rent. In the meantime Sam runs around with his buddy Jace (Abraham Clinkscales) stripping copper wire out of old abandoned buildings for a few bucks. But when he gets in with a local hood named Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), Sam learns there’s no such thing as easy money.

Sam, who has bought into the theory that Samaritan actually survived his epic fight with Nemesis and is secretly living among them, Begins taking notice of Joe who lives in an adjacent apartment building. After watching him manhandle a pack of thugs, Sam becomes convinced that Joe is none other than Granite City’s lost hero. While the two develop an unexpected friendship, Cyrus connects with his inner Nemesis and hatches a plan to carry out his super-powered idol’s ultimate plan – plunge Granite City into anarchy and chaos in the name of “returning the power to the people”.

And like that the pieces are in play for the bulk of the story which bops along at a fun and energetic pace. Stallone gives a solid performance and slides seamlessly into his role. His tired eyes and deep growl fits his frustrated, world-weary character. But we also get hints of a buried softer side, specifically in Joe’s scenes with Sam. Best of all, their scenes together aren’t what we’re used to getting. Rather than the usual cloying, superficial mush, this is a kid/adult friendship that feels organic, both in how it begins and grows.

The eventual action beats are done pretty well, using a mix of the 76-year-old Stallone, stunt doubles, and some decent CGI. Like much of the movie, the action has grit, but it’s not over-the-top or excessively brutal. And as most things, it’s done in a way that fits well with the story. As far as the villain goes, Asbæk has an appearance that’s a cross between a cartoon and Kiefer Sutherland from “The Lost Boys”. But minus a couple of goofy chest-pounding moments, he makes for a good baddie. And he too is a nice fit for this ‘superhero movie in name only’ feature. One that nicely separates itself from all the others in the genre. Yes, it’s a little corny in a few spots, but it has its boots planted in the real world. And it has a few nice surprises that turned out to be icing on the cake. “Samaritan” premieres today on Amazon Prime Video.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

REVIEW: “Spin Me Round” (2022)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Jeff Baena directs “Spin Me Round”, a new genre mash-up that ends up being one of the most perplexing movies I’ve seen this year. Not because of a deep and knotty story. Not due to some heavy thought-provoking themes. And certainly not from layered and challenging characters. No, it’s because I’m still trying to figure out how a movie that started so strong ended up such a mess.

It’s not so much recognizing what went wrong. The issues with “Spin Me Round” aren’t hard to spot. The puzzling part is trying to understand some of the creative choices that takes what started as are sharp and genuinely funny comedy and turns it into this weird melange of clashing undeveloped ideas. It results in a schizophrenic final third that sees the movie trying to be an erotic thriller, a revealing #MeToo drama, a buddy mystery, an absurdist parody, and several other things. But despite its go-for-broke efforts, it all comes across as little more than manufactured chaos.

It’s a shame because “Spin Me Round” has a cast rich with comedic talent: Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, Alessandro Nivola, Tim Heidecker, Lil Rel Howery, Zach Woods, Debby Ryan, and Fred Armisen for starters. And the story (penned by Baena and Brie) sets off on the right foot, riffing on a basic romantic comedy premise while smartly leaning on the names above to deliver some good laughs.

Image Courtesy of IFC Films

But something happens just past the halfway mark that makes for an intriguing shift in tone. And for a while Baena does a good job balancing the comedy with this new subtly smarmy under-your-skin thriller vibe. But things turn on a dime and go sideways fast as more twists are introduced and more genres are crammed in. It ends up messy and convoluted to the point that the entire story comes unglued. Call it a miscalculation or over-ambition. Whatever the reason, the movie derails and never has time to get back on track.

Brie stars as Amber, a late thirty-something living a mundane life in Bakersfield, California. She’s fresh off a messy breakup and about the only thing close to excitement in her life is working as manager of the local Tuscan Grove, an Olive Garden-ish Italian restaurant chain. Amber is surprised one day by some news that could spice things up. Her boss (Howery) informs her that she’s been selected for the Tuscan Grove Institute Exemplary Manager’s Program. It’s an all-expense-paid corporate getaway to Italy where she’ll stay at a luxury villa and take part in several haute culinary classes taught by master chefs. And who knows, maybe she’ll get a glimpse of the company’s charismatic CEO, Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola).

It doesn’t take long for Amber (who’s never been out of the States) to get caught up in the romanticism. She sees herself being swept away by the beautiful locales, eating the best Italian cuisine, getting lost in the local culture, and maybe even falling in love. But her first dose of reality comes pretty quick. After being picked up at the airport by the slyly sardonic program supervisor, Craig (a really funny Ben Sinclair), Amber is driven, not to a beautiful countryside villa, but a rinky-dink hotel. It’s the first of several signs indicating this company retreat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The funniest bits come when we’re introduced to the other managers – an eccentric blend of pinheads and oddballs who immediately make us question the “Exemplary” part of the program. Among them is the neurotic Deb (a scene-stealing Molly Shannon), the awkward oversharer Dana (Woods), the detached and uninterested Susie (Ryan), and Fran (Heidecker) who wears his brief stint on Chef’s Challenge as a badge of honor. Each deliver some laugh-out-loud moments with Amber often in the straight-man role.

Image Courtesy of IFC Films

But things shift after Nick appears and whisks Amber away for a romantic afternoon on his yacht. With practically no buildup whatsoever, she gives into her Cinderella-styled fantasy, succumbing to Nick’s big smile and paper-thin charm. And then there’s the acerbic and mysterious Kat (played by Baena’s real-life wife Plaza) who one minute is shuttling Amber to her secret rendezvous with Nick and is warning her to watch out for him the next.

Kat could be the film’s most compelling character, but she’s undone by the script’s lack of interest in her. Kat teases more than she delivers, leaving us with no way to gauge her or her motives. Is she complicit in some queasy dealings or is she guided by some darker self-interests? We eventually get a vague one-word answer, but well after she up and disappears. Despite being framed as a meaningful character, the writers send Kat packing without making sense of anything she has brought to the story. It’s such a waste of Plaza’s talent.

Sadly there’s a lot wasted here – the funny anti-romcom first act, the gorgeous scenic stops along the Italian Riviera, the opportunity to go deeper into the weighty themes it introduces. Instead the filmmakers choose to run riot, spinning off in all directions before settling into a poor man’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Baena clearly wants to jolt us, both with the shock and the silliness of what’s revealed. But it’s easy to lose yourself and your movie when taking such wild swings. Case in point – “Spin Me Round”.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

REVIEW: “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (2022)

“Sonic the Hedgehog” surprised a lot of people in 2020 in terms of both quality and box office numbers. Based on the classic SEGA video game platformer, the movie had its flaws. But overall it was a fun and often funny family feature that earned nearly $320 million. A sequel was all but guaranteed and we got it earlier this year. As of today, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” has earned just over $400 million and now it’s available to stream on Paramount+.

Back is director Jeff Fowler along with screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller (they’re joined this time by John Whittington). Also returning is Ben Schwartz voicing the blue anthropomorphic hedgehog with lightning speed, James Marsden as small-town sheriff and Sonic’s adoptive father Tom Wachowski, and Jim Carrey, reprising his role as mad scientist Dr. Robotnik. The sequel includes a few more familiar faces (and voices) and a couple of new ones as well.

Despite mostly enjoying the first film, I wasn’t in a hurry to see “Sonic 2” (as evident by this late review). Call it lukewarm expectations. But to my surprise, the sequel turned out to be an entertaining romp and better than the first film in several areas. It doesn’t quite utilize its biggest strength (Carrey) the same way its predecessor did, but it has a few cool additions that brings new energy to the series.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The movie opens with the delightfully maniacal Dr. Robotnik marooned on The Mushroom planet (see the first movie or check out its Wiki) and plotting his revenge against Sonic. Of course first he’ll need to find a way off the world. He uses what tech he can salvage from his crashed hovercraft and the energy from one of Sonic’s quills (again, see the previous film) and sends out an intergalactic pulse. It attracts the attention of Knuckles (voiced by none other than Idris Elba), a red echidna warrior endowed with super strength. He turns out to be Robotnik‘s ticket off the planet.

Meanwhile on earth, Sonic is overanxious to put his powers to use, even not-so-secretly posing as a superhero he calls Blue Justice. But his guardian Tom pleads with him to be patient telling him that his time to be a hero will come. As it turns out Sonic doesn’t have to wait long.

While Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are attending a wedding in Hawaii, Robotnik and Knuckles arrive on earth. The honor-bound Knuckles, the last of his tribe, is after a powerful relic called the Master Emerald which grants its possessor the ability to turn thought into reality (Think of it as the “Sonic” franchise’s Infinity Gauntlet). Knuckles wants to honor his extinct tribe’s role as the relic’s protectors. Of course the diabolical Robotnik has far more sinister intentions. But watching from a distance is a flying two-tailed fox appropriately named Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey) who has arrived on earth to warn Sonic of the looming threat.

Much like the first film, “Sonic 2” is as much a lighthearted comedy as it is a frolicsome action-adventure. It has plenty of funny bits, the best coming from Carrey who owns every goofy scene he’s in. But we also get some good laughs from Natasha Rothwell playing Maddie’s sister who hates Tom, and Lee Majdoub who plays Robotnik’s loyal servant Stone. They’re just some of the characters who fill out the story, most of whom are entertaining and fit well within the world.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

But what I like most (and what separates it from so many of today’s animated features) is that the action never reaches an assaultive fever pitch. There’s plenty of it, but Fowler doesn’t go for the sensory overload. There some really good digital effects work and the blend of live-action and animation is practically seamless. And while I won’t spoil the climactic battle, I love how it took inspiration from certain Japanese Toho films.

Speaking of inspiration, “Sonic 2” features countless other nods to movies and pop culture. “Cast Away”, the “Indiana Jones” films, “Army of Darkness”, and “Poltergeist” just to name a few. There’s even a gag referencing the Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson feud. Toss in some good themes of friendship, responsibility, forgiveness, and family and you have a movie that will resonate in several ways with kids and adults.

Now I don’t want to oversell it. There are some lazy gags (will we ever get away from the fart jokes?) and certain segments of the story don’t really feel necessary. And the two-hour runtime may wear some viewers out. But I can’t lie, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” surprised me. I had fun with the characters, was impressed by the visuals, and enjoyed all the winks to other movies and genres. And perhaps most surprising – I’d be up for a third film. Just one request – more Jim Carrey please. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is available on VOD and is streaming on Paramount+.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS