Here Comes the Boom

Don’t listen to hoity-toity critics who talk about lack of realism, overwrought sentimentality, and lack of depth in Here Comes the Boom. It has its flaws, but you will like this movie, because Kevin James is charming and his supporting cast do a great job. Plus, it’s about the kids, man.

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Released October 12, 2010

Written by Kevin James, Rock Rueben, and Allan Loeb

Directed by Frank Coraci

Starring Salma Hayek, Charice, Kevin James, Henry Winkler, Bas Rutten, Reggie Lee, Gary Valentine, and Greg Germann

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Scott Voss (James) is a former teacher of the year who was also a wrestler in high school. When his high school decides to cut the entire music program, run by his friend Marty (Winkler), Voss, in a fit of pique, says that the teachers will raise the money to keep the program intact.

But at the meeting he calls to plan what the faculty will do, only he and Bella (Hayek) and Marty show up. He wants to give up, because he’s essentially an unmotivated low-life at this point, but he learns that Marty has other, high-stakes reasons to keep his job. Voss takes a night-time job, teaching immigrants a class on citizenship, and meets Niko (Rutten), who is a former ultimate fighter.

Now Voss learns that he could make a pile of money just by fighting and losing. He ropes Niko in to train him. Cue the training montage.

We now follow Voss, with Marty as an assistant trainer, in multiple fights, with Bella, who is the school nurse, treating Voss after the fights. Here we have the conflict of whether or not Voss will make enough money, a burgeoning romance with Bella, Marty’s complicated family life, a classroom full of immigrants seeking US citizenship, and adorable music students. The most prominent music student is Malia, played by the music star Charice. She has a lovely voice.

Critique

We know where this story is going. What is so nice is that the stop-offs and the journey itself surprise with their authenticity and the fresh comedy that springs from interesting people having interesting relationships. The characters in Here Comes the Boom are not stock characters; they’re familiar and fun– with the exception of Voss’s brother and his wife. These characters aren’t necessary, but they’re enjoyable despite their predictability.

The writing and dialogue are enjoyable as well. The sentiment is a little over the top, but we have an underdog fighting for redemption and to help a bunch of kids– how could the sentiment not be strong.

What makes Here Comes the Boom an effective, enjoyable film is that it knows what it is and what it’s trying to do. It doesn’t try to be some overly dramatic film, nor does it try to equal Three Stooges levels of slapstick. It’s telling a story with lots of funny stuff that’s inherent to it, with the punchlines being mined for deeper laughs than you would expect. It doesn’t pander, because honestly, this film doesn’t really care a lot about the audience.

It’s a simple, harmless film with not much of a message that delivers charm, sentiment, and even some solid fight tension. Kevin James does a great job, as do everyone else.

Content warnings: obviously some fighting violence, some randy humor but not much, a little bit of language.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 4

Boom! What a great review. Boom! What a fun movie. Boom! You should share this review on your social networks.. (here comes the-)

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Battleship

Look, Battleship is another movie based on a game/toy and that’s a bit ridiculous. But you gotta give Peter Berg props for really going for the gold ring here and all in all, Battleship is actually a surprising amount of fun, mainly because it knows it’s pretty ridiculous.

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Released May 18, 2012

Written by Erich Hoeber and John Hoeber

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Tadanobu Asano, and Jesse Plemons

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Battleship begins with Alex Hopper (Kitsch) screwing up his life royally as his brother, Stone Hopper (Skarsgard), an officer in the Navy, watches. Romantically, Alex screws his life up in the pursuit of a girl he finds irresistible, Sam Shane (Decker), because he just has to get her a chicken burrito.

Stone is torqued off at his brother and makes him join the Navy so he can turn his life around. Apparently Alex does this, because the story then picks up with Alex somehow being a Lieutenant, yes an officer, and dating Sam. Based on dialogue, it’s probably been about two years. The lovebirds want to get married.

But first, Alex has to demonstrate he’s still a rogue by being a total stud but reckless in the soccer game that is part of the RimPac International Navy Exercises. Then Alex has to ship out with the rest of the Hawai’i based navy fleet for the exercises. Also, the commander of the fleet is Admiral Shane (Neeson), who is Sam’s father.

Unfortunately the naval exercises are interrupted by invading aliens who wipe out the fleet’s ability to communicate and use normal radar, and the aliens also isolate Alex’s destroyer, his brother’s destroyer, and the destroyer commanded by Alex’s Japanese nemesis, Nagata (Asano). What’s more, Sam, the fiancee, is a physical therapist who is taking a walk up a mountain with a crippled vet who thinks he’s less than a man. That mountain happens to have a huge communications array on it.

Now stop and think this through. Can you guess what’s going to happen? Is someone going to die to make the emotional stakes high? Is there going to be a grudging respect formed between nemeses? Is the vet going to have a chance to redeem himself?

That’s the story.

Critique

I’ve mocked enough. The movie is cliched and cheesy and delightfully so. The only time it takes itself seriously is when Admiral Shane is honoring a group of older naval soldiers. Not a lot of effort went into trying to craft surprising plot twists and the cleverest and most authentic of dialogue.

But think it through again. Alex misses the game-winning goal, despite the classic build up to what would typically be a winning scene. A clever, physics-defying move wins the day. Teamwork and trust and determination prove vital to victory.

This movie is all heart and effects. It’s aware of its cheesiness and pokes intermittent fun at the sometimes unbelievable dialogue of the soldiers. Watch for the scientist who asks, “Who talks like that?” The scientist who comes through in the end.

Every note that this kind of movie is supposed to hit is hit, right on. It’s not overwrought like Armageddon, not melodramatic like stuff by Michael Bay. It’s practically a love letter to the Navy, only with incredible stationery and penmanship.

I was thoroughly entertained. The acting had some good and some ‘meh’ moments. Liam Neeson is wasted, but Rihanna does a nice job. This is also Taylor Kitsch’s best work. Jesse Plemons (who was in Friday Night Lights with Kitsch (which was developed by Peter Berg, the director)) plays his FNL character, Landry Clark, on a military ship. Jesse’s going to need to get some acting lessons under his belt. Asano does a fine job as Nagata.

The writing is very self-aware, which serves the movie well. If it had tried to take itself seriously, like the Transformers films, it would have been a disaster. However, we never really find out what it is the aliens want. They would have been a lot more interesting if we knew what they were after.

Then there’s the issue of physics. Just forget everything you know about physics and you’ll have a much better time in Battleship.

Finally, as evidence of the self-awareness and light-heartedness of the script, notice how the dialogue treats harsh language. A very nice touch. And if you want to see the set-up for the sequel (because there will be one), stay to the end of the credits.

Content warnings: some mildish profanity and plenty of explosions and non-graphic violence.

Writing: 4          Acting: 3.5           Overall: 3.5

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Safe House

Safe House for being a film about rogue spies, is strangely by the book. That said, it’s carried well by intense, engrossing performances and generally breathless pacing.

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Released February 10, 2012

Written by David Guggenheim (not DAVIS)

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Starring Vera Farmiga, Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, and Sam Shepard

Rated: R

*     *     *     *    *

There are moments of such intensity in Safe House that the viewer’s heart gets a’thumping and the muscles tense up. Those moments are not the best moments of the film, but they’re close.

Story

Safe House starts with Matt Weston (Reynolds) hitting a punching bag. He is a bored, low-level, rookie CIA operative on assignment as a ‘housekeeper’ in a CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. He’s aching to be reassigned to somewhere with a little more excitement. We later find out that he had a rough-ish childhood, ended up at Yale, is middling when it comes to most spy-craft stuff but was excellent at the more visceral tradecraft of shooting and such. His boredom is well established, while his times spent with his lovely girlfriend, Ana (Anezeder), are tender and deeply felt.

Pan to Tobin Frost (Washington). He’s a highly-skilled rogue operative running some kind of deal. He acquires a file that presumably has some very high-value information. Turns out it’s got dirt on lots of people. He wants to sell it. But somebody wants to stop him. He spends the entire movie on the run.

Frost gets in a sticky situation and ends up having to turn himself in to stay alive. He shows up at the safe house run by Weston, accompanied by some CIA operative guards. Robert Patrick plays the head of this group and does a nice, if brief, job.

Frost’s opponents show up, although they shouldn’t have even known where the safe house was. They do this a lot and it becomes clear that they have someone on the inside directing their movements. It might be Linklater (Farmiga) or it might be Barlow (Gleeson), who happens to be Weston’s mentor. It might even be someone else, like Deputy Director Whitford (Shepard). Whatever the case is, all of these CIA types want Frost and they have to depend on Weston to keep him under wraps and safe, all while dodging some relentless mercenaries.

The central premise is now established. What the filmmakers wanted to do differently was have Frost be very sympathetic, very smart, and still be pretty much self-interested. This turned out well in one way: They got Denzel Washington to play Frost.

Safe House rollicks along, with Weston fighting to keep up with Frost and keep him under control. There are intense car chases, visceral fights that suffer from the inconstant and shaking camera, and lots of gunshots. You can predict every twist that comes along and the ending is pretty pat, if also quite a throwback to the ‘everybody’s good’ ending of spy movies from the ’90s.

Critique

Safe House is a good movie. It’s perfectly well diverting and is acted well beyond the pretty workaday script. The script really is where the heart of the problem abides. It’s been done, better in many cases, and really had no surprises. We’ve seen the characters, seen the conflicts, seen the betrayals, and seen the ending.

That said, the production designer did a fine job in helping the audience experience the familiar in a loud, raw, engaging way. Washington and Reynolds also breathe humanity into the familiar characters they inhabit. They deliver the tired dialogue so well that it even perks up a bit. These performances are like a shot of caffeine during the daily, 2 o’clock stretch of most people’s afternoons. The stretch happens every day, we know it’s going to happen, so we grab an energy drink.

Unfortunately, viewers don’t want to see their 2 o’clock afternoon stretch on screen.

All in all, Safe House delivers spectacular action set pieces, very good performances, and a story we’ve seen before. As action fare, it’s good, particularly for the time of year, but Chronicle is better. If you want to see Denzel turn in a great performance, Vera Farmiga put on a clinic, and Ryan Reynolds prove that he really can act, all in an action vehicle, go for it.

Somewhat recommended, mostly for fans of the actors and lovers of action films.

Content warnings: Mid-high level profanity, tons of violence, suggestive partial nudity, painful-looking wounds, and moments of extreme intensity.

Writing: 2          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3

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Contraband

Contraband is not Mark Wahlberg’s best work, but it is still a really good ride. It pulls out some smart moves, even while challenging the suspension of disbelief a little much, and does it all with a lot of heart and fun.

The people who say it’s just a simple and run-of-the-mill action movie overlook a surprisingly good plot and a terrific performance from Ben Foster.

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Released January 13, 2012

Written by Aaron Guzikowski,  Arnaldur Indriðason (original Icelandic screenplay), and Óskar Jónasson (original Icelandic screenplay)

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, and Ben Foster

*     *     *     *    *

Contraband is an American version of an Icelandic film. In fact, the American version is directed by the star of the Icelandic film.

Story

The film follows Chris Farraday (Wahlberg), a legendary smuggler who has gone straight. He has a wife (Beckinsale) and two boys now and runs his own security business. The problem is that Kate, his wife, has a lame brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) who was roped into doing a smuggling job and screwed it up. So now we have Tim Briggs (Ribisi) going after Andy and threatening to kill him if Andy doesn’t make it up somehow.

So of course, Chris steps in and has to save the day. Add to this conflict the fact that Briggs starts threatening Chris’ family, and we have some pretty good tension. Then we add Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster), a friend so close to Chris that they’re practically brothers. They worked together and now each has gone legit. Sebastian is left behind to watch over Kate and the kids while Chris does a smuggling job wherein a bunch of counterfeit bills will be hidden on a ship coming up from Panama.

Now we have the operation, which is conducted by a group of men who have obviously worked together previously. These men know each other, have a history that is very nicely shown in their chemistry and interactions, and are real people. The group dynamics are one of the best part of the film.

Twists and turns come along as they ought to for a heist film, but sharing them here would be mean.

That said, there are a couple of plot blotches that bother me. One is that I don’t see how Farraday had the time to do what he does to fool everybody at the end. Two is that I don’t understand how a professional thief could NOT guess what that painting was.

Critique

Contraband unfolds as you would expect it to, with the plan going awry and Chris having to think fast and be resourceful. What’s nice is that the plan doesn’t go awry simply because a story like this demands tension and conflict and writers artificially stuck some twists in. The twists come because of characters’ choices. And these are choices that are all very nicely motivated.

In fact, the more I reflect on this film, the more I appreciate the arcs that the characters go through, as well as how well motivated the action of the story is. Andy screws things up first out of fear for himself, then out of fear for his sister and nephews. Sebastian causes problems for a multitude of reasons. This is good stuff.

Ribisi does a very fine job as a menacing, pretty much white trash drug dealer who is successful because he is as mean as a starving alligator. His accent and mannerisms are well done. He seems a little small, so the stakes of the film seem a little small, but his insanity makes up for a lot.

Kate Beckinsale is wasted. She does a lot of worrying, makes an idiotic choice, and winds up in very big trouble. I wanted her to be more intelligent and proactive, indeed, it wouldn’t have been that hard to write this character better.

Lukas Haas is building a nice career as a character actor, and he turns in a sensitive and interesting performance here. Yes, some of the tropes he plays out are very predictable, but he convinces.

Ben Foster is the highlight. His character is in a lot of trouble, and Foster plays Sebastian very well as right on the brink of total catastrophe.

I really liked Mark Wahlberg in this. He showed some range and I think his character was quite real. I particularly liked his character’s interactions with Briggs, in that Farraday is just as tough and mean as Briggs and is not inclined to take any crap from him.

Other than the two plot issues and Beckinsale’s character being wasted, Contraband is a great way to start the year’s action movies. I highly recommend this film as a solid, well-written and acted actioner that ends with everyone getting exactly what they deserve.

Content warnings: Plenty of salty language and some ugly violence. No sexuality or nudity.

Writing: 4         Acting: 4          Overall: 4

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