Movie Review ~ Fast & Furious 6

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Hobbs has Dom and Brian reassemble their crew in order to take down a mastermind who commands an organization of mercenary drivers across 12 countries.

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans, Gina Carano

Director: Justin Lin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Big. Dumb.  Fun.  These three words describe not only Fast & Furious 6 (or is it Furious 6 as the title credits suggest?) but also its star.  Though the film franchise has had its occasional bumps in the road, the movie owes much of its successful entries to Vin Diesel (Riddick), a modesty decent actor that is at least smart enough to know his limitations.

Coming off a surprisingly impressive fifth entry that showed there’s more than a little gas left in the tank, the sixth chapter keeps things speeding along so fast that the plot holes and implausible stunts just appear as roadside distractions on the way to your final destination.   That’s mostly thanks to Diesel and director Justin Lin who returns for his fourth film in the director seat.  By this point, Lin is old hat at highlighting the best assets of a muscled cast while still giving the audience what it came for – high octane action sequences that provide lots of popcorn entertainment.

This globe-hopping film brings back many of the characters from previous entries…being somewhat familiar with the series will benefit any viewer so you’re able to keep things straight.  In fact, there’s someone from each of the preceding films that play a part here so the more you know who is who the better…especially for the post-credits scene that hints at where the seventh film (coming Summer 2014) is headed.

Wait…I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Furious 6 takes the characters in a slightly different direction as Diesel and his crew team up with the federal agent (Dwayne Johnson, Pain & Gain, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) that was after them in Fast Five.  Why do they join forces you may ask?  Well (spoiler alert) it seems that Diesel’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who seemed to meet her end at the beginning of #4 is alive and well with a case of amnesia.  She’s working for the bad guys though (headed by Luke Evans, The Raven) that are out to steal a top secret government weapon.

That’s really all you need to know before heading into the film because after that basic set-up it’s primarily just a lot of well-staged action sequences that lead up to a ear-splitting finale involving a helluva lot of cars and one large airplane on what seems to be the longest runway in the history of modern cinema.

These films have a proven formula that’s rarely deviated from…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because with each entry there’s a strange sense of refreshment from all involved.  While some franchises can’t even spit out three films (see The Hangover III) the Fast and Furious flicks are doing well at #6 and looking forward to a seventh entry that’s already in pre-production.  Back in the day I wouldn’t have attributed the success to Diesel and company but after sitting through this decidedly good natured film I must give credit where it’s due.

True, there should be a drop box as you enter the theater where you can deposit your brain and sense of logic but isn’t that what some of the more fun summer movies are all about?  Don’t think too much about the stunts that would break the backs of everyday men and women but bask in the joy of seeing the stunts executed so realistically.  Though it seems this entry has less car action than in the past, there’s some ingenious stunt work done when it comes time to rev those engines.

Franchise fans are in for a treat with this entry that isn’t quite as good as the last film but still makes a strong impression for those that have followed the series for the better part of a decade.  One note…make sure you remember that #3 (Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) takes place AFTER the events of this film…you’ll enjoy the final tag more.

Movie Review ~ The Hangover Part III

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The Facts:

Synopsis: This time, there’s no wedding. No bachelor party. What could go wrong, right? But when the Wolfpack hits the road, all bets are off.

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha, John Goodman, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, Jamie Chung

Director: Todd Phillips

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  First things first…this final chapter in The Hangover trilogy is much better than the hypnotically awful second entry from 2011.  Still, the old adage that good things come in threes doesn’t apply here to a film that has a scant handful of laughs and goes out with a small guffaw.  When The Hangover was released in 2009, it was an overnight hit that built on strong word of mouth with each passing week.  I’ve revisited that film a few times over the years and while it doesn’t quite hold up as well with repeated viewings, it’s hard to deny that there were a lot of good ideas that landed above expectations thanks to smart writing and interesting performances.

As is widely agreed upon by audiences and critics alike, the sequel two years later was a total misfire…a basic remake of the first that confused disgusting gags for humor and tried in vain to capitalize on what made the original such a success.  That same confusion exists within the third entry as well but there seems to be a little more effort put into the rounding off of these characters as they sail off into the sunset.

The film opens with one of the worst gags I’ve seen in film recently…if you’ve seen the trailer you know what’s coming for you and I watched these opening moments with a sinking sense of dread.  They wouldn’t actually do that, I asked myself…right before they did.  The follow-up scene is another laughless exercise and I had to turn to my friend and ask “This IS supposed to be a comedy, right?”  Sadly, the laughs were rare as the film unspooled and though it does move fast over the course of its 100 minute run time, you really do notice that there’s little to enjoy as The Wolfpack get embroiled in another scheme involving kidnapping and stolen gold.

Make no doubt about it… this is Galifianakis’s show all the way and Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, Hit and Run, The Place Beyond the Pines) and Helms (The Lorax) are on hand to merely set-up his gags and not much else (poor Justin Bartha has even less to do as he’s once again sidelined early on).  What worked so well about the original film was the way these unlikely friends played off of each other and though all three have worked steadily in the four years since it’s obvious that director/writer Todd Phillips found Galifianakis (The Campaign) the easiest to write for.  That’s too bad because had Cooper and Helms been given more to do, they could have balanced a movie that’s weighed down by Galifianakis and his obtuse and only occasionally funny man-child antics.

The biggest mistake the film makes is moving peripheral character Mr. Chow front and center as part of the action which puts the biggest hole in this dingbat dinghy of a movie.  Played by the supernaturally annoying Ken Jeong, the character scored big in his small part of the original film and struck out astronomically in Part II.  Miraculously, in Part III he’s given even more to do which really ruins any chance the film had to succeed thanks to Jeong’s performance that seems to be culled from outtakes.

Though the film brings back some other characters from the previous installments and adds John Goodman (The Internship, Argo, Flight) to the mix, they are only there for show as Phillips fashions his film around gross-out humor and a disturbing amount of violence toward animals that’s meant to be humorous.  While I’ve always appreciated the film’s center core of friendship against all odds, the goodwill of franchise fans is put to the test here with a finished product that’s not very satisfying but thankfully signals the end of the road for these people.

Movie Review ~ Star Trek: Into Darkness

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Peter Weller

Director: J.J. Abrams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Here’s a math riddle to start my review of the sequel to 2009’s re-boot of Star Trek.  What do you get when you add well-formed characters that evolve, solid special effects, an interesting villain, and a highly anticipated second chapter in a historic franchise?  Well…Star Trek: Into Darkness of course.  In movie math, this sequel really has it all when you look at what makes a summer blockbuster and its thanks to a dedicated production team that have gathered the right people that the movie flies as high as it does.

After the re-imagined Star Trek was such an orbital hit when it was released four years ago a sequel was greenlit before opening night audiences were tucked safely in their beds.  Everyone was eager to see the further adventures of the revitalized crew of the Starship Enterprise…but little did people realize that the wait would be a little longer than expected.  While director J.J. Abrahams went right to work on another film for Paramount (the way underappreciated Super 8) screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof started to lay the groundwork for the follow-up film.

Turns out the subsequent four years was well worth the wait because Star Trek: Into Darkness represents a carefully formulated film designed for maximum impact for fans and the general movie-going population alike.  While some knowledge of the previous film is nice, it’s certainly not a requirement to enjoy what Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof have thought up in this mostly stand alone entry.

Opening in the middle of a breathless rescue mission on a primitive island, the crew of the Starship Enterprise hit the ground running (literally) as they race to stop a volcano from wiping out the native people.  This is the one scene where the 3D technology works the best and I found myself instinctively dodging as spears fly by and towering plant life creep out.

With Kirk (Chris Pine, People Like Us) taking a hit for his actions in this mission, hard feelings develop between not only Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) but also Spock and his lady love Uhura (Zoe Saldana) who questions his feelings for her.  When the Federation is attacked by a mysterious figure (Benedict Cumberbatch) resulting in the death of a featured character, it’s up to the Enterprise crew to track him down and avoid dissention from within.

Moving at a breakneck speed, I found Star Trek: Into Darkness to be slightly superior to its predecessor mostly because it feels like the characters were allowed to expand and breathe a bit more in this film.  While there were some colorful touches in the original (most notably Simon Pegg’s brilliant Scotty) there seemed to be a little tentativeness in the rest of the cast to truly make the roles their own. That hesitation doesn’t exist here and instead we have actors like Pine and Quinto stepping up and owning their interpretations of characters that have been around for four decades.

There was a lot of smoke and mirrors around Cumberbatch’s character and how he fits into the scheme of things and while the revelation wasn’t unexpected it’s thanks to Cumberbatch’s steely performance and unlikely choices that makes some of the secrets revealed so much fun.  (Early reports had Benicio del Toro being thought of for the role…which wouldn’t have been nearly as good).  Cumberbatch even manages to pull a little bait and switch action keeping us guessing for a while where his loyalties really are.

Abrahams seems to be the kind of filmmaker that Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) only wishes he could be, delivering a well-paced and handsome looking sci-fi stunner that builds and builds to a dynamic finale where a lot of expectations are thrown out the window.  Though this updated franchise will continue on more missions, it seems likely that Abrahams won’t be in captain of the ship moving forward thanks to his deal to direct the next Star Wars film for Disney.  Here’s hoping that the next director continues on with the forward thrust that Abrahams and company have provided.

The Silver Bullet ~ Riddick

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Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Release Date:  September 6, 2013

Thoughts: The character of Riddick must be one that haunts actor Vin Diesel (Fast and Furious 6) because he’s tried to set up a quasi franchise with the night-seeing anti-hero for well over a decade.  First introduced as a secondary character in 2000’s modest hit Pitch Black, Diesel returned to the character in 2004 (bringing Judi Dench with him!) for The Chronicles of Riddick.  I found that second film to be a bit of a mess so let’s hope that in the nearly ten years since the sequel was released this third film learned from the mistakes of its predecessor.