Movie Review ~ The Best of Enemies


The Facts
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Synopsis: Civil Rights activist, Ann Atwater, faces off against C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan in 1971 Durham, North Carolina over the issue of school integration.

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Bruce McGill

Director: Robin Bissell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The filmmakers for Green Book haven’t even had their Best Picture Oscar on the shelf long enough to gather dust before another problematic movie on race relations has made it to theaters. Now I have a feeling that The Best of Enemies tells its tale with a bit more honesty and is unquestionably less outright manipulative but still…something feels off here. Though, like Green Book, it boasts two likable stars (one a recent Oscar winner) and is based on actual events, The Best of Enemies overstays its welcome by hammering home its message audiences will have received loud and clear early on.

It’s 1971 and Durham, North Carolina is still racially divided. Though laws on desegregation have chipped away at the antiquated restrictions at many institutions within the state, the schools remain separated by race. Continuing to fight for her civil rights and the rights of others was the outspoken Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson, What Men Want), a grassroots activist that wasn’t afraid to raise her voice to call attention to injustice within her community. On the other side of the coin was Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell, Vice) who also felt like he was seeing the rights of another population of Durham being restricted. The two public figures were both respected within their individual circles and known to each other…and they didn’t care for the other one bit.

When a fire destroys part of a school that served the black children of Durham, it sparks a debate that leads to the city council voting whether or not to allow children of both races to attend the same school. At the same time, a court-ordered school desegregation decree has finally come into play but instead of being the deciding vote and making history, the district judge involved passes the decision down to the people of Durham. Through a structured two-week community meeting known as a charrette, Atwater and Ellis become co-chairs and lead a group of representatives from the city in deciding how they want to move forward on several key issues, the biggest being fully integrating their schools.

Writer/director Robin Bissell (a producer of The Hunger Games) has adapted Osha Gray Davidson’s book and while it’s clearly a labor of love, it is quite a labor to get through. At two hours and thirteen minutes, the movie takes a while to get moving and then just sort of treads water for a good sixty minutes rehashing what we already know or setting up more scenes of racial tension designed to elicit the appropriate rage from the audience. By the time the film reaches it’s predicted climax, audiences might be a bit numb after all the elevated dramatics Bissell introduces.

The saving grace of the movie lies in the casting and it starts at the top with Henson and Rockwell. Both are actors that invest themselves fully into their roles and that’s certainly the case here. Though Henson is sporting an almost comically large fake set of breasts, she brings a dignity and strength of soul to Ann who wrestles with wanting to practice what she preaches about acceptance even when the person on the other side won’t look her in the face. You may think Rockwell has played a version of this character already in his Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri but the differences between the two men are vast. At the beginning of the film Ellis actually believes in the racist thoughts he spews forth but Rockwell takes us through each crack in his belief system as he spends time not only with the black members of Durham but other white people that don’t share his values.

There’s nice supporting work from Anne Heche (Volcano) as Ellis’ wife who doesn’t suffer fools…especially her husband, Wes Bentley (Interstellar) as the prototype KKK member of that era in that area, and Bruce McGill (Lincoln) as a crooked councilman. I also liked John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a local shopowner sympathetic to the integration that has to choose between what’s right for him and what’s right for his community. He shares a brief scene with Rockwell that hints at the kind of impactful moments the movie is sorely short on. Yet the film never takes off quite so much as when Henson and Rockwell are bickering or, eventually, seeing eye to eye.

Conceived as a historical piece documenting an important turning point in the Civil Rights movement but orchestrated as an audience rousing drama where everyone goes home happy, The Best of Enemies wants it both ways. It tries awfully hard, though, and that work doesn’t go unnoticed. Yet it winds up feeling like another strange misstep in Hollywood’s attempt to get a movie about the Civil Rights…right.

Movie Review ~ Ride Along

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.

Stars: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Tim Story

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Throughout the latter half of Ride Along I’ll admit to being totally zoned out and not paying attention.  Random thoughts kept floating through my mind….

Ride Along is asleep at the wheel.

Ride Along needs a jump start.

Ride Along?  More like Move Along. Nothing To See Here.

Where to begin with this one?

The buddy-cop comedy genre has taken a bit of a beating lately with 2013’s The Heat the latest casualty of writers that don’t know from funny and stars that trust those same writers to do a lot of the work for them.  On paper, I’m sure Ice Cube and Kevin Hart looked like a good combo to put together but in the poison pen of four (count ‘em FOUR!) screenwriters there’s less goodwill toward funny men and more musty cop jokes than you cake shake of box of powdered doughnuts at.

I’m not a huge fan of Kevin Hart to begin with which could have played a role in my feeling about the teeny-weeny comic’s manic energy threatening to vaporize everything left in his wake.  With many scenes winding up feeling like an extended set from his B-side comedy routines, Hart doesn’t have the instincts of the similarly wired Eddie Murphy at his age.  Murphy at least had several moments of silence in each of his films but Hart is non-stop – I halfway wondered if he kept on going so the editor would have trouble cutting away from him.

As Ben, a going nowhere security guard that spends his off work hours playing interactive videogames in a tony loft apartment he shares with his stunning girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, Sparkle), Hart hits the ground running.   Though it’s never explained what Angela does, it has to be a high paying job in order for the two to afford the kind of rent the spacious brick faced dwelling would demand…because Hart’s low paying job isn’t cutting it.  He finds out he’s been accepted to the police academy and decides to kill two birds with one stone and impress Angela’s wary brother James (Ice Cube) who happens to be a hard-scrabble cop himself.  Make nice with the brother and get some advice…a good plan

James, on the other hand, sees an opportune moment as well…he can get Ben off his back and out of his sister’s life by giving him the kind of ride along he’ll never forget.  Over the course of the day they ride around Atlanta, assigned to 126’s…the most annoying cases no cop wants.  Each run in Hart has with a goofy cuckoo gets less and less funny…and it only makes him try harder and louder.

Ride Along has one scene in my new favorite movie location: The PG-13 strip club where no one is naked, everyone wants to get into, and women in bikinis have hundreds of one dollar bills stuffed in their get-ups.  Actually, the filmmakers don’t even fill their club inside with a lot of people…it looks like the kind of crowd that was recruited from a local dentist office.

Due to the fact that the one joke premise of James terrorizing Ben on a day long look into the life of a cop can’t last forever, the brilliant screenwriters toss in a taxing crime case for James that just happens to see a development on the very day that he’s potential brother in law is accompanying him.  Early on we see that a mysterious figure named Omar is involved with something really big (could be guns, money, drugs…who knows, I forgot) but since no one has seen him, no one can locate him.

The only thing they have to go on is a picture of Omar in the eighth grade…at which point director Tim Story makes the brilliant move of panning to a picture that looks so much like Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel) that it’s not a spoiler to say…well…guess who plays Omar?  It’s these kind of dunderhead, “we’ll help you figure it out” hand-holding moments that make Ride Along not only not funny but mildly insulting as well.  The comedy is shoved in your face and then your good will is tossed aside until the film needs you to laugh again.

If Kevin Hart wanted to make a cop film about a guy going to the police academy…why not attach himself to the Police Academy remake that’s been talked about for years?  This movie is just incredibly lame, half-hearted, and clearly aimed to make a quick buck and pave the way for a sequel (it’s already been announced) rather than having any strong ambition to just make something funny.

The Silver Bullet ~ Ride Along

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Synopsis: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.

Release Date:  January 17, 2014

Thoughts: Though the mismatched buddy cop formula has been done to death in countless films (most recently in 21 Jump Street), I guess there’s always room for one more.  The unlikely combo here finds Kevin Hart (Grudge Match) trying to impress his fiancé’s policeman brother (Ice Cube) by spending some time with him on the job.  While I find that a little of Hart goes a long way, this seems to be a nice fit for the wise-cracking comedian and one that will play nicely against Ice-T’s more deadpan style.  I’m not expecting much from this one and that’s usually the best way to go into a formula film…because you may wind up liking it more than you thought you would.  Here’s hoping.