Movie Review ~ 47 Meters Down: Uncaged


The Facts
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Synopsis: Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.

Stars: Sophie Nélisse, Corinine Foxx, John Corbett, Sistine Stallone, Brianne Tju, Nia Long, Davi Santos, Khylin Rhambo, Brec Bassinger

Director: Johannes Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Two years ago, a minor miracle happened when the newly formed (and creatively named) Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures bought a movie called In the Deep.  Though it had been released on DVD in the U.S. already, that didn’t bother the company who saw potential to capitalize on the lack of creature features swimming into theaters.  Renaming the film 47 Meters Down and giving it a prime June release date, the studio gambled big and reaped the rewards of their low budget movie that saw big box office returns.  At the time, I had heard a sequel was being planned but details were scarce on what was being sold as 48 Meters Down.  I’d all but forgotten about the sharky follow-up until a preview arrived shortly before 47 Meters Down: Uncaged was released.

Usually, these sequels can go seriously awry because of a lack of creative input.  The original did so well so why not just follow the same plot, add a few more deaths, and call it a day?  Thankfully, this sequel decides to go a different route and in many ways improves upon its predecessor by upping the ante not just with the script but for the filmmakers too.  Sure, there are more characters to deal with and an almost pathological need to scare the audience by jolting them with sneak attacks but the overall effect is a highly watchable and not quite implausible underwater thriller.  Where the first movie made good use of a limited setting and an ever-present feeling of claustrophobia, the sequel opens things up slightly but still finds a way to keep things contained in a small scareground.

Living with her dad (John Corbett, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) and his new wife (Nia Long, in this so briefly she doesn’t even appear in the opening credits) in Mexico, Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) is having trouble fitting into her new surroundings.  Her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) could care less about her, preferring to hang with her friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone).   With her dad busy researching a recently discovered submerged Mayan city, Mia is pawned off on Sasha and her friends for the day.  As this is a movie about a shark and being trapped underwater, I appreciated the filmmakers deemed it worthy to make the time on dry ground count, even if it’s a broken family set-up straight out of a soap opera and acted with about as much gusto.  Though their parents believe they are going on a boat tour, the stepsisters actually trek into the forest where Alexa shows them a hidden lagoon.

Now, it just so happens Alexa has gotten chummy (pardon the pun) with a research assistant to Mia’s dad and the lagoon sits on top of the entrance to the Mayan city.  Desperate for a little adventure, the girls decide to scuba down into the city and look through the first cave before returning to the surface.  Once they get in, though, a bad decision leads to them being stuck in the labyrinthine city…and they’re not alone.  How a Great White shark came to be in the city is anyone’s guess but over time the shark has acclimated to the dark waters and is blind, hunting only by its already heightened senses.  As the girls struggle to find another way out the shark blocks their advances and with their air supply running thin, will they reach the surface before they become shark bait?

Y’know, in some ways it would have been wonderful if the shark aspect of the 47 Meters Down: Uncaged could have been a twist that wasn’t revealed in any of the marketing materials.  The first appearance of the CGI shark is genuinely scary and though it often looks like a computer-generated creature there are enough solid moments to make you forgive the bad ones.  Already in a precarious situation being trapped with a limited air supply, the added complexity of evading a predator puts extra pressure on the women (and consistent tension on audiences) over the remaining 60 minutes and returning director Johannes Roberts uses every minute wisely.

Performances are, for the most part, admirable in the face of some silly dialogue and implausible technology used throughout the film.   At first, Nélisse was such a mumbling noodle lacking the charisma of a leading lady that I worried the movie would suffer from not being able to root for her but she comes around once she has to rise to the occasion and get out of the path of the shark.  Foxx and especially Tju are good supporting characters while Stallone (yes, she’s Sly’s daughter in her first role) unfortunately carries on the family name with lazily slurring most of her lines.  Even so, when you consider the vast majority of the movie was filmed underwater and considering what an undertaking that must have been, the end result overcomes any leaky spots in a slightly rusty bucket.

Roberts seems to treat the entire movie like a pot of boiling water he keeps turning the temperature up on.  Once the heat gets applied there’s no letting up…all the way until the credits roll.  There are several false endings that maybe go on too long but I was having such a good time splashing around in the water that I didn’t mind.  Like the first movie, this one would be fun to see in the theaters but would also work perfectly well on the small screen as a rainy day option.  It’s short running time goes by quickly and the creative set-up held my interest more than I thought it would.  If this is the way Roberts plots out a sequel, I’m all for giving him the opportunity to take us down for a third dive with the sharks in another few years.

Movie Review ~ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Portokalos family secret brings the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding.

Stars: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, John Stamos, Rita Wilson, Louis Mandylor, Gia Carides, Elena Kampouris

Director: Kirk Jones

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I actually did something I don’t normally do when preparing for seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2…I didn’t go back and watch the first one until after I had seen the sequel.  It had been well over a decade since I’d seen the out-of-nowhere-blockbuster original (and yes, I saw it twice in the theaters) and since there was such a huge gap between the two films I wanted to see what going into this one a little foggy on details would be like.

It’s been fourteen years since My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the little indie that could, produced for $6 million dollars it wound up grossing around $368 million after the international box office returns were factored in. The film set all sorts of box office records, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and inspired a host of similar titles to get the greenlight…as well as an ill-advised sitcom adaptation starring most of the stars of the movie that didn’t make it past a half dozen episodes.  While writer/star Nia Vardalos would show up here and there in awfully familiar romantic comedies over the years, she never tapped into the same kind of fame.

Though it picks up fourteen years after the first film, somehow Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett, The Boy Next Door) are the parents of a high school senior, Paris (Elena Kampouris, Labor Day).  Paris is at the age when everything her family does embarrasses her…which would be understandable with a normal family but in the Portokalos family where one goes, dozens follow.  As Paris weighs college choices that could either keep her close or let her roam free, Toula and Ian confront certain realities about how the spark they once had seems to have dimmed at bit.

Next door (the Portokalos family seems to occupy the houses on a complete city block), Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan, Pixels) are shocked to discover that their marriage license was never officially signed by the priest…so they’ve been living in sin for the past half-decade.  Maria sees this as an opportunity to get Gus to give her the wedding she never had before they came to America so another big fat Greek wedding is orchestrated.

Look, good art this ain’t nor does it try to be.  It’s very much in the same spirit as the original and it doesn’t reek of a desperate cash grab had this arrived two years after the first film.  It has the feeling that producer Rita Wilson and Vardalos were out to lunch reminiscing about the old days and Vardalos jokingly pitched another film that seemed to make sense after a few mimosas.  Sure the story is thin and formulaic, hitting the same beats as the original and Vardalos has made an unwise choice in straying from the central family focus to other marginal familial side-stories (including rather lamely outing one of the relatives as gay) that just weigh down the running time.

I was surprised at how many cast members, down to the smallest part, returned from the original.  People who were little more than background extras in the first one pop up in more visible roles in the sequel and that creates a certain pleasant continuity that you don’t really see that often.  Vardalos and Corbett are able to recapture that same charm that made them appealing while the tough looking Constantine easily wins you over with his tender heart.  Kazan has unfortunately had a great deal of plastic surgery over the years and looks like a jack-o-lantern and Andrea Martin steals the movie whenever she’s onscreen.  Producer Rita Wilson pops up with John Stamos for two of the most awkwardly shoe-horned-in cameos in recent memory.

The film doesn’t put up much of a fight and nor should you.  It’s harmless entertainment, much less obnoxious than I thought it would be.  It’s actually kind sweet when you get right down to it and it’s not short on showing some genuine heart and soul.  There are far worse films you could spend your money and time on…including several that Vardalos starred in after My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll find the same sort of enjoyment in this one.

Movie Review ~ The Boy Next Door

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman falls for a younger man next door, but their torrid affair takes an obsessive, dangerous turn.

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, John Corbett, Ian Nelson

Director: Rob Cohen

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Sometimes when I’m sick in bed I can’t resist putting on one of those so bad its good trashy erotic thriller films from the 90s. I’m talking “classics” like Mark Wahlberg’s Fear, Sharon Stone’s Sliver, Bruce Willis’s Color of Night, and Kevin Bacon’s Wild Things. All totally B-grade films with A-list stars released by major studios that probably should have known better. We’ve been largely starved for these films recently but leave it to a former Fly Girl and the man that directed the first Fast and Furious film to bring home the bacon.

Ham is featured heavily in The Boy Next Door, actually, with its hambone script, hammy acting, and ham-handed direction. No cliché is off limits according to screenwriter Barbara Curry and much of the plot holes, contradictions, and outright impossibilities began to make sense once I found out Curry is an ex-Assistant U.S. Attorney from Los Angeles.

Curry’s set-up comes across like a movie on the USA Network you’d have on as background noise while you dusted your tchotchkes on a lazy Saturday afternoon. In the midst of a painful separation from her philandering husband (John Corbett), high school teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez, who looks like anything but a woman named Claire) spends the final days of summer eating huge plates of food and staring lasciviously out the window at new boy next door Noah (Ryan Guzan, looking like he’s pushing 30 instead of 20) who has befriended her awkward son (screechy voiced and intolerable Ian Nelson, The Judge).

In a moment of “weakness”, i.e. she’s just a girl that can’t say no, Claire and Noah do the nasty in one of two surprisingly explicit and raunchy sex scenes. Waking up and realizing her mistake, Claire rejects Noah’s further advances, changing Noah from a horndog to a hellhoud in the process. Somehow the script finds a never ending supply of rationales for why she doesn’t come clean to anyone…least of all her friend and colleague played by frozen faced Kristin Chenoweth (Rio 2) and Kristin Chenoweth’s Botox (Hit and Run).

Made in less than a month for the chump change price of 4 million (half of which must have gone to lighting J.Lo’s house to constantly look like a purple-hued nightclub), the film doesn’t look bad nor is it assembled poorly…it just doesn’t hide any of the multiple faults at play. Clearly filmed out of sequence as evidenced by performances that are routinely caught in mid-hysteria only to be near comatose in the very next location shot, the film is only 90 minutes long but has no forward momentum.

Lopez has shown that she’s not a bad actress and I’m frankly surprised it’s taken her this long to try her hand at this kind of quick buck film, but she deserves better than the slack direction from Rob Cohen (Alex Cross) and nonsensical script but at least she looks fabulous in every single shot. Guzman may have been trying to have a permanent case of bedroom eyes but it comes off like he’s reading an eye chart on a distant horizon, the character is more bratty than diabolical and I kept wanting Lopez to just give him a good spanking and have the credits roll.

Personally, I would have been interested in having the titular boy next door be Lopez’s son…since Nelson plays him as such an oddball knob that having him flip out over his mom dating his friend might have been more intriguing to watch. Hard to say what exactly Chenoweth was going for here, one minute she’s concerned best friend, the next she’s a sassy woman of the world sporting jewelry four sizes too big for her neck. Though she gets to deliver the most hilariously awful in the film, she’s dealt no favors by Cohen featuring the pint sized Broadway imp in too many shots next to his Amazonian curvy star.

This being the film it is there was no ending to be had but the one that finds Lopez fighting for her life in a musty old barn while Guzman terrorizes her with a variety of ishy violent acts before getting his well-earned (and equally ishy) comeuppance. It’s maybe the only thing marginally satisfying about this well below average effort. Maybe worth a rental if you’re planning a night of adult cocktails…this can take the place of your cheeseball if you’re counting calories.