Movie Review ~ Vanquish


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A mother is trying to put her dark past as a Russian drug courier behind her, but a retired cop forces her to do his bidding by holding her daughter hostage.  Now, she’ll use guns, guts, and a motorcycle to take out a series of violent gangsters — or she may never see her child again

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose, Patrick Muldoon, Julie Lott, Ekaterina Baker, Nick Vallelonga, Joel Michaely, Miles Doleac

Director: George Gallo

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (0/10)

Review:  It’s a good thing screeners for Vanquish were sent out so far in advance of its mid-April release because I’ve legitimately needed a solid three weeks to process just how bad the movie is.  Honestly, that may sound extreme, but you obviously haven’t seen this sorry excuse for an action thriller yet.  I’m hoping to turn you toward something more entertaining, like lying on a bed of discarded dentures watching an army of ants carry away a breadcrumb soaked in root beer.  Movies (and Oscar-winning acting careers) don’t get much more crud-tastic than this and if you aren’t popping your third Aleve after the headache inducing lighting and camera work by the time this is all over, there should be some ice cream coupon digital reward for your efforts. 

Once upon a time, seeing Academy Award winner and everyone’s favorite disembodied voice Morgan Freeman’s name attached to a film meant something.  If it wasn’t exactly clout, then it was that the production had something interesting going for it that attracted Freeman to sign on.  Other than the fact that he gets to sit for the entire film, I’m not sure why Freeman is co-starring as a retired cop playing mind games with a former drug runner who happens to be his housekeeper (or cook? It’s never clear but cleaning and cooking are mentioned, though lead Ruby Rose doesn’t show up to his unfurnished house dressed to do either.)  Instead, Freeman (Lucy) literally cools his heels for 96 minutes and totally tanks his reputation in writer/director George Gallo’s insanely gaudy and lurid female John Wick-ish wannabe flopparoo.   

The phrase “you know you’re in trouble from the start” is used often but it’s right on the money in the case of Vanquish because the credits alone tell you everything you need to know on the quality of the film about to unfold.  Clocking it at a zombifying six minutes and featuring some of the poorest photoshopping of old Freeman photos into fake newspaper stories that look like a fourth-grade book report only less literate, I stopped counting the number of times they used the same press photo from a previous Freeman film.  If you want to add some extra hilarity to your night, pause and read some of the headline gems. All sound like they were lifted directly out of Babelfish translator from one foreign language into English.  None of them read quite right.

This jumps into Gallo’s tacky, neon-colored fantasy version of (I think) Los Angeles, though I’m not sure it’s ever explicitly stated, where ex-cop Freeman sets up his personal care attendant (Rose, The Meg) to gather a wealth of cash from a series of rogue criminals, and not very nicely holding her daughter (cast with a young actress that appears incredibly tired the entire film) as collateral.  Obtain all the money for him and his goomba associates (played by the most offensively stereotypical and dumb character actors that obviously called in a favor to maintain their Screen Actors Guild benefits) and she and her daughter will go free.  Ah…but never get between a woman with a buzzcut and her child, especially one that decided to get out of the business, has successfully stayed clean, and doesn’t like to be pushed around. 

Described in the press notes as “glossy and stylized”, I’d describe Gallo’s vision as “syrupy and trite”, offering nothing of value either in the directing or writing categories.  Whatever mileage could have been gained from the very playable set-up of mother fighting back against all odds and punishing the vile men that put her in this position is lost among the noise of terrible filmmaking and worse acting.  This includes Freeman who doesn’t look like he doesn’t know what’s going on – he knows exactly what movie he’s in and decided to do it anyway.  He rightly blows every scene partner he has out of the water (poor Rose is practically mush when he’s through with her) but it’s such a surreally weird performance for Freeman to have taken that you spend most of the film wondering if Freeman simply saw the paycheck and signed on to the script sight unseen. 

Consider that Rose was once supposed to be the next thing and then take a look at the work being done here.  Strange line readings and emotions that are, misplaced would be putting it nicely.  As in the recent S.A.S. Red Notice, she’s decent when it comes to the non-dialogue action scenes but strap yourself in anytime she starts to act as that’s when the big trouble begins.  Thinking of how many strong female stars Freeman had shared the screen with and then watching him try to work his way through a scene with Rose and it’s almost laughable.  For an even more depressing thought, consider there is a double Oscar-winner Nick Vallelonga (producer and writer of 2018’s Green Book) playing a hammy supporting character (also terribly) present and realize that Freeman’s Oscar status is still likely the only one that will be discussed in the bad reviews for the film.  Then again, when the performance of Freeman ranks significantly lower than the one he gave several months earlier in a cameo as an animatronic crab in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, there’s clearly a big problem to solve. 

I cannot overstate what a flaming piece of garbage Vanquish is.  Every piece of the production is terrible.  Direction, writing, production, acting, music, cinematography…all awful.  Even the costume design looks like it was done via a straw poll between the actors.  What a pity as well because this one could have had some decent traction with better stars and a new director.  Alas, no, it is what it is and it is heinous. Vanquish is it named and vanquished from your must-see list it should be. 

Available in Select Theaters on April 16th and on Apple TV, and Everywhere You Rent Movies on April 20th
Available on Blu-ray and DVD on April 27th

Movie Review ~ Voyagers

The Facts:

Synopsis: With the future of the human race at stake, a group of young men and women embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures.

Stars: Colin Farrell, Lily-Rose Depp, Tye Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe, Chanté Adams, Quintessa Swindel, Madison Hu, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Viveik Kalra

Director: Neil Burger

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: It’s an odd thing to look over the IMDb credits for director Neil Burger and see just how many of his films have found eerie similarities in other work.  Though it technically came out first, 2006’s The Illusionist is often dwarfed in memory by Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige which also featured dueling magicians and a woman that causes trouble between them.  The surprise 2011 hit Limitless may have secured some box office clout for Bradley Cooper but it had all the calling cards of a Luc Besson film just without the Frenchman’s guts to go truly wild.  Burger was behind the start of the Divergent series which was on shaky legs even in 2014 when it suffered big time comparisons to The Hunger Games, and this was before it released two more Burger-less sequels that were so bad they didn’t bother to even make the last movie.  Remaking the French blockbuster The Intouchables as The Upside in 2017 seemed like a ghastly prospect but while Burger’s take was harmless it made so much money that who directed it didn’t seem to matter much.

That brings us to Voyagers, which won’t remind you so much of any movie you’ve seen recently but perhaps a book you may have trotted out during quarantine.  Plenty of reviews of Burger’s new sci-fi yarn will correctly label it as Lord of the Flies set in space but to just put it in that ready-made box is doing a disservice to William Golding’s 1954 morality barometer disguised as a dystopian novel as well as this Lionsgate production which is entertainment at its coldest and most obvious.  Yes, it follows an uprising that divides two factions of young adults left to fend for themselves in a solitude from which there is no hope of escape, but Burger doesn’t forget what his job is in this concoction.  His audience isn’t at home under the covers reading a browning paperback by flashlight.  They’re in a theater (if you’re into that kind of thing being fully vaccinated and/or masked up) where this film opens on Friday or, as Voyagers will be in several weeks, in their homes waiting for the fun to begin.

With the Earth’s resources being depleted at a rapid rate, scientists continue to explore the boundaries of space for signs that there could be another planet humans could survive on.  Forty years from now, that planet is found but it will take another 86 years to get there.  A crew will need to be assembled to travel to this new world and report back what they find, but due to the time it will take to get there the crew that starts out the mission won’t be the ones that actually make the discovery…their grandchildren will.  Unable to find a crew of thirty to make that commitment, the team behind the mission resort to conceiving them via IVF with, ahem, contributions from the best and brightest minds of the day.

Watching over these children as they grow (literally) is Richard (Colin Farrell, Dumbo) a scientist that winds up being the sole chaperone when the young crew finally enter space and begin their journey.  Ten years later, the group are now teens that go about their daily ship business with a detached efficiency that’s only upset after Christopher (Tye Sheridan, Mud) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk) stop taking ‘the blue’, a daily dose of liquid they discover has a mood controlling and sensory dulling drug added in.  Free to finally feel for the first time, the rest of the squad follows suit including Sela (Lily-Rose Depp, Tusk) the pretty chief medical officer that’s both a confidant to Richard and his bridge to the other teens.  Sela also begins to catch the eye of the newly hormonal Christopher and Zac, both fueled by alpha male frustration that’s built up for quite some time. 

After an accident leaves them stranded, on their own, and unable to communicate with Earth, at first the niceties of protocol are followed until Zac and others (including Midsommar’s Archie Madekwe) realize that no one is going to hold them accountable for stepping out of line.  They’ve been bred to produce and that’s all so why not take as much as they want, when they want it, while they can?  This pits former friends against one another and forces all to take sides.  The wider the division gets, the larger the danger of everyone losing in the end becomes.   

It’s easy to be a bit confused by Voyagers at first glance.  The trailers make it look like a clunky C-list castoff you’d settle on when all else fails and the poster gives off the impression it’s more of an erotic trip into teen space angst.  So I was surprised that the first half of the film gets off to a rather crackling start, luring the audience in with an engaging premise and laying the groundwork for an intriguing mystery that might factor into the plot (I won’t spoil it).  Burger takes his time with things…at first.  Rather suddenly, however, the rushing begins and the time between realization and full on knowledge of the facts shortens considerably for everyone in the film.  Everyone just seems to “know” what things mean the moment they see them, or if they don’t, they understand it quickly and these leaps are more for the plot to continue to make haste than anything else.

It’s also a bit uncomfortable to watch the teens embrace their hormones with such vigor – one character goes from touching a girl’s shoulder to pretty much honking her breast in an instant.  I know none of them have experienced these sensations before, but have they never read a book or learned about etiquette?  It’s like the scientists taught the boys everything but how not to fondle girls and taught the women all about plant hydroponics yet skipped over the “no means no” conversation.  The male dominance of it all was a bit suffocating and if Burger had just given one female a bit of the nasty business to do instead of relegating it all to the guys it might have come off better.  As it is, the females become galactic wallpaper, aside from the standout Chanté Adams (Bad Hair) as a strict-rule follower that won’t be silenced by the bullies that have risen to power.  While we’re talking about the cast, Sheridan comes across like he always does…perfectly fine but terribly shallow.  If you ask me, Depp reminds me more of her model turned actress mother Vanessa Paradis than her much in the news Oscar-nominated father, and that’s not a bad thing in the least.  The standout in the cast is Whitehead who achieves a goal of creating an oily villain that you can easily root against – none of this ‘redeeming quality’ nonsense.

Despite some sag in the middle which shows some areas where the 108-minute film could be trimmed a bit, Burger gets to a fairly lively final act quite nicely.  While the effects aren’t going to win any awards, for a film of this size and with a cast of this caliber (no shade here, all are decent and acquit themselves nicely in roles that carry troublesome moments throughout) they mostly look good but I’d imagine they’d appear crisper in a theatrical setting.  For fans of sci-fi or space like myself, Voyagers is a worthy watch but know that it’s purely surface level material that is good for a distraction and little more. 

Movie Review ~ The Courier

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Cold War spy Greville Wynne and his Russian source try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright, Kirill Pirogov, Iva Šindelková, Željko Ivanek

Director: Dominic Cooke

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: At first glance, you may be wondering why an espionage drama with an accent on the drama was opening in theatrical release during a pandemic the same weekend a major superhero movie was debuting on a streaming service at home.  Wouldn’t most audiences be otherwise engaged devouring the much-anticipated arrival of the four-hour epic that is Zack Snyder’s Justice League, especially after the reviews were deservedly glowing?  Ah…but let’s not forget the art of counterprogramming because I think Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, the studio and distributor behind The Courier, was going for everyone else who weren’t comic book inclined and up for something a little less gargantuan.  It’s a smart move to match a surprisingly smart film, one that is far better than its staid title and dusty looking premise would otherwise imply.

I’ll be upfront and say that these murky spy thrillers are becoming slightly old hat to me, especially after seeing them done so well in stalwarts like any of the early James Bond films, 1973’s The MacKintosh Man, or even in homegrown films such as Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View.  Heck, even Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of The Courier, has had his run at the spy game before in 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or in his 2014 Oscar Nominated role as Alan Turing in the WWII tale The Imitation Game.  Last year’s A Call to Spy was dismally dull and I half expected The Courier to turn out in much the same way: dry and demanding of your rapt attention with not a lot to show for it all when the lights come up.

So it was refreshing to find almost from the start there is a palpable current of energy running through the film.  It’s subtle, and the movie couldn’t ever be classified as suspense-driven or even ramped up enough to get your pulse racing (unless you get all a flutter seeing Cumberbatch’s bare backside), but it’s there and it separates The Courier from the rest of the pack.  That’s what also elevates the story of English businessman Greville Wynne’s involvement with MI6 during the early days of the Cuban Missile Crisis from coming off as a forgotten footnote during an important historical incident.  Screenwriter Tom O’Connor and Dominic Cooke aim to inform but don’t forget the entertainment part of moviemaking at the same time.

When USSR military intelligence agent Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) reaches out to the American embassy via a covert coded message with news that current leader Nikita Khrushchev is fast-tracking nuclear plans that would lead to war, MI6 and the CIA step in.  Their goal: find a way to pass information back and forth with Penkovsky to obtain precise information that will prevent Europe and the US from entering a high stakes battle with the Soviet Union.  Recognizing they need someone the Russians wouldn’t suspect but who could also handle the assignment, Wynne’s name is floated due to his business dealings throughout Europe.  At first, the upstanding Brit needs some convincing, but when reminded of the whole Queen and country pledge, he agrees and begins traveling back and forth to meet with Penkovsky.  Keeping both of their wives unaware of their dealings, the men strike up a friendship over time, and this personal relationship begins to threaten their overall mission, alliances, and allegiance when Khrushchev’s secret police get a whiff that a mole has burrowed its way in.

After a not-so-great showing in The Mauritanian back in February, Cumberbatch is back in the groove, nicely tuning into Wynne’s businessman persona at the outset of the film and letting the weight of the deception start to chip away at him over time.  The lies he tells his wife (an underused but still powerful Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) threaten to destroy the peaceful life he had previously held at home.  While he serves his country gladly, the aftereffects and extraordinary price Wynne will pay may be too great to come back from.  On the other side of the border, Ninidze is a strong counterpart to Cumberbatch as a father and husband with his own set of secrets to hide.  Struggling with similar fears that spring from seeing traitors executed in front of his eyes, he knows what’s in store for him if he’s caught.  The film largely belongs to the two men, but aside from Buckley there’s a very Mrs. Maisel-y performance from Rachel Brosnahan (I’m Your Woman) as a CIA handler and an always welcome appearance from Željko Ivanek (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Brosnahan’s superior.

What a pleasant surprise to find this nifty little package being delivered with some confident finesse during an extended awards season that’s seen all types of overly earnest films sputter out.  Originally seen at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival under the title Ironbark (a much better title taken from a code name that’s used by one of the operatives), it was filmed in 2018 and finally seeing a release now.   Though it’s not eligible for anything and definitely isn’t going to be on the radar for next year’s haul, it’s a strong showing for everyone involved and a worthy way to spend two hours.  I can’t quite recommend running out to theaters to catch The Courier but when it arrives for home viewing I would encourage you to give this one a spin.  Wynne’s involvement in the civilian spy business is fascinating to learn about and is carried off well by a cast and production team that funnels their energy and resources in the right direction – and it makes all the difference for an audience to understand the subtleties between a story that is told once and one that bears retelling in the future.

Movie Review ~ Chaos Walking

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Two unlikely companions embark on a perilous adventure through the badlands of an unexplored planet as they try to escape a dangerous and disorienting reality, where all inner thoughts are seen and heard by everyone.

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Kurt Sutter, Ray McKinnon

Director: Doug Liman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review:  I don’t know, folks, there may be some trouble keeping Tom Holland on the A-List if these past few weeks at the movies have been any indication.  It’s no wonder the hype machine on the third Spider-Man movie (titled Spider-Man: No Way Home, due later this year) surprisingly kicked into high gear right around the time the blistering review for Holland’s Apple TV+ film Cherry started popping up.  Just two weeks later, Holland has a new project coming out and another reason for his team to be sweating.  I can only imagine what bit of Spider-Man news will come out this weekend to direct attention away from the news that Chaos Walking is another dud from Holland, though this time it’s not entirely his fault.

This long in the works adaptation of the first book in a trilogy of YA novels by Patrick Ness published in 2008, it’s not shocking in the least why Chaos Walking struggled to get off the ground over the years.  Arriving on the scene in the midst of a number of other popular series for teens being adapted into movies with more of an adult slant, a fair share of high-profile writers tried their hand at the script before it finally wound up back with Ness who gave it a final polish.  At one point, Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis was circling the project and while that might have been an interesting route to take, I actually think the director Lionsgate wound up with, Doug Liman, is a solid choice.  Responsible for admirable work like The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, Liman is no stranger to complex narrative or impressive visuals so he wouldn’t have struggled with bringing to life a world that has unique characteristics while not getting too deep in the fantasy of it all.

Two hundred years in the future on another planet called, of course, New World, is the small settlement of Prentisstown, named after the malevolent mayor (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) who presides over the entirely male population.  All of the females of the group were killed by the Spackle, native inhabitants to the planet that descended on the group one day not long after the settlers arrived on the planet, around the same time both genders discovered the planet gave them the ability to hear and sometimes even see the thoughts of other men.  The women’s thoughts, however, were hidden. These thoughts on display came to be called “Noise”.  While the book has the luxury of explaining this phenomenon in detail, the movie skirts the subject fairly quickly so we’re left with a “that’s that, move on” sort of attitude, not that we can ever hear the “Noise” that clearly thanks to the sound design being so muffled throughout.

Too young at the time of her death, Todd Hewitt (Holland, The Impossible) never knew his mother but is aware she trusted Ben (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight) and Cillian (Kurt Sutter, writer of Southpaw & creator of Sons of Anarchy) to care for him as his adoptive parents after she was taken.  So he spends his days trying to suppress his Noise while helping on Ben and Cillian’s humble farm.  He’s returning from the field one day when he sees something he’s never encountered before but only heard about…a girl.  Crash landing on the planet as part of the Second Wave, Viola (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express) is the only survivor from her crew and needs Todd’s help to find a communication device to contact her ship so they know she made it and won’t abandon their mission.  However, Viola’s arrival uncovers a deadly secret from the history of Prentisstown that a number of people, including the town’s holy man (David Oyelowo, The Midnight Sky) would just as soon stay buried.  Pursued by those he formerly trusted, Todd and his dog Manchee accompany Viola to the far ends of New World where they’ll discover more truths about Noise, New World, and each other.

To his credit, Ness has laid a groundwork for a series that has potential.  So why is Chaos Walking so decidedly unexciting in its action and unmoving at its core?  Much of that comes down to what I think are simple logistics; nothing in the movie ever works in harmony so you have, essentially, chaos throughout.  The acting doesn’t seem to gel with the script, finding some of the cast exceling by tuning in their performances and taking the material for what it is and nothing more (like Ridley who got good at that working on the Star Wars films) while others take it too far in the other direction, working so hard to uncover what’s not there that they wind up totally blank themselves (sorry, Mr. Holland).  The simplistic, truncated script doesn’t seem to work with the style of movie Liman wants to make, either.  Liman’s action sequences are the best parts of the movie without question but they’re few and far between and never turn the dial up far enough so that you feel like any stakes are raised.

Chaos Walking also has a very bad habit of letting the focus fall on the wrong people for too long and forgetting (sometimes entirely) about characters that were introduced as important.  I won’t say who, but there’s one character played by an Oscar-nominated performer who never gets a final scene, so we have no idea what happened to them.  The last time we saw them, they may have been in danger but Liman and Ness never make it clear which way the teeter was tottering. It’s unfair to leave people hanging like that.  Also, the movie commits a cardinal sin that you simply do not do if you want a compassionate audience to remain even the slightest bit on your side.  Again, I don’t give out spoilers but if you’re paying attention to who goes with Viola on her journey you might be able to guess what said sin is.  And it’s not pretty.  It’s a cheap movie device that screenwriters should find a way out of using because it’s expected and, when it happens, only serves to show the inherent weakness in creative thought for how to motivate your hero/heroine.

Before I forget, we have to circle back to Ridley and Holland again.  Though Ridley manages to come out slightly unscathed here, there’s still a bit of a wonder why she’s back in this neo-sci-fi work so close to the end of her tenure in Star Wars.  If I were her agent, I’d be steering her away from these types of roles in favor of work that is completely different, so she isn’t pigeonholed.  Ridley is a solid actress but there isn’t much for her to work with, but at least she’s able to fashion it into something not totally goofy.  The same can’t be said for Holland who is reduced to muttering most of his lines (turn the subtitles on, you’ll thank me), many of which are descriptions rather than actual sentences, so he comes off like he’s just verbally pointing out things. “Yellow Hair” “Girl” “Pretty” “Bug” “Girl” “Pretty”.  Could another actor have fixed this?  Maybe not, but Holland seems more confused with what to do than anything… all the way up to flashing his bare bottom while fishing for his dinner.  The scene feels there to wake up anyone that might have been about to doze off.

Though this is based on the first book in a trilogy I’d be amazed if Chaos Walking performs well enough to warrant a sequel and it seems as if the filmmakers knew that too.  Thankfully, while the door is clearly open for a continuation, the ending can be interpreted in a number of different ways depending on how you’re approaching the film.  As a fan of the novels, I’m sure you’ll see the possibilities of what’s to come.  If you are new to the series and were entertained, could be that now you are invested and are crossing your fingers they can get Ridley and Holland back together again to finish the story.  However, my camp is the one that gets to the end and is ready to walk on past any more installments.  It doesn’t walk, nor run, nor jump, nor fly…Chaos Walking merely limps along, disappointingly so.

Movie Review ~ Wrong Turn (2021)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Despite warnings to stick to the Appalachian Trail, hikers stray off course and cross into land inhabited by a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life.

Stars: Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine, Emma Dumont, Bill Sage, Daisy Head, Adain Bradley, Tim DeZarn, Dylan McTee

Director: Mike P. Nelson

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Like them or not, you have to give a certain amount of credit to anyone attempting to reboot a popular film franchise for their sheer chutzpah.  Going beyond the mere land of the sequel where you are tasked with continuing on the thread of characters and staying as true as you can to what has been established in previous installments, to reboot means to really start from scratch and that can be scarier than any madman in a mask chasing after a nubile teen with a knife.  Now, you have the fate of the future essentially in your hands so you better know what you’re doing or else the fans will come to get you and let me tell you a truth universally known by many doomed directors hoping to kickstart their own bloodline using a beloved series: a loyal fan is a hard gnat to swat.

What’s always energizing to find is a situation like we have with this reboot of the 2003 minor hit Wrong Turn.  While the original was a decently conceived and executed bloody cut ‘em up that did well enough to spawn five sequels (including one attempt at a reboot already) that went direct to video, it wasn’t exactly a classic destined for historical preservation.  The intriguing bit of trivia here, and what should catch the attention of devotees to the Wrong Turn lineage, is that the story and screenplay come from Alan B. McElroy who wrote the initial film.  How often does an individual responsible for the creation of a series that hasn’t been heard from in a while come back and willingly start again, jettisoning nearly everything that’s been built over the past two decades and offer a fresh idea?

Now, I can’t say for sure if McElroy (who also wrote Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, one of my favorite sequels in that franchise) had always planned this new Wrong Turn or if he hadn’t already worked out this plotline for another potential movie all together that just happened to be similar to his first hit.  Whatever the case, I’m glad the folks that owned the rights to the title came knocking because McElroy has found a clever way to begin again without doing any harm to the memory of the six films already containing a whole world created from his spare plot elements.  If anything, it allows both those films and this new take to co-exist independently from one another and I think fans of the original are going to find a lot has gone right for this new Wrong Turn.

Scott Shaw (Matthew Modine, Pacific Heights) has come to Wrenwood, Virginia for answers.  Over six weeks ago, his daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega) and five of her friends came through the sleepy town on their way to the Appalachian Trail for an innocuous hike as part of a longer road trip.  They haven’t been heard from since.  The town police offer no help nor do they seem to be interested in upsetting the ‘look the other way vibe’ Scott keeps picking up from the locals.  Only an otherwise tight-lipped owner of the tiny inn has an inkling of what might have happened to his daughter and her companions…and the prospects aren’t good.  As the film flashes back six weeks, we’ll see how right she is.

Largely an easy-going sextet of travelers not out to stir up trouble, Charlotte, her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley), loud-mouth Adam (Dylan McTee), medical student Milla (Emma Dumont, Inherent Vice) and boyfriends Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela) just want to get out into nature and explore the beauty of the land.  Looking for any final tips from the locals, their host at their lodging (who becomes an ally to Scott six weeks later) just advises them to “Stay on the trail.”  Of course, once they get too far to turn back Darius tells them about an abandoned Civil War fort that’s not too far off the well-marked trail and like clockwork it isn’t long before they’ve ventured into a part of the forest that’s already well occupied.

Instead of the greasy backwoods hicks the doomed youngins met up with in the first film, Charlotte and the gang wander into something far more sophisticated and long-standing and that’s something that deftly sets this Wrong Turn apart from the others.  Protecting their space and the privacy of their way of life is key and this “foundation” have the macabre traps to show they mean business.  As the numbers of the hikers dwindle, director Mike P. Nelson and McElroy capably change the gears of the film several times into different levels of suspense, nearly all to good effect.  There’s enough carnage to satisfy the gore hounds with some ingeniously nasty deaths and well-done make-up effects as well as a balanced amount of suspense leading up to these shocks.  For the most part, the movie lets you get to know everyone before it finds a way to send them to their maker.  While it clocks in at a lengthy 111 minutes (even the credits are worth sitting through for a bit), it doesn’t feel like it overstays its welcome or has the kind of filler that stretches out an already thin idea.  More often than not, McElroy and Nelson find ways to keep us engaged.

The performances are also in line with the strength of this new direction.  With Modine the only true mainstream vet in the mix, it’s left to the rising stars and a few seasoned character actors to carry the weight of plot and they do it admirably.  Making for a confident lead that proves to be no damsel in distress, Vega has some interesting developments in the final act and an intriguing coda that I wanted to know more about.  Long time journeyman actor Bill Sage (The Pale Door) heads up the band of terrorizers that dole out justice as they see fit, with death not always the answer even if the accused will wind up wishing that was their sentence.  Then there’s Modine who never makes it seem like he’s slumming it in a C-grade horror film.  Having worked with some of the top directors in Hollywood, he treats the role with consideration and that goes a long way in our taking everything as seriously as he is.

Far less problematic in the way it categorizes the people of Appalachia than all of its predecessors, I have a feeling this Wrong Turn will go over nicely with its intended audience.  Will it win over any new fans?  Possibly, and that’s thanks to a leveled measure of restraint in the usual over-the-top spewing of viscera and a stronger focus on the build-up of suspense.  A new route has definitely been charted for the Wrong Turn franchise and I’d be on board for another trip should McElroy want to map it out for us.

Movie Review ~ Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Lifelong friends Barb and Star embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time – ever.

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Ian Gomez, Michael Hitchcock, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Reyn Doi

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: There are some movies that just come along at the right time in your life, appearing when you need them the most and the week that I was set to see Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar was a rough one.  It just wasn’t great, let’s leave it at that and so I selfishly looked to a film, of all things, to cheer me up.  Putting all my eggs in one basket, I bet the farm on this pastel-colored comedy that had all the makings of a winner but also could have easily gone into stink bomb mode pretty quickly too.  Let me tell you, perhaps I’d watch the movie now with a slightly more critical eye but after all the junk we’ve been through these past few months and all my own hang-ups from the week, the film was like a peach-scented salve to my soul for two hours.  It’s also rip-roaringly, smile so wide your cheek burns, hysterically funny.

In 2011, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo were dark horse Oscar nominees for their original screenplay of Bridesmaids, the blockbuster comedy hit that set off a wave of female-led funny flicks.  It was almost as if Hollywood and movie-goers discovered that women could make you laugh and not just by acting like men or always resorting to foul, gross-out humor (which Bridesmaids totally did, let’s be honest).  It was a well-earned nomination and while Mumolo turned up in a small but memorable role as a airline passenger with a fear of flying and was seated next to Wiig, it isn’t hard to imagine the two writing the movie with themselves in mind as the stars instead of the inimitable Maya Rudolph playing opposite Wiig..

Since that time, Wiig has gone on to become one of the rare alums of Saturday Night Live to find an interesting career after her tenure on the show has ended and while she continues to make challenging choices in film, the roles haven’t always panned out in her favor.  Perhaps her most intriguing character was just recently as the more interesting of the two villains in Wonder Woman 1984 but that movie was so unjustly ignored that her contributions were also left by the wayside.  For Mumolo, she’s continued a bit under the radar, acting in films like Bad Moms and writing the script for Joy, the Jennifer Lawrence/David O. Russell misfire that still managed to nab Lawrence an Oscar nom.

Thankfully, during their busy schedule the two managed to find time to collaborate on the script for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and both share the screen as the co-leads.  What is immediately clear is that the two women have a deep understanding of not just their talents but in what the other is capable of and every inch of the movie plays to these strengths.  Recognizing that nothing gets done in a vacuum, they’ve also created some wonderfully weird supporting characters that are taken on by some obvious choices and by others that may not make sense at first.  Have no fear, because director Josh Greenbaum (The Short Game) has only the best intentions and steers even those not known for comedy into funny waters and gets them swimming fast.

You may think you’ve hit “play” on the wrong movie once this begins, as the opening features one of the first surprises the film has to offer. (It’s worth it to note that while the trailers for the film were riotous, hardly any of that material is in the actual film).  I’m not even going to mention what (or who) that surprise is here and by holding that back it keeps certain other plot developments off limits.  That means much of the rest of this review will be working around what I can’t talk about and going heavy on what I can.  I figure if the trailers have gone to great lengths to keep aspects of the movie a secret, it’s worth it for your benefit to let you discover what the movie is on your own…but just know that eventually you’re going to meet our fabulous ladies, recently unemployed and daring to try something new.

Arriving in Vista Del Mar to great fanfare and a musical welcome from the ritzy resort hotel’s manager (Michael Hitchcock, Waiting for Guffman), Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) waste little time getting to know the layout of the space and meet a handsome stranger (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades Freed) in town for business.  As a romance develops between the stranger and one of the women, the other is left to go from mild to wild as she chucks her inhibitions and becomes a coal-walking, parasailing risk-taker.  What will the women do, though, when they realize they’ve come all this way to experience the trip of a lifetime together and have spent much of their vacation apart?

I was worried in early previews that the film would be too broad and feature comedy that amused the actors making the movie more than the audience watching the film, but the laughs are so sharp and so perfectly pitched that you have to really respect how nicely the movie is put together.  There are some seriously big laughs to be had and whether this was edited with a theater-going public in mind or not, you are always able to hear the next joke — it’s a rare marvel to find that every punchline is clear without any throwaway jokes.  Wiig and Mumolo don’t like wasted gags so they maximize the chuckles in each chintzy chortle.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film.  There’s at least one character I would have excised completely because not only is his role markedly unfunny and he has the stalest jokes out of everyone in the picture, his ultimate value-add to the plot is pretty slim.  And while I enjoyed the “talking club” of ladies led with strongly pursed lips and a leveled stare by Vanessa Bayer (Office Christmas Party) in Barb and Star’s hometown, their contribution again felt unresolved and more filler than forwarding of the plot.  That whole broad business I was talking about a few lines up?  The film teeters slightly that way for its finale where it finds a wrap up that earns the warranted laugh (and a bonus surprise) while at the same time feeling like a bit of a cheat.

Small imperfections aside, there’s so much good and goodness on display that you won’t mind or have much time to ponder these items. The film moves so fast and the performances by the two leads are right on target, not to mention the full-on revelation that Dornan is quite talented when he lets his guard down and takes his serious shirt and slacks off (quite literally to the screaming delight of those in the film and, I’m sure, watching it).  In a film of many worthwhile surprises, his hidden talent displayed on a beach is perhaps the most impressive of all.

It’s a cliché to say you didn’t want a movie to end but it’s true, I was sad to see my journey with these ladies come to a conclusion and I can only hope that there’d be another adventure at some point down the road.  I know the two politely declined to write a follow-up to Bridesmaids and I can understand there not being another story there…but Barb and Star are just getting started.  So while Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar may look a bit iffy from the outside looking in, trust me when I say that you’ll be glad you traveled with them…and it might even do wonders for your spirit as well.  Mine sure felt lifted after.

Movie Review ~ The Right One

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A novelist struggling with writer’s block, finds inspiration when she meets a down-on-his-luck odd ball who constantly changes personas and alter egos in order to cope with his past and avoid reality.

Stars: Cleopatra Coleman, Nick Thune, Iliza Shlesinger, Trezzo Mahoro, Leanne Lapp, Lauren McGibbon, Tarun Keram, Charlotte Kavanagh, Sunny Chen, Amy Goodmurphy

Director: Ken Mok

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Let’s take a brief journey back in time to the mid-2000s when not everyone had Tivo or a DVR and it wasn’t unheard of for people to actually watch live TV.  This was back when the term “appointment television” actually meant something and overnight ratings for popular programs were eagerly anticipated to see what had broken big the previous evening.  I was a faithful follower of several shows, but it was the guilty pleasures that started to do a number on my viewing habits, keeping me up until the wee hours of the morning so I wouldn’t have any big spoilers ruined for me the next day at work.  One of these shows was, and I admit this with no fear in my heart, America’s Next Top Model and it’s a reality show I followed through nearly all of it’s, gulp, 24 smize-ing seasons.

It was during these many, many, many seasons and episodes that I became very familiar with the name Ken Mok, the co-creator and executive producer that was involved throughout its highly profitable life.  Also responsible for the cult-favorite Making the Band as well as several other reality competition shows that never caught on the way his two big hits did, Mok is now making the transition to feature films with the rom-com The Right One. Serving as the writer as well as the director, the 60-year-old may not be an obvious choice to direct a movie that purportedly has its best foot forward with the current dating scene.  Yet, surprisingly, there is something about the film that winds up working in a peculiar way, showing that Mok can bring some decent charm to a tired formula, elevating it along with an appealing set of leads to an easily digestible level.  It’s not great food but it’s a good snack served with a wink and a smile.

After scoring an early success with her first novel, Sara (Cleopatra Coleman, In the Shadow of the Moon) is struggling with a bad case of writer’s block trying to recapture a similar spark for her sophomore outing.  Perhaps there’s a bit of guilt from the ease at which she earned that first taste of fame with material she looks down on.  After all, she always envisioned she would write more serious prose but then wound up more of a slightly more mature YA scribe pandering to less than discerning tastes.  Her friend/agent Kelly (Iliza Shlesinger, The Opening Act) doesn’t care how she resolves her internal debate, she just wants a finished product and a reluctant Sara to participate in the lucrative tie-ins that are coming from her achievements.  Mostly, Kelly just thinks Sara needs a boyfriend to find inspiration.

A visit to a trendy art show brings about the appearance of Godfrey (Nick Thune, Venom) a man that switches up his personality more often than he changes his socks.  During the art show alone, Sara catches him as at least two different people and committing fully to the charade.  Later spotting him busking in the streets as a singing cowboy, she presses him to know more and her persistence leads to a new friend and an adventure in love that is more surprisingly complex than you’d originally believe.  Godfrey is a man of many different personas (not split personalities) and he’s adopted this as a coping mechanism to hide from a past he wants to forget.  Sara (and the viewer) are left to piece together clues from the man as well as his street-wise brother Shad (M.J. Kokolis) but will finding out the truth bring the two closer together as potential partners or cause Godfrey to retreat further into a world of mystery?

The plot for The Right One suggests it houses comedy that’s far wackier than it actually is and that turns out to be a good thing.  I wound up appreciating that Mok dials back Godfrey’s different looks and characters (some of which are loud in the visual alone) and instead makes the movie more an exploration as to what is driving Godfrey toward feeling like these are his only way of expressing a deep grief.  The drama of this comedy is what makes it memorable far more than the un-inspired antics of Godfrey’s more arch personas and especially Shlesinger’s hefty histrionics that feel like they are from another movie entirely.  Her Devil Wears Kenneth Cole agent is too mean-spirited to also play a friendly ear for Sara and it’s no wonder she becomes less of a presence as the film stretches on.

That leaves it mostly up to Coleman and Thune to make Mok’s front-loaded script work and they do a pretty swell job with it.  Coleman possesses an effervescence so fresh you almost hear the fizz if you turn the volume up loud enough.  She’s a perfect bit of casting as a rom-com lead, an appealing underdog going through a dry patch personally and professionally that you can’t help but root for.  There’s obvious chemistry between Thune’s character, too, and if it tends more toward the “friend zone” the more Sara finds out about his past, it still makes everything leading up to the finale have some slight bits of tension as to what will wind up happening.  To his great credit, Thune has clearly delineated his different personas not by the obvious ways on the outside but through some clever (and subtle) adjustments in speech and emotion as well.

There are several drawbacks to the film, though.  You have Shlesinger, practically sweating in each scene because she’s trying so hard to make something extra for her character when all she has to do was say the lines, just with a sharp tongue.  She was so excellent a few weeks back in Pieces of a Woman that it was a bit of a letdown to see her do this old schtick again, to less than successful results.  I also found Mok’s wrap-up to be extremely abrupt and without the kind of rounding off that felt necessary based on where the characters were at the point in the film.  I dunno, something just felt off about the way the film was edited at that point.

With romantic comedies mostly becoming a dime a dozen, it’s important to shine a spotlight on those that maybe add up to $.15 or $.20.  I’d give this one a look because of the two lead performances, Thune and especially Coleman have some real zeal on display, and they overcome the material when its gets a little syrupy.  Even if The Right One makes some wrong turns here and there, it gets to its final destination with much of its original intent and integrity intact.

The Silver Bullet ~ Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

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Synopsis
: Best friends leave their small midwestern town for the first time and soon find themselves tangled up in adventure, love, and a villain’s evil plot to kill everyone in Vista Del Mar, Florida.

Release Date:  February 12, 2021

Thoughts: At one point in time, I couldn’t imagine being late for a movie because it meant missing the all-important previews.  This was back when they didn’t give everything away in nearly three minutes.  Personally, I don’t think any trailer needs to be longer than 1:45; anything more than that tells me the movie needs extra help selling itself to audiences.  Now that I exclusively watch films at home, I have the luxury of being able to skip previews but one of the last times I was in a theater I remember seeing a short teaser for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and finding it a total gas.  Though I looked for it so I could do a short write-up, it never made its way online in any kind of good quality.  Thankfully, with its On Demand release date approaching in February, Lionsgate has posted a brand-new preview clocking in at…wait for it, 1:47.  Perfection.

Reuniting Kristin Wiig (Wonder Woman 1984) and Annie Mumolo (Bad Moms), the Oscar-nominated writers of Bridesmaids who star in the film together, the film looks incredibly silly but also incredibly necessary for the current climate.  A more grown-up version of Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, there’s not a whole lot of plot covered in the trailer because the title pretty much speaks for itself.  What is on display appears to be a colorful comedy with broad broads living it up in paradise and, hopefully, uncovering the same kind of intelligent laughs found in Wiig/Mummalo’s previous outing.  I’m not expecting this to be another Bridesmaids and it looks all together different but while much of the country in shivering indoors waiting out a pandemic, this could prove to be the warm burst of fresh salty sea air that gets us through to summer.  My bags are packed and I’m ready for a vacation with these two.

Movie Review ~ The Secret: Dare to Dream


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Miranda Wells is a hard-working young widow struggling to raise three children on her own. A powerful storm brings a devastating challenge and a mysterious man into her life.

Stars: Katie Holmes, Josh Lucas, Jerry O’Connell, Celia Weston, Sarah Hoffmeister, Aidan Pierce Brennan, Chloe Lee, Katrina Begin, Sydney Tennant, Samantha Beaulieu

Director: Andy Tennant

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  If this were a normal summer, we’d be neck deep in sonic boom blockbusters and hyperactive animated family entertainment at theaters by this time.  The majority of the touted releases would have seen their big debuts and faced the critical eyes of audiences around the world, hopefully making their money back and more.  When the pandemic closed movie houses around the globe and forced studios to shift their tentpole pictures months or years out, it left a rare opening for films less reliant on a built in fan base to get seen and that’s why smaller (mostly horror) movies like Relic, The Wretched, The Rental, Valley Girl, Miss Juneteenth, and Palm Springs have all posted decent numbers in their limited releases at drive-ins.  Now it’s not mega-money, the #8 film at the recent box office made $535 bucks, but at least it’s something.

If a movie like The Secret: Dare to Dream had kept to its original release date, it would have shown up in mid-April right before the heavy hitters started to appear but even so it’s hard not to see the film for the keen bit of counter-programming it is.  As someone that can take or leave these soapy romantic dramas but isn’t totally averse to giving one a chance, I was curious to see what a film based on a 2006 new-agey self-help documentary and its spin-off book would look like.  Though it doesn’t come armed with a doctrine as obvious as I anticipated, there’s an underlying message of goodness to be found and for once it doesn’t feel strained.  It’s more formulaic than the theory of relativity, but also, oddly, almost compellingly watchable in the way these types of easily digestible movies so often are.

Louisiana widow Miranda (Katie Holmes, Woman in Gold) is keeping her head above water even as the bills pile up and the life she thought she had planned slips through her fingers.  Her children are your typical movie youths running from temperamental teen to pony-loving grade schooler, yet they all manage to band together to help boost mom’s spirits when they can.   Their grandmother (Celia Weston, The Intern) wishes Miranda would sell their large but in need of repair house and marry a local entrepreneur (Jerry O’Connell, Wish Upon) but there’s something keeping Miranda from starting a new life.  Opportunity presents itself the same day a hurricane is set to hit their town, when she winds up in a fender bender with Bray (Josh Lucas, Ford v Ferrari) who just happens to be looking for her.  She doesn’t know it yet, but Bray has business with Miranda that becomes the Big Secret the movie holds onto until the Big Reveal near the end.  In the first of many wholly unbelievable plot contrivances, Miranda welcomes this total stranger into her home without question and the only one other than the grandmother that seems to find this odd is the viewer.  Charming though Lucas may come across on screen, he does appear a bit squirmy in the balmy humidity of a Louisiana hurricane season; why Miranda would accept him so effortlessly, especially with her young children present, is a mystery.   Evidently, stranger-danger is a thing of the past.

At the outset, you can feel the influence of the source material on the movie and the situations screenwriters Bekah Brunstetter, Rick Parks, and Andy Tennant (Grease 2) place Miranda and Bray in.  The film stops cold when Bray walks the children through a demonstration with magnets on the laws of attraction, a tenet of The Secret which makes the claim that thoughts (good and bad) can change a person’s life directly.   There’s a bit of mumbo-jumbo to suggest some magic in the air with this power of positive thinking having some influence on wishes coming true but almost as soon as these instances appear, they seem to be abandoned for more straight-forward dramatic storytelling that’s familiar and predictable.  Also serving as director, Tennant has helmed his fair share of rom-coms and while the movie isn’t big on laughs it does have the tiniest bit of a spring it its step and a sliver of a sense of humor which helps it from being taken too seriously.

Audiences will know the ending long before Miranda and Bray do so your enjoyment of the movie hinges on what you think of its stars.  Holmes has grown from a child star into a nicely committed actress, very much at home in these types of mom/comfort-giver roles and while there’s not a lot of range shown she finds a nice balance in the material so that it doesn’t teeter into overly saccharine.  Dealt a bit of a tough hand, Lucas has to battle back some early creeper vibes…the more you tell yourself this is a PG romantic drama the more you’ll convince yourself he isn’t there to do any harm to Holmes or her kids.  You feel especially bad for O’Connell in a totally thankless role as Miranda’s would-be suitor.  He barely gets an introduction or a proper good-bye.  Perhaps the most interesting character is meant to be the most irritating and that’s Weston as the fuddy-duddy grandmother that’s always a pest, until she does an about-face because the film needs her stamp of approval.

Take away all the rhetoric and hokey nonsense that the filmmakers don’t even stick with for long and there’s an occasionally interesting and comfortably casual viewing experience.  There are certainly more aggressively cheerful movies in recent release attempting to elicit the same type of audience reaction to far less successful results…I’d watch this one again before I’d get anywhere near something like the soggy Fisherman’s Friends, for instance.  To be clear, The Secret: Dare to Dream is as average as they come (don’t even get me started on that dreadful title) but truth be told it managed to keep me engaged far longer than I thought it would.

Movie Review ~ Inherit the Viper


The Facts
:

Synopsis: For siblings Kip and Josie, dealing opioids isn’t just their family business — it’s their only means of survival. When a deal goes fatally wrong, Kip decides he wants out for good. But his attempt to escape his family’s legacy soon ignites a powder keg of violence and betrayal, endangering Kip, Josie and their younger brother.

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Margarita Levieva, Owen Teague, Bruce Dern, Chandler Riggs, Valorie Curry, Dash Mihok

Director: Anthony Jerjen

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I’d imagine had Inherit the Viper been released 10 or 15 years ago it may have been received a tiny bit better than it does in 2020 when its dark tale of an already fragile family dynamic torn apart by drugs feels more than a little also-ran.  It’s hard to watch the movie and not think of the countless other television series, true-crime documentaries, and other analogous indie films that have covered the same dingy terrain and done it better.  That’s not to say there isn’t room for other stories with similar themes to be told but there has to be something that sets it apart from its genre siblings and Inherit the Viper sadly doesn’t have anything fresh or revealing to add.

Things don’t get more cookie-cutter than the elements that make up the setting, players, and plot of the film, scripted by Andrew Crabtree and directed by Anthony Jerjen.  In the Appalachian mountain area (think West Virginia, because if one movie about the opioid crisis is set there, they all have to be), a family that has grown up in the shadow of their father’s drug trafficking have continued the family business to keep themselves afloat.  Kip (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) is beginning to grow wary of the dangers that come with the territory, having decided to settle down with his pregnant girlfriend (Valorie Curry, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2).  That doesn’t sit too well with his hard-nosed sister Josie (Margarita Levieva, The Diary of a Teenage Girl) or their younger brother Boots (Owen Teague, Mary) who has just returned home after a long absence.

As Kip is planning his exit, Josie and Boots are just getting started thinking of making their individual moves to the next level, each for their own personal reasons.  Unable to get close to anyone to have a family of her own, Josie is carrying on an affair with the married local lawman (Dash Mihok, Silver Linings Playbook), partly as an unspoken pact for him to look the other way.  Never accomplishing anything on his own, Boots struggles to escape the impression he rides the coattails of his siblings and family name by entering into a risky deal that puts his family and his life at risk.  A series of unfortunate events affecting the siblings set into motion decisions that will force them to question how strong their family ties are.

While this sounds like the makings of a film with some grit, Jerjen’s direction doesn’t have any momentum to it so it just sort of lays there and refuses to build up to anything substantial.  Even an ending that Crabtree intends as eye-opening lands with the smallest of bangs because up until that point we’ve cared so little about the characters it’s hard to muster up much emotion for what happens next in their lives.  On the good side, Hartnett and Levieva feel like they are giving the kind of performances that should be in a movie with a better script while the puzzling appearance by Bruce Dern (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) as a crusty bar owner feels like a phoned in favor.

Blessedly short at 90 minutes, it feels longer due to the slow pacing and development.  The long and the short of it is that there simply isn’t enough to the plot to warrant a feature length film.  Had Crabtree and Jerjen trimmed this to be a short film, I’m imagine they’d fix the problems that made this one unavoidably dull.  The more you stretch something that’s already thin, the bigger the holes become.  Inherit the Viper is a good title for a subpar film.