Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature ★

Image result for The Nut Job 2 Surly

    It breaks my heart to review films such as "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature." No, really. For whatever reason, animated pictures have become more or less intolerable as of late, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but this diminution in quality doesn't seem to be a temporary trend. In truth, the genre has all but lost its allure and drawing power. (Although I'm playing ignorant, I do have a hunch as to why the art of animation has diminished in value here in the twenty-first century: No imagination, no novelty.) And we wonder why our youngsters are becoming dumber by the day.

    In so many words, "The Nut Job 2" is boring, bland and all around bovine, and it's the kind of movie that makes ninety minutes feel like an eternity. (It will also test the sobriety of anyone with half a brain.) A list of grievances: The forgettable characters, led by an overconfident and smug squirrel named Surly (Will Arnett), belch out lines of dialogue infused with the film's multiple themes (we're told that there are no shortcuts in life, and there's a lesson in teamwork and diligence), but before long, the narrative sheds its solemnity in favor of inane humor and clich├ęd storytelling. (I shouldn't have to tell you this, but the banter on display will only appeal to small children, and if you're lucky, a salvific slumber will save you from any further suffering.) Topping it all off, the computer-generated imagery is below par, and the paint-by-number plot threads hang looser than a "fille de joie" on a Friday night. (Unfortunately, I am compelled to provide a summary of the story in the ensuing paragraph, so consider this a fair warning.)

    The film opens with the rodents of Oakton living large in the basement of a local nut shop, and according to Andie (Katherine Heigl), the determined yet uncoordinated female lead, they've become lazy, fat, and have forgotten their survival instincts. (I would make an effort to examine this aspect of the plot in an allegorical light, but I fear the script could never muster up that manner of meaning in a million years.) By sheer accident, their new abode is destroyed, and they must once again turn to the neighboring park for shelter and sustenance. And if that wasn't uninspiring enough for you, we're subsequently introduced to Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan), a timeworn antagonist fueled by greed and, well, that's about it. You see, Muldoon aspires to eradicate Liberty Park so that he may open "Liberty Land," an amusement park fashioned out of used parts. Surly and Andie will have to rally the troops if they are to stop the mayor of Oakton from committing this avaricious act and reclaim their former dwelling.

    Parents: I'm really tired of ripping these movies—it's exhausting, and there are only so many ways one can condemn this perversion of children's entertainment. But I trudge on for two reasons: because it's my job, and I'm obligated to inform parental audiences of the asininity that has crept into every children's picture not being produced by Disney. (This surely doesn't mean that Disney and their sister company, Pixar, will avoid future castigation. It just means, very simply, that their films have a smidgen more soul to them.) I have been saying this for years; there's no harm, I guess, in beating a dead horse for the umpteenth time. If these production companies wish to restore the art of animation to its past glory, then it has to start with better writing and source material of a higher standard. In the case of "The Nut Job 2," just file it under insipid mediocrity.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Kidnap ★★

Image result for Kidnap movie film stills halle berry

    Halle Berry stars in "Kidnap," a movie that halfheartedly raises awareness for the missing person epidemic. I'm not saying that the film doesn't try. The problem is that it does, at least in one emotionally-driven scene, and it fails miserably. (For the sake of being fair, it's a thriller, an abduction thriller to be exact, and action unfailingly succeeds meaning in this subgenre.)

    Berry is Karla Dyson, a divorced, single mother with the cutest little boy imaginable. (We're shown enough home videos via the opening credits to where no other opinion can be formed.) Not surprisingly, the rest of the plot is pretty routine—mom takes son to the park, she loses sight of him, and (drum roll, please) he is kidnapped. Of course, moviegoers will have to ignore the cause of this complication (a mother's inattentiveness) if they are to enjoy this crapfest (we're supposed to feel sympathy for her plight), and if that doesn't tickle your funny bone, there's a laundry list of other cinematic "oopsies" to sneer at.

    I'm sure the intent was to craft a top-of-the-line suspense piece, but director Luis Prieto and screenwriter Knate Lee clearly bit off more than they could chew. How so? Well, the script is thin and seems unfinished, and the car chase scenes (which consist of Berry's character pursuing her son's captors for more than half the movie) are amateurishly done and chock-full of monotony. (If you want to be technical about it, the former suffers from a lack of logic and plot points; the latter relies solely on conventional shots of speedometers and passing asphalt in order to entertain.) To be candid, not even a brash, twenty-five-year-old filmmaking messiah could save this picture from complete mortification. (This is a reference to Steven Spielberg and his work on "Duel," which is the benchmark for highway thrillers. My advice to Prieto is this: If you have a template, use it.)

    How hard is it, I wonder, for Halle Berry to find a good screenplay in Hollywood? I mean, this is an Academy Award winner we're talking about, and here she is slumming around on the set of a movie that's one cheesy line of dialogue away from being a Lifetime premiere event. Now, there's no denying that Berry's career has tailed off recently; nonetheless, it is her sincerity that saves "Kidnap" from reaching putrid status. (Berry has never looked better, and her execution in this film, especially on an emotional front, proves that she still has it.) While we're on the subject, there is another scene-stealer in attendance—that being, a Chrysler Town & Country minivan. I can hear the advertisement now: "It has off-road capabilities, can stop on a dime, and it can even take the beating of your wildest dreams and still run." In all seriousness, however, this vehicle of vengeance laps up about as much screen time as our resident star, and if you can somehow get past the haphazard direction, it's one helluva ride.

    "Kidnap" pales in comparison to movies like "Breakdown," an abduction thriller with a gift for showing off, and it's only slightly more engaging than Berry's last outing ("The Call"), which isn't saying much. (In sum, it's a serviceable depiction of a mother who will stop at nothing to retrieve her missing sonjust without that pesky thing called reasoning.) I'm no expert in human behavior (if I were, I'd be making a lot more money), but a handful of questionable decisions were made by our rogue protagonist. For instance, there's a scene early on where Dyson actually confronts the kidnappers, but instead of defusing the situation, she allows them to gain the upper hand. (Then again, plots of this capacity need incompetence to fill up the allotted time.) Here's hoping that Berry lands a role with some brains and soon.