Central Intelligence Review: Partners in Crime


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen

Stars: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Johnson’s loopy performance.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

One is an African-American stand-up comedy icon turned super-successful leading man. The other is an African-American-Samoan professional wrestler turned multimedia empire god. Both are clever, social media-savvy and 110% critic proof. Seriously, who doesn’t love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson?! The world is in luck, with the pair teaming up to help breathe new life into the buddy-action genre.

Central Intelligence is the first in, hopefully, a never-ending series of movies starring the two. The movie’s marketing campaign was genius, complete with the self-aware line ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’. It kicks off in 1996, with Calvin Joyner (Hart) being recognized for an award at the high school’s last prep rally for the year. Calvin is the graduating class’s most talented, popular, attractive and likely to succeed. On the other side of the coin, Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) is an overweight kid, with no friends, prone to dancing in the boys locker room showers and suffering shocking acts of bullying. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Calvin is stuck in a boring accounting job with only high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) on his side. On the flip side, Robbie – now Bob Stone – is a ripped, hunky CIA agent.

Make no mistake, there is nothing new or original about Central Intelligence. Borrowing from everything between Lethal Weapon and Spy, the movie checks almost every turn, sub-plot and archetype off the list. The plot boils down to multiple tried and true buddy-cop and spy-comedy clichés. Perfunctorily, Calvin and Robbie bond before the havoc begins. The spy stuff kicks into gear later than expected, with the introduction of fellow CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her mission to expose Robbie’s suspected rogue operations. If anything, it cares almost too much about the plot. Even this cast, despite effortlessly delivering reams of exposition, can’t make the superfluous spy-mission speak more interesting. However, everything around the plot elevates the movie above expectations.

Central Intelligence is an explosive and hilarious thrill-ride thanks to its cast, writers, and director’s enthusiasm. Director and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) provides his brand of quick-witted comedy. Like his previous efforts, he balances carefully crafted material and improvisation time for his performers. Aided by writer/actor Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), he delivers a strong assortment of funny one-liners and memorable moments. Its set-pieces are also top-notch, with Hart and Johnson showing off immense action and comedy skills. Hart becomes an effective straight man to Johnson’s over-the-top character. Johnson is the runaway winner, delivering enough mannerisms to balance between enviable action hero type, sensitive victim, and kooky sociopath.

Despite the familiar feel, Central Intelligence is a spot-on action-comedy with thoughts and thrills. The funky sense of humour, fun set-pieces, clever cameos and cast and crew’s infectious energy separate it from the pack. In addition, the movie’s blooper reel is worth sticking around for.

Verdict: A fun buddy-action flick.

Ballers Ep. 1 (Pilot) Review: Scraping In


Creator: Steve Levinson

Channel: HBO

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Omar Benson Miller, John David Washington, Rob Corddry

ballers-poster3/5

In 2004, HBO franchise Entourage delivered the ultimate frat-boy, rags-to-riches fantasy. The show, delivering vicarious thrills via babes and big houses, became a trendsetter of gargantuan proportions. Today, with equality the aim of the Hollywood game, the show and movie have become a sad indictment of mid-2000s idiocy and greed. Sadly, for Dwayne Johnson more than anyone, HBO sports-dramedy Ballers simply cannot escape Entourage‘s soul-sucking shadow. However, thanks to its charismatic lead actor, it still has enough potential to step up with all guns blazing.

Ballers, despite significant flaws early on, has enough potential to become one of the year’s most entertaining shows. The pilot sets up season 1’s intriguing premise, but fumbles before reaching the end zone. American Football is now drenched in controversy. The NFL, refusing to take responsibility, has seen some of its biggest stars commit atrocities including rape and domestic violence. Less importantly, on-field incidents including Deflategate have made NFL a laughing stock. Stuck between Any Given Sunday and Jerry Maguire, the series focuses on former player turned sports agent Spencer Strasmore (Johnson), pushed by financial advisor Joe (Rob Corddry) to “monetise” his ‘friendships’. His early retirement, at the hands of crippling concussion, has affected his health, psychology, and finances.

Like Maguire, Ballers covers a handful of ego-driven superstars on the brink of wasting such unequivocal potential. Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), leading a debaucherous lifestyle, may soon lose his roster spot for the upcoming season. Vernon, however, cannot help but throw money at family members and friends. Meanwhile, similarly to Spencer, Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) is a nice-guy former athlete searching high and (painfully) low for his future career path. The pilot gave us a taste of future conflicts, with top-tier sports agent Jason (Troy Garity) and Miami Dolphins executive Larry (Dule Hill) popping up at opportune moments.

The pilot attempts an out-there fusion of over-the-top bromantic dramedy (Entourage) and in-depth character study (Jerry Maguire). Despite the bright, fun imagery and cool cast, the episode’s tonal shifts leave cause for concern. Its oil-and-water trajectory – between brash comedic moments and maudlin soul-searching – hit like a defensive lineman. However, even on shaky ground, its core ingredients make 30 minutes fly like Russell Wilson. Spencer, crushed by his former teammate’s death, is more likeable than most HBO anti-heroes. Balancing out the sex and pill popping, his guile and charm elevate the show’s slower moments.

ballers02Mainstream hot-shot Peter Berg, having worked with Johnson on Welcome to the Jungle over a decade ago, revels in the high-class lifestyle the show’s lead characters take for granted. The pilots run-time is packed with sex scenes, nightclub sequences, and stilted camerawork gazing longingly at multi-million dollar mansions. However, Berg never forgets to highlight professional sport’s indestructible dark side. The episode’s many ups and downs, from Jerret’s out-of-control behaviour to Spencer’s first few successful meetings, illuminate one key aspect – humanity is essential to any industry.

Ballers‘ first episode, though an awkward kick off, showcases enough potential to deliver one of contemporary TV’s most lively and enjoyable dramedies. Johnson and Berg, overcoming Entourage‘s suffocating and dated allure, provide solid groundwork to get their latest creation off and running.

San Andreas Audio Review: Dwayne the Destroyer


Director: Brad Peyton

Writer: Carlton Cuse

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti

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Release date: May 29th, 2015

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

2½/5

Review: 

Furious 7 Audio Review: Bums & Bonnets 7x


Director: James Wan

Writer: Chris Morgan

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez

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Release date: April 1st, 2015

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 137 minutes


 

4/5

Review:

Hercules Review – Hack ‘n’ Slash


Director: Brett Ratner

Writers: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay), Steve Moore, Admira Wijaya (graphic novel)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane

Hercules


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: Johnson’s casting.

Worst part: The topsy-turvy narrative.

In Hollywood, one man towers over all others whilst giving back to everyone within eye shot. He went from football to wrestling, all while honouring his Samoan-American heritage. Over the years, his kind smile has changed the game and set off a billion box-office tills. I’m, of course, taking about legendary manly-man Dwayne Johnson. Formerly labeled ‘The Rock’, this hard-as-nails badass is a stone-carved testament to the WWE.

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Transitioning into a successful leading man, his latest, Hercules, will determine whether or not he’ll stay on top or fall from grace. Sadly, despite being one of Hollywood’s most unique and charismatic screen warriors, the studios don’t know what to do with him. Passing him off as ‘yet another’ tough guy, the big-wigs are yet to give him a franchise to carry by himself. Lord knows, he can carry anything! Sadly, Hercules is far from the fuel needed to keep his burgeoning acting career going. In a twist on the legend,  we are ‘treated’ to a Hercules of unconscionable modesty and honour…sort of. Here, Demi-god/war-lord Hercules (Johnson) is a mercenary on the verge of redemption. Thanks to his nephew/PR assistant Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ reputation has migrated across Ancient Greece for all to relish in. Talking of Hercules’ completion of the Twelve Labors, the surrounding districts seek out this particular anti-hero to do their dirty work. However, despite his reputation, Hercules is boosted by a merry band of warriors. Rounded out by loyal thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), rabid warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Hercules’ notorious squad bolsters his considerable prowess.

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John Hurt – King of Paycheques!

Hercules’ story – thanks to several movie and TV iterations – has been flipped and switched countless times. At first, Hercules presents itself as a balls-to-the-wall slice of pure escapism. We expect to see, judging by everything the alluring marketing campaign promised, a refreshing take on Herculean feats of wonder and awe. Oh, how we were wrong to expect anything from this bland and uninspired sword-and-sandal flick! Sadly, everything we were promised has been left on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Sadly, notorious hack director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) only cares about his expansive action sequences. Ripping off Gladiator and 300, Ratner’s work bares little resemblance to anything of style or gravitas. Within the first five minutes, this reboot/prequel/sequel abomination delivers everything we expect in a Hercules flick. Thanks to awkward narration and choppy editing, the prologue delivers a brushed-over account of the Twelve Labors and Hera’s Betrayal. From the prologue onward, Hercules scraps its interest factor to deliver a by-the-numbers military-action narrative. Depicting a simplistic account of Greek Mythology, the movie seems entirely uninterested in the original story. Instead, in true micro-blockbuster fashion, political debates and laughable moments hinder this mindless affair. Tasked with aiding King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and Tharacian leader Lord Cotys (John Hurt), Hercules‘ story divulges into unhinged backstories and convoluted exposition.

“I am Hercules!” (Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), Hercules).

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An even-more-badass Ian McShane.

Alarmingly, Hercules tries and fails to manufacture any sense of tension or tragedy. Hercules’ past, involving the death of his wife and three children, is sporadically picked up and dropped. It’s one thing to reinvigorate a character’s origin story to make a profit. However, it’s another thing entirely to throw the positive elements away. The premise, despite its more intriguing concepts, besmirches Hercules’ good name. By reinventing the legend, Ratner and co.’s efforts yield few rewarding payoffs or impactful moments. By presenting him as an advantageous tough-guy, the Son of Zeus becomes the movie’s least interesting character. Bizarrely, the movie strives to say something about our blockbuster-driven realm. Oddly enough, with ancient warriors talking like time-travellers from 2014, the movie is nowhere near as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Pointing out holes in Hercules’ legend, certain comedic moments highlight the movie’s own obviousness. Despite the flaws, Johnson uses his immense physicality and charm to power through this underwhelming action-adventure. In addition, Hercules‘ visuals and action sequences deliver a handful of enjoyable parts. Breezing through plot-points, cliches, and montages, CGI-heavy battles bolster this action extravaganza. The first fight, in which Tharacian forces fight green-skinned rebels, is worth the admission cost. However, despite shining throughout these sequences, the supporting  characters are sorely underdeveloped.

In all honesty, I would watch Johnson read the phonebook if it meant giving him more screen time. Flashing his muscular frame and likeable personality across every frame, Johnson’s Hercules is certainly an intriguing creation. Sadly, in this iteration, everything surrounding its lead is more rotten than a decapitated corpse. Thanks to Ratner’s bland direction, this version will be little more than a distant memory come next month.

Verdict: A D-grade sword-and-sandal adventure. 

Pain & Gain Review – Bay’s Bonkers Bash


Director: Michael Bay

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Pete Collins (articles)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub


Release date: August 8th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


3/5

Best part: Dwayne Johnson.

Worst part: The Michael Bay-isms. 

Remember the 1990s? It was a far more peaceful time – back when boy bands ruled the airwaves, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air skyrocketed to mega-popularity, and Internet Explorer was still relevant. As a 90s kid, I look fondly back on this time and continually find more glaring similarities and differences between then and now. In the 90s, Miami, Florida was home to one of the most shocking crimes in US history. Action-comedy Pain & Gain is the ‘Michael Bay-directed’ account of this tragic event.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson& Anthony Mackie.

I used quotation marks in the previous sentence to make a specific point about this movie. Bay (Armageddon, the Transformers trilogy) is one of the most controversial directors in tinsel-town history. Many blame him for the death of modern cinema (Pearl Harbour was undoubtedly a huge misstep!) and continually criticise his ear-and-eyeball-shatteringly-brash style. However, his bombastic popcorn flicks have supported many careers and studios (dammed with faint praise). Since his filmography is a mixed bag (to say the least), Pain & Gain may just be his magnum opus. This hauntingly vile yet exciting and visceral action-comedy repeatedly states that it’s ‘based on a true story’. In the first three minutes, we see body-builder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) impressively performing sit ups shortly before running from a barrage of policemen. The movie then steps back a few months, and Lugo is working for the man. Lugo, an over-worked yet optimistic personal trainer at Miami’s Sun Gym, is forced to work with high-paying client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Inspired by self-help guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo asks work-mate Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him kidnap Kershaw and steal all his worldly possessions. However, their incompetent plan is met with hostility from Kershaw, former detective Ed Du Bois III (Ed Harris) and Miami’s steamy criminal underbelly.

Tony Shalhoub.

What follows is a tale of violence, tyranny, anguish, emotional turmoil, and dream chasing. Yes, this movie is a stew filled with chases, enviable settings, disturbing violence, and A-list actors (you know, the ‘typical’ Hollywood movie ingredients). However, Pain & Gain startlingly deviates from what a standard run-of-the-mill action-comedy would do. Turning this horrific yet though-provoking true story into a relentless farce is a bizarre premise in itself. Here, Bay throws preconceptions of all kinds out the window. His idea of the ‘American Dream’ is clichéd and shallow, but it makes for a topical, discomforting, and enthralling movie-going experience. Pain & Gain clearly suggests that life is not worth living unless you have reasonable goals, a can-do attitude…and enviable possessions. In keeping with these pessimistic messages (such as they are), Bay’s superficial world (seen in all of his movies) is depicted here as a lugubrious, slimy, and morally weak black hole. Bay’s mean-spirited and chauvinistic creation knowingly points out the dangers that come of economic turmoil and unadulterated obsession. Thankfully, the familiar yet refreshing crime-thriller aspects keep this controversial movie in check. Throughout Pain & Gain, Bay alerts us to that split second when the lead characters go from laughably bumbling morons to villainous, delusional, and selfish delinquents. Despite the aforementioned abrupt tonal shifts, Bay makes sure the audience can ably laugh at, but never with, the three anti-heroes.

Ed Harris.

Ultimately, Bay proves with Pain & Gain that he has the potential to create gleefully satirical, dark, and multi-layered action flicks (and who on Earth saw that coming?!) Despite Pain & Gain’s glowing positives, Bay’s sexist, racist, homophobic, manic, and atmospheric directorial ticks are on display once again. His crass/frat-boy-like filmmaking style/sense of humour overshadows everything he touches. Bay’s repetitive and abrasive approach may test well with audiences, but he needs to branch out if he wants to be treated like an adult. If Hollywood were a high school, The Coen Brothers would be the popular, talented kids whilst Bay would be the nerdy youngster with a creepy yet obvious crush. In fact, Pain & Gain, conceptually and narratively, draws major comparisons to Burn After Reading and Fargo. However, whereas those crime-dramas are consistent, intelligent, and punchy, this movie fails to come up a clever, original or subtle stylistic choice. Bay delivers yet another blood, sweat, and expletive-filled universe. The 90s, by this movie’s standards, glistens with jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodies, bright lights, bold colours, and stereotypical comic reliefs. For some reason, many shots zoom through bullet holes and around characters. I’ve also never understood his obsession with low angles, explosions, and gratuitous slo-mo. Unequivocally, It’s the Bay-isms that distract from what the movie is trying to say about wealth, masculinity, power, and friendship.

“Jesus Christ Himself has blessed me with many gifts! One of them is knocking someone the f*uck out!” (Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Pain & Gain).

The Sun Gym gang.

If you find True Romance/Out of Sight-esque crime-capers annoying and pretentious, you should probably check out Now You See Me instead. Like Now You See Me, the A-list cast elevates the mediocre material. Unlike that movie, however, Pain & Gain isn’t entirely brainless. Aided by the enjoyably silly yet unique narration, this movie highlights the aesthetic and magnetic qualities of its performers. Wahlberg’s enigmatic and captivating screen presence elevates his strange yet fascinating role. Used to playing hard-nosed cops and criminals, Wahlberg could’ve done this in his sleep. However, his wacky character is a steroid-filled shot to this movie’s heart. Emulating such masculine figures as Tony Montana, Rocky Balboa and Michael Corleone (“I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing!”), Lugo believes his muscle-fuelled lifestyle will bolster his ridiculous and disgusting get-rich-quick scheme. Despite his dim-wittedness, Lugo’s blissful ignorance and persistence are, at points, hilariously charming traits (similarly to his Boogie Nights character). The Stand out performer here is Johnson. Coming off G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast and Furious 6, Johnson has established himself in 2013 as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone-type action hero. Able to inject charisma, physicality, and grit into any role, Johnson in Pain & Gain balances wit, magnetism, and an inhumanly muscular frame to turn in a nuanced performance. His hysterically zany character, obsessed with Jesus and Cocaine (what a combination!), is a truly affecting and disturbing creation. I hope we see more of Mackie after his enjoyable performance here. Shalhoub, Jeong, and Harris deliver charismatic turns in small roles. On the other end of the spectrum, a little of Rebel Wilson’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way!

Turning this impactful true story into a pulsating action-comedy would’ve been an ambitious and incomprehensible task. However, Bay has done a remarkable job with allowing us to laugh at these absurdly dumb characters. Pain & Gain is an outlandish, insane, and lurid movie about the American Dream.

Verdict: A relentless, punchy yet bizarre action-comedy.

Fast and Furious 6 Review – Machismo & Muscle Cars


Director: Justin Lin

Writer: Chris Morgan

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez


Release date: May 34th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, Spain

Running time: 130 minutes


4/5

Best part: The kick-ass action sequences.

Worst part: The painfully unfunny one-liners.

The Fast and Furious franchise is a baffling and impressive creation. It’s notoriously known to be an example of Hollywood’s apparent lack of care and commitment. I believe this presupposition is a little unfair. Despite its flaws, it has always committed to its goal of being pure escapist entertainment. This series is like a good wine- it gets better with age. Fast and Furious 6 (labelled Furious 6 in the opening credits) is, so far, the most enthralling and inspired instalment.

Vin Diesel & Paul Walker.

This instalment is a sprawling, occasionally messy, and light-hearted action flick. The film kicks into gear immediately and never stalls. The story, such as it is, is as predictable as death and taxes (two things that this series’ characters have avoided at all costs). After the cataclysmic events of Fast Five, former street racer, turned career criminal, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is embracing his financial and spiritual riches. His life of luxury, with girlfriend Elena (Elsa Pataky), is made whole by his best friend Brian (Paul Walker), Brian’s wife/Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their new-born child. However, his life takes a turn for the weird when Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) asks Dom, and his rag-tag team of professional criminals, to help him. Hobbs’ bargaining chip is a week-old picture of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) – Dom’s former girlfriend, whom was believed to have been killed in a previous instalment. The team, also featuring Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Giselle (Gal Gadot), Han (Sung Kang), and Riley (Gina Carano), go after notorious criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his own team. However, this mission will prove, to everyone involved, that trust can be a person’s biggest weakness.

Dwayne Johnson & Gina Carano.

From its ‘humble’ beginnings to now, the Fast and Furious franchise has become a suped-up soap opera with its own convoluted mythology. This series has been more productive than most people realise. Not only has it carried on for over a decade, but it has inspired an entire generation of youths to customise their cars and abrasively rev their engines at every hottie walking by. If you are walking into the sixth instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise, then don’t expect high art. Instead, expect a movie that understands just how preposterous this series has become. This instalment recognises its roots (illustrated early on with an eye-catching trip down memory lane during the opening credits sequence). Fast Five and Furious 6 have given this franchise an epic sense of scale and many awe-inspiring moments. By taking this series out of the streets of L.A., and setting instalments in countries such as Japan, Brazil, London, and Spain, director Justin Lin has made this series his own. This is his fourth and final Fast and Furious film, and the series won’t be the same without his magnetic touch. Here, his pacy and kinetic style overshadows the plot’s many small inconsistencies and overall silliness. This continent-hopping tale of worldwide terrorism and extreme heroics is surprisingly interesting. Lin delivers a much grittier instalment here compared to what we have seen before. By giving the team a good reason to return to the action, this movie sees every character continually put their lives on the line.

Michelle Rodriguez & Luke Evans.

 This series is home to some of the most impressive action sequences in film history. This film, somehow, tops Fast Five’s inventive and destructive vault-heist sequence. Every action set piece here is thrilling and balletic. Unlike most action directors, Lin knows where to place the camera and how to deliver everything that action-movie fans would want to see. The technical magic displayed in every car chase and fist-fight has to be seen to be believed. The first action set-piece is more thrilling and climactic than any action sequence with Michael Bay’s name on it. This set-piece winds skilfully through London’s narrow streets. A giant explosion is followed by a stunning car chase (featuring Batmobile-like race cars) that is then followed by a revelation that pushes the story forward. Lin proves that he puts 110% into every idea he has (watch the paint-balling episodes of Community to embrace more of his genius). Somehow, the action set-pieces increase in both scale and spectacle from there. The car/tank chase on a Spanish highway causes multi-millions of dollars in damage and costs many innocent lives. Cars are pancaked whilst the goodies weave through the freeway’s intricate set-up. Apparently, the laws of physics don’t apply to any freaky stunts that Dom and Shaw’s teams have up their sleeves.

“You don’t turn your back on family. Even when they do.” Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Fast & Furious 6).

A flying Tyrese Gibson.

This instalment is essentially a Mission: Impossible or Expendables sequel. The teamwork displayed by Dom’s gang is both endearing and touching. Many people will struggle to fathom why a special agent would assign a top-secret mission to a bunch of former car thieves. I, however, believe that Hobbs and Riley surround themselves with lawbreakers in order to think like, and eventually catch, lawbreakers. All of these actors, except for Johnson, are uninteresting in other films. However, these B-grade action stars work well together. Their witty banter builds a significant amount of chemistry. In an effort to toughen-up each character, the elaborate speeches, one-liners, and threats are delivered in an over-the-top fashion. However, the homoerotic overtones, created by the multiple bromances on display here, contrast the stern and overblown performances (it seemed like Hobbs and Toretto were about to make out at any second!). Diesel is strangely charming in this role. Despite slurring every line, his smirk-filled performance is effective here. Walker, on the other hand, is as boring as a Daewoo! Johnson is charismatic as the no-bull special agent. He continues his run of convincing action-star performances with his menacing turn and inhumanly-muscular frame. Gibson, Bridges, and Kang are commendable in their supporting roles. Evans fits into the antagonist role with ease, turning in a star-making performance for this forgettable Bond villain-like character.

Lin has created a Fast and Furious instalment that ably balances action, drama, character, and comedy. Despite its obvious ridiculousness and predictable plot, this movie is a highly-recommendable blockbuster. The biggest problem may, in fact, be the idiots who rev their engines and speed through the car park on their way home! Ps. be sure to stick around for the puzzling yet intriguing post-credits sequence.

Verdict: The best Fast and Furious flick yet!

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review – America: F*ck Yeah!


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki


Release date: March 28th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


3/5

Best Part: Willis and Johnson

Worst Part: RZA as the blind master

Hollywood’s latest trend has been to adapt cartoons and toy franchises into big-budget movies. Toy company Hasbro is rolling in cash after the commercial success of the Transformers films and Battleship. However, commercial success doesn’t guarantee quality. Arguably, the best films with the Hasbro name on them are the G.I. Joe flicks. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the better of the two, but that’s still not saying much.

Dwayne Johnson.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is silly yet enjoyable. The plot, such as it is, is a lot saner than I thought it would be. It starts off with Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) enjoying military life as members of the G.I. Joe Unit. They save countless lives, defeat super-villains with ease, and lap up everything at their disposal. However, their time spent protecting the Earth is about to hit a huge, ahem, roadblock. On a mission to reclaim nuclear arms in Pakistan, they are attacked by the vicious underground military unit known as Cobra. The attack was organised by none other than the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). As announced rather hastily in the trailer, the president is not who he seems. The only Joes left alive after the attack are Roadblock, Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Teaming up with the original G.I. Joe member, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), the remaining Joes must track down those responsible and bring them to justice.

Snake Eyes.

The original cartoon was designed to advertise the hugely popular action figures. Let’s make one thing clear; both live-action films are just as stupid and flawed as the original material. They are low-brow in every sense. The thing that makes them better than the other Hasbro flicks is their sense of humour. Both films wink at the audience. It’s as if everyone involved is aware of the franchise’s silly premise, catch phrases, and iconography. The first G.I. Joe flick, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was an ultra-dumb yet fun cartoon in live action form. It was essentially Team America: World Police without the satirical edge or marionettes. It reached for Transformers success without understanding anything about story or character consistency. Its sequel gives the franchise a facelift. This pseudo-reboot gets rid of the original’s ultra-shiny and unconvincing special effects to deliver a rollicking thrill-ride. Gone are the accelerator suits, advanced laser-weapons and ice palaces. Here, we get a cross between the original and grittier ensemble action flicks such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The A-Team. For the most part, the settings, costumes and gun-fights in G.I. Joe: Retaliation are tangible. Machine guns and camouflage army outfits suit this interpretation of G.I. Joe. This style may draw a larger crowd to this ridiculous franchise.

Cobra Commander & Storm Shadow.

This movie diverts from the crass and unessential elements of the Transformers films and Battleship. Unlike those movies, G.I. Joe: Retaliation knows what it is and doesn’t try to exceed its grasp. It revels in its predictable ‘men on a mission’ story without becoming jingoistic or insulting. Unlike the original, there are no unnecessary romantic sub-plots, predictable revelations, or awkward familial ties between characters. Here, it’s a revenge flick driven by both its action set pieces and spy narrative. The action set pieces are, of course, why the average Joe (du dun chh!) would want to see this movie. Thankfully, they don’t disappoint. Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 the Streets, Step Up 3D) utilises his talents to master these set pieces. His handling of choreography and movement brings fluidity and exhilaration to each action scene. Thankfully, he avoids quick cuts and shaking cameras. The film’s best set piece is shown in many of the trailers. The ninja fight across the mountain face is a lot more exciting and vertigo-inducing than expected. Unfortunately, the action sequences past this point are anti-climactic.

“In the immortal words of Jay-Z: “Whatever deity may guide my life, dear lord don’t let me die tonight. But if I shall before I wake, I’d accept my fate.”” (Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

Bruce Willis & Adrianne Palicki.

The witty script, by Zombieland writers Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick, saves this film. The iconic elements of the G.I. Joe franchise are subtly and fondly peppered throughout this film. The all-important Joe characters shine on screen. Roadblock is a nice addition to this series. He is given a greater back-story than expected. He also becomes the strong leader needed in a time of crisis. Dwayne Johnson’s physique and natural charm stand out here. The original Joe’s inclusion was also a nice surprise. Willis brings his dry wit to an otherwise straight-faced role. Palicki and Cotrona liven up their one dimensional characters. However, faring poorly is former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. He is laughable as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s master, sporting both white-tipped facial hair and a strange accent. Asian actor Byung-Hun Lee does the best he can with some of the film’s worst dialogue. Except for Pryce’s ego-maniacal president character, the villains are uninteresting. The Cobra Commander and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) are over the top. You begin to miss the Joes whenever they aren’t on screen.

If you are willing to suspend disbelief, then you may enjoy G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Aided by the charisma of Willis and Johnson, the film is a non-stop thrill-ride. This film has its problems (e.g. too many silly code names), but it understands just how preposterous this franchise is.

Verdict: A silly yet enjoyable sequel.