THE MUMMY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Action and Scary Images, and for some Suggestive Content and partial Nudity

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari & Russell Crowe

To be perfectly honest, I consider 1932’s THE MUMMY to be the worst Universal Monster movie (right below the missed opportunity that was THE INVISIBLE MAN). More honesty, I love the 1999 Brendan Fraser reboot and even like THE MUMMY RETURNS. I was looking forward to Universal’s new reboot of THE MUMMY and appreciated they were sticking to a more action-oriented approach. However, 2017’s THE MUMMY is not so much its own movie as it is a prologue that lays groundwork for future films in Universal’s so-called Dark Universe (interconnected reboots of classic monsters). I’m sad to say that this new MUMMY isn’t much fun at all and easily ranks as the worst big screen outing I’ve had since 2015’s FANTASTIC FOUR.

In Iraq, thief/soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his bandit buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) accidentally uncover a hidden tomb. Inside the underground burial site, there’s treasure, camel spiders and one mercury-covered sarcophagus. Much to the dismay of his archeologist love-interest Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick shoots a chain and awakens a cursed mummy. The mummy is Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and she’s “chosen” Nick to be her future vessel for Egyptian god of violence Set. Jennifer and Nick desperately try to break the curse before it’s too late, all while Ahmanet raises rotting henchmen and tries to piece together a cursed dagger to bring about her evil plan. Also, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Russell Crowe) pops up as a Nick Fury type character…for some reason.

One might hope that Tom Cruise’s sheer charisma might save THE MUMMY from being absolutely insufferable to sit through, but you’d be terribly mistaken. Cruise is playing his role on auto-pilot, lacking a single ounce of his usual action-hero swagger or one believable emotion. THE MUMMY is easily the worst film in Cruise’s rather good filmography. During many points, Cruise just seems to be trying to imitate Brendan Fraser’s character from the 1999 version and failing to understand why Fraser was so good in those movies. Every time Cruise attempts a bit of off-kilter humor or a one-liner, it hits with a dud and winds up being shockingly unfunny.

However, Cruise’s performance seems award-worthy when compared to costar Annabelle Wallis, who comes off like the discount version of Emily Blunt. She’s bland, wooden, and lacks any charm whatsoever, though she attempts to be funny at certain points too and even tries (and fails) to inject emotional stakes into the proceedings. Jake Johnson is annoying as Cruise’s partner, who pops up in a gimmick that’s ripped off from the decaying friend in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Also, Russell Crowe is in this movie as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…for some reason.

Finally, there’s Sofia Boutella as the titular monster herself. This actress was fantastic as the blade-legged baddie in KINGSMAN, so I was hoping she would deliver a cool villainess here. I was sadly mistaken because Princess Ahmanet can’t seem to do a damn thing for herself. She kisses people to death and has a lame final confrontation, but that’s about it. Her other scenes typically involve undead henchmen helping her, alongside poorly rendered CGI sand storms and occasional spiders/rats.

Speaking of which, THE MUMMY’s effects are piss poor to the point where they resemble something from 2004’s horrid VAN HELSING or a typical Syfy channel movie. The worst example of this comes in Mr. Hyde, who’s just a grayish cross-eyed CGI version of Russell Crowe. There’s also a monster in the film’s finale that’s cartoonishly awful and somehow Universal expects to re-incorporate this effect into their later Dark Universe installments. This all being said, I did have brief fun watching Cruise fight Ahmanet’s mummified henchmen in two scenes and that alone saves this movie from being a complete failure.

THE MUMMY’s biggest sin is that it’s barely a movie and plays more like a feature-length prologue for other movies in the Dark Universe line-up (the next being 2019’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). That Dark Universe now seems highly unlikely, given that this film has underperformed at the box office and received negative responses from both critics and audiences alike. There was not a single gasp, cheer, scream, laugh or emotional response to be found from the audience I saw this film with. THE MUMMY is a dull piece of non-entertainment, in which story, scares, and fun all take a backseat to set up future installments in a series that probably won’t even happen. THE MUMMY is everything wrong with modern Hollywood because it treats the audience like idiots, recycles material without ever realizing what made it work in the first place, and hopes that viewers will be suckered into coming back for the next chapter in a cinematic universe. You should treat this film like an ancient Egyptian curse and avoid it!

Grade: D-

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science-Fiction Violence and Peril

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Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson & Judy Greer

In 1993, Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs to life with JURASSIC PARK. That film was a smash hit, broke records, and wowed audiences everywhere. Seeing as the movie was such a huge success, it’s not surprising that the studio wanted a sequel. In 1997, we were given THE LOST WORLD. Though that movie was far darker than the original, it lost its sense of fun and adventure. The end result was a mediocre flick and in 2001, JURASSIC PARK III effectively killed whatever potential was left for a fourth film. So now, in 2015, we have been given a bit of a reboot. JURASSIC WORLD can be taken as a direct sequel to the original film, but can also fit into the series continuity for those who want it to. It doesn’t really matter, because JURASSIC WORLD feels like the sequel that LOST WORLD should have been. It’s not as perfect as Spielberg’s classic, but is a lot of fun nonetheless!

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Over two decades have passed since John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park venture failed. Thanks to the magic of science and money, Jurassic World stands in its place. A much grander version of what Hammond envisioned, this dinosaur theme park is set up with rides, cloned dino attractions, and even a Sea World-like area. Zach and Gary are two brothers visiting their aunt Claire, who happens to be the park operations manager. What they don’t know is that Claire and a group of scientists have created a secret new attraction for potential investors. Instead of simply cloning yet another extinct species, the scientists have spliced together a new dino-hybrid: Indominus Rex. This new monster is bigger, scarier, and smarter than the other dinos in the park and as a result, it breaks out of its pen. Since this is a JURASSIC PARK film, you can pretty much guess where things go from there.

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Instead of following the “small band of people stranded on an island populated by dangerous dinosaurs” formula used in the previous sequels, WORLD puts a new spin on things by placing us in the active park. We get a glimpse into how this theme park functions and are shown various attractions as well as some behind-the-scenes politics that led to the creation of Indominus Rex. A lot of the humor in this film comes from the typical theme park clichés being placed into the attractions of cloned dinosaurs. Two of my favorite bits includes a disgruntled teenage ride operator and a petting zoo of baby herbivores, but there are also various live-feedings (including a sort-of Shamu show featuring a large Mosasaur) as well. Seeing as Jurassic World is a theme park loaded with patrons, it only makes sense that when the mayhem breaks loose…things get crazy. One particular sequence is out-and-out chaos and I loved it (you’ll know it when you see it).

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Where JURASSIC WORLD falters is in its characters. The cast is full of A-list talent, but the roles they’re playing don’t seem like real people. Chris Pratt is enjoyable as a charismatic Velociraptor handler, but seems to be suffering a case of traileritis. By this I mean that he delivers a lot of his lines in a cryptic voice that seems specifically made for trailers and commercials…and indeed, most of these lines can be seen in the vast amount of promotional material for this movie. Like I said, traileritis. Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard is one-dimensional as the shrewish Claire. Since she has no kids of her own and is a businesswoman, that is automatically supposed to make her into a cold and uncaring person. Yes, she eventually goes through an arc, but it still feels unconvincing. B.D. Wong reprises his role as a scientist from the original and seems to be having a lot of fun with it. Irrfan Khan is a welcome face as the park’s owner. Meanwhile, Vincent D’Onofrio is a solid antagonist who has motivations that are original to this series. In fact, I’m surprised that it took the JURASSIC franchise three films before finally including someone like D’Onofrio’s character. The best performances come from Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as the vacationing siblings. They come off as convincing and likable brothers.

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Of course, the real stars are the dinosaurs themselves. While it seems like a combination of puppetry and CGI has been used once again, it all pretty much looked like CGI to me. It’s convincing enough for the monster movie that JURASSIC WORLD is, because that’s essentially what it all boils down to. There are lots of other dinosaurs, but the Indominus Rex is the big beast here. Frankly, I thought Indominus’s design was sort of bland, but it remains scary during a number of scenes. As with all of the JURASSIC movies, the best bits involve the Velociraptors and they are at full intimidating force here. The T-Rex even shows up for a couple of memorable moments. I can’t imagine many fans being disappointed with the finale that’s hugely satisfying and drew collective gasps and cheers from the audience in the packed theater.

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It may suffer from bland characters and boring creature design on the main monster, but JURASSIC WORLD is a blast of fun that should please even the most skeptical of fans to some extent. This is the JURASSIC PARK sequel that we should have received the first time around. It’s not nearly as perfect as Spielberg’s original, but it’s a hugely enjoyable summer blockbuster. The humor works. There are scenes of chaos that got big audience reactions. Dinosaurs chase and eat people. What more do you want or expect?

Grade: B+

NEIGHBORS (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Strong Crude and Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, and Drug Use throughout

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Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Written by: Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien

Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco & Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Never in my wildest dreams have I imagined a comedy that would headline both Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, yet here we are in 2014 and this film is guaranteed to be a comedy hit of the summer. NEIGHBORS makes no qualms about the kind of movie it is. It’s earns its R rating with glee and frequently relies on profanity, bodily functions, and dick jokes. What one might not expect is that the film often does so with fleshed-out characters and a smart script. The story is raunchy, but oddly sweet in some respects. The film is also very, very funny! Paced at a perfect 96 minute running time, this is a great film to kick back, relax and get some huge laughs out of.

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Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are two college sweethearts making that awkward transition into the real adulthood. They own a cozy house and are the proud parents of an adorable baby girl. The house next door is up for sale and the couple are curiously watching potential buyers/new neighbors. What they don’t expect is a fraternity populated with tons of “brothers” showing up to buy the place. After seemingly getting off on the right foot with the frat president Teddy (Zac Efron), things take a turn for the worse after Mac calls the cops with a noise complaint on their loud next door neighbors. The tides turn and any possible chance of a friendly relationship with the frat is severed. With the college boys making their life a living hell at every turn (vandalizing property and blasting loud music every night of the week), Mac and Kelly bring on a full-scale domestic war upon the heads of these punks…which escalates to insane heights.

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For the ridiculous levels that things spiral out of control, NEIGHBORS has remarkable skill with its characters. Not every joke revolves around the ludicrous circumstances between the couple and the frat. Plenty of scenes revolve around the couple themselves coping with the unexpected stress of parenthood. Quite a few moments also showcase the inner workings of the fraternity. It’s also worth noting that the frat house occupants aren’t played off as one-joke stereotypes. There are some typical traits associated with these characters, but the bromance between Zac Efron and Dave Franco’s characters seemed genuine. Some very good points are made about generational gaps and the stigma that comes with growing up. It’s not like the film was profoundly deep or anything along those lines, but the story was painted with a layer of reality that made everything so much funnier than it already was. As a couple, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have believable chemistry. They equally balanced being immature idiots and concerned parents. Every one of these touches ultimately made nearly every character compelling in their own way.

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NEIGHBORS does frequently resort to crude jokes to get laughs. They are lots of sex jokes, dick references, and a scene involving breast milk that is frankly quite disgusting. Things aren’t all about the shock value though. The film never lowers itself as just a cash-in for idiots who still laugh at their own farts. There are a lot of clever interactions between the couple and the fraternity. Where the film stumbles a bit comes in the final minutes. It seems like the story had been told and the film was ready to end, but that the filmmaker and writers didn’t know how to close it out. Instead of remaining consistent with the same energy that was present for the entire movie up to that point, the film seems to lose some steam. It ultimately winds down on a silly note that had good intentions, but didn’t necessarily leave me completely satisfied. As a side note, some scenes on display in the trailers/TV spots aren’t in the film at all. They are sure to appear in the eventual Unrated version, but it’s kind of misleading to throw those into the marketing (even the most recent commercials).

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Nobody is expecting NEIGHBORS to be high art and it isn’t. This is the kind of R-rated comedy that someone heads into with the expectations of getting some solid laughs at immature antics. There are plenty of those on display, but the script doesn’t settle at that point and carves out some well-developed characters as well. The movie is equally as clever as it is crude. I highly enjoyed NEIGHBORS for what it was and recommend the film to fans of Seth Rogen comedies. It’s definitely in your wheelhouse if you’re a fan of that charismatic man-child (I am one of those fans). These are some NEIGHBORS worth visiting.

Grade: B+

21 JUMP STREET (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content, Pervasive Language, Drug Material, Drug Material, Teen Drinking and some Violence

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET created by Patrick Hasburgh & Stephen J. Cannell)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle & Ice Cube

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have gone on record saying that their careers seem to based around making terrible-sounding ideas good. This is dead-on accurate considering that their other directorial work has included CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and THE LEGO MOVIE. The idea of making a film out of a cheesy 80’s cop-drama as a comedy (which easily could have tanked at the box office) sounded pretty dire on paper. With 21 JUMP STREET, the pair go headlong into hard R-rated humor and do a decent job with it.

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In their high school years, Morton Schmidt was an awkward nerd and Greg Jenko was a popular jock. They met again in the police academy and became fast friends, helping each other out in the areas where they struggled. Together they became police officers and took down a big drug dealer…but forgot to read him the Miranda rights. Due to their mistake, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves transferred to an undercover department located at 21 Jump Street. They must go back to high school incognito to take down a new synthetic drug and its creator. Times have changed since their days in grade school and so have the cliques. Of course, this leads to one cop getting too deep in his fake identity, while the other becomes a bit of an outcast taking his undercover work seriously.

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21 JUMP STREET is funny, quite funny during some scenes. It nails that part of the film right out of the gate, which is not an easy thing to do in comedy. For once, Jonah Hill is more of the straight-man to the surprisingly hilarious Channing Tatum. Ice Cube shows up in a supporting role and does the usual angry black man making mean faces routine. His character even points out that this is a stereotype, but it doesn’t make this running joke any better. The actors playing the high school students were convincing and looked the right age for the parts. For me, the biggest laughs came in Rob Riggle’s character of an obnoxious gym teacher.

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Most of the humor works in pretty cleverly addressing what a huge transition has gone between the generational gap. What used to be considered geeky or lame has found a trend in being the new cool thing. What used to be fantastic modern music is now considered oldies. The emphasis on how far out of their element Hill and Tatum are makes for some solid entertainment value.

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Besides being a comedy, the film nails some of the action movie parts too. There are shoot-outs and car chases. They all have an added comedic sense that works fairly well around them too. One high-speed chase on a freeway had me cracking up and was probably my favorite part of the entire film! This isn’t a movie content to just play with a few curse words getting the R-rating and some cheap laughs. 21 JUMP STREET revels in the hard R-rated comedic material. It gets pretty hilarious at points, but during others it feels like the jokes wear out their welcome a bit (e.g. a scene involving tripping out on drugs that’s revisited later on in the film). The plot is fairly predictable as well. We know exactly where things are going and what point they’ll end up at. It’s a matter of playing-by-the-numbers. The script hits all of the requisite beats for a buddy-cop film, but the comedy works in the 21 JUMP STREET’s overall favor and slightly sets it apart from similar movies.

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21 JUMP STREET is a buddy-cop comedy based on a cheesy 80’s drama that is clearly in on the joke. That’s pretty obvious when you take into consideration one phenomenal cameo (well worth the long wait to reveal it). Jonah Hill plays more of the serious character as opposed to most of the hilarity coming from Channing Tatum (who does a surprisingly great job). The film is familiar and some of the jokes miss their mark significantly. Taken as an outrageous romp, 21 JUMP STREET is a good time. You pretty much know if you’ll like this one as you’re walking into it.

Grade: B-

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Written by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Voices of: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill & Will Forte

I thought THE LEGO MOVIE looked awful from the trailer that premiered last July. Movies based around toys, whether they be action figures (TRANSFORMERS franchise) or board games (BATTLESHIP), almost never work on any level. THE LEGO MOVIE looked like it would be one big long commercial for those beloved sets of bricks that we all grew up with. Enter Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (whose previous work includes the delightful CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS). This comedic duo has crafted a spectacular script to what sounded like a terrible project. The crew behind this film also includes a diverse cast of characters and a lively animation team. Before getting into the details of just why THE LEGO MOVIE soars to the highest pillar of family entertainment,  I’ll present the basic set-up…

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Living in a world built of Legos and populated by Lego figures, Emmet is just a generic construction worker who goes with the flow. He doesn’t have any real friends to speak of and revels in whatever’s popular (be it a TV sitcom titled Where’s My Pants?, drinking overpriced coffee, or listening to the hit-rock song “Everything Is Awesome” for five-hours straight at his workplace). After running into a rare artifact, Emmet finds himself on an unexpected adventure with such unlikely companions as Wildstyle (an action heroine), Vitruvius (a blind wizard), and other oddball companions. This also includes Batman. Emmet may be in over his head, but only they can stop the evil Lord Business from destroying the world as they know it with an ultimate weapon known as the “Kragle.”

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The computer animation looks so convincingly like stop-motion executed with Legos, that I really wouldn’t be shocked if most of the movie was done with real stop-motion. Every frame of the film is lively and visually entrancing! There’s so much going on the background of some scenes that THE LEGO MOVIE will probably get even more enjoyable on repeat viewings. The cast of characters is vast and the voices bringing these Lego figures to life ranges from action stars (Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop) to comedians (Charlie Day is hysterical as a spaceman, Will Arnett knocks it out of the park with his portrayal of Batman, and Will Ferrell is delightful as Lord Business) and even some fun cameos (Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, among others).

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The voice cast is impressive, but the script elevates the material from great to absolutely A-grade material! Yes, there are pop-culture references (we see plenty of notable characters from movies, sports, and comic books). I usually despise these in comedy with a passion, but oddly enough the references in THE LEGO MOVIE will age very well. It’s not just incorporating what’s hip and new at the present. Everybody loves DC Comics, basketball legends, and some movie series that are referenced. There won’t be a time when these references get old, because the things being references aren’t just fads or nods to things that have been released in the past year (unlike all those lame spoof movies that seem to get pumped out every few months). This decision was nothing short of brilliant and the film doesn’t exclusively rely on these fun pokes for the viewer to enjoy it!

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While the plot itself is a mere outline for lots of creativity and fun. It succeeds in this case, because that’s exactly what everyone brought to the table. There’s a quality in THE LEGO MOVIE that’s rarely found in family entertainment (of any era). It seems as if the entertainment factor was a high priority from everybody involved, but the last third is where things get taken from a great movie to a surprisingly heartfelt piece of cinema (I’m seriously referring to THE LEGO MOVIE as that). I won’t spoil what happens, but it touches the emotions of children and will bring some brimming tears to the eyes of many an adult. This is where I knew outright that this is a top-level piece of family friendly entertainment for me.

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Parents sitting behind me were skeptical when the film began. As it ended, they were cheering “That was great!” Various members of the audience were also giving it a strong round of applause as well. I always say (and will continue to do so) that great children’s entertainment isn’t just meant for children. Really phenomenal family films can be enjoyed by the whole family for a wide variety of reasons. THE LEGO MOVIE is the kind of family film I just described. It’s too early to tell for sure, but I wouldn’t be shocked if THE LEGO MOVIE winds up being one of the best 2014 has to offer. Take your children to see it! Take your girlfriend or wife to see it! Take yourself to see it! THE LEGO MOVIE is (to bring back a word used frequently throughout the film) awesome!

Grade: A+

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