THE BABYSITTER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: McG

Written by: Brian Duffield

Starring: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor & Emily Alyn Lind

McG (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol) isn’t exactly known for making great movies. Though I thought 3 DAYS TO KILL was a decent actioner, this man also gave us a subpar TERMINATOR movie, directed the lame action-rom-com THIS MEANS WAR, and helmed the “masterpieces” known as WE ARE MARSHALL and both CHARLIE’S ANGELS films. Like I said, McG isn’t known for making quality cinema. If THE BABYSITTER is any indication though, McG seems to have a solid knack for crafting fun horror comedy. Working from a stylish script and featuring a charismatic cast of characters, THE BABYSITTER is a bloody blast from beginning to end.

Innocent 12-year-old Cole Johnson (Judah Lewis) is constantly picked on by bullies and has a fear for seemingly everything around him. One thing that Cole has going for him is his friendship with hot babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving). Despite their obvious age difference, the babysitter-babysat pair get along fabulously and Cole is head-over-heels for Bee. One night, Cole decides to stay up past his bedtime to see what his babysitter and her friends do while he’s usually fast asleep. It turns out that Bee and her group of high school pals are actually Satanists who enjoy human sacrifice. Now that Cole has glimpsed their bloody hobby, he’s next on the chopping block. A life-or-death battle between a wimpy 12-year-old and a group of violent teens ensues…and it’s fun as hell!

THE BABYSITTER kicks itself off in the right fashion, beginning as a possible coming-of-age tale crossed with a teenage sex comedy. Judah Lewis and Samara Weaving sell their characters’ friendship as authentic, which makes the progressively crazy events a bit more affecting than I initially expected. THE BABYSITTER has a John Hughes vibe to its writing and characters. This Hughes-esque feeling isn’t simply reserved for the main relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. The rest of the teenage Satan-worshipping psychos (a cheerleader, a goth, a jock, and the token black guy) are more believable than you’d expect from a goofy, gory horror-comedy.

Speaking of which, THE BABYSITTER has a lot of wild kills and a fairly high body count. Many of these demises feel like ultra-violent versions of HOME ALONE scenes. No two kills are alike as each of the various victims receives a noteworthy death. You know that a slasher flick is doing something right when you are actually upset to see a few characters bite it early on because their on-screen presence will be missed. The blood flows freely and outright gushes in over-the-top fashion, though pretty much every death receives a punchline that ranges from chuckle-worthy to hysterically funny. A two-part explosion had me cracking up and sticks out as one of the major highlights in this film.

The only complaints that I have about THE BABYSITTER come from the film’s style occasionally trying too hard to sell its humor. During a few scenes, on-screen text outright interrupts the action. We see that a character has a pocket knife, but McG feels the need to add large text that reads something along the lines of “A pocket knife…bitches!” There’s an entire scene with the pocket knife that’s funny on its own merits, but this text doesn’t add anything to the proceedings and instead comes off as annoying. It’s like a discounted attempt at a SCOTT PILGRIM joke, but this film doesn’t maintain that style the whole way through. Also, the on-screen text straight up disappears after the halfway point, so it makes the viewer wonder why it was even included for the first half.

Aside from that damn on-screen text and a few punchlines that fall flat, THE BABYSITTER is frequently hilarious, ridiculously gory, always entertaining, and (at points) oddly heartfelt. If you want a great horror-comedy or a gory slasher in the vein of John Hughes’ coming-of-age comedies (a mixture that hasn’t really been executed in this way before), THE BABYSITTER is a safe bet for this Halloween season or any time of the year that you feel like indulging in a really cool (if slightly flawed) slasher comedy.

Grade: B+

TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, and Language

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Directed by: McG

Written by: John Brancato & Michael Ferris

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander & Helena Bonham Carter

THE TERMINATOR is a fun, cheesy 80’s action flick. TERMINATOR 2 is one of the best sequels of all-time and manages to top the original in every conceivable way. TERMINATOR 3 is a cheap, studio cash-grab that did its best to tarnish the series and slap fans in the face. In 2009, TERMINATOR: SALVATION opened to the middling excitement and so-so reviews. Where does this fourth film fit into the series, it feels like a stand-alone post-apocalyptic war film that’s relatively harmless. Though it manages to botch a number of things, SALVATION is tolerable entry that can be enjoyed in stupid guilty pleasure sort of way.

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Judgement Day has long since passed and John Connor is rising to the top ranks of the Resistance against Skynet. When his superiors reveal a secret weapon, Connor is more than a little eager to test it out and has a limited time period to do so (as Skynet has marked him on their hit list). Meanwhile, former prisoner Marcus Wright awakens from a coma into the post-apocalyptic wasteland. His survival is aided by teenage fighter Kyle Reese. Connor, Reese and Wright find themselves on a collision course that could spell fate for all three in this wasteland of robotic killers and freedom fighters.

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Though everything doesn’t quite work in this film (more on those problems in a moment), SALVATION gives fans what they’ve been told about for three solid movies. We get an entire feature centered in a post-Judgement Day world. There’s no end to the compliments I can throw on the ultra-bleak, smoggy wasteland atmosphere being brought to life. Not to mention that there are a handful of decent action scenes that aren’t totally neutered by an unneeded PG-13 rating. The landscape of this rubble-filled world is highly enjoyable to look at, not to mention the various Terminators that we get to see. Previously, all of the machines in the TERMINATOR films have been humanoid designs. In SALVATION, there are self-driving motorcycles with guns mounted to their sides, tentacle-like assassins, giant machines built for capturing humans, and plenty of other cool robots. Even though this movie has it’s faults, I won’t knock the atmosphere or the many creative machines on display.

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Story-wise, this script is from the same pair of writers that brought us the disappointing TERMINATOR 3. This screenplay is ever so slightly better than the third film, but that could be attributed to the many forced rewrites after its inception. There are a number of coincidences and plot holes on display. Connor’s quest to find Kyle Reese seems to be using circular logic that’s much more annoying than other plot holes involving time-travel throughout the series. Also, there’s an obvious twist that was revealed in multiple pieces of marketing and isn’t to hard to figure out (even if you haven’t seen any trailers for this film), but it’s played off as a huge ground-shaking revelation. The PG-13 rating tones down scenes that could have been far more intense or violent. This feels like a cop-out as well when you consider that every TERMINATOR film up this point was rated R. It’s the same dumbass studio logic that was used while making 2004’s ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.

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Though his on-set freakout nearly overshadowed the promotion of this entire movie, Christian Bale is only so-so as John Connor. He’s miles better than Nick Stahl and falls short of Edward Furlong (still a weird sounding complaint). Bale is pulling his typical action-hero role with a deep, growling voice that sounded like a cross between his Batman and his Moses. Anton Yelchin is underwhelming as Kyle Reese, though I never thought the character was that well-developed to begin with. Bryce Dallas Howard is wooden as Connor’s wife, who was also a hollow character to begin with. The best of the character of the bunch comes in Sam Worthington’s Marcus. Though he only shows up for this film, I found his performance to stick out in a good way and his storyline was the most interesting part of the film.

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TERMINATOR: SALVATION is not a good movie. It’s plays out like any standard action flick that happens to have a cool backdrop. I enjoyed the setting and various Terminators, even if the latter are arguably underused. The performances are nothing to write home about and the script is full of circular logic and coincidences. However, I think that this fourth film can be enjoyed as pure spectacle. This is definitely nowhere near the quality of the first two installments, but it’s far better than the disappointing third entry. TERMINATOR: SALVATION is heavily flawed, but okay.

Grade: C+

3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, some Sensuality and Language

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Directed by: McG

Written by: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson

Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, Eriq Ebouaney & Tomas Lemarquis

Luc Besson is certainly an interesting guy in the film industry. He’s directed some great films in the past (e.g. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL), but also had a hand in writing ridiculously entertaining action flicks (e.g. TAKEN, TRANSPORTER, LOCKOUT, etc). Some were more successful than others box-office wise and others received less than warm reception from critics. 3 DAYS TO KILL is one of his latest projects. Thus far, it has been doing a decent enough job at the box office and is being panned by most major critics. Instead of Besson taking the director’s chair on this film, McG takes the helm and surprisingly delivers a competent and cool romp. This far from the best action movie that will come out this year (personally, I’m holding out for THE RAID 2) and it has some problems, but 3 DAYS TO KILL is big, dumb fun that delivers what you’d expect from a movie like this.

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Ethan Renner is a loose-cannon CIA agent who doesn’t play by the rules. After a mission gone awry, he’s diagnosed with cancer and has three months left to live. So Ethan returns to Paris to get his last affairs in order and spend the remaining days making up for lost time with his distant family. Being an awkward as both a bad husband and father, Ethan finds that catching up with his daughter and wife is more difficult than he was anticipating. Then he meets Vivi, another CIA assassin, who offers him an experimental drug to cure his cancer. The catch is that he has to work on a top-secret mission to take down an arms dealer known simply as The Wolf, all while juggling his hormonal teenage daughter and the disapproving looks of his wife. Wacky hijinks ensue that include lots of gunshots, explosions, car chases, and daddy time with his daughter.

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I never really saw Kevin Costner as an action hero. He was good in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and intimidating in MR. BROOKS, but I have never imagined him as a gun-totting badass (I have yet to see THE BODYGUARD though). Costner is surprisingly well cast here as Ethan. I bought into this middle-aged man shooting bad guys, taking names, and planting explosives. Although the film sports a PG-13 rating (which can be seen as a kiss of death for blood in an action movie, see LOCKOUT for further proof), 3 DAYS TO KILL didn’t need lots of crazy gore flying everywhere. This is more of a James Bond/Jason Bourne type of adrenaline ride, so that description should give you an idea if this is up your alley.

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Hailee Steinfield (recently seen in ENDER’S GAME) does a good job as Ethan’s teenage daughter and doesn’t come off as too cliché (though there are a few sappy montages and typical teenager behavior seen in many other movies). Connie Nelson (the femme fatale in THE ICE HARVEST), despite getting top billing, disappears for a good portion of the story. In the film’s defense, she isn’t really needed much other for a familiar trope we’ve seen in many other stories. You may notice a trend in this review thus far. I keep comparing 3 DAYS TO KILL to other films. This is appropriate enough, because 3 DAYS TO KILL is just an entertaining mash-up of good pieces of other movies. In its own weird way, this is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a PG-13 action film. Normally, I would consider this a bad thing, but there’s such a good entertainment factor to this one. It’s not laugh at how stupid the film is, but laugh along with the film. This is a Luc Besson project and he always injects a self-aware sense of the movie knowing it’s a movie! In this case, it might be the cure for cancer and dealing with the homeless squatters in his apartment or Ethan juggling his dysfunctional family life with his CIA mission. This film never takes itself seriously and focuses on being a fun time at the movie theater.

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On the other side of the coin, Amber Heard is horribly miscast as Vivi. She still looks like a young 20-something and doesn’t come off as remotely convincing. I know I’ve been saying that this movie is ridiculous and makes it clear that it’s just a goofy action flick, but I just couldn’t buy Heard’s CIA assassin or her sexual advances towards Costner (who looks old enough to be her grandpa). The finale is predictable beyond measure, but the same can be said about the rest of the film. This is a good turn-you-brain-off and enjoy the mindless violence (albeit nearly bloodless PG-13 rated mayhem) film. The never-ending sense of humor keeps things very watchable and enjoyable, which was a much welcomed part of the film. I genuinely laughed a lot and a couple of running gags kept cracking me up every single time they popped up.

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The acting is good enough, with the exception of an unconvincing Amber Heard. The violence is silly PG-13 level fun. Kevin Costner does a good job being a badass assassin (of all things) and the film is thoroughly entertaining. It’s far from Luc Besson’s best work (LEON still holds that position and probably will for a long time to come), but it just might be McG’s best effort (for what that’s worth, I still need to re-watch TERMINATOR: SALVATION to make that a definite statement). Those who want a ridiculous and fun action film, would do well to check out 3 DAYS TO KILL. It’s a good watch. I’m surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did and it might just surprise you too.

Grade: B-

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