CHIPS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

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

Directed by: Dax Shepard

Written by: Dax Shepard

(based on the TV series CHIPS by Rick Rosner)

Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adam Brody, Rosa Salazar, Kristen Bell & Jessica McNamee

After both JUMP STREET films banked at the box office, Hollywood seemed to have found an untapped niche: hard R-rated comedy versions of old TV series. After all, Hollywood has been rebooting small shows for the big screen for decades…but they never decided to invigorate these big budget reboots with raunchy material and R-rated sensibilities. However, studios may want to rethink its strategy…because two R-rated comedy remakes of TV shows have hit this year and both have underperformed. Unless BAYWATCH is a total failure from beginning to end, I cannot imagine it being the lesser of 2017’s two TV remakes. By every conceivable measure, CHIPS is woefully lame.

When corrupt cops begin running amok in the California Highway Patrol (a.k.a. CHP), undercover FBI agent Frank Ponch (Michael Pena) is on the case. However, Ponch encounters immediate trouble in being paired with do-gooder rookie Jon Baker (Dax Shepard). Jon is woefully underqualified for his job and frequently reads a bit too deeply into things. Still, the mismatched partners begin to get to the bottom of their case and find a dysfunctional friendship developing between them. Basically, this is a generic buddy-cop comedy that frequently bores the viewer and suffers from abrupt tonal shifts. Also, there are just enough chuckles to build a deceptively funny trailer.

I haven’t seen all of Dax Shepard’s output, but he’s starred in a couple of comedies that I would consider to be woefully underrated (e.g. WITHOUT A PADDLE and LET’S GO TO PRISON). I hoped that I might feel the same way about CHIPS when I rented this film, because this thing has taken a severe beating from critics/audiences and is already being called one of the worst films of 2017 by certain websites. Unfortunately, CHIPS deserves every bit of negative feedback it’s received. The film is inept in delivering laughs or a compelling story. The jokes don’t rise above the levels of occasionally referencing ass-to-mouth (in jokes that seem to rip off CLERKS II from over a decade earlier) and attempt to poorly mimic other better comedies (mostly 21 JUMP STREET and 22 JUMP STREET). CHIPS isn’t very funny, other than a handful of chuckles that have already been revealed in the trailer.

To further complicate the film’s many problems, Shepard’s R-rated CHIPS reboot doesn’t treat itself as pure comedy the whole way through, because things get needlessly dark and the material is frequently played with a mind-bogglingly serious tone. The introduction of the Vincent D’Onofrio’s villain has a cop committing suicide in order to save his hostage boyfriend. Hilarious? This entire scene seems like cheap shock value to make us loathe the villain. However, the usually talented D’Onofrio is phoning it in, so I felt nothing other than sheer boredom when his baddie was on the screen. The finale also sees a showdown that’s mostly uneventful and seems to blatantly copy countless other buddy cop flicks (including a gore gag that’s a toned-down version of 21 JUMP STREET’s most hilariously twisted moment).

As the two mismatched cops, Dax Shepard and Michael Pena are dull. The two have next to no chemistry together in scenes and seem to be woodenly reciting jokes, which weren’t that funny to begin with. Shepard’s Jon has a lame running gag about being prone to vomiting from house smells and it’s just as stupid as it sounds. Also, Michael Pena’s Ponch is a sex addict, so I’m guessing you can imagine from whom most of the film’s graphic nudity and sex humor arrives. Pena’s character’s arc seems like a lesser version of Will Ferrell’s occasionally funny Chazz from BLADES OF GLORY. The rest of the cast members are completely forgettable, with Kristen Bell serving as Jon’s bitchy wife, Rosa Salazar being a half-hearted love interest, and Maya Rudolph and David Koechner popping in for all-too-brief cameos.

CHIPS is a crappy comedy and an even worse buddy-cop mystery. It speaks volumes that half of this film is dedicated to a solving clue that turns out to be a cheap joke. The tone frequently gets too dark and straight-faced for its own good, while the comedy aspect feels dusty and poorly imitates better jokes from far better movies. There are a couple of well-directed motorcycle chases and two minutes worth of chuckles. However, CHIPS remains a woefully unfunny, boring, and audience-insulting piece of non-entertainment.

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+

FULL METAL JACKET (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr & Gustav Hasford

(based on the novel THE SHORT-TIMERS by Gustav Hasford)

Starring: Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross & John Terry

A montage of recruits getting their heads shaved to the tune of “Hello Vietnam” greets us at the opening of FULL METAL JACKET. We have no prior knowledge about these new recruits and aren’t given much of a back story for any of them either. Instead, Stanley Kubrick throws us through a young man’s journey in a world of shit. Though the distinct style in which this Vietnam War tale unfolds may throw some viewers off, FULL METAL JACKET remains one of the most unforgiving stories in Kubrick’s filmography and one of the best war movies of all-time.

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The year is 1967 and James “Joker” Davis has arrived at boot camp. Through the harsh guidance of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Joker and his fellow recruits are emotionally stripped down and physically drained, only to rise up as hardened killing machines. Joker is put in charge of aiding Private Pyle, a dim-witted and overweight recruit who has drawn special ire from Sergeant Hartman. While the basic training continues, Joker finds himself increasingly worried about Pyle’s wavering state of mind. It all leads to an unnerving show-stopper of a scene and then it’s out of the frying pan into the fire for Joker. In the following year, Sergeant Joker is now a war correspondent and makes his way through the dark, hellish carnage and combat zones that cumulate in a long, innocence-shattering firefight.

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It only makes sense to briefly analyze both halves of this movie, because that’s how Joker’s story is given to us. Each half works for different reasons, though the tonal shift during the middle might not work for certain viewers. The basic training section of the film feels repetitive, but that’s not a bad thing. The way in which we are introduced to Joker, Cowboy (Joker’s best friend) and Pyle is presented in very much a “show me, don’t tell me” sort of way. The first half of FULL METAL JACKET really doesn’t seem to have a ton of dialogue that isn’t being shouted by R. Lee Ermey. Speaking of which, the former real-life drill instructor turned actor is absolutely fantastic here. His creative insults, profane language and use of “What is your major malfunction?!?” has long since turned Hartman into one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. If you think of a drill sergeant in film, R. Lee Ermey’s Hartman is immediately what comes to mind. The real story in the first half isn’t really between Joker and the infamous drill sergeant, but rather the escalating degradation of Private Pyle. This storyline can be so involving that viewers may find themselves a little out of their element when the film focuses strictly on Joker in the second half.

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While the first section of FULL METAL JACKET is sterile, calm (as it could be) and repetitive, the second half goes into purposely unbalanced and chaotic territory. Sergeant Joker (played wonderfully by Matthew Modine, who sadly didn’t garner many significant roles after this film) guides us through various moments of what happens after boot camp. What’s really nice about this second half is how it throws calm, quiet conversations that can immediately turn into something utterly horrifying. A sequence in which the various soldiers are being interviewed about the war showcases how hardened they’ve become. Though there are moments of gunfire and booby traps throughout, a long masterfully constructed finale keeps you glued to the screen. It’s one of the most intense sequences in war movie history and made even more horrifying once you reach the conclusion. Let’s just say that a discussion about the thousand-yard stare (a symptom of shell shock) makes an important comeback.

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To me, FULL METAL JACKET is truly one of the best war movies ever made and blends two distinctly different halves into one special creation. While there’s a definite sense of dark humor playing into certain scenes, the film is grim and absolutely haunting. R. Lee Ermey stands out as the biggest scene-stealer in the cast, but everybody gives their all to bring a band of unique characters to life. The basic training half feels clinical and effective due to being deliberately repetitive, while the second half throws horrors of war at the viewer. In one scene, Joker asks a deranged machine gunner why he’s killed women and children and the soldier simply replies by saying: “Ain’t war hell?” I doubt that you’d find a single sane person who’d argue with that response. It seems wholly appropriate to close the film out with the contrast of soldiers trying to maintain what little comfort they have left in singing “Mickey Mouse” while marching through fiery battleground and then rolling end credits to the tune of “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones. FULL METAL JACKET sticks out as one of Kubrick’s masterpieces and one of the finest films about war ever produced.

Grade: A+

RUN ALL NIGHT (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language including Sexual References, and some Drug Use

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Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by: Brad Ingelsby

Starring: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Common, Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent D’Onofrio & Boyd Holbrook

Another year, another Liam Neeson action movie. Most people will point out that this aged action hero has become type cast as a badass who beats people up for taking something. These films include: the TAKEN trilogy, UNKNOWN (his identity is taken), A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (the life of someone else’s wife is taken), and NON-STOP (his plane is taken). RUN ALL NIGHT is the latest in a long line of Neeson action flicks, but stands as a damned solid effort. Packed full of tension, great scenes and good characters who are actually worth caring about, RUN ALL NIGHT is probably going to surprise a lot of people.

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Jimmy Conlon is a former hitman turned alcoholic bum. Jimmy’s day-to-day existence is about drinking his life away and occasionally borrowing money from Shawn Maguire, Jimmy’s former boss and childhood friend. Mike is Jimmy’s estranged son and wants nothing to do with his former gun-for-hire father. This all changes in the space of one night. Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son in order to save Mike and this launches a city-wide manhunt for the father and son. Jimmy and Mike find themselves trying to outrun the mob, corrupt cops, and a seemingly unstoppable hitman. If they can survive the night, everything will be okay. That’s easier said than done.

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Though Neeson has played many action heroes in the past, he’s never played anybody to the degree of Jimmy. Jimmy’s a loser, plain and simple. You feel sorry for him and also totally understand why his son wants nothing to do with him. Neeson doesn’t simply dispatch of bad guys here. He’s playing a washed-up hitman against a bunch of thugs who are far stronger than him in many ways, which means that he actually has to outwit them as well as kill them. Ed Harris is fantastic as the likable, but vicious, Shawn. You can understand his plight and see his point-of-view, which makes him probably the most fleshed-out villain that Neeson has dealt with in any of his action films thus far. Joel Kinnaman and Boyd Holbrook respectively play the good and evil sons, but play second fiddle to the veteran actors. Vincent D’Onofrio makes the most of his scenes as one of the few good cops in the city, while Common plays the unstoppable hitman as a clichéd and familiar bad guy.

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There are elements that make RUN ALL NIGHT stick out from the crowd of Neeson’s recent output. One of these is the gritty New York atmosphere. This story also happens to be taking place around Christmas and various colored lights can be glimpsed all through the city. The film gets unabashedly bloody with its R-rating, including a stellar confrontation in a bar. Besides typical action scenes that you might expect, RUN ALL NIGHT has one of the best car chases in recent memory as well as a chaotic sequence through an apartment building that’s loaded with set-pieces.

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As fun and exciting as this film is, it is not without problems. Shaky camera work ruins a couple of action scenes. The film also drags in places with unneeded moments. There’s a flashback that has no place within the context of the film as well as a far-fetched hospital scene. The final 10 minutes could have easily been cut out altogether. Common’s hitman character is about as one-dimensional as villains come. There was a clear point where the film could have ended with a quiet somber nature, but went full-blown into clichéd territory that reminded me that I was watching another Liam Neeson action flick.

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RUN ALL NIGHT definitely isn’t perfect, but is a lot of fun. The performances from Neeson and Harris alone make this film worth watching. Once you throw in some stellar action scenes and a gritty R-rated tone, this movie stands as one of the higher points in Neeson’s career as an action star. Though it’s too long in areas (especially the ending), there’s enough entertainment value and adrenaline-pumping goodness to make RUN ALL NIGHT well worth a look.

Grade: B

ESCAPE PLAN (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language throughout

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Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Written by: Miles Chapman & Jason Keller

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio & Amy Ryan

From 1980’s to 1990’s, cheesy R-rated action films captured the hearts and minds of Americans. There was nothing like gathering the family together around the TV to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver bloody violence. The hilarious one-liners were just icing on the cake. Sylvester Stallone was also a star of ludicrous glorified B-flicks. Since those times have passed, the mainstream action genre has gone on to play it safe (e.g. NON-STOP) in order to attract the widest possible paying demographic. ESCAPE PLAN tries to recapture the spirit of those crazy rides and winds up with mixed results.

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Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an ex-lawyer turned prison escapee. It’s Breslin’s job to break out of high-security prisons and expose their weak points. His latest assignment is a top-secret supposedly “escape proof” facility. This hellhole is known simply as The Tomb. A major problem for Breslin is that his correspondent isn’t the man he was supposed to meet. Instead, this sadistic warden doesn’t believe a word Breslin says. It seems as if Ray will be left in the maximum-security prison to rot, but he makes a fast friend in Emil Rottmayer. Rottmayer is an Austrian-accented criminal played by none other than the accomplished thespian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together Stallone and Arnold er…I mean Breslin and Rottmayer must use ingenuity and brawn to escape from The Tomb!

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ESCAPE PLAN starts strong and ends strong. Things become tedious in the middle. It’s as if the director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) and the screenwriters forgot they were supposed to be making an action film with two high-caliber ass-kickers. The script packs in a lot of unnecessary details and a totally contrived subplot. Because of this, ESCAPE PLAN comes off as disjointed. I didn’t care about the silly plot twists that have been seen in plenty of other movies. I didn’t care about the backstory of Stallone or Arnold. In a film like this, the audience expects to see the two middle-aged action stars kicking ass and taking names. The movie didn’t deliver that until past the hour mark. By that point it was nearly too little, too late in the game.

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There are some really enjoyable sections of ESCAPE PLAN though. The first 30 minutes are interesting and (as mentioned before) the last 25 are action packed. Both the reveal of where the prison is located and its exact purpose are pretty neat. There are two good actors among the so-so performers too. Vinnie Jones (SNATCH, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) appears as an unrelenting guard and has arguably the best fight scene in the entire film squaring off against one of our heroes. The real scene-stealer is Jim Caviezel as the ruthless warden. Caviezel knows what kind of film this is and seems to be loving every minute of it. He’s a calm, collected, cocky villain. This is the kind of bad guy that makes the audience root for him to bite it in the most painful way possible.

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ESCAPE PLAN could have benefitted from a few more rewrites and about a 95 minute running time. Arnold and Stallone seem tired and the script doesn’t give them much to work with for half of the film. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, but there’s enough entertainment value to recommend this as a time-killer. We’re never going to get back the Arnold Schwarzenegger who had no qualms about ramming his fist into someone’s stomach and breaking their goddamn spine. It’s also doubtful that we’ll ever see the “First Blood” Sylvester Stallone again too. At least, it’s nice to see two former greats together, even if the film is just barely serviceable.

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After all, this is the kind of movie where bullets graze our heroes, but never miss the bad guys. It’s the kind of film where if you turn off all cognitive thought, then you might have fun. It’s got big problems, but if you can live in a cinematic world where Sylvester Stallone is a lawyer, then you will probably enjoy ESCAPE PLAN.

Grade: C+

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