Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (PG-13) ****
Another in the somewhat predictable series starring Johnny Depp as Sparrow (all but unintelligible thanks to some accent he tries in these films). This one features several villains, led by Javier Bardem as the dead Captain Salazar. Geoffrey Rush is the alive for a while Captain Hector Barbossa. A charming and quite beautiful addition to the cast is Kaya Scodelario as the academic-minded Carina Smyth. It is clear that she and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) are due to hook up but they hold off to the last reel, largely thanks to the pursuit of Salazar and his zombie crew.
The Sparrow gang is looking for the legendary Poseidon’s Trident, and the search draws Salazar’s zombies as well as Barbossa’s ruffians. All meet at an island that Carina has calculated contains the Trident. Asked how she can be so sure that she has the right place, she replies, “I have a chronometer as well as a map. I’m also a horologist.” That leads to any number of jokes among Sparrow’s crew, based on misunderstanding of the first syllable of the term.
Additional levity arises from Depp’s usual semi-funny lines like “If they disembowel you, ask for Victor. He has the softest hands.” When Carina tells him, “I’m not looking for trouble,” Sparrow mournfully retorts, “What a horrible way to live!” There is a very funny scene with Sparrow underneath a guillotine blade and Carina under a headman’s axe, and their escape is marvelous.
Orlando Bloom reprises his role as Will Turner, Henry’s father, and Keira Knightley reappears as his mother, but there’s no Penelope Cruz this time. The scenes are sometimes muddled, Sparrow’s dialogue confusing and mannered, and the whole plot is beyond belief. Still, the CGI material is fun and the action leavened with humor, so this is tolerable. Leave the little ones at home. They can grow into this series.
Alien: Covenant (R) ****
The sixth of the “Alien” series, this one is a tour de force for Michael Fassbender as he plays the robot David and his twin, Walter. Surprisingly, Danny McBride as Tennessee has a large part as the pilot of the Covenant, a colony ship, and Katherine Waterston (Sam’s daughter) is the widow Daniels. Both hint at romance in the last few reels, perhaps because they are two of the few crewmembers left from the Covenant.
This is a bloody picture with few survivors other than one of the robots and a bunch of aliens who take different forms—they are all deadly. We discover them as smoky bugs who invade one human through his ear and another through his nose. Both don’t make it to the end, but that is no spoiler since we know that anything absorbed through the ear and nose must be deadly!
Some of the crew are anxious to explore a surprise planet with rugged terrain that looks amazingly like New Zealand and, in fact, IS New Zealand. David and Walter have choices: They can team up to help the humans settle their 2,000 colonists or they can do everything to destroy the colonization. In the best thriller tradition, one chooses one path, the other the contrary and they have a magnificent CGI-aided fight to settle the outcome. The survivor enters the Covenant and helps it repair itself and head for home with all the proper humans tucked into their pods.
But is it David or Walter who is on board? Everything seems hunky dory for reaching home safely until Mother, the voice who is the Ultimate Boss of the flight, announces: “There is an unidentified life form on the ship.” Bad news for the passengers. As David says, “I think, if we are kind, we’ll have a kind world.” Or is it Walter, conning Daniels? In any case, Daniels is about the only one left to fight it off.
Ridley Scott, the director, does his usual tense job of manipulating elements, and the list of supporting technicians may be the longest of any I have seen for any film. This is an impressive if often confusing work, and the audience I was with loved it, even laughing in strange spots, I suspect, from the tension. Far too bloody and profane for the younger set, but teens will love it if they can pass for 18.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (PG) ***
Long haul, indeed. The reason it isn’t longer is because the director and writers apparently ran out of shtick from other movies and predictable set pieces that seem never-ending. Alicia Silverstone stars in an overblown performance as Susan Heffley, the Mom, while Tom Everett Scott does the same level of acting as Frank Heffley, the Dad. Starring as the Wimpy Kid is Jason Drucker in his first go at the role while Charlie Wright appears as Goth brother Rodrick. Twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters appear as younger brother Manny. They get in a car, cinch a boat to the car and take off, trying to get to Meemaw’s 90th birthday party.
You can almost write the script yourself.
Rodrick orders five quarter pounds of “Butter on a Stick” at a country fair. Meanwhile at the same fair, Manny wins a piglet by “guessing a pig’s weight,” Greg is stuck 37 miles from a rest stop after too much lemonade and too small a bottle to save him, and Mom gives up on the family cellphone ban and on life in general. All she wants is a nice family trip, and she even takes the family picture album along. Really. Need I tell you the tarp breaks loose on the boat and all the Heffley family goods are blown all over the road, including the album and, of course, the car burns out near the end.
You say you’ve seen this kind of thing before? Sure you have, BUT this is a kid’s picture. You know because early on there is a scene with a diaper, several farts, a pig letting loose in the car, and Greg caught in a shower next to a man pooping. All are kid-level “jokes.” For kids, this is probably a medium fun movie. For adults it will be one hideous groan after another unless you can restrain yourself. I was alone in the theater so I didn’t have to restrain myself. Yes, it is a long haul.
Everything, Everything (PG-13) **
My usual movie companion was busy and for a long time I thought she’d like this film. Then it was released, and I was glad she missed it. Not that Amandla Stenberg (Maddy Whittier) isn’t very attractive with many hairstyles to recommend her, not that Nick Robinson who never gets his hair cut isn’t otherwise charming as Olly Bright, the love interest. But the chemistry is weird between them, the interracial nature of their relationship is never mentioned and, for a girl of 18 with a serious condition that has kept her housebound her entire life, she does get around.
Anika Noni Rose is effective as Maddy’s doctor-mother and Ana de la Reguera is sensitive as Maddy’s keeper, but there are glaring weaknesses in the production and these are what turned me off. In the middle of a decent romantic story the volume is suddenly turned up, the style of the music changes and my concentration was entirely blown. There are also bothersome details. How does Maddy’s mother, who is merely a staff doctor in Massachusetts, afford a million dollar-plus house? How does Maddy suddenly acquire a fashion model’s wardrobe after years of wearing only white tee shirts? How can Maddy never leave the house yet dive off a cliff without knowing how to swim? What is that little, strange astronaut-like creature doing in the film? Why was it necessary to break the mood of the entire movie with the awful change in music styles and volume?
This is director Stella Meghie’s second film. Maybe she can learn from this experience the value of consistency and logic in plotting. This film breaks down on so many fronts that it destroys itself. Here, Maddy. Have an aspirin.
Baywatch (R) **
Except for the new cast members, this will be familiar stuff to those of those of you who drooled—er—watched it in the ‘90s. Lots of bikini-dressed (or undressed) models, smutty lines that give it its “R” rating, hunky male leads, and a plot that has nothing to do with saving lives.
Matt Brody (Zac Efron) is a double-gold medalist in the Olympics but is known forever for his failure in the relay where his partying the night before caused him to vomit in the pool and lose the race. (He is known thereafter as “The Vomit Comet.”) Dwayne Johnson is his reluctant boss, ordered to take Brody because of his fame by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the chief of the Baywatch team. Brody, a rookie, makes a lot of mistakes, apologizes a lot and eventually buys into Mitch Buchanan’s theory of lifeguards as auxiliary police. The iconic role of Buchanan is played by Dwayne Johnson. He smells out a drug operation going on in the bay, led by heavy-lipped Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) who does nothing for the film.
Perhaps the big surprise of the film is Alexandra Daddario as Summer. She is cute, gorgeous in a swimsuit and has eyes to fall into, as Matt Brody does almost as soon as he sees her. She is fortunately a reluctant partner and avoids Brody until the final reel.
Jon Bass as Ronnie, a new recruit, is largely inept, the butt of many jokes including getting his erection caught in a lawn chair. Said physical reaction is due to flattering words from the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers’ new squeeze, Kelly Rohrbach, a refreshing and long-limbed blonde, who fills the role of CJ, one that formerly belonged to Pamela Anderson.
David Haselhoff has longer scenes than Anderson, who puts in a cameo appearance, but adds little but nostalgia to the film. A running gag has Johnson giving Brody various nicknames—“high school musical,” “blue-eyed demon,” and the aforesaid “Vomit Comet.” A scene in a morgue between Mitch, Matt and Summer is perhaps funny, though tinged with ugliness of “corpse fat” that many of you have seen in TV trailers. A funny brace of lines bounces off a standard technique in the old TV show, as one of the guards points out, “Why does she look as if she’s running in slow motion?” And again, as Anderson enters for her short bit, a nod and “Super Slo-mo!”
Those feeble jokes are not enough to save the film from a thin plot and a lack of really good and clever action. There are a lot of muscles and a lot of jiggling breasts, but for a film this length, that’s woefully not enough.