Mike at the Movies

Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13) *****

This fast-paced and frequently funny super spectacular entry into the Avengers’ franchise has everything anybody of any age could want in a space thriller. The cast, headed by Robert Downey Jr. as Ironman, seems to like each other and their humor throughout, even at the tensest moments, leavens the computer-driven action. The result is a 2-hour and 20-minute film that seems much faster.

It starts with a bang with all of the Avengers rollicking through some baddies, introduced by the villains’ concern, “Can we stop them?”

The answer is a matter of fact, “They ARE the Avengers!”

James Spader voices the arch-villain Ultron, a robot who has world domination and a wipeout of the Avengers in mind. Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her brother, Pietro, are somewhat unwilling accomplices in Ultron’s purposes and eventually switch sides most effectively.

A surprising twist in the plot is the blossoming love between Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) that slowly deepens as both of them get into more and more perilous situations. At every moment there’s a deadly robot aimed at the couple, not to mention the rest of the good guys, and this means that the romance and the action are superheated to an unreal, but given the context, understandable level.

Notable scenes are many, but outstanding are the runaway train sequence in Tokyo (for once, NOT Manhattan or L.A.) and the destruction of an entire city by combinations of Ultronians and an Ultron-induced earthquake.

The computer work is unbelievable in a good way. There is also an epic fight between Ironman and The Hulk when Hulk goes out of control and threatens to destroy everybody, good and bad. Later, as the love story develops, Natasha gets close to the Hulk’s other self, Bruce Banner, and comes even closer to murmur, “I adore you.” Natasha then shoves him over a precipice, saying, “but I need the other guy.” The long fall triggers the Hulk and away we go again.

Ironman has his moments as well. Asked by Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini), to fix their tractor, Ironman goes out into the barn and greets the machine. “Hello, Deere.” There are many similar one-liners scattered throughout the script, so many that the astute filmgoer can be forgiven for wondering how many of them are ad lib remarks.

I am not, as regular readers know, generally a fan of computer-driven spectaculars, but when they are as creative, mind-blowing and funny as this entry, I join the raves.

The movie features explosive violence and lots of robot-innards scattered about the scene, but if your kids have perspective, it should be fine for them.

Hot Pursuit (PG-13) *

If only this movie were built like Sofia Vergara … but, alas, it is not. While Vergara’s contour flows from her head to her toes, the movie’s script clunks along with humorless determination and tons of promise, but ultimately fails because of lack of skill. The writers have experience in television, but a firm hand was needed here and it’s totally missing.

Vergara is a mobster’s wife, Daniella Riva (Colombian), who is headed for Dallas with her ill-fated husband to testify against the Big Mobster, Vincente Cortez (Joaquin Cosio). The rest of the mob doesn’t want her or her husband to testify, so they set upon them with two sets of assassins.

Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) has been assigned to accompany Daniella and her collection of shoes, and she runs into predictable problems when faced with real crooks. She is infamous on the force for misunderstanding a civilian who she tasered into a major fire—of the citizen—and ended up permanently in the evidence room taking notes as a result.

Most of the film is, as anticipated, Daniella and Cooper cat-fighting and exchanging insults, many in Spanish. The anticipation is for more of that kind of exchange, but the reality is flat jokes, hapless slapstick, badly executed gunfights and one funny line when Vergara emerges from prison in her orange jumpsuit and Cooper cracks, “You look like a sexy traffic cone.” Vergara looks sexy in a gunnysack, let’s face it.

Witherspoon, who has moments of cuteness, is simply not in Vergara’s comic league and uses over-acting and phony emotion to cover up for her lack of timing. Vergara drops accented lines on her like grenades for the whole picture—but they’re not funny.

The proper spirit for this film is captured in the outtake reel at the end over the credits. The ad lib craziness of Vegara’s accent and Witherspoon’s real confusion is funny there. Too bad they couldn’t capture more of that spirit in the film. I love both these actresses but was afraid going in that this would be a dud if not written carefully. I ended up right about it being a dud. This could have been cute, showing up Bullock and McCarthy, but it wasn’t even close. The women clearly enjoyed making the film together and have had a hoot publicizing it, but the joy is buried in incompetent writing and direction. There are enough scenes that had promise that it makes you mourn for the lost opportunity to have a little fun with two very attractive actresses. And that’s not good.