IR Film Review: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE [Sony]

The relevance of making a sequel revels in the notion of what it brings to the table and its identity. When Joe Carnahan was first thought to be doing the film as a director, there was a jump since, having talked and known Joe early in his career,  it was known he would bring a grittiness but also the texture of Michael Bay in a way as know in SMOKIN’ ACES for example but also NARC. He split with the project over creative differences which is interesting to perceive since he still has some story and screenplay credit on the final film. The themes he likes are there but the familial structure and drama is definitely his. The comedy seems to be more mainstream in the final product which is with two Morrocan co-directors. There is an interesting baseline of what this film is and what it could have been. I did the interviews for BAD BOYS II in 2003 with Bay at the height of his intentions which is great because BAD BOYS I and II were about that and that slickness which carried in a certain way to the darker MIAMI VICE a couple years later. While the aspect of growing older in this installment provides the background, it tends to jump all over the place without being as cinematic as it could have been. Granted all in all, it is still fun but it doesn’t feel like as much of a BAD BOYS movie but a very good TV version of it with some odes to what came before.

Granted, it is based in the fact of did a sequel need to be made. The last film adequately set up the cool, riding into the sunset element like to be very honest, LAST CRUSADE did for Indiana Jones which made CRYSTAL SKULL a let down. The laughs are still there, Smith and Lawrence do their jobs well but they do lumber more, especially Lawrence but that is the point of the story. Smith understands this and is smart about it. What is also glaring, but more of a nitpick, is that one can tell that much of the film is not shot in Miami. Certain spots are for sure but the taking advantage of Georgia tax credits definitely played into this, which is disappointing for a Miami native. The AMMO crew, which is the new addition to this play has its textures and actually does ode this a little more to MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, which is likely what Smith as a producer, saw.

The eventual build up and essence of reveal is alright but the logic, which wasn’t such a big thing back in the 90s but is now, makes certain leaps in logic and logistics glaring. BAD BOYS FOR LIFE may have more depth than its past two outings but it lost something along the way. Despite Michael Bay’s overreaching style it does create a certain texture and when the chemistry of the actors is focused (as it has been for the most part saved for TRANSFORMERS) it works as well. The spark is still here but it is not the same.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: ZOMBIELAND – DOUBLE TAP [Sony]

The essence of the sequel transition is taking the essence of the original, maintaining it and amping it up. But what most do not tend to understand is that finding that different cadence in between the lines is what truly can make a sequel sing. For the first 2/3rds of “Zombieland: Double Tap”, the film does exactly that. Picking up 10 years after the original, the perspective really works well since most of everyone is slightly different, with the exception of Tennessee played by Woody Harrelson who, at his age, is stuck in his ways. This of course is a running joke of perspective.

From the opening credits set to Metallica on the lawn of the now abandoned White House, the film gets in while understanding how much more seasoned director Ruben Fleischer is having directed “Venom” since then. Fleischer instills a sense of fun while not worrying about too much depth which is, for the most part, welcomed. The actors know these characters enough and they are riffs on their actual personas.

Where the original “Zombieland” keyed into the idea of a theme park, this is more a road movie…not quite in the style of “Mad Max” but more in an amped up version of say “Road Trip”. But as indicated it is just in the final moments, which are not bad, that it loses a bit of steam with the ending not being as bad ass as the second act.

This intention is mostly due to Rosario Dawson who always amps up the heart but also the coolness whenever she is on screen. She lifted “Clerks 2” as an example undeniably but what she does her is provide a much needed foil to Woody’s character who is too slick (and too seasoned) to really play in that sandbox. Not to say Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg are not very good, they just tend to play in their own playground as well. Neither element is necessarily better yet there is such an ease to the comedy and would-be romance between Dawson and Harrelson despite whatever happens. To be honest, there is more chemistry here than that upon first glance with Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers”. Now granted this is a comedy per but NBK was a satire as well yet one that bathed more in its own style.

Eisenberg is, as always, a variation on the nerd/hero archetype but that is turned on its head a little but with the arrival of Luke Wilson and his sidekick which looks a little too similar to someone else. This gag works very well and leads into the best executed sequence both in tone and in action.

The unsung comedy gem on the piece is Zoey Deutch as Madison who plays a girl who survived the zombies in a mall by sleeping in a refrigerator. The irony of her could have been played up much more but as is played gives the elevation of pure insanity that the film revels in.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” progresses along with a sense of style under the nature of the smorgasboard progresses. It transforms perhaps in a sense of wantonness to satire in the essence of a place of sanctuary which almost necessarily needs to be turned inside out. The film is nothing if not egregiously cheeky but in its own special way, understands its reason for being, though slight and yet undeniably enjoyable. Although it ends slightly less edgy than it begins, “Double Tap” uses it strengths to push through.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: MIB INTERNATIONAL [Sony]

The balance of tone is always a necessity in franchises but the passing of the baton is always a tricky proposition or it simply can be the reflection of an idea not being new, but of a different perspective. “Men In Black International” is a perfect acceptable addition to the pantheon of MIB but does not necessarily have a big stakes perspective to overcome. The aspect of a gung-ho new recruit and a seasoned agent fits the bill and in many ways it takes the angle that the end of the first MIB set up well with Linda Fiorentino and Will Smith at the end (though it was never built on). This uses it as the next logical step though Tessa Thompson’s character M is a bit more safe instead of Linda’s wonky morgue attendant. Thompson gives the sense of wonder that propels the idea of her love for the aliens she is seeing.

The tone of the relationship between her and Chris Hemsworth is of course not played up though the basic chemistry is there but not as vicious as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok” but that was a much different world. They play more like brother and sister here which definitely works. But, it comes off less than it should because there is not more electricity between Hemsworth and a select other character who, despite being an actress of note, has an almost two dimensional play on her character. where her previous role in a Paramount franchise was so electric. It is not her fault but something is missing. Again it comes down to stakes. F. Gray Gray as a director is perfectly adept with the material and smart to stay away from big set pieces so the budget seems within check (though that might not turn out to be true).

There are some scenes in the desert though that are balanced oddly between the gamut of “Star Wars” and “Spaceballs”. However in the film there is no real connective moment that transmutes the idea of what MIB is. Even “MIB III” despite how fantastical the set pieces were (especially at the end) they (like Barry Sonnenfeld) knew how to make it connect. The resolution here doesn’t have that since there is never a sense of any real danger. That does not make it any less fun. It just makes it less pertenant at times. Like the previous “Men In Black” trilogy, it is also about the weird aliens, not so much about the design but the comic timing. Whereas the old school chum of gangly aliens that chilled with Smith are still there (albeit very briefly), there is no throwback to the old film. Even an old school wink, like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Maverick”, just would have helped. A photo of Tommy. A dorky snapshot of Will Smith just out of eye sight. Emma Thompson is fine but she is limited in her role.

Liam Neeson’s character will not be discussed too much here but he plays it more straight-laced though some darker comedy would have definitely progressed the story. Again, there is nothing primarily wrong with “MIB International”. Chris Hemsworth is aloof and debonair (though too clean cut). Thompson is wonderfully optimistic yet grounded. But it doesn’t seem enough. What saves the film most times is Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny, a small alien who ends up serving M (Tessa Thompson) because he thinks she is a queen. He has the best lines and elevates the proceedings. “MIB International” is perfectly fun but safe, adventurous but doesn’t paint outside the lines, paced right but without stakes to really up the game.

B

By Tim Wassberg