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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

01/20/2016

Ride Along 2
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — During the Second World War, when scarce supplies of gasoline had to be preserved for military use, a familiar government poster asked civilian motorists: “Is Your Trip Necessary?” 

That same question might aptly be put to the characters who hit the road in the largely pointless comedy sequel Ride Along 2 (Universal).

In following up on his 2014 film, director Tim Story benefits from a script — penned by returning screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi — that tones down the original’s relentless vulgarity. At least in this case, however, an elevated vocabulary fails to carry with it a higher quotient of laughs.

Nor does the second chapter of this odd-couple story pairing crusty Atlanta cop James Payton (Ice Cube) with Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), the happy-go-lucky wannabe policeman who’s about to marry James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), feel any more convincing than its predecessor.

Ben’s exploits in the last go-round have won him a tryout on the force. But easily exasperated James remains unconvinced. So he brings Ben along on a trek to Miami, hoping their investigation of a Florida philanthropist named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt) — whose wealth may be based on underworld activities — will prove that the novice lacks what it takes.

Aside from kindling nostalgia for the hit 1980s TV series Miami Vice, and providing James with a love interest in the person of hard-driving Sunshine State detective Maya (Olivia Munn), the duo’s journey accomplishes very little.

It’s not a good sign that the dialogue’s closest approach to genuine wit comes with a joke that depends, for its full effect, on viewers’ memory of a popular soul single that rode the charts close to 45 years ago. Still, diehard Luther Ingram fans will no doubt be pleased.

The shootouts and explosions that pepper James and Ben’s sleuthing are all kept within stylized bounds. But there’s little of substance to be detected amid the flying bullets and slapstick chases.

Ben entreats James to give in to the bonds of family, enthusiastically dubbing their investigative partnership, “The Brothers-in-Law.” James remains unmoved, of course, though his love for Angela eventually motivates him to give Ben at least some grudging acknowledgement.

Slim comic pickings and paltry human interest suggest that all but the least demanding viewers would be well advised to skip this trip.

The film contains considerable gunplay and other violence, cohabitation, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and frequent crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Some might fear, simply from reading its title, that 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Paramount) would turn out to be little more than a rehash of the congressional hearings on the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya.

In reality, the film is a gripping, fact-based account of what happened on the ground when the U.S. consulate in the titular city was overrun, and four American lives — most prominently that of Ambassador Chris Stevens — were lost.

Michael Bay, who knows a things or two about action thrillers (The Rock, Armageddon and the Transformers franchise), directs at a furious pace. His task is to dramatize the eyewitness accounts of six security operatives documented in the 2014 book by Mitchell Zuckoff.

Partisan political views and conspiracy theories are deliberately set aside, in favour of highlighting the courage and selflessness of unsung heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to save lives.

Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL, arrives in Benghazi as part of a band of security consultants hired to defend a top-secret CIA base. They’re a gruff, buff bunch of apparently hard-bitten-military vets who go by such nicknames as “Rone” (James Badge Dale), “Oz” (Max Martini), “Tanto” (Pablo Schreiber), “Boon” (David Denman), and “Tig” (Dominic Fumusa).

Predictably, however, they’re all softies at heart — family men who call their loved ones often with reassuring pledges that they’ll return home safely.

A visit to the area by Tripoli-based Stevens (Matt Letscher) presents the group with a serious challenge. The local diplomatic compound, just one mile from their CIA base, has minimum security. Stevens, though, is upbeat and optimistic, preferring to build bridges instead of fences.

Jack and his colleagues express concern, but are rebuffed by their boss, an official identified only as “Bob” (David Costabile).
“The truth is, there is no real threat here,” Bob says.

Such thinking is so disastrously wrongheaded, Tanto is driven to observe: “You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.”
And so we come to the fateful 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The day unfolds quietly, but as soon as night falls the consulate is besieged by gunmen and set ablaze.

From their nearby vantage point, Jack and the others watch in horror. Yet they’re prevented from staging a rescue by Bob. Repeated calls to the Pentagon and the State Dept. requesting air support go unanswered.

As the full extent of the carnage is revealed, including the death of Stevens, Rone rallies his team to defy Bob and enter the fray. Over the long hours that follow, these six men are the first and only line of defence against a growing mob on a murderous rampage.

As it chronicles a modern-day Battle of the Alamo, 13 Hours is awash in sometimes bloody mayhem. To Bay’s credit, however, the violence is never gratuitous. Instead it registers as an integral part of the events his movie is recounting, a tragedy that apparently could have been avoided, had someone — anyone — in authority responded in a timely and adequate manner.

While 13 Hours is not an appropriate choice for casual moviegoers of any age, its thematic significance and real-world resonance are such that even many adults who would normally shun a picture showcasing so much armed conflict may decide, on balance, to see this one.

The film contains constant graphic war violence, including gunfire, explosions, and gore, brief sexual banter and some profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Norm of the North
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — A wisecracking polar bear ventures south to save his home environment from destruction in Norm of the North (Lionsgate).

Though suitable for all ages, this animated comedy is unlikely to make much of an impression — either on targeted kids or on the long-suffering adults who accompany them.

Still, while it’s certainly not in the Disney/Pixar league, and relies too heavily on scatological jokes to win cheap laughs, first-time director Trevor Wall’s film does deserve some recognition for incorporating positive messages about family and friendship.

The eponymous creature (voice of Rob Schneider) suffers from a kind of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer syndrome: He just doesn’t fit in with his ursine peers. He dislikes hunting seals for dinner, and would rather disco dance than growl at the gawking tourists on visiting cruise ships.

“I put the soul into solstice,” he brags, twirling in the snow.

Norm is different in another way: He can “talk human,” a gift shared only by his Grandpa (voice of Colm Meaney), the species’ former sovereign.

“Polar bears are the icons of the north,” Grandpa intones. “An icon with a voice can be very powerful indeed.”

Norm learns that lesson for himself when a maniacal developer named Mr. Greene (voice of Ken Jeong) decides to build luxury houses on the polar ice shelf, threatening the ecosystem and the bears’ way of life. Greene’s assistant, Vera (voice of Heather Graham), is a reluctant participant in his scheme.

The mogul must be stopped at the source, and only a bear able to speak the lingo can do the job. Since Grandpa has mysteriously vanished, Norm is persuaded by the resident sage, a seagull named Socrates (voice of Bill Nighy), to hitch a ride to Manhattan and visit Mr. Greene’s high-rise headquarters.

He’s accompanied by a trio of lemmings, the Arctic’s smallest creatures. Like Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel in the Ice Age films, these voiceless but cuddly stooges get into all sorts of mischief. In a misguided bid for giggles, they also relieve themselves in public as frequently as possible.

Having reached the Big Apple, Norm makes an ally of Vera and of her precocious daughter, Olympia (voice of Maya Kay). Young Olympia heavy-handedly schools the bear — and thus the audience — in the wickedness of corporate greed and its impact on our fragile planet.

Overall, Norm of the North is silly and rather tedious. Yet, in less time than it takes the picture’s protagonist to shout, “Holy icicle!” all memory of the movie will probably have dissipated — like a morning mist over frozen tundra.

The film contains mild cartoonish violence, some bathroom humor, and a bit of adult wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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McAleer is a guest review for Catholic News Service.

 

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