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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of the acclaimed Comedy Central television series “Key & Peele” star in the satirical action-comedy “Keanu” (Warner Bros.).

The duo’s brand of socially aware humour, which frequently considers the influence of pop culture on racial identity, translates well to the big screen. The catch is that they’re bound to mimic what they spoof. And so, in crucial areas, their movie traffics in precisely the material they’re sending up.

Thus, despite a plot that hinges on an adorable kitten, an abundance of foul language renders the effort unavoidably distasteful. That’s too bad, because the cursing — taken together with the details of a gritty milieu — mars an amusing and insightful commentary on how mass-media offerings create and enforce race-related stereotypes.

Key and Peele are engaging, relatable performers whose combination of shrewdness and goofiness allows them to deal with such sensitive topics in a way that reliably triggers laughter as well as reflection. It helps that their cinematic and musical references are mainstream and difficult to miss.

They portray two nerdy African-American residents of Los Angeles who find themselves in an uncomfortable and precarious situation. After a drug dealer and his crew are ambushed while packaging their wares inside an abandoned church, the only survivor is a cute if mangy kitten. The cat escapes and ends up on the doorstep of graphic artist Rell (played by Peele, who co-wrote the script with Alex Rubens).

Rell is depressed because his girlfriend just dumped him. But the kitty, which he dubs Keanu — a nod both to the eponymous movie star and to his Hawaiian name’s original meaning, “cool breeze” — lifts his spirits. When Keanu is abducted several weeks later, Rell’s cousin, Clarence (Key) — a straitlaced family man who drives a minivan and listens to George Michael — vows to help find him.

Their search takes them to the strip-club headquarters of an inner-city gang. Far out of their comfort zones and potentially subject to great bodily harm, they spontaneously pose as murderous street thugs, anointing themselves Tectonic and Shark Tank. For their gambit to succeed, they’ll have to prove themselves during a drug sale at the Hollywood Hills home of a movie actress.

At one juncture, Rell scolds Clarence, “You sound like Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy.” In addition to being accurate, this line reveals how conscious Key and Peele are of showbiz history — and, more significantly, of the complexities of contemporary racial identity. In fact, if their multi-layered comedy lacked wit, it could be considered incendiary.

While wisecracking about African-American stereotypes and lampooning the grandiosity and tired conventions of gangster movies, “Keanu” also pokes fun at the coded language and behavioural types associated with other ethnic groups.

Will Forte plays a Caucasian pot dealer whose speech pattern and cornrows indicate he desperately wants to be black. And the appearance of actor Luis Guzman — a fixture in crime flicks over the last four decades — in the role of a drug lord implies Hispanics are not immune to prejudicial pigeonholing, either in real life or in art.

Director Peter Atencio, who helmed numerous episodes of “Key & Peele,” keeps the focus on his two stars. Their approach is generally lighthearted and good-natured.

Yet the underworld atmosphere is reinforced both with bloodletting and with the bodies of exploited women.

The film contains scenes of sometimes gory violence, much drug use, some irreverence, upper female and rear nudity, occasional profanity as well as pervasive rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Ratchet & Clank
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Busy 3D visuals fail to mask the flat tone and by-the-numbers storytelling of the animated sci-fi adventure “Ratchet & Clank” (Gramercy). In fact, even undemanding youngsters may feel the space-time continuum yawning before them as the seemingly interminable 94 minutes of this video-game adaptation tick away.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film’s underlying message. As encapsulated in the repeated tagline, “You don’t have to do big things to be a hero; just the right ones,” it actually echoes — however faintly — Mother Teresa’s famous formula: “small things with great love.” But the vehicle used to convey this respectable theme bears more resemblance to a tired jalopy than a gleaming spaceship.

Thus there’s a strained quality to the attempts at humour with which the script — penned by co-director Kevin Munroe in collaboration with T.J. Fixman and Gerry Swallow — tries to make the predictable plot more involving. When your primary hero, the titular Ratchet (voice of James Arnold Taylor), is a catlike creature called a lombax whose very nature requires an explanatory detour, moreover, it doesn’t bode well for the journey ahead.

An accomplished, albeit somewhat scatterbrained, mechanic, Ratchet longs to leave the garage behind and join a glamorous band of interplanetary peacekeepers known as the Galactic Rangers. When he tries out for this prestigious team via an interview with their vain leader, Qwark (voice of Jim Ward), however, things go so badly wrong that Ratchet finds himself back among the spare parts being consoled by his gruff but kindly employer, Grimroth (voiced by John Goodman).

Yet plucky underdogs can’t be kept down forever. At least in the world of kids’ movies they can’t. So it’s not long before Ratchet teams with brainiac robot Clank (voice of David Kaye) to take on Drek (voice of Paul Giamatti), a planet-destroying villain who has temporarily managed to stymie the Rangers.

We know that the aptly named Drek must be about the blackest hat going since he’s not only a tycoon, but a polluting industrialist whose frequently seen factory spews soot into the air with merry abandon.

Joined at the helm by Jericca Cleland, Munroe adds moral observations about the dangers of pride and the need to be a team player to the aforementioned outline of everyday heroism. If their eyes haven’t glazed over, those are ethical signals parents and little ones alike can profitably take on board.

Momentary dangers and some loud mayhem, however, suggest that the very youngest moviegoers might better be steered in a different direction. All the more so if those supervising them have a low tolerance for tedium.

The film contains some cartoon violence, including explosions, and occasional peril. 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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Mother’s Day
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Nearly everyone in the sprawling ensemble comedy “Mother’s Day” (Open Road) harbours a secret.

They are, quite often, terribly complicated mysteries involving racist beliefs, homophobia and even children abandoned at birth. Each story line could, in theory, be a compelling and instructive drama on its own terms.

Garry Marshall’s uneven direction, however, added to a discursive script by Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Anya Kochoff and Matthew Walker, turns all of this into a leaky slop bucket of bromides.

Not only are none of the themes seriously examined, some of the characters are given equally short shrift. This is particularly noticeable with regard to the few African-Americans on screen. They’re always on the sidelines of the plot, and appear to be written only as wisecracking comic relief.

In the manner of Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day” in 2010 and “New Year’s Eve” from the following year, there are six subplots, with more threads than a Tolstoy novel. This time, the setting is the upscale Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta.

Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) and Henry (Timothy Olyphant) are divorced and share custody of their two sons on the friendliest of terms. But conflict develops when Henry announces he’s married the much-younger Tina (Shay Mitchell).

Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke) are sisters who live next door to each other. Both are keeping secrets from their clueless parents, bigoted Texans Flo (Margo Martindale) and Earl (Robert Pine).

Jesse is married to South Asian doctor Russell (Aasif Mandvi) with whom she has a son and shares a stepson; Gabi is in a long-term lesbian relationship with Max (Cameron Esposito). But Jesse has told her parents she’s engaged to a lawyer, while Gabi’s cover story involves a fiance named Stan.

Fledgling stand-up comic Zack (Jack Whitehall) has an infant daughter with — and longs for a marital commitment from — live-in girlfriend Kristin (Britt Robertson). Kristin has abandonment issues because she’s not sure who she really is. She was adopted, and she knows the identity of her biological mother, but is afraid to meet her.

Widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis), a gym owner whose wife died overseas while serving in the Marine Corps, navigates being a single father of two young daughters while fending off the matchmaking schemes of his friends at the gym.

Hovering over all of this like Titania, the fairy queen of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is Miranda (Julia Roberts). She hawks costume jewelry on a home-shopping network, and her occasional interaction with other characters is marked by a mix of brittleness and compassion.

It would require considerable focus and aplomb to keep an audience engaged with all this. Instead, Marshall and the screenwriters decide that the easiest way to better the outlook of their more recalcitrant figures is to place them in enlightening peril.

Serious issues involving blended families get brushed aside in favour of slapstick sequences and soppy expressions about mothers. Thus Zack observes: “In every atom of their bodies they know what’s best for their children.”

Such aesthetic flaws are matched by a faulty moral outlook. While the screenplay presents an ultimately positive view of marriage, other arrangements clearly at odds with scriptural values, though they may be dealt with only fleetingly, are given an unthinking pass.

The film contains some distasteful humor, at least one rough term and occasional 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 PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops