Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

10/26/2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — One thing you can say for the title character in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (Paramount), the fellow does enjoy a good punch in the face.

Whether giving or receiving the jabs, Tom Cruise — in his second venture as the former Army officer turned freelance detective — is as durable as a cast-iron stove.

The difference between this film and the 2012 original, in which Cruise sulked through Pittsburgh, is that director Edward Zwick, who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz, provides occasional moments of pleasantly acidic domestic bickering. That helps break up the narrow escapes, shootings and slugfests — as well as the long sequences during which cast members simply break into a sprint.

The somewhat mysterious knight-errant invented by British novelist Lee Child is a strong moralist according to his own lights. Reacher prefers to live off the grid: paying cash, riding public transportation and abhorring cellphones. He descends into others’ predicaments like a “deus ex machina” and is loyal to a fault, provided you’re on his side.

This go-round, Reacher comes to the rescue of Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a military-intelligence operative with whom he has been playing tentative phone-tag and for whom he broke up a human-trafficking ring.

By the time he finally decides to meet her in person, she has been framed by a corrupt officer for an espionage charge involving murders in Afghanistan. Reacher quickly breaks her out of confinement, and they spend the rest of the film looking for the actual bad guys, who are also tied up in drug smuggling.

As an added twist, Reacher learns that he may have a teenage daughter from a previous fling. Although her parentage is never proven, Samantha (Danika Yarosh) turns out to be almost as resourceful as Reacher and Susan. Indeed, the three of them function as a kind of action-genre family unit, frenetically running from, shooting and pummeling villains in Washington and New Orleans.

While the trio share a two-bedroom hotel suite in the latter city, what may or may not be going on between Reacher and Susan once the lights go out is never even hinted at, much less made clear.

Predictability is the entire goal here. Audiences are supposed to enjoy Reacher’s journey, even when it’s marred by plot holes and some exceedingly trite dialogue. The story is limned so efficiently, there’s no time to give much thought to such details anyway.

The film contains stylized violence, including gunplay, and fleeting 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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Ouija: Origin of Evil
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “A foolish consistency,” declared 19th-century essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Whatever else may be haunting the unconvincing horror prequel “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (Universal), a slavish devotion to logic is not its characteristic spectre.

In generating a forerunner to 2014’s “Ouija,” director and co-writer (with Jeff Howard) Mike Flanagan shows commendable restraint in keeping the blood flow to a minimum. He and Howard also include in their cast of characters that rarest of Hollywood figures, a sympathetic Catholic priest.

Neither the presence of the amiable clergyman nor a judicious approach to otherworldly mayhem can compensate for the increasingly nonsensical behaviour on screen. But the latter feature does at least suggest that this instalment of the franchise may possibly be acceptable for older teens.

In 1967 Los Angeles, middle-aged widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) earns her living as a bogus medium. She’s aided in her charades by her two daughters, 15-year-old Lina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson).

In the first example of the film’s ambivalent approach both to the occult and to religion, Alice justifies her fakery by claiming that her seances help her clients find comfort and closure. Somewhat ironically, those are feelings she and the girls have yet to experience for themselves in the wake of husband and dad Roger’s recent — and obviously premature — demise.

At Lina’s suggestion, Alice buys a Ouija board as a new prop for the act. Said fateful purchase is, of course, the cue for all ...H... E... C... K... to break loose. As with its predecessor, the movie amounts to extended, though rather paradoxical, product placement for the Hasbro “game” version of the device.

Sooner than you can spell out exorcism with a roving planchette, little Doris has been possessed by a dark spirit. Perhaps the girls’ principal, Father Tom (Henry Thomas), can help with that? He’s certainly concerned about the family, as he demonstrates during another of the movie’s equivocal sequences, a potentially romantic dinner he and Alice share at a dimly-lit restaurant.

Perhaps because lifelong celibacy is too weird a concept for contemporary audiences to wrap their minds around, the script informs us that Father Tom is a widower. The neighbourhood eatery at which he meets Alice, ostensibly to talk about what’s troubling her kids, is not only an old haunt of his and his late wife’s, it was also frequented by Alice and Roger.

Though the cleric and the sham clairvoyant share an obvious mutual attraction, it’s all left at the level of an abstraction. Refreshingly, Father Tom is committed to his vocation, and has kept things on the up-and-up from the start by wearing his clerical collar to the meal.

But respectability does not equate to spiritual power, as Father Tom discovers once he tries to aid the embattled clan. The closest he gets to any ritual approach to the problem is a half-hearted “Our Father.” But the demon is having none of it, and assaults him in mid-sentence.

By then, he has at least helped Alice and Lina figure out the back story behind it all. This turns out to be a muddled historical mishmash and, as things heat up, credibility melts away still further.

Early on, we’re shown that Lina is going through a rebellious phase when she sneaks out of the house at night and attends a liquor-enlivened party. But she and her friends — including her soon-to-be love interest, Mikey (Parker Mack) — are caught, and she’s appropriately reprimanded by Mom.

Later, Lina smuggles Mikey into the house while mom is out. Though the two go upstairs to her bedroom, their illicit behaviour there extends no further than a kiss, after which Mikey departs with a contented smile on his face.

A much larger concern than these relatively venial transgressions is the potential for adolescent viewers to want to dabble with a Ouija board in real life. It’s a well-established fact that such seemingly innocent interaction with what purports, essentially, to be a toy or a pastime can lead to spiritually disastrous results.

So if there’s the slightest possibility that the movie, which may be said to wink at its own plot, would attract a youngster to experiment with this dangerous apparatus, parents should exercise an immediate veto.

The film contains occasional violence with slight gore, occult themes, underage drinking, an instance of mild irreverence, at least one use of profanity as well as a single crude and a couple of crass terms. 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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Boo! A Madea Halloween
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Going by “Boo! A Madea Halloween” (Lionsgate), Tyler Perry may be getting a little bored with his signature character.

The language-fracturing violence-threatening moral force in a muumuu still gives out with the bickering and the lightning-fast asides. But writer-director Perry’s script gives her little to do other than mingle with college students and trash-talk with her elderly friends.

There are no shocks left in the old gal, except maybe her references to her past as an exotic dancer “on the pole.” So this is a film best appreciated by die-hard Madea completists who won’t mind that the plot is too casually constructed.

Madea’s nephew Brian (Perry) asks his fabled aunt (also Perry, of course) to look after his daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) on the Eve of All Hallows (in Madea-speak, “Holler-een”). Tiffany, who’s a voluptuous 17, wants to sneak out to a nearby fraternity party with two older friends.

She achieves this, of course, giving Madea the opportunity to intervene in her famous Cadillac, show off a few dance moves and leer at the guys. But once the hosts discover Tiffany’s real age, they don’t want her around, and Madea is tossed out as well.

Tiffany, meanwhile, has managed to convince Madea and her clan — pot-smoking cousin Bam (Cassi Davis) lisping Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and sex-obsessed Uncle Joe (Perry again) — that their family’s dwelling is haunted by ghosts from an old murder.

So the storyline turns to pranking by the frat boys, and eventually there are strange noises, spirit-world threats written on a bathroom mirror, and the old folks launch into haunted-house shtick — in between complaining about their physical ailments and the indignities of age.

Madea, it turns out, is just as afraid of the police (“The po-po”) as she is of ghosts. But this potentially timely, possibly controversial theme is not explored in any depth.

Bam, who offers to call the authorities in Madea’s stead, does announce that she’ll get them to turn up because she can sound like a young white girl over the phone. Yet Bam’s real goal is to tweak the cops by triumphantly producing her medical-marijuana prescription card.

As in all Madea stories, much is made of the beneficial effects of corporal punishment and the need for the young to respect their elders. With regard to the former topic, the hammer-wielding harridan observes, “A little love-tap never hurt no one.”

The film contains occasional nonlethal violence and marijuana use. 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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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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Keeping Up With the Joneses
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “I am everyday people.” Such was Sly and the Family Stone’s boast in a classic 1968 song, and a similar sentiment pervades the action comedy “Keeping Up With the Joneses” (Fox).

Despite its celebration of the lives of honest, decent, maritally committed suburbanites, however, awkward handling causes both the film’s upright message and its humour to fall flat. What remains are some good intentions and fitful smiles.

Exemplifying the ordinary folks the movie seeks to salute are Atlanta-area cul-de-sac dwellers Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen (Isla Fisher) Gaffney. Jeff is a mid-level executive in the human resources department of a large defence contractor while Karen works from home as an interior decorator.

With their two young sons off to summer camp for the first time, Jeff and Karen should be concentrating on the pleasures of a temporarily empty nest. Instead, they’re distracted by the arrival of new neighbours, suspiciously perfect couple Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot).

Travel writer Tim speaks Chinese, has a favourite cafe in Marrakesh and learned glass-blowing during one of his stays in Hungary. For her part, Natalie has a gourmet cooking blog and supports a charity for orphans in Sri Lanka.

Jeff and Karen eventually discover that the Joneses are, in fact, undercover spies. But not before Jeff develops a “man crush” on Tim and Natalie casts a spell of exotic sensuality over Karen.

The latter plot line plays off the cliche of men fantasizing about lesbian encounters as Karen, who has followed Natalie into a clothes store, winds up sharing a dressing room with her while they try on lingerie together.

In a bid for laughs of a different sort, Michael LeSieur’s script then drags the Gaffneys through such fish-out-of-water experiences as high-speed chases, shootouts and a potentially life-threatening stint as disguised decoys. During the last of these situations, the girl-on-girl motif resurfaces when Karen and Natalie exchange a lingering kiss, though they do so strictly as a stratagem to distract the bad guys.

As with the underwear scene, this sleight-of-hand smooch is contained within a safe context: both women are happily married, and Karen later explicitly reassures Jeff that it was just a red herring. In fact, Jeff’s confused fears on the subject are meant to be comically baseless.

But LeSieur and director Greg Mottola are clearly not above appealing to the very instincts they’re implicitly satirizing. And that tends to undercut the legitimacy of their movie’s pro-marriage outlook, a stance from which, amid all the bloodless mayhem, they view both the problems besetting and the solutions awaiting their four central spouses.

The film contains considerable stylized violence, semi-graphic marital lovemaking, partial nudity, some sexual humour, including a reference to aberrant behaviour, a same-sex kiss, several uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional 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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