Catholic News Service Movie Reviews



American Made
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — “American Made” (Universal), the wild, fact-based story of airline pilot-turned-gun-runner Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), is far too turbulent for youngsters and even too bumpy for most of their elders.

That’s a shame because, given a different treatment, this unlikely tale of a man playing several sides against the middle might have made an entertaining slice of recent history for a much wider audience.

Bored with his career ferrying passengers around the country for TWA, Barry reacts enthusiastically when approached by CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) with the offer of a covert mission. It’s the early 1980s and the opening stages of the Reagan administration, and Schafer wants Barry to transport arms to the U.S.-backed contra forces fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

This turns out to be exciting, dangerous but straightforward work. Yet Barry is soon diverted from it by the chance to smuggle cocaine for the leaders of the nascent Medellin drug cartel, Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia).

Discovering, more or less simultaneously, that the contras would rather get rich than fight, Barry develops an elaborate scheme to supply the weapons to the gangsters and the narcotics to the guerrillas — all the while pretending to carry on with his original assignment from Schafer.

The immense wealth Barry amasses as a result delights his loyal wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen). But it also arouses the suspicions of Craig McCall (E. Roger Mitchell), the local FBI agent in the area of Arkansas to which Schafer has relocated the Louisiana-bred Seals, as well as those of their new home town’s Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons).

Director Doug Liman and writer Gary Spinelli revel in the improbability of their tale and the law-flouting skills of their protagonist. But, after further complications set in, they try to have it both ways where the white powder is concerned, condemning government hypocrisy while letting Barry himself off the hook.

Add to this ambivalence their explicit portrayal of the passionate nature of the central pair’s bond and the constant vulgarity that marks the script, and the result is a free-for-all that makes apt fun for few.

The film contains strong sexual content, including graphic scenes of marital lovemaking, a glimpse of full nudity, some stylized combat and other violence, a drug theme, several uses of profanity as well as pervasive rough and much 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Far from heavenly, but not exactly hellish either, the tepid afterlife-focused thriller “Flatliners” (Columbia) is more like a visit to limbo.

Comparisons to a spell spent sitting in your doctor’s waiting room might be equally apt, since this sequel of sorts to the eponymous 1990 film once again involves a group of medical students.

A link to the original is provided by the presence of one of its stars, Kiefer Sutherland, aka Nelson Wright, now all grown up and teaching med school with an entirely new name, Dr. Barry Wolfson. Those under his tutelage include hard-driving, slightly troubled Courtney (Ellen Page) whose memories of a tragic car accident are shared with the audience by way of vague flashbacks.

Courtney has an interest in near-death experiences. To study the physiology of that situation, she persuades two of her peers, Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), to stop her heart, then quickly revive her. While she’s deceased, they’ll scan her brain for any lingering activity.

Unsurprisingly, complications arise. These require the hurried intervention of Ray (Diego Luna), the wisest member of Courtney’s circle of friends who — probably for that very reason — was not in on the scheme originally. When Courtney does eventually return to the land of the living, she comes back equipped with enhanced skills, impressing even the easily dissatisfied Dr. Wolfson.

As a result, and despite Ray’s disapproval, others decide to give mortality a spin, including Jamie, Sophia and yet another of Courtney’s pals, Marlo (Nina Dobrev). But day-tripping to the great beyond turns out to have a serious downside which even Ray has not foreseen: the revivified soon begin to have eerie hallucinations, all of them in some way connected to dark secrets from the past.

Director Niels Arden Oplev’s horror-tinged drama has a basically sound moral outlook as far as forgiveness and honesty about past misdeeds are concerned.

A couple of liaisons among the future physicians, on the other hand, are not at all what the doctor ordered. That’s especially true of the affection-free encounter with Jamie by which Sophia signals her rebellion against the constraints of her controlling mother (Wendy Raquel Robinson). Lest either Mom or the audience miss the point, the unloving couple makes quite a racket.

While the ensemble’s experiments hardly constitute suicide, they are obviously irresponsible in the extreme, violating the moral obligation, under the Fifth Commandment, to nurture and preserve good health. The whole premise is so far removed from real life, however, that assessing its ethical standing seems irrelevant. It’s doubtful any viewers will want to try this at home.

The film contains fleeting gory violence, semi-graphic casual sex, partial nudity, mature themes including abortion, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and at least one rough and several crude terms. 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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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


Home Again
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Genteel decorum prevails in the romantic comedy “Home Again” (Open Road). At least, it does so everywhere beyond the confines of its protagonist’s bedroom. The result is a morally mixed film in which kindly characters follow the marital and sexual dictates of contemporary society.

Although the movie opens with the aforementioned main character, Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), in tears, her situation turns out to be more tumultuous than tragic.

Recently separated from her British-born, New York-based husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), Alice has returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, her two young daughters, Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), in tow. There they’ve settled into the lavish house in which Alice grew up and which she inherited from her father, John (David Netto), a famous director of 1970s arthouse movies.

While out on a liquor-fuelled spree celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice crosses paths with a trio of promising but broke filmmakers: brothers Harry (Pico Alexander) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) and their pal George (Jon Rudnitsky). Alice and Harry fall for each other at first sight, but he loses his cookies before they have the chance to get physical.

The morning after the night before, the lads — homeless after being turned out of the cheap motel room they were occupying — stick around, charming Alice’s mom, Lilian (Candice Bergen), with their enthusiasm for her series of starring turns in her late husband’s pictures. At Lilian’s behest, and after some hesitation, Alice agrees to let her new friends take up residence, rent-free, in her guest house.

Naturally, the polite and considerate youths bond with Isabel and Rosie and, inevitably, Alice and Harry pick up where nausea had forced them to leave off. But back east, Austen, who has all along wanted to reconcile with Alice, is none too pleased to learn of this novel domestic arrangement — even though he is still in the dark about its sexual aspect.

There’s a gentle spirit to writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s feature debut. In fact, the daytime interaction between Alice and her three tenants sometimes recalls that between Snow White and her seven dwarfs.

But the script presents marital breakup as a form of liberation. And, though it coyly avoids having the romantic leads sleep together within hours of meeting each other by sending Harry off to worship the porcelain idol, Meyers-Shyer obviously takes the duo’s subsequent fling as a given.

Additionally, the girls’ accidental exposure to the relationship — babysitting Lilian unexpectedly shows up with them, just as Alice and Harry are emerging in the morning — is milked for laughs.

Unsound but not obnoxious, “Home Again” (Open Road) will easily be parsed by grownups, for good and ill. The entertainment value of the positive residue, however, is slight at best.

The film contains a benign view of divorce and cohabitation, momentary semi-graphic and brief non-graphic sexual activity, comic brawling, a few uses of profanity and at least one rough and about a half-dozen crude 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.


The Lego Ninjago Movie
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Third time lucky? Not for the Lego screen franchise, alas.

In following up on 2014’s “The Lego Movie” and “The Lego Batman Movie” from earlier this year, directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan — the latter two also co-writers, along with four others — attempt to blend a children’s feature and an action film. The result, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” (Warner Bros.), is awkward, noisy and tedious, though the boredom is occasionally relieved by the odd flash of wit.

Bookended by live-action sequences featuring martial-arts icon Jackie Chan as a curio shop owner who becomes the story’s narrator, the cartoon follows the exploits of a schoolboy named Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco), a resident of far-off Ninjago City.

With his home town constantly under attack by his villainous father, Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), Lloyd is an object of scorn and derision to many of his peers. Yet, unbeknown to them or to Garmadon, Lloyd leads a double life, battling his bad dad in the guise of a ninja warrior.

He’s backed up by a quintet of pals and fellow fighters: Cole (voice of Fred Armisen), Nya (voice of Abbi Jacobson), Jay (voice of Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (voice of Michael Pena) and Zane (voice of Zach Woods). Like Lloyd himself, all of them have trained under the tutelage of Master Wu (voiced by Chan), Lloyd’s wise and virtuous uncle (and Garmadon’s estranged brother).

The forgettable series of explosions and other disturbances that follow from this set-up drown out the script’s listless pursuit of themes like the possibility of personal conversion and the value of family reconciliation. A few of the jokes will likely raise a smile. Garmadon, for instance, insists on pronouncing both the L’s in Lloyd. But the demolition quickly recommences.

The dialogue includes some vague mumbo-jumbo about humans harnessing the power of the elements. Thus one of Lloyd’s comrades can deploy fire, another water, a third ice and so on. Though this aspect of the picture never amounts to much more than an excuse to include the hummable 1990 hit “The Power” on the soundtrack, it’s not for the easily confused.

The film contains perilous situations, a bit of mild scatological humour and a couple of mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. 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.


A Question of Faith
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — As with so many of its forerunners in the religious message movie genre, the sober drama “A Question of Faith” (Pure Flix) seems better suited to preach to the choir than to attract the indifferent or the merely curious.

Still, those committed to scriptural values will appreciate the film’s showcasing of a strong marriage as well as its emphasis on forgiveness and interracial harmony.

Experienced minister David Newman (Richard T. Jones) is about to take over the leadership of the flourishing church he has previously served as an assistant pastor when a tragedy involving his young son Eric (Caleb T. Thomas) shakes his fundamental beliefs. Though spiritually disoriented by the mishap, David benefits from the steady support and guidance of his wise wife, Theresa (Kim Fields).

As David gradually discovers, his family’s misfortune has linked their fate to those of several strangers, including restaurant owner Kate Hernandez (Jaci Velasquez), Kate’s daughter Maria (Karen Valero) and cashed-strapped contractor John Danielson (C. Thomas Howell).

With his business facing bankruptcy and his daughter, Michelle (Amber Thompson), enduring a potentially fatal medical crisis, John is even more alienated from God than David is. But he too has a steady rudder in his patient spouse, Mary (Renee O’Connor).

Director Kevan Otto leavens the sometimes tearful proceedings with upbeat gospel music. And, though the plot of his movie, as written by Ty Manns, is farfetched in some of its details, viewers to whom it appeals will likely skim over such gaps. In exploring the value of faith-motivated reconciliation, moreover, the script sets the right tone and offers a good example to its wide appropriate audience.

The film contains mature themes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. 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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