Review of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Families are hard. Some are harder than others. I listen to several true crime podcasts and there are numerous episodes about horrible parents and/or horrible children wreaking havoc on each other or their communities. For instance, Jennifer and Sarah Hart adopted six children and then killed the children and themselves by driving the family van off a cliff. Crime boss John Gotti brought his son into his criminal empire, which could be considered a form of abuse. Some serial killers have brought their children along to assist in their crimes, leading the child to consider the deviant behavior normal. It doesn’t take long searching podcasts to find horrific descriptions of abuse and neglect. Fortunately, the family in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” while dysfunctional, isn’t quite as depressing as that.

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), known to his friends as Shaun, parks cars for a living with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) in San Francisco. Shang-Chi is the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung), the leader of a worldwide terrorist group called the Ten Rings. Xu Wenwu has been alive for over a thousand years, thanks to the powers of 10 mystical rings. Despite amassing immense power and wealth, Wenwu wants something more. He thinks he’ll find it in the mystical city of Ta Lo that is supposed to house mythical creatures. Making his way through a living, moving forest, Wenwu meets Ying Li (Fala Chen) who is more than a match for his martial arts and the 10 rings. They meet more times and fall in love. Ying Li convinces Wenwu to give up his life as a criminal to raise a family, having Shang-Chi and his younger sister Xialing (Mang’er Zhang). After Ying Li dies, Wenwu resumes his criminal life and teaches his son to be an assassin, while his daughter watches and trains herself. Both Shang-Chi and Xialing run away at their first opportunity. Several years later, the Ten Rings captures both Shang-Chi and Xialing as Wenwu claims he hears the voice of Ying Li calling to him to release her from behind a gate in Ta Lo. His plan is to take his army into the village and, if they won’t release Ying Li, he will burn it to the ground. Neither sibling wants any part of destroying their late mother’s village and they try to stop their father’s quest.

There’s a great deal going on in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” I’ve only given about 10 percent of the story to avoid spoilers. It’s a plot-heavy introduction to the first Asian hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a cast comprised mostly of Asian actors. Marvel was slow to introduce heroes of any color other than white males. Black Widow didn’t get her own solo movie until this year, more than a decade after she was introduced as a side character in “Iron Man 2.” “Captain Marvel” is the first female lead character. Supporting heroes Falcon and War Machine are the first African American heroes introduced into the MCU (not counting Nick Fury as he isn’t a hero), and Falcon will be the lead in the next “Captain America” film, with the late Chadwick Boseman being the first African American to lead an MCU film as “Black Panther.” Marvel is slowly introducing more heroes representing more diverse groups, reflecting the makeup of the world. But none of these efforts to create a rainbow of heroes would matter if the movies weren’t any good. I’m happy to announce “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is very, very good.

Simu Liu effortlessly inhabits the skin of Shang-Chi. Liu has an easy-going style that makes his scenes with Awkwafina’s Katy believable and relatable. Shang-Chi is just a guy, trying to find his place in the world, when this enormous family bomb gets dropped in his lap. Shang-Chi has kept his family history a secret from everyone and is ashamed and embarrassed by his past. Liu’s scenes where he divulges Shang-Chi’s secrets is painful to watch. Not because Liu isn’t a good actor, but we empathize with his plight and pain. While none of us have likely have such deep and dark family secrets, we can relate in other less extreme ways. Liu provides an emotional depth to a superhero character we rarely see.

Awkwafina’s Katy acts as the conduit for the audience. Katy is like that person turning to you saying, “That’s crazy, right?” While Awkwafina is there to provide some laughs, her character also possesses a depth that she and the audience discover as the story plays out. Katy grows almost as much as Shang-Chi, and we enjoy her victories as much as his.

Given the martial arts aspects of the character, the fight scenes in “Shang-Chi…” are amazing. The first big battle on a bus introduces the audience to Shang-Chi’s amazing abilities developed due to years of brutal training. The confined nature of a fight between five guys on a city bus keeps the action up close and personal. The creative uses of poles and other bus architecture for Shang-Chi’s escapes and avoidance of his enemies is a marvel (pardon the expression) to behold. Liu’s years of both gymnastics and martial arts training in Canada served him well in this role.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language. There are numerous fights, some on massive scales, but very little blood. There are bat-like creatures that suck out your soul. One character has a glowing machete for a lower arm. Foul language is scattered and mild.

While the usual Marvel third act mayhem takes place, everything that comes before it in “Shang-Chi…” feels new and unique. We have an appealing hero, a goofy but nuanced sidekick, a compelling and complicated villain, and an enormous backstory of mystical creatures and magical powers to explore. It works as an intriguing and very entertaining introduction to a new character in the MCU. By the way, stick around as there is both a mid-credits and end-credits scene suggesting what’s coming up in Phase Four of the MCU. The addition of Shang-Chi and Katy makes me very excited for what’s to come.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” gets five stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Candyman”

The sweetness of candy is its biggest appeal. It offers very little in nutrition, only a sudden burst of glucose to the bloodstream that then requires an equal burst of insulin from the pancreas to allow it to be absorbed by cells to be used to power the body. If the body doesn’t need as much energy as the candy provides, the glucose is then converted to fat. Chocolate is said to generate similar chemical reactions in the brain as seeing someone we love or feeling in love. There is an entire holiday, evolved from honoring, remembering and trying to protect us from spirits of the dead, built around the collection of candy by little kids. It is a tender trap of immediate gratification and long-term consequences. I love candy, am obese and have Type II diabetes. There are genetic reasons that might be involved, but being largely sedentary and eating too many carbohydrates, some of them candy, has put me in this position. Candy can be a gift, but if abused, it becomes a curse. Much the same can be said about this week’s movie, the sequel to and reboot of, “Candyman.”

An artist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is struggling with finding the inspiration for his next series of paintings due to be shown in an upcoming installation. His girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) is the gallery director. His work largely centers around social injustice and equality, but the gallery owner Clive Privler (Brian King) says Anthony’s work is his past and not his future. Looking for inspiration, Anthony walks around the mostly abandoned Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago where he meets William Burke (Coleman Domingo), one of the few remaining residents of the project and the owner of a laundromat. Burke tells Anthony the urban legend of Candyman, a local hook-handed character named Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) that was accused of putting razor blades in candy he passed out to children in the neighborhood. Fields is beaten to death by cops, but the razor blades continued to show up in candy, meaning Fields was innocent. The legend goes, if you stand in front of a mirror and say “Candyman” five times, Burke will appear in your reflection and kill you. Inspired by this, Anthony begins a new series of paintings depicting violence in graphic ways. The paintings are displayed for the showing in a room behind a mirror with each patron given a handout that details the legend and instructions for summoning the violent specter of Candyman. Following the showing, violent, grizzly murders are carried out against people in Anthony’s life. Is he responsible? Is he going insane? Is he Candyman?

Horror superstar Jordan Peele co-wrote, along with director Nia DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld, the script for “Candyman.” Peele is also a producer. His involvement immediately put this film on my “must watch” list. I’d never seen the original “Candyman” from 1992 or either of its sequels, so I was curious about what kind of film I’d be getting into. With Peele being part of a larger creative team and it being based on a previous property, would “Candyman” be a rehash of 1990’s slasher/horror, or would this 21st Century take on the character introduce something new? The answer is a bit of both.

The story of “Candyman” makes good use of its brisk 91-minute run time to squeeze as much as possible out of the original story and add biting social commentary about POC displacement and gentrification. Being a white male, I squirmed in my seat more than once as the characters discuss the history of Cabrini Green and knocking down low-income housing to build condos the original residents can’t possibly afford. There are moments when it sounds like Peele and the writers are making comments about their own success and how they are separated from the financial struggles and experiences of most minorities in America. It’s one of the rare scripts with aspects of social commentary that turns the gaze back on itself and says, “I’m guilty of this too.” Overall, this take should make fans of the original film very happy as this is a direct sequel. It shares history and characters from the 1992 film with even a photo and voice cameo from Virginia Madsen, and Tony Todd makes a brief appearance. While I haven’t seen the original, I have read a plot synopsis. From that limited information, I believe this sequel should leave original “Candyman” fans pleased with this continuation of the story.
The film is frequently trying to keep you off balance. There are camera angles that cause you to lose your sense of placement in space. Are we looking up from street level or down from above the clouds? Is Anthony going insane, hallucinating, or is he carrying out these murders in a hypnotic state? Since the movie is questioning what’s reality and what’s fantasy, the audience is never quite sure. It’s a nice mixture to keep you one your toes.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is amazing in “Candyman.” You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he struggles for inspiration, then no one sees the work the way he does. His obsession with the work poisons his relationship with everyone around him, as the legend takes him over, both emotionally and physically. There appears to be a rot that travels up Anthony’s hand from where a bee stings him as he wonders around Cabrini Green. That rot is emblematic of what happens to Anthony’s mind as the movie continues. Abdul-Mateen makes Anthony a frantic victim, confused about his physical and mental changes and wondering where it will end. The audience aches for Anthony knowing he likely can’t escape a painful fate. Note: If you suffer from trypophobia, or the fear of clusters of small holes, you may want to avert your eyes from Anthony near the end of the film, or stare at him to overcome your aversion.

“Candyman” is rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references. All the murders committed on screen are bloody as Candyman uses his hook to rip out throats or otherwise impale his victims. We see and man’s arm sawed off. There are also two murders committed by cops on black men. The actual violence is done off screen. Sexual references are a couple talking about their upcoming coitus that is interrupted, and Brianna’s gay brother making mild sexual jokes. Foul language is infrequent.

“Candyman” delivers some quality kills but comes up a bit short on the scares. The film works hard to convince us all the victims deserve to die for being mean, callous, selfish and opportunist. His first appearance in the film is likely his best, stalking his victims and only appearing in reflection but still slashing throats and other body parts in the real world. Candyman becomes an anti-hero in this iteration. I would have liked a bit more tension and visceral fear, but the artistry and style director DaCosta brings to the project raises “Candyman” hook, head and shoulders above many other slasher films.

“Candyman” gets four out of five stars.

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Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “The Night House”

What would you be willing to sacrifice for someone you loved? Some have given up dreams of travel and exploration to be with their partner. Others have relinquished the option of various sexual partners to be monogamous with their true love. Still more have relocated across the country or in another part of the world so their partner could take advantage of an employment opportunity. Then there are those that have put their own lives in peril, stepping between a jealous former lover, a criminal or some other threat to protect the one they love. What if that threat is invisible and unstoppable? What do you do then? The answers are troubling and confounding in “The Night House.”

Beth (Rebecca Hall) is mourning the death of her husband Owen (Eric Jonigkeit). He rowed a small boat out into the middle of the lake behind their home, took off and neatly folded all his clothes, then put a handgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Beth doesn’t know why Owen took his life and his suicide note doesn’t clear up anything. It reads: There is nothing. Nothing is after you. You’re safe now. Beth is also having dream-filled and troubled sleep. She dreams of a house filled with women that look like her, but aren’t her, and Owen kissing and hugging them. The stereo in her home turns on randomly at night, playing the same song at full volume. She wakes up in other parts of the house with no memory of how she got there. Then there’s the presence. She feels as if she’s not alone. Her neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and friend and co-worker Claire (Sarah Goldberg) offer support and advice, suggesting she get out of the house and away from the memories, but Beth needs to solve the mystery surrounding her husband and his choice to end his life.

The advertising for “The Night House” has been vague to protect the plot as it is not what it seems…but still is. I’m being vague as well, as the film is a slow burn that needs to build to an exciting and revelatory finish. Knowing much more than the basic plot would ruin all the surprises.

Rebecca Hall is clearly angry as Beth. She feels abandoned and betrayed. Owen’s death is so unexpected and seemingly random, she can’t put her emotions anywhere other than towards him. It’s a feeling she’s familiar with as we learn Beth has been prone to depression in the past. Owen is the one that always pulled her back from the abyss. He’s now gone, so her energy is focused on figuring out why. Hall conveys all these emotions vividly in scenes of unexpected anger, sarcasm and self-pity. Hall easily slides from each of these feelings throughout the film, and it lives and dies with her performance. Hall’s Beth is alone in all the scenes where she makes discoveries or experiences out-of-the-ordinary things, conveying her fear, loneliness and anger often only with her face. It’s a masterful performance that rivets the viewer’s attention. We focus on Beth as if there is no one else in the room (and often there isn’t), but we soon realize Owen is always there. In her mind, her memories, her heart.

The story of “The Night House” is like an M. C. Escher painting. Impossible angles, stairways and hallways leading back on themselves but still winding up in the same places. There’s a great deal of surrealism and misdirection in the film. We are never sure if Beth is dreaming, hallucinating or going insane until the final act. The story written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski is a maze within a house of mirrors. Nothing much is what it seems until the very end. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and with a Cinemascore of C- it clearly isn’t, but it is a powerful and effective thriller unlike most of the movies within this genre.

“The Night House” is rated R for some violence/disturbing images, and language including some sexual references. I can’t give you much detail about these various factors. Beth asks a young woman if she slept with her husband but uses more graphic language. There are various brief scenes of violence against women. Beth is attacked.

“The Night House” is an engrossing thriller that may not be that thrilling to many at first. I just ask you give it a chance to progress through the story as the ending is worth it.

“The Night House” gets five stars out of five.

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Review of “Free Guy”

Many people, from quantum physicists to conspiracy theorists, believe we are living in a simulation. The reality we perceive is created in the supercomputer of a highly technologically advanced civilization. The simulation they’ve constructed is detailed, includes not just the Earth and everyone on it but the idea of a Universe with other planets, stars and galaxies that are, conveniently, too far away for us to ever visit. Our memories, our families, our knowledge of history and our hopes and dreams for the future are all merely ones and zeroes in some lines of binary code, or perhaps the random variations of an electromagnetic field inside a quantum computer. We may not be made of star stuff, as Carl Sagan one said, but subatomic electrically charged bits held inside a computer chip.

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) loves his life, his goldfish Goldy, his friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) and his job at the bank where, every day robbers walk in and steal money. Guy lives in Free City, a magical place where anything can happen, but for Guy, every day is the same. Free City is a role-playing game released by game developer Soonami, run by the egomaniacal Antwan (Taika Waititi). One of the game’s players is Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer), AKA Molotov Girl, who designed a game called Life Itself, and believes Antwan stole its code to make Free City. She is trying to sue Antwan but lacks hard proof her code is in Free City. Her former development partner on Life Itself, Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery), works for Antwan at Soonami. Millie is trying to find a hidden video file hidden within Free City to prove Antwan stole the code and she and Keys deserve royalties from the game. Millie, as her avatar Molotov Girl, is walking down the street in Free City when Guy sees her and falls in love at first sight. After some effort and being killed a couple of times, Guy manages to talk to Millie. Assuming he is a hacker in an NPC (non-playable character) skin, Millie ignores him, but Guy goes against his character programming and begins quickly levelling up in Free City, becoming a powerful fighter with a huge arsenal of guns and vehicles, all in the hopes of helping Millie and getting her to fall in love with him.

It may not be the first film where life is lived in a virtual reality, but “Free Guy” is the most fun you’ll have in that fake world. The setting, the weapons (some designed after various video games), and the frustrations of Free City feel both familiar and new as we learn more about Guy, his home and life. “Free Guy” is more about learning to live your life without restraint than it is about video games.

Ryan Reynolds is his usual charming self. As Guy begins to learn how best to survive and advance in Free City, he does it be being a good guy. He stops crimes instead of committing them. He helps people instead of hurting them. He’s not just a good guy, he’s the Great Guy. Reynolds gives Guy’s naivete a sweet and comical turn. He may kill a criminal by accident and chalk it up to the character being sleepy. Guy finds joy in the smallest things and, as he begins to expand beyond his programming, Guy influences other NPCs to do the same. Guy’s enthusiasm for learning and living in Free City is a key component of Reynold’s performance. He’s relentlessly positive and it keeps this slightly too long movie moving at a good pace.

Taika Waititi makes an easily dislikable villain. Waititi has played a child’s fantasy version of Hitler, a goofy vampire and a giant but gentle rock creature. He finds comedy in unlikely places and his self-aggrandizing, morally questionable, utterly repugnant Antwan is one of his best. Waititi’s Antwan is a whirling dervish of gobbledygook catch phrases and pop culture references. His over-the-top style hides his knowledge of what a failure he is. He knows his isn’t responsible for the success of Free City and his bravado is an effort to hide the truth. Waititi takes a horrible person and makes him comically watchable.

The rest of the cast, from Jodie Comer’s Millie to Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Mouser, a friend and co-worker of Keys’, is spot on. Comer and Reynolds have a believable chemistry in the sim world and their partnership and eventual attraction is believable, even if it’s in a virtual existence. The film is peppered with cameos. Some you will easily recognize, like the late Alex Trebek and Channing Tatum, while others are hidden behind masks or just providing voices, like Tina Fey, Dwayne Johnson and Hugh Jackman. There are even streaming gamers in the film like Ninja, Jackscepticeye and Pokimane. If you’re deep in the world of game streamers, you see several familiar faces. “Free Guy” knows what audience it’s aiming at and makes sure there’s plenty for them to recognize and love.

“Free Guy” is rated PG-13 for strong fantasy violence throughout, language and crude/suggestive references. Numerous video game characters are blown up, shot, and otherwise dispatched on screen. The crude and suggestive references are very mild and usually done for comedic effect. Foul language is mostly mild, but there is one ratings-allowed F-bomb.

Back to the discussion of if we’re in a simulation, it doesn’t matter. We will continue to live our lives unaware of the forces that are guiding us. Some believe it’s their version of God, others think it is random chance. If it’s a simulation, then we’re being guided by both a God, in the writer of the code, and the random variations that occur over time as we repeat actions, learn from our mistakes and make corrections. If this is a sim, it doesn’t matter as long as our creator keeps the power on.

“Free Guy” gets five stars.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “The Suicide Squad”

Sometimes bad guys are bad for good reasons. They may have had horrible upbringings and know of no other way to live. They may be forced by circumstances to protect someone they love by carrying out the orders of someone threatening to hurt or kill family members. The bad they are doing may lead to a greater good only they can see. Then there are people that are just bad and what they do is bad. It may be for personal gain. It may be to exert power and control over others. It may be for the sheer joy of causing pain and suffering. Whatever the reason, people who do bad can choose to do good. Or, as in the case of “The Suicide Squad,” they are forced to do good with small bombs planted in their necks that will blow their heads off if they don’t follow orders.

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of supervillains to carry out a mission for the US Government. If they succeed, each member will get 10 years off their sentence. If they try to run away, a micro bomb implanted in each villains’ neck will explode, killing them instantly. The group is heading to the island nation of Corto Maltese where the ruling family has been overthrown and killed in a military junta. The new military government is antagonistic toward the US, so Waller is tasked with sending her team to destroy a Nazi Germany-built tower called Jötunheim where experiments are being carried out on a possible alien life form. Leading the team is Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). With him is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Savant (Michael Rooker) TDK (Nathan Fillion), Javelin (Flula Borg), Weasel (Sean Gunn) and Mongal (Mayling Ng). They attack one beach location while Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Cleo Cazo), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and Nanaue, aka King Shark (motion capture by Steve Agee, voiced by Sylvester Stallone) hit another. Eventually, the remainders of the two teams come together to face a threat like no other…from what’s in the tower and amongst themselves.

James Gunn is a unique film maker. He can produce giant blockbusters that have the look and feel of subversive underground cinema. He makes choices that go against the grain of standard moviemaking and those films frequently make money. He took a second-tier group of comic book characters and squeezed them into the overall narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His two “Guardians of the Galaxy” films are unlike anything in the MCU with his choice of music, influx of humor and willingness to insert a dose of heart and emotion into what could have been a couple of standard outer space comic book shoot-‘em-ups. He has now crossed the street to work on DC’s “The Suicide Squad” and brought his unique touches, and a few of his favorite actors, with him. The result is a gory, violent, fun spectacle.

One of the posters says to not get too attached to any of the characters, and that proves to be correct. Early on, several members of the team die in violent and gory ways. A couple of those I was hoping to see more of and learn more about. However, my disappointment quickly faded as the story progresses and the remaining team members get down to business. This movie takes all your ideas about superhero films and chucks them into the woodchipper. It then makes you stand in front of the woodchipper and be bathed in the remains of your expectations. After that, the movie dares you to complain about the mess or cry over your situation. It would appear I’m in an abusive relationship with “The Suicide Squad,” but what other kind could there be when I’m faced with rooting for a group of villains led by a man that put Superman in the hospital after shooting him with a Kryptonite bullet and an anthropomorphic weasel that killed a couple dozen children. Despite the psychological implications of hoping this team of villains succeeds, it’s hard not to find lots to like about most of them.

The performances are amazing in “The Suicide Squad” with the stand outs being John Cena as Peacemaker and Cleo Cazo as Ratcatcher 2. Cena makes his sociopathic character almost sympathetic at times. Peacemaker has a singular, but twisted, focus on the objectives of the mission. He says anything that comes into his head, will kill anyone that gets in his way, and doesn’t mind showing off his many unique kill styles trying to impress Elba’s Bloodsport. Cena is funny. He’s more than willing to use his impressive body to get a laugh, appearing in one scene in a pair of jockey shorts and nothing else. His response to their mission, codenamed Operation Starfish, is to ask if it has anything to do with buttholes and tells Bloodsport he’d eat a beach covered in penises if it meant the successful completion of his mission. Cena is building an impressive early resume of films as he kicks off his movie career following a successful stint in pro wrestling. John Cena is following closely in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Cleo Cazo is the sympathetic heart of “The Suicide Squad.” Cazo’s Ratcatcher 2 comes from a difficult childhood with a drug abusing father (Taika Waititi). Her father developed the technology to control rats and taught her how to use it. After he died, she used the tech to control rodents and help her rob a bank. After she was caught, she was sent to Belle Reve penitentiary and was recruited by Waller. Ratchcatcher 2 isn’t a bad person. She’s sweet and kind, loves her rats and forms an attachment to everyone on the team, especially Bloodsport. She convinces King Shark everyone on the team is his friend, so he won’t eat them. Her decency and kindness belie a strength and fierce loyalty the group needs when they least expect it. Cazo exudes warmth and joy in the role. I hope we get to see this character again if there are future films featuring Task Force X, assuming she lives to the end of this one.

“The Suicide Squad” is rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity. There aren’t enough pixels in the world for me to list all the gory, graphic violence in this film. Arms, legs and heads are cut off, shot off and blown off. King Shark rips one guy in two, eats another whole and chomps on the head of a third. There are bloody shootings, stabbings and more. Harley uses a metal javelin as a pole vault, planting in one guy’s foot. In other words, there’s a great deal of bloody violence. There is brief nudity of men and women. Foul language is common.

I was one of the very few people that will admit to liking 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” While it was far from perfect, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the team, the humor and the constantly shifting loyalties of Harley Quinn. I would have liked to seen director David Ayer’s original edit of his film, as he has posted on Twitter, it is a much better version than what we got. It looks like that film was doomed by studio interference with the director’s vision, despite it making a huge amount of money. I don’t think James Gunn allows much BS from the studio on his films. He’s been quoted as saying, if he chose to kill off Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the bosses at WB would have let him do it. I would prefer the suits in the suites didn’t get their manicured fingers into the making of movies as most of them haven’t done it. The few that have may posses a unique knowledge of film making, but don’t have the same vision as those producing new releases. Let film makers succeed and fail on their own terms. It certainly appears Gunn has succeeded in her version of “The Suicide Squad”.

“The Suicide Squad” gets five gore- and blood-soaked stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

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Review of “The Green Knight”

The King’s nephew Gawain (Dev Patel) lives a life of excess and debauchery, spending most of his nights sleeping at the brothel with his favorite sex worker Essel (Alicia Vikander) and drinking. His mother (Sarita Choudhury) wants more for her son and hatches a plan. On Christmas Day, Gawain is enjoying the feast at the King’s celebration while his mother and three other women cast a spell to conjure a challenge to her son’s bravery. Bursting through the doors of the yuletide feast, the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) rides into the hall and offers up a game: Whoever can land a blow against him will be given the Green Knight’s mighty axe to use for a year. But next Christmas, the challenger will meet him at the green chapel and receive an equal blow in return. At first there is silence, then Gawain agrees to accept the challenge. Asking for a sword, the King (Sean Harris) provides his. The Green Knight stands still, confusing Gawain. Gawain then attacks, cutting off the Green Knight’s head. Thinking that is the end of it, Gawain and all in attendance are shocked when the topless body stands and retrieves the still living head. The Green Knight reminds Gawain to meet him in one year at the green chapel and rides off laughing. Dreading his likely approaching doom, Gawain continues his aimless life until a week before he is to meet the Green Knight. He then begins a perilous journey over the countryside, encountering bandits, spirits, giants, a friendly fox, and a strange couple living in a castle in the middle of nowhere, as he prepares to face his fate at the green chapel.

I was really looking forward to “The Green Knight.” It had a terrific trailer featuring a floating crown lowering onto Dev Patel’s head, then he bursts into flame. The design of the Green Knight looked amazing. The booming baritone of Ralph Ineson is a plus in every movie. The cinematography of the barren, cold Irish landscape appeared to be as much of a character as anyone in the film. I’d been aware of the tale of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” since high school but remembered little of it. So, this movie had been at the top of my want to see list since the first trailer back in earlier 2020. Naturally, with COVID shutting down most film releases, the world had to wait until now to get a peak at this epic Arthurian legend on the big screen. Despite all my eagerness to see the film, I walked out wondering what I’d watched.

“The Green Knight” is a glorious looking film. The landscapes of Ireland where most of the exteriors were shot, is gorgeous. Filters were likely used to darken the surroundings, giving the film an ominous look, suggesting doom would pop up at any moment. Enormous care was taken to recreate the medieval period during which King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were supposed to live. The interiors of castles, homes, brothels and inns is appropriately dark and dank. The buildings are composed of either stone or wood with very little metal visible. No one looks especially healthy with even Gawain often appearing on the verge of collapse and the King frequently wheezing when he expends even the slightest effort. You can almost smell the B.O. from the population’s unwashed bodies as you follow Gawain walking down the damp streets or sitting down to enjoy an ale in the local pub or brothel.

The Green Knight is a glorious villain (if that’s what he really is) with a body appearing to be composed entirely of carved wood. He creaks and cracks as he walks and with the voice of Ralph Ineson, he sounds appropriately menacing. We only get two scenes featuring the Green Knight and I wanted more of him. To me he was the most interesting person in the film.

While many fascinating things happen in “The Green Knight,” they pose questions that are rarely answered. In the opening scene, we see a gate leading into a walled city. The thatch roof of a building is on fire, a woman gets on a horse and a man pulls a sword from the horse’s saddle preparing to defend against an enemy. We then pull back to see that’s the view from Gawain’s bed in the brothel and a completely different scene plays out with no explanation of what happened to the man and woman, and why that building was on fire. Did the couple start the fire? Is it a diversion so they can escape from her abusive husband and be a couple? Did they just kill rob and kill someone and set the fire to hide their crime? In the end, it doesn’t matter as we never see that couple again. While this is the most non sequitur scene in the film, it certainly isn’t the only one.

It makes me wonder if the film’s narrative is merely a parable within a parable. Gawain’s journey is the story of a man waiting to be provided with meaning and purpose for his life when he’s the one responsible for providing that meaning. Perhaps writer/director David Lowery is telling the audience we are meant to find our own meaning in the film and not depend on it being spelled out for us. Normally, I’d be on board for that interpretation, but I can’t find enough clues or enough depth to work out what I’m supposed to learn as a viewer.

“The Green Knight” is rated R for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity. There is the beheading that starts the adventure. It is somewhat bloody. We see some animals killed in various hunts. A skeleton is shown hanging from a suspended cage. There are scenes of post-battle fields filled with dead bodies. There are some sex scenes that are brief and contain little nudity. An odd scene appears to involve sex as the evidence is shown on Gawain’s hands at the end. A group of naked giants are shown walking with brief views are bare breasts and buttocks. A scene late in the film shows a head falling off a body. A ghost’s head is shown rolling on the floor and speaking. There is a scene of vomit. A scene of a woman giving birth and that baby being taken away from the mother may cause some distress.

I wanted to love “The Green Knight,” I really did. It has a great cast, is based on a thrilling tale of knights and sorcery and romance and adventure and looks like a well-crafted fantasy. Despite all that’s going for it, I wondered what the point was as the credits rolled (and there is a brief scene late in the credits if you’re interested, but it didn’t help the film make sense) and I considered what I’d seen. While most of the real critics love the movie and it is a beautiful looking piece of work, I just don’t get it. It’s above my head. I lack the depth to fully grasp its meaning and I never have to see it again.

“The Green Knight” gets two stars out of five.

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Review of “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions”

I have never been to an escape room. I’m not the best at figuring out puzzles in videogames so I doubt I’m any better in a live action setting. Things other players pick up quickly seem to evade me. When I’m told the solution, it makes sense and is obvious, but I can’t put the pieces together in the moment. In other words, I wouldn’t live long in the world of “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” and I doubt anyone else would either as this world requires too much coincidence and good luck to be survivable. But for a sequel to a low-budget thriller, it’s not half bad…but just barely.

Zoey and Ben (Taylor Russell and Logan Miller) are trying to go on with their lives since surviving the Minos Corporation’s escape rooms. Zoey is seeing a therapist both to deal with her PTSD and to cure her fear of flying. The therapist doesn’t believe there is a Minos Corporation or their deadly escape rooms and tells Zoey she needs to put the past behind her. Zoey and Ben discovered the coordinates to the Minos Corporation in their logo and drive across the country to try and gather evidence that will bring them down and end the games. The location is what looks like an abandoned warehouse. The pair are accosted by a vagrant that steals Zoey’s necklace, a keepsake from her dead mother. Chasing the vagrant onto a subway train, he escapes, and the train begins to move. Planning to get off at the next stop, the subway car separates from the other and changes tracks. The other four people on the train are also survivors from Minos’ escape rooms and they all realize they were brought together for a tournament of champions. The subway car slams to a stop and is electrified. If they touch the polls, handles or doors, they’ll be shocked to death. They figure out the puzzle and escape, but one of the contestants is electrocuted. The remaining survivors must navigate out the next sets of escape rooms if they want to survive and so Zoey can continue her mission to stop Minos.

I liked 2019’s “Escape Room.” It had a winning cast, engaging characters and an interesting story. While the all-powerful, faceless corporation as the bad guy was old, everything else about the film was well done and entertaining. “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” sticks closely to the formula and delivers a decent sequel with a decent cast and a nearly identical story. There are fewer rooms, but they are more deadly with lasers, quicksand and raining acid. That and the introduction of a character thought to have died in the first film are about the only differences between the two films.

One would have thought the stakes in the sequel would have been amped up, and yet they are actually lowered. With a run time 10 minutes shorter than the original, “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” feels like the group of four writers ran out of ideas and gave up on the story. Wringing everything they could out of the original concept, the writing team hit a wall and stopped. Will Honley, Maria Melnik (who wrote on the original film), Daniel Tuch and Oren Uziel pull a switcheroo for the last room, making you think they have escaped when the players just found an alternate path to the next puzzle. When that plays out, the quartet decides to give the audience and Zoey a big reveal. And that leads to what appears to be a happy ending that is actually the set up for a likely third installment. Whoever writes the next film may want to consider saving the escape rooms for later in the movie and give the audience either pre-escape room flashbacks for our main characters or a time jump showing us a survivor’s post-escape room life. The ending of “…Champions” makes this unlikely, but I can dream.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is rated PG-13 for violence, terror/peril and strong language. The violence is mostly seen in flashbacks to the first film. There are moments when people are burned by lasers and acid and disappear in quicksand. One character burns her hand on a stove element but doesn’t feel it. Once character is shown being electrocuted. The subway car sequence features flashing electrical currents that may cause issues for those with light sensitive seizure disorders. Foul language is common but there is only one instance of the F-bomb.

I like “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions,” but I don’t like it as much as the first film. Catching lightning in a bottle is difficult to do a second time. The first film grossed almost $156 million worldwide on a $9 million budget. The combination of a weaker entry and a worldwide pandemic makes a similar return on the sequel’s $15 million budget seem unlikely. I also am still not a fan of the faceless conglomerate being the villain. Show us a roundtable of suits making decisions about who will be brought into the next escape rooms. Give one of them a suitable backstory to explain why this is being done. The original film’s explanation of rich people betting on the outcome is a decent start, but I think the story is helped by filling in the details of what has warped the minds that run Minos to watch young people be tortured. Since logic was one of the first losers in “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” (it appears all six players got on the same subway car by chance), why not give the audience some history that makes the cruelty make some sense.

Nobody asked me and they likely won’t. Of course, I could be kidnapped, locked in a room, and forced to write the next “Escape Room” installment. I would have to write myself into corners and boxes then write my way out of them, otherwise I would be burned, shocked, poisoned and more. I can guarantee I would write a very bad movie, but it would also have more intelligence and less coincidence than this sequel.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” gets three stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Black Widow”

Please note: There will be some “Avengers: Endgame” spoilers in this review. If you haven’t seen that film yet, it’s available on Disney+, for rental on several platforms and for purchase in stores that sell DVD’s/Blu Rays.

Nothing says “SUMMER” like sitting in a movie theater with overpriced popcorn and soda and a superhero movie on the screen. There hasn’t been a Marvel movie in theaters since “Spider-Man: Far from Home” in July 2019. Now, with the pandemic beginning to ebb (get your vaccination) and the world is reopening, we are treated to a long overdue solo movie for the only women to be included in the early MCU: “Black Widow.”

Natasha Romonoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run from US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) following her actions in violation of the Sokovia Accords. She slips away to Norway with the help of Mason (O-T Fagbenle) who sets her up in a trailer isolated in the wilderness. Going into town to buy fuel for the generator supplying power to her housing, Natasha is attacked by a warrior who mimics her fighting style called Taskmaster. Taskmaster isn’t interested in her, but a case in her car. Natasha escapes with the contents of the case, several vials of a red gas. Since the items containing the case came from a safehouse in Budapest, Natasha returns to the city from which she and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) just barely escaped. At the safehouse, Natasha runs into Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), the young woman Natasha has known since they were children in the Black Widow training program called the Red Room. Yelena tells Natasha the red vials are a gas that severs the mind control the Red Room has over the female assassins. The training program was run by General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the target Natasha thought she killed to prove her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. Yelena says he survived and is still running the Red Room in a secret location that no one knows. Natasha and Yelena decide to reunite Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) who pretended to be the girls’ father in an espionage mission in 1995. Alexei is Russia’s only superhero, the Red Guardian, who was given a super-soldier serum similar to Captain America and worked for Dreykov. Dreykov has put Alexei in a prison in a frozen wasteland. Getting a helicopter from Mason, Natasha and Yelena break out Alexei and travel to meet up with Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), who pretended to be the girls’ mother in 1995. Melina is the scientist that developed the mind control used on the Widows from the Red Room. The reunited faux family goes on a mission to end Dreykov’s control over the Widows and end his plans for world domination.

While “Black Widow” is more focused on the espionage angle, the story from Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson, and the script from Eric Pearson, includes a great deal of family moments as well. Unlike “F9,” there are some actual expressions of love and tenderness shown to provide some evidence that the four unrelated people are the closest thing to family any of them has known. Despite them not seeing each other for 25 years, and after some initial discomfort from long simmering resentments, the four main characters slip easily into the roles of parents and children and all the friction that can cause for the youngsters that are now adults. To put it more bluntly, the family dynamic of “Black Widow” actually works, unlike “F9.”

While the rest of the movie is mostly car chases, fist fights and things blowing up, the scenes between Natasha and Yelena are the most fun in the film. They snipe at each other and complain about the choices each makes but in a way that feels sisterly than out of any real anger. The pair are reconnecting and dealing with their actions and the choices they’ve made, some beyond their control, that have cost lives. While the Red Room made them deadly Black Widows, it couldn’t completely eliminate their feelings of guilt.

Diving into this aspect of being an assassin for the State is a concept that was lightly touched on by the “Bourne” films when they weren’t fighting and blowing things up. In “Black Widow,” the notion of being a terminator for a government that will eliminate you when you’ve outlived your usefulness is central to the story. Between Red Guardian being shipped off to prison and the Widows being forced to kill themselves when they might be captured, “Black Widow” shows the unglamorous side of being a spy, even if all the Widows are beautiful.

“Black Widow” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material. There are numerous fights featuring acrobatic flips, knife play and shootings. There is very little blood, although we see a tracking device cut out of a Widow’s arm or leg, I don’t remember which. There is a graphic, but comedic, description of the forced hysterectomies Black Widows must have. We see a wrist broken during an arm-wrestling match and a leg broken in a fall. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Some have argued the last third of the movie falls into the superhero trope of being all action and very little story or character moments. That isn’t wrong. The big action set piece that concludes the movie is very “Marvel,” with the heroes saving the day and the bad guys vanquished (sorry if you consider that a spoiler, but come on, it’s a Marvel movie). There is a bit of peacemaking with Taskmaster as its identity is revealed. There’s also a very nice moment, wrapped up in action, involving Yelena and Natasha that cements their affection for one another. And the post-credits scene sets up the future of Black Widow that we’ll probably see in the Disney+ “Hawkeye” TV show. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but it isn’t “Iron Man 2” or “Thor: The Dark World” and this one is certainly overdue.

“Black Widow” gets four stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “F9: The Fast Saga”

Ah, summer! That time of year when thoughts turn to enjoying bright, hot sunny days by the pool, at the lakeshore and on the beach. That’s what most people look forward to, anyway. On the other hand, I see summer as the time when movie studios bring out their big guns, their heavy hitters, the releases that are guaranteed (they hope) to bring audiences out en masse to watch the latest action, comedy, sci-fi blockbuster. Of course, last summer was a washout with a deadly virus ripping through the population and spread via airborne transmission. Being closed up in a large room with recirculated air was a perfect contamination storm, leading all the major movies to be delayed or receiving simultaneous limited theatrical releases and streaming platform premieres. Despite the vaccines and lessening of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Warner Brothers is still doing both theaters and their HBO Max streaming service through the end of the year. Assuming more people become fully vaccinated (get you shot/shots if you can) and a variant doesn’t become immune to the vaccine, maybe next summer will be more normal than this one. However, the one thing many people were counting on has finally occurred: The latest “Fast and Furious” movie has opened. Is “F9: The Fast Sage” worth heading out in the hot summer sun for?

Dom and Letty (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom’s son Brian are living a quiet life on a farm when they received an unannounced visit from Tej, Roman and Ramsey (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson and Nathalie Emmanuel). The trio is going on a mission to Montecito to recover their covert boss, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) whose plane was downed in the jungle by rogue agents as he transported a captured Cipher (Charlize Theron) to prison. Also, on board the plane is part of a gadget named Ares that could put any device that runs on code under a hacker’s control. During the operation, the team is attacked by a paramilitary outfit led by Dom’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena). Jakob and Dom have bad blood going back decades to the death of their father Jack (J.D. Pardo) during a stock car racing crash. Jakob is working for Otto (Ersted Rasmussen), the son of a European leader and billionaire, and Cipher is helping them against her will. Cipher finds the location of the other half of Ares, but it still needs a key to unlock and use it. That key is under the protection of Han Lue (Sung Kang) who was thought to have died in a car crash and explosion years earlier caused by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Dom and the crew must stop Jakob from getting his hands on the other half of Ares and the key and stop him from using the device to take over every nuclear arsenal in the world.

That is one fully packed plot recap, and it doesn’t cover half of it. There’s lots more family intrigue, spy shenanigans and electromagnetic-augmented car chases (yeah, I said “electromagnetic-augmented”) I didn’t have room for. It’s a jammed full action movie that’s in a big hurry to get somewhere but doesn’t. It’s a two-hour, 25-minute preview for “F10, Part 1” and “F10, Part 2.” It wants the audience to buy in fully with the idea of Dom’s extended family working together as a team and how they are all willing to sacrifice the individual to save the whole. In “Star Trek” terms, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” While there are a few examples of that sacrifice, it doesn’t have the emotional punch director Justin Lin was probably going for. The attempts to make us feel fear and pity for the crew are always short-circuited by the knowledge that none of the central team is in any real danger of dying. No matter how bad the car crash, plane crash, explosion, fight, building collapse, fist fight or whatever, no one is in real peril. Their contracts won’t allow it.

Listening to Vin Diesel growl out his dialog is becoming a chore. While Diesel says very little, letting his driving and fighting do most of the talking, when he does speak, it’s barely understandable. What he’s given to say may be as much to blame with hollow sentiments about family and loyalty. His emotional range isn’t much better. Running the gamut of mildly bemused to mildly annoyed with occasional peaks of rage, Diesel has about as much acting chops as, well, a lamb chop. However, one must give Diesel credit for stumbling into a role that matches his abilities. Much like the Kardashians are famous for being famous (and the occasional “leaked” porn tape), Diesel has made a fortune from the “Fast” franchise and become a producer on many of his own films, as well as the voice of the Marvel character Groot. We should all be so lucky as to find what we are marginally average at and from it make a fortune.

The biggest thing holding back the “Fast” franchise (aside from logic) is a character that can’t be there but is always hovering in the background: the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner. Walker’s death in 2013 during a break in the filming of “Furious 7” led to a delay in the that film, rewrites and using old footage and Walker’s two brothers with digital effects to finish his shots. Walker’s Brian is mentioned several times in “F9” with a hint he might show up at a family gathering. It might be best for this franchise if Brian is allowed to die, as the frequent mentions and fake outs he’s going to appear is only a cheap ploy to play on the sympathy of the audience and remind everyone that Walker is gone. Enough is enough. Fold the character’s death into the plot (Cipher tracked him down and had him killed or something like that) and let the audience and the franchise say goodbye in a way that’s meaningful.

There’s plenty more I could complain about: The way the magnet weapon attracts and repels items after the vehicle in which it’s mounted has already passed, the explosions of mines and missiles that cause no damage to the vehicles they explode under, the sheer luck of a rope or wire from an old bridge catching a car’s wheel just right, not ripping out the suspension and the rope not breaking, and don’t get me started on a car in space. Since “Fast 5,” logic and physics hasn’t been very important to the makers of the franchise. Normally, I wouldn’t care as much, but there’s something about the shallowness and cynical feeling of this film that makes its logical flaws stick out that much more. This may be one of the “Fast” franchises most ambitious films, but it’s also one of its most bland.

“F9: The Fast Saga” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language. There are numerous scenes of shooting where no one gets hit except the bad guys. Crowds of bystanders are often in the line of fire during these shootouts, but we never see if anyone is injured or killed. There are numerous fist fights, some occurring on or in moving vehicles. Some characters are hit by cars, but we never see the aftermath. There is a race car crash that results in a fire and presumed death. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Despite my criticisms of “F9,” I don’t hate the film. It lacks the fire and excitement of previous episodes that all the car stunts in the universe can’t generate. While it is doing big business at the box office, both in its opening weekend in North America and at theaters around the world, audiences may be flocking to see it out of a desire for normalcy and a return to the simple pleasures of life taken away by coronavirus. I cannot blame them, and I feel the same way, but I believe “F9” is a lesser chapter in “The Fast Saga,” and I hope the final two films in the main franchise can return the magic that’s missing.

“F9: The Fast Saga” gets 2.5 stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is having nightmares about hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) following their adventures a few years earlier. Micheal has had his AAA bodyguard license suspended until it’s reviewed by the governing board. His therapist suggests he leave his future self messages on his phone and take a much-needed vacation. Michael’s relaxing trip to the Italian coast is violently interrupted by Darius’ wife Sonia (Salma Hayek). She’s involved in a shootout with henchmen of the mafioso that kidnapped Darius and needs Michael to help her save him. Michael complains that he’s taking a sabbatical from guns and being a bodyguard, but Sonia won’t take no for an answer. They find the warehouse where Darius is being held and free him, killing every thug there. That complicates the case of Interpol agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo) as the mafioso was a confidential informant about a potential threat to Europe’s digital infrastructure from Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas). Papadopoulos is angry over European Union sanctions against Greece, and he plans on taking his revenge by planting a computer virus in Europe’s biggest internet junction and destroying anything connected to the web, including banking, power generation and distribution and more. Bryce and the Kincaids can avoid long prison terms if they work with Agent O’Neill and stop Papadopoulos from enacting his plan. It would help if they could not kill each other in the process.

If you’re looking for a deep, complex examination of life and existence in the modern world, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” ain’t it. This is mindless summer movie entertainment. It’s the junk food of cinema. It makes a billboard for a personal injury lawyer look like high art. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is empty calories for your brain…and that’s just fine by me.

While it’s as equally predictable as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the story is not really why we’re sitting in a dark theater watching Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Selma Hayek screaming at each other and trotting around Europe. The purpose of this kind of goofy film is to allow the audience to escape the outside world and go to a place that’s uncomplicated and requires nothing from us. We want to take a brief mental vacation from work issues, family problems, political strife and coronavirus fears.

Ryan Reynolds is his usual charming self. He plays a more broken version of Michael than before. Without his AAA bodyguard license suspended, he doesn’t know who he is or what he should do with the rest of his life. This is played for laughs as he annoys everyone around him (including his therapist) and tries a non-violent form of personal protection, arming himself with pepper spray and unloading all the guns he gets his hands on. Reynolds plays roughly the same character in most of his films: Sweet but edgy, kind but selfish, easily tricked into whatever scheme Sonia and Darius have cooked up but always one step ahead. It’s Reynolds’ gift to be able to perform the same character so effortlessly and still be entertaining.

The same can be said for Samuel L. Jackson. Darius is very similar to his brief role in “Sprial: From the Book of Saw” as former Police Chief Marcus Banks. It’s also a great deal like most of his film roles from the last 30 years, from Jules in “Pulp Fiction” to the “Shaft” reboots to “XXX” to “Snakes on a Plane” to “Django Unchained” to pretty much every other film, with the exception of the “Star Wars” prequels where he is much more toned down. Finding your groove and getting people to pay for you to play the same person repeatedly, isn’t a criticism. Jackson is 72 years old and one of the most bankable actors working in films today. According to his Wikipedia page, a tallying of the total grosses of his film appearance that aren’t cameos, Jackson’s movies have made $27 billion at the worldwide box office. As the saying goes” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And Jackson ain’t broke in any sense of the word. It may not set the world on fire, but Jackson’s performance in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is the kind his fans have come to expect and love. In that regard, he doesn’t disappoint.

What can you say about Selma Hayek’s performance that doesn’t involve her beauty? She is a constant source of energy in the film. You can feel the heat radiating from her as she either rails at Darius and Michael for not getting along or smolders when she expresses her passion for her husband and her desire to have his baby (a running joke and minor subplot in the film). The several times she strings together a mixture of English and Spanish curses at whomever throughout the movie is a hoot, and her motherly feelings for Michael pay off in a joke at the end of the film. Hayek is part of why this film is worth seeing.

Poor Antonio Banderas. He’s rarely given anything interesting to do in these popcorn movies when he’s the villain. Papadopoulos is a very generic bad guy. He’s angry at the world and has the money and power to exact his revenge. His target is the leaders of the EU, but his real victims will be the small businesses and workers that will lose their jobs, their savings and their homes if he succeeds. It’s a bad part written with little consideration for the talented actor playing him. He gets to wear a lovely grey wig and some gaudy costumes, but that’s small consolation considering the how underutilized he is. Someone please, write a good part for Banderas in an action comedy! I’m begging you!

The humor and action in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is also more of the same from the first film, but I enjoyed it all again. The fights, the chases, the wanton destruction of property and infrastructure is a bit more messy in this go round. Splitting up the final confrontations into three didn’t work for me as I’d rather watch the trio fight together to defeat numerous foes than have them scattered and their heroics cut up into multiple scenes. Michaels’ final showdown with his ultimate enemy was a bit of a stretch to believe as he’s fighting someone who, in real life, is 40 years older. Still, the way that struggle is set up made its conclusion a bit more satisfying. The humor is of the juvenile level we got in the first film. I’m a teenager in an old man’s body, so I found the film funny, if slightly less funny than last time.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexual content. There are numerous shootings with lots of blood spatter, a few corpses are shown with their eyes stabbed out, there are lots of fights, stabbings, car crashes and people hit by cars. The sexual content is more on the humorous side as Hayek and Jackson are shown and heard having sex a few times while Reynolds responds with disgust. Foul language is common with Samuel L. Jackson delivering his trademark MF’s and the rest of the cast joins in.

I really enjoyed “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” from 2017. I loved the humor and action. While the story was predictable, the rest of it worked for me in a big way. It would have been easy to just repeat the formula from the first film in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” and the filmmakers mostly do. There’s a tiny bit of stunt casting that was a huge surprise that also leads to a double cross late in the story. There are more scenic locations to look at during shootouts and car chases, and the massively complicated and unlikely scheme of the bad guy is pretty standard. All in all, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is more of the same and for me, that works.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” gets four stars out of five.

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