Review of “Skyscraper”

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a former Marine and FBI hostage rescue team leader. While leading an extraction along with his friend Ben (Pablo Schreiber) a bomb explodes injuring most of the team. Will loses his left leg below the knee and Ben is scarred on his face and neck. Will’s doctor is Sarah (Neve Campbell), a Navy surgeon with tours in Afghanistan. The two fall in love and marry having two children, Georgia and Henry (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell). After recovering from his injuries, Will starts a security consulting business out of his garage. Ten years after losing his leg he’s approached by Ben to inspect the security of a super-skyscraper in Hong Kong called The Pearl. At 250 stories and over 3000 feet tall, The Pearl is a city in the sky and needs its fire suppression and safety protocols approved before the insurance company, represented by Mr. Pierce (Noah Taylor), will insure the building. Will brings his family with him to Hong Kong since he will be a permanent part of the staff if his inspection meets the standards of The Pearl’s primary financier Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and moves them into an apartment in the tower. The initial inspection is successful and Zhao gives Will a tablet that will give him access to the building’s systems remotely. All that needs to be done now is the inspection of the off-site control center. That visit is put on hold when Will’s bag is stolen as he and Ben are riding the ferry to the control center. Will is slashed with a knife in the struggle. Ben takes him back to his apartment to get patched up when Will announces he put the tablet in his jacket pocket as they were getting on the ferry. Ben then shows his true colors and tries to take the tablet. The pair fight and Ben is mortally wounded. Meanwhile, a team of armed terrorists are spreading a chemical to start a fire on the 96th floor. The terrorists, led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller), start the fire and need the tablet to disable the fire suppression measures. An associate of Botha’s takes the tablet from Will and shuts down the safety systems, allowing the blaze to spread up the tower while also implicating Will as being responsible. Sarah and the kids are in their apartment in the tower and Will risks his life to get back in the building, save his family and keep the terrorists from reaching Zhao in the penthouse and taking something they want very badly.

“Skyscraper” is not going to win any awards for the complexity of its script or the overwhelming quality of its acting. The film also will not get any praise from those that study physics or engineering. “Skyscraper” is a big, dumb and loud action pictured that never lets facts or reality get in its way. It is a combination of “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” with better special effects and the biggest box office draw in the world in the starring role. It shouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it is.

Dwayne Johnson is great at playing the everyman if that everyman spent hours every day in the gym lifting weights and sculpting the body of a Greek god. Aside from his obvious physical gifts Johnson is also finding his way as an actor. While he’ll likely never win an Oscar, Johnson turns in a very good performance as a man struggling against impossible odds to rescue his family. Every choice Will makes throughout the film is to do what’s best for his family. From taking the job in Hong Kong to jumping off a crane and into the burning building, Will is focused like a laser on his family’s welfare. Johnson ably handles the more emotional parts of the film while still believably playing a reluctant hero. It would be very easy for Johnson to slip into hero mode and grimly tackle every nameless henchman and dispose of him quickly; however, this character hasn’t touched a gun in a decade and, while keeping in top physical condition, has been working a desk job. Will is out of practice as a warrior and he makes mistakes and gets hurt along the way. In classic Dwayne Johnson style the character’s injuries don’t prevent him from completing his dangerous tasks but he must deal with a re-learning curve.

Neve Campbell might be seen in the trailers as a damsel in distress in need of saving by the big, strong hero. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Campbell’s Sarah is a war veteran and she is more than capable of taking care of herself and her children when things begin to go wrong. While Sarah is faced with some outrageous situations that ignore the laws of gravity and motion she faces them with a reasonable combination of fear and practicality. She also doesn’t mind throwing a punch and mixing it up with a bad guy when necessary. By the end of the movie, Sarah could be considered the real hero of “Skyscraper” and it all makes perfect sense thanks to the performance of Neve Campbell.

“Skyscraper” is a movie best enjoyed if you don’t think about it too much. Just accept the notion of a 250-story building with a forest and waterfall in the middle of it and two giant wind turbines supplying all the power it needs. Then there’s the giant sphere on top: The walls and floor are high-definition screens that can show the cityscape all around making it appear you are suspended in midair over Hong Kong. Screens also rise from the floor making for a hi-def game of hide and seek where the object is to find the real person, not a projection. We are told it will be a popular tourist attraction once the building opens. To me, it would be interesting for about a minute then I’d be looking for the exit. There are also outrageous stunts that defy all the physical laws of the universe. The one that you know about if you’ve seen the trailer is when Johnson jumps from a construction crane into a broken window that nearly 100 stories above the ground. An Internet image search will show some very smart people have figured out the actual paths Johnson would travel if he tried the jump in real life. Even the most generous estimates suggest he would have become a greasy spot on the ground rather than continued his heroic mission. As I said, don’t think too much about the movie. It’s more fun that way.

“Skyscraper” is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. There are numerous gun battles with people shown being shot but none of it is graphic or bloody. Johnson’s character pulls a long shard of metal from his shoulder. A person is shown being consumed by the explosion of a hand grenade. Another person is pushed into the fire from a walkway. There is the threat of a child being thrown off the roof of the building. A person gets stabbed in the leg with scissors. Foul language is scattered and mild with the exception of one use of the F-word.

Critics have been less than kind to “Skyscraper” calling it a copy of “Die Hard” and Johnson freely admits this. In an Instagram post, Johnson said, “In a summer full of cool & bad ass Superheroes & capes, my town of Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this anymore. But I wanted to make a film that paid homage and respect to the classic action movies that inspired me and entire generations – DIE HARD to TOWERING INFERNO to THE FUGITIVE. A wounded warrior’s blood, sweat, love & grit to save his family.” Johnson is aware he’s making a copy of “Die Hard” and the other movies he mentioned. If you like it, that’s great! If you don’t, he doesn’t care. He’s Dwayne Johnson, the biggest movie star in the world today and he wants to make movies he’d like to see. If you have that kind of clout and can get a studio to put up a production budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $125-million then you can make as many homage pictures are you please. If they are as entertaining as “Skyscraper” then it doesn’t matter what movie you’re borrowing from.

“Skyscraper” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “The Equalizer II” for

Other movies coming out this week:

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again—

Unfriended: Dark Web—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, movies and streaming. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Rampage”

The Energyne Corporation is run by brother and sister Clair and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy). While publicly the company is trying to use genetic manipulation to cure disease they are actually trying to develop a bioweapon by modifying animals. They are conducting experiments onboard their private space station but that is destroyed when a mutant rat, which has grown to the size of a large dog, gets loose. The canisters containing the mutation formula are designed to survive reentry into the atmosphere and land in various locations across the country. One falls in the Everglades and is eaten by an alligator. One lands in the Wyoming wilderness and sprays a wolf with its contents. A third crashes into the gorilla habitat at the San Diego Zoo. An albino gorilla named George approaches the canister and is also sprayed with its contents. Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) has been George’s keeper since he found him after poachers killed his family. He communicates with George via sign language. When George is found out of his habitat and in the grizzly bear habitat after having killed a bear, Okoye notices how much bigger George is. Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) shows up at the Okoye’s office after hearing about events at the zoo on the news. She says she works at Energyne and can help cure George. Meanwhile, the Wyden’s have sent a paramilitary team to Wyoming to retrieve the canister that fell there and the team finds the wolf has grown into an enormous and vicious killer. It wipes out the team and their helicopter with no trouble. George is in isolation because of his behavior and his increase in size. He becomes very aggressive and breaks out of his cage and nearly escapes from the zoo but is tranquilized by men in a government helicopter. They are under the command of Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Russell plans on keeping George tranquilized and transports him via military plane to a facility for study. Okoye thinks that’s a bad idea and he’s right. The Wyden’s have built a failsafe into their genetic coding. They will transmit a low frequency signal from atop their skyscraper headquarters in Chicago. The animals affected by their formula will be attracted to the signal and won’t be prevented from getting to it to try and stop it as it causes them pain. They plan on letting the military kill the mutated animals then collecting samples of their blood so they can continue their research. If a few thousand people have to die in downtown Chicago, that’s just the price of business.

Based on the video game of the same name “Rampage” is about as complicated as the console quarter-eater it spawned from. Three giant monsters destroy whatever they come across and it’s up to Dwayne Johnson to stop them. There are minor problems that crop up on the path to the happy ending we know we’ll get like plane crashes, imprisonment and lies between allies that threaten a recently created partnership. All this is merely what we expect from this kind of mindless effects-heavy action/adventure. I really wanted to like it but it is just okay.

My biggest problem with “Rampage” is it doesn’t have much of a story. A combination of corporate greed and wholesale digital destruction is pretty thin as far as compelling plots go. We are treated to a massive skyscraper’s collapse and three giant monsters (plus The Rock) battling it out for dominance but it all comes off as hollow and the action gets repetitive in the film’s final act.

I realize this is a meaningless popcorn movie that is designed to be visually thrilling and the special effects are spectacular. The motion capture used to bring George to life is seamless and amazing. Much like the recent “Planet of the Apes” reboot you would be hard pressed to say there isn’t a real albino gorilla on the screen. While the other mutated creatures are also visually stunning they are given certain added features that render them more creatures of fantasy. George is just an albino gorilla that is very, very large. The visuals throughout the film are very believable from the crashing of a military transport plane to the destruction of a skyscraper. It all looks very real.

What aren’t real are the characters. Each is a type that is needed to fill a need of the paper-thin story. Johnson is, of course, the mythic hero that is the linchpin holding all the other characters (good and bad) together. He is the moral center fighting for his gorilla friend and to prevent the greedy corporation from profiting from his friend’s suffering. Naomie Harris is part damsel in distress and part hero’s conscience. She reminds him of what is true function in the story is while also giving him something to save when needed. Malin Akerman is the heartless and greedy villain. She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and even tries to place blame on Harris’ character. Jake Lacy is also a villain but he doubles as the dumb comic relief. He is far too brainless to have concocted the villain’s evil plan on his own and is used to do some of the dirty work so the main bad guy (or in this case bad girl) doesn’t have to get her hands dirty. His purpose is to soften the evil for the audience. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the ruler that breaks the rules. He’s a maverick that starts off as an antagonist but finds he likes the methods of the hero. No character in the film rise much above the bare minimum required of them and none of the actors turns in a particularly stellar performance.

“Rampage” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, crude gestures and brief language. There are some brutal creature on creature battles that include a couple of impaling and a beheading. There are also several nondescript human characters that are thrown great distances by the creatures to what are likely their deaths. Other people are stomped, bitten or consumed by the creatures. There is a great deal of destruction when the action moves to Chicago including several building severely damaged and one large skyscraper destroyed. George likes to “throw a bird” at Okoye and does it several times. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I like Dwayne Johnson a great deal as an actor. While most of his roles just involve him looking buff, muscular and imposing he clearly enjoys his work and seems to be a nice and likable guy. He deserves a better film than this and I think he knows that. He’s the executive producer and would have had some say in what the final script became. Perhaps the EP credit was merely a title to get him a larger paycheck. Maybe he doesn’t know the story is weak. It could be he’s saving his creative abilities for a more important project. Whatever the reason, the film is weak in some very important ways. I’d have preferred a more interesting story and compelling characters I could really invest myself in. As it is the most interesting character in “Rampage” is the digital ape.

“Rampage” gets three stars out of five.

Check out my review of “Beirut” at in the “Blogs” section.

Next week I’ll see and review at least one of the follow:

I Feel Pretty–

Super Troopers 2–


Listen to The Fractured Frame where a couple of friends and I discuss the latest in movie, TV and streaming news. Get it wherever you download podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Reviews of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Shape of Water”

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Four high school students are sentenced to detention for various infractions. Their punishment includes cleaning out an old storage room. There they find an old video game system with one cartridge of a game called Jumanji. The four plug in the game and select their characters. When they push start the game begins to glow and the students are sucked inside. When they arrive they find themselves in the bodies of their avatars: Dr. Xander Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillen). Each has a unique set of skills, strengths and weaknesses and each has three lives. A non-playable character named Nigel (Rhys Darby) tells the players about how the land of Jumanji is under a terrible curse after an explorer named Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) stole the Jaguar’s Eye from a statue giving him control of all the animals in the land. The players must put the Eye back where it belongs in order to win the game and exit. They must also do so without losing all three of their lives otherwise they will really die.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a perfectly decent action/fantasy/comedy. Its appealing cast delivers high-octane performances in a video game scenario with plenty of stunts and special effects to keep the story, if you want to call it that, moving. The two hour run time of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” goes by quickly and the film has little in the way of slow spots. So why don’t I care more about the characters or the outcome of the film? Maybe because I know there’s going to be a happy ending with no surprises (there is and there aren’t). Perhaps it has something to do with cynically slapping “Jumanji” on a movie that has very little to do with the original film. Whatever the reason, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a perfectly fine diversion from life but it doesn’t really have a reason to exist.

I suppose it could be argued the movie does encourage the viewer to accept one’s self, including your strengths and your flaws, and live life without fear and regret. It’s a simplistic message but one that younger viewers should hear; but it seems unlikely they will pick up on this message when the movie is much more focused on the wish fulfillment of its primary character going from weak nerd to super buff hero. He does still have the fears and lack of confidence of his real world counterpart but that falls to the wayside as he gains more experience in the game.

All the avatars retain their real world personalities; but the big and strong high school football star and the pretty and popular girl both become weaker and less attractive characters while the nerd and the social outcast gain strengths and abilities they lack. The weak become the strong and the leaders become followers. The transition is difficult for them all but through living life on the other side of the physical and emotional equation all the characters learn how to accept others for what they are. With a bit more focus on the characters and their journey the film might have had a bit more impact. With the spotlight on the action and the humor the movie packs less of a punch.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is rated PG-13 for some language, adventure action and suggestive content. Various faceless minions are killed in numerous ways including exploding boomerangs, beaten to death and being kicked off motorcycles. The main characters die from being eaten by a hippopotamus, run over by a herd of rhinoceroses, pushed off a cliff, bitten by a snake, eating a piece of cake, shot in the chest and attacked by a jaguar. One character is killed when a scorpion crawls out of the mouth of the bad guy and stings him. The suggestive content is limited to a brief reference to touching a woman’s breast and an attempt to distract some guards with sexy dancing. Foul language is limited and mid.

I didn’t hate “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” despite what it might sound like. The movie has some funny moments and a cast that puts their all into their roles. Younger viewers will probably like it just as the young kids behind me seemed to. They were verbally reacting to the events on screen and one youngster was kicking the back of my seat during the more stressful moments (not so much that I had to ask him to stop, but occasionally). The film clearly has an audience and it is well made. It suffers in my eyes for being so utterly vapid.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” gets four unenthusiastic stars.

The Shape of Water

It’s 1962 and the Cold War is at its peak. Eliza and Zelda (Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer) work in a government research facility as part of the maintenance crew. Eliza is mute. She has scars on both sides of her neck and was found as a child on the banks of a river and raised in an orphanage. Eliza speaks via sign language and Zelda is her interpreter at work. Her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) also speaks sign language. He is a graphic artist and works from home. A new project begins at the lab lead by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) involving an amphibian creature referred to as the Asset (Doug Jones). Strickland considers the Asset to be an abomination and treats it cruelly. Eliza sneaks into the lab when no one else is around and visits with the creature, feeding him hard boiled eggs and playing him music. Eliza even teaches the Asset a few words of sign language. Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the lead scientist on the project but he is also a Russian agent. Strickland and the government want to see if they can figure out the Asset’s anatomy by dissecting it and somehow apply that to helping astronauts breathe. Hoffstetler’s Soviet handlers instruct him to kill the creature and dispose of it to prevent the Americans from getting an upper hand in the space race. Eliza knows of the Asset’s impending death at the hands of the Americans and hatches a plan to break him out of the facility with the help of Giles.

“The Shape of Water” is filled with little moments. Some are important to the story while others are like spackle: They fill in the holes and provide a full and complete canvas for director and co-writer (with Vanessa Taylor) Guillermo del Toro to create a beautiful piece of art. That is what “The Shape of Water” is: A moving portrait of moments that tell a compelling story with a unique visual style.

The little moments that build “The Shape of Water” are both beautiful and ugly: Moments of poetry and pornography. Visions of music, dance and love along with racism, sexism and homophobia, all combining to create a stew of sweet and sour that becomes a satisfying meal of beauty and emotion. It is amazing that a movie about a mythical creature living in the rivers of South America and dragged into the dingy world of the Cold War United States can evoke such powerful emotions and be presented so beautifully. It is an amazing piece of filmmaking by a director hitting his prime right before our eyes.

The performances in “The Shape of Water” are equally beautiful. Sally Hawkins is mesmerizing as Eliza. She is able to convey more with a look than most actors can with pages of monologue. Some might consider playing a mute to be confining but Hawkins is able to express more emotion and thought with an expression than you might think possible. Her use of sign language is subtle and beautiful until she becomes emotional; then her movements become emphatic and almost violent. Hawkins expresses her feelings and thoughts through movement in a kind of ballet that holds the eye and demands the viewer pay attention. It is an amazing performance.

Equally amazing is the work of Doug Jones as the Asset. Encased in a full-body latex suit and head gear, the only way Jones can perform is with his body and movements. He, like Hawkins, is able to express a great deal with just a slight nod or the way he breathes. Jones has been the go-to creature guy for del Toro in several of his films including “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Crimson Peak” and both “Hellboy” movies. Seeing his performance in “The Shape of Water” makes clear why Jones is so popular with del Toro and other directors looking for the perfect actor to bury under tons of makeup and prosthetics. According to his Wikipedia page, Jones has studied mime and is a contortionist with both of those skill sets coming in handy in his creature career. It’s a tribute to just how good Jones’ performance is that at a certain point you no longer consider the Asset a creature. Jones is able to show you he is more of a child lost in a world he cannot understand. That is the mark of a great performance.

There are so many wonderful actors doing amazing work in “The Shape of Water” it is difficult to give them all their due credit. Michael Shannon is a scary but sympathetic villain. Richard Jenkins will break your heart with the more we learn about him and how he is just looking for love and a place to fit in. Octavia Spencer is the best friend struggling with a difficult marriage and having to deal with the prejudice of 1960’s America. Michael Stuhlbarg is the enemy but is more of a hero than anyone working for the government. There are more great performances in this movie than you usually find in three films.

“The Shape of Water” is rated R for language, graphic nudity, sexual content and violence. We see Eliza nude on a couple of occasions. We also see her masturbating a couple of times. A character has two fingers bitten off by the Asset and there is a great deal of blood. We also see a couple of characters shot, one is shot in the face and another in the head. We see one of those shot characters tortured for information. Foul language is fairly common but not overwhelming.

I couldn’t stop thinking of “The Shape of Water” for hours after I saw it. A song used in the film, “You’ll Never Know,” would play in my head and I would be close to tears as memories of what I’d just seen would flash in my mind. I can think of no movie that has affected me so profoundly in my entire life. It may sound silly but I thing “The Shape of Water” has made me a better person. See it and allow the film to make a change in you as well.

“The Shape of Water” gets five stars.

It’s the end of the year and the release schedule is a bit thin so I’ll be seeing and reviewing at least one of the following films that are in limited release:

Darkest Hour—

Molly’s Game—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie and streaming news. Our next episode will be available on January 8, 2018. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Baywatch”

An elite team of lifeguards called Baywatch keeps an eye on the beach and water of Emerald Bay. Their leader Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) has over 500 rescues in his career. Along with C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and second-in-command Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), Mitch and his team keep the swimmers and boaters safe. Tryouts for new team members are held and making the cut as a trainee are Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass). Also joining the trainees is two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). Brody is a showboat and hothead that is on the team as part of his probation for a previous crime. Mitch wants him gone but his boss Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) wants Brody to stay as a way to generate some positive PR so the city council doesn’t cut their funding. While jogging on the beach, Mitch finds a packet of illegal drugs washed up on shore in front of the exclusive Huntley Club run by Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra). Behind the scenes, Leeds is buying up all the shoreline property and bribing the city council to support her efforts to make all beachfront private. She even goes so far as to have her thugs kill a city councilman that threatens to expose her plot. Her plan includes disposing of his body at sea on board a burning yacht but Mitch and the crew gets a distress call and manages to rescue two women from the boat as well as the body of the councilman. Suspicious of the circumstances, Mitch begins an investigation into the death and the drugs, thinking they are connected. This angers local police officer Sgt. Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen, II) as well as Thorpe since Mitch and his crew aren’t cops. Brody also doesn’t think they should get involved creating tension within the team. Can they pull together and stop the privatization of their beautiful public beach?

The original “Baywatch” TV show was a massive hunk of 1990’s cheese with a big side of T and A. While cancelled after its first season on NBC, the show found its way around the world in first-run syndication and became one of the most watched shows in history. Star David Hasselhoff expanded his stardom outside of Germany and became a household name along with Pamela Anderson, Nicole Eggert, Alexandra Paul, Yasmine Bleeth and more. No matter how silly or trite the plot might be, people tuned in for a decade to keep up with the adventures of Mitch and his crew, especially to see the lady lifeguards running in slow motion. The popularity of “Baywatch” (like most things) faded and the show died a slow death after two seasons relocated and renamed “Baywatch Hawaii.” It has rested easy in its video grave for 16 years but much like Dracula has been brought back to life by Dwayne Johnson and his lifeguards for a new generation in “Baywatch.” Much like Dracula, we’d all be better off if had stayed in its grave.

“Baywatch” is very pretty to look at. Everyone on screen, with one exception, is a hard-bodied stud or a well-built beauty. Clothing is perfectly fitted and as small as possible most of the time. Male abs and pecs are on display for well over half the film. Tans are deep and perfectly even. Women’s breasts are squeezed together so they yell “Look at ME!” in swimsuits and evening wear. If the writers had worked half as hard at the story and script as the costumers did there might be a pretty good movie here. Sadly what we have is a few laughs that require slogging through a stupid story that probably would have been rejected from the writers of the TV show.

The very likable and enjoyable cast of “Baywatch” is totally wasted by the numerous hoops the ridiculous story makes them jump through. One particularly painful scene (of many) finds Johnson and Efron handling the genitals of a dead man. This scene runs for a very long time and as distasteful as it might sound from the description it’s even worse to watch. Another groaner involves Jon Bass’ Ronnie being asked to create a distraction by doing a dance that looks more like a seizure as a distraction for Priyanka Chopra’s villain. I suppose they thought it would be funny because the slightly overweight guy would look silly doing a sexy dance for the international beauty. HAHA get it? He’s overweight so he’s got to be the funny guy that sacrifices his dignity for some laughs. I truly felt sorry for Bass for having to do the scene.

Despite this particular scene, Bass acquits himself well in a thankless role as the comedic relief in what is supposed to be a comedy. His inability to speak to C.J. in an early scene is very funny. His dignity is once again sacrificed when his twig and berries get stuck in the slats of a beach lounger and C.J. and Mitch try to free him. While this is also a cringe worthy bit, it is actually written pretty well and has some decent laughs.

Priyanka Chopra deserved a better written role. Her character oozes civility when she’s playing nice with the locals but the claws come out when she’s pushed in a very stereotypical depiction of a female villain. Maybe the film was trying to go for some kind of 90’s retro vibe in how it depicted the character but it actually just wasted a very good actress in a poorly written part.

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are clearly working as hard as they can to wring some life out of the script but only manage make themselves look pretty good. Johnson is a bright beacon of fair in a storm of awful. Efron plays the thoroughly unlikeable Brody as well as can be expected considering the script. His redemption doesn’t feel authentic (like most of the rest of the movie) but he does the best he can.

The best part of the film is the opening 20 minutes as we get introduced to the characters. Most of the good writing apparently was done for this section. The dialog is fairly snappy and most of the jokes work. It doesn’t waste any time and delivers on what the trailer suggested might happen: The audience would laugh. Once the story (such as it is) gets into full gear it is pretty much downhill from there.

“Baywatch” is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. There are various dirty jokes in the film. Fairly typical stuff you’ve seen before. Aside from the aforementioned dead guy genital handling we see a man’s erection standing up in his swimsuit. We also see his erection and testicles also through his swimsuit. There is also a small amount of gore including a victim of a shark bite and an arm blown off in an explosion. Foul language is common throughout.

Original “Baywatch” cast members David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make very brief cameos in the film. If you truly love the original show this might be a reason to see the film. For everyone else there’s no need as the movie “Baywatch” is a spliced together mess that is not worth your time or money. Save your cash for an actual beach trip where you’ll likely have more fun than seeing this movie.

“Baywatch” gets two stars out of five.

This week a couple of precocious kids create a superhero while a DC Comics legend finally gets her own film. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie—

Wonder Woman—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Reviews of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Moana”

It was a magical weekend at the movies for me as I saw both “Moana” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” While there is the shared notion of things beyond our understanding working in the background or shadows, the events of one film are far darker than the other.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just arrived in America from his native England carrying a suitcase filled with magical creatures. When one of them escapes, he struggles to find it and, in the confusion, accidently swaps his suitcase with that of a cannery worker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Kowalski opens the case at his apartment and some of the creatures escape, threatening to expose the wizarding community in America. A magic cop named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) sees Scamander, realizes he’s a wizard, and brings him in to the offices of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) where she plans on charging him for being an unregistered wizard. When they open his case and see only pastries inside (Kowalski is a wannabe baker), Goldstein is dismissed as being incompetent. Meanwhile, a group called the New Salem Philanthropic Society led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is trying to convince people witches and wizards are practicing in America and the group wants to establish witch trials with those convicted being executed. The group points to a recent rash of building destructions done by a dark amorphous force with no apparent explanation. To complicate matters more, there is Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard that believes non-magical people (No-Maj’s in America, Muggles in England) should be ruled over by the magical and has been eliminating those that oppose him.

While it may not have the joy and whimsy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” does provide a pleasant entry into the adult wizarding world. It contains more magical animals than probably all the “Harry Potter” films combined along with a complex story that teases darker times to come. The entry of a younger version of a beloved character is mentioned and will likely be the focus of future films. Potter fans are probably clutching their wands in glee (which sounds dirtier than I intended).

Another pleasing aspect of the story is the introduction of a non-magical main character. While he is often comic relief Jacob Kowalski, as played by Dan Fogler, provides a relatable human character that proves helpful to his new wizard buddies frequently by accident. Kowalski also gets the first love story in this new franchise and it plays like a high schoolers first crush. It is painfully cute to see Kowalski and Tina Goldstein’s sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol, making doe eyes at each other. Assuming the next film in the series doesn’t focus on completely different characters, it will be fun to see how a no-maj and a magical person deal with their differences as their relationship grows and as they face whatever peril comes their way next as Grindelwald is likely to be the baddie through the entire series.

The visual effects are overall spectacular with a few minor glitches. There is one particularly large beast that is featured near the end of the film and with which Newt physically interacts where the CGI was flat and the contact between the two looked awkward. Otherwise, the creatures and their effect on the physical environment is believable. The destructive force that is tearing up and through the streets of New York rarely looks the same twice and that’s the way it is meant to be as it is chaos personified. It is a great boss (to borrow a gaming term) since it is sometimes invisible, seemingly unstoppable and totally unpredictable. I look forward to seeing more magical creatures.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. People are shown being thrown around by various magical events. One character is shown shooting electrical bolts from his wand and shocking another character. A couple of people are killed by the unknown violent force and their faces are shown turned grey and with various cuts. Kowalski is bitten by one of the creatures in the suitcase. There are other scattered acts of mayhem.

“Harry Potter” fans will find much to enjoy in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” but those who are unfamiliar with wizards, muggles, Hogwarts and the like will probably be lost and refuse to invest the time to acquaint themselves with this magical realm. That’s ok as it means more popcorn at the theatre for the rest of us.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” gets five stars.


Ever since she was a small child, Moana (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho) has heard the story from her grandmother Tala (voiced by Rachel House) about how the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) had stolen the Heart of Creation, a magical stone, from Te Fiti, the creator of all islands. Stealing the stone leads to a creeping blackness that spreads death wherever it touches. Moana’s father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison) dismisses the stories as legends and urges Moana to prepare herself to become the leader of her people on their beautiful Pacific island. Between the coconuts and other crops growing on the island and the plentiful fish in the reef-protected lagoon, there is no need for Moana’s people to travel past the reef into the dangerous open ocean. But soon the coconuts and crops are turning black and there are no more fish in the lagoon. With her dying breath, Tala gives Moana the Heart of Creation that she has carried in a seashell locket around her neck and tells her to find Maui and replace the Heart of Creation to save their people.

“Moana” is an uplifting tale of facing your fear, going from being a child to an adult and learning to live with others shortcomings as they have to live with yours. In short, it’s your basic Disney animated film. It also looks spectacular and has some very nice songs as well. It’s also another Disney animated film with a strong lead character that’s a female. It won’t go unnoticed by some that the male characters are largely stubborn, unyielding and far too proud to admit they are wrong until it is shoved in their faces and they are unable to deny it any longer. While films of this nature often deal in absolutes (and in life there are none save death) “Moana” manages to dish out its message in a pleasant way without sounding too preachy.

Visually, the film is beyond spectacular. From the island vistas to the vast ocean views, “Moana” is a feast for the eyes. The ocean, which is a character in itself, sparkles and shimmers in the sun in a hypnotic way. It will remind anyone that’s been to the beach of that one perfect day on vacation. I almost felt the need for sunscreen after seeing the film. There are undersea creatures and monsters that seem to jump off the screen even in the 2D version I saw. A giant lava monster may actually be too intense a visual for some younger members of the audience as it exudes an anger and dread that is transmitted directly into the nightmare region of your brain.

While your mind is dealing with what you are seeing, there are the songs that soar with anthems of hope and a dream for a brighter future. One song, sung by Dwayne Johnson’s Maui character, is a comic showstopper. There isn’t a super catchy tune like “Frozen’s” “Let it Go” (which I’m sure will come as a welcome bit of news for parents burned out on that ear worm) the songs are fun, uplifting and pleasant in a way that might not cause hours long repeats in the car.

The voice cast is amazing with a special kudos going to Rachel House who voice Moana’s grandmother Tala. I could listen to Tala tell stories and offer advice from now until the end of time. While I doubt it will happen, I wouldn’t mind seeing a spin-off film of the adventures of young Tala narrated by old Tala. House is able to wring every bit of joy, sadness and every emotion in between from each of her lines. It’s a great performance that needs to be experienced by anyone that’s a fan of good voice acting.

“Moana” is rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements. The grief over the loss of a loved one is shown. Violent storms are shown throwing around Moana’s canoe. There are fights between Maui and a couple of mythical creatures, including the lava monster. That lava monster is shown crawling on all fours in an effort to attack one character. There are small coconut-looking creatures that are described as pirates and killers shown attacking Moana and Maui.

“Moana” is a nearly perfect animated film with plenty for both the kids and their parents. It’s the kind of movie adults won’t mind sitting through until it is released on DVD or on streaming platforms when your children will demand to watch it over and over again. Even then for the first several viewings you’ll find little nuances in Dwayne Johnson’s performance as Maui that may keep you entertained for a few seconds. There are certainly worse films you could be forced to watch again and again.

“Moana” also gets five stars.

There’s only one new film in theatres this week. Unless something very interesting shows up at me arthouse cinema, I suppose I’ll be seeing the new horror flick “Incarnate.”

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Central Intelligence”

Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the king of his high school: Lettering in various sports, always the lead in school plays, homecoming king and voted Most Likely to Succeed. He even had a cool nickname: The Golden Jet. On the other side of the popularity scale was Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson). Overweight, with no friends and the target of bullies like Trevor (Jason Bateman) and his gang, Robbie’s only claim to fame was being thrown naked into the gym during the year end assembly in front of the entire student body. The only person nice to him that day was Calvin who gave Robbie his letterman jacket to cover up. Twenty years later, Calvin is married to his high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet). Calvin is an accountant and feels like his life since high school has been a waste so he doesn’t want to go with Maggie to their 20 year high school reunion. Calvin receives a Facebook friend request from someone named Bob Stone who turns out to be Robbie Weirdicht. He wants to meet with Calvin for a few beers and talk over old times. Calvin is shocked to see Robbie is muscular and strong as an ox. He is also surprised to see his formerly fat and timid school mate take down four bullies who want to start some trouble at the bar. After they leave the bar, Bob asks Calvin to go online and look over some payroll issues he’s having from his previous job. Calvin notices it isn’t payroll information but what looks like an auction of some sort. Suddenly several security warnings pop up and Bob “accidently” spill a beer on Calvin’s laptop, shorting it out. The next day, CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) shows up and informs Calvin that Bob is a mentally unstable former agent that killed his partner Phil (Aaron Paul) and stole codes for all of America’s spy satellites. The auction site Calvin went to, and informed the CIA of his location, is where Bob is selling the codes to the highest bidder which will blind US intelligence of terrorist activities. Bob shows up at Calvin’s office and explains a terrorist named the Black Badger is responsible for killing his partner and stealing the codes and Bob needs Calvin’s help to clear his name and keep the codes out of dangerous hands. Calvin wants nothing to do with Bob or the CIA but circumstances on both sides work against him.

I didn’t have much hope that “Central Intelligence” would be funny or entertaining. It seems like Kevin Hart has played this “fish out of water” role in several of his movies. Dwayne Johnson is the latest king of big, dumb action movies. Putting them together in familiar roles may make great marketing sense didn’t exactly scream “quality entertainment ahead.” Fortunately, I was wrong as “Central Intelligence,” while not a smart comedic action film, does manage to find enough humor in the chemistry between its lead actors to overcome some dead spots and a plot that telegraphs many of its moves well in advance.

If you are hoping to be surprised by the events of “Central Intelligence” you are going to be disappointed. A key plot twist is telegraphed well in advance simply because of who is cast in a particular role. The story follows a conventional line that finds our heroes reluctantly thrown together, working toward a common goal, pulled apart by mistrust then reunited in triumph. Anyone considering that to be spoilers must have been in a cave and not watched a movie in the last 50 years. Practically every buddy comedy (not to mention romantic comedy and other films) has followed a very similar path. I can’t blame director and writer Rawson Marshall Thurber and writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen for keeping things simple. They aren’t trying to recreate the art form; they are trying to crank out a basic Hollywood action comedy. Since they have two of the biggest moneymakers in each of those genres working together it makes sense to do what’s worked in the past.

The other aspects of the story like Calvin not wanting to go to the class reunion, his feeling like a failure and his mildly troubled marriage tend to bog down the parts of the movie we are actually interested in, specifically the spy stuff. I’m not sure why film makers feel the need to humanize everyone in stories like these with the more mundane aspects of life and family. If we wanted to watch a family drama we’d tune in Lifetime or OWN on cable. Keep the focus on the action and adventure and leave the emotions to the soap operas.

Half the script seems to have been improvised on set by Kevin Hart. Several of his scenes, mostly involving him trying to talk his way out of the mess he finds himself, are just Hart firing off various lists or giving reasons things are not as they seem. Hart is gifted with a motor mouth and a quick wit so some of these scenes actually work. Sadly, others feel like they drag on far too long and aren’t that funny. These are the dead spots that threaten to derail the film. Fortunately these scenes are brief and are quickly replaced by far more interesting material.

Many of the bigger laughs come from the very physical nature of Dwayne Johnson. His character is for part of the film a walking joke. He wears a unicorn t-shirt and a fanny pack, both of which he is very proud. This is juxtaposed with Johnson’s strength and size in the fight scene early in the film where Bob takes on four tough guys at the bar. Johnson towers over Hart and that size difference is played up frequently, such as when Johnson is cradling Hart like a baby. The film probably depends too much on the physical difference between its two stars but that dichotomy frequently works.

“Central Intelligence” is rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence and brief strong language. There are some mildly crude jokes scattered through the film but none are particularly memorable. We see the bare backside of the body double playing the fat version of Dwayne Johnson’s character (Johnson’s face is digitally stitched on to the other body). There are numerous gunfights and fist fights throughout the film. One scene shows Johnson’s broken finger after he is tortured for information by the CIA. There is very little blood and only a small amount of gore at the very end of the film. Foul language is relatively mild but frequent.

When I go to a comedy that, based on the trailer, should be funny, I often enter the theatre primed to laugh and expecting a good time. Preparing to watch “Central Intelligence” I told myself to tamp the feeling down and accept the film for what it is, not what I expect it to be. I was surprised to find it was what I expected it to be: Not the most original action comedy in the world but with enough humor and stunts to keep the experience from becoming a bore. That’s really all I could ask for.

“Central Intelligence” gets four stars out of five.

This week there are four new films including a sequel long expected and finally here. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Free State of Jones—

Independence Day: Resurgence—

The Neon Demon—

The Shallows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “San Andreas”

Chief Raymond “Ray” Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) has over 600 rescues between his time in the military and as a LA County rescue squad pilot. While he’s dedicated to his job he also has a daughter in college named Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and soon-to-be ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino). Emma is now in a relationship with rich architect Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd) and they will soon move in together. Ray has plans to drive Blake back to school but a sudden unexpected earthquake in Nevada destroys Hoover Dam and all area rescue squads are being called in to assist. Seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) was at the dam with a colleague verifying his theory of an increase in magnetic readings just prior to a tremblor when the quake hit. The resulting destruction kills Hayes co-researcher and also leads him to realize there’s an unknown fault line connecting Nevada and the San Andreas Fault running up nearly the entire coast of California. Hayes realizes the entire fault is about to unzip and unleash the biggest earthquakes in recorded history. Ray is on the phone with Emma when the first quake hits and he is able to rescue her before the building she is in completely collapses. Riddick has taken Blake back to San Francisco to school and they are at his office as he goes to a meeting when she meets Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a perspective employee who is waiting for an interview. Ben has brought his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) as the two are from England and are in the states on holiday. As Blake and Daniel are leaving the parking garage in his limo, a quake hits, killing their driver and trapping Blake’s legs in the back of the car. Daniel can’t free her and leaves to get some help but is stunned by falling debris and runs away from the building. Ben and Ollie hear Daniel tell a security officer about Blake being trapped and head to the garage. Blake uses her cell to call Ray telling him what happened. He and Emma decide to fly the chopper to San Francisco and rescue Blake themselves.

After a pretty intense opening action scene (that tricks you into thinking one thing is about to cause an accident when it’s entirely another) the first thing you’ll notice about “San Andreas” is its pacing. The movie isn’t in that big a hurry to begin pummeling you with computer generated mayhem. We get some domestic drama and a little science leading up to the beginning of the destruction. After the initial bit of build-up, the damage is laid on pretty thick and consistently until we reach more domestic drama. It’s these speed bumps that bring “San Andreas” to several unwanted stops.

While the look of the film is mostly amazing with scenes of building collapse that brought about unpleasant reminders of 9/11, there are a few minor quibbles I had with some of the special effects. The biggest is the lack of reaction by the smoke and dust as the helicopter flew through it. The downwash of a chopper causes enormous turbulence in the air which becomes clear when the vehicle flies through smoke and dust. At least twice, Ray flies through a cloud of some sort that doesn’t react in any way. Is this being nitpicky? Yes it is; however, when you throw $110-million at a movie, the least you could do is add a couple thousand dollars more to get the physics of airflow through particulates correct. Of course, that isn’t “San Andreas” biggest fault.

The story of family torn apart by disaster in the present and the past is at best clichéd. The way it is handled here is so melodramatic as to cause muscle strain from eye rolling. At every opportunity, heartstrings are plucked and the film attempts to force the audience to experience an emotion other than tension. Sadly, that’s all the film really has is tension as Ray and Emma race against time and the elements to find their daughter. All the extra stuff about how the couple came apart and how (spoiler alert) obviously by the end of the movie they’ll be back together is handled in about the most ham fisted way possible. There’s no subtlety or any effort put forth to tell a real story. Director Brad Peyton gives us the equivalent of soap opera or telenovela: Every event is apocalyptic and could lead to the deaths of any member of the cast. All that’s missing is a mustache-twirling villain. Actually that isn’t missing as poor Ioan Gruffudd is given the thankless and tiny role of bad guy. How can a movie about earthquakes have a bad guy, you may ask? Actually, there could have been several from governmental officials telling the scientist to keep quiet or a completing seismologist claiming Dr. Hayes had everything wrong and there was nothing to worry about. That would have allowed for ongoing tension between another set of characters that could have had a satisfying conclusion. Instead, we get a selfish rich guy who abandons his soon-to-be step-daughter trapped in the back of a limo. After he leaves her, we only get two more brief scenes with him. The role is utterly wasted and must have had more scenes showing what a jerk he was that ended up on the cutting room floor to save time and make room for more digital damage. It’s a role that winds up being a complete waste of time and film.

The movie also does something that annoyed me very badly: The inappropriate romantic moment. Blake and Ben, who wind up traveling together, develop the beginnings of a romance that culminates in a kiss. Oh, how I hate the kiss. Not this one in particular, but all the romantic crap that is dropped in to any movie where two characters fighting for their lives develop feelings for each other and kiss when they are in the worst of their journey. I won’t describe the surroundings when the kiss happens as to not spoil anything about the catastrophes preceding it but the last thing on anyone’s mind in such a situation would be swapping spit. Of all the story elements that don’t make a huge amount of sense, this one really defies all logic.

It probably sounds like I hate this film yet I don’t. “San Andreas” has the one thing going for it that is stronger than a computer generated 9.6 magnitude earthquake: Dwayne Johnson. While he’s not the best actor in the world, Johnson is probably one of the most likable. His easy style and every-man attitude instantly grabs your sympathy. Early on, Johnson is looking at pictures of his family from when they were together. Once you get past the horrific Photoshop, you begin to see that Johnson is actually selling the idea of his character’s pain at the loss of his family. Johnson is given a couple of chances to explore the character’s pain and manages to make the audience believe he’s feeling the void. Next to the visuals, Johnson is the best thing about “San Andreas.”

“San Andreas” is rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language. Buildings are dropped left and right throughout the film. The destruction of Hoover Dam has a scene showing a person whose foot is impaled by rebar. Another person gets a large piece of glass stuck in their leg. We also see its extraction. While there is some blood there is no gore. Foul language is wide spread and fairly mild with the exception of a couple of “F-bombs.”

“San Andreas” is a decent action picture that sports amazing visuals. It also is a master class in clichéd filmmaking. The one saving grace is a charismatic star that, while built like a Greek god, still seems like a person with whom you’d be able to share an adult beverage. While the film is largely visual disaster porn, Dwayne Johnson manages to give it some heart.

“San Andreas” gets three stars out of five.

You can choose from scares, comedy and dudes this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.


Insidious: Chapter 3—


Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and email to

Review of “Fast and Furious 7”

Death comes for us all as we know. It doesn’t matter your economic status, your popularity on social media or how many movies and TV shows you’ve been in, one day the Grim Reaper comes to visit. With filming only half finished on “Fast and Furious 7,” star Paul Walker and a friend died in a fiery car crash. Reality came busting in to a film franchise that had grown increasingly fantastical with stunts, explosions and violence. While fans would have been disappointed, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the studio had decided to cancel the film; however, star Vin Diesel, who is also one of the producers, announced the movie would go on and be a memorial of sorts to Walker. While the series isn’t known for its emotional heft or deep meaning, the seventh edition pays a heartfelt tribute and says an emotional goodbye to both Walker and his character Brian O’Conner. I think Walker would have approved.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) visits his comatose brother Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in a hospital in London, vowing to get his revenge on those responsible. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is saying goodbye to his nephew, the son of Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) when he receives a cryptic call from Shaw. Just then, a package from Tokyo on Dom’s porch explodes, blowing the front half of the house to smithereens. At the Diplomatic Security Service, Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is working late when he sees someone typing at a computer who shouldn’t be there. It’s Shaw and he’s getting the information on Dom and the rest of the crew from the London adventure. After a brutal fight, Shaw throws a small explosive device that sends Hobbs out a window onto the roof of a car parked below. He’s alive but injured and in the hospital. Calling for Dom, Hobbs gives him the information on Shaw and that he’s a nearly unstoppable killing machine. Dom sees Shaw at the funeral for Han (Sung Kang) that Shaw killed in Tokyo. Giving chase, Shaw and Dom end up in a parking garage and ram their cars head on. Each gets out unhurt and Shaw is about to shoot Dom when armed men drop down on ropes and force Shaw to run away. Dom is held at gunpoint until Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) appears and calls off his men. Petty heads an unnamed covert intelligence unit and wants to strike a deal with Dom: He will help him catch Shaw if Dom will help get a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) away from an international terrorist named Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsey has developed a program that hacks into any online system or cell phone to track any person who is anywhere in the world near a digital device. Jakande wants the program and he will torture Ramsey to get it. If Dom and his crew are successful, Petty will let Dom use the program, called God’s Eye, to find Shaw.

The plot of “Fast and Furious 7” is overly convoluted and utterly unnecessary. All any of us wants to see in the film is suped-up muscle cars performing mind-bending stunts, pretty girls in bikinis and tons of fights: In that regard, “Fast and Furious 7” should make those who enjoy the series very happy. This film also serves as a melancholy goodbye to Paul Walker and his character. This sad aspect of the film is handled about as sweetly and emotionally as one could hope. While the film never slips into maudlin grieving, it is pretty obvious this was a difficult film to finish and cast and crew have handled it well.

While no one in the cast will win an Oscar for their performance, everyone delivers a fine job on screen. Tyrese Gibson, whose character went from angry young man to comic relief since he was introduced in the second film, provides some much needed levity to a film that could have slipped into melodramatic seriousness. Gibson’s scene in the airplane, which has been a part of just about every trailer, is hilarious. It also looks pretty spectacular. Vin Diesel cements his position as head of this unrelated family with a solid if one-note performance. Paul Walker, who I never thought was much of an actor, manages to dredge up some emotion and energy in his final go as Brian. He also gets some of the most exciting action scenes in his fights with a character played by martial arts star Tony Jaa. Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs is out of commission for most of the film but plays a pivotal role in the finale. I always enjoy Johnson in a movie, even a bad one. He pretty much plays the same character over and over again and I believe that character is himself. Michelle Rodriguez is given the role that is supposed to be going through the most turmoil as she’s fighting her growing feelings for Dom while dealing with her memory loss. That subplot is mostly forgotten to get the action and car crashes into the over two hour running time. It only resurfaces when the film hits an emotional peak. The rest of the supporting cast, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou are given minimal screen time and not much to do; however, they do it pretty well. Jason Statham is the film’s main bad guy and he, much like Dwayne Johnson, always seems to be playing the same character. Whether he’s the hero or the villain, Statham has a poker face that is supposed to have all this rage and violence simmering underneath. As the villain in “Fast and Furious 7” he’s pretty generic. The rampaging bull setting out to get revenge on those who hurt his sibling and we’ve seen it all before. Statham doesn’t seem to have any expression or emotion other than mild annoyance. That usually leads to a bone-shattering fight but it doesn’t really do much to sell the character’s motivation to cause so much mayhem and death. Part of the blame is on the script but the rest goes to the actor. Again, I usually like Statham in his films but this time his performance is a bit flat.

The real question on everyone’s mind is how Paul Walker’s character is handled and is the use of body doubles and CGI painfully obvious. Without giving too much away, Walker’s death is handled about as sensitively as it could have. Many parts of the film are the cast and crew saying goodbye to Walker. A tribute at the end showing Walker in all the “Fast and Furious” films in which he’s appeared is both a sweet and painful farewell. While the movie never dwells on the loss, it does pay its respects to the lost actor in a way that may draw a tear from your eyes. While there are a few fleeting moments when it appears the character of Brian isn’t being played by Walker, that happens in many action movies where stunt doubles are used. The most obvious of these is during fight scenes and doesn’t really detract from the rest of the film. Much like the times they digitally pasted Robert Downey, Jr.’s face on a body double during the shooting of “Iron Man 3,” the instances of digital manipulation, body doubles and dialog dubbing aren’t noticeable. The digital magicians at director Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital have done a masterful job of making Walker’s replacement seamless.

“Fast and Furious 7” is rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. Cars are jumped between buildings, dropped from aircraft, tumble down mountainsides, are buried in collapsing buildings, explode, and just about any other form of vehicular destruction you can think of. Many of these escapades leave the occupants only scratched or at worst unconscious. Parents might want to have a serious talk with soon to be or just started driving teenagers. There are also several fights that would have left people in the real world with at least a broken jaw and a concussion. Here, they just keep on fighting. The suggestive content involves bikini-clad women dancing while being sprayed with water and women wearing very short shorts. Foul language is limited and the film doesn’t take advantage of its one F-bomb.

The “Fast and Furious” franchise has grown on me over the years. While I found the early films unimpressive, the series has grown up and grown more insane and that makes it hard for me not to like them. They are like the video game Grand Theft Auto only turned up to 11. This seventh installment also has an unexpectedly strong emotional element as the franchise says goodbye to one of its founding fathers. Paul Walker’s farewell is both sad and hopeful in the film. The character of Brian will continue to be a part of the series if only in memory and I’m certain his name will be mentioned in subsequent installments and we’ll see him in flashbacks taken from previous films. Despite all the film’s numerous flaws, it is still a fun ride.

“Fast and Furious 7” gets five stars.

There’s only one new movie in wide release and it’s based on a Nicolas Sparks book.  Since I’m not a 13-year old girl, I’ll probably see something else but here’s the trailer for “The Longest Ride.”

What I’ll see…I don’t know but maybe it will be something small and in need of my entertainment dollar.

You can follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send email to