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 stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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.

Moana

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 stanthemovieman.com.

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 stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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.

Entourage—

Insidious: Chapter 3—

Spy—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and email to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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 stanthemovieman@comcast.net.