Shazam! (2019) Review

Director: David F. Sandberg

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Fantasy

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Shazam! is more than just a highly competent action-comedy; it’s one of the better superhero origin story movies out there. The plot follows foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who achieves the power to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) after saying the word “shazam.” As many a critic has pointed out, this film remembers that comic book flicks are all about wish-fulfillment fantasies.

One of the reasons Shazam! works so well is because it focuses on superheroes doing, well, superhero stuff like rescuing endangered civilians. Sure, sure, there’s plenty of punching monsters in the face here, but this feature, with its propulsive pacing, shows off the full range of what comic book good guys are capable of doing. In addition to the plentiful mayhem (the action climax goes on for quite a while), this picture provides lots of laughs, as a high schooler runs amok in an adult’s body. There’s also a durable emotional center to it that keeps the audience constantly engaged.

While Shazam! works remarkably well as a four-quadrant movie, at times I couldn’t help but wonder who the target audience of the film was. It could’ve been a swell family feature, but then there’s the scene with a ghoul (bloodlessly) biting a guy’s head off and the main character goes to a strip joint at one point (although the camera remains outside of said club). It’s sort of a shame this slightly-grown-up content had to be included, because little kids would’ve eaten this flick up. Oh, well, I guess it’s rated PG-13 for a reason.

Shazam! is a great superhero movie because it delivers all the humor, heart, heroics, and hair-raising action that you could ask for. I’m generally not the biggest fan of comic book films (well, at least of ones set outside of Gotham City), but this one really won me over. Shazam! is worth watching for more than just the pyrotechnics.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Ten Tall Men (1951) Review

Director: Willis Goldbeck

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance, War

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Burt-Lancaster-joins-the-French-Foreign-Legion is the “hook” of this 1951 war/action-adventure film. During the Rif War in Morocco, a trouble-making sergeant in the French Foreign Legion, Mike Kincaid (Burt Lancaster), assembles a group of fellow Legionnaires (all of whom are rotting in prison) to launch a preemptive raid on desert rebels before the aforementioned insurgents can launch an assault on an undermanned French-occupied town. This flick has an interesting proto-The Dirty Dozen (1967) story, but it’s much more light-hearted than that hard-boiled World War II film.

Ten Tall Men starts off awfully comedic and retains a jokey tone for much of its runtime. The humor here doesn’t really land most of the time. The romance isn’t really effective, either, and many of the supporting characters aren’t as well-defined as they should’ve been for a men-on-a-mission film. The action-adventure elements are what saves this movie from the trash bin. Sure, it’s apparent that they didn’t have a large budget to work with, but the combat scenes are fair.

The story that eventually became Ten Tall Men was actually originally a western. However, the sort of western/war film that the filmmakers were aiming for was considered old hat by the time of this picture’s production, so the action shifted across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s easy to see how the U.S. cavalry were substituted by the French Foreign Legion and the Native Americans by the Moroccan guerrillas.

When it’s all said and done, Ten Tall Men is an adequate war movie that goes somewhat heavy on the comic relief. You should also be warned that a romantic subplot breaks out. The final action scene is hardly the strongest one in the feature, but this film clips along at a decent pace, so it doesn’t dwell on any of its faults for too long. It’s okay, but there are better French Foreign Legion flicks out there, like Legionnaire (1998), Beau Geste (1939), and March or Die (1977).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Onion Movie (2008) Review

Directors: Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire

Genre(s): Comedy

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Onion Movie was filmed in 2003, but wasn’t released until 2008 (direct to video). That’s not a good sign, but how does the film hold up? Loosely based around the story of an upright television news anchor, Norm Archer (Len Cariou), who’s facing pressure to include more corporate tie-ins in his broadcast, The Onion Movie is actually more of a collection of oft-hilarious sketches that show off the Onion franchise’s razor-sharp sense of humor. This picture’s reception was mixed (at best), but I find it to be consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

The humor here is frequently intentionally low-brow, reveling in the cultural idiocracy that we live in. Stupidity sells, I suppose, and The Onion Movie is happy to oblige. The satire in this movie is savage (and occasionally “politically incorrect”), putting the pedal to the metal as it mocks humanity. All people want is a ridiculous, violent action film or two, some money, etc. Integrity be damned.

It would be a mistake to say that every sketch in the film hits the bullseye. While almost every one is good for a chuckle or two, a minority overstay their welcome or are just duds. This isn’t really unexpected in a comedy of this nature, so the movie is generally quick to throw another scene at the audience if the one they’re currently watching isn’t working. The Onion Movie was shelved for five years, so some of the jokes in it were a bit stale or dated by the time of actual release. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t do a sketch on prescription drug side-effects or something.

So, will you find The Onion Movie funny? Its raunchy, tasteless, hyperbolic style isn’t for everybody, and some will scoff at its loose, sketch-oriented structure, but, if you’re a fan of the Onion franchise in general or subversively low-brow humor, there’s a good chance that its off-the-wall charm will resonate with you. Personally, I think it’s a laugh riot. Make sure you view it on home video, so you can watch the deleted scenes and outtakes.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) Review

Director: David Leitch

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 137 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw has its own identity, but still pays homage to the tropes that made The Fast and the Furious franchise popular. The film’s plot is as typical as it gets: a superterrorist named Brixton (Idris Elba) has stolen a potentially-world-destroying virus, and two squabbling heroes, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), are recruited to retrieve it before it’s unleashed on Earth. Yeah, you may think “I’ve seen this movie before,” but it’s the execution that makes this picture special.

Like the rest of the installments in the series since Fast Five (2011), Hobbs & Shaw is primarily concerned with ludicrous action. “Just how over-the-top can we be, and still get away with it?” seems to be a thought that ran through the head of at least one filmmaker. If the viewer suspends their sense of disbelief, they will be riveted to their seat by a series of increasingly preposterous set-pieces that push the boundaries of what an action movie is tastefully capable of. This rowdy bro film is proudly lunkheaded, so don’t expect any commentary on the human condition. However, do expect the flick to give equal opportunity to its two stars to win over the audience.

It’s a great piece of popcorn-munching entertainment, but I do think that the two main characters, a pair of bickering badasses, are a bit too similar in terms of personality. There are some distinctions between the titular duo, but I think that, in many scenes, their roles could’ve been used interchangeably. This is an action-comedy, but the physical stuff clearly works better than the humorous material. That’s not to say that it’s not funny (there are definitely some chuckles here), it’s just that the fighting is several notches above the jokes.

Hobbs & Shaw is one of the better motion pictures in The Fast and the Furious series so far. It’s a dumb movie, but I don’t think the filmmakers intended it to be a smart one. It’s aimed at fans of cinematic blockbusters, so your enjoyment of the film will depend on whether you’re in that demographic or not. If the idea of massive explosions, hulking tough guys, and intricate fights excites you, you’ll want to check it out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Christopher Robin (2018) Review

Director: Marc Forster

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 104 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S CRYING! I expected to cry watching Christopher Robin, but not nearly as much as I did. Here, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), friend to all things in the Hundred Acre Wood, grows up, but finds that he can’t escape Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) and the rest of the gang. Generally speaking, films in the “kids & family” genre aren’t my cup of tea, but this picture really grabbed me.

While I can’t say for sure, Christopher Robin should readily appeal to both children and adults. For kids, it’s got the whole troop of animals from the Hundred Acre Wood, brought to life with top-notch special effects, and, for the grown-ups, it has a very nostalgic story about the passage of time. All of this being said, older audiences will probably appreciate the flick more, as it appeals more to their emotional palette and Pooh and Company may not be onscreen enough in the first half or so for many kids.

Hyper-adorable and highly sentimental, this movie easily forces the viewer to reflect on their pathetic, miserable lives, while dazzling them with a whimsical story of friendship and childhood’s end (it works better as a drama than as a comedy, but it still has some swell comic relief). I’m not really sure that the solutions to the horrors of human existence presented here are realistic, but, hey, it’s just a Winnie the Pooh film, not a philosophical tract.

I had high hopes for Christopher Robin, and they were definitely exceeded. The waterworks were basically constant for me, and the whole thing was appropriately cute. I hesitate to call it a “tearjerker,” because of how effortlessly it made me cry. Most of the time, I prefer movies where people run around and kill each other, but this was a more-than-welcome change of pace.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

City Heat (1984) Review

Director: Richard Benjamin

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person on the planet who likes City Heat. Is it as good as a team-up of Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds should’ve been? No, but it’s a serviceable action-comedy about a police detective (Clint Eastwood) and a private eye (Burt Reynolds) in Prohibition-era Kansas City who form a reluctant partnership to investigate a murder…or something. Yeah, the murky plot is probably the film’s weak link, but at least the movie’s relatively short runtime keeps things under control.

Set in some of the seediest locations in Kansas City of the interwar years, City Heat feels like a gangster-oriented neo-noir at times, but, ultimately, it’s probably not hard-boiled enough to be considered one. It’s a comedy, and the humor is the kind that you chuckle at despite it being somewhat lame. This isn’t a laugh riot, but neither is it a cringe-inducing flop. That being said, it can be tonally awkward…but just a little bit.

On the action front, there are some solid fist fights and shootouts, but nothing really to write home about. The physical mayhem comes at regular intervals, enough to prevent the flick, with its convoluted plot, from being boring. In the end, the comedy is just funny enough and the action just exciting enough to make City Heat work properly.

Despite almost being sunk by a story lacking immediacy, this is a picture I’d recommend to fans of the two stars. Just remember to keep your expectations low. The closest it comes to brushing with greatness is when the audience briefly sees an advertisement for the James Cagney gangster film The Public Enemy (1931) in the background. Yeah, a masterpiece it ain’t, but I still like it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) Review

Director: Richard Donner

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Lethal Weapon film series ends on as perfect a note as it could’ve asked for in Lethal Weapon 4, the best movie in the franchise since the original. This time, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are out to stop a gang that’s smuggling Chinese migrants to Los Angeles in inhumane conditions. Tonally, this is a far cry from Lethal Weapon (1987), and could probably be best described as a heartwarming bloodbath sitcom.

Despite all the touchy-feely stuff, this is still an action picture, and it delivers the big set pieces that fans of the genre crave. Hell, there are one or two moments that wouldn’t feel out of place in an installment of The Fast and the Furious movies. Car and foot chases, shootouts, martial arts brawls…Lethal Weapon 4 doesn’t skimp on the big-budget havoc. Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) is one of the most formidable baddies in the franchise, perhaps second only to Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey) from the first one.

Of all the Lethal Weapon flicks, the 1987 original did the tough-as-nails, hard-boiled stuff the best, while the fourth entry does the more comedic, family-and-friends-oriented material most memorably. It definitely has the biggest heart of the series. I mean, who could’ve guessed that a film with the title “Lethal Weapon 4” would be so emotional? Despite of all this, it also somehow manages to be the most graphically violent of the four.

Lethal Weapon 4 shows off the evolution that the franchise took. While the first one put action, thrills, and fast pacing in the driver’s seat, the final film displays how the series changed over the course of its duration to balance violence with comedy and shenanigans related to biological and surrogate family. If you’re watching this franchise, make sure you stick around for the fourth installment.

My rating is 7 outta 10.