Wednesday 17 December 2014

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb review

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (PG, 98 mins)
Director: Shawn Levy
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Talk about stretching an idea so thin you can start to see through it. The premise of the first Night at the Museum movie eight years ago was that a magical tablet could bring the exhibits of a New York museum to life at night, which was realised through what at the time were fairly nifty computer generated effects.

Ben Stiller was Larry, the night security guard at the museum who got caught up in the middle of the mayhem when dinosaur skeletons and Attila the Hun starting running amok. Now Larry is in charge of putting on a show for dignitaries, who think the animated exhibits are special effects.

Before we get to that there’s a prologue set in 1930s Egypt that gives us a bit of half-hearted background on the tablet, as some Indiana Jones-style tomb raiders disturb it amid the standard warnings of a curse.

For reasons never explained this curse involved absolutely nothing happening for nearly 80 years, but now the tablet is corroding and the exhibits are going screwy. The solution, invented by the film’s writers for no reason other than it would be nice to go to London, is that they must go to the British Museum to try to free the curse.

Or something. Because none of it follows a remotely logical or coherent path, and there’s really very little to it in terms of threat or excitement. The situation is paper-thin, the jokes are lame and the special effects aren’t even particularly special. It looks pretty horrible too, the direction is lacklustre and it seems scaled down from previous instalments.

There’s the need for some uninspired padding involving Larry’s teenage son, and whether he will or won’t go to college. Another exciting subplot to look out for in the fourth film; will Larry do the dishes or leave them until the morning?

Yet for some reason it’s perfectly watchable and affable, mostly thanks to a game cast, and mostly thanks to Dan Stevens. He pops up as Sir Lancelot and has some fun with the action shenanigans while also demonstrating a nice way with comic timing as he fails to understand anything going on around him.

We also get the final acting appearance of Robin Williams, who reprises his role as Theodore Roosevelt. It’s hardly a fitting send off, with he and just about every character other than Larry and Lance given insufficient material to make any impression.

In the end this is unlikely to be remembered as one of the great trilogies. Really it barely passes muster, and in a few years there might not even be many people who remember it was a trilogy at all.

But it rattles along quickly and it’s never dull, which actually counts for something. And if it looks like it’s only scraping a third star by the skin of its teeth, which it is, that’s because it’s Christmas, and it’s because we get to see Dick Van Dyke dance.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (12A/PG-13, 144 mins)
Director: Peter Jackson
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

It’s been a fair old trek to get to here, this final part of the Hobbit prequel trilogy. And, much like the experiences of its characters, it’s been a frequently exhausting and arduous journey punctuated by individual moments of relief and enjoyment.

The late decision to make three films rather than two has meant it’s often felt like you were journeying across Middle Earth in real time, and it all began to smack of cashing in. We certainly get value for money in terms of minutes in the cinema, even if this finale is a relatively brisk sub-2.5 hours, but an awful lot of that time feels like we’re treading water.

Has it been worth it in the end? Will many people plough through the six-film marathon of these plus the Lord of the Rings trilogy or will they, like now happens with Star Wars, judiciously skip the weaker entries in order to get to the good stuff?

Certainly one element where this is likely to score with fans is in the linking done to Rings. Some of it might be a bit clunky and forced, but more often than not the bridge building is both fun and evocative and likely to put a Christmas re-watch of Rings on a lot of people’s agendas.

But for now, we rejoin this poor relation directly after the end of last year’s second film, as dragon Smaug wreaks his desolation on the village of Laketown. Exposing the somewhat arbitrary stopping point of Part 2, this episode is swiftly resolved, leaving dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) in control of the mountain hall of Erebor and its enormous piles of gold.

The trouble is he’s turned mad with power, and a lot of time is spent on Thorin’s intransigence, which is threatening to be the catalyst for war, with the elves and men also ready to stake a claim to the treasure. But it’s nowhere near as compelling as the hold the One Ring had over Frodo and mostly there’s a lot of sitting about, which at least makes a change from all the walking in the first two movies.

Having really shone in the second movie, Martin Freeman is sidelined here as Bilbo becomes a minor character in his own movie. But when Bilbo does get involved, he proves the worth of Hobbits and offers a reminder of why we love them.

It’s difficult though to have any great investment in these characters beyond Bilbo and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), which is a major issue. Billy Connolly turns up as a dwarf king with bizarrely computer enhanced features, to swear and stick the nut on orcs but, as ever, almost none of Bilbo’s companions stand out.

Lord of the Rings succeeded because we cared deeply about the Fellowship, but that’s sadly lacking here. It also worked because it blended real world locations with brilliantly realised visual effects; now it looks like none of it might be real at all, especially darker scenes. Just because Peter Jackson has the ability to create anything with CGI, it doesn’t mean he should. Frankly at times it looks ridiculous, and when you’ve got dwarves riding rams up mountainsides you’ve probably gone too far.

This is highlighted even more by the truly horrific High Frame Rate process, which makes proceedings look like a filmed play, shiny and inauthentic and totally lacking in filmic texture. It’s not too bad when no one has to move but most of the time it’s embarrassing, and it’s astonishing that someone thought something that looked as bad as this was acceptable to project for top dollar.

Still, Jackson is more than capable of conjuring greatness in bursts, starting with Smaug’s terrifying, fire-breathing onslaught, even if we then have to wade through the added guff and padding of the arguments among the Laketown survivors.

But the movie is called The Battle of the Five Armies, and when the men, elves, dwarfs, orcs and various sundry beasties go head to head, it really earns its corn. Pretty much the final hour is a massive ruck that impresses with its sheer scale at least, though some of the armies look a little too mathematically precise in the way they're computer generated. Things get much more involving when it splinters off into individual fights, some of which are exciting and entertaining, some of which go on forever.

In the end, if it works at all, it’s because of the world we’re in, it’s because of what Tolkien has created and it’s because Lord of the Rings exists and we know there’s so much more to see here.

No doubt Jackson cares about the product he’s delivering with this prequel trilogy, but ultimately it will probably be looked upon by audiences as an obligation rather than a necessity.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 review

Horrible Bosses 2 (15/R, 108 mins)
Director: Sean Anders
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The law of diminishing returns for comedy sequels comes into effect with this grim retread that once again stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day as a trio of hopeless friends who turn to crime when their luck deserts them. After the events of the first movie they’ve quit their jobs with the intention of running their own company and have invented a shower device, the demonstration of which on a chat show makes for a very early example of just what level of coarseness this return is going to be reaching for. When a flashy businessman (Chris Pine) and his father (Christoph Waltz) go back on a deal, they decide to kidnap and ransom Pine and, to no one’s surprise they're even worse kidnappers than they are murderers - they were dim in the first film, but they surely weren’t this dim. You can 100% guarantee that Day and Sudeikis will behave like morons, with every plot point driven by their idiocy, and it soon becomes tiresome. It’s thoroughly undisciplined, with people just allowed to talk until one of them hopefully says something funny, which is very rarely the case. Paying no regard to logic, which again can be overlooked if the laughs are plentiful enough, the series has gone from pretty funny to pretty much a laugh free zone. Quite the most remarkable cast is topped up with a visit to Bateman’s old boss in prison (Kevin Spacey), while Jennifer Aniston returns to lash on the crudity. A relaxed Bateman does his low-key exasperation while Day screams every line in deeply wearying style, and in the end it’s far closer to headache-inducing than funny.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (12A/PG-13, 123 mins)
Director: Francis Lawrence
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy gets a now standard two-movie split, and if you haven’t seen the films that have preceded it, you haven’t got a chance with this first part.

It begins immediately after the events of the second film, Catching Fire, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) taken from the Games arena and waking up to find herself in the supposedly destroyed District 13.

We’ve had glimpses of the bigger picture before, but now that what was essentially training in the Games is out of the way, we can get down to the real business. And that aim is full-on revolution, the overthrow of the corrupt and authoritarian government of the Capital, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

The rebels are fronted by Philip Seymour Hoffman and newcomer to the series Julianne Moore as President Coin. Katniss’s actions in the arena have been the spur for uprising in the Districts, and they want her to be the face of their campaign, to film propaganda videos that let the people see there’s hope.

She’s more interested in the fate of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is being held in the Capital, and it’s this tension that drives the drama rather than a reliance on set pieces. Because, goodness knows, it sure ain’t an action film, which is far from a bad thing.

As the third part in a four-part trilogy, there were always likely to be some pacing issues, and occasionally events that could take up one minute of screen time can be stretched into three or four. Some characters are afforded more screen time than might otherwise be the case or we’re introduced to people who don’t feel entirely relevant.

It’s a bit like trying to make a full meal from a limited set of ingredients, but it’s compensated for by a dramatic escalation of the threat level. Snow is going to town to destroy every threat posed by the Districts, stopping at nothing short of genocide, and the dangers are very real indeed.

This is serious, sturdy stuff, looking at fascism and totalitarianism and evoking World War II with its air-raids and underground shelters and wars of information. It’s also reminiscent of the third Matrix film or Return of the Jedi with its hidden rebel base antics, and the groundwork is worth it for a number of powerful, stirring moments.

Lawrence holds it all together as ever, with another committed and impassioned performance that reveals the steel of Katniss and demonstrates that she’s the best young actress on the planet. By the time this series closes out next November, we’ll hopefully be left with a sci-fi saga to be treasured for years to come.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Interstellar review

Interstellar (12A/PG-13, 166 mins)
Director: Christopher Nolan
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

There are very few directors out there who would be given a budget the size of Interstellar’s for a non-franchise or non-adaptation movie. But very few directors are Christopher Nolan, and this is 2014’s most anticipated movie, and has been since it was first announced.

It’s also been a fine year for Matthew McConaughey, and he caps it with the lead in this vastly ambitious sci-fi epic that’s two parts magnificence to one part frustration. He plays Cooper, a one-time pilot who is now a farmer, as are many people since a crop blight led to a world food shortage and turned many parts into a dustbowl.

But life has to go on in this near-future world for Cooper and his son and daughter. He’s all about the pioneer spirit, living in a world where he’s no longer able to use his skills, until he encounters a team of scientists led by Professor Brand and his daughter Amelia (Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway), They have a plan to leave earth in order to find new inhabitable worlds since, as Brand puts it, “mankind was born on earth, it wasn’t meant to die here”.

This sends Cooper, Amelia and another pair of astronauts on a two-year journey to a wormhole that’s been discovered near Saturn, and to whatever lies beyond that. That’s all you really need to know, because from this point in there are many thrills and surprises to be discovered in a film that’s all about what we leave behind for future generations. There are echoes of 2001 in its silent, balletic space sequences, as well as in some of the more surreal imagery that Nolan unleashes in the later stages.

A lot of the time it’s hard science, as actual rocket scientists come up with plans for how to save mankind. Questions of relative time may scramble the brain, but it’s done with the utmost sincerity and not without humour, which is a welcome touch. It’s not an action film, certainly not a single-minded one like Gravity, so that shouldn’t be expected, but when Nolan does throw some in, he runs with ideas and visuals that make for jaw-dropping sequences.

For all its spectacle though, it’s the immense force of the human drama that gives Interstellar its impact. The implications and the scale of what we’re dealing with here can be difficult to contemplate, and when it concentrates on its profound examination of humanity, it approaches brilliance.

In most regards, this is exactly what we should be demanding from our blockbusters. It’s conceived with intelligence and far-reaching intent and executed with immense skill, yet it never quite achieves that moment of transcendence that it seems to threaten for the first two hours.

There’s plenty of room for trimming in its much too generous running time, and Nolan throws into the mix the kinds of characters and plot developments you might expect from lesser filmmakers, undoing a lot of good work in a final hour that at times can be sluggish and ponderous.

So the year’s most anticipated film has turned out to be a good one, at times a very good one. But in the end does it really amount to much more than you might find in the very best episodes of Star Trek?

Wednesday 15 October 2014

The Best of Me review

The Best of Me (12A/PG-13, 118 mins)
Director: Michael Hoffman
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Much like you can count on Woody Allen to deliver a film a year, we’re now pretty much guaranteed an annual effort from the pen of cheese-monger extraordinaire Nicholas Sparks. His latest features James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as former high school sweethearts who return to their small town home when an old friend dies. The conflict comes from whatever drove them apart 20 years earlier, which we gradually find out in flashback – she with college plans and he a physics-loving nice guy from a family of hillbillies! The formula is all in place, with golden sunsets, a bit of danger and not a shred of the unpredictable, but the actors are watchable and the story engages in a silly, soapy way that never approaches reality. It turns particularly daft in an endless final third that feels like a whole other film has been tacked on, but it’s not the worst of Sparks, so take from that what you will.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Zurich Film Festival - Gone Girl

Gone Girl (149 mins)
Director: David Fincher
4 stars

Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? That’s the question at the heart of this slick, stylish, surprisingly funny thriller from one of the modern masters of the genre, David Fincher. Ben Affleck plays Nick, who comes home to find his house in disarray and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. As the police investigate her disappearance, Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (on whose novel the film is based) skillfully weave in the details of their relationship, from their romantic first meeting to the cracks that had recently begun to show in their marriage. This is far from a standard thriller, but one coated with a mordant wit that feels entirely authentic, a sort of everyday facetiousness that means it never slips into melodrama but remains consistently relatable even as the mood darkens. As secrets are revealed, Fincher tightens the knot mercilessly, then lets you catch breath again with a devilish wink, as the plot snakes in ways that are both audacious and entirely grounded in the characters. Affleck and Pike are tremendous, the former playing the whole thing behind a sardonic mask, and Pike asked to display many layers as audience empathy for both spouses is tested; she’s been great for years, but this is the role that’s going to turn her into a star. Also catching the eye is Kim Dickens as the lead detective on the case, and her interactions with Nick result in many of the funniest moments of a movie that also works as a satire on media intrusion and manipulation, as well as a microscope into a poisonous relationship. But this is very much Fincher’s film, creating that perfectly pitched tone and a handful of stunning moments and serving it all up with a visual sheen that just reeks of quality. It’s great to see a film aimed entirely at grownups, and anyone with a hankering for a brilliantly constructed slice of mainstream entertainment should find all their needs more than satisfied.

Zurich Film Festival - Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler (117 mins)
Director: Dan Gilroy
4 stars

A gaunt, hollow-eyed and haunted Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this blistering drama as Louis Bloom, who drives around by night through the streets of Los Angeles, stealing scrap to get by. Things change for him when he sees a camera crew filming at the scene of an accident and realises there’s money to be made from this racket. So he teaches himself how to be a cameraman and gets a good enough film of a shooting that he manages to sell it to Rene Russo’s TV news producer, whose channel wallows in sleaze and degradation – and the richer and whiter the victim is, the better for her and the more money Bloom can make. As he graduates into increasingly unsavoury methods in order to get the juiciest footage, Nightcrawler develops as a vicious lampooning of the sensationalism of television news, while working just as well as a gripping thriller. Gyllenhaal is superb as the fast-talking, quick-learning Louis, who’s very smart but most probably a psycho himself and his ambitions make for a hugely compelling character, with Bloom standing toe to toe with De Niro’s great sociopaths, Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin.

Monday 29 September 2014

Zurich Film Festival review - '71

'71 (99 mins)
Director: Yann Demange
4 stars

Gary (Jack O’Connell) is a young British soldier who, on completion of his army training, finds himself on his first tour in Belfast in 1971. As part of a peacekeeping force supporting the RUC, their mission goes badly wrong during a stunningly well-staged street riot sequence, leaving Gary lost and alone in hostile streets. Not a political film but a heart-pounding thriller, ’71 is like a modern updating of the James Mason classic, Odd Man Out, with Gary on the run and trying to survive the night. It’s keen not to take sides, with good and bad in both loyalist and republican camps, though a strong anti-war streak runs through it. Unflinching in its violence, it triumphs through the immediacy of its action and, in what has been a top year for O’Connell, another compelling performance that cuts through sectarianism to focus on a young man fighting for his life.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

The Equalizer review

The Equalizer (15/R, 132 mins)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Shave half an hour off this sporadically fun but often flabby thriller and you might well have the lean and mean action machine it ought to be, instead of the overegged, cheese-inflected pudding that it sometimes is. Based loosely on the old Edward Woodward TV show, Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a seemingly saintly loner who works in a hardware store, never sleeps, and likes to help anyone and everyone. But it’s clear he’s hiding a mysterious past, and the catalyst for stirring this up is when a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) is beaten up by her pimp, taking McCall into a world of Russian mobsters who want him dead. A measured, deliberate opening is stretched to the point where we’re itching for the vengeance we know is coming, and when it does it’s certainly visceral and fleetingly satisfying. We’re signing up to see Washington battering everyone in sight, and even if too often all we see is the aftermath, he’s a monumental presence, dead-calm and dangerous as the silent protector. But there’s an awful lot of movie padded around these bones, and The Equalizer lumbers when it should sizzle and the finale, though at times exciting, borders on the interminable.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones review

A Walk Among the Tombstones (15/R, 114 mins)
Director: Scott Frank
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Anyone expecting more of the kind of escapades that have become Liam Neeson’s bread and butter in the last few years may find themselves surprised, though hopefully not disappointed by his latest. Instead of the marauding action man we’ve become accustomed to, he’s a thinker and puzzle solver here. But though it may not be personal, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to get deeply involved.

Neeson is Matt Scudder, a one-time New York cop turned private investigator, and the protagonist of several books by crime writer Lawrence Block. Jeff Bridges played Scudder in 8 Million Ways to Die back in the 80s, but that’s the only time the character has been brought to the screen until now.

We first meet Scudder in a prologue that shows us how, in his cop days, he was a big fan of shooting first and asking questions later. But now it’s the late 90s and Scudder is asked by Dan Stevens to find the men who killed his wife; they're some very nasty types, which takes him into a murky world of serial killers and drug traffickers.

There’s a lot of talking, but it’s all done in the course of actual detective work, which you don’t see a lot of these days. We see Scudder do a lot of walking and observing, and talking rather than punching his way through the film. He’s more likely to take a beating than give one, and even talks his way out of a fight at one point.

It’s not brisk, but it’s lean, able to get to the point with a minimum of fuss thanks to economic writing that does its very best to avoid cliché. So though Scudder is a recovering alcoholic with a dark past, it doesn’t make a big thing of it.

There’s an emptiness and a brooding menace to the way it’s filmed that really makes it feel less like the 90s and more like the 70s, which when it comes to this sort of film can only be a good thing. It’s the sort of thing Robert Mitchum and Sidney Lumet would have gone to town on back then.

But though the likes of Marlowe is referenced frequently by Scudder and the young associate who he takes under his wing, this isn’t Elliot Gould we’re talking about here, it’s Liam Neeson. We learn almost nothing of his personal life and see him do nothing but work the case, which results in a steady build of tension with the possible assurance that he’s going to do something violent and exciting at some point.

But that’s secondary to the rock solid detective plot, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a good sturdy mystery thriller such as this.

Monday 8 September 2014

The Boxtrolls review

The Boxtrolls (PG, 97 mins)
Directors: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Possibly the weakest summer on record for animated movies closes out with this likeable but problematic stop-motion effort that can’t quite make up in charm what it lacks in coherence.

Though an American production, The Boxtrolls is adapted from a British book by Alan Snow called Here Be Monsters, and retains a mostly British voice cast led by Ben Kingsley and Jared Harris. The titular creatures live under the streets of a quaint but rather odd town, coming up from the sewers at night to scavenge.

They’re much feared by the townspeople, to the extent an exterminator is hired to rid them of the problem. What they don’t know is that the Boxtrolls are in fact perfectly friendly, if a little disgusting. What’s more, a young boy lives with them, raised as one of them and named Eggs (because of his box) since he disappeared from the town as a baby.

It’s a bit of a shaky start that fills us in on all this, introducing us to a number of characters defined more by their oddness than anything more tangible. Chief among these is Kingsley as the exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, sounding like Michael Gambon doing an impression of Terry Jones’ Mr Creosote from The Meaning of Life. The result much of the time is as incomprehensible as that suggests.

Elsewhere the voices are just a little too clipped in their Englishness, with Isaac Hempstead Wright from Game of Thrones as Eggs and Elle Fanning as Winnie, the young girl helping him as they take on Snatcher. The best stuff comes from Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost, who are on sparkling form as Snatcher’s accomplices.

It’s Pythonesque in other ways too, with a real Gilliam flavour to its bizarre and grotesque look, which kids generally respond to. It’s also incredibly brown and, for all that it’s delightfully rendered, never exactly nice to look at. The animation is lively though, allowing the film to ooze a playful charm to go with its homemade, hand-cranked vibe.

And things do pick up somewhat when, after years of the Boxtrolls being picked off by Snatcher, Eggs goes to the surface to try to save them. It’s a world where the ruling classes are more concerned with cheese (no, really) than the welfare of the people.

This commentary on inequality is the main thematic thrust and, alongside a strong message of the merits of family, the film’s intentions are certainly good. But there’s an inefficiency to the story that holds it back, Snatcher’s scheme is never fully formed, and the climax is interminable. The characters are never appealing enough, the Boxtrolls are largely anonymous, and the overall feeling is that this is more guts and gruel than heart.

Monday 11 August 2014

The Expendables 3 review

The Expendables 3 (12A/PG-13, 126 mins)
Director: Patrick Hughes
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

To borrow a quote from one of this week’s other releases, Hector and the Search for Happiness, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

And yet it’s pretty much all this creaky franchise has going for it. This third entry in the action star retirement home series is not well written, it’s 30 minutes too long and the action isn’t even particularly good. And yet, for reasons that are mostly to do with the unnameable magnetism of sheer star wattage, it remains oddly watchable throughout.

It begins with a massive attack on a prison train by a handful of ageing mercenaries, the Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham et al), to bust out old comrade Wesley Snipes. It’s cheesy and daft to the extent that it must be a parody, brimful of macho posturing, which to some degree has been diluted this time around by the lighter tone, even if the attempts at banter are generally pretty feeble.

It lumbers to another set piece where an old foe turns up in the shape of Mel Gibson, a former Expendable turned arms dealer. Gibson adds real value here, with an admirably composed nutjob performance that demonstrates how much he’s been missed from our screens in recent years.

And still the superstars get rolled out, with Harrison Ford securing a nice payday as a replacement for Bruce Willis, cameoing as a CIA boss who gives Stallone the mission to go after Gibson. Whatever passes for a theme in the movie arrives with an acknowledgment that the Expendables might be getting a little long in the tooth for such silliness; the problem is they (and the film) don’t really believe it.

But still we get a dead midsection where nothing happens while Stallone disbands the crew and teams up with Kelsey Grammer to recruit new younger members. This takes an age, but at least comes with the addition of Antonio Banderas, who adds a touch of pep to the otherwise taciturn team.

For a movie with a teen-friendly rating, the action is sturdy enough and the body count is astronomical (the climax see the Expendables take on literally an entire army) but a bit more blood might have helped. The problem with the action is a physical and logistical one, with little sense of space given and too often overloaded with CGI or cut together much too maniacally.

But it all boils down to watching these stars do their thing, and the pleasure in that is undeniable. Considering the cast is so massive it’s still very much the Stallone show, since he came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li barely get a look in, but every once in a while, just seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford sharing the screen can be enough to raise a smile.

There are many winks and nods to past glories, and while you can only coast on nostalgia so long, hearing Arnie trot out some of his classic lines will be good enough for many.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy review

Guardians of the Galaxy (12A/PG-13, 121 mins)
Director: James Gunn
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Marvel cinematic universe took a step away from typical comic book shenanigans towards more serious fare earlier this year with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

It’s all colour and flash again though for Guardians of the Galaxy, which arrives amid high anticipation levels as the summer’s last major blockbuster. It’s also the most standalone film set in this world, linked to previous Marvel entries only by post-credit Easter eggs in Avengers Assemble and Thor 2.

In fact in tone, humour and backdrop the film it most closely resembles is Serenity, and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the director of that film and Avengers Assemble are one and the same. Endlessly glib but rarely smug, it’s a thrilling diversion filled with more funny lines and perfectly timed comedic beats than many out-and-out comedies.

It’s not all yucks though, and there’s a danger of it sinking under the weight of its own ambitions during an opening salvo that can border on gibberish. We’re bombarded by character names and place names to the extent that it seems like there might be an in-between film somewhere that we haven’t seen where we were supposed to have learned all this.

That sense of confusion begins straight away with a prologue set on earth in 1988, where teenager Peter is confronted with the death of his mother. Moments later he’s whisked away by a spaceship and we jump without ceremony to outer space, where the adult Peter (Chris Pratt) is an outlaw adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould.

In a way it’s refreshing that over-explanation isn’t a problem, but a little more time spent on details might have been nice. But that passes reasonably quickly and what it boils down to is pretty much a treasure hunt between a bunch of interested parties who are after an orb that Peter has pilfered.

His efforts land him prison alongside a ragtag group of criminals and mercenaries. It takes quite a while for this lot to actually be announced as Guardians, and what it might be that they're guarding the galaxy from, but it’s worth the wait. The threat turns out to involve Lee Pace and Karen Gillan as murderous aliens whose stories and motivations are hashed out during the gibberish phase.

Despite the initial setbacks, it evolves into an effortlessly entertaining fantasy adventure. It’s an astonishing piece of world-building, filled with evocative locations, wildly imaginative gizmos and gadgets and some amazing characters. No one is able to steal the show among the Guardians because everyone, both the character and the actor playing them, is fantastic.

It’s a star-making turn from Pratt, who uses his roguish charisma to move up from amiable supporting roles in Her or voicing the lead in the Lego movie. Zoe Saldana is his match as the bloodthirsty Gamora, and while less might have been expected from wrestler-turned actor Dave Bautista, his portrayal of the vengeful Drax is as heartfelt and funny as any of the Guardians.

The computer generated Guardians are great too: Rocket, a raccoon with a plan voiced with real fizz by Bradley Cooper, and a walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel who can only say “I am Groot”. There’s an exuberance to the violence too, facilitated by all of the main characters being completely psychotic.

Pause for a moment to put Guardians of the Galaxy under any serious scrutiny and perhaps there isn’t really very much there. The plot is minor and the finale suffers from the same big-fight syndrome as most movies of its ilk, but it’s so slick, so entertaining and so funny that its flaws are easily overlooked.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Tammy review

Tammy (15/R, 97 mins)
Director: Ben Falcone
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Since making a big impression (and landing an Oscar nomination) with Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has firmly established herself as a leading comic talent.

Here with Tammy she gets a screenplay credit for the first time, co-writing with her husband Ben Falcone, who also makes his feature directing debut. Unfortunately they’ve come unstuck and aren’t able to deliver anything like the necessary hit rate of laughs required for a mainstream summer comedy.

The title character of Tammy sees McCarthy play a chaotic and dishevelled woman whom we first meet as she hits a deer with her car. It’s just the first of many scenes that make vain grasps for laughs that come from her shtick of going off on a semi-improvised rant that quickly descends into ill-disciplined mugging, leaving vast expanses of empty air where laughter goes to die.

McCarthy is a very talented comic actor, but she’s in danger of selling herself short if she continues in these kinds of roles. Her loudmouth and slobby routine has been the go-to since the unfunny Identity Thief, although it served her well in The Heat last year, helped by the balance with Sandra Bullock.

Tammy ends up getting fired from her job at a burger joint as an indirect result of the deer incident, although by the looks of it that dismissal had been coming for a while. She also discovers her husband is having an affair with a neighbour and so decides to leave town.

But with no car to make good her escape, she tries to borrow one from her mother (Allison Janney), who is well aware of her slippery nature. As it turns out, Tammy’s ailing grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon, presumably supposed to be playing 80), also wants to get out of her mother’s house and Tammy needs a car, and so the pair of them set off together on what should be the start of an uproarious road trip, but which doesn’t seem to have any destination or purpose in mind.

It’s just an aimless journey, taking in scrapes and shenanigans along the way, all of it flat and meandering, thanks to deeply unappealing characters and pratfalls that really don’t work and. Along the way, Pearl tries to persuade Tammy to try to change her ways, to find some direction in her life, but this is abruptly abandoned in favour of Pearl getting into drunken mishaps.

It’s only when Tammy meets Bobby (Mark Duplass) and his father, who takes a shine to Pearl, that she sees what a decent person is like. But even with that, character shifts seem sudden and unearned.

And though McCarthy and Sarandon do their best with their poorly conceived roles, they're barely able to raise a smile between them. A ridiculously starry cast fills out the rest of the film, though many of them are in very small roles; quite why Toni Collette and Dan Aykroyd show up for one scene apiece is a mystery.

That would simply be a side note if the film were only funnier. But the sad truth is that Tammy is so low on viable jokes that you begin to wonder if it maybe isn’t supposed to be a comedy at all.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Thanks for nothing, you useless reptiles

How to Revisit Your Dragon

The first time I watched How to Train Your Dragon, on its cinema release in 2010, I found it an adequate, second-tier cartoon adventure with good visuals and voices.

The second time I saw it, a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed and appreciated it quite a bit more, taking in more of the terrific score and embracing the central relationship between boy and dragon.

There are a couple of reasons I decided now was the time to revisit the film. Partly it’s because it was on the telly, and a lot has to do with the sequel coming out in a few weeks. But mostly it’s because my good friends Steven and Nathanael both adore it, and even though their opinions can occasionally be, shall we say, special, I needed to see what the fuss was about.

The third time I watched it, today, I fell in love with it.

I already knew it was a film about acceptance, but didn’t quite grasp how deeply it ran; between Hiccup and Toothless, obviously, but also Hiccup and the village, humans and dragons and especially between Hiccup and his father. More than that, it’s about learning to accept yourself and be true to who you are.

I knew it looked and sounded fantastic. On top of some of the most exquisite character design, facial expressions and body language you’ll see in an animated film, several jaw-dropping flight and fight sequences and John Powell’s majestic score are the grace notes that take it from great to wondrous.

But the element I really hadn’t appreciated enough was a tight screenplay where every little detail counts. A central section where Hiccup and Toothless bond intercuts with Hiccup learning how to fight dragons, and what I had dismissed as repetition was actually a smart link between the training and their burgeoning alliance. Developing, as friendships are wont to do, from initial reserve into growing trust and love, it’s one of cinema’s greats, up there with Andy and Red, Frodo and Sam, Woody and Buzz.

Time and again I was struck by the combination of the animation, the music, the emotion and the thematic resonance, and several times I had to brush away a manly tear. How to Train Your Dragon is a wonderful film, and Steven and Nat were right about it.

To paraphrase the aforementioned Red from The Greatest Movie Ever Made ™, I hope I'm with them to see the sequel. I hope to see my friends and shake their hands. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Maleficent review

Maleficent (PG, 97 mins)
Director: Robert Stromberg
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Disney re-imagines its own Sleeping Beauty story with this flipside told from the point of view of supposed villain, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, who does just fine as a demon-witch with a soft side). A clunky start introduces us to warring kingdoms, one where Maleficent is a young fairy living contentedly, the other a land of greedy humans out for power. She turns dark after being betrayed by the future king and curses his baby daughter, Aurora (who grows into Elle Fanning) to fall into an eternal sleep on her 16th birthday. With a lot of frippery needed to pad out a wandering midsection that’s a mess of half-baked developments with nowhere really to go, this demonstrates that origin stories are largely a waste of time. The surrogate mother relationship between Maleficent and Aurora has some value though, and represents the film’s strongest card, even if it has rather had its thunder stolen by Frozen in that regard. It mostly looks great, with lavish castles and decent battles, though it’s too often smothered in dodgy CG creatures and the Scottish accents are honking.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Edge of Tomorrow review

Edge of Tomorrow (12A/PG-13, 113 mins)
Director: Doug Liman
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

An early summer movie season that’s been fairly strong so far continues to tick along nicely with Edge of Tomorrow, a smart and fun sci-fi thriller which demonstrates that Tom Cruise is still one of the best in the business.

Even though this is a summer blockbuster that may have a premise like an episode of Star Trek, and even though it nods to most of the sci-fi action of the last 30 years, it still comes across as fairly original. It’s based on a novel called All You Need Is Kill and for all that it seems to be in the vein of Starship Troopers, the clear and unexpected touchstone is Groundhog Day.

News footage opens the film to fill us in on the backstory, which at first comes across as the kind of thing we’ve seen umpteen times before: an alien invasion has left earth on the brink of destruction and our forces are gearing up for one last make or break battle.

During this prologue we’ve been quietly introduced to Major William Cage (Cruise). In a nice twist, he’s not a hero but a media relations guy, prized more for his recruitment skills than his soldiering. But his superior (Brendan Gleeson) has plans to send him into the fray anyway during a low key start where he has to come to terms with being sent to the front line with no training and no clue.

The real hero is Rita (Emily Blunt), known as the Angel of Verdun since a successful mission against the aliens. Most of Europe has been destroyed and taken over, so the plan is for a Normandy landings-style incursion into France to take the fight to the enemy. These so-called Mimics are brilliantly designed many-tentacled beasties that recall the sentinels in The Matrix, scary, fast-moving and very hard to kill.

Saving Private Ryan is evoked as they drop onto the beaches of France to take on the aliens, only for everyone, including Cage and Rita, to be very quickly slaughtered. But here’s where the unique selling point of Edge of Tomorrow comes into play, as Cage wakes up to find himself at the start of the previous day. That day then plays out exactly as it did before, only he knows everything that’s going to happen because he’s already lived through it even if no one else has.

Day after day he sets out on the mission and day after he dies, unable to make much progress or save Rita. But finally something clicks on one of the days, and Rita tells Cage to come and find her when he, as it were, gets back to yesterday. She trains him how to better fight the Mimics, while he tells her what will happen tomorrow so they can survive for as long as possible.

That may sound like a complicated bit of shenanigans, but one of the key strengths here is that it’s all very clear to follow. Like a video game, Cage gets a bit further each time, learning from his mistakes and dying and restarting dozens, possibly hundreds of times until he gets it right.

It’s the very definition of repetitive action, with the beach landing and fight playing out over and over, but it’s far from a problem because we always get something a bit different. And it changes up as it progresses, taking us beyond the beach to the places their mission needs to go if it’s ever to succeed. There’s also room for some cheeky laughs in amongst all the dying, born out of Cage knowing the future and often at the expense of Bill Paxton’s hardnosed sergeant.

Blunt is convincing as a badass but no one sells this sort of thing like Cruise, who combines undimmed star power with the utmost sincerity so that we’re with him all the way no matter how preposterous the setup may be. His transformation into an action star may have come at the expense of more interesting dramatic roles but, even at the age of 51, all you need is Cruise.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past review

X-Men: Days of Future Past (12A/PG-13, 131 mins)
Director: Bryan Singer
★ ★ ★ ★

For those not yet tired of mutant superhero action, here then is the seventh movie set in the X-Men universe. Some have been great, some have been misfires, but the series was shaken up a couple of years ago by X-Men: First Class, which showed us younger versions of the well-worn characters as they were in the 1960s.

Days of Future Past is a sequel to that prequel, and is being sold on the fact that it brings both casts together, so we get Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy as original and young Charles Xavier, and ditto Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto. The one constant has been Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), because he doesn’t age.

It begins in the future following a devastating war, where the few remaining mutants are on the run from Sentinels, massive almost unstoppable machines that are threatening to wipe them out entirely. As Stewart asks in voiceover, is this future set or can it be changed?

The X-Men believe it can be changed and so come up with a plan to send Logan (or his consciousness at any rate) back to the 1970s to stop the chain of events that led to the creation of the Sentinels. In a nutshell this means stopping Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the scientist (Peter Dinklage) who initiates the programme.

But of course it turns out to be a lot more complicated than that, leading to difficult decisions for many of the X-Men. This is a film that’s always more interested in its characters than its action, and that has to be thanks to its director. Bryan Singer hasn’t directed any of the films since X-Men 2 in 2003, but he shows why he was the right choice to return with a guiding hand, grounding it in the choices made by its protagonists while also being in complete command of the sprawling narrative.

The set pieces aren’t just elaborate displays of special effects and action, but driven by character and plot while moving the story forward at the same time. Generally the films end up turning into the Wolverine show, which as the original trilogy and two Wolverine spin-offs have demonstrated, can get a bit dull after a while. But this is the Mystique show, and everything depends on her.

An early sequence where the lightning-fast Quicksilver helps break Magneto out of the Pentagon is gloriously inventive and thrillingly executed. And it doesn’t skimp on humour either, offering good laughs without descending into camp.

There are a couple of niggles, generally to do with plot points that might find you asking “why?” a couple of times. If you attempted to draw a line through the chronology of the previous films, you’d probably find the timeline has been a bit squiffy anyway, so as with all time travel movies it might be best to just not worry about it. And Stewart, McKellen and co in the future end up getting a bit sidelined.

But there’s real-time danger and darkness linking the future and the past, and the stakes are massive. And thanks to the numerous highpoints and an ending that could possibly be described as perfect, in most regards this is as good as superhero movies get.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Godzilla review

Godzilla (12A/PG-13, 123 mins)
Director: Gareth Edwards
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Director Gareth Edwards caused something of a splash with his no-budget sci-fi from a few years back, Monsters, albeit as much because of its cost than it actually being especially good.

The film’s reception and Edwards’ way with, well, monsters, was instrumental in landing him the gig for this mega-budget updating of a series that’s been a fixture of Japanese moviemaking for 60 years now.

A ropey Hollywood effort from 1998 was as much an excuse for director Roland Emmerich to blow up bits of New York in the style of his Independence Day as it was a remotely successful Godzilla movie, and is best quietly forgotten. But just a year on from Pacific Rim, whether audiences have the appetite for another monster mash remains to be seen.

Tonally this is very sober stuff compared to the cheesiness of the 1998 version, but it remains true to the origins of Godzilla, an allegorical product of post-Hiroshima disquiet and the thirst for nuclear testing in the 1950s.

We kick off in the Philippines in 1999 where scientists played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins discover enormous fossils underground. Meanwhile in Japan, Joe (Bryan Cranston) is an engineer at a nuclear plant which is experiencing tremors. Everyone thinks earthquake, but as Joe’s wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) dies in the resulting meltdown, he believes something else is afoot.

Fifteen years on from this their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is in the navy, and has just returned to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son in San Francisco. Joe is still in Japan, living like a crackpot and trying to expose the cover up and prove it wasn’t a natural disaster.

This is all part of a lengthy setup that ends up taking up more screen time than it merits because it never really pays off down the line. It’s just one of a checklist of flaws to be ticked off that explain why this is a movie with a debit column bigger than its credits. It offers a commendable centre but little momentum, but the upshot of all the preamble is the release of a pair of insect-like creatures called Muto that feed on radiation.

Like on Monsters, Edwards certainly has empathy for them, which is fine, but it does rather come at the expense of being interested in the humans. For all the effort to add poignancy and emotional depth, there are no interesting characters to speak of.

It also thoroughly wastes a very respectable cast. Watanabe and Hawkins disappear into the background after a while with nothing to do but deliver clunky exposition. Cranston just yells a lot and Olsen barely registers as a presence. We spend most of the time with Taylor-Johnson, as he and the military chase the Muto across the Pacific.

But then all that groundwork is abandoned anyway for monsters fighting, because obviously in a film called Godzilla, you need some Godzilla. The enormous dinosaur-like creature is awakened from the depths and could end up being mankind’s only hope against the Muto.

A blockbuster shouldn’t live and die by the special effects, but in many ways that’s often as much as Godzilla has going for it, alongside a number of exquisitely composed and atmospheric shots. The visuals are astonishing, whether it’s the creatures tearing down entire cities or a tsunami devastating Honolulu.

The first big sighting is just about worth the wait and the one thing Edwards certainly manages to get right are the reveals. As Godzilla or the Muto appear from out of smoke or out of the sky to maul each other or a skyscraper, he’s able to deliver a handful of truly jaw-dropping sequences. Godzilla is huge and really quite unsettling as a presence, and in one or two moments the film touches on being a proper horror, posing genuine danger from these massive Lovecraftian beasties.

And yet it’s often to be found skimping on the action, cutting out early from the scraps and only showing us the aftermath rather than the main event. As a result the first two-thirds consist of an awful lot of teasing, although it could be argued that an all-out assault would be exhausting in a Transformers sort of way.

A little lightness of touch might have worked wonders too. It’s an entirely humourless affair, which makes you question the point of having something as silly as two hours of monsters hitting each other when it doesn’t try to make you smile once.

Enjoy the thrill of the few times when Godzilla lets rip with all his might, but mayhem isn’t really enough if you're not having fun with it.

Monday 3 March 2014

300: Rise of an Empire review

300: Rise of an Empire (15/R, 102 mins)
Director: Noam Murro
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The reams of backstory and exposition that make up much of this somewhat uncalled-for action sequel fill us in on how Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) made an enemy of Xerxes, who became the god-king that Gerard Butler and his Spartans fought in the original 300 seven years ago. None of this is particularly relevant to what’s being told here, a battle being waged by Xerxes’ second-in-command, Artemisia (Eva Green), and her massed Persian forces, with Themistocles wanting Sparta to join the fight. What follows is essentially the same sea battle played out over and over, doused in torrents of computer generated blood that passed muster back when this sort of thing was a novelty, but which is now just kinda boring. Grand-scale carnage and destruction it may be, but there’s very little to engage with thanks to woeful dialogue and scarcely more believable performances. A couple of stunning shots offer little respite, and it’s rather cheapened by the fact it’s all taking place at more or less the same time as the events of 300, meaning we’re watching this third division stuff while the Champions League is on. It seemed these words would never be written, but Gerard Butler is badly missed.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Non-Stop review

Non-Stop (12A/PG-13, 106 mins)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Now firmly established as an action star, Liam Neeson’s latest sees him as an air marshal on a flight from the States to London who starts to receive messages from an anonymous threat that passengers on the plane will be killed if he doesn’t come up with a ransom. It’s all quite cat and mouse for a while, as he tries to work out which of the passengers could be behind it, followed by some decent rough and tumble. Tension is nicely held thanks to a steadily escalating pace, albeit with quite a bit of flim-flam and repetition to wade through in a saggy midsection, but the Agatha Christie-style vibe is fun, painting everyone as a potential suspect including Neeson himself. It’s a solid mystery, staying together almost until the silliness takes over, but sturdy enough overall to keep you on board.

Monday 24 February 2014

The House of Him - Glasgow Film Festival review

The House of Him
Director: Robert Florence
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Writer and comedian Robert Florence pulls off an astonishing sleight of hand with his debut feature, The House of Him, an eviscerating commentary on the scourge of domestic violence disguised as a slasher movie.

Filmed entirely in his mother's Glasgow home for £900, it may be confined and small of scale, but that lack of expansiveness is more than made up for with the thematic ambition and depth brought to it by Florence’s impassioned script.

It’s the house of a serial killer (Richard Rankin) who has been murdering young women there for years, and has just lured his latest victims, Sophie (Kirsty Strain) and Anna (Louise Stewart). At first it seems as though Anna will be the conventional “final girl”, chased around the house by Him. But it quickly becomes clear Florence has more on his mind.

Leaving the slasher antics aside for long spells, it becomes essentially a two-hander as the pair talk of Anna’s powerlessness to escape her plight. The analogy is a potent one, as their conversations delve into all the insidious ways abusers operate.

And in case you think this might sound preachy, it also works just fine as a horror film. The location never becomes limiting, imaginative and atmospheric ways are found to film it, and there are a bunch of decent jolts. A terrific, Carpenter-infused score helps considerably too.

The actors are assured and controlled, even overcoming that thing where hearing Scottish accents on screen can be like getting slapped on the ear. Rankin oozes quiet menace, while Stewart gets to display a wide emotional range, and their interactions never fail to compel.

As the film progresses, radio reports suggest what's going inside this house is happening the world over. Secret things, bad things in all the houses. And that plague is men. It's a pungent metaphor that entreats us to wake up to everyday misogyny and make us look long and accusingly at a world full of monsters.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman review

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (U, 92 mins)
Director: Rob Minkoff
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Animated characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman were part of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s cartoon show in the early 60s.

Mr. Peabody is a super-intelligent dog and Sherman is his seven year old adopted son, and together they go on educational adventures through time using Mr. Peabody’s time machine, the WABAC.

On the one hand it’s surprising that it’s taken 50 years for these characters to come to the big screen. But clearly the makers of Family Guy took from the concept their inspiration for the many time travel adventures Brian and Stewie have, so it’s likely that the ongoing success of that made someone deem it worthwhile to dust down the original property and turn it into a feature length animated movie. They needn’t have bothered.

This is demonstrated in a pointless introductory sequence in which Mr. Peabody and Sherman (voiced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell and Max Charles) encounter Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution for no discernible story reason whatsoever. It’s the first sign that this is a film less interested in its characters than in being a history lesson, and that’s surely the last thing kids want when they visit the cinema.

Once that’s out of the way the story continues with Sherman starting school, where a bullying problem with a classmate gets out of hand and the question is raised of how a dog can possibly be a fit parent. It’s a fairly flimsy framework on which to hang a film, and after some thoroughly unengaging stuff involving this, the main plot kicks off when Sherman is forced to spend time with the girl who is bullying him.

Showing her the WABAC to prove he’s not a liar, they end up in ancient Egypt, forcing Mr. Peabody to go back and rescue them. The story doesn’t so much flow organically from there as ping randomly from one point in time to another, pushing on to Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece for no reason other than these are historical times, events and characters that people are aware of.

If you're going to dabble in these sorts of shenanigans, at least have the imagination to do something clever or original with it. But this is a story that seems thrown together with the bare minimum of care and attention, that never even attempts to do something out of the ordinary with the time travel element. So haphazard is it, that it could simply be a selection of episodes thrown together, each with a different historical setting, and loosely tied up with a stuck-in-time bow.

The jokes are largely science puns, and whose benefit these are supposed to be for is a mystery. Kids won’t get them (“I don’t get it” being pretty much Sherman’s catchphrase) and adults will groan at how weak they are.

There’s nothing like actual wit and Peabody and Sherman themselves are hardly the most endearing of characters. You’ll get more entertainment with Family Guy and your children will get more education with Horrible Histories.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

That Awkward Moment review

That Awkward Moment (15/R, 94 mins)
Director: Tom Gormican
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

High School Musical star Zac Efron goes potty-mouthed in this thoroughly charmless rom-com. He’s one of three pals (along with Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) who form a pact to enjoy their single lives and not get involved in a relationship. This is complicated when Efron starts to fall for Imogen Poots, who he seems able to make laugh, but not the audience. Everything about this dismal effort is crude and manufactured and comedy-free, improvised by actors not really skilled enough to get away with it. It’s unpleasant characters indulging in moronic behaviour and lies, with clear signs from the start where they're all going to end up, but giving us nothing to care about while we get there.