Free Guy review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Shawn Levy
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Camille Kostek
Genre: Action/Comedy/Sci-fi
Run Time : 115 min
Opens : 12 August (Sneaks 11 August)
Rating : PG13

As a hero’s journey begins, they have that moment when they realise they’re meant for more than their existence, whether it’s Luke Skywalker gazing at the twin sunset over Tatooine, or Belle singing “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere”. In this sci-fi action comedy, an NPC (non-player character) in a video game realises he’s meant for more than being shot at by gamers.

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a bank teller in Free City, an open-world multiplayer online video game that’s something of a cross between Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite. NPCs follow scripts and routines, but Guy is different – he’s capable of making decisions he shouldn’t be. Guy falls hard for Molotov Girl/Millie (Jodie Comer), a player in Free City with a specific agenda. Years ago, Millie and Keys (Joe Keery) developed an indie video game that was bought out by gaming giant Soonami, the publishers of Free City. Millie must prove that Antwan (Taika Waititi), the megalomaniacal Soonami boss, stole the build that she and Keys originally developed. Guy holds the key to this, as he grapples with the reality of his existence and it becomes a race against time to save him, his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) and the other denizens of Free City who are threatened by Antwan’s never-ending quest for profit.

Free Guy is entertaining and energetic, a studio blockbuster refreshingly devoid of many of the pitfalls associated with present-day studio blockbuster filmmaking. This is a good-hearted escapist adventure that is about an idealistic character making his way in a cynical world. There are many parallels to The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show, with the film also capturing the sense of ‘happy chaos’ that fuelled The LEGO Movie. Shawn Levy, who directed the Night at the Museum Trilogy, Real Steel and multiple episodes of Stranger Things, confidently handles the visual effects-heavy component of the movie while bringing humanity to the material. Best of all, it largely doesn’t feel like the product of studio execs wringing their hands, wondering “do the kids like this?”

The movie is an excellent showcase for Ryan Reynolds, who has crafted his movie star persona around being something of a wiseass. He knows he can be annoying, but here, Reynolds’ Guy is always endearing, an innocent who’s very easy to root for.

Jodie Comer, whom audiences might know from Killing Eve, acquits herself admirably in the dual roles of Millie and her avatar Molotov Girl. Comer is convincing as both a withdrawn video game developer and a badass, confident action heroine, and shares great chemistry with both Reynolds and Keery. This reviewer did not expect Free Guy to be a genuinely moving romance, but it is.

It’s inherent in the style of video game that Free Guy is referencing, but the movie is sometimes too frenetic and in-your-face. There are moments when it seems like it wants to have a bit of a harder edge, and while it’s all in the context of a video game, the violence can come off as quite excessive for what is ostens ibly a family film. The cameos from real life streamers Jacksepticeye, Ninja, Pokimane, DanTDM and LazarBeam did pull this reviewer out of it, and it’s elements like this and the specific Fortnite-like stylisation of the game that will almost immediately date Free Guy. It’s also just a matter of time before one of the afore-mentioned streamers gets “cancelled” (one might argue one or more already have been), and the filmmakers might regret their movie being associated with them. Perhaps feeling dated is just unavoidable with any movie related to video games, seeing how quickly games progress.

Taika Waititi’s performance is initially amusing, but quickly becomes grating. He’s doing way too much, turning it up to eleven and hamming it up as Antwan. Yes, tech moguls often have an inflated perception of themselves, but even considering this, Waititi’s portrayal feels too cartoonish for Antwan to be truly threatening.

Much as this reviewer enjoyed the romance, there are audiences who might feel that it is tacked on. One of the NPCs realises that she can be her own woman and doesn’t need to be in a relationship, so it might seem contradictory that the film itself ignores this.

Free Guy is cleverly constructed, and one big thing working for it is that the filmmakers understand the world of videogames. They understand that online gaming can be an incredibly toxic space where people feel free to be their worst selves. They also understand that game studios can be awful workplaces and that the people who run such studios can be abusive; especially timely considering the horrifying revelations coming out about Activision/Blizzard. However, the makers of Free Guy also clearly love video games and understand their appeal and have built a truly engrossing world. There is a heartfelt message about how online spaces do not have to reward our worst instincts, and that there are people who create and play video games who desire an oasis away from the typical behaviour associated with gamers. There’s an unexpected level of nuance which elevates Free Guy above just being a good sci-fi action-comedy, which it already is.

Summary: The best studio blockbuster this summer arrives better late than never. An inventive, dynamic and even moving sci-fi action comedy, Free Guy is a delight. Beyond making canny use of stars Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer, the movie displays an understanding of the world of videogames, from the perspective of both gamers and developers. It tackles the often-toxic elements of video game culture while staying a safe distance from sanctimony, and while the world of Free City is chaotic, it is also genuinely exciting to spend time in. Free Guy is satisfying entertainment in a way most blockbusters burdened with setting up the next entry in a franchise rarely are.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Guns Akimbo review

For F*** Magazine

GUNS AKIMBO

Director: Jason Lei Howden
Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
Genre: Action/comedy
Run Time : 1 h 37 mins
Opens : 19 March 2020
Rating : M18

Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career has featured several eclectic roles. From playing a man who grows horns out of his forehead in Horns to playing a corpse in Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe isn’t afraid to get a bit weird. In this movie, a very normal fate befalls his character: getting pistols bolted onto his hands.

Radcliffe plays Miles, a mild-mannered programmer working on a successful mobile game. He takes delight in “trolling the trolls”, engaging in online spats with those who get their kicks from posting deliberate offensive comments. An underground fight club called Skizm is fast gaining popularity, with alarming numbers of people watching the live deathmatches online. After Miles trolls the Skizm chat, he is targeted by Riktor, the mad mastermind behind the game. Riktor and his goons break into Miles’ house and surgically bolt guns to Miles’ hands. He is then forced to fight the reigning Skizm champion Nix (Samara Weaving), who wants to quit the game after this final match. Miles attempts to explain his predicament to his ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and unwittingly involves her in the dangerous proceedings. As the masses watch online, Miles must survive the ordeal and defeat Nix to escape with his life.

Guns Akimbo seems to follow in the tradition of Crank and other Neveldine/Taylor movies: they’re not for everyone, but the people that they are for embrace the craziness. There is something clever and just the right amount of twisted in the premise, with Radcliffe being the ideal sympathetic protagonist. The movie gets a lot of mileage of the logistic challenges of going through life with two loaded guns surgically attached to one’s hands, let alone doing so when someone else is trying to kill you. This is an ambitious action film that wears its neon-soaked, hopped-up style on its sleeve and accomplishes a lot on a limited budget.

The film’s best scene is an exchange between Miles and the vagrant Glenjamin (Rhys Darby), because its one of the few times the movie slows down enough to catch its own breath.

Unfortunately, Guns Akimbo ramps everything to eleven to the point of being altogether numbing. The action is so frenetic that after a while, it stops making an impact. The film’s hyperactivity makes it difficult to engage with, such that it crosses the threshold of being exhilarating to being exhausting. This is something that would have been great as a 15-minute-long short film.

The film’s messaging is confusing: apparently, Miles deserves to have guns bolted to his hands and to be forced into a live deathmatch because he claps back against online trolls. In writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s estimation, it is those who oppose cyberbullies who are worse than the cyberbullies themselves. While Miles’ motivations are far from pure, the movie deems his behaviour worthier of ridicule and scorn than that of online harassers.

Guns Akimbo is so enamoured of its own perceived edginess that it fails to make any insightful or incisive statements on toxic online culture. The movie wants us to root for Miles, but also take sadistic delight in his comeuppance, as if he’s gotten exactly what he deserves. There are times when this film feels like Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer, which was often gross, nihilistic and pointless. It is disheartening but unsurprising that Howden himself perpetuated an online harassment campaign, targeting film journalists and falsely accusing them of driving another film writer to suicide.

In addition to Radcliffe, the film has a strong cast. Samara Weaving is fast becoming a genre darling, especially after starring in last year’s Ready or Not and with Snake Eyes and Bill and Ted Face the Music on the way this year. As the stereotypical leather-clad badass punk girl, Weaving is plenty of fun to watch and the film manages to surprise when it reveals Nix’s back-story.

Ned Dennehy is also great fun as the villainous Riktor, a sadistic close talker who sports a face full of tattoos. Everyone in the film knows what they signed up for, and even though Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s role is pretty much the stock girlfriend, she’s still watchable in the role.

Summary: Guns Akimbo is a would-be cult movie that is too enamoured with its status as a would-be cult movie. It expends more effort loudly announcing how out-there and edgy it is while not being as entertaining as it hypes itself up to be. There are moments when it’s genuinely amusing and Radcliffe is superb in the lead role, but the movie’s manic obnoxiousness winds up working against it. There is a fair bit in Guns Akimbo that works, including its cast and the inventiveness of its premise, but this is a movie that gets in its own way too much to truly be enjoyable.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Charlie’s Angels (2019) review

For F*** Magazine

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019)

Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast : Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Djimon Hounsou, Jonathan Tucker, Nat Faxon, Chris Pang
Genre : Action/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 58 mins
Opens : 14 November 2019
Rating : PG13

In 1976, the television series Charlie’s Angels starring Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith premiered. The series ran for five years and underwent several cast changes, and the brand has remained a pop culture staple since then. The Angels landed on the big screen in a 2000 film starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore, which received a 2003 sequel. Following a short-lived 2011 TV revival, the Angels are back in cinemas with this new movie, which is couched as a continuation of the original TV series and the 2000s movies.

Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is a brilliant systems engineer working at Brok Industries on a project called Calisto. The alternative energy source can be repurposed as a weapon if it falls into the wrong hands. Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska), operatives of a private intelligence outfit called the Townsend Agency, must protect Elena when she blows the whistle on Brok Industries. These agents are known as ‘Angels’ – their handler Susan Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) was formerly an Angel herself. The original Bosley (Patrick Stewart) is retiring after 40 years of recruiting and training Angels. Charlie (Robert Clotworthy), The unseen boss of the Townsend Agency, communicates through speakerphone. Elena decides she wants to join the Angels, and their mission to secure Calisto takes them from Germany to Turkey.

Banks set out to make a movie about women at work and this new take on Charlie’s Angels benefits from being a lot less male gaze driven and exploitative. Yes, the main characters are still stylish and sexy, but it’s clear that this is no longer for the primary benefit of the slavering men in the audience.

There are moments when each lead gets to shine, but it’s clear that Kristen Stewart is holding it all together. She’s never looked more at ease in a mainstream tentpole movie and has a lot of fun playing the resident wild child. Ella Balinska is statuesque and certainly looks like she could handle herself in a fight, while Naomi Scott’s Elena has an endearing fangirl quality to her while also being intelligent and capable.

One of the film’s best moments is a sequence in which the three Angels dress in identical disguises, confusing security guards at Brok Industries headquarters as they carry out a heist. Some design elements, especially the costumes by Kym Barrett, work quite well.

Unfortunately, Charlie’s Angels just doesn’t feel like the big event it should be. A big screen revival of the franchise should be a brassy, celebratory affair, and this movie just feels too low-key. Much of the action comes off feeling like it belongs on TV – which isn’t quite fair to many TV shows that feature more elaborate action sequences. The hand-to-hand combat sequences are shot and edited too frenetically, while the big chases and shootouts feel perfunctory at best.

Some of the film’s attempts at humour fall flat. Stewart is saddled with several unfunny asides and one-liners that she makes work through sheer force of will. Instead of the standard tech guy or armourer, the Angels have the Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez), a wellness guru who makes them kombucha and herbal compresses. It’s one joke that is drawn out a bit too long.

This is an unabashedly feminist take on the material, and while this franchise certainly could do with a woman’s perspective behind the camera, there are times when it all feels too clumsy. This is most notable during the opening credits, which look like stock footage of girls from various parts of the world going about their day. Yes, the message is that women can do anything, but what they’re depicted doing in the movie is rarely impressive enough to be really inspiring, at least when compared against the typical action blockbuster. There clearly is an appetite for action, horror, sci-fi, fantasy and other genre movies that depict a woman’s point of view, and one hopes Charlie’s Angels paves the way for more to follow, but the film isn’t entertaining enough to support its messaging.

While Stewart is great and both Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska do have a degree of charisma, the trio just doesn’t have the same palpable chemistry that Diaz, Liu and Barrymore shared in the 2000s films.

The spy stuff in the plot is all very standard issue: there’s a MacGuffin which our heroes must prevent from falling into the wrong hands. Banks’ desire to keep things light and breezy means that there isn’t much in the way of real stakes. When the movie goes darker, like in a scene in which one of the leads is being physically tortured, it comes off as a bit jarring. Not every spy movie needs to have the stunts and spectacle of the Mission: Impossible films, but there’s also no reason that Charlie’s Angels shouldn’t aim for a similar level of thrills.

We see what Banks is trying to do with the franchise and some of it is promising, but it all adds up to something that doesn’t quite make one want to punch the air and yell “the Angels are back!” Stay through the end credits for additional scenes that include a series of cameos.

Summary: Writer-director Elizabeth Banks brings several interesting ideas to the table, but this revival of Charlie’s Angels comes up short on thrills and spectacle, resulting in something that’s resoundingly underwhelming.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Killer Not Stupid (杀手不笨) review

KILLER NOT STUPID (杀手不笨)

Director : Jack Neo
Cast : Jay Shih, Nadow, Amber An, Apple Chan, Gadrick Chin, Lin Mei-Hsiu, Ricky Davao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 49 mins
Opens : 5 February 2019
Rating : PG13

After including hints of action in the Ah Boys to Men series, Jack Neo leaps into the action-comedy genre with Killer Not Stupid. Do his broad comedic sensibilities jibe with the world of international terrorism and high-stakes intrigue? We’ll get to that in a bit.

The film centres on Hornet (Jay Shih), an elite assassin who wants out of the game. Hornet is assisted by his trusty tech guy Mark (Nadow), and they’re undertaking the proverbial ‘one last job’. Hornet and Mark must acquire a valuable flash drive dubbed ‘100K’, which contains comprising material on the world’s terrorist rings. Naturally, rival forces, including the triad leader ‘Grandma’ (Ryan Lian), are also after the drive.

Along the way, Hornet and Mark meet Sha Bao (Gadrick Chin), Mark’s former classmate from Malaysia. All three have coincidentally booked into the same hotel as Talia (Amber An), the ditzy daughter of a slain Filipino drug lord. Talia is being escorted by the no-nonsense agent Ira (Apple Chan), who soon grows sick of Sha Bao’s antics. Now that Hornet wants to quit, Mother (Lin Mei-Hsiu), his former boss, puts a hit out on him. The international criminal Adolf (Ricky Davao) is hellbent on acquiring the 100K drive, meaning Hornet is pursued on all sides on his last job.

This appears to be the result of the Ah Boys to Men films doing well in Taiwan, leading to Taiwanese investors bankrolling Neo to make a movie in Taiwan with Taiwanese stars. Killer Not Stupid is completely unrelated to I Not Stupid and its sequels. It’s a shame that Neo chose to remind audiences of that film, which remains among his best. While I Not Stupid was broadly comedic and wasn’t especially deft in its handling of suicide, it was an incisive, resonant and moving piece of satire. Killer Not Stupid is, by contrast, a spectacular failure that is almost physically painful to watch. It’s not easy to make a film this bad, such that at some point it must have been a deliberate choice to handle everything in the worst way possible.

Action-comedies are a bit of a tricky genre in that if one isn’t careful, the comedy can undermine the stakes. This is exactly what happens with Killer Not Stupid. The unfunny gags, pratfalls and lame wordplay prevent the audience from taking any part of the international terror plot seriously. The film falls back on the tired device of the heroes disguising themselves in unconvincing drag. Every joke is accompanied by cartoony sound effects, including at least two uses of the sad trombone noise. If a joke is funny, it doesn’t need sound effects, freeze frames, superimposed graphics, or sped-up footage to tell audiences to laugh. Within seconds of that, characters get shot in the head.

The most basic demonstration of stakes in action-comedies is the classic scene of Jackie Chan fighting a bad guy while he balances a priceless vase. In that moment, the stakes are that Jackie could drop and break the vase. Neo doesn’t understand this principle. It’s a pity because there clearly were talented stunt performers and riggers and competent special effects foremen involved at some point. The resources that Neo has at his disposal have engendered a self-indulgence, when other directors could have created something worthwhile with the same resources. That said, parts of the movie still feel very cheap: the MacGuffin is one of those ‘cryptex’ flash drives that you get as a corporate gift.

Mandopop duo Awaking’s Jay Shih is a passable leading man. He’s the most tolerable part of the movie because he’s one of the very few characters who isn’t mugging for the camera like a clown on cocaine. He also acquits himself well in the action scenes.

Nadow’s Mark is the standard comic relief tech guy. Most action movies have one character of this type. As annoying as Mark is, there are several other characters in the film who way outstrip him in terms of how grating they are.

Gadrick Chin’s Sha Bao has the ridiculous gimmick of being obsessed with 70s Hong Kong movies, imagining himself to be the second coming of Qin Han and Bruce Lee. None of it is funny. Amber An plays up the spoilt princess stock type to an unbearable degree.

Lin Mei-Hsiu’s character Mother is just about the worst in the film, because as Hornet’s former employer who is now out to kill him, we should be intimidated by the character so we can fear for the protagonist. Instead, the character is maximally silly.

The villain is named ‘Adolf’, in case viewers weren’t clear he’s supposed to be the villain. Jack Neo is nothing if not a master of subtlety.

“The comedy that people like will be there and comedy is what I’m good at,” Neo declared at the press conference announcing Killer Not Stupid. This reviewer acknowledges that perhaps he isn’t the target audience for the film, but it is mildly unsettling at best, horrifying at worst that anyone could find this funny. We’ve always hoped for Singaporean filmmakers to create more action films, so it’s disheartening but not surprising that Neo gets to try his hand at this genre and completely fumbles it.

RATING: 1 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Gringo movie review

For inSing

GRINGO

Director : Nash Edgerton
Cast : David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried
Genre : Comedy, Action
Run Time : 1h 50m
Opens : 15 March 2018
Rating : M18 (Violence, Coarse Language And Sexual Content)

Based on the poster alone, Gringo looks the wildest 2018 film you’ve never heard of. Mexican-inspired imagery including Day of the Dead skulls are arranged between marijuana leaves and guns. Stars like Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried are visible, and in the centre of it all is a hapless-looking David Oyelowo. It’s enough to make one wonder aloud, “what’s going on here?”

This dark action comedy revolves around Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a mild-mannered business representative who works for the pharmaceutical corporation Promethium. Unbeknownst to Harold, his boss Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Rusk’s associate/mistress Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) are up to no good.

On what Harold thinks is a routine business trip to Mexico, he inadvertently gets kidnapped, becoming entangled with a drug kingpin known as ‘the Black Panther’ (Carlos Corona). Harold also crosses paths with Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), whose boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway) has been paid to smuggle drugs across the border. Richard calls his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a former mercenary-turned aid worker, to rescue Harold.

Gringo is directed by Nash Edgerton, brother and oft-collaborator of Joel. This is a film that’s hard to place: it wants to be a dark comedy and a madcap action caper at the same time but doesn’t gather enough momentum to work as either. There are individual lines which are funny and some of the performances are mildly entertaining, but Gringo seems to be mostly spinning its wheels. There are moments when it feels like a disposable direct-to-DVD flick, but then Charlize Theron shows up.

For a movie in which a pharmaceutical company gets embroiled with Mexican drug cartels, attracting the attention of the DEA, the stakes never seem especially high. Gringo is neither intense enough to work on a visceral level nor heightened and silly enough to whisk audiences along for the ride.

A major contributing factor to Gringo’s problems is how its characters are written. The protagonist Harold is a buttoned-down good guy, while his bosses are callous and amoral in an over-the-top manner.

While Oyelowo does a fine job of playing an unassuming man who gets caught in over his head, it seems like a waste of his talents. In the name of avoiding confrontations, Harold has spent most of his life as a pushover, and it’s taken a crisis for him to assert himself. This is something we’ve seen done before and done better.

Theron is not exactly known for her comedic chops, but we can see why she wanted to have a go at this. Theron is also a producer, through her Denver and Delilah production company. Elaine is an unapologetically awful person, who says things like “fat people are so funny”. This feels like a role that a more comedic actor, say someone like Kristen Wiig, would play brilliantly.

Weirdly enough, Joel Edgerton also feels miscast. Richard Rusk is a smooth-talking CEO, but Edgerton never quite comes off as gleefully slimy. Thandie Newton is wasted in a throwaway role as Harold’s wife Bonnie, while Amanda Seyfried doesn’t get much to do either.

Copley is great fun, as he usually is. His character is probably the most distinctive in the film, but he’s still underutilised. Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael, makes her feature film debut here, but it amounts to not much more than a cameo.

Gringo is a highly uneven curiosity that doesn’t have the bite, the devil-may-care energy or manic inventiveness that a dark comedy caper should. It plays into the stereotypical depiction of Mexico as lawless and overrun with drug cartels, without giving audiences anything they haven’t seen before. The talented cast is left stranded by material that’s only fitfully funny and doesn’t quite hang together.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

For F*** Magazine

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

Director : Patrick Hughes
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Élodie Yung, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Kristy Mitchell, Richard E. Grant, Sam Hazeldine
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 51m
Opens : 17 August 2017

This reviewer has long thought that The Hague would be a cool setting for an action movie to unfold. Imagine this scenario: a brutal dictator is brought before the International Court of Justice, but his sympathisers disrupt the trial, taking the judges, witnesses and other attendees of the trial hostage. It’s up to a John McClane-style hero to save the day. The Hitman’s Bodyguard uses a similar premise, but with a comedic twist.

Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is a triple-A rated executive protection agent, and his services are highly sought-after by arms dealers, warlords and other shady figures with a long list of enemies. After a botched job, Bryce’s career is in the dumps. His shot at redemption is a job escorting hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague, where Kincaid is set to testify against Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Kincaid agrees to testify on the condition that his wife Sonia (Hayek), herself a career criminal, is released from prison. Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Yung), has learned that there is a mole within Interpol and Bryce, being on the outside, is the only person she can trust to protect Kincaid. The catch: Bryce and Kincaid have been sworn enemies for years, Bryce finding himself caught in Kincaid’s crosshairs countless times across their respective careers. Kincaid insists that he doesn’t need Bryce’s protection, but the unlikely duo must rely on each other to survive the onslaught of Dukhovich’s mercenary army.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard seemed promising: there’s plenty of potential in teaming up Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, and the marketing campaign that riffed on the 1992 film The Bodyguard was reasonably witty. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Director Patrick Hughes, who helmed the mediocre The Expendables 3, struggles to make the film seem fresh or genuinely thrilling. Despite the obvious chemistry its stars share, there’s only so much expletive-laden bickering one can take before it just gets tiresome. The conflict between Bryce and Kincaid is meant to be amusing, but it just feels like a single joke that’s stretched out. As written by screenwriter Tom O’Connor, the back-and-forth between Reynolds and Jackson isn’t nearly clever enough to keep our interest.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard also suffers tonally: a bloody bar brawl scored to Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, and Atli Örvarsson’s over-the-top Bond movie-esque score indicate that the film is aiming for ironic self-awareness. However, the villain is depicted committing full-on war crimes, and one character’s tragic backstory is depicted in a dark flashback. Then there’s general silliness, like when our protagonists hitch a ride on a bus full of nuns. The Hitman’s Bodyguard doesn’t commit to full-tilt madcap comedy because it also wants to be a cool action flick, and ends up stranded in between. The action sequences are mostly filmed in shaky-cam so they’re difficult to enjoy, but the boat chase through Amsterdam’s canals and the explosive finale are reasonably fun set pieces.

Reynolds and Jackson play strictly to type: the former is a wisecracking action hero, and the latter is a foul-mouthed badass who doesn’t suffer fools. While they appear to be enjoying themselves, the dysfunctional buddy cop dynamic falls short of the fireworks one would expect from the pairing of performers who, in the right roles, can be supremely entertaining. The incessant arguing between the pair does draw out a few laughs, but most of the would-be zingers Reynolds and Jackson exchange fall flat. You might find yourself wondering how this would go if Reynolds and Jackson were playing Deadpool and Nick Fury respectively – that would be more exciting.

Gary Oldman can always be counted on to play a fantastic villain: he can throw a shouting fit like few others. He’s good here, no surprise, but he seems to have wandered in from a different movie. The character is introduced committing war crimes, that introductory scene feeling uncomfortably out of place in what is ostensibly a light-hearted action comedy.

Hayek is ridiculous amounts of fun, swearing up a storm and putting in a performance that’s markedly different from what we’ve seen from her before. Yung doesn’t make much of an impact, but it is fun to imagine Deadpool and Elektra being former lovers.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard seems like it should’ve been an entertaining lark, but it comes off as generic and oddly lethargic, despite trying hard to come off as funny. While its action sequences are unremarkable and its comedy is largely forced, The Hitman’s Bodyguard can thank its leads for wringing some laughs out of the material.

Summary: It’s mostly a rehash of buddy action movie clichés and the fights and chases are nothing to write home about, but even when given middling material, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson make some of this work.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Once Upon a Time in Venice

For F*** Magazine

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE 

Director : Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Cast : Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Famke Janssen, Adam Goldberg, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes And Nudity)

           In this action comedy, Bruce Willis is a dick. A private dick. Willis plays Steve Ford, a disgraced former LAPD officer who has set up shop as a detective. Steve’s domain is the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, and with the help of his beleaguered assistant John (Middleditch), Steve helps track down missing persons. The house of Steve’s sister (Janssen) is burgled, with Buddy, Steve’s beloved Parson Russell Terrier, among the stolen items. The culprit, a drug lord named Spyder (Momoa), holds Buddy hostage, demanding that Steve run several errands for him before he can have his dog back. With the help of John and surf shop proprietor Dave (Goodman), Steve must retrieve Buddy by any means possible.

Willis has been absolutely slumming it in direct-to-DVD action movies, continuing that streak with Once Upon a Time in Venice. The movie is written and directed by brothers Mark and Robb Cullen, who wrote the Willis-starring Cop Out. It’s painful to watch Once Upon a Time in Venice strain so hard to be even remotely funny. This is listless, incoherent stuff which feels like it was rejected from a network TV comedy. The best set-piece, which involves Steve skate-boarding buck naked, takes place early in the movie, with nothing approaching that level of zaniness for the rest of its duration.

The premise and the posters try to sell this as a John Wick spoof, and Once Upon a Time in Venice would have been much better had it actually been an all-out parody of John Wick. There are also shades of the far more energetic and innovative Keanu, in which a hitman’s missing cat was the linchpin of the plot. Even with swearing, nudity and violence, Once Upon a Time in Venice fails to generate even a scintilla of excitement.

The cast that the Cullen Brothers has at their disposal is not too shabby. Willis is a shadow of his former A-lister self but his declining clout notwithstanding, he still was John McClane. One would think any filmmaker would be smart enough to play up that persona in an action comedy. Silicon Valley star Middleditch can play neurotic without being unbearably annoying, but in this movie, he’s saddled with dreadfully unfunny lines. The voiceover he performs is grating.

The dependable, talented John Goodman is completely wasted, and this movie makes poor use of Jason Momoa as well. He spends most of Once Upon a Time in Venice lounging around, participating in very few action scenes. Janssen shows up for a couple of scenes, and swimsuit model Jessica Gomes is only in this movie so she can go topless. She has a sex scene with Willis, who is 30 years her senior, which is as awkward as it sounds. Adam Goldberg plays a character named “Lou the Jew”, in one of several uncomfortable moments in which mild anti-Semitism is played for laughs. Kal Penn plays a store clerk in one scene, veteran character actor Christopher Macdonald shows up in a throwaway part, and for no discernible reason, there’s a David Arquette cameo.

At once a terrible comedy and a terrible action flick, Once Upon a Time in Venice is excruciating to watch. It’s uninspired, often tasteless and awash in wasted potential. A silly, devil-may-care action comedy spoof of John Wick could have been, if nothing more, diverting entertainment. Once Upon a Time in Venice isn’t even in the same area code as entertainment.

Summary: A dismal demonstration of how low erstwhile movie star Bruce Willis has sunk, Once Upon a Time in Venice will test the tolerance of even the most hardened direct-to-DVD action movie connoisseur.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Baywatch

 F*** Magazine

BAYWATCH 

Director : Seth Gordon
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Rob Huebel, Hannibal Buress
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 57min
Opens : 1 June 2017
Rating : M18

Let’s dive into some ‘90s nostalgia that’s been given an irreverent update, to see if the water’s still inviting. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, who leads an elite team of lifeguards known as ‘Baywatch’, including C.J. Parker (Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Hadera). Thorpe (Huebel), Mitch’s boss, assigns disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) to the team. Brody, alongside lifeguard hopefuls Summer (Daddario) and the nerdy Ronnie (Bass), joins Baywatch. Brody goes about pursuing Summer, while Ronnie nurses a crush on C.J. Brody’s cockiness creates friction between him and Mitch, throwing off the team’s finely-tuned synergy. In the meantime, wealthy developer Victoria Leeds (Chopra), who just might be using her fancy country club as a front for criminal activities, attracts the suspicion of the Baywatch crew. With a string of murders frightening beachgoers away, it’s up to Baywatch to restore order and bring back the fun under the sun.

For a film about such athletic characters, Baywatch is lazy – that is its primary shortcoming. The formula of adapting a TV series into an R-rated send-up of the source material worked wonders for 21 Jump Street, but when CHIPs tried to follow in those footsteps, it crashed and burned. Because the Baywatch TV series is generally viewed as a cheesy guilty pleasure, it stands to reason that there would be a lot to make fun of in a big screen pastiche. However, there’s very little wit on display, and not a lot of energy fuelling the rampant silliness. The plot is generic, many of the jokes miss their target, and the action sequences are underwhelming. A signature set piece involving a blazing yacht features markedly unconvincing computer-generated fire, and you’ll witness more impressive jet ski tricks at the Waterworld stunt show in a Universal Studios theme park.

With the budget of a big summer movie, Baywatch had the potential to go balls-out, indulging in over-the-top spectacle and comic action that wouldn’t have been possible in the TV show and the subsequent made-for-TV movies. It seems that Baywatch is pandering squarely to the dude-bro set, and many jokes are of the “ew, men touching other men, how gross!” variety. Yes, both the men and the women in the cast showcase their impressive physiques, but weirdly enough, there’s no female nudity. There’s male frontal nudity, but not from who you’d expect. Johnson himself promised “gratuitous boobs, bums, abs, whatever” when promoting the movie. Perhaps this was edited out at the last minute – but all the swearing and the aforementioned male nudity is intact, so it couldn’t have been to secure a more lenient rating.

Much of the film is riding on the brawny shoulders of Johnson and Efron, but both actors’ natural charisma only carries things so far. Johnson plays yet another no-nonsense noble hero who looks out for his team. He’s good at this, but there isn’t as much of the nigh-ridiculous, yet awesome near-superhuman quality he’s displayed in the Fast and Furious films.

Efron plays the same character he’s played in much of his recent career: the lunk-headed, vain hunk who’s a big show-off, but who eventually becomes sympathetic. Most of the back-and-forth between Mitch and Brody consists of the former calling the latter mocking nicknames, including one that’s pretty meta. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Johnson and Efron doesn’t reach the heights this reviewer hoped it would.

What would Baywatch be without women running in slow motion? There’s a fair bit of slow-mo jogging down the beach, but there’s also an effort to make the female characters more than mere eye candy. Daddario’s Summer is the most knowledgeable member of the team, while Hadera is lean and formidable as Stephanie, Mitch’s second-in-command. Rohrbach has the responsibility of filling the sizeable, uh, shoes left by Pamela Anderson. As C.J., she has enough of the blonde bombshell quotient, but lacks comedic chops.

Baywatch falls back on that hoary trope of the awkward geeky guy slobbering after the unattainable hot girl, and it’s often grating. The mere fact that Bass’ Ronnie is nowhere near as toned as the other characters is meant to induce laughter, and the character’s establishing moment involves him getting his private parts stuck in a deck chair. It’s yet another sign of the film’s laziness.

Chopra’s Victoria is a wannabe Bond villain – she even says the line “I’m not a Bond villain…yet.” Chopra brings industrial-strength strut to the role, but the character of the evil land developer is so played out that it’s boring, even if this archetype is usually male. She even has lumbering, suit-clad henchmen doing her bidding. There is some fun to be found in Victoria’s final showdown with Mitch and Brody, though.

Even when David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make their requisite cameos, it fails to enliven the proceedings, because there’s nothing particularly creative about their guest appearances. What could’ve been wickedly goofy, raunchy and exciting is instead a ho-hum production line comedy offering – not even the combined biceps of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron can haul this above mediocrity.

Summary: Instead of being risqué, action-packed and subversively funny, Baywatch sinks like a stone, even with several likeable cast members on board.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kung Fu Yoga

For F*** Magazine

KUNG FU YOGA

Director : Stanley Tong
Cast : Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 26 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

kung-fu-yoga-posterAfter hanging out with John Cusack and Adrien Brody in the Mongolian desert in Dragon Blade, Jackie Chan sets his sights on India with this Chinese New Year blockbuster. Jackie plays renowned archaeologist Jack Chen, who is enlisted by Indian professor Ashmita (Patani) to locate the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack assembles his team, comprising his assistants Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing) and Nuomin (Muqi) and the treasure hunter Jones (Rahman), the son of Jack’s old friend. Along the way, Jack and his crew face off against Randall (Sood), a billionaire who claims to be the rightful heir to the treasure. The adventure takes Jack and his cohorts from Xi’an, China, to the Tibetan glaciers, to Dubai and finally to Rajasthan, India.

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Jackie Chan has had a long association with the ‘adventurer archaeologist’ subgenre. From the Armour of God series to its semi-reboot CZ12, and from The Myth to the animated series The Jackie Chan Adventures, you’d think Jackie would have gotten the formula right by now. No such luck. Kung Fu Yoga might not be as jarring a cultural mishmash as the afore-mentioned Dragon Blade, but it’s still an ungainly, vaguely insulting creature. Things are preposterous from the outset, with a bizarre video game-esque animated prologue setting the scene. The story of Wang Xuance, a Tang Dynasty guard officer and diplomat who was sent as an ambassador to India in the 7th Century, serves as the jumping-off point for the plot. The chunks of exposition are ostensibly to lend the film some historical plausibility, but everything is so ridiculous that they needn’t have tried.

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Kung Fu Yoga’s central quest is difficult to care about, and even when Jack and company are menaced by armed mercenaries on snowmobiles, there’s little urgency or peril to be found. The film’s globe-trotting is poorly justified, with the story leaping from locale to locale without much rhythm. Shooting on location in such places as Svínafellsjökull, Iceland and Rajasthan, India does give Kung Fu Yoga a sense of scale, but this is undercut any time the action moves into patently phony underground tombs. The scenes set in India showcase regrettably retrograde clichés like snake charmers, levitating yogis and the Indian rope trick. This lazy exoticism was already embarrassing in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy, let alone in 2017.

kung-fu-yoga-jackie-chan-and-aarif-rahman

The action sequences are mostly gag-driven, lacking the robust kinetics of classic Jackie Chan fights. While Jackie has maintained himself far better than many action stars his age; his martial arts prowess is not enough to salvage Kung Fu Yoga. The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai, featuring such shenanigans as a pet lion in the backseat of Jack’s car. While China Daily has claimed that this is a real big cat, it is often obvious that many of the shots feature a computer-generated lion. Not a terrible one, mind you, but conspicuous enough to stick out. Besides the lion, Kung Fu Yoga is positively stuffed with digitally-created critters, including elephants, wolves, cobras and hyenas. This contributes to the film being an altogether cartoony affair.

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Leave it to Jackie to force some preachiness into an action-adventure comedy. “I told you, the treasure doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the whole world, it belongs to the people,” he proclaims beatifically. Not quite as snappy as “it belongs in a museum!” Speaking of Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Yoga cribs heavily from the series. There’s even a female student who stamps her eyelids with heart shapes to woo Xiaoguang, exactly like the student in Raiders of the Lost Ark with “LOVE YOU” written on her eyelids. We can’t decide if we love or hate that Jack actually name-checks Indiana Jones in the film itself. It’s a rip-off passed off as a homage, which is as gleefully shameless as it gets.

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The supporting cast is attractive and serves mostly as window dressing. Patani’s character introduces herself as a professor of archaeology, which is about as believable as when Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist. Patani seems like she’s reading off cue cards most of the time. It’s more than a little creepy when Jack makes googly eyes at Ashmita, considering the 38 year age gap between Patani and Jackie.

kung-fu-yoga-zhang-yixing

Zhang Yixing a.k.a. Lay of Exo fame is just here to fulfil the unwritten rule that every Chinese blockbuster movie must include at least one boyband star. The camera leers lasciviously at Miya Muqi, dubbed “China’s most beautiful Yoga instructor”. Rahman comes to closest to exhibiting any discernible personality, working his roguish charm for all it’s worth. And yes, his character really is named ‘Jones’. In the meantime, Randall’s motivations do not stretch beyond “this belonged to my ancestors and now it belongs to me! MINE!” so Sood is stuck playing an utterly generic villain. Aamir Khan was briefly attached to play Randall, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Dangal.

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Some spoilers about the film’s ending follow.

[SPOILER ALERT] It ends with a dance party. A dance party. A. DANCE. PARTY. Minutes after Jack and Randall engage in a battle to the death, Kung Fu Yoga closes with a big, obnoxious, dance number. It reads as a case of “there are Bollywood actors in the film so that’s something we have to do.” [END SPOILERS]kung-fu-yoga-jackie-chan-and-disha-patani

There’s a less cynical, more engaging China-India co-production hidden deep beneath the grating silliness that fills Kung Fu Yoga. Given the resources available to director Stanley Tong and the production, a straightforward adventurer archaeologist yarn shouldn’t be that difficult to get right.

Summary: Unfunny jokes, pulchritudinous but wooden co-stars, ropey visual effects and a dose of Jackie Chan’s signature self-aggrandisement make Kung Fu Yoga a cross-cultural embarrassment.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong