In-House Reviews #106: Drive-Away Dolls, Io Capitano, Land of Bad & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Drive-Away Dolls, Io Capitano, Land of Bad, Red Right Hand, Suncoast, and Upgraded.

Before the spice flows again with Dune a week from now, there’s still a select number of smaller winter releases to look into. This set of write-ups includes a dark screwball comedy, a terrific Best International Film nominee, a military action thriller, an Appalachian thriller, a coming-of-age comedy-drama, and a British-American rom-com. The following features reviews for Drive-Away Dolls, Io Capitano, Land of Bad, Red Right Hand, Suncoast, and Upgraded.

Drive-Away Dolls: 6 out of 10

The Setup: This comedy caper follows Jamie (Margaret Qualley), an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), who desperately needs to loosen up. In search of a fresh start, the two embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, but things quickly go awry when they cross paths with a group of inept criminals along the way.

Review: Serving as a raunchy road trip comedy, Drive-Away Dolls feels like an old Coen Brothers script that came out of the same drawer as Suburbicon, but at least with Ethan Coen directing (along with his uncredited wife, co-writer/producer Tricia Cooke), it can’t help but be zippy and fun enough compared to that miserable George Clooney-directed misfire. Seemingly having the same aim as other pure Coen comedies, this film is less about having much of a point and more about utilizing key concepts for a comedic thriller built around several pretty good jokes. Qualley and Viswanathan are very fun together as opposites. Beanie Feldstein is not quite hitting the marks needed to pull off her tough-talking cop character, and Colman Domingo similarly suffers by not getting nearly enough to do. Still, minor roles for Bill Camp, Matt Damon, and Pedro Pascal go a long way in a film like this. Plus, bumbling hitman tend to be a Coen specialty, which Joey Slotnick and C. J. Wilson mostly get away with. Given how the film thrives on quick dialogue and its portrayal of queer dive bars, the notion of evoking 70s exploitation films is apparent. However, the purposeful over-direction and uneven attempts to balance different tones only take a movie like this so far. Still, a fun cast and enough amusing antics ultimately leave this somewhat disposable Coen entry on top.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting February 23, 2024.

Io Capitano: 9 out of 10

The Setup: Longing for a brighter future, two Senegalese teenagers (Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall) embark on a journey from West Africa to Italy. However, between their dreams and reality lies a labyrinth of checkpoints, the Sahara Desert, and the vast waters of the Mediterranean.

Review: It’s great to get so wrapped up in a feature simply because of how well it effectively conveys its premise. Two teens must go on a journey, and it will not be easy. Based on how director Matteo Gorrone filmed Io Capitano, the various challenges somewhat came as a surprise to the young actors we follow. Designed as a modern take on The Odyssey to some degree, we see some real struggles in the form of torture and brutal voyages over sea (all inspired by true stories), and yet it’s matched with incredible visuals and a level of magical realism that adds an intriguing sense of spirituality. On top of that, the film is aiming for honesty without being critical of why certain developments occur the way they do. There’s a lot of tragedy on display. Yet, the presentation of what’s occurring and the drive of these characters ultimately make this a powerfully fulfilling adventure.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters nationwide starting February 23, 2024.

Land of Bad: 7 out of 10

The Setup: When a Delta Force team is ambushed in enemy territory, a rookie officer (Liam Hemsworth) refuses to abandon them. Their only hope lies with an Air Force drone pilot (Russell Crowe) as the eyes in the sky during a brutal 48-hour battle for survival.

Review: Get past the title (which feels like the best substitution they could come up with for “world of shit”) and push away the notion of feeling like you need to take away an important message, and there’s a very enjoyable B-movie at play here. Director William Eubank has delivered trippy visuals in The Signal and a solid Lovecraftian horror flick in the guise of a survival thriller with Underwater. Now he has something of a modern reworking of Bat*21 but with a higher focus on the muscled-up 80s action star factor. That’s all well and good because this is a fun flick that works the more you don’t take it seriously. For example, while Hemsworth’s character is tortured, we get a sequence where Crowe must find vegan groceries for his pregnant (4th) wife. Why? Because it’s silly, even if this sequence’s eventual meaning is only made better by the Oscar-winner’s specific choices. Oh, also the action rocks. Some cool uses of slow motion, fast-paced gunfights, and many explosions for all to see. Not every movie asks much of the audience, and Land of Bad has lots of good.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Red Right Hand: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Cash (Orlando Bloom) is trying to live a quiet, honest life in a small Appalachian town. When a vicious crime boss (Andie MacDowell) forces him back into her services, he soon learns he’s capable of anything — even killing — to protect his family and his home.

Review: Speaking of B-movies that give much more than what you need to invest in them, Red Right Hand is a bit too long and hardcore but still plenty of throwback fun. Directors Ian and Eshom Nelms spend a lot of time trying to make us care about Bloom’s Cash and his personal life, all for the sake of an eventual action-filled release of fury. It’s straight out of the ’70s playbook for simple-minded thrillers, but it works because of the amount of effort I see from all the principles. Bloom adopts a Southern accent and delivers some good, gruff acting. Garret Dillahunt is in Tommy Lee Jones supporting best friend mode (think Rolling Thunder). Then there’s Andie MacDowell putting in the hours to work as a mean mob boss who actually does her own dirty work (a scene involving crushed knees is a delight…). Red Right Hand could be tighter and wittier. Still, there’s a handle on the escalation in violence that makes the right kind of sense here, and it’s an entertaining flick overall.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters and available on VOD starting February 23, 2024.

Suncoast: 6 out of 10

The Setup: While struggling to make friends with the popular kids, a teen (Nico Parker) living with her strong-willed mother (Laura Linney) must take her brother to a specialized facility. She also strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist (Woody Harrelson) at protests surrounding a landmark medical case.

Review: I have little doubt in how important it was for writer/director Laura Chinn to tell this version of a semi-autobiographical story to convey the extreme nature of a situation she had to go through. At its best, Suncoast allows for Nico Parker’s pretty strong performance to truly shine in the way her awkwardness manages to propel her through the complexities of being a teenager, with the added stress of an intense family situation. At its worst, however, Laura Linney does precisely what is required of her in a role tailor-made for her kind of energy, yet pushed to the limits that surpass overbearing and make her appear irritating. Harrelson is doing what he can to lift his mentor-like character higher than the script allows, but I also kept wondering if this movie really needed him or if it would be better off taking the time back for a tighter, 90-ish-minute movie. Suncoast bears plenty of hallmarks of an indie coming-of-age story, but it’s never obnoxious in how it handles them, even with its very specific year and setting. I only wish it dialed down some of the melodrama in favor of capitalizing even more so on its most winning elements.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.

Upgraded: 6 out of 10

The Setup: An aspiring art intern (Camila Mendes) is invited to London on a last-minute work trip, where she meets a charming stranger (Archie Renaux).

Review: There have been many conversations about the comeback of rom-coms in recent years. This refers more to the genre’s presence in theaters, and while that’s a whole other conversation, streaming services have been picking up a lot of the slack. Naturally, it’s good to have a variety of features catering to an assortment of different audiences. With that in mind, there’s still a distinction between which films work and which do not. Players (on Netflix), also released around Valentine’s Day, is just straight-up bad. Upgraded, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. The film traffics in all of the tropes one would expect for a plot of this sort, with a modernized Cinderella story informing certain aspects of it. With that in mind, the strong cast as a whole, including more than qualified supporting players, really adds to what this film has to offer. Marisa Tomei (doing…an accent), Lena Olin, Anthony Head, and Thomas Kretschmann all bring enough veteran qualities to the picture that add in a way that has this feeling stronger than the average brightly-lit rom-com. The script also allows for not only familiar plot beats but adults having adult conversations and using adult language. Director Carlson Young is smart enough to know that having an R-rating doesn’t have to mean applying gratuitous moments but can cater more to appropriately aged people acting like humans. On top of that, Mendes and Renaux have a relaxed chemistry, and as silly as some of the film can be, it never pushes too hard to get to its points. Good upgrade for the genre.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Prime Video.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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