There are a wide variety of new releases on streaming services, VOD, and theater. Even as blockbusters are beginning to rule the cineplexes again, there’s no shortage of stuff to watch. This set of write-ups includes a chaotic and misguided action-comedy sequel, a heartfelt comedy-drama, a creepy eco-horror film, a bitter comedy, a compelling drama, a grounded romantic fantasy, and a Die Hard knock-off. The following features reviews for Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Fatherhood, Gaia, Love Spreads, Holler, Undine, and Rogue Hostage.
The Setup: The world’s most lethal odd couple — bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) — are back on another life-threatening mission, and Kincaid’s infamous international con artist wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), is along for the ride as well.
Review: This movie is terrible. Sure, there are other things to say about it, but I didn’t want to beat around the bush. I can’t say I was overly fond of 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard, but it had some things working in its favor. Jackson and Reynolds playing into being exaggerated versions of their typical screen personas made for some comical moments. Plus, director Patrick Hughes assembled some elaborate action set pieces (a street/boat chase, particularly stood out) to make for a fun, late-August diversion. This sequel loses all of those things.
While the film goes full cartoon with both the humor and the violence, none of it ever comes across as more than a collection of ideas scraped together to capitalize on the modest success of the previous film. Hayek’s increased role in this sequel adds an extra layer of chaos, but that element wears out its welcome quickly. Worst of all, even as an action movie, Hughes does not deliver at all when it comes to coherence.
Rather than talk about how wasted Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman are in their villain roles (I think some of the extras even cash these stars’ check in the background at one point), let me focus on the stunts. I have little doubt some people worked very hard and even risked their lives to pull off the various fight and car chases. It’s a shame all of it was put through a blender when editing these sequences together. That said, it’s a shame a movie like this couldn’t figure out how to at least be empty fun. As it stands, it’s just empty-headed nonsense.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters on June 16, 2021.
The Setup: Based on a true story, Kevin Hart stars as a recently widowed father who must balance work with parenting, despite having little understanding of how to take on the latter.
Review: From the little research I have done, the origins of this story have little to do with what takes place in this film beyond some basic details. To go a step further, it’s very likely many have seen how a story like this plays out before. Now, to take a couple steps back, it’s important to note how little any of this matters if the results are compelling. Fatherhood is quite effective. It can be a bit schmaltzy, but one would expect nothing less from a film relying on the death of a spouse, cute babies, and emotional decisions involving family.
Key to the film’s success is a dialed-down Kevin Hart, who delivers a strong performance as this distressed and grieving man doing the best he can. I can’t say I’m surprised, as Hart has a vulnerability in him that has needed a creative outlet, but I’m happy to see a film placing him in the spotlight with this kind of role. It helps to see him strike up good chemistry, even if it’s antagonistic, with the rest of this cast, including Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery, Anthony Carrigan, DeWanda Wise, and Melody Hurd as his daughter.
Director Paul Weitz does a better job with the characters than bringing anything all that interesting with the direction. Even the script has a few setbacks as far as bordering on scenes that feel pulled out of a sitcom or a dated 80s comedy. That said, when it comes to hitting the moments full of heart or emotional stakes, Fatherhood delivers well for the audience looking to feel something. Hart’s audience may have made more out of this film at the box office than Sony expected, but as a streaming option, it is more than satisfying.
Where To Watch: Available on Netflix on June 18, 2021.
The Setup: An injured forest ranger (Monique Rockman) on a routine mission is saved by two off-the-grid survivalists (Carel Nel and Alex van Dyk). What is initially a welcome rescue grows more suspicious as the son and his renegade father reveal a cultish devotion to the forest, while a greater threat lurks in the wilderness.
Review: Right away, Gaia hits you with the atmosphere. Opening shots rely on aerial drone footage and disorientation to let the viewer know something is not right. Subtle changes in the aspect ratio throughout the film add to how this ambiguous forest setting (filmed in South Africa) pulls you in. There are also the different phases of this film’s plotting, as I didn’t really know where it was going, based on where it started. This speaks to how strong Gaia works as an eerie eco-horror experience, not unlike the recent In The Earth or even The Ruins.
Adding to this film are the three lead performances, with Rockman working as the guide for the audience to discover what’s taking place in this mysterious, dangerous world. And rather than rely on some problematic element involving native characters, Nel and Dyk deliver terrifically, lived-in performances as these survivalists, one much more familiar to the ways of modern man than the other. The mix of disdain for outsiders and curiosity plays a significant role throughout the film, even when Gaia sometimes struggles to focus.
Of course, it is the horror element that hits the hardest. Director Jaco Bouwer doesn’t hold back, with several gruesome scenes mixed with intriguing ways to make the forest come to life through disturbing means. There’s enough taking place in the film’s desire to keep tensions high to make Gaia quite nightmarish, as well as profound in its strongest moments. Were the film to really dive off the deep end when going down the rabbit hole of killer fungi, perhaps a new psychedelic horror classic could have emerged. As it stands, it’s still pretty freaky.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters on June 18, 2021, and VOD on June 25, 2021.
The Setup: While attempting to record their second album, a band’s lead singer (Alia Shawkat) has a creative block, another band member (Chanel Cresswell) tries to inject her own writing style, and their long-suffering manager (Nick Helm) is abused by both the band and the record label in equal measure.
Review: I’m curious if this film plays better to a theater as far as being a comedy. As it stands, the concept is sound – what if a popular new girl band were all shacked up together in an attempt to put together a new album, and chaos ensues. That’s a fun way to use limited locations and sharp writing to emphasize how people can get on each other’s nerves, how to watch the creative process take shape, and ideally get some solid music out of the whole experience. As it stands, Love Spreads has an acerbic streak running through it for the first half at least, only to change its tune later on.
Writer/director Jamie Adams certainly does a lot to stack the deck against Shawkat’s character. She’s in a position of power but also wildly insecure about authorship. Her creative struggles in assembling new ideas are frustrating to watch, given her choice to never ask for help. But that’s also very human, and it’s hard to fault a film for feeling true-to-life. On the other side is Cresswell’s character, who seemingly wants to break out of her current station or is frustrated she’s not being asked for help when it’s clearly needed. Again, perhaps with an audience, the coded language would better emphasize how funny this all may be.
A shift in the dynamic comes along once Eiza Gonzalez’s Patricia enters the scene as a more free-spirited and kinder character. It’s a nice way to shift the balance of the film’s harder-edged tone. Plus, Helm’s manager character continually verges on being in 24 Hour Party People territory, which feels like a possible influence on the filmmaking overall. Ultimately, this only amounts to so much, but I will say Love Spreads ends better than it begins, or at least finds a clearer path after a large chunk of the journey feels like a rough detour.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and VOD on June 18, 2021.
The Setup: To pay for her education and the chance of a better life, a young woman (Jessica Barden) joins a dangerous scrap metal crew.
Review: Take the aesthetic of Winter’s Bone and the scrappiness of Good Will Hunting, and you get an idea of what to expect from Holler, a solid little drama featuring a strong central performance from Barden. There’s a familiarity to this story overall, but writer-director Nicole Riegel makes the most out of the idea of a smart young woman trying to escape a life of poverty.
Much of what works about this film is the way it rests in such a specific setting. There’s no attempt to glamorize this situation. Either shot on 16mm or presented on a gritty level to deliver that sort of feeling, Barden’s Ruth is in a toxic environment that can only find her sinking lower if she can’t find a proper direction to go. The support system around her is a mixed bag. Her brother (Gus Harper) is little help. Ruth’s mom (an excellent Pamela Adlon) is serving time, and when visitation happens, it’s still a lot of arguments.
The two people having more of an effect are Becky Ann Baker’s Linda, who provides maternal support, despite her way of laying on reality as much as possible. And then there’s the slippery Austin Amelio as Hark, the leader of the scrap metal crew, who clearly isn’t always going to be on the level. Much of the film finds Ruth shifting her position around these various people as we see just how far she’ll go to attempt to turn some kind of corner with hopes of making progress. It’s a desperate story, but an effective one.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters, VOD, and digital.
The Setup: Undine (Paula Beer) works as a historian lecturing on Berlin’s urban development. After forming a relationship with a diver (Franz Rogowski), the ancient myth revolving around a water nymph’s capacity to love eventually catches up with her.
Review: Two international directors are really doing a lot for me when it comes to delivering compelling and unique dramas that pack a lot into their 80-95 minute runtimes. One is Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, Ida), and the other is Christian Petzold, who previously delivered Phoenix and Transit. Now we have Petzold’s attempt at a fantasy drama with Undine, and the results may not be as transformative as Transit, but I really admire how he attempted to modernize and ground an ancient myth.
There’s something about how Petzold manages to create the environments these characters exist in that manages to breakthrough thoughts surrounding certain areas of logic or a need to keep everything together from a plot perspective. Perhaps that just a way of knowing Petzold is great at humanizing his characters and allowing audiences to be gripped by their emotions and personal motivations, regardless of the story’s progression. With that in mind, there is a high concept of sorts at play here, but this deliberately paced feature only pushes hard on the psychological elements in ways that feel strangely relatable.
It helps to see Beer and Rogowski delivering strong work. They’ve starred in previous Petzold films, and while Undine may be a lesser work by comparison, again, I just like how he can bring about a specific mood with his movies. Adding a sense of dread to this romantic story also makes for a neat approach to delivering a film relying on our attachments to certain characters. Love may be the ultimate answer, but this is still a story where certain trauma is designed to leave a mark.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters, VOD, and digital.
The Setup: Single father and former Marine Kyle Snowden (Tyrese Gibson) must save his daughter and other hostages from a dangerous criminal (Christopher Backus) who has trapped them inside a neighborhood store owned by Kyle’s polarizing stepfather, Congressman Sam Nelson (John Malkovich).
Review: This film is Die Hard in a department store and on a low budget. There’s not much to what Rogue Hostage has to offer, and yet for all its problems (and this movie, overall, isn’t very good), there are enough surprisingly strong qualities to say this wouldn’t be the worst film to watch if you stumbled across it on your TV. Chief among those are the efforts of the cast. I’m not talking about the bad guys or some side characters, as they largely overdo it. No, it’s Gibson (who I think can be terrific when he wants to be), Malkovich (slumming but never not trying), Michael Jai White, and Luna Lauren Velez, who all deliver more than necessary for this very dumb movie.
Director Jon Keeyes sadly doesn’t manage to capture any sense of tension. For a Die Hard knock-off with limited everything, the movie looks incredibly cheap and really relies on the actors to do heavy-lifting. Even the lighting has a way of taking away from the production values on display (I get that it’s a department store, but everything is still so bright). I’d say something about the action, but it essentially amounts to a few gunfights here and there and some fisticuffs that rarely move the needle.
Really, it does come down to Gibson, the lead of the film, and one who is unwilling to do anything less than give it his all. Ultimately, this only means so much, but an early scene finds his character at rock bottom, and it’s all right there in his expressions. Maybe that will push him towards more exciting projects in the future. As it stands, he’s here showing what he can do in a film that accomplishes little.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters and VOD.