While this week has one big adult thriller on the schedule, a few other films are also arriving, with some of them catering more toward the theme of romance that factors into the upcoming days. This set of reviews includes two romantic comedies, a Liam Neeson action movie, a gritty independent thriller, the return of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a YA adaptation, and a South African action flick. The following features reviews for Marry Me, Blacklight, Bigbug, The Sky Is Everywhere, Catch The Fair One, I Want You Back, and Indemnity.
The Setup: Pop superstar Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is about to get married before an audience of her loyal fans. However, she learns about her fiancé’s cheating ways, and, in a moment of inspired insanity, Kat locks eyes with a total stranger in the crowd (Owen Wilson) and marries him on the spot. Now they must decide if two people from such different worlds can find true love together.
Review: Perhaps the goofy premise for this romantic comedy will play better not only for those who accept the setups for these sorts of films but also by knowing it’s based on a graphic novel going in. Of course, despite the efforts from director Kat Coiro to make an agreeably nice movie, it’s not as though Marry Me has much additional style to offer outside its “fit for a sitcom” concept. That said, it’s also hard not to see this as a tribute to the 2000s-era rom-com. Marry Me really boils down to how much one accepts the chemistry between Lopez and Wilson, but it still all feels pretty flimsy.
Even when it comes to the setup, not that these two characters are unbelievable, but the roles of a hit pop star and “single dad/math teacher” seem like people who are supposed to be around 35 at most, not two 50+-year-old movie stars. There are some brief attempts to address this, but they fall by the wayside in favor of various plot contrivances to create additional drama or add more humor when necessary.
No one is necessarily bad here. John Bradley and Sarah Silverman are the comedic side characters who bring what’s needed. While good as required for the role, adding the pop star element means Lopez gets to sing a few extra songs, though that feels like a concession to lead a film like this. Wilson shines in the way he does by not playing things hapless or nervously. There’s even a bit of a dark running joke that finds Jimmy Fallon parodying himself in ways that seem all too real as the one talk show host we see constantly ridiculing the marriage.
By the end, it comes down to a climactic series of mad libs-worthy situations to have two characters ending up together. I understand the appeal is there for this sort of thing, but there are less shaky examples. Notting Hill remains a dominant gem by comparison, and for a good reason. Still, those who enjoy the energy of these stars will likely be satisfied.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and to stream on Peacock starting February 11, 2022.
The Setup: Travis Block (Liam Neeson), a shadowy government agent specializing in removing operatives whose covers have been exposed, uncovers a deadly conspiracy within his own ranks that reaches the highest echelons of power.
Review: Yeah, this is pretty much the nadir of Neeson’s gruff action-thrillers. I could almost forgive director Mark Williams (producer and/or director of Neeson’s Honest Thief and The Marksman as well) for at least not going overboard, Taken 3-style, and letting Neeson move without the assistance of 20 different cuts to the scene. With that said, even while allowing for a straightforward look at the 69-year-old action star, this conspiracy thriller has no pulse.
This is the sort of film that keeps things vague and straightforward enough, so actors can move across the screen, lay down some important-sounding dialogue, and move along to either a chase scene or some kind of intense conversation. The score does a lot of heavy-lifting to indicate which mode the characters will need to be in, while plot turns come about to make it seem like the game has been changed a few times over.
Ideally, one could just find themselves attached to Neeson here, but I don’t know what to admire in this kind of performance. Sure, his natural gruff disposition and screen charisma makes him easy to watch, but we’re long past his iconic speech from Taken, and there’s nothing but tired cliches to inform his private life (he’s a bad dad, trying to be a good grandpa AND he has OCD). Even as an action film, there’s little to go on beyond an eventual climax where Neeson can get the better of everyone and save the day.
Playing a character who operates within the shadows perfectly fits a film like this, as it is best left hidden.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting February 11, 2022.
The Setup: Suburbanites are locked in for their own protection by their household robots while an android revolt rages outside.
Review: It has been nearly a decade since the last film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Bigbug may not be a roaring success up to par with City of Lost Children or Amelie, but it is a delightful slice of weird. Playing more like a sci-fi farce working around the pandemic, this closed-off comedy does what it can to get plenty of mileage out of its bizarre premise.
Helping this feature is taking in the style of Jeunet. While leaning heavily on his broader comedic instincts, his films have a visual intensity coming from close-ups, exaggerated character traits, and clever incorporation of various visual effects. With all of the robots this film has on its mind, it’s pretty fun to see the different automated machines come to life and establish their differing personalities. Some are more clever than the others, and while the film is too long at nearly two hours, there’s still lots of imagination for these machines.
On the human side of things, Bigbug gets by primarily on whether or not one can accept this crew of bickering folks. With only so many of these characters not trying to be all the way unlikable, it really makes a difference if one clicks with the tone of this feature. Jeunet isn’t pushing hard enough to sell much in the way of satire, so while the robot uprising is upon us, expect more of a lighthearted feature than a screed on humanity.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Netflix starting February 11, 2022.
The Setup: A Native American boxer, Kaylee (Kali Reis), embarks on the fight of her life when she searches for her missing sister.
Review: Catch the Fair One is gritty with a capital G. It’s also excellent. The commanding lead performance from Reis (who also has a story by credit) does all it needs to bring together this rough thriller that revolves around the atrocious situations Native Americans, let alone Native American women go through. As a result, the film works as a compelling thriller and a tragic drama.
Writer/director Josef Kubota Wladyka doesn’t pull punches either. Kaylee is not a perfect person, and we see how low she’s had to go as far as being a former boxer before dealing with whatever her sister is mixed up in. From there, watching this film essentially have the characters descend into the underworld is not without a sense of creativity. Gaining the understanding of what’s happening, seeing the minor mob involvement, and realizing what lengths one will have to go through against those who underestimate their opponent is all handled in a way that keeps the tensions high.
Sadly, the takeaway highlights actualities happening in these sorts of societies. It’s upsetting because of how much this sort of stuff involving exploitation and trafficking is going on and not going away anytime soon. Even with this film, there’s only so much satisfaction to be had. With that in mind, the strong work all around makes it tough but worthwhile.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters, on digital, and on VOD, starting February 11, 2022.
The Setup: Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) are total strangers who meet and quickly learn they were dumped on the same weekend. Their commiseration turns into a mission when they see that each of their ex-partners (Scott Eastwood and Gina Rodriguez) have happily moved on to new romances.
Review: Despite being a rom-com, this is not a film named after the hit single from *NSync. No, instead, director Jason Orley has assembled an R-rated comedy about a total of six people that never really rises to its full potential. The effort is there in the form of game performances from Day and Slate, along with Rodriguez and a surprisingly less bland Eastwood, but the premise has a screwball element that is never truly taken advantage of.
So much of this movie finds Day and Slate spending time with the other’s ex-partner, but the choice to bring them all together is sadly held back until a not-all-that-exciting climax. Given what’s taking place, this film could be full of awkward situations and misunderstandings, allowing the solid comedic energy generated by a couple of funny people to deliver the goods. Instead, the film primarily functions as an agreeable enough comedy, with R-rated language, and a few choices that subvert expectations.
I Want You Back is not a bad film, just a bit plain. A highlight comes during a night of drinking between Day and Eastwood, leading them to a house featuring drugs, a balcony-to-hot tub diving contest, and a small appearance from Pete Davidson (who starred in Orley’s previous, superior film, Big Time Adolescence). Otherwise, there’s a benefit from seeing people take this exaggerated concept and grow from it based on the fact that no one is a bad person in this movie. It’s just a shame the film didn’t want to get into messier, more entertaining waters by amping up the comedic suspense.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Prime Video starting February 11, 2022.
The Setup: Tucked among the redwood trees of Northern California and surrounded by her grandmother’s roses, 17-year-old Lennie Walker (Grace Kaufman), a radiant musical prodigy, struggles with overwhelming grief following the sudden loss of her older sister, Bailey.
Review: Based on her breakout film, Madeline’s Madeline, and her acclaimed follow-up, the biography Shirley, seeing director Josephine Decker take on a popular YA novel is an interesting move. Fortunately, while it has all the stock elements found in these sorts of stories, there is a clear effort to add plenty of stylization to the proceedings, evoking, at times, a Spike Jonze-like atmosphere.
Sure, there are no huge surprises in story from a narrative standpoint. However, taking this sort of angle on the grieving process helped me invest in what The Sky Is Everywhere was trying to do. Adding magical realism can be tricky, but thanks to a well-rounded lead performance from Kaufman and a capable enough supporting cast, incorporating those extra elements into this film’s world made a good case for how it stands out.
I was especially intrigued by the practical nature of these special effects. Utilizing ideas such as performers dressed up/camouflaged as plants pushed things into a weird zone that was matched by the film’s tone. Regardless of nice supporting work from Cherry Jones and Jason Segel, let alone decent performances from the two young men that make up an eventual love triangle, it really comes down to how this film finds its own voice. In that regard, it works for its audience and occupies an arena fit for Decker’s experimental ways.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters and to stream on Apple TV+ starting February 11, 2022.
The Setup: An ex-firefighter (Jarrid Geduld), falsely accused of killing his wife, must fight for survival when connections are revealed between his past and a wide-ranging government conspiracy with terrifying implications.
Review: The thing about this film is that it’s not entirely different from the terrible Liam Neeson movie I reviewed earlier in this post. Indemnity has a very generic plot that people have seen from The Fugitive to France’s Tell No One. It all comes down to a lot of Hitchcock riffs, but with more action – chases, gunfights, fisticuffs, etc. However, it is the ones with an extra quality that sticks out.
I am not familiar with Jarrid Geduld, but all of his efforts do plenty to make this film work as well as it does. Performing his own stunts, I was impressed with how Indemnity ramped up from an intriguing drama with some thrilling elements to a full-on action movie. At one point, Geduld’s Theo is lowering himself down a high-rise using a bedsheet, and it’s intense. Sure, there are precautions and what have you, but enough was done in Travis Taute’s direction to make me feel for the struggles and the action taking place when the film got down and dirty.
Even the plot, which is going over well-worn territory, had me engaged enough thanks to varying character dynamics and other qualities that pushed it over the top. Using Cape Town as a location provides its own unique take on things, as it’s, frankly, just fun to get outside of the usual locations we see. Perhaps the best of all things to say – I look forward to seeing what these guys do next.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD, starting February 11, 2022.