In addition to the opening of a new Shyamalan film for the masses, this week has plenty of international releases, streaming films, and more. This set of write-ups includes a social comedy, a bizarre thriller, an Indian spy action movie, a Chinese sci-fi epic sequel, a horror romance, and a Covid-era comedy. The following features reviews for You People, Infinity Pool, Pathaan, The Wandering Earth II, Attachment, and Who Invited Charlie?
You People: 6 out of 10
The Setup: A new couple and their families reckon with modern love amid culture clashes, societal expectations, and generational differences.
Review: I think it’s too easy to see the flaws in what director/co-writer Kenya Barris and star/co-writer Jonah Hill have come up with for this modern take on Guess who’s Coming to Dinner/Meet the Parents. It’s way too long, folds David Duchovny and Nia Long into the background, and relies on a premise with no real surprise in how it wraps up. However, while it’s simple to say Eddie Murphy shines, and he does in a role that allows him to play mostly deadpan to those around him, there’s more going on here. For one, Hill is very good, and his various scene partners allow for plenty of funny moments. Also, the way race and culture clashes are brought to the forefront, aiming for cringe and slapstick moments, but also build to good areas to explore, such as a confrontation between Lauren London’s character and Julia Loui-Dreyfus. I’d even argue Barris does the work in trying to distinguish the film visually from a more sitcom-y style film, despite the plot fitting into that template. What could easily be a throwaway comedy gets by on having a good number of laughs and just enough meat on the material to keep it interesting.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.
Infinity Pool: 6 out of 10
The Setup: While staying at an isolated island resort, James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are enjoying a perfect vacation. But guided by the mysterious Gabi (Mia Goth), they venture outside the resort grounds. A tragic accident leaves them facing a zero-tolerance policy for crime: either you’ll be executed, or, if you’re rich enough to afford it, you can watch yourself die instead.
Review: 2022 may have already given us The Menu and Best Picture nominee Triangle of Sandess, but we’re not done with seeing satire and punishments handed out to the ultra-wealthy. However, instead of a wacky satire or a deliciously dark comedy, Infinity Pool plays out as a nightmarish fever dream, not above the Grand Guignol of it all. Director Brandon Cronenberg is playing a bit more narratively fair than compared to his previous effort, Possessor, but this film is no less graphic in its depiction of violence and other elements that would make his father proud. Does it amount to a whole lot? I wouldn’t say so. The first half seems to hit all of what’s needed, while the second half becomes more excessive. But the performances are undeniable, given the commitment involved. This particularly goes for an unhinged Goth, who elevates her character into something more terrifying than what she brought as Pearl in either of Ti West’s 2022 horror flicks. Infinity Pool may not be too deep, but it will be dangerous for those who do not want to wander too far from the shallow end.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
Pathaan: 7 out of 10
The Setup: An Indian spy (Shah Rukh Khan) takes on the leader of a group of mercenaries who have nefarious plans to target his homeland.
Review: With the wonderful experience of RRR fueling my desire to continue seeing more Indian action films, I’ve arrived at Pathaan from War’s director, Siddharth Anand. While coming with a far too lengthy runtime, this film feels like Anand watched all of the Mission: Impossible movies and determined John Woo’s MI2 was the best but could be done even better. Starting with an action sequence that allows the hero to surf down a helicopter blade after shotgunning his way through bad guys, and reaching one of a few climaxes with a motorcycle chase on a frozen lake, there’s plenty to admire about a gonzo action flick like this. Its cartoonish appeal is handled well by its stars. Khan and Deepika Padukone provide plenty of appeal for a film such as this, with John Abraham’s dastardly villain (simply named “Jim”) doing his best to out-smolder the heroes. It’s all ludicrous yet extremely likable fun. Add to that a cameo I’m sure Indian audiences will get a massive kick out of, and the makings of a cinematic action universe clearly seem to be the latest path of success for this wild Hindi-language film.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
The Wandering Earth II: 6 out of 10
The Setup: In the near future, after learning that the sun is rapidly burning out and will obliterate Earth in the process, humans build enormous engines to propel the planet to a new solar system, far out of reach of the sun’s fiery flares. However, the journey out into the universe is perilous, and humankind’s last shot at survival will depend on a group of young people brave enough to step up and execute a dangerous, life-or-death operation to save the Earth.
Review: The first film in this series, which was a gigantic box office hit, still has one of my favorite over-the-top sci-fi premises I’ve heard. It’s also a gleefully silly film that combines action, spectacle, and melodrama in fun ways. This film threw me off by serving as a prequel story, which is not what I thought I needed at this point. However, with presumed plans in mind for a third film, I am actually happy to have additional context surrounding this insane story of how the world’s leading experts gathered to build a system that could propel the entire Earth to another solar system. At nearly three hours, director Frant Gwo is leaning on a lot for us to care about the variety of characters involved (including a newly added and very welcome Andy Lau), yet I was into it. The increased quality in the CG visual effects helped for sure, better making good on the world assembled here. Plus, the way it builds tensions through emotionally-driven countdown clocks hasn’t stopped working for me with films like this. Happy to keep wandering.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
Attachment: 7 out of 10
The Setup: A couple’s new relationship is interrupted by mysterious happenings in their new flat, provoked by one of the women’s disapproving mothers.
Review: As with so much of horror, there’s plenty of room for prevailing themes to become more apparent as the stories unfold. For Attachment, while the blend of romance and a possible possession allows for excitement, it’s also clear that writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason is making a case for how codependency can affect one’s life. Add to that the fact that I’m seeing this through the lens of Jewish characters, Ellie Kendrick and Sofie Gråbøl as her overbearing mother, with one goy girlfriend, Josephine Park, and that’s another angle that doesn’t often get to come out in genre films. While light on scares, let alone anything grizzly, this is more of a character study and psychological thriller. It plays with some expectations and even leans on some familiar tropes involving Jewish mothers as a way to do something new. The effort was appreciated and felt pretty kosher when all was said and done.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Shudder starting February 9, 2022.
Who Invited Charlie?: 6 out of 10
The Setup: Phil Schreiber (Reid Scott), a self-involved hedge fund manager, escapes to the Hamptons with his wife (Jordana Brewster) and son (Peter Dager) at the beginning of the pandemic. Making an already fraught situation worse is the surprise arrival of Phil’s estranged and eccentric college roommate Charlie (Adam Pally).
Review: Likable! That’s the term I could easily throw at this unassuming comedy that puts in enough effort to be taken seriously. It has to find that balance between being overly broad and having something to say about how people are forced to come together due to a pandemic, but I was impressed with what director Xavier Manrique pulled out here. Much of this has to come from what the performers are able to deliver, and it’s the energy of Pally who really allows the film to shine. While Scott’s persona can only go so far in the realm of “jerks who are full of themselves,” it’s Pally who’s able to light up the screen with his interactions with the rest of the cast. While not too long, it still feels like it’s coasting at points. With that in mind, there’s enough good work from all involved to make this film about as worthwhile as one hopes for a small-scale comedy attempting to feel relevant to the times.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and VOD starting February 3, 2022.