This weekend audiences can get Old or roll with Snake Eyes, but along with finally having something to say about that LeBron James commercial, there are other new movies too. This set of write-ups includes a Space Jam sequel, a new Kate Beckinsale action flick, a French farce, an indie drama, a sci-fi drama, and a fascinating documentary. The following features reviews for the Space Jam: A New Legacy, Jolt, Settlers, Broken Diamonds, Mandibles, and All The Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997).
The Setup: After being transported inside the digital space known as the Serververse, a rogue artificial intelligence (Don Cheadle) kidnaps the son of the famed basketball player, LeBron James. He then has to work with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes to win a basketball game.
Review: Honestly, even as a form of brand management and an easy way for WB to plug their IP, the concept of Space Jam isn’t one that inherently offends me. Really, I would have figured we’d have had more Space Jam movies by now (and the studio did try). With that said, this new Space Jam is awful in just about every way. Sure, it’s not bereft of humor. Some gags manage to slide through successfully. However, this film feels way too overcomplicated for a seemingly simple concept and uninterested in doing anything especially clever. It is also given a look that ends up being muddy and ugly more than anything.
Problems start right away when the first 30 minutes of this 115-minute movie are spent with no reference to Bugs or the Looney Tunes. Instead, we have to suffer LeBron’s attempts at acting. After his winning work in Trainwreck, I was ready to have fun with him here, but he’s proving he needs better writing or a real comedic talent to bounce off because his routine as stern dad and “the straight man” was pretty poor. By the time LeBron is in the Serververse and traveling around with Bugs, even in animated form, this film has no real fun with LeBron’s image.
Compared to 1996’s Space Jam, a film that is at least somewhat decent, this movie doesn’t know how to score any points when it comes to subverting any expectations or poking fun at its star. Michael Jordan may not be an actor either, but he wasn’t relied on in impractical ways, and the film actually made jokes about his career. A New Legacy worships LeBron. This would be less of an issue, perhaps, if the rest of the stuff around him worked, but instead it’s an awkward bonanza of WB properties being shoved into this film, with rarely a purpose, beyond the novelty of things like King Kong or flying monkeys simply being around.
There’s little to say about the Looney Tunes since they don’t add much and never quite sound right to the point of it being as distracting as watching the various cosplaying extras in the background. So, why not talk about basketball? Well, it makes up the second hour of the film and is robbed of any sort of drama or stakes because the game has been turned into a video game version of the sport, complete with power-ups and a nonsense point system. As a result, there’s never any doubt of the outcome, as it will simply end when the film requires one team to triumph. No prizes for guessing how it goes.
The weak argument I’ve been hearing in regards to putting a more favorable spin on Space Jam is that the film is for kids, so why should I care how good or bad it may be. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash away what is bad. This year alone, I’ve seen Raya and the Last Dragon, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Luca, and Peter Rabbit 2, among other films. Kids have plenty of good options, and are this really for them, or those who simply feel nostalgic for the first Space Jam, let alone all the other film references bluntly inserted into this one? No, Space Jam: A New Legacy is not a slam dunk.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters and on HBO Max.
The Setup: A former bouncer (Kate Beckinsale) with a slightly murderous anger-management problem that she controls with the help of an electrode-lined vest she uses to shock herself back to normalcy whenever she gets homicidal. After the first guy (Jai Courtney) she’s ever fallen for is murdered, she goes on a revenge-fueled rampage to find the killer while the cops (Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox) pursue her as their chief suspect.
Review: It’s kind of amazing this isn’t based on a comic book. Jolt would make for a fun film to double feature with the similarly not comic book-inspired Gunpowder Milkshake, as both simply offer whatever plots packed inside stylish action filmmaking, with a healthy dose of dark humor. Rather than rely on an ensemble of female action talent, this film removes Beckinsale from her days as a vampire who kills werewolves, and turns her into Chev Chelios.
For those who need the reminder, Chev Chelios is not only one of the greatest names in film history, but Jason Statham’s name in the Crank films, which required him to keep his heart pumping through ludicrous means. Things aren’t quite as desperate for Beckinsale’s Lindy, but her need to shock herself out of doing something deadly is a neat enough gimmick for a revenge film. Having her bounce off her various co-stars (including an always welcome Stanley Tucci) makes for a fun time as well.
Really, once this film settles into action mode, it becomes less interesting, but the fun still holds. Ultimately, there are some obvious reveals, decent enough fights, and an attitude that almost makes up for how small the movie feels with its blatant use of one main set on a backlot. All of that, and the film still has time to make you aware it’s merely an origin story. Whether or not there will be more jolts in the future, this film provides a decent kick.
Where To Watch: Available on Prime Video starting July 23, 2021.
The Setup: When simple-minded friends Jean-Gab (David Marsais) and Manu (Gregoire Ludig) find a giant fly trapped in the boot of a car, they decide to train it in the hope of making a ton of cash.
Review: Honestly, after finding back-to-back hilarity and absurdist joy in filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s Deer Skin and Keep an Eye Out, I had no reason not to expect some delightful entertainment. Mandibles did not disappoint. This movie is so much fun, relying on a buddy comedy dynamic, a random fantastical element, and offbeat sensibilities to bring everything together.
There’s honestly only so much to dig into without really spoiling what comes out of this movie. Suffice to say that a series of (mostly disastrous) events lead to two friends coming up with a ludicrous scheme to make money and a series of misunderstandings push them in directions that no one would have seen coming. Chance meetings lead to a wacky set of sequences set at a stranger’s home, and even when things come close to getting dark, Mandibles swerves in other directions to keep everything light and farcical.
If there are any underlying ideas, it comes down to the depiction of friendship. This may be Dupieux’s sweetest film yet, as we only learn so much about Jean-Gab and Manu, but we can clearly see they are well-meaning guys who are also quite dim. Yes, they seem to have aspirations of accomplishing things through shady practices, but they are too simple-minded for that to ever build towards anything truly malevolent.
Or course, the fact that a giant fly is a large part of this story also must mean something, but it’s handled in such a way that it rarely stops being funny. Even the presence of Adèle Exarchopoulos as a woman who can’t stop shouting when she speaks due to a head injury finds a way of adding to the fantastical side of things without feeling overdone.
Naturally, not everyone may laugh at the same stuff. Still, I had a very good time rolling with these two, continuing my thoughts on Dupieux possibly being the comedic director I most look forward to seeing new work from.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters, VOD, and digital starting July 23, 2021.
The Setup: Mankind’s earliest settlers on the Martian frontier do what they must to survive the cosmic elements and one another.
Review: I don’t tend to like asking, “What was it all for?” I’m a big proponent of supporting the journey characters go on, given how many movie plots boil down to some of the same basic ideas. Settlers takes a modest budget to deliver a good-looking science fiction film that does what it needs to consider realistic obstacles. It also finds room for some decent human drama and ways to challenge survival on physical and emotional levels. And yet, by the end of the film, I struggled with feeling like I got much out of this.
Not for lack of effort on the part of the actors. Sofia Boutella delivers a strong performance as Ilsa, mother to Remmy (Brooklyn Prince), who finds herself dealing with a sudden loss, as well as the arrival of a stranger (Ismael Cruz Cordova). These other actors do great work as well, testing the boundaries of their Martian home, as well as playing into the pent-up tension coming out of their awkward living arrangements. Over time, the film brings in Nell Tiger Free as an older Remmy, who manages to hold onto the tension that comes from this scenario.
While I won’t say what this all leads to, I will say it takes its time getting there without ever making it all that interesting. Some curious ideas crop up, but writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller holds us at arm’s length. I get the need to play with ambiguity and doing more with less, but given the eventual goal of the characters, I simply didn’t find myself satisfied with where it wound up, let alone how it got there. Certainly not for lack of effort, but I wasn’t exactly comfortably settled in with this film.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD starting July 23, 2021.
The Setup: In the wake of his father’s death, a twenty-something writer (Ben Platt) sees his dream of moving to Paris put in jeopardy when he’s forced to temporarily take in his wildly unpredictable, mentally ill sister (Lola Kirke).
Review: No doubt this story was inspired by real people and can certainly reach others in a way that feels more relatable. As it stands for me, it was hard to look past the issues that come from letting cliches lead the way for this family drama. Yes, Platt and Kirke both have enough experience to properly sell the emotions their characters are going through in a given moment, but the film still feels like any number of made-for-TV movies that have come before it.
That’s not to put down the efforts of all involved, but the script is not doing any favors for this story. Mileage will vary when it comes to the film’s portrayal of mental illness, of course. I can’t say it’s doing anything excessively right or wrong, but I was never at a loss for when to expect some kind of outburst to suddenly upset things. That leads to scenes framed around awkward or embarrassing moments of the characters, arguments, eventual bonding, and other familiar moments.
It’s not wrong to make a film out of what’s been done before, but there’s only so much going on in Broken Diamonds to have me invest myself in it. Platt’s Scott doesn’t have a lot to root for, as we are dealing with a guy trying to run away to Paris to be a writer and basically find himself. That’s all well and good, but with the stakes riding on him being able to leave the country and his sister behind, it just wasn’t enough to move me. That leaves Kirke’s chances of getting better, and while the work is there to show instances of tragedy and the possibility for change, the film ultimately held off from leaving me broken.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD starting July 23, 2021.
The Setup: In the late 80s and early 90s, the streets of downtown Manhattan were the site of a collision between two vibrant subcultures: skateboarding and hip hop. Narrated by Zoo York co-founder Eli Gesner with an original score by legendary hip-hop producer Large Professor (Nas, A Tribe Called Quest), All the Streets Are Silent brings to life the magic of the time period and the convergence that created a style and visual language that would have an outsized and enduring cultural effect.
Review: The summary for this film really is a “what you get is what you see” situation. This is very much a documentary focused on the skateboarding and hip-hop scene during a ten-year period that would go on to define or at least serve as a launching point for what came next. Specifically focused in downtown Manhattan, there’s plenty to enjoy about in the amount of footage provided, though it’s hard not to see how one side feels more developed than the other.
I’m referring to the hip-hop portion. Between the large range of interviewees, the culture, the beats, and the layered levels of history, it’s an inherently exciting story to delve into, even if it only serves as half the focus of a 90-minute documentary. Learning about various MCs and DJs, hearing them talk about the past, and becoming introspective allows for a unique insight into a rich topic.
That’s not to say the skateboarding aspect does not have a great set of stories to tell, but director Jeremy Elkin does quite find the same rhythm in presenting this side of the story. It’s engaging, but between the presentation and how some of the stories are told, I kept finding myself looking forward to hearing the other side again, or at least getting a feel for how the two converged, as the title of this film points out.
Still, there’s too much great footage, unique history, and fun moments from the talking heads to say All the Streets are Silent doesn’t try hard enough. Even with some bittersweet aspects detailed in the closing moments, there’s a nice level of specificity here, which ultimately provides a good ride.
Where To Watch: Available in select NY theaters starting July 23, 2021, expands July 30.