Kicking off March with a bang…or a sponge, there’s a wide variety of new flicks out this week (and these all join the releases of Raya and the Last Dragon and Coming 2 America). This set of write-ups includes SpongeBob’s return, a familiar cat and mouse duo, a coming-of-age story, a crime comedy, an offbeat slasher film, and a surrealist French comedy. The following features reviews for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run, Tom & Jerry, Boogie, Pixie, Lucky, and Keep An Eye Out.
The Setup: After SpongeBob’s (Tom Kenny) beloved pet snail Gary is snail-napped, he and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) embark on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home, where they’ll have to deal with the mighty Poseidon (Matt Berry).
Review: The insanely popular SpongeBob SquarePants has returned once again with another cinematic adventure, and you know what? This lovable yellow guy is now three for three. Yes, I’m a fan of the persistently optimistic SpongeBob, and while I may not have seen all of the hundreds of episodes of the series, I can say the movies have all been a delight, combining a relentless sense of fun with a good sense of how to extend its premise, and a nice touch of heart when it comes to delivering on a message.
Part of what compels me is seeing how these films continually find a way to do something new from a format standpoint. The first film was all animation (with a cameo from a live-action David Hasselhoff). The second film was largely animated, with an extended third act bringing SpongeBob and the gang into the real world to take on an Oscar-worthy Antonio Banderas. For Sponge on the Run, director Tim Hill, and his team have decided to stylize the characters with CGI this time around, and yeah, it’s another winner.
Now look, at this point, you’re either on the SpongeBob train, or you’re not. Not that there’s a hardcore level of continuity to keep up with, but this character and his world have been around for long enough to know it doesn’t need to convert those who have been less enthused in the past. That said, it’s certainly an absurd series that could attract new fans, and the film is fun and fast enough to hold the attention of all the young ones watching.
Even if the story is not exactly doing a lot of innovative work, the sense of humor is still strong enough to land plenty of gags. Plus, the visual overhaul doesn’t take away from the vibrant nature the series has established. Plus, wacky cameos are still coming in strong, including a much-advertised Keanu Reeves, who is in this film more than you think, and easily delivering the best of what he has as far as embracing his easygoing celebrity brand for the sake of a number of good jokes. So yes, take a visit to the pineapple under the sea, flop like a fish, and have fun with SpongeBob, again.
Where To Watch: Available to stream on Paramount+ and on VOD on March 4, 2021.
The Setup: This adaptation of the classic Hanna-Barbera property reveals how Tom and Jerry first meet and form their rivalry, as they cause all sorts of mischief and mayhem in a New York Hotel where Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) has just started her new job.
Review: Outside of Scooby-Doo, it’s been a long time since audiences were treated to a major film adaptation of a Hanna-Barbera property. It’s a shame a better job wasn’t done when it came to relaunching Tom & Jerry. With that in mind, is there much of a way to produce a feature-length film about a sketch-driven series involving a cat and mouse chasing after and battling each other? As far as I can tell, not so much in this current incarnation.
While I cannot say I was a huge fan of the original cartoon compared to other Saturday morning classics (my lovely girlfriend, on the other hand, is a fan, though she had similar thoughts), it is easy enough to enjoy those episodes for what they were. Simplicity is the key, and that’s largely what’s missing from this Tim Story-directed feature. While the parts of the film involving Tom and Jerry getting into wild antics generally work, the multiple subplots featuring Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Pallavi Sharda, Rob Delaney, and Ken Jeong are hit and miss at best.
It’s not that well-defined characters are needed for something as silly as a live-action take on a classic slapstick-driven cartoon, but the film goes out of its way to have a series of people and do next to nothing interesting with them beyond have them deliver tired material and go through a forced narrative. It’s just not enough, and the film suffers for it.
There are the visual effects, which are actually quite solid. Relying on 3D character models for all animals, they are still rendered to maintain their classic 2D look, which is at least interesting. That’s especially the case when looking at their real-world interactions with things like weather and a hotel, where much of the film is set. If only that was enough to make this film a more satisfying experience. As it stands, the film puts its chase for success at a standstill.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters and on HBO Max.
The Setup: Coming-of-age story of Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a basketball phenom living in Queens, New York, who dreams of one day playing in the NBA. While his parents pressure him to focus on earning a scholarship to an elite college, Boogie must find a way to navigate a new girlfriend, high school, on-court rivals, and the burden of expectation.
Review: Watching Boogie means taking the latest step into the world of Eddie Huang, a man of many talents who has often shown his love for food and hip-hop culture in particular. To many, the name may be more synonymous with his memoir, “Fresh of the Boat,” which was turned into the popular ABC sitcom of the same name. With that in mind, Huang had many issues with the trajectory of that series beyond the pilot, and it feels like Boogie is more along the lines of how he’d like to share his personal story.
That’s not to say Boogie is another autobiography, but for a coming-of-age story, it’s fitting to see how much grit and complicated family values are incorporated here in a way they weren’t in the family sitcom. With that in mind, the drive of this film plays well because of those complications. We’ve seen plenty of stories like this, but not often from an Asian/Asian American perspective. That’s especially the case as far as the kind of man Boogie is growing up to be.
As we watch the star basketball student showing off his skills and making his way through an early romance, the drama with his parents (Pamelyn Chee and Perry Yung) hits the hardest. Several flashbacks detail what led to them forming this life in America with a son. The present-day shows how much their hopes to see the family and Boogie succeed has led to various forms of abuse. Yes, there’s a subplot involving Boogie’s hopes of taking on rival b-baller Monk (the late rapper, Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson), but that’s the film going through the motions compared to the exploration of Boogie’s home life.
And it is that look into those closest to Boogie that allows this film to come alive. As a directorial debut, Huang gets enough in-camera to present a solid atmosphere. The Queens setting is given proper justice, with the kind of hip-hop flavor one would expect, along with the attitudes from Boogie and those he interacts with to help keep things feeling real enough (though saying these are all high schoolers is a bit of a stretch). For a film like this, the efforts to make it personal do enough to keep Boogie in step.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters on March 5, 2021.
The Setup: To avenge her mother’s death, Pixie O’Brien (Olivia Cooke) masterminds a heist but must flee across Ireland from gangsters, take on the patriarchy, and choose her own destiny.
Review: I’d be happy to say director Barnaby Thompson made an enjoyable enough crime farce calling to mind some of the early efforts of Guy Ritchie, but still making the material his own. Sadly, I’m just not there. It’s clear the film wants to be able to rely on Cooke’s solid outing as the lead to be a fine bit of subversion (she’s the cleverer-than-she-seems girlfriend of a criminal taken out early on), but the story around Pixie is never as clever as it seems.
Really, this film just felt messy throughout. I enjoy a good crime comedy and caper films, but the convoluted plotting made things feel more like a chore than necessary. Plus, there’s little here to enjoy in the filmmaking. I’m all for nice shots of the Northern Irish countryside, but trying to bounce back and forth between the outdoor world and contained sequences featuring heavies Colm Meaney and Alex Baldwin (sporting an Irish accent, of course) only went so far in building much of an interesting world.
There is something to be said for Cooke’s chemistry with Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack as hapless guys who get involved in her criminal antics. Still, these characters’ trajectory largely feels on rails, featuring a variety of situations we’ve seen in one form or the other. Even the irreverent or dark humor that stacks up next to them feels tired in execution.
I would have been happy to enjoy this film. It has a strong enough cast, and is focused in a genre zone I’m generally entertained by. However, it all felt a bit too knowing for me. I get what Pixie was going for, but intermittent moments of fun just weren’t enough for me to stay on board.
Where To Watch: Available in select theaters, on digital, and VOD on March 5, 2021.
The Setup: A self-help book author (Brea Grant) finds herself stalked by a threatening figure (Hunter C. Smith) who returns to her house night after night. She is forced to take matters into her own hands when she can’t get help from those around her.
Review: There’s a good, if obvious, message at the center of this story, and I feel like anyone who is on the right wavelength with what writer/star Brea Grant and director Natasha Kermani have put together will get a lot out of Lucky. Additionally, while one can think the film is directed at a certain audience, the nature of a film with strong feminist themes, such as this, would easily benefit from being seen by those thinking they are above this sort of material, let alone one’s who are, for whatever reason, against it on some sort of principal. I can’t say it won me over easily, but there’s more to appreciate than not.
From nearly the beginning, it’s clear all is not what it seems. The dialogue is a bit too pointed; characters look at Grant’s May a bit too long, and there’s also the other thing involving the man who stalks her every night. Without getting into it, the film quickly develops a pattern that at first feels like another more traditional horror device before quickly turning into something else. There’s a mechanism at play to put it in league with stories about characters needing to learn before progressing, but Lucky tries to provide a fresh take on it.
Part of this comes from a limited budget, compared to even some of the notably small major horror studios. However, it does feel like Lucky is at least trying to use this to its advantage, as we see repeated attempts at a scene involving May and her stalker battling it out. There are only so many spaces for the film to cover. However, the way it plays with slasher tropes and eventually lets the film’s message consume the narrative allows for one bravura sequence set in a parking garage.
Does it all manage to come together at the end? It’s just about there. Granted, I do think some will actually see more relatable elements to dig into, let alone discuss afterward, which I see as a plus when it comes to innovative ideas set within a familiar mold. Plus, between this and the recent 12-Hour Shift, Grant is doing what she can to provide a different perspective when it comes to thrillers of all kinds.
Where To Watch: Available on Shudder on March 4, 2021.
The Setup: An absurd all-night interrogation takes place in a 1970s police station.
Review: Last year, I found myself having a ball with surrealist director Quentin Dupieux’s darkly comedic horror film Deerskin. Now I have seen Keep an Eye Out, which was actually made a year before Deerskin, and I similarly find myself filled with a great sense of joy from what I got out of it. Has the offbeat director responsible for Rubber, the film about a killer tire, become the comedic filmmaker I am most looking forward to seeing more from?
Part of what works in Dupieux’s favor is how he just throws the viewer in. Given the momentum of a comedic farce such as this, I would see little value in going through the motions of setting up the scene and telling us about these characters. Instead, this film hits the ground running (following an absurd opening credits sequence, naturally) and pushes us into an interrogation room to quickly establish the dynamic between Commissaire Buron (Benoit Poelvoorde) and Louis (Gregoire Ludig).
Their interactions are great, as the film knows how to continually exacerbate situations by having the interrogation constantly interrupted, with Buron’s attitude suggesting he is either incredibly skilled or entirely aloof. While the film rarely leaves the large office in this police station, there’s just enough of an environment to do what’s needed in further adding to the comedic atmosphere before launching into a series of wacky additions involving other characters, including a man with one eye, and more.
For a film just over 70 minutes, the humor comes fast and is driven almost entirely by dialogue and facial reactions. Wordplay is handled quite well, with the characters twisting each other up with either literal interpretations or a series of misunderstandings to push and pull between deadpan deliveries and broad gags based around buffoonery. It’s all highly entertaining and takes things to another level by the time it reaches its rather wild climax. Dupieux’s sensibilities may not be for everyone, but I was entirely into what he was putting out here, so look out for this one.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters and virtual cinemas on March 5, 2021.