In-House Reviews: Retribution, Bottoms, Strays, Brooklyn 45 & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Retribution, Bottoms, Strays, Red, White and Royal Blue, Brooklyn 45, and Miguel Wants to Fight.

We’re hitting the end of the Summer movie season. While Gran Turismo hits the tracks and theaters this week, some small films still emerge victorious to varying degrees. This set of write-ups includes a Liam Neeson thriller, two wacky high school comedies, a dirty-talking animal movie, a cheesy romance, and a period horror film. The following features reviews for Retribution, Bottoms, Strays, Red, White and Royal Blue, Brooklyn 45, and Miguel Wants to Fight.

Retribution: 6 out of 10

The Setup:  When a mysterious caller puts a bomb under his car seat, Matt Turner (Liam Neeson) begins a high-speed chase across the city to complete a specific series of tasks. With his kids trapped in the back seat and a bomb that will explode if they get out of the car, a normal commute becomes a twisted game of life or death as Matt follows the stranger’s increasingly dangerous instructions in a race against time to save his family.

Review: If we’ve truly lost the collaborations between Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra (who’s still a producer here), I’m entirely here for the rise of Neeson and Nimród Antal. The Hungarian filmmaker has delivered plenty of competently done B-movies (Vacancy, Armored, Predators), and Retribution is no different. Working as a cross between Phone Booth, Saw, and The Commuter, I had fun with this one. At a time when these Neeson action flicks are really becoming stale, here’s one that doesn’t exactly allow the 71-year-old Northern Irish badass to add many new shades to this sort of role, but it does appropriately play into the “wrong man” energy that has done those Collet-Serra collaborations quite well. It’s enough to make me look past this man having high school-age kids and finding the right moments to become a world-class offensive driver. The notion of a bomb in a car and being unable to escape provides suitable thrills, with Neeson leaning on his gravitas in the right ways. Not rising as one of the “old man action movie” bests, but far from the worst.

Where To Watch: In theaters starting August 25, 2023.

Bottoms: 8 out of 10

The Setup: Unpopular best friends PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) start a high school fight club to hang out with cheerleaders. They soon find themselves in over their heads when the popular kids start beating each other up in the name of self-defense, with the football team scheming to take them down.

Review: Director Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby was a very funny, very Jewish comedy that matched the laughs with thriller-like precision in conveying an anxiety-inducing situation that was claustrophobic in nature. Bottoms is her follow-up film written with star Rachel Sennott, and they’ve now brought The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri into the mix as well. Armed with a higher budget and a broader idea, gone is the singular setting and a reliance minimalistic touch. In its place, a much wilder film with an energy and scope matching dark high school-set comedies such as Heathers or Election. The results are hysterical. This is the kind of film where the main plotline merely serves to bounce from one absurdist scene to another thanks to a game cast of colorful characters (nearly all of them being 25+ playing teens) fully embracing the satirical nature of this script. This includes Beast Mode himself, Marshawn Lynch, who provides hilarious support as a history teacher. One can look at some core ideas concerning female empowerment and self-realization, but the film cleverly understands how to foreground these elements in ways where the severity of the situation can still be matched with laughs or surprisingly brutal action sequences.

Where To Watch: In select theaters starting August 25, 2023.

Strays: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Abandoned on the mean city streets by his lowlife owner, Doug (Will Forte), a naive but lovable dog named Reggie (Will Ferrell) falls in with a fast-talking, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier (Jamie Foxx) and his gang of strays. Determined to seek revenge, Reggie and his new canine pals embark on an epic adventure to get him home and make Doug pay for his dirty deed.

Review: The ingredients are all here. The director of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, the writer behind American Vandal, producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and leads Ferrell and Foxx, all on board for a foul-mouthed take on Homeward Bound seems precisely like the late summer comedy that could win crowds over and become a TV staple. Granted, everyone reads comedy differently, but I just couldn’t muster up many chuckles for a film I could have seen myself enjoying more if it was handled better. It’s not for lack of trying on everyone’s part, as there’s certainly enough weird gags and general silliness to go along with the profanity-laden dialogue that feels like a very long improv session being grafted onto the mouths of these adorable dogs. Alas, it’s a one-joke premise that was rarely amusing. Points go to human actor Will Forte for defining the absolute worst dog owner. I’d even argue that the final 10 minutes delivered a consistently funny set of scenarios that finally had me enjoying this film. Still, that’s a long walk after being tired of unsuccessful attempts to fetch better jokes.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Red, White, and Royal Blue: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the first son of the United States, and young Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) go from rivals to falling in love. However, considering their high-profile public lives, they must keep their relationship a secret at all costs.

Review: Based on a best-selling novel where the intention seemed to be delivering a love story akin to the sort of plots seen in various Hallmark movies but featuring a queer romance and raising the stakes. In this case, it’s the sons of leaders of the world in a fantastical alternative reality that finds the nature of this secret romance something deemed a scandal but with almost no actual malice behind it by the time reveals are made. King Stephen Fry literally scoffs based on a non-adherence to tradition as opposed to being uncomfortable with his gay son. Meanwhile, President Uma Thurman is pleased to accept her son for who he is and have reasonable discussions while still being wary about whether they can flip Texas (given the nature of these kinds of movies, you can figure out if they succeed pretty easily). Does it all work? No, but it’s a harmless farce with Perez and Galitzine working well enough together. The inserted drama is pretty shallow. It’s shot like a TV sitcom with slightly bigger rooms. Still, in the realm of high-concept romcoms, it’s likable enough.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Prime Video.

Brooklyn 45: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Set in Post-WWII 1945, best friends since childhood, five military veterans gather to support their troubled host, and the metaphoric ghosts of their past become all-too-literal.

Review: I was already enjoying the period detail being put into this low-budget, supernatural chamber drama, only to become more intrigued by seeing a séance lead the characters into a 12 Angry Men-type situation. I won’t divulge more than that, and, yes, it’s more complicated, but writer/director Ted Geoghegan manages to pack a lot of neat ideas into this 90-minute thriller. The film plays a lot into PTSD, xenophobia, and contending with one’s actions during a hostile situation that really clicked. Plus, how this movie delivers on the horror element, adding more gore than expected and neat evolutions of how tension is raised, really allows for a small feature to feel quite expansive. Strong work all around too, particularly from Anne Ramsay, whose Marla has a questionable past that comes out in unsettling ways. Running just long enough without wearing out its welcome, Brooklyn 45 offers a solid display of period-set frights.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Shudder.

Miguel Wants to Fight: 6 out of 10

The Setup: In a neighborhood where fighting is stitched into the fabric of everyday life, 17-year-old Miguel (Tyler Dean Flores) has never found himself in one. However, when a combination of events turns his life upside down, Miguel and his friends enter a series of misadventures to find a worthy opponent.

Review: Doubling up on high school fighting this week, with both films even filling in the level of zaniness a movie can get away with, Miguel Wants to Fight may be less accomplished than Bottoms, but it’s also more endearing thanks to the coming-of-age elements it holds to. At just over 70 minutes, this movie gets how little there is to this premise. However, it’s still frequently entertaining thanks to the efforts of the teenage cast to act like teenagers, complete with banter and silly antics. The way this movie establishes the potential setups for fights is amusing, with director Oz Rodriguez adding just enough to help the film stand out as an offbeat take on a high school comedy. Having Raúl Castillo as a sympathetic father doesn’t hurt his movie at all, either. For a streamer that came out of nowhere, this was the right kind of fun for this premise.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Hulu.


Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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