'The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part' zips along, but not as awesome as original
Film critic and 'Pop Life' host Richard Crouse reviews five new movies this week: CGI sequel "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part," psychological horror "The Prodigy," chilly survival story 'Arctic,' darkly funny revenge remake "Cold Pursuit" and the gender-bent romp "What Men Want."
THE LEGO MOVIE: THE SECOND PART: 2 ½ STARS
My desire to see 2014's "The Lego Movie" was on par with my wish to step on a Lego brick in my bare feet. How could a movie starring plastic, singing mini figs possibly appeal to anyone who graduated Saturday morning cartoons decades ago? But I'm a professional so I put my bias of toy story movies aside and went to the screening.
Later, as I left the theatre humming "Everything is Awesome" I was won over. Directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had pulled off something great, they made a movie with wide appeal using the Lego as a muse to do what the bricks have always done, light imaginations on fire.
Question is, five years later will everything be awesome in the sequel "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part?"
The last movie ended with the revelation that the movie's Lego Land frenetic action had actually taken place in 8-year-old Finn's (Jadon Sand) imagination. The new one focuses on Finn's sister Bianca ("The Florida Project's" Brooklyn Prince) disrupting her brother's carefully built world of fancy with her Duplo-Block creations.
In the make-believe world, Duplo aliens, led by shape-shifting villain Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), declare war on Bricksburg. Fast forward five years. Optimistic construction worker Emmet (Chris Pratt) and Master Builder Lucy's (Elizabeth Banks) home is now a smoking ruin called Apocalypseburg where if you show any weakness you will be destroyed. Dave is now called Chainsaw Dave and Sewer Babies live under the streets.
When Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Benny (Charlie Day) and MetalBeard (Nick Offerman) are kidnapped and transported to the Systar System by General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) Emmet and intergalactic archeologist / Snake Plissken look-a-like Rex Dangervest (Pratt again) set off to rescue them.
"Don't worry Lucy," says Emmett, "everything will still be awesome."
"The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part" is a pure pop art blast as though designed by kids. A mix of non-sequiturs, silly jokes, attention-deficit editing, CPDs (Convenient Plot Devices) and music, it zips along but isn't as awesome as the original. The first film was a powerhouse of imagination and adventure. "The Second Part" has its moments — like the "Catchy Song" sequence — but feels like a dim bulb that doesn't burn as brightly as it once did.
Like the first film the mayhem of Lego Land is tempered with real life lessons. In this case it takes an existential turn in the last third, expanding the minifig story to shine a light on the fraught relationship between Finn and Bianca and their struggle to find a way to play together. When they learn to be kind and tolerant of one another their lives improve, as do those of their plastic figures.
"The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part's" convoluted third reel paints the screen with too much frenetic CGI action but maintains the lesson of the first film: that NOT putting away childish things, like Lego blocks, is the key to making everything awesome, no matter what age. That the message doesn't feel like a commercial for the brightly coloured blocks is a pleasant plus, even if the movie feels like diminished returns.
THE PRODIGY: 2 ½ STARS
Imagine being frightened of your own child. That is the terrible situation of young mom Sarah (Taylor Schilling) in "The Prodigy," a new psychological horror from director Nicholas McCarthy.
Schilling is mother to Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) an extraordinarily gifted child who spoke at twenty weeks and could generally outthink everyone by the time he was old enough to walk. "Nothing wrong with this little guy," says a doctor. "He's very aware. He's what we call a smarty-pants."
Soon, though, he displays antisocial behaviour. He can't seem to connect with people at school, perhaps because he beat a classmate with a wrench in lab class. In his sleep he angrily mumbles some kind of foreign language. "You were having a bad dream," mom says waking him. "It wasn't a bad dream," he says. "It was a good dream."
Concerned that something is amiss Sarah takes Miles to a psychologist. Unable to find a medical reason for Miles's condition the doctor refers him to another specialist, a professor (Colm Feore) who believes there is a battle being waged inside Miles. Most of the world believes in reincarnation he explains, wondering if could Miles be an old soul having another go at life. "These souls return for a reason to complete a task," he says.
If Miles is sharing a body with an invading soul, what job must he complete? Which one will become dominant?
As far as creepy kid movies go "The Prodigy" is a six out of ten. The kid, with his blank stare and mismatched eyes gives Damien a run for his money — especially when he says stuff like, "Sometimes I leave my body when I sleep. I do it to make room." — it's the details that earn a demerit or two.
Director McCarthy does a good job at building tension and sets up some good set pieces but he's undone somewhat not by the silly-but-fun premise but by ridiculous things that don't make sense that distract from the main story. How is Miles still allowed to attend school after he whacked a kid with a wrench? Why does Sarah leave some material that clearly gives away what she's about to do where Miles can see it?
It goes on.
I'm not looking for credibility in a movie about (MILD SPOILER!!) a reincarnated serial killer but virtually everything that doesn't make sense also could have been avoided without changing the DNA of the story one iota.
"The Prodigy" is a little heavy-handed — Miles washes off his Halloween skull make up, but only from one side of his face, leaving behind an image that represents the duality of his personality — but it embraces the wild nature of its story, providing just enough uncomfortable moments to earn a recommendation.
ARCTIC: 3 STARS
After watching "Arctic's" story of survival in the icy wild you will never again complain about having to shovel the walk. The chilly drama stars Mads Mikkelsen and lots and lots of snow.
Mikkleson is Overgård, a pilot stranded in the Arctic. While he waits for rescue he lives in the battered fuselage of his downed plane. Outside a jerry-rigged series of fishing poles insure he has a non-stop supply of Arctic trout sushi. Every day is a struggle to survive. The cold has already claimed several of his toes and there's a hungry polar bear with a taste for Arctic trout.
His methodical and precise nature keeps him alive, mixed with a healthy dose of optimism. "Maybe tomorrow," he says when his hand-cranked beacon fails to attract the attention of rescuers. "Maybe the day after tomorrow."
When a rescue helicopter crashes nearby leaving Overgård to play nurse to a gravely wounded woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir). Without ever learning her name or anything about her, he risks his life to toboggan his patient to safety.
A great subtitle for "Arctic" would have been "A Litany of Misery." The unforgiving landscape and relentless cold offer no comfort to Overgård. By the time a polar bear gets up-close–and-personal, all teeth and primal menace, it doesn't seem like it could get much worse. Then it does.
"Arctic" takes the mundane tasks that keep the two characters alive and imbues them with a sense of danger. Getting drinking water brings with it the risk of an icy death and scrounging a Bic Lighter from a crash scene could mean the difference between surviving or not.
Director Joe Penna doesn't sugar coat the situation. It is a grim slog given humanity by Mikkelson. In a nearly wordless performance he allows Overgård's character to shine through in subtle ways, the precision with which he keeps his cockpit home orderly, the pleasure that spreads across his face as he catches his dinner, the devastation of a near rescue all speak to the personality of a guy who doesn't have the give-up gene. The old joke goes that "insert-name-here" is so talented you'd watch them read the phonebook. Mikkelson doesn't read the phonebook, but he does make eating uncooked, crunchy ramen noodles compelling, so that's something.
"Arctic" breathes the same air as survival films like "127 Hours" and "All Is Lost" but, despite the majesty of the landscape, feels smaller and more personal.
COLD PURSUIT: 3 STARS
Another Liam Neeson action movie, another father on the rampage. But "Cold Pursuit," an English language remake of the Norwegian film "Kraftidioten," is no "Taken." There are special skills, piles of dead bodies and the story is as far fetched as Neeson's deliberately trashy kidnap movies but the new film has something else: a dark sense of humour.
In the film's early moments we see Colorado snowplough driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) honoured as Citizen of the Year for his efforts in keeping the roads clear and the townsfolk of his small community safe. On the heels of this civic honour comes the worst news of Coxman's life, the death of his son by heroin overdose. Nels and his wife (an underused Laura Dern) are in disbelief. Refusing to believe their son was a drug addict Nels starts asking questions that lead him to a criminal network run by Trevor Calcot a.k.a. Viking (Tom Bateman), a second-generation drug lord with a hair-trigger temper.
Seeking revenge, Nels changes from mild mannered snowplough driver to lean, mean killing machine. He stops ploughing snow and starts ploughing bad guys, making quick work of the Viking's underlings — each eulogized in a title card that probably would have been more effective had the film stayed with the original translated name "In Order of Disappearance." With several low-level baddies dispatched he gets snowed in when he takes aim at the Viking himself.
The carnage continues, in part due to Nels's brother (William Forsythe) and former gangster and an unintended drug war between the Viking and power First Nations trafficker White Bull (Tom Jackson).
"Cold Pursuit" is a faithful remake of the Norwegian film, keeping the slow burn of the original and the dark humour. It's not slap-your-knee funny but it certainly has a lighter tone than you'd expect from a revenge drama. Neeson isn't known for his comedy chops but his resourcefulness with a snowplough as weapon is ridiculous enough to raise a smile or two. It doesn't feel fresh — the spectre of Tarantino hangs heavy over the proceedings, with title cards, surf music and a casual attitude to the violence — but the icy atmosphere juxtaposed with the hot-blooded thirst for vengeance makes for a diverting enough crime story.
WHAT MEN WANT: 2 ½ STARS
Taraji P. Henson stars in "What Men Want," a gender-swapped version of the Nancy Meyers 2000 romantic comedy "What Women Want." The romantic plot of the original has been tossed aside, replaced with a story about a female sports agent who mysteriously gains the ability to read the minds of her male colleagues.
Henson is Ali Davis, a sports agent on the verge of becoming a partner at her firm. "I'm gonna break that glass ceiling," she says. In the boardroom on the day of the announcement her boss says, "We all know who deserves this. Give it up for Summit World Wide's newest partner," as he lobs a football down the table at the winner. She leaps up, triumphantly grabbing the ball. "Ali," bossman says," that pass was actually to Eddie."
Told that she doesn't connect well with men and to stay in her lane, she goes to see a psychic (Erykah Badu) for advice.
"I can help you connect with men," says the mystic as she offers Ali a steaming hot cup of tea that definitely contains more than Earl Grey. "Oh, that's just jasmine tea — if you don't count the weed, the peyote and the crack."
The tea and a bump on the head give Ali a unique ability — she can hear the thoughts of her male colleagues. "This is not a curse," she says after getting used to her new power. "It is a gift." Using the insight to her advantage she races to sign the NBA's next superstar and become partner.
"What Men Want" dispenses with the creepy undertones of the Mel Gibson version, preferring to concentrate on the vulgar and just plain stupid things Ali picks up from hearing her male co-worker's thoughts. It's a one-joke idea, but it's a pretty good, if somewhat limited, joke. Henson makes it work in a broad performance that is equal parts exaggeration alarm and amazement at her newfound powers. Remove Henson and her comedic timing from the equation and there's not much left, save for Josh Brenner as Ali's snarky assistant and Tracy Morgan as the talkative father of young athlete. With her, however, "What Men Want" is a fun, if forgettable gender-bent romp.
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
Read more of Richard Crouse's recent movie reviews:
- 'Miss Bala' potboiler rarely gets above a simmer
- 'The Kid Who Would Be King' brims with good messages
- 'Glass' twist-o-rama proves more is not more
- 'Destroyer' is Kidman in full-blown anti-heroine mode
- 'Vice' is a damning and timely portrait of the corruption of power
- 'Mary Poppins Returns' is a spoonful of sugar in bitter times
- 'Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse' is a wild and woolly pop art explosion
- 'The Favourite' is strange, beautiful and wickedly nasty
- 'Clara' wobbles as it reaches for the stars
- 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' is fun, games and clever messages to boot
- 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald' feels thin despite its grand face
- 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' is a thriller set to slow simmer