The epitome of “so bad, it’s good.”
Movie Review #1,088


Distributed by United Artists. Drama. Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes. Rated NC-17 for nudity and erotic sexuality throughout, and for some graphic language and sexual violence. Released September 22, 1995. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Produced by Charles Evans and Alan Marshall. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi, Alan Rachins, Gina Ravera, Lin Tucci, and Greg Travis.

Man, oh man, is “Showgirls” a movie.  I don’t want to say you’ll never see anything like it, but it sure is one of a kind. I’ve seen wilder movies in my time, but given the complicating factor that this is likely the sleaziest movie you’ll ever watch, things get pretty great.

The story revolves around Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a street-smart drifter who hits Las Vegas to climb the hierarchy from nightclub stripper to showgirl. She takes a cab there seemingly as a spur of the moment decision, knowing nobody in Vegas and having nowhere to stay until she meets Molly (Gina Ravera), a fellow erotic dancer who offers her a place to crash until she gets back on her feet. Through Molly she meets Cristal (Gina Gershon), her foil, who gets her an audition in her show “Goddess”. This is seemingly her key to stardom, but she soon realizes that she must sacrifice many of her morals, as well as her friendships, to achieve the fame for which she yearns.

“Showgirls” is notorious for being the only NC-17 rated film to receive a wide theatrical release; despite a poor box office performance, it has developed a major cult following in subsequent years, and rightfully so if you ask this critic. Every little bit of this movie is so bad that it’s good, and the fact that Paul Verhoeven is the man directing the whole shebang adds another layer to it. To describe his commandeering of the film as “edgy” would be an insane understatement.

We’re treated to over two hours of sub par acting and cheesy dialogue that only seems to work in its favor. The sex scenes, stripping scenes, and lap dancing scenes that abound in “Showgirls” are absolutely ridiculous but that’s part of what makes the movie so much fun. And if that isn’t enough to keep one on one’s toes, the chemistry between the rivaling Nomi and Cristal is. We watch them stare each other down in such a way that even when they connect with each other on a deep personal level, their resentment for each other is ever-growing.  Couple that with laughable small talk about topics such as their shared love for dog food and you have the icing on the cake.

It is also worth noting that “Showgirls” can also be looked at from a more serious angle, concerning its commentary on the way women are treated in this industry. We see sexual coercion by the boss at the nightclub where Nomi starts out, as well as by the director of the show that Nomi and Cristal headline, and even a graphic gang rape scene. Whether it was intended this way or not, the movie has a strange but even balance of guilty pleasure and Juvenalian satire.

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas seems to be an expert at this kind of movie. Prior to this he had written other sultry cult classics such as “Flashdance” and “Basic Instinct” (the latter also directed by Verhoeven). Those were both enjoyable films in their own rights, but “Showgirls” blows them both out of the water by leading us to believe that they just take themselves too seriously (and I’ll be damned if “Flashdance” isn’t a cheesy movie).



A “nerve”-wracking, exciting experience.
Movie Review #1,087


Distributed by Lionsgate. Adventure, Crime, Thriller. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity—all involving teens. Released July 27, 2016. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Produced by Anthony Katagas and Allison Shearmur. Screenplay by Jessica Sharzer, from the novel by Jeanne Ryan. Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jefferies, Colson Baker, Brian Marc, and Ed Squires.

Vee (Emma Roberts) is an average high school girl finishing up her senior year in Staten Island, New York. She longs to go to CalArts for college, despite barely being able to afford it. She lives a relatively sheltered life, whereby she is close to her mother, is not allowed to go into the City at night, and never seems to break any boundaries or take risks of any sort. Then she discovers Nerve, and everything changes. In “Nerve”, the titular video game encourages teenagers to accept all sorts of dares, based on what the people “watching” them want. These start with kissing a random stranger and going to the City with him, but it’s not long before these dares become very dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

This movie is very well-edited. From the very beginning, Vee’s computer screen and her phone become not just gadgets but settings of their own. This is directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost’s way of integrating online life into real life. In “Nerve”, style and substance receive equal treatment, and that’s fantastic. However, the style isn’t too perfect in every area. The soundtrack is hideous. Songs like “Kamikaze” by MØ and “Electric Love” by Børns sound like trash off the screen, and on the screen, they don’t complement the film’s mood in the least.

Finally, we see a Hollywood movie that depicts teenage life in the lower middle class semi-authentically. Granted, this isn’t “Thirteen”, nor is this a key focus of the film, but it’s certainly worth noting. I was taken with Emma Roberts’s performance. She plays someone that people my age can relate to and whose struggles feel real, even when they happen in a setting that feels utterly fantastical. For a 25-year-old playing an 18-year-old, you’d expect something a bit less convincing. I’ve seen Roberts in silly Hollywood roles (“We’re the Millers”) and serious indie roles (“Palo Alto”). It’s great to see her establish a middle ground with “Nerve”.

“Nerve” is a Hollywood film with the spirit of an indie. Watching it is a breath of fresh air, not to mention tense and exhilarating. There are many occasions at which the film vacillates between hard to watch and hard to stop watching. For me, the sight Vee try to cross between two high-rise apartments on a flat-laying ladder had me peeping at the move from between my fingers.

“Nerve” is a great film by any means up until the climactic moments. That’s when everything starts to spiral out of control. Directors Schulman and Joost seem to delve too far into the fantasy of the film, and in doing so, they lose touch with the reality of it. That’s what grips us through the first three quarters of the film: the frightening notion that these events, while unlikely, could actually happen.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Beyond special effects, there’s barely anything here.
Movie Review #1,086


Distributed by Universal Pictures.  Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy.  Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.  Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality.  Released April 22, 2016.  Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan.  Produced by Joe Roth.  Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Main, from the characters by Evan Daugherty.  Starring Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sope Dirisu, Sam Claflin, Sophie Cookson, Conrad Khan, Niamh Walter, Nana Agyeman-Bediako, Amelia Crouch, and Fred Tatasciore.

Eric (Chris Hemsworth) is the titular huntsman in this film. The story is very basic. He and a woman named Sara (Jessica Chastain) have been hired as warriors under Queen Freya (Emily Blunt), whose sister Ravenna (Charlize Theron) will later inherit the throne. However, this is a forbidden romance. They try desperately to keep everything a secret, up until Freya discovers their secret. At that point, it’s them against the Queen and her army.

It’s no surprise to me that the guy who did the visual effects for “Snow White and the Huntsman” ended up directing the prequel/sequel. (“The Huntsman” acts as both.)  That’s nothing against the visuals in either film.  The visuals in “Snow White” were stunning enough to earn an Oscar nomination, and those in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” are possibly even more so.  But the latter is clearly Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s first time sitting in the director’s chair.  His vision for “The Huntsman” is weak, if discernible at all.

It seems that the only thing there really is to talk about in this film is the special effects, because frankly, without the visuals in this film, there really is no movie at all.  Aside from a devoted performance by Charlize Theron (and can we really expect anything else from her?), there’s really nothing of merit to “The Huntsman”.  The script alone speaks volumes about the film.  It’s written by Evan Spiliotopoulos, whose résumé as a screenwriter is limited to direct-to-video Disney movies; and Craig Mazin, whose range goes from “Scary Movie 3” to “The Hangover Part III”.  I guess the few moments of humor throughout the movie kept me awake.

It’s unfortunate that “The Huntsman” only marginally exceeds its precursor.  The film is not good by any means, but it’s at the very least tolerable, something which “Snow White” wasn’t.  Again, it’s difficult to end on any note that doesn’t describe its special effects.  They’re fantastic, but they’re essentially all that’s here.  With “Snow White”, at least I could dig into the film.  With “The Huntsman”, I can’t dig in because it’s practically impossible for me to touch it.  All there is here is thin air.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Close to apocalyptic.

Movie Review #1,085


Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours, 24 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images. Released May 27, 2016. Directed by Bryan Singer. Produced by Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner, and Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Simon Kinberg. Story by Bryan Singer & Simon Kinberg & Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Lucas Till, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, Lana Condor, and Olivia Munn. With a cameo from Stan Lee.

The only thing slightly worse than a movie that’s bad from lack of trying is a movie that’s bad but not from lack of trying.  Therefore I guess you could say it’s fortunate that “X-Men: Apocalypse” is the former.  The movie is forgettable and ultimately feels pointless.  You’re not watching a barren wasteland of awfulness, but you’re still watching something that disappoints with its apathy to show us anything worth watching.

The first ridiculous aspect in “X-Men: Apocalypse” is its story.  It’s an interesting concept, until you realize how dumb it really sounds.  This film—a “threequel” in the series’ prequel trilogy, following “First Class” and “Days of Future Past”—ties the X-Men’s origins back to Ancient Egypt, of all things.  Here, we’re introduced to a villain named Apocalypse.  You see, Apocalypse was buried alive by a couple of traitors who had previously worshipped him.  He’s awoken by mistake in 1983, and in his new life, he perceives humanity as hopeless.  So he figures, “Why not kill everybody in sight and start from scratch?”

Let’s start at the beginning again, though.  “X-Men: Apocalypse” opens up in the Nile Valley, circa 3600 BCE.  We’re immediately brought into a random action sequence from inside an Egyptian pyramid.  Perhaps slightly more laughable than the action sequence itself is the title sequence that follows, where we go through an eye-aching vortex of special effects, stopping every five seconds to fixate on every object that seems to look like an “X.”  That’s the “X” in “X-Men,” in case you didn’t pick up on that.  Yes, this movie is actually that corny.

Next we have ridiculous backstories for the characters in the film.  My favorite involves Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), otherwise known as Cyclops.  (And by my favorite, I mean that this is the dumbest thing in the whole film that’s actually enjoyable.)  Scott learns that he can shoot laser beams with his eyes, because after a guy chases him into the bathroom for inadvertently eyeballing his girlfriend, he shoots laser beams at the guy and fries him.

It’s difficult to keep up with “Apocalypse”.  The film cuts haphazardly from America to Egypt then back to America then back to Egypt, switching around from story to story, altering its focus from character to character to character.  What’s more, “Apocalypse” feels less like a “threequel” and more like the first film in a whole new series.  There’s so much exposition here, and most of it is, quite frankly, useless.  Let’s not also forget that the story is incredibly disjointed.

There really isn’t much to like about “X-Men: Apocalypse”.  The highlight of the film is a great performance by Jennifer Lawrence, on whom we can always rely, as Mystique, but even that is not enough to make the film sufficiently interesting.  For the most part, “Apocalypse” is nothing more than a drawn-out show of special effects.  I confess that I got so bored with the movie that I actually walked out of the theater.  The scenes at the gifted school where the young X-Men attend reminded me of a 1980s John Hughes movie, but not the good kind.  Just imagine “Weird Science” being a lot cornier, a lot dumber, and a lot more confusing, whilst also bearing the burden of a $178 million budget.

The Birth of a Nation

Good, but not what we had anticipated.
Movie Review #1,084


Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Biography, Drama, History. Running time: 2 hours. Rated R for disturbing violent content, and some brief nudity. Released October 7, 2016. Directed by Nate Parker. Produced by Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert, Preston L. Holmes, Nate Parker, and Kevin Turen. Screenplay by Nate Parker. Story by Nate Parker & Jean McGianni Celestin. Starring Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Aja Naomi King, Tony Espinosa, Chiké Okonkwo, Katie Garfield, Chris Greene, Aiden Flowers, Dane Davenport, Alkoya Brunson, Griffin Freeman, Jackie Earle Haley, and Mark Boone Jr.

Starting off, “The Birth of a Nation” does really well at depicting slavery as it actually happened.  We see the cruelties of slavery through the eyes of a child, making them look even harsher.  But those opening moments only last about 10 minutes.  After our subject, Nat Turner (Nate Parker), matures into adulthood, we are no longer shown these cruelties.  Instead, Nat receives favorable treatment from white people, and he’s a well-respected preacher.  Watching his story, where whites and blacks both bow down to him, is like watching a chronicle about poverty that focuses solely on a privileged middle-class individual.  It severely undermines the harsh reality of how 99% of slaves lived.

It’s only after he baptizes a white man on his owner’s plantation that Nat is ever mistreated.  What’s so interesting about this is that the entire story leads up to a climax where Nat leads a slave rebellion.  My question is: why would he care so much to stage a rebellion if he’s hardly received a percentage of the abuse that most slaves regularly received?  His effort feels unwarranted and unmotivated.  Moreover, it’s the climactic moments that ruin the movie.  “The Birth of a Nation” feels like a Christian movie and a cinematic spiritual journey, up until we see Nat Turner and his regiment killing in God’s name.

Moments of the film are indeed moving.  Even if he doesn’t quite know how to win our minds, Nate Parker knows how to win our hearts.  He’s a passionate but inauthentic director, and an authentic and passionate lead.  His performance as Nat Turner is, to say the least, riveting.  Another notable performance is Penelope Ann Miller’s.  She isn’t 100% convincing, but she’s spirited and memorable as the wife to Nat’s original owner.  Watching her use her Christian faith not to justify abusing a slave, but rather to educate him, is rather touching.  Minutes later, hearing her regretfully tell Nat that he is now going to become a field hand, at her husband’s dying wish, is heartbreaking.

“The Birth of a Nation” is a decent movie by some standards.  However, it’s not what I was expecting.  This isn’t the film was bought for $17.5 million at the Sundance Film Festival, the largest price tag for any movie in the festival’s history.  Nor is it the Oscar shoo-in it was hailed as.  It’s not bad, but it’s not “12 Years a Slave”, either.

The Do-Over

Not half-bad.
Movie Review #1,083


Distributed by Netflix. Action, Adventure, Comedy. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA. Released May 27, 2016. Directed by Steven Brill. Produced by Allen Covert, Kevin Grady, Adam Sandler, and Ted Sarandos. Written by Kevin Barnett and Chris Pappas. Starring Adam Sandler, David Spade, Paula Patton, Kathryn Hahn, Nick Swardson, Matt Walsh, Renée Taylor, Sean Astin, Natasha Leggero, Luis Guzmán, Catherine Bell, Jackie Sandler, and Michael Chiklis.

Charlie (David Spade) is a bored fortysomething with an unhappy marriage and a gloomy job managing a bank at a supermarket. At a high school reunion, he runs into Max (Adam Sandler), an old friend from high school who is now working as an FBI agent. They decide to spend the weekend on Max’s yacht for old time’s sakes. This quickly becomes the best weekend Charlie has had in a while. That is, until Max decides to blow up the yacht and fake both of their deaths. Along with the revelations that he is actually a coroner and not an FBI agent, and that he used two unclaimed cadavers to help in faking their deaths, Max tells Charlie that they are now going to start their lives from scratch with new identities. Charlie, however, isn’t so fond of this idea.

That plot is stupid even for an Adam Sandler movie. It worsens at the climax, when it suddenly turns into a sappy Lifetime movie. But “The Do-Over” is a comedy, and therefore the main thing we’re concerned about here is the humor, which, to my surprise, isn’t half-bad. Like any recent Sandler movie, the script avoids any sense of natural dialogue, for the asking of injecting it with cheap, in-your-face jokes. But unlike any other recent Sandler movie, the humor doesn’t really grow obnoxious here.

It would certainly take a masterpiece to redeem Mr. Sandler for every “Jack and Jill”, every “Grown Ups 2”, and every “Ridiculous 6” he has terrorized us with over the last half a decade, and will no doubt continue to make us suffer with in coming years. “The Do-Over” is no masterpiece. Its story is all sorts of screwed-up, it suffers from mediocre acting, and its pacing is god-awful. But it’s certainly a hell of a lot better than it could’ve been. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but hey, it made me laugh a good bit.

Suicide Squad

A Zack Snyder movie in disguise.
Movie Review #1,082


Distributed by Warner Bros. Action, Adventure, Fantasy. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language. Released August 5, 2016. Directed by David Ayer. Produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle. Written by David Ayer. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, David Harbour, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Ezra Miller, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Scott Eastwood, and Adam Beach.

“The world changed when Superman flew across the sky.  And then it changed again when he didn’t.  And that is why I’m here.” – Viola Davis as Amanda Waller

The first thing worth mentioning in a review of “Suicide Squad” is its style.  David Ayer is at the helm here, but we definitely get the sense that he’s emulating the work of Zack Snyder, who produced the film.  The concept of aesthetically piecing together an action movie with older rock music is something with which Snyder experimented in “Watchmen”.  Being a sucker for this era of music, I have to say that this is one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve heard in a while, and it works quite well with the film.  Ayer draws us into “Suicide Squad” with the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” in the background, and he keeps us with more from that ilk, including the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”.

Visually, however, “Suicide Squad” seems reminiscent of Snyder’s “Sucker Punch”.  There’s no better word to describe how the film looks than “trippy.”  Scenes with bleak visual tones are cut back-to-back with scenes that gloss over each frame with psychedelic hues of purple and pink and green.  It develops the movie in a creepy and warped but undeniably cool way.  Up until the finale, when the climactic action scenes begin to appear as if copied and pasted directly from a video game, the contrast between these two distinct visual atmospheres is beautiful.

More than anything, “Suicide Squad” is an intriguing film.  The story begins shortly after the death of Superman, as seen earlier this year in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.  The titular group is formally referred to as Task Force X, a team of six dangerous felons who are assembled by the U.S. government to be used as disposable pawns in a series of risky operations.  If they take on these missions, they’re more than likely going to be killed, but if they refuse or give up on any of their assignments, a nano bomb in their necks is going to detonate anyway.

“Suicide Squad” is a very entertaining movie, and that’s somewhat due to its cast.  Viola Davis offers an enticing character that stands for corruption within the government.  Her character, Amanda Waller, has organized Task Force X as a means of preserving justice, and there’s no doubt her intentions with these missions are 100% sociopathic.  Better yet is Margot Robbie, who makes a terrific Harley Quinn.  Robbie makes being a bad guy (or bad girl) look super sexy.  She turns an archetypal super villain role into something that feels delightfully and genuinely over-the-top.

A smaller but equally memorable role is that of her husband, the Joker.  Comparing Jared Leto to any other Joker we’ve seen in the past is futile, given how divergent his character is from our traditional understanding of the character.  However, if I had to rank his performance, I’d put him right below Heath Ledger.  The upsetting side of his role is that Leto is used essentially as a plot device.  I wanted to see more of the Joker here.  I hear rumors of a Harley Quinn spinoff film, though, and one could only hope for it.  Given that “Suicide Squad” wouldn’t have been nearly the same without Leto or Robbie, I have high expectations.

The Nice Guys

Director Shane Black is still in his prime.
Movie Review #1,081


Distributed by Warner Bros.  Action, Comedy, Crime.  Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.  Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.  Released May 20, 2016.  Directed by Shane Black.  Produced by Joel Silver.  Written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi.  Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, and Kim Basinger.

“Marriage is buying a house for someone you hate.  Remember that.” — Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy

Rarely do I say this regarding any movie, but I’ll say it for this one: “The Nice Guys” plays out exactly as the trailer promises, if not even better.  It’s a dark, weird, and hilarious L.A. mystery, fueled by cars and cocaine, crime and catastrophe.  Every scene in the movie is more fantastic than the last, and all told, it becomes about as wild as one of the extravagant Hollywood parties its director, Shane Black, was known for throwing in the 1990s.  The difference is that “The Nice Guys” takes place in 1977.  We become one with the era through a stellar soundtrack, which features America, the Bee Gees, Al Green, Earth, Wind & Fire, and much between.

Shane Black has a knack for writing buddy comedies.  “Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Boy Scout”, “Last Action Hero”, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”–those are all his works.  Undoubtedly, the script is what makes this movie so good.  The premise is that a porn star is missing, and presumably dead, and a private investigator, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), is hired to find out who kidnapped or killed her.  Meanwhile, the actress hires an enforcer, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), to put Holland in his place because she doesn’t wish to be found.  Soon enough, they’re both working toward the same goal of figuring out just what the hell is going on, why this porn star is missing, from whom she is hiding, et cetera.

It’s when Black is also the director that he’s really in his element.  Never would I have imagined Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling together in the same movie, but here they are and their chemistry is perfection.  Let’s not forget the biggest scene-stealer, Holland’s foulmouthed daughter, Holly.  This is Rice’s first Hollywood movie, and I truly hope to see more of her.  Her character’s relationship with her father is priceless, and from it, we get a number of memorable exchanges like the following:

Holly: “Dad, there are whores here and stuff.”

Holland: “Don’t say ‘and stuff,’ just say, ‘Dad, there are whores here.'”

We’ve seen a fairly similar movie somewhat recently: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”.  That movie was great, but not perfect.  Where Anderson’s detective tale lacked coherent substance, Black’s balances it perfectly with its style.  At the end of the day, entertainment is a strong suit for “The Nice Guys”, and it does that thoroughly.  The movie swarms you with a hot story of 1970s sex and violence, and every moment of it is absolutely irresistible.  It’s essentially Mr. Black’s Twin Peaks, and he does a damn good job with it.

Now You See Me 2

Should really be titled “Now You Don’t”, because you shouldn’t see it.
Movie Review #1,080


Distributed by Summit Entertainment. Action, Adventure, Comedy. Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence and some language. Released June 10, 2016. Directed by Jon M. Chu. Produced by Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. Screenplay by Ed Solomon, from the characters by Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt. Story by Ed Solomon & Pete Chiarelli. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.

This is what happens when you hire Jon M. Chu, the man who directed both of Justin Bieber’s concert movies, to helm the sequel to a great movie. And forgive me for continually comparing “Now You See Me 2” to its predecessor, but it would look even worse if it stood on its own. Instead of another clever movie that twists and turns everywhere you least expect it, you get a movie that plays out like a bad romcom. And Mr. Chu isn’t the only one at fault. The script, written once again by Ed Solomon, is fairly predictable and all too cheesy. Worse yet is the film’s sense of humor. Rather than the occasional smart-people chuckles offered in the first movie, this sequel constantly aims low for cheap laughs. You feel like you’re watching the Disney Channel, except there’s more eye-rolling and more pity laughs.

The premise of this sequel, on paper, isn’t half-bad. We’ve got the Four Horsemen returning, now assigned to take down a corrupt entrepreneur who steals computer software for his own benefit. Helping them on this mission is Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a former business partner to the subject. Radcliffe might be the best part of this movie. His performance is enthusiastic, clever, and refreshing. None of the rest of the cast holds a candle to him. I pity Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson for their performances in this film. “Now You See Me 2” is out of their league. These three are more than decent actors and they deserve better material to work from. Then there’s Lizzy Caplan. She’s not the best actress, but I never thought she’d stoop so low as she did here. Caplan replaces Isla Fisher as the Fourth Horseman, possibly because Fisher was smart enough to not sign on for a sequel. In all fairness, I wish she had signed on, because Caplan is almost unwatchable. She gives a taller and skinnier version of what we saw Joe Pesci do in the “Lethal Weapon” sequels, except Joe Pesci’s garrulousness was actually funny and he knew when to shut up.

“Now You See Me 2” will soon enough be another movie on FX that we find while we’re flipping through channels, and I doubt we’d be inclined to stay past the first commercial break. The film is a barrage of one corny joke after another, but its worst moment comes at the end. I don’t know if Mr. Solomon or Mr. Chu were trying to blow my mind, but the utter stupidity of the last-minute twist ending certainly did. For a film that seems to be nothing more than a dumb excuse to show off bad humor and underwhelming special effects, I suppose you have to give them credit for actually attempting to be smart, but then again, “Now You See Me 2” serves as a reminder that watching stupid people try and act smart can be quite excruciating.

Captain America: Civil War

The best Marvel movie yet.
Movie Review #1,079


Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours, 27 minutes. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem. Released May 6, 2016. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Based on the Marvel comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, John Kani, John Slattery, Hope Davis, and Alfre Woodard. With cameos from Ann Russo, Stan Lee, and Joe Russo.

Oftentimes I tend to believe that the growing popularity of superhero movies is a complete manifestation of film as a form of entertainment, with little contribution to film as a form of art. Now and then, a great film will come out and convince me that superhero movies can be extraordinary as both art and entertainment. A great example of that is Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. Being that I’m not exactly a fan of the Marvel movies, I certainly wasn’t expecting that “Captain America: Civil War” would be the next film to remind me of how freaking great the genre can be. If every new yarn that the Marvel Cinematic Universe spins out is truly just another superhero film, “Captain America: Civil War” is something more than that. I will say right off the bat that this is a refreshing film for anyone like myself who ever thought the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be overrated. This is a smart, exciting, political film, exceedingly well written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the pair behind the two previous “Cap” movies, as well as “Thor: The Dark World”.

“Civil War” is essentially a third “Avengers” film, marketed as a third “Cap” film. The plot is brilliant, and its translation onto celluloid even more brilliant. As the film opens, it has been about a year since the Avengers defeated Ultron, and the Avengers are struggling as a peacekeeping force. On their newest conquest in Lagos, Nigeria, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) uses telekinesis to displace a bomb but ends up accidentally killing several humanitarian workers. The Avengers, as a whole, assume responsibility. Following the incident, the United Nations prepares to ratify the Sokovia Accords, which would establish a panel to keep the Avengers in check. This instantaneously causes a deep divide within the team. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, opposes any such regulation of the Avengers; while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, thinks they need regulation to keep them from hurting any more people and being seen as an enemy to the world.

The character development here is nothing like Marvel has ever done before, particularly for two characters that will be featured in their own respective films within the next year and a half. One of them is T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), otherwise known as Black Panther. T’Challa is the son of T’Chaka, the king of the nation of Wakanda, from which the workers killed in Lagos hailed. Initially, T’Challa seems like a peaceful, diplomatic individual. That’s up until the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), an ally to Steve Rogers, kills his father. Watching T’Challa join forces with Tony Stark is powerful. Later on in the film, Stark recruits our other new character: Peter Parker (Tom Holland), better known as Spider-Man. We’ve seen him have five of his own films from two different actors, and Spidey’s never been put onscreen as well as he is in “Civil War”. Tom Holland is a clever and enjoyable Spider-Man who, for once, strikes us as an actual teenager, not as a twentysomething. I won’t give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that the concise backstory offered for the character in “Civil War” is far better than anything we saw in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy or either of the “Amazing Spider-Man” movies.

“Captain America: Civil War” has just about everything we look for in a movie. It’s engaging. It’s exciting. It doesn’t feel like something we’ve already seen, and it offers itself the liberty to take innovative spins within its story. It runs for nearly two and a half hours, but it’s so entertaining you won’t even notice the time going by.