Bro-Reviews: I, Tonya

Sympathy for the devil.

Tanya Harding at one point was known as the greatest figure skater in the world. She was the first person to ever attempt and complete one of the most complicated moves in her sport, the triple axel, and even made it to the Olympics. Unfortunately, she was the most hated person in the world as well due to her supposed involvement in the injuring of her USA Figure Skating teammate and rival, Nancy Kerrigan. We all know Harding eventually faded into obscurity after embarrassing herself by attempting to cling onto whatever celebrity status she had left, but Harding herself feels her side of the story has never been properly conveyed. Perhaps Harding can rest easy now, with relative newcomer and sex-symbol Margot Robbie staring in and producing the story of Tonya’s life, I, Tonya.

I, Tonya follows the life of world famous figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), a red-neck born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She is forced into figure skating by her abusive mother, LaVonna Golden (Allison Janney), who also pulls Tonya out of school to focus solely on a career in the sport. Along the way, Harding meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), her first love and husband, who also abuses her. The film follows Tonya’s chaotic life and her connection to the attack on her arch rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

For most of her career, Margot Robbie has been relegated to being a sex-object. Nobody recognized her talent in The Wolf of Wall Street, they only noticed the amount of times she took her clothes off. The same can be said of her roles in Focus and Suicide Squad, but I, Tonya proves Robbie is more than a sex symbol. Robbie is electric as Harding, captivating us by illuminating her struggles as a talented but unwanted commodity by her family and the figure skating community. Robbie is able to make us feel sorry for Harding, who to this day retains much of her villainous status due to her involvement in the attack of Kerrigan. Her Golden Globe nomination for “Best Actress in a Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy” is well deserved, and she most definitely will be up for “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards later this awards season.

Not to be outdone, however, is Allison Janney as Tonya’s vicious and crass mother. Janney won the Golden Globe for “Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture”, and for good reason. She delivers the performance of her career in the film, and should be up for a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar. Sebastian Stan is also marvelous as Harding’s husband, and proves there’s life after the Marvel Cinematic Universe for him. One of the more underrated performers who hasn’t gotten any awards love is Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Shawn Eckhardt, Tonya Harding’s “bodyguard.” Hauser is a riot, and while the unknown actor isn’t up for “Best Supporting Actor” consideration, hopefully he’ll get more work in Hollywood sooner rather than later.

Much credit must be given to the style of the film, as it goes back and forth between interviews in mockumentary-style set in the modern day and flashbacks with fourth wall breaking. This allows the characters to be unfiltered and exposed, which lets us as an audience formulate our own opinions on these real life figures and the true story circumstances they experienced. Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers execute this style almost perfectly, and captivates audiences even though most of us know how the story ends. The film does overstay its welcome towards the end, but one can hardly fault the film for trying to cram in every element of Harding’s tumultuous life.

I, Tonya is an unforgettable bio-pic. It takes a fascinating subject matter whom most of us have already formulated an opinion of and thought we would maintain that same opinion for the rest of time, and accomplishes the impossible task of changing our minds. With tremendous performances from Robbie and Janney that should result in more awards love come time for the Academy Awards, I, Tonya is one of the best films of 2017, and leaves us having sympathy for the devil.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

I, Tonya stars Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, and Bobby Canavale. It is in theaters now.

Advertisements

Bro-Reviews: Phantom Thread

A spellbinding love story.

Daniel Day-Lewis is somewhat the antithesis of Hollywood. Despite his handsome looks and impeccable acting ability, the man has been very private about his personal life and is very selective as it pertains to the movies he stars in. Most of the time, however, the roles he chooses result in an Academy Award win, as 2 of his last 3 films have resulted in “Best Actor” wins at the Oscars. With the news of his retirement looming, people have wondered if he has saved his best for last in the mysterious new drama, Phantom Thread.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dress maker in 1950s London at the top of his game working alongside his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), at the House of Woodcock. Reynolds is a bachelor, having never been married and women coming and going throughout his life. One day, he comes across Alma (Vicky Krieps), a strong-willed waitress who becomes his muse and his love, but their relationship causes disruption in Woodcock’s seemingly well threaded life.

Should this be the final performance in the illustrious career of Daniel Day-Lewis, he goes out with a bang. Lewis has perhaps his greatest role in his career as Woodcock, a calculating, creative maniac whose routine cannot be disrupted, or his life is thrown into disorder. Lewis brings so much nuance to his performance. It’s not just his delivery of the dialogue, it’s his movement, his reactions, his facial expressions, that bring life to this character. Some scenes we as an audience sympathize with this tortured artist, but the next we object to his treatment of others due to his fussiness. Lewis has worked with writer/ director Paul Thomas Anderson before in There Will Be Blood, where he won his second “Best Actor” Oscar, and Phantom Thread is yet another example of an actor and director working seamlessly together. There’s no doubt he should be the front-runner for “Best Actor” at the Academy Awards, and should close out his career with his fourth win and forever be known as one of the greatest actors to ever perform.

That’s not to say the other performers don’t match the prowess of Lewis, however. While there hasn’t been much love for either of them in regards to awards attention, Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps are magnetic as Cyril Woodcock and Alma respectively. Manville brings a calming influence to his brother, but also isn’t afraid to stand up to him either, making her one of the most intriguing characters in the film. Vick Krieps also makes a splash as Alma, the surprisingly resolute next woman in Woodcock’s life. She too comes across as both sympathetic and as an instigator, and the audience understands her plight. It’s a shame neither woman has received much accolades for their performances, as the two very easily provide some of the best work actresses had to offer in 2017.

One must mention the skilled direction and engrossing writing of writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson has become one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood, and his writing abilities also remain top notch. Anderson is able to write characters that are fascinating and mysterious, alluring and guarded. His work captivates audiences, and leaves them begging for more even after the two hour and ten minute run time. It’s difficult to elaborate without giving away the entirety of the film, but know one is in for a fascinating experience.

Phantom Thread is one of the best films of 2017, hands down. Not only does it feature a director at the top of his game, it features fantastic performances from all supporting actors involved. Most importantly, its lead delivers a tour de force performance of a lifetime that could very well be his last. One must treasure this film if it is indeed the final performance of Daniel Day-Lewis’s career, as it is a spellbinding love story and a cautionary tale of what happens to talented artists when their craft is disrupted by a force of nature.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Phantom Thread stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps, and Brian Gleeson. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: The Post

Donald Trump’s least favorite movie of 2017.

There’s no doubt the rising political tensions in America point towards one direction: Donald Trump. Whether you voted for him or not, one must admit his presidency has been a nothing short of a circus. He somehow finds himself in the headlines seemingly every week for all the wrong reasons, and constantly lambasts the media while being so paranoid to the point he labels it “Fake News.” The only President who comes to mind in regards to Trump’s insecure behavior is Mr. Watergate himself, Richard Nixon. After countless films of eviscerating him, Steven Spielberg decided it was time for him to once again put his history teacher’s hat on and give us a lecture on the Washington Post’s rise to prominence by exposing Nixon’s hubris of continuing the Vietnam War in The Post.

The Post sees newspaper heiress Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) attempting to balance her politically connected social life with the responsibility of being the publisher of Washington D.C.’s local newspaper, “The Washington Post”. Meanwhile, the paper’s editor in chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and his staff chase after a source who advised President Lyndon Johnson and former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) that the U.S.’s efforts in the Vietnam War were fruitless. When the source delivers them over 20 years worth of secret government documents highlighting the U.S.’s knowledge of their hopeless war but continued to send soldiers there to die anyway, the newspaper is at a crossroads: either publish the documents to expose the government’s conniving deception of the public, or risk federal prosecution at the hands of the government and go to prison.

The Post is undoubtedly a timely subject matter due to the spotlight currently on the Trump administration’s weekly battle with the news media. It makes sense that in times like these Hollywood rallies together in some way to teach us a lesson on past transgressions and highlighting how the American public continues to make the same mistake over and over again while also giving them a glimmer of hope that we can improve in the future. Spielberg has become a master of taking audiences to school and re-enacting important moments in U.S. history, including in films such as Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies. The Post is another one of these films, and Spielberg continues his legendary career by showing his mastery of history and transporting audiences to the past with his taut and skilled direction in the film.

The performances in the film are great, as is expected when casting lead actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. As a person who typically cannot stand Streep and believes she is the most overrated actress of all-time, Streep is a fantastic as Ms. Graham. Her ability to show Katharine’s vulnerability and insecurities is breathtaking, and her transformation into a woman of influence by the film’s climax is one of the more compelling character arcs in some time. Tom Hanks is in classic Tom Hanks form as Mr. Bradlee, and he and Spielberg have worked together so well for so long one has to wonder if they’re a package deal at this point. The rest of the ensemble cast also meshes well together, particularly Bruce Greenwood’s turn as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, as he gives a performance that warrants consideration for “Best Supporting Actor.”

Unfortunately for the film, Spielberg wastes the first hour of it with uncompelling drama that includes board meetings, phone calls via a pay phone, and parties you wouldn’t bother RSVP’ing to. It takes too long to get to the most thrilling aspect of the film, the piecing together of the government documents and the decision of whether or not to publish. While the latter half rescues the film and makes up for a lackluster first act, there had to have been a way to keep audiences invested for the entirety of the film, but Spielberg didn’t piece it together well enough. Also, it’s important to note a scene towards the end of the film where Meryl Streep is walking in a crowd of women who are in awe of her. Somewhere, Rose McGowan is pissed. On top of that, we know how this story ends, and for the film to seemingly tease The Post 2: WATERGATE at the very end comes across as a Marvel after-credits stinger, not exactly what one would expect from an awards season contender.

With all of the controversy surrounding the Trump Presidency (*good god uttering those words still doesn’t feel right*) and its similarities to the Nixon administration, The Post couldn’t have been released at a more compelling time in America. While it takes awhile for the film to get going, The Post can be chalked up as another victory for the historian Spielberg due to its gripping final hour and terrific performances. While The Post doesn’t quite reach awards worthy territory, one thing is for certain: it’s Donald Trump’s least favorite movie of 2017.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay Matinee Price.

The Post stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alsion Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, and David Cross.

Bro-Reviews: The Commuter

Taken the train.

Liam Neeson has experienced a bit of a career renaissance over the last decade or so. Despite being more of a classic actor who has had award worthy performances in films such as Schindler’s List and Kinsey, someone finally realized this is the same man who was Jedi master Qiu-Gon Jin in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and trained Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Upon this realization, Neeson was cast to kick butt in 2009’s Taken, which spawned 2 more sequels and a plethora of Neeson action vehicles: Unknown, The Grey, Non- Stop, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and Run All Night. The incomparable Liam Neeson is back once again in action territory, this time aboard a train in the Hitchcockian thriller The Commuter.

Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, an ex-cop turned insurance salesman who rides the train into New York City everyday who has fallen on rough times financially. One day on his commute back home, he is approached by Joanna (Vera Farminga), a mysterious woman who gives Michael a proposition: find a person on the train who doesn’t belong, and in return he will receive $100 K. After reluctantly accepting the offer, Michael becomes embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse aboard the train while looking for this passenger, and with someone watching his every move and threatening to harm his family, McCauley must find the passenger before the end of the line.

Neeson is a tremendous actor, and he can elevate even the worst of material. Neeson is able to deliver another great performance in the film, as he portrays Michael as a sympathetic Everyman who is forced into the circumstances he’s in for reasons that are understandable. This makes the central conflict of the film pretty compelling, and the back and forth between him and Vera Farminga keeps you invested and on your toes. The Commuter is definitely a throw-back to the old-school Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and the film is able to get a lot of mileage out of its premise due to the acting prowess of Neeson and Farminga and the feeling of claustrophobia on a crowded, inner-city transit system.

The rest of the ensemble cast, consisting of the passengers on the train and Patrick Wilson, also do a tremendous job. The passengers give you the feel of people you’d run into in the New York City transit system, and Wilson delivers another solid performance in his underrated career as Michael’s former partner who also finds himself involved.

Though his aforementioned filmography would suggest otherwise, Neeson is above material like The Commuter. The conspiracy involving the passenger Neeson must find is beyond contrived, and it’s telegraphed as it pertains to who else might be involved. The dialogue in the film is also laughable, including a rip-off of a classic scene from Spartacus involving the passenger who doesn’t belong on the train, an eye rolling homage if there ever were one.

The film devolves from its seemingly grounded setting into ridiculousness the further it goes along. Of course, Neeson’s cop roots come in handy in hand to hand fight scenes, which are well filmed and realistic in the sense that Neeson spends most of the film over-matched by his opponents. But then there’s the train crash all of the trailers and commercials sell you on, which makes the plane crash in Non-Stop look realistic by comparison. Despite Neeson constantly having his butt kicked and the ludicrous action, the more ridiculous the film gets, the more enjoyable it becomes. We’ve come to expect these types of movies from Neeson, and considering this is his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra, there’s definitely a familiar feeling presiding over the film.

Despite the ridiculous action sequences and twists you can see coming from a mile away, I found myself thoroughly enjoying The Commuter. Neeson is good in these fairly disposable, early in the year action movies that have made up a significant portion of his filmography the last decade or so. The premise itself is also intriguing, and the film is able to get some mileage out of it. The Commuter may rank lower in Liam Neeson’s action film resume, but it’s enjoyable enough for you to wish you had taken this train.

Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 4. Pay Low Matinee Price.

The Commuter stars Liam Neeson, Vera Farminga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabetha McGovern, Clara Lago, Ella-Rae Smith, and Sam Neil. It is in theaters January 12th.

Bro-Reviews: Lady Bird

A timeless tale of angst.

Coming of age stories can be hit or miss in Hollywood. Sometimes they can turn out to be raunchy, hilarious sex comedies like American Pie. Other times they can be senseless fluff like Cocktail. But as of late, coming of age stories have been bold and thought provoking, including last year’s Oscars “Best Picture” winner, Moonlight. A film hoping to capitalize on this wave of goodwill is Lady Bird, the latest entry in the coming of age genre. Only the second film to be written and directed by indie darling Greta Gerwig, does it manage to keep the streak alive that Moonlight started? Or does it fall victim to clichés that have riddled the genre unbearable at times?

Lady Bird tells the story of high-school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a quirky, awkward teen living in Sacramento, California. “Lady Bird” is disillusioned by the prospect of going to college nearby her hometown, and wishes to attend school out east in New York City. Her headstrong and tough-loving mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), is against the idea, as she and her family are struggling financially and cannot afford her tuition. The two struggle to get along, as Marion wants “Lady Bird” to be the best version of herself, while “Lady Bird” wants to do so in a fashion that goes against her mother’s wishes.

For a long while I had my eye on the lookout for Lady Bird playing in a theater nearby, and that time didn’t come until fairly recently. Most of my fascination with seeing the film was due not only to it’s teenage angst subject matter, but also the fact that it features one of the biggest rising stars in the industry, Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. Ronan has been a scene-stealer since her supporting role days in 2007’s Atonement, which earned her a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar nomination. She has continued to develop as one of the most versatile actress working today, displaying her acting chops in films such as The Lovely Bones, Hana, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. She earned another Oscar nomination back in 2016 for “Best Actress” for her role in Brooklyn, a highly underrated film that showcased her talents.

Lady Bird is Saoirse’s latest tour de force as a performer, as her portrayal of a too-young, too-snippy for her own good young adult is one of the best performances of 2017. Typically in the making of coming of age films, there’s a point where characters can become unlikable, and the filmmakers fail to recapture why we liked those characters in the first place. There are plenty of points in Lady Bird where the title character acts immaturely and even selfishly, but at no point do we dislike her. Much of that credit must go to Saoirse Ronan, whose ability to portray “Lady Bird” as an angsty but misunderstood teen requires the abilities of a seasoned actress, and Ronan delivers. She recently walked away with a Golden Globe for “Best performance by an actress in a motion picture, musical or comedy”, and is undoubtedly a favorite to win the Oscar for “Best Actress.”

Matching her blow for blow is Laurie Metcalf, who also delivers a powerhouse performance as “Lady Bird’s” mother. She comes across as negative, doubting mother, but Metcalf is able able to highlight the character’s softer side, and acts the way she does towards her daughter only because she wants what’s best for her. The rest of the ensemble cast also delivers sneaky good performances, including Beanie Feldstein as “Lady Bird’s” best friend Julie, and Tracy Letts as “Lady Bird’s” kind father.

Much credit must be given to the writer and director of the film, Greta Gerwig. Although there are striking resemblances to her upbringing despite the fact she denies the film is parallel to her life, Gerwig’s writing and directing talents are on full display throughout the film. Her sharp, witty dialogue makes the film one of the funniest of the year, and her ability to highlight the awkwardness of going to a Catholic high-school gave me memories of my times in Catholic middle school while living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is also able to make an “America’s heartland” film despite the fact it’s set in a state many associate with glitz and glamor. However, Gerwig manages to capture Sacramento in a fashion that makes it seem like the town is it’s own little planet, despite the fact it’s only 2 or so hours away from the bustling streets of San Francisco. Despite an ending that feels somewhat anti-climatic, Greta Gerwig is able to put her stamp on the film, and proves she’s a director to be reckoned with.

Lady Bird is a triumph. It’s learning how to adult and teenage angst themes may have been explored countless times before, but its remarkable performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf and masterful direction from Greta Gerwig makes it an awards season favorite. In time, Lady Bird will be known as a timeless coming of age tale, but for now, it’ll have to settle for one of the best films 2017.

Rating: 3.5/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jordan Rodrigues, and Odeya Rush.

 

Bro-Reviews: The 10 Worst Movies of 2017

One overwhelming feeling I couldn’t escape from my movie going experience in 2017 was just how underwhelmed I was walking out of most films this year. Another feeling I most certainly couldn’t help but feel was how angry I was watching certain films. Sure, bad movies are released pretty much every week now these days, but 2017 saw many films leaving myself and audiences visibly and audibly upset walking out of theaters. Of course, one cannot view every bad movie, but the following films listed are the the absolute worst 2017 had to offer.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions:

Bright (Netflix)

Alien: Covenant

Fifty Shades Darker

Snatched


10. Fist Fight

Mean spirited and unfunny, Fist Fight wastes a talented cast with a juvenile script and obvious gags. Its underlying message of how awful the public school system has become also goes nowhere, and ranks as one of the most misguided comedies of 2017.


9. Justice League

One thought after the success of Wonder Woman, DC might finally be on the right track. Justice League proves DC hasn’t learned from their previous mistakes, as this rushed and heavily re-shot answer to Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t even gross as much as the incoherent Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The DC Extended Universe may be beyond saving at this point.


8. The Emoji Movie

If you ever wanted the film embodiment of a corporation desperately trying to appeal to younger audiences and thinking they’re being clever about it, The Emoji Movie is for you.


7. Geostorm

Geostorm makes Armageddon look like Casablanca. It could’ve been dumb fun, but it’s mostly listless and overdone with poor special effects. Geostorm tries to breathe life into the dying disaster movie genre, but fails spectacularly.


6. Transformers: The Last Knight

The Transformers franchise has so much potential to be great, even in the hands of a true auteur like Michael Bay. But we must put an end to the Autobots and Decepticons, as Transformers: The Last Knight is an overlong and over-complicated fever dream that ranks as the worst the series has to offer. And that’s saying something.


5. The Snowman

The Snowman feels like an incomplete project not even a first year film student would submit. It’s poorly structured, sloppily edited, and above all else, boring. The Snowman aims to be the next Se7en or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but comes across as a counterfeit knockoff no sane person would classify as good filmmaking.


4. Baywatch

http3a2f2fhypebeast-com2fimage2f20172f032fbaywatch-trailer-official-0

Bikinis, cleavage, abs, comedy, action, and The Rock?! What could possibly go wrong? For Baywatch, everything. This lame, uninspired summer action comedy is a chore to sit through, rendering this bay unwatchable.


3. Mother!

mother-2017-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

Calling Mother! pretentious would be an insult to the word. Mother! believes it’s groundbreaking and deep by realizing Biblical scripture in modern times, but is ultimately a pointless venture made purely for shock value.


2. All Eyez on Me

all-eyez-on-me-movie-tupac-1024x683

Tupac Shakur was a fascinating man and a rap legend, but you wouldn’t know that by watching the ill-fated bio-pic All Eyez on Me. This two-and-a-half hour long slog through the rapper’s life plays like a cheap, scratched-up greatest hits album that is missing some tracks, and ultimately has no flow.


1. Wish Upon

From bad acting, shameless pandering to millennials, to being downright comedic instead of scary, Wish Upon hoped to lure in an unassuming and undemanding audience that still believes The Blair Witch Project was real. The result of this poor update on “The Monkey’s Paw” turned out to be not only one of the best screening experiences I’ve ever had, but most importantly, the absolute worst 2017 had to offer in film.

 

Bro-Reviews: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Slightly better than the Guns ‘N Roses song.

It may be hard to believe, but the origin of Jumanji isn’t the 1995 Robin Williams film or the board game. “Jumanji” started off as 1981 children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Over a decade later, it somehow got turned into a board game and then a Robin Williams vehicle, which was actually much darker and scarier than we remembered. Jumanji never saw a sequel, until Sony decided to capitalize on 90s nostalgia and announced they were rebooting the film for the sole reason that its name alone is still a recognizable property. Sony upped the ante however, by casting A-list stars in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black, and led many to believe reviving this property would be a worthwhile venture.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle starts off in 1996, where a father discovers a board game titled “Jumanji” and brings it home to his son, where it mysteriously turns into a video game and the son disappears soon after. Flash forward to the present day, where a cowardly nerd (Alex Wolf), a jock struggling with grades (Ser’Darius Blain), a smartphone dependent beauty (Madison Iseman), and a shy outsider (Morgan Turner) all find themselves in after school detention. It is there they discover the Jumanji video game, and are sucked into it as their polar opposite personality: a masculine hero (Dwayne Johnson), a short statured sidekick (Kevin Hart), a middle-aged fat man (Jack Black), and a butt kicking bombshell (Karen Gillian) respectively. In order to escape, they must complete the game, or risk being trapped in it forever.

While I recall memories of flipping through the children’s book when I was young, the 1995 Robin Williams film never stuck with me. So as a person who doesn’t have a strong affinity for the original film, I didn’t really care what they did with this unnecessary re-boot/ re-imagining. The set-up we have here is very Breakfast Club-esque, which at first comes off as contrived. It doesn’t help that the stereotypes for each real-world character are so over the top, with the nerd being overtly wimpy, the jock being a black teen who will get kicked off the football team if his grades don’t improve, the phone dependent popular girl being a vapid blonde, and the somehow unpopular but cute outsider being the one who challenges authority but then reverts back to being timid. Even though this set-up doesn’t last very long, you can’t wait to ditch the losers club finally get to our destination of the jungle with the A-list cast.

Once we get to the jungle, it’s a welcome change of pace, as each of the stereotyped teens interacting with each other in their new avatars is a delight. Obviously his storied career in comedy helps, but Jack Black comes across best as a middle aged obese man with the mannerisms of a ditzy social media obsessed teenage girl. Every time he comes on screen he’s a riot, and it’s nice to see Jack Black back after a long period of taking more serious roles and unfunny star vehicles (*cough* Gulliver’s Travels *cough*). Kevin Hart remains as screechy as ever, but his shtick still works well here and continues to be the go-to man in comedy. Even Nick Jonas shows off his chops in the film, and proves there’s life after the Jonas Brothers and his solo music career.

Not all the characters come across as memorable, however. It’s nice to finally see Karen Gillan without her blue makeup on when she’s Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she doesn’t really resonate much other than her butt-kicking action sequences. Even Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest movie star on the planet, is fairly unremarkable in the film. Sure, it’s funny the first couple of times the hulking man acts insecure and sheepish, but in his attempt to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, somewhere along the way of filming this film he left his charisma at home. Even more forgettable than them is the villain, played by a drugged-out looking Bobby Cannavale. I’d attribute his lackluster villainous role to the fact that most video games’ main villains are fairly monotonous but that would be giving the filmmakers too much credit.

Even the big budget action sequences are meant to be ridiculous and thrilling much like a video game, but they never reach a level happening enough to classify them as entertaining. If anything, they’re just silly. The main highlight of the film other than Black and Hart is the character’s realizations that they can be the avatars they are in the game in their everyday lives as well. There’s something sweet and genuine about this realization that shows the film has some heart, and is a good lesson for young kids and teenagers out there who may be afraid to break out of their comfort zones. In that regard, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle proves there was something to be gained by re-booting/ re-imagining the otherwise bland Robin Williams 1995 version.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may be on the whole an unwarranted project, but there have been more egregious re-boots/ re-makes. When the film focuses on Black and Hart doing that thing they do and shows its heart by telling audiences you can be the hero you play in your video game in real life, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle proves itself as a manageable journey. It’s biggest star and blockbuster thrills, however, leave much to be desired. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may be able to prey on and revitalize 90s nostalgia for some, but for others, it’s an expedition into the jungle you can do without.

Rating: 2/4 Stars. Rent it.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner, Missi Pyle, and Colin Hanks. It is in theaters December 20th.