Tag Archives: emily blunt

Review: ‘Jungle Cruise,’ Road to Nowhere

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt star in an action adventure, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. 

Cheerily haphazard in nature, Jungle Cruise quickly reveals its instinct for precisely-timed, jam-packed action sequences that are entirely plucked from the minds and imaginations of people who are dreaming on a lazy afternoon. 

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra has consistently demonstrated his craft at constructing visually appealing scenarios in a series of popcorn thrillers, often starring Liam Neeson (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter). His most satisfying films have displayed a canny sense of how a strong directorial voice can overcome narrative nonsense (Orphan) and a premise that appears quite limiting (The Shallows) .

In Jungle Cruise, his filmmaking skills coalesce to make a roundly entertaining motion picture that walks a fine line between risible and ridiculous. Frequently, it becomes well-nigh impossible to discern any intentions behind a scene before the succeeding scene leaps off in a different, absurd direction, equally risible and/or ridiculous.  

Dwayne Johnson stars as riverboat captain Frank Wolff, an amiable sort of scrappy trouble on the Amazon in 1916 Brazil. Emily Blunt stars opposite him as Lily Houghton, recently arrived  from the UK with her brother Jack Whitehall, who is the discreetly gay MacGregor Houghton. 

Lily is in possession of an arrowhead that is extremely rare and valuable, said to be the key to finding Something Awesome that will cure every disease on Earth. In hot pursuit is Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim, a broadly Germanic warrior who also wants Something Awesome, though for personal profit, not the good of mankind. 

The screenplay, credited to veteran writers Michael Green and the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, is filled to bursting with incidents, eventually overflowing, as though it were meant to keep people occupied while waiting in a long line for a theme park attraction. It begins to feel like a two-hour animated adventure that has overstayed its welcome, repeating similar action beats ad infinitum. 

The entire cast gets the joke, perhaps instructed to play their roles as broadly as possible, with a wink and a nod to Jungle Cruise enthusiasts — this is a movie version of a theme park attraction, after all. Johnson, especially, is in his self-mocking element, from the pun-filled salute to Jungle Cruise captains worldwide, who feel compelled to riff endless on the same tired jokes, to jokes about his size and stature.

Emily Blunt gets into the spirit of things easily; she’s the most talented actor and shows her ease at gliding through dialogue and displaying a sassy, spunky attitude; this is a woman in 1916 who is in control of her own agency. Jack Whitehall wisely recognizes that his role is a supporting player, the butt of many jokes, and the comic relief in an action-comedy. 

Jesse Plemons adroitly essays an evil villain, sometimes clueless and sometimes brilliant, but always showing up in the wrong place at the right time. Paul Giamatti contributes an amusing turn as a (broadly) Italian character; perhaps he is an ancestor of the Mario Brothers? Without tapping into the fuller range of their talents, Edgar Ramirez, Veronica Falcon and Sulem Calderon gamely make the most of their roles. 

As the action-adventure river winds onward, Jungle Cruise floats with it, sometimes  submerged by the elements surrounding it and occasionally conquering all. It’s a good ride but a bit long. 

The film opens in theaters in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on July 30, via Disney. It will also be available that day on Disney+ with Premier Access (an additional charge for subscribers). For more information about the film, visit the official site. 

Review: ‘Sicario’

Rarely does a movie feel so intensely alive as Sicario, an intense drama that ratchets almost instantly into a suspense thriller and seldom relaxes after that.

Emily Blunt stars as rookie FBI agent Kate Macer, who was sent into the field very early as a kidnap rescue specialist and has acquitted herself quite well. Her steely resolve is demonstrated on a mission with her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), where they are reminded once again that they are, in essence, little more than janitors, cleaning up the fatal messes left behind when the drug cartels have completed their deals, no matter how effective they are at their jobs.

Given the opportunity to join a secretive, multi-agency task force led by the entirely too casual CIA agent Matt (Josh Brolin), she quickly accepts, and soon finds herself on the wrong side of the U.S./Mexico border, picking up a cartel chief in the hopes that it will draw out the chief’s brother, who is perpetually in hiding. The true motives of the operation itself remain murky, beyond Matt’s mouthing platitudes about needing to get things done.

It speaks directly to Kate’s growing impatience and frustration, the realization that doing everything strictly according to the law is inherently ineffective when battling criminals with seemingly unlimited resources and absolutely no scruples. Facing the largest moral dilemma of her life, she receives no help from Reggie, who is committed to upholding the law no matter what, although he is ready to go through hell and back to protect and defend his partner.

Instead, Kate is fascinated and repelled by Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a soft-spoken nuclear threat who is ready to explode wherever and whenever he needs to do so. He’s described as a consultant from Colombia, though his loyalties remain in question. Really, the entire operation revolves around him, and his goals, which are single-minded and absolutely pitiless when they are finally revealed. Whether Alejandro is righteous in his behavior or not, of course, depends on your moral point of view.

Del Toro is magnetic in the role, a low-key, simmering volcano capable of exploding at any moment. Blunt, wiping away most of her sparkling charm, provides an uncertain moral center. Kaluuya is proficient and believable in a thankless role. Brolin is feckless and reckless. Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Victor Garber, and Maximiliano Hernandez, as a police officer and family man whose connection to the case remains unclear for much of the movie, all contribute excellent dramatic turns.

Sicario wrestles with legal, moral, and philosophical questions while hurtling down the highway like a rocket. Drawn from an excellent original script by Taylor Sheridan, superbly directed by Villenueve, sumptuously photographed by the masterful Roger Deakins, and edited to within an inch of its life by Joe Walker, Sicario burns with moral fiber and artistic integrity.

The film opens at Cinemark West and AMC NorthPark on Friday, September 25, before opening wide on Friday, October 2.

Review: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Loses Its Edge

Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' (Warner Bros.)
Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (Warner Bros.)
The newest action picture from director Doug Liman threatens to be completely fresh and irreverent, until it realizes Tom Cruise is the star and that its premise is borrowed from Groundhog Dog with a science-fiction twist.

Based on All You Need is Kill, a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka published in 2004, and a screenplay credited to Christopher McQuarrie (Cruise’s Jack Reacher), Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, Edge of Tomorrow posits that in the near future Earth has been invaded by aliens from space known as Mimics, who resemble giant, speedy circular mops yet are soundly defeating mankind’s military forces, combined into the United Defense Force. Military spokesperson Cage (Cruise) sounds good on television, but his cowardly, selfish nature is revealed in a conversation with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who orders him to “sell the military” as they make a last-ditch effort to repel the invaders on a beach in France. It’s a battle that is sure to cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and Cage firmly resists the possibility of being one of them.

He ends up in the battle anyway, and — no spoiler — is killed within the first five minutes. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he —

You get the idea. As Cage desperately tries to figure out what’s going on, he comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero, and she provides the key to the rest of the story.

The early sequences zig and zag with vim and vigor. Placing Cruise into the body of an uncertain and unlikable character who is only looking out for himself infuses the story with energy stolen from his younger years, when he could embody selfish jerks with elan and a measure of callow soulfulness. (I’m thinking especially of Risky Business, Top Gun, and The Color of Money.) Listening as he endeavors to talk his way out of the clutches of the single-minded Master Sergeant Farell (a delightfully bluff and Southern-twangy Bill Paxton) unearths the actor’s most patently insincere sincerity; it’s easy to see why he would be an effective spokesperson for the military.

All too quickly, the zippy dialogue recedes into the background (resurfacing only occasionally), and the lumbering mechanics of the plot take center stage, calling for multiple extended action sequences that are staged and filmed in an anonymous fashion by director Liman and cinematographer Dion Beebe. A dozen years ago, Beebe collaborated with director Kurt Wimmer to make the stylish and fluid Equilibrium; that same year, Liman made his first action flick, The Bourne Identity, which prized camera movement above visual clarity. Liman’s vision prevails here, of course, and so the result is a series of action scenes that are well-nigh incomprehensible.

When the action pauses, Cruise morphs quickly back into the conventional action hero he was born to play, adapting to his circumstances in rapid order and becoming a supremely efficient and selfless soldier. Naturally, that can be attributed to the nature of the time-travel loop in which he’s trapped, but it’s also a symptom of the Traditional Hollywood Protagonist Trope, his flaws erased from memory as he is transformed long before the climactic third act.

As long as Cruise’s character is imperfect and weak, the movie sings true. Once he becomes ‘all that he can be,’ to paraphrase a one-time slogan of the U.S. Army, the inevitability of the plot twists and turns become all too obvious and predictable. Without a recognizable and relatable character at the center, the movie sags, only perking up at odd times that are unable to halt the slide into mediocrity.

Edge of Tomorrow is a thriller that starts strong and loses its potency throughout its running time, like a carbonated beverage left open in the summer heat and gone flat.

The film opens in theaters wide across Dallas on Friday, June 6.