Movie reviews: ‘Jack Reacher’ sequel stalls; ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ lags

Paramount Pictures“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (PG-13)

Tom Cruise’s action movie career is beginning to feel far out of reach with “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the not-so-hotly-anticipated follow-up to the 2012 original.

Even though his 2015 blockbuster franchise entry “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” felt fresh, you begin to feel with the unnecessary  “Jack Reacher” sequel that if you strip away all the gadgets and disguises from Cruise’s “Impossible” films, you’ll find a tired, old formula movie like “Never Go Back” – and in this case, it’s a substandard formula movie.

Also new on Direct — Interview: Tim Burton, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Cruise begins “Never Go Back” in entertaining fashion, as he exposes a corrupt Texas border town for its human trafficking ways with relative ease. The reason the opening scene works is because Reacher uses his wit and intelligence to power the scene, rather than the over-exaggerated physical wherewithal the 54-year-old actor puts into play to dispatch groups of bad guys — four or more — at a time. From there, “Never Go Back” downshifts into action movie overdrive as it rolls through one ridiculous scene after the next.

Boba Fett Star Wars Sixth Scale Figure

“Never Go Back” becomes a convoluted mess after its promising opening, as Reacher ventures to Washington, D.C., to meet up with Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a decorated Army major who is railroaded with a trumped-up charge of espionage after two soldiers under her command turn up dead in Afghanistan. Busting Turner out of custody and becoming fugitives from the law, Turner, Reacher and a teen girl – who may be his daughter from a relationship 15 years earlier – find themselves targets of a corrupt military contracting conglomerate (gasp!) that is behind the ruse.

Fans of the original novel in a best-selling series by Lee Child may find more substance in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” even though the character is dramatically different in stature from page to screen. As for  everybody else, the film is an eye-rolling by-the-numbers borefest. Cruise is a passionate actor who usually pours his all into every project, by the end you feel like he’s sleepwalking through the role and completing it out of some sort of contractual obligation.

Cruise no doubt has talent, and it’s time he starts exploring other movie genres if he wants to remain a part of Hollywood’s fabric instead of retreading into familiar territory. Personally, I’d like to see the return of the power sleaze film executive Les Grossman from “Tropic Thunder.” Now that’s a character I can’t get enough of.

Lammometer: 4.5 out of 10

“Keeping Up With the Joneses” (PG-13)

If the spy comedy “Keeping Up With the Joneses” teaches us anything, Hollywood is having a really hard time keeping up with its quest for fresh and inspiring ideas. In short, the film has a talented cast but a tired premise, and fails to wring out even the mildest of laughs even though it stars a couple of very capable screen comedians.

Zack Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, a boring suburban couple who are awakened by their new, hot neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot), whose picture perfect life seems a bit off. Turns out the Joneses are undercover spies, and they’re on a mission that has something to do with Jeff’s ultra-secretive workplace.

tim-burton-book-bannerClick banner to learn how to buy!

The core cast members in “Keeping Up With the Joneses” are extremely likable, but while the talent is there, the comedy – mostly delivered by Galifianakis and Fisher – is mildly amusing at best.  Hamm and Gadot are there for the action, but while  “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is billed as an action comedy, the first big action scene doesn’t even happen until halfway in. By the time it wraps up, you can’t help but feel nothing more than a tremendous waste of time and talent.

Spy comedies can be funny:  take Melissa McCarthy’s 2015 smash “Spy,” for example. But for what it is, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” lags far behind the competition.

Lammometer: 4.5 out of 10

Movie reviews: Even with errors, ‘Accountant’ entertains; ‘Girl on the Train’ bumpy ride

Warner Bros.

“The Accountant” (R)

Despite its fascinating subject matter, the new Ben Affleck crime thriller “The Accountant,” for the lack of better words, just doesn’t add up. Convoluted and contrived — if not completely outlandish at times — the film has a fine share of outrageously entertaining moments to make it worthwhile. Ultimately, the film feels like an amalgam of Affleck’s buddy Matt Damon’s roles in “Good Will Hunting” and “Jason Bourne,” even though its far inferior to the former and superior to the latter.

Affleck stars as Christian Wolff, one of the aliases he assumes as an accountant to un-cook the books of the worst criminals in the world, including terrorists, cartels and mobs. Cool, calm and collected, Christian, a man with high-functioning autism, is a math savant, which is why he was brought on board by a multi-billion-dollar robotics firm to find how $65 million went missing.

Boba Fett Star Wars Sixth Scale Figure

Quickly defying the firm’s expectations, Christian discovers the books were being cooked, which leads to the sudden deaths of some of the corporation’s top  executives. But the assassins don’t want to stop there. They want the company’s accountant, Dana (Anna Kendrick), dead, too, as well as Christian.

Unbeknownst to his would-be assassins, Christian was forced by his father into violent training as a super-soldier of sorts as a young child to prepare him to combat the cruelties of the world. His lethal skills are coming in handier than ever protect himself from  and he’s willing to use whatever means necessary to protect himself and Dana from a dogged assassin (Jon Bernthal) who ruthlessly dispatches everyone  connected in the wrong way to his high-profile clients.

Affleck, for as much he is assailed as an actor (in such roles as Batman), is actually pretty good in “The Accountant.” He by no means rises to the level of the autistic character Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for playing in “Rain Man,” but he brings enough subtlety and when the film needs it – physical dominance – to make the role engaging. Underplaying the role most of the time, Affleck and director Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”) find unexpected opportunities for laughs in many different places.

Also new on Direct —

eculiar-children/" target="_blank">Interview: Tim Burton, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Treating Christian’s autism as an indifference with other people as opposed to a disability, “The Accountant” naturally shows how those living with the mysterious brain disorder can and will find a way to thrive in society. Of course, Christian’s ultimate actions as a mercenary of sorts are extreme, and like the mathematical equations he’s trying to figure out, the plot of the “The Accountant” is far too complex to sort out in the film’s 2-hour, 8-minute frame.

Complete with examinations of Christian’s past – as well a subplot involving a veteran U.S. Treasury officer’s (J.K. Simmons) hunt for the math genius – “The Accountant” is simply too confusing to figure out, that is, until, an obligatory flashback scenes conveniently ties up the loose ends you’ve been grasping to have tied up for the duration of the movie.

In the end, “The Accountant” is the sort of movie you’ll want to like, and if you’re willing to take the preposterous plot at face value, you’ll emerge from it at least half-satisfied.  If only more thought would have gone into the examination of Christian’s autism and how it shaped him as an adult and less into the film’s action scenes, “The Accountant” would have ranked much-higher on the numbers scale. The film has a couple great twists, which will have you questioning afterward how you didn’t see them coming.

Lammometer: 6.5 (out of 10)

Listen to Tim’s review of “The Girl on the Train” on the “KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard below, starting at 11 minutes in.

“The Girl on the Train” (R)

Emily Blunt gives the best performance of her career with “The Girl on the Train,” a bumpy adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling crime novel of the same name.

Though it’s stacked with an excellent cast and a capable director with Tate Taylor (“The Help”), “The Girl” – about a severe alcoholic who suffers a blackout during a violent episode that leaves a woman (Haley Bennett) dead – hobbles along because of its non-linear storyline that hampers the narrative.

tim-burton-book-bannerClick banner to learn how to buy!

Basically a whodunit thriller with a number of potential murder suspects, Taylor can’t muster enough of a shield to keep the real killer’s identity a secret for too long.  With the air let out of the balloon so soon, “The Girl on the Train” turns from a suspenseful tale into more a waiting game, until the film catches up to the time it’s ready to make the big reveal.

Comparatively,  “The Girl on the Train” is not nearly as good as the similarly-plotted “Gone Girl,” which at least in cinematic form, is far superior. That’s not to say this “Girl” is a bad movie – Blunt’s Oscar-caliber performance alone elevates it far above that designation.

Lammometer: 6.5 (out of 10)

Listen to Tim’s review of “The Girl on the Train” on the “KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard and Michele Tafoya below.

Interview: Alfre Woodard talks Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’

NetflixMahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard in “Luke Cage” (photo: Netflix)

It’s been an eventful year for Oscar-nominated actress Alfre Woodard, who had the rare opportunity to act in not one, but two different projects in the Marvel Universe. After making a brief but pivotal appearance opposite her longtime friend Robert Downey Jr. in the summer blockbuster feature “Captain America: Civil War,” Woodard is now playing a major role in the new Netflix superhero drama “Luke Cage.”

Woodard said the common denominator in the superhero projects was the novel idea of story first, then visual effects. Having characters with  superhuman abilities is all well and good, Woodard said, yet those abilities are less likely to enthrall a viewer unless there’s substance there.

“You can have all the special effects in the world and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into them, but so many times people walk out of these films and say, ‘Of all the execs involved, didn’t anybody read the script?'” Woodard said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “No matter how much technology we have, it comes down to the stories and storytellers.”

Now streaming on Netflix, “Luke Cage” is based on the indestructible Marvel Comics character who debuted in print in 1972. Having first made an appearance in Marvel’s New York City-set Netflix series “Jessica Jones” last year, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) returns in this new series to his Harlem roots to hopefully blend into the background and keep his superhuman strength and impenetrable skin a secret.

But when a vicious club owner, Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali), and his cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Woodard), start wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, Luke has no choice but to emerge from the shadows to protect the innocent people they are targeting.

Woodard chalks the success of “Luke Cage” up to the show’s creator and showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker, who studied journalism at Stanford — background Woodard believes helps inform the look and feel of the series.

Princess Leia Star Wars Sixth Scale Figure

om/affiliates/banners/902230_468x60.gif" alt="Ellen Ripley Alien Sixth Scale Figure" width="468" height="60" border="0" />

“Cheo’s an amazing man. He understands, appreciates and revels in the culture and the history of Harlem,” Woodard said. “He’s also a hip-hop aficionado. He’s the first journalist to realize that hip-hop was not just a passing phase and would be a successful world culture for generations. He brings all that creative intelligence to telling the stories to ‘Luke Cage.’ That’s why I signed on, and I have not been disappointed any step of the way.”

Playing Mariah over the course of several episodes instead of in a movie is a dream for Woodard, who thrives on developing a character over a longer period of time rather than trying to squeeze everything about her into a two-hour frame. On the whole, Woodard, 63, doesn’t think Mariah should be flat-out labeled as a corrupt politician, but just a person who happens to be a councilwoman with ambitions — albeit ambitions she’s been blinded by.

“It’s not just politicians who are like this. The role is not about how much we are willing to sink (to get things done), but how much we’re willing to wager to do what we think is right or helpful,” Woodard said.

Also new on Direct — Interview: Tim Burton, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Ultimately, Woodard said, Mariah is far from being a one-note villain.

“I love Mariah because I think she is very complex, as we all are, and I love being able to play somebody that we all run into in real life. She has all the cuts and bruises, yet she has a sunny side,” Woodard said. “As an actor, I love that. I feel like she’s a real human being. In this case, people may feel like, ‘I can identify with them’ until the character’s life takes a dramatic turn and then go, ‘Oh, my God. I couldn’t go all the way there.’

“But that’s why we tell stories,” Woodard added. “To entertain, yes, but also to have audiences reflect and imagine themselves in these situations.”

Tim Burton Book 2
Click book cover for info on how to buy!


Movie reviews: ‘Deepwater Horizon’ compels, ‘Miss Peregrine’ soars

Summit Entertainment

“Deepwater Horizon” (R) Kurt Russell, Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich and Kate Hudson excel in the compelling true-life tale “Deepwater Horizon,” which recounts the harrowing Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig disaster in April 2010. Most news accounts focused on the fixed camera on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico as BP’s crippled oil well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the gulf. Not chronicled so much was the oil rig disaster itself, which claimed 11 of the 120 crew members on board as the rig caught on fire, exploded and crumbled.

Directed by Peter Berg, “Deepwater Horizon ” is a must-see in IMAX, as the immersive sound and big, big picture literally takes you inside the disaster. As the rivets pop on the oil rig and shrapnel flies, the sound design of the film of  the flying debris will have you ducking for cover. It’s an incredible cinematic achievement.

20th Century Fox

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (PG-13) Tim Burton is back with a fantastical look at the oddities of life with “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” a highly entertaining family adventure that works on all levels. Chronicling the plight of a group of children with “Peculiar” abilities and the creatures who want to eliminate them, the movie is not only full of heart,  it  manages the tricky balance of being funny, quirky, creepy and thrilling all at the same time.

Interviews: Tim Burton, Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell, Leah Gallo

Some fans of  Ransom Riggs’ 2011 best-selling novel of the same name may bristle at some of the changes Burton makes with some characters, but as a cinematic experience, “Miss Peregrine” soars. Eva Green is engaging as always as the titular Miss Peregrine, while Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell are terrific leading the ensemble cast of “Peculiar Children.” Samuel L. Jackson is wonderfully creepy as Mr. Barron, a shape-shifting creature who needs to nourish himself on the eyeballs of Peculiars to regain his original human form.  All told, “Miss Peregrine” is Burton at this very best.

Tim Burton Book 2
Click book cover for info on how to buy!

Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers