“Fantastic Four” (PG-13) 1 1/2 stars (out of four)
An origins story tailored to attract the teen demographic, the Fox-produced Marvel superhero reboot of “Fantastic Four,” unlike the Disney-owned Marvel properties “The Avengers” and most recently, “Ant-Man,” takes itself way too seriously. As a result, “Fantastic Four” comes off as a clunky, overwrought melodrama that could very well be the worst superhero movie in years.
“Fantastic Four” picks up with boy genius Reed Richards in middle school, where he befriends a young Ben Grimm, who helps supply the budding scientist with the parts he needs for his teleporting experinment from his family’s scrap yard. Fast forward to their teen years, Reed (Miles Teller) is recruited to join the Baxter Institute by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg. E. Cathey) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) to help implement his ideas into a machine that will teleport objects into alternate universe. This so-called fourth dimension apparently holds the promise of energy and the key to the survival of Earth in the future.
In the company of Victor Von Doom (Tobey Kebbell), Sue’s brother, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and Ben (Jamie Bell), Reed takes a test run to the alternate dimension, where the experiment goes horribly awry and alters their physical makeup. Reed suddenly has the ability to stretch his limbs, while Johnny can quickly burst into a ball of flames, and Ben takes the form of rocks. Sue, who manages to get the crew back to safety, is contaminated by the teleporting craft upon its disastrous return to Earth, giving her the ability to turn invisible and create force fields. Despite detesting their new abilities, the team will need them to fight off Doom, who harnessed the greatest powers of all of them by absorbing electricity.
While fanboys groused about the 2005 version of “Fantastic Four” and its sequel, “Rise of the Silver Surfer” in 2007, at least the films – which starred Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and Ioan Gruffudd as the “First Family of Superheroes – were entertaining. The tone was lighter and there was a real playfulness to the films, unlike this new reboot, which completely lacks a sense of humor.
On top of that, there’s just no real chemistry between the actors, and the special effects come off as something you’d see in a Roger Corman film from the 1970s. Add in some bad acting and the same old, lame-o storyline where the team fights Dr. Doom yet again, “Fantastic Four” is really lacking in inspiration. There has to be reason co-creator Stan Lee suspiciously doesn’t turn up in a cameo for this. He’s probably embarrassed.
“Ricki and the Flash” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
Meryl Streep wields a might axe in “Ricki and the Flash,” a tale of redemption about an aging musician who tries to reconnect with her adult children years after she abandoned her family to pursue her rock ‘n’ roll dreams. Scripted by Diablo Cody and directed by Jonathan Demme, “Ricki and the Flash” has a surprisingly weak narrative, yet what it lacks in story it makes up with some stellar performances.
Streep stars as Ricki, a California-based musician by night and grocery cashier by day struggling to get by. Her life is completely turned upside down, though, when she gets a call from her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), who wants her to return home to Indiana because the couple’s only daughter (Mamie Gummer) was jilted by her new husband and is going through a crisis. Also reuniting with her two estranged adult sons (Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate), Ricki seeks forgiveness from her family for her past misgivings, even though their wounds run deep.
Streep proves once again that she can virtually nail any role with “Ricki and the Flash,” and from the get-go she comes off like a seasoned rock guitar player and singer. Of course, she has the benefit of being backed by some expert studio musicians like Joe Vitale, as well as Rick Springfield, who is impressive both as Ricki’s sideman on-stage and boyfriend off.
If there’s any problem with Streep’s performance, she comes off as so damn likable that you feel guilty rooting for her, especially considering that Ricki selfishly left her family for her own benefit. Audra McDonald, thankfully, crashes the feel-good party as Pete’s longtime wife and step-mom who raised the kids, reminding the audience just how much of a lout Ricki really is.
“Shaun the Sheep Movie” (PG) 4 stars (out of four)
Aardman Animations has molded a new classic with “Shaun the Sheep,” a bleating brilliant stop-motion adventure comedy that easily ranks among the best films of the summer if not the year. Making his big screen debut after a number of years as a hit BBC series, “Shaun” follows the title character and his fellow flock members on a big city adventure to rescue their owner, Farmer, who is suffering from a bout of amnesia.
Like the TV series, “Shaun the Sheep Movie” doesn’t have any dialogue, yet it. Smart, funny and even a bit poignant, “Shaun” is a shoo-in for a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination come awards season.
“Dark Places” (R) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
The page has unfortunately turned in the wrong direction for “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn with “Dark Places,” a murder mystery thriller that starts out with a load of potential, but unravels in the film’s third act. Charlize Theron stars as Libby Day, a woman who is forced to confront her past 25 years after the brutal murders of her mother and two sisters in a Kansas farmhouse. Theron feels one note as the ice-cold Libby, who because of her dwindling finances is forced to take part in the morbid investigation of the murders, which were pinned on her older brother (Tye Sheridan as a teen, Corey Stoll as an adult) but likely committed by someone else.
Like “Gone Girl,” Flynn has crafted a twisty narrative with “Dark Places,” but the film falls apart in the hands of director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who also adapted the screenplay. By the time “Dark Places” conveniently wraps up, you can’t help but think how much better it would have been under the direction of somebody like “Gone Girl” director David Fincher. Despite a talented cast (which also includes Christina Hendricks and Chloe Grace Moretz), the film is a real disappointment.