Tag Archives: Tom Cruise

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

“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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

Interview: Director Christopher McQuarrie talks ‘Rogue Nation’

Photos: Paranount Pictures

By Tim Lammers

Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie has officially worked on four projects with actor-filmmaker Tom Cruise, from writing “Valkyrie” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” to directing the action superstar on “Jack Reacher.”

Yet no matter how convicted Cruise was on those projects, McQuarrie said there was something extra special watching Cruise come to life as Ethan Hunt in their latest collaboration, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” and proving that the life of a legendary super-spy isn’t as perfect as you would expect.

“What was especially great in this one was Tom’s ability and his willingness to not only to have fun with himself, but with the character,” McQuarrie told me in a recent phone conversation. “It was fun to direct Tom in a scene where he was supposed to jump over the hood of a BMW. Your expectation is that it’s going to be this movie star hood-slide, but instead, he trips and takes a face-plant on the hood. That part was improvised. He said, ‘I got something, just roll the camera,’ and he did this great sight gag.”

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New on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday (Paramount Home Media Distribution), Cruise again embodies Hunt, a rogue agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) and bane of CIA honcho Hunley’s (Alec Baldwin) existence. Tired of the destruction Hunt continually leaves in his wake, Hunley finally manages to convince the government to absorb — and effectively, abolish — the IMF program. Apart from his past misgivings, Hunley is also fed up with Hunt’s obsession with the terrorist organization known as “The Syndicate” — a group that the CIA claims is a product of Hunt’s (Cruise) imagination.

However, a deadly encounter with The Syndicate’s head (Sean Harris) confirms Hunt’s suspicions that the group is indeed for real, and he needs to enlist the handful of his IMF colleagues (Simon Pegg, Je

remy Renner and Ving Rhames) to bring the group down. The situation is so desperate that Hunt is forced to take a leap of faith and trust Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a Syndicate agent who for reasons unexplained, helps him escape torture and certain death at the hands of her employer.

“Rogue Nation,” like the previous “Mission: Impossible” installments, is chock-full of death-defying stunts, not the least of which Cruise’s heart-pounding scene as he clings to the outside of a cargo plane. Despite all of the planning that went into the scene, McQuarrie doesn’t deny that it’s the stuff nightmares are made of, especially for the guy directing the film.

“His falling off the plane was actually the least of my concerns,” McQuarrie said. “It was the debris on the runway and potential bird strikes that made me worry about him being torn off of the plane rather than falling. We realized as we got closer and closer to that stunt that there was really nothing we could do about it. You were really doing something that had never been done before, and you had to go with a ‘Let’s see what happens’ approach. It was pretty terrifying.”

The interesting thing about the shot is that the cat was let out of bag early about it. Not only was the sequence heavily featured in the film’s trailer and TV spots, it was depicted on the film’s theatrical poster. Because of that, McQuarrie used the scene very early in the film, and surprised many viewers in the process.

“We knew instinctively that it was the right thing to do to put the scene where we did,” said McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Usual Suspects.” “If we built the whole movie about that shot and put it at the end, it simply wouldn’t be fresh or satisfying.”

Perhaps one of the freshest surprises to come out of “Rogue Nation” is Ferguson, a Swedish actress relatively new to the Hollywood film scene. McQuarrie, who will be back with Cruise for yet another “Mission: Impossible” film in 2017, said he hopes Ferguson will be a part of it.

“Since I had such a great experience working with Rebecca, I would love-love-love to work with her again,” McQuarrie enthused.

Then, the writer-director suddenly remembered how “Rogue Nation” effectively catapulted the actress to superstardom.

“Unfortunately, everybody else in the world loves her as much as I do now. I only hope she’s available,” the director added with a laugh. “I just hope she returns my calls.”

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Summer at the movies 2015: The best and worst

'Inside Out' (photo: Disney/Pixar)

By Tim Lammers

Theaters had their share of movie hits and misses this summer. Here’s a look at the five best … and the worst.

5. “Spy” (R): Unlike the overrated “Trainwreck,” this latest teaming of Melissa McCarthy and her “Bridesmaids”/”The Heat” director Paul Feig was by far the summer’s funniest film. After hitting the wall with her obnoxious performance in “Tammy” last summer, McCarthy returned to a character with dimension – a vulnerable sweetheart who can also talk F-bomb-laced smack with the best of them – reminding moviegoers of the very things that had us fall in love with her in the first place. Having a winning cast including Jude Law, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne and an uncharacteristically funny Jason Statham to back McCarthy up didn’t hurt, either. And who says writing, direction and casting isn’t important to a movie?

4. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (PG-13): Tom Cruise continued to ramp up the intensity with more real-life, death-defying stunts in the fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” series, which has vastly improved since the underwhelming original. “Rogue Nation” isn’t as good as its predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” but clearly Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie have enough respect for their audiences to give them a twisty, challenging narrative to compliment the film’s exhilarating action scenes. Relative newcomer Rebecca Ferguson also brings a kick-ass performance and proper air of mystery to her ambiguous female lead, and Simon Pegg gives his funniest “M:I” performance yet as Benji Dunn, Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) techno-nerd right-hand man.

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3. “Love and Mercy” (R): It’s only fitting that the biopic of Beach Boy icon Brian Wilson get a summer release, and one can only hope that it’s not forgotten come awards season in the fall. Director Bill Pohlad expertly tells the riveting story of Wilson during the R

20;Pet Sounds” era (Paul Dano) and later in his career (John Cusack), where the tortured musician endured physical and mental abuse first from his father/manager, Murry (Bill Camp), and in his later years, from manager/psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (a haunting Paul Giamatti). When all is said and done, you can’t help but be affected by the fascinating, behind-the-scenes stories and heartbreaking plight of one of America’s greatest musical geniuses. Dano is brilliant as usual in the role of young Brian, and Cusack gives one of the best performances of his career as the elder composer/musician.

2. “Inside Out” (PG): After a few shaky years for the studio, “Up” Oscar-winning director Pete Docter brings Pixar Animation back to dizzying heights with his ingenious look at the changing emotions of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) as she relocates with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Docter keys in on five emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – and how they become seriously mixed up when they tamper with Riley’s memories. The film works for all ages, although adults – particularly parents – will become weepy when being reminded of their own childhoods and the rites of passage as their own children cross from childhood into adolescence. Beautifully animated with vibrant, iridescent colors, “Inside Out” is Pixar’s best since their 2010 Best Animated Feature Oscar winner “Toy Story 3.”

Tom Hardy in Mad Max Fury Road

1. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (R): Thirty years after his last film in the original “Mad Max” trilogy starring Mel Gibson, writer-director George Miller comes screaming back with his hair on fire to make “Fury Road,” which is easily the most energetic, hyperkinetic, visually whacked-out ride to hit the big screen this year. The film is anchored by a charismatic Tom Hardy as the new Max Rocketansky and bolstered by yet another risky, kick-ass performance by Charlize Theron as female warrior aiding him in a showdown with the skeleton-masked leader (a menacing Hugh Keays-Byrne) of a society of post-apocalyptic crazies. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a brilliant extension of the original “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” movie experience as it captures the bat-s*** crazy tone that made the original films cult classics. After starting with low budgets with his original films, you can’t help but feel that Miller finally got the chance to realize the vision of the “Mad Max” movie he’s always wanted to make.

And the worst …

“Vacation” (R): While “Tomorrowland” was in the running for the worst movie of the summer with its preachy diatribe about how we’re all to blame for killing our planet, there’s nothing more painful than a smattering of dreadfully unfunny set-ups and pratfalls in a movie that shouldn’t have been remade in the first place. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, who are generally likable and talented performers, should be embarrassed about ever signing up for this dreck, which feebly attempts to retrace Rusty Griswold’s (Helms) path to Walley World (the famed destination of the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983). Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo sadly show up for cameos near the end of the film, which only make you lament what might have been if maybe they would have been more creatively involved. Any amount would have elevated this “Vacation” out of its comedic hell.

Runners-up for worst summer movie: “Fantastic Four,” “Ted 2” and “Hot Pursuit.”

Movie reviews: ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,’ ‘Vacation’

Tom Cruise in 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' (photo - Paramount Pictures)

 By Tim Lammers

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Tom Cruise truly makes the impossible possible with “Rogue Nation,” a serious contender for the best installment in the five film “Mission: Impossible” series. Expertly directed and co-written by Christopher McQuarrie, “Rogue Nation” maintains the same energy, thrills and explosive action as it’s awesome predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” yet continues to advance the “Mission: Impossible” narrative instead of running into the trappings of most film sequels.

Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, a rogue agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) and No. 1 pain in the ass of CIA honcho Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who finally manages to convince the  government to absorb, and effectively, abolish, the IMF program. Apart from his past misgivings, Hunley is also fed up with Hunt’s obsession with the terrorist organization known as “The Syndicate” — a group that the CIA claims is a product of Hunt’s (Cruise) imagination.

But after a deadly encounter with The Syndicate’s head (Sean Harris), Ethan confirms the group is indeed for real; but he needs the now small group of his fellow IMF colleagues to bring the group down. Ethan is forced to take a leap of faith and trust Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a Syndicate agent who for reasons unexplained, helps him escape torture and certain death at the hands of her employer.

Interview: Rebecca Ferguson talks ‘Rogue Nation’

The great thing about “Rogue Nation” is that it’s full of surprises, starting with the highly-publicized scene where Cruise hangs onto the exterior of a cargo plane. Usually the sort of show-stopping scene you’d see in the third act of a film, the plane scene actually kicks off “Rogue Nation,” raising the stakes higher than they’ve ever been for a “Mission: Impossible” film (with maybe the exception of the Dubai tower scene in “Ghost Protocol”).

From there, “Rogue Nation” is naturally jam-packed with riveting action scenes (including a dizzying cycle chase), yet never once loses sight of the film’s detailed narrative. Loaded with twists and turns, “Rogue Nation” will keep you guessing until the very end.

Cruise is spectacular once again as Ethan, and you have to really admire his commitment to the physical demands of the role and the ever-expanding narrative of the “Mission: Impossible” series. He’s clearly the star of the series, yet generously shares his screen time with co-stars Simon Pegg (funnier than ever), Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames — the only IMF agents he can trust.

Cruise also has an amazing eye when it comes to bringing new actors into the fold, particularly Ferguson, an experienced star of Swedish and British film and TV, who marks her second appearance in a U.S. film with “Rogue Nation.” Smart, physically lethal and sexy as hell, Ferguson possesses a classic Hollywood screen beauty rarely seen in today’s films. Even as a relative newcomer to American film, she more than holds her own against Cruise.

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“Vacation” (R) 1 star (out of four)

The “Holiday Road” has hit a dead end with “Vacation,” a dreadfully unfunny remake of the Harold Ramis-directed gem “National Lampoon’s Vacation” from 1983. Packed to the gills with moronic jokes and forced humor at every turn, “Vacation” is easily a contender for worst movie of the summer, if not worst movie of the year.

After an amusing opening featuring a couple-dozen pictures you’d see in an Awkward Family Photo album (full disclosure – the first photo they show is of my wife’s second cousins),  “Vacation” picks up with Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), who shifts gears away from the usual summer vacation destination and insists that his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and two sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) retrace his family’s cross-country trip to Walley World from 30 years before.

Renting a knock-off hybrid vehicle that instantly becomes trouble, Rusty loads up his wife and kids for the long trip from Chicago to California. Naturally, they run into one disaster after the next, yet hold out the hope of making it to Walley World in one piece.

Opening with a classic “Holiday Road” tune from the 1983 original film, the music switches gear to an F-bomb laden rap song, setting the tone for the sort of trashy movie the new “Vacation” quickly becomes. Whether it comes with the revelation of Debbie’s torrid sexual encounters during college to her puke-soaked attempt to regain her former glory during a stop at her alma mater; or the family’s dip into the festering sewer waters which was revealed in the film’s red band trailer, “Vacation” seems intent to make you cringe and gag in the hope that you’ll laugh at it, too. Cringe and gag you will. Laugh you won’t.

But that’s not the worst of it. There’s the youngest Griswold (Stebbins) who plays one of the most annoying characters in recent movie memory: a smart-ass preteen who drops the F-bomb with wanton abandon; and also kicks off the movie’s string of oh-so-funny (NOT) jokes about pedophilia and rape that pollutes the film.

By far the most embarrassing thing about “Vacation,” though, is Helms, who assumes the role played by Anthony Michael Hall as a child (if the filmmakers thought Hall wasn’t able to play himself as an adult, the joke’s on them).  It’s too bad, because Helms (as evidenced by “The Office” and “Hangover” films) can be funny; but here he’s relegated to effectively playing the same, horribly misinformed dad that Chevy Chase embodied in the first film. Chase, naturally, shows up in a cameo, as does Beverly D’Angelo, but they’re really not given anything to work with because frankly, there’s nothing there.

As awful as “Vacation” is, there are a few bright spots: Chris Hemsworth, who plays the very well-endowed husband to the adult Audrey Griswold (Leslie Mann), is quite funny; and Charlie Day nails his bit role as a chipper whitewater rafting guide. While not as funny as the still photos in the opening credits, the stills to close the movie (along with yes, another trashy, F-bomb filled song) signals the film’s squandered potential. And, um, Thor does swing his mighty hammer in the end credits, so beware.

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