WHY HIM? (USA/15A/111mins) Directed by John Hamburg. Starring Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mulally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan Michael-Key THE PLOT: Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) has a fabulous new boyfriend – internet millionaire and app developer Laird (James Franco). She has not told her parents Ned (Bryan Cranston) and Barb (Megan Mulally) yet, but they get a rude awakening when he sneaks up on her during a webcam chat for his idea of Netflix and chill. Ned, Barb and their teenage son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) travel from the wintry chills of Michigan to sunny California to meet Laird and spend Christmas with him. However, Ned is not too impressed with the tattooed, foul-mouthed, over-the-top personality of Laird. Within minutes, Ned takes an instant disliking to him and his over-eager ‘real estate manager’ Gustav (Keegan Michael-Key), whom Laird likes to have occasional Clouseau-and-Cato fights with. As Laird slowly seduces his way into the family, Ned wonders – why him? THE VERDICT: It is no surprise to learn from the end credits of this film that Jonah Hill and Ben Stiller were involved with it. Hill co-wrote the script with Ian Helfer and director John Hamburg. Stiller gets a producing credit, so it is not much of a stretch to imagine this as a variation on Meet The Parents – but from the Robert De Niro perspective instead. The basic premise sets it up as a Ned v Laird death match, with Stephanie caught between them. Laird is very eager to impress the Fleming family, with his flashy, paperless designer house and, er, hi-tech toilet – which results in one laugh-out-loud scene. Though, the gag is overstretched and needs to be flushed away a bit sooner. Ned only sees trouble when it comes to Laird, but he is also overprotective and unable to process his daughter’s love for Laird.
The script is stuffed like a Christmas turkey with jokes and sight gags, many of which hit the bullseye and are very sharply written (e.g. the gags about the eccentric Gustav and Laird’s omnipresent A.I.). There are few duds here and there though, like a subplot involving one of Ned’s employees hacking into Laird’s computer which ends up in an awkward situation. The cast go full throttle with their characters, with Franco letting rip with his eager-to-please character and Cranston showing a lighter side after more serious roles recently. The constant bickering and rivalry between them is fun to watch.
However, it is hard to shake off the feeling that everyone here is trying a little too hard to please. The basic premise is enough to generate bellyfuls of laughs without the need to throw everything, including a famous rock band, into the mix. It becomes a little too busy and chaotic, barely pausing to let the audience take a breather before the next chuckle. If you look too closely, you can see the cracks in the script. However, there is still much to enjoy in Why Him?, thanks to the on-form cast, some good gags and a rather sweet centre too. RATING: 3/5 Review by Gareth O’Connor
MONSTER TRUCKS (USA/PG/104mins)
Directed by Chris Wedge. Starring Rob Lowe, Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Amy Ryan, Thomas Lennon
THE PLOT: After an explosion at an oil drilling site, teenager Tripp (Lucas Till) finds a strange creature hiding in the car repair yard where he works. On discovering the creature – nicknamed Creech – is friendly, and has a talent for making cars go faster than he ever thought possible, Tripp realises he has something special on his hands. The trouble is that Terravex – the oil company drilling the site – are on the hunt for Creech, and it is up to Tripp, and his friend Meredith (Jane Levy) to get him back home. THE VERDICT: ‘Monster Trucks’ is a strange sort of film. Although it is a strictly by the numbers creature adventure movie, aimed at 8-10 year olds, it boasts an impressive cast, including Jane Levy, Danny Glover, Rob Lowe and Thomas Lennon. The creature is cute and the car chases fun, but the literal title and lack of faith from Nickelodeon Movies suggests that ‘Monster Trucks’ is not going to be the box office smash and Christmas classic that it was potentially hoped to be.
The cast of the film do fine in their roles. Rob Lowe works fine as the villain of the piece, with Thomas Lennon being the voice of reason to his oily – sorry! – evil. Lucas Till makes Tripp a likeable enough teen, but the true confusion arises with Jane Levy – who was fantastic in Don’t Breathe earlier this year – Amy Ryan, and Danny Glover signing on to play underdeveloped and clichéd roles.
Derek Connolly’s screenplay feels as though it has taken its inspiration from any 80s adventure movie you care to name – ‘Flight of the Navigator’, ‘ET’, ‘The Goonies’ – and added big cars for the sake of a little more vroom! There is nothing inherently wrong with the screenplay for ‘Monster Trucks’, it is just that it is familiar, has been done before, and thus feels rather cliché and familiar. Also, many of the characters are totally underwritten, and while it is nice to see that Jane Levy’s character is not just another version of the female eye candy in the Transformers franchise, making her a one-dimensional book worm is only marginally better.
‘Monster Trucks’ is director Chris Wedge’s first live action film – he previously brought us the animated films ‘Robots’, ‘Epic’ and the first ‘Ice Age’ film – and he does fine with the film. The action set pieces are where the fun of the film lies, and there are problems with some of the performances in the film, since they feel one-dimensional and rather overblown, but ‘Monster Trucks’ is a film aimed at 8-10 year olds who like monsters and cars, and the film ticks both of those boxes. As well as this, Creech is rather cute, and there is a nice relationship between this CGI character and the teenager who befriends him.
In all, ‘Monster Trucks’ is not necessarily disappointing, but it stumbles in standing out from any other monster adventure movie in recent years. There is a sweetness to the film, but the emotional heart is somehow lacking, and many of the cast seem to over do their roles, and the ones that don’t are wasted in the film. Still, those obsessed with cars and monsters are sure to have fun with ‘Monster Trucks’, and for the adults accompanying them to the cinema; hey, at least some of the chases are fun. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
COLLATERAL BEAUTY (USA/12A/97mins) Directed David Frankel. Starring Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Kiera Knightle THE PLOT: Two years after his young daughter dies, Howard (Will Smith) is still monosyllabic, and has little interest in engaging with the advertising firm that he founded with his friend Whit (Edward Norton). With a big account on the line that could make or break the company, Whit and colleagues Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) decide to hire actors to play the roles of Time, Death and Love – abstractions that Howard has been writing pained letters to – in order to get him to relinquish his controlling stake in the company. THE VERDICT: Immediately after watching ‘Collateral Beauty’, a question arises… What happened to the original script for the film – which was strong enough to draw in Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Kiera Knghtley, Naomie Harris, Michael Pena and Edward Norton – and who replaced it with this sentimental pile of twaddle and borderline offense?
The cast of the film truly try to make’ Collateral Beauty’ an engaging and strong film, but really the only ones who come out in any way well are Helen Mirren, who obviously has fun with her eccentric character, and Will Smith who, while playing the sentimental and saccharine sweet angle of the film up, has a great sad face. Everyone else, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris and Kiera Knightley, are wasted.
Screenwriter Allan Loeb previously brought us ‘Here Comes the Boom!’, ‘So Undercover’ and ‘Rock of Ages’ in 2012, but this is his first cinematic outing since then. ‘Collateral Beauty’ tries to blend the reality and heartbreak of struggling to deal with the death of a child with the magical and the mystical, but this just feels dated and old fashioned, and the two never quite blend together properly. As well as this, Howard’s “friends” – Norton, Winslet and Pena’s characters – behave so appallingly to their friend that it is difficult to reconcile this into the film, and the trite, twee and cliché feel to the film undermines any glancing blow it manages to make on emotional truth or sincerity. ‘Collateral Beauty’ has two terrible, twee and unnecessary twists that just patronise the audience, and serve to embarrass the stellar cast assembled in this mawkish mess.
Director David Frankel has previously brought us the mawkish and overly sentimental ‘Marley and Me’, as well as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘Hope Springs’ and several episodes of ‘Sex and the City’. There is nothing subtle or careful about ‘Collateral Beauty’; this is a film that belittles grief and despair, treats its cast with distain and talks down to the audience.
In all, there is little to commend about ‘Collateral Beauty’ – other than the fact that it is always a joy to watch Helen Mirren on screen. The film is twee, mawkish, overly sentimental and borderline abusive to its cast and characters. ‘Collateral Beauty’ tries to blend the mystical and the mundane, but simply ends up offending audiences and belittling the experience of suffering and grief. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes