CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (USA/12A/107mins) Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring Dwayne Johnson, KeviN Hart, Ryan Hansen, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman. THE PLOT: Twenty years after high school Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) has not lived up to his potential of being “most likely to succeed”. When he declines the Facebook invite to his high school reunion, an former schoolmate gets in touch; Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). A far cry from the overweight, self-conscious kid he was in school, Bob is now in the CIA and chasing down a threat to national security, a threat that he needs Calvin’s help in stopping. THE VERDICT: From the opening moments of ‘Central Intelligence’, where we see Dwayne Johnson’s face digitally spliced onto the body of an overweight teen, we know that this is the set up for many a gag throughout the film, but we also know that we are in for a treat; very few seem as happy to take the mick out of themselves than Johnson.
Kevin Hart leads the cast here, and thankfully his usual manic screeching is toned down by his pairing with the more steady and frankly, funnier Dwayne Johnson. The two work well together, but there is little doubt that without Johnson, Hart would be unbearable. Johnson’s comedic timing is wonderful, and his ability to keep the audience guessing throughout the film is admirable. Elsewhere in the cast Amy Ryan plays a CIA agent trying to track Bob Stone down, Ryan Hansen has a small and cleverly obnoxious role as Steve and Danielle Nicolet plays Calvin’s wife Maggie. Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul and Melissa McCarthy also turn up in cameo roles.
The story, written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber feels as little as though it was inspired by ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ – guy goes back to his high school reunion and has to hide what he does for a living. Central Intelligence is not quite as whip smart, introspective and downright odd as the John Cusack vehicle but it plays up the differences between Johnson and Hart, while allowing huge plot holes in the story to go unanswered and the whole reason for the two teaming up in the first place feels a little thin. The comedic timing of both lead actors is strong, and the film certainly has fun with allowing Johnson to play up the former fat kid side of his character.
As director, Rawson Marshall Thurber plays up the odd couple comedy between Johnson and Hart, while making sure that Hart doesn’t shriek over the entire film and become completely grating. As well as this, Johnson is given plenty of time to make his enthusiastic, happy character work on screen, and mine the entire situation for laughs. Of which there are many. Trouble arises with the convoluted story that is something to do with codes? It is not fleshed out either way, and is often left to fall b the wayside. As well as this, the pacing of the film in the final act is problematic, with the entire film feeling as though it could have ended 20 minutes earlier than it does.
In all, ‘Central Intelligence’ is a film anchored by the odd-couple comedy between Johnson and Hart, but it is really Johnson that carries the entire shebang on his able (and broad) shoulders. Most of the laughs come from Johnson, and he carefully balances out the more shrill Hart. The film suffers from weak pacing and a lack of focus on the actual story, but there is plenty of fun to be had with ‘Central Intelligence’, and Johnson shines as he mercilessly pokes fun at himself. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE (UK | USA/15A/90mins)
Directed by Mandie Fletcher. Starring Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, Chris Colfer.
THE PLOT: When Eddy (Jennifer Saunders) has her book deal revoked, and her ex-husband stops paying for her lavish home, she and her lifelong friend/drinking buddy Patsy (Joanna Lumley) decide that representing Kate Moss is the way forward for both of them. Unfortunately, in her haste to talk to Moss, Eddy knocks her into the Thames and, with the world media believing Eddy killed Moss, the two friends escape to the south of France to hide out and continue to live fabulously, dahling. THE VERDICT: It may seem as though it has been a long time since Saunders and Lumley recreated their most famous roles, but it has actually not been that long since Eddy and Pasty have graced our screens; it’s just that the comedy in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ feels dated and as though it was written back in the hey day of ‘Ab Fab’, before these familiar jokes became old.
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley recreate their roles as the hell raising, rather clueless PR execs, and they do well with the characters. Saunders leads the charge as the rather disenfranchised Eddy, who seems locked in a past she has almost forgotten, and trying to come to terms with a world in which she is almost irrelevant. Joanna Lumley, however, is the real star here, as her work on reactions and in the background of scenes is hilarious, over the top and pretty darn special. The rest of the cast reunites Julia Sawalha and Jane Horrocks with their roles from the TV show, features Chris Colfer as a stylist and liberally sprinkles in celebrity cameos including Kate Moss, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney, Lulu, Emma Bunton and La Roux.
Jennifer Saunders’ screenplay for ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ really feels as aged and flabby as Eddy continually bemoans herself to be throughout the film. We have heard these jokes before, we have seen this kind of best friend caper before and while this may have worked in the 90s when ‘Ab Fab’ began, there is an almost wilful desire to keep the feel of the film as rooted in the past as the characters are. As well as this, the characters often feel as though they make choices because the script told them to, leaving the whole thing feeling rather like a sketch show instead of a 90 minute, coherent story.
Director Mandie Fletcher tries her best to keep the film moving through the thin story, but struggles to make the film coherent. As well as this, many of the jokes do not land and scenes feel as though they are unfinished. Lumley’s performance is strong; Saunders’ less so and the cameos vary from actor to actor. There is a feel of familiarity and awkwardness about the entire film, which is hard to shake.
In all, ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ is as hit and miss as the TV show was, once upon a time. Lumley shines, Saunders tries hard, but the thin story is against them from the start, as well as the feeling that we have seen all of this before. RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes
ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE (USA/G/94mins) Directed by Mike Thurmeier and Galen T. Chu. Starring Ray Romano, Jennifer Lopez, Simon Pegg, Denis Leary, Nick Offerman. THE PLOT: When Scrat discovers a spaceship that flies him away from Earth, his relentless pursuit of his precious acorn sets off a chain of events that sends a meteor on a collision course with his home planet. On Earth, Manny (Ray Romano), his family and friends lead a race for survival that relies more than a little on impossible feats. THE VERDICT: For those keeping track, ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’ is the fifth movie in the franchise, and one that seems to be running low on ideas and increasingly mixing the fantastical with the manic.
Much of the voice cast from the first four ‘Ice Age’ films have returned for this new outing, including Ray Romano, Jennifer Lopez, John Leguizamo, Simon Pegg, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary and Chris Wedge, and they are joined by Nick Offerman, Stephanie Beatriz, Jessie J, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Neil deGrasse Tyson. All of the cast do fine in their roles, but they are struggling against a screenplay that seems to rely on manic energy and highly topical jabs at popular culture, rather than a coherent and engaging story.
Yoni Brenner and Michael J. Wilson seem to have started their idea for the screenplay with a meteor heading to Earth and added everything in after the fact. The jokes, such as they are, revolve around hugely topical jokes – such as hashtags – that not only feel out of place in this prehistoric setting, but also will not age well, manic characters doing manic things and a llama that has found enlightenment. The story feels thin and uninspired, and there is only so much of manic screeching that the audience can take before they begin to check out.
Directors Mike Thurmeier and Galen T. Chu try to play up the fun, slapstick, Tom & Jerry-esque feel of the film, but this wears thin very quickly. There is not enough story to fill the gap left by the absence of actual laughs and the pacing of the film struggles to hold the audience interest as the danger feels fabricated and not all that dangerous, to be honest. Add to this the old fashioned feel of the film, with many of the voice cast less famous than they were when the first film came out, slapstick and jokes about daughters getting married and protective fathers, and there is very little new or exciting about ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’.
In all, there is a little fun to be had with ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’, but many of the jokes don’t land, the action feels forced and there is an anachronistic feel to the film that pulls the audience away from the action and potential emotional engagement. We have seen the stories used to make up the film done before and done better, and although kids may enjoy the slapstick element of the film, all the screeching and manic energy of the film will leave adults feeling exhausted and yearning for an animated film that has a truly warm heart and emotional engagement. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
NOTES ON BLINDNESS (UK/Club/90mins) Directed by Pete Middleton, James Spinney. Starring Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby, John M. Hull, Marilyn Hull, Eileen Davies. THE PLOT: Having lost his sight in 1980, Australian theologian John Hull – living in England – decided to keep an audio diary. His second child had just been born, and life was very definitely going to go on. Hoping to make sense of this dark new world, Hull also recorded everyday events in his family, as well as sitting down with his wife, Marilyn, for interviews.
Maintaining his professional career is also important to Hull, and here too he keeps a record of his struggles to adapt…
THE VERDICT: With Hull’s audio recordings on the soundtrack, here, director Pete Middleton pulls together a cast to act out the scenes being played on these 30-something tapes. Middleton has quite a lot of fun with the uncertain world between sound and vision, as the lip-synching doesn’t always synch, and the cinematography gives us parts of the scene, parts of the face – but rarely the whole picture.
It’s an unsettling device, and one totally in keeping with the exploration that Hull is making. And it makes for a deeply moving documentary… RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne