Film Review of the Week


Bloodshot (12A)

Review: Vin Diesel trades the high-octane thrills and spills of the Fast And The Furious series for dull, plodding futuristic carnage in an action-packed thriller based on the Valiant Comics character of the same name. Director David S F Wilson answers a need for speed from the lacklustre opening frames, employing jolting, frenetic camerawork that reduces fight sequences to a bewildering blur of bodies in motion. Gravity-defying set pieces, including a three-way fight atop plummeting skyscraper elevators, are undermined by unconvincing visual effects, which draw unwelcome attention to the replacement of real-life actors with digital avatars in the heat of combat.

Screenwriters Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer struggle to articulate the emotional arc of the lead character as he uncovers a grand conspiracy connected to the death of his beloved wife. Diesel delivers clunky dialogue in his trademark growl and flexes biceps with swagger but fails to pluck a single heart string. Numerous antagonists are distinguished by their blandness and the only supporting performance that registers above the digitally rendered din is Lamorne Morris as an eccentric computer hacker called Wilfred Wigans. His hilariously strangulated English accent, which acquires a Cock-er-ney twang mid-sentence without warning, downloads to our memory banks for all the wrong reasons.

Gung-ho Marine Ray Garrison (Diesel) celebrates the successful extraction of a hostage in Mombasa by spending quality time on the Amalfi coast with his wife Gina (Talulah Riley). Marital bliss is shattered when terrorist Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell) holds the couple hostage to extract vital intelligence from Ray on the Kenya mission, then executes both prisoners. The military donates Ray’s body to Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), a pioneering scientist at Rising Spirit Technologies, who uses cutting-edge nanotechnology to augment the Marine’s strength, agility, speed and healing capabilities with millions of microscopic machines coursing through the bloodstream.

Ray is reborn as Bloodshot, a relentless killing machine programmed to undertake secret missions alongside technologically enhanced Navy swimmer KT (Eiza Gonzalez), Army marksman Tibbs (Alex Hernandez) and Navy Seal Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan). The body count mounts and Bloodshot experiences disorienting flashbacks to Gina’s terrifying ordeal at the hands of Axe. The former Marine deviates from protocol to avenge his wife, incurring the wrath of Dr Harting, who considers Bloodshot a valuable but ultimately dispensable asset: “He’s a dead soldier. America makes new ones every day.”

Bloodshot flatlines at the same time as Ray and never regains consciousness. Stunt sequences quickly become repetitive and the film’s reliance on digital might to get our pulses racing ultimately sends us into a soporific stupor. Wilson’s super-powered origin story should leave us craving a second chapter but 109 minutes of achingly predictable skulduggery is more than enough for two lifetimes.

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The Hunt (15)

Review: Hunters become prey in a satirical social thriller directed by Craig Zobel, which takes aim at preconceptions on both sides of the political and class divide in present-day America. Loosely inspired by Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, The Hunt was originally scheduled for release in summer 2019. Real-life shootings on consecutive days in El Paso and Dayton followed by a loaded tweet from US President Donald Trump shrouded the picture in a cloak of notoriety, which film-makers hope, six months later, might translate into box office takings.

Anchored by eye-catching performances from Betty Gilpin and two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, Zobel’s intentionally overblown showdown between working-class “deplorables” and wealthy “liberal elites” doesn’t stint on the stomach-churning splatter. A bloodied eyeball, still attached to the optic nerve, is wrenched from an eye socket by a stiletto heel and grenades blow cast members limb from limb. Screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof poke fun at broadly defined characters, chastising one “redneck” who assumes the worst about a family of illegal immigrants with the same venom as they deride public displays of political correctness from the “elites”.

Twelve strangers regain consciousness, gags padlocked to their mouths to stifle cries for help. The discombobulated dozen includes car rental company employee Crystal (Gilpin) and podcast conspiracy theorist Gary (Ethan Suplee). The motley crew have been drugged and kidnapped in different states then transplanted to a forest clearing, supposedly in Arkansas. When rifle shots ring out and a head explodes, the stricken strangers realise the wicked whispers online must be true. They are being hunted for sickening sport by well-to-do Athena (Swank), Liberty (Teri Wyble), Martin (Dean J West), Peter (Vince Pisani) and Richard (Glenn Howerton).

While some of the doomed dozen blunder into traps laid by ringleader Athena and her cohorts, Crystal demonstrates surprising tactical nous as she retaliates against her attackers. The blood-soaked battle royale shifts to a remote manor house where hunters gather with an overpriced bottle of champagne nestled on ice to toast an end to the carefully orchestrated slaughter.

It’s easy to see how The Hunt could be dismissed as an egregious assault on red and blue states but Zobel’s picture is too wildly over the top and absurd to be consumed with brow-beating seriousness. One potential victim escapes from a spike pit only to be flung back into the same hole by an incendiary device, a hunter is distracted because film-maker Ava DuVernay liked his social media post, while another screeches “climate change is real” as a target takes their final gasp of poisoned air. Zobel booby-traps the moral high ground with trip wires and mines then stands back as severed body parts wheel through the air.

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Misbehaviour (12A)

Review: The fight to end female objectification explodes in a cloud of white flour in director Philippa Lowthorpe’s timely drama of empowerment and activism. Based on a true story, Misbehaviour harks back to an era which crudely defined swimsuit-clad physical perfection as a curvy 36-24-36. Screenwriters Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn distil emotionally charged newspaper headlines from November 1970 into an entertaining but lightweight rallying cry against sexism, which preaches politely to the Me Too and Time’s Up congregations.

Key messaging is divided predominantly between Keira Knightley’s prim academic and Jessie Buckley’s authority-flouting motormouth, who baits the police by defiling offensive billboard adverts with a can of spray paint. Fractiousness predictably mellows into sisterly solidarity, building to a climactic act of defiance in front of an estimated 100 million TV viewers – more than the moon landings. Caught in the middle is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the first Miss World contestant from Grenada, who intends to use her appearance to convince girls back home that “they have a place in the world”. She is luminous as an internally conflicted trailblazer committed to disproving assumptions that beauty is skin deep. Regrettably, Lowthorpe’s film doesn’t follow her example and glides elegantly on the surface of characters’ clashing ideals.

The first voice for change is historian and working mother Sally Alexander (Knightley), who experiences gender discrimination in her pursuit of academic excellence. She answers the call of an outspoken wing of the Women’s Liberation Movement whose rabble-rousing members include Jane (Lily Newmark), Jo (Buckley), Sarah (Ruby Bentall) and Sue (Alexa Davies). “You get the world you deserve and if you don’t fight, you deserve the world you get,” flame-haired Jo scolds Sally. They plan a high-profile protest outside the 1970 Miss World beauty pageant organised by Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and wife Julia (Keeley Hawes).

Sally suggests the activists could buy tickets to the show, infiltrate the audience and disrupt the live TV broadcast with flour bombs and football rattles. The women engineer their audacious plan as comedian Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) arrives in London to host the pageant, accompanied by his long-suffering wife, Dolores (Lesley Manville). Meanwhile, Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten (Mbatha-Raw) nervously prepares to make her island proud against bookies’ favourite Miss Sweden Marjorie Johansson (Clara Rosager), Miss United States Sandra Wolsfeld (Suki Waterhouse) and Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison), the first black competitor from Apartheid-era South Africa.

Misbehaviour never threatens to embrace the disorderly conduct or minxiness teased by the title. Lowthorpe’s film serenely follows a path of least resistance to shoot at sitting ducks of male chauvinism, represented on screen in broad strokes by Ifans and Kinnear. Gentle laughs bookmark a crowd-pleasing dramatisation of real-life triumphs, emboldened by resolute performances from an impressive ensemble of homegrown talent.

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My Spy (12A)

Review: I spy with my little eye something beginning with F. Formulaic. Fun-filled. Fanciful. Family-friendly. Froth. Take your pick when it comes to director Peter Segal’s fitful action comedy, which pairs a musclebound man and a precocious, resourceful moppet in a cartoonish battle of wits that ultimately – and oh so predictably – enriches both characters’ lives. Screenwriting brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber follow the same lesson plan as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lumbering 1990 caper Kindergarten Cop, which was reused for Mr Nanny starring Hulk Hogan, The Pacifier starring Dwayne Johnson and Playing With Fire starring John Cena.

Retired professional wrestler and bodybuilder Dave Bautista, best known as potty-mouthed Drax The Destroyer in the Guardians Of The Galaxy films, takes the requisite tumbles on an ice rink and bruises to his ego as the emotionally closed hero, who learns to love and trust again by kowtowing to a child’s whims. My Spy’s excessive sweetness is tempered by a winning performance from 11-year-old Chloe Coleman as the pint-sized princess of sass, who seems to have all the answers until bullets start flying.

Special Forces operative JJ (Bautista) struggles to embrace the subtleties of retraining as a covert asset under CIA director David Kim (Ken Jeong). The military man’s heavy-handed approach to espionage, sporting a faux East European accent that one arms dealer likens to Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2, allows a nuclear core to fall into the clutches of terrorist Marquez (Greg Bryk). To redeem himself, JJ undertakes surveillance of Marquez’s sister-in-law, ER nurse Kate Newton (Parisa Fitz-Henley), by moving into the same Chicago apartment block with his smitten technical support, Bobbi (Kristen Schaal).

The bickering duo are ordered to maintain a low profile and avoid causing further embarrassment to the CIA. Unfortunately, Kate’s nine-year-old daughter Sophie (Coleman) blows the agents’ cover and blackmails JJ into training her as a spy. The girl engineers a date between Kate and JJ, who acquires a neck scarf after a hasty sartorial makeover by the gay couple (Devere Rogers, Noah Danby) down the hall. “He got Queer Eyed by Todd and Carlos,” Sophie remarks to her mother. With the mission compromised and his feelings for Kate blossoming, JJ faces a crisis of conscience that will determine his long-term future in the CIA.

My Spy is bookended by well-choreographed action sequences that play to Bautista’s strengths. He leaves the comedic heavy lifting to Schaal and Jeong, who deserve far better material than the Hoeber brothers deliver on this occasion. An inert romance of convenience between Bautista and co-star Fitz-Henley is a triumph of effort over achievement, which neatly deflects concerns about a fully grown man attaching himself to a minor. Brawn trumps brains at Segal’s school of hard knocks and deafening explosions.

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