Film Review of the Week


Despicable Me 4 (U)

Review: If it’s true that insanity is the act of making the same mistakes but expecting a different outcome then Despicable Me 4 is certifiably mad for dipping into the same pick ‘n’ mix of half-formed ideas as the underwhelming third film in the franchise and expecting a more coherent or emotionally satisfying experience. Every frame of this fourth computer-animated romp feels achingly predictable and familiar, garnished with intergenerational angst borrowed from The Incredibles.

Sporadic comic interludes featuring googly-eyed Minions also seem to have run out of ideas and recycle cartoonish violence for giggles like one adorable yellow character throwing a shaken soda can into the bottom drawer of a vending machine where one of his gobbledygook-spewing brethren is trapped. A contained explosion of fizzy pink juice leaves a sticky and sweet mess that miraculously vanishes for a subsequent visual gag.

The introduction of five superpowered sidekicks – the Mega Minions – is a merchandising dream but haphazard storytelling doesn’t support the quintet’s potential to turn the tide in favour of the Anti-Villain League (AVL). Director Chris Renaud and co-director Patrick Delage careen between loosely interconnected vignettes, milking final droplets of goodwill from characters we have grown to love since supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) schemed to steal the moon using a shrink ray gun in the original Despicable Me. Perhaps Gru accidentally triggered the gun at Mike White and Ken Daurio’s script and that would explain the scarcity of big laughs?

Despicable Me 4 begins with Gru attending a class reunion at Lycee Pas Bon School Of Villainy where old nemesis Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell) once again steals the spotlight to collect a coveted star pupil award from Principal Ubelschlecht (Chris Renaud). During his acceptance speech, Maxime reveals he has transformed himself into a human-cockroach hybrid to take advantage of the insect’s indestructability. Gru sours the celebratory mood by coordinating Maxime’s arrest on behalf of the AVL. “Mark my words, I will exterminate you!” shrieks the captured supervillain.

Sure enough, Maxime escapes justice and plots his revenge against Gru, wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), their girls Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Madison Polan), and cherubic toddler Gru Jr. Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), former director of the AVL, escorts Gru and the clan to a safehouse in the sleepy town of Mayflower. The new arrivals clumsily adopt fake identities to blend in with well-to-do-neighbours including Perry and Patsy Prescott (Stephen Colbert, Chloe Fineman) and their teenage daughter Poppy (Joey King). Meanwhile, Gru struggles to bond with Gru Jr. “Of course he loves you. He just doesn’t show it on his face, or with his body language,” Lucy assures her husband.

Despicable Me 4 is the weakest instalment of the highest grossing animated film franchise in history but still manages a few moments of mild merriment. The 94-minute running time is a blessing for families with short attention spans and the quality of the animation is exemplary, particularly in frenetic action sequences. Hopefully, the final curtain falls here.

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Fly Me To The Moon (12A)

Review: The brightest stars in director Greg Berlanti’s nimble romantic comedy based around the 1969 moon landing are not the luminous balls of flaming gas that burn fiercely in the night-time sky and twinkle around Earth’s only natural satellite, which Nasa intends to conquer before the Soviets. The honour is reserved, instead, for the celestial pairing of Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, who create their own fireworks with a delightfully old-fashioned and chaste courtship reminiscent of duelling sexes in screwball comedies from the 1930s and 1940s.

Heartfelt and witty repartee in Rose Gilroy’s script is the rocket fuel and the two leads ignite when they verbally spar, punctuating their playful gibes with longing glances. Buttons remain tightly fastened – Tatum is snug in a vest and sweater for most of the picture – and Berlanti makes us wait well into the second hour before lips touch. Documented historical facts are rolled in glitter and sent into crowd-pleasing orbit with a colourful supporting cast to safely land the one-liners.

Woody Harrelson and Jim Rash are the big bangs. The former clearly relishes his role as a CIA agent unconcerned with social niceties, who gleefully tells Tatum’s publicity-shy Nasa employee that he’s now the belle of the ball “so why don’t you slip on your tutu and do some dancing”. Meanwhile, Rash sashays through scenes as a self-absorbed film director with an ego bigger than his resume, who is secretly hired to shoot “an alternate version of the moon landing” with actors on a sound stage in case the camera on Apollo 11 fails to transmit.

Tatum plays launch director Cole Davis, who is tasked with overseeing Nasa’s historic moment, two years after the tragic Apollo 1 cabin fire on his watch. His stress levels sky-rocket with every interference from flashy New York marketing executive Kelly Jones (Johansson) and her trusty assistant Ruby (Anna Garcia), who have been hired by CIA agent Moe Berkus (Harrelson) to polish Nasa’s public image in the shadow of the Vietnam War. Cole and Kelly pull in opposite directions but are irresistibly drawn into each other’s orbits.

Fly Me To The Moon doesn’t take one giant leap for rom-comkind but does achieve that winning combination of charm, humour and heartfelt emotion. From the moment they meet on screen in a diner, Johansson and Tatum sizzle (the former is almost ablaze thanks to a stray candle). Screenwriter Gilroy has a blast imagining preparations for the bogus moon landing – codenamed Project Artemis here – gleefully adding fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories who believe TV pictures on July 20 1969 were faked. “It’s called selling. We’re not lying to the customer, we’re changing the way they think,” asserts Johansson’s silver-tongued saleswoman. Maybe I’m another sucker but I’m sold.

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Longlegs (15)

Review: Forget the liver, fava beans and glass of chianti. Writer-director Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins, serves his 1990s-set FBI hunt for a twisted serial killer exceedingly bloody and rare. Psychological warfare between clueless police and a demonic interloper simmers across three meaty courses entitled His Letters, All Of Your Things and Birthday Girls. Perkins alternates the screen ratio to distinguish claustrophobic flashbacks to a creepy childhood encounter between the tightly wound heroine and the titular predator.

Sound designer Eugenio Battaglia and composer Zilgi are diabolical collaborators, repeatedly terrorising frayed nerves with plucks of discordant strings, jolting thuds on a wooden front door and unexpected creaks of floorboards in a supposedly empty house. The Silence Of The Lambs is clear inspiration for Perkins’s descent into hell, most notably in nail-biting scenes of a rookie FBI agent staring directly into the camera, gun unholstered as she moves breathlessly from room-to-room in search of a suspect.

Maika Monroe is haunting as the socially awkward investigator with psychic abilities, estranged from a devoutly religious mother (Alicia Witt) who wholeheartedly believes that “our prayers protect us from the Devil”. Those prayers go unanswered in a lip-smackingly oppressive opening hour. The devil in question is a virtually unrecognisable Nicolas Cage, rendered grotesque by heavy facial prosthetics that Perkins hides from repulsed closer inspection until dramatically necessary. When the camera finally lingers on his distorted visage, the Oscar winner unleashes a caterwaul of crazy from his vast repertoire that almost tips the film over the edge into absurdity. It’s a far cry from the choking menace of Hannibal Lecter.

Monroe’s unflinching, committed performance grounds these wilder moments in a woozy, heightened reality. She plays FBI agent Lee Harker, whose extra-sensory perception goes haywire during door-to-door house calls with chipper colleague Agent Fisk (Dakota Daulby). “It’s like something tapping me on the shoulder, telling me where to look,” Lee explains to senior agent Carter (Blair Underwood).

He harnesses her “half-psychic” abilities to hunt a serial killer named Longlegs (Cage), who targets families with daughters born on the 14th of the month. The wily perpetrator leaves coded messages at crime scenes in a similar vein to the Zodiac Killer. Lee cracks the algorithm and provides remarkable fresh insight, positioning her as a worthy adversary and, potentially, the killer’s next victim.

Longlegs is a relentlessly grim psychological thriller, which exerts a chokehold until Perkins almost loses control at the wheel. Cage is scariest when he dials down the volume and settles into giggling delirium. Perkins cranks up discomfort by lingering on static scenes to suggest something truly wicked is about to manifest. Evil bides its time and when the screaming begins, it pierces to the bone.

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