"Retribution" stars Liam Neeson, Noma Dumezweni, Lilly Aspell, Jack Champion, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Modine, and Arian Moayed. Released on August 25, 2023, the film has a financier confronting a mysterious bomber.
The film is directed by Nimród Antal, who also directed films such as "Vacancy", "Armored", "Predators", and "The Whiskey Bandit". It is a remake of the 2015 Spanish film, "El desconocido" ("The Stranger"), written by Alberto Marini and directed by Dani de la Torre. With this year's summer movie season winding down, it makes sense that we deserve one last burst of thrills and suspense before we send the kids back to school. Of course, what better movie to get us in that mood than with another thriller starring Liam Neeson? Seriously, this guy is starring in more projects than me in the school plays. We've seen Neeson beat the snot out of bad guys and even fill the shoes of private detective Philip Marlowe. Now, he's tackling another big challenge of his career: confronting a bomber without leaving his vehicle. Now, where have I heard that concept before? Regardless of how I feel toward Neeson's recent films, I'm usually up to see what the actor has cooked up, and this latest action thriller is no exception. With that said, let's see if the movie packs enough late-summer thrills to keep it from exploding too early.
The film follows Matt Turner (Neeson), a bank financier and a father to two children, Emily (Aspell) and Zach (Champion). While driving the kids to school, Matt receives an anonymous call from a stranger telling him to follow his devious demands. The stranger on the phone is a bomber who threatens Matt with a bomb attached to the car seats. He reveals that if Matt and the kids attempt to leave the car or refuse to follow the caller's orders, he'll detonate the bomb with them inside. With his children's lives on the line, Matt embarks on a dangerous mission to outsmart the unknown terrorist and escape this perilous scenario.
The best way I can describe "Retribution" is that it's "Speed" but with an ordinary car instead of a bus. Also, instead of Keanu Reeves trying to outsmart the bomber, it has Liam Neeson performing a similar task as a regular financier. For those still unaware of the situation, I wasn't impressed with the actor's recent thrillers he starred in for the sake of appeal and paychecks. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the actor's presence as an action star. It's that his recent movies were highly forgettable regarding their qualities. There are a few exceptions like "Taken" and "The Commuter", but the likes of "Blacklight" and "Memory"? I was better off watching paint dry instead. That's why I didn't bother watching "Marlowe" earlier this year to avoid facing another disappointing waste of Neeson's talents.
However, I did muster up the courage to see "Retribution" since I'm fond of thrillers involving a race-against-the-clock scenario, especially in a vehicle equipped with a bomb. I'm one of the people who identifies "Speed" as the king of these types of thrillers. So, I expected it to provide the same amount of edge-of-your-seat thrills as the Keanu Reeves action classic. The "thrills" part was present in "Retribution", but I wouldn't classify them as something that'll have you clutching your armrest. I would say they're enough to make you stay in your seat in awe as you experience another disappointing dud starring Mr. Neeson. This guy still can't catch a break with these B-movie shenanigans.
To his credit, though, Neeson still retains his compelling presence regarding his performance. Instead of being a badass who puts villains in his place, he plays a father who winds himself in hot water due to his failure to keep promises. Amid the troubling scenario, we see Matt attempting to compensate for his past mistakes by protecting his kids and fixing the problem he may have caused. Also, Matt has to accomplish that while being framed for the terrorist's bombings—a classic action thriller cliche at its finest. Like my experience with Neeson's recent movies, I appreciate the actor's attempts at making "Retribution" watchable, even though his character was periodically one-note. He was fine in the role, and I want to leave it at that. As for the rest of the cast, they were also okay, including Noma Dumezweni as Angela Brickmann. Lilly Aspell and Jack Champion from "Avatar" fame were also suitable as Matt's children, who unintentionally wind up in the same situation as Matt. They provide plenty of baggage that further intensifies the character's dilemma, even though the film periodically struggles to maintain that narrative tension.
Another element that made the film slightly tolerable is the directorial style of Nimród Antal. Regarding my experience with Antal, I've only seen 2010's "Predators", and I think I watched his Metallica concert film with Dane DeHaan, "Through the Never", a decade ago. So, this makes "Retribution" my third movie from the filmmaker. For the most part, Antal didn't do too badly regarding the framework of the action scenes. He didn't rely too much on the shaky cam maneuvers and choppy editing. Instead, Antal provides wide-angle shots that are suitably attention-grabbing, thanks to Flavio Labiano's cinematography. As for the films' tension-filled sequences, there's only a couple of them that I thought were well-handled by Antal. The problem is that the story failed to take advantage of its intense concept.
"Retribution" is another movie that uses its 90-minute runtime to provide a straightforward roller coaster filled with fear and concern. I don't mind films with simplistic stories as long as the execution of their plots is interesting enough to justify their entertainment values. Action thrillers involving a life-and-death situation are no different, especially "Retribution". Regarding the concept and themes, the film had the potential to be an improvement over Neeson's previous outings. Sadly, it only managed to make a tiny upgrade in its quality, and that's it. Chris Salmanpour's screenplay unsurprisingly offers plenty of genre cliches we've seen in other action thrillers prior, but they hardly make a massive explosion in its emotional core and fundamental characters. It also didn't offer enough enticing sequences besides its car chases to live up to its promising thrills.
However, the worst offender of the screenplay was the third act. While the movie beforehand was mostly passable for its pros, its finale was where it completely derailed itself and blew up my hopes for an enjoyable thriller through and through. It's not just because of the abrupt ending that made me go, "Really". It's also because of the bomber's reveal that left me baffled. Without spoilers, the bomber's real identity didn't work for me due to the plot holes that came with it. It makes zero sense and diminishes Matt's character arc to the point where it's unsatisfying. I had to ensure I saw it correctly before explaining it in my review. That's how puzzled I was about it.
Overall, "Retribution" doesn't get the justice it deserves. It definitely had promise in its heart-pounding concept, which would've made it a solid, if not huge, comeback for Liam Neeson. However, despite some well-shot sequences, a couple of mildly intense moments, and Neeson's presence, the idea was wasted by its fundamental and lazy approach. Due to its cliched script, underwhelming thrills, simplistic characters, and a terrible third act, the film goes out with a poof instead of a bang. Regarding the actor's recent roles, It's a bit more watchable than "Blacklight" and "Memory". Unfortunately, it's still another cinematic misfire for the action star.
"The Last Voyage of the Demeter" stars Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, David Dastmalchian, Javier Botet, Liam Cunningham, and Woody Norman. Released on August 11, 2023, the film has a crew encountering a vicious vampire on their merchant ship.
The film was directed by André Øvredal, who also directed films such as "Trollhunter", "The Autopsy of Jane Doe", "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark", and "Mortal". It is an adaptation of "The Captain's Log", a chapter from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Many have heard the tale of the iconic king of vampires through books, movies, television shows, and video games. However, some of us know about Dracula's early days before he became a handsome yet deadly version of himself. Beforehand, he was a monstrous half-human, half-bat creature who stalked and killed innocent victims, including an unsuspecting crew of the Demeter. That event became known as "The Captain's Log", a chapter in Bram Stoker's Dracula depicting the mysterious tragedy on the sea caused by the creature. With how terrifying the chapter was, Hollywood wasted no time adapting this part of the classic novel for moviegoers worldwide. Was it a deadly voyage worth taking or a rocky trip designed to make us seasick? Let's head out to sea and find out.
The story centers on Clemens (Hawkins), a doctor who joins the crew of their ship, the Demeter. Led by Captain Elliot (Cunningham), the crew is tasked with transporting cargo from Varna, Bulgaria to London, England. During the trip, Clemens discovers that one of the crates inside the cargo hold has a woman buried in the dirt. The woman is a mysterious stowaway named Anna (Franciosi), who warns Clemens about a bloodthirsty creature named Dracula (Botet), who she was bound to by her village. As Dracula invades the ship and kills the crew members one by one, Clemens attempts to subdue the monster to survive the deadly trip across the sea.
You can basically call it "Alien" on a ship from the synopsis alone. However, instead of an extraterrestrial killing the crew members, we got Man-Bat from the Batman comics haunting a ship in deadly waters. No, really. The early version of Dracula almost looks like Man-Bat. I'm sure I'm not the only person who immediately realizes the resemblance. In short, the film is another addition to the horror subgenre, where a group of characters reside in a single location and are hunted and killed by a monstrous entity with no way out. With the proper execution, these types of movies can provide a claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing ride that'll make people afraid of being in these locations themselves. Heck, even I'm not dumb enough to ride on a ship during a stormy night, which is why I prefer to watch these experiences on the screen instead of living them.
"The Last Voyage of the Demeter" is no exception to the rule. Unfortunately, unlike the legendary vampire himself, this is the one voyage that's not worth remembering. To its credit, the film does deliver a refreshing side of Dracula as a vicious monster straight out of a mythology tale. It showcases that Dracula is not just a handsome vampiric human wearing fancy clothes and a cape we've seen in cartoons. However, regarding the story's execution, "Demeter" is a sluggish yet atmospherically bleak trek that undermines its nightmarish sense of dread and straightforward narrative.
Now what do I mean by "sluggish"? Well, the film likes to take its time with the characters before they become Dracula's midnight snack. Amid the horror aspect, "Demeter" explores the crew members on their way to transport cargo to England, including Clemens, who volunteers due to his medical skills and education. This would've paid off as a tension-filled character study involving the crew's doomed voyage. Sadly, that isn't the case, as the screenplay by Bragi Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz was overshadowed by thinly-written characters and a bare-bones formula done better in similar movies like "Alien". The slow pacing didn't help much either, especially when the crew members getting killed is more interesting than the film's human aspect. The movie clocks in at almost two hours, which seemed overkill regarding its concept and direction. If it's twenty to thirty minutes shorter, that would make the trek less tedious than it was with two hours.
On the other hand, the film has plenty of moments that make the trip almost tolerable, including André Øvredal. Based on my experience with this director, I've only seen "Trollhunter" and the 2019 adaptation of "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark". I remembered liking "Trollhunter" for his approach to the "found footage" genre, and I thought he handled the spine-chilling atmosphere in "Scary Stories" very well despite its flawed plot. The latter is the only reason for my curiosity toward "Demeter". While the scares and disturbing content didn't leave much of an impact, Øvredal provides a haunting and dimly-lit atmosphere fit for a vampire king. Unfortunately, this means that you don't want to watch the film during the daytime. The production designs and costumes were also great for its late 1800s setting, making it feel like they're straight out of a history book.
Another element I enjoyed is the cast. Despite the characters being slightly bland, the actors put a respectable effort into their performances to keep this ship floating. Corey Hawkins has been delivering some decent work throughout his career, with "Straight Outta Compton" and "Kong: Skull Island" being responsible for putting him on the Hollywood map. "Demeter" sees him playing a doctor fighting a vampire, and the result is admittedly decent. While far from his best performance, Hawkins did pretty well in providing a sense of fear and perseverance in Clemens. Liam Cunningham was also solid as Captain Elliot and Aisling Franciosi was suitable as Anna. "Demeter" also marks the latest appearance by Javier Botet, known for playing creature roles, as he portrays Dracula through practical makeup and CGI effects. Unsurprisingly, he looks as terrifying as his other monstrous roles, but in a good way, and the visuals helped resemble the man-bat creature's horrific appeal. But again, the impact of its terror left much to be desired. I would also credit Woody Norman, best known for his work on "C'mon C'mon", for his talent as Toby, Elliot's grandson. Too bad it is wasted on a weary lackluster like this.
Overall, "The Last Voyage of the Demeter" is a rocky voyage across the sea that's nightmarishly atmospheric yet sluggishly thin regarding its narrative and characters. To its credit, the film offers what it advertised, and it's "Alien" on a ship, but it replaces the Xenomorph with Man-Bat. It's occasionally creepy and violent in its kills and atmosphere. Sadly, along with the movie's cast, Øvredal's serviceable vision was undermined by its inability to deliver enticement and gleefully dark frights in its trek through dangerous waters due to its mediocre script and inconsistent pacing. For fans of vampire movies, this is one voyage that's worth taking once but will likely be forgotten in a few days.
“Blue Beetle” stars Xolo Maridueña, Bruna Marquezine, Melissa Escobedo, George Lopez, Adriana Barraza, Elpidia Carrillo, Damián Alcázar, Raoul Trujillo, and Susan Sarandon. Released on August 18, 2023, the film has a teenager gaining superpowers from an alien scarab.
The film is directed by Ángel Manuel Soto, who also directed "La Granja" and "Charm City Kings". It is the fourteenth film in the DC Extended Universe. It's tough to ignore the issue Warner Brothers Discovery is still confronting regarding its DC brand. The studio hoped "The Flash" would help it get back on track regarding its early word-of-mouth. Unfortunately, that's not the case. With its mixed reviews and the controversy surrounding Ezra Miller still looming around, that film became one of the biggest box office disasters for Warner Brothers Discovery, signaling another massive wound for the already-concluding DC Extended Universe. At least the surprising success of "Barbie" helped the studio recoup the losses from the superhero blunder. Now that we left The Flash in the dust, we have yet another DCEU installment looking to conclude the summer movie season.
The DCEU is taking another crack at reintroducing its lesser-known superhero to newcomers and long-time comic book fans, similar to what it did with "The Suicide Squad". This time, it's the Blue Beetle, who gains powers from an alien scarab. There are several different iterations of the character through the comics, but for the sake of relatability and representation, this film is adapting the recent iteration in which a Latino teenager carries the mantle. Is it enough to get DC fans back in the theater? More importantly, is this latest superhero movie fun enough to deliver one last burst of summer blockbuster blast for modern audiences? Let's find out.
The story follows Jaime Reyes (Maridueña), a teenager who recently graduated from college. He returns to his hometown in Palmera City, where his family resides. Unfortunately, he struggles to find a good enough job to save his family's house. While searching for a job, Jaime runs into a young woman named Jenny Kord (Marquezine), who gives him a sandwich box containing a mysterious blue relic. He and his family eventually discover that the relic is an ancient alien biotechnological artifact called the Scarab, which can grant any user an indestructible exoskeleton armor. When the Scarab latches onto Jamie, he becomes a target of a nefarious businesswoman named Victoria Kord (Sarandon), who's hellbent on retrieving the Scarab for her own gain. Jaime must learn to cooperate with the Scarab to protect his family from Victoria's greedy desire.
Blue Beetle is another DC superhero I don't have much experience with compared to the other heroes, like Superman and Batman. The only times I recognized the hero, mainly the Jaime Reyes version, were from the DC animated content, like "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" and "Young Justice". So you're not going to get any Blue Beetle trivia from me. Regardless, I was eager to watch it due to my appreciation toward DC for reintroducing its lesser-known characters via its film adaptations, whether they're good or not. Besides, we've seen so many Superman and Batman movies for years, so why not give the rookies a shot at the spotlight? Another reason is that the trailers made it akin to "Shazam", which was a refreshingly delightful family-friendly take on the superhero genre. So it makes sense that "Blue Beetle" was hoping to follow up on that movie's success regarding its tone amid its showcase of the Latino culture. After watching the film, I can say that they made the right call with this one.
"Blue Beetle" is another superhero movie with the narrative cliches we've seen before, especially the "origin" formula. However, like "Shazam", "Blue Beetle" showcases the amount of care and effort the filmmakers injected into the story instead of having it on autopilot. The result is another reinvigorating and entertaining take on the superhero genre that honors the titular character and the representation. Part of that is due to its themes. While it is fun to see a techno-powered hero beat up the bad guys, that's not the only reason I enjoyed the film. The other reason is how it portrays the messages through its culture, including purpose, imperialism, and, more importantly, family. "Family" is the plot's key element, as it centers on the Reyes family attempting to provide for themselves to save their home. Additionally, it represents the love and support this family shared, which gave them the strength to fight for what's right, especially Jaime. A bit cheesy, yes, but it's effective nonetheless.
Regarding the direction and screenplay, "Blue Beetle" makes the family aspect as delightful as the superhero elements and delivers plenty of heart in the character dynamics. Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer did a solid job with his screenplay, combining Latino roots and genre elements with humorous dialogue and heartfelt interactions. As for Ángel Manuel Soto, he managed to capitalize on the script to provide a seamless mixture of family drama and superhero action. Soto's previous effort, "Charm City Kings", was a testament to his directorial talent regarding his passion for humane storytelling. For "Blue Beetle", Soto proves himself as the voice of the community he represents, but at the same time, he understands the reason behind a superhero movie's success. It's not just about the CGI spectacle in the fight scenes and world-saving plots. It's also about the human side of the genre, mainly Jaime's growth and the family he's with. Soto also did very well directing the film's action sequences, which were unsurprisingly fun and suitably choreographed. There were a few occasions where the action was periodically unfocused, but thankfully, they're not enough to make them unwatchable. This was my second experience with Soto's vision following "Charm City Kings", and I'm already intrigued about what he'll do next.
The family dynamic is one of the best things about "Blue Beetle", thanks to its main cast. The actors portraying the Reyes family deliver an outstanding chemistry that's impossible to resist, with the highlights being Xolo Maridueña and George Lopez. Maridueña made a big name for himself due to his performance as Miguel Diaz in "Cobra Kai", and he's now testing his talents on the big screen as the DC superhero. Like how I feel about him in "Cobra Kai", I thought Maridueña did a fantastic job providing charm and humanity to Jaime. He carries the movie through his sense of humor but never loses sight of the sincerity that made Jaime a solid iteration of the titular superhero. George Lopez as Rudy, Jaime's uncle, was one of the moments when I didn't expect someone to be that hilarious until after watching their performance. Sure, he's a bit too over-the-top on some occasions, but he never comes across as annoying to me. Lopez has plenty of energy in his comedy, but like Maridueña, he also doesn't stray away from the heartfelt drama, especially during the one scene involving Rudy and Jaime.
Damián Alcázar was also good as Alberto Reyes, Jaime's father, and Belissa Escobedo was a delight as Jaime's younger sister Milagro. However, Adriana Barraza managed to outshine the family with her performance as Nana, especially in the film's third act. You'll know what I mean when you watch the movie yourself. Susan Sarandon as Victoria Kord is what I would call another definition of a classic diabolical villain. She's downright despicable and only cares about improving the company through power and proving herself worthy instead of everyone else, including her niece Jenny. That's enough for me to applaud Sarandon for effectively portraying this character. Raoul Max Trujillo did pretty well as Conrad Carapax, Victoria's bodyguard with a tragic past.
But what about the visual effects, you ask? Long story short, they're better than the CGI fest that was "The Flash". A few VFX shots looked slightly off during a couple of scenes, but everything else was immensely dazzling, especially the film's setting, Palmera City. If the Latino suburbs aren't enough to convince you, you should see what the visuals deliver for the city. Palmera City looks like a neon futuristic world regarding the buildings but still retains the modernity of everything else. The CGI also worked well for the Blue Beetle's abilities, including his swords and blasters, and kudos to the production team for adding practical effects to the mix, including the Blue Beetle suit. It shows that they still don't want to repeat the "Green Lantern" incident with Ryan Reynolds's CGI suit.
Overall, "Blue Beetle" is a family-oriented superhero experience that revitalizes the origin story formula with its charm, representation, and heart. Its narrative has plenty of familiar elements that are impossible to ignore. However, the film effectively uses them to deliver a classic family story that's in sync with a highly enjoyable and heartfelt traditional superhero blockbuster. The cast was great, especially Maridueña and Lopez, Soto's direction was stellar regarding the family dynamic and action scenes, the screenplay was well-written, and the visual effects were dazzling. I would even say it's in the same league as 2017's "Wonder Woman" and "Shazam", although it is uncertain whether it beats them out as my favorite DCEU installment. We shall see when the "Aquaman" sequel splashes into theaters to close out the flawed DC Extended Universe soon.
"Strays" stars Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park. Releasing on August 18, 2023, the film has an abandoned dog teaming up with the other strays to get revenge on his owner.
The film is directed by Josh Greenbaum, who also directed "The Short Game", "Becoming Bond", "Too Funny to Fail", and "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar". Dogs are adorable, even when they're small puppies. However, some specific ones prove their bark is as bad as their bite despite their cute appearances. Some will growl, some will snarl, and some might even curse if you're not careful. This latest comedy continues the trend of taking an innocent concept seen in family movies and cranking the adult meter up to a ten. They did it with "Ted" for a CGI teddy bear, "Sausage Party" regarding talking cartoon foods, and even "Good Boys" featuring kids. Now, the "talking dog" concept gets the same treatment. Do you remember the old-school family movies from the early to late 2000s that feature animals talking with their CGI mouths? You know, the thing that's delighting many kids and discomforting adults with the outdated visuals? It's like that, but you have them cuss, drink, and perform sexual acts like adults do. That's the perfect way for me to describe this adult comedy that screams the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover". But does this concept lead to a howling good time at the movies? Let's find out.
The story centers on Reggie (Ferrell), an ecstatic yet gullible Border Terrier living the best days with his owner, Doug (Forte). However, Reggie doesn't know that Doug is a dog-hating drug addict who never wanted him. Doug tries to get rid of Reggie, but the latter keeps sticking to him like glue. One day, Doug takes Reggie to the far reaches of the city and abandons him to fend for his life. Yeah, Doug's one of those assholes. There, Reggie meets and befriends the other strays: a street-wise Boston Terrier named Bug (Foxx), an Australian Shepherd named Maggie (Fisher), and a therapy Great Dane named Hunter (Park). The strays teach Reggie the joys of being a stray but also inform him of the dark truth about Doug's selfish intentions. This resulted in Reggie and the strays joining forces to journey back to Reggie's home and exact revenge on Doug.
I had a soft spot for films involving talking animals during my childhood, especially ones involving dogs. It was fascinating to hear what the animals were saying, thanks to the power of visual effects and all-star celebrities. However, as I grew older, I began to see the lackluster appeal of this concept, especially in recent movies targeting families. From its kid-friendly plots to the outdated CGI, most of these films are as cute as the furry characters, but they're also far from well-behaved regarding their qualities. This was proven by my experience with "Show Dogs" in 2018. Yes, I watched that cinematic dog poop, so you guys don't have to. You're welcome, by the way.
Fortunately for me, "Strays" looked more interesting than the kids film involving grooming a dog based on the marketing. It's got almost everything you'd expect from a talking dog movie, including the comical mishaps and the celebrities voicing the canines. The only difference is that it's more vulgar than the family-friendly movies with subtle risqué humor. In other words, just because it has talking dogs doesn't mean it's for kids. If you don't take that seriously, you deserve a one-way trip back to parenting school. I'm not expecting this one to be a masterpiece or anything since none of the other talking animal films are, except "Babe". However, I expected it not to land in the "so bad it's bad" category like "Show Dogs" since the trailers made it seem like a fun time for adult audiences. Thankfully, that's precisely what I got from "Strays", a simplistic yet immensely entertaining raunchy comedy about dogs uniting to bite Will Forte's wiener off.
By simplistic, I mean the film has a straightforward point-A-to-point-B plot depicting Reggie's quest to find his way home. Think of it as an R-rated version of "Homeward Bound", but instead of the dogs reuniting with their owners, they're heading home to get revenge on one. Plus, the canines communicate with their mouths in this film instead of using telepathy like in the Disney film. So if you're hoping for this to become the next adult comedy classic, you're already setting yourself up to get pooped on because this film isn't it. It's got some interesting ideas that could've worked well in its favor, including its message, even though some of them were less effective than others.
"Strays" is supposed to portray the definition of good owners vs. bad owners, similar to good pets vs. bad pets. In Reggie's case, the gullible pup learns to come to terms with Doug being an absolute D-bag. As for Bug, his tragic past made him realize how terrible humans are. It's similar to how we see people. There are good people and terrible pieces of poop in this world. We just need to open up in order to find the former. Admittedly, the heart was in the right place, but regarding Dan Perrault's screenplay, it periodically favors dogs performing raunchy acts over its thought-provoking themes. I'm not pulling your leash. The movie really wants you to know that it's not made for younger audiences, from the adult language to the dogs humping lawn ornaments. It's pretty constant if you're not into raunchy comedies, but was it at least hilarious enough to be entertaining? Yes, it is.
Unsurprisingly, the movie's humor mainly consists of dog-related elements we see in real life, especially the humping dogs and their "red rockets", along with the usual cussing and sex-related dialogue. Sure, it's unapologetically crude and gross, but it's also consistently hysterical and, more importantly, fun. It's even got a callback to "A Dog's Journey", which I thought was one of the movie's best scenes, and yes, it does involve Josh Gad, who's in the film. Josh Greenbaum is no stranger to this brand of silly humor due to his experience with "Barb and Star", which was surprisingly good if you haven't seen it. So it's unsurprising to see how well he handled the adult comedy in "Strays", even if it's not on par with the other great R-rated comedies from years past.
The comedy also worked because of the cast's talents. While there are real-life actors on stage, the real focus is on the voice actors portraying the talking dogs. Like many other talking animal movies, "Strays" packed a well-known set of actors for their respective canine roles, including Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx. Spoiler alert: they're incredibly entertaining from start to finish, including Ferrell and Foxx as Reggie and Bug, respectively. Randall Park also delivered some solid gags regarding his vocal performance as Hunter, the therapy dog who wears a cone on his head. As for Will Forte, he did a good job of making me want to punch Doug in the nose several times. I'm sure you'd feel the same way once you see him for yourself. That's how you'll know how good of an actor Forte is.
Regarding the film's visual effects, it's evident that "Strays" would take the CGI route to make the dogs speak. It's one of the main ingredients to make a talking animal movie. But how do they look? Honestly, they looked all right. However, there were a few sequences where the CGI became noticeable to the human eye. Thankfully, they're not huge eyesores compared to the other big-budget blockbusters we recently got, like "The Flash".
Overall, "Strays" is a doggone raunchy treat that'll make you howl for joy. Regarding its storytelling and visuals, it's far from a perfect pet you'll want to own forever. However, it accomplishes its goal of being a diverting and hilarious comedy that's periodically cuddly and unapologetically vulgar. To me, that's all that matters. Thanks to its entertaining cast, raunchy humor, and Greenbaum's handling of its simplistic plot, the movie is fun enough to make me wag my tail with delight, even though I don't have one. If you're a dog person who enjoys R-rated comedies, this film is worth checking out. However, if you're not a fan of F-bombs, sex jokes, and dog abuse, you're not missing much with this one.
"Hidden Strike" stars Jackie Chan, John Cena, Pilou Asbaek, and Ma Chunrui. Released in the United Arab Emirates on July 6, 2023, followed by a United States release on July 29, 2023, the film has an ex-special forces soldier escorting civilians to the Green Zone.
The film was directed by Scott Waugh, who also directed "Act of Valor", "Need for Speed", and "6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain". When there are not many big movies playing this month, aside from "Blue Beetle" and "Gran Turismo", there's only one other place to go to for more movie-reviewing goodness: streaming. Of course, when I said "streaming", I meant Netflix. There are plenty of recent options for me to discover on the streaming service, but only one managed to catch my eye, and it stars two of the biggest action stars on the planet: Jackie Chan and John Cena. You read that right, folks. The famous international martial artist is teaming up with a former wrestler/movie star for an action bonanza involving an evacuation mission through a dangerous desert. This latest movie from Scott Waugh made its debut in the United Arab Emirates last month, and now it's made its way to the U.S.A. via a Netflix release for us to enjoy at home. So was it another thrill ride that's worth watching with a Netflix account, or are we better off taking a safer shortcut to the better films from the genre? Let's find out.
The film follows "Dragon" Luo Feng (Chan), an ex-special forces soldier. Along with his private security company, Feng is tasked to evacuate the employees in a convoy along the Highway of Death to the Green Zone. The reason is that a group of mercenaries led by Owen Paddock (Asbaek) attacked an oil refinery in Iraq. Meanwhile, former US Marine Chris Van Horne (Cena) joins his brother Henry (Amadeus Serafini) to help Owen invade the convey so he can earn a big paycheck. The attack resulted in five civilians getting kidnapped, including Professor Cheng (Jiang Wenli), who has the authorization codes for the oil refinery, leading to Feng attempting to rescue them. When Owen's true intentions are revealed, Chris eventually teams up with Feng to prevent the mercenary leader from performing the biggest oil heist in history.
This is another movie that unintentionally appeared right in front of me while skimming through social media. I saw that it had Chan and Cena starring together, and I was immediately hooked. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to get to it because of its availability. Lucky for me, Netflix is the best place to find plenty of content made for international audiences, especially anime and action movies. So when I discovered that "Hidden Strike" debuted on the streaming service a few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to check it out, knowing how much I enjoy watching the two actors onscreen individually. Seeing the two sharing the screen is also a neat bonus, especially when you're an action fan like me. Unfortunately, this action blunder wasn't the perfect way to celebrate Chan's latest collaboration.
Undoubtedly, "Hidden Strike" offers what is advertised in the marketing. It's an action-packed thrill ride involving two people from different sides cooperating to take down a criminal and their mercenaries. It's like "Rush Hour", but with two former soldiers in a Mad Max-like setting instead of cops in a city. There are also plenty of cliches included to make the audiences grow attached to the characters. One involves the strained relationship between Feng and his daughter Mei (Chunrui), which occurred after Feng left her alone for a special mission. There's also Chris being a protector of a rural village by finding enough money to fix its well. Everything you expect from any other action movie on the planet exists in "Hidden Strike", a film involving fistfights, guns, explosions, and Jackie Chan. If that's what you're looking for, you might be mostly satisfied with the experience.
Sadly, regarding its narrative and genre, the film didn't fully capitalize on its fun premise, especially for those looking for a unique and immensely thrilling experience. It's an underwhelming, by-the-numbers affair that lacks the genuine authenticity of its world and a sense of amusement. Arash Amel's screenplay involves the film choosing a random narrative cliche from a page and throwing it on the screen. Instead of sticking to the surface, the cliches shown quickly fell off in seconds, as they only exist to advance the plot rather than display the heart behind them. It doesn't help that it also has uninspired characters that struggle to provide charisma through their mundane personalities, including the movie's antagonist, Owen. Combine those things with its subpar dialogue, and you get a mishmash of many other action films that offers very little to its formula.
Scott Waugh isn't what I would call a perfect director who comes from the stuntman world. He means well in displaying the entertaining action scenes, but his directorial style leaves much to be desired, especially regarding his storytelling. "Act of Valor" and "Need for Speed" were the examples that offer this imbalance. While the action sequences in those films were delightful to watch, they often get overshadowed by lackluster direction, plot, and editing. Unsurprisingly, "Hidden Strike" marks another example of this trend. There are some scenes that were mildly entertaining and had some nicely-crafted shots, including the sandstorm sequence, but Waugh's approach for everything else is pretty bare-bones. That includes the visual effects, which periodically look cheaply rendered, mainly for the set pieces and some of its car stunts.
The only thing that I would credit the movie for is the cast. I undoubtedly enjoy Jackie Chan in most of the films I've seen. It's not just because of his eagerness to perform his stunts. He also can provide plenty of charm in his acting. His performance as Luo Feng is no exception. While not his best work, Chan still hasn't missed a step in keeping me entertained through his presence, whether he's punching bad guys or not. John Cena also had moments regarding his role as Chris, even if it's not on par with his other performances. But what about the chemistry between the two main stars, which is crucial in elevating its formulaic plot? Honestly, it was so-so. Most movies I've seen with Jackie Chan and his co-lead have a sense of endearment and playfulness that benefitted from their chemistry, with "Rush Hour" being the prime example of this occasion. However, "Hidden Strike" tried and failed to be one of them, as Chan and Cena's chemistry was poorly handled by Waugh's direction and the film's bland humor. Pilou Asbaek and Ma Chunrui were also okay in their roles as Owen and Mei, respectively.
Overall, "Hidden Strike" is a lackluster imitation of other action films that isn't as explosive as the exploding oil tanks. The movie offers plenty of entertaining action scenes that'll likely please specific viewers looking for a simplistic violent affair. It also has Jackie Chan doing what he does best regarding his charisma and stunt work. Sadly, they're not enough to elevate the film's disappointingly bland approach to its basic plot. From the uninspired direction from Scott Waugh to the weak chemistry between Chan and Cena, the movie wastes an exciting combination of its main leads with a forgettable and formulaic trek through the desert wasteland. Fans of the two leads will likely get some amusement off of them fighting and bickering together, but other than that, you're better off rejecting this mission.