Review: ‘Wrath of Man,’ starring Jason Statham

May 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Holt McCallany, Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Rocci Williams in “Wrath of Man” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Wrath of Man”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action flick “Wrath of Man” features a nearly all-male, predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A crime boss goes undercover as an armored truck driver to avenge the murder of his teenage son, who was killed during a heist of an armored truck.

Culture Audience: “Wrath of Man” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a predictable and violent movie with no imagination.

Raúl Castillo, Deobia Oparei, Jeffrey Donovan, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso and Scott Eastwood in “Wrath of Man” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

The fourth time isn’t the charm for director Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham in the vapid action flick “Wrath of Man,” their fourth movie together. It’s tedious and predictable junk filled with cringeworthy dialogue and stunts with no creativity. People who are familiar with Statham’s work already know that his movies are almost always schlockfests that are essentially about violence and car chases. However, Ritchie’s filmography is much more of a mixed bag. “Wrath of Man” isn’t Ritchie’s absolute worst film, but it’s a movie that could have been so much better.

Ritchie co-wrote the “Wrath of Man” screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson. The movie is based on the 2004 French thriller “Le Convoyeur,” directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and written by Boukhrief and Éric Besnard. Ritchie and Statham previously worked together on 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (Ritchie’s feature-film debut), 2000’s “Snatch” and 2005’s “Revolver.” Whereas those three movies had plenty of sly comedy with brutal action, “Wrath of Man” is so by-the-numbers and soulless, it seems like a computer program, not human beings, could’ve written this movie.

The movie’s simplistic plot could’ve been told in 90 minutes or less. Instead, it’s stretched out into a nearly two-hour slog with repetitive and unnecessary flashbacks. In “Wrath of Man,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Statham plays a mysterious crime boss who’s out to avenge the murder of his son Dougie (played by Eli Brown), who was about 17 or 18 and an innocent bystander when he was shot to death by a robber during a heist of an armored truck.

Dougie’s murder (which is not spoiler information) is shown in a flashback about halfway through the movie. Until then, viewers are left to wonder who Statham’s character really is when he shows up at the headquarters of Fortico Security to apply for a job working as a guard in an armored truck. When he applies for the job, he identifies himself has Patrick Hill, a divorcé with more than 25 years of security experience. Later, viewers find out that it’s an alias; his real last name is Mason.

But he was able to create an entire false identity as Patrick Hill, with documents provided by his trusty assistant Kirsty (played by Lyne Renée), one of the few women with a speaking role in this movie. The false identity includes phony job references and a fake job stint at the now-defunct Orange Delta Security, which was a well-known company. Based on this elaborate scheme, Patrick is easily able to get a job at Fortico.

Fortico is described in the movie as one of the top armored vehicle companies that does cash pickups and deliveries in the area. The company’s clients include retail department stores, marijuana dispensaries, cash vaults, casinos and private banks. On a typical pickup or delivery, there are two or three employees in the truck: a driver, a guard and/or a messenger. The company isn’t huge (it only has 12 trucks), but it’s very profitable. A Fortico truck haul can total around $15 million a day, sometimes more.

Patrick is trained by Hayden Blair (played by Holt McCallany), who goes by the nickname Bullet. Almost everyone Bullet works with directly seems to have a nickname, so he immediately gives Patrick the nickname H, an abbreviation of Hill. Patrick/H goes through the training process (including gun defense skills) and he barely gets passing grades. He’s assigned to work with a cocky driver named David Hancock (played by Josh Hartnett), whose nickname is Boy Sweat Dave. Another colleague is Robert Martin (played by Rocci Williams), whose nickname is Hollow Bob.

When Bullet introduces H to these two co-workers, Bullet says, “He’s H, like the bomb. Or Jesus H.” The bad dialogue doesn’t get any better. H is told that he’s replacing a co-worker named Sticky John (who came up with these cringeworthy nicknames?), who died during a heist that killed multiple employees. The robbers got away, so the Fortico employees on are on edge about this shooting spree, which they call the Gonzo Murders. Boy Sweat Dave says, “We ain’t the predators. We’re the prey.”

The insipid dialogue continues throughout the entire movie. In a scene with some Fortico workers off-duty in a bar, Boy Sweat Dave is playing pool with Dana Curtis (played by Niamh Algar), the token female on Fortico’s armored truck crew. Dana says sarcastically to Boy Sweat Dave: “The point of the game is to get the ball in the hole.” Boy Sweat Dave snaps back, “The point of a woman is to shut the fuck up, Dana.”

Dana replies, “Well, that Ivy League education is really working for you, Boy Sweat.” (How can you say a line like that with a straight face?) Boy Sweat Dave retorts, “Pretty soon, you’ll all be working for me. The power is in this big head here.” Dana snipes back, “Well, it’s definitely not in your little head. Or are you still blaming the beer?”

The character of Boy Sweat Dave is an example of how “Wrath of Man” wastes a potentially interesting character on silly dialogue. What kind of person with an Ivy League education wants to work as an armored truck driver, a job which doesn’t even require a high school education? Viewers never find out because Boy Sweat Dave is one of several characters in the movie who are shallowly introduced, just so there can be more people in the body count later.

And because Dana is H’s only female co-worker, this movie that treats women as tokens can’t let her be just a co-worker. No, she has to serve the purpose of fulfilling H’s sexual needs too, since he and Dana have a predictable fling/one night stand. He finds out something about her when he spends the night at her place that helps him unravel the mystery of who killed his son.

It isn’t long before Patrick/H experiences his first heist as a Fortico employee. He’s partnered with Boy Sweat Dave, who’s driving, while H is the lookout. The heist is unrealistically staged in the movie as one of those battles where one man (in this case, H) can take down several other men in a shootout where a Fortico employee has been taken hostage by the thieves. Post Malone fans (or haters) might get a kick out of the scene though, since he plays one of the nameless robbers who doesn’t last long in this movie. H has saved his co-workers’ lives in this botched heist, so he’s hailed as a hero by the company.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been looking for Patrick because he’s been an elusive crime boss. There are three FBI agents, all very uninteresting, who are on this manhunt: Agent Hubbard (played by Josh Cowdery), Agent Okey (played by Jason Wong) and their supervisor Agent King (played by Andy Garcia). Hubbard and Okey come in contact with Patrick/H, when they investigate the botched robbery where Patrick/H ended up as the hero.

Agent King orders Hibbard and Okey not to let on that they know H’s real identity and to keep tabs on why this crime boss is working at an armored truck company. Eddie Marsan, a very talented actor, has a very useless role in “Wrath of Man,” as an office assistant named Terry. Terry becomes suspicious of who H really is, because in his heroic rescue, H showed the type of expert combat skills that contradicts the mediocrity that he displayed in the company’s training.

And just who’s in this group of murderous thieves? They’re led by mastermind Jackson (played by Jeffrey Donovan), a married man with two kids who lives a double life. This seemingly mild-mannered family man works in a shopping mall. But he also apparently has time to lead a group of armored truck thieves, who pose as street construction workers when they commit their robberies. The robbers use a concrete mixer truck to block the armored truck and then ambush the people inside the armored truck.

What’s really dumb about “Wrath of Man” is that these armed robbers use the same tactic every time. In real life, repeating this very cumbersome way of committing an armed robbery would make them easier to catch, not harder. Apparently, these dimwits think that the best way to not call attention to yourself during a robbery is to haul out a giant concrete mixer truck.

Jackson’s crew consists of a bunch of mostly generic meatheads: Brad (played by Deobia Oparei), Sam (played by Raúl Castillo), Tom (played by Chris Reilly) and Carlos (played by Laz Alonzo), with Jan (played by Scott Eastwood) as the loose cannon in the group. Guess who pulled the trigger on Patrick/H/Mason’s son Dougie? Guess who’s going to have a big showdown at the end of the movie?

Of course, a crime boss has to have his own set of goons. Patrick/H/Mason has three thugs who are closest to him and who do a lot of his dirty work: Mike (played by Darrell D’Silva), Brendan (played by Cameron Jack) and Moggy (played by Babs Olusanmokun). There’s a vile part of the movie that shows Patrick/H/Mason ordering his henchman to beat up and torture anyone who might have information on who murdered Dougie. The operative word here is “might,” because some people who had nothing to do with the murder are brutally assaulted.

Mike has a conscience and he says that he won’t commit these vicious attacks anymore to try to find Dougie’s killer. Mike advises Patrick/H/Mason to think of another way to find the murderer. And that’s when Patrick/H/Mason got the idea to go “undercover” at Fortico, with the hope that he could catch the murderous thieves in their next heist on a Fortico truck.

And what do you know, this gang of thieves will be doing “one last heist” on a Fortico truck, to get a haul that’s said to be at least $150 million. What could possibly go wrong? You know, of course.

Ritchie’s previous film “The Gentlemen” (which was also about gangsters and theives) had a lot of devilishly clever dialogue and crackled with the type of robust energy that hasn’t been seen in his movies in years. And although “The Gentlemen” wasn’t a perfect film about criminal antics, it at least made the effort to have memorable characters and to keep viewers guessing about which character was going to come out on top. “Wrath of Man” is a completely lazy film that has no interesting characters, no suspense, and not even any eye-popping stunts. It’s just a silly shoot ’em up flick that’s as empty as Statham’s dead-eyed stares.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Pictures and Miramax Films will release “Wrath of Man” in U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2021.

Review: ‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,’ starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo

February 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar”

Directed by Josh Greenbaum

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional U.S. cities of Taylorsville and Vista Del Mar, the comedy film “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Two middle-aged female best friends unwittingly get ensnared in a villain’s scheme to get deadly revenge on the residents of Vista Del Mar, Florida.

Culture Audience: “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (who co-wrote 2011’s Oscar-nominated “Bridesmaids”), but “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a disappointing, uneven dud.

Jamie Dornan in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

When close friends Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo first wrote a movie screenplay together, it was for 2011’s hilarious “Bridesmaids,” which garnered an Academy Award nomination for the duo, as well as a best supporting actress Oscar nod for “Bridesmaids” co-star Melissa McCarthy. Unfortunately, Wiig and Mumolo’s next screenplay collaboration is the messy and frequently unfunny “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” an awkward mishmash of repetitive jokes about being middle-aged women, with some sci-fi and musical theater elements that mostly fall flat. The movie definitely won’t be nominated for any awards, not even a Razzie, because “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is ultimately forgettable.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum, “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a frequently unfocused movie that loses steam in the last third of the film. Greenbaum has a background in directing sitcoms, such as “Fresh Off the Boat” and “New Girl.” And that TV comedy background shows up in the most annoying ways in this movie. The music score sounds like it was made for a sitcom, and the music volume is turned up to irritating levels because it interrupts the flow of the movie.

Unlike “Bridesmaids,” which was made for adults, “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” tries to be more family-friendly and therefore loses a lot of potential to have raunchy humor that’s genuinely funny. However, there are moments where the filmmakers tried to throw in some adult-themed content, such as drug-fueled partying that ends up with some of the main characters having a sexual threesome. But this very adult scenario doesn’t really work in this film, because the movie is too cutesy with its sexual innuendo, thereby making the tone of the movie look confused and ultimately ineffective. Imagine if 2009’s “The Hangover” or 2017’s “Girls Trip” held back on a lot of the things that happened in the stories because the filmmakers wanted to make these movies suitable for underage kids to watch.

In “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” Mumolo portrays widow Barb Quicksilver and Wiig portrays divorcée Star Testigivlio, two middle-aged best friends/housemates who talk in a Midwestern twang and embody every stereotype of being a very bland, sheltered and uptight middle-aged American woman. (The movie has a running joke about Barb and Star’s penchant for wearing culotte pants.) The movie doesn’t say which U.S. state Barb and Star live in, but their hometown is called Taylorsville, and it’s far enough away from Florida that they have to travel by plane to get to the Florida city of Vista Del Mar.

Barb and Star are motormouths who frequently talk over each other but don’t have much to say that’s meaningful. They obsess over trivial things, such as why they don’t want anyone to buy their favorite sofa at the Jennifer Convertibles furniture store where they work as sales clerks. They’re so attached to the sofa that they come up with excuses for customers not to buy it. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because one day their boss (played by Ian Gomez) calls Barb and Star into his office and tells them that they’re all losing their jobs because the company has gone out of business.

As Barb and Star leave the store in shock, a friend of theirs named Mickey Revelet (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey) sees them walking down the street and runs over to talk to them. Mickey raves to Barb and Star about just coming back in town from the vacation that she and her man Miguel took in Vista Del Mar, Florida. (It’s a fictional city in Florida. The movie was actually filmed in Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico.)

Mickey brags that not only did she have a lot of fun and get a splendid tan, but she also says that going to Vista Del Mar had this effect on her: “I feel like I got a soul douche.” That’s the type of dialogue in the movie that’s supposed to be funny. Before Mickey leaves, she hands Barb and Star a travel brochure for Vista Del Mar. McLendon-Covey was a scene-stealing character in “Bridesmaids,” but “Bridesmaids” fans will be disappointed that her role in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is really just a quick cameo, since she’s only in the movie for about five minutes.

Barb and Star’s idea of fun is getting together not with a book club but with a talk club, which consists of other boring women who are around the same age. The members of the talk club gather to discuss a single topic per meeting. Shortly after Barb and Star lose their jobs, they’re at a talk club meeting, which is led by a bossy snob named Debbie (played by Vanessa Bayer) at Debbie’s home. Three other women are also in attendance: Pinky (played by Fortune Feimster), Delores (played by Phyllis Smith) and Bev (played by Rose Abdoo), who all do whatever Debbie expects them to do.

The talk club has certain rules that Debbie is fanatical about enforcing. When one of the club members is one minute late, Debbie locks the door and won’t let her inside. And the three cardinal rules of the club are (1) No wearing of sneakers; (2) No swearing, except for the “f” word; and (3) No lying. When Debbie announces that this meeting topic will be jobs, Barb and Star look at each other with dread because they’re embarrassed to talk about how they’ve become recently unemployed.

As the members of the club go around the room to talk about their jobs, (pharmacist Debbie is ecstatic when she describes how much she loves shaking pills in bottles while listening to music), Barb and Star continue to act as if they still work at the furniture store. However, the guilt of lying gets to Star, who blurts out that she and Barb lied and they actually got laid off recently. A furious Debbie kicks Barb and Star out of the club.

With their social life in shambles, Barb and Star decide to follow Mickey’s advice and take a vacation in Vista Del Mar. On the plane, there’s a sequence that goes on for far too long where Barb and Star ramble on about what kind of lady would be an ideal friend to lots of other women. They call her Trish and imagine all sorts of scenarios and personality traits that this ideal woman would have. And as soon as this becomes the entire plane conversation in the movie, you just know that there will be a character named Trish that shows up at some point.

Now for the weird and clunky sci-fi part of the story. It’s shown in the beginning of the movie that underneath the quiet streets of suburban Taylorsville is a high-tech underground bunker where a villain lives named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig), who wants to kill the people of Vista Del Mar for a revenge reason that’s revealed in the movie. (It’s the most obvious reason possible.) The only way to get to the bunker is through a secret entrance in a tree trunk. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Sharon has a skin condition that makes her look unusually pale and sensitive to being in sunlight. She always wears white clothing. And she wears her hair in a jet-black bob, which kind of makes her look like a cross between Gloria Vanderbilt and Tilda Swinton, if they wanted to look like a Goth who only wears white. Sharon has a bitter demeanor and she seems to have problems emotionally connecting to people.

Sharon has three people working for her: an unnamed elderly scientist (played by Patrick Bristow), a handsome henchman named Edgar Pagét (played by Jamie Dornan), and a precocious boy named Yoyo (played by Reyn Doi), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. In the movie’s opening scene, Yoyo is shown riding his bike while delivering newspapers and singing Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb’s 1980 hit “Guilty.” However, Yoyo is no mild-mannered paperboy.

The scientist tells Sharon that he’s found a way to genetically modify mosquitos so that one mosquito sting can kill a large animal in minutes. When the scientist finds out that Sharon wants to use these mosquitos to kill humans, he objects to this plan and then is on the receiving end of Sharon’s deadly wrath. Shortly after that, Sharon orders Yoyo to activate a remote control in an earring that he’s wearing. The remote control sets off a bomb that was in a newspaper that Yoyo delivered to someone’s front porch.

Sharon then dispatches Edgar to go to Vista Del Mar to let loose the lethal mosquitos on the city’s population. Edgar is infatuated with Sharon and there’s a not-very-believable subplot that Edgar wants to be her boyfriend, but she’s been resistant to the idea. Sharon has a dead personality, so it’s very far-fetched that someone like Edgar (who could have his pick of women) would be pining after someone who lacks charisma and is very self-absorbed. But maybe Edgar likes women who play very hard-to-get.

And so, when Edgar goes to Vista Del Mar and inevitably meets Barb and Star, it’s at a hotel bar. He’s pining over Sharon and distracted in thinking about her, while Barb and Star try to strike up a conversation with him. There are some shenanigans that happen between Barb, Star and Edgar that leads to a very cliché plot development in a movie about two female best friends: They end up competing with each other over a man. Take a wild guess who it is.

In addition to the sci-fi elements of the movie that are very poorly conceived (with tacky visual effects), “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” has some musical song-and-dance interludes that come out of nowhere. The first is when Barb and Star arrive at the Palm Vista Hotel, and all the people in the lobby break into a musical number to greet Barb and Star. Edgar also has an extensive musical number on the beach that involves an obvious stunt double.

There are also some other bizarre things in the movie that don’t work well either. For example, Star has a conversation with a talking crab named Morgan Freemond (voiced by Josh Robert Thompson), and the “joke” is that the crab sounds like Morgan Freeman and gives advice to the lovelorn Star. Damon Wayans Jr. has a useless role in the movie as a spy named Darlie Bunkle, who makes contact with Edgar. The running gag with Darlie is that he’s supposed to be undercover and always lectures Edgar to keep their communication “private,” but Darlie always bungles and reveals his own identity so that it’s out in the open and not “private” at all.

If the movie wasn’t trying so hard to appeal to underage audiences, it could’ve had more fun showing adults acting and talking like adults. Instead, by playing it too coy and too safe, the movie’s humor fails to be edgy or genuine. There’s a recurring character in the movie named Richard Cheese (played by Mark Jonathan Davis), who’s a singer/pianist in the hotel lounge. The joke is that Richard keeps singing about how much he loves women’s breasts, and he comes up with all sorts of ways to say the word “breasts.” It’s a mildly funny gag, but the humor is very juvenile, like 10-year-old boys giggling about saying slang words for this part of the female anatomy.

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a story about two middle-aged single women who go on what’s supposed to be a fun-filled vacation together, but the movie is so watered down, that Barb and Star might as well have been teenagers. Barb and Star are sheltered women, but it would’ve been funnier to have them experience culture shock in a raunchier environment. “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is one of those movies where the trailer makes the film look a lot funnier than it actually is.

Wiig and Mumolo (who are also two of the movie’s producers) are capable of doing much better work. Barb and Star are fairly one-note. And except for a brief mention of why they are single (Barb’s husband Ron died in an accident, while Star’s husband Carmine left her for another woman), there’s no backstory for these two central characters. It seems as if the filmmakers were trying to do a middle-aged version of 1997’s “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” (another movie about two sheltered best friends who travel somewhere to party), but “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” lacks a lot of the charm that made “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” a hit.

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” isn’t a completely terrible movie, because viewers can find some laughs here and there. (People who are under the influence of alcohol or other substances while watching are more likely to find this movie funny.) Wiig has better comedic timing than Mumolo, while Dornan has some deliberately campy moments that can’t save this embarrassing film. Andy Garcia and Reba McEntire have unremarkable cameos in the movie. Considering the level of talent involved in this movie, it’s a misfire in so many ways, and it will just make people appreciate “Bridesmaids” even more.

Lionsgate will release “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” on VOD on February 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Words on Bathroom Walls,’ starring Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell, Andy Garcia, Beth Grant, Molly Parker and Walton Goggins

August 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Taylor Russell and Charlie Plummer in “Words on Bathroom Walls” (Photo by Jacob Yakob/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

“Words on Bathroom Walls”

Directed by Thor Freudenthal

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic drama “Words on Bathroom Walls” has a predominantly white cast (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A high-school senior with schizophrenia wants to go to culinary school to become a chef, and he has a hard time dealing with the stigma of his mental illness, which he hides from a fellow student who’s his secret crush.

Culture Audience: “Words on Bathroom Walls” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about young love, but some of the movie’s occasionally trite or hokey way of portraying mental illness might offend or frustrate viewers.

Charlie Plummer and Andy Garcia in “Words on Bathroom Walls” (Photo by Jacob Yakob/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

In romantic dramas about high-school students, the biggest problems that the students usually face are issues about academics, sports or popularity among their peers. “Words on Bathroom Walls” goes deep into the serious issue of mental illness by having its narrator/protagonist struggling with schizophrenia, which causes problems for him at home and at school. Directed by Thor Freudenthal and written by Nick Naveda (based on the novel by Julia Walton), “Words on Bathroom Walls” makes a sincere effort to portray this psychiatric disorder with respect, but the results sometime veer into the type of hokey territory that is seen all too-often in teen dramas.

The movie’s most ludicrous and melodramatic moments are elevated by the above-average performances by Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell, who play the would-be teen couple at the center of the story. Without the acting talent of these two stars, “Words on Bathroom Walls” would be on par with the lower-quality “disease of the week” story that is usually made for mediocre television shows. The movie also has some witty dialogue which is much better than some of the contrived, unrealistic situations in the story.

It’s clear from the beginning of the movie that Adam Petrazelli (played by Plummer) has been living with mental illness (which includes having delusions) for a while, but he has more recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which includes having delusions. Adam, who is a senior in high school, lives with his divorced mother Beth (played by Molly Parker) in an unnamed U.S. city. (The movie was actually filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.)

Adam loves to cook, and his career goal is to become a professional chef, but he worries about how his mental illness will affect his chances to reach that goal. Early on in the movie, Adam comments in a voiceover about his awareness that he had schizophrenia: “What I would’ve given for a classic case of glaucoma, because soon after, I started hearing the voices.”

Adam doesn’t just hear voices. He also sees three fictional people who are part of his hallucinations and who become his imaginary companions/advisors when he’s going through a schizophrenic episode. Joaquin (played by Devon Bostick) is a guy in his late teens whom Adam describes as being like “the horny best friend in a ‘90s teen movie following you around.” Rebecca (played by AnnaSophia Robb) is a neo-hippie type in her 20s who likes to spread optimism and positive vibes. Bodyguard (played by Lobo Sebastian) is a rough-looking, tracksuit-wearing protector in his 30s who carries around a baseball bat and other weapons. Bodyguard doesn’t hesitate to get violent if he thinks Adam is in danger. Occasionally, some of Bodyguard’s friends (who wear similar tracksuits) also show up to do some damage.

Adam is the type of teenager who speaks like he’s about 10 years older than his real age. In a voiceover, he asks: “How hard could it be to hide my burgeoning insanity from the unforgiving ecosystem that is high school?” Adam is keeping his mental illness a secret from the people at his public high school, but it’s a secret that was exposed in an incident that led to him being diagnosed with schizophrenia. This incident is shown in a flashback scene.

While attending a chemistry class, Adam had a disturbing psychotic break in which he hallucinated that the Bodyguard and his friends were destroying the classroom. The imaginary mayhem caused Adam to accidentally strike out at his acquaintance/lab partner Todd (played by Aaron Domingues), who was severely burned when a container of chemicals accidentally spilled on his arm. This incident led to Adam being expelled from school and shunned by Todd, who hangs out with a group of school bullies who taunt Adam with insults about his mental illness.

Adam’s expulsion from school comes at a very tricky time for him because he’s applying to go to culinary school, and he won’t be eligible without a high-school diploma. And something else has happened in his life that he’s not happy about: His mother Beth has started dating a man named Paul (played by Walton Goggins), and the relationship has become serious enough that Paul has moved into the family home. Paul and Beth are very much in love, and Paul makes it clear to Adam that he’s in the relationship for the long haul.

Adam tries to keep his emotional distance from Paul, who is willing to help Beth with the responsibilities of caring for a schizophrenic child. Adam and Beth have no relationship with Adam’s father, who abandoned the family years ago. Later in the story, Adam gets some news about his family that makes him feel even more insecure about his mental illness and how it affects the close emotional bond that he’s had with his mother.

Beth is the type of mother who goes overboard in trying to find ways that Adam can be “cured” of his schizophrenia. She has dozens of books and magazine articles, she spends hours poring over information on the Internet, and she’s heavily involved in online support communities for parents of schizophrenic children. Beth’s devotion to Adam is indisputable, but the movie demonstrates that her overzealousness in helping Adam is almost to a fault, because it’s with the expectation that all her efforts will lead to Adam eventually being “cured.” It’s why Beth pushes for Adam to starting taking a prescribed experimental drug that could help with his schizophrenia.

Since there’s no cure for schizophrenia at this time, the best that schizophrenic people can do is try to manage their mental illness. If they are fortunate enough to be under a doctor’s care, the treatment usually means that the patients have to take prescribed medication. When the medication works and the patient feels better, the vicious circle comes when the patient thinks the medication is no longer needed, the patient stops taking the medication, and then the worst symptoms of the mental illness come back again. The movie depicts Adam being caught up in this frustrating and emotionally debilitating cycle.

Beth is able to get Adam enrolled on short notice in a Catholic school that accepts Adam as a student, on the condition that Adam maintain a 3.5 GPA, score above 90% on the school’s annual benchmark exam, and give monthly updates on his psychiatric treatment. During an enrollment meeting that Beth, Paul and Adam have with the school’s stern but compassionate principal Sister Catherine (played by Beth Grant), Adam hallucinates that Sister Catherine’s head catches on fire, and the fire spreads throughout the entire room.

At his new school, Adam is predictably a loner whose socially awkward and introverted nature makes it difficult for him to make new friends. The students, who mostly come from privileged families, aren’t exactly welcoming. Adam is also an “outsider” because he’s not Catholic and he isn’t religious. Therefore, when the school’s students attend Catholic services, he cannot participate.

On his first day at school, when Adam is in the men’s room, he sees a fellow student paying a female student named Maya Arnez (played by Russell) in exchange for homework that she did for him. (This men’s room later becomes the place where Adam hallucinates messages on the walls—hence, the title of this story.)

The way that Adam looks at Maya, it’s obvious that he’s attracted to her, but he nervously bungles his first conversation with her. Maya later strikes up a conversation with him over lunch in the school’s cafeteria. It’s during this conversation that they both find out that they share a similar quirky sense of humor where they like to poke fun at some of life’s absurdities.

It turns out that Maya is in her senior year too, and she’s a star pupil at the school: She’s an “A” student who’s the student-body president, and she’s gotten early acceptance into Duke University. Maya also proudly tells Adam that she fully expects to be chosen as the class valedictorian.

Maya might want the traditional honor of being the class valedictorian, but she sees herself as enough of a nonconformist that she looks down on another high-school tradition: She doesn’t believe in the prom, and she doesn’t want to go. Adam finds out about Maya’s dislike of prom activities during their cafeteria conversation, when Maya abruptly brushes off a female student who approaches her about being involved in the prom committee.

Taylor explains to Adam, “I choose not to affiliate myself with patriarchal norms like prom.” It’s that this point in the movie, considering this is a teen romance story, that you know that there will definitely be a scene where Maya is at the school’s prom. Adam doesn’t mind the idea of going to the school’s prom. If he does go, it’s very obvious he only wants to go with Maya as his date.

When Adam asks Maya about why she would risk her status and reputation in the school to help other students cheat, she says that the money she makes is a “side hustle” for her. Because Adam now knows that Maya will accept money to help other students get better grades, he offers to hire her to be his math tutor, since math is one of his weakest subjects and he needs to maintain a 3.5 GPA.

At first, Maya is reluctant to help Adam because she says the pay rate he cites is too low for her. But Maya changes her mind when Adam invites Maya over to dinner at his home and she meets Beth, who tells Maya the amount she can afford to pay her to tutor Adam, and Maya accepts the amount.

These tutoring sessions lead to Adam and Maya becoming closer, but he’s afraid to tell her about his schizophrenia. Several times, Maya senses that something is wrong with Adam, but every time she asks him what’s wrong, he lies and makes up excuses, such as he’s just tired, or he has a headache condition, or he’s having a bad day.

Meanwhile, Maya has a big secret of her own that she hasn’t told Adam. She goes to great lengths to lie and cover up this secret. When the secret is revealed, it isn’t too surprising because a major clue was there from the start of Adam and Maya’s first meeting.

“Words on Bathroom Walls” has a subplot of Adam establishing a friendly rapport with the school’s chief priest Father Patrick (played by Andy Garcia), who counsels Adam during confessionals, even though Adam tells Father Patrick up front that he’s not Catholic. Father Patrick can see that Adam is troubled, and he’s aware of Adam’s psychiatric problems, but Father Patrick doesn’t push the issue with Adam and seems to accept Adam for who he is.

The last third of the movie has a lot of melodrama that’s typical of a teen romance movie, but with the added element of schizophrenia. Parker and Goggins give solid performances as the main parental figures in the story. However, Adam and Maya’s budding romance is the main draw of this movie, which goes in a lot of the expected directions for this adolescent love story. Fortunately, Plummer and Russell (who was a standout in the 2019 drama “Waves”) give very believable and emotionally genuine performances.

At times, “Words on Bathroom Walls” seems to use schizophrenia as merely just another plot device in the obligatory “obstacle/secret” that most romantic stories have to create conflict for the story’s couple. At other times, the movie does a fairly good job of portraying the frustration and loneliness that schizophrenics must feel when experiencing a delusional world that only they can see.

Some of the movie’s schizophrenic visual effects are a bit heavy-handed, but it’s to make a point that these delusions aren’t just quiet little thoughts that go away just by closing your eyes and trying to think of something else. “Words on Bathroom Walls” has some very formulaic ways of portraying the story’s teen romance, but the admirable performances from Plummer and Russell improve the quality of the film so that it’s not an ordinary teen movie.

LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions released “Words on Bathroom Walls” in select U.S. cinemas on August 21, 2020.

Review: ‘Flipped’ (2020), starring Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte

April 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson in “Flipped” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

“Flipped” (2020)

Directed by Ryan Case

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and Mexico, the satirical comedy “Flipped” has a racially diverse cast (white, Latino and a few African Americans) portraying the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A husband and wife who aspire to host their own home-renovation show end up being forced to work for members of a Mexican drug cartel.

Culture Audience: “Flipped” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, but the premise of the comedy wears thin about halfway through the story.

Kaitlin Olson and Will Forte in “Flipped” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in “chapters” that look like episodes. The satirical comedy “Flipped” is one of Quibi’s flagship movies that began streaming on the service on Quibi’s launch date.

“Flipped” takes a concept that’s ripe for parody and wastes it with a dumbed-down crime caper that becomes repetitive and runs out of creative steam long before the story ends. Funny Or Die is one of the production companies for “Flipped,” which was directed by Ryan Case and written by Damon Jones and Steve Mallory. Despite some occasional laugh-out-loud comedic scenes and good efforts from the “Flipped” actors, they’re not enough to make up for the overall mediocrity of the screenwriting.

The married couple at the center of “Flipped” are Cricket Melfi (played by Kaitlin Olson) and Jann Melfi (played by Will Forte), two frequently unemployed, bitter and delusional people who consider themselves to be smarter and better than the “common people” they have to interact with in the real world. Cricket and Jann (who live somewhere in the Los Angeles area) also have a lot of resentment toward people who are more financially successful than they are. Cricket and Jann think that most rich people get financial success through luck or dishonesty, not intelligence or talent.

The irony is that Cricket and Jann have none of the intelligence or talent that they think they have. In the beginning of the story, Cricket has been fired from her job as a sales clerk at a Home Depot-style retail store called Fair & Square. Her supervisor tells Cricket that too many customers have complained about Cricket for being abrasive and rude. Cricket responds to being fired by smashing several store mirrors on the ground.

Around the same time, Jann also gets axed from his job as a theater director of a middle school. Jann wants to stage a school musical called “Children of the Fire,” which is based on a true story of 12-and-13-year-old children who died in a fire in the local area. The musical is obviously a terrible idea, but Jann can’t understand why school officials and parents want him fired over it.

While simmering with anger and self-pity at home, Cricket and Jann (who are having problems paying their bills) commiserate with each other on their living room couch about how they think they’re underappreciated in the world. Cricket says, “Is this our life now? Are we destined to be two people with vision living amongst the blind?” Jann adds, “I think people are intimidated by us because we’re ahead of our time.”

As they’re watching TV together, Jann and Cricket jeer at a home-improvement show called “Pros & Connellys,” starring a cheerful married couple Chazz and Tiffany Connelly (played by real-life married couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn), who do tasteful but bland renovations of middle-class houses. “Pros & Connellys,” which is on a network called HRTV (Home Renovation TV), is “Flipped’s” obvious spoof of the real-life Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Fixer Upper” show on HGTV.

While watching “Pros & Connellys” with contempt, Jann and Cricket tell themselves that Chazz and Tiffany are mediocre hacks. And lo and behold, there’s an announcement on the show that HRTV is looking to cast a new home-renovation show starring a married couple who could be the next Chazz and Tiffany Connelly. The auditions are open to the public and the winners will get to star in the new show. Jann and Cricket immediately decide that they’re the ones who deserve to win the contest.

With nothing to lose, Jann and Cricket buy a “fixer-upper” desert property for a very low price: $3,400. But there was a catch in the deal: Jann and Cricket bought the property sight unseen. And when they drive out to see the property for the first time, of course it’s a dirty and broken-down dump.

But the delusional Jann and Cricket think the house has a lot of potential for their tacky tastes. As they break down some walls, they come across a shocking discovery hidden in one of the walls: a large pile of cash totaling $500,000. Cricket and Jann can’t believe their luck. Or is it luck if they make the wrong decision on what to do with the money?

Instead of turning the money over to authorities, Jann and Cricket keep the cash and spend it all on redoing the house with trashy and gaudy decorations (including plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawn) and hiring a TV crew to film their HRTV audition video. But, of course, stealing that amount of hidden cash means that whoever owns the cash will eventually come looking for it. And, of course, chances are that whoever hid that cash is probably involved with something illegal.

Sure enough, three members of a Mexican drug cartel show up to retrieve the money, and they menace Jann and Cricket when they find out that the dimwitted couple spent it all. The leader of this trio of enforcers is named Diego (played by Arturo Castro), who reluctantly lets Jann and Cricket talk him into watching their HRTV audition video to get his feedback.

He actually likes what he sees, but Diego and his henchmen still kidnap Jann and Cricket to take them to Mexico and murder them. Just as Jann and Cricket are about to be killed and buried in their already-dug graves, Diego announces that he’s changed his mind. He tells Cricket and Jann that he’ll let them live if they “pay back” the amount of the stolen cash by doing free renovations for his home.

Diego is so pleased with the renovations that he recommends Jann and Cricket for home renovations to other members of the drug cartel. Among these “clients” are Diego’s boss Rumualdo (played by Andy Garcia) and Rumualdo’s  wife Fidelia (played by Eva Longoria), who live in a lavish mansion. And that’s what happens during the most of the story.

How long will Cricket and Jann be stuck in Mexico paying off their debt? And will they be able to submit their HRTV audition video in time? Those questions are answered in “Flipped,” which goes downhill about halfway through the story when the “fish out of water” concept starts to wear very thin. There’s a cringeworthy scene of Rumualdo and Jann singing a cover version of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (also known as the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) at the quinceañera of Rumualdo and Fidelia’s daughter.

Castro’s comedic performance as Diego is actually one of the best things about “Flipped,” but he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as he deserves. Diego comes across as a tough guy, but then he’ll make off-the-cuff remarks that reveal another side to him, such as when he laments that people don’t show enough respect to Pottery Barn.

Forte has made a career out of playing tone-deaf dolts, so there’s nothing really new that he does here as Jann. Olson’s Cricket character (who’s the more dominant and aggressive partner in the marriage) has some standout comedic moments, but she becomes more of a shrieking shrew as the story keeps going.

Garcia and Longoria have characters that are written in a very hollow and generic way, so ultimately their talents are underused in “Flipped.” And some people might be offended that “Flipped” panders to negative stereotypes of Mexicans as drug dealers. (Almost all of the Latino people cast in “Flipped” are criminals or connected in some way to the illegal drug trade.) But regardless of the race or ethnicity of the criminals in the story, “Flipped”  comes across as an idea that should have been a 15-minute skit instead stretched into an 80-minute comedy that wears out its welcome.

Quibi premiered the first three chapters of the 11-chapter “Flipped” on April 6, 2020.

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