Review: ‘Ambulance’ (2022), starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza González

April 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jake Gyllenhaal and Eiza González in “Ambulance” (Photo by Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

“Ambulance” (2022)

Directed by Michael Bay

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action film “Ambulance” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A longtime bank robber, who’s white, convinces his adopted black brother to rob a bank with him, and when things go wrong, they hijack an ambulance to make their getaway. 

Culture Audience: “Ambulance” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless action movies that repeat bigoted stereotypes of women and people who aren’t white.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Ambulance” (Photo by Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

“Ambulance” is racist and sexist garbage that tries to cover up how stupid it is with car chases and gun shootouts. In this idiotic schlockfest, almost all black and Latino men are criminals, and women are a small minority. This movie hates black men so much, it makes the only black man in a group of bank robbers to be the one to commit the most violent and dumbest crimes. And by the end of the movie, there’s no doubt who is going to prison and who is not going to prison for the most serious crimes.

Directed by Michael Bay (who has a long history of making terrible movies) and written by Chris Fedak (in his feature-film screenwriting debut), “Ambulance” is a remake of writer/director Lars Andreas Pedersen’s 2005 Danish film “Ambulancen.” Both movies are essentially about bank robbers who make their getaway by hijacking an ambulance. The American version of “Ambulance” takes place in Los Angeles, where nearly half the population is Latino in real life. But in this horrible movie, the Latino men are criminals, and the sole Latina is a cold-hearted, difficult person who needs to be redeemed.

“Ambulance” opens with a scene that’s a very tired stereotype that’s been in too many other movies: an African American family is struggling financially. In this case, it’s the family of William “Will” Sharp (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a military war veteran who’s on the phone while he’s trying to get insurance coverage for his wife’s “experimental surgery” that his insurance won’t cover. Will and his wife Amy Sharp (played by Moses Ingram) have an infant son. Amy has cancer, although what type of cancer is never detailed in the movie. The character of Amy Sharp literally does nothing in this movie but hold a baby, look worried, and be a “stand by your man” woman, no matter how many violent crimes her husband commits.

Will is frustrated because the people he’s been dealing with at his insurance company are dismissive and downright rude. During this phone call, the insurance company employee hangs up on him when he expresses his irritation at being stonewalled. And you know what that means in a racist movie where an African American is financially desperate: The African American is going to commit a serious crime to get money.

Will has a brother named Daniel “Danny” Sharp (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Amy dislikes and distrusts immensely. Amy warns Will not to contact Danny. And it’s precisely at this point in the movie that you know Will is going to contact Danny. Before Will leaves the house, he lies to Amy by saying that the insurance for her surgery was approved, and he’s going to work at a new job that he’s started. That job probably doesn’t exist.

Instead, Will goes straight to Danny, who is in a money laundering business of supervising a warehouse where wealthy people store their luxury cars. What Danny really does to make money is rob banks with his small crew of men. Later in the movie, it’s mentioned that Danny has been robbing banks since he was 17. “Ambulance” never mentions if Danny spent any time in prison for it, because the filmmakers want to make Danny look like a smooth mastermind who’s too clever to get caught.

Viewers find out during Danny and Will’s jumbled conversation in their awkward reunion that Will and Danny grew up together as brothers because Will was adopted as a very young child by Danny’s biological father, L.T. Sharp. L.T., who is now dead (for reasons not explained in the movie), is described in various parts of the movie as an evil, psychotic but brilliant criminal whose specialty was bank robberies. Not surprisingly, L.T. was the one who groomed Danny to become a bank robber, while L.T. eventually became estranged from Will. And because “Ambulance” doesn’t care about women, except to put them in the movie to react to whatever the men do, it should come as no surprise that this movie never mentions any mother that Danny and Will might have had in their lives.

Because of Danny’s criminal lifestyle, Will has been estranged from Danny for a long time, although how long is never detailed in the movie. What the movie does show more than once is the racism when people try to insult Will by saying that he’s not Danny’s “real” brother, because Will is black, and Danny is white. Will tells Danny that he needs $231,000 for Amy’s surgery. Danny says that he doesn’t have the money, but that he and his crew are about to commit a major bank robbery that day, in a theft where they expect to get $32 million.

Danny tells Will that Will can get more than enough of the money that he needs if Will is a part of the bank robbery. (The robbers’ target is Los Angeles Federal Bank & Trust, which is a fictional bank name for this movie. In real life, the movie’s bank scenes were filmed at a former branch of Bank of America.) And to put even more pressure on Will, Danny tells Will that Will has just five minutes to decide before they leave for the heist. We all know what Will decides, because almost all of the mayhem in “Ambulance” wouldn’t exist without Will’s bad decisions.

Meanwhile, viewers are introduced to Camille “Cam” Thompson (played by Eiza González), the only woman in “Ambulance” who has more than 10 minutes of dialogue in the movie. The filmmakers of “Ambulance” want viewers to forget that women and girls are 51% of the population in the U.S. and in the world. Cam (she insists on being called Cam, not Camille) is a very jaded and egotistical lead field-training officer of Falck Company’s Ambulance No. 3.

As an emergency medical technician (EMT), Cam is technically very proficient in her job, but her personality is emotionally detached and off-putting. She’s first seen responding to an emergency scene, where somehow a girl named Lindsey (played by Briella Guiza), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, has gotten a spike from a wrought-iron fence embedded in her abdomen. (The accident is not shown in the movie.) In the ambulance, Cam attends to Lindsey and talks to Lindsey’s frantic mother (played by Jenn Proske) in a way that is almost robotic. Cam says all the right things, but there’s no real empathy in her voice, and she often gets irritable with the people who need her help.

After Lindsey is taken to the hospital, Cam has a conversation with a new EMT trainee named Scott Daskins (played by Colin Woodell), who seems to be romantically attracted to Cam. Scott looks disappointed when Cam tells him that she’s dating a doctor who works at a local hospital. In this conversation, Cam makes it clear that the people with whom she comes in contact on the job are just names to her, and she just moves on to the next assignment. Cam advises Scott to take the same emotionally disconnected approach to the job, because she says it’s the best way to deal with all the trauma that they witness.

Later, when Cam and Scott have a meal together at a diner, Cam gets somewhat of a rude awakening when Scott tells her how much she’s disliked by her co-workers. Scott says that although Cam is considered one of the best EMTs on the job when it comes to the technical responsibilities, she has a reputation for being unlikable and “no one wants to be your partner.” Cam looks a little hurt and shocked by this revelation, but it still shows how huge her ego is that she has no self-awareness about how being cold and unfeeling to other people can make people dislike her. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Cam is going to get some “life lessons” that will possibly redeem her and her obnoxious attitude.

Danny has meticulously planned the bank robbery. But, of course, some unexpected things don’t go according to the plan. Danny has a motley crew of about six or seven robbers on this heist, including a hippie-ish dimwit named Trent (played by Brendan Miller), who insists on wearing Birkenstock sandals to the bank robbery, and he gets teased repeatedly about his choice of shoes. There’s also a hulking dolt nicknamed Mel Gibson (played by Devan Chandler Long), because Danny thinks the guy wears his long, bushy beard like a 13th century Scottish warrior in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning movie “Braveheart.” Apparently, Danny and the “Ambulance” filmmakers forgot that Gibson didn’t have a beard in “Braveheart.”

What Danny and his crew didn’t anticipate was that a rookie cop named Zach Parker (played by Jackson White) from the Los Angeles Police Department would insist on coming in the bank, without Zach knowing that a robbery was taking place at that exact moment. At this point in the robbery, Danny (who’s dressed in casual business wear) has locked the entrance door and disguised himself as the bank manager, by wearing the manager’s name tag. Zach wants to go in the bank to ask a bank teller named Kim (played by Kayli Tran) out on a date, because Zach has had a crush on Kim for a while.

While Zach’s more experienced, corporal-ranked cop partner Mark Ranshaw (played by Cedric Sanders) waits outside, Zach approaches the bank’s front door, while Danny tells him that the bank is temporarily closed and refuses to let Zach inside. Zach persists on being let in the bank and says that his reason for being in the bank won’t take long. Danny finally relents and lets Zach in, so as not to arouse suspicion.

Zach notices that he’s the only customer in the bank, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it, because Danny told him that the bank was closed. Kim just happens to be at a bank teller window. Zach asks Danny what Kim’s last name is, and Danny quickly makes up a lie. Zach nervously asks Kim out on the date. When Zach notices that Kim is crying in distress, and that her last name on her name tag isn’t the same last name that Danny told him, Danny blows his cover and pulls a gun on Zach. Outside the bank, police officer Mark sees through the bank window that there’s an armed robbery in progress and calls for backup.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose. In the chaos of the robbers trying to get away, Will ends up shooting Zach in the leg. Much later in the movie, they find out that Zach was also shot in his spleen. During this desperate getaway, the rest of the robbers scatter outside, while Will and Danny stick together and hide in the bank. An ambulance is called for Zach, so Scott and Cam are the ambulance EMTs who arrive on the scene. The bank is surrounded by cops, and the robbers’ getaway driver becomes unavailable. And so, a trapped Will and Danny decide to hijack the ambulance to make their getaway.

Scott gets knocked down on the ground, while Danny and Will steal the ambulance, with Will driving and suddenly having the skills of a professional stunt driver throughout the rest of the movie. Cam is in the back of the ambulance while trying to give medical treatment to Zach, who is bleeding profusely and mostly unconscious during this entire ordeal. Danny, who alternates between the front and the back of the ambulance, thinks that he and Will should have more leverage if Cam and Zach are held as hostages.

It’s all just an excuse for “Ambulance” to show a lot of shaky cam chase footage and bombastic action scenes, with a lot of yelling and wreckage along the way. At various points in this moronic movie, Will punches Zach in the face to get him to shut up and render Zach unconscious; Danny tells a lot of bad jokes; and Cam (who’s not qualified to do surgery) does very unsanitary emergency spleen surgery on Zach, by getting videoconference advice from doctors on the ambulance’s laptop computer. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. And there are more silly shenanigans, such as people who are seriously injured and unconscious who then suddenly wake up as if they just took a harmless nap, or civilians show up at active crime scenes while law enforcement gives the kind of access to these civilians that wouldn’t be allowed in real life.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department’s S.I.S. (Secret Intelligence Service) team, led by an arrogant, macho imbecile named Captain Tyler Monroe (played by Garret Dillahunt), gets involved in the chase. Captain Monroe and his S.I.S. team were actually undercover and waiting outside the bank during the robbery, because they laid a trap when they heard that this bank might be targeted for a robbery, but Danny and Will still managed to escape. Some members of the S.I.S. (who are almost all white) unfairly blame Zach’s cop partner Mark for Zach getting shot, in a scene that has racist overtones because Mark is African American.

Captain Monroe makes dumb mistakes after dumb mistakes in his bungled efforts to capture these bank robbers. There’s a scene in the movie where Captain Monroe tells his subordinates to temporarily halt because he wants to rescue his English mastiff dog Nitro, who was unwittingly left in the back seat of one of the cars giving chase. Trivia note: Nitro’s real name is Nitro Zeus (named after a “Transformers” robot villain), and he is the real-life dog of “Ambulance” director/producer Bay, who has directed most of and produced all of the “Transformers” movies so far.

The LAPD isn’t the only law enforcement to get involved in the chase. An uptight FBI agent named Anson Clark (played by Keir O’Donnell) gets called to the scene. He gets the call while he’s in the middle of couples therapy with his husband Kyle (played by Brendan Robinson), who is very annoyed that Anson has to rush off and do his FBI job of catching criminals and trying to save people’s lives. Because “Ambulance” is such a badly made movie, Anson is the only FBI agent who’s shown doing any real work in this case.

And predictably, “new school” FBI Agent Clark (who wears suits on the job) and “old school” Captain Monroe (who wears camouflage pants and a baseball cap on the job) have opposite personalities and ways of working, so they clash with each other. But there’s an extra twist to Anson’s involvement in this case: Anson soon reveals that he knows Danny from their college days, when they both studied criminology at the University of Maryland. By the way, the law enforcement in “Ambulance” is depicted as completely incompetent and slow in doing background checks when they find out the identities of the bank robbers.

“Ambulance” tries to inject some comedy to lighten the mood of the intense violence and chase scenes, but it doesn’t erase the ugly stench of racism, sexism and overall stupid filmmaking that pollute this movie. Other than Cam, the movie’s only other female character who gets more than five minutes of dialogue is LAPD Lieutenant Dzaghig (played by Olivia Stambouliah), who talks for less than 10 minutes in the film. Her role is to be Captain Monroe’s sidekick, who delivers wisecracks in a deadpan manner.

Danny utters most of the tacky jokes in “Ambulance,” because the filmmakers want to portray Danny as an unhinged but lovable rogue who can laugh at himself and others around him. In a scene where Danny gets sprayed with a fire extinguisher, Danny is upset that the water ruined his clothing. “It’s cashmere!” Danny yells to no one in particular. During another part of the movie, Danny leads a bonkers sing-along to Christopher Cross’ 1979 hit “Sailing.”

Will is just there to follow Danny’s orders. On the surface, Will is portrayed as more sensitive and less prone to violence than Danny. However, based on who Will decides to shoot in the movie (Zach isn’t his only shooting victim), Will is not mentally stable at all. Will’s decisions actually make him look more violent and more foolish than everyone else in this bank robber crew, including Danny. Danny isn’t off the hook for dumb decisions either, because holding a wounded cop hostage after committing a bank robbery is almost a sure-fire way for criminals to get even harsher prison sentences, if the criminals aren’t killed by police during the hostage crisis.

As for Cam, she really is just another token lead female in a Michael Bay action movie, where she ends up with makeup that stays perfectly intact throughout the entire messy ordeal. Even her sweat looks polished. Sure, Cam has some fake-looking marks on her face that’s supposed to resemble dirt, and her clothes get somewhat ripped and “bloodied” in the pandemonium. But somehow, her bright red lipstick and other face cosmetic makeup never get smeared and remain perfectly contoured in ways that are unrealistic for anyone who goes through what Cam goes through in this insufferable film.

The only other Latinos with speaking roles in “Ambulance” are criminals, led by a menacing thug named Hector “Papi” Gutierrez (played by A Martinez), who owns an automobile warehouse/chop shop in downtown Los Angeles. Danny calls on Papi during the chase when Danny needs help. Papi used to work for L.T. Sharp, so he’s known Danny for a long time and is almost like an “uncle” to Danny.

And because “Ambulance” is a cesspool of empty-headed, racist clichés, there’s a buffoon African American character named Castro (played by Wale Folarin, also known as rapper Wale), who is portrayed as Danny’s most vapid subordinate. There’s a part of the movie where Danny tells Castro to meet him in a designated area to spray paint the entire exterior of the ambulance in less than two minutes, which is a dopey and unrealistic request in and of itself. Instead of bringing the requested blue paint, Castro brings neon green paint to do the job.

None of the cast members in this movie does anything great. In fact, they frequently embarrass themselves with all the junk dialogue they have to say and witless scenarios that they have to enact. “Ambulance” drags out the chase scenes to ridiculous levels, but ironically, the movie has probably the shortest time length for end credits of any major studio film released this year. That’s assuming anyone wants to stick around for the end credits after enduring this train wreck of a movie.

Anyone who is okay with this type of “entertainment” is okay with tone-deaf Hollywood filmmakers churning out bigoted and outdated content because these arrogant filmmakers think most movie audiences are too dumb to care. Needless to say, “Ambulance” is a sloppy and inferior remake of the original movie. If you care about supporting quality entertainment that doesn’t insult your intelligence, do not waste your time with “Ambulance,” which is nothing but mind-numbing trash with a major studio budget.

Universal Pictures will release “Ambulance” in U.S. cinemas on April 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Deep Water’ (2022), starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck in “Deep Water” (Photo by Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“Deep Water” (2022)

Directed by Adrian Lyne

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the dramatic film “Deep Water” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wealthy husband, who has an open marriage, becomes the main focus of suspicion when some of his wife’s lovers end up dead. 

Culture Audience: “Deep Water” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who are the main attractions in this frequently dull and formulaic crime thriller.

Jade Fernandez, Tracy Letts and Kristen Connolly in “Deep Water” (Photo by Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“Deep Water” is proof that it’s not enough to have good-looking people in a stylish-looking film. It has a basic mystery that’s not very suspenseful, in addition to monotonous mind games played by the central married couple. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that “Deep Water” does nothing new or clever in the seemingly endless stream of movies about marital infidelity that causes chaos in people’s lives.

“Deep Water” director Adrian Lyne has made a career out of these types of movies, with a filmography that includes 1987’s “Fatal Attraction,” 1993’s “Indecent Proposal” and 2002’s “Unfaithful,” his previous film before “Deep Water.” Zach Helm and Sam Levinson adapted the “Deep Water” screenplay from Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel of the same name. Unfortunately, the movie has a drastically different ending from the book. The movie’s conclusion is intended to be shocking, but it just falls flat.

Executives at 20th Century Studios obviously thought “Deep Water” was an embarrassing dud, because the movie’s theatrical release was cancelled. “Deep Water” was then sent straight to Hulu and other Disney-owned streaming services where Hulu is not available. It’s also not a good sign that the stars of “Deep Water” have distanced themselves from “Deep Water” by not doing any full-scale publicity and promotion for the movie.

Up until the ending, the “Deep Water” movie (which takes place in the early 2020s) adheres very closely to the book’s original story, with some modern updates and a change of location. Wealthy married couple Vic Van Allen (played by Ben Affleck) and Melinda Van Allen (played by Ana de Armas) live in New Orleans with their precocious 6-year-old daughter Trixie (played by Grace Jenkins), who has an interest in science and is somewhat fixated on the children’s song “Old McDonald.” (In the “Deep Water” book, the story takes place in a small, fictional U.S. town called Little Wesley.) The Van Allens seem to have a perfect life of privilege and leisure. Vic is a retired millionaire because he invented a computer chip that’s used in war drones. Melinda is a homemaker/socialite.

It’s common knowledge among Vic and Melinda’s close circle of friends that Vic and Melinda have an open marriage, although Vic and Melinda have never really come right out and told their friends the details of this arrangement. Melinda flaunts her extramarital affairs by inviting her lovers to the same parties where she and Vic will be. At these parties (the movie has several of these party scenes), Melinda openly flirts with her lovers and sometimes has sexual trysts with them at the parties. Vic ends up meeting these lovers and is mostly polite but distant with them.

Vic and Melinda’s close friends include musician bachelor Grant (played by Lil Rel Howery); married couple Mary Washington (played by Devyn A. Tyler) and Kevin Washington (played by Michael Scialabba); and married couple Jonas Fernandez (played by Dash Mihok) and Jen Fernandez (played by Jade Fernandez). Whenever these friends try to tactfully talk to Vic about Melinda indiscreetly showing off her lovers, Vic brushes off their concerns. Vic gives the impression that he doesn’t want to be a possessive and jealous husband, and that he and Melinda have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement when it comes to any of her extramarital affairs.

During the course of the story, three of Melinda’s past and present lovers are shown in the movie: musician Joel Dash (played by Brendan Miller), who ends up moving away to New Mexico; lounge pianist Charlie De Lisle (played by Jacob Elordi), who has been giving piano lessons to Melinda; and real-estate developer Tony Cameron (played by Finn Wittrock), who is visiting the area to scout for some property. All three men are good-looking and younger than Vic, but Vic has a lot more money than they do. And at some point or another, all three of these lovers are separately invited into the Van Allen home for a social visit.

Melinda has apparently made it a habit to invite each of her extramarital lovers to parties and other social gatherings, but never so that all of the lovers are in the same place at the same time. At these events, Melinda introduces a lover as her “friend,” even though it’s obvious that he’s more than a friend. When Melinda and Vic are at these parties, Melinda spends more time and is more affectionate with her lovers than she is with her husband. Vic often just stands by and doesn’t confront her about it.

There are several scenes that show Melinda drunk at these parties, or coming home drunk, implying that she abuses alcohol. Some of the couple’s friends seem to feel sorry for Vic, because they think he doesn’t deserve to be a cuckold. More than once, Vic is told that he’s a “good guy” who’s well-respected in the community. Not much is told about Melinda’s background (she’s an immigrant who can speak English and Spanish), but several scenes in the movie show that Melinda thinks that she’s quite the seductress.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s mentioned that a man named Martin McCrae, who was one of Melinda’s lovers, has been missing for the past several weeks. Friends and acquaintances of the Van Allen spouses are gossiping that Vic could have had something to do with the disappearance. At a friend’s house party, where Melinda has invited Joel, the gossip goes into overdrive after Vic and Joel have a private conversation in the kitchen, and Vic tells Joel that he killed Martin. Joel can’t tell if Vic is joking or not, but he takes Vic’s comments as a threat, and he quickly leaves the party. Word soon spreads that Vic made this “confession,” and more people in the community begin to wonder if Vic could have murdered Martin.

Before Joel moves to New Mexico because of a job offer, he’s invited to dinner at the house of Vic and Melinda. Vic seems to delight in making Joel uncomfortable with snide remarks. Vic also makes backhanded insults at Melinda. When Vic and Joel are alone together, Vic once again tells Joel that he killed Martin by hitting Martin on the head with a hammer. However, Vic tries to make light of uneasy comments that he makes, by trying to pass them off as misguided sarcasm. Vic’s passive-aggressiveness is an obvious sign that Melinda’s extramarital affairs bother him.

Someone who doesn’t take Vic’s wisecracks lightly is fiction author/screenwriter Don Wilson (played by Tracy Letts), who has recently moved to the area. Don has had middling success by selling a few screenplays that haven’t been made into movies yet. One of these screenplays is about a man (whom Don based on his own personality/background) who uncovers a murder conspiracy in his town.

Vic and Melinda meet Don and Don’s much-younger wife Kelly Wilson (played by Kristen Connolly) at an outdoor party attended by many of the Van Allen couple’s friends. Don likes noir mysteries, so he fancies himself to be an amateur detective. Throughout the movie, Don lets it be known to anyone who’ll listen, including Vic, that he suspects that Vic has something to do with what happened to Martin, whose murdered body is later found shot to death.

Vic’s reputation appears to be saved when another man (who’s never seen in the movie) is arrested for Martin’s murder. However, Martin isn’t the only lover of Melinda’s who ends up dead. It’s enough to say that who’s responsible for the crimes is revealed about halfway through the movie. But even if that information didn’t happen until the end of the film, there are too many obvious clues. The only mystery in the story is if the guilty party will be caught.

One of the biggest failings of “Deep Water” is how it reveals almost nothing about how and why Vic and Melinda fell in love with each other, or even how long they’ve been married. Without this context, it might be difficult for a lot of viewers to care about this couple. Vic and Melinda’s marriage is presented as just a blank void, dressed up with a superficial parade of parties, squabbling and occasional sex. (Affleck and de Armas were a couple in real life when this movie was made, but they’ve since had a breakup that reportedly wasn’t very amicable.)

Vic and Melinda tell each other “I love you” several times, but viewers don’t see any credible passion or respect between these two spouses. The only thing that viewers will find out about what retired Vic likes to do in his free time at home is that he hangs out with his pet snails that he keeps in an aquarium room. The snails are supposed to be symbolic of how Vic acts in his marriage to Melinda.

It could be a marriage of convenience. It could be that Vic and Melinda don’t want the hassle of getting a divorce. They are also devoted parents to Trixie—Vic is more patient with Trixie than Melinda is—and these spouses might not want their child to grow up with divorced parents.

Regardless of the reasons why Vic and Melinda have decided to stay married to each other, “Deep Water” is more concerned with staging repetitive scenes where Melinda tries to make Vic jealous with her lovers, and then she tries to take his mind off of her affairs by getting Vic to have sex with her. Melinda also makes rude comments to Vic such as: “Joel might be dumb, but he makes me enjoy who I am,” and “If you were married to anyone else, you’d be so fucking bored. You’d kill yourself.”

In one of the movie’s party scenes, Vic makes an attempt to show Melinda that he’s attractive to other women when he does something he almost never does at a party: He dances. And he asks Don’s wife Kelly to be his dance partner, as they twirl together and snuggle flirtatiously on the dance floor. Other people, including Melinda, notice the chemistry between Vic and Kelly. Predictably, Melinda gets jealous and tries to re-assert her status as the most desirable and sexiest woman in Vic’s life.

In addition to the superficiality of Vic and Melinda’s marriage, another aspect of “Deep Water” that makes it look phony is that the movie repeatedly tells viewers that Vic is supposed to be very rich, but Vic and Melinda apparently have no house servants, since no servants are ever seen working for this family. Melinda does the family’s cooking, which is not entirely unrealistic for someone of her marital wealth. However, Melinda being the family cook doesn’t ring true when Melinda comes across as a pampered trophy wife who can stay out all night and party with her lovers whenever she feels like it. It wouldn’t have that been hard to cast a few people as background extras to portray servants, since it’s hard to believe that Melinda and/or Vic do their own housecleaning and upkeep of their large home.

An underdeveloped characteristic of “Deep Water” that should have been explored in a more meaningful way is how some people tend to think that those who are wealthy are automatically better than people who aren’t wealthy. In the scene where Don meets Vic for the first time, Don impolitely tells Vic that Vic is probably the person most likely to have done something harmful to Martin. Grant, who is Vic’s most loyal friend, tries to diffuse the tension by smiling and saying: “The moral of the story is Vic is a genius. And he’s rich as fuck.”

Grant’s comment is a reflection of how some people think that being smart and wealthy is the equivalent of being a “good person,” without taking into account that being a “good person” has nothing to do with how much intelligence or money someone has. This false equivalence is a huge dismissal of core values that define people’s true characters and personalities. “Deep Water” seems to make a half-hearted attempt to show how some people are more likely to excuse or overlook bad conduct from someone who is intelligent and rich, but the movie ultimately takes the lazy route by just going for cheap thrills that have been in similar movies.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the cast members’ performances, but there’s nothing that will make viewers feel any real emotional connection to any of these characters. Affleck and de Armas, regardless of their real-life romantic relationship while filming this movie, don’t have much that’s compelling about how they portray Vic and Melinda. After all, Affleck has played many privileged jerks on screen, while de Armas often has the role of a character who uses sex or sex appeal to get what she wants.

A chase scene toward the end of “Deep Water” is extremely hokey and not very believable. “Deep Water” was already paddling around in a sea of mediocrity for most of the movie. But by the time the movie reaches its terrible ending, it ruins any chances that “Deep Water” could have been a “guilty pleasure” thriller.

Hulu will premiere “Deep Water” on March 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Black Magic for White Boys,’ starring Ronald Guttman, Onur Tukel, Jamie Block, Charlie LaRose, Eva Dorrepaal, Franck Raharinosy and Colin Buckingham

July 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Franck Raharinosy, Annie McCain Engman, Jamie Block, Charlie LaRose and Onur Tukel in “Black Magic for White Boys” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media)

“Black Magic for White Boys”  

Directed by Onur Tukel

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy “Black Magic for White Boys” has a predominantly white cast (with some black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash:  Various white men in the story use a magician’s spell to make certain people disappear or make their wishes come true.

Culture Audience: “Black Magic for White Boys” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky indie comedies that tend to be rambling and unfocused.

Ronald Guttman, Leah Shore, Colin Buckingham and Eva Dorrepaal in “Black Magic for White Boys” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media)

Writer/director Onur Tukel’s comedy “Black Magic for White Boys” premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City as part of the “Tribeca TV — Pilot Season” program for pilot episodes looking to get picked up for a full TV series. It doesn’t look like “Black Magic for White Boys” is going to be a TV series, so the six planned episodes have been condensed and released as a feature film instead. This movie format is a better fit for “Black Magic for White Boys,” which has a concept (white men trying to hold on to power in a politically correct world) that wears thin by the end of the film. There are also several annoying characters that viewers would not want to see again in a continuing series.

The story takes place in New York City, where a small, run-down performing-arts theater (which is not named in the movie) is the catalyst for most of the action in the movie. The theater, which has a seating capacity of about 50 to 60 people, is owned by a French immigrant couple named Larry (played by Ronald Guttman) and Magdalena (played by Lisa Azuelos), who frequently quarrel with each other.

Larry does a stage show as a magician (using the name Larry the Magnificent) in the theater, whose sparse attendance has put the theater on the brink of going out of business. However, one of the things that Larry is most proud of is that he has a book of magical spells that he has written himself.

Three of the theater employees work as assistants in Fred’s magic act: Lucy (played by Eva Dorrepaal), who is generally friendly to everyone; Dean (played by Colin Buckingham), who is self-conscious about being a little person; and recently hired Leah (played by Leah Shore), a mild-mannered naïf who looks and dresses like Barbra Streisand, circa 1976.

Another employee at the theater is theater manager Quentin (played by Brian W. Smith), who keeps warning Fred that the theater will have to shut down unless they can increase the number of paying customers. Magdalena is very aware that she and Larry are in dire financial straits. Magdalena wants to cut their losses and move back to France. Larry hates the idea and refuses to go out of business.

During this period of financial turmoil for the theater, two couples attend a Larry the Magnificent show on a fateful evening. One couple consists of businessman Jamie (played by Jamie Block) and his wife Wendy (played by Annie McCain Engman). They are on a double date with scruffy gadfly Oscar Trout (played Onur Tukel) and a much-younger woman named Chase (played by Charlie LaRose), who have met each other for the first time this evening because it was a blind date set up by their mutual friends Jamie and Wendy.

While the two couples are watching Larry the Magnificent’s poorly attended performance (the theater is less than half full), Larry picks Jamie out of the audience to participate in the disappearing act part of the show, when an audience member is placed in a box. The secret of this trick is that the box leads to a hidden walkway, where the person leaves the stage without being seen by the audience, and then magically “reappears” somewhere else in the theater.

To Larry and Jamie’s shock, the disappearing act actually works without the trick of using the walkway. When Jamie comes back, he has no memory of what happened when he disappeared, but he’s so impressed, that he stays after the show and tries to meet Larry the Magnificent to find out the secret of how he disappeared. Lucy tells Jamie that Larry isn’t available, but Jamie is determined to come back later to find out the secret.

Not long after that show, Larry and Magdalena are having another one of their arguments. She threatens to leave him. Larry knows that his magical spells seem to be working, so he makes Magdalena disappear. Larry seems surprised but not upset by her disappearance. Larry privately makes an attempt to find Magdalena, but when she’s nowhere to be found (and he genuinely has no idea where she is), he tells the rest of the staff that Magdalena has decided to leave and go back to France.

In the beginning of the movie, there’s some background on Jamie, who is shown to be a ruthless businessman. He owns an apartment building in a low-income neighborhood. And he’s personally and gleefully gone to the building to tell the tenants that their rent will increase 30% by the next month because of a new city law that allows it.

The tenants are understandably upset, and most say that they’re going to refuse to pay the rent increase since they can’t afford the new rent fee. There are various scenes in the movie that show the tenants (who are all people of color—mostly African Americans and some Latinos) griping about the rent increase in places like street corners while waiting for a bus or in a tenant meeting inside one of the building’s apartments.

Meanwhile, the movie shows that after the date at the magic show, Chase went home with Oscar and spent the night with him. Before they have sex, Oscar tells Chase some more about his background. Oscar, who has never been married and doesn’t have kids, is unemployed, but he brags that it’s because he’s been living off of an inheritance that his late father left him. Apparently, Oscar’s mother is also dead, and he has no siblings, because it seems as if Oscar got the entire inheritance.

Oscar is adamant in telling Chase that he never wants the responsibility of having kids, although he says that he’s open to finding a life partner. Chase tells Oscar that it’s not a problem for her that he doesn’t want kids, because she knows she has fertility issues and can’t get pregnant anyway.

It’s at this point in the story that you know exactly what’s going to happen—and it does: Chase gets pregnant, Oscar is the father, and Chase wants to keep the child. She finds out she’s pregnant four months after she and Oscar have been dating each other. When she tells Oscar, he’s furious about it.

First, Oscar tries to convince Chase to have an abortion. When that doesn’t work, Oscar attempts to trick Chase into taking an abortion pill that he buys from a drug-dealer friend named Fred (played by Franck Raharinosy), who carries around a pharmaceutical box filled with illegal and legal drugs. That doesn’t work either.

And then, Oscar remembers that Jamie told him that Larry the Magnificent’s magical spell really made Jamie disappear. And somehow, Fred has gotten ahold of Larry’s book of magic spells and passed on some of its secrets to Jamie, who has been using magic spells to make his complaining tenants disappear. When Oscar hears that there’s a magic spell to make people disappear, he thinks it would be a great idea to use this spell to get rid of Chase’s pregnancy by having the impregnated embryo disappear.

There’s also a subplot about magician’s assistant Leah, who’s been dating a racist and sexist moron named Ralphie (played by Brendan Miller), who degrades her and everyone who has the misfortune of being in contact with him. Leah breaks up with Ralphie and starts having a chaste romance with her co-worker Dean.

Ralphie, who sees himself as a desirable hunk, can’t believe that Leah has moved on by dating a little person. Ralphie begins to stalk Leah at the theater and tries to sweet-talk his way back into Leah’s life. Ralphie says he’s now in therapy and taking medication for his emotional problems, so Leah dumps Dean and gets back together with Ralphie. Guess where Ralphie got the medication? Fred, of course.

Dean is crushed by the breakup and feels that he was jilted because of his below-average stature. Leah insists that wasn’t the reason why she ended their romance, but Dean decides that he’s tired of being short. And who comes to the “rescue” again? It’s Fred, who gives Dean a pill and magical spell that Dean can use to change his physical appearance to be a better-looking, taller version of himself.

And the story takes another bizarre turn when Larry orders theater manager Quentin to get the menstrual blood of a young virgin. (The reasons why are explained in the movie.) Quentin thinks the fastest way to find a female virgin is to interview barely legal women to work at the theater. In one such interview, after getting some basic questions out of the way, Quentin awkwardly asks the young woman if she’s a virgin. You can imagine what her reaction is, especially in this #MeToo era.

Meanwhile, Oscar’s problems escalate when he finds out that his accountant/business manager (played by Kevin Corrigan) swindled Oscar out of all of his inheritance money by making bad investments without Oscar’s permission. Oscar is then forced to find a job. During a job interview that Oscar has at a computer company, where he’s being interviewed by a man who’s about 20 years younger than Oscar, this insufferable blowhard shows how old and out of touch he is by talking about his skills with outdated software.

Oscar then goes on a rant about race where he tells the white man interviewing him that white men are under siege and need to stick together. Oscar also goes off on a tangent about how he’s really of Middle Eastern heritage, and he can pass as white or a person of color, depending on whatever situation suits him best. In what’s supposed to be a joke, Oscar then says if the company needs to fill a quota to add a Middle Eastern or Latino staffer, he can be that person.

What is the point of “Black Magic for White Boys”? It’s basically Tukel’s sloppily written social commentary on how white men feel their power slipping away in a country (the United States) where women and girls are 51% of the population, there’s an increasing number of non-white people, and there are more demands for positions of power to have a more accurate reflection of the racial and gender diversity that exists in the U.S.

All the white men in this movie take some kind of action to try to make themselves feel like they are asserting their power. Larry makes his wife Magdalena (portrayed as a nagging shrew) disappear. Jamie knows that his tenants are organizing meetings to fight back against his outrageous rent increase, so he makes these tenants disappear.

Oscar thinks that if Chase gives birth to their child, she’ll be trapping him into paying child support for the next 18 years. And so, Oscar tries to make the pregnancy disappear. How this pregnancy issue is ultimately resolved seems like the movie’s weak attempt to prevent any criticism that the movie is too offensive when it comes to unplanned pregnancies.

Ralphie pretends that he’s changed for the better, in order to get back together with Leah in a relationship where he’s the dominant partner. (And the movie plays into stereotypes that women prefer “bad boys” over “nice guys.”) And even “nice guy” Dean aspires to society’s physical ideal of what it means to be a man, because Dean wants to have more power when it comes to dating women.

Fred exerts his power by being the story’s Dr. Feelgood, who gives the image that he has the answers to people’s problems in his pharmaceutical box. Fred, a white drug dealer, has a somewhat “respectable” image in this movie, compared to how a black drug dealer doing the same things would be portrayed as a “criminal who should be locked up” in this movie or other movies like it. At any rate, all the non-white people in the movie are portrayed as subservient in some way to white people.

“Black Magic for White Boys” tries to be funny, but most of the jokes don’t really land very well. Any of the dialogue that’s deliberately politically incorrect just seems too self-aware to be genuinely funny. The acting in this film is adequate. It’s the writing that really makes this film an often-boring mess.

And writer/director Tukel shows his Generation X age in some of the jokes. For example, one of the African American men in the movie resists Jamie’s attempts to buy his house. He says to Jamie, “The last time I let a white man in my house, he tried to play Air Supply on my stereo.” Most people born in or after the 1980s won’t understand that joke, because they won’t even know who Air Supply is.

Another ’80s reference in one of the movie’s jokes is made when someone shows a picture of the Elephant Man, and the other person asks if that’s a picture of actor Mickey Rourke. It’s a joke that works best for people who know the context of how Rourke was a handsome sex symbol in the 1980s. Comparing the Elephant Man to what Rourke looks like now is kind of an insider-ish cheap shot that will go over the heads of people who don’t really know movie history or don’t even know who Rourke is.

Another example of how the movie isn’t written very well is how it handles a “dress code” issue for Oscar, who prides himself on being a non-conformist. Oscar gets a phone call telling him that he got the job that he interviewed for at the computer company. But to his dismay, the person who calls Oscar with this news also tells Oscar that his long-ish hair and bushy beard will be a problem for the company, so Oscar agrees to cut his hair and shave his beard in order to get the job.

And yet, later in the story, when he starts working at this company, Oscar’s hair and beard remain unchanged. It just doesn’t make sense to make such a big deal about him having to cut his hair and beard (presumably as an example of how Oscar has to change in order to fit in as another office wonk) and then abandon that idea altogether. It’s an example of this movie’s sloppy screenwriting and careless directing.

In the end, the issue over Oscar’s hair and beard was unnecessary because Oscar makes some other decisions in his life which contradict the type of person he obviously was proud of being for several years. This drastic personality change for Oscar looks like Tukel’s insipid attempt to placate any viewers of this movie who would object to Oscar’s plan to terminate Chase’s pregnancy.

And it’s one of the wishy-washy things about this movie, which can’t decide if it wants to be a dark satire or a series of absurdist comedy sketches strung together. (Within the movie, there are five different chapters that are labeled.) If you’re going to have a character such as Oscar, who’s a politically incorrect lout, then go all in, and stick with it. The world is filled with too many comedies that are ruined by taking the easy way out and having a longtime jerk suddenly turn into a big-hearted softie.

Oscar’s storyline is wrapped up nicely with a tidy little bow, but almost all of the other characters’ story arcs wander and aren’t necessarily resolved at the end of the film. Maybe that’s because this movie was originally conceived as the first season of a series. But even then, there’s not really much of a story left at the end for anyone to be interested in seeing what would happen next.

MPI Media released “Black Magic for White Boys” on digital and VOD July 3, 2020.

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