Review: ‘Dealing With Dad,’ starring Ally Maki, Hayden Szeto, Peter S. Kim, Dana Lee, Page Leong, Echo Kellum and Megan Gailey

June 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “Dealing With Dad.” Pictured in front row, from left to right: Dana Lee, Hayden Szeto, Ally Maki, Peter S. Kim and Caleb Mantuano. Pictured in back row, from left to right: Megan Gailey, Page Leong and Echo Kellum. (Photo by Steven Lam/1091 Pictures)

“Dealing With Dad”

Directed by Tom Huang

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Milpitas, California, the comedy/drama film “Dealing With Dad” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Three siblings in their 30s gather at their parents’ home, where their father is having depression issues, and long-simmering family resentments come to the surface.

Culture Audience: “Dealing With Dad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in bittersweet dramedies about immigrant families, sibling rivalries, and how childhood experiences affect people through adulthood.

Ally Maki and Dana Lee in “Dealing With Dad” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

“Dealing With Dad” is a generally entertaining dramedy about a specific family with universally relatable issues. Some of the jokes are a little corny, but the movie gets better as it goes along. Ally Maki gives an impressive performance as a Type-A perfectionist with daddy issues. “Dealing With Dad” does an overall capable job of balancing family drama and comedy.

Written and directed by Tom Huang, “Dealing With Dad” (which takes place mostly in Milpitas, California) has many of the predictable arguments and squabbles that are usually found in movies about family reunions where family members have long-held resentments and grudges. The family at the center of this story isn’t completely dysfunctional, but most of the family members have problems communicating openly and honestly with each other. They are forced to reckon with many of their issues when the family patriarch becomes bedridden with depression after being laid off from his accounting job.

Jialuo Chang (played by Dana Lee), an immigrant from Taiwan, is cranky and impatient with everyone around him. Jialuo’s self-confidence of being his household’s main financial provider gets a big blow after he becomes unemployed. It’s later revealed in the movie that Jialuo was verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive to his three children when they were underage. Jialuo currently lives in Milpitas, California, in the same house where he and his wife raised their three American-born children during most of the kids’ childhoods.

Sophie Chang (played by Page Leong) is Jialuo’s often-demanding and judgmental wife, who is also an immigrant from Taiwan. Sophie is openly racist against people wo aren’t Asian. She tells her children that she wants them to marry only Asian people. Sophie hides her racism by being smiling and polite to people whom she makes racist comments about behind their backs.

Margaret Chang-Atlas (played by Ally Maki) is an uptight, hard-driving business entrepreneur who likes to be in control of situations. Margaret is actually fearful of disappointing her parents, especially her father. Ironically, Margaret can be just as prickly and difficult with other people as her parents are with her. How much of a control freak is Margaret? There’s a scene in the movie where she and her two brothers are eating at a casual restaurant, and she cuts the food on the plate of the younger brother, as if he’s a helpless child.

Margaret knows her mother doesn’t approve of Margaret being married to an African American musician named Jeff Atlas (played by Echo Kellum), who does not have the type of career that Sophie and Jialuo think is suitable for a spouse. Sophie privately uses the derogatory term “half-breed” to describe Margaret and Jeff’s son Nick (played by Caleb Mantuano), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. But when Sophie is around Nick, she acts like a doting and loving grandmother.

Roy Chang (played by Peter S. Kim) is Margaret’s older brother. He works as a bank manager and is feeling down about his life because his wife Sherry is divorcing him. Roy doesn’t want the divorce and is hoping that he and Sherry can reconcile. He is also sensitive about his body size and gets defensive when his siblings make negative comments about the large portions of food that he eats.

Larry Chang (played by Hayden Szeto) is Margaret’s younger brother. He is 33 years old, a never-married bachelor, unemployed, and currently living with his parents. Larry is a self-described sci-fi nerd who spends a lot of his time and money on collecting sci-fi memorabilia and playing video games. Larry makes a small amount of money by selling his memorabilia at a local comic book/collectible store managed by Aaron (played by Ari Stidham), another sci-fi enthusiast. Larry owes Roy a certain amount of money that is not specified, but it’s enough money that causes Roy to resent Larry.

Jenny (played by Cindera Che) is Jialuo’s younger sister, who lives in Denver, but she goes to Milpitas after hearing about Jialuo’s mental health issues. For years, Jenny has been openly hostile or standoffish to Margaret, who doesn’t know why. During the course of the movie, the reason why is revealed.

Margaret and Roy both live far enough away from their parents that when they both find out that their father is bedridden, Roy and Margaret reluctantly take a plane ride to go to their parents’ home in Milpitas. Margaret’s husband and son don’t go with her. Before this family crisis, Margaret hadn’t talked to her parents in months.

The first half of “Dealing With Dad” is structured and written almost like a sitcom, with a bunch of family members making verbal zingers and lobbying sarcastic insults at each other. It starts to get very repetitive, but not completely boring. Jialuo has become very reclusive, so he is not seen for much of the movie. The three siblings are somewhat relieved that they don’t have to deal with Jialuo’s usual tryannical bossiness, but his wife Sophie causes a lot of drama.

There’s a subplot about Larry reconnecting with a goofy former high-school classmate named Sarah Schumer (played by Megan Gailey), who has recently moved back to the area after serving time in the Peace Corps. Larry has had a crush on Sarah since high school. She has many of the same interests as Larry does, and she likes him, but he is too shy to ask her out on a date.

Meanwhile, a nerdy doctor named Gordon, also known as Gordy (played by Karan Soni), who is a former high-school classmate of Margaret’s, stops by for a house call to treat Jialuo. Sophie is impressed that Gordon is a doctor, so she makes awkward attempts to play matchmaker between Margaret and Gordon, even though neither one is romantically interested in the other. Sophie also tries to set up Larry with a quiet Chinese immigrant named Cai Shi (played by Peggy Lu), who’s about 25 years older than Larry.

Gordon prescribes Zoloft to Jialuo and recommends that Jialuo get therapy for the depression. Jialuo is too proud to accept that he needs this help. The movie takes a much more serious turn when tensions run even higher because Jialou refuses to take the Zoloft. He literally throws the pills across the room. And in one incident, he spits a Zoloft pill in Margaret’s face.

The siblings’ battle to get Jialuo to take his prescribed Zoloft becomes a symbol for the grudges that all three of his children have against him. Margaret has the most resentment toward her father, so she’s the one who fights the most to get him to take the Zoloft pills. Flashbacks to Margaret’s childhood show that Jialuo was the hardest on her, out of all his three children, because he had the highest expectations for Margaret. Miya Cech has the role of Margaret at about 12 or 13 years old.

In one of these flashback scenes, Margaret has a painful memory of Jialuo slapping her hard in the face in front of her softball teammates, after she joyfully told him that she made it onto the softball team. Instead of being happy for her, Jialuo got angry and assaulted her for having “B” grades on her report card. Later, he gave her an apology gift of new softball gloves, which the adult Margaret says are the only signs that she has that Jialuo might have loved her.

“Dealing With Dad” also shows Margaret’s anxiety issues. She has a recurring nightmare that she’s trapped in a narrow hallway that has a tidal wave of flooding that’s about to drown her. Although Margaret likes to put forth an image to the world that she’s got her whole life together, this vulnerable side to her gives the movie more emotional depth. And she’s not a completely sympathetic protagonist, because she has a tendency to act superior to her brothers and other people. It’s a personality flaw that Margaret gets confronted about at one point in the story.

“Dealing With Dad” also has authentic depictions of the dynamics between immigrant parents and their children who were born and raised in the country where the parents immigrated. Jialuo and Sophie want to tightly hold on to their “old school” Taiwanese traditions and have a hard time accepting that their children might not feel the same way. Those traditions include a reluctance to get psychiatric help for mental health issues.

All of the cast members give performances that range from mediocre to very good. The movie is told mainly from Margaret’s perspective, so Maki has the most challenging role, because of the myriad of emotions that she has to convey. The pace of the movie occasionally drags in the middle, but the last third of the film is the best part. Just when you think “Dealing With Dad” might end on an expected formulaic note, it surprisingly shows that, just like in real life, not everyone is going to change annoying personality traits just because of a family reunion.

1091 Pictures/Screen Media Films released “Dealing With Dad” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 9, 2023.

Review: ‘Over My Dead Body’ (2023), starring Teresa Mo, Wong You Nam, Ronald Cheng, Jennifer Yu, Lau Kong, Bonnie Wong and Hanna Chan

May 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Alan Yeung Wai Lun, Teresa Mo, Wong You Nam and Jennifer Yu in “Over My Dead Body” (Photo courtesy of Illume Films and Imagi Crystal Studio)

“Over My Dead Body” (2023)

Directed by Ho Cheuk Tin

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the comedy film “Over My Dead Body” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Some residents and employees of a co-op apartment building try to hide the body of an unidentified naked man who was found in a hallway of the building.

Culture Audience: “Over My Dead Body” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a shallow “screwball” comedy that makes no sense.

Bonnie Wong and Lau Kong in “Over My Dead Body” (Photo courtesy of Illume Films and Imagi Crystal Studio)

“Over My Dead Body” is a comedy that’s as creatively inert as a corpse. This repetitive and frequently incoherent movie, which is about people trying to hide a body, is plagued by annoying plot holes, scatterbrained characters and a foolish ending. And with a total running time of two hours, “Over My Dead Body” is entirely too long for the movie’s flimsy story.

Directed by Ho Cheuk Tin and Kong Ho-Yan, “Over My Dead Body” is about several residents and employees of a Hong Kong co-op apartment building trying to hide the body of an unidentified naked man in his 30s (played by Kenneth Cheung), who was found in a hallway of the building. There’s also a clumsy subplot about a young woman who doesn’t live in the building but is getting married. Don’t try to make any sense of what happens in this moronic film, which quickly grows tiresome with all the shrieking and yelling over what do to about this stranger’s body.

“Over My Dead Body” begins by showing the family members who end up discovering the body outside their apartment unit. The apartment building, located in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin district, is an upscale, 25-floor building called Seaside Heights, which has 100 apartment units. Seaside Heights is marketed as evoking an “exquisite French lifestyle,” according to an ad shown in the movie.

There’s really nothing French about this apartment building. It’s just an excuse for the movie to have a bizarre fantasy sequence of many of the apartment building residents dressed in 18th century-styled French costumes, as if they’re about to have tea with Marie Antoinette. The movie has even more weirdness—and not in a good way.

There are five family members living in the apartment unit where the body is found outside the unit. Before this shocking discovery, tensions were already running high in the family. The apartment unit is owned by divorcée Meghan So (played by Teresa Mo), who is the household’s primary source of income.

Meghan shows a lot of resentment over having to carry most of the financial burden for everyone in the household. Also living in the household is Meghan’s daughter Yana Chung (played by Jennifer Yu), a flight attendant whose husband Ming To (played by Wong You Nam) is currently unemployed. Yana and Ming have an adorable daughter named Yoyo (played by Lau Ying Yu), who’s about 5 years old.

Meghan has another child named Kingston Chung (played by Alan Yeung Wai Lun, also known as Yeung Wai Lun), Yana’s goofy younger brother who is also unemployed. However, Meghan shows much more tolerance for Kingston than she does for Yana. Kingston says he will be able to make money when he launches his “brand.” The movie later reveals that Kingston wants to start a company called the Anti-Facial Social Club, which sells facial stickers designed to prevent facial recognition done by technology.

One of the early scenes in the movie show Meghan clashing with Yana and Ming when the spouses talk about their desire to move out so they can have more space to raise Yoyo. Meghan warns the couple that it would be expensive for Yana and Ming to get their own place on the couple’s limited income. This leads to more complaining from Meghan about how she has to pay most of the living expenses in the household.

During this argument, someone happens to open the front door to the apartment unit. The arguing family members are shocked to see a naked man slumped on the hallway floor in front of the unit. No one in the family knows who he is and have never seen this stranger before.

When they determine that the man is dead, everyone except Meghan immediately wants to call for help. Kingston goes as far as dialing 999 (the emergency number in Hong Kong), but Meghan forces him to hang up before he can say what the problem is. Meghan yells at everyone that if the news got out that there was a naked dead man found in the building, then the building’s property.

The rest of the movie shows various people finding out about the body and trying to hide it too. An elderly couple named Boron Chan (played by Lau Kong) and Betty Chan (played by Bonnie Wong), who are retired schoolteachers, are very superstitious. They want to hide the body because they think if they don’t hide the body, then people will think the building is haunted. Boron is also the treasurer for this co-op building.

A bachelorette named Mary Tse (played by Grace Wu) is described as a “young single mother” who is very protective of her baby, which she covers up in a carriage when she goes out in public. But surprise! It’s revealed early on in the movie that Mary’s “baby” is really a small dog. Dogs are not allowed in the building.

Meghan threatens to tell the building management that Mary has a dog, which is why Mary goes along with the plan to hide the body. Mary has a maid named Nancy (played by Valenzuela Lucy Navarette), who gets ensnared in the body-hiding conspiracy because Mary threatens to have Nancy deported back to Thailand if she doesn’t cooperate. “I’m from the Philippines,” Nancy tells Mary. This is what’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in “Over My Dead Body.”

Other people who get involved in hiding the body are a taxi driver named Bear Cheung (played by Ronny Cheng), who lives in the building and has a strained relationship with his son Mesai Cheung (played by Edan Lui), who is in his early 20s. Bear and Mesai have lived together, ever since Bear’s wife/Edan’s mother (played by Xenia Chong, shown in flashbacks) left them and had a bitter divorce. Mesai blames Bear for the breakup of the marriage.

Mesai is a video game/computer enthusiast. Somehow, he has found a way to hack into the buildings video surveillance system. It becomes a subplot in the movie when the building’s security chief S.G. Lee (played by Jiro Lee) finds out about the body too. S.G. Lee brags that he knows who all the building residents are, but he does not know who the mysterious nude man is and how he got into the building.

As already revealed in the trailer for “Over My Dead Body,” some of the apartment dwellers end up in a jail cell, where they meet a bride-to-be named Sue Yu (played by Hanna Chan), who gets mixed up in this awful mess. And where is Yoyo during all of these silly antics? She’s conveniently kept out of sight for most of the movie, which only shows Yoyo for some “cute kid” moments.

“Over My Dead Body” is a stagnant cesspool of irritating characters shrieking, hollering, and doing things that never look believable. None of the acting in this movie is any good. The movie’s direction and film editing are often unfocused, jumping from one character to the next in clumsy ways. The sloppy screenplay leaves no room for character development.

The movie saved the worst parts for last. In the movie’s last 15 minutes, when it’s revealed who the mystery stranger is, “Over My Dead Body” takes an abrupt turn into phony sentimentality. The movie, which was already failing to be amusing, tried to be an edgy and irreverent satire about status-conscious people for most of the story. In the end, “Over My Dead Body” just turns into a huge, mushy plothole that insults viewers’ intelligence.

Illume Films and Imagi Crystal Studio released “Over My Dead Body” in select U.S. cinemas on May 19, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on March 24, 2023.

Review: ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ (2023), starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague and Jeannie Berlin

May 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “You Hurt My Feelings” (Photo by Jeong Park/A24)

“You Hurt My Feelings” (2023)

Directed by Nicole Holofcener

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy film “You Hurt My Feelings” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An insecure book author gets deeply upset when she finds out that her psychotherapist husband has been pretendng to like her first novel, and this revelation leads her to question his honesty in the marriage.

Culture Audience: “You Hurt My Feelings” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, filmmaker Nicole Holofcener and satire-tinged comedies where people make a big deal out of problems that are very trivial in the real world.

Arian Moayed and Michaela Watkins in “You Hurt My Feelings” (Photo by Jeong Park/A24)

If you’re a fan of comedies that poke gentle fun at somewhat spoiled protagonists, then “You Hurt My Feelings” (written and directed by Nicole Holofcener) is the type of movie that perfectly fits this description. It’s a low-key and realistic comedy about people who live in the bubble of being privileged and neurotic New Yorkers. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is an actress queen for this type of character. This movie isn’t for everyone, but the performances are entertaining. “You Hurt My Feelings” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

In “You Hurt My Feelings” (which takes place in New York City), Louis-Dreyfus portrays Beth Mitchell, an insecure book author who is constantly seeking validation from people around her. The person whose opinions and respect that Beth values the most is her husband Don Mitchell (played by Tobias Menzies), who is an easygoing psychotherapist. Don is very laid-back and tolerant, while Beth is uptight and judgmental. Even though Beth and Don have opposite personalities, they’ve had a very long and happy marriage.

At least that’s what Beth thinks, until she finds out something that shakes her to the core: Don has been pretending to like the book that Beth is currently working on: her first novel, which is also her second book. Don is one of the few people whom Beth has let read the manuscript for this book. She’s already feeling insecure because her first book (a memoir detailing the verbal abuse she got from her now-deceased father) was not the bestseller that Beth hoped it would be. The memoir wasn’t a total flop, but it had sales that were lukewarm.

Adding to Beth’s unease about her first novel is the less-than-enthusiastic response from her book agent. Not long before Beth found out that Don doesn’t like the manuscript, her agent Sylvia (played by LaTanya Richardson Jackson) told Beth during a lunch meeting that Sylvia doesn’t really like the manuscript either and thinks it’s not as interesting as Beth’s memoir. Sylvia commented to Beth in this meeting that there’s a lot of competition in the book publishing industry, which is always looking for “new voices.” Beth interprets this comment as Sylvia telling Beth that she’s old.

Why is Beth so insecure? It’s mentioned about midway through the movie that her father did a lot of emotional damage to her with his verbal abuse. He often called her “shit for brains” when Beth was a child. It’s a phrase that Beth says out loud to herself when she’s having moments of very low self-esteem.

Beth’s world is fairly insular, since most of the people interacts with are family members and work colleagues. She teaches a creative writing class to people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Beth encourages her students to take risks in their work. It’s advice that Beth doesn’t always follow for herself. The movie later shows how Beth can be hypocritical in other ways.

Beth has a younger sister named Sarah (played Michaela Watkins), an interior designer who’s battling her own insecurities about her career. Sarah is married to a frequently unemployed actor named Mark (played by Arian Moayed), who’s frustrated that he hasn’t been able to land starring roles and get work more often. Mark also happens to be Don’s best friend. (People from Don’s side of the family are never mentioned in the movie.) Beth and Sarah have a cranky and forgetful mother named Georgia (played by Jeannie Berlin), who might be showing signs of early onset dementia.

Don and Beth’s only child is a 23-year-old son named Eliot (played by Owen Teague), who works at a marijuana dispensary. Even though Beth occasionally smokes marijuana, she tells Eliot that she’s uncomfortable with his job, because she thinks there’s potential for danger on the job, and she thinks that college graduate Eliot (who is an aspiring playwright) isn’t living up to his potential. Beth thinks it’s also why Eliot’s girlfriend Alison (who’s never seen in the movie), an aspiring lawyer, seems to be drifting away from Eliot.

“You Hurt My Feelings” is made like a compilation of scenarios that show different personal angles of Beth and her loved ones. Beth finds out about Don’s true feelings for her manuscript when she and Sarah spontaneously eavesdrop on Don and Mark in a sporting goods store. The way that Beth reacts is as if Don betrayed her in the most hurtful manner possible. Beth begins to wonder if she even she even knows Don at all.

The movie goes back and forth between showing Beth’s interactions with people, as well as the therapy sessions that Don (a doctor with his own practice) has with some of his clients. These therapy sessions seem to be in the movie to show how Don approaches problem-solving in his clients’ personal relationships, compared to problem-solving in his own personal relationships.

The movie’s opening scene shows Don in a therapy session with a bickering married couple named Jonathan (played by David Cross) and Carolyn (played by Amber Tamblyn), who say hateful things to each other. (Cross and Tamblyn are spouses in real life.) Don passively sits and listens, even though Jonathan and Carolyn clearly want the type of therapist who will give them advice on what to do about their marriage. And as time goes on, viewers see that Don’s non-confrontational style can be a detriment in his own marriage.

An early scene in the “You Hate My Feelings” shows a wedding anniversary dinner that Beth and Don are having together at a restaurant. Don gives Beth a pair of gold leaf earrings as his anniversary gift. Beth gives Don a black V-necked shirt. They both smile and seem happy with these gifts during this romantic dinner. Later in the movie, it’s shown that these gifts are symbols of much deeper issues in Beth and Don’s relationship.

Louis-Dreyfus is the obvious standout in a movie where her Beth character is the main focus of the story. However, Watkins and Berlin also give terrific performances that skillfully balance realism with talented comedic timing. Menzies plays his part well as a somewhat bland but loyal husband, while the other cast members are part of the overall believability in their roles, which could easily have been played as caricatures.

Of course, many viewers won’t feel too sorry for Beth, because she has the type of comfortable life that many people would like to have: She’s healthy. She’s surrounded by people who love her. And she doesn’t have worry about basic needs, such as food or shelter.

But truth be told, a lot of privileged people who have charmed existences in real life can’t see beyond their own trivial problems because they really have no reason or motivation to do so. The closest that Beth wants to acknowledge any type of “real world” suffering is volunteering with Sarah at a charity that gives away free clothes to underprivileged people. If Beth’s worst problem is finding out that her husband doesn’t like her latest book, then that’s a pretty good life to have.

The movie admits it at one point when Don comments to Beth about how she’s reacting to him not liking her novel: “The whole world is falling apart, and this is what consumes you?” Beth replies, “I know the whole world is falling apart … but this is my small, narcissistic world, and I’m hurt.” For all the neuroses and self-absorption on display, a movie like “You Hurt My Feelings” serves as a reminder that people who seem to “have it all” can still find reasons to be miserable if they’re not completely happy with themselves.

A24 released “You Hurt My Feelings” in U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.

Review: ‘About My Father’ (2023), starring Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche and Kim Cattrall

May 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Maniscalco and Robert De Niro in “About My Father” (Photo by Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)

“About My Father” (2023)

Directed by Laura Terruso

Some language in Italian with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Illinois and in Virginia, the comedy film “About My Father” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An Italian American hotel manager in Chicago travels with artist girlfriend and his hair stylist father to Virginia, to meet the girlfriend’s Anglo Saxon wealthy family, and various uncomfortable situations occur because of different ethnic identities and socioeconomic classes. 

Culture Audience: “About My Father” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and predictably subpar comedies about tension-filled family gatherings.

Kim Cattrall, Leslie Bibb and David Rasche in “About My Father” (Photo by Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)

“About My Father” is just a mishmash of scenes that look like stale leftovers from a second-rate sitcom. Robert De Niro is doing another “grumpy old man” character that he keeps doing in awful comedies that fail to match the quality of “Meet the Parents.” De Niro has not made a really good comedy film since 2000’s “Meet the Parents,” in which he co-starred as a stern potential father-in-law to a neurotic male nurse (played by Ben Stiller), who meets this patriarch and other would-be in-laws for the first time during a family gathering.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that “About My Father” (directed by Laura Terruso) is a weak imitation of “Meet the Parents,” but with no real charm and with characters that mostly look very phony. “About My Father” has so many of same plot points and gags as “Meet the Parents,” the screenwriters of “About My Father” should be ashamed to call the screenplay “original.” Sebastian Maniscalco (who stars as the nervous bachelor in “About My Father”) and Austen Earl co-wrote the shallow and derivative “About My Father” screenplay. “About My Father” has such a lack of imagination, Maniscalco portrays a character who has the same name as he does.

Just like in “Meet the Parents,” the plot of “About My Father” is about an insecure American man in Chicago who meets the conservative, wealthier parents of his blonde, thin and pretty girlfriend at the parents’ family home. In “Meet the Parents,” the bachelor is Jewish and works as a nurse. In “About My Father,” the bachelor is of Italian heritage and works as an average-level hotel manager. Both movies use various ethnic and socioeconomic stereotypes as fuel for the comedy. The bachelor goes back and forth between being embarrassed and being proudly defensive about coming from a working-class family. He tries very hard to impress his more sophisticated potential in-laws.

The anxious bachelor hopes to get the parents’ approval because he wants to propose marriage to his girlfriend. Several wacky incidents then ensue involving the family playing competitive games with each other; pet animals that are liked or disliked by people at this gathering; and physical mishaps that cause tension and embarrassment. “Meet the Parents” and “About My Father” both have the girlfriend’s annoying siblings make the bachelor uncomfortable.

In “About My Father,” you can do a countdown to a lot of the predictable comedy clichés that have been in dozens of other movies. There’s even a “race against time” scene of someone trying catch up to someone else who’s about to leave on an airplane. The main plot difference between the two movies is that in “About My Father,” the bachelor brings his father along for this family visit. As expected in a formulaic comedy such as “About My Father,” this dad is an outspoken loose cannon who will clash with the pretentious and snobby family who’s hosting this gathering.

“About My Father” has somewhat irritating voiceover narration from the character of Sebastian throughout the movie. In the beginning of the film, Sebastian says that his family is originally from the Italian region of Sicily and has a very strong work ethic. His father Salvo (played by De Niro) immigrated from Sicily and comes from “a long line of Sicilian hairstylists.” Even though Salvo is well past retirement age, he still works in his own hair salon, where his customers (at least those shown in the movie) are middle-aged women who laugh at his unfunny jokes.

Sebastian (who has no siblings) is a first-generation Italian American. Sebastian’s mother is talked about but never shown in any flashbacks. Near the beginning of the movie, it’s mentioned that Sebastian’s mother has been dead for about a year. Sebastian and Salvo have had a very close father-son relationship since Sebastian was a child. And now that Salvo is a widower, Sebastian feels obligated to stay close to his lonely father. Salvo and Sebastian live together.

Salvo and Sebastian’s relationship is a weird mix of co-dependent and macho. On the one hand, Salvo acts like Sebastian is being a disloyal son for having a life outside of being Salvo’s closest friend. (And to be clear: Salvo really has no other friends.) On the other hand, Salvo believes that certain things make men look like “sissies” and “wimps,” such as crying, or father and sons hugging each other.

Sebastian and Salvo have a ritual of spraying cologne on themselves before they go to sleep. It’s supposed to be one of the funny “gags” in the movie, but it just falls flat. Sebastian says in a voiceover: “At bedtime, our room smelled like an Uber [car] in Las Vegas.” Get used to this type of dreadful joke in “About My Father,” because the movie is full of these unfunny comments.

Sebastian is in a loving relationship with his cheerful and perky girlfriend Eleanor “Ellie” Collins (played by Leslie Bibb), who comes from a wealthy family in Virginia. Ellie’s ancestors were among the English settlers who came over to the future United States on the historic Mayflower voyage of 1620. Ellie is an artist whose specialty is in painting abstract art. An early scene in “About My Father” shows Ellie and Sebastian at a gallery exhibit for Ellie’s art. Sebastian and Ellie joke that one of her paintings looks like it could be vagina, except when the painting is turned horizontally. That’s what’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in this lackluster film.

In the voiceover narration, Sebastian describes Ellie as his “complete opposite” and his “dream woman.” Sebastian also mentions that Ellie introduced him to things such as sunlight coming into bedroom windows, daytime naps, avocado facials and smiling. There’s even a montage in the movie showing Sebastian grimacing, as he “trains” himself to smile more. Viewers will be grimacing for different reasons, as this movie strains to come up with funny lines of dialogue.

Ellie invites Sebastian to meet her family in Virginia, for a Fourth of July holiday weekend. (“About My Father” was actually filmed in Louisiana and Alabama.) Sebastian think this visit is a great idea, until Salvo starts whining about how the trip would mean that Salvo will be left home alone. Salvo also doesn’t think that Sebastian will fit in well with Ellie’s family. Sebastian tells Ellie he won’t go on the trip because he doesn’t want to leave Salvo at home alone, but then Ellie says that Salvo is invited too.

However, Sebastian doesn’t want Salvo to meet Ellie’s family, because Sebastian is sure that Salvo will be a complete embarrassment. Sebastian wants to propose to Ellie with the engagement ring that was owned by Salvo’s deceased mother. Salvo won’t give Sebastian this ring unless Salvo meets and approves of Ellie’s family.

After much hemming and hawing back and forth, Salvo ends up going on the trip with Sebastian and Ellie to the Collins family estate. They take a private plane to a private air strip, where they are greeted by Ellie’s spoiled, obnoxious and hard-partying older brother Williams Collins XIII (played by Anders Holm), whose nickname is Lucky. Sebastian, Salvo and Ellie then go in a helicopter piloted by Lucky to the vast summer home owned by the Collins family. Predictably, one of the helicopter passengers (Sebastian) gets airsick.

At the Collins family estate, Salvo and Sebastian meet Ellie’s parents and younger brother. Ellie’s father William Collins XII (played by David Rasche), whose nickname is Bill, is a luxury hotel mogul in charge of the family’s Collins Hotel Group empire. Bill is friendly in an elitist way. He loves to name drop and brag about high-priced items that he’s bought, while trying (and failing) to look humble.

Ellie’s mother Tigger Collins (played by Kim Cattrall) is a hard-driving and prickly U.S. senator who is used to getting her way. Ellie has warned Sebastian that Tigger will be much harder to please than Bill. Tigger is essentially the type of character that De Niro played in “Meet the Parents”: a domineering authority figure who intimidates the visitors.

Ellie’s younger brother Doug (played by Brett Dier) is the family’s spaced-out weirdo, who walks around dressed like a hippie cult member. Doug rambles about things that he thinks are “enlightening,” such as chakras, cleansing the energy in a room, and how a certain organic food affects his bowel movements. Doug’s family members treat him like a harmless eccentric.

Lucky works in the family’s hotel business. Doug doesn’t seem to work at all. Out of all three siblings, Ellie is clearly the favorite child of their parents, who treat Ellie like a pampered princess. When she’s around her parents, Ellie seems to revert back to acting like a teenager, which should be a “red flag” warning sign for someone who’s in a romance with her. However, immature Sebastian has got enough family issues of his own, and he gets very caught up in trying to impress Ellie’s parents.

The Collins family has peacocks that Ellie says are the family mascots. These peacocks walk around the property wherever they want, mostly outside. Salvo dislikes peacocks and says that they are bad luck. You know where this is going, of course. In “Meet the Parents,” the family pet that caused conflicts was a cat, which was beloved by the patriarch but disliked by the visiting bachelor.

“About My Father” has mostly unremarkable acting by cast members trying very hard to be funny when saying cringeworthy lines and depicting even more cringeworthy scenarios. Cattrall fares the best in some of the slapstick comedy, while De Niro is just going through the motions in rehashing the same persona he does in nearly all of his comedies since “Meet the Parents.”

Maniscalco became famous as a stand-up comedian, but he can’t carry this comedy film with the leading-man qualities required for this role. His smirking Sebastian character is both hollow and dull, reduced to nothing but idiotic quips and hammy facial expressions. The direction and writing for “About My Father” look very outdated, like a 1990s movie that was made for a third-tier cable TV network.

“About My Father” might elicit a few chuckles from viewers. A scene that shows a brief flash of mildly amusing banter is when Sebastian and Salvo privately rant to each other about how pompous Tigger and Bill are about their wealth. But watching this disappointing movie dud is like being stuck in a room full of comedians using other people’s well-known and tired jokes, while the comedians try desperately to convince the audience that what they’re watching is fresh and original.

Lionsgate released “About My Father” in U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.

Review: ‘The Machine’ (2023), starring Bert Kreischer, Mark Hamill, Jimmy Tatro, Iva Babić, Stephanie Kurtzuba and Jess Gabor

May 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mark Hamill and Bert Kreischer in “The Machine” (Photo by Aleksandar Letic/Screen Gems)

“The Machine” (2023)

Directed by Peter Atencio

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Russia and in the United States, the action comedy film “The Machine” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Rude and crude American comedian Bert “The Machine” Kreischer and his father are kidnapped and brought to Russia by Russian criminals, who want Bert to find a valuable watch that they claim he stole 23 years earlier, when Bert was a partying college student visiting Russia. 

Culture Audience: “The Machine” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Kreischer, but even they might find this relentlessly idiotic and dull movie very hard to take.

Iva Babić and Bert Kreischer in “The Machine” (Photo by Aleksandar Letic/Screen Gems)

Crude, boring and obnoxiously stupid, “The Machine” repeatedly misfires and malfunctions as a showcase for stand-up comedian Bert “The Machine” Kreischer, who portrays a version of himself in his first starring movie role. Kreischer is also a producer of this grossly incompetent action comedy, released by Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Screen Gems. “The Machine” might have this corporate-owned movie studio as a distributor, but this junkpile film is worse than the most amateur, low-budget independent films that you could ever see.

Directed by Peter Atencio, “The Machine” has no creativity, no style and no charm. It stumbles around in repetitive scenarios and spews out deeply unfunny “jokes” that sound like ideas that would be rejected at low-rent comedy clubs. Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes wrote the putrid screenplay for “The Machine,” which is proof that if you throw enough money around, untalented garbage can be made into a terrible movie. “The Machine” also has very unimaginative stereotypes of Russian mobsters. These lazy clichés quickly become tiresome.

“The Machine” doesn’t have much of a plot. The movie’s opening scene shows a Russian mobster boss named Igor (played by Nikola Djuricko) watching controversial stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer (whose persona is being a politically incorrect, drinking-and-drugging blowhard) doing a stand-up routine on TV. Igor becomes incensed and yells at the screen: “I want what you stole, Machine!” The enraged gangster than destroys the TV by shooting a gun at it.

A sloppily filmed montage near the beginning of the movie shows that Bert is having a meltdown in his career and in his personal life. Bert almost got his teenage daughter Sasha (played by Jess Gabor) arrested for something that was actually his fault. He’s such a terrible father, he livestreamed Sasha getting detained by police. As a result of the backlash, Bert took a hiatus from social media and cancelled his comedy tour.

Bert is smug and defiant during a family therapy session in the office of their therapist (played by Brian Caspe), who looks like he would rather be anywhere else but forced to be in a room with this lunkhead. Also in the therapy session are Bert’s long-suffering wife LeeAnn (played by Stephanie Kurtzuba), their obedient tween daughter Tatiana (played by Amelie Child Villiers) and a sulking Sasha. Bert congratulates himself for not calling anyone in the room the “c” word (as in “cunt”), even if he thinks they deserve to be called that word.

Back at home, Bert continues to heap praise on himself, by bragging to his family that he hasn’t done anything publicly embarrassing in three months. What does he want? A medal? Kreischer is married with two daughters in real life. This stinker of a movie is surely going to be an embarrassment for the entire family. Kreischer’s real-life wife (who really does have the name LeeAnn Kreischer) is also one of the producers of “The Machine,” which means she got suckered into sinking some of her own money into this irredeemable flop.

Bert wants to look like he’s sorry for what he’s done to Sasha, so he throws a big 16th birthday party for her at the family home. The problem is that party isn’t really about Sasha. It’s about Bert showing off. Sasha doesn’t even know most of the people whom Bert invited to the party. It just leads to Sasha having more resentment for her selfish father. To put on a façade that he’s “cleaned up his act,” Bert decided not have any alcohol served at the party, which is attended mostly by adults.

Here’s an example of the rotten “comedy” in “The Machine”: One of the party guests is a family friend named Madison (played by Tea Wagner), who is in the process of getting a divorce. Madison asks Bert in an annoyed voice about the lack of alcohol at the party: “No booze?” Bert replies, “Hey, Madison: No husband?” And then, he mutters underneath his breath: “Fucking bitch.”

Soon, it will be Bert’s turn to get annoyed, when his estranged father Albert Kreischer (played by Mark Hamill) shows up unannounced at the party. Bert is bitter because he thinks Albert has been an inattentive father for most of Bert’s life. Albert, who lives in Florida, owns a carpet company called Kreischer Karpets. Albert thinks that Bert’s career as a comedian is probably over, so he offers Bert a job at the carpet company. It’s an offer that Bert abruptly refuses.

There’s another uninvited guest who shows up at the party. She’s a Russian mob enforcer named Irina (played by Iva Babić, in a very campy performance), who works for Igor. Irina tells Bert that she’s there to get a pocket watch that Bert stole on a train 23 years ago, when he was a 25-year-old college student visiting Russia on a school trip. Bert denies knowing anything about this pocket watch.

However, Bert and Albert get kidnapped by Irina and her goons anyway and are taken by private plane to Russia. (“The Machine” was actually filmed in Serbia.) Irina says that while Bert is in Russia, his daughters will be under surveillance by some of her cronies. Irina warns Bert that if he doesn’t do what he’s told, then his daughters will be harmed. Irina’s cronies are mostly forgettable and generic, except for Irina’s bodyguard: a hulking dolt named Sponge (played by Martyn Ford), who immediately clashes with Bert.

The rest of “The Machine” is nothing but a slog of dimwitted dialogue and fake-looking fight scenes. There are some tedious flashbacks showing college-age Bert (played by Jimmy Tatro) and his shenanigans in Russia. In the flashbacks, there’s a useless subplot involving Bert treating his classmate Ashley (played by Rita Bernard-Shaw), who’s a potential love interest for Bert, like a subservient maid. It’s not a good look, considering Ashley is the only non-white character who has a speaking role in the movie. (Rachel Momcilov portrays the present-day Ashley.)

Kreischer is utterly cringeworthy as an actor and has no charisma on screen. All of the movie’s other performances range from mediocre to unwatchable. Hamill often looks like he regrets signing up for this cesspool of a movie, and he puts no credible effort in his performance. How did he end up in this tacky mess? Did the “Star Wars” franchise not pay Hamill enough money?

There’s no other way to put it: “The Machine” is a complete failure in every single way. It’s yet another example of how being a famous stand-up comedian doesn’t automatically mean that the comedian has what it takes to be a movie star. “The Machine” should have been put out of commission before it was even made.

Screen Gems released “The Machine” in U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.

Review: ‘Super Punjabi,’ starring Mohsin Abbas Haider, Saima Baloch, Iftikhar Thakur, Sana Fakhar, Nasir Chinyoti, Nawaz Anjum and Qaiser Piya

May 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nasir Chinyoti and Mohsin Abbas Haider in “Super Punjabi” (Photo courtesy of Eveready Pictures)

“Super Punjabi”

Directed by Abu Aleeha

Urdu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Pakistan, the comedy film “Super Punjabi” features an all-Pakistani cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An accountant who has been fired decides to get revenge on his former boss by robbing him with the help of a bungling thief. 

Culture Audience: “Super Punjabi” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching mindless comedies.

Sana Fakhar and Iftikhar Thakur in “Super Punjabi” (Photo courtesy of Eveready Pictures)

“Super Punjabi” starts off being a mildly amusing comedy, but the silly antics get more irritating until everything becomes a mess halfway through the movie. The plot of an accountant wanting to rob his ex-boss takes too long to start in this moronic film. “Super Punjabi” wastes a lot of time (more than two-thirds of the movie) showing the vengeful ex-employee and the bungling thief accomplice are sidetracked by a lot of silly antics.

Written and directed by Abu Aleeha, “Super Punjabi” (which takes place in an unnamed part of Pakistan) is a movie with a very weak plot and a lot of filler, including very hokey musical numbers with trite and forgettable songs. The movie begins by showing that accountant Sakhi Jutt (played by Mohsin Abbas Haider) seems to be living a charmed life. He and his wife Sahiba (played by Saima Baloch) have a loving and stable marriage. Sakhi also seems to be doing well in his career.

But Sakhi’s life falls apart when he gets fired for what he believes are unfair reasons. And then one day, Sakhi comes home around 2 p.m. to surprise Sahiba with a romantic gift of flowers. Sakhi sees the door to their bedroom is closed and a man’s shoes are outside the room. Sakhi can hear the voice of a man and Sahiba laughing. A jealous Sakhi can only think the worst: Sahiba must be having an affair with another man.

Of course, in a stupid movie like “Super Punjabi,” you can already predict that it’s probably be a misunderstanding. Instead of opening the door to find out what’s really going on, Sakhi angrily storms out of the house and disappears for two days without telling anyone where he is during those two days. During his “disappearance,” Sakhi decides he needs to get more money to save his marriage. And in order to do that, Sakhi decides he’s going to rob his wealthy ex-boss Zaid Gill (played by Iftikhar Thakur), who fired Sakhi.

On the first night that Sakhi has left his home, he gets carjacked by a bungling thief named Miskeen Butt (played by Nasir Chinyoti), who has no idea that Sakhi is about to take him on a wild ride. Sakhi tells Miskeen: “You picked the wrong guy on the wrong day.” Sakhi then proceeds to drive like a madman on the streets until Miskeen gives up his intention to steal the car.

Instead, Sakhi and Miskeen end up having dinner together at a cafe. Miskeen tells Sakhi that he wanted to steal the car because Miskeen’s wife and mother-in-law have been berating him and physically abusing him for not making enough money. Miskeen convinces Sakhi to give Miskeen a ride to a convenience store.

While they’re in the convenience store, Sakhi is shocked when Miskeen decided to commit an armed robbery of the store. The convenience store clerk who’s on duty pulls out a rifle. Shots are fired, a scuffle ensues, but Sakhi and Miskeen manage to escape with cash from the store. After Sakhi finds out that Miskeen has experience as a thief, he tells Miskeen that his ex-boss has a safe full of cash that they should rob. Miskeen reluctantly agrees to this plan.

Meanwhile, two criminals named Jazzy (played by Saquib Sumeer) and Jagoo (played by Adnan Shah Tipu) have been watching this near-debacle from the parking lot of the convenience store. They follow Sakhi and Miskeen into an empty lot and try to rob Sakhi and Miskeen of the money that Sakhi and Miskeen stole from the grocery store. More scuffling and shootouts occur.

“Super Punjabi” then becomes a repetitive bore of Sakhi and Miskeen trying to dodge Jazzy and Jagoo. There’s also a subplot involving another thief named Maujoo (played by Nawaz Anjum), who wants the money in the safe too. Zaid has a trophy wife named Madam Zara (played by Sana Fakhar) who has a role in this crime conspiracy. And, of course, an unimaginative movie like “Super Punjabi” has an incompetent police officer named Waheed (played by Qaiser Piya), who is the main investigating officer.

The acting in “Super Punjabi” is almost as bad as the movie’s screenplay and direction. The characters in the movie are hollow and annoying. There’s also a lot of choppy film editing that makes “Super Punjabi” look like it was made by amateurs with a sizeable production budget. The comedy in “Super Punjabi” often falls flat. And the action scenes just look idiotic. “Super Punjabi” is a mindless film in every sense of the word, because it’s the type of junk that viewers will quickly forget if they have the misfortune of seeing it.

Eveready Pictures released “Super Punjabi” in select U.S. cinemas and in Pakistan on May 12, 2023.

Review: ‘Robots’ (2023), starring Shailene Woodley and Jack Whitehall

May 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Shailene Woodley, Jack Whitehall, Shailene Woodley and Jack Whitehall in “Robots” (Photo courtesy of Decal/Neon)

“Robots” (2023)

Directed by Casper Christensen and Art Hines

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2032, in New Mexico and in Mexico, the sci-fi comedy film “Robots” (based on the short-story collection “The Robot Who Looked Like Me”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Lothario and a female gold digger, who each have illegal look-alike robots that do dirty deeds for them, go on a misadventure together to look for the robots after the robots “go rogue” by falling in love and running away together. 

Culture Audience: “Robots” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and fans of the book on which the movie is based, but it’s a silly, boring and predictable movie that is a failure of imagination.

Jack Whitehall, Paul Rust and Shailene Woodley in “Robots” (Photo courtesy of Decal/Neon)

Robots with artificial intelligence could have come up with a better movie than the filmmakers responsible for the drab and unfunny comedy “Robots,” an embarrassing dud that fails to blend sci-fi and romance into an interesting story. It’s hard to believe that anyone who read the dreadful “Robots” screenplay actually thought that this junk was worth getting made. All of the movie’s cast members have the depth and personality of decommissioned robots in their hollow performances.

Written and directed by Casper Christensen and Art Hines, “Robots” is based on Robert Sheckley’s 1978 collection of short stories titled “The Robot Who Looked Like Me.” Viewers of “Robots” might find it hard to believe that Hines is one of the Oscar-nominated writers behind Sacha Baron Cohen’s hit movies, including 2006’s “Borat” and 2020’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” for which Hines received adapted screenplay Oscar nominations. Granted, the prankster movies of Baron Cohen are largely improvised, whereas a movie like “Robots” has a very formulaic script. The difference in the entertainment quality of a movie like “Borat” and a movie like “Robots” is like comparing a satisfying meal to stale garbage.

The opening scenes of “Robots,” which takes place mostly in New Mexico in 2032, shows the governor of New Mexico (played by Hank Rogerson) giving a speech in front of a chain-link fence that’s supposed to separate the border of the United States and Mexico. (“Robots” was filmed on location in New Mexico.) The governor has a very small but enthusiastic audience of about 25 people, mostly middled-aged and elderly, who are sitting on folding chairs. It’s a group of right-wingers who hate undocumented immigrants from Latin American countries.

In his speech, the governor (who is obviously supposed to be Donald Trump-like politician) proudly announces that under his leadership, the wall to keep the “illegals” out has been successfully built, and all the “illegals” have been deported. He also declares that industries that heavily depend on undocumented immigrants no longer need to employ these immigrants because 10 years ago, the U.S. government created robots to “do the work that illegals once did.” After this speech event, the chairs are folded up and packed away by some of these robots.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the two main characters in “Robots”—a man and a woman in their 30s—are rude and selfish humans who own illegally purchased, highly advanced robots that are clones of themselves. In this sci-fi society, legal robots have a human body structure, but their heads look like robots, they sound like robots, and they wear human-looking masks. The advanced illegal robots (which are very high-priced) look, move, and talk exactly like humans in every way, except that the illegal robots do not have real human eyes.

Charles Cameron (played by Jack Whitehall) is a narcissistic ladies’ man who only wants to date women to have sex with them. After Charles gets what he wants, he abruptly dumps the women and cuts off all contact with them. Charles (who is spoiled, lazy and over-privileged) works with his real-estate mogul father Ted Cameron (played by David Grant Wright) at Ted’s company, which is called the Cameron Group.

Charles uses his robot clone, which is called C2, to impersonate Charles at the office, do domestic work for Charles, and go on romantic dates. As shown in “Robots” trailer, Charles also makes C2 shave Charles’ pubic hair in his genital area. The only time that Charles wants to be on a date as himself (and not sending the C2 robot in his place) is when he knows he’ll be having sex on that date.

Meanwhile, Elaine (played by Shailene Woodley) is a high-maintenance gold digger who only dates men who can give her money or buy her high-priced gifts. Elaine makes enough money this way so that she doesn’t need to have a real job. Whereas Charles uses his clone robot to get women to have sex with the real Charles, what Elaine uses her robot for is for the opposite reason: She doesn’t want to be the one to have sex with the men she dates for money, so she has her robot clone (called E2) impersonate her on these dates. Woodley and Whitehall also portray the robot counterparts of Elaine and Charles.

Because these robots are illegal, and owners could get heavy fines and prison time, there are certain precautions that Charles and Elaine have taken for their respective clone robots. The biggest precaution is that Charles and Elaine have told C2 and E2 that they are not allowed to be out in public at the same time as their human counterparts. C2 and E2, who are always accommodating and friendly, know that they are robots who have to be kept secret.

For reasons that are never explained in the movie, Charles has a British accent, while his father Ted and Charles’ half-brother Ted Cameron Jr. (played by Nick Rutherford) have American accents. (Whitehall is British in real life.) It can be presumed that Ted Jr. and Charles have different mothers (these mothers are not seen or mentioned in the movie), and Charles grew up with his mother in England. The movie has a very useless subplot about Ted Jr. and Charles in a sibling rivalry, which is made more competitive because they both work for the family company.

The character of Elaine is a lot less developed than the character of Charles. The movie doesn’t reveal anything about Elaine’s family or what she wants to do with her life, other than spending money that’s given to her by men she dates. “Robots” spends the first 10 to 15 minutes showing how Charles gets women to date him: He goes to a local ice-skating rink and deliberately falls down near an attractive woman whom he thinks will help him get up.

This tactic works for a woman named Emily Denholm (played by Chelsea Edmondson), who begins dating what she thinks is Charles but is actually C2. The only time Emily interacted with the real Charles was when they first met and when Emily and Charles had sex. The movie’s way of making a joke is that the real Charles has very robotic sex that ends too quickly. Predictably, after Charles gets what he wants, he breaks up with Emily.

It’s mentioned in the movie that Charles is secretly heartbroken over a breakup he had with an ex-girlfriend named Francesca (played by Emanuela Postacchini), whom he still keeps track of on her social media. This is a very weak reason for Charles’ awful personality and misogyny, but it’s all just to lay the flimsy groundwork for the rom-com formula of an obnoxious playboy who meets his match and falls for her.

You know where this is going, of course: One day, Charles and Elaine both happen to be skating separately at the ice-skating rink that predatory Charles uses as his hunting ground. Charles deliberately falls down, and Elaine crashes into him. After this “meet cute” moment, Charles and Elaine begin dating, but C2 is the one who is sent on the romantic dates with her. C2 (as Charles) buys Elaine anything she wants.

On the day that Charles is sure that he and Elaine will have sex for the first time, he makes a 6:30 p.m. date with Elaine at her home. It will be the first time that Charles will be going to Elaine’s home. However, not long after this date is set, his father Ted tells Charles that Charles is required to attend a company board meeting at the home of an important board member named David Schulman (played by Richard Lippert), who will be meeting Charles for the first time at this meeting. Instead of rescheduling the date with Elaine for another evening, Charles breaks his biggest rule about C2, and he decides to send C2 to the board meeting instead, while Charles keeps his date with Elaine.

However, dimwitted Charles accidentally gives C2 the address of Elaine. Unbeknownst to Charles, she has ordered E2 to be on this date that Elaine knows will include sex. Charles finds out he’s at the wrong place when he shows up at the Schulman home with flowers and his genitals out as soon as he goes into a room that he thinks is Elaine’s bedroom. The room is actually a dining room, and the people inside are the people attending the board meeting, including the host and Charles’ father and brother.

Meanwhile, C2 and E2 have sex and instantly fall in love with each other. And even though this conversation is never shown in the movie, C2 and E2 find out how horribly they’ve been treated by their owners, so C2 and E2 decided to run away together to Mexico. Charles and Elaine find out because C2 and E2 left video messages for their owners. Yes, this movie really is that stupid. The rest of “Robots” is about Charles and Elaine on a frantic search to track down C2 and E2, in order to prevent the secret getting out that these two robots exist.

During this wretched and very tedious misadventure, Charles and Elaine turn to the person who sold them C2 and E2 in the first place: a nerdy inventor named Zach (played by Paul Rust), who hastily says to Charles and Elaine that C2 and E2 are starting to take on more human qualities, such as falling in love and having complete freedom of choice. There’s no logical explanation given for why these robots have suddenly taken on more human qualities. Zach says that C2 and E2 have to be destroyed because C2 and E2 could expose Zach, Charles and Elaine for being involved in these illegal robot transactions.

However, Charles and Elaine don’t like the idea of destroying C2 and E2 because Charles and Elaine have grown accustomed to using C2 and E2 to do the work that these robots were doing. Elaine wails that if E2 is destroyed, then Elaine would have to (gasp!) get a real job. Charles tells Elaine, “As much as it pains me to say it, we have to work together to track these fuckers down.”

Charles is annoyed with Elaine because she had sent E2 to have sex with Charles. Elaine is annoyed with Charles because she thinks this mishap wouldn’t have occurred if Charles had given C2 the correct address. It all just leads to a heinously idiotic slog of bickering and bad decisions. Woodley and Whitehall have no authentic-looking chemistry together. They just go through the motions and utter their lines, much like the robots that they also portray in this terrible movie.

The movie’s supporting characters are even emptier. Charles has a moronic and schlubby best friend named Ashley (played by Paul Jurewicz), a former U.S. Army chef who is currently unemployed. Ashley is a politically conservative bigot who blames immigrants and robots for his inability to get a job. Ashley serves no purpose in the movie except to show up and act like an idiot. The friendship between Charles and Ashley looks completely phony.

Worst of all, “Robots” has nothing clever or amusing to say about how robot clones would have an impact on society if these robots really had the ability to become more “human.” This sloppily made and poorly conceived film just becomes another rom-com chase movie where the would-be couple spends most of the story denying what most viewers already know is going to happen between them. Charles and Elaine want to pull the plug on their robot clones, but it’s too bad no one pulled the plug on this mindless and time-wasting movie.

Decal/Neon will release “Robots” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 19, 2023.

Review: ‘The End of Sex,’ starring Emily Hampshire, Jonas Chernick, Gray Powell, Lily Gao, Eden Cupid, Colin Mochrie and Melanie Scrofano

May 13, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emily Hampshire and Jonas Chernick in “The End of Sex” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“The End of Sex”

Directed by Sean Garrity

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the comedy film “The End of Sex” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married couple decide to spice up their sex life while their two pre-teen daughters are away at camp for a week. 

Culture Audience: “The End of Sex” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a sporadically amusing and repetitive sex comedy that’s not as clever as the filmmakers think it is.

Melanie Scrofano and Emily Hampshire in “The End of Sex” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“The End of Sex” is a weak comedy that tries very hard to be edgy and cute at the same time. It’s mostly predictable tedium that’s not as open-minded as it tries to look. The women who are queer or sexually liberated in the movie get “punished” the most. Many of the sexual situations presented in the movie could have been a lot funnier and cleverly satirical if the filmmakers didn’t take the lazy approach of making everything look like a second-rate sitcom, albeit a sitcom that is definitely geared to adults. “The End of Sex” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Sean Garrity and written by Jonas Chernick (who is one of the stars of the movie), “The End of Sex” (which takes place during one week in an unnamed Canadian city) would like viewers to believe that a married couple can solve their sexual boredom problems in just one week. That’s the period of time that Josh Michaels (played by Chernick) and his wife Emma Michaels (played by Emily Hampshire) have their home to themselves while their two underage daughters are away at a summer camp. The couple’s daughters are Grace (played by Maya Misaljevic) and Dawn (played by Emily Watt), who are about 7 to 9 years old. Dawn and Grace are in the movie for less than 10 minutes.

“The End of Sex” gets its title because Josh and Emma (who are both in their 40s) believe that their sex life was ruined because they became parents. Of course, it’s very easy to make children the scapegoats when the adults won’t take responsibility for their own actions. It soon becomes obvious as the story goes on that the kids aren’t the real reason why the passion has all but disappeared in Josh and Emma’s sex life. These two whiny and insecure spouses have problems being honest with each other.

As soon as the kids are out of the house for the trip away at camp, Josh and Emma decide to have sex. Emma tells Josh triumphantly, “We can be as loud as we want. I’m going to be loud.” But in fact, Emma isn’t loud during this encounter, as she and Josh have quiet and awkward sex, like people who don’t know each other very well and don’t want anyone to hear them.

“The End of Sex” frequently uses a gimmick that shows sex-related captions above people’s heads. During the scene where Emma and Josh are having sex after their children are out of the house, Emma is giving Josh oral sex, and a caption appears on screen that says, “Definitely too much teeth.” (The cast members do not have full frontal nudity in this movie.) Also during this scene, when Emma and Josh each fake an orgasm without telling the other spouse, the captions read, “Faked” and “Definitely faked.”

Eventually, Emma and Josh confess to each other about the faked orgasms. They are both offended, but Emma is especially insulted because she tells Josh that it’s more pathetic (and much more difficult) for a man to fake an orgasm. In actuality, Emma is just probably angry at herself that she was fooled by Josh.

However, this confession is a turning point in Josh and Emma’s marriage. They decide that in order to improve their marriage, they need to spice up their sex life by trying new things and experimenting. Although this entire movie’s story takes place in one week, there are so many things packed into this week, it looks completely phony that this couple can think they can turn their troubled marriage around in such a short period of time.

Of course, there will be people outside the marriage who will be involved in some of the shenanigans. Josh works as a packaging editor for an ad agency, where he and a much-younger co-worker named Kelly (played by Lily Gao) privately confide in each other about their love lives. Kelly doesn’t believe that monogamy and marriage are right for her. She thinks marriage is an outdated institution and monogamy is a construct of a patriarchal society.

Because Kelly has an image of being a sexually liberated free spirit, Josh asks Kelly for advice on what he should do to be a better lover. The Josh/Kelly relationship is inappropriate in a corporate workplace setting, since the movie shows Josh and Kelly talking almost exclusively about sex while they’re alone together in private conversations in the office. It doesn’t seem like a real friendship at all.

And because this movie comes across as a male filmmaker fantasy, you can easily predict what will happen when nerdy, average-looking, middle-aged Josh decides he’s going to do more than talk about sex with Kelly, a younger co-worker who’s pretty enough to be a model. Viewers are supposed to believe that Josh is charismatic enough (he’s not) to be sexually attractive to Kelly, who exists in this movie only to be someone who has raunchy conversations and to be Josh’s “temptation” to have sex outside of his marriage.

As for Emma, her “temptation” is a former classmate from her high school. His name is Marlon (played by Gray Powell), a bachelor who owns an art gallery. Marlon, who has had a crush on Emma since they were in high school together, is the first to admit that he’s overly talkative and has no tact. In other words, he’s a creep. After years of Marlon and Emma not seeing each other, Emma and Marlon get reacquainted when she and her best friend Wendy (played by Melanie Scrofano) go to an art exhibit at Marlon’s gallery. The art exhibit consists of photo close-ups of men’s testicles.

Emma and Wendy teach art to at-risk youth at a local recreation center. The movie goes off on a boring and unnecessary tangent about one of the teens named Aisha (played Eden Cupid) being the most talented student in the class. Emma thinks Aisha (who’s a painter and illustrator) is an art prodigy. Emma tells Marlon about Aisha and says that Marlon should stop by the recreation center to look at Aisha’s art. Marlon’s response is he will stop by the recreation center only because he wants to see Emma.

“The End of Sex” does one of the most cliché things that a sex comedy does when it’s about a couple wanting to try other things in their sex life: a subplot about the couple having a threesome. After some more awkward conversations, Emma and Josh decide that Wendy will be their threesome partner. On the surface, Wendy (who is in her own troubled marriage) seems meek and prudish, but she’s really had a secret crush on Emma, and eagerly accepts the offer of having this threesome.

As you might expect under these circumstances, this “threesome” idea is a disaster, since Wendy wants nothing to do with Josh and only wants to focus on Emma in this encounter. Josh feels rejected and excluded, while Emma is alarmed to find out that Wendy has had romantic feelings for Emma for a long time. None of this is spoiler information, since the trailer for “The End of Sex” gives away about 85% of the movie’s plot.

Also revealed in the trailer is a scene that’s supposed to be one of the funniest in the movie: Josh and Emma join a swingers’ club, where they find out that Emma’s parents—Arthur (played by Colin Mochrie) and Marge (played by Frances Townend)—have been longtime swingers. Arthur is dressed in bondage gear and is surprised to see Josh and Emma there, but Arthur almost instantly accepts that Josh and Emma are trying out the swinger lifestyle. By contrast, Emma is mortified and is disturbed that her parents were living a lie to her.

This uncomfortable revelation could have been mined for better laughs and more comedy in the movie, but “The End of Sex” then falls back into typical (and dull) stereotypes of the spouses trying to make each other jealous when they decide they’re going to try an “open marriage.” For a movie that’s supposed to be an adult-oriented sex comedy, “The End of Sex” spends too much time having the central couple act like immature teenagers. Toward the end of the movie, it just becomes an irritating back-and-forth of Emma and Josh using Marlon and Kelly to deceive the other spouse into thinking that a hot and heavy affair is going on with each “temptation” person.

Not all of “The End of Sex” is completely horrible. Chernick and Hampshire have good comedic timing in some of their scenes together. But when their characters Josh and Emma spend time with other people, the comedic chemistry looks very forced and inauthentic. Powell has moments when he is a scene stealer, but his odious and one-note Marlon character becomes less amusing as things drag on in the movie.

Mostly, “The End of Sex” is such a “male gaze” and borderline misogynistic film, because of all the ways that it subtly and not-so-subtly makes the women of the movie the ones to get shamed the most when it comes to these sexual hijinks, while the men in the movie get excused for awfulness in a “boys will be boys” attitude. Emma’s father Arthur isn’t all that concerned about Emma experiencing the trauma of finding out that he’s a swinger and all the years he lied to about it. Meanwhile, Emma’s mother Marge doesn’t really get to say anything about it at all.

Emma and Josh both kiss their “temptations” (as shown in the movie’s trailer), but one of these spouses ends up doing more than kissing someone outside the marriage and doesn’t get much flack for it by the other spouse. It’s easy to guess which spouse’s extramarital sexual encounter was quickly forgiven. In fact, it’s forgiven and brushed aside so quickly, it makes all of the other spouse’s previous jealousy look very contrived. And predictably, Josh is quick to blame Emma for their threesome fiasco, although he eventually backtracks when he admits that it wasn’t Emma’s fault that she didn’t know that Wendy would be so infatuated with Emma.

There’s also a huge disparity between Emma’s “temptation” and Josh’s “temptation.” Marlon is a physically average jerk with an unattractive personality, and he would want a committed love affair with Emma. Kelly is a pretty intellectual with an adventurous personality, and she would not want be in a committed relationship with Josh. As far as choosing a would-be extramarital lover for a “no strings attached” fling, Josh definitely has the better option.

“The End of Sex” is a sex comedy that pretends to be risky and daring but ultimately plays into old-fashioned gender stereotypes of what’s acceptable for men and women, when it comes to marriage and sex. It would be interesting to see what a female writer and a female director would have done with the same concept that “The End of Sex” filmmakers ultimately bungled with tired tropes and not-very-funny jokes. A comedy with this subject matter deserves better than to have it dumbed down into trite material that isn’t very sexy or amusing at all.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “The End of Sex” in select U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on June 13, 2023.

Review: ‘Book Club: The Next Chapter,’ starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia and Don Johnson

May 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda in “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi/Fifth Season LLC/Focus Features)

“Book Club: The Next Chapter”

Directed by Bill Holderman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy and briefly in the Los Angeles area in 2020 and 2021, the comedy film “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (a sequel to 2018’s “Book Club”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four elderly American women, who are best friends, travel to Italy to have a bachelorette party trip for one of the women who’s getting married, but they experience complications along the way. 

Culture Audience: “Book Club: The Next Chapter” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s stars, the first “Book Club” movie and comedies about how senior citizens experience love, friendships and romance.

Don Johnson in “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi/Fifth Season LLC/Focus Features)

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” is a comedy sequel where the book club exists in name only. Instead of reading books, the four women who are the longtime best friends at the center of the movie are reading attitudes about love and marriage when they go from their homes in the Los Angeles area to Italy for a bachelorette party trip. “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is a sequel to 2018’s “Book Club.” This breezy sequel puts more emphasis on the four best friends spending time together as a group. The movie doubles down on the sexual double entendres that are sometimes amusing, sometimes tacky. “Book Club: The Next Chapter” has its heart in the right place though and should be entertaining for anyone who is a fan of any of the movie’s headliners.

“Book Club” and “Book Club: The Next Chapter” are both directed by Bill Holderman and written by Holderman and Erin Simms. It’s very helpful to see or know about what happened in “Book Club,” in order to fully enjoy and understand “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” The love relationship issues that each of the four main characters had in the first “Book Club” movie are not fully explained in the beginning of “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” which takes place in 2020 and 2021.

In the first “Book Club” movie, the four main characters are also the four members of a book club that they’ve had since 1974. (Erica Jong’s feminist novel “Fear of Flying” was the book club’s first selection.) As part of the book club, the women read E.L. James’ erotic “Fifty Shades” book series, which inspires them to spice up their love lives. In “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” the focus is on a bachelorette party trip to Italy for the woman in the group who has never been married. The expected hijinks ensue in Italy, including stolen luggage, language barriers, and one of the women finding a possible love interest in Italy.

The four women who are at the center of the story are as follows:

Diane Whittaker (played by Diane Keaton), the most neurotic and nervous of the four friends, is a widowed mother of two adult daughters and is the narrator of the “Book Club” movies. In the first “Book Club” movie, Diane met and fell in love with an airline pilot named Mitchell (played by Andy Garcia), who treats her with kindness and respect. In the first “Book Club” movie, Diane was hesitant to date Mitchell because she was still grieving over the death of her husband. But in Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Diane and Mitchell are still going strong in a happy relationship and are now living together.

Vivian O’Donnell (played by Jane Fonda), the most strong-willed and assertive of the four friends, is a high-powered hotel mogul, who is admittedly commitment-phobic because she’s afraid of losing her independence. She’s never been married and has no children. The love of Vivian’s life is a now-retired music producer named Arthur (played by Don Johnson), a charismatic suitor, who proposed marriage Vivian back in the late 1970s, but she declined the offer. In “Book Club” (mild spoiler alert), Arthur came back into Vivian’s life, and they rekindled their romance, but had a few predictable obstacles along the way. In the beginning of “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Vivian tells her three best friends that she and Arthur are now engaged to be married. The four friends decide to go to Italy for a bachelorette party for Vivian.

Sharon Meyers (played by Candice Bergen), the most sarcastic and logical of the four friends, is a retired federal judge and a divorcée. Sharon got divorced from the father of her adult son sometime around the year 2000. In the first “Book Club” movie, Sharon was bitter because her ex-husband got engaged to a much younger woman, and Sharon’s son got engaged to a woman whom Sharon had never met. But in the first “Book Club” movie, Sharon decided to get back into the dating scene, and she eventually made peace with her ex-husband, whom she had dumped because Sharon thinks he’s intellectually inferior to her. In “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Sharon is newly retired and is the only woman of the four friends who’s not in a committed relationship and isn’t dating anyone special.

Carol Colby (played by Mary Steenburgen), the most nurturing and sensitive of the four friends, is a restaurateur who has been in a longtime marriage to her retired husband Bruce (played by Craig T. Nelson), who can be emotionally distant but who is an overall loyal spouse. Bruce and Carol have three adult children together: two daughters and a son. In the first “Book Club” movie, Carol was distressed because Bruce had lost interest in having sex with her. It should come as no surprise that this issue was resolved by the end of the film. In the beginning of “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Carol has closed her restaurant permanently, because the COVID-19 pandemic caused irreparable financial damage to the restaurant. Now a retiree, Carol has become preoccupied with worries about Bruce’s health, ever since he had a minor heart attack.

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” has several mentions and references to the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie’s opening scene, which takes place in 2020, shows the four pals speaking together in a videoconference call during the height of the quarantine lockdowns. When they finally reunite in person about a year later, they’ve all been fully vaccinated. Carol is the one who suggests taking the trip to Italy because the four friends had planned the trip years ago but kept delaying it. Carol thinks that Vivian’s engagement is the perfect reason to finally take this trip to Italy.

Carol might have another reason to want to go to Italy. Decades ago, when she was a single woman, she had a short-lived, hot romance with an Italian man named Gianni (played by Vincent Riotta), who was an aspiring chef when Carol knew him. She’s not interested in rekindling what they had, but Carol is curious to know about what Gianni looks like now and what he’s been doing with his life. What are the odds in a romantic comedy that Carol will see Gianni again?

As for Sharon, she’s keeping her options open when it comes to love and romance. And through a series of circumstances in Italy, Sharon meets a retired professor of philosophy named Ouzmane (played by Hugh Quarshie), who is charming and intelligent. In other words, he’s Sharon’s type of man. Will they or won’t they have a love connection?

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” has the expected corniness, such as the four women making jokes when they go to museums and look at statues of naked men, or mistaking a real police officer for being a male stripper. But the movie also has some serious moments, when the four pals talk about their fears of rejection and death. A catch phrase they use when they’re about to have a candid heart-to-heart conversation is “Best friend, tough love.”

Some of the platitudes are often trite though. During one of these “real talks,” Diane somewhat lectures Carol, who has become obsessively worried about leaving her husband Bruce home alone during this trip. Carol thinks that if anything goes wrong with his health again, she should be there for Bruce. Diane tells Carol: “You’re so afraid of Bruce dying, you’re afraid of living.”

Although the movie has some unrealistic-looking comedy, the main reason to watch “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is the lively banter between all four of these characters. The chemistry between Keaton, Fonda, Bergen and Steenburgen looks authentic in their portrayal of longtime friends. The direction of the movie is solid but not outstanding.

And if anything else, viewers can at least enjoy the gorgeous scenery, as the four friends travel to picturesque cities in Italy, such as Venice and Tuscany. The last third of the film has a few twists and turns, but nothing too surprising. If the purpose of “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is to show how women over the age of 65 can have vibrant and interesting lives, despite what is often inaccurately portrayed in the media, than the movie fulfills that purpose.

Focus Features will release “Book Club: The Next Chapter” in U.S. cinemas on May 12, 2023. A sneak preview of the movie was held at select U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2023.

Review: ‘Love Again’ (2023), starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sam Heughan and Céline Dion

May 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sam Heughan and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in “Love Again” (Photo by Liam Daniel/Screen Gems)

“Love Again” (2023)

Directed by Jim Strouse

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in New York City, the comedy/drama film “Love Again” (based on the novel “Text for You”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two years after her fiancé died in a tragic car accident, a children’s book illustrator sends lovelorn text messages to his old phone number, which is now being used as a work phone number by a music journalist, who begins dating her, but he doesn’t tell her that he’s the one who’s been getting her text messages. 

Culture Audience: “Love Again” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and fans of the book on which the movie is based, but most viewers with enough life experience will be turned off and bored by this predictable and lackluster love story.

Sam Heughan and Céline Dion in “Love Again” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

The painfully unfunny, boring and very outdated “Love Again” is a fake-looking romantic comedy/drama that also wants to be a Céline Dion commercial. The romance looks forced and unnatural. Everything is an embarrassment for everyone who made this junk. This movie is so dull and lacking in charisma, it makes anything on the Hallmark Channel (which churns out generic romance movies on a regular basis) look exciting in comparison.

Written and directed by Jim Strouse, “Love Again” is based on Sofie Cramer’s 2022 novel “Text for You.” There isn’t one single thing in this dreadful movie that is clever or surprising. In fact, it’s downright insulting to viewers that the “Love Again” filmmakers expect viewers to think that the mindless tripe that comes out of the central couple’s mouths is supposed to be “witty and charming” dialogue, when it’s the exact opposite.

“Love Again” (which takes place mostly in New York City) begins by showing children’s book illustrator Mira Ray (played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) meeting up with her 34-year-old fiancé John Wright (played by Arinzé Kene) for a lunch date at a local café. John’s occupation is not mentioned in the movie. Mira and John exchange some lovey-dovey talk and make plans to meet up later.

Less than a minute after John waves goodbye to Mira while he’s walking on a sidewalk near the café, Mira hears the horrific sound of a car crash. As soon as you hear the crash and see Mira’s alarmed reaction, you just know that John was hit by a car. It’s later revealed that John was killed by a drunk driver at that moment.

The movie then fast-forwards to two years later. Mira has moved back home with her parents, who live in an unnamed city and state. Wherever they live, it’s within driving distance of New York City. Mira has taken a leave of absence from her job. The movie implies that Mira hasn’t been doing much with her life but moping around the house because of her grief over John’s death.

Mira’s perky younger sister Suzy Ray (played by Sofia Barclay), who was Mira’s roommate in New York City, has been leaving voice messages for Mira and begging her to move back to New York City so they can live together again. Suzy’s messages express concern, then frustration, and then anger. “Mom and Dad want their house back!” Suzy snaps in a message to Mira. After getting this message, Mira finally decides she’s going to move back to New York City and try to move on with her life without John.

At Mira’s job, her boss Gina Valentine (played by Celia Imrie) scolds Mira for drawing depressing illustrations when Mira is supposed to be drawing cheerful illustrations. Gina calls an intern named Molly (played by Camille Hatcher) into Gina’s office and tells Mira that Molly is a student on a scholarship at New York University and was raised by a single mother. Gina says to Mira about Molly, “She’ll lose your job if you don’t figure this out.” That type of unamusing line is what this movie is trying to pass off as “comedy.”

Meanwhile, at the fictional newspaper the New York Chronicle, music journalist/critic Rob Burns (played by Sam Heughan), a 35-year-old British immigrant, wants to start a podcast for the newspaper. However, his boss Richard Hughes (played by Steve Oram), who’s also British, wants Rob’s top priority to be for Rob to get an amazing interview with superstar pop singer Céline Dion. Richard says the newspaper is interested because she’s doing a comeback tour, and young people are discovering her music.

It just so happens that Rob, just like Mira, has a broken heart too. His fiancée Elizabeth, nicknamed Liz, dumped him a week before their planned wedding. The movie is vague about who Liz is, but she’s some kind of celebrity, so the breakup was all over the media. A humiliated Rob has become bitter and says he doesn’t believe in love. Of course, we all know he’s going to change his mind when he meets Mira.

At his job, Rob gets a new cell phone from the company. He’s told that he has to use this phone for work-related purposes. Rob’s gossipy and nosy co-worker Billy Brooks (played by Russell Tovey) warns Rob that this cell phone is probably just a way for their boss to spy on Rob. Rob has another co-worker named Lisa Scott (played by Lydia West), whom he’s somewhat attracted to, but she sees him more like an older brother.

One night, Mira is feeling lonely, so she texts some lovelorn “I miss you” messages to the phone number that John used to have. And guess who has this phone number now? Rob, who is surprised to get these messages from a stranger. He answers anyway, as someone who is confused but sympathetic about why she has contacted him.

On this particular night when Mira sends her first text message to the number that Rob now has, there’s a thunderstorm that knocks out the electricity at the same time in Mira’s apartment and Rob’s apartment. This movie is so corny, the only reason why this power outage happens is to make it more obvious that the phone is lit up with text messages in the dark. Rob doesn’t do what sensible people would do: Tell this stranger to stop texting him and/or block her number, because there would be no “Love Again” movie if the would-be couple and the filmmakers acted sensibly.

And so begins the tedious silliness of “Love Again,” which already reveals in the movie’s trailer that Mira and Rob start having an “emotional connection” online, but it takes a while for them to meet in person. However, it doesn’t take long for Mira to begin “sexting” her online “lover,” by saying things such as she wants to see him naked. Mira sends a barrage of texts that, by any standard, make her look unhinged. The movie tries too hard to convince viewers that Mira’s texts, which cross the line into harassment of a stranger, are all perfectly normal and acceptable, when they’re not.

When Rob and Mira meet in person and begin dating, Rob doesn’t take Lisa’s advice to tell Mira that he’s the person she’s been confiding in through text messages. We all know where this deception is going in the rom-com formula of “Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy finds a way to win back the girl.”

As for singer Dion (who portrays herself in the movie), even though she shares top billing for “Love Again,” she’s only in about 25% of the movie. And now that it’s been revealed that Dion wasn’t actually in the same room when she filmed scenes with her “Love Again” co-stars, it’s yet another reason why this movie looks so phony. Dion’s scenes (which range from bland to awkward) in “Love Again” are mostly cringeworthy, to put it mildly.

For starters, “Love Again” fails to make Dion look charming. In fact, she’s downright rude and inappropriate in many of her character interactions in this movie. At a press conference attended by Rob, she lectures Rob by telling him that he doesn’t know anything about love, just because he asked her about some of her romance-related song lyrics.

To be fair, Rob isn’t exactly courteous either, since he’s openly cynical about Dion’s music at first. She also gets annoyed when he looks at text messages on his phone while she’s answering his question at the press conference. “Love Again” takes a sharp turn into ridiculousness when Rob later does a one-on-one interview with Dion that turns into a therapy session where she tells him what he should be doing in his romance with Mira. Dion also reminisces about her own romance with her deceased husband/manager, René Angélil.

The dialogue in “Love Again” is simply horrendous and full of hokey clichés. There’s a scene where Rob tries to hint to Mira that he’s the one she’s been texting. Rob asks Mira, “Do you think it’s possible to fall in love with someone through their words?” Mira replies, “You know what they say: ‘Actions speak louder than words.'”

Mira has a quirk of asking people “would you rather” questions that make her look shallow and ditzy, because she says she judges people based on their answers to these hypothetical questions. One of these questions is “Would you rather have 10 cats or would you rather have one parrot on your shoulder for 22 hours a day?” (Mira thinks the only “correct” answer is to choose the parrot.) Another question is “Would you rather live your life with silent, uncontrollable gas or loud, uncontrollable sneezing?”

Who over the age of 12 talks like that? And who wants to date an adult who talks like that? Mira also doesn’t like it if anyone answers “neither” to her “would you rather” questions. She expects people to answer her questions as if she’s a prosecutor interrogating someone on a witness stand. Apparently, “Love Again” wants to convince people that this annoying trait of Mira’s is endearing.

As for Rob, he’s no prize either when it comes to his personality. Aside from his job and his monotonous romance with Mira, the most that the movie reveals about Rob is that he likes basketball and that he (just like Mira) is a terrible cook. There are some “red flags” about Rob’s life that would be noticed by someone who “falls in love” with him, if this movie tried to be realistic. For example, Rob never talks about his family, which remains a mystery throughout the story. Rob, like Mira, also doesn’t have any close friends.

Seriously, if the only people you can talk to about your love life are two co-worker acquaintances and a celebrity who’s really a stranger, then you’ve got bigger problems than how to court a love interest. But apparently, the “Love Again” filmmakers want viewers to ignore all of that and make Rob look like he’s a “great catch” as a bachelor. Yes, he’s physically good-looking, but a lot of his personality is quite monotonous and drippy.

Needless to say, Chopra Jonas and Heughan do not have believable chemistry together as an on-screen couple. The movie has some stunt casting with Nick Jonas (who married Chopra Jonas in 2018) in a not-funny-at-all cameo. Jonas portrays an idiotic and vain fitness trainer named Joel, who goes on one bad date with Mira before Mira meets Rob. This bad date happens to take place in the same restaurant and at the same time when Rob thinks he’ll meet Mira due to some miscommunication by text. It’s all just stilted acting and more contrived nonsense on display.

The supporting characters in “Love Again” are mostly hollow and terribly underdeveloped. Mira and Suzy like to hang out at a diner called Roxy’s, which is owned and managed by a widower named Mohsen, nicknamed Mo (played by Omid Djalili), who named the diner after his wife. Mo’s only purpose in the brief time that he’s on screen is to show that Mira actually talks to someone else besides Suzy about Mira’s love life.

“Love Again” tries to look “classy” with references to the opera “Orpheus and Eurydice,” which was part of the love story of Mira and John. The way “Orpheus and Eurydice” is used in the movie is supposed to look intellectually deep and emotionally moving. But it’s all such a pretentious façade in a low-quality movie, because the only music that “Love Again” really cares about promoting is Dion’s music. Various people, including Dion, sing some of her original hits and cover tunes throughout the movie.

During the end credits, the “Love Again” principal cast members are shown doing individual karaoke-styled singing of Dion’s music as part of this non-stop shillfest. Various scenes in “Love Again” also have obnoxious and blatant product placement—particularly of a candy brand that won’t be mentioned in this review, because this candy brand, just like Dion’s music, gets enough hawking in the movie. “Love Again” is such an abomination in a world filled with cheesy movies about unrealistic-looking romances, the title of the movie should be changed to “Never Again” to describe how people with good taste will feel about watching this creatively bankrupt flop more than once.

Screen Gems will release “Love Again” in U.S. cinemas on May 5, 2023.

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