Review: ‘Scrambled’ (2024), starring Leah McKendrick, Ego Nwodim, Andrew Santino, Adam Rodriguez, Laura Cerón and Clancy Brown

February 14, 2024

by Carla Hay

Leah McKendrick in “Scrambled” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Scrambled” (2024)

Directed by Leah McKendrick

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, the comedy/drama film “Scrambled” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latin people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 34-year-old free-spirited bachelorette, who has no idea if she will ever find a life partner or if she’ll ever be ready to be a parent, decides to freeze her eggs anyway while she still looks for love. 

Culture Audience: “Scrambled” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedies about dating and fertility issues.

Leah McKendrick in “Scrambled” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Even though “Scrambled” occasionally stumbles into a cliché sitcom tone about a bachelorette in her 30s who’s unhappy in her love life, this adult-oriented comedy has entertaining performances in this story about a single woman who wants to freeze her eggs. “Scrambled” was very obviously influenced by HBO’s 1998 to 2004 comedy series “Sex and the City” (with frank talk and explicit scenes about sex), but “Scrambled” is more of a tribute than a ripoff. Just like in “Sex and the City,” the narrator is a single, liberated woman in her 30s with a messy life of failed romances with ex-boyfriends, financial instability, and the nagging feeling that she should have her life figured out by now.

“Sex and the City” and “Scrambled” also drew inspiration from real-life people. Carrie Bradshaw, the main protagonist of “Sex and the City,” lives in New York City and is a sex columnist. The Carrie Bradshaw character is based on real-life writer Candace Bushnell. Leah McKendrick is the writer, director and star of “Scrambled,” where she portrays main protagonist Nellie Robinson, a Los Angeles-based jewelry designer who works from home and who experiences fertility issues that McKendrick experienced in real life. McKendrick makes an impressive feature-film directorial debut with “Scrambled,” which had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival.

“Scrambled” begins with a somewhat stereotypical setting for a movie about a lovelorn bachelorette: a wedding where she is a bridesmaid. Nellie, who is 34, is at the wedding of her best friend Sheila (played by Ego Nwodim) and wants to make a grand entrance with her date Conor (played by Henry Zebrowski), because she tells Conor it’s a tradition that’s expected of her, as someone who ends up being a bridesmaid at many weddings. In the movie’s opening scene, which takes place before the wedding ceremony begins, Nellie is shown debating with Conor about what type of dance they should start with at the wedding reception. She nixes the idea of doing the Running Man, but Nellie says that recreating iconic dance scenes from “Grease” or “Dirty Dancing” could still be in the realm of possibility.

Nellie goes to check on Sheila in a dressing room and sees that Sheila is a nervous wreck. Sheila babbles to Nellie about Sheila’s groom-to-be Ron (played by Max Adler), by asking this hypothetical question: “Would you fuck Ron for the rest of your life?” It’s Sheila’s way of asking if Nellie thinks Sheila is making the right decision to marry Ron and stay faithful to him. Like a good friend, Nellie says, “Yes.”

Sheila then rambles on to Nellie about how she and Nellie always thought that they weren’t the marrying type, and now here they are on Sheila’s wedding day. Sheila then asks Nellie if Nellie has some cocaine because Sheila wants to do some cocaine before the ceremony. Sheila nearly has a meltdown when Nellie says she doesn’t have any drugs. But then, Nellie remembers she might have some molly. Nellie and Sheila take the molly together—until Sheila abruptly announces that she’s pregnant, and then Nellie orders her to spit out the pill.

This scene sets the tone for the rest of “Scrambled,” which is revels in its raunchiness and crudeness in ways to make viewers laugh. At the wedding, Nellie is very stoned on the molly, but during the reception she gets a sobering lecture from an older friend named Monroe (played by June Diane Raphael), whose time in the movie is brief (less than 10 minutes) but it’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Monroe and Nellie are sitting at the same table when Nellie gushes to Monroe about how Nellie considers Monroe to be her “idol,” because Monroe seems to “have it all” as a wife, mother, and the owner of a successful business.

Monroe has brought her only child—a daughter named Zofia (played by Everly Taylor)—to the wedding. Zofia, who’s an energetic child and about 5 or 6 years old, was born when Monroe was in her early 40s, after Monroe went through in vitro fertilization treatments to get pregnant. Monroe then gives a raw and candid confession that although she loves being parent, the process of conceiving and giving birth was hellish for her. (She says it in a way that’s a lot cruder than that.) Monroe spent $50,000 on IVF treatments and says if she had to do it all over again, she would’ve frozen her eggs when she was younger and would’ve had a surrogate for the pregnancy.

Monroe also asks Nellie how her love life is, and Nellie responds that she’s single and actively dating: “It’s a smorgasbord. I’m seeing everyone.” Monroe then looks at Nellie sympathetically and says, “I know you because I was you. And so, the next time you’ve just boned some hot bartender with an app idea, and you’re sitting in his bathroom, staring at his shower encrusted with pubes and that fucking “Fight Club”/”Reservoir Dogs”/”Scarface” poster, I want you to remember my face.”

Monroe adds when she comments on men not having an age limit for conceiving children: “They can be in never never land, never growing up, never aging. But these eggs, those huevos rancheros? They are [aging], those eggs are!” When Monroe asks Nellie how old she is, and Nellie tells her 34, Monroe slaps Nellie on the face, and tells her not to admit that she’s older than 33. Monroe then sternly warns Nellie: “Freeze those eggs!”

After Monroe leaves the table, Nellie makes eye contact with a “hot bartender”(played by Matt Pascua) at the wedding reception and gets a drink from him. She and the bartender end up going back to his place, where they have sex. And sure enough, this bartender is working on app idea that he thinks will make him rich. He’s also got a messy bathroom with a “Scarface” poster hanging up on the wall.

It’s enough to be a wake-up call for Nellie that she’s should be focusing on finding Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now. (Something else happens at the bartender’s place, which won’t be revealed in this review, because it’s a sexual encounter mishap that’s supposed to be a sexually explicit comedic moment in the movie.) Nellie knows that there’s no guarantee that she will end up with a life partner/soul mate, and she doesn’t know if or when she’ll be ready to be a parent, but she decides to take Monroe’s advice and freeze her eggs anyway.

Weddings and baby showers are predictable scenarios in comedies that show how never-married women with no children are made to feel inadequate or uncomfortable by certain people who think women aren’t complete people unless they are mothers. “Scrambled” is no different. At a baby shower, Nellie is apparently the only woman there who isn’t a mother or in a committed relationship. When she announces that she’s freezing her eggs, the other women’s overall reaction is to congratulate her but they think she should save her excitement for when she becomes a “real parent.”

The reaction of Nellie’s sexist and narrow-minded father Richard Robinson (played by Clancy Brown) is even more negative. When Nellie tells her parents and brother during a family dinner that she’s freezing her eggs, Richard thinks it’s “voodoo science,” and women should conceive children the “natural” way. Richard is the type of parent who asks Nellie things such as “Where are my grandkids?,” but he doesn’t make those demands of his bachelor son Jesse Robinson (played by Andrew Santino), who’s at least five years older than Nellie.

Jesse is a pompous attorney who lets it be known to Nellie that he thinks she’s a pathetic mess when it comes to her life. Nellie, whose specialty is making butterfly earrings that she sells online, barely makes enough money to pay her bills. Meanwhile, Jesse is the type of cretin who makes misogynistic remarks (just like his father) and brags about being rich.

“Scrambled” has several “family dinner” scenes where Nellie argues with Richard and/or Jesse. Richard’s mild-mannered wife Sonja (played by Laura Cerón), an immigrant who speaks Spanish and English, tries to keep the peace when Richard and their son Jesse have conflicts with Nellie. Things get even more awkward between Nellie and Jesse when she reluctantly asks him to lend her the $8,000 she needs for her egg-harvesting procedures, which are not covered by her health insurance.

Early on in the movie, Nellie makes a remark that women are like avocados when it comes to women’s fertility: There’s a limited tme when they’re considered “ripe,” and then they are considered shriveled-up and useless. This avocado comparison becomes a running joke in the movie, as Nellie keeps checking the insides of avocados to see if they are still ripe and useful.

There’s also a very “Sex and the City”-type long stretch of the movie, when lonely Nellie reaches out to some ex-lovers in a desperate attempt to see if any romantic sparks can be rekindled with any of them. You can easily predict how these “reunions” turn out to be. “Magic Mike” alum Adam Rodriguez, who is one of the headliners of “Scrambled,” portrays Sterling Morales, one of Nellie’s ex-lovers, but Rodriguez’s screen time in “Scrambled” is less than five minutes. Nellie’s most recent serious relationship was with a slightly older man named Shawn (played by Harry Shum Jr.), who is mentioned frequently in the movie. “Scrambled” reveals the reason why Shawn and Nellie broke up and whether or not they get back together.

“Scrambled” works as well as it does because of the engaging screenplay and the very good comedic timing of the cast members. McKendrick has also crafted memorable characters who have mostly realistic flaws and foibles, although her tactless OB/GYN doctor (played by Feodor Chin) is meant to be a hilarious caricature of how doctors can sometimes be unprofessional. There’s a very poignant moment in the movie involving Nellie and her elderly neighbor Parveen (played by Vee Kumari), whom Nellie thinks is uptight and silently judgmental about Nellie’s sex life. Nellie might not be relatable to every woman, but “Scrambled” succeeds in showing that Nellie goes through universally relatable experiences that all reasonably responsible adults go through in making major life decisions that will affect people’s futures.

Lionsgate released “Scrambled” in U.S. cinemas on February 2, 2024.

Review: ‘Lisa Frankenstein,’ starring Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest and Carla Gugino

February 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse in “Lisa Frankenstein” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Focus Features)

“Lisa Frankenstein”

Directed by Zelda Williams

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1989, in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “Lisa Frankenstein” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latin people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An 18-year-old social outcast resurrects an 1800s man from his grave, and they become a serial-killing duo. 

Culture Audience: “Lisa Frankenstein” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and quirky comedies that blend the mediocre with the macabre.

Liza Soberano and Kathryn Newton in “Lisa Frankenstein” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Focus Features)

“Lisa Frankenstein” makes futile attempts to be an edgy comedy about the antics of a teenage loner and a resurrected corpse, but this often-dull misfire has gruesome and ill-conceived jokes that are as inert as a corpse. The movie’s concept isn’t terrible, but it is badly mishandled in the writing, directing, and uneven performances from the cast members.

Directed by Zelda Williams and written by Diablo Cody, “Lisa Frankenstein” takes place in 1989, in an unnamed U.S. city. Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin Williams) makes her feature-film directorial debut with “Lisa Frankenstein.” Cody won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the 2007 comedy “Juno” (which is still Cody’s best movie), and she is a producer of “Lisa Frankenstein,” which will get inevitable comparisons to Cody’s 2009 horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body,” another movie about a social-misfit teenager whose closest friend has been supernaturally transformed into being a serial killer.

In “Lisa Frankenstein,” Lisa Swallows (played by Kathryn Newton) is an 18-year-old student in high school. She’s a mopey loner who likes to spend her time listening to angsty rock bands such as The Cure and Bauhaus and visiting Bachelors Cemetery Grove. She has become fixated on the grave of a pianist who died in his 20s in the 19th century. The man, who is only given the name The Creature (played by Cole Sprouse) in the movie’s end credits, committed suicide after he was rejected by a woman he was courting.

Lisa’s fantasies are preoccupied with thinking about what it would be like to be in a romance with this tragic person. She also has a crush on someone who is alive: Michael Trent (played by Henry Eikenberry), the good-looking editor-in-chief of their high school newspaper. Michael has already noticed Lisa because he has published some of her gloomy poems in the newspaper and has complimented her about her writing talent. Lisa gets nervous and shy whenever Trent talks to her.

Lisa feels like an outsider in her own home. As explained in an exposition dump in the movie, Lisa’s mother (played by Jennifer Pierce Mathus) was murdered by a home-invading axe murderer (played by Luke Sexton), which is shown in a brief flashback. (“Lisa Frankenstein” is so poorly written, it never bothers to mention if the murderer was ever caught.)

Just a few months after the murder, Lisa’s father Dale (played by Joe Chrest) married a psychiatric-facility nurse named Janet (played by Carla Gugino), who is a stereotypical mean-spirited stepmother to Lisa. Lisa and Dale have moved to Janet’s home because of Dale and Janet’s marriage, and Lisa has enrolled in a new school for her last year in high school. There are some not-funny-at-all and tedious scenes of Janet accusing Lisa of breaking things in the house. Dale is oblivious to things that are going on in the household.

From a previous marriage, Janet has a teenage daughter named Taffy (played by Liza Soberano), a perky, not-very-smart cheerleader, who is about the same age as Lisa and who goes to the same school, which is called Brookfield High School. Taffy is also a nosy gossip who has a posse of three close friends—Lori (played by Jenna Davis), Tricia (played by Trina LaFargue) and Misty (played by Paola Andino)—who are nothing but sounding boards for Taffy’s babblings. Taffy repeatedly tries to make Lisa more sociable, even though it’s obvious that Lisa doesn’t care about being popular or making friends at the school.

Another student who interacts with Lisa is her nerdy lab partner Doug (played by Bryce Romero), who is not the “nice guy” he might appear to be, as Lisa finds out at a party where Doug initiates some sexual touching on Lisa without her consent. When Lisa tells Doug to stop because she’s not interested, Doug confirms that he’s a sleaze when he responds by saying that Lisa should finish what she started and adds, “It’s not nice to lead people on.” There seems to be no point for the movie to unrealistically make every teenage guy who’s in contact with Lisa to be either (a) unacceptable or (b) unattainable, other to make Lisa look like she has no boyfriend prospects except for the dead guy she resurrected.

Lisa works part-time as a seamstress for a local tailor: a rude creep named Wayne (played by Charlie Talbert), who makes sexist remarks to Lisa about the way she looks and her lack of a social life. It’s an example of a subplot that is thrown into the movie and goes nowhere. Curiously, after Lisa undergoes a makeover, she spends about half the movie trying to look like Madonna in the 1985 comedy film “Desperately Seeking Susan,” which would make Lisa’s fashion choices about four years too late for this story.

One day, Lisa is having fantasies about the dead pianist when she says out loud: “I wish I was with you.” It isn’t long before he is inexplicably resurrected and shows up at her house as a filthy walking cadaver, who is mute for nearly the entire movie. Lisa spends most of the story trying to hide The Creature so she can keep him a secret all to her herself. The expected “corpse makeover” happens, some of it in a tanning bed—as if a rotting zombie in a tanning bed is supposed to automatically be funny. The rest of the movie shows Lisa and The Creature engaging in various shenanigans (including mutilation of body parts and murder) while falling in love with each other.

What could have been hilarious fodder for very dark comedy is instead an erratically paced movie filled with stale jokes. Newton and Sprouse do not have convincing chemistry together as a would-be couple in a morbid romance. The movie’s direction is mishandled because the cast members performances range from over-acting to being very listless and unimpressive. Simply put, although “Lisa Frankenstein” might manage to get a few chuckles out of some viewers, this is a disappointing dud that should have stayed dead and buried.

Focus Features released “Lisa Frankenstein” in U.S. cinemas on February 9, 2024.

Review: ‘Colao 2,’ starring Manny Pérez, Nashla Bogaert, Raymond Pozo, Miguel Céspedes, Celines Toribio, Shailyn Sosa and Karen Yapoort

January 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Manny Pérez and Nashla Bogaert in “Colao 2” (Photo courtesy of Spanglish Movies)

“Colao 2”

Directed by Frank Perozo

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Dominican Republic, the comedy film “Colao 2” (a sequel to 2017’s “Colao”) features an all-Latin cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A coffee farmer’s marriage has communication problems around the same time he has the dilemma of whether or not to sell his farm to a wealthy business mogul. 

Culture Audience: “Colao 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the first “Colao” movie, and inoffensive romantic comedies.

Manny Pérez and Karen Yapoort in “Colao 2” (Photo courtesy of Spanglish Movies)

As a romantic comedy sequel, “Colao 2” has no real surprises. However, the movie is entertaining and easy to follow in this story about a married couple with relationship problems. And in this large ensemble cast, each character’s personality is memorable.

Directed by Frank Perozo, “Colao 2” is a sequel to 2017’s “Colao,” which was Perozo’s feature-film directorial debut. Miguel Alcantara and Kendy Yanoreth wrote the screenplay for “Colao 2.” José Pastor and Jose Ramon Alama wrote the screenplay for “Colao,” which means “brewed” in Spanish. Both movies were filmed and take place in the Dominican Republic.

In “Colao,” an insecure coffee farmer named Antonio (played by Manny Pérez) was a 40-year-old bachelor who—with the help of his goofy cousins Rafael (played by Raymond Pozo) and Felipe (played by Miguel Céspedes) playing matchmaker—found love with confident Laura (played by Nashla Bogaert), a city dweller who had a very different lifestyle from Antonio’s. In “Colao 2,” which takes place six years after the end of “Colao,” Antonio and Laura are married and have daughter who’s about 3 years old. This family of three live on the coffee farm.

The marriage of Antonio and Laura has hit a rough patch due to communication problems. Antonio has received a lucrative offer from a wealthy businessman named Don Papo (played by Richard Douglas) to buy the farm. Antonio doesn’t tell Laura about this offer and has kept some financial problems a secret from Laura. Antonio has a business proposal for Don Papo that Antonio thinks would be a good compromise.

Antonio is eager to present this business proposal to Don Papo, who is very hard to reach. And so, when Antonio happens to meet Don Papo’s young, attractive and free-spirited daughter Micaela (played by Karen Yapoort), he thinks he can get to Don Papo by being charming to Micaela.

Meanwhile, Rafael and his wife Maribel (played by Celines Toribio), who is Antonio’s sister, are having problems at home. Rafael is worried that their daughter Estrellita (played by Chelsy Bautista) is going to drop out of college. Rafael starts to act like a very overprotective father, while Maribel thinks that Rafael should lighten up.

Felipe and his wife Amarilis (played by Shailyn Sosa) experience their own marital challenges when Laura’s playboy brother Ernesto comes to visit during a gathering for family and friends at the home of Laura and Antonio. Ernesto immediately starts flirting with Amarilis, who seems flattered by the attention.

Micaela is a party girl who likes to go to nightclubs. She hangs out with her cousin Flor (played by Tiby Camacho) and Flor’s friend Nancy (played by Fidia Peralta), who are all bachelorettes. Antonio, Rafael and Felipe all end up at the same nightclub as these younger, unmarried women. You can easily guess what happens after Antonio starts dancing with Micaela, and the three men’s wives find out that they are at this nightclub.

“Colao 2” doesn’t really do anything original, but the movie is appealing because of the cast members’ believable chemistry and good comedic timing. It’s not an extremely funny movie. It’s adequately amusing, in the way that a familiar joke is amusing. You already know what the punchline is, but it can be more enjoyable, depending on who’s telling the joke. In that regard, the talented cast members of “Colao 2” elevate what could have been a very mediocre and forgettable romantic comedy.

Spanglish Movies released “Colao 2” in select U.S cinemas on January 12, 2024. The movie was released in the Dominican Republic on November 30, 2023.

Review: ‘Johnny Keep Walking!,’ starring Dong Chengpeng, White-K and Zhuang Dafei

January 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Dong Chengpeng and White-K in “Johnny Keep Walking!” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“Johnny Keep Walking!”

Directed by Dong Runnian

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, mostly in 2017, the comedy film “Johnny Keep Walking!” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Due to an identity mixup, a factory worker for a large corporation accidentally gets promoted into an executive manager position, while the staff relations manager who made this mistake tries to cover it up.

Culture Audience: “Johnny Keep Walking!” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching workplace satires that try to do too much with a flimsy and thin plot.

Zhuang Dafei, Dong Chengpeng and White-K in “Johnny Keep Walking!” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“Johnny Keep Walking!” starts off looking like a screwball satire of how corporate managers have such little regard for employees, they treat employees as interchangeable and disposable. But then, the movie bizarrely turns into a somewhat preachy comedy lecture about how corporate workers can find gratitude and happiness on the job if they find a way to charm their irresponsible or callous managers. The intended sharp parody of corporate incompetence is weakened by too much sentimental corniness, especially near the end of the movie. It’s overstuffed with too many unnecessary characters. It’s a one-joke film stretched to irritating limits.

Directed by Dong Runnian (who co-wrote the “Johnny Keep Walking!” screemplay with with Luojia Ying), “Johnny Keep Walking!” begins in 1998. A China-based corporation called Zonghe Group (which makes equipment parts, such as bolts and studs) is having its annual gala, which includes a talent show for employees. One of the company’s main production facilities is the Zonghe Standard Component Factory, which is in a different city from Zonghe’s corporate headquarters. The movie doesn’t mention the names of the cities where the factory and corporate headquarters are located.

At this company gala in 1998, a factory employee named Hu Jianlin (played by as Chengpeng Dong also known as Da Peng) is shown swinging from a wire, as if he’s some kind of comedic acrobat. The performance is well-received, until it ends disastrously when Jianlin crashes to the ground. Viewers soon find out that despite this mishap, Jianlin loves to perform at the company gala’s talent show every year. He has a happy-go-lucky personality that can sometimes be considered clownish. Zonghe Group is led by a typical ruthless mogul named Chairman Hu (played by Ouyang Fenqiang), who cares more about profits than people.

The movie then fast-forwards to 2017. Jianlin, a bachelor with no children, is still working in an assembly-line job at Zonghe Standard Component Factory. His title is senior fitter. He is looking forward to performing as a singer at the annual company gala. In order to do so, he has to put in an application every year. Not everyone will be chosen to perform, but Jianlin has been chosen every year, so he’s not worried. Performing at the company gala has become a tradition for him that he expects to continue.

One day, Jianlin gets some shocking news: He’s been promoted to become a mid-level manager at Zonghe’s corporate headquarters, even though he has no managerial experience and no business education. This promotion means that he will have to leave all of his factory co-worker friends behind, but Jianlin is excited and curious about this new job opportunity. His co-worker friends at the factory seem to be happy for him, but they are confused over why Jianlin was given this promotion, since he previously showed no interest in being a corporate manager.

Meanwhile, someone who is not happy about this promotion is middle-aged Zhuang Zhengzhi (played by Wang Xun), a supply manager at Zonghe Standard Component Factory. Zhengzhi had applied for this promotion not just because he wants an elevated title and a higher income but also because he wants to move to the city where Zonghe is headquartered so his children can go to a better school. Zhengzhi is enraged that an unqualified Jianlin got the promotion instead

There’s a big reason why Zhengzhi was expecting this job promotion: Zhengzhi did unethical things for a middle man named Hou Chengsi (played by Yang Lei), who promised that in return for these illegal business practices, Zhengzhi would get the job promotion. When Zhenghzi tries to call Chengsi, he is dismayed to find out that Chengsi can’t be reached on his phone. Zhenghzi interprets Chengsi’s sudden inaccessibility as Chengsi deliberately avoiding him. However, later, Zhengzhi gets a strange phone call from Zonghe headquarters where someone asks him to sing over the phone as an audition.

At Zonghe’s corporate headquarters, an awestruck Jianlin is given an office tour. He is amazed that corporate managers have their own spa and don’t do as much work as he thought. During his first few days on the job, Jianlin meets several executives. They include director of human resoures Thomas (played by Mu Da), deputy director of human resources Peter (played by Sun Yizhou, also known as Sean Sun; deputy director of human resources Jeffrey; and deputy head of staff relations/company culture Ma Jie (played by White-K, also known as Bai Ke), who goes by the name Magic.

Magic has a one-on-one meeting with Jianlin and tells him that Jianlin’s income in his new job can be up to ¥360,000 a year, which is more than $50,000 in U.S. dollars. Jianlin has never made that much income before, and he doesn’t quite believe it. He asks Magic if he can record a video on Jianlin’s phone of Magic stating this salary for Jianlin, so he can have it has evidence. It’s one of many examples that the movie has to show how Jianlin is ignorant about corporate customs.

Magic also tells Jianlin that because Zonghe is an international company, all of the executives must choose an English-language first name to make it easier to communicate with English-speaking business collegaues. After some back-and-forth dialogue, they decide that Jianlin’s English-language name will be John, nicknamed Johnny.

Shortly after this meetng, Magic finds out he had made a huge mistake: He mixed up Jianlin’s talent show application with Zhengzhi’s promotion application. He decides to himself that he can cover up this mistake, as long as he prevents Jianlin/John from doing anything important. Most of the movie is a series of repetitive and wacky predicaments of Magic trying to keep his mistake a secret while Jianlin/John naïvely works his way up Zonghe’s corporate ladder and Zhengzhi plots his revenge.

All of that would be enough for one movie, but “Johnny Keep Walking!” crams in suplots about corporate downsizing and exploitation of temporary workers. Zonghe has about 60,000 employees and plans to lay off a great deal of them. Most of the employees who are let go are lower-level workers, while the high-ranking executives not only get to keep their own jobs, they often get bonuses or raises. When the layoffs start to happen, the remaining employees become unsettled and paranoid that they will be the next to lose their jobs.

Meanwhile, Jianlin/John gets to know a cynical Zonghe employee named Pan Yiran, also known as Penny (played by Zhuang Dafei, also known as Sabrina Zhuang), who works as some type of administrative assistant. She is part of the company’s outsourced group of workers who are considered temporary workers. Penny has been working for Zonghe for the past six years.

Penny has been promised a permanent job at Zonghe, but this permanent job hasn’t happened for her yet. She has become very bitter and impatient about this unfulfilled promise. Like many temporary workers, Penny can’t afford to quit. But she’s disgruntled and is rude to her supervisor, so she often gets reprimanded for her attitude.

“Johnny Keep Walking!” has a brisk, madcap tone to it for most of the movie, but then everything starts turning into hokey mush toward the end of the film. The subplot about the scheming of Zhengzhi and Chengsi is a muddled and far-fetched mess. The annual Zonghe talent show is another subplot that is an awkward part of the story. “Johnny Keep Walking!” fares best when it focuses on lampooning how high-ranking corporate executives are frequently insincere, out-of-touch, and ill-equipped to do their jobs, but all the subplots become distractions and flaws for the movie.

Unfortunately, with too many characters and jumbled subplots, “Johnny Keep Walking!” trips over its own ambition. It’s not a completely terrible film, and some parts succeed in being amusing. The cast members do adequate jobs in their performances. But the movie’s tonal shift at the end is ridiculously hokey. Instead of consistently poking fun at corporate culture, “Johnny Keep Walking” ends up praising corporate culture with a simple-minded conclusion.

Tiger Pictures Entertainment released “Johnny Keep Walking!” in select U.S. cinemas on January 18, 2024. The movie was released in China on December 30, 2023.

Review: ‘The Book of Clarence’ (2024), starring LaKeith Stanfield, Omar Sy, RJ Cyler, Anna Diop, David Oyelowo, Micheal Ward, Alfre Woodard and James McAvoy

January 13, 2024

by Carla Hay

James McAvoy (far left) and LaKeith Stanfield (second from right) in “The Book of Clarence” (Photo by Moris Puccio/Legendary Entertainment/TriStar Pictures)

“The Book of Clarence” (2024)

Directed by Jeymes Samuel

Culture Representation: Taking place in 33 .A.D., in an alternate version of Jerusalem, the comedy film “The Book of Clarence” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An atheist rogue, who is heavily in debt, pretends to a miracle worker to con people out of money, much to the chagrin of his identical twin brother, who is a follower of Jesus Christ.

Culture Audience: “The Book of Clarence” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s headliners and people expecting a witty satire of Christianity and racism, but they won’t get much wit in this movie.

LaKeith Stanfield, Omar Sy and R.J. Cyler in “The Book of Clarence” (Photo by Moris Puccio/Legendary Entertainment/TriStar Pictures)

“The Book of Clarence” is writer/director Jeymes Samuel’s attempt to make a religious satire like classics from Monty Python or Mel Brooks. But it’s a muddled mess where the best jokes aren’t very amusing. A talented cast cannot save this dull flop. “The Book of Clarence” also lazily panders to unnecessary negative and over-used stereotypes that do nothing substantial for the story.

The best religious satires are those where audience members don’t have to know much about religion to enjoy the satire, because the story and the characters speak to larger issues about humanity and social structures. That’s one of the failings of “The Book of Clarence,” which relies too heavily on comedy where viewers need to have better-than-average knowledge of Judeo-Christian teachings to understand some of these movie’s intended messages.

Another big problem with “The Book of Clarence” is that it goes back and forth between lampooning Christianity and skewering racial oppression of black people, but the movie often loses focus and ends up not saying much at all. There are chase scenes in the movie that are meaningless. Major characters from the Bible are reduced to making shallow appearances, when their characters could have been developed in an impactful way.

In “The Book of Clarence” (which takes place in 33 A.D. in Jerusalem), Clarence (played by LaKeith Stanfield) is an unemployed loser who doesn’t do much with his life but commit petty theft, gamble, and sell and smoke marijuana with his best friend Elijah (played by RJ Cyler), who is a stereotypical stoner sidekick. Black men who use drugs and are involved in criminal activities? What a stupid, unoriginal and overused stereotype in movies.

The movie opens by showing several men in with their hands and feet nailed to crucifixes. Clarence is one of the men. A man who looks like the usual portrayal of Jesus Christ is another one. “The Book of Clarence” circles back to this scene toward the end of the movie, after it’s been shown how Clarence ended up on this crucifix. It’s a long and disjointed slog to get to that point, filled with cringeworthy dialogue and unfunny “jokes” that make everyone look like idiots.

In one of the movie’s early scenes Clarence and Elijah are in a chariot, and they are racing against Mary Magdalene (played by Teyana Taylor) in another chariot. Clarence and Elijah both get shot with darts and fall out of their chariots. Mary Magdalene then races off and isn’t seen again until after a long time-wasting stretch of the movie. It’s an example of some of many pointless scenes in “The Book of Clarence.”

Clarence is heavily in debt to a local thug named Jedediah the Terrible (played by Eric Kofi-Abrefa), who has given Clarence a deadline of 30 days to pay his debt. Meanwhile, atheist Clarence is bothered by the fact that his estranged identical twin Thomas (also played by Stanfield) has become a follower of a self-proclaimed Son of God named Jesus Christ (played by Nicholas Pinnock), who has amassed a growing number of followers but also detractors. Jesus keeps his face hidden under a hood until a “face reveal” that’s supposed to be suspenseful but is anti-climactic.

Clarence still lives with his loving and compassionate mother Amina (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste), because he is too financially broke to afford his own place. Amina is heartbroken that her only children are feuding with each other. Meanwhile, Clarence is dealing with his own heartbreak issues, because he’s pining for a beautiful woman named Varinia (played by Anna Diop), whom Clarence thinks is out of his league. Varinia also happens to be the sister of Jedediah.

Roman Empire officials are the story’s racist oppressors in “The Book of Clarence,” which has scenes that are obvious parallels to how racist modern-day police treat black men. Clarence and Elijah are minding their own business on a street when they get stopped and harassed by Roman law enforcement saying that Clarence and Elijah “fit the description” of two wanted criminals. Clarence and Elijah have multiple run-ins with a sadistic Roman named Decimus (played by Tom Glynn-Carney), who takes pleasure in targeting people who aren’t white.

When he’s not being racially profiled by white Romans, Clarence is being hunted by Jedediah and his goons, with Elijah as his drug-addled wing man. Clarence thinks up a scheme to get the money that he owes to Jedidiah: He pretends to be a Jesus disciple who can perform miracles, in order to con people out of money. “The Book of Clarence” is basically a ripoff of the 1995 stoner comedy “Friday” (starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker), wrapped in the guise of a religious satire.

John the Baptist (played by David Oyelowo) sees through Clarence’s fake religiousness when Clarence asks John to baptize him. Other characters in the movie that are based on biblical characters are the Virgin Mary (played by Alfre Woodard); Judas Iscariot (played by Micheal Ward); Barabbas (played by Omar Sy); and Pontius Pilate (played by James McAvoy). One of the few white people in the movie who isn’t portrayed as evil is Benjamin (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a dirty homeless beggar, who gets a makeover that is supposed to be a symbol of “whitewashed” rewriting of history.

“The Book of Clarence” isn’t a cohesive story. It’s just a bunch of poorly conceived sketches that are strung together with bibilical references. Many of the plot developments go nowhere. The acting performances are mostly mediocre or just plain awful. Clarence’s relationships, such as those with his twin Thomas and his would-be love interest Varinia, are boring and hollow, when they should be among the most interesting aspects of the story. Here’s an example of the movie’s moronic dialogue: Clarence says to Varinia: “I am spirit over sandals in love with you.”

The movie is capable of maybe eliciting some mild chuckles from viewers, but mostly the plot just goes around in circles, and then tries to wrap things up in a sentimental way that is unearned and phony, considering how cutting-edge this comedy want to be. Worst of all, “The Book of Clarence” is pretending to be a provocative and clever satire, when it’s really just a witless stoner movie. In that sense, this disappointing dud is just like the movie’s namesake Clarence: a sham wanting more respect and glory than what is deserved.

TriStar Pictures released “The Book of Clarence” in U.S. cinemas on January 12, 2024.

Review: ‘The Other Zoey,’ starring Josephine Langford, Drew Starkey, Archie Renaux, Mallori Johnson, Patrick Fabian, Heather Graham and Andie MacDowell

January 9, 2024

by Carla Hay

Josephine Langford and Drew Starkey in “The Other Zoey” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“The Other Zoey”

Directed by Sara Zandieh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina, and briefly in the Bahamas, the comedy film “The Other Zoey” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A college student who is cynical about love finds herself impersonating the new girlfriend of a schoolmate who has amnesia, because the cynic feels guilty about being resonsible for the accident that caused his amnesia.

Culture Audience: “The Other Zoey” will appeal primarily to fans of predictable romantic comedies that are elevated by cast members with good comedic talent.

Josephine Langford and Archie Renaux in “The Other Zoey” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

When it comes to romantic comedies about identity deception, there are many that are a lot worse than “The Other Zoey.” Josephine Langford’s charming performance is the main reason to watch when the movie starts veering into eye-rolling ridiculousness. It’s a mixed bag of a movie where some of the writing is sharp and witty, while some of it is dull and hokey.

Directed Sara Zandieh and written by Matthew Tabak, “The Other Zoey” takes place mostly in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the movie was filmed on location. At the fictional Queens University of Charlotte, student Zoey Miller (played by Langford) prides herself on being an independent intellectual. Zoey is very jaded about love. She’s not against falling in love, but she thinks people should be more practical about choosing the correct love partner.

The movie’s opening scene takes place in a classroom at the university. A student named Becca (played by Amalia Yoo) is giving a presentation about St. Valentine to the class. And sure enough, outspoken Zoey interrupts Becca’s presentation and announces to the class: “The whole concept of falling in love and even romantic love is a product of capitalism.”

Zoey says she believes in romantic love “if it’s based on compatibility. That’s really hard, which is why I actually created my own app. It matches people on a data-driven compatibility report.” As students leave at the end of the classroom session, Zoey continues to shamelessly promote her “compatibility app” and says she’s looking for investors. The other students just don’t care.

For someone who dismissively thinks that “romantic love is a product of capitalism,” Zoey fails to see the irony that her app is part of the capitalism that she claims to dislike. It’s the first clue that Zoey says one thing but might be feeling another way in her heart. It’s a predictable stereotype of a romantic comedy heroine who thinks she doesn’t need anyone to fall in love with, until she unexpectedly finds “the one” and changes her mind about love.

And here comes another rom-com cliché: the heroine’s best friend, who usually has an opposite personality and is usually the one who plays a big role in whether or not the heroine will end up with the intended love interest. In “The Other Zoey,” Zoey’s best friend and roommate is named Elle (played by Mallori Johnson), who is an artsy romantic, in contrast to Zoey being a tech-oriented cynic.

Outside in a lawn area on campus, Becca is annoyed with Zoey for trying to embarrass Becca during the presentation. Becca and a friend approach Zoey and Elle in a hostile manner by scolding Zoey about her sales presentation in the classroom. Becca sneers at Zoey by saying that Zoey should put the word “cynic” next to the words “tech geek” on her résumé. Someone needs to tell Becca that in order for insults between adults to work, they can’t sound like they come from the mind of a 7-year-old child.

Faster than you can say “meet-cute moment,” Zoey gets hit on the head by a soccer ball that was accidentally kicked in her direction by the star player of the school’s soccer team, which has some members casually playing a game nearby. The soccer star’s name is Zach McLaren (played by Drew Starkey), and he runs over to Zoey to say he’s sorry about the mishap. Zoey is not amused and is abrupt with Zach during his apology.

As Zoey and Elle walk away, Elle gushes over how Zach is one of the school’s biggest heartthrobs. Zoey isn’t impressed and asks what Zach’s grade point average is. Rom-com cheesy line of dialogue alert: Elle exclaims, “Hella fine point 9!”

Soon afterward, Zoey goes to another lecture, where the topic is about romantic love. And what a coincidence: A good-looking guy who’s slightly older than Zoey stands up in the room and says that romantic love is a product of capitalism. He also quotes author/philosopher Alain de Botton as someone he admires. Guess who’s also a fan of Alain de Botton?

Zoey is intrigued by this stranger, who has the same views on love that she does. Will she see him again? Of course she will, in a very “rom-com coincidence.” She finds out later that his name is Miles McLaren (played by Archie Renaux), and he’s Zach’s cousin.

As part of a work/study program, Zoey has a job at a bookstore, where one day Zach walks into the store because he’s looking for a book on a video game called “Battle Toads.” Zoey has a snooty attitude toward video games and isn’t afraid to say so to Zach. They exchange some sarcastic banter. Zach pays for the book and leaves.

However, Zach accidentally left his credit card behind at the store. Zoey runs out of the store to see if she can find Zach so that she can return his credit card to him. She sees him riding his bike, runs after him, and yells that she has his credit card. Zach hears her and gets distracted, which is right when he gets hit by a car.

Zach has a hard tumble on the ground, which causes a head injury. Zoey is horrified that she unintentionally caused this accident. Zach is conscious but he’s dazed and confused. When he sees Zoey, he kisses her on the cheek, as if he knows Zoey very well. Zoey is embarrassed but thinks that Zach is disoriented and has her mistaken for someone else.

Zach is rushed to hospital, where Zach and his parents Connie MacLaren (played by Andie MacDowell) and Matt McLaren (played by Patrick Fabian) find out that Zach has amnesia. Zoey has gone to the hospital to see how Zach is recovering. She introduces herself to Zach’s parents and is shocked to find out that they think that Zoey is Zach’s new girlfriend Zoey Wallace (played by Maggie Thurmon), whom the parents haven’t met yet. Apparently, Zach never took photos of Zoey Wallace because he fully believes that the Zoey at the hospital is Zoey Wallace.

Through conversations, Zoey Miller discovers that Zoey Wallace and Zach have been dating each other for only two weeks, but things have gotten hot and heavy with them. Zoey Wallace is currently in the Bahamas, on vacation with her parents (played by Christie Lynn Smith and William Pierce Lackey, also known as Pierce Lackey), who don’t have first names in the movie. Zoey Wallace hasn’t heard from Zach and doesn’t know about the accident and his amnesia. Zoey Wallace thinks Zach is ignoring her, and she’s paranoid that it’s because he has another love interest.

The scenes with Zoey Wallace (who is whiny and annoying) and her parents are some of the worst scenes in the movie. Thankfully, these Wallace family scenes are brief. When Zoey Wallace starts to have a tearful meltdown about not hearing from Zach, her mother says: “Wallaces don’t wallow. And crying causes wrinkles. Just know that.”

Meanwhile, Zoey Miller feels guilty about the role she had in the accident that caused Zach’s amnesia. She doesn’t want to upset him, so she pretends that she’s Zoey Wallace for most of her time with Zach. Elle thinks it’s cute and advises Zoey to keep up the charade. It’s bad advice, of course, but there would be no “The Other Zoey” movie if Zoey Miller didn’t take this advice.

After Zach is discharged from the hospital, his parents invite Zoey Miller (whom they think is Zoey Wallace) on a family skiing trip. Also on this trip is Zach’s bratty and meddling sister Avery (played by Olive Abercrombie), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. And surprise! There’s another family member on the trip: Zach’s cousin Miles, who is a grad student at MIT and is visiting for the weekend.

When Zoey Miller sees Miles again, there’s chemistry between them that they can’t deny. But what’s a rom-com heroine to do when she’s pretending to be someone else’s girlfriend but she really wants to date his cousin? Zoey Miller thinks Zach is beneath her intellect and she has much more in common with Miles, who would pass her “compatibility test” if she had this “compatibility app” that she keeps talking about inventing.

If you’ve seen enough romantic comedies, then you know exactly how the rest of this story will go. There’s a breezy tone to “The Other Zoey” that makes it easier to tolerate some of the movie’s cringeworthy dialogue. On the positive side, Langford and Johnson make a very watchable comedic duo when they have scenes together. The other cast members give adequate performances.

“The Other Zoey” goes off on a few unnecessary tangents, such as showing that when Zoey Miller is away, Elle meets a food delivery guy named Diego (played by Jorge Lopez) and hooks up with him. It might be the movie’s way of trying to prove that Elle isn’t just an underdeveloped sidekick and has as a life outside of her friendship with Zoey. But it still looks like a forced and awkward subplot, because Elle is still an underdeveloped sidekick.

Heather Graham has a small role in the movie as Zoey Miller’s divorcée mother Paula, who has a close relationship with Zoey and is the voice of reason when Zoey (who is an only child) confides in Paula about her personal problems. Paula isn’t given much to do in the movie. She seems to be there to make viewers aware that Zoey is probably neurotic about love because Zoey’s parents got divorced.

“The Other Zoey” is not the type of movie that wants viewers to wonder too much about the main characters’ backstories. The movie is very lightweight entertainment and doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s the type of romantic comedy that’s not intended for people who are as pessimistic about love as Zoey Miller is at the start of the movie. And that’s why the intended viewers are most likely to keep watching “The Other Zoey,” until the very end and will be satisfied by the expected results.

Brainstorm Media released “The Other Zoey” in select U.S. cinemas on October 20, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 10, 2023.

Review: ‘Dunki,’ starring Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal and Boman Irani

January 7, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anil Grover, Taapsee Pannu, Shah Rukh Khan, Vicky Kaushal and Vikram Kochhar in “Dunki” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Dunki”

Directed by Rajkumar Hirani

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1995 to 2020, in Asia and in Europe, the comedy/drama film “Dunki” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of friends from India have various experiences in their efforts to illegally immigrate to the United Kingdom.

Culture Audience: “Dunki” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s headliners and comedy/drama films that cover social issues in ways that are often awkward.

Boman Irani in “Dunki” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Dunki” clumsily mixes absurdist comedy with preachy drama in making statements about the dangers of undocumented immigration. Every time a serious life-threatening situation is depicted, the movie then throws in silly jokes for some cheap laughs. These awkward tonal shifts dilute the movie’s intentions more often than not, although the cast members try hard to keep a balance in this erratic film.

Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, “Dunki” has a title that refers to India’s Punjab term “donkey flight,” which is a way to illegally immigrate to other countries—usually Western countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Hirani co-wrote the “Dunki” screenplay with Abhijat Joshi and Kanika Dhillon. “Dunki,” whose story spans about 25 years, is about the shenanigans of a group of friends who go through various trials and tribulations as “dunki” immigrants who are desperate to move to London. None of the “Dunki” cast members gives a particularly impressive performance.

“Dunki” begins in 2020. Manu Randhawa (played by Taapsee Pannu), a woman in her 50s, is in a wheelchair at a London hospital. She bribes a hospital orderly to wheel her out of the hospital because she’s not supposed to be discharged from the hospital yet. As soon as Manu leaves the hospital, she gets out of the wheelchair and goes to the office of immigration attorney Puru Patel (played by Deven Bhojani), who knows her from interactions with her 25 years earlier in 1995.

Manu begs Puru to find a way to get a visa for her to go back to India (she’s a native of Punjab), but Puru says Manu is not allowed to go back to India. Puru tells Manu that Dubai is the nation closest to India where she can get a visa. Manu isn’t happy about these circumstances, but she accepts the visa to Dubai. It’s explained later in the movie why Manu was in a hospital and why she can’t go back to India.

When Manu is Puru’s office, she makes a phone call to Hardayal “Hardy” Singh Dhillon (played by Shah Rukh Khan), a man she fell in love with when she met him in 1995. Hardy is in Punjab, where he is in the middle of a foot race at a racing track when he gets the call from Manu. She jokingly refers to herself as Hardy’s wife and says she needs to tell him something important in person, but he has to meet her in Dubai, becase she can’t get a visa to go to India.

Hardy is curious and delighted to hear from Manu, so he agrees to Manu’s invitation to go to Dubai. Manu makes arrangements with Puru for her two longtime friends Balli Kakkad (played by Anil Grover) and Balindar “Buggu” Lakhanpal (played by Vikram Kochhar), who also live in London, to also get visas to Dubai, so that these two pals can accompany her on the trip. Balli and Buggu work together in a clothing shop called Punjab Tailors.

Before “Dunki” shows this trip toward the end of the movie, most of the film switches to a flashback to 1995. At the time, Manu, Balli and Buggu were all in their mid-20s, financially struggling, and yearning for a better life, which they believe they have a better chance of achieving in London. The problem is that their chances of being legally approved for a visa are very low because they are poor and uneducated.

Manu is an underappreciated cook and server at a local casual eatery, where her specialty is making parathas. She’s miserable in her job, mainly because her boss Bobby Dhaba (played by Piyush Raina) is an egotistical jerk. Balli is a barber who lacks confidence in a lot of areas in his life. Buggu is a sales clerk at a clothing shop, who is a “mama’s boy” at home. In the minds of all three friends, London is like a “promised land” where their dreams can be fulfilled.

Through a series of circumstances, the three friends end up in the office of Puru, who was based in India at the time. Puru is an attorney who uses shady business practices to exploit desperate people who want quick visas. He thinks up deceptive schemes for his clients to tell lies in order to get visas.

Puru says Balli can get a spouse visa by marrying a British citizen who’s a drug addict and willing to marry an immigrant stranger for money. Puru says Buggu can get a business visa, based on Buggu’s very limited business knowledge of working in retail. Puru says Manu can get a sports visa, even though she has no real athletic skills. Puru comes up with the idea to pretend that Manu is a track runner.

It just so happens that Manu meets Hardy around the same time she’s planning to get a visa under false pretenses. Hardy visits the home of Manu’s family, where she lives with her parents (played by Manoj Kant and Amardeep Jha) and other family members. Hardy has arrived in town because he was in combat with Manu’s older brother Mahinder (played by Suhail Zargar, shown in a flashback) and wants to return some items that belong to Mahinder.

However, Hardy is shocked and dismayed to find out that Mahinder died in a car accident and has left behind a widow and a son. Manu’s family has fallen on hard times in other ways. The family went into debt to a loan shark, who has now seized ownership of the family’s home.

The main reason why Manu wants to move to London is to make enough money to send back to her family so that they can buy back the family house. Manu tells Hardy all about this sob story, as well as the visa scheme to pretend that she’s a track runner. Hardy agrees to be her coach and then gets involved in the plans to immigrate to London with Manu, Balli and Buggu.

One of the more frustrating things about “Dunki” is that it’s a 161-minute movie that wastes a lot of screen time by cramming in a lot of subplots, some of which are abandoned for another distracting subplot. The subplot about Manu’s charade as an athlete is ditched for a fairly long stretch of the movie where Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu enroll in an English-language class, which is required for them to get their visas to the United Kingdom.

In this English-language class, they befriend a neurotic man named Sukhi (played by Vicky Kaushal), who wants to move to London to save his ex-girlfriend Jassi, who is married to an abusive man. The teacher of this English-language class is a pompous buffoon named Geetendar “Geetu” Gulati (played by Boman Irani), who treats his students in a very condescending manner. He also has contempt for his students, because he thinks that most of them are planning to do something illegal or dishonest to get visas.

The movie’s running joke for these classroom scenes is that Geetu is fixated on teaching the students how to say in English: “I want to use the lavatory.” This joke runs out of steam quickly, but it’s repeated to the point of annoyance in “Dunki.” However, a highlight of these classroom scenes is when Sukhi gives a very funny monologue to prove he’s learned a lot more English than Geetu thinks he has.

The sprawling and frequently disjointed story in “Dunki” shows the undocumented immigrant pals going to various countries in Asia and Europe in their quest to get to London. Along the way, a lot of dark and depressing things happen, such as suicide, murder, and the constant threat of being in violent danger during this journey. The movie also shows grim statistics and real news photos about deaths that can happen to people who immigrate to countries through illegal means.

“Dunki” is a very off-putting mess that goes back-and-forth between showing all of this harsh gloom and then switching to idiotic slapstick comedy in ridiculous scenarios. It diminishes the real-life immigrant suffering that the movie is trying to convey. At one point, the plight of refugees seeking asylum becomes a part of the story. And that’s when the movie really goes downhill and never recovers.

“Dunki” has lot of subtle and not-so-subtle preaching that visas are a form of class discrimination. However, this argument is very warped in the movie in how it tries to equate the living conditions that Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu want to leave in India to the living conditions of refugees who are fleeing their homelands because their lives are in danger. The fact of the matter is that Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu are not even close to being refugees who are fleeing from life-threatening danger in their homeland. The main motivation that Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu have to leave India and move to London is to make more money.

“Dunki” also wants to condemn the people who exploit desperate undocumented immigrants, but this condemnation is also mishandled by presenting all of these exploiters (such as a corrupt attorneys or human trafficking smugglers) as cartoonish characters. In “Dunki,” immigration officials are also caricatures, who are usually depicted as hateful bigots or completely incompetent. And ultimately, “Dunki” is insulting to the protagonists that the movie claims to be rooting for, by making these protagonists look very dimwitted.

The movie spends so much time not being able to make up its mind on whether to be a wacky misadventure or a cautionary tale, it treats the love story of Hardy and Manu almost like an afterthought. There isn’t much in “Dunki” to convince viewers that Hardy and Manu should be together, especially when they see each other in middle age and play immature and deceptive games with each other about their marital status. If you think that “Dunki” will be a clever satire of immigration problems, then look elsewhere, because “Dunki” is not that movie.

Yash Raj Films released “Dunki” in select U.S. cinemas on December 21, 2023, the same date that the movie was released in India.

Review: ‘Anyone But You’ (2023), starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell

December 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

“Anyone But You” (2023)

Directed by Will Gluck

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city and in Sydney, Australia, the comedy film “Anyone But You” (loosely based on the William Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, a few Asians and one indgenous person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After have a great first date together, a young would-be couple have angry feelings toward each other because of misunderstandings, but then they pretend to be a couple to make their respective ex-lovers jealous.

Culture Audience: “Anyone But You” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, and corny and predictable romantic comedies.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

When will certain filmmakers learn that pretty people in pretty locations do not automatically equal an enjoyable romantic comedy? William Shakespeare would cringe in embarrassment if he saw this lousy interpretation of “Much Ado About Nothing.” There isn’t anything creative, surprising or truly entertaining about “Anyone But You,” which is an example of a lazy rom com coasting by on some of the most overused clichés in romantic comedies.

Directed by Will Gluck (who co-wrote the trite and hollow “Anyone But You” screenplay with Ilana Wolpert), “Anyone But You” has a mostly talented cast stuck in roles that make most of their characters in the movie look like immature dolts. Adults who are in their 20s and 30s act more like teenagers who are inexperienced in dating. And the middle-aged parents in the story are nothing but shallow rom-com stereotypes of meddling relatives who interfere in their adult children’s love lives.

“Anyone But You” begins with the “meet cute” scene between the would-be couple at the center of the story. Beatrice “Bea” Messina (played by Sydney Sweeney), who’s in her mid-20s, says she’s a student in law school. Ben (played by Glen Powell), who’s in his mid-30s, has a background in finance and works as an online trader. Bea and Ben both live an unnamed U.S. city, where they meet at a local coffee shop.

Bea is in a hurry to be somewhere else when she goes into the coffee shop to use the restroom. She starts a conversation with an unfriendly barista (played by Mia Artemis), who abruptly tells her that the restroom is only for customers. Bea says she’ll buy something, but to her dismay, she sees that there’s a long line of customers.

Ben happens to be near the front of the line and notices Bea’s predicament because he overheard the conversation. All of sudden, Ben pretends that Bea is his wife, and he places her order for her. There’s an immediate attraction and rapport between Bea and Ben, as they play along at pretending to be spouses.

Bea excuses herself to use the restroom (which is a small room with one toilet) and calls her sister Halle (played by Hadley Robinson) to tell her about this attractive stranger she just met. Halle is also Bea’s best friend. As mentioned later in the movie, Bea met Ben when she was taking a break from her relationship with her fiancé Jonathan, whom she has known for years. Bea wanted this separation from Jonathan because she’s having doubts about getting married to anyone. Jonathan (played by Darren Barnet) doesn’t show up until the movie is half over.

Bea tells Halle that she could change her mind about dating someone new because she’s interested in getting to know Ben better. During this phone conversation in the restroom, Bea accidentally splashes a lot of sink water all over the front her jeans. This leads to a not-very-funny scene of Bea taking off her jeans and awkwardly using the hand dryer to get rid of the water stain, which could be misinterpreted as a urine stain.

Ben is patiently waiting for Bea outside, not knowing that flustered Bea is frantically trying to dry her jeans so she won’t give Ben the wrong impression about her hygiene. When she steps out of the bathroom, she doesn’t notice that a strand of toilet paper is stuck to the bottom of one of her shoes. Ben discreetly steps on the paper so it gets unstuck. All of this is supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just so boring.

Bea and Ben leave the coffee shop, which leads to a conversation where their mutual attraction to each other grows. Ben spontaneously invites Bea over to his place, where he makes grilled cheese sandwiches for both of them. They flirt some more and tell each other a little bit more about their lives. Bea says that even though she’s a law student, she’s not sure if she wants to become a lawyer.

Ben opens up to Bea and tells her about his most treasured possession: a giant wrench figurine given to him by his mother, who died an untold number of years ago. Ben’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie. Bea and Ben spend the rest of the night talking. They fall asleep together on his couch.

When Bea wakes up, she thinks Ben is still asleep. She leaves without saying goodbye or leaving a note. However, Ben has noticed that Bea made a quick exit, and his feelings are hurt because he misinterprets it as Bea not being as interested in him as he’s interested in her.

Ben’s longtime best friend Pete (played by GaTa) shows up almost immediately after Bea leaves. He congratulates Ben on possibly finding a new love interest. Ben feels rejected by Bea, but his bruised ego won’t let him admit it to Pete. Instead, Ben lies to Pete to make it sound like Ben was the one who rejected Bea. “The girl is a disaster. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough,” Ben tells Pete.

It just so happens that Bea has overheard Ben insult her in this part of the conversation, because (on the advice of Halle), Bea decided to go back to Ben’s place to make plans to see him again. Bea thinks that they had a magical night together, but she gets angry when she overhears through the open door what Ben is saying about her. Ben and Pete don’t see Bea eavesdropping and don’t find out until later that she has heard this part of the conversation.

Ben and Bea see each other again by chance at a nightclub when Bea is there with Halle and Halle’s new girlfriend Claudia (played by Alexandra Shipp), who just happens to be Pete’s younger sister. And lo and behold, all five of them are at this nightclub at the same time. The conversation becomes tense and uncomfortable when Bea and Ben start to snipe at each other and make it clear that they don’t want to see each other again.

Two years later, Halle and Claudia have gotten engaged and have planned a destination wedding to take place in Sydney, Australia, where Claudia’s parents live. All of their family members in the movie accept Halle and Claudia’s same-sex relationship. Claudia’s tactless father Roger (played by Bryan Brown) is a native Australian who is some type of business mogul. Roger is Pete’s stepfather; there’s no mention of where Pete’s biological father is. The mother of Pete and Claudia is Carol (played by Michelle Hurd), who likes to practice New Age healing techniques.

As for the parents of Bea and Halle, they are overbearing and worried that Bea might never get married. The sisters’ father Leo (played by Dermot Mulroney) and mother Innie (played by Rachel Griffiths) had their hearts set on Bea marrying Jonthan, because they think Jonathan would be the perfect husband for Bea. You can almost do a countdown to when Leo and Innie invite Jonathan to go to the wedding in Australia to be a “surprise” date for Bea. This plot development is already revealed in the trailer for “Anyone But You.”

In a conversation between Bea and Halle, the two sisters discuss how when they were children, Bea talked a lot about looking forward to being married, while Halle was very wary of marriage. And now, the sisters’ opinions of marriage have switched, with Bea now being the one who doesn’t have a desire to get married. Bea tells Halle that she’s happy for her and Claudia and completely supports their plans for marriage.

“Anyone But You” predictably shows Bea and Ben on the same plane flight to Australia and not being happy about it. More shenanigans ensue when Ben finds out that the Australian model-type ex-girlfriend who dumped him is also a wedding guest. Her name is Margaret (played by Charlee Fraser), and she is a cousin of Claudia and Pete. Margaret’s current boyfriend is a less-than-smart surfer named Beau (played by Joe Davidson), who talks in hokey Australian slang clichés that sound like what American screenwriters think Australian surfers sound like.

The rest of “Anyone But You” is a series of tiresome scenarios of friends and family members interfering with and being judgmental of the love lives of Bea and Ben. Bea and Ben then decide to pretend to be a couple (it was Bea’s idea), to get these intrusive people to back off, as well as to make Jonathan and Margaret jealous. Bea has no interest in getting back together with Jonathan, so she wants to look “unavailable.” Ben has lingering feelings for Margaret and hopes that if Margaret sees Ben and Bea as a couple, then Margaret might want to get back together with Ben.

“Anyone But You” over-relies on slapstick comedy with adults in various states of nudity or being in wet, clingy clothing. It’s supposed to be sexy and funny, but it just looks so fake and trying too hard. And when there’s an unimaginative romantic comedy that has a wedding as a major part of the story, you just know there’s going to be some kind of mishap involving the wedding cake.

Even more irritating: “Anyone But You” has some stupid scenes of characters attempting to manipulate what Bea and Ben do, by intentionally fabricating conversations that they want Bea and Ben to overhear. The story of this would-be couple is very unbalanced in the movie. Viewers learn a lot about Bea’s family and almost nothing about Ben’s family. What you will hear a lot of in the movie is Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 hit “Unwritten,” which is put to very cloying use when cast members sing the song off-key at several points, including an end-credits montage.

Sweeney and Powell put in a fairly good effort in trying to be convincing as two people who’ve fallen in love on their first date and then spend most of their time together denying their true feelings. However, their comedic timing is often mismatched. Almost nothing in this movie is believable (including co-star chemistry that looks forced), and most of the movie’s characters are annoying. “Anyone But You” is ultimately a failed attempt to be a lovable romantic comedy. It’s only effective in being a showcase for how attractive locations can look with the right cinematography.

Columbia Pictures released “Anyone But You” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘What Happens Later,’ starring Meg Ryan and David Duchovny

December 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

David Duchovny and Meg Ryan in “What Happens Later” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“What Happens Later”

Directed by Meg Ryan

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed regional airport in the United States, the comedy/drama film “What Happens Later” (based on the play “Shooting Star”) features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After not seeing each other for years, two ex-lovers find out that they are taking the same plane flight, and they start arguing about their relationship when they get stuck at the airport after the plane flight is delayed because of a snowstorm.

Culture Audience: “What Happens Later” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Meg Ryan and David Duchovny, because there is very little that is appealing about this annoying and frequently boring movie.

David Duchovny and Meg Ryan in “What Happens Later” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Almost everything in “What Happens Later” shows two former lovers bickering and bantering with each other, after not seeing each other for years, while their plane flight is delayed overnight at an airport because of a snowstorm. “What Happens Later” should’ve been called “What Happens When Co-Stars With No Chemistry Together Try and Fail to Make a Cute Romantic Comedy.” No airport during a snowstorm gets this deserted, although the movie’s awful dialogue is enough to clear a room.

Directed by Meg Ryan, “What Happens Later” was co-written by Ryan, Steven Dietz and Kirk Lynn. The movie is based on Dietz’s play “Shooting Star.” It’s the type of movie where only two people have the on-screen speaking roles. And that means if viewers are stuck with these two people for the entire movie, then these two people better be compelling to watch. Unfortunately, “What Happens Later” makes these two people the opposite of compelling.

Almost everything in the movie takes place at an unnamed regional airport in the United States. The movie’s two main characters are Wilhelmina “Willa” Davis (played by Ryan) and William “Bill” Davis (played by David Duchovny), who used to be college sweethearts, but they broke up about 35 years ago and haven’t seen each other in about 20 years. Willa and Bill were never married. They have the same last name by sheer coincidence.

Willa and Bill had a bitter breakup and still haven’t had closure over it. And so, when they first see each other at this airport, they each try to avoid being seen by the other person. Eventually, they make eye contact and start talking to each other when they find out that they’re both on the same plane flight to Boston.

Willa, who lives “in the woods” north of Boston, is a wellness practictioner in the “healing arts.” She has arthritis in one of her hips and walks with a limp. Willa is carrying a “healing” rain stick with her. She says she’s flying to meet a female friend/client who needs a healing session because the friend is going through a difficult divorce. Willa tells Bill that she’s never been married and has no children.

Bill, who lives in Austin, is a businessman who works for a company that “liquefies a lot of damaged assets,” he tells Willa. When Bill and Willa were a couple, he used to be a poet and songwriter. Bill is married to a woman named Bethany, and they have a teenage daughter named Rose. Bill doesn’t approve of Rose’s wish to become a dancer, because he thinks she should have a more financially stable career. Bill tells Willa that he’s upset because Rose doesn’t want to talk to him.

During the course of this slog of a movie, viewers find out that Willa is still angry at Bill for breaking up with her. The way she remembers it, Bill told Willa that he was breaking up with her because he didn’t like her behavior. Bill denies that he ever said that was the reason for the breakup. Eventually, it’s revealed that when Willa and Bill were a couple, they tried having an open relationship, but he got jealous and resentful that Willa seemed to be having too much fun with her other lovers.

About 15 minutes into the movie, Willa and Bill find out that their flight has been delayed due to a snowstorm, so they are stuck at the airport and have to spend the night there. As time goes on in the movie, the airport unrealistically becomes increasingly empty until at one point in the movie, it looks like Willa and Dave are the only people spending the night at a darkened airport. It all looks so phony and ridiculous.

And let’s not get started on the extremely annoying announcements (voiced by Hal Liggett) over the public address system that sound like lines from a poorly written soap opera, not a real airport. Adding to the cheesiness of it all, the airport plays Muzak versions of 1990s songs such as Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake” and Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life.” The movie’s lighting looks like it’s taken straight from the stage play. Cinematically, it looks like an awkward transition.

The vast majority of “What Happens Later” consists of Willa and Bill spewing repetitive and irritating back-and-forth barbs where they blame each other over what went wrong in their relationship, insult each other, and nitpick over trivial things about their trip. And you know where all of this is going, of course. The “anger” is supposed to really be a mask for the “passion” that Willa and Bill supposedly still have for each other.

The problem is that Willa and Bill are two miserably neurotic people who are obviously not compatible together. There’s nothing in the movie to indicate that a romantic reunion between these two would actually be the right decision for both of them. And because secrets are revealed, Willa and Bill also show themselves to be dishonest with each other. In other words, there’s no good reason for viewers to root for this ex-couple to get back together. Ryan and Duchovny try to cover up their lack of chemistry with smirks and sarcasm, but it all looks so uncomfortable and forced.

Here’s an example of the horribly written conversations in the movie: In an early scene in the film, when Willa tells Bill that her client is fighting for custody of three dogs in the client’s divorce battle, Bill makes this quip that he thinks is hilarious: “You know what they say about a dog who represents herself in court: She has a bitch for a client.”

Willa tells Bill that this particular day is an extra-magical day because it’s Leap Day (February 29). She adds, “On this extra-magical day, are you on a trip or a journey?” When Bill looks confused, Willa explains: “A trip is when you try to reach a destination. A journey is when you try to reach a goal, like serenity or awareness.” Whether you want to call it a trip, a journey or something else, “What Happens Later” is a cringeworthy ride where the best part is when it’s finally over.

Bleecker Street released “What Happens Later” in U.S. cinemas on November 3, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Keedaa Cola,’ starring Chaitanya Rao Madadi, Rag Mayur, Brahmanandam, Tharun Bhascker, Jeevan Kumar, Vishnu Oi and Ravindra Vijay

November 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Rag Mayur and Chaitanya Rao Madadi in “Keedaa Cola” (Photo courtesy of Suresh Productions)

“Keedaa Cola”

Directed by Tharun Bhascker

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hyderabad, India, the comedy film “Keedaa Cola” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: When a con artist buys a soda bottle and finds a cockroach in the bottle, he and his best friend, who is also a scammer, decide they can make millions from extortion from the soda company, but don’t know that the planted cockroach is part of a criminal revenge plot.

Culture Audience: “Keedaa Cola” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of comedies with a lot of madcap and silly hijinks as distractions for weak storytelling.

Ravindra Vijay (in front) in “Keedaa Cola” (Photo courtesy of Suresh Productions)

“Keedaa Cola” starts off with a flimsy concept (planting a cockroach in some cola as a set-up for extortion), and the movie never quite bolsters the concept with a solid story. The comedy flails around in annoying ways with subpar acting performances. It’s the type of comedy that doesn’t to live up to its potential to be a hilarious film.

Directed by Tharun Bhascker, “Keedaa Cola” was written by Bhascker, Pranay Koppala, Shanthan Raj and Ramya Kakumanu. The movie takes place in Hyderabad, India. Best friends/con artists Vasthu (played by Chaitanya Rao Madadi) and Koushik, also known as Lancham (played by Rag Mayur), are shown in the opening scene trying and failing to do one of their con games in a courtroom. Vasthu is in a wheelchair, pretending to be disabled so he can collect money in a court case, but the case is dismissed.

At the very beginning of the film, a statement is shown on screen that says: “I wish there was another disclaimer that says greed is hazardous to your health.” It’s a hard lesson that Vasthu and Lancham will learn when they take their extortion plans to ridiculous levels. The beginning of the film also shows a scene of the cockroach in the soda bottle as the bottle is part of an assembly line.

How did the cockroach get in the bottle? That information won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s enough to say that it has to do with a murder witnessed years ago by two friends named Sikander and Bhakta Naidu (also known as Naidu Anna and nicknamed Anna), who met at a music festival when they were about 13 or 14 years old. Anna’s brother Jeevan Naidu gets involved in certain way.

Now in their 30s, Sikander (played by Vishnu Oi), Anna (played by “Keedaa Cola” director Bhascker) and Jeevan (played by Jeevan Kumar) have a connection to the bottle with the cockroach in it. They are looking for it at a convenience store where the bottle has ended up, but Vasthu has already bought the soda bottle and taken it home.

The soda is really for Vasthu’s grandfather Varadaraju (played by Brahmanandam), who loves the grape flavor of this particular soda. Lancham is there with Vasthu and Varadaraju when they see the cockroach in the bottle. After getting over their shock, Vasthu tells Lancham: “This is our lottery ticket to millions.”

The rest of “Keedaa Cola” is how these two different sets friends have different intentions for what to do about someone finding a cockroach in this soda bottle. The CEO of the soda company (played by Ravindra Vijay), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, will do whatever it takes for it not to become public that this cockroach was found in one of his company’s soda bottles. There are several battles and chase scenes with menacing thugs.

“Keedaa Cola” becomes a bit jumbled in trying to weave these two different storylines together into a cohesive plot. The backstories for Sikander, Anna and Jeevan are particularly messy and take away from the more entertaining characters of bumbling con artists Vasthy and Lancham. All of these characters are fairly hollow and merely exist for the poorly staged and hard-to-believe action scenes.

The cast members’ acting isn’t anything special, and the movie’s direction and tone are quite shrill and annoying. “Keedaa Cola” will be liked most by people who just want to see a lot of violent slapstick in fight scenes and chase scenes. It’s not the worst movie ever, but it’s not worth seeing if you want to watch a comedy that has characters with personalities that are engaging instead of annoying.

Suresh Productions released “Keedaa Cola” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 3, 2023.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX