Review: ‘Crisis’ (2021), starring Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly

March 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Greg Kinnear and Gary Oldman in “Crisis” (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

“Crisis” (2021)

Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Detroit and Montreal, the dramatic film “Crisis” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: The lives of three different Americans—a scientist, a Drug Enforcement Agency undercover officer and a recovering opioid addictall collide when a new “non-addictive” opioid prescription drug called Klaralon is being rushed to market.

Culture Audience: “Crisis” will appeal primarily to people who like to watch formulaic dramas about the “war on drugs” that have some ridiculous plot developments.

Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly in “Crisis” (Philippe Bosse/Quiver Distribution)

It seems as if the dramatic thriller “Crisis” (written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki) was made to be a “cautionary tale” about how big pharmaceutical companies are just greedy, corporate drug dealers in the so-called “war on drugs.” However, the movie becomes so enamored with showing enmeshed storylines of the three main characters that it all just becomes a tangled mess that tries to tie up loose ends neatly in a very unrealistic way, in order to have a cliché movie ending. The acting performances are solid, but the movie’s writing and direction are bloated and messy.

The story goes back and forth between the perspectives of three Detroit people, who all end up being connected to each other in some way in the opioid crisis. It’s a crisis that has fueled demand for opioids, whether they’re sold as legal prescriptions or through the illegal drug trade. Much of the story revolves around a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sting to take down a cartel of Armenian gangsters in Montreal who traffic drugs to and from the U.S. and Canadian border. You can tell already that this movie is more convoluted than it needs to be.

Dr. Tyrone Brower (played by Gary Oldman) is a scientist (presumably in biochemistry, because the movie never says), who teaches at an unnamed university in the Detroit area. This university has had a long-term business relationship with a corporate pharmaceutical company called Northlight, which has hired the university to do research on drugs that Northlight wants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tyrone is in charge of these research studies, and he prides himself of having high ethical standards.

Tyrone’s latest research study for Northlight is for a painkiller called Klaralon, which is supposed to be the world’s first “non-addictive” painkiller. Of course, there are caveats to using Klaralon. It’s only “non-addictive” if taken in the correct doses. And there’s some cockamamie explanation later in the story that Klaralon won’t become addictive if patients stop taking Klaralon after 30 days.

It’s an example of a poorly thought-out screenplay, because it doesn’t factor in the reality that most patients who are prescribed painkillers need to take the drugs for longer than a month. And no legitimately greedy pharmaceutical company would want to market a drug with such short-term usage. The goal would be to keep people on these drugs as long as possible to make the maximum amount of money from selling these drugs. And there are plenty of plot holes and other illogical missteps in this movie, which ruin any credibility that “Crisis” might have intended to look like a gritty drama that’s supposed to be taken seriously.

The second person in this trio of main characters is Jake Kelly (played by Armie Hammer), a hardened DEA officer who’s undercover in the Canadian city of Montreal. He’s invested a lot of time in a DEA sting to bust an Armenian gang that has been cornering the market with illegal OxyContin sales and is trying to do the same for Fentanyl. The leader of this drug cartel is named (try not to laugh) Mother (played by Guy Nadon), and his right-hand goon is named Guy Broussard (played by Éric Bruneau). “Crisis” writer/director Jarecki portrays Stanley “Stan” Foster, who is Jake’s closest and most-trusted DEA colleague in the sting.

Jake has a personal reason for wanting to bust this drug-dealing cartel: His younger sister Emmie (played by Lily-Rose Depp) is a needle-using opioid addict. During the course of the story, Emmie starts off in rehab but then ends up leaving rehab early to go back to her junkie lifestyle. You can easily predict the scene in the movie where Emmie goes missing, Jake finds her strung-out in a drug house, and he forces her to leave while she has a temper tantrum.

And speaking of drug addicts, the third person whose perspective is shown in “Crisis” is that of single mother Claire Reimann (played by Evangeline Lilly), a recovering opioid addict who’s still struggling with staying clean and sober. Claire is shown in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, where she confesses to the attendees about her urge to use opioids and how it affects how she raises her 16-year-old son David (played by Billy Bryk).

Claire says, “I can’t even sit through a hockey game without even thinking about it. I would like to be a better person for him. And I’m working on that.” David’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie, so it’s implied that he’s an absentee father who has no contact with Claire and David.

The university that Tyrone works for relies heavily on funding from Northlight to keep the school financially afloat. Therefore, Tyrone is under pressure to deliver lab results that will be pleasing to Northlight. However, there’s a problem with the trial studies for Klaralon. The mice that were tested in the experiments died after 10 days of being administered the drug. The trial period was extended to 30 days, and led to the same results. There’s also evidence that Klaralon is more addictive than Fentanyl.

Tyrone finds out this bad news at the worst time, because Northlight is soon going to present the university’s research on Klaralon to the FDA for approval to sell the drug. In good conscience, Tyrone refuses to lie and pretend that Klaralon is safe to sell to the general public. He meets with Northlight executives Dr. Bill Simons (played by Luke Evans) and Dr. Meg Holmes (played by Veronica Ferres), who are portrayed as soulless and money-hungry. Tyrone tells them that the drug is dangerous and not ready for FDA approval, and asks them for more time to do more lab tests.

Not surprisingly, the Northlight executives refuse and even come up with a ludicrous idea to sell Klaralon anyway. Despite all the signs that it’s a deadly drug, the Northlight executives justify this rush to market for Klaralon, by saying that the company won’t be responsible for any deaths if they include a warning that the drug cannot be taken for more than 30 days. Tyrone thinks it’s a terrible idea and isn’t afraid to say so.

After this meeting, Bill tries to entice Tyrone to sign a “modified” lab report with a “corporate donation” of $780,000. Of course, it’s really a bribe to sign a falsified report. Tyrone knows he’s being offered a bribe, but he doesn’t want to alienate Northlight, so he asks for a little more time to look over the agreement.

When Tyrone tells his boss Dean Talbot (played by Greg Kinnear) about this ethical problem, Tyrone is surprised and disappointed when the dean sides with Northlight. Dean Talbot essentially tells Tyrone that if he doesn’t sign off on the report and take the money, Northwell will cancel its contract with the university, and it will ruin the university financially.

Dean Talbot also says that just because some mice died in the lab experiments for Klaralon, that doesn’t mean that people will die from taking Klaralon too. Anyone with basic knowledge of science might be yelling at their screen at this dumb part of the movie. And the dean reminds Tyrone that the university isn’t responsible if people become addicted or die from the drugs that the university researches.

Dean Talbot also strongly hints that Tyrone will be fired if he doesn’t do what he’s told. Tyrone can’t afford to lose this job because his much-younger wife Susan (played by Mia Kirshner) is pregnant with their first child together. He’s also at an age (in his 60s) where it would be difficult to find work somewhere else. And Tyrone loves his job and doesn’t want to leave.

“Crisis” tries to do too much during its nearly two-hour running time. The story goes off the rails when tragedy strikes Claire and she turns into a vigilante. With the help of a private investigator, Claire finds out some information to try to solve a mystery. And then, she starts acting as if she’s a one-woman DEA crime-busting team. She goes back and forth between the U.S. and Canadian border. And a lot of nonsense ensues. It’s just all so ridiculously portrayed in the movie.

There are inevitable shootouts that are also badly handled in the movie. And for a powerful drug cartel led by a guy named Mother, they have a lot less people handling their business than they would in in real life. But that’s because this is a low-budget independent film, so apparently the filmmakers probably didn’t want to hire any more actors because they spent a great deal of their budget hiring an Oscar winner such as Oldman.

Oldman’s Tyrone character is supposed to be the “moral center” of the story. He’s the type of professor who tells his students: “Without us crazies, where would the world be?” As far as his big ethical dilemma about Klaralon, he might as well wear a sign that says, “Whistlebower.” Hammer and Lilly are serviceable in their roles, which don’t make much of an impression in this fairly generic movie.

Michelle Rodriguez has a small role as Jake’s DEA supervisor Mia Garrett, who doesn’t do much but scowl when she hears some of the updates that Jake gives her. Scott Mescudi, also known in real life as rapper Kid Cudi, has a much smaller role as Ben Walker, an investigator for the FDA. These two characters don’t have memorable personalities. Even the chief villain Mother is a banal stereotype of the type of elder “mob boss” that’s been seen in dozens of other crime-related dramas.

“Crisis” tries to be somewhat preachy about the far-reaching effects of the opioid crisis and the “war on drugs.” Claire is supposed to represent the “everyday person” who’s affected by this crisis. But by having her do some outlandish and very unrealistic things in this story, it actually makes her character and this movie less relatable to everyday viewers. Claire also crosses paths with Jake in some of the movie’s most preposterous scenes.

“Crisis” would have been a better movie if it focused only on Tyrone’s storyline and was a drama inspired by 1999’s “The Insider,” the Al Pacino/Russell Crowe movie about a whistleblower in the tobacco industry. “Crisis” could have been an intriguing story, because it’s rare for a dramatic movie to give an in-depth look at any corruption that goes on behind-the-scenes when drugs are being tested for FDA approval. Instead, “Crisis” overstuffs the plot with a run-of-the-mill “let’s take down a drug cartel” storyline that so many other movies have done before and done much better.

Quiver Distribution released “Crisis” in select U.S. cinemas on February 26, 2021, and on digital and VOD on March 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music,’ starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter

August 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

“Bill & Ted Face the Music”

Directed by Dean Parisot

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Earth (particularly in the fictional San Dimas, California) and in outer space, the comedy film “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and a few Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two middle-aged men who used to be rock stars face several obstacles when they try one last time to find a song that will save the world.

Culture Audience: “Bill & Ted Face the Music” will appeal primarily to fans of star Keanu Reeves and the previous “Bill & Ted” movies, but most people will be disappointed by this incoherent, not-very-funny sequel.

Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

After years of discussions, false starts and pre-production problems, the long-awaited comedy sequel “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has arrived—and it lands with the kind of clumsy thud that happens when the movie’s title characters use their time-traveling phone booth to crash-land in a different era. The movie is overstuffed with too many bad ideas that are sloppily executed. And the end result is an uninspired mess that brings few laughs.

The movie is the follow-up to 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and 1991’s inferior “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is by far the worst of the three movies, which all star Keanu Reeves as Ted Theodore Logan and Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston. You’d think that with all the years that have passed between the second and third movies that it would be enough time to come up with a great concept for the third film. But no. “Bill & Ted Face the Music” writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who also wrote the first two “Bill & Ted” movies, have added several new characters and unnecessary subplots as a way to distract from the story’s very weak plot.

In “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the dimwitted duo Bill and Ted were high-school students in the fictional Sam Dimas, California, with dreams of making it big as a two-man rock band called Wyld Stallyns. Bill and Ted were on the verge of flunking out of school unless they got an A+ grade on their final history exam. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, they’re visited from another planet by someone named Rufus (played by George Carlin), who gave Bill and Ted a time-travel phone booth.

Bill and Ted used the time-traveling booth to collect real-life historical people (Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Ludwig van Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud and Joan of Arc), in order to bring them back to San Dimas as part of Bill and Ted’s school presentation for their history exam. Two British princesses from another century named Elizabeth and Joanna ended up as Bill and Ted’s girlfriends and decided to stay in San Dimas with Bill and Ted.

In “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Bill and Ted fought evil robot replicas of themselves that were sent from the future to alter Bill and Ted’s destiny of becoming rock stars who can save the world. Along the way, the real Bill and Ted also battled with Death (played by William Sadler) by playing a series of games. Bill married Joanna, Ted married Elizabeth, and each couple had a child born in the same year. And (this won’t be a spoiler if you see “Bill & Ted Face the Music”) Wyld Stallyns also became a superstar act.

In “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s explained in the beginning of the film that Wyld Stallyns’ success was short-lived. In the subsequent years, Bill and Ted made many failed attempts at a comeback. They are now unemployed musicians who are trying not to be bitter over their lost fame and fortune. But their wives are starting to get fed up with Bill and Ted’s irresponsible lifestyle.

Joanna (played by Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (played by Erinn Hayes) are the family breadwinners because Bill and Ted blew all their rock-star money and don’t have steady incomes. Bill and Joanna’s daughter Wilhelmina “Billie” S. Logan (played by Samara Weaving) and Ted and Elizabeth’s daughter Thea Theadora Preston (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine) are both 24 years old and take after their fathers, in that they are both unemployed and not very smart but they are passionate about music.

The movie’s poorly written screenplay assumes that many viewers have already seen the first “Bill & Ted” movies to understand some of the jokes. But even people who saw the first two movies might have seen the movies so long ago that these jokes won’t land very well anyway. Some of the jokes in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” have a little better context if you saw the first two “Bill & Ted” movies, but references to the first two movies make the most sense in the scenes with the wives of Bill and Ted.

In the beginning of “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” a wedding reception is taking place where Bill and Ted give a toast to the newlyweds and then inevitably give a terrible music performance. The newlyweds are Ted’s younger brother Deacon (played by Beck Bennett) and Missy (played by Amy Stoch, reprising her role from the first two “Bill & Ted” movies), who was married to Bill’s father in the first movie in a May-December romance. Missy is not that much older than Bill, and in the first “Bill & Ted” movie, there’s a running joke that Bill lusts after his stepmother Missy.

In “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s mentioned in a voiceover that in the years since the second movie took place, Missy divorced Bill’s father (who is not seen in “Bill & Ted Face the Music”), and then married and divorced Ted’s policeman father (played by Hal Landon Jr., who reprises his role as Ted’s stern father), who is now chief of the local police. And now, Missy is married to Ted’s younger brother Deacon, who is also a cop. These awkward family dynamics could have been mined for hilarious situations and more jokes in the movie, but they fall by the wayside because the movie gets caught up in some messy subplots that get tangled up with each other.

Bill, Ted, Joanna and Elizabeth are in couples counseling with Dr. Taylor Wood (played by Jillian Bell), who is baffled over why both couples want to be in counseling sessions with her at the same time, as if it’s a double date. Bell is a terrific comedic actress, but the dull lines she’s given in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” are so listless and unimaginative, that her talent is wasted in this film. It’s eventually revealed that unless Bill and Ted change their destiny, their wives will leave them and their children will be estranged from Bill and Ted.

How do Bill and Ted find out that they can change their destiny? It’s because someone from outer space comes to San Dimas to tell them the world is ending and can only be saved if Bill and Ted find the song that will not only unite the world but also restore reality as they know it. The visitor from outer space is named Kelly (played by Kristen Schaal), who is sympathetic to Bill and Ted and wants to help them. She has arrived on Earth at the behest of her mother called the Great Leader (played by Holland Taylor), a jaded matriarch who doesn’t have much faith that Bill and Ted can deliver the song that can save the world.

Bill and Ted’s time-traveling phone booth is brought back from outer space (with a hologram of Rufus, using brief archival footage of the late Carlin), so Bill and Ted jump back and forth to different times and places in their quest to find the song. Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame) has a cameo as himself in one of these scenes. Meanwhile, the “world is ending” scenes include historical figures ending up in the wrong places or people suddenly disappearing, as if to show that history and reality are being warped into an irreversible void.

The movie also spends a lot of screen time showing Bill and Ted encountering different versions of themselves in future and/or alternate realities. These scenarios include Bill and Ted as old men in a nursing home; Bill and Ted with bodybuilder physiques in prison; and Bill and Ted as successful rock stars with fake British accents. All of these scenes mostly serve the purpose to show Reeves and Winter acting silly in various hairstyles, costumes and prosthetic makeup. However, almost none of these scenes are genuinely funny

And if all of that weren’t enough to overstuff the movie, there’s a simultaneous storyline with Billie and Thea doing their own time traveling. While in San Dimas, space alien Kelly met the two daughters and explained the urgency of how Bill and Ted have to save the world. In order to help their fathers, Billie and Thea decide they want to create the ultimate band that can accompany the Wyld Stallyns when they play the song that will save the world. Kelly provides Billie and Thea with their own time-traveling spacecraft, and so off Thea and Billie go to recruit top musicians to join the band.

They end up recruiting Jimi Hendrix (played by DazMann Still, doing a barely passable impersonation) and Louis Armstrong (played by Jeremiah Craft, doing an awful, mugging impersonation), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Daniel Dorr, doing an average impersonation), plus two fictional musicians: Chinese violinist Ling Lum (played by Sharon Gee) from 2600 B.C. and North African drummer Grom (played by Patty Anne Miller) from 11,500 B.C. And because apparently no A-list superstars rapper wanted to be in this train-wreck movie, Kid Cudi (playing himself) is also in this makeshift band.

Meanwhile, the Great Leader grows impatient with the bungling Bill and Ted, so she sends a robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy (played by Anthony Carrigan) to assassinate Bill and Ted. The robot keeps announcing that his name is Dennis Caleb McCoy and that’s supposed to be a joke—but it’s a joke that gets old by the second time it’s said. And it comes as no surprise that Death (with Sadler reprising the role) is in this “Bill & Ted” movie too, which recycles some plot elements of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

A huge part of the appeal of the first two “Bill & Ted” movies is that these characters were young and dumb. Their “party on, dude” attitude and antics were meant to be laughed at because it was a parody of how a lot of young people act when they have the freedom to be reckless. But now that Bill and Ted are middle-aged, their doltish mindset isn’t so funny anymore, which is why the filmmakers came up with the gimmick of having Bill and Ted’s children take up the mantle of being the “young and dumb” characters in this movie.

Lundy-Paine as Thea gives the better progeny performance, since she’s believable as Ted’s daughter. And even though her body language seems a bit forced and awkward at times, Lundy-Paine shows a knack for comedic timing. Unfortunately, Weaving is miscast as Bill’s daughter Billie, because Billie doesn’t look like she inherited any of the mannerisms that would make her recognizable as Bill’s daughter. In other words, her “dimwit” act is not credible at all. And it might be a compliment to say that Weaving is just too smart for this movie.

Reeves and Winter do exactly what you expect them to do: act like middle-aged versions of Bill and Ted. But the movie looks like it was thrown together haphazardly instead of being a great and original idea that writers Matheson and Solomon had the time to work on for all these years. You don’t have to see the first two “Bill & Ted” movies to understand what’s going on in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” because so much of the story is lazily written dreck that will confuse some people anyway. Seeing the first two “Bill & Ted” movies right before seeing “Bill & Ted Face the Music” might also underscore how much better the first two movies were.

And for a movie that’s supposed to center on music, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has original songs that are utterly generic and forgettable. There used to be a time when a “Bill &Ted” soundtrack was sort of a big deal in the music business. Not anymore.

Just like the misguided “Dumb and Dumber” and “Zoolander” sequels that had the original comedic duo stars but came decades after the original movies, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” arrives too late and falls very short of expectations that weren’t very high anyway. Whereas the first “Bill & Ted” movie sparingly used the idea of Bill and Ted confronting their alternate-reality selves, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” over-uses this concept as filler for a shambolic, insipid plot that is the very definition of “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is like the equivalent of loud, screeching feedback from an amped guitar that is grossly out of tune and ends up creating a lot of unnecessary and irritating noise.

Orion Pictures will release “Bill & Ted Face the Music” in U.S. cinemas and on VOD on August 28, 2020.