Review: ‘Easter Sunday’ (2022), starring Jo Koy

August 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front: Joey Guila, Elena Juatco, Jo Koy, Melody Butiu and Lydia Gaston in “Easter Sunday” (Photo by Ed Ariquel/Universal Pictures)

“Easter Sunday” (2022)

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

Some language in Tagalog with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in California’s Los Angeles County and Daly City, the comedic film “Easter Sunday” features a cast of predominantly Asian characters (with some white people and a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A struggling, divorced actor in the Los Angeles area is pressured to go to his family’s annual Easter Sunday dinner about 385 miles away in Daly City, on the same day that he might have to be in Los Angeles for an important event that could change his career for the better. 

Culture Audience: “Easter Sunday” will appeal primarily to people are are fans of star Jo Koy and any family comedy that wallows in mediocre and predictable stereotypes.

Jo Koy, Brandon Wardell and Carly Pope in “Easter Sunday” (Photo by Ed Ariquel/Universal Pictures)

The uninspired comedy “Easter Sunday” is like being served rotten Easter eggs that went stale years ago. It piles on over-used and tired clichés about family reunions, while dumping in a silly subplot about paying a debt to a vengeful criminal. This predictable tripe might have been more appealing if it had just stuck to the family issues. But instead, “Easter Sunday” goes off the rails toward the last third of the movie when it forces a ridiculous and horribly written crime caper into this already weak storyline.

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, “Easter Sunday” (which was written by Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo) can certainly be praised for having diversity in the movie’s cast and behind-the-scenes filmmaking team. However, that diversity doesn’t automatically mean that the movie is going to be any good. Unfortunately, “Easter Sunday” missed an opportunity to be a standout comedy film for having a truly original and amusing story. “Easter Sunday” has so many ripoffs and recycled tropes from similar comedy films, it’s embarrassing.

There’s the male protagonist who has a love/hate relationship with certain family members. There’s the big family reunion that’s supposed to cause him a lot of stress. There’s the goofy sidekick who gets the protagonist in all sorts of trouble. And that trouble usually involves cartoonish violence and hard-to-believe scenarios. All of these stereotypes are in “Easter Sunday,” which mostly fails to be funny, charming, bold or interesting.

In “Easter Sunday,” the protagonist is a struggling actor named Joe Valencia (played by Jo Koy), who is on the verge of getting his first big break in years: starring in a TV comedy series. Joe, who lives in Vernon, California (a suburb of Los Angeles), is a divorced father to a son who is about 16 or 17 years old. Joe’s son is also named Joe but is nicknamed Junior (played by Brandon Wardell), who is often estranged from Joe because Joe has a long history of being a flaky parent who avoids spending family time with Junior.

What makes Joe’s unstable parenting even worse is that Junior doesn’t live very far from Joe. Therefore, Joe has no real excuse for why he doesn’t spend time with Junior as much as Joe should. Joe’s ex-wife Catherine (played by Carly Pope), who is remarried, has custody of Junior. Catherine’s current husband Nick (played by Michael Weaver) is a player for the professional ice hockey team the Los Angeles Kings. Nick is good-looking, athletic, and makes a lot more money than Joe does. Nick and Junior also get along with each other.

And you know what that means: Joe is predictably jealous. This jealousy comes out in a scene where Joe makes a rare visit to Catherine and Nick’s home to pick up Junior for a father/son visit. Before they leave, Nick and Joe have a petty argument because Nick insists on making Joe a nutritious smoothie drink. Joe reluctantly takes the smoothie drink but then dumps it out on a street near the house as Joe is driving away. Joe deliberately does it in full view of Catherine and Nick, so that the couple can see Joe make this mess. It’s the first of many signs that Joe can be obnoxious and immature.

Junior is close to being put on academic probation at the private school that he attends, but Joe doesn’t feel equipped to handle this problem. Still, Joe agrees to attend a parent-teacher meeting at the school with Catherine and Junior to discuss this issue. And it should come as no surprise that the meeting is on the same day that Joe has to audition for this sitcom, which is called “Great Scott.”

Joe is being considered for the TV show’s starring role, in which he would be portraying an attorney. Joe’s ambitious and smarmy agent Nick (played by “Easter Sunday” director Chandrasekhar) knows that this audition is the biggest thing that’s come along for Joe in years. This major opportunity leads to Nick putting enormous pressure on Joe to do whatever it takes to get the job.

Joe’s main claim to fame is starring in a beer commercial that aired years ago. In this commercial, he shouted the catch phrase, “Let’s get this party started, baby!” (with “baby” pronounced “baybay”), which became his signature line as an actor. The problem is that Joe has become pigeonholed as that “beer commercial guy,” and people who know he’s an actor always expect him to say that line. (And expect to hear people in “Easter Sunday” say “Let’s get this party started, baby!,” repeatedly, to annoying levels.)

The school meeting is scheduled to take place after the audition. During the audition, Joe’s racial identity becomes a point of discussion that borders on offensive. Just like Koy’s real-life racial identity and family backround, Joe is biracial. His mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, and his father is a white American, who abandoned the family when he was a child. In the audition, Joe is asked to make his voice sound more “half-Filipino.” Joe is insulted because he thinks he should play the role with his natural American accent.

However, the audition runs much longer than Joe expected. And so, Joe misses the parent-teacher meeting. Junior and Catherine are disappointed, but not surprised. Meanwhile, Nick tells Joe in multiple phone calls that Joe will get the role in “Great Scott,” but only if Joe does what the TV network wants for the “half-Filipino accent.” Joe is told to stand by and be available in case there needs to be a follow-up meeting with executives from the TV network.

In the midst of this potential career-changing opportunity, Joe gets a call from his domineering mother Susan (played by Lydia Gaston), who lives in Daly City, a San Francisco suburb that’s about 385 miles north of Los Angeles. Susan insists that Joe and Junior attend their family’s annual Easter Sunday reunion. Joe reluctantly agrees, even though he knows he could be called to have a last-minute meeting with TV executives in Los Angeles. And so, Joe and Junior take a road trip to Daly City.

The other family members attending the reunion are:

  • Teresa (played by Tia Carrere), Susan’s sister/Joe’s aunt, who has been feuding with Susan for years for a reason they both can’t remember. Teresa (who is vain and shallow) and Susan (who is cranky and judgmental) are highly competitive with each other to prove who’s the “best” family member.
  • Eugene (played by Eugene Cordero), Teresa’s ne’er-do-well son, who is always on the hustle for his next “get rich quick” scheme. Eugene greatly admires his older cousin Joe, who has recently invested $20,000 for Eugene’s new business venture.
  • Regina (played by Elena Juatco), Joe’s sensible younger bachelorette sister, who works as a nurse. Regina is slightly envious but happy that Joe got to follow his dreams to become an actor, while she felt pressured by their mother Susan to have a more stable profession.
  • Yvonne (played by Melody Butiu) and Manny (played by Joey Guila), Joe’s married aunt and uncle, who can be boisterous and opinionated at family events, but these spouses generally get along with everyone in the family. Yvonne and Manny (who is the brother of Susan and Teresa) try to stay out of the feud between Susan and Teresa.
  • Arthur (played by Rodney To), Joe’s eccentric bachelor uncle, who works as a mailman and likes to keep a secret arsenal of weapons hidden in his clothes. (You can bet that this weapons stash will be used for slapstick comedy in the movie.)

Eugene told Joe that Eugune’s new business venture would be a taco truck. But after Eugene took Joe’s money, Eugene changed his mind and decided the truck (which Eugene has named Hypetruck) would sell the latest fad games and toys. Bizarrely, Eugene also wants to sell trendy designer clothes and high-priced athletic shoes from the truck, without thinking that the image-conscious target customers for this type of apparel wouldn’t want to tackily buy these items from a truck. Joe isn’t happy when he finds out about this “bait and switch” scam that Eugene pulled on him.

Joe gets even more irritated when he finds out that Eugene owes $40,000 to a gun-toting shady character named Dev Deluxe (played by Asif Ali), who owns and operates a jewelry store called Jewelry Jamz in a Daly City shopping mall. But the store is just a money-laundering front for Dev’s illegal businesses, which aren’t named in the movie, but viewers can use their imagination. It doesn’t take long for Dev to show up with some of his thugs to threaten Eugene with bodily harm if Eugene doesn’t pay back the money in the short period of time that just happens to be the same period of time that Joe will be in Daly City.

The rest of “Easter Sunday” is an awkward mix of Joe and Eugene trying to come up with the money while attempting to make it to Susan’s home on time for the Easter Sunday dinner. It leads to a not-very-funny subplot of stolen boxing gloves that were worn by Manny Pacquiao; an encounter with actor Lou Diamond Phillips (playing a version of himself); and lots of bickering and nagging from Susan and Teresa.

Junior has taken up photography as a hobby (he has a vintage camera that uses film), which is how he meets his love interest Tala (played by Eva Noblezada), when Junior is taking some photos in a park. After a brief flirtation, Junior (who doesn’t have a lot of experience in dating) and Tala (who is sassily confident and sarcastic) start hanging out together. Junior shyly invites Tala to the Easter Sunday family dinner. It’s just an excuse for Tala to be with this family when some of the dumb shenanigans start happening.

And gee, what a coincidence: Tala works at Jewelry Jamz, the store owned by Dev, Eugene’s angry and violent debtor. “Easter Sunday” also has a clumsily written “coincidence” when Joe, Eugene, Tala and Junior end up in a high-speed car chase. The cop who pulls them over just happens to be Joe’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa Morgan (played by Tiffany Haddish), who is still bitter that the relationship ended because Joe cheated on her. This encounter with Vanessa is in the “Easter Sunday” trailer, and it’s just more of Haddish playing a tacky “angry black woman” stereotype that she keeps doing for most of her on-screen roles.

In the race against time to get the money to pay back Dev, “Easter Sunday” has a subplot about Joe and Eugene enlisting the help of an acquaintance named Marvin (played by Jimmy O. Yang), who sells black-market designer merchandise (mostly athletic shoes) in the back room of a store. Marvin’s role in “Easter Sunday” isn’t nearly as terrible as Vanessa’s role, but it’s still not a very interesting character. Yang is a skilled stand-up comedian whose talent is under-used in this fairly bland role.

“Easter Sunday” wastes some time where Koy, who’s best known as a stand-up comedian, has to have a scene where he does a version of his stand-up act. This inept scene takes place during a church service, where it goes from the priest Father Hildo (played by Rodney Perry) publicly shaming Joe for not donating enough money to the church, to Joe getting in front of the congregation and doing low-rent, stand-up comedy to win over the crowd. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

The movie’s ways of depicting Filipino culture and Filipino American culture are superficial at best and mishandled at worst. There are the expected close-up shots of Filipino food on dining tables, which is something that is very easy to do in a movie. What’s much harder to do, especially in a comedy, is depiciting Filipino cultural pride in an authentic way that doesn’t pander to negative clichés. For example, in the “Easter Sunday” subplot about Manny Pacquiao’s boxing gloves, Joe insists that only someone of Filipino heritage can own the gloves, which is just a phony and cumbersome way to drag out the hijinks related these boxing gloves.

The performances by the “Easter Sunday” cast members range from adequate to over-the-top hammy. Koy’s Joe character is just a formulaic retread of what stand-up comedians usually do when they have a starring role in their first major feature film: They play a character who’s a clownish screw-up in need of redemption and “important life lessons.” Wardell and Noblezada (as would-be couple Junior and Tala) fare the best at having the most naturalistic performances and the best comedic timing. Everyone else is just playing stereotypes.

Expect to see a lot of pouting and preening from Gaston and Carrere as feuding sisters Susan and Teresa. The way this family feud is handled in “Easter Sunday” plays into outdated and sexist perceptions of women as “catty” and “difficult” if they’re obnoxious, but irresponsible men like Joe and Eugene are supposed to be thought of as “funny” and “freewheeling” if they’re obnoxious. Unfortunately, the very talented Phillips is not in “Easter Sunday” as much as people might think he’s in the movie. His “Easter Sunday” screen time is less than 15 minutes.

“Easter Sunday” does make an attempt to have some heartfelt family moments, but they are too often marred by making these family members look very dorky—and not in a good way. There’s an extremely cringeworthy karaoke scene involving the family singing Black Eyed Peas’ over-played 2009 hit “I Gotta Feeling,” as if they’re the coolest family in California. This scene will just make viewers wonder what year this moldy and out-of-touch “Easter Sunday” screenplay was completed.

Sometimes, a movie can have a scene-stealing villain who makes the film more entertaining to watch. “Easter Sunday” doesn’t have this type of villain. Dev is just a complete buffoon who has some of the worst lines in “Easter Sunday.” Dev’s last few scenes in the movie are just a sloppily edited and witless atrocity that looks like the “Easter Sunday” filmmakers ran out of ideas for this foolish character.

At the same time, “Easter Sunday” tries to cram in too many subplots with the Joe character and ends up over-relying on lackluster and predictable ways to try to resolve these subplots. Easter Sunday is a religious holiday about a miracle. This hackneyed “Easter Sunday” movie needed a miracle to make it a throroughly entertaining comedy.

Universal Pictures will release “Easter Sunday” in U.S. cinemas on August 5, 2022.

Review: ‘Adverse,’ starring Thomas Nicholas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Sean Astin, Penelope Ann Miller and Mickey Rourke

April 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Mickey Rourke and Thomas Nicholas in “Adverse” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Adverse”

Directed by Brian A. Metcalf

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the crime drama “Adverse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: An ex-con, who’s now a rideshare driver, goes on a vendetta rampage after his teenage sister is harmed because of a $20,000 debt she owes to a drug lord.

Culture Audience: “Adverse” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a violent movie and don’t care if it’s tacky and terrible.

Thomas Nicholas in “Adverse” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Adverse” is the type of rage-filled, mindless vendetta movie that’s so bad, it verges on parody. Unfortunately, the movie takes itself way too seriously to be considered something to laugh at, and the action scenes (the main attraction of the movie) are filmed in an amateurish way. There’s absolutely nothing original about this uninspiring movie that is ultimately a giant bore.

Written and directed by Brian A. Metcalf, the title of “Adverse” is a perfect way to describe what this movie is, when it comes to creating a memorable and entertaining movie. People who’ve seen plenty of action movies will immediately see that “Adverse” can’t even meet basic standards of suspense and exciting energy. The killings are done such a robotic way that they didn’t really need live actors for this movie. “Adverse” looks more like a tedious video game.

In “Adverse,” Ethan Locke (played by Thomas Nicholas, who is one of the film’s producers) is an ex-con in his late 30s or early 40s who’s trying to get his life back on track as a rideshare driver. The car that he uses for his job was given to him by his late mother Nicole (played by Penelope Ann Miller, in flashbacks), who was stricken with an unnamed terminal illness. Ethan is the legal guardian of his rebellious 16-year-old half-sister Mia Locke (played by Kelly Arjen), who has been hanging out with a druggie crowd.

Ethan and Mia have different fathers who are not in their lives. Mia’s father died years ago, while Ethan’s father abandoned the family when Ethan was young and hasn’t been in contact ever since. Ethan doesn’t even know if his father is dead or alive.

Ethan spent time in prison for armed robbery, but he turned his life around before his mother died, which is why he was able to get guardianship of Mia instead of her being put in the foster care system. As part of his parole requirements, Ethan meets regularly with Dr. Daniel Cruz (played by Lou Diamond Phillips), a clinical social services professional who tells Ethan that he wants to help him. However, Ethan is aloof in their meetings because he doesn’t seem to trust anyone who’s part of “the system.”

One day, Ethan comes home to his shabby apartment and finds Mia and three other people smoking dope in the living room: Lars (played by Jake T. Austin) is Mia’s drug-dealing boyfriend, and the other two party friends are sisters Chris McMillan (played by Shelley Regner) and Jessica McMillan (played by Ayla Kell). Ethan is on parole and can’t be around drug users, and he’s also concerned about Mia’s welfare, so he angrily orders Mia’s druggie pals to leave the apartment.

Mia isn’t happy about it and she tells Ethan that she’s probably going to drop out of high school. Ethan says that he could lose custody of Mia and she could be put in foster care, but she yells at him that it doesn’t matter because at least she wouldn’t have to answer to him anymore. Their arguing is cliché, and it’s at this point you know that Mia’s rebelliousness will bring trouble to the family.

Ethan also doesn’t approve of Lars because he suspects that Lars has been abusive to Mia. And Ethan is right. There are some flashback memories that Mia has that shows how Lars bullies her and physically roughs her up. But like a lot of people in abusive relationships, Mia is too scared to end the relationship.

And speaking of relationships, Ethan has a mild flirtation going with his next-door neighbor Chloe (played by Kate Katzman), who just happens to look like a bombshell blonde actress. Since this movie takes place in Los Angeles, having a neighbor who looks like Chloe isn’t entirely far-fetched. But since “Adverse” only portrays females in this movie as eye candy and/or damsels in distress, no one should be surprised that the “Adverse” filmmakers make Chloe a very superficial, two-dimensional character.

One night, Ethan gets a rideshare customer named Kaden Stern (played by Mickey Rourke), who says that his job is lending people money. But Kaden is more than a loan shark. He’s also a murderous drug lord who doesn’t hesitate to have people killed if they can’t pay their debts to him.

But Ethan doesn’t know at first that Kaden is really a drug boss. While Ethan drives Kaden to his destination, Kaden asks Ethan if he’s looking for a full-time job. Ethan says no, because he’s a full-time rideshare driver, which is a job that he likes because “I work when I want.” Of course, this won’t be the last that Kaden and Ethan see of each other.

Kaden has various henchmen doing a lot of dirty work for him, including a small-time drug dealer named Dante (played by “Adverse” director Metcalf), who’s also a cocaine addict. Dante is tasked with being a “middle man” who collects the debts that people owe to Kaden. In the movie, Dante is shown only in a back room of a sleazy club called The Velvet Room, as if he has nowhere else to be. or because this low-budget film couldn’t be bothered to do anything creative with its set design.

It should come as no surprise that Mia and Lars are among the people in debt to Kaden. One night, Mia confesses to Kaden that she and Lars owe $20,000 to Dante. According to what Mia says, she and Lars originally borrowed $10,000 to run away together and start their own business. But instead, they used to money to buy drugs. And with interest added to their debt, their total debt is $20,000.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Ethan to hear this news. He’s been suspended from his rideshare job after getting false complaints from two customers—one who accused him of overcharging, and the other who accused him of sexual harassment. Ethan’s boss Frankie (played by Sean Astin) tells him that Ethan won’t get the $10,000 salary owed to him until the outcome of the company investigation into these complaints.

But since this is a silly movie about an ex-con on a rampage, Ethan storms into Frankie’s office and uses physical intimidation get the $10,000. And conveniently, Frankie has all of the $10,000 in cash right at his desk, and he quickly and fearfully hands over the cash to Ethan. And because Mia told Ethan where to find Dante, the next thing you know, Ethan barrels his way into the back of The Velvet Room, and growls at Dante to take the $10,000 and consider Mia’s debt paid in full.

But if things ended there, there would be no “Adverse” movie. Through a series of circumstances, Mia is kidnapped, and Ethan goes in full-on, crazy vigilante mode. Along the way, he encounters three more goons who are in Kaden’s inner circle: Jake (played by Matt Ryan), who’s a ruthless Brit; Jan (played by Andrew Keegan), who’s a typical scuzzy lowlife; and Kyle (played by Luke Edwards), who’s a stuttering, simple-minded thug.

The acting in this movie is all over the place (and not in a good way), ranging from stiffly empty to melodramatic garbage. There’s a heavy-handed musical score from Alex Kharlamov that’s very mismatched and self-important, because it sounds like it’s supposed to be for a major adventure epic instead of what this movie really is: B-movie schlock.

There are fight scenes where you can literally see the fake punches that aren’t really hitting anyone and the cartoonishly overwrought sound effects added in later. And there are continuity and editing problems in the chase scenes. For example, someone is seen being chased by someone else who’s right behind (less than a foot away), but then a split second later in the same scene, the person doing the chasing is several feet away. It’s physically impossible, and this isn’t a sci-fi movie were someone has the ability to teleport. But really, it’s all such sloppy filmmaking.

As the chief villain Kaden, Rourke isn’t doing anything that he hasn’t done before in his other recent movies where he usually plays a villain. In fact, Rourke seems so bored and jaded with the role that you could have propped up a wax dummy and used visual effects to get more life out of the performance. Nicholas’ Ethan character shows glimmers of humanity in the beginning of the movie, but by the end of the film, Ethan is a not-very-believable killing machine who uses only a tire iron to slaughter a bunch of people. And don’t be fooled by the top billing that Phillips, Miller and Astin get for this movie, because the “Adverse” screen time for these three actors is about five minutes each.

“Adverse” might be entertaining to people who have anger issues and like to see dimwitted movies about a vigilante going on a vicious murder spree in a story that ultimately goes nowhere. But “Adverse” doesn’t even try to have any creativity whatsoever in the action scenes. And just like the body count that generically piles up in the movie, “Adverse” will be relegated to the disposable pile of deadweight movies with no soul and nothing to say.

Arcangelo Entertainment released “Adverse” in select U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. Lionsgate released “Adverse” on digital, VOD and DVD on March 9, 2021.

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