Review: ‘The Menu’ (2022), starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light and John Leguizamo

November 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “The Menu.” Pictured from left to right, in front: Judith Light, Reed Birney, Nicholas Hoult, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Adelstein, Janet McTeer, Ralph Fiennes, Rob Yang, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr and John Leguizamo. (Photo by Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures)

“The Menu” (2022)

Directed by Mark Mylod

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in an unnamed part of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the horror film “The Menu” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and Latinos and one African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Eleven people gather to dine at an exclusive, high-priced restaurant on an isolated island, where they eventually find out that the chef has prepared a deadly menu.

Culture Audience: “The Menu” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, and who are interested in well-acted horror films that are satires of wealthy people and social climbers.

Ralph Fiennes and Hong Chau (center) in “The Menu” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Menu” succumbs to horror stereotypes in the last 15 minutes of the film. However, the overall movie is an entertaining ride that pokes fun at pretentiousness and obsessive ambition that are spawned from the pursuit of fame, wealth, and power. The sinister intentions in the story are foreshadowed early on, so the main suspense comes from finding who will survive in this horror film that is both gruesomely grim and wickedly comedic. “The Menu” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival before screening a several other film festivals in 2022, such as Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland.

Directed by Mark Mylod, “The Menu” was co-written by Will Tracy and Seth Reiss. The movie was inspired by a real-life experience that Tracy had when he want to an exclusive, upscale restaurant on a private island in Norway. In the production notes for “The Menu,” Tracy remembers how he felt: “It was a small island. And I realized, ‘Oh, we’re stuck here for four hours. What if something goes wrong?’”

As shown in the trailers for “The Menu,” it’s a movie where the worst things that can possibly go wrong become a nightmarish reality for the restaurant guests. “The Menu” takes place almost entirely on an unnamed private island somewhere in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. (“The Menu” was actually filmed in Savannah, Georgia.) And it’s an isolated island where the only attraction is an exclusive, invitation-only restaurant called Hawthorn, which is surrounded by a wooded area.

Hawthorn’s chef is a stern taskmaster named Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes), who has become legendary in culinary circles for his highly unusual menu items. Getting an invitation to Hawthorn (which has a sleek, modern decor) is considered one of the highest achievements for people who want to be in the upper echelon of elite foodies. Much of the movie’s satire and horror come from the characters’ desire to have this social status at any cost.

In addition to paying the fee of $1,250 per person, invited guests at Hawthorn have to agree to two main rules: They cannot go to the restaurant solo, and they cannot take photos while they’re at the restaurant. The multi-course dinner at Hawthorn is supposed to take place over four hours and 25 minutes, ending at around 2 a.m.

“The Menu” begins by showing the 11 people who are Hawthorn’s current dinner guests, as they travel on a boat taking them to the island where Hawthorn is located. They are greeted by Hawthorn’s no-nonsense captain Elsa (played by Hong Chau), who acts as a knowledgeable hostess and an unforgiving disciplinarian to the customers. Viewers will later see that all of Hawthorn’s employees act like cult followers of Chef Slowik.

The 11 dinner guests who take this fateful trip are:

  • Tyler Ledford (played by Nicholas Hoult), who is in his early 30s, considers himself to be a foodie extraordinaire. He is a superfan of Check Slowik, and it’s a dream come true for Tyler to be invited to dine at Hawthorn.
  • Margot Mills (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who is in her mid-20s, is Tyler’s date, and she doesn’t really care about the prestigious reputation of Hawthorn. Margot is Tyler’s last-minute companion for this dinner. He was originally going to take a girlfriend, but that relationship recently ended, and he didn’t have time to inform Hawthorn in advance that Margot is his replacement guest.
  • A fast-talking movie star in his 50s (played by John Leguizamo), whose last name is briefly mentioned as being Diaz, but his full name remains a mystery throughout the movie. He is self-centered, demanding and paranoid. His career as an actor has been on the decline, and he’s at Hawthorn as research, because he wants to reinvent himself as the host of a food/travel show.
  • Felicity (played by Aimee Carrero), who is in her 20s, is the movie star’s personal assistant. She reacts to his ego posturing and rude bossiness with a mixture of apathy, pity and disdain. Felicity, whose mother is a movie-studio executive, has the attitude of someone who is close to quitting her job but is staying out of a misguided sense of loyalty to a boss who doesn’t appreciate her.
  • Lillian Bloom (played by Janet McTeer), who is in her early 60s, is a haughty and very pretentious food critic whose ego has been overblown by whatever fame she has. She likes being the center of attention and thinks that her opinion is the only opinion that matters.
  • Ted (played by Paul Adelstein), who is in his early 50s, is Lillian’s “yes man” editor at the magazine where they work. Ted pathetically agrees with almost everything that Lillian says, even if he might secretly disagree with her. Lillian and Ted both like to take credit for helping make Chef Slowik a star, since their magazine gave him positive coverage early in Chef Slowik’s career.
  • Richard (played by Reed Birney), who is his late 60s, is a rich man whose wealth is not really explained in the movie. He conducts himself with an air of someone who is used to getting what he wants.
  • Anne (played by Judith Light), who is in her early 70s, is Richard’s wife who appears accustomed to living in his shadow. Unlike the other guests, Richard and Anne have dined at Hawthorn many times. Anne and Richard are longtime spouses, but their marriage appears to be stagnant and strained.
  • Soren (played by Arturo Castro), Dave (played by Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (played by Rob Yang), who are in their 30s, are co-workers who have become recent millionaires in the technology industry. Their boss Doug Varick is the chief investor and owner of Hawthorn, so these three “tech bros” go into the restaurant with an extreme sense of entitlement. They also like to show off and brag about their wealth. Soren is the cockiest and loudest of the three pals.

During the check-in process, Elsa is immediately annoyed because Margot’s name is not on the guest list. Tyler nervously explains that the woman he originally invited couldn’t be there, and Margot is his date instead. Elsa reluctantly allows Margot to go to Hawthorn. Later, Chef Slowik also gets irritated that Margot is not someone who was on the expected guest list. Because, yes, “The Menu” is one of those horror movies where people were invited to an isolated area for a specific reason.

As the dinner becomes increasingly ominous, the invited guests eventually find out why they were brought to Hawthorn, as secrets about the guests are revealed in different parts of the movie. Margot’s unexpected presence and her obvious lack of admiration for Hawthorn end up unnerving Chef Slowik so much, he follows Margot into the restroom to demand to know why she doesn’t seem to be impressed with the food and the restaurant.

“The Menu” has a simple concept and very few surprises. However, the movie has a crackling intensity to it, punctuated by moments of dark comedy, because of the snappy dialogue and the cast members’ always-watchable performances. The obnoxiously pompous conversations between Lillian and Ted are some of the comedic highlights of the movie.

Chau’s portrayal of dour Elsa also has its funny moments because of her cynical insults and the ways she passively-aggressively gets revenge on customers she thinks are getting out of line. The “tech bros” repeatedly request bread for their table, but they are refused and complain about it to Elsa. Bryce impatiently asks her: “Don’t you know who we are?” Elsa then says quietly in Soren’s ear: “You’ll eat less than you desire and more than you deserve.”

The menu items look decorative when served as they’re masterpieces, but they are often examples of theater of the absurd, such as a second-course serving that consists of a “breadless bread plate.” Chef Slowik haughtily explains, “Bread is for the common man. You are not the common man.” The dinner guests look like they don’t want to think that some of what they’re being serves is a joke—and the joke’s on them.

Tyler and Margot, who barely know each other, end up clashing on many different levels, because they view the Hawthorn experience so differently. Margot is quick to call out any rudeness and disrespect she sees at Hawthorn, but Tyler is quick to ignore any bad conduct because he doesn’t want to get banned from Hawthorn. Hoult and Taylor-Joy have some memorable scenes together, but Taylor-Joy has the more substantial role in the movie. It should come as no surprise that there’s more to Margot than what she first appears to be.

As for chief villain Chef Slowik, he reveals things about his past that partially explain his obsessive need for control, perfection and being considered one of the best restaurant chefs ever. The movie has some predictable scenes of Chef Slowik humiliating some members of his staff, including sous chefs named Jeremy Loudon (played by Adam Aalderks) and Katherine Keller (played by Christina Brucato). Chef Slowik’s mother Linda (played by Rebecca Koon) is seated by herself in the restaurant’s dining area, but she spends most of the movie in a drunken stupor.

Chef Slowik doesn’t own Hawthorn, so there’s an underlying insecurity to his madness that’s impossible to ignore. Fiennes brings both cold calculation and unbridled rage to his role as this evil chef with murderous intentions. Chef Slowik is both transparent and mysterious, consistent yet unpredictable. This dichotomous nature makes him a fascinating character to watch.

“The Menu” also hilariously lampoons the way that people mindlessly buy into whatever overpriced ridiculousness they think will give them higher social status than others. For example, at one point during the dinner, Chef Slowik orders the guests: “Do not eat. Taste, relish, savor. Do not eat. Our menu is too precious for that.”

Imagine being served a meal at a restaurant, but then being told not to eat that meal because it’s “too precious” to eat. Some of the guests, especially Tyler, are so enthralled with whatever Chef Slowik has to say, they could have an empty plate put in front of them at Hawthorn and be convinced that the plate’s “aura” is the greatest thing they ever experienced at a restaurant. Tyler gushes about Chef Slowik to Margot: “He’s not a chef. He’s a storyteller.”

Of course, things eventually get very ugly and un-glamorous at Hawthorn. “The Menu” falls apart a little bit when it turns into a standard schlockfest, with the expected attempts to escape from the island, and some bloody fights for survival. Some of the characters are very underdeveloped, such as the “tech bros” and Chef Slowik’s mother. Even though the concept of people trapped in an isolated area is an over-used basis for a horror movie, “The Menu” serves up enough of freshness and originality to make it a thrilling and terrifying story.

Searchlight Pictures will release “The Menu” in U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘The Forgiven’ (2022), starring Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain

July 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain in “The Forgiven” (Photo by Nick Wall/Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

“The Forgiven” (2022)

Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Some language in Arabic and Tamazight with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains area and the city of Tangier, the dramatic film “The Forgiven” features a cast of white and Middle Eastern characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on vacation in Morocco, two unhappily married, upper-middle-class spouses (he’s British, she’s American) are involved in a drunk-driving car accident that kills a teenage boy, and they use their privilege to avoid being arrested for the crime but must face judgment from the boy’s father. 

Culture Audience: “The Forgiven” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, as well as to viewers who are interested in tension-filled movies about people who have conflicts with laws and customs in foreign countries.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Ismael Kanater, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones and Mourad Zaoui in “The Forgiven” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

The dramatic film “The Forgiven” doesn’t flow as well as it should for a piercing look at spoiled and entitled people who use their privilege as a weapon and as a shield. However, the performances are worth watching to see how terrible people can be their own worst enemies. In other words, “The Forgiven” is not a “feel good” movie. Be prepared to witness a lot of self-absorbed and insufferable conduct from snobs and bigots who think a lot of “real world” rules and manners don’t apply to them unless they can get something out of it.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, “The Forgiven” is based on Lawrence Osborne’s 2012 novel of the same name. The movie has the tremendous benefit of a talented cast that can turn some of the soap opera-ish dialogue and make it into something resembling a satire of the pompous characters who cause the most damage. Although the story is fictional, there are plenty of real-life examples of people who act this way. “The Forgiven” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and its U.S. premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The movie’s opening scene sets the tone for the unpleasantness to come. British oncologist David Henninger (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his American wife Jo Henninger (played by Jessica Chastain), who live in London, have arrived in Tangier, Morocco, to attend an Atlas Mountains party thrown by a wealthy gay couple whom David and Jo have known for an unnamed period of time. David and Jo have no children and have been married for 12 years. But it only takes a few minutes into the movie before their bickering starts.

David thinks Jo is a shrewish nag. Jo calls David a “high-functioning alcoholic.” He responds by saying that “high-functioning” cancels out “alcoholic.” David knows that Jo is correct because he really is an alcoholic. If David is awake, chances are he’s drinking alcohol. And his alcoholism is a direct cause of the car accident that results in a tragedy.

Later, it’s revealed in the movie that Jo is a children’s book author whose books have never been bestsellers. She also hasn’t written any books for the past eight years. It’s unknown if frustrations over her career and marriage have made Jo such a bitter person, or if Jo already had this type of personality before she married David. However, what’s obvious is that Jo and David are both deeply unhappy people—together and apart.

Before David and Jo arrive at their party destination, the movie shows a scene of two Moroccan teenage boys (who are about 15 or 16 years old) in a cliff area of Atlas Mountains. One of the boys is sniffing glue from a plastic bag. Viewers later find out that his name is Driss Taheri (played by Omar Ghazaoui) and that he and his friend Ismael (played by Aissam Taamart) sell fossil rocks as a way to make some money.

As Ismael hammers at some rocks to find fossils, Driss scolds Ismael for never leaving their village or never having ambitions to leave for bigger and better things. Ismael replies by saying that he doesn’t have the money to leave. Driss says there’s always a way to get money. Poverty in this community becomes a big issue later on in the story.

“The Forgiven” then shows David and Jo in their rental car going from Tangier on the way to the party in the High Atlas Mountains. It’s nighttime on a deserted road, and David is driving, although he probably shouldn’t be driving, because he’s more than likely well past the alcohol legal limit to drive. Jo and David get lost and are arguing some more when tragedy strikes: The car hits a teenage boy who suddenly appears in front of the car on the road. He is killed instantly.

Meanwhile, viewers see several people who are gathered for this house party. The party hosts are wealthy British real estate developer Richard Galloway (played by Matt Smith) and his American boyfriend Dally Margolis (played by Caleb Landry Jones), a very pretentious couple who threw this party mainly to show off some of their wealth. The home where Richard and Dally are having this multi-day party is big enough that most of the guests (including Jo and David) will be staying overnight on the property.

With the guests gathered in an outdoor patio area, Richard gives a speech bragging about all the fine delicacies and luxuries that the guests can see and enjoy during this soiree. He adds, “We hope you’ll find this place a vision of paradise, a place in which to receive the people we love.” It’s a very shallow speech because it’s questionable if anyone in this group of partiers really loves each other.

Richard then says, “And don’t forget the figs—typically representative of a woman’s vagina.” Dally, who is standing near Richard, giggles in response: “Or so we’ve been told.” This is the type of dialogue that’s in a lot of “The Forgiven.” It’s indicative of how some people who are rich when it comes to money and property can still lack class.

Other guests at the party also conduct themselves with an air of jaded superiority at being in this luxurious environment. Financial analyst Tom Day (played by Christopher Abbott) is a smirking and lecherous American, who tells Richard: “I’ve got three girlfriends. They all hate me.”

Cody (played by Abbey Lee), who is also American, is the requisite modelesque-looking “party girl” who’s often too intoxicated to comprehend where she is and what she’s doing. When Cody dances drunkenly near Tom, he tells her that his wife left him because she ran off with a hedge fund manager. Later in the movie, there’s a random and very out-of-place scene of Cody wandering around lost in the desert on the day after the party started.

French photographer Isabelle Péret (played by Marie-Josée Croze) takes photos at the party and has a mild flirtation with Tom when they have a conversation. Leila Tarki (played by Imane El Mechrafi) is an independent filmmaker whom Isabelle greatly admires. At the party, Isabelle points out Leila to Tom and describes Leila as “the Moroccan auteur. She’s the coolest.” Isabelle also mentions that Leila is in Morocco to raise funds for Leila’s new movie, which will be about nomads.

Maisy Joyce (played by Fiona O’Shaughnessy), whose occupation or social purpose is never stated, is a gossipy guest who makes low-key snarky comments about everyone she observes. When she meets Tom, she bluntly asks him: “Are you gay?” Tom replies, “No, but I fucked a man who is.” Tom is the type of person who doesn’t make it clear if he’s telling the truth or if he’s joking when he makes this type of statement.

Later, two other party guests show up: middle-aged playboy William Joyce (played by David McSavage) and Maribel (played by Briana Belle), one of William’s much-younger trophy girlfriends. All of these party guests, except for David and Jo, end up being backdrops to the drama that unfolds because of the car accident. It should come as no surprise that the party continues as planned, even though the dead boy’s body is temporarily brought to the house.

Richard gets a call from David during the party and hears the horrible news about the car accident and death. David and Jo are in a panic because they’re afraid of being arrested for the death of this child, whom they say has no identification. Richard reluctantly allows Jo and David to come over to the house, so they can talk about what to do next. The body of the boy has been put in their car.

Richard sends his most trusted employee Hamid (played by Mourad Zaoui) and some other servants to escort David and Jo back to the house. Hamid can speak Arabic and English, so he acts as the main translator in this story. He also advises the Westerners about Moroccan and Muslim customs and traditions.

Dally is very nervous and thinks that he and Richard shouldn’t get involved in this car accident case, but Richard thinks that the local police can be bribed if necessary. Richard and David are also alumni of the same elite university (which is unnamed in the movie), so Richard feels obligated to help David. Richard mentions this alumni connection on more than one occasion, such as when Richard repeats stories he heard about David being a notorious troublemaker at the school.

Richard tells some people that one of the stories he heard was that David went on top of a building to drop mice wearing miniature Nazi flags on some school officials. The mice died, of course. Whoever committed this disturbing act was never caught, but David was widely believed to be the culprit. It was apparently someone’s warped way telling these school officials that they act like Nazis. And if David was the culprit, it’s an example of how he’s been an awful person for a very long time.

Before the police are called about the car accident and death that David caused, Richard advises David and Jo to act as remorseful as possible to increase the chances that they won’t be charged with any crime. Jo is willing to take that advice, but David balks at the suggestion because he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. David blames the boy for being out in the road at night.

And it isn’t long before David’s story begins to morph into saying that the boy was probably trying to commit a carjacking. David and Jo, on separate occasions, also express fear that this car accident victim could have been an ISIS terrorist. It’s blatant racism, but racists like David and Jo don’t care.

The police arrive and take statements from David and Jo. The chief investigator is Captain Benihadd (played by Ben Affan), who quickly determines (within 15 minutes) that the death was an accident and that David and Jo won’t be arrested. David doesn’t get asked to take a sobriety test or any test that would detect the level of alcohol or drugs in his system. Viewers with enough common sense can easily see why David doesn’t get much scrutiny by police who want to be deferential to people who appear to be rich.

After it’s declared that David and Jo won’t be arrested, Richard’s relief turns to dismay when he finds out that because the morgue won’t be open until the next day, the body has to stay on Richard’s property until it can be transported to the morgue. As far as Richard is concerned, it puts a damper on the party. Richard, Dally and David aren’t as concerned about how this child victim belongs to a family who will eventually hear the devastating news about his death. Jo shows a little more compassion and guilt, but not enough to erase her racism, since she automatically makes the racist assumption that the boy who was killed could be a member of ISIS.

Even though the police didn’t find any identification for the boy, and none of the people who saw his body say they know him, he does have a name: Driss Taheri. David, Jo and the other people at Richard’s house who know about this death will eventually find out Driss’ name. But even after they find out his name, they often won’t say it, as if it’s easier to think of him as nameless and unwanted. Privately, David makes this callous remark to Jo, “I hate to say it, but the kid is a nobody.”

The next day, David is riding horses with Isabelle and Macy, as if they don’t have a care in the world. A few Moroccan boys suddenly appear and throw rocks at David before the boys run away. One of the rocks hits David on the head hard enough that he gets a bloody injury on his head, and he falls off of the horse. The injury is not serious enough for him to go to a hospital though.

David nastily complains to Jo that people in the community must have found out that he was the one who caused the death of a local child. David shows more of his racism and xenophobia when he says, “They’re insatiable gossips. It’s a function of being illiterate.” Jo sarcastically replies, “What a nice little facist you’ve become since being hit by a stone.”

The way that these self-centered partiers find out Driss’ identity is when his grieving and distraught father Adbdellah Taheri (played by Ismael Kanater) shows up the next day at Richard’s house to claim the body and to talk to the people responsible for Driss’ death. Driss was his only child. (Driss’ mother is not seen or mentioned in the movie.)

With Hamid acting as a translator, David finds out that Adbdellah wants some kind of payment from David to compensate for Driss’ tragic death. Adbdellah initially didn’t want any payment, but he changes his mind when he sees that David seems very cold and uncaring about killing Driss. David flatly refuses this demand for payment.

Adbdellah also insists that David accompany Adbdellah back to Adbdellah’s home in the Moroccan region of Tafilalt, to atone for the killing, out of respect for Muslim tradition. David reluctantly agrees to this request, even though he and Jo are paranoid that it could be a trap set by “ISIS terrorists.” David goes on this trip because he also thinks it will get Adbdellah to stop expecting money from David.

The rest of “The Forgiven” shows what happens during David’s “atonement” visit, what Jo does when David is away, and the aftermath of decisions and actions that are made. The movie has flashbacks to the moments immediately before and after Driss was struck by the car and killed. These flashbacks give a clearer picture of who David and Jo really are and how they responded to this crisis.

Fiennes and Chastain give skillful but not outstanding performances as snooty pessimists who are trapped in misery of their own making. It’s never really made clear how long David has been an alcoholic, but he doesn’t have any intention of getting rehab treatment for his addiction, even after causing someone’s death because David was driving drunk. As for Jo, she’s got her own issues, because she feels like a failure who has no purpose in life.

“The Forgiven” is not going to appeal to viewers who are expecting a movie where most of the people are “likable.” The movie holds up a mirror to people who want to project an image of being “glamorous” but they actually have very ugly personalities. There’s a certain point where the movie’s ending is easy to predict. Considering all the clues pointing to this ending, it doesn’t feel like a shock but like something that was bound to happen.

Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions released “The Forgiven” in select U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘The King’s Man,’ starring Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson and Djimon Hounsou

December 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Harris Dickinson and Ralph Fiennes in “The King’s Man” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The King’s Man”

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the United Kingdom and Russia from 1902 to the late 1910s, the action film “The King’s Man” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Orlando Oxford (a British former military man also known as the Duke of Oxford) and some allies, including his son Conrad, battle villains led by evil Russian monk Grigori Rasputin.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Man” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ralph Fiennes, the “Kingsman” movies and poorly written action flicks.

Ralph Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou, Harris Dickinson and Gemma Arterton in “The King’s Man” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The King’s Man” is a charmless prequel that’s messier than the unkempt beard and head of hair on Rasputin, the movie’s flashiest villain. Even with a talented cast, this origin story to the “Kingsman” movies gets bogged down in a jumbled plot and cringeworthy dialogue. And for an action movie, much of “The King’s Man” is downright dull.

“The King’s Man” is the precursor story of 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and 2017’s inferior sequel “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” which are all about a secret spy agency led by Brits. Matthew Vaughn directed and co-wrote all three movies, which are all based on the comic book series “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon.

Audiences don’t have to see “Kingsman: The Secret Service” or “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” to understand “The King’s Man.” In fact, seeing “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” will just prove how “The King’s Man” is such a witless disappointment in comparison. If you only care about explosions and fight scenes that are too choreographed to be believable, then you might find “The King’s Man” entertaining. But if you care about having an interesting storyline and engaging characters along with thrilling action, then “The King’s Man” will leave you bored or annoyed.

Vaughn and Jane Goldman co-wrote “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” For “The King’s Man” screenplay, Vaughn teamed up with Karl Gajdusek, which might explain why the quality of “The King’s Man” is worse than the movies that Vaughn wrote with Goldman. Gajdusek’s other movie screenplay credits includes stinkers such as 2011’s “Trespass” and 2020’s “The Last Days of American Crime.” The screenplay for “The King’s Man” is definitely the worst part of the movie.

“The King’s Man” tries to disguise how weak the plot is by tangling it up with more subplots and by introducing useless characters. “The King’s Man” also tries to look smarter than it really is by throwing in real-life historical figures into the mix. But all of these gimmicks cannot hide the gross stupidity of so many aspects of “The King’s Man,” which is nothing but a bloated over-indulgence in period set pieces and big-budget stunts that are just smoke and mirrors for a lackluster story.

The basic story, which takes place from 1902 to the late 1910s, is that wealthy nobleman Orlando Oxford (played by Ralph Fiennes), also known as the Duke of Oxford, is a military-officer-turned-pacifist, who finds himself caught up in a lot of violence and political machinations leading up to World War I. To make matters worse for Orlando, his young adult son Conrad (played by Harris Dickinson) wants to enlist as a soldier to fight during the war, much to Orlando’s objections.

The movie opens during the Boer War in 1902, when Orlando (who’s representing the Red Cross) is visiting a concentration camp in South Africa with other military officials. Traveling with him in the car are Orlando’s wife Emily Oxford (played by Alexandra Maria Lara) and Conrad at about 8 or 9 years old (played by Alexander Shaw), who wait in the car while Orlando goes to meet with the people in charge of the concentration camp.

The movie is so badly written, it never explains why Orlando brought his family into this dangerous situation. During the ride to this concentration camp, Emily tells Conrad about the legendary Knights of the Round Table. She also talks about how privileged people must share their power and that the knights’ round table equals equality.

When you visit a concentration camp and you bring your spouse and underage child with you, don’t expect good things to happen. And sure enough, there’s a shootout that results in Emily getting shot and killed in front of Orlando and Conrad. Orlando’s loyal bodyguard Shola (played by Djimon Hounsou) stabs and kills the shooter, but it’s too late to save Emily. Emily’s dying words to Orlando are: “Protect our son. Promise he’ll never see war again.”

Two other military men were also caught up in this tragic shootout: Lord Kitchener (played by Charles Dance) and his right-hand man Maximillian Morton (played by Matthew Goode), who is a trusted soldier. Lord Kitchener gets shot but not killed. Unlike Orlando, Lord Kitchener does not become a pacifist after this incident. (The Lord Kitchener character is based on the real-life Herbert Kitchener, the British Army officer who later became the U.K.’s secretary of state for war.)

The movie then fast-forwards about 12 years later. Orlando has left the military and is an over-protective father to Conrad, who has led a very sheltered life. As a young man, Conrad is getting restless. Conrad wants to experience life outside of the confines of his family’s lavish estate, but Orlando is reluctant to let Conad experience the real world, and Orlando constantly fears for Conrad’s safety. Conrad has gotten an invitation from his cousin Felix Yusupov (played by Aaron Vodovoz) to visit Felix in Russia, but Orlando won’t allow Conrad to go.

The United Kingdom is on the verge of getting involved in World War I, and Orlando is firm on being an outspoken pacificist. When he takes Conrad to the Kingsman Tailor Shop on London’s Savile Row to get fitted for a new suit, Orlando tells Conrad that he wants the both of them to lead very different lives from their ancestors. Orlando describes their forebears as “tough and ruthless” brutes, who conquered and pillaged their way to power.

Orlando and Conrad have a sassy housekeeper named Polly Watkins (played by Gemma Arterton), who says things to Orlando such as: “I’ll play by your rules, if you play by mine.” “The King’s Man” is yet another action movie where the people who get top billing are several men and one token woman. And the movie has the sexist trope that this token female character can’t be around these men unless she’s a love interest of one of the men.

Therefore, you know where this is going when “The King’s Man” makes it obvious that Polly’s snappy remarks to Orlando are just her way of flirting with him and testing how he’ll react to her. It takes a while for Orlando to catch on to Polly’s romantic interest in him. And there’s a formulaic soap opera subplot when this would-be romance hits a very big snag.

Of course, there would be no “King’s Man” movie if Orlando and Conrad led a peaceful and tranquil life. Orlando, Conrad, Shola and Polly get caught up in a series of events where they become a four-person combat team fighting off various villains, many of whom are real-life historical figures.

These rogues have meetings around a table in a dark, dungeon-type of room, where Russian monk Grigori Rasputin (played by Rhys Ifans) leads the discussions. But there’s a mysterious mastermind who’s seen in the shadows during these meetings. And this person is the one who’s really calling the shots. (The movie eventually reveals who this mastermind is.) Also part of this rogue’s gallery are Dutch spy Mata Hari (played by Valerie Pachner) and Austrian con artist Erik Jan Hanussen (played by Daniel Brühl).

One of the movie’s few highlights is in how it pokes fun at real-life rivalries of royal cousins King George of Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Tsar Nicholas of Russia. All three roles are played by Tom Hollander, who does a very good job at balancing comedy and drama in his performances. However, the movie’s attempts at having high-minded “history lessons” are just drowned in an avalanche of silly conversations and convoluted plot twists that aren’t very clever.

The movie also goes off on a weird and unnecessary tangent when it fixates on Rasputin’s reputation of being a hedonistic libertine. At first, Rasputin’s insults are mild. When he first meets Orlando and Conrad, he asks them, based on how Orlando and Conrad are dressed: “Are you waiters or Englishmen?”

Later, Rasputin ramps up the sex talk by saying, “I only make a decision when my belly is full and my balls are empty.” And then he says to Orlando, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think your son is trying to fuck me.” Orlando replies, “Knowing your reputation, I’d think you’re trying to fuck him.”

And the homoerotic innuendos continue. After Orlando gets a leg wound, Rasputin says to him, “Let me lick your wounds.” Rasputin then flicks his tongue on Orlando’s leg wound in a sexually suggestive manner. The filmmakers go overboard in making their point that Rasputin is supposed to be some kind of sexual predator.

But really, it’s all just a badly written and awkward-looking attempt at making audiences laugh at the idea that a straight guy like Orlando is supposed to be uncomfortable at male sexuality that isn’t heterosexual. And why is it that the only possibly queer character in this movie has to be a villain? It’s really just homophobic filmmaking that’s incredibly tone-deaf and outdated, much like many other aspects of his dumb film.

“The King’s Man” fails in much of its comedy, but the dramatic scenes aren’t much better. That leaves the action to possibly salvage the film, but the movie falls short in that area too. There are obvious stunt doubles and distracting CGI effects in too many of the action scenes.

The movie’s production design and costume design are actually two things that make “The King’s Man” enjoyable to look at on a superficial level. However, the movie’s tone veers from having slapstick-type goofy comedy to trying to be an intense and serious spy thriller. Ultimately, “The King’s Man” is a movie prequel that makes the “Kingsman” franchise look stuck in an unimaginative rut that’s in desperate need of fresh and new ideas.

20th Century Studios released “The King’s Man” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘No Time to Die’ (2021), starring Daniel Craig

September 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Daniel Craig in “No Time to Die” (Photo by Nicola Dove/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“No Time to Die” (2021)

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Cuba, the United Kingdom, Chile and other locations around the world, the action film “No Time to Die” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few people of African, Latino and Asian heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: British superspy James Bond goes after yet another villain who wants to take over the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of James Bond movie fans, “No Time to Die” will appeal primarily to fans of Daniel Craig or people who are interested globe-trotting spy capers.

Rami Malek in “No Time to Die” (Photo by Nicola Dove/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

The often-delayed and overly hyped “No Time to Die” is not the best James Bond movie to star Daniel Craig, but it’s got enough thrilling action to make up for some hokey dialogue and questionable creative decisions. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for people who are inclined to like James Bond films, flaws and all. It’s a harder film to like for people expecting something more original than the usual chase scenes and “villain trying to take over the world” plot.

The last 15 minutes of “No Time to Die” are the only moments when the James Bond franchise does something that it’s never done before. But until then, this 163-minute movie (yes, that’s two hours and 43 minutes) becomes a bit bloated and repetitive with things that have already been done many times before in James Bond movies, which are based on Ian Fleming’s novels. The action scenes are not the franchise’s best, but they’re surely the most expensive.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (the first American to direct a James Bond film), “No Time to Die” is being marketed as the final James Bond movie to star Craig as the British superspy. Fukunaga co-wrote the “No Time to Die” screenplay with Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Having four people write the “No Time to Die” screenplay doesn’t mean that the movie turned out better than the far superior James Bond movies starring Craig—namely 2006’s “Casino Royale” and 2012’s “Skyfall.” In fact, the too-long running time of “No Time to Die” gives the impression that the movie is precisely this long because of “too many cooks in the kitchen” for this screenplay.

“No Time to Die” is the equivalent of a long and rambling introduction to a farewell speech that delivers a knockout punch, which itself takes a long time to get to the heart of the matter. For a movie this long, it might disappoint viewers to know that Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin villain character isn’t in the movie is much as the “No Time to Die” movie trailers make it look like he is. His biggest scenes are in the beginning (when he’s shown about 20 to 25 years before, doing a revenge killing of the mother of one of the movie’s characters) and in the end, when he has the inevitable major showdown with Bond.

Fans of Ana de Armas (who plays a James Bond collaborator named Paloma) might be disappointed to see that she’s not in “No Time to Die” as much as the movie’s marketing gives the impression that she is. She’s literally there just to be eye candy who can fight, in a predictable James Bond film sequence where he joins forces with a mysterious beauty who can go into battle while wearing a slinky dress. After this fight sequence, she’s not seen or heard from again in the movie.

However, the movie does deliver in continuing the story arc that began with “Casino Royale” of James Bond as a complex man who’s capable of having his heart broken. Bond had his heart broken in “Casino Royale” with (spoiler alert) the death of Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green), who has been described as the greatest love of his life. Vesper’s death is referred to in “No Time to Die,” when he visits her grave and acts like someone who will never get over this loss.

In “No Time to Die,” Bond gets a new heartbreak. And this “heartbroken” Bond is the reason why “No Time to Die” often seems to drag with so much moping and brooding from Bond. “No Time to Die” constantly hits viewers over the head with Bond wallowing in his bitterness, at the expense of giving more screen time to the chief villain Safrin so viewers can get to know Safrin better. Safrin, whose face has burn scars but doesn’t show any signs of aging, ends up being a two-dimensional character with an unimaginative backstory and a voice that sounds like American actor Malek trying to do a vague European accent.

Safrin sure likes to pout a lot, while he saunters in and out of the movie like a villain in search of a memorable personality. Between the moodiness of Safrin and Bond, there’s enough pouting and sulking to make you wonder if they’ve watched too many “Twilight” movies. Even though Safrin doesn’t appear to age, he’s not a vampire, which is a relief to anyone who might think he’ll sparkle like a “Twilight” vampire.

Why is James Bond heartbroken this time? It’s shown at the beginning of the film that he’s in a happy and loving relationship with psychiatrist Madeleine Swann (played by Léa Seydoux), the French native who’s young enough to be his daughter and who first hooked up with him in 2015’s “Spectre.” Madeleine and Bond (who has retired from MI6 and the spy business) are living together in bliss in Matera, Italy.

However, Madeleine has a secret from her past that has come back to haunt her. This secret is revealed early on the movie to viewers. However, it’s a surprise to Bond, when he and Madeleine are ambushed in their home by assassins who’ve been sent by Safrin. It leads to one of the movie’s best action sequences, with high-speed car chases and close-call shootouts.

Bond and Madeleine escape, of course, but Bond can’t forgive her for keeping the secret that led to them almost being murdered. He puts her on a train so that she can safely get away from the villains. “How will I know you’re OK?,” Madeleine asks tearfully. Bond coldly replies, “You won’t. You won’t ever see me again.”

Is this a James Bond film or a soap opera? At any rate, the movie then fast-forwards five years after Bond’s breakup with Madeleine. Several of the actors who joined the James Bond franchise as Bond co-workers during the Daniel Craig era also return for “No Time to Die.” They include Ben Whishaw as Q, Ralph Fiennes as M, Rory Kinnear as Tanner and Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, who are all perfectly fine in their supporting roles. “No Time to Die” still doesn’t reveal much about who these supporting characters are outside of their work, except in one scene that reveals that Q lives alone, he likes to cook gourmet meals, and he has a sphynx cat.

Joining the James Bond franchise for the first time is Lashana Lynch, who plays Nomi, the spy who inherited the 007 identifying number after Bond retired. Nomi has some standout action scenes in the film and could end up being a very popular character for the James Bond franchise. Nomi is not the type of female character in a James Bond movie who’s going to show up for a shootout in a gown and high heels, although that would certainly be her prerogative.

Nomi is first seen interacting with Bond when she goes undercover as a flirtatious party girl whom he meets at a bar. Nomi gives him a ride home on her scooter after she deliberately disables his car. When she reveals her true identity to Bond and tells him that she’s been assigned his previous number, Nomi confidently informs him: “I’m 007. You probably thought they’d retire it.” Bond says nonchalantly, “It’s just a number.”

Everyone knows that Bond isn’t going to stay retired, once he finds out about the big problems his colleagues are facing. What’s at stake in “No Time to Die”? There’s a convoluted plot explanation in the movie, but essentially it’s about a manufactured poisonous gas where numerous nanobots can enter a human body and cause people to die after their skin breaks out in bloody blotches.

A (cliché alert) Russian scientist named Valdo Obruchev (played by David Dencik) developed this deadly weapon gas, which was originally intended to be a way to implant the DNA of people with outstanding military skills, in order to create super soldiers. Safrin predictably recruited this corrupt scientist with the enticement of great riches. Safrin has a (cliché alert) secret compound as his headquarters, so there’s a race against time for Bond and his colleagues to find Safrin’s lair. This compound has a biodome with poisonous plants that are used for the deadly gas.

Meanwhile, Bond is tracked down by two CIA operatives named Felix Leiter (played by Jeffrey Wright) and Logan Ashe (played by Billy Magnussen), who successfully convince Bond to come out of retirement to track down where this gas is being manufactured. It takes a while for Bond to change is mind, which is one of the reasons why the movie drags on for too long. Wright has played no-nonsense government officials many times before, but Magnussen (who’s usually typecast as a comedic and goofy “pretty boy”) has not.

Magnussen’s constant grinning and mugging for the camera are an unwelcome distraction. The Logan character even gets on Bond’s nerves, when he comments that Logan “smiles too much.” It’s an obvious foreshadowing of things that are eventually revealed about Logan. It’s through Felix and Logan that Bond is put in touch with Paloma, whose only purpose in the movie is to go to a black-tie party with Bond and then get involved in a shootout at the party.

Christoph Waltz makes brief appearances in “No Time to Die” as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the “Spectre” villain who is being held at Cuba’s notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center. Blofeld does the expected smirks and taunts when Bond and his colleagues find out that Blofeld knows more about Safrin than he’s willing to tell. But ultimately, Blofeld is just there as filler in this overstuffed movie. The characters of Felix, Ashe, Paloma didn’t need to be in this movie at all. The story would still have worked without creating these extra characters.

For a movie with four screenwriters, “No Time to Die” has some incredibly mediocre dialogue that’s not much better than a B-movie. And (cringe alert), James Bond utters more than a few bad puns. The top assassin on Safrin’s team is an almost-robotic mercenary named Primo (played by Dali Benssalah), who has a false eye that’s a prop with its own story arc. The trope of a villain with a missing eye has been so over-used in movies that it’s disappointing that the “No Time to Die” filmmakers couldn’t come up with something more original.

There are some moments in “No Time to Die” that seem to be delibrately slapstick and hokey, such as in the fight scene at the black-tie party. More than once in this scene, Bond and Paloma go to the bar to swig a few alcoholic drinks in between the violent shootout. Bond and Paloma smirk at each other as if to say, “We’re such badasses, we can get some drinking done while we’re in the middle of a shooutout.”

Another shootout scene that’s a lot more problematic is when Bond shoots a gun at close range at Safrin while Safrin is literally holding a child hostage. Bond misses his target, but it’s an incredibly irresponsible action, considering that Safrin could’ve used the child as a shield and the child could’ve been shot and killed. Or the child could’ve been accidentally shot just by being that close to Safrin.

When viewers see who this child is in the movie, it makes Bond’s decision to shoot even more mind-boggling. Yes, it’s only a movie, but misguided violent scenes like this involving an innocent child do a disservice to the Bond legacy. It makes Bond look like a reckless amateur.

Of course, because “No Time to Die” is about heartbroken Bond, there’s more in this movie that’s meant to be tearjerking moments than ever before in a James Bond film. It’s going to make people feel incredibly sentimental for Craig’s long and mostly impressive journey as James Bond.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “No Time to Die” on various dates in cinemas around the world. The U.K. release date is September 30, 2021. The U.S. release date is October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Dolittle,’ starring Robert Downey Jr.

January 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Robert Downey Jr.  and parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson) in “Dolittle” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Dolittle”

Directed by Stephen Gaghan

Culture Representation: Set primarily in the United Kingdom, this dramatic adventure movie’s live-action characters are nearly all white; the voice actors portraying the animated animals are a racially mixed cast; and the social classes range from working-class to royalty.

Culture Clash: A reclusive doctor with the special power to talk to animals reluctantly goes on a journey to find a rare medical cure, and faces obstacles that include more than one villain.

Culture Audience: “Dolittle” will appeal primarily to fans of children-oriented entertainment who don’t mind if the visuals are much better than the storytelling.

Dab-Dab the duck (voiced by Octavia Spencer), polar bear Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson), Dr. John Dolittle (played by Robert Downey Jr.), ostrich Plimpton (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), Tommy Stubbins (played by Harry Collett) and gorilla Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek) in “Dolittle” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

It’s not really a good sign when a major-studio film headlined by an A-list movie star is released in January, the month that’s a notorious dumping ground for bad movies. Universal Pictures must have known that “Dolittle” was going to be a dud, even with star Robert Downey Jr. coming off his major hot streak in the blockbuster superhero “Avengers” and “Iron Man” movies. (“Avengers: Endgame,” Downey’s 2019 movie that was released before “Dolittle,” now holds the record as the world’s biggest box-office movie hit of all time, ending the 10-year reign at the top held by “Avatar.”) “Dolittle” isn’t a terrible film. It’s just a terribly generic film in an era when we’ve been bombarded with kids-oriented movies that have talking animals.

By making “Dolittle” an action-adventure film, “Dolittle” director Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the screenplay with Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, tried to do something different from previous “Dolittle” movies. The original 1967 “Dr. Dolittle” film, starring Rex Harrison and a cast of other Brits, was a musical adapted from Hugh Lofting’s “Dr. Dolittle” book series. The three “Dr. Dolittle” movies from 1998, 2000 and 2006 were slapstick American comedies—the first two starred Eddie Murphy as the title character, and a third film was an ill-conceived flop starring Kyla Pratt, who played Dolittle’s daughter in the first two Murphy-starring films.

Gaghan’s “Dolittle” goes back to the original United Kingdom location, during the mid-1800s era of a young Queen Victoria (played by Jessie Buckley), who has come down with a mysterious illness. During the film’s animated opening sequence, viewers see that veterinarian John Dolittle once led a happy life taking care of animals with his beloved wife Lily (played by Kasia Smutniak), who died tragically.

Fast forward seven years later, and Dr. Dolittle has become a cranky hermit who has neglected his hygiene (he’s so unkempt that a mouse has been living in his beard), as he lives with his animals on his estate that’s essentially an animal sanctuary. The filmmakers have made Dolittle a Welshman, so it might take a while for some viewers to getting used to hearing Downey speak in a Welsh accent that sounds a little too pretentious for a movie where most of his co-stars are animated talking animals. This is a kids’ movie, not Shakespeare.

Tommy Stubbins (played by Harry Collett), a boy from the small village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, is an orphaned misfit who lives with his aunt and uncle. Tommy loves animals, and is therefore uncomfortable when he’s forced to go hunting with his uncle. When Tommy accidentally shoots a squirrel while hunting, he decides to take the injured animal to the mysterious Dr. Dolittle, even though the doctor has a reputation for being a curmudgeon. Instead of being afraid of Dolittle’s menagerie of wild animals, Tommy is fascinated and finds out that he has a knack for communicating with animals too. Affected by Tommy’s presence, Dolittle cleans himself up, as he notices that Tommy sees him as a role model and possible mentor.

It isn’t long before Dolittle gets another visitor: Queen Victoria’s attendant Lady Rose (played Carmel Laniado), who arrives with orders to bring Dolittle to Buckingham Palace to give medical aid to the queen. Dolittle has a big incentive to save the queen’s life, because his property has been loaned to him by the queen, and if she dies, he will lose the property.

While at the palace, Dolittle has an awkward reunion with a former school rival: royal physician Dr. Blair Müdfly (played by Michael Sheen), who is jealous of Dolittle’s talent and acclaim. Müdfly is such an over-the-top villain that he practically twirls his moustache and gnashes his teeth. And there’s another antagonist in the story: the ambitious Lord Thomas Badgley (played by Jim Broadbent), who will inherit the throne if Queen Victoria dies. (At this point in her life, Victoria is not married and has no children.)

Dolittle determines that the best cure for the queen’s life-threatening illness is fruit from the Eden Tree on Eden Tree Island, because this fruit is said to have magical powers. (How biblical.) Tommy has essentially decided that he doesn’t really want to go home, so he tags along on Dolittle’s voyage, with Dolittle’s numerous animals in tow as they set sail on a ship called the Water Lily.

Now, about the animals. The problem with “Dolittle” is that there are too many of them in this film. If you’re someone with a short attention span, good luck trying to keep track of all the talking animals. The “Madagascar” movies (another animated series with a variety of wild animals that talk) worked so well because the animals were in a relatively small group and their personalities were so distinct. In “Dolittle,” the personalities of most of the animals tend to blend together in a crowded mush, with the notable exception of the parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson), a dutifully efficient assistant/caretaker with a whip-smart attitude. Polynesia holds a special place in Dolittle’s heart because the parrot used to be owned by Dolittle’s late wife Lily.

The other animals in this mixed-bag menagerie are Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), an insecure gorilla; Dab-Dab (voiced by Octavia Spencer), a maternal, scatterbrained American Pekin duck; Plimpton, a nervous osctrich (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani); Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), a polar bear who hates the cold, loves adventure, and often bickers with Plimpton; Betsy (voiced by Selena Gomez), a kind giraffe; Kevin (voiced by Crag Robinson), the injured squirrel that was accidentally shot by Tommy and who has a cheeky sense of humor; Tutu (voiced by Marion Cotillard), a fearless fox with leadership qualities; and Mini (voiced by Nick A. Fisher), a baby sugar glider that’s constantly curious.

Meanwhile, other talking animals include brainy dog Jip (voiced by Tom Holland), a long-haired Lurcher tasked with guarding the queen; Humphrey (voiced by Tim Treloar), a whale that helps navigate the Water Lily; James (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), a nervous dragonfly; Barry (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), a Bengal tiger with mommy issues and a grudge against Dolittle; Don Carpenterino (voiced by David Sheinkopf), the leader of an ant colony; Army Ant (voiced by Matthew Wolfe), Don’s sidekick; and Dragon (voiced by Frances de la Tour), guardian of the Eden Tree.

As for other human characters, there’s also Pirate King Rassouli (played by Antonio Banderas), who lives on Monteverde Island, one of the stops along the way to Eden Tree Island. Banderas hams it up as yet another adversary to Dolittle and his crew. Large ensembles can work for well-written, live-action films geared to adults. But when it’s a mostly animated film geared to kids, the movie can come across as too cluttered for its own good.

“Dolittle” certainly has an impressive cast of acting talent. It’s too bad that so many of the characters are bland. Furthermore, Chee-Chee (the gorilla that’s a visual standout) is a missed opportunity, since the character was miscast for its voice. Malek sounds more like the minature “Frozen” snowman Olaf than a massive gorilla. The Chee-Chee character needed an actor with a deeper voice to better reflect the gorilla’s intimidating physical presence. Former wrestling champ Cena, who’s the voice of Yoshi the polar bear, would have been better in the role of Chee-Chee.

Although the characters in this movie are very underdeveloped, the compelling visual effects (overseen by visual effects supervisors Nicolas Aithadi and John Dykstra) are the most entertaining aspect of the film. Young children who are dazzled by visuals should enjoy “Dolittle” for the movie’s colorful ambiance, even if they won’t remember most of the movie’s animal characters weeks after seeing this film. (Don’t expect there to be a high demand for “Dolittle” toys.) More mature viewers might get easily bored with this movie, because it wallows in a lot of mediocrity that wastes this talented cast.

Simply put: “Dolittle” is not the kind of movie that people looking for high-quality entertainment will rush to see multiple times while it’s in theaters. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway.

Universal Pictures released “Dolittle” in U.S. cinemas on January 17, 2020.

 

 

 

Copyright 2017-2022 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX