Review: ‘IF’ (2024), starring Cailey Fleming, Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski and the voices of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Louis Gossett Jr. and Steve Carell

May 15, 2024

by Carla Hay

Cailey Fleming and Blue (voiced by Steve Carell) in “IF” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“IF” (2024)

Directed by John Krasinski

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the live-action/animated film “IF” features a cast of characters that are humans and imaginary creatures.

Culture Clash: A lonely 12-year-old girl interacts with imaginary beings and agrees to help them find matches with the right people who need imaginary friends. 

Culture Audience: “IF” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and filmmaker John Krasinski, but this poorly paced and unfocused movie might bore many of the people in the intended audience.

Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming in “IF” (Photo by Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures)

Although it’s sweet-natured and trying to have the same impact as the “Toy Story” movies, the live-action/animated film “IF” has an unfocused and messy plot about childhood nostalgia, with underdeveloped characters. This uneven mushfest takes too long to get to the story’s purpose. And the last 30 minutes of “IF” are nothing but blatant emotional manipulation intended to make viewers cry in a way that doesn’t feel earned, considering the shallow depictions of most of the movie’s characters.

Written and directed by John Krasinski (who is also one of the movie’s producers), “IF” begins with voiceover narration from a 12-year-old girl named Bea (played by Cailey Fleming), who says, “I remember my mom always wanted to tell me a story. It wasn’t until much later, I realized the stories she wanted me to tell had nothing to do with me at all … The most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves.” (It’s mentioned later in the movie that Bea’s real name is Elizabeth, and her mother gave her the nickname Bea.)

Throughout the movie, several flashbacks are shown as clips from videos of happier times in Bea’s family. Her father has kept many of these videos on an old video camera that Bea finds in a closet at her paternal grandmother’s home. Bea is the only child of an unnamed father (played by Krasinski) and unnamed mother (played by Catherine Daddario), who both have unnamed health issues. The video flashbacks show Bea at ages 3 and 5 (played by Audrey Hoffman) and her parents having a close and loving relationship. Videos of a family trip to New York City’s Coney Island are significant to the story.

In the beginning of the movie, Bea has arrived with some of her luggage at the New York City home of her unnamed British grandmother (played by Fiona Shaw), who is the mother of Bea’s father. Bea’s mother died of an unnamed illness, presumably cancer, because the flashbacks hint that Bea’s mother lost her hair in chemotherapy. The movie never says when Bea’s mother died, but it seems like it was about seven years ago, because Bea is 5 years old or younger in all the family photos and videos with Bea’s mother.

Bea will be staying with her grandmother because Bea’s father has to check into a nearby hospital to have surgery for an unnamed reason. When Bea arrives, the grandmother mentions that she hasn’t seen Bea in years, when Bea was a lot younger and smaller. The grandmother is very surprised to see how much Bea has grown. Bea also looks uncomfortable when she arrives, as if she’s staying in a stranger’s home. In this day and age when family members can easily share photos and videos, the movie gives no explanation for why Bea’s grandmother has gone years without seeing what Bea currently looks like until Bea shows up at the grandmother’s home.

Bea’s father tries to assure Bea that the reason for his surgery is not for a terminal illness. Bea inexplicably doesn’t ask for details on why her father needs this surgery. Viewers can assume it’s because Bea is afraid to know what her father’s medical issues are because of how her mother died. Those are details that the movie refuses to address because “IF” wants to focus on having a slew of animated characters that can be turned into toys and other merchandise to sell in the real world.

Bea spends a lot of time by herself or without adult supervision. There’s no mention of her being in school, so viewers will have to assume she’s on a break from school when this story takes place. Bea is friendly, talkative and intelligent, but she has no friends, for reasons that are never explained in the movie. The adults in her life seem too self-absorbed to care that Bea doesn’t have a social life.

“IF” shows that when Bea was younger, she used to draw an unnamed imaginary character with a big smiley face. Bea’s father tries to recreate that character by putting some craft designs on an IV drip irrigation tower in his hospital room. Bea tells her father that she’s outgrown this imaginary character by saying, “Dad, you really don’t have to do this.” He says, “What?” She replies, “Treat me like a kid.” (Someone needs to tell Bea that she really is still a kid.)

The imaginary characters in Bea’s world don’t appear to her right away. Glimpses of them are shown as they furtively seem to be watching her in the background and then quickly run away if they think she will see them. It’s stalking, but the movie wants people to think this stalking is adorable. It’s not. It’s just an example of how the movie drags out how long it takes for Bea to finally talk to these characters for the first time.

One of the first places that the imaginary characters are seen stalking Bea is at the hospital where Bea’s father is staying. One day, Bea is walking in a hospital hallway with a bouquet of flowers that she’s bringing to her father. A boy named Benjamin (played by Alan Kim), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, is bedridden (with a cast on his right leg) in a nearby room and calls out to Bea to ask her if the flowers are for him.

Benjamin is joking, of course, and he introduces himself to Bea, who tells him the flowers are for her father. Bea and Benjamin have a short conversation. There are a few more scenes in the movie that repeat this scenario. Bea and Benjamin develop a casual acquaintance, not a real friendship. Bea having a real and meaningful friendship with another human being is something that the movie could have explored but does not. Instead, “IF” has an irresponsible message that Bea is better off interacting with imaginary characters.

Each imaginary character in the movie is an imaginary friend (IF) of a human, but an IF can get discarded when a human does not need the IF anymore. In the movie, no longer needing an IF is portrayed as a human reaching emotional maturity but losing a sense of childlike imagination and hope. Many IFs are wandering around in search of another human who will take them as an imaginary friend.

The three main IFs in the movie are these such wandering IFs in search of human companionship and want to match IFs with human children. They are a wisecracking man named Calvin, nicknamed Cal (played by Ryan Reynolds); a giant purple furry creature named Blue (voiced by Steve Carell), who is goofy, clumsy and amiable; and a walking bee named Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who wears a ballerina tutu and has the voice and personality of a polite British nanny. Blue got his name because he was created by a color-blind human boy.

Cal is the leader, while Blue and Blossom are his sidekicks. Cal, Blue and Blossom are first seen trying to do a “friendship match” with an unnamed, sleeping 7-year-old girl (played by Sa’Raya Paris Johnson) in her bedroom. Needless to say, this endeavor is a disaster and leaves the girl’s room in a terrible mess, with the girl frightened and confused about what just happened. Don’t expect to learn anything about this girl. She’s never seen again in the movie.

At separate times, Bea meets Cal, Blue and Blossom, who all live in an abandoned apartment that’s being used as someone’s storage room. Bea faints from fear the first time that Bea sees Blossom. Eventually, Cal explains to Bea that Cal, Blue and Blossom are abandoned IFs who are on a mission to be matchmakers for kids who need imaginary friends. Cal asks Bea to help them with this mission about 45 minutes into this 104-minute movie. That part of the plot should’ve happened a lot sooner and would’ve helped this frequently sluggish movie pick up its pace.

Cal, Blue and Blossom have a close friend named Lewis (voiced by Louis Gossett Jr.), a teddy bear who looks very cuddly but has a personality that is very bland. (During the movie’s end credits, there’s a brief “in memory” tribute to Gossett, who died on March 29, 2024.) Ask anyone who’s seen “IF” if Lewis was a necessary character, and most people will say, “No.”

As for the human characters, “IF” has a very questionable and outdated racial depiction of New York City. In real life, the 2020 U.S. Census reports that in New York City, white people are the minority (31%), and people of color are the majority (69%). The few human adults of color in the movie are characters with small, subservient roles. Two examples are Liza Colón-Zayas (who plays a hospital nurse named Janet) and LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, who has the role of an unnamed receptionist.

“IF” introduces numerous other imaginary friend characters voiced by an all-star cast, but most of these animated characters have cameo roles and are not essential parts of the main story. It just seems like the “IF” filmmakers’ way of showing that they could get several big celebrity names in these cameo roles. In other words, it’s all shallow stunt casting. It’s like “IF” is trying to be like a “Toy Story” movie, but without the memorable characters.

These fleeting characters are Unicorn (voiced by Emily Blunt); Bubble (voiced by Awkwafina); Ice (voiced by Bradley Cooper); Guardian Dog (voiced by Sam Rockwell); Flower (voiced by Matt Damon); Banana (voiced by Bill Hader); Robot (voiced by Jon Stewart); Alligator voiced by Maya Rudolph); Magician Mouse (voiced by Sebastian Maniscalco); Cosmo (voiced by Christopher Meloni); Slime (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key); Ghost (voiced by Matthew Rhys); and Gummy Bear (voiced by Amy Schumer). Brad Pitt has a voice role as a character named Keith. All of these characters are gimmicky and are just there to crack a few jokes instead of making meaningful contributions to the story.

“IF” has a flashback of Bea as a younger child doing karaoke and dressed as a mid-1980s Tina Turner while singing Turner’s hit “Better Be Good to Me.” This leads to an awkward sequence where 12-year-old Bea, Cal (in a 1980s mullet and leather jacket) and various characters imagine themselves on stage with Turner while Turner performs the song. Through visual effects, parts of the real “Better Be Good to Me” music video are used in this sequence, with Cal filling in for Cy Curnin (lead singer of The Fixx), who appears in the real music video for “Better Be Good to Me.”

It leads to a question that many “IF” viewers will ask themselves: What kind of audience does “IF” really want? On the surface, it seems like a movie aimed at kids under the age of 13, but as the movie goes on, it becomes obvious that it’s really for people who are old enough to know that “Better Be Good to Me” was a hit video on MTV, back in the days when MTV played a lot of music videos. Why else would this misguided film turn into such a sappy mess about adults reminiscing about their childhood imaginary friends?

“IF” really loses its way when the mission of matchmaking IFs with new kids gets sidelined, and the movie becomes about people being reunited with the IFs they thought they outgrew. There’s a nervous businessman named Jeremy (played by Bobby Moniyahan), who suddenly shows up in the movie with absolutely no backstory or purpose, except to provide a contrived cornball moment that involves Bea following him to a corporate office where Jeremy is about to give an important presentation.

As the character of Bea, Fleming does an admirable job of conveying several emotions. It’s too bad that Bea and the rest of the characters in the film aren’t very interesting. Reynolds is just doing the same type of character he does in most of his movies: sarcastic and jaded, but capable of being a nice guy under certain circumstances. Shaw has a few moments to shine, but her grandmother character is just too absent and too vague to be taken seriously as someone who could have a positive impact on Bea’s life. All of the other performances in “IF” are serviceable and quite generic.

One of the most noticeable problems with “IF” is that it sends a dubious message that it’s okay for people to spend more time with imaginary friends than real friends. Death and medical issues are presented as the main reasons for Bea’s family problems and her sad loneliness. But “IF” refuses to realistically address those problems. Instead, the movie seems more concerned about showing a parade of cute and quirky imaginary characters that can distract Bea from those problems. It’s a very unhealthy way of coping with grief.

The adults in Bea’s life ultimately fail Bea by never talking to Bea about her grief and obvious loneliness. Her grandmother rarely interacts with Bea and only seems to show a personality when the grandmother reminisces about being a child ballet dancer and bemoans that people don’t want to see old women dance. It leads to a very corny scene where the grandmother hears a song from her ballet dancer days, and the grandmother doesn’t really dance, but she just waves her arms like she’s in a nostalgia trance.

“IF” revolves around the flimsy and immature concept that having an imaginary, wisecracking friend should be the gateway to healing over the loss of a loved one. “IF” did not have to be an emotionally heavy drama in order to address issues of human suffering, but one of the movie’s biggest flaws is the movie’s refusal to properly address a child’s grief. “IF” is a family-oriented movie, but the sentimental themes in this film seem geared more to adults who want to reminisce about their childhoods, rather than being geared to kids who want to see a magical movie about imaginary friends. “IF” just has too many unanswered questions about Bea and her family, who should be the emotional center of the story, but instead are just emotionally stunted due to a very flawed screenplay and mishandled direction.

Paramount Pictures will release “IF” in U.S. cinemas on May 17, 2024.

Review: ‘Spirited’ (2022), starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds

December 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in “Spirited” (Photo courtesy of Apple Studios)

“Spirited” (2022)

Directed by Sean Anders

Culture Representation: Taking place in Minnesota, New York City and briefly in Vancouver, the musical comedy film “Spirited” (a reimagining of “A Christmas Carol”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: The Ghost of Christmas Present is determined to redeem a corrupt media strategist who is considered irredeemable. 

Culture Audience: “Spirited” will appeal primarily to fans of “A Christmas Carol,” musical comedies, and stars Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds.

Octavia Spencer in “Spirited” (Photo courtesy of Apple Studios)

“Spirited” revels in being a campy, musical reimagining of “A Christmas Carol,” the classic 1843 novella by Charles Dickens. The movie combines formulaic comedy with unexpected plot twists and catchy songs. The cast members also look like they’re having fun, which brings some enjoyment to watching. With a total running time of 127 minutes, “Spirited” has a sluggish middle section that somewhat drains the movie of its lively musical energy with too much dialogue. However, “Spirited” recovers in the last third of the movie, with a tone that is expected but plot developments that might surprise many viewers.

Directed by Sean Anders (who co-wrote the “Spirited” screenplay with John Morris), “Spirited” begins by showing the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, also known as Yet-to-Come (played by Loren G. Woods and voiced by Tracy Morgan), who looks like a Grim Reaper. Yet-to-Come is haunting Ms. Karen Blansky (played by Rose Byrne) in a graveyard. She has apparently been a mean-spirited person, who is about to be punished by the ghost. Before the ghost plunges her underneath the ground, she begs for mercy and promises that she will not yell at the neighbors’ children any more.

Luckily for Karen, the ghost only wants to scare her into redeeming herself. Karen wakes up to find out that her life has been spared. And she decides to turn her life around and become a friendly person. She’s seen playing outdoor hockey with the neighborhood kids, using a round Christmas ornament instead of a hockey puck. Now that Karen has become a better person, time temporarily freezes, and several ghosts from the afterlife appear to sanction this redemption.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (played by Will Ferrell), also known as Present, says in a voiceover: “That’s what we do: We haunt someone, we change them into a better person, and we sing about it.” The ghosts then go back to their afterlife “headquarters” to celebrate this successful redemption. The other ghosts who work at the afterlife “headquarters” include the Ghost of Christmas Past (played by Sunita Mani), also known as Past, who is fun-loving and somewhat sarcastic, and ghost supervisor Marley (played by Patrick Page), who is a no-nonsense taskmaster.

Present has been dead since the 1800s and has spent the past 46 seasons redeeming people. A human-resources employee named Margot (played by Lily Sullivan) asks Present if he will ever retire and suggests that he should, but he’s not ready to retire. Present later reveals what he will get if he retires: a watch, a Sephora gift card, and a chance to go back to Earth and relive his life as a human.

One of the reasons why he doesn’t want to retire yet is that he has his sights set on redeeming what the ghosts call a “perp” (short for perpetrator): Someone who is their next target to haunt and possibly redeem. His name is Clint Briggs (played by Ryan Reynolds), the owner/president of Briggs Media Group, a consulting firm whose specialty is creating toxic controversy for publicity and profits.

Marley looks at the file on Clint and thinks that Clint is irredeemable and says it’s not worth trying to save Clint. Present vehemently disagrees and threatens to quit and retire if the group doesn’t try to redeem Clint. Marley reluctantly agrees because he doesn’t really want to lose this valuable ghost employee. Clint’s work has a worldwide influence, so Present believes that if Clint can be redeemed, the new and improved Clint can do good deeds that will have ripple effects around the world.

And so, this ghostly group travels to a hotel in Vancouver, where Clint is making a speaking appearance at a convention for the National Association of Christmas Tree Growers, who are worried about the rising popularity of artificial Christmas trees. Instead of telling these tree growers positive things that they want to hear, Clint gives a cynical lecture about how people prefer artificial Christmas trees because they are lazy and desperate. He also says that the Christmas tree growers need to sell not only the trees but also sell the idea that a real Christmas tree is about continuing Christmas traditions.

Clint has an executive vice president named Kimberly (played by Octavia Spencer), who is loyal to her boss but also morally conflicted about the dirty tricks that the company uses to get what Clint wants. The Briggs Media Group frequently ruins people’s reputations with smear campaigns. Kimberly will eventually reach a point where she will decide if she will continue with this type of work or not.

The ghosts have done a background check on Clint and found out that he grew up in Minnesota’s Minneapolis-St. Paul area, as the middle child of a single mother named Wendy (played by Jen Tullock), who is later revealed in a flashback to be an irresponsible alcoholic. Clint’s older sister Carrie (played by Andrea Anders), who was a single parent, died six years ago. It’s revealed in a flashback that Carrie decided to become a mother through a sperm donation.

Carrie’s daughter Wren (played by Marlow Barkley), who is now 13 or 14 years old, is being raised by Clint’s younger brother Owen (played by Joe Tippett), who is almost the opposite of Clint. Clint is clean-cut, wears business suits, and has an intense, competitive personality. Owen is long-haired, wears jeans and flannel shirts, and has a laid-back, mild-mannered personality.

A big part of the “Spirited” plot revolves around Wren wanting to be elected her president of her eighth-grade class. Her biggest rival in the campaign is a popular kid named Josh Hubbins (played by Maximillian Piazza), whose parents own a charitable, non-profit group that does an annual Christmas dinner event for homeless people. Wren asks Clint for help in her campaign.

And you can easily guess what happens next: Clint, with Kimberly’s help, finds “dirt” on Josh. Two years ago, Josh made a TikTok video where he insulted the Christmas dinner event for the homeless. Josh deleted the video two years ago, but Kimberly was able to find it. Kimberly has mixed feelings about using this video to ruin Josh’s reputation, but she gives this video to Wren anyway. Clint encourages Wren to make the video public when the time is right.

There are some other subplots in “Spirited” that get varying degrees of development. Clint is supposed to be haunted by Past, but her judgment is affected, because she thinks Clint is attractive and quickly develops a crush on him. Meanwhile, Present shows himself to Kimberly by accident, and they have a mutual attraction that Present doesn’t know how to handle because he’s afraid to tell Kimberly that he’s really a ghost.

In between, there are some very entertaining song-and-dance numbers, with the movie’s original songs written by Oscar-winning “La La Land” composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The movie’s choreography (led by Chloe Arnold) is a very good complement to the peppy and frequently amusing original songs. No one should expect Ferrell, Reynolds and Spencer to be fantastic music artists, by they handle their musical performances with a lot of charisma and skilled emotional expressions.

Some of the original songs in the film include “Bringin’ Back Christmas,” “Tiny Ripple,” “The View From Here,” “Good Afternoon,” “The Story of Your Life,” “Do a Little Good,” “That Christmas Morning Feelin’.” Not all of the songs are meant to be comical or jolly. Spencer’s solo singing of “The View From Here” expresses Kimberly’s regretful contemplation that Kimberly got what she wanted in her career ambitions, but she worries that she could have lost her conscience in the process.

A running joke in the movie begins during a time-traveling segment going back to the 1820s, when the saying “Good afternoon” is supposed to be an insulting comment. The time traveling and flashbacks in “Spirited” aren’t always handled very smoothly. And the movie occasionally gets overstuffed with subplots, which leads the movie to go off on a few tangents that run a little too long before things get back on track. (Look for a very quick and amusing cameo from Judi Dench.)

One of the main reasons to watch “Spirited” is that the cast members have engaging chemistry with each other. Ferrell and Reynolds have a talented ability to deliver goofy comedy with some heartfelt moments, while Spencer and the other supporting cast members are also a compatible match in this ensemble. Unless someone watching “Spirited” is in a very bad mood, it’s the type of movie that can guarantee some laughs and good-enough entertainment that puts a unique spin on a Christmas classic.

Apple Studios released “Spirited” in select U.S. cinemas on November 11, 2022. The movie premiered in Apple TV+ on November 18, 2022.

2022 People’s Choice Awards: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,’ Taylor Swift are the top winners

December 6, 2022

Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

Taylor Swift (Photo courtesy of ABC/Image Group LA)

The following is a press release from E! and NBC:

[Editor’s note: With three awards each, Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and Taylor Swift won the most prizes. The awards for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” included The Movie of 2022, while Swift’s prizes included The Female Artist of 2022. Swift and the stars from “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” did not attend the ceremony.]

The people have spoken, and tonight NBC and E! celebrated the best in movies, television, music and pop culture chosen solely by the fans during the 2022 “People’s Choice Awards.” The show was hosted by comedian Kenan Thompson and aired on NBC and E! on Tuesday, December 6 from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California.

This year, NBC and E! honored award-winning actor, producer, screenwriter and entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds with the People’s Icon Award; Emmy and Grammy award-winning performer Lizzo with the People’s Champion Award; and five-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Shania Twain with the Music Icon Award.

The show included dynamic performances from Shania Twain, who performed a medley of her greatest hits and new single “Waking Up Dreaming,” as well as New Artist of 2022 nominee Lauren Spencer Smith, who performed her song “Fingers Crossed.” 

Awards presenters included Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, Billy Porter, Colin Hanks, David Spade, Dwyane Wade, George Lopez, Heidi Klum, Laverne Cox, Lil Rel Howery, Mayan Lopez, McKenna Grace, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Niecy Nash-Betts, Nikki Glaser, Sarah Hyland, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and The Miz & Maryse.

The following is a complete list of winners and nominations for the 2022 People’s Choice Awards:

*=winner

THE MOVIE OF 2022
Bullet Train
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness*
Elvis
Jurassic World Dominion
Nope
The Batman
Thor: Love and Thunder
Top Gun: Maverick

THE COMEDY MOVIE OF 2022
Fire Island
Hustle
Hocus Pocus 2
Marry Me
Senior Year
The Adam Project*
The Lost City
Ticket To Paradise

THE ACTION MOVIE OF 2022
Black Adam
Bullet Train
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Jurassic World Dominion
The Batman
The Woman King
Thor: Love and Thunder
Top Gun: Maverick*

THE DRAMA MOVIE OF 2022
Nope
Death on the Nile
Don’t Worry Darling*
Elvis
Halloween Ends
Luckiest Girl Alive
Scream
Where the Crawdads Sing

THE MALE MOVIE STAR OF 2022
Brad Pitt, Bullet Train
Chris Hemsworth, Thor: Love and Thunder*
Chris Pratt, Jurassic World Dominion
Daniel Kaluuya, Nope
Dwayne Johnson, Black Adam
Miles Teller, Top Gun: Maverick
Ryan Reynolds, The Adam Project
Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

THE FEMALE MOVIE STAR OF 2022
Elizabeth Olsen, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness*
Gal Gadot, Death on the Nile
Jennifer Garner, The Adam Project
Jennifer Lopez, Marry Me
Joey King, Bullet Train
Keke Palmer, Nope
Queen Latifah, Hustle
Viola Davis, The Woman King

THE DRAMA MOVIE STAR OF 2022
Austin Butler, Elvis*
Daniel Kaluuya, Nope
Florence Pugh, Don’t Worry Darling
Gal Gadot, Death on the Nile
Harry Styles, Don’t Worry Darling
Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween Ends
Keke Palmer, Nope
Mila Kunis, Luckiest Girl Alive

THE COMEDY MOVIE STAR OF 2022
Adam Sandler, Hustle*
Channing Tatum, The Lost City
Jennifer Garner, The Adam Project
Jennifer Lopez, Marry Me
Julia Roberts, Ticket To Paradise
Queen Latifah, Hustle
Ryan Reynolds, The Adam Project
Sandra Bullock, The Lost City

THE ACTION MOVIE STAR OF 2022
Chris Hemsworth, Thor: Love and Thunder
Chris Pratt, Jurassic World Dominion
Dwayne Johnson, Black Adam
Elizabeth Olsen, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness*
Joey King, Bullet Train
Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick
Viola Davis, The Woman King
Zöe Kravitz, The Batman

THE SHOW OF 2022
Abbott Elementary
Better Call Saul
Grey’s Anatomy
House of the Dragon
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Saturday Night Live
Stranger Things*
This Is Us

THE DRAMA SHOW OF 2022
Better Call Saul
Cobra Kai
Euphoria
Grey’s Anatomy*
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Ozark
The Walking Dead
This Is Us

THE COMEDY SHOW OF 2022
Abbott Elementary
Black-ish
Only Murders in the Building
Never Have I Ever*
Saturday Night Live
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window
Young Rock
Young Sheldon

THE REALITY SHOW OF 2022
90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days
Below Deck Sailing Yacht
Jersey Shore: Family Vacation
Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta
The Kardashians*
The Real Housewives of Atlanta
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Selling Sunset

THE COMPETITION SHOW OF 2022
America’s Got Talent
American Idol
Dancing with the Stars
RuPaul’s Drag Race
The Bachelorette
The Masked Singer
Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls
The Voice*

THE MALE TV STAR OF 2022
Dwayne Johnson, Young Rock
Ewan McGregor, Obi-Wan Kenobi
Ice-T, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Noah Schnapp, Stranger Things*
Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead
Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us

THE FEMALE TV STAR OF 2022
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Ellen Pompeo, Grey’s Anatomy*
Kristen Bell, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the
Window
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever
Mandy Moore, This Is Us
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary
Selena Gomez, Only Murders in the Building

THE DRAMA TV STAR OF 2022
Ellen Pompeo, Grey’s Anatomy
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Mandy Moore, This Is Us
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit*
Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Sydney Sweeney, Euphoria
Zendaya, Euphoria

THE COMEDY TV STAR OF 2022
Bowen Yang, Saturday Night Live
Dwayne Johnson, Young Rock
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live
Kristen Bell, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the
Window
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever
Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary
Selena Gomez, Only Murders in the Building*
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-Ish

THE DAYTIME TALK SHOW OF 2022
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Good Morning America
Live With Kelly and Ryan
The Drew Barrymore Show
The Jennifer Hudson Show
The Kelly Clarkson Show*
The View
Today With Hoda and Jenna

THE NIGHTTIME TALK SHOW OF 2022
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Late Night With Seth Meyers
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah
The Late Late Show With James Corden
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon*
Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen

THE COMPETITION CONTESTANT OF 2022
Charli D’Amelio, Dancing With the Stars
Chris Constantino/Bosco, RuPaul’s Drag Race
Gabby Windey, The Bachelorette
Mayyas, America’s Got Talent
Noah Thompson, American Idol
Selma Blair, Dancing With the Stars*
Teyana Taylor, The Masked Singer
Willow Patterson/Willow Pill, RuPaul’s Drag Race

THE REALITY TV STAR OF 2022
Chrishell Stause, Selling Sunset
Garcelle Beauvais, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Kandi Burruss, The Real Housewives of Atlanta
Kenya Moore, The Real Housewives of Atlanta
Khloé Kardashian, The Kardashians*
Kim Kardashian, The Kardashians
Kyle Richards, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Jersey Shore: Family Vacation

THE BINGEWORTHY SHOW OF 2022
Bridgerton
Bel-Air
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story*
Inventing Anna
Severance
The Bear
The Boys
The Thing About Pam

THE SCI-FI/FANTASY SHOW OF 2022
House of The Dragon
La Brea
Moon Knight
Obi-Wan Kenobi
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Stranger Things*
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Umbrella Academy

THE MALE ARTIST OF 2022
Bad Bunny
Charlie Puth
Drake
Harry Styles*
Jack Harlow
Kendrick Lamar
Luke Combs
The Weeknd

THE FEMALE ARTIST OF 2022
Beyoncé
Camila Cabello
Doja Cat
Lady Gaga
Lizzo
Megan Thee Stallion
Nicki Minaj
Taylor Swift*

THE GROUP OF 2022
BTS*
5 Seconds of Summer
BLACKPINK
Coldplay
Imagine Dragons
Måneskin
OneRepublic
Panic! At The Disco

THE SONG OF 2022
“About Damn Time,” Lizzo*
“As It Was,” Harry Styles
“Break My Soul,” Beyoncé
“First Class,” Jack Harlow
“Hold My Hand,” Lady Gaga
“Me Porto Bonito,” Bad Bunny & Chencho Corleone
“Super Freaky Girl,” Nicki Minaj
“Wait For U,” Future Featuring Drake & Tems

THE ALBUM OF 2022
Dawn FM, The Weeknd
Growin’ Up, Luke Combs
Harry’s House, Harry Styles
Midnights, Taylor Swift*
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar
Renaissance, Beyoncé
Special, Lizzo
Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny

THE COUNTRY ARTIST OF 2022
Carrie Underwood*
Kane Brown
Kelsea Ballerini
Luke Combs
Maren Morris
Miranda Lambert
Morgan Wallen
Thomas Rhett

THE LATIN ARTIST OF 2022
Anitta
Bad Bunny
Becky G*
Shakira
Karol G
Rauw Alejandro
Rosalía
Sebastián Yatra

THE NEW ARTIST OF 2022
Chlöe
Dove Cameron
GAYLE
Latto*
Lauren Spencer-Smith
Muni Long
Saucy Santana
Steve Lacy

THE MUSIC VIDEO OF 2022
“Anti-Hero,” Taylor Swift*
“As It Was,” Harry Styles
“Left And Right” Charlie Puth featuring Jung Kook
“Let Somebody Go,” Coldplay X Selena Gomez
“Oh My God,” Adele
“Pink Venom,” BLACKPINK
“PROVENZA,” KAROL G
“Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment),” BTS

THE COLLABORATION SONG OF 2022
“Left And Right,” Charlie Puth Featuring Jung Kook*
“Bam Bam,” Camila Cabello Featuring Ed Sheeran
“Do We Have A Problem?” Nicki Minaj X Lil Baby
“Freaky Deaky,” Tyga X Doja Cat
“Hold Me Closer,” Elton John & Britney Spears
“Jimmy Cooks,” Drake Featuring 21 Savage
“Party,” Bad Bunny & Rauw Alejandro
“Sweetest Pie,” Megan Thee Stallion & Dua Lipa

THE CONCERT TOUR OF 2022
BTS PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE*
Bad Bunny: World’s Hottest Tour
Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever, The World Tour
Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia Tour
Ed Sheeran Tour
Harry Styles Love On Tour
LADY GAGA: The Chromatica Ball
Luke Combs: The Middle of Somewhere Tour

THE SOCIAL CELEBRITY OF 2022
Bad Bunny
Charlie Puth
Doja Cat
Lil Nas X
Lizzo
Reese Witherspoon
Selena Gomez*
Snoop Dogg 

THE SOCIAL STAR OF 2022

Addison Rae
Bella Poarch
Brent Rivera
Charli D’Amelio
Jay Shetty
Khaby Lame
Mikayla Jane Nogueira
MrBeast*
Noah Beck

THE COMEDY ACT OF 2022
Amy Schumer: Whore Tour
Chris Rock Ego Death World Tour 2022
David Spade: Nothing Personal 
Jo Koy: Live from the LA Forum
Kevin Hart: Reality Check*
Steve Martin & Martin Short You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today
Wanda Sykes – Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration
Whitney Cummings – Jokes

THE GAME CHANGER OF 2022
Chloe Kim
LeBron James
Megan Rapinoe
Nathan Chen
Rafael Nadal
Russell Wilson
Serena Williams*
Steph Curry

THE POP PODCAST OF 2022
Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain
Archetypes*
Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
Call Her Daddy
Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend
Not Skinny But Not Fat
SmartLess
Why Won’t You Date Me? With Nicole Byer

Review: ‘Bullet Train’ (2022), starring Brad Pitt

August 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Brad Pitt and Benito A Martínez Ocasio (also known as Bad Bunny) in “Bullet Train” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures)

“Bullet Train” (2022)

Directed by David Leitch

Some language in Japanese, Spanish and Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Japan, the action film “Bullet Train” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Asian and Latino) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A down-on-his luck American assassin has conflicts with international criminals during a ride on a fast-moving train traveling through Japan. 

Culture Audience: “Bullet Train” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Brad Pitt; the novel on which the movie is based; and movies that give more importance to loud violence instead of an interesting and innovative story.

Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in “Bullet Train” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures)

The jumbled and repetitive “Bullet Train” is just a fast-moving train wreck. The movie has plenty of famous co-stars but ultimately has little substance or imagination as an action comedy. “Bullet Train” over-relies on too many similar gags until it all becomes very dull and obnoxious. After a while, the action starts to look stale and formulaic. With few exceptions, the movie’s characters are no better than soulless, computer-generated characters in a video game.

Directed by David Leitch and written by Zak Olkewicz, “Bullet Train” is based on Kōtarō Isaka’s 2010 Japanese novel “MariaBeetle,” which was translated in English and renamed “Bullet Train” in 2021. In the book, all the characters are Japanese. The “Bullet Train” movie has a cast of international characters, with characters from the United States and the United Kingdom getting most of the screen time. Characters from Japan, Russia and Mexico are secondary characters. “Bullet Train” takes place primarily in Japan but the movie was filmed at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California.

Prior to directing “Bullet Train,” Leitch directed the action feature films “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (released in 2019) “Deadpool 2” (released in 2018) and “Atomic Blonde,” released in 2017. What all of these movies have in common is that they bit off more than they can chew. They’re very energetic when it comes to action scenes, but they’re very cluttered with sloppily edited characters and plot tangents that don’t necessarily serve the story very well. “Bullet Train” follows that same pattern. A better director would bring more finesse and charm to these movies instead of trying to make audiences think that violent action scenes are enough to make a good action flick.

People don’t really need to read the “Bullet Train”/”MariaBeetle” novel before seeing the “Bullet Train” movie. In fact, people who don’t know anything about the novel might be less disappointed in the “Bullet Train” movie, which dumbs down a lot of things about the novel. The “Bullet Train” movie removes a lot of the intrigue and personality that can be found in the novel, and substitutes it with an emphasis on staging scenes that are supposed to be outrageously violent.

In the “Bullet Train” movie, seven people on board the Nippon Speedline train going from Tokyo to Kyoto find their lives colliding and interwined because of various criminal activities:

  • Ladybug (played by Brad Pitt) is a cynical and unlucky American assassin, whose current mission is to steal a briefcase full of ransom money.
  • Tangerine (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a smooth-talking British assassin who likes to wear suits and gold jewelry but sometimes loses his seemingly suave cool with his hair-trigger temper.
  • Lemon (played by Brian Tyree Henry) is Tangerine’s more even-tempered adoptive bother/partner in crime, who takes a more philosophical view of their assassin work and who is fixated on the children’s book/cartoon character Thomas the Tank Engine.
  • The Prince (played by Joey King) is a sociopathic killer who disguises her evil by looking like an innocent teenage schoolgirl. (The character of the Prince was male in the “Bullet Train” novel.)
  • Kimura (played by Andrew Koji) is a quiet, low-level criminal from Japan who’s out for revenge against the Prince for a heinous act committed against Kimura’s son.
  • The Hornet (played by Zazie Beetz) is a sneaky assassin who usually goes undercover in disguise.
  • The Wolf (played by Benito A Martínez Ocasio, also known as Bad Bunny) is a ruthless assassin/gang leader from Mexico.

Ladybug is in constant communication through earpieces with his no-nonsense boss/handler Maria (played by Sandra Bullock), who inexplicably seems to know and see everything on the train. (And no, Ladybug isn’t wearing a secret hidden camera.) Maria is ultimately a character that doesn’t add much to the story except to make Ladybug look even more bungling and foolish than he needed to be.

But in some ways, this odd-couple pairing of Maria and Ladybug would have made a better movie if focused on these two characters, because Bullock (in the limited time that she has in “Bullet Train”) brings a certain charisma to the role that “Bullet Train” lacks overall. Unfortunately, only Maria’s voice is heard for most of “Bullet Train,” which lessens the impact of Bullock’s talent for physical comedy (facial expressions and other body language) that would have benefited “Bullet Train.” It isn’t until toward the end of the movie that Maria appears on screen.

The only interesting trivia note about “Bullet Train” is that cast members Pitt, Bullock and Channing Tatum (who has a useless cameo in “Bullet Train”) were co-stars in another 2022 movie: the romantic comedy “The Lost City.” Neither movie is award-worthy, but at least the comedy in “The Lost City” was depicted in a more skillful way. “Bullet Train” has some sporadic moments where the jokes land as intended, but the rest of the comedy falls very flat. Tatum and “Deadpool” movie franchise star Ryan Reynolds have “Bullet Train” cameos that are quick and underwhelming.

The messy plot of “Bullet Train” involves the kidnapped, unnamed son (played by Logan Lerman) of a Russian mob boss called the White Death (played by Michael Shannon), with Tangerine and Lemon having the responsibility of guarding the son on the train and carrying a briefcase full of ransom money. Ladybug’s job is to steal the money. A running gag in the movie is that Ladybug has encountered some of these criminals before in assassin assignments that he botched, but he has forgotten about these experiences until he’s reminded of them.

Lots of shootouts, explosions, and bloody fights ensue. There’s also a recurring plot device involving snake poison and a Taiwanese Blue Beauty snake. Masi Oka (as the Conductor) and Karen Fukuhara (as Kayda Izumi Concession Girl) have utterly thankless and forgettable roles in this schlockfest.

Except for the wisecracking Ladybug and Kimura’s humble florist father The Elder (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), the characters in “Bullet Train” come across as very hollow, and viewers will have a hard time connecting with most of these characters. There’s no clever mystery in this story that will keep viewers guessing. “Bullet Train” certainly delivers if people want lackluster jokes and cartoonish violence, but it just adds up to a lot of mindless hot air.

Columbia Pictures will release “Bullet Train” in U.S. cinemas on August 5, 2022.

Review: ‘Free Guy,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery and Taika Waititi

August 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy”

Directed by Shawn Levy

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action comedy film “Free Guy” features a predominantly male, mostly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and one Māori/indigenous cast member) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A video game’s simulated city becomes the focus of conflict from the game’s characters and the gamers in the real world who want to manipulate actions in this simulated city.

Culture Audience: “Free Guy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedic action movies that revolve around video game culture and put more emphasis on style over substance.

Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy” looks like an outdated idea for a video game movie that would’ve worked better when the SimCity video game was first released in 1989. It’s a dumb action comedy that tries to be clever with convoluted video game scenarios to dress up its very weak plot and cringeworthy jokes. The movie overloads on tech jargon and formulaic action scenes as gimmicks that can’t hide this movie’s lazy banality.

Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, “Free Guy” was obviously made to appeal to video game enthusiasts as a target audience. However, because video games have progressed immensely since the early years of SimCity—especially when it comes to world building, visual effects and multilayered outcomes—much of the video game that’s at the center of “Free Guy” looks simplistic and boring. The only real nod to 21st century gaming that this movie has is that people worldwide have the ability to play the game simultaneously over the Internet.

The video game in “Free Guy” is called Free City, which is about a simulated city called Free City that’s supposed to be a mid-sized American city where chaos and destruction can happen at any moment. (“Free Guy” was actually filmed in Boston.) Players of Free City get more points and can advance to the next level (also known as “leveling up”), based on acts of unprovoked hostility and violence that they can put in the game.

Every day, an armed robbery takes place at Free City Bank. This financial institution is the place of employment for cheerful bank teller Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) and his wisecracking best friend Buddy (played by Lil Rel Howery), who’s a security guard. It’s a scenario that plays out with such routine predictability that Guy has come to expect it.

Guy, who is the voiceover narrator and protagonist of the movie, explains that in Free City, laws are like “mild suggestions.” The “heroes” in Free City can be identified by wearing special eyeglasses. Later, Guy finds out what happens when someone in Free City puts on these special eyeglasses. But in the beginning of the movie, Guy is just a character that’s supposed to stick to the same routine every day.

Guy is stuck in a rut and doesn’t even know it at first. When he wakes up in the morning, he says and does the same things. When he goes to a local coffee shop before heading to work, he places the same order: coffee with cream and two spoons of sugar. Guy is the type of character who says, “Coffee: It’s like losing my virginity, but in my mouth.”

Almost everyone in Free City has a daily routine. The city is so basic that there are no tourist attractions, and anyone who doesn’t have the special eyeglasses is just supposed to fade into the background. In other words, whoever thought up this video game has terrible world building skills and gave the players very limited options what they could do. In this city, people are either aggressors or potential targets for that aggression.

However, one day, Guy’s life takes an unexpected turn. At the local coffee shop, he orders a cappuccino instead of his usual coffee with cream and sugar. The barista named Missy (played by Britne Oldford), who always serves the same order to Guy, freaks out because she doesn’t know what to do because Guy has ordered cappuccino.

On that same day, when the bank robbery occurs at Guy’s job, instead of handing over money to the robber, Guy gets into a fight with the thief, takes the thief’s gun, and shoots the thief. During the altercation, Guy takes the thief’s special eyeglasses. And that’s when Guy can see and experience Free City in a whole different way. He immediately notices that when he wears the glasses, he has superhuman strength and things appear in his sight that he wouldn’t be able to see without wearing the glasses.

While wearing the glasses, Guy sees a medical bag floating in front of him. And when he takes the bag, the wounds he sustained during the bank robbery fight (such as cuts, bruises and a broken nose) are automatically healed. When Guy goes to an ATM to get money from his bank account, he sees that the money he had in the account (less than $150) has turned into thousands of dollars, because the ATM now acts like a jackpot machine.

Meanwhile, Guy has “infatuation at first sight” when he sees a mysterious woman (played by Jodie Comer) on a motorcycle and armed with a gun on the street. She wears the special eyeglasses. She seems to be independent and fearless. And she’s wearing an outfit (white button-down shirt with black trousers, suspenders and thigh-high boots) that looks like a costume rejected by Charlize Theron’s badass assassin character in 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Guy is convinced that this mystery female on a motorcycle is the woman of his dreams. Guy and this woman eventually meet. She calls herself Molotov Girl, but she’s really a British avatar for an American video game developer named Millie Rusk. Molotov Girl wears her black hair worn in a bob, while Millie has long blonde hair.

In the real world, Millie is embroiled in a messy lawsuit with Soonami Studios, the video game company that released Free City, a game that has become a big hit for Soonami. Millie is suing because she claims that Soonami stole intellectual property that is the basis of Free City. Back in 2015, Millie and her former business partner Walter “Keys” McKeys (played by Joe Keery) were considered hot up-and-coming video game developers of a game called Life Itself.

Soonami’s greedy and corrupt founder/CEO named Antwan (played by Taika Waititi) bought the rights to Life Itself (one of the most boring video game titles in history) for Soonami, and then promptly shelved Life Itself, only to release the game under the name Free City. Why isn’t Keys suing Soonami too? Because he now works for Soonami as a programmer, but he spends much of his work time actually being a customer support representative. Keys’ best friend at the company is a coder with a sarcastic personality named Mouser (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who worships Antwan and does pretty much anything Antwan tells Mouser to do.

Why is Millie spending so much time playing Free City using the avatar Molotov Girl? Because she secretly wants to find certain proof that the game has the intellectual property that was stolen from Millie and Keys. Meanwhile, Guy becomes emboldened by his newfound powers due to the special eyeglasses. He starts doing things (many of them heroic) of his own free will, and his character becomes a worldwide sensation. Free City game players around the world have given him the nickname Blue Shirt Guy because of the blue shirt that Guy wears to work every day.

Not everyone is a fan of Blue Shirt Guy, of course. Antwan is furious because he thinks Blue Shirt Guy is a major “bug” (or error) in the game. There’s a kind of a silly sequence of Keys and Mouser disguising themselves with avatars to go into the Free City game and to try find out why Guy, a non-player character (also known as an NPC), seems to be acting of his own free will. Keys is dressed as a cop, while Mouser is dressed up in a ridiculous-looking pink rabbit costume. Why is Mouser dressed like he’s at a kids’ costume party? Just because he felt like it.

In fact, much of “Free Guy” consists of half-baked ideas thrown in between the hackneyed action scenes. There’s a stretched-out subplot about getting to a certain person’s stash house. There’s another subplot about how Soonami is about to release a Free City sequel called Free City: Carnage (also known as Free City 2), so there’s a race against time involving the release date.

The budding romance between Guy and Molotov Girl looks kind of icky because he comes across more like her dorky, much-older brother rather than a potential boyfriend. Guy is in his 40s, while Molotov Girl/Millie is in her 20s. It’s yet another Hollywood movie where the male lead actor gets a female love interest who’s at least 15 to 20 years younger.

In an attempt to gloss over this big age difference, there’s monotonous repetition of how Guy and Millie have some superficial things in common. They both love Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit song “Fantasy,” bubblegum ice cream and playing on swings. How old are these people again? Twelve? “Fantasy” is played enough times in the movie that it will get stuck in your head after the movie is over. And that’s not a good thing if you don’t like the song.

“Free Guy” is yet another Hollywood action movie where the cast members who get top billing are several men and only one woman. Comer is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie, and her Moltov Girl/Millie character is severely underdeveloped. Moltovgirl/Millie doesn’t have a life outside of anything to do with how the male characters affect her.

The featured male characters in “Free Guy” have friends and/or co-workers, while Millie does not. And the movie tries to make Millie look like some kind of feminist gaming prodigy, but everything she’s shown accomplishing in this movie is because she got help from a man. People who are fans of Comer because of her stellar, Emmy-winning work in “Killing Eve” will be disappointed at how limited her character is in “Free Guy.” The character of Millie, just like Molotov Girl, is just a hollow avatar who was created to be a sidekick for a male character who gets most of the glory.

As for Keys, he is portrayed as a wimpy and shy “nice guy.” But looking at his actions, Keys really has dubious morals and shaky loyalty, because he will go along with anyone who will benefit him in some way. He betrayed Millie by working for their enemy, and he doesn’t support her in her lawsuit to get justice for all the hard work that they did. And to make matters worse, Keys wasn’t even given a lofty position at Soonami. He’s now essentially a low-paid customer service representative at Soonami, where he is treated like dirt by rude and condescending Antwan.

It’s supposed to make viewers feel sorry for Keys, because the company is wasting his talent. But it just makes Keys look like a fool who’s being taken advantage of because his own bad choices. There are other companies he could work for besides the one that screwed over Keys and Millie. But if he worked for another company, there wouldn’t be the predictable “inside man” plot development that you know is part of this movie. There’s a trite character arc for Keys that’s extremely phony and doesn’t feel deserved.

There are fundamental plot holes in “Free Guy,” because it’s obvious that the filmmakers don’t want anyone watching the movie to think too much. For example, if Free City is so popular worldwide, and the point of the game is for players to create as much violent chaos as possible in Free City, then there would be a lot more death and destruction in Free City than what’s presented in this movie. Free City looks too pristine and orderly, as if hardly anyone is playing this game, which contradicts the movie’s premise that Free City is supposed to be a worldwide hit.

Much of the plot is based on Millie’s lawsuit against Soonami, but “Free Guy” purposely keeps things vague. Don’t expect any mention of the fact that it’s very common for corporations to buy the rights to intellectual property from independent creators and then just shelve it. And buying the rights also means buying any patents associated with the intellectual property and the right to release the intellectual property under a new name. In all likelihood in the real world, Millie doesn’t have a legitimate case for her lawsuit.

“Free Guy” also muddles the logic of how Millie needs to be an avatar in a video game in order to find the coding proof that she needs. Any good computer programmer/video game developer would have kept that coding proof, even after the intellectual property had been sold. But this movie isn’t about being realistic or logical. And that’s excusable if the characters and story had been much better than the unimaginative stereotypes and uninspired dialogue in “Free Guy.”

Keery and Ambudkar play the typical video game nerds. Howery plays the typical loyal best friend. Waititi plays the typical over-the-top villain. Waititi, who is naturally funny, tries to do his best with terrible lines of dialogue, but even he can’t overcome how stilted and awkward everyone looks in what are supposed to be hilarious scenes.

Reynolds has done plenty of action films and comedies where his character starts out as an underdog and then becomes a celebrated hero. It’s all so mind-numbingly monotonous, because he doesn’t do anything new as an actor in “Free Guy,” which is far from his best movie. The stale jokes in “Free Guy” seem like they were programmed by a computer from the 1990s.

The movie’s action scenes and visual effects are so basic and forgettable. One of the “Free Guy” trailers revealed that Guy fights a giant He-Man-ripoff version of himself, so this trailer reveal ruins that surprise. There are a few “surprise” celebrity cameos in the movie that don’t have much of an impact. Channing Tatum pops up in a scene, but he wears out his welcome with his one-note character. Chris Evans has a cameo that lasts a few seconds and should get some quick laughs.

“Free Guy” (from 20th Century Studios) is such a soulless and corporate movie that it has shameless plugging of movies from other Disney-owned studios. There’s “Star Wars”-influenced light saber fighting, in a nod to Disney-owned Lucasfilm. And there’s a reference to Captain America, the superhero character that Evans portrayed in several movies from Disney-owned Marvel Studios. No references to Disney princesses though, because the filmmakers of “Free Guy” want men to dominate in this movie.

Movies like 1982’s “Tron” and 2018’s “Ready Player One” have shown how it’s possible to be creative in a movie about people who transport themselves into a video game and end up having real connections with characters in the game. “Free Guy” could have brought a clever comedic spin to this concept, but the movie is just a messy compilation of lousy jokes and garbled plot developments. There are lot of video games that are better than a junkpile movie like “Free Guy.”

20th Century Studios will release “Free Guy” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.

Review: ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman

June 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Croatia, the action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A disgraced bodyguard is hired to protect the wife of the hitman who clashed with the bodyguard in the 2017 movie “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Culture Audience: “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a silly action flick that is horribly made and frequently sexist.

Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Outdated and idiotic, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” looks like it was made by people whose minds are stuck in the 20th century, when it was more acceptable for American action movies to portray non-white people as less-intelligent caricatures and for women to be treated as nothing more than sex objects. An all-white-male team of principal filmmakers (director, producers, writers) decided to dump this stupid sequel into the world. And like most sequels, it’s far inferior to the original.

Directed by Patrick Hughes, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was written by Tom O’Connor, Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy. The movie is the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a formulaic and occasionally funny action flick, starring Ryan Reynolds as neurotic bodyguard Michael Bryce and Samuel L. Jackson as gruff hitman Darius Kincaid who are (cliché alert) complete opposites, who don’t get along with each other but are forced to work together. Hughes directed and O’Connor wrote “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which was a mediocre movie but not as aggressively dumb and offensive as “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

It’s hard to know if the addition of brother screenwriters Phillip Murphy (who has a background as a graffiti artist) and Brandon Murphy (who has a background as a stand-up comedian) had anything to do with lowering the quality of this sequel, but enough people signed off on this crappy film that the blame can’t be put on just two people. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be an action comedy, but there’s almost nothing funny or exciting about this dreck that’s a brain-dead ode to toxic masculinity.

In “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the addition of Salma Hayek in a co-starring role could have been an opportunity to showcase her like Halle Berry was showcased as a badass equal to her male co-stars in the 2019 action hit “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” But no. The filmmakers of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” wouldn’t allow this woman of color to have her own powerful worth in this story. Instead, Hayek (who is capable of doing better-quality work) is reduced to being objectified and depicted in the worst negative stereotypes that Hollywood has for Latinas.

Hayek had a small role in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as Sonia Kincaid, the con-artist wife of hitman Darius Kincaid. It’s easy to speculate that Hayek reprised this role in this sequel because she wants to prove that she’s still sexy at an age when many actresses over the age of 50 get less opportunities because of ageism or they usually have to play safe “wife and mother” roles. Whatever she was paid to do “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (and it was probably a lot less than what Reynolds and Jackson were paid), it wasn’t worth the cost to her dignity for perpetuating Hollywood’s negative stereotyping that Latinas are nothing more than hot-tempered sexpots.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was also clearly an excuse to spend millions at different glamorous locations around the world. It’s all such a waste, because no amount of picture-perfect locations or flashy stunts can fool people into thinking that this is a good movie. Messy trash wrapped up in a shiny box is still messy trash.

The incoherent story that’s masquerading as a plot in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is that Michael is now a disgraced bodyguard who has lost his license because he couldn’t prevent his most important client (a political leader) from being assassinated. He’s gone from winning Bodyguard of the Year at the Executive Protection Awards to being unlicensed and facing an upcoming tribunal that will decide if he can get his bodyguard license back. Michael spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself because he’s not the respected bodyguard that he used to be.

Meanwhile, at European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Luxembourg, E.U. chief Walter Fiscer (played by Brian Caspe) has announced that the E.U. has issued sanctions on Greece. Greek billionaire tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (played by Antonio Banderas) is enraged by these sanctions, so he has some of his goons kidnap Walter. While in captivity, where he is tortured, Walter is told that he has four days to reverse the E.U.’s decision about the sanctions.

Michael has been in therapy, but even his female therapist has gotten sick of him and tells Michael that he has now “graduated” from therapy. Taking his therapist’s advice to go on a vacation, Michael is relaxing at a beach resort, as he reads the self-help book “The Secret” and listens to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones. All of sudden, mayhem breaks out in the resort.

Several armed terrorists invade the place and start shooting everywhere. This movie’s slapstick comedy is so witless that viewers are supposed to believe that Michael doesn’t hear the chaos because he’s got headphones on and he doesn’t see anything because he’s wearing sunglasses.

But someone comes to Michael’s rescue during this terrorist attack: Sonia, who grabs Michael and tells him that her husband Darius told her to find Michael so that Michael could be her bodyguard. Michael and Sonia escape by motor scooter and then jump off of a cliff. Darius eventually joins them for more shenanigans where there’s a lot of pointless arguing and more stunts.

Somewhere in this muddled mess of a story, there’s a Croatian computer hacker named Gunther (played by Blake Ritson), who’s hired by Aristotle to set off bombs at whatever places that Aristotle wants to be blown up. There’s an Interpol informant named Carlo (who’s never seen in the movie), who gets murdered. And there’s a sexist, xenophobic and arrogant Interpol agent from the U.S. named Bobby O’Neill (played by Frank Grillo, doing a dubious Boston accent), who’s determined to find out and capture who’s responsible for Carlo’s death and these revenge acts against the E.U.

At various points in the story, these things happen: Darius is kidnapped; Sonia disguises herself as Carlo’s blonde British mistress; and one of Michael’s rich former clients named Seifert (played by Richard E. Grant, in a cameo) almost blows Michael’s cover at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of predictable shootouts and explosions.

Michael reunites with someone from his past who currently lives in Italy. Morgan Freeman portrays that person from Michael’s past, and how his character knows Michael is supposed to be a surprise. This person’s connection to Michael is really just a way for the filmmakers to exploit racial stereotypes for badly written jokes.

Speaking of exploitation, this loathsome movie is unrelenting in objectifying Hayek and making her into a shrill, nasty and jealous shrew who shows off as many of her body parts as possible while fully clothed. There’s a lot of very “male gaze” close-up camera shots of her breasts and rear end. And at one point, during one of these rear-end angles, Darius says of Sonia in a terrible pun: “I’m just protecting my assets,” where he puts an emphasis on saying “ass.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It isn’t just the men who talk about Sonia’s body parts in crude and demeaning ways. There’s a subplot about Sonia and Darius wanting to start a family, but they haven’t had any luck conceiving. Sonia comments out loud to Michael on why she thinks she can’t get pregnant: “My pussy’s just too tight.”

In this very male-dominated film, the only female star who shares top billing is reduced to saying a line like that, which is no better than bad dialogue from a porn movie. That tells you all you need to know about how these filmmakers feel about how about a female star deserves to be treated in their movies. Meanwhile, the male stars in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” have dumb lines too, but nothing that makes them talk like low-level porn actors. It’s sexism that’s unnecessary and frankly disgusting.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this move isn’t sexist, just because Interpol agent Bobby has a female supervisor, because her role is nothing but being a cranky battle-axe, while Bobby gets all the glory of being the star Interpol agent in this story. Not surprisingly, Bobby resents having to report to a woman. Bobby’s supervisor is an older British woman named Crowley (played by Caroline Goodall), who is stereotypically stern and uptight in the way that American male filmmakers tend to portray older British women.

And the ethnic stereotyping doesn’t end there. The filmmakers make Sonia (who’s Mexican, just like Hayek is in real life) look so ignorant that she can’t pronounce Michael’s last name correctly in English. She repeatedly pronounces Bryce (rhymes with “rice”) as “breece” (rhymes with “fleece”). It’s yet another negative stereotype that makes it look like anyone whose original language is Spanish can’t possibly master the English language. There are racist undertones to this stereotyping, since Hayek is a woman of color.

The movie overall perpetuates negative and racist stereotypes because the three non-Anglo actors with the most screen time (Jackson, Hayek and Banderas) all portray characters who are criminals. The people who don’t notice these negative stereotypes are usually the same type of people who think this type of racist stereotyping should be normal in movies and television. But the reality is that what people see on screen, when it comes to representation of certain demographics, has an effect on how people perceive those demographics in real life. It’s part of the vicious cycle of bigotry that instills the false idea that certain races are “inferior” to others.

The male-female relationships in this movie are either about sex or resentment that a woman might be smarter than a man. Bobby is assigned a translator named Ailso (played by Alice McMillan), a Scot whose only role in the film is to be eye candy, based on the bland lines that she’s given. Instead of being impressed that Ailso knows multiple languages, Bobby just belittles her for her Scottish name, and she’s sidelined for most of the movie.

Sonia and Darius are portrayed as a horny couple, so there are repetitive scenes of them talking about their sex life or having sex, while a mortified Michael is nearby. It’s just more racist stereotyping that depicts African Americans and Latinos as hypersexual. Viewers won’t be surprised when it’s revealed that Sonia used to be Aristotle’s lover too.

There’s a flashback scene of Sonia and Aristotle’s past relatonship, where she comes across as a scheming gold digger. Hayek and Banderas previously co-starred in 1995’s “Desperado” and 2003’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” action films that were both written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although fans of those two movies might be thrilled that Hayek and Banderas are in another film together, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a cringeworthy reunion for both of these talented actors.

All of the stars of this movie are doing versions of other characters they’ve played in other films. Reynolds has made a career out of playing emotionally insecure and sarcastic characters in comedies. Jackson does his usual schtick as a quick-tempered loose cannon. Banderas, who is originally from Spain, has played a cold-blooded villain before, but in this movie he doesn’t even try to get into character because he sounds Spanish, not Greek. Freeman is doing his usual “I’m wiser than you are” persona.

But the most problematic way that a character is written and portrayed in the movie is with Hayek’s Sonia. Hayek is not a starlet who’s desperate to get a big break. She’s an Oscar-nominated actress who’s also an experienced movie producer. It’s kind of sad that she’s sunk to this level to be in such a horrendous and embarrassing dud. The next time she lectures people about Hispanic representation in Hollywood movies, she needs to check herself and think about why she allowed herself to be used in this degrading movie that’s the epitome of why there’s a culture of damaging discrimination against women and people of color.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t even have action scenes that are thrilling or imaginative. The scenes with fire and explosions have cheap-looking CGI effects. Watch any “John Wick” or “Mission: Impossible” movie to see how action scenes are done right and how action scenes can be innovative. Everything in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is like garbage that should’ve been thrown out a long time ago: It’s awful, it’s worthless, and it’s got a lingering stench that no amount of exotic locations can cover up.

Lionsgate will release “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2021, with sneak preview screenings on June 11 and June 12, 2021.

Review: ‘The Croods: A New Age,’ starring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Leslie Mann and Peter Dinklage

November 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Clockwise, from top left: Sandy Crood (voiced by Kailey Crawford), Grug Crood (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Thunk Crood ( voiced by Clark Duke), Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman), Eep Crood (voiced by Emma Stone) and Ugga Crood (voiced by Catherine Keener) in “The Croods: A New Age” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Croods: A New Age”

Directed by Joel Crawford

Culture Representation: The animated film sequel “The Croods: A New Age” features a cast of characters representing humans who live in a world somewhere between prehistoric and modern and where over-sized animals exist.

Culture Clash: The caveperson family from “The Croods” encounters a New Age family with modern amenities and a superior attitude to people who live in caves.

Culture Audience: “The Croods: A New Age” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight animated entertainment that people of many different ages and backgrounds can enjoy.

Pictured from left to right: Ugga Crood (voiced by Catherine Keener), Grug Crood (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), Eep Crood (voiced by Emma Stone) holding Dawn Betterman (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), Hope Betterman (voiced by Leslie Mann) and Phil Betterman (voiced by Peter Dinklage) in “The Croods: A New Age” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

Although not as cohesively written as 2013’s animated cavedweller comedy “The Croods,” the 2020 sequel “The Croods: A New Age” checks all the right boxes for escapist entertainment but offers some sly social commentary on the hypocrisy of self-appointed “hipster lifestyle” gurus. “The Croods: A New Age” pokes fun at so-called “enlightened” people who think they’re open-minded, but are really very bigoted against other people who don’t have the same lifestyles as they do. It’s this culture conflict that takes up a good deal of the movie’s plot until the last third of the movie where it delivers a predictable, crowd-pleasing “race against time” rescue scenario.

Directed by Joel Crawford, “The Croods: A New Age” picks up not long after where “The Croods” ended. The cavedweller Crood family from the first “Croods” movie is still intact: Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is still an over-protective patriarch who thinks he always knows best. Grug’s wife Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener) is still the sensible, more even-tempered spouse in the marriage. Ugga’s mother Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) is still a sassy, outspoken grandmother.

Grug and Ugga’s three children also have the same personalities: Eldest child Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) is an adventurous, independent-minded daughter in her late teens; middle child Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke) is likable but a somewhat dimwitted guy in his mid-teens; and youngest child Sandy (voiced by Kailey Crawford), who would be kindergarten-age if these kids went to school, isn’t old enough to have meaningful conversations, so she’s mainly in the movie to look adorable.

The Croods also have a relatively new member of their clan, or “pack,” as they like to call their familial group: Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), an orphaned human from the modern world who spent most of the first “Croods” movie being the target of disapproval by Grug, especially when Guy and Eep fell in love with each other. Guy has now been accepted into the Croods pack. Eep and Guy, who are about the same age as each other, are still blissfully in love.

Guy and Eep are thinking of taking their relationship to the next level (getting their own place together, getting married, and starting their own family), but Grug doesn’t want Guy and Eep to leave the pack to start their own lives. “Eep will never leave us!” Grug declares to Ugga early in the movie. Ugga is more realistic about Eep eventually moving out of the family domain, but she doesn’t press the issue either way.

Guy and the Croods are still on their journey to find a promised land called Tomorrow, which Guy says is a utopia that he knew about when he was a child and when his parents were still alive. The land of Tomorrow is a place where dreams can come true, food is plentiful, and people don’t have the daily struggles of trying to survive the harsh environment that’s a way of life for cavedwellers.

And lo and behold, they end up finding Tomorrow. It’s a world filled with colorful plants, butterflies and creature comforts such as indoor plumbing. (There’s a joke scene in the movie where the cavedwellers marvel at how a toilet works.) But is Tomorrow really the paradise that Guy described? They’re about to find out.

The first two people they meet upon arriving in tomorrow are a married couple named Phil Betterman (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and Hope Betterman (voiced by Leslie Mann), who look and dress like New Age hippies but have the thinly veiled, condescending attitude of uptight bigots. Hope is the more insulting one of the two spouses. Upon meeting the Croods, she says, “I thought cave people died off years ago!”

It turns out that Guy already knows Phil and Hope Betterman because the spouses were the best friends of Guy’s parents, who died in a tar catastrophe, and the Bettermans raised Guy until he was old enough to be on his own. When Guy lived with the Bettermans, he was a close friend to their only child, a daughter named Dawn (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who is friendly and somewhat tomboyish. Needless to say, the entire Betterman family is ecstatic to see Guy again.

However, Phil and Hope are disappointed that Guy is in a relationship with Eep, partly because this snooty couple looks down on cavedwellers but mostly because they want Dawn and Guy to end up together. Phil and Hope concoct various matchmaker schemes to try to achieve that goal. Just like Grug was extremely paranoid and overprotective of Eep in “The Croods,” so too are Phil and Hope when it comes to Dawn. The Betterman spouses shield Dawn from the outside world because they don’t want her associating with people such as cavedwellers.

“The Croods: The New Age” could have gone down a very tiresome and predictable path with this love-triangle story, by pitting Dawn and Eep against each other in a catty rivalry. Instead, Dawn and Eep become immediate friends, but that has a lot to do with the fact that Dawn really isn’t interested in having a romance with Guy. Dawn’s parents keep pushing her in that direction though, because they think Guy is too good to be with a cavedweller such as Eep.

Publicly, Hope and Phil are polite to the Croods. Privately, Hope and Phil are appalled by the Croods’ primitive ways. The Croods are sloppy eaters, they have a tendency to burst through the walls instead of opening doors, and they’re sometimes loud and unruly. Hope says to Phil at one point in the story: “I don’t know if cave people belong in the modern world.”

Meanwhile, Phil finds out he and Grug have a common wish: They both don’t want Guy to end up marrying Eep. And so, Phil manipulates Grug into scheming with him to break up Eep and Guy. However, when Ugga finds out about this plan, she gets upset with Grug and makes him see that he’s just being used and that Phil and Hope must think that they’re stupid.

The movie tends to drag when it becomes about this social-class warfare between “modern” Phil and Hope and “primitive” Grug and Ugga. It’s an obvious metaphor for the political divides that can exist between liberal elites and those whom the elites think of as “less progressive” or “backwards.” Likewise, the movie continues the notion from the first “Croods” movie that people who are stuck in their ways can be a detriment to themselves and the people around them.

“The Croods: A New Age” doesn’t take sides or make political statements, because both couples act in less-than-wonderful ways during the story. However, there’s a definite message in the movie about hypocrisy: People who think they’re well-meaning in trying to instill their lifestyle beliefs on others can end up rudely treating those who don’t share the same beliefs as “outsiders” who deserve to be disrespected. And mostly, the movie is about tolerance for other people’s lifestyle choices if those choices aren’t hurting anyone.

Four people (Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan) are credited with writing the screenplay for “The Croods: A New Age.” And the movie does have a tone of “too many cooks in the kitchen” in how this entire story is constructed. The last third of the movie tries to cram in a lot of action in a somewhat messy way. It’s as if the filmmakers remembered that children with short attention spans are a sizeable percentage of the movie’s audience, and the filmmakers felt obligated to pack in some suspenseful chase scenes in this sometimes rambling and unfocused story.

“The Croods: A New Age” director Crawford makes his feature-film directorial debut with this movie, after years of working as a story artist for several animated films, including the first three “Kung Fu Panda” movies, “Trolls” and “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.” Visually, “The Croods: A New Age” looks better than “The Croods,” because of advances in digital animation since the first “Croods” movie was released. In terms of story, this sequel is inferior to the original, because it’s a little bit all over the place. The plot jumps from the possible love triangle to the tension over social classes to a somewhat bonkers rescue mission that involves a feud over stolen bananas, punch monkeys, Gran losing her wig, and the kidnapping of some of the story’s main characters.

The voice actors elevate the sometimes banal dialogue, with Mann and Cage standing out in their portrayals of the movie’s two characters who have the most opposite personalities (Hope and Grug) in the story. Stone as Eep and Reynolds as Guy also give very good performances, but the love story of Eep and Guy is often overshadowed by the bickering among the rival married couples. And speaking of being overshadowed, the Croods’ two youngest kids (Thunk and Sandy) aren’t given much to do, and their characters have no bearing on this movie’s plot, which essentially wastes the talent of Duke and Crawford.

Musically, “The Croods: A New Age” benefits from the fun score by Mark Mothersbaugh and the selectively spare use of pop songs. (For pop-music overload in animated films, people can watch DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls” movies.) The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” and Tenacious D’s memorable cover version of the song are put to good use in key scenes in “The Croods: A New Age.” The movie isn’t going to win any major awards, but it fulfills its purpose in being a reasonably entertaining diversion for people who like comedic adventure animation.

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation released “The Croods: A New Age” in U.S. cinemas on November 25, 2020.

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