Review: ‘Uncharted’ (2022), starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg

February 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sophia Ali, Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland in “Uncharted” (Photo by Clay Enos/Columbia Pictures)

“Uncharted” (2022)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Boston, Spain and the Philippines, the action film “Uncharted” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 25-year-old American man who’s had a longtime obsession with finding Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s legendary gold fortune teams up with two cynical art thieves—a middle-aged man and a woman in her 20s— to find this treasure.

Culture Audience: “Uncharted” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, because their on-screen appeal is one of the few highlights of this messy and idiotic action flick.

Antonio Banderas in “Uncharted” (Photo by Clay Enos/Columbia Pictures)

Even by standards of suspending disbelief for far-fetched action movies, “Uncharted” is still a disjointed and disappointing mess that thinks it’s funnier and better than it really is. Not even the on-screen charisma of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg can save this movie from being relentlessly moronic, with sloppily staged stunts, characters with cardboard personalities, and a storyline that often drags. Unfortunately, “Uncharted” is just another in a long list of movies based on video games that fail to improve on the video game in a cinematic way.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Uncharted” starts off with an over-the-top stunt scene that’s an indication of the idiocy to come for the rest of the movie: Nathan “Nate” Drake (played by Holland), a 25-year-old adventurer, is hanging off of a string of cargo boxes held together by rope and dangling out of an airplane that’s high in the sky. Considering that Nate is not wearing a helmet for protection, and he doesn’t appear to be affected by the deadly wind velocity, you just know that “Uncharted” is going to be the type of movie where viewers will be rolling their eyes and asking themselves, “Are we supposed to believe that people could survive these stunts in real life?”

Nate (who is not a superhero with superhuman abilities) is able make leaps and bounds in the air, like he’s Spider-Man, a character played by Holland in other movies. Maybe the filmmakers of “Uncharted” think that just because Holland is Spider-Man in other movies, audiences are supposed to believe any human character that Holland plays in another movie can magically have Spider-Man-like powers too. It just makes this movie (and its visual effects) look even more absurd.

As Nathan bounces around and leaps unrealistically from box to box in the air, a red Mercedes 300 Gullwing suddenly starts barreling out of the airplane directly toward Nate. Someone then grabs Nate’s hand, but the movie then does a dissolve edit to show a flashback to 15 years earlier in Boston, when Nate’s older brother Sam grabs Nate’s hand to prevent him from falling from a building. In the last third of the movie “Uncharted” circles back to the airplane scene by showing what caused Nate to fall out of that plane.

In this flashback, 10-year-old Nate (played by Tiernan Jones) and Sam (played by Rudy Pankow), who’s about five or six years older than Nate, are breaking into a museum at night to steal what is purported to be the very first map of the world. The screenplay for “Uncharted” (written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) is so shambolic, it never really explains why these two brothers want to steal this priceless art. Is it a prank? Is it to sell the map on the black market? Is it because they think they can keep the map like a trophy and are too stupid to know better?

Whatever their reasons are for this inept break-in, Nate and Sam are quickly apprehended by security guards. Nate and Sam are orphans whose parents have gone missing and are presumed dead. They are living in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. Because Sam has been in trouble before, and now has “three strikes against him,” he’s kicked out of the orphanage and is expected to be held in a juvenile detention center. For whatever reason that’s never explained in the movie, Nate escapes any punishment.

Sam runs away from the orphanage the night before he’s supposed to be taken into custody. Before he leaves, Sam gives Nate his most cherished possession: a brass ring on a chain, as proof that he has an incentive to see Nate again. Sam tells Nate: “I’ll come back for you, Nate. I promise.” Nate hasn’t seen Sam in person since that night.

Nate and Sam are history buffs who are obsessed with the legend of a gold fortune hidden in the 1500s by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. As children, they planned for years to go looking for this treasure when they got old enough to do so. But this separation has put a big halt to those plans.

“Uncharted” then fast-forwards to the present day. Nate is now a bartender at a trendy lounge in New York City. He’s still a history buff who likes to spout trivia, such as who invented certain things and when. This type of knowledge doesn’t really impress a pretty blonde customer named Zoe (played by Alana Bolden), whom Nate flirts with one night when he’s working. She has this response: “You’re kind of weird, but you’re kind of cute too.”

The same night, after the lounge has closed, a customer sitting at a table refuses to leave. He introduces himself as Victor “Sully” Sullivan (played by Wahlberg), and he tells Nate that he wants to hire Nate for an adventurous job. Nate is suspicious, but he takes Victor’s business card, which lists Victor’s address, phone number and business title as “Private Acquisitions.”

Out of curiosity, Nate shows up unannounced to the address on the card. Victor is there, and that’s how Nate finds out that Victor collects valuable and historical artifacts, most of which are stolen. And that’s not all: Victor knows Sam, whom he says he hasn’t seen or heard from in about two years. “He ghosted me,” Victor says about Sam.

Victor is also interested in finding Magellan’s gold treasure, which is valued at about $5 billion. Victor has sought out Nate because Victor figures that Sam might have left some clues for Nate to find this treasure. Victor suggests to Nate that if they both team up to find the gold together, there’s a chance they’ll also find Sam. Does that make any sense? Of course not, but Nate goes along with it anyway, mainly because Victor has the money and resources to finance this trip.

But not so fast, Nate. Victor is skeptical that Nate has what it takes for some of the violence that’s sure to come with this job. Victor sees Nate as just a nerdy young guy who might be too sheltered and inexperienced to be an effective partner for Victor. And so, Victor wants Nate to pass a test.

There’s an upcoming auction of rare Spanish art from the Renaissance era. Victor’s plan is to steal a jewel-encrusted crucifix at this auction. And he wants Nate to be his accomplice. And this auction leads Victor and Nate to encounter the two chief villains in the story.

At the auction are two people who will stop at nothing to get this crucifix too. Santiago Moncada (played by Antonio Banderas) is a wealthy Spanish collector who’s the heir to a family fortune. But not for long, because Santiago’s father Armando Moncada (played by Manuel de Blas) has recently announced that he’s giving away the family fortune to charity. Santiago, who’s the head of the Moncada Foundation, is infuriated by this decision, but Armando remains unmoved by Santiago’s pleas to change his mind. “I should have cut you off years ago,” Armando tells Santiago with disgust.

The other person who’s at the auction to get the crucifix is a mysterious and shady mercenary named Jo Braddock (played by Tati Gabrielle), who wants to be called by her last name. Braddock used to be romantically involved with Victor, but he broke up with her. She’s very bitter about it, so there’s an extra reason why she wants to beat Victor at his own game. It’s briefly mentioned that when Braddock and Victor were romantically involved with each other, she was his partner in crime too.

The auction devolves into one of many of the movie’s ridiculous fight scenes, where people with weapons spend too much time trading insults when they could easily defeat their opponent by using the weapons. And even though Braddock has combat skills, she unrealistically defeats several armed people who are much taller and stronger than she is when they gang up on her in a group. In reality, anyone would be easily defeated when being the only person to fight a group of at least five or six armed and dangerous people.

Victor and Nate soon find out there’s someone else who wants the crucifix too. She’s a skilled thief named Chloe Frazer (played by Sophia Ali), who’s also looking for Magellan’s treasure. Victor already knows Chloe, since they’ve been rivals in previous art thefts. Predictably, Nate and Chloe have an instant dislike of each other, which turns into mutual attraction, which they try to fight/deny/suppress in a cliché “will they or won’t they get together” subplot. Nate and Chloe have a hard time trusting each other, since one of them could betray the other at any moment.

Victor, Nate and Chloe team up for a flimsy reason explained in the movie. Their shenanigans take them to Spain and the Philippines, two landmark destinations for Magellan’s voyage around the world. The villains are never far behind, of course. Santiago wants Magellan’s treasure too, because he claims it was stolen from the Moncada family. The bombastic and moronic fight scenes that would kill people in real life will have viewers wondering by the middle of the movie: “How are these characters still alive?”

Victor and Nate’s reluctant partnership just rehashes the over-used movie stereotype of “the grouchy older guy who’s annoyed with the eager younger guy, but they have to find a way to work together.” On the way to the auction that’s shown in the beginning of the movie, Victor ridicules Nate for chewing bubblegum at this black-tie, formal event. The bubblegum comes in handy though, when Nate uses it to prop open a door to a room that can only be accessed through an electronic system.

Victor keeps calling Nate a “kid” in a condescending manner, which gets very tiresome, very quickly. There’s a scene shown in one of the trailers for “Uncharted” where Victor has a newly grown moustache. Nate asks Victor, while pointing and grinning, “What is that thing on your face?” Victor replies, “Puberty’s right around the corner, kid. You can grow your own.” It’s more than a little ridiculous that Victor treats a 25-year-old Nate as if Nate is a pre-pubescent child, but that’s what you’re going to see while Victor and Nate exchange unfunny jokes that fall flat.

The movie also tries to have “cutesy” banter between Victor and Nate. An example is when Nate tells Victor during an action scene: “You can get shot in the head, or you can come down here for a cuddle.” Fortunately, the stale and witless dialogue between Victor and Nate isn’t in the majority of “Uncharted,” because there’s a long stretch of the movie where Nate and Chloe work together without Victor being around at all.

In addition to having cringeworthy dialogue, “Uncharted” has very phony-looking production design. Hidden tunnels and hidden caves that are supposed to show signs of rot and decay instead look like very polished and overly staged movie sets. This lack of authenticity is very distracting and just makes “Uncharted” look too glossy instead of being the gritty action flick that it should have been.

“Uncharted” takes a steep nosedive into stupidity with too many action scenes that would cause death or serious injuries in real life, but the characters barely show any signs of being affected. One of the worst is a scene where Chloe and Nate plunge deep into the ocean as a result of falling from high above in the air. When they emerge after being thrashed around by deadly waves, they have no injuries, their clothes are still fully intact, and Chloe still has full makeup on.

As much as Holland tries to inject some fun into his Nate character, Holland is just doing an older version of the teenage Peter Parker character that he plays in the “Spider-Man” movies. Wahlberg’s portrayal of Victor is just recycling the same sarcastic grump character that Wahlberg has played in dozens of other movies. Banderas hams it up as a generic villain, which is essentially a shallower version of the wealthy villain he played in the obnoxiously bad 2021 action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

Ali’s portrayal of Chloe is adequate, but Ali is stymied by the filmmakers not letting Chloe be a fully developed person but just a character to do stunts and trade sardonic quips with Nate and Victor. Chloe tells a little bit of a backstory about herself to explain why she has a hard time trusting people, but this background information is literally a brief mention that seems like a half-hearted attempt to try give Chloe more depth. As for Gabrielle’s Braddock character, she has no depth at all and has some of the worst lines in this terrible movie.

“Uncharted” might satisfy people who have very low standards on what makes a good action film. Not all action films have to be completely realistic, but they should at least have coherent storytelling, an exciting pace and compelling characters. “Uncharted” has none of those qualities.

The characters are boring villains and superficial heroes. This horribly edited movie also tends to drag and get repetitive. An epilogue and mid-credits scene make it obvious that the “Uncharted” filmmakers want to make a sequel. “Uncharted” is such a horrendous dud, any plans for an “Uncharted” movie series should be left permanently off of the movie industry map, but good taste never gets in the way of filmmakers who want to make millions from churning out garbage movies.

Columbia Pictures will release “Uncharted” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.

Review: ‘India Sweets and Spices,’ starring Sophia Ali, Manisha Koirala, Adil Hussain, Deepti Gupta, Rish Shah and Ved Sapru

January 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rish Shah, Sophia Ali and Ved Sapru in “India Sweets and Spices” (Photo courtesy of SK Global Entertainment/Bleecker Street)

“India Sweets and Spices”

Directed by Geeta Malik

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Ruby Hill, New Jersey, and briefly in Los Angeles, the comedy/drama film “India Sweets and Spices” features a cast of characters of Indian heritage representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on a summer break after her first year in college, a young upper-middle-class woman has some conflicts with her parents, including her parents not approving of her working-class boyfriend, and how she’s affected when she finds out her parents’ biggest secrets. 

Culture Audience: “India Sweets and Spices” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching appealing but not particularly outstanding movies about Indian American culture.

Manisha Koirala in “India Sweets and Spices” (Photo courtesy of SK Global Entertainment/Bleecker Street)

As a blend of a romantic comedy and a family drama, “India Sweets and Spices” can be somewhat erratic in its tone and pacing. The second half of the movie is much better than the first half. It’s ultimately a charming story about a young woman finding her identity and coming to terms with how family baggage and family traditions affect her life. Written and directed by Geeta Malik, “India Sweets and Spices” benefits from having an engaging cast that can hold viewers’ interest, even when certain parts of the movie start to drag into a predictable formula.

Fortunately, there are some surprises in “India Sweets and Spices,” but they don’t come until the last half of the movie. The first half of the film gives the impression that’s it’s going to be a typical romantic comedy about a young woman who defies her parents’ wishes, by dating someone from a family that’s looked down on by her parents. In the second half of the movie, her parents’ secrets lead to the more dramatic parts of the story, which at times resembles a soap opera. “India Sweets and Spices” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

In the beginning of “India Sweets and Spices,” Alia Kapur (played by Sophia Ali) has just completed her freshman year at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and is about to go on a summer break. Her last party on campus before her vacation is a “social justice social,” which is the type of party she’s been going to on a regular basis. Alia gets drunk at the party and impulsively cuts her long hair into a mid-length bob.

Alia has already declared biology has her major. It seems that she’s planning to be a scientist or medical doctor, which would be a profession that her parents would approve of, since her father Ranjit Kapur (played by Adil Hussain) is a heart surgeon. Alia’s mother Sheila Kapur (played by Manisha Koirala) is a traditional homemaker. Alia has two siblings: sister Jiya Kapur (played by Rhea Patil) is about 13 or 14 years old, while brother Sahil Kapur (Ansh Nayak) is about 10 or 11 years old. Alia and her siblings were born in the United States, while their parents were born in India and immigrated to the U.S. not long after they got married.

The Kapur family lives in an upper-middle-class home in the fictional city of Ruby Hill, New Jersey. (“India Sweets and Spices” was actually filmed in Atlanta.) Alia is spending her vacation at her parents’ home. She’s looking forward to a summer of being free from school and hanging out with her childhood best friend Neha Bhatia (played by Anita Kalathara), who is a loyal and cheerful pal. However, since Alia and Neha follow their family traditions, they know they have to spend a lot of time at their parents’ social gatherings. These parties often take place at the Kapur family home.

Only other upper-middle-class or wealthy Indians in the area are invited to these parties. It soon becomes clear in the movie that these soirees are excuses for many of the party attendees to show off, brag about their lives, and gossip. Alia’s parents are extremely status-conscious and love to give the impression that they’re highly intellectual and cultured. As an example of their pretentiousness, there’s a scene later in the movie where Alia and her love interest are in the library of the Kapur family home, and she shows him that some of the “intellectual” books on the bookshelves are really just empty façades.

Alia’s love interest is Varun Dutta (played by Rish Shah), who works in his parents’ local convenience store that carries a lot of Southeast Asian food. The name of the store is India Sweets and Spices. Alia happens to go in the store one day to buy some biscuits for her family’s upcoming house party. The movie has a rom-com contrivance of Alia seeing Varun and being so instantly attracted him, she gets flustered and buys more biscuits than she needs.

Alia and Varun have their “meet cute” moment when they lock eyes and they strike up a flirty conversation. (In a self-deprecating nod to predictable “meet cute” moments in romantic comedies, the movie even has a wind-flowing-through-hair effect and angel sounds when Alia first sees Varun.) Alia tells Varun that she’s on a summer break from UCLA. And what a coincidence: Varun mentions that he’s completed community college and will be transferring to UCLA later that year when school starts again in the fall.

During this conversation, Alia also meets Varun’s parents—father Kamlesh Dutta (played by Kamran Shaikh) and mother Bhairavi “Peru” Dutta (played by Deepti Gupta)—and Varun’s sister Puja Dutta (played by Jia Patel), who’s about 12 or 13, and who helps out in the family store. Alia finds out that the Dutta family recently moved to the area. The entire family is friendly, so Alia impulsively invites Varun and his parents to her family’s house party. They happily accept the invitation.

Not everyone is happy about this invitation. Alia’s mother Sheila, who is a very uptight snob, is annoyed that this working-class family was invited to the party without Sheila being consulted first. And sure enough, when the Dutta family arrives, Sheila and her husband Ranjit treat the Duttas somewhat dismissively. And so do many other people at party, when they find out that the Duttas make their living by owning a convenience store.

The Duttas graciously brought food to the party as a gift, but Sheila turns her nose up that too, because the food is in a plastic Tupperware container instead of a more upscale container. Sheila is also somewhat annoyed by the gift because she sees herself as a socialite who hosts parties where guests don’t need to bring their own food and drinks. As Alia tells Varun later, Sheila is the type of person who looks down on anyone who isn’t wearing designer clothes. When Alia and Varun go upstairs to an empty room to make out with each other, they see something that turns Alia’s world upside down. It’s her father’s big secret.

Alia’s parents make it clear to Alia that they think it’s more appropriate that she date someone who can afford to pay for the privileged lifestyle in which Alia has been raised. The parents think an ideal match would be Rahul Singh (played by Ved Sapru), the son of their longtime friends Gurvinder Singh (played by Raj Kala) and Uma Singh (played by Priya Deva), who apparently have more money than the Kapur family. Alia and Rahul have known each other since childhood, but there aren’t any real romantic sparks between them. Rahul, who’s a student at Duke University, can be conceited and arrogant, but he’s not a complete jerk.

Even though Alia’s parents think that the Dutta family isn’t good enough to be in their social circle, Alia has a mind of her own and starts dating Varun anyway. As Varun and Alia get to know each other, and their feelings for each other grow stronger, they find out that their parents had very different courtships. Alia’s parents had an arranged marriage, while Varun’s parents married for love and of their own free will.

The differences between these two sets of parents cause tensions between the two families, mainly because Alia’s parents treat Varun and his family as if they’re second-class citizens. It’s not quite a “Romeo and Juliet” story, because there are other complications besides family disapproval of a romance. It turns out that when Varun’s mother Bhairavi saw Alia’s mother Sheila at the party, Bhairavi immediately recognized Sheila as a former friend she knew when they were students at Delhi University. Bhairavi hugged Sheila, who responded in a standoffish way and pretended not to know Bhairavi.

Eventually, Sheila admits that she and Bhairavi knew each other, but Sheila says she’s a different person now. How different? When she was in college, Sheila was a progressive feminist who formed a women’s rights activist group with some other female students. Bhairavi was one of those students. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailer.)

Alia, who considers herself to be a liberal feminist, is shocked to find out that her mother used to be a liberal feminist too when Sheila was Alia’s age. Sheila has completely opposite beliefs now. What happened to make Sheila change so drastically? That’s the secret that Sheila doesn’t want a lot of people to know.

“India Sweets and Spices” is by no means a boring movie, but it seems like writer/director Malik tried to cram in too many ideas that sometimes don’t flow too well together. The first half of the movie is almost like a breezy, lightweight comedy about Alia and Kapur’s budding romance, but the second half takes a very different and much more serious tone as Sheila has to deal with the secrets that she finds out about both of her parents. Both of these secrets will have negative effects on their parents’ reputations if these secrets are revealed to the people in their stuck-up and judgmental social circle.

The movie takes an interesting look at how upwardly mobile immigrant families in the United States can act to assimilate into American culture and achieve the American Dream. Alia’s family represents the toxicity of what can happen when any family puts too much emphasis on appearances and wealth and not on being genuine and compassionate human beings. Alia thinks she’s not like her image-conscious and materialistic parents, but there’s some friction in her relationship with Varun when he points out to Alia the ways in which she behaves like an elitist snob.

All of the cast members are convincing in their roles, but Ali as Alia and Koirala as Sheila are the ones who get to show the most acting range. That’s because Alia and Sheila are the ones who have the most depth to their personalities in this movie. Even though “India Sweets and Spices” does have a boyfriend-girlfriend romance as a big part of the story, the mother-daughter relationship is ultimately the one that has the most impact and will be remembered by viewers the most.

Bleecker Street released “India Sweets and Spices” in select U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021, and on digital and VOD on December 7, 2021.

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