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: ‘Asteroid City,’ starring Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton

June 16, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jake Ryan, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks in “Asteroid City” (Photo courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features)

“Asteroid City”

Directed by Wes Anderson

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1955, in the U.S. Southwest and in New York City, the comedy film “Asteroid City” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Told as a stage play within a TV show, “Asteroid City” tells the story of how a small town reacts to a visit from an outer-space alien.

Culture Audience: “Asteroid City” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Wes Anderson and comedies with intentionally quirky characters and sometimes bizarre scenarios.

Scarlett Johansson in “Asteroid City” (Photo courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features)

“Asteroid City” is exactly what you think a Wes Anderson movie is about how people react to seeing an outer-space alien. The comedy is hit or miss. Anderson’s recent movies seem like they’re competing with each other to have the most celebrity cameos. “Asteroid City” (which was directed by Anderson) had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Anderson co-wrote the “Asteroid City” screenplay with Roman Coppola, who is a cousin of Jason Schwartzman, one of the stars of the film.

“Asteroid City,” which is set in 1955, is told as a play within a TV show. All it means is that it’s an excuse to add more stars to the already star-studded cast. Overstuffing the movie with famous cast members can actually be detriment when most of these characters remain underdeveloped. And it will just lead to disappointment for the fans of the cast members (many of whom could easily headline films on their own) when they find out that the screen time of many of these celebrities is barely enough to be in a short film.

The constant parade of stars also seems like showboating from Anderson and the other “Asteroid City” filmmakers, as if to prove that all of these famous people are so in awe of Anderson, they’d be willing to do even the tiniest role in one of his movies. It certainly might explain why Margot Robbie has an utterly useless role as an unnamed actress/wife in “Asteroid City,” where all she does in the movie is talk for a few minutes in a forgettable conversation. “Asteroid City” makes good use of its principal cast members, but gets bogged down by all the distracting celebrity cameos.

The movie begins with black-and-white footage of a nameless TV host (played by Bryan Cranston) explaining that viewers will be getting a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a play called “Asteroid City.” The play is written in New York City by playwright Conrad Earp (played by Edward Norton), while the ensemble cast is led by Jones Hall (played Schwartzman) and Mercedes Ford (played by Scarlett Johansson). This behind-the-scenes footage is in black and white (as it would be in television in 1955), but the scenes with the play are in bright Technicolor-inspired lighting that would have been standard with movies released in 1955.

Schubert Green (played by Adrien Brody) is the play’s director. Polly (played by Hong Chau) is Schubert’s assistant. Saltzburg Keitel (played by Willem Dafoe) has a classroom that is used as rehearsal space for the play. All three of these characters are seen in short interludes and don’t add much to the overall story.

Asteroid City is in an unnamed state in the U.S. Southwest. In the “Asteroid City” play, a war photographer named Augustine “Augie” Steenbeck (also played by Schwartzman) is a recent widower. He is on a road trip by car to Asteroid City, a very small Southwestern town (population: 87), where the biggest attractions are a large meteor crater and a celestial observatory nearby. Augie is traveling with his 14-year-old son Woodrow Steenbeck (played by Jake Ryan) and triplet daughters Andromeda (played by Ella Faris), Pandora (played by Gracie Faris) and Cassiopeia (played by Willan Faris), who are about 7 or 8 years old.

The Steenbeck family is going to Asteroid City for the weekend celebration of Asteroid Day, commemorating September 27, 3007 B.C., when the Arid Plains meteorite crashed on Earth. Woodrow is also set to get a prize as one of the five winners of the Junior Stargazer Space Cadet Awards, given to young people who are aspiring astronomers. However, Augie’s car breaks down in Asteroid City. A unnamed, bumbling mechanic (played by Matt Dillon) is the nearest person who can fix the car.

After Augie finds out that he and his children are stuck in Asteroid City, Augie calls his stern father-in-law Stanley Zak (played by Tom Hanks) to ask Stanley to pick up the kids because “the car exploded.” Stanley is reluctant to come to the rescue of his stranded son-in-law and grandchildren because Stanley thinks that Augie needs to take responsibility for the kids. Stanley is annoyed that Augie has not told the children that the children’s mother (who was Stanley’s daughter) died three weeks ago.

It’s mentioned in the movie that she died from a unnamed illness. Eventually, Augie awkwardly tells the children about their mother’s death. He also tells them that she has been cremated. Her ashes are in a plastic bowl that Augie has with him. And as soon as cremated ashes of a loved one are shown in a comedy, you just know that something is going to happen to those ashes in a comedic part of the plot.

Meanwhile, this small town is about to get a much bigger temporary population when more visitors arrive. These other guests include famous actress Midge Campbell (played by Johansson), who (by her own admission) is vain and selfish. She is in Asteroid City because her teenage daughter Dinah (played by Grace Edwards) is one of the recpients of the Junior Stargazer Space Cadet Award. It’s mentioned that Midge has two younger children from her marriage to her second ex-husband

Also in Asteroid City is country musician Montana (played by Rupert Friend) and his band. Montana dresses like a cowboy and seems to be attracted to a schoolteacher in her 20s named June (played by Maya Hawke), who has arriveed by school bus with a class of 10 students, who are each 8 years old. Montana and June, like many of these supporting characters, have no real bearing on the outcome of the story.

Other visitors to Asteroid City who are very extraneous characters include egotistical businessman JJ (played by Liev Schrieber) and his mild-mannered teenage son Clifford (played by Aristou Meehan), who only seem to be in the movie to show that Augie and Woodward aren’t the only characters in “Asteroid City” who have father/son tensions. Clifford is one of the award recipients.

Other unnecessary characters are Sandy (played by Hope Davis) and her teenage daughter Shelly (played by Sophia Lillis), who are only memorable for wearing matching Girl Scout-type uniforms. Shelly is also one of the award recipients. It makes no difference to the movie’s story if there were three, four or five teens getting these awards.

Another parent-teen duo in “Asteroid City” are scientist Roger (played by Stephen Park) and his overachieving son Ricky (played by Ethan Josh Lee), who has somewhat of a rivalry with Woodrow about who knows the most about astronomy. Ricky is actually essential to the plot, since he makes a certain decision regarding the outer-space alien. Ricky’s decision has an effect on other plot developments. Meanwhile, Woodrow and Dinah have a growing attraction to each other.

Steve Carell is in the movie for less than five minutes as the manager of Asteroid City’s only motel. The observatory is run by Dr. Hickenlooper (played Tilda Swinton), who us the expected eccentric character that Swinton always to plays in Anderson’s movies. A crater meteorite that’s the size of a softball is one of the prized possessions on display at the observatory.

A very by-the-book military officer named General Grif Gibson (played by Jeffrey Wright) is in Asteroid City to lead the Asteroid Day festivities, which includes a tour of the observatory, a picnic supper, the viewing of the Astronomical Ellipses, and the awarding of the annual Hickenlooper Scholarship. General Gibson has a trusted, unnamed aide-de-camp (played by Tony Revolori), who is just a rehash of the “eager young man” roles that Revolori has played in other Wes Anderson movies.

The first half of “Asteroid City” is a string of vignettes where the characters are quirky and often blurt out things in a tactless way that’s supposed to be amusing. Augie and Midge are the most “no filter” of these characters. And so, it should come as no surprise that they become attracted to each other. It’s just like a Wes Anderson movie for two single parents to be attracted to each other at the same time the parents’ two teenage kids are attracted to each other.

“Asteroid City” doesn’t get really interesting or amusing until the arrival of the space alien, which is filmed like it would be for a stage production. The reactions to this space alien are the movie’s commentaries on greed and exploitation in society. There’s nothing wrong with any of the performances by the cast members. But it says a lot that “Asteroid City,” which is filled with talented people (many of whom are Oscar winners and Oscar nominees), doesn’t have an Oscar-worthy performance in the bunch. The movie’s production design is impeccable, but “Asteroid City” is a comedy that’s more enamored with the setup of jokes rather than the jokes themselves.

Focus Features released “Asteroid City” in select U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2023, with a wider expansion to more U.S. cinemas on June 23, 2023.

Review: ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru,’ starring the voices of Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless and Michelle Yeoh

June 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Kevin, Otto, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), Stuart and Bob in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru”

Directed by Kyle Balda

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1979, in San Francisco and in the fictional U.S. city of Springfield, California, the animated film “Minions: The Rise of Gru” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In this origin story of “Despicable Me” supervillain Gru, he is an 11-year-old child who gets into conflicts with the Vicious 6, a gang of criminals that Gru admires.

Culture Audience: “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Despicable Me” and “Minions” films, but others might be less charmed by the scattershot and uninspired plot of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo), Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme), Sevengeance (voiced by Dolph Lungren) and Nun-Chuck (voiced by Lucy Lawless) in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is an unfortunate example of how a villain origin story loses its edge when it’s about the villain’s childhood. This formulaic cartoon is nothing more than a hyper mishmash of uninspired scenes with stale jokes and very little suspense. The best movie villains are those who keep people guessing on what they’re going to do next. That’s not the case with any of the villains in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Gru (voice by Steve Carell) is now just a predictable grouch, where all he really does to show his villainous side in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is get annoyed with the Minions, the cutesy yellow mini-creatures that don’t talk like humans but spew noises that sound like a combination of chirping and computer blips. Pierre Coffin is the voice of the Minions in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Just as the name suggestions, the Minions are at the beck and call of Gru.

Gru (an easily agitated, on-again/off-again villain) was first seen in the 2010 animated film “Despicable Me,” which spawned the sequels “Despicable Me 2” (released in 2013), “Despicable Me 3” (released in 2017) and the spinoff-prequel “Minions,” which was released in 2015. “Despicable Me 4” is expected to be released in 2024. In all of the “Despicable Me” movies, Gru is an adult who is an ex-supervillain who doesn’t particularly like people. In “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (directed by Kyle Balda and written by Matthew Fogel), Gru (still voiced by Carell) is an 11-year-old brat. Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val co-directed “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” has a simple plot, but it’s so cluttered with disjointed scenes that it just becomes a hodgepodge of characters running around, sometimes while they’re being chased and occasionally cracking some very unfunny jokes. The child version of Gru is not someone who has any cunning wit or hilarious barbs that define who Gru is as an adult. He’s just a basic annoying kid that has been seen in numerous types of animated and non-animated movies aimed at families.

The essential plot of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is that Gru steals something from a famous gang he wants to join, lot of chases ensue, and you can predict the end. Gru, who is an only child, lives with his unnamed single mother (voiced by Julie Andrews) in the fictional city of Springfield, California. People know that Springfield is in California because much of the action in the movie takes in San Francisco. The time period is circa 1979, based on the movie soundtrack’s overload of disco songs that were released in or a few years before 1979.

Don’t expect Gru’s mother to be big part of the story. She’s only in a few scenes, such as an early scene where Gru coms home to find his mother in a yoga session with a physically fit, young male yoga instructor. Later, when Gru gets kidnapped, he tells his abductors that it will be a waste of time to demand a ransom. “My mom will probably pay you to keep me.” It’s one of few barely funny lines in the movie.

Gru hangs out with lots of Minions, of course. The ones that get most screen time are named Otto, Kevin, Stuart and Bob. Otto, who wears teeth braces, is a people-pleasing new character introduced in this movie. Because Gru is such an unpleasant child, he has no friends. The Minions are the only beings that keep him company. Gru spends most of his time being bossy to the Minions.

Gru is a big fan of a famous criminal gang called the Vicious 6. They are led by a Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), a cantankerous senior citizen who is known for his fighting skills in several athletic disciplines, such as karate, boxing and jiu jitsu. The other members of the group have their own ways of fighting.

Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson) has a chain belt that she can make into a deadly disco ball of mace. Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo) has metal fists. Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme) has a lobster claw for one of his hands. Sevengeance (voiced by Dolph Lungren) is a roller skating champ who uses his spiked skates as a weapon. Nun-Chuck (voiced by Lucy Lawless) is dressed as a traditional nun, which allows her to hide her signature weapon of nunchucks.

Through a series of events, Gru meets the Vicious 6 and asks to join their group. He’s emotionally crushed when they essentially dismiss Gru. Belle Bottom tells Gru during this rejection: “Evil is for adults, not tubby little punks who should be at school.”

Gru steals the Vicious 6’s most valuable possessions: the Zodiac Stone. Otto replaces it with a Pet Rock. And you know what that means: The Vicious 6 is out to get Gru and his Minions crew. Wild Knuckles is then ousted from the Vicious 6, which is just a lazy way for the movie to have two factions of villains instead of just one. And since Wild Knuckles is the Vicious 6 villain whom Gru admires the most, get ready for the predictable “grandfather figure to Gru” story arc that you can see coming long before it starts.

Along the way, the Minions end up in San Francisco to get karate lessons from a former karate champ named Master Chow (voiced by Michelle Yeoh), which lead to mildly entertaining but entirely formulaic scenes. An unnamed motorcycle rider (voiced by RZA) and a young Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand) have brief appearances that are mostly forgettable. Nefario is an evil inventor who is an elderly man in the “Despicable Me” movie, but his origin story is “Minions: The Rise of Gru” so weak and underdeveloped, Nefario might as well have not been in the movie.

There’s nothing wrong with any of the visuals or voice acting in this movie. The screenplay and overall direction just make everything so mind-numbingly trite. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will make a lot of “Despicable Me” franchise fans want the adult Gru back. This child Gru needs to back to his room. Gru’s bratty pouting and whining are just one giant bore, making “Minions: The Rise of Gru” a step down for the “Despicable Me”/”Minions” series.

Universal Pictures will release “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie was first released in several other countries, beginning in Australia, on June 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Irresistible’ (2020), starring Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis and Rose Byrne

June 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chris Cooper, Brent Sexton and Steve Carell in “Irresistible” (Photo by Daniel McFadden/ Focus Features)

“Irresistible” 

Directed by Jon Stewart

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional working-class town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, the political comedy “Irresistible” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A high-profile and experienced Democrat National Committee strategist arrives in Deerlaken because he thinks he can groom a future Democratic presidential candidate by getting him elected as a Democrat mayor of Deerlaken, but this mayoral campaign faces stiff competition from the campaign of the Republican incumbent.

Culture Audience: “Irresistible” will appeal mostly to fans of Steve Carell and political comedies, but the movie is nothing more than a series of lazy stereotypes.

Rose Byrne and Steve Carell in “Irresistible” (Photo by Daniel McFadden/Focus Features)

Contrary to what it looks like in the trailer for the political comedy “Irresistible,” this smug and annoying movie is not centered on a possible romance between Democrat National Committee strategist Gary Zimmer (played by Steve Carell) and Republican National Committee strategist Faith Brewster (played by Rose Byrne), as they’re pitted against each other in a mayoral campaign battle in the fictional working-class town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Byrne’s Faith Brewster character isn’t in the movie every much, even though photos and images of Byrne in the movie’s marketing materials make it appear is if she’s a co-lead actor in the movie. She’s not. She has a small supporting role.

Instead, “Irresistible” (written and directed by Jon Stewart) is very much enamored with making the condescending, posturing “liberal” Gary Zimmer the center of the story. It’s at least commendable that “Irresistible” did not try to completely copy the “love/hate/we know they’re going to get together” relationship of political opposites that was on display in director Ron Underwood’s critically panned 1994 comedy flop “Speechless.” Geena Davis and Michael Keaton starred in “Speechless” as political speechwriters working on rival campaigns—a story inspired by the real-life romance of James Carville and Mary Matalin, except that in “Speechless,” the woman was the Democrat and the man was the Republican.

In “Irresistible,” Gary is the worst kind of liberal: He thinks he’s open-minded and progressive, but he has the same old-fashioned stereotypical beliefs about women and people of color as the conservatives he says he despises. It’s unclear if writer/director Stewart (who is an outspoken liberal in real life) intentionally set out to do a satire of this type of self-congratulatory liberal, but the end result is a comedy film that takes itself way too seriously.

And, quite frankly, the screenwriting for “Irresistible” isn’t very good at all. Just because Stewart wrote a lot of jokes and won several Emmys when he hosted “The Daily Show” from 1999 to 2015, that doesn’t mean he’s a talented screenwriter for movies. “Irresistible” (not to be confused with the 2006 “Irresistible” love-triangle drama, starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill and Emily Blunt) is also an odd name for a political satire/comedy, since many people find politics to be the opposite of irresistible and actually quite repellent—much like how the competing political strategists in this movie are repulsive characters.

“Irresistible” starts off with a montage of photos of U.S. presidential campaigns from various Republican and Democrat nominees, from 1968 to 2016. The movie then shows Gary and Faith experiencing Election Day for the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Faith is reveling in the victory of Donald Trump, while Gary is crushed by Hillary Clinton’s loss.

The rest of the story then pivots to Gary’s point of view, as Faith only pops up here and there for the rest of the movie. Gary comes across a viral video of a former Marine-turned-farmer in Deerlaken (pronounced “Deer-locken”), giving a passionate pro-immigration speech at a town council meeting about undocumented workers. That farmer is Jack Hastings (played by Chris Cooper, in one of his long list of “folksy, salt-of-the-earth” roles), a widower who tells an anti-immigration city official in front of the assembled crowd: “I’m not saying you’re a bad person. I think you’re scared.”

Gary tells his assembled team at his headquarters in Washington, D.C., that this farmer could be a promising candidate to win a future U.S. presidential election because Jack is a hero ex-Marine who looks conservative but talks progressive. As far as Gary can tell, Jack is not affiliated with any political party and has no political aspirations, but Gary thinks he’s come up with a brilliant idea to groom Jack into a Democrat: Gary wants to go to Deerlaken to help Jack run for mayor.

“He’s a Democrat but just doesn’t know it,” Gary says arrogantly about Jack. Gary also crudely describes Jack to his team as “a man who makes Joe the Plumber look like [1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael] Dukakis in mom jeans and a fucking Easter bonnet.” This “joke” only works with people who know about U.S. presidential campaigns from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

When Gary tells his team that he wants to get Jack elected, it’s a problematic scene that reduces the few people of color in the scene (three Latino men and one black woman) as tokens who only speak up when Gary talks about needing representation from their racial groups. He condescendingly tells them that Hillary Clinton lost the election because not enough black people and Latinos showed up to vote for her. (Gary conveniently forgets to mention all the white citizens who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016, even though Obama campaigned for her.)

Debra Messing has a brief, uncredited cameo in the scene as another “liberal” DNC staffer who thinks she knows best, by saying the best strategy for Democrats to win the next presidential election is to get more black and Latino citizens to vote. The Latino men in the meeting agree, and join hands with the Debra Messing character, while shutting out the black woman sitting in between them. The men utter something in Spanish in solidarity.

The only black DNC staffer (played by Denise Moyé) in the meeting speaks up, by saying that she agrees with Gary’s idea of expanding the Democrats’ base and not taking votes for granted. The Debra Messing character (who also doesn’t have a name in the movie) sheepishly agrees.

It’s a cringeworthy, pandering and poorly written/depicted scene. The one thing that’s fairly accurate is how Gary, like a lot of people in power, think they can speak for all racial groups on their team, without actually checking to see how the team members from different racial groups actually feel about those topics.

At any rate, by the time Gary and his nearly all-white team head to the nearly all-white Deerlaken, his massive ego thinks that he can roll into town and tell these people what to do because he’s a big-city intellectual liberal who’s a big-shot strategist from the DNC. Of course, the movie’s biggest credibility plot hole is that in real life, a political strategist with this amount of clout would not waste all this time to get a small-town mayor elected. Why? There’s not enough money in it for the strategist.

Gary convinces Jack to run for mayor as a Democrat by saying things like: “I know you don’t think of yourself as a Democrat, but after hearing your speech, I can assure you, you are. And I would like to offer you my company services to do so … Democrats are getting our asses kicked because guys like me don’t know how to talk to guys like you.”

Faith finds out that Gary is in this small town for this campaign, so she shows up in Deerlaken to be the strategist for the Republican incumbent Mayor Braun (played by Brent Sexton), because apparently she has nothing better to do with her time either. Faith and Mayor Braun don’t get nearly as much screen time in the movie as Gary and Jack do, but these sparsely written Republican characters are also written as stereotypes. Faith could easily pass for a Fox News anchor, while Mayor Braun uses Republican tropes in his campaign, such as the love of God, guns and country folks.

Multiple times in the movie, “Irresistible” makes a heavy-handed point about campaign finances and how money can corrupt politicians. Gary is obviously in politics for the money and power. Therefore, it doesn’t ring true that someone like him would get so caught up in a small-time mayoral campaign. It seems like this common sense was thrown out the window when Stewart was writing the screenplay, whose only purpose seems to be portraying people in the political process as broad clichés.

When Gary arrives in Deerlaken, all the predictable stereotypes are on display.  (Although Deerlaken is supposed to be in Wisconsin, the movie’s Deerlaken scenes were actually filmed in Rockmart, Georgia.) The only thing that Stewart didn’t do to add to the condescending stereotypes of Midwestern rural people is have anyone chew on hayseed.

The volunteers for Jack’s campaign aren’t very smart, which is the movie’s way of saying that people in this area are very uneducated. When the volunteers start calling people on their phone lists, they find out they’re accidentally calling each other at campaign headquarters instead of voters, because the volunteers mistook the office phone list for the voters phone list. And it takes Gary to point out this mistake to them. That’s how “dumb” these locals are.

Gary is staying a motel where the motel bar is also the “front desk.” It’s a bar where men wear flannel shirts and have names like Big Mike (played by Will Sasso) and Little Mike (played by Will McLaughlin) and don’t seem to have an education past high school. The motel and the town are so “behind the times” that they don’t even have Wi-Fi or broadband service throughout most of the town. They mostly access the Internet through dial-up service. The annoying screech of a dial-up modem connection is a running “joke” in the film.

And there’s a badly written scene of Gary and some of the men on his team parked in a car outside the town’s high school, one of the few places with Wi-Fi access. Gary and his team are asked to leave, but they refuse, so they get kicked out of the parking lot because the school’s security people think it’s a car full of possible sexual predators.

Even when Gary gives a lustful stare when he first sees Jack’s 28-year-old daughter Diana (played by Mackenzie Davis) at Jack’s farm, that lust turns to some disgust when he sees that she’s got her hand up the rear end of a cow. For most of the movie, Gary and his team underestimate Diana’s intelligence because they think she’s an ignorant farmer’s daughter who doesn’t know much about politics. It still doesn’t stop Gary from flirting with Diana, but he’s mostly focused on winning the campaign for Jack.

Two of the people on Gary’s team are nerdy pollster Kurt (played by Topher Grace) and abrasive digital analytics strategist Tina (played by Natasha Lyonne), who clash with each over about how they think their respective voter analysis is better. Tina huffs when she dismisses Kurt’s polling numbers by saying that people’s computer usage is a more accurate picture of who voters are: “A digital footprint is your true self.”

When Kurt and Tina get into a little verbal tiff during a campaign meeting, Diana speaks up and says to Tina, “Surely, people are more complete than their online transactions.” Tina snaps back, “Says the woman with three cats and intense [Internet] search history of the herpes virus.” This is what’s supposed to pass as humor in this movie.

In fact, there’s very little humor to be found in “Irresistible,” which is a waste of this talented cast. Faith and Gary have some obvious sexual tension with each other, but it’s written in such an off-putting way that it’s just not as funny as Stewart probably thought it was when he wrote the script.

For example, there’s one scene where Faith calls Gary “fat,” and then she gives him a long lick on his face like it’s an ice cream cone. In another scene, Gary and Faith have an argument and then say that whichever of them loses the election will have to perform oral sex on the other for an hour. This oral sex “dare” is described in much cruder terms in the movie.

By the end of “Irresistible,” there’s kind of a dumb plot twist that reiterates some of the preachy messages of the film. But this plot twist doesn’t matter too much, because the entire plot of a strategist like Gary being in a small town like Deerlaken was an ill-conceived idea in the first place. And “Irresistible” also has an unnecessary gimmick of showing three different epilogues (the last epilogue in the film is supposed to be the “real” one), even going as far as having the end credits start to roll during each epilogue, just to trick/confuse viewers over which epilogue is “real.”

With so many U.S. citizens in real life who are already cynical or apathetic about politics, “Irresistible” isn’t going to make people feel good about participating in the political process. And although “Irresistible” is obviously influenced by “The Candidate” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” it definitely won’t be considered a classic like those films.

Focus Features released “Irresistible” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD.

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