Under Wraps (1997)

Under Wraps. Released (premiered): October 25, 1997. Directed by: Greg Beeman. Starring: Adam Wylie, Mario Yedidia, Clara Bryant. Runtime: 1h 35 min.

When people think Disney Channel Original Movie, ones like “Halloweentown” or “High School Musical” stand out. But today, I’m reviewing the true original DCOM, “Under Wraps,” the first to premiere on the network as the re-branded Disney Channel Original Movie.

A local museum curator and grump, Mr. Kubat (Ed Lauter), dies and Marshall (Mario Yedida), Gilbert (Adam Wylie) and Amy (Clara Bryant) decide to see what weird stuff the old guy had in his basement. They find more than they bargained for when there’s a mummy named Harold (Bill Fagerbakke, Patrick Star on “Spongebob Squarepants”) chilling in his sarcophagus.

As far as these DCOM Halloween movies go, they’re rarely scary. They just have spooky monsters and usually make for decent Halloween movies. “Under Wraps” is easily the least scary of them all. But that’s not this film’s intention (or usually any of the DCOM Halloween movie intentions). This mummy is just funny and entertaining. There’s some good fish-out-of-water humour and slapstick comedy that made me think of Jim Carrey. The makeup is decent for Harold, too.

Some of the humour’s childish, but again, that’s understandable for a Halloween TV movie made for kids. I’m still a kid at heart so there’s some okay enjoyment to be had here. Certain sub-plots aren’t always interesting. For example: Marshall’s Mom (Corinne Bohrer, and that’s literally the character name) is dating a new guy named Ted (also played by Bill Fagerbakke) and Marshall isn’t coping with it well after his parent’s divorce.

It’s not super interesting while watching but it was probably put in because it would be relatable for any kids watching it that may not be handling divorce well. It handles it fine in that respect and the attempt at developing a character is welcome, as they don’t try with anyone else.

Basically, Marshall likes horror movies; Gilbert’s spooked of his own shadow; and Amy is… Well, she’s not well-developed and she’s there for an eventual schoolyard crush, and her mom (character name simply Amy’s Mom) is selling Kubat’s house so she’s their way into the basement to find Harold.

The friendship with Marshall and Harold is a highlight. The main plot of the film other than just three kids hanging out with a mummy is they have to get him back into his sarcophagus before Halloween ends. If they don’t, he’ll turn to dust and his soul would be lost, as a horror shop owner named Bruce (Ken Hudson Campbell) tells the kids. He’s a horror shop owner but also an exposition fairy.

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Bill Fagerbakke in “Under Wraps.”

The villain and the main conflict is weak and there’s a dumb twist that’s too silly to not talk about. It’s really the stuff you’d see in a TV movie like this, so SPOILER WARNING! Basically, the Kubat guy is still alive. He faked his death because he was going to go to jail for tax evasion. He’s trying to sell the sarcophagus but wants Harold because a real-life mummy is real valuable. Of course, the kids don’t want Harold being sold to one of his shady buyers. They really dress Kubat as a gangster interested in arts and culture when they show he’s the villain. END OF SPOILERS!

The acting’s fine for the kids, and when Marshall fake cries it’s the only bad moment. If they’re doing random hijinks, they’re completely passable. The teleplay by Don Rhyme is fine for what it is, but character development, plot structure and the conflict is shaky at best. The mummy makes up for it by being funny most of the time, and without him being so amusing this would have been a lot worse.

I think the best writing is a movie-within-a-movie called “Warthead IV” that Marshall adores. The monster looks like the Toxic Avenger and there’s some funny, cheesy overacting. But when the monster crashes through a window and puts the Movie Dad (Tom Virtue, Steven Stevens on TV’s “Even Stevens”) near a spinning knife in the garbage disposal is the closest this comes to horror. It’s campy and looks like a fun movie, and I would watch it. It’s one of the better moments of the film.

Score: 60/100

Sinkhole de mayo! Slaughterhouse Rulez (2019), The Hole in the Ground (2019)

Note: I wanted to post a couple shorter reviews today (well, the review of “The Hole in the Ground” is the usual length but “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is much shorter) because both of these horror films have sinkholes in them. So, there’s that!

Slaughterhouse Rulez. Released: May 17, 2019. Directed by: Crispian Mills. Starring: Finn Cole, Asa Butterfield, Simon Pegg. Runtime: 1h 44 min.

Note about this post. My reviews usually always have me talking a bit about the plot, so there are some (minor) spoilers, so you’ve been warned. 

This is one helluva forgettable horror comedy mashup. Honestly, I watched this in April so that’s a reason, but I’m convinced I forgot everything about this within a week.

Basically, there’s a guy named Don Wallace (Finn Cole) who’s accepted to a prestigious British boarding school called Slaughterhouse School. That’s the first red flag. A headmaster named The Bat (Michael Sheen) instructs that the forest near the school is a restricted area. If you needed a reason to make this feel like “Harry Potter,warning students not to go into a restricted forest is one of them.

It’s restricted because of the fracking going back on there. A fracking company has created a giant sinkhole. When they dig too deep, they release some horrors onto the academy. The big problem of “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is that it doesn’t get into any horror until an hour in besides foreshadowing like school rumours. The horror is mediocre at best when it arrives, but this holds little entertainment value.

It wastes a lot of time on a weird academy hierarchy that Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) aptly explains to Wallace. The popular Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) is the apple of Don’s eye, but a popular guy named Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries), who I think is dating Clemsie, won’t allow that. Again, if there’s anything you need to compare this to Harry Potter, it’s this Clegg jackass who is basically a more irritating version of Draco Malfoy.

The film also wastes a lot of time on professor Meredith Houseman (Simon Pegg). There’s nothing wrong, usually, with dedicating a lot of time to Simon Pegg, but when his character is mostly just trying to keep his relationship afloat with Audrey (Margot Robbie with little screen time), it just gets pointless. The film just wastes Pegg. Nick Frost has a couple of laughs in a bit role, but he’s still wasted. And wasting those talents is what is most unforgivable here.

Score: 40/100

The Hole in the Ground. Released: March 1, 2019. Directed by: Lee Cronin. Starring: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

“The Hole in the Ground” follows Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) who is just moving to the Irish countryside with her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). Deep in the woods behind their home, they find a gigantic sinkhole with no real reason of being there.

Soon after finding it, Chris starts displaying bizarre behaviour and she thinks it has something to do with the sinkhole. Some of Chris’ bizarre behaviour, as seen in the trailer, is him crawling around on all fours and eating a spider. Bizarre, sure, but even more-so when you consider he’s terrified of spiders at the beginning of the film. You never know, he could just be getting over his fear in a unique way. Or something’s wrong with him.

It’s a Creepy Kid horror film, so it’s surely the latter. Even at 90 minutes, the film is very slow burn. I think that’s a given nowadays for the studio A24. Though, this was an A24 acquisition after production, but it just happens to suit its usual pacing for horror films well. It puts emphasis on a creepy atmosphere. This is one of the creepiest atmospheres for a Creepy Kid movie I’ve seen since “Home Alone.” I’m joking, Macaulay, though you’re hella creepy in “The Good Son.” Writer-director Lee Cronin, and co-writer Stephen Shields, do an admirable job with the atmosphere.

The Creepy Kid tropes are all here, but there aren’t a lot of friends for Sarah to confide in that this might not be Christopher. However, there’s an old kook in the woods the townsfolk have nicknamed Walkie Talkie, birthname Noreen Brady (Kati Outinen) who claims her late son James just changed and was convinced he was an imposter. Her husband Des (James Cosmo, “Game of Thrones”) has some great lines when he tells Sarah that it was something only a mother would notice. Her describes her noticing things as “pebbles until it becomes a landslide.”

The film’s unique for a Creepy Kid horror film and the atmosphere is strong, but it’s rather boring throughout because not a lot happens. A highlight during the first hour is an unsettling talent show. You have to get through about an hour of often boring creepiness for 20 minutes of action. The finale is unique and is the first time the film promises to be really scary because of a fear of the unknown. Some of the lore here is also rather interesting.

The last 20-plus minutes, atmosphere and the acting are really the only strong aspects here, and that’s not enough for me to ever re-visit this. One good thing can be said about the atmosphere, because if it were not so strong, I probably would have fell asleep halfway through. As for the acting, Seána Kerslake is good as Sarah who’s just really curious to know what the heck’s happened to her son. Her anxiety is strong and she holds a strong head through it all.

James Quinn Markey does a great job of being convincing enough that he could be Christopher. And I almost felt bad for him when Sarah literally runs away from him, even though he’s getting up to creepy shit the entire time. One plus for the acting is that I didn’t find him irritating, which is a big plus in my book for these films. Kudos, kid, you’re not annoying.

Score: 60/100

Tone-Deaf (2019)

Directed by: Richard Bates Jr. Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Kim Delaney. Runtime: 1h 27 min. Released: August 23, 2019.

It feels like in every neighborhood there’s a curmudgeonly old fart sitting in a rocking chair on his porch ranting about something. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” had the Grinch up on Mount Crumpit, shouting down at the Who’s. “Gran Torino” had Clint Eastwood, telling everyone to get off his lawn. “Tone-Deaf” has Harvey (Robert Patrick) who constantly breaks the fourth wall to monologue about how terrible millennials are. Sorry, Mr. T-1000, we don’t mean to be terrible.

Olive (Amanda Crew), a millennial has just broken up with her boyfriend and has just lost her job – she just got fired on a Thursday, before free lunch Friday (!) – so rents a house for a weekend getaway away from the city. The renter is crazy baby-boomer widow Harvey. It sets up an intergenerational clash because Harvey may be a curmudgeonly old asshole and widow, but he’s also a long john wearin’, millennial swearin’ psychopath. He seems like he’s been nutty for awhile but his reason for now wanting to be a psychopath, you ask?

He looks at the screen and says that he’s done everything “but I haven’t killed a person. That’s one itch I haven’t got around to scratching.” I’ve never been on a roller coaster but you don’t see me lining up to go on one. But I also don’t want to, so to each their own, I guess. His motives to kill aren’t strong. The only reasons given are his hate for millennials and the fact that dementia is settling in, but the dementia part is dangerous to use as a motive.

The only thing “Tone-Deaf” has to offer is its generational commentary, as it elevates it above a plain horror film. Even that isn’t very good, though. It’s mostly just hateful monologues from Robert Patrick. He’s introduced poorly to us by asking the screen, “Want to be a conduit of change? Go drink a gallon of bleach… As long as you millennials leave the hard work to my generation, the least you can do is sacrifice yourselves.” His rants and a brief political observation service as the commentary but it’s mean-spirited and not clever. But am I, as a millennial, proving the film’s point for thinking it’s mean-spirited when it’s just tongue-in-cheek commentary?

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Robert Patrick in “Tone-Deaf.” (IMDb)

I’m not sure, I just know I didn’t like this. His rants just feel try-hardy and like he’s listing pet peeves of the writer/director Richard Bates Jr., though “sunglasses are for the outside” is an amusing observation. At one point, Olive the millennial gives us a fourth-wall breaking rant about baby boomers. The film doesn’t work when it’s just shoving its ideas down our throats.

It doesn’t work when it’s being subtle, either, but it feels smarter. The best aspect is a major quirk of Olive’s character and the reasoning for the title. She loves playing the piano but the catch is, she’s terrible. Just tone-deaf (like most of the film). However, she’s a millennial so no one’s ever told her that she’s bad because they don’t want to ruin any of her dreams.

It’s the only interesting thing about her character, or any character, as she’s just a basic, bratty millennial who wants to get away for a weekend. Crew plays it fine, and I’ve liked her since “Sex Drive” but she can’t do much with the dialogue, that’s either just bad or awkward.

They try to add depth to her – but her dad (Ray Wise) killing himself isn’t interesting, nor is Olive’s acid trip talking to him. Sub-plot scenes featuring her mother, Crystal (Kim Delaney), living at a commune and hanging out with a fling (Johnny Pemberton) is more useless than anything.

This doesn’t work as a horror comedy, either. Some of the horror’s more visual and surreal than I’d expect for the simple horror premise and there are some seriously strange scenes, mostly in Harvey’s imagination. The kills aren’t memorable for a slasher film, and a lot of the scares are lazy. There is one scene that builds decent tension, though. There are more laughs than scares, but they’re merely chuckles and the film usually tries way too hard to be funny or the setups are bad. The finale setup is fine and feels like it could be good but then Harvey just goes back to millennial shaming.

Patrick’s performance doesn’t work because the character’s so bad, but he embodies manic and hateful here. But there’s a reason why no one likes that curmudgeonly old guy in the neighborhood. He’s just an asshole and so is Harvey. But unlike the Grinch or Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,there’s no redemption story here.

Score: 38/100

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood. Directed by: Adrian Grunberg. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega. Runtime: 1h 29 min. Released: September 20, 2019.

Spoiler warning! If you want to know as little as possible about the movie, come read this after you watch it. You’ve been politely warned.

“Rambo: Last Blood” is one heck of a mixed bag. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now living on a horse ranch in Arizona, dealing with old age and PTSD and living with his adopted family; his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Rambo’s like a father figure to her.

The first 20 minutes of the film feels like dull melodrama. Rambo shows off the underground tunnels (truly built for an action-packed finale) on his ranch and bonds while horseback riding with Gabriela. Then, Gabriela says she knows her father is living in Mexico and wants to go see him. Rambo and Maria basically say he’s a schmuck, but she goes anyway.

What happens next is basically the plot of Taken but with Rambo. Rambo immediately goes over the border and learns Gabriela has been kidnapped by a Mexican cartel involved in human trafficking led by the Martinez brothers, Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who are just awfully stereotypical characters.

The scenes in Mexico feel more like melodrama, especially when Gabriela tries to reconnect with her Dad and he says he never cared about her. It’s an odd scene. A journalist in Mexico, Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega) is an ally to Rambo and adds exposition for the cartel. She’s not an interesting character – but besides Rambo, none of the characters are great.

It’s also a shallow story you could tell someone about beat-for-beat in less than two minutes. To make matters worse, the first hour is just entirely boring with only a couple of scenes of brutal violence to keep Rambo fans interested.

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Sylvester Stallone in “Rambo: Last Blood.” (IMDb)

I’ve only seen “First Blood” and the 2008 “Rambo,” but the story is so generic it only feels like a Rambo film in name, not in spirit. Any character could lead this film, but Sylvester Stallone is kick-ass in action scenes and mediocre in dramatic scenes. There’s one decent scene that’s believable in terms of emotion, but most of the other emotional aspects of the film don’t ring true.

Even at a compact 89 minutes, “Last Blood” is slow to get going. It feels slower still because I didn’t care about Gabriela’s arc, and she’s the core drive for Rambo. Their chemistry is okay, but the dialogue trying to get her to stay isn’t very strong. A lot of the dialogue feels awkward overall.

The non-stop action of the story doesn’t come until 70 minutes into the film, when Rambo sets up traps in his tunnels before luring the cartel back to his home in Arizona. The last 20 minutes plays out like an R-rated version of “Home Alone” and it’s bloody awesome. It’s gory and brutal and fun in its cartoonish way. It’s like Looney Tunes, but I love Looney Tunes and “Home Alone.Keep in mind, these scenes are a hard so there are no Macaulay Culkin cameos, here.

The shame about this film is that it’s all build-up to an action-packed finale that only lasts 20 minutes. If I could look at movies just for their finales, this would get a recommendation from me because it’s a decent time if you just like brutal action. There’s just too much crap to get through to honestly make it worth it.

Score: 50/100

Skyscraper (2018)

Released: July 13, 2018. Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han. Runtime: 1h 42 min.

Comedy director Rawson Marshall Thurber teams up for a second time with Dwayne Johnson after 2016’s “Central Intelligence. This time, it’s for his first action film “Skyscraper.”

Will Sawyer (Johnson) is now a security expert on assignment in Hong Kong assessing the safety of the world’s tallest building, the Pearl, at 225 stories tall, built by ambitious architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Sawyer’s brought in to make sure that the residential floors are as safe as can be.

He’s given a tablet that can control the building remotely, and when the building is set ablaze by a gang of mercenaries (led by Roland Møller), Will’s framed for it. He wants to clear his name – but first needs to get into the building because his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are still in the building right near the fire.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer well. He’s a strong family man and Johnson brings his usual charisma. The film opens with his character as an FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader on his last mission as an explosion leads him to losing his leg. This is about 10 years before Hong Kong and he sports a prosthetic leg for the rest of the film.

He discusses it with one of his old FBI buddies, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), in the film, but talks about the mistake of not knowing the man had a bomb, but the bad luck led him to meeting his wife. Neve Campbell plays the wife well, but their chemistry’s nothing special. Will’s family is his drive.

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Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper.” (IMDb)

All that aside, a main criticism for the film is that it’s a lot like Die Hard.” It’s fair and inevitable, especially because of the villains and general concept, but I saw more similarities to “The Towering Inferno.” It has similar scenes where characters must get across things to escape the blaze, and it’s like an extreme version of that film for modern audiences. I won’t spoil anything about the villains, but I’ve really liked Roland Møller in everything I’ve seen him in.

The film’s predictable but I liked the ride. I also liked the setting of the film, The Pearl, which makes Nakatomi Plaza look like a normal house in comparison. Attractions like a three-story rainforest and spinning turbine things on the outside of the building are featured on the Pearl. The wonder of the turbine attraction made me think of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” The Pearl’s architect Long Ji is Wonka and his skyscraper is his chocolate factory.

There’s a pearl on top of the skyscraper that looks down on Hong Kong like you’re just in the sky, or like you’re looking down from Heaven, as Long Ji puts it. Most of the Pearl’s unique attractions feature into the film’s biggest set pieces. A few of these made my palms sweat which I thought made the “Skyscraper” have enough edge-of-your-seat thrills for one watch, despite it being predictable.

Score: 63/100

Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

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Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean's Eight poster

IMDb

Released: June 8, 2018. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway. Directed by: Gary Ross. Runtime: 1h 50 min.

Midway through “Ocean’s Eight”, the spin-off of the “Ocean’s” trilogy, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) tells Lou (Cate Blanchett) that there’s no room for men in this heist. “I don’t want a him,” says Debbie. “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.”

This all-female led cast isn’t one to be ignored. Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister, and the movie starts with her in a parole meeting – the same opening as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.” She gets released and with the help of Lou, they round up a team for a heist.

This includes Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling) and pick-pocketer Constance (Awkwafina). Debbie wants do this job because stealing is her talent – established by clever little after she’s out of jail. She tells a guard: “I have forty-five dollars, I can go anywhere.”

The heist is at New York City’s annual Met Gala, and the target’s a diamond necklace called the Toussaint, valued at $150 million, which will be worn by Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway).

Hathaway’s fun in the role, playing an exaggerated version of herself, shown best during a fashion-related panic attack. I’m glad the franchise kept that meta sense of humour, even if it’s not as obvious as the scene in “Ocean’s Twelvewhen Julia Roberts plays Tess Ocean pretending to be Julia Roberts.

Everyone’s performances in “Ocean’s Eight” are stronger than their characters. They’re basic characters and Debbie has the most development. Helena Bonham Carter is quirky and entertaining as the Irish fashion designer Rose.

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Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna in Ocean’s Eight. (IMDb)

Rihanna’s also great as Nine Ball. Her hacks are clever, and I love that her computer mouse is a nine ball (pictured above). Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson are charming, and both Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling are amusing. James Corden is among the only male talent and appears in the third act and makes things livelier, and he’s good for a few laughs.

It’s difficult for this film to avoid comparisons to the original trilogy. Steven Soderbergh brought so much style to his trilogy and to the heist genre. In comparison, this is flat, especially during the setup.

Without any great characters here, the cast mainly kept me interested. It’s entertaining enough on its own but it doesn’t have much style under Gary Ross’s direction. Style only shows up on the night of the Met Gala with all of its glitz, glamour and celebrities.

I like how writers Ross and Olivia Milch make the characters steal something off the neck of someone instead of them having to figure out how to get inside a vault to steal the necklace. There’s creativity in the plot and the implementation of the Met Gala plan is decent fun, even if the suspense doesn’t come close to any of the originals.

Score: 65/100