Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Released: June 22, 2018. Directed by: J.A. Bayona. Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall. Runtime: 2h 8 min.

This review contains spoilers.

Picking up three years after 2015’s Jurassic World, the dinosaurs on the island of Isla Nublar are in danger as the island’s volcano is about to explode and the U.S. Senate rules that they aren’t going to intervene with the dinosaur’s deaths.

Meanwhile, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) now leads an organization called the Dinosaur Protection Group and the film’s adventure kicks off when she receives a call from Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) – who works for an old friend of John Hammond – that they plan to relocate the dinosaurs to a different island where they can live peacefully.

Raptor specialist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) also tags along because Blue is still on the island and her survival is his motivation. The first half of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom features decent action on the island. But for the most part, the film’s more of the same, as we learn that Mills plans to sell the dinosaurs as weapons at an auction at his boss’s manor.

Spall’s great but his character is one-note and another forgettable human villain of the new trilogy. He’s also like Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) of the first film, who wanted to use the raptors as weapons. Hoskins suggested dinosaurs could replace robots as war’s future, but now they can replace robots and combat nuclear war. But the argument’s basically the same and it’s annoying that they repeat all of this.

The main point is these dinosaurs are deadly and can turn on you at any point. That’s something Owen understands. He’s badass and the videos of him raising Blue are heartwarming. His development isn’t expanded on other than that. Claire’s development keeps growing as someone who loves the dinosaurs, an interesting change from when she only cared about her career and thought of the dinosaurs as numbers on a spreadsheet. Pratt and Dallas Howard still have a good chemistry.

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom lil blue

Chris Pratt and Blue in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. (IMDb)

The film has such a focus on its plot that it doesn’t develop Owen and Claire further than that and focuses on the new characters. This includes Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), a nerdy programmer who brings humour, and dinosaur veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), who is super likable and has more purpose than Franklin.

Also new is Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Eli Mills’ boss, who is retconned into the universe as someone who helped John Hammond develop cloning technology. I was confused because I couldn’t remember if we ever saw him in previous films – Claire is very excited to meet him and we do not feel this excitement – but he’s just a new character.

His granddaughter Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) is our eyes and ears at the manor for the first half of the film as she listens in on Spall’s conversations – like when he yells at her because he’s on a very important phone call – as the heroes are still on the island. She’s fine and has a nice chemistry with Owen and Claire, but her character does have silly moments.

The film’s mostly non-stop action but it does have some nice, emotional moments. This includes a shot of a dinosaur that closes a chapter on the island. It’s well directed by J.A. Bayona and the cinematography by Oscar Faura – who’s shot Bayona’s four feature films – elicits such emotion in this scene.

Bayona capably directs the scenes on the island and finds his stride when the film’s tone evolves and turns into what you’d imagine a Jurassic Park-themed haunted house would be like. He delves into fears of monsters coming in through your window in one tense scene. Michael Giacchino’s score matches these scenes perfectly, and Oscar Faura’s cinematography is my favourite aspect.

It’s a nice change of pace from the first half of the film where characters run from dinosaurs on a giant island. Now, they’re running from a new creation in a gigantic mansion. The tone changes believably with the story and it has a decent flow – even if everything’s not interesting. Much of the film’s tone is dire – which makes sense, since it is a fallen kingdom.

Score: 65/100

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CHIPS (2017)

 

CHiPS. Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dax Shephard. Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Vincent D’Onofrio. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Dax Shepard’s third directorial effort reboots 1977 TV cop drama CHiPS into a raunchy buddy cop comedy. It’s not the best comedy but it entertains for enough of its runtime.

Larry Wilcox’s Jon Baker (Shepard) is updated to a washed-out stunt motorcyclist with no more fans or sponsors. His sole motivation is saving his marriage with wife Karen (Kristen Bell), and he brings up his marriage problems so much you can turn it into a drinking game.

Michael Peña is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, an FBI agent who is brought into the California Highway Patrol as an undercover agent to investigate an armoured van robbery ring rooted within the CHP itself. He’s partnered with Baker, and their chemistry isn’t great because and they bicker from the start.

Their fights in the first half are only occasionally funny. They establish Baker spends so much time in couple’s therapy that he’s almost an expert in trying to get to the root of Ponch’s problems. He’s a better wannabe psychologist than police officer since he can’t shoot his gun with any accuracy whatsoever.

They’re some of the worst on-screen cops you’ll see. Ponch is also reckless and does everything an undercover cop shouldn’t do. Plus, he can barely ride a motorcycle, which makes him the butt of some of the film’s funniest jokes during the chase scenes. Baker’s only graduated because he’s great at riding a motorcycle.

The problem with these bad cops is that they’re not believably written, and while it’s like a farce of bad cops, the film’s not clever so the line between attempted farce and plain stupid comedy blurs. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously so it still manages to be fun.

CHIPS (1)

One of the many chase scenes in CHIPS (Source). 

The stunts and chase scenes are great. It blends extreme sports with comedy and it works well, especially because of some of the bike jump stunts. The action’s well-directed and more fun than some jokes. The action scenes and umpteen crashes and explosions help distract from a simplistic story written by Dax Shepard.

The heists are fun but Shepard’s decision to reveal the bad cops to us from the word go removes all their mystery, and since we know who they are so long before our dynamic duo, the story loses punch and surprise. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the tough-as-nails corrupt cop ring leader. He’s a generically written brute only enlivened by D’Onofrio. His character is cruel for no reason and it makes him campy, especially when he breaks out a SWAT tank – which is admittedly awesome.

Shepard holds some characters back who are criminals and unceremoniously reveals them as baddies far too early. It’s disappointing because it would be a nice surprise to find out they’re villainous when Ponch and Baker learn it.

He doesn’t pen a strong story but his jokes are decent, and it finds a balance between big laughs and forgettable chuckles. Some gross-out raunchiness misses, especially a joke about how Baker doesn’t know the new trends of oral sex, that loses slight cleverness when it’s used too many times.

The main duo’s chemistry strengthens after they stop bickering, which helps make it a decent buddy comedy since they start to enjoy each other’s company. Plus, they are funny people. They become friends when Ponch makes lip contact with Jon’s wiener – and it’s funny, but it doesn’t feel naturally enough to be a believable best friend moment. Their chemistry suffers because of it. They don’t feel like besties like Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street – and they don’t have a natural chemistry like the guys in Super Troopers.

CHIPS

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena in CHIPS. (Source)

The supporting cast doesn’t leave an impression – though Maya Rudolph gives a decent cameo, and there are other familiar faces that pop up. The supporting characters are so one-note – especially Jessica McNamee, Rosa Salazar and Adam Brody – and it feels like Ponch and Baker are the only characters Shepard bothers to develop.

The self-involved nature of all the characters make them jerks. Baker’s obsession with his severed marriage is the film’s most annoying aspect, especially since it’s so obvious it’s over he seems delusional. Ponch is mostly just a cliché womanizer and sex addict, who has perfected one-night stands by writing the name of the woman on a Post-It note and putting it on his bathroom mirror.

Jon’s wife Karen (Bell) is the biggest jerk of them all and treats Jon terribly throughout. She feels satirical of trophy wives, but it would help if she was funny – instead, she’s heartless and terribly written. The character almost made me hate Bell whenever she was on-screen. Her talent feels wasted – but kudos to her for being a believable jerk, especially to her real-life husband.

CHIPS is a funny ride overall that gives the ‘70s cop show a modern comedy twist. It’s nice that Shepard gets to mix his love for motorcycles with comedy, but his passion merely translates into a forgettable action comedy.

Score: 60/100

Run All Night (2015)

Released March 13, 2015. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman. Written by Brad Ingelsby. 1hr., 54 min.

Vengeance and a father’s love pair up on a long December night

Featuring a visually pleasing style and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Run All Night will please anyone looking for a concise narrative that happens over one long night.

Fate pits best friends Jimmy Conlon, portrayed by Liam Neeson, and Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, against each other in a deadly situation when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to protect his own kin. Maguire’s son Danny, the up-and-coming supporting star Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), kills a pair of Albanians in a local gang after he tries to bring drugs to the family business. The entire situation is a product of Danny’s insolence and need for independence – to handle a problem on his own, like his father suggested. Surely, this is not what he meant.

His father is a legitimate business man, also known as a New York mafia boss, who won’t bring drugs back to his city after he had a bad experience amongst his workers once before. Michael, portrayed by RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman, comes into this when he drove the to-be-murdered Albanians to Danny’s home. He is a limousine driver and family man, with a seriously estranged relationship with his own father – a former hitman for Shawn Maguire.

Now Jimmy is retired, but his nightmares of those he has killed have not rested. He’s drunk and tattered, playing the flawed hero he seems to play at least once a year nowadays, notably in 2014’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Hey, if it works, it works. It feels even more familiar here, however, since this has such a similar style to Non-Stop, which director Jaume Collet-Serra also helmed. It has a different framing – New York circa Christmas time, but it’s about as much of a Christmas flick as Die Hard. There’s also a prominent NHL game in play throughout – the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils, perhaps to display the city’s culture. It later works cleverly into the screenplay, which is written by Brad Ingelsby, writer of 2013’s Out of the Furnace. Similar settings, scenes and tone make this more familiar.

Run All Night isn’t memorable because of its originality, but because of its emotionally interesting narrative. Jimmy will largely do anything to protect Michael and that shows a father’s love for his son, even if they don’t know each other well. However, Michael’s bitterness towards his father becomes so sporadically extreme, that the character is sometimes too unlikable.

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

During the quicker action scenes, the editing becomes hectic. That’s one of the weaker technical aspects of the film; but the redeeming cinematography is smooth.  The action scenes work because they are fun and have personality. But there are scenes that don’t work – like uninspired bouts of ruthlessness just so it can show that these characters can be brutal. Or a bathroom brawl for lack of realism, since they make a lot of noise – and how does no one hear the commotion in the commode in a crowded subway station?

A fun antagonist includes a hitman portrayed the Oscar-winning Common. He’s called to be robotic and calculated as Andrew Price, but ends up being the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of assassins, particularly when he’s called to put on his nice guy act, and then he becomes monstrous. Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Detective Harding, an antagonizing, prejudiced officer who has been gunning for Jimmy “Gravedigger” Conlon for years. His assumptions of Jimmy and his son are sometimes downright mean.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does bring his best action film yet to the table. He expertly deals with themes of regrets in life through Conlon, largely signified through a repeated line with former bestie Maguire, “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together.” It’s fascinating that a family member’s death because of intense circumstances can cause him to be so vengeful, but the way that writer Ingelsby doesn’t delve into it well enough causes him to be more basic than he could have been. Collet-Serra handles the emotions well and builds great tension throughout.

3 stars