Quick Movie Review: xXx (2002)

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Has action changed all that much since 2002? Because action in movies has. Back before about 10 years ago, characters were much less jokey, things blew up a lot more, and bad guys had terrible aim.

While dated as can be, xXx is an enjoyable watch. The film’s inspiration is questionable, but Vin Diesel plays the title role exactly how you’d expect him to. There is no shortage of platitudinous quips, but he delivers them in a way that makes you forget that the dialogue is terribly written.

Diesel plays Xander Cage, aka Triple X, a criminal stunt man hired by the US government to infiltrate the international mercenary group, Anarchy 99. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that, yet the film seems to be able to stretch itself to nearly 120 minutes (132 in the director’s cut).

xXx is so 2002 that, at times, you can’t differentiate it from a early 2000s Disney Channel Original Movie. It sacrifices practicality for spectacle whenever it gets the chance. But considering its action-based modus operandi, the film still tends to drag at times.

Ultimately xXx does nothing new. At all. The only reason why anyone would watch this film is to experience Vin Diesel’s charisma and charm. Because that’s really the only unique aspect brought to the otherwise trite premise.

But it’s entertaining. Mindless, but entertaining. Despite the hackneyed script, you have to commend the movie for not taking itself too seriously, ultimately not making it a chore to watch. It’s actually quite fun and ridiculous in all its glory.

Twizard Rating: 72

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Quick Movie Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

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Strangely enough Zac Efron was in 3 comedy films in 2016, when the man lacks any sort of comedic conviction whatsoever. It’s a good thing he has Adam DeVine to compensate for him in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

The film follows Mike and Dave (DeVine and Efron), brothers who are always screwing up family parties with their wild sensibilities and attempts to snag women. So for their sister’s wedding in Hawaii, their parents give them an ultimatum–either they bring nice girls as dates or they don’t show up at all.

Right away you think to yourself, “Well they probably have a couple of female friends that are parent approved.” Whether or not this would work for the characters’ dilemma, this simple solution is never addressed. Mike and Dave jump straight to placing an ad on Craigslist, advertising a free trip to Hawaii, because that’s the easiest way to get strange women to go on vacation with you. The unrealistic thought process of the characters not only insults the audience’s intelligence, but lets us know that the film is just a means to an end, uninterested in actual logic.

Situations within a ridiculous premise still have to be cohesive to that ridiculous premise. Writers can’t just do anything they want just because they’ve established a impractical scenario.

After placing the ad, the guys get thousands of responses but inexplicably can’t find girls who are acceptable enough for their parents’ standards. Eventually, a pair of trashy girls (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick) decide they want a free vacation and put on a nice-girl front so the guys will want to take them.

There are plot holes galore in this setup, but it’s also the time in the movie with the best comedy. The rest of the way includes some funny isolated moments, but for the most part it tapers off. Then when it tries to stretch the already-thinning plot, things get weird and unnecessary.

With that said, I laughed more than I probably should have. DeVine has a true knack for comedy, which only serves to outshine his costars, constantly creating a juxtaposition of how poor the rest of them are.

Besides the initial archetypes set for the characters, their personalities are constantly wavering. We’re made to like and dislike certain characters on a whim based on what’s convenient to the story at any given moment. I do applaud, however, that the film doesn’t really waste time trying to create conflict and develop a relationship between the two girls. Whether this was inadvertent or intentional, it works in favor of the overall product.

At one point in the story the film Wedding Crashers is mentioned, which only reminds us of what we could be watching instead.

Twizard Rating: 60

Quick Movie Review: Passengers (2016)

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Great sets, cool effects, and an outer space setting–all the typical makings of a sci-fi movie. Don’t let this fool you. It’s a romance film. And a good one at that. It delves deep into the psyches of two characters and sees it all the way through.

Chris Pratt plays Jim, a passenger on board a spaceship heading towards a distant planet in order to repopulate away from Earth. The journey lasts 120 years and all 5000 passengers are supposed to remain in hibernation up until the final descent. After the AI wakes up Jim, he’s excited about all the new people and opportunities he’ll face. Except he discovers he’s been awoken 90 years too early. And he’s the only one who has.

Unable to put himself back into hibernation, he’s alone for over a year. He contemplates ending his own life until he discovers the hibernation pod of a woman, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). Her presence gives him hope. He learns all about her from her passenger profile and ultimately falls in love with her. With nobody else on the ship–except a robot bartender (Michael Sheen)–he mulls over the idea of waking her up so she can share in his miserable desolation.

In some regard you can’t imagine another actor in Pratt’s role. His distinct brand of humor and timing gives us the levity we enjoy throughout the film. Then we ask ourselves if we really need it in the first place. He has a chance, here, to showcase his dramatic acting chops. And he really tries, but with somewhat diminishing returns. It’s not terrible, but it’s just enough to question his casting–other than the fact that he’s a marquee name.

His tongue-in-cheek persona just adds to the film’s already-uneven tone, which is only exposed more by its all-too-telling score. I enjoy a couple of the motifs, but I also don’t like being told when my mood should change from happy to sad.

Yet we get a lot out of the performances. Emotions from both leads are felt. Lawrence perfects chilling anger and Pratt does fine with his drowning-soul melancholy. Once she’s in the picture, Pratt’s acting improves drastically. Not many will deny the pair’s chemistry. But you can also make a case that either would have the same chemistry with anyone else they were to share the screen with.

There are a couple of details that are lazily missed, but those plot holes don’t really make or break the overall story of the film. Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) gives us some lazy cuts, but the DP makes up for it with some deceptively beautiful cinematography.

Although the tonal shifts are all but jarring, its ruggedness works in favor of its self-created hybrid genre. The big reveal is a bit disappointing, but necessary to the greater good of the story.

Passengers is a fantastic love story whose premise only makes sense amidst its intergalactic setting.

Twizard Rating: 90