BEAST (2022)

August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Movies featuring man versus beast date back to at least 1933 with KING KONG, and have proven to be fan favorites many times since, likely peaking with JAWS in 1975. Of course, this sub-genre has also produced too many flops to count as low-budget filmmakers have attempted to capitalize with the cheap-thrills approach to entertainment. Director Baltasar Kormakur has previously flashed his skill with nature thrillers ADRIFT (2018) and EVEREST (2015), and here he’s working from a script and story by Ryan Engle (NON-STOP, 2014) and Jaime Premak Sullivan (BREAKING IN, 2018). It’s tempting to call this one ‘Cujo as a lion’, as a tip of the cap to the 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror-novel, but there are many reasons not to do so.

Idris Elba plays Dr Nate Samuels, a man taking his daughters to the African savannah area where he met their mother many years prior. The mom recently passed away from the effects of cancer, and since mom and dad had separated the year before, there is tension between dad and daughters, especially the eldest, Meredith (“call me Mere”), who holds him responsible for not being there for mom. Mere is played by Iyana Halley, and younger sister Norah is played by Leah Jeffries. We quickly learn these are smart girls, spoiled by privilege and dumbfounded at the lack of Wi-Fi and cell phone coverage miles from nowhere.

Nate’s old buddy Martin (Sharlto Copley) manages the protection of local wildlife and will act as their guide. One of the first sequences we see is poachers wiping out a pride of lions. However, they missed the alpha male and he is now out for revenge against all poachers … only he, like so many these days, can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. This puts Nate and the girls in danger, especially after Martin is seriously injured. Director Kormakur pulls the old “Jaws” trick by keeping the lion out of sight for a while, building suspense. Once he begins attacking, the lion is in full view for much of the film. Of course, lions are wild animals and cannot be trained to act, so what we really see are computer-generated lions with terrific growling sound effects.

The lion attacks are ferocious and do provide a certain level of fun tension with numerous jump-scares, and many will find this sufficient for movie entertainment. However, for those who want a bit more, the plot, dialogue and character decisions are often absurd and ludicrous – generating laughter where they shouldn’t. Despite much of this being computer-generated, the work of Oscar winning cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot (A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, 1992) should be noted … it looks and feels like we are in the wild bush. The four main actors are fine, although Mr. Elba’s contemplative physician transforming into quasi-superhero is a bit difficult to take. Mere’s donning a JURASSIC PARK t-shirt is a nice try, but this one has more in common with Liam Neeson fighting off wolves in THE GREY (2017).

Opens in theaters on August 19, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE RUNNER (2022)

August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Drugs continue to destroy lives despite this being 40 years past when Nancy Reagan first counselled folks to ‘Just say no’. Not surprisingly, an ad campaign had little effect in the war against illicit drugs that immediately made people feel better (regardless of the long-term impact). Before and since that era, there have been countless films with storylines depicting the negative side of drugs – violence, gang activity, broken families, shattered dreams, failing health, and death. The drug stories that work best are those that narrow the focus and zero in on a personal story, and that’s what director Michelle Danner and screenwriter Jason Chase Tyrrell have done here.

French-Finnish actor Edouard Philipponnat (HOUSE OF GUCCI, 2021) stars as Aiden, a high school student riding high (yes, that’s a pun) thanks to the drug business he and his buddy Blake (Nadji Jeter) have carved out on campus. Aiden charms his way through school hallways mingling just long enough for business with students and even teachers. Aiden doesn’t exactly maintain a low profile by hopping in his $100k Mercedes SUV or skipping classes or showing up late and high to track practice.

Aiden’s mom (Elisabeth Rohm, AMERICAN HUSTLE, 2013) arranges to have local Detective Wall (Cameron Douglas) put a scare into him by threatening arrest. Aiden’s belligerent attitude forces an arrest, and Detective Wall offers him a deal … wear a wire for a sting on big time dealer and supplier ‘Local Legend’ (Eric Balfour), and Aiden won’t be tried as an adult. Even though he is furious at his mother, she admits this was “for his own good” and she “didn’t know what else to do.” In addition to this, Aiden is carrying the burden of an incident with his ex-girlfriend, Layla (Kerri Medders). Bottom line, Aiden is living a harrowing life and he’s on a downward spiral. He reacts by turning more to the drugs he peddles.

The crescendo occurs at a house party Aiden throws while his mom is traveling on business, although we wonder why this very nice house doesn’t have security cameras so mom can keep an eye on things. The evening doesn’t go as planned for Aiden, Local Legend, or the cops, but we do get an unexpected ending with a nice touch – and a flash of the Norman Rockwell painting, “Runaway.”

Director Michelle Danner has built a reputation as a top acting coach (and for her work on stage) and she coaxes a nice performance out of up-and-comer Philipponnat, who reminds of another actor in his age group, Charlie Plummer from LEAN ON PETE (2017). Philipponnat will next appear in Ridley Scott’s film NAPOLEON, scheduled for release in 2023. Cameron Douglas, who plays high-strung Detective Wall, is the son of Oscar winner Michael Douglas, although his mannerisms are more similar to his grandfather, legendary actor Kirk Douglas. The film breaks one of my pet peeves which is casting actors much too old for high schoolers; however, the subject matter here calls for some flexibility. Ms. Danner’s direction and Mr. Philipponnat’s performance move them both into the ‘keep an eye on’ category.

On a fun note: If you happen to be looking for a new drinking game, try the one for each time Philipponnat’s Aiden runs his fingers through his hair due to the stress of the moment.

Releasing in theaters on August 19, 2022 and on digital and On Demand on August 23, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE PRINCESS (2022, doc)

August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 25 years since the paparazzi chased the car into that Paris tunnel. The ensuing accident took the lives of Princess Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul. The tragic and stunning event led to global grieving for a Princess who many felt never was accepted as a member of the Royal Family. Director Ed Perkins (BLACK SHEET, 2018) uses only archival footage, stills, and news clips to show how the media covered Diana over what was less than two decades in the spotlight. No new interviews – the talking heads we are accustomed to in documentaries – are included here, only the editing of existing media materials are offered as storytelling devices.

The film opens with a tourist-shot video taken just moments before the fatal accident. What stands out is the crush of photographers, the squealing tires takeoff of Diana’s car, and the swift action of paparazzi following on scooters and cycles. It’s not until the end of the film that we see the footage of the wreckage being towed from the tunnel. The rest of the film tracks Diana over the years … less than 20 years total.

The flashback takes us to Diana Spencer as a 19-year-old girlfriend of Prince Charles. As the press hound her on the walk to her car, we note her coy and shy demeanor as she offers “no comment” before driving herself away. The strain on her face as she’s being questioned is evident, and remains through those early shared interviews with Charles. It’s not until years later when she becomes so adept at handling the media frenzy.

Throughout the film we see clips of Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth, Sarah Ferguson, and Diana’s interactions with such notables as Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, John Travolta, Luciano Pavarotti, and Nelson Mandela. We watch as Diana’s hairstyles make their way around the globe, and of course, the wedding segment recalls how it became ‘the’ television event of 1981. There are segments on two babies (William and Harry), and we even see Diana holding Harry in her lap as the car drives away … and Charles heads to his polo match.

The 12-year age gap is discussed, but Diana’s surprising BBC interview with Martin Bashear provided the more likely reason for the 1992 separation. Camilla Parker-Bowles is shown while still married, but a Charles interview (along with Diana’s BBC interview) make it clear that the Diana marriage was meant to deliver ‘pure’ bloodlines to the Royal Family, and the “Fred and Gladys” (Charles and Camilla) relationship couldn’t do that. We can’t help but notice how much sadness Diana carried, and she certainly had her own detractors and critics, especially when biographers noted her own affair. It was this era that turned the Royals into their own entertainment industry – something which is disturbingly even more true today. Diana died at only 36 years of age. Both of her sons are older than that now. The global grief experienced is on full display during the segments highlighting her funeral. Perkins’ film might be a bit difficult for anyone who wasn’t around during the Diana era, but for those of us who were, the memories have not faded, and are enhanced by what we see here.

Available on HBO and HBO Max beginning August 13, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


DAY SHIFT (2022)

August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. We are taught from an early age to take good care of our teeth. For vampires, oral health care is even more important. See, their fangs cannot grow back … in fact, that’s the only part of their bodies that those supernatural powers can’t heal. This leads us to the premise of this film – vampire hunters collecting fangs not just to thin the heard, but also for the monetary reward attached to such valuable collectibles. Look, I’m trying here; but this first feature from long-time stuntman and stunt coordinator JJ Perry suffers from a lackluster script seemingly gap-filled to connect a handful of decent ideas and raucous fight sequences.

Bud Jablonski (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) is a struggling pool cleaner. He’s behind on his rent, and his daughter needs braces and her school tuition is due. Making things more stressful and urgent, his ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) is threatening to pack up and move their daughter Paige (rising star Zion Broadnax) cross-country from the San Fernando Valley to Florida. She gives Bud just a few days to raise the money. We get a tour of the familiar spots in the valley, and then quickly move to the first action sequence. Bud’s “real” job is hunting vampires and selling those precious fangs. He takes on an “old” lady in a cartoonish fight sequence that serves as a precursor to most every fight scene that follows. The fangs don’t bring much on the black market run by the always colorful Peter Stormare, but it leads Bud to request re-entry into the Vampire Hunter’s Union … a very inspired idea in a film that isn’t consistently filled with them. Bud’s sponsor is none other than the legendary vampire hunter, Big John Elliott (played masterfully by Snoop Dogg).

It turns out Bud has been expelled from the Union for multiple infractions over the years, and the shop steward (a mulleted Eric Lange) has one condition … Bud must be accompanied on his hunts by nerdy union clerk Seth (Dave Franco). What we soon learn is that Seth is not cut out for the field, and more importantly, Bud’s old lady kill was actually the daughter of Queen Vamp Audrey (Karla Souza), who also happens to be a real estate developer looking to mainstream the population of vampires into the Valley. Audrey seeks revenge by kidnapping Bud’s ex-wife and daughter, and Bud’s rescue mission becomes a veritable blood bath.

The Miami Vice joke made me chuckle, but for an action-horror-comedy, there are simply too few laughs. With the talent on screen, we can only look to the script for fault. Director Perry certainly knows his way around stunts and fight scenes, and while we may question the career choices of a very talented Jamie Foxx, he continues to work regularly and expand his producing skills. For those who enjoy sinking their teeth into over-the-top fight sequences (Perry worked on the first two John Wick movies) and aren’t too demanding on the cleverness of jokes, this one will likely work. And I likely speak for all viewers when I say that Snoop Dogg makes the coolest cowboy since ‘the man with no name’.

Opens on Netflix beginning August 12, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


EMILY THE CRIMINAL (2022)

August 11, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Aubrey Plaza proved during “Parks and Recreation”, and most every role since, that she is nearly unmatched in her ability to deliver blistering one-liners. However, over the last few years, she has expanded her repertoire and has become a fascinating, multi-talented actress who is exciting to watch. The feature film debut of writer-director John Patton Ford provides the opportunity for Ms. Plaza to push her dramatic chops into the world of crime. She not only doesn’t disappoint, she excels.

Emily (Ms. Plaza) is a struggling gig worker delivering lunch orders to office buildings. She has $70,000 in student loan debt and an assault conviction on her record that blocks her from any “good” jobs. We see how that past haunts her in an interview, and it’s also our first peek at her natural instinct to bow up and fight back in any situation she views as unjust. Emily is a Jersey girl living in L.A. with a bucket list that seems like a distant dream. One day a co-worker hooks her up with an opportunity to make $200 in one hour. Of course, the opportunity turns out to require her to do something illegal, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

The ‘training’ class is run by Youcef (Theo Rossi, “Sons of Anarchy”), a man with a gentle approach that disarms most attendees. Emily gets up to leave, but an exchange with Youcef (and a need for money) convinces her to stay and partake of the ridiculously easy money to be made from credit card fraud. The ‘dummy shopper’ approach can only go so far, and Youcef mentors Emily to take more risk for more reward. Additionally, their relationship escalates causing consternation from Youcef’s brother Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), who points out that Emily is not the best at following rules, which puts her and the entire operation in jeopardy.

Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke), Emily’s friend from art school, finagles an interview for her at the big-time marketing firm where she works. Gena Gershon has one scene as the hiring manager, and Emily proves yet again that her interview skills are a bit lacking. Only this time she’s chin deep in running crime with Youcef. One thing that is glossed over here, is that Emily surely has an advantage being an attractive white woman, while most of the others are people of color – automatically causing alert. Ms. Plaza and Mr. Rossi play off each other very well, but this is clearly her time to shine in a crime thriller. Although the story is actually very simple, and I’m not a fan of the ending, it’s certainly fun to watch Aubrey Plaza spread her wings as an actor.

Opening in theaters on August 12, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


ROGUE AGENT (2022)

August 11, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Co-written with Michael Bronner (THE MAURITANIAN), co-writers and co-directors Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson base their first feature film on a remarkable true story … one whose final chapter may not yet be written. We are surrounded by fraud on a daily basis – emails from a Nigerian Prince and spam calls for an expired car warranty that never existed, to name a couple of mainstream schemes. But the real life saga of Robert Freegard takes fraud and the long con to a whole new level.

We begin in 1993 as Freegard (James Norton, “Happy Valley”) is working as a barkeep in a pub. He bewitches three college kids with the story that he’s an undercover MI5 agent, and that he needs their help to infiltrate an Irish Republican Army (IRA) group working on campus. Known for their bombings at the time, this is a dangerous and important mission, and he convinces the students that they are field spies in training and serving their country … though nothing is more important than their loyalty to him. Of course, Freegard is not MI5.

The film leaps forward nine years, and we find Robert working as a car salesman. He identifies local attorney Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton, TAMARA DREWE, 2010) as his next target. After some initial skepticism, she falls hard for his charms and his stories. Alice also serves as the film’s narrator and explains how Robert will look people in the eyes, holding the gaze just the right amount of time to gain trust. We watch as their relationship plays out, costing Alice so much of her life. But Robert underestimates Alice’s resolve. She doesn’t appreciate being played like a fool. She performs her own investigative work, and enlists the help of a police detective (Shazad Latif, “Penny Dreadful”) in an attempt to track down Robert, as well as Sophie (Marisa Abela), one of the original college students who is still missing.

A Private Investigator informs Alice that scammers are either mad, sad, or bad. We readily know which category Robert belongs in. He’s a master of hiding in plain sight and reading people. He believes “everyone has a story they want to hear” and he exposes that vulnerability. It appears his only cause was to line his own pockets with other people’s money. But it’s not that simple. He also seemed to thrive on the perverse power trip in keeping people isolated and under his control – a form of psychological warfare. The film shows us how Robert was caught, but it also details what’s happened since 2009. If there is a lesson here, it’s put the past in the past, once you make peace with it – and don’t believe swindlers who are interested in your money. The film offers some excellent drama, strong performances from Ms. Arterton and Mr. Norton, and a short course in psychology of the sociopath. For more information on Freegard, check out the Netflix docuseries, “The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman”.

Opens August 12, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


FALL (2022)

August 11, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. If you’ve ever wondered what a recurring nightmare would look like if filmed for the big screen, writer-director Scott Mann (HEIST, 2015) and co-writer Jonathan Frank are here to show you. Not much plot exists, and the bulk of the movie consists of two characters stuck in one place. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well I can tell you that my palms were sweaty and the tension was high.

The opening sequence immediately evokes memories of the spectacular documentary FREE SOLO (2018) featuring expert climber Alex Hannold. Becky (Grace Caroline Currey, SHAZAM!, 2019), her husband Dan (Mason Gooding, SCREAM, 2022), and their friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner, HALLOWEEN, 2018) are climbing the face of a mountain when tragedy strikes. We then flash forward 51 weeks and find Becky is a still-grieving recluse drowning her sorrows in booze and contemplating suicide. We aren’t clued in as to how she has paid rent for the past year, but her frustrated dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has had no luck getting her to “move on”, and has called Hunter in to see if she can motivate Becky to rejoin society.

Hunter’s big idea is for the two ladies to climb the 2000-foot tall B67 TV Tower, once billed as the tallest structure in the U.S., but now a long-abandoned relic. Hunter is the risk-taker of the two, and she has developed quite a following on her YouTube channel by filming her own risky stunts. The tower appears to be out in some desert just beyond a sign that warns, “No Trespassing – Danger of Death.” Terrific camera work shows us the loose bolts, shaky tension lines, and rusty ladder once used for tower maintenance. In fact, the terrific camera work and the performances of the two actors are what drive home the terror we feel once they have reached the top and realize there is no way down. If your acrophobia hasn’t shaken you enough, how about being stranded 2000 feet above the ground on a platform barely large enough for two people to sit? Your choices for dying include falling, dehydration, starvation, exposure, or being pecked by the local vultures attracted to the injuries sustained while climbing.

Resourcefulness involves cell phones with no reception, a pair of Chuck Taylors, a flare gun, and a new use for a sports bra … somehow hardly noticeable once it’s gone. The two climbers are trapped for most of the run time, turning this into quite a survival story. Mind games and psychology play a part once exhaustion sets in, and there are couple of twists, neither of which should surprise most viewers. While the tension created is commendable, one recurring irritant became a bit of a joke – the overuse of “Are you okay?” begins in the opening sequence and seems to be repeated every 4-6 minutes. If it were a drinking game, no viewer would remain conscious by the end of the film. Other than that, it’s one of the better cinematic versions of a nightmare you’re likely to find … plus it leaves us with the inspiration: “If you’re scared of dying, don’t be afraid to live.”

Opens in theaters August 12, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


SUMMERING (2022)

August 11, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Obviously, I was never a young girl fretting over the first year of middle school, and I would venture a guess that neither were writer-director James Ponsoldt or co-writer Benjamin Percy. The reason for this point is that this is a story of four girls in this situation, as well as the stress their actions load on their four mothers. Ponsoldt and Percy make this an observational story, rather than a personal one … a significant point of difference for a film like this. I had agreed to review the film based on being a huge fan of Mr. Ponsoldt’s 2013 film, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, but while that one was adapted from a novel, this current film is an original, and it lacks the depth and refinement of that previous gem … despite some decent acting from the cast, young and older.

Daisy (Lia Barnett), Lola (Sanai Victoria), Dena (Madalen Mills), and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) are best friends frittering away the last few days of summer by hanging out the way young kids used to. There are no scheduled soccer practices and no structured piano lessons, only (mostly) unsupervised freedom to explore and live the moments that make up a day. The mothers (Lake Bell, Megan Mullaly, Sarah Cooper, Ashley Madekwe) are normal moms – carrying the burden of parenthood, work, and self-identity. They care for their daughters very much, despite one of them spending most of her non-working hours in an alcohol and divorce-induced sleep mode, oblivious to the comings and goings of her kid.

The film has a terrific start. We see the girls simply enjoying being around each other and sharing their concerns for the upcoming school year. This segment seems very natural and realistic. We immediately pick up on their personalities. Daisy is reserved and longs to be noticed. Lola is spiritually connected and will be the guiding force for an activity later in the story. Dena is quite smart and grounded in reality, while Mari frets over wearing a skirt to Catholic school. The friends banter about their uncertain future and the conversation drifts and bounces, just as we’d expect.

Things change quickly as the girls head to “Terabithia”, their secret spot off the beaten path. It’s here where they discover the body of an adult man who seemingly jumped from “Suicide Bridge” above. It’s at this point where we realize this is a girl version of Rob Reiner’s classic STAND BY ME (1986). Only that’s not what happens. Instead, we are subjected to a Nancy Drew knock-off where the girls attempt to solve the case as they wax philosophically about growing older. Almost nothing works from this point onward. We don’t really get to better understand each of the girls, and significant time is spent on their mothers’ reactions. Ghosts appear, while dads are presented in unfavorable light. The narration is heavy-handed, and what started with the theme of ‘anything is possible during summer’, leaves us with clunky dialogue and very little insight to pre-middle school girls.

Opening in theaters on August 12, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022)

August 11, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. This one works much better as satire than horror-thriller, at least for yours truly. With whodunnit elements drawn from Agatha Christie’s classic “Ten Little Indians”, the play-it-straight approach to riffing on Gen Z draws laughs right along with the expected annoyances courtesy of a bunch of entitled trust fund twenty-somethings. Actor-turned-director Halina Reijn and co-writers Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian (first feature film for both writers) have based the story on the party game known as ‘Body Body’ or ‘Murder in the Dark’, or perhaps you know it by some other name.

The film opens with a close-up of a passionate kiss between Sophie (Amandla Stenberg, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, 2001) and Bee (Maria Bakalova, BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM, 2020). A picturesque road trip takes the couple to an isolated mansion where they are meeting some of Sophie’s old friends for a hurricane party. They arrive as the storm approaches and the others are taking a last minute dip in the pool. It turns out they are surprised to see Sophie since she has kept her distance from the group (and been unresponsive to the group texts) for quite a while. We do find out her reason, and the group allows them to stay … mostly since the mansion is owned by David’s (Pete Davidson, “Saturday Night Live”) parents, and he and Sophie have been best friends for years. Also attending are Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), David’s wimpy actor-girlfriend who is prone to instant tears; Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Sophie’s tough-on-the-outside former (and sometimes jealous) lover; Alice (Rachel Sennott, SHIVA BABY, 2020) a podcaster and easily the most entertaining of this crew; and Greg (Lee Pace, THE FALL, 2006), Alice’s much older boyfriend via Tinder match. Missing is Max (Conner O’Malley) who, we are told, left in a huff after an argument the night before.

As you might guess, booze and other mind-altering drugs play a role here, as does the house itself – with multiple staircases and hallways. Once the game begins, the question arises … is it being played for real? A dead body raises the stress level, as does the dreaded tap on the back required by the rules of the game. In addition to the cocaine and liquid spirits, pieces of the puzzle include: glowsticks, pot brownies, zucchini bread, swords, trust funds, insecurities, a dead car battery, a power outage, and the always-present cell phone flashlights. This is a group of narcissistic, social media-influenced, childlike adults who wear their emotions on their sleeves. Back-stabbing and belittling is common, as is (ironically) playing the victim. There is no way we would think this is actual dialogue between humans if we didn’t all know someone in this age group – or have accidentally stumbled on their exchanges via posts.

As much as I enjoy a satirical look aimed squarely at today’s twenty-somethings, these characters are so extremely unlikable that most of us would leave the party in 2 minutes, taking our chances with the hurricane. Every possible buzzword is included as these self-centered richies take aim at each other. Of course, being older, Greg doesn’t really fit in – but then no one really fits in here. Ms. Sennott’s character provides the most fun for viewers, as these long-time acquaintances seem to have no clue what it means to be a friend. They don’t trust those they know, those they don’t know, or even themselves. This could be a contemporary version of SCREAM … well if that wasn’t the Timex of movie franchises. With no cell coverage for most of the movie, these folks are forced to have actual conversations and interact, exposing the lack of social graces which are enhanced given the situation. The ending is not likely to surprise you, but it’s quite fitting. This is certainly not amongst the best A24 offerings, but if you can put up with the lingo and irritating characters, there is some comedy to appreciate.

Opening in theaters on August 12, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


EASTER SUNDAY (2022)

August 5, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Director Jay Chandrasekhar and co-writers Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng have crafted a tribute to the Filipino community, paying homage to family bonds and the culture. The obvious comparisons here are CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018) and any number of Bollywood movies offering insight and a peek behind the curtain of Indian families. As global societies continue to disburse and intertwine with various races and cultures, it only makes sense for us to gain more understanding of each other … and what better way than through comedy?

In the film, real life comedian Jo Koy plays fictional comedian and aspiring actor Joe Valencia. Joe moved to Los Angeles, away from his Bay area family, to pursue a career in entertainment. It’s been a struggle, and he’s best known for a beer commercial where he looks into the camera and says, “Let’s get this party started, bayBee!” One of the recurring gags is how so many either recite the line to him, or plea with him to do so. Up for a big role in a TV pilot, Joe once again lets down his high school aged son, by attending an audition rather than a parent meeting at school. Junior (Brandon Wardell) is struggling a bit with his grades at the prestigious prep school he attends. See, Joe’s career as an actor might not be rolling, but his ex-wife is a powerful attorney married to a professional athlete.

The real fun begins as we see the tension between father and son on the road trip they make to join the rest of the family for Easter Sunday … an important day for Filipinos. Along the way, we experience two more of the film’s running gags: Joe’s mom (Lydia Gaston) pressuring him not just to show up, but to not be late, and Joe’s agent (played by director Chandrasekhar), whose use of ‘entering a tunnel, so I’ll be losing the connection’ is his standard way of ending a conversation when he’s done. Once they arrive, we get yet another running gag – the ongoing sister rivalry between Joe’s mom and his Tita Theresa (Tia Carrere). It’s a quick trip for Joe and Junior, but it’s filled with family drama, Joe’s impromptu stand-up in church, a love interest for Junior (Eva Noblezada), a run-in with a former lover (Tiffany Haddish) for Joe, a questionable business investment between Joe and his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero), a confrontation with a local gangster named Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali), and an all-in family karaoke song. There is even a Lou Diamond Phillips tie-in that adds a touch of class.

The writers and director have worked mostly in TV to this point, and that is just too obvious. A TV sitcom style rarely succeeds on the big screen, and though we do get some laughs, there is an amateurish feel to the proceedings. On the upside, some insight into Filipino culture is welcome, I now know Manny Pacquaio’s birthday, and it was my first exposure to “Hype Truck!”

Opens in theaters on August 5, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER