Slender Man

Directed by Sylvian White

Starring – Joey King, Javier Botet, Julia Goldani Telles

The Plot – In a small town in Massachusetts, four high school girls perform a ritual in an attempt to debunk the lore of SLENDER MAN. When one of the girls goes mysteriously missing, they begin to suspect that she is, in fact, His latest victim.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and adult language including some crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Creepy visuals that are very well edited and pasted together. For this reason alone, I wish this film was a 30 minute short to capitalize more on the lore aspect of Slender Man, instead of being a jump scare fest that feels drawn out even twenty minutes into the movie. When the focus is on this viral video to capture the essence of the character, it’s so much more unnerving than something we can predict the formula to.

– If one thing stands out above the rest in this film, it’s definitely the atmosphere of Slender Man’s woods and surrounding landscapes, that properly set the mood. Almost immediately, we’re treated to cheap production qualities that include blurry out-of-focus lenses, and dimmed lighting to properly set the mood, and it’s something that I would normally call out for a negative, but in films like this you need the presentation to look so far from anything else in its respective genre. This measure is valuable in a visual metaphorical sense as well, because it constantly feels like this virus or plague continuously follows around these ladies in their everyday routines, and they just can’t shake it.

NEGATIVES

– Shameless Sony as usual. For those who have read my reviews about Sony produced films, you know that I have no problem calling them out on the obvious promoting that they do for their products in films, and ‘Slender Man’ is more of the same. Nothing keeps you more in that terrifying frame of mind from horror than your concentration being broken when you notice the obvious Sony logo on a Vaio laptop or cell phone that the characters have. Maybe I wouldn’t mind as much if the name brand was edited out of the frame, but it’s so obviously intentional the way a particular frame zooms in on the outer layer of a screen.

– Terrible acting all around. My problem with the main four girl protagonists in this film is that they know they’re in a horror movie, and that constant over-reaching to make up for a lack of overall personality shows in spades. Long before Slender Man ever comes into the story, these ladies talk and act like they are the victims of some terrible tragedy that has plagued their family, worse of which being Botet, who couldn’t summon one ounce of dramatic depth to her often numbingly-dull facial reactions.

– No scares equals boredom. If you are searching for cinematic Nyquil, look no further. Because of its lack of capitalizing on an already established atmosphere, as well as a desire to play towards the cliches of thoughtless jump scares, the film loses its fresh factor quick, feeling a condemning of redundancy that keeps it from ever evolving. The film is hoping that this imagery that is completely out of context will satisfy the easy-to-please horror fans who don’t need meaning or even remote psychology to what they’re seeing.

– Something is missing. Considering this is a film that has sat on the shelf for almost a year now, it definitely feels like some judgemental cuts were made that hinders its exposition. Aspects of subplots come out of nowhere in the film, like the offering to Slender Man, as well as what comes from a love interest that completely goes nowhere, leaving me frequently scratching my head where this opposite direction even stems from. I felt this way a lot in ‘The Bye Bye Man’, although not quite to that damning of a level. ‘Slender Man’ just feels like a director’s cut that suffers from amnesia, for the way its shapeless pieces never fit the rest of the puzzle.

– There is a satisfying twist at the beginning of the third act that involves a character betrayal, but it’s quickly ruined for the lack of intelligence and logic that went into it. I can’t give away everything, but a character is outed because she turned the cell phone on herself when she’s talking to another person, and this makes no sense for a couple of reasons. For one, why even do this? If you’re looking to not get caught, the only way would be to keep the camera on the other person. For two, how is she even turning the camera on herself this cleanly without it stumbling or feeling shaky? For three, why have I already put more thought into this than the director did?

– After coming out of the film, I feel like I know even less about Slender Man than I did going in. The lack of overall conviction and energy lended to this urban legend is something that only makes me shake my head, and leaves me appalled for how they could’ve made this terrifying figure their own. No backstory in legend? CHECK, No consistency in rules for how to suppress him? CHECK, Nothing that makes you root against him, especially with stupid kids who are dumb enough to mock his legend? CHECK

– The sound mixing in this film is every bit as deafening as it is ineffective. The idea here is to blare as much loud noise and buzzing as possible, whenever Slender Man appears, taking audiences completely out of the moment every time they have to clutch their ears in agony. I guess if they can’t conjure up any meaningful scares, the only way to have people running out of the theater is to make the auditorium sound like the worst Sweedish death metal band you’ve ever heard.

– Attrocious C.G effects that stick out like a sore thumb more because everything else in the production feels so grounded. This is sloppy levels of post-production even for an afterthought horror movie that is nine years past its shelf life, but it does beat the many times we are constricted by the PG-13 rating that does us zero favors. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to a barrage of cutaways that offer horror hounds nothing in the way of satisfying gore or violence, and in the second half it’s C.G effects that wipe away anything and everything from the imagination and practicality of the picture.

2/10

Unfriended: Dark Web

Directed by Stephen Susco

Starring – Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden

The Plot – Tells the story about a teen who comes into possession of a new laptop and finds that it may have been stolen. He discovers the previous owner may be watching every move he makes and will do anything to get it back.

Rated R for some disturbing violence, adult language and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Even if it’s unintentional, this film has no shortage of laughs for people who get their kicks off of terrible horror movies. It’s all thanks to a combination of poor amateur acting that is void of any human emotion, and pee brain stupidity in decision making that will have you slapping your head in embarassment.

– There is at least some production value for this sequel, as opposed to the original movie that ultimately forgot it was a feature film. I understand that authenticity is what we’re going for in a movie about adults communicating VIA Skype, but I would rather the production grant me the kind of audio enhancements and clarity of on-screen texting that this sequel granted me.

NEGATIVES

– This film’s antagonist makes the demon from the original movie seem logical by comparison. There are so many instances that I could point to, but some of my favorites include being able to wipe away texts that have already been sent, being able to hack an I.V machine, and having this pixelated cloud follow them whenever they move in and out of frame. At this point, I wait for the third film to feature flying unicorns and pixie dust that help grow razorblade butterflies. The first movie had a vilain who you could at least empathize with, for the way she was bullied to suicide, but the villain in this film lacks any kind of drive to make them remotely as compelling.

– The editing in this movie is so bad, it feels like two movies being pasted together. During the Skype video calls, characters are muted on and off throughout. But if you’re paying close attention, you can see the continuity in their movements to not match where they were in frame a second prior. It’s like the producers didn’t care enough to try and replicate a long-running phone call, instead using these harsh cuts in between takes, and never easing them between transitions.

– Most of the first hour of this movie flies by like the wind, and while that would normally be a positive, it does little favors in establishing just how far we’ve come in this film. Nobody dies in the film until there’s 25 minutes left, and even worse than that, the death scenes are done in such a way that lacks clarity and impact for our satisfaction. Watching characters you hate get killed off is a national past time, and ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ has taken even that little bit of fun from our plates and replaced it with Simpsons style gruel.

– How dumb are these characters? Well, the movie should’ve ended at around the 15 minute mark, when the main character was supposed to give this stolen laptop back. Why didn’t he? It’s never explained. One second he’s on his way out to meet this mysterious figure and give it back to him, and the next he’s back at the computer screen like nothing ever happened. The price of resolution is seriously that easy.

– Speaking of characters, there really aren’t any. Sure, there’s a cast, but actual characters? Not really. It’s like the screenwriter told them the stereotype of the characters that they are supposed to be playing, and let them improvise from there. Many rub together because of how little exposition is derived from them, and none of them are remotely interesting in the minimalist of ways. At least in the first film, there was that tension in hidden secrets that each member of the group kept from each other, but none of that here to give us something to look forward to.

– Wi-fi horror cliches. Even if the film’s frames come in the form of on-screen computer surfing, that doesn’t mean the producers wouldn’t work in tired jump scares to feed the frenzy of dumb teenagers who don’t understand what makes a good scare. Audio enhancements in terms of pounding sounds when the entity texts them, as well as frames dropping per second, just so a person can pop up next to someone on camera, are just some of the examples that this film sticks to an overdone format, instead of creating anything of originality for itself.

– Bigger message missing. As to where the original movie spoke volumes to our dependency upon social networking, ‘Dark Web’ has nothing in the way of underlying social issues to punch back a poignant approach to its cinema and drive such a meaning home for audiences alike. Instead, this feels from bell-to-bell like just another horror movie, and one whose only connection to the previous film is that of a laptop and a group of friends. That’s it.

– Frustration in repetition. The main guy in this film is dating a woman who is deaf. Along the way, he creates a program that allows her to read his sign language. Midway through the film, this program glitches up, so she has no communication from him. None that is except the Facebook messenger that he has been using all night. He stops typing her in this way for absolutely no reason what so ever, instead I guess so the film can draw out those long scenes of tension when he is trying to alert her to what’s coming. If you’re in person with her, that’s one thing, but if you’re online, she can read texts just like anyone else, so why even waste your time with this program that takes even longer to communicate?

2/10

Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

The Plot – The film follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

– While the performances certainly aren’t anything of award worthy, Travolta and Preston are giving it their all in their respective roles. My only complaint from Travolta is that his performance feels like more of an impression of John Gotti, and less of an immersion. What pushes it through to positivity for me are some of the committed deliveries that he gives to some truly outlandish dialogue that did him zero favors.

– The inclusion of real life footage does a much better job in relaying information than the film does. I would normally complain for how much this film goes to the well for the added effect, but it was the only reason why I was able to follow what was transpiring from scene-to-scene.

NEGATIVES

– This film has attention deficit disorder of the worst kind. If you can get by the first five minutes of the movie, in which there are three different timeline switches, then you will have difficulty deciphering why this film can’t tell one cohesive direction from oldest to most recent in storytelling. This never settles down, and the whole film feels like a disjointed Frankenstein project that should’ve never seen the light of day.

– It’s not often that I complain about the dialogue feeling like it got its respective film genre wrong, but that’s what we have here. Most of the lines and conversation pieces feel like they’re ripped completely out of a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the gangster lifestyle, instead of hard-hitting, moving reads that make you feel their impact. Never for a moment was I shook or even remotely moved in the way that films like Goodfellas or The Godfather films achieve.

– Where the film begins is a bit of a mystery to me, because it makes Gotti feel like a sequel to a film we’ve previously seen. There is not a single mention of John’s earlier life, or anything before this twelve year period that the film rushes through, making the presentation feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie that was horrifically trimmed to 100 minutes. Maybe we should be so lucky.

– My job as a critic is to point out aspects in time period pieces that don’t line up to the respective decade that a particular film is trying to depict, and Gotti has two of my absolute favorites of all time. Consider first of all that this film takes place between 1977-1989, then ask yourself why acclaimed rapper Pitbull has two songs that play overwhelmingly loud during an outdoor barbeque thrown by Gotti’s mob family. If this isn’t enough, ask yourself why during a New York skyline shot, the 9/11 tribute can easily be seen. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? Were they even remotely trying?

– There’s are these huge leaps in time that only further contribute to the idea that this film was gashed in half. Events and things just tend to happen without much planning or warning, and we as an audience are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened along the way. I don’t care much for audible narration, but this is a film that needed it terribly, because surviving without it is like trying to learn a foreign language on one hour of experience.

– Much of the film’s production falters, feeling like a cheap made-for-TV experiment that they couldn’t sell to F/X. One such example is in a scene in which a rival mob boss walks up the street with his henchmen and turns down the corner. The problem comes in the fact that this exact same take is played three different times throughout the film. How do I know this? The boss’s limping pattern and clothes are the same in every take. After the second time, I didn’t even laugh anymore. I became concerned for how anyone could ever give Connolly a job in the director’s chair.

– Offensive character framing. If I was a citizen of New York or an Italian, I would be more offended watching this than watching an episode of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if Connolly’s point was to depict Italians as braindead human beings, but bravo to a job well done. The movie has this strange angle of portraying Gotti as this hero of the community, and that he didn’t deserve what he got in the end. This gives me hope for that Dahmer film in which they depict him as a vegetarian.

– Much of the push-the-envelope material feels like watered down scenes from other, better gangster movies. In fact, as I sit here not even an hour after the movie ended, I remembered very few details to Gotti’s life that even made him such a valued angle for American cinema. There is definitely a compelling story somewhere underneath Connolly’s disheveled pieces, but they never combine with one another to craft anything of dramatic pull or tension for the movie. Even the death scenes feel like temporary hiccups instead of deconstruction to the title character.

2/10

Action Point

Directed by Tim Kirkby

Starring – Johnny Knoxville, Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Johnny Pemberton

The Plot – Everyone’s favorite daredevil Johnny Knoxville is back to his hilariously painful antics in the upcoming comedy Action Point. Knoxville stars as D.C., the crackpot owner of a low-rent, out-of-control amusement park where the rides are designed with minimum safety for maximum fun. Just as D.C.’s estranged teenage daughter Boogie (Lundy-Paine) comes to visit, a corporate mega-park opens nearby and jeopardizes the future of Action Point. To save his beloved theme park and his relationship with his daughter, D.C. and his loony crew of misfits risk everything to pull out all the stops and stunts.

Rated R for crude sexual content, adult language, drug use, teen drinking, and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Johnny Knoxville has made a career out of putting his body on the line, and even in films where this feels unnecessary and slightly forced, he at least always brings his A-game. Action Point brings with it enough debauchery and life-threatening stunts to keep Johnny constantly involved in the film, whether he wants to be or not.

– The film has a surprisingly toe-tapping soundtrack to boot all of its wacky hijinks. Artists like The Clash and Roger Alan Wade compliment the energetic musical score by Deke Dickerson that always amplifies each action sequence, and gives way to the film’s off-brand humor that never relents.

NEGATIVES

– There is absolutely nothing clever or intelligent about the film’s dialogue, so the humor muscle stems from Knoxville’s bodily harm that eventually wears itself thin. By the fourth or fifth time it happens, you begin to start mapping out how every sequence is going to turn out, lifting with it a cloud of predictability that should be anywhere but a Johnny Knoxville film.

– One aspect to recollection storytelling that always makes me laugh, is when the storyteller recalls events that they themselves weren’t there for, and Action Point is no stranger to this error. Through D.C’s words, he is able to recount conversations between characters that don’t include him, proving that much tender care was taken in bringing to life the believability of this story.

– What drives me crazy about this film is that they have a real life story in Action Park that practically writes itself, yet this trio of writers drop the ball at every opportunity in telling a story of a past time that feels worlds away now. From the family element between D.C and his daughter, to the unity and bond created between park members, nothing feels legitimate. A good example of everything I am talking about is the 2009 film Adventureland.

– Despite this film being 78 minutes, the pacing is an arduous task. As I’ve said before, when you’re not laughing in a film, it makes the ensuing minutes that much more torturous. I never laughed, nor did I even fake a laugh in this film. I figure if they’re not going to try, then why should I?

– I hate any film that makes me cheer on the intended antagonists and has me feeling like some rich, cynical snob, especially when said group is the bigger park that is trying to step on the little guy. This war of sides starts and ends with the Action Park team provoking them, and for a group that is trying to frame them as the prized antagonists, I would sell their hick ideals up the river for a slice of cherry pie.

– This is a world inside of the film with no consequences for any of its characters. With the exception of minimal injuries leading to something bigger with a subplot, every patron of Action Park is apparently never compromised with the neglected conditions of the park, establishing an air of lies within the very events that it depicts. If you read up on the real life Action Park, you will understand the importance of the injuries and ensuing lawsuits that took place against the park, painting the crew as their own villain.

– Shoddy production quality. The film has an overall cheap quality to its cinematography and editing work that can’t escape that feeling of a made-for-TV movie. Multiple frames are distorted and out of focus, continuity errors from scene-to-scene pop up like snake grass, and the transitions never feel eased or in-sync with the proper fluidity of a Hollywood picture. I’ve seen better production from Knoxville movies like The Ringer, or even the trio of Jackass movies. What gives?

– As I mentioned earlier, Knoxville can at least bring it in a physical capacity, but the film’s charmless screenplay acts as a sort of D.D.T to any kind of personality that he brings to the role. In addition to Johnny, fellow Jackass cast-mate Chris Pontius feels like a punishment each time he pops up to show us his bulge in skimpy underwear, or present in full illustration that junkie from high school who never grew up nor quit his addictions. In fact, there isn’t a single credible performance that I can even pretend to mold. It’s all a big waste of time, both mine and theirs.

2/10

Show Dogs

Directed by Raja Gosnell

Starring – Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Bridges

The Plot – Max (Bridges), a macho, solitary Rottweiler police dog is ordered to go undercover as a primped show dog in a prestigious Dog Show, along with his human partner, Frank (Arnett) to avert a disaster from happening in the biggest little city in the world; Reno.

Rated PG for suggestive and rude humor, adult language and some action

POSITIVES

– What’s shocking about this film is that there’s at least an informative stance taken not only with the show dog path involving vigorous training and technique, but also in the revealing abuse that dogs take throughout it all. Forced breeding, examination of genitals (I’m not kidding), and even abandonment after aging is all covered here, and I can at least respect the film for catering to the animal lover in all of us.

– The mouth caption effect is the lone positive from the production that is otherwise an embarrassment. Even though we know plain and simple that dogs can’t speak in the same manner that humans do, the film does a great job in lining up the dialogue to the lip movements that combine for an in-sync package.

NEGATIVES

– I’ve seen all kinds of films dealing with hatred, but ‘Show Dogs’ feels like racism for canines. Because we’ve learned nothing in hundreds of years, the same stereotypes for certain breeds of dogs are brought to the forefront, leaving the material played out and predictable before it even hits the screen. If you sit your furry friend down for this film with all of its 90’s ideals towards storytelling, then there’s a great chance that dog will walk away and shit in your shoes while you’re still drooling from how mind-numbingly vapid this entire screenplay is.

– Bottom of the barrel effects work that doesn’t even try. Everything from the movements of the dogs during fight sequences, to the lack of weight in their impact when they interact with live action actors is pitiful. The studios will think it’s OK because this is a film for kids and apparently that demographic lacks imagination, but Ray Charles can spot the shoddy heart in detail that went into this truly atrocious and hollow looking production.

– What genre is this for? It’s easy to watch the trailer and expect this film to be a comedy, but upon taking in all 87 minutes of it, I can say that this dog doesn’t even come close in hitting the tree with its meaty material. It’s not funny, nor is it particularly engaging in any sense. Lets put it like this, a dog shooting scene would be the best thing for this film, and I’m not kidding at all. If you choose ‘Show Dogs’ over ‘Isle of Dogs’ (Also currently in theaters), you’re a glutton for punishment in the most agonizing way.

– Another factor in that cringing comedy is the dedication that this film has to dropping a pun every ten seconds. These line reads feel like a shock collar on a film that is already limiting its distance in progression, and I found it difficult to sit still each time one was mumbled. Some of the best to make the list are three idiotic pigeons saying Max needs them because he needs “A good wing man”, Max dispatching of some rival dogs by saying “That’s what I call doggy-style”, and my personal favorite, Max asking a female dog he likes why she’s HOUNDing him. SHUT UP, MAX!!!

– Raja Gosnell has carved out quite the career in terrible kids movies. ‘Scooby-Doo’, Beverly Hills Chihuahua’, and ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ were bad enough, but his presence in ‘Show Dogs’ feels almost like a ghost. Much of the direction in characters and storytelling feels like the engine is running but no one is behind the wheel. Arnett and Lyonne feel like romantic interests, but nothing is further elaborated on. Arnett has obvious flaws from something in his past, but nothing is further elaborated on. The film revolves around this antagonist and his evil deeds with animals, but NOTHING IS FURTHER ELABORATED ON!!! Because of everything I mentioned, I can see Raja Gosnell becoming the new Alan Smithee for directors not wanting to claim a credit on a film they’re forced to helm.

– Arnett deserves so much better than this. I give him credit for being a professional and being forced to endure this tasteless kibble, but his lack of energy after the opening chase scene tells you everything that you need to know about his passion for having to sign up for something that shouldn’t be good enough to sign Rob Schneider, let alone someone with the credits that Arnett has.

– Inconsistencies Vs Logic of scenario. I mention both of these because they are equally laughable and offensive when you truly think about it. For the former, the camera work and editing is so cut-and-paste that long take scenes involving dogs often just replay the same five seconds of footage instead of forcing the animals to sit still for the time needed. Is this smart? Yes, but it so obviously sticks out like a sore thumb to someone looking for such production crimes. As for logic, consider that this film revolves around a guy stealing valuable animals to sell to other people. The problem being that the dogs are only valuable in millions BECAUSE they are prize-winning dogs, and therefore alert the buyer to the crime being committed.

– As to where talking dog films will convey to the audience early on whether the human counterparts can or can not hear them, ‘Show Dogs’ lacked definition until about halfway through the movie. Something as easy as this concept is left on the hook for scene after scene of Max responding to Arnett’s character like they’re having a conversation, especially considering Max is using his mouth to deliver and annunciate perfect speaking English. Then there’s my problem with the concept of humans not being able to hear their dogs. If this is indeed the case, then why does Max intendedly speak in a whisper during exchanges when he’s obviously trying to keep humans from hearing him? Why would he lower his voice at all if no matter what the humans can’t hear him? Who cares though, because kids are stupid.

2/10

Traffik

Directed by Deon Taylor

Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

The Plot – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea (Patton) and John (Epps) must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Rated R for violent and disturbing material, adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Usually the confines of cheap cinematography will limit a film’s visual potential, but in ‘Traffik’ it’s quite the opposite. Here, the legendary Dante Spinotti knows exactly the kind of visual entendre necessary for capitalizing on a modern day exploitation film, and because of such we are treated to dim-litted areas, a faded color palate, and an overall sense of B-movie goodness that transports us to a simpler age of cinema.

– Refreshing movements with the camera that give scenes the only personality that this one is going to garner. Some great examples involve the abrupt close-up zooms that happen when something shocking takes place, as well as the vivid flashbacks that give the film a kind of daydream-to-nightmare sense of imagination.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent editing that can at times intrude on valued exposition, and other times forget to spring up on scenes that run far too long.

– The film’s deep-seeded material centers around the harsh practice of sexual trafficking, and while this illegal practice certainly deserves a magnifying look, it goes unmentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. This is not only irresponsible, but downright insulting considering nothing that the film wastes time on is anywhere near as compelling or important to us the audience.

– As far as tone goes, the film never fully realizes its cherished exploitation direction fully. In fact, Taylor’s jumbled direction often feels like an action flick that goes horror by the darker third act, speeding towards a dead end with two opposite tastes that contradict instead of converge with one another.

– It takes far too long to get to the thrills of this desolate screenplay, and even then the law of averages within 91 minutes isn’t enough to hold your interest.

– Speaking of thrills, the twists are totally predictable once you know the name of the game with the antagonists. Because of such, this film does reach for the low-hanging fruit of palpability that other more distinguished B-movie classics don’t have the shame to pull from. Often times, I found myself talking allowed “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there”, and yet every time my worst suspicion was confirmed.

– Patton in particular is trying her hardest in to overcome the director’s desire to film her in skimpy clothing by carving out something of depth to her performances, but she leads an overall cast of characters and performances that collectively miss their mark. The deliveries lack conviction, and even worse, these character outlines couldn’t be any thinner if they were drawn as stick figures. Epps screams cash grab, Sanchez reads these lines in her sleep, and Laz Alonso made me laugh for all of the wrong reasons every time his hot-headed character overreacted.

– Possibly the worst musical score this year thus far. The musical influence in this film is every bit as non-existent as it is repetitive, and this creates a lack of emphasis in impact for when a big chess move has been made between these two sides. This is stock music at its finest, and I hate making that declaration because composer Geoff Zanelli has done some truly compelling work in films like ‘Disturbia’, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, and even the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.

– I’ve heard reports that audiences were bored by this film’s lagging presence, and while the pacing was never really much of an issue for me, I can point to one aspect of the runtime as an issue, and that’s the minimal material that this film actually has. At 91 minutes, this is a pretty easy sit, but the difficulty comes when you realize how stretched thin the material, as well as the inhuman movements that the characters take in squeezing out every last drop of this screenplay. At it’s core, there is a solid one hour of material here, but in reaching a studio-approved runtime, Taylor never capitalizes on the areas (Like the sex trafficking that I mentioned before) that require increased screen time to dramatize effect in the material.

2/10

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

Directed by Tyler Perry

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart

The Plot – A faithful wife (Henson) tired of standing by her devious husband (Bent) is enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed as a result of a hidden affair. After the news breaks, revenge is the game, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Henson knows in her mind that she’s far too good for a Tyler Perry movie, but nonetheless she commits herself in omitting a truly haunting and emotionally scarred performance. Taraji was clearly given no boundaries here, and despite her filmography this year leaving slightly more to be desired, it’s clear that the talented actress gives you the most return for your dollar.

– If Perry can do one thing right, it’s that he knows how to keep his audience invested. The film is narrated throughout by Henson’s character while talking to a therapist. As the film goes on, it feels more and more like she’s really communicating with those ladies in the audience who have been down this very road a time or two, making it extremely difficult to ignore something that ties so closely to their own lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors. It’s funny that while the two love interests are in high school, the female is noticeably two or three inches taller than the male, but ten years later their characters have morphed to give us a depiction of the man now being at least five inches taller. That’s a huge swing for post-adolescence.

– Jarring Green screen backdrops. There are some beautiful shots of the city engulfed in fog that seems to hint at the unforeseen troubles ahead for these characters, but anytime a character is shown in front of this area, the outline of their bodily properties is so terribly shaded that you’re constantly reminded of this cheap presentation by a director with tight pockets.

– The run time of two hours is far too long for this screenplay. This isn’t because the film is terribly paced or boring, but rather the perils of repetition that could easily use another edit in keeping it closer to that 100 minute mark.

– In addition to that repetition, the film is also prolonged by convenient plot devices that pop up out of nowhere. These scenes puzzle me even further because they often feel like they accompany a scene that is missing from the movie. One such example is a woman’s purse that shows up in our leading man’s truck, but the scene before that one the woman mentions how she refuses to be alone with him. So did she change her mind, or do purses fly all of a sudden?

– I had to check how many different writers penned this script because I refused to believe that the sharp turns in character logic were written by a single author. Much to my surprise, Perry also wrote this film, leading me to believe that he himself suffers from mixed personality disorder. Characters switch sides at the drop of a hat, and the film’s third act flies so far off of the rails that it feels like we’ve stumbled upon a completely different film all together. Just more proof of the man’s genius.

– This film is every bit as manipulative as it is morally bankrupt. If you saw the trailers, they made it look like Taraji’s character was taking revenge on a former lover for cheating on her and giving the new love all of the things that she deserved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last act of the movie convolutes character motivation so drastically that it almost approaches the clutches of Stockholm Syndrome with arms wide open, refusing to ever punish those who laid the groundwork for such conclusions.

– ‘Acrimony’ was made in eight days, and it clearly shows. In addition to the missing scenes that I mentioned before, much of the dialogue feels sloppily rushed and overall in a hurry to get to reach its destination without cutting to the psychology involved in spousal abuse. Any person with a shred of logic can comprehend that no sane adult would ever make these movements. On top of this, the film takes the time to visually define what Acrimony as well as other words associated with the script mean. That’s great because the only thing that can top laughably bad dialogue is an English lesson. SWEET!!!

– This is a thriller that for the most part lacks the thrills. We get one scene of action early on in the movie, then nothing until the final twenty minutes that I mentioned above. Perry as a screenwriter relies upon frantic dialogue reads by Henson, instead of the unchained Taraji that was promoted. For my money, watch the final twenty minutes. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what happened even without the rest.

2/10

Samson

Directed by Bruce Macdonald

Starring – Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Taylor James

The Plot – A Hebrew (James) with an unusual gift of strength must respond properly to the call of God on his life in order to lead his people out of enslavement. After his youthful ambition leads to a tragic marriage, his acts of revenge thrust him into direct conflict with the Philistine army. As his brother mounts a tribal rebellion, only Samson’s relationship with a Philistine seductress and his final surrender, both to the Philistines and to God, turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory

Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence from battle sequences

THE POSITIVES

– At this point in the game, if religious films can’t even get costume and set pieces correctly, there’s no point in even trying. ‘Samson’ certainly continues this trend with a fine line of dissection between the Palestinians and the Hebrews that visually tell the difference in wealth distribution.

– Perhaps the best introduction scene to one of these films that I have ever seen. It actually felt like there was an attempt to insert some personality into this movie with the inclusion of quick-cut takes from a heist plan, as well as witty banter that actually brought a smile out of me.

THE NEGATIVES

– In retort to that dazzling intro scene, the rest of the film falls into the mundane category of familiarity. For what started on such a high note, eventually grinded into a slow drafting bible tale with none of the confidence in its characters or events to boot.

– The performances are all around laughably bad, but no one can hold a candle to Jackson Rathbone as the evil Rallah. What Eddie Redmayne did in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ can only be described as amplified to eleven with Rathbone’s unintimidating stature and uninspiring line reads that constantly fall short in carving out a meaningful antagonist. On the other side of the coin, James title character is written as an all brawn and no brain kind of hero who is constantly outwitted to the point of cringing in your seat for how easy his predicaments are to get out of. Even the often times over-the-top Billy Zane is in this film and they do nothing with him or his character. Some enthusiasm from Zane could’ve honestly made this sit a lot easier for me.

– God’s power is reduced to being a magical genie who pops up whenever Samson needs him. So if the rules are this easy to master, why not (Oh I don’t know) ask for food and drink for your starving village in the same ways you destroy a brick wall or bring down a stone building with your hands? I guess spectacle matters over livelihood.

– Consistently dropping the ball on establishing dramatic impact. Much of Samson’s adversity is disposed of within a few seconds, even taking out multiple 30 and 50 man armies by himself with ease. This is only in the first half of the film, mind you, so the second half wants us to believe that he will fail against one puny prince who may be the key to silencing this mystical Hebrew. Give me a break.

– Terribly choreographed fight sequences. Much of the reason for Samson being able to take down these huge armies by himself is because these soldiers only approach him one at a time, waiting in a neat and tidy line for their turns to meet their maker. There are many times when they could easily dispose of this one man army, but they would rather dogpile on him than take a knife to his chest when he’s pinned down. STUPID!! If that isn’t enough, the graphic material is so watered down here, free of blood or much graphic violence to really linger with the audience. An all around dry presentation.

– Uneven pacing plagues this film over and over again, turning a modest 105 minute film into what feels like a two-and-a-half hour plunge. Much of this can be blamed on just how much they try to squeeze into this film, limiting a majority of scenes to under three minutes so we can constantly keep moving. Where this harms the fluidity is in the bubbling feeling that this film garners no consistency in momentum for itself in bringing along its audience on the edge of their seats.

– Clunky dialogue that could double for even softcore pornography. Perhaps my favorite of these lines takes place between Samson and a woman he is courting during the beginning of the third act, in which she tells him that there is no way she could even bond him from leaving. Samson looks at her like he ripped gas and says “You should use the finest rope, that way I couldn’t fight it much” UGGHHHHHH!!!!

– Hallmark Channel level C.G in landscape establishing shots. Thankfully this is about 95% of the computer generation used in the film, but I couldn’t help but wince each time a new scene began.

2/10

Fifty Shades Freed

Directed by James Foley

Starring – Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Arielle Kebbel

The Plot – Believing they have left behind shadowy figures from their past, newlyweds Christian (Dornan) and Ana (Johnson) fully embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. But just as she steps into her role as Mrs. Grey and he relaxes into an unfamiliar stability, new threats could jeopardize their happy ending before it even begins.

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– This film at least knows that its material is thin, and because of such takes a step back from the two hour flicks of the previous two installments and makes this an appreciated 96 minutes.

– The series continues to be a beautifully shot one, coveting within it a barrage of landscape porn and elegant lighting design in overall cinematography by John Schwartzman. This at least immerses us into this world of rich tastes that visually seduce you in the same way they do Anastasia.

THE NEGATIVES

– Not a single credible performance amongst the bunch. Even Dornan, who proved his worth in 2016’s ‘Anthropoid’, feels in a rush to elude himself from the Grey persona for the future of his promising career. Everything feels very phoned in at this point, never straying far or improvising away from the plot points of a mundane screenplay.

– Because the personalities are so thin with these characters, none of them ever interest me to the point of feeling remote emotion for them. This is why by the third film in the series there is no shortage of infused dramatic subplots to offer something of a spark to keep the audience firmly in grip.

– Speaking of those subplots, the long term writing here is terribly choreographed and minimally discussed in the bigger picture of lagging sex scenes and Ana’s blossoming stupidity.

– There is nothing subtle about the obvious foreshadowing for where this chapter is taking us. I didn’t predict everything revealed in the painfully tacked on final ten minutes, but I knew what direction we were heading because their introductions feel so shoehorned in during a scene where it shouldn’t be deposited.

– Atrocious dialogue. Even for this series, ‘Freed’ still has the capability to make us cringe so hard that you will debate faking a bathroom break just to free yourself from the auditorium.

– The sex scenes have absolutely no sizzle or sensuality to them because of the void in chemistry between the two leads. Credit can be given that this film at least trims the length of each sex scene dramatically, but it’s all for nothing because there is still such an overabundance of them. Even porn collections know how to pace themselves better than this fan fiction dribble.

– Three movies and nearly six hours of screen exposition and I feel like I know very little about Christian Grey, except that he is the world’s biggest douchebag. I was told that the third book reveals much about Grey, but nothing revealed in this film is actually about him when you think about it. Instead, we are treated to more of what female audiences should be vetoing in a ‘Time’s Up’ society.

– Considering the first two films built to the wedding of these two, it’s used as such an afterthought here, speeding through a montage of scenes during the opening three minutes that give so little back to the faithful fans who have been waiting for these moments of indulgences.

– Even the music is offensive. While this soundtrack is an assortment of credible pop artists, their instilled numbers to the unappealing sex scenes conjures up an aura of childish atmosphere that are lyrically so awkward in trying to be sexy. What’s worse is that Danny Elfman scores it with his most invasive approach to date, channeling through the best of his C-side material with such ear-shattering volume, as well as an overall lack of environmental subtlety that spoil what’s coming long before it happens.

2/10

Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween

Everyone’s four favorite elderly’s return to once again do battle with another sinister force on all Hallow’s Eve, in ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, the film joins Madea (Perry), Bam (Cassi Davis), Viv (Chandra Currelley), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) when they take a vacation to a campground with their family members. Unaware that the grounds are haunted, the group must band together to fight the terror, evil, and wacky hijinks of their mysterious opposition. When monsters, goblins, and the boogeyman are unleashed, Madea and company must fight it out with them in a laugh-out-loud battle to the death. ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ is rated PG-13 for sexual references, drug content, adult language and some horror imagery.

Going through back to back years with a Madea Halloween movie is a lot like getting over diarrhea and then coming back down with it only days later. It’s a real shitty time that keeps you planted for an excessive amount of time and stinks of the toxins that you put into your body. I apologize for the nasty description there, but ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is the perfect checklist for why Tyler Perry and I have been at odds since I began reviewing films in 2011. It’s without question Perry’s cheapest and least entertaining film to date, exchanging in the usual laughter involved in a comedic offering for shallow improv humor that stretches these scenes out longer than the pancake batter that Perry and friends don to immerse themselves in these truly wretched individuals. And there’s no benefit to ripping it to shreds even in the slightest. Making fun of a Tyler Perry movie is like making fun of a three legged dog who is humping a fire hydrant, it’s painfully low-hanging fruit that makes you feel stuck up for even having the audacity to rip it. I could think of much better ways to spend 96 minutes with my life, and most of them involve fitting myself for a noose and testing the strongest board in my house for durability. I didn’t think for a second that this film could possibly be worse than the original chapter that came out last year, but Perry proves once again that I should never doubt him when it comes to how truly low he will go.

First of all is the screenplay and material, or lack there of. So much of this script relies heavily on improv comedy to run up the clock and make the most out of basic outline drafting. When I really think about it, there’s only six different setting changes in this film, and while that may feel like a lot for an hour and a half, it is very minimal when you consider the progression that comes with multiple parties of characters and group conflicts. What this film desperately needs is an editor who doesn’t serve as a Perry enthusiast and straight up tells him when to cut the shit. Scenes drag on for an eternity, and while I remember this being a vital negative to my overall grade for the original movie, it doesn’t even make it into the top five of mind-blowing decisions that went into this production. The screenplay structure is basically the same as the first movie, proving just how little diversity went into this horror spoof that even lacks the kind of versatility for something in that putrid genre. I wouldn’t be surprised if this script was five pages long and used a lot of captions that involved the word IMPROVISE because it feels like Perry has no grip or enthusiasm to treat his audience to anything more, and why should he? this man continues to steal money from the pockets of his enthusiasts the same way that armed robbers do, except a robbery gives you the satisfaction of having an emotional response in being scared to death for your life.

So we know the comedy sucks, but what about the satisfactions with the genre it is spoofing; horror? Well, that direction doesn’t even take place until there is fifty minutes left in the movie, making the opening act and a half feel like you’re watching an entirely different film that just so happens to take place around this night of supposed terror. The shift from one tone to the next is so rough and jagged with the transitioning that there never is any defining moment of exposition when this takes place. As for the scares themselves, this cheap production makes the backdrops and landscapes of fog and woods feel so outdone and often times unrecognizable that I don’t fully grasp what particular movie that they are spoofing. There is a ‘Get Out’ reference that is seen in the film’s trailer, but with a few more of these clever instances, the film could’ve done a better job in subverting our attention to the waning interest in these sequences of the very cheapest denominator. Even for spoof or satire, ‘Boo 2’ offers very little to justify its existence, omitting the taste of a Madea movie that is being force-fed a Halloween motivation.

The performers who make up this complete ensemble offer nothing of any noteworthy praise or momentary break in monotony that they provide in their phoned in performances. This is definitely still Perry’s show, as he commands three different characters in the movie, but oddly enough for a movie that has her name in the title, Madea is relegated to kind of a supporting role in her own movie. A majority of what Perry puts his time and energy into is in the character of Joe, a horny, drug-smoking, horny, immature, horny, man-child who repeats the same few lines over and over to the point that I thought I was suffering from deja vu. In addition to Perry, his supporting cast of characters are equally as agitating. For whatever reason, Tito Ortiz is cast in this as Perry’s best friend, and if Tito is believable in just one thing, it’s that he is an MMA athlete who is trying to make the transition to film. His line reads lack any kind of commitment and visually give off the impression that he is holding in a fart so as not to ruin a scene that they have no money to waste. Yousef Erakat and his collective fraternity of date rapists made me uncomfortable in every stretch of the imagination. Seriously, every time these douchebags are on screen, it has the same feeling as the nerds from a Saved By the Bell episode, complete with cringe-worthy music that narrates every scene they choose to grace us with their sleazy romantic sides. My least favorite without question, yet oddly enough the only positive point that I can give this movie, is still Diamond White as Perry’s spoiled daughter Tiffany. If she does one thing well, it’s in the ability to invest your reasoning to the adults, because the way she treats her Father deserves an ass kicking. Characters like Tiffany are everything that’s wrong with today’s youth, and while she doesn’t do anything different from the oral garbage that she spewed just a film ago, White deserves all of the credit in the world for at least doing what the script asked of her.

All of what I’ve previously mentioned is a walk in the park compared to the cheap production qualities that completely make this film unwatchable for someone looking to escape into good times for even a brief amount of time. The lighting coming from windows surrounding our scenes ruin shots because their volume in brightness doesn’t register well on cheap camera equipment like this. What this does is give off several blurry scenes that are left in the film because they either had no time to reshoot, or they just didn’t have the motivation to fight it. But the most obvious error in this film is the handicap of its PG-13 rating that does no favor to the vicious ADR that takes place in this film. What I don’t understand is characters do cuss in this film. There’s an F-bomb, and several shits left in the line reads, but there’s so many curse words that are edited out of this movie without a smooth overlap that makes it beyond obvious. Think television edits when it comes to movies like ‘Snakes on a Plane’ or ‘The Breakfast Club’, but so much worse. The volume of the replacement word spikes so highly during their edits that you can’t help but notice their rocky inclusion when compared to the lips of characters who are obviously saying a word entirely different to that of what we’re hearing.

THE VERDICT – Any film with the word “Boo” in the title has some unbelievable balls to it. ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is a 96 minute Russian Roulette campaign that has Tyler Perry digging with a shovel to new lows in his already tumbling career. It’s obvious that this film was never going to be good, but the cheap production qualities and noticeable similarities in structure to its predecessor, breathe new life to the nightmares that Perry giftwraps to me every year without fail. What’s scary isn’t anything in the movie, but in the box office numbers that his fans will inevitably drive up, proving that dollar bills do float in toilet water.

2/10

Til Death Do Us Part

All is fair in love, marriage, and life-threatening war, in the newest dramatic thriller, ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Michael (Stephen Bishop) and Madison (Annie Ilonzeh) Roland had planned to spend the rest of their lives together after getting married, until one day Michael’s scary controlling ways turned their perfect marriage into a hostile game of escape for Madison. With the help of her best friend, Chelsea (Robinne Lee), Madison decides to get away. After adopting a new identity, she meets Alex Stone (Taye Diggs) and learns to love again. All is well, until Michael discovers Madison’s whereabouts, and recreates the nightmare she once lived all over again. ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ is written and directed by Chris Stokes, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving domestic abuse, violence, some sexuality and adult language.

My opinion for the most overcrowded subgenre of films is in that of black stalker dramas that give us three or four of these similarly structured plots each year. Already this year, ‘Unforgettable’ made its presence felt, but the magic enveloped in ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ makes that previous film feel like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. This is an awful movie, highlighted by the cheapest of production qualities that give it that VH1 Sunday Night Drama visual enticement. I didn’t even learn about the existence of this movie until two days ago, and I debated even seeing it until I saw the laughably bad acting and redundant plot that instantly made me yell out “Another one of these?” ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ feels like walking down the aisle with a property that you truly know in your heart is doomed for failure, but you’re forced to love it all the same even when the red flags pop up like weeds all over this film. Is there anything salvagable about it? Only the positivity of laughing at its unintentionally benign ideas for how the real world works, exchanging common sense for scandalous propaganda at every mind-numbingly sufferable turn. It all makes a case for possibly the worst movie that I have seen of 2017, and that is saying a lot to compete with the gutter offerings of this underwhelming year.

First of all is the character framing for the film that really made me question who truly was the villain in a movie that centered around female domestic abuse. The first act of the movie showcases Michael in a way that any of us can understand and reason with. Sure he’s a little too fake in personality on the outside, but never anything that feels like a foreshadowed warning for events to come. Madison is presented as a pushy, self-centered, and even forceful protagonist that wants, needs, and has had to have a baby since she was five years old. If you think I am embellishing here for the sake of a review, you’re sadly mistaken. I found it disgusting that right up until Michael laid a hand on Madison, that I was fully in his camp of thought process considering he has given her everything up to this point. Despite how little I believe that no signs of Michael’s abuse have popped up to Madison up to this point, I find it even more difficult that these two have anything in common with the lack of internal chemistry or bumbling line reads that omits between them. It goes nowhere often, and each scene feels worse than the previous one because of the kind of dialogue that beats the obvious intention of direction over the head of the audience with each crushing blow.

The tide is turned about thirty minutes into the film when Madison (Spoiler) decides to fake her death in the most elaborate scheme that I have ever seen. She hires a male friend to play her doctor, he renders her unconscious with a medicine that stops her heart for two minutes, and somehow the hospital stands by without asking any questions? Considering they have to use an actual hospital room for the procedure, I don’t see how this secret was kept successfully. You know what’s even more asinine? How did Michael not once ask to see his wife pre or post death announcement? The movie doesn’t care about these questions because it has to keep going with painfully mangled storytelling that often feels out of place from scene to scene. I say this because there is one scene where Madison is beaten up by her husband, only to be happy and talkative in the next. Yet the scene after this will show her as battered and bottled up because of the events of two scenes prior. NOTHING MAKES SENSE. If a film’s story is a straight and narrow line, this film’s sequencing looks a kid with a disruptive bladder is drawing on an etch-a-sketch. It’s so hard to stay invested in something that is constantly moving and doesn’t slow down in order to soak in the weight of each pivotal (If you can call it that) moment of plot details.

Refusing to be outdone by the flawed screenplay, is the visual presentation that truly made me furious on how a film of this amateur level got funded. The editing is so choppy that it often feels like it cuts out just at the moment when we’re making up some ground on character development or maximizing the dramatic tension. An example of this poor editing is a scene early on in which Michael is visiting the graves of his deceased Mother and Father. After he’s done talking to them, he walks away, the scene cuts, and the next scene is him back at his house knocking on the door. Without a new establishing shot, this feels like the scene is trying to tell us that he has two buried parents in his backyard amongst a field of other unrelated tombstones. If you think this is bad though, it doesn’t hold a candle to the music video style of artistic direction that the film’s soundtrack and cinematography takes us through. For some strange reason, the film feels like it is being forced to sell the soundtrack, because we get these uproaring musical cues in each scene that play at such an ear-shattering level that I couldn’t help but clutch my head from the voices that were seeping in. If this isn’t enough, we can’t go literally two minutes or two scenes without a lyrical song playing in the background to strike up the mood of a particular scene or to introduce the first in a series of musical montages that we are treated to in this film. The worst of this offering definitely comes from Taye Diggs workout regimen that includes him listening to deathgore metal unlike anything you’ve heard in the movie. It’s funny enough to envision Taye Diggs enjoys music where you can’t understand the lyrics because of thunderous guitar chords, but it’s even funnier when you consider this is a soundtrack that includes Flo-Rida’s ‘My House’ and ‘Son of a Preacher Man’.

As for performances, there’s nothing worthy enough to even remotely save this flop, but Taye Diggs in always enjoyable to see in the few scenes he pops up in late in the movie. Again though, there’s no chemistry between he and Ilonzeh to match her previous establishment with Bishop, so the film is missing the kind of depth in heart from these performances that make you invested in th well-being of their characters. Ilonzeh and Bishop trade in demeanor and commitment to character for the ability to yell their dialogue every few minutes into the camera. Somewhere this is considered acting, but here it feels annoyingly childish in representation for how real people act. Is there yelling in relationships? Of course, but you build to that moment, you don’t start off with the amps on 10 to begin with. Bishop has the visuals of a prominent psychotic antagonist, but his delivery often makes his register feel forced and hollow of the establishing anger that is buried deep beneath his discovery of betrayal. Stokes often writes him into a corner, taking him down roads of unoriginality that many more established actors have traveled down years before him.

THE VERDICT – There was never a minute where I was convinced that I was going to enjoy ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, but the uninspiring overall presentation and lack of emotional center make this campy thriller a death sentence for staying awake. Stokes surgically removes logic from his story, parading us through one event after another of implausable consequence that doesn’t even remotely touch base with the human spirit. Could I be taking this a bit too seriously? Perhaps, but if a B-grade thriller flick can’t even embrace the fun within its own inane concepts, why should I feel light-hearted for it wasting 96 minutes of my life? Til Death Do Us Part? Why wait?

2/10

The Emoji Movie

Those characters that we control with the tip of a finger come to life in Sony Animation’s ‘The Emoji Movie’. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression, except for Gene (T.J Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak. Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever. ‘The Emoji Movie’ is written and directed by Tony Leondis, and is rated PG for some rude humor.

For whatever reason, movies will often get a bad word of mouth through the grapevine of gossip, so nobody after will give that movie a fair read. More times than not, films that are given the dreaded 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, or a 1/10 by critics everywhere, are often the victim of unfair critiques from critics who clearly have not seen enough bad films and just want in on all of the fun of bashing. With that said, ‘The Emoji Movie’ is that rare film (if you can call it that) that deserves all of the beating that this word of mouth is dishing out. For my experience, this is as shameless as it gets for product placement. Films have been raked over the coals for less than this, yet here is a movie based entirely on the IPhone and all of its emojis and apps that take up valuable time in our days. This of course comes from Sony Animation Studios, the studio responsible for the very definition of whoring out your product, so it comes as no surprise that this lifeless garbage lacks the kind of inspiring or original story to hold its own amongst the growing field of smart kids movies that are popping up. Lets put it like this; There are films that I hated more in 2017, but none of those gave me as dull and lifeless of a time like this one did for 84 mind numbing minutes that I will never get back.

You will realize just how flat this story falls when the gears start to turn and you see the kind of repetition in direction that this film takes with other movies like ‘Wreck It Ralph’ or ‘Inside Out’. This definitely feels like a cheaper coming-of-age version to those plots, ripping off the very minimal of what fits their dreaded narrative that we’ve all see before. Gene is an underdog, Gene loses something valuable to him, Gene goes on a long distance journey, Gene befriends some wacky characters, Gene succeeds on a road to redemption. To me, this plot falls very flat because its evidenced by its lack of emotional depth or investment by the audience at home just how unimportant it feels when it stands in the way of the humor. More on that in a bit. For so much of this film, it just kind of stands in place because you see so much of what is coming long before they actually get there. It’s a math problem that you can do on a piece of paper, made even worse by clutching pacing that left a phone imprint on my hand from all of the times that I checked to see how much was left of the movie.

As for humor, I didn’t laugh once in the entire film, mainly because I find it difficult to believe that this film was trying anything beyond the wink-and-nod to the audience for the kind of things they see daily on their phones. It’s remarkable just how few actual setups for long-term laughs that there are in this movie, and instead the film would rather focus on these overused puns that continue to inform us of each Emoji’s personality. There is an attempt to poking fun at the awkwardness of teenage conformity to technology, but the only time that humans are seen in this film is when their phones start freaking out and making noises from the chaos going on inside of them. A trait that doesn’t make sense when you consider that the main kid in this movie could easily turn off his ringer to quiet the disturbing things that his phone is saying to him. The funny bone is really pinched tightest though, when it began taking us in and out of apps like Youtube and Candy Crush to sell time and eat up some precious minutes. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like this script was anything remotely more difficult than someone with a typewriter looking at their phone for the few spare ideas that rarely have the kind of cohesive flow to feel like anything other than a collection of moments instead of an acceptable whole. The kind of film where everyone is dumber for having watched it, and if laughs are a measurement of mental capacity, my auditorium sounded like everyone’s reactions were on vibrate.

The cast too is left with wasted efforts because of so little to work with within the material that always keeps them firmly grounded. I love T.J Miller, but it’s clear that the man isn’t getting the kind of scripts that bring his R-rated demeanor to life. As Gene, Miller doesn’t feel like the right man for the job vocally to match the facial reaction of his emoji, a point that does come out in a subplot early on in the movie, but continues to waste away the personality of one of Hollywood’s greatest scene stealers going today. In addition to Miller, we get turns from James Corden as Gene’s friend Hi-5, Anna Faris as Jailbreak, and Maya Rudolph as the antagonist Smiler who left me uncomfortable at every appearance. None of these valued actors have anything above conventionalism to bring to their roles, and never for a minute did I feel glued in on their changing situations. Faris is probably the only one who sounded any different from her normal delivery, but Jailbreak’s backstory is virtually ignored for the entirety of the plot, hinting at possible scenarios that we never get closure on. In a perfect world, Faris would rightfully steal this movie, but she doesn’t even want it when the others are gladly handing it to her on a platter, and the wasted efforts all around are a glowing reminder of what could’ve been from a film idea that feels outdated even in 2017.

If I do have one back handed compliment to say about the film, it is in its animation, which isn’t nowhere near the quality of a Pixar presentation, but is an improvement on past Sony animation films that feel jarring in their shading for character illustrations. ‘The Emoji Movie’ does have a deliciously appetizing color scheme that at least takes us on a visually stunning field trip of ambitious backdrops and energetic landscapes. The character outlines could use more definition on their physical outlines, because sometimes their colors will blend together when put in front of a backdrop with the same color, but it’s hard to fault them so much about this process when everything else is frankly so terrible about this presentation. The animation at least held its own in bringing to life the every day visuals from our smart phones that we have come to know, and while my mind was drowning in a sea of stupidity from everything mentioned prior, I at least had a spectrum that kept the film in beautiful surroundings.

THE VERDICT – Leondis’s ‘The Emoji Movie’ is the kind of film where writers and directors are never heard from again. A lumbering, lazy lack of intellectual fortitude whose only intention is the callous cash grab that does nothing for any age group. The visuals offer momentary bliss between the overwhelming lack of trying that plagued this film at every other turn. Emoji’s are meant to be the time saving methods of expressing emotions to other people, maybe too is this movie for the basic concepts of storytelling and entertainment value that it doesn’t find as remotely important.

2/10