Sunday, May 24, 2015

Poltergeist (2015)

On the way to the Theater this morning, we made every light between our house and the movie theater. It's almost three miles on a very busy commercial mainline, and there are at least a dozen intersections with traffic lights. We made every one of them. I thought maybe we should go to Vegas, but then it occurred to me that maybe it was a good omen for the film we were about to see. Nope. Not gonna happen. This remake of Poltergeist is as mundane and unnecessary as you thought it would be. Having the names of Sam Rami and Sam Rockwell associated with the film was enough to take a flyer on it, but it all just lays there.

The story is somewhat the same as the original, but instead of an upwardly mobile yuppie couple buying into the American dream, we have a downsized family making due with leftovers. There is no contentious but friendly next door neighbor in this movie. In fact the only other people not directly related to the story sort of look down on folks living in this neighborhood. The dearth of nearby residents is supposed to be explained by the fact that there are so many foreclosures in the neighborhood. That is the only way this film might compare favorably to the original, it at least has an explanation as to how these events could take place without anyone else in the area being aware.

Other interesting points about the movie, well Rosemarie DeWitt who plays the Mother in this film is married to Ron Livingston who played the Father in "The Conjuring".  He definitely got the better end of that deal. It's not an improvement but it is an interesting twist, the spiritualist they bring in to help the family, instead of being a diminutive female Rambo with a Kewpie doll voice, we get a grizzled reality TV Ghosthunter who has an Irish brogue and a gruff disposition. My daughter had a good insight on this film. It would have played better if this was a case the TV guy was doing for an episode of his series as opposed to his agreeing to work this case in spite of the fact that the family did not want to be on TV. It would have played off the two genres against each other and left room for more surprises than we finally get with this fairly standard haunted house story. 

Like the remake of "Carrie" from two years ago, "Poltergeist" does nothing to hurt the legacy of the other film. If audiences are unwilling to go back three decades to see the original, there might as well be a version that they can get themselves to. It's just sad to think that people believe the visual effects from then are inferior to the CGI of today. I'd disagree and the incident at the sink in both films would be a good way to make the comparison. The 1982 film was a lot more frightening with the practical make-up effects.

Sam Rockwell is playing a character who is less interesting and less heroic than the oddball salesman of Craig T. Nelson. There is one brief sequence, which has nothing to do with the story, that allows him to use his Rockwellisms and charisma. It is short and unfortunately, there was no dancing involved. The two young actors playing the youngest children in the family were very good. It was maybe a bit more interesting to give the son more to do but it is at the expense of the rest of the characters. The build up in the first film was intriguing with some moments of levity. This version crashes headlong into the action, and there is never a sense of wonder. It is all about fear. In the original, the clown doll sits like a ticking bomb in the scenes set in the son's bedroom. In this version, it is a ringing alarm from the very first moment it appears. The controversy over Spielberg's taking over direction from Tobe Hooper continues to today. It is safe to say he had nothing to do with directing this film.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


This movie is a mess. It has a dozen different strands of ideas that it wants to follow, it's tone is all over the place, and the rules of the story seem inconsistent. The idea of making a Disney attraction into a film is not of course new, but as a whole "land" is involved this time, I think maybe the stitching required to get it all to hold together is just more obvious this time out. George Clooney is a movie star that can't really open a film on his own without a strong premise, and he is invisible from this movie for most of the first hour.

Director Brad Bird has made some of my favorite films over the last fifteen years. He is capable of telling a coherent story but this one is just not quite there. You can see the ideas right there in front of you, tantalizing us with the notion that there is something deep and worthwhile in this experience. It just does not come together. It reminded me several times of the movie "Toys" with Robin Williams. There are things to look at, there are good performers giving it their all, but the premise is too fuzzy in the end to be anything more than mildly likable when it is all over. I ended up wanting to see the movie that they tell this story around, rather than the book ends that make up this structure. I think even the story of Casey, the young protagonist played by Britt Roberston, would have worked a bit better. At the end, the conventional issues all undermine the creativity of the imagination that the promise of "Tomorrowland" is supposed to hold.

The opening section that tells the back story of Clooney's Frank Walker was excellent. The setting at the New York World's Fair in 1964 is picture perfect. The Fair contained all sorts of advanced gizmos and concepts and a few of them are illustrated here. We never see the "Carrousel  of Progress" but the song makes an appearance and promises us a great big beautiful tomorrow. Raffey Cassidy is an interesting young actress who may very well have been cast because of her resemblance to Angela Cartwright of "the Sound of Music" but more importantly Penny from "Lost in Space". Baby boomers will see her freckles and the dress she wears in those early scenes and think immediately of the time period being evoked. Casting here went a long way in setting the scene, I think even more than all the special effects. The kid who plays young Frank is also very well cast to give a sense of those hopeful, early sixties dreamers of the New Frontier. His answer as to why he made the jetpack he has brought to the Inventions Hall at the Fair is a great encapsulation of America's can do spirit. The contrast with the heroine's project, to keep the launch pad at Cape Canaveral from closing down, is a little heavy handed but it is clear. We stopped being dreamers.

So I'm settling down for an uplifting movie about how we lost our way and might get it back again, when evil robots try to kill the pretty little science terrorist, and then they disintegrate three police officers out of nowhere and do it with a creepy mechanical smile. Wow, this is a PG rated family film? It features the same kinds of blue guts splattered we saw in "The World"s End" only from humans rather than robots. Watch out for the sudden car accident that also runs over a little girl. Nothing says family entertainment like that. Suddenly our whimsical fantasy film has become an action picture complete with a pint sized Terminator to lead us to the resolution. By the time Clooney comes back to the screen, the film feels completely different. The pursuit of the two science dreamers across different dimensions includes dismemberment of the  robot pursuers in several grim but amusing booby traps. Then it is followed up by a Coke joke. The story meanders around trying to show us background material, but this is one of the few times I can think of where an exposition laden conversation between the two leads might have helped the movie move forward rather than slowing it down.

When story returns to Tomorrowland, it is never clear why things there have gotten as bleak as the other dimension we occupy. The macguffin that is referred to is incompletely explained and the visionary technologies that exist seem to be put to no better use than tracking kids down to kill them. Yep, that's the joy of Tomorrowland. At the very end of the story, the characters try to redeem all we have experienced with a renewed promise, but they have not explained how the same problem cannot occur again or why a new set of dreamers will make any difference. Hugh Laurie's Governor Nix asks at one point how we managed to have the dual problems of obesity and starvation simultaneously? It's a pretty reasonable dilemma, I've got another one for you, How are we supposed to expect the future to be a place for our dreams, when it is trying to kill us at the same time?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max:Fury Road

Post Apocalyptic stories have been a go to film genre for me since the glory days of the 1970s. I guess since "Planet of the Apes" ultimately counts in this category, technically I have been hooked since 1968. I really loved stories about a group of survivors, struggling against the environment and other treacherous obstacles in a world that has changed dramatically. "Damnation Alley" , a not very good film, featured a cool vehicle with a rotating set of triangular wheel axles. "A Boy and His Dog", mined sex and loneliness and survivors in ragged clothes and armed to the teeth for it's entertainment value. None of those movies prepared me for the experience of first seeing "The Road Warrior" in the summer of 1982. In the rest of the world it was "Mad Max 2", but here in the States, it was a stand alone film that introduced a new film maker to a much bigger audience. Action movies have not been the same since.

Just as in 1985, when my most anticipated Summer Film was a sequel to the "The Road Warrior", 2015 brings on a sense of deja' vu. "Fury Road" has taken a long route to get here, but it has arrived with the kind of force that you would expect. This is a take no prisoners action flick that grabs you with a strong stunt sequence in the first two minutes, followed by a foot chase and combat fighting within five minutes, and in about ten minutes the rest of the chase begins. This is a chase film that goes on for two hours and has maybe three segments when the chase pauses, not for long, just enough to get some exposition in and then back on the road. There are some new gruesome twists on the survivor story. Factory farming will be seen in a whole new light next time you open a bottle of milk. The future is a depressing place if you are not in control of the power, and Max our titular hero is close to powerless at the start of this story.

The vultures that preyed on the weak in "The Road Warrior" and created a twisted economic system in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome", have evolved into a extended family cult of malignant children of the deformed patriarch of Immortan Joe. For reasons that become obvious early on, a set of women flee his power and Max becomes part of the exodus by accident. The father figure god is unwilling to give up his possessions and so begins an elaborate pursuit by super charged dune buggies, modified big rigs, and and hundreds of Warrior Boys, convinced that their death will result into admission to Valhalla at the feet of their demi-god father. The two previous films in this series, thirty and thirty-three years old, spent most of their time building up to the climactic chase. This movie is all chase and it sustains the chase through a series of set pieces, plot twists and brilliant design that will keep you hanging on from the moment it begins. Plot is thin but the action is thick and the visualization is visionary. Renegade clans in the outer desert are encased in vehicles that resemble porcupines. The washed out white skin of the Warrior boys make them appear to be an army of spooks, descending on the pursued from all angles.  The grimacing regulator that Immortan Joe wears becomes a death mask that follows the heroes from their nightmares to the waking world. There are spectacular crashes and innovative weapons and a disturbing cult of death that brings them all together. Imperator Furiosa, Charlize Theron, seems appropriately named. She is without humor, and determined to save her group of women. Her strategy is to run and keep running and anything that tries to slow her down needs to be mowed down. The war carriage she drives is a moving fortress that is vulnerable to attack only by having overwhelming forces swarm the wagon. Even then, it turns out that she has a secret weapon she herself did not know about, Max.

I have nothing negative to say about Tom Hardy. I think he was well cast and fits the character like a glove. The two criticisms I have of the film do center around Max however, so Hardy may end up a little worse for wear based on my assessment. As great as I think Hardy might be, he does not have the visual charisma that Mel Gibson radiated off the screen in 1982. If you have not seen those earlier Mad Max films with Gibson, I suggest you wait to do so until after you see this and then the comparison that inevitably ensues will not be nagging you through out the film. The character Max is supposed to be cryptic, but as written here, he feels impenetrable and we can't quite commit to him as we might want to. Maybe having to play a second leading role with his face covered by a mask for larger parts of the film is the thing that holds back my full endorsement. Nicholas Hoult on the other hand is surprisingly compelling as a Warrior Boy in  the right spot at the right time. His character had more dimension in the nearly characterless plot than anyone else. Hardy is stoic, Theron is fierce but young Mr. Hoult gets to play despair, joy, confusion and be disgustingly winsome at times. 

The action and explosions and fights are choreographed wit a frenetic pace that stays involving for long periods at a time. Director George Miller invented this kind of Apocalyptic mayhem with the original Mad Max, now he has a budget and enough time to see this vision play out in the grandest scale possible. I am now willing to cancel his debit to me for the irritation that "Happy Feet" brought to me. There is enough credit on his ledger from this film to balance out any more dancing penguins that happen along. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ex Machina

This was a very nice surprise, a science fiction film without any explosions, space flight or aliens. This is the sort of story that harkens to the days of thoughtful imagination contained in works by writers like Issac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. The story sets up a question and then follows a path as the question gets answered from the author's point of view. While there are some nice special effects, most of the drama and suspense and energy of the film stems from the questions and the answers that it makes.

I can see a number of similarities to the film "Her" from a couple of years ago. Both stories feature a winsome man confronting a form of "A.I." and losing themselves in the process. The idea of artificial intelligence had been around since the advent of computers back in the 1940s. Thinking machines are a part of "Forbidden Planet", "2001 a Space Odyssey", and pretty obviously "A.I." Most of these stories feature a foreboding sense of drama since human beings are forced to confront our own potential inadequacies and extinction. "Ex Machina" does this without the end of the world fireworks that sometimes are demanded of this kind of speculative fiction. That does not mean however that everything feels safe in this film, it doesn't.

Oscar Issac plays Nathan, a Steve Jobs like genius programmer who lives as a recluse but is admired by his employees at the search engine tech company he created. He has arranged for programming whiz Caleb, a nicely cast Domhnall Gleeson, to spend a week with him in his scientific retreat, located in a Northern Wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization, in order to participate in a test of his most recent breakthrough. While at first it might seem that Caleb was chosen for his knowledge, that turns out to be only partially true. As much as this story is about Artificial Intelligence, it is also about the invasive mining of information by users of the internet. Those folks who are paranoid about what the NAS is doing with their e-mails should be looking no further than the search bar on their own computers for the real dangerous data mining. At least we know the agenda of the government, but do you know what it is that Yahoo and Google want from you?

The lovely Alicia Vikander is the female robotic manifestation of the A.I.. She is only partially there for most of the movie but her face is enough to hook the young programmer. The test of the A.I. often seems to be going in multiple directions at any time and the tester and the test taker frequently switch roles. Young Miss Vikander is having a good year in 2015. I saw her in "Seventh Son" back in February and she is due back again in this summers "Man From Uncle" (which I am all over). There are basically three main speaking parts in the film but there are a couple of other secondary characters that will manage to both evoke sympathy and fear by the time the movie is over.

A film that asks big questions is something that people should talk about with each other in face to face interactions. The conversation on these questions would give too much of the story away for those who are interested in seeing the movie. The answers that the screenplay provides can be disturbing when you think about the implications of what you have seen. If ultimately, the human race is destined to be supplanted by creatures of it's own creation, I worry that we may leave out some of the best stuff in ourselves that is worth preserving. Maybe I am just nostalgic for the kinds of things that I knew before; a good book, a good joke, the record store or library, but progress changes all kinds of things and often not for the better.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I can't imagine anyone would be encouraged to see or discouraged from seeing this movie on the basis of any film goers comments. This is a movie that sort of demands a first hand experience from anyone who is interested. It is likely to be the biggest film of the year, there is a good chance that it will be one of the biggest films of all time, and critical assessment by professionals or amateurs is not going to change that fact. So, that having been said, let me weigh in on the film and if anyone wants to talk about it, I'd be happy to go into greater depth. As of this moment I can say it is a terrific popcorn film that has moments of greatness. It is also overstuffed and convoluted to the point that unless you were to write a near synopsis of the story, it is still not likely to be very clear.

A few problems that I had with it to start with and then we can get to all the good stuff that makes it worth seeing. "Age of Ultron" is a continuation of the concepts in the first Avenger movie but we have had four Marvel Universe Films in the time period between and many of the other films have pieces of business in them that play small parts in the story and actions displayed here. I know these are comic book tales but the way that events speed through, get resolved and a new set of threats pops up without much establishment is a little frustrating. the stand alone films (with the exception of the IronMan movies) have generally taken their time building up a set of characters, revealing a plot or plan slowly and then the movies get to the action stuff in the last third of the film. This movie feels like the third act of a bigger story, but not necessarily the story we have been watching in the other movies. I'm glad that Pepper Potts does not show up and impersonate Ironman, but the end of that film seemed to be moving away from Tony Stark as hero and center square. Yet that is exactly what continues in this film, with a twist on his intentions that is being reworked and repeated over and over again in the films he is featured in. He is a conflicted War profiteer who loves and loathes his job and he creates as much havoc as he solves. When you arrive at the end of this film, we play out the same scenario again, and everybody sees this except him. Ironskull might be a better nickname since he seems incapable of learning from his own mistakes. I have said many times that "Experience" is the only teacher that some people will listen to (including my oldest child) but Stark is not capable of listening to experience at all.

The opening of the film features a battle sequence at a fictional castle in a fictional country with characters that may have been in another film but if they were, it was for a nanosecond. The Avengers are on the attack and it is hard to believe they would be slowed down by the conventional forces they face after the alien invasion they repelled in the first movie.  Faster than you can say "Who the heck is that?" the main bad guys appear to be disposed of and the secondary mutants "Quicksilver" and the "Scarlet Witch" are introduced as traumatized volunteers in another super soldier program that is "Hydra/SHIELD" based. The fight is exciting although the CG animation in the opening actually looked noticeable for this sequence. It worried me but the rest of the movie settled down a little. The money shot of the Avengers in action in the first movie, waited until the third act. In this film it is almost in the third minute of the movie.
It would be difficult to give plot points away, since there is another one every two minutes. The Avengers are damaged by some early contact with the new characters, the secret plans are partially revealed, Artificial Intelligence takes over, another battle sequence begins, the Avengers are manipulated into internal strife, a love affair springs up between characters, secrets of one of the Avengers are revealed, another character reappears, Avengers fight each other, they discover part one of a plot hatched by Ultron, they discover part two of the plot hatched by Ultron, they secretly search for answers on their own, they come together again,...whew, it is simply exhausting. There is so much narrative and it is so rapidly delivered that there is virtually no time for emotional connection to any of it.

Now that those issues are out of the way, here is some of the good stuff. Ultron, the A.I. creation of Stark (with a little push from the Tesseract), is played perfectly by the voice work of James Spader. His tone and wit are dry and the moments of high camp drama are delivered with suitable venom and at times anger. The script use of the song from Pinocchio is exactly right and sets up a macabre  attitude whenever the Avengers encounter one of his many forms. While the visuals might be a bit confusing as to which robotic character has the true Ultron persona at any time, Spader manages to make it work with the right amount of cynicism and philosophy.

Once again, Captain America is a standout character that manages to influence the group productively even though he is not the smartest, strongest or most cunning of the lot. He manages to be the butt of a joke about language use that someone of my generation can appreciate, even though I'm one generation behind him. His character works well with all of the other characters and in the fight scenes he manages to stay relevant because of that. He also has the high ground on ethical issues and seems to be the voice of reason much the way Tony Stark is an exuberant puppy dog willing to try out everything.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, gets a better part this go round and his interaction with the the Scarlett Witch near the end of the movie is one of the few pieces of drama that works in the story, while everything else is in a rush to show us what is next. I don't know that the background story he is featured in is necessary, in fact I'm pretty sure it could be cut and no one would really miss it. This would have been a place to go in a lower budget stand alone movie with his character, but I get the impression that those kind of films will not be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.His character has the most interaction with the new Avenger characters and there is a pretty good payoff for both of those figures.

There is a lot of humor in the film and I suppose because it is comic book based, we should expect that. Everyone has a one liner to throw down and most of them hit the funny bone but they do tend to take away from any sense of danger or drama that is going on. Another new character is introduced late in the film. It's nice that the actor who has been in most of the earlier films gets a chance to show up on screen, but it was confusing and rushed and not altogether certain that the character is reliable. Ultron's plan for global eradication of humans is an interesting one, but like so many other elements of the film it is rushed. The story is a little more coherent than that of Furious 7, but both films are designed for visceral  visual junkies to get a fix from. Avengers: Age of Ultron works more effectively because the universe it operates in is contained in the fantastical galaxy of super heroes, aliens, and technology.

That's my two cents. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but it did not impress me the way "The Winter Soldier", "The First Avenger" and "The Avengers" did. I commented in my review of "Guardians of the Galaxy" that I did not need to see Peter Quill and Tony Stark trading barbs with one another. After this movie, I can see it happening, I still don't think I will like it. Hope you all enjoy the film, I know you will see it whether you read this or not. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Alien/Aliens Special Screening

The power of these two films is impossible to deny. Both films have been out for more nearly thirty plus years, both have extensive home video formats available. In fact, earlier in the day on Friday, as I walked through Sam's Club, I saw the two films being sold in stand alone packages for a very moderate price. Last night, I ended up in the Stand-by line, hoping to get a seat to a screening of the films at the American Cinematique program at the Egyptian Theater. The program had sold out and the theater holds almost eight hundred people. Not bad for a couple of films that are older than my kids.

I have met my daughter after work for screenings in Hollywood, several times before. She works in Venice and we live in Glendora. Those of you not familiar with Southern California topography simply need to know these are opposite sides of L.A. County and Hollywood is somewhere in between. Usually, I drive down to the Egyptian Theater but since I was free in the afternoon yesterday, I availed myself of public transportation. I took the train to Union Station and then the subway to Hollywood and Highland, where I walked the two blocks to the theater. My phone rang as I entered the courtyard and it was Amanda, asking where I was. When I told her she asked if I was inside, because she did not see me, ...for the two extra seconds that it took me to come around the corner. We had managed to simultaneously reach the box office from opposite ends of the world. Timing is everything. It was then that we discovered the movie was sold out and we waited in the Stand-by line. There were about thirty of us and several people bought tickets from others who had extras. That is finally how we got in, and ended up a little closer than we might have chosen otherwise but still in seats that were very workable.

The films were introduced by a guy from an effects based organization, I was negligent in getting his name or remembering the name of the group. Several seats were up front and it turns out that at the break we would be treated to a behind the scenes slide show of photos from the production of "Aliens" by some of the effects wizards behind the movie magic. So it was definitely something to look forward to. Our host asked the audience how many were seeing these films on the big screen for the first time, and I was surprised to see the hands of nearly two thirds of the audience go up. He shook his head and wondered out loud where all these people have been for the last thirty years. Anyway the films then began. is a great experience to be able to contrast the styles and moods of the two films from a single screening. "Alien" is atmospheric and moody and builds a sense of tension slowly. It is a horror film, but one that is smart and creates suspense deliberately and with a dark style. This is the same theater where I first experienced the movie back in 1979 and it was fun to tease Amanda with that information, she gets tired of my nostalgic ramblings sometimes so it is a dad's privilege to annoy a child with useless personal trivia from time to time. If you click on the image of the poster, it will take you to the original post I did from the Movie A Day project back in 2010.

The guests presenting the slide show between the film were quickly introduced, and I got only two names for sure. They were the Academy Award winning brothers Robert and Dennis Skotak, and they  shared several personal memories about the making of "Aliens". Digital computer work was mostly new when they made the film with James Cameron. They had honed their craft working on Roger Corman films like "Battle Beyond the Stars" and "Galaxy of Terror". Several of the pictures they shared showed them and young Mr. Cameron behind the scenes of those very modestly budgeted films. It was their experience on those pictures that allowed Cameron to make the film on the scale he envisioned for a budget almost half of what Fox thought it would need to be. In fact, that is why he got the job.

This shot taken from my seat shows how some of the props and sets were destroyed after the filming, because Pinewood Studios would charge a storage fee if they were left on the lot and sending them all back to Hollywood would have been too expensive. Film geeks everywhere will mourn the fact that the sleep pods from this film are not collectibles that they could buy on ebay and then put in their own bedrooms.

Like the special features programs on the home video versions of the films, last night's discussion was filled with little details about the techniques used and the problems solved during filming. The secrets I heard about the loader that Ripley uses to battle the alien Queen at the end of the movie were really cool. The fact that Cameron himself designed the Alien Queen because they could not afford to hire H.R. Giger to do the job was also interesting.
The presentation went on for a good thirty or forty minutes. There were some other tech guys peaking as well and I am so sorry that I was not taking notes and can't give them the credit they deserve for the work they did on the film and the kindness they showed for coming out lat night.

"Aliens" is a different creature than the first film. It has horror elements but it is basically an action film set on a different planet. The scenario and the look of the weapons are probably responsible for much of the design of modern video games like Halo. This is a shootum up in outer space. It does have a wonderful central spine concerning the relationship between Ripley and the young survivor Newt. pacing and the music are two ways that the films are distinct. "Alien" unfolds slowly with a ethereal electronic score by my favorite film composer Jerry Goldsmith. James Horner's much more bellicose, Academy nominated score, is a perfect fit for the action beats of the film and the G.I. based plot. The humor in the film is often provided by the Marine mentality of the troops versus the corporate thinking of Paul Reiser's Burke. Bill Paxton provides fantastic comic relief and if you look at the mashup I included in my post on an "Aliens" screening from a couple of years ago, you will find it a great contrast to his character in "Edge of Tomorrow".Again, if you click on the poster to the left, it will take you to the Vlogpost that I did on this film, if you have twelve minutes , I think you will enjoy.

One final note, Sigourney Weaver became a star with her role as Ripley in these films. She is the strong foundation on which these stories are built. She deserves all the credit she can get for making these two films favorites of movie fans from around the world. Pretend the other films in this series don't exist and you will have a perfect pair of bookends with these two movies.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Furious 7

I can't say I am a big fan of these films. I saw the first one when it came out and did not return to the series until the previous film, Furious 6. That film had a convoluted plot, brought back a dead character, and pushed the limits of what is believable in a car chase film. Somewhere along the line the gang of criminals featured in these stories became the good guys and they now are working as intelligence operatives because they pissed off the wrong people. I don't buy a second of any of it, but watching it was not annoying in any way and if you are willing to give up any sense of realism, recognize that gravity and physics don't mean anything to making movies any more, than there are worse ways to pass a couple of hours.

Vin Diesel and crew are the continuing attraction. They race cars manically and they take dangerous stunts to the ultimate level. Paul Walker's death in late 2013 delayed this film as they had to create a way to tell the story with bits of his role that had been filmed and plug in spots where there was no footage to work with. I guess you could spend the time playing "spot the CGI double" but that is too much effort for such a weightless film.

To me, the two best things the movie has going for it are reliable veteran film tough guys, Kurt Russell and Jason Statham. "Handsome Rob" is playing the villain here. He is an unstoppable tornado of violence that kills at the drop of a hat. It looks like in the introduction there is already a body count in the dozens and the movie is just starting. I like Statham as a tough guy and he is appropriately menacing in this, however, he is much like one of the vehicles that gets thrown into the story, indestructible because it would slow things down. His character shows up in places that he has no reasonable ability to be and we never see any planning from this bastardized version of James Bond. The most elite military teams in the world can not hit him with a single shot despite the presence of dozens of  high tech weapons. He is a cardboard bad guy made to a boogeyman that is hard to enjoy.

Mr. Russell shows up as a surrogate for Dwayne Johnson's F.B.I. agent. The Rock's character is sidelined early on but he did get a nice fight sequence with Statham and he picks up a big machine gun at the end of the movie and does the best impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger ever. Kurt is cool and smarmy and gets involved in only one real action scene and it is the most believable character arc in the story and it is ridiculous. Just having him swagger in and smile is worth whatever they paid him and I would not be surprised to see his character pop up again if the series gets another film, which given the box office seems inevitable.

In a movie assembled from action pieces, strung together by oversimplified spy tropes, and depending on dialogue written as if it is going to be delivered in a big balloon over the characters head, the cast does what it can to sell the emotional components of the film. There is a nice epilogue with Paul Walker that seems to be a fitting goodby to their co-worker. Now it is time to get back to work, crank out another one and make another couple of billion on the shallowest  movie franchise this side of "Scary Movie" parodies. The cheese is laid on thickly, and it goes down quickly and will not upset your stomach too much.