Movie Review: Eugenio Derbez remakes a French farce…limply — “The Valet”

Mexican star Eugenio Derbez’s Hollywood films lean heavily on “sweet” and “sentimental,” which is some compensation, considering “Instructions Not Included” co-starred an adorable child, “How to be a Latin Lover” underwhelmed and “Overboard” was a dog.

They’re all slow, something that leaps back to mind as his remake of “The Valet” hits the hour mark and one wonders “Well, they’ve run out of entertainment value and this lump has another hour before the closing credits.”

Nevertheless, the script, an adaptation of a French comedy, works in some warm and almost biting commentaries on being Latino and working-poor in the City of Beautiful People, New Money and Extravagance — Los Angeles.

The set-up is that a 50something car valet tumbles into a beautiful starlet and her paramour, and they pay him to pretend to be her new beau to throw the paparazzi, and a jealous spouse, off the scent.

Derbez, sporting a haircut that doesn’t hide “60 not 50,” is paired-up with Samara Weaving (“Ready or Not”), and even having his character, Antonio, say “I’m old enough to be your father” and “Nobody will believe this” doesn’t let the picture’s miscast central premise off the hook.

But if there’s little chemistry, few funny lines and shockingly few attempts at slapstick, the idea here is to make these two very different people connect, relate and share the downsides of his life of struggle and her loveless lack of privacy.

I remember being lukewarm on the 2006 French film this is based on, so it’s not all on Derbez, Weaving, the director and screenwriters. The source material’s thin on laughs. But Derbez seems muzzled by the screenplay, and Weaving has few chances to hit the gonzo notes that made her “Ready or Not” and “Guns Akimbo” turns amusing.

Antonio rides a bicycle to work, lives in a motel that’s gone condo with his mom (Carmen Salinas) and teen son. His wife (Marisol Nichols) has left him, just the latest sign that the world has him under its heel.

Olivia Allan (Weaving) wears disguises, switches cars on her way home and lives under a microscope. Her face is on posters all over town, because her new movie “Earhart” is about to premiere.

The last thing she needs is a scandal — photographed by the paps, sneaking out of a swank hotel where she was canoodling with her married developer side-piece (Max Greenfield).

The “other” guy in those scandal sheet photos, the hapless valet, is their way out. Pay him off, show him off, maybe get him to shave that damned mustache off, and “change the subject” in a single news cycle.

“I’ve dated actors,” she tells the gossip press. “They’re too much work.”

So. A valet it is. Let the wild rumpus start.

The gold in this is in the details scattered around our ill-fated couple.

Antonio finds himself sneaking a drunken Olivia out of a premiere party, through the hotel’s kitchen, where his working class Latin compadres cheers “Viva MEXICO!” He and two valet pals
(Armando Hernández, Carlos Santos) pour her into a pickup and make their getaway.

But hey, let’s stop at the drive-through. She’s still out cold as they split the tab, counting out the ones they get in tips from parking the world’s most expensive cars at work.

The “cute” stuff about her meeting his family and neighbors has no laughs in it. That joke played.

But Antonio gets to tell the fair haired “white girl” how hard it is “being invisible” in a city where Latinos make up much of the work force, serving haughty folk who “never look us in the eye.” A running gag that’s more sad than funny — Antonio is constantly mistaken for a waiter, every where they go.

The comic stuff is kind of tired and bloodless — “What’s she see in him?” penis jokes, faked sex. But the sweet stuff, for the most part, plays. She shows up at his son’s school play — “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Two rival private eyes (Ravi Patel, John Pirruccello) show up as well and find themselves deconstructing the play during stakeouts.

Derbez remains a likable presence, and that’s the highest praise you can throw at “The Valet” in the feeble hope that it sticks. But even “likeable” wears out its welcome when the story hits the wall at the 60 minute mark, and there aren’t enough jokes to fill a single sitcom episode.

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, some strong language and brief drug material

Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Samara Weaving, Max Greenfield, Betsy Brandt, Amaury Nolasco and Carmen Salinas.

Credits: Directed byRichard Wong, scripted by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, based on the French film by Francis Veber. A Hulu Original, by Lionsgate

Running time: 2:04

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Preview: B.J. Novak is a podcaster out to solve an ex girlfriend’s murder, maybe get some “Vengeance”

“Office” star Novak wrote, directed and stars in this dark dive into Texas conspiracyland as a big city podcaster on the trail of something stupid and dopey, or downright sinister.

He’s going to have to decide.

Issa Rae, Boyd Holbrook, Ashton Kutcher and that Dove woman (Cameron) also star in this July 29 release.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: A Schrader-esque man of Violence waiting for Perlman — “There Are No Saints”

When film buffs think of scripts by Paul Schrader, they think of down-and-dirty-and-bloody tales of sins, sinners, atonement and maybe a glimpse of salvation through all the violence, revenge and sex.

And we can see Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “Cat People,” “The Card Counter,” “First Reformed”) in the screenplay for “There Are No Saints,” a “sins of the fathers” B-movie turned into a star vehicle for Mexican-American actor José María Yazpik (“Narcos: Mexico) by equally-unknown Mexican director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa. You just have to know what to look for — a scene with a priest in a church, strip clubs, a violent man’s hopeless path to redemption.

It’s a solid-if-far-fetched B-picture peppered with excellent supporting players — Paz Vega and Shannyn Sossamon as “love interests,” Neal McDonaugh, Tommy Flanagan and Ron Perlman as heavies, with Tim Roth as a lawyer on the shady side of the street.

“Do me a favor and LOSE my f—–g number!”

Yazpik plays Neto Nientes, a hardened criminal released from prison in Texas when a cop says he put him there by faking evidence. But the assassin they call “The Jesuit” probably deserved to be inside anyway. He got his nickname thanks to his pitiless passion for torture.

The film shortchanges Jesuit history even if Schrader does not.

Neto has but one request. “I only want to see my son.” But old associates aren’t likely to leave him be, and his ex (Vega) may relent and succumb to his sexual charms, when we’ve seen the near-crucifixion he put her through pre-prison. But the goons of the Texas state police aren’t going to be as forgiving.

We have only to hear him say “I’m leaving tomorrow” to know the ambush — ambushes — are coming tonight. He stabs, snaps and shoots his way out of trouble, but the ex’s new mobster-lover (McDonough) nabs his kid (Keidrich Sellat). Neto must battle his way across the Texas borderlands, hunting for that kid, killing everybody who gets in his way.

As we know who’s in the cast, we have to figure we’re spending 85 “Saints” minutes waiting for Mr. Badass– Perlman — to show up.

Yazpik establishes his badass bonafides early enough. But Neto’s many impossibly narrow “escapes” and brutal retribution wears on a body — his and ours. The action beats hit hard. But the star is more “efficient” than compelling, an effective heavy who doesn’t quite convince us he’s leading man material.

Sossamon (TV’s “Sleepy Hollow” and “Wayward Pines”) brings a little sassy, drawling pluck the under-estimated stripper/bartender hired to help our anti-hero get close to his prey. Flanagan has a single scene as a gun dealer/intermediary Neto must get by and shop with (guns guns guns), and there are actors listed on the IMDb credits that I didn’t see in the finished film, which is seven minutes shorter than the running time listed there.

As C-movies aiming for B go, “Saints” is watchable if utterly perfunctory in between the fights. It may have “Schrader” on the credits, but there’s not enough of The Master’s Touch here to elevate the material, the leading man or the movie to where it wants to be.

Rating: R for strong and disturbing violence, language throughout, sexual content, nudity and some drug use

Cast: José María Yazpik, Paz Vega, Shannyn Sossamon, Neal McDonough, Tommy Flanagan, Karla Souza, Keidrich Sellat, Tim Roth and Ron Perlman.

Credits: Directed by Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, scripted by Paul Schrader. A Saban Films release.

Running time: 1:39

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Preview: Baz Luhrmann’s EPIC length new “ELVIS” trailer

TCB, ya’ll. Mere weeks away.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Preview: Tom Cruise, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”

Hayley Atwell, Vanessa Kirby, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Czerny and the whole IMF, back for their finale.

Well, the first half of that finale anyway.

Epic stunts, big chases.

Big screen. Big time. July of 2023 seems a long time to wait.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Netflixable? Turkish veterans take a troubling road trip — “Godspeed (Yoluc Acik Olsun)”

That uneasy feeling that the dark, downbeat Turkish road picture “Godspeed” might be dipping into propaganda every now and again are borne out by the film’s closing credits, referring to dead Turkish troops fighting Turkish (and Syrian and Iraqi) Kurds as “martyrs.”

So whatever else “Godspeed (Yolun Açik Olsun)” has going on, there’s an Erdogan government line that’s being parroted, at least as far as the film’s combat-veterans subtext is concerned. And Turks will have to grit their teeth over non-Turkish viewers refusing to swallow their BS. We know Turkey’s record of violence against civilians and failing to admit atrocities.

So take that element of the movie with a “Well, that’s their (official) view of things” grain of salt.

Mehmet Ada Öztekin’s film of a Hakan Evrensel novel is a slow but engrossing character study on wheels, a story of post-traumatic stress dealt with on one final mission, a road trip. It’s a tale too concerned with keeping a secret that’s not a secret at all, and condoning behavior that has might warrant a police “all points bulletin” elsewhere. But it’s well-acted and quite watchable.

We meet Capt. Salih (Engin Akyürek, good) and his trusted lieutenant Kerim (Tolga Saritas, sharp) as they’re ransacking the captain’s house looking for cash. His wife Duygo (Belfu Benian) stashed it somewhere. So as soon as Salih finishes shining his shoe, he hunts until he finds a roll of bills, and they’re off.

He’s taking his personally-restored 1974 Mercedes 220 cross country to a wedding.

But the shoe he shined was on the foot of his prosthetic leg. He lost the real one to a landmine. The cash isn’t all he grabbed. He also picked up his army pistol. The car, which he restored, was the one that his parents died in. The wedding they’re attending is one Salih is hellbent on preventing.

And the reason he’s in something of a rush? He busted out of a hospital where he was in protective police custody, “under investigation.” Salih’s wife knows and she’s frantic. Her husband’s snapped.

“Godspeed” follows the grimly-focused Salih and much more laid back Kerim on a trek through mountains and arid plains, on their way to the coastal town where the wedding is scheduled. Salih is just now coming to grips with his lost limb.

“I won’t be able to play six-a-side soccer any more,” he gripes (in Turkish, or dubbed into English).

“Do you even HAVE five friends?”

We see flashbacks of the pre-combat Kerim’s life, and snippets of their combat duty — carrying out patrols, dodging friendly fire and hunting for snipers.

And we follow their post-combat odyssey, where Salih deals with intrusive “lost leg” questions from a mechanic, steals a partridge slated to be dinner from a rural shopkeeper and waves his pistol at hunters, waiters, all sorts of folks.

His wife Duygo’s search for help from the police earns a “Nobody will look” shrug from them.

This isn’t going to end well, we figure. Well, unless the picture turns more melodramatic than it already is.

“Godspeed” could do with a lot more banter between the army buddies and a lighter touch, here and there. Salih’s more human impulses — helping stranded motorists who can’t let themselves be searched at any police checkpoint, stealing that partridge — are overwhelmed by his grimly seething sense of purpose.

We quickly guess what that is, and we get it. He’s got no time for nonsense. But the whole structure of this and most any road picture has “quixotic” and “misadventure” built into it. Öztekin spends his generous allotment of screen time playing up the cynicism, reinforcing (and subtly criticizing) the acknowledged “duty” young men have to do their army service, the injustice of welfare-for-some, but not the one-legged mechanic who was never offered a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg.

The film has polish and just enough pace in between pauses for “episodes” along the way, as well as flashbacks that fill in a story we already figured out back in the first act.

But Salih’s recognizably crazy and dangerous from start to finish, and that deadens the story’s impact. We should get glimpses that he’s redeemable, bigger doses of his humanity. All we get instead are plenty of suggestions that he’s made mistakes and that he’s made up his mind, and that we should take his point and agree with it, in lock-step.

There’s bitterness and grief and guilt in ample supply. “Martyred” or not, shouldn’t we get more scenes that allow us to take a liking to this armed and dangerous headcase?

Rating: TV-MA, violence, smoking, profanity

Cast: Engin Akyürek, Tolga Saritas, Belfu Benian and
Oyku Naz Altay

Credits: Scripted and directed by Mehmet Ada Öztekin, based on a novel by
Hakan Evrensel. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:59

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

So, what’s going on with Peter Pan’s presence in “Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers?”

It’s been all over Twitter this weekend, trending just below the latest from the pasty-faced Apartheid perv and “DOWN go the Celtics!”

Why was Peter Pan turned into the villain of “Chip’n’Dale’s Rescue Rangers?” He’s depicted as an embittered one-time child actor who “got old,” when of course, Peter Pan is “the boy who wouldn’t grow up.” Peter — voiced by comic villain par excellence Will Arnett — is having his revenge on the system (aka Disney) by kidnapping and enslaving (or worse) cartoon characters in a movie the fans aren’t shy about referring to as both a “Rangers” “reboot” and/or a “sequel to ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'”

Were screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand putting one by The Mouse by making a deep-dive dig at Disney’s treatment of the voice of the original Peter Pan, Bobby Driscoll? As those deep into Disneyana know, Unsentimental Uncle Walt disposed of Driscoll, who drifted into drugs and died at 31, one of the more sad and infamous “former child star” stories in Hollywood history.

Gregor and Mand had to know, right? As online fans, who by and large endorsed the film, debate minutia like the decision to show which biologically-incompatible cartoon characters are shown to have produced offspring (“They had SEX!”), and obsess over the scores upon scores of non-Disney characters to make appearances (without being given a single funny thing to do, as I noted in my review), they’re also asking that question.

Maybe they didn’t. When I covered all things Disney — which meant reading and reviewing every new Disney biography or “tell all” to come out of that World — for the Orlando newspaper, I recall running across the Driscoll story. Uncle Walt was only sentimental about his “Nine Old Men,” the animators who crossed a picket line and helped him keep the studio running during labor strife at the House that Mickey Built in the 1940s.

Everybody else was disposable, used and tossed aside. Some of these people sued as Walt’s heirs and their company exploited their work further as TV and then the video revolution gave new value to that back catalog.

So Driscoll’s story is sad but typical, and maybe it’s a bit tasteless to do that to poor Peter in a movie, but it is what it is. Driscoll never came to my mind while watching “Rescue Rangers,” maybe Mand and Gregor forgot about him, too. And as “Peter Pan Syndrome” and the like have entered common currency, it’s possible the writers didn’t know or recall this story. Expecting today’s generation of Disney execs to know anything about the operation pre Pixar is laughable.

Like me and anybody who didn’t grow up with the 1990s TV series, that would have slipped right by them.

My guess is that the bigger jab is at fans — now in their 30s or older — still clinging to entertainment from their childhood, maintaining a stake in something that was never meant to be all that sophisticated. The “Darkwing Duck/Animaniacs” generation should be able to take a joke, and judging from the fan reaction to the film, they can.

I still say the bigger crime is casting all these characters and doing little or nothing funny with them, putting comic John Mulaney in a co-starring role and hanging him out to dry.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Classic Film Review: “In & Out” turns 25, old enough to be a “classic”

Has it really been 25 years since “In & Out” came, uh, “out?”

Kevin Kline won an Oscar for other work, but hell’s bells, he was never funnier than in this Paul Rudnick farce.

Debbie Reynolds playing his Mom, Joan Cusack melting down at the wedding that never was to be, conservative icon and future reverse mortgage hustler Tom Selleck normalizing gay life for a shocked, reactionary fanbase?

By the way, Selleck? The funniest he would ever be, right here in this little compact 90 minute romp that didn’t so much change America as reflect a change.

Twenty-five years in automotive and boat terms means you get a “classic” or “antique” license plate or registration. Guess what? “In & Out” is a classic, in every variation of the word.

Watching it now, it feels quaint — a time capsule of the late ’90s, its prejudices, stereotypes and worth-lampooning gay cliches. But what makes it a classic is the fact that it still plays. It’s still hilarious, and at times, just joyous to sit through.

I remember gathering with my fellow critics for a lower East Side, NY screening of the movie on the weekend it was previewed and junketed (cast gathered at a tony NYC hotel for interviews with the press). A mostly-gay and defiantly New York audience — plus critics from “the provinces” — roared the roof off at screenwriter and Premiere Magazine humor columnist Paul Rudnick’s every-gay-stereotype jabbing script, at Kline and Selleck and Reynolds doing the droll “Honey, I knew” mom thing and Cusack as the would-be bride and last to know and Ernie Sabella (Pumba in the original animated “Lion King”) starting a brawl with “Streisand is OVERrated.”

Oh. My. God.

Yes, it was a more innocent time, of show tunes jokes and “real men don’t dance” jabs and “Well, if you dress well and have good manners and a genteel sensibility and love show tunes you must be gay” messaging you could never get away with today. Never ever. Ever.

The story was inspired by Tom Hanks’ “Philadelphia” Oscar speech, “outing” his beloved acting teacher. Here, the “outer” is gauche and dopey but well-meaning former student Cameron, played with unironic perfection by Matt Dillon.

Kline is Howard Brackett, the small town drama teacher — about to marry — who sees this on TV (with his fiance) and kind of loses his mind.

Cusack plays the long-patient fiance, Bob Newhart the not-all-that-tolerant school principal.

Selleck rolls into town as a smug, smirking big-city-sophisticate/TV reporter who milks this story for all that it’s worth, perhaps with “an agenda” all his own. Howard sees through him.

 “Here, I’ll give you your headline! Howard Brackett is a big homo-queer-Mary-sissy man. He just came out at his big church wedding. Martha Stewart is furious!

Sage, down-to-Earth character actor Wilford Brimley’s presence, playing the loving father of the outed gay Howard, speaks volumes about where we were as a country in 1997. It was time for a mainstream comedy to run with this, time for America to accept the obvious.

Needless to say, all heck breaks out in the film at this disruption — Howard protesting too much, the town recoiling and pondering and then kind of shrugging its shoulders in a way that brings tears to this day.

And damned if that Frank Oz doesn’t channel the “screwball” masters of the past as slapstick, silly and social commentary all boil over in a bubbly farce that only lets up for us to take a breath. “In & Out” rarely wastes a minute of screen time, and in one last “on-the-nose” touch gives The Village People the last word in the last scene.

Damn.

Twenty five years! Somebody should throw a party. Not in Florida, where I live, of course. Il Duce’s d-bag descendant would stamp his little feet in fascist “Don’t say GAY” fury.

“What are we all so afraid of?” would have him bursting another vein. Or into tears, the big silly.

For the rest of us, this now-officially-a-classic film is a reminder and a question reopened for America to answer.

Do we really want to go back to a time before “In & Out?” Will we let the most ignorant, backward and bigoted among us ordain it?

Rating: PG-13, profanity, adult subject matter

Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Debbie Reynolds, Tom Selleck, Bob Newhart, Matt Dillon, Ernie Sabella and Wilford Brimley.

Credits: Directed by Frank Oz, scripted by Paul Rudnick. A Paramount release on Amazon, virtually any streaming service you can name

Running time: 1:30

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Preview: Quirky? That’s the “I built a robot” comedy “Brian and Charles”

British? Check. Welsh and overcast? Check and check again.

Twee? Oh my yes.

June 17 Focus Features starts to roll this one out.

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Documentary Review: A Famous Cook Responds to Natural Disasters — “We Feed People”

The closing image of “We Feed People, Ron Howard’s uplifting documentary about Chef José Andrés and the righteous work he and the non-governmental-organization charity he helped found, World Central Kitchen, is a kicker, one of documentary cinema’s great story-in-a-single-shot punchlines.

The vehicle the Spanish born D.C. restaurateur is driving and talking about his work in — on this occasion, getting food to people locked-down by COVID — sputters and quits.

“Oh s–t!” the gregarious Andrés bellows. “We ran out of gas!

Driving on “e” for “four hours” will do that, he admits as he lights up a cigar and decides what to do next. He’s so into the work he’s pioneered, showing up in disaster zones and feeding the masses, “making sure food is an agent of change,” talking up the WCK, that he forgot to gas up.

“Chefs operate in chaos” his fellow WCK team members have warned us. We’ve seen enough Gordon Ramsay and “Iron Chef” TV shows to know that already. Here. an empty gas tank is just another chaotic obstacle to overcome.

Starting 12 years ago with the Haitian earthquake, the beloved celebrity chef turned his intense focus on hunger, not just haute cuisine. He kept his charity’s organizing principle simple.

“People are hungry” in these extreme situations. “You cook. You feed them.”

“We Feed People” follows Andrés and his staff through their steep-learning curve. They showed up in Haiti with no plan, just a little cash and a notion of what was required to get a lot of people fed, and quickly. Andrés laughs at his Michelin star ego being put in check when the smiling Haitian women helping him cook let him know that he was fancy-chef’s-hat overthinking his treatment of local ingredients. WCK had to master cooking “what the locals would love to eat” in every new situation.

So maybe that Catalan sailor’s stew will work here, or maybe beans pureed the Haitian way would better comfort the shellshocked survivors.

He maxed out his credit cards buying food, “worrying about paying for it (through donations) later,” in battling the “botched response” to the Puerto Rican crisis brought on by Hurricane Maria. But there, he and his team figured out how to network chef-to-local-chef, cook-to-cook, to find big kitchens still operational and food trucks that could be brought in to cook the ingredients they helped him source all over the ravaged island.

At a volcano in Guatemala, another hurricane in the Bahamas, dealing with COVID shortages at Navajo Indian reservations and helping to feed migrant farm workers during the pandemic, we see WCK team members pitching in with, and asking for or giving assistance to the Red Cross (“the big brother in natural disaster relief,” Andrés calls them, not in an Orwellian way), the Salvation Army and the Federal Emergency Managements Agency (FEMA).

FEMA officials under the disgraced former president Trump tried to label Andrés a “hustler” working for profit there, which gets his back up. No, he’s not taking a penny.

He loses his temper, now and again, at disorganization or team members who ignore the lessons of earlier disasters and might, he fears, start a food riot.

Mostly though, Andrés bubbles over with enthusiasm, leading like a cheerleader with his sleeves rolled-up, supervising the cooking himself.

“You want a plate?” he asks small boys near one disaster kitchen site. “Come on. I cook it. It’s good!”

He ‘s just eschews the name “chef,” although everybody on his team can sound like a loyal kitchen crew, with their “Yes, chef” responses to his orders. To strangers he’s working with or serving who don’t recognize the garrulous man with a film crew following him, he’s just José

“I love the word ‘cook,‘” he says. In Spanish, “‘cocinero’ is a very romantic image — on the stove, with the fire.”

And for all the widening efforts of WCK — working towards “empowering local” businesses and cooks with better access to food, all the inspiration he took from mentor Robert Eggers, who ran the D.C. soup kitchen where Andrés, all the demands of family and celebrity and “business,” that’s the picture that emerges of the only real rival to Dolly Parton among America’s most righteous and famous.

He’s a cook. You’re hungry? Let’s see what we can whip up for you — 500,000 of you a day, in Puerto Rico at one point.

But maybe leave somebody else in charge of gassing up.

Rating: some profanity

Cast: José Andrés, Maisie Wilhelm, Nate Mook, Joe Biden, many others

Credits: Directed by Ron Howard. A National Geographic release (May 27 on Disney+, NatGeo.com)

Running time: 1:29

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment