Weekend Movies: Mixed reviews for “Christopher Robin,” the Curious Calamity of Kate McKinnon

robin3Every movie month of the year is its own particular brand of battleground, but August is, like January, a special case. It’s where movies that couldn’t compete against an “Incredibles 2,” “Mission: Impossible” “Girls’ Trip” or “Avengers LCXVI” traditionally are trotted out.

Genre pics, generally, comedies with less at risk, dramas and more sensitive fare that might not be “awards season” worthy, but could make some money in contrast to the big action, big laughs, big budget popcorn fare that dominates the multiplex from late April to Labor Day shows up in August.

Yes, “Signs” opened in August and blew up, and “Guardians.” They were exceptions to the rule and defied lower expectations. “The Constant Gardener” is the one Oscar winner in recent memory that stood out from the crowd and made its “prestige picture” mark long before awards were handed out.

Thus, Disney’s “Christopher Robin,” which had a healthy budget (nobody seems to know what that is, I’d guess in the $80-100 million range), the director of “World War Z” and Ewan McGregor and the Disney brand and the Winnie the Pooh name recognition going for it.

It would have stood out, but it most certainly would have gotten lost in the summer shuffle in May, June or July

Disney knew something else about it, which is why they had a late night Thursday embargo on reviews. It’s not very good, a stumbling, “dispiriting” effort build upon a dubious effect (furry toy animals who talk their way into the real world of Post-War Britain) that is a let down. 

But opening it on a weak weekend in August, with bad reviews suppressed, they might get $29 million out of it. 

That won’t surpass the second weekend of “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” but it would go a long ways toward covering the costly effects that drive the Pooh picture, even if the too-furry, beady-eyed (literally) bear is a bit of a bother as entertainment.

Then there’s “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” a formulaic two-star comedy that’s a distaff variation on the Buddy Picture. It’s seriously lame and would have bombed on any other weekend. With Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis as draws, it could hit $15 million.

I caught it at a packed house at my Favorite Regal Cinema Thursday night — packed. But the biggest laughs came from the front row, where people were apparently must have been reading funny texts on their phones. Something like that.

The theater was so quiet and the movie so dull that my mind wandered off into considering the Curious Case of Kate McKinnon. She is brilliant on “Saturday Night Live,” great timing, almost underplaying some roles (Hilary C.) and over-the-top in many others (Notorious RBG).

But on the big screen, she always goes Big. Too Big. Trying Too Hard Big. Desperately POUNDING for laughs. Her compact supporting performance — a bit part really — in “Masterminds” was the only Kate turn that I thought worked, small, underplayed, daft and a quite specific.

spy3In starring roles, she’s all over the place, trying something different, day to day, scene to scene. She is disastrously bad in “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” straining to add laughs to a leaden Mila Kunis turn (she, too, is always funnier in support).

Think of all the players who were great at sketch comedy on the small screen — Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, even Joe Piscopo. They could never dial it down and make their personas work on the big screen, or they had too many personas to choose from and couldn’t settle on an image they wanted to build characters out of.

McKinnon is starting to look like that’s where she’s going to land. Watch Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy’s big screen debuts. They instinctively grasped dialing down their small screen, play to the back row “live audience” impulses and went for understated droll or cool.

Some of it is a matter of timing. Will Ferrell was the last of the “Broad Character/High Concept” comedy stars to come out of that cast. McKinnon might have thrived a dozen years earlier.

McKinnon will continue to get the Kristen Wiig-sized offers. She ought to be looking for Bill Hader ones, films that don’t force her to tote the comic load, to be as broad. Hader never made a “Stefan” movie, Wiig hasn’t turned “The Target Lady” into a film.

McKinnon goes way-out wacky every time out.

Hell, if Jason Sudeikis could figure this out, McKinnon should be able to as well.

Look at the Rotten Tomatoes (in particular) reviews of “The Spy Who Dumped Me.” The endorsements of this dog — widely panned overall — are overwhelmingly male, as indeed the entire tomatometer is. With the recent “research” that claimed male critics are giving a harder time to female centered projects, and movies with female directors, I was looking for some confirmation of that in the reviews of this one 

Most of the endorsements were from guys. It’s called “working the refs.” Make a claim of bias, those accused bend over backwards when the next test case comes up that they fear might be measured. Conservative media critics in the conservative media have played that game for decades. The majority of female critics dumped on “Dumped,” recognizing the film for what it is — poorly-scripted, a poor pairing of stars, a misuse of McKinnon’s talents. The majority of male critics did, too. Save for a few weak-kneed Major Media Outlet folks afraid for their jobs over “sexism” labels.

Everybody was in utter agreement over “The Darkest Minds.” This appears to be based on fiction that predates the cut-and-paste piffle of YA books and movies such as “Maze Runner” and “Divergent,” built to be movie franchises in imitation of “The Hunger Games.”

That’s doesn’t keep it from being one of those awful orphans like “The Seeker,” “The Host,” etc., formulaic crap for an audience that hasn’t experienced a decade of these movies and thus doesn’t realize how bored it should be.

The marvelous “Eighth Grade” goes into wider release today, too. Find it. See it.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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