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‘Infinite’ Review

For a blockbuster film that was shot with the intent of being released into theaters, this is one of the most straight-to-streaming-looking films I’ve ever seen.

“Infinite” stars Mark Wahlberg as a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, only to realize he is actually seeing memories of his past lives and must join a secret organization in order to stop a madman from destroying the world. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Toby Jones, and Dylan O’Brien also star while Antoine Fuqua directs.

Like many 2020 films, “Infinite” was set to be released in theaters but was delayed, only to be moved streaming. While Paramount sold off several of its films, including “Trial of the Chicago 7” to Netflix, they held onto “Infinite,” opting to make it the first exclusive Paramount+ feature film (the service released “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” in February, but that received theater and Netflix releases elsewhere). I’m not sure why the studio felt like “Infinite” was the film that needed to be held onto and be the official hat tossed into the streaming ring, but it is a nonsensical, boring mess of a film that will be seen by few and remembered by even less.

Mark Wahlberg has always been a hit-and-miss actor in both performances and his choice of vehicles, with great work in the likes of “Boogie Nights” and “The Departed” to unwatchable bombs like “Mile 22” and the “Transformers” sequels. This falls into the latter category, with Wahlberg sleepwalking through his role. He offers narration here and there throughout, and by the end it sounds like he is reading his lines as part of a hostage video.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is another talented actor who seems to almost exclusively choose projects far below what he deserves (“2012,” “Locked Down,” “The Secret in Their Eyes”) and here he is equally as bad as Wahlberg, but at least he has the dignity to have fun with his role. Ejiofor is so over-the-top as the film’s bad guy, chewing up every scene he is in, that at least he made an effort to deserve his paycheck. The rest of the cast ranges from bland to cringe, with Jason Mantzoukas doing his normal crazy annoying guy schtick from a dozen other things. Outside Wahlberg, I couldn’t tell you a single character’s name if you put a gun to my head.

Antoine Fuqua is a talented filmmaker, he has made genuine good films (“Training Day”) and fun action flicks (“Shooter” and “Olympus Has Fallen”), so to see a PG-13 film like this so devoid of style or entertainment is actually baffling. The action set pieces are cut together so haphazardly that it is impossible to tell what is going on, and there was only one moment that I chuckled because of a clever grenade kill.

By far the worst aspect of the film, however, is the screenplay. It is the type of script that has bad guys are evil for the sake of being evil, with no attempts to justify or rationalize their actions like Thanos or Killmonger. New gadgets and rules get introduced every other scene, and for a film not based on a book series with huge established lore there are surface-level attempts of world-building that are quickly abandoned.

“Infinite” has all the visual appeal of a straight-to-DVD movie, with the razor-sharp writing of a Hallmark film. It truly is unbelievable that a film with this many talented people involved (including two Academy Award-nominated actors and a proven director) is not only just bad, but extraordinarily boring. If we really are going to move our blockbuster films out of theaters and onto streaming services (God forbid), we deserve a helluva lot better than whatever this film was trying to be.

Critics Rating: 3/10

I’m Surprised How Much I Didn’t Mind ‘The Equalizer 2’

It’s amazing that even in these “throwaway” roles, Denzel Washington still manages to show why he is one of the greatest actors the world has ever known.

“The Equalizer 2” is the sequel to the 2014 film, which was in-turn based off the 1980s TV series of the same name. Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall, a retired CIA agent who now works as a Lyft driver while helping out the defenseless people. When one of his oldest friends (Melissa Leo) is killed, McCall sets out on a path of revenge. Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders and Bill Pullman as Antoine Fuqua returns to direct.

I really did not enjoy the first “Equalizer” film. I thought it was too self-serious, had horrible pacing and was visually too dark and just ugly to look at. So needless to say I was not looking forward to this needless sequel (the first of Washington’s esteemed career) with any sort of anticipation; and maybe those low expectations had something to do with me enjoying this film a surprising amount.

Fresh off years with back-to-back Best Actor nominations for “Fences” and [sighhh] “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” it is more than fair/expected that Denzel would do a paycheck movie where he doesn’t have to break as much of a sweat. That being said, he doesn’t mail in his performance here and actually is given a surprising amount of emotional range to play with. From grieving the loss of his friend to those classic Denzel-isms like that devil smile or low-grumble voice, this may not be an Oscar-caliber role or performance but Denzel makes sure moviegoers will get their money’s worth of him.

There are a handful of sideplots, including McCall being a mentor to a young man in his apartment complex (Ashton Sanders, best known for “Moonlight”). Denzel, who in real life has spoken up that it is a man’s job to be in the home and be a part of his child’s life, acts as the father figure to Sanders and while the plotline itself is only there to be filler en route to a last minute climatic scene, it holds a nice message at its core.

And I suppose that is one of the film’s issues, is that for the first half there are a lot of tiny “missions” that McCall has to do and none of them really seem important or even get a resolution until the very end of the epilogue. One of them is to show McCall’s mentor side, the other is really just an excuse for the filmmakers to get a manipulative (albeit admittedly effective) heartstring tug, and they really just seem useless in the grander scheme of things. The actual plot, the one sold in the trailers and why people would pay to see an “Equalizer” film, is a little more straightforward than the first film and I enjoyed it, although I have a soft spot for CIA coverups.

The action is much more clean-cut than the first film, too. Whereas that climax took place in a dark Home Depot, this one is set in a seaside town in the middle of a hurricane (where I imagine much of the film’s $62 million budget went). There are some cool kills and moments of tension and I really do think that all but the most demanding junkies will enjoy it.

“The Equalizer 2” is great escapism even if it won’t be memorable. I personally found it to be an improvement on the first installment and continue to appreciate getting to see a legend like Denzel Washington on the big screen every chance I get. There is a small lull in the middle of the film (basically when the sideplots end and the main one comes into focus) but aside from that I was never bored, and think that you’ll find enjoyment in it, as well.

Critic’s Grade: B-

Sony Pictures

‘Southpaw’ Packs Too Weak a Punch

imageJake Gyllenhaal has quickly become one of Hollywood’s next great actors, mixing Christian Bale’s rapid weight change with Leonardo DiCaprio’s ability to get overlooked by major award circuits.

After losing 20 pounds to play the psychotic Lou in “Nightcrawler,” Gyllenhaal bulks up to play boxer Billy Hope (subtle) in “Southpaw”. After tragedy strikes, Hope is separated from his daughter and must put his life back together, and he turns to an aging trainer (Forest Whitaker) to get him back in the ring. Antoine Fuqua directs.

Just as he has done in his recent films like “Prisoners” and the aforementioned “Nightcrawler,” Gyllenhaal again dominates the screen with his method-acting presence. It may not be his strongest performance, and it almost certainly won’t win him any awards, but his Billy Hope is a heart-wrenching, torn character that Gyllenhaal dives into. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the movie doesn’t pack the same punch (boxing puns).

Most of the film is done so heavy-handed and in such workmanlike style that it doesn’t add anything new or fresh to the genre. Director Fuqua (known best recently for action films “Olympus Has Fallen” and “The Equalizer”) continues to go for style over substance in his films. In “Southpaw,” he never misses a chance to shove a visual metaphor down the audience’s throat, such as Gyllenhaal standing at the bottom of a dark staircase looking up (get it? Because he’s got to climb his way back up out of the darkness to the top!). Fuqua also feels the need to put the camera close to the actors, in an effort to force us to feel their pain (this is a pretty bleak film), instead of letting the actors do what they’re paid to do and convey the emotions naturally.

Speaking of said actors, every one of them brings their A-game; “Southpaw” would be nothing without its leading cast of Gyllenhaal, Whitaker and Rachel McAdams. Gyllenhaal and Whitaker have believable albeit not too moving chemistry as boxer-and-trainer, and McAdams crushes every scene she is in as Billy’s wife. The daughter in the film (Oona Laurence) gives one of the better performances by a kid actor that I’ve seen in a while, having to portray a young girl who has lost contact with her father and is confused and angry with the world around her.

Unfortunately, everything comes back to the standard narrative in “Southpaw.” The cliché story of redemption can be expected, but on numerous occasions plot points are dropped or overcome far too easily. For example, Forest Whitaker’s character says he doesn’t drink, yet a few scenes later we see him drunk in a bar, with the only excuse being, “what, a guy can’t pick up a new habit?” There is also a shooting in the film, and in several instances the film mentions how they still don’t have a suspect. Spoiler alert: that case is never brought to resolution, it kind of just fades away. Which is lazy for the plot, but also frustrating because you are genuinely interested in who pulled the trigger, as it isn’t clear in the scene.

For those who demand very basic storytelling and just want to see tales of redemption of broken men, “Southpaw” may work. But I found that the great acting and admittedly moving finale were not enough to overcome the film’s familiarities and slack storytelling, which is a disappointment because Gyllenhaal deserves better than to be stuck in an average film. All these actors deserve better (well, except maybe 50 Cent).

Critics Rating: 5/10



‘The Equalizer’ Big on Blood, Bores

The_Equalizer_poster            If you thought Liam Neeson was the only middle aged action star in Hollywood capable of being typecast, think again.

Denzel Washington stars in “The Equalizer”, a film that reunites Washington with his “Training Day” director, Antoine Fuqua. Washington plays a retired intelligence officer who now works at a home improvement store. One day he gets mixed up with the Russian mob while protecting a young call girl, and these Russians must have never seen a Denzel movie before because he sets on a violent path of vengeance. Chloë Grace Moretz and Marton Csokas also star.

Nearing 60 years old and two Oscars in hand, Denzel Washington is at the point in his career that he can pretty much chose whatever role he wants. And as of late, those roles are all men with mysterious pasts and a particular set of skills, such as his parts in “Safe House” and “2 Guns”. “The Equalizer” continues the trend of Denzel killing it in the starring role, but the film itself failing to match his energy.

“The Equalizer” is an over-the-top action film, which acts as more of a highlight reel of cool kills with forced dialogue and backstories used as filler space than a genuine film. Every character not played by Denzel Washington in this film has no true development. Even the girl that the film supposedly revolves around, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, isn’t a true character; she’s just a plot device.

When you’re making an action film, obviously the script isn’t immensely important, but you still can’t be lazy. The script for “Equalizer” involves a man coming out of secret service retirement to get revenge (you know, like “Taken”) in order to face off against the Russian mob (“Training Day”) and features a big finale with elaborate traps inside a house of horrors (“Home Alone”).

The action in the film is competently shot by Fuqua, including a few slowed down “observation shots”, ala “Sherlock Holmes” but the scenes often draw on for too long. I’m all for extended shootouts or seeing Denzel Washington kill a man with a corkscrew, but don’t make it overstay its welcome.

Oh, that’s another thing about this movie, the runtime. It is 131 minutes long (emphasis on “long”). That’s over two hours, and I wager that only 20 of those minutes involve Denzel killing someone, which is what you pay to see. That means about 16% of the film is what we want to see, the rest of the time is spent learning about Washington’s past (which is never fully explained) and meeting characters who are not crucial to the plot, or worse yet, are only there to satisfy a plot point way down the road.

I cannot say “The Equalizer” is a horrible film, because it is not. There are a handful of things it gets right, especially the tension and unease at the start of the film when you know Washington is more than this mild-mannered store employee that he is leading on to be. But there is just so much more I wanted out of this film, and even Denzel Washington’s charming smile and dedicated performance couldn’t win me over. In the end, “The Equalizer” is twice as long and half as fun as it should have been.

Critics Rating: 5/10