Tag Archives: review

‘Blacklight’ Review

For a guy who announced he was going to retire from action movies, Liam Neeson sure does make a lot of action movies.

“Blacklight” stars Neeson as an off-the-books FBI fixer who gets caught up in a government conspiracy. Mark Williams directs while Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, and Aidan Quinn also star.

Liam Neeson seemingly puts out at least two movies a year, with this being his fifth release of the pandemic alone. “Blacklight” is just another standard shooter by Neeson and his long-time producer (and two-time director) Mark Williams, and despite a few nuggets of intrigue it will be forgotten as quickly as the last half-dozen Neeson vehicles.

To give Neeson credit, he doesn’t mail these roles in. Yes, every character he plays is the same (retired government guy who wasn’t the best dad gets a chance to redeem his soul), but he could easily sleepwalk through the motions. He tries his best to give audiences a committed-enough performance, and that is at the very least commendable.

It’s just a shame the rest of the film is just so bland. The plot plays out like “Shooter” and “All the President’s Men” had a baby and that child hit the snooze button; there isn’t a single surprise to be found here. It wants to be a conspiracy thriller, but takes far too long to get to the thrilling parts (the full extent of the story doesn’t even come into play for the first hour). There is a decent shootout near the end that is entertaining and semi-creative, but the rest of the action sequences are workmanlike at their best, and pretty shotty at their worst.

The film is shot in a very crisp and clean way, with Dutch camera angles to spare, but I don’t think that lends itself to a wannabe gritty action-thriller like this. There is just something about the film that combines the lens flares of a J.J. Abrams production with the stiff staging of a Hallmark movie, and it just makes for a very unengaging watch.

Shot in late-2020, it also tries to add some commentary about the current political landscape, including racist groups of neo-Confederates, “politically correct puppet progressives,” and its very own knockoff AOC. It will come off as pandering to some and annoyingly preaching to others, and by the halfway point these attempts to be relevant have no affect on the plot, begging the question why they were included in the first place.

I enjoy a handful of Liam Neeson’s films, but after the likes of “The Marksman” and “Honest Thief” this continues to trend of being more entertained by the film’s ludicrous moments and production shortcomings than its actual content. “Blacklight” is a movie you’ve seen done before and done better, and while I am happy for any and all content theaters can get right now, I can’t recommend you rush out and see it.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘No Time to Die’ Review

Kind of crazy to think about it, but Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond (2006-2021) lasted than Robert Downey Jr.’s as Iron Man (2008-2019).

“No Time to Die” is the 25th installment in the long-running James Bond franchise, and features Daniel Craig in his fifth and final outing as the titular spy, this time in a race to locate a kidnapped scientist who is working for a mysterious madman with a world-threatening plan. Directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the film features Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Fiennes reprising their roles from previous films, with Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Billy Magnussen, and Ana de Armas joining the cast.

The 007 films have always been hit or miss, with Craig’s “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” ranking among the best of the series and “Quantum of Solace” and “Spectre” usually being included among the worst. “No Time to Die” falls somewhere in the middle, acting as a fitting tribute to Craig’s time as the character and featuring several great action scenes from Fukunaga, but also runs far too long and is yet another installment with a weak villain.

It is hard to believe that people weren’t sold on Daniel Craig as James Bond at the time of his casting back in the mid-2000s, but much like Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck as Batman or Heath Ledger as the Joker he quickly shut doubters up with a gritty portrayal of the character. “No Time to Die” gives Craig a few chances to show Bond’s sympathetic side, as well as some dry humor. If you never warmed up to Craig then this won’t do you over, but the film makes a few nice nods to his decade-and-a-half as Bond.

The supporting cast is mostly very solid, with Lashana Lynch being the “new 007.” She has some fun fight sequences, as does Craig’s “Knives Out” co-star Ana de Armas in a limited role, showing that the franchise isn’t just a boy’s (and Dame Judi Dench) club. Christoph Waltz even gets to make a brief return from his role in “Spectre,” and thanks to some witty writing almost makes you wish we got an entire other film with him as the big baddie. And speaking of…

Rami Malek, who was cast fresh off his Oscar win as Freddie Mercury, is a different story than everyone else. Malek is doing the stoic, clenched jaw look that he has now known for, and his performance is as bland as the backstory his character is given. I really couldn’t tell you his exact motivations for why he wants to kill people, and in a franchise with so many rich bad guys, Craig has really only gotten to go up against one (Javier Bardem).

The action sequences are top-notch, with a few edge-of-your seat gun fights. Fukunaga even manages to get in a single-take stairway shootout that runs for about three minutes, something he loves to put into his projects (not only his famous four-minute one in “True Detective” but 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation”).

The biggest problem with “No Time to Die” (outside Malek) is that when guns aren’t going off, things can teeter on boring. There is a lot of talk about infections, de-population, and targeted groups of people, and for a film that was originally due out in April 2020 and now is released post(-ish) of a global pandemic, it may not be what some folk will deem as “entertainment.” The film runs 163 minutes and in no way justifies that length; if it had been a clean 140 then I think this could have been one of the better Bond films, but it wears out its welcome before a lackluster climax.

The latest 007 film is great news for theaters starving for blockbuster content, but only a ho-hum reward for actual cinemagoers. Sure, there is fun to be had; and the classic Bond cars, gadgets, and music are enough to make you remember why we love the movies. But there is something hollow at the core, and while there may be “No Time to Die” there was certainly time that could’ve been trimmed off this runtime.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Review

You know what they say about the road to Hell…

“Dear Evan Hansen” is based on the 2015 stage musical of the same name, and features Ben Platt reprising his titular role as a socially awkward high school student who finds himself caught up in a lie involving a recently deceased classmate. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Danny Pino, and Colton Ryan also star while Stephen Chbosky directs.

I didn’t know much about this film until recently, not even that it was based off a successful musical (I assumed it had been a YA novel or something, since everything is based off an IP nowadays). There has been some heat on the internet surrounding the casting of 27-year-old Ben Platt (whose father also produced the film) as a high school student, as well as the questionable morality of the film’s plot, and while both of these are valid complaints that are hard to completely ignore while watching “Dear Evan Hansen,” the film makes up for it with some catchy songs and solid performances.

Ben Platt made his theatrical debut as a college student in 2012’s “Pitch Perfect” and here we are a full nine years later and he has regressed into high school. The film tries its best to pass him off as a fresh-faced teen but it is often hard to buy. Sometimes a performance or narrative is so engrossing that it is easy to ignore mid-20-somethings playing high schoolers (Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man” or the entire cast of “Scream”) but here Platt is too distracting. His performance is solid enough, with some scenes of genuine emotion, but his singing is hit or miss (it may be the songwriters’ fault but his octaves just seem too high sometimes) and he has an ugly cry face (which doesn’t help the “looking old” thing).

I enjoyed Nik Dodani’s performance as Platt’s friend, he has a few amusing quips, and Kaitlyn Dever, whom I’ve been a fan of for years, continues to show why she is a rising star with some nice work as the sister of Platt’s deceased classmate. And God bless Amy Adams, even with a middling script like this she is determined to sell it. Playing a grieving mother desperate to latch onto any positive memory of her son, Adams is one of the only consistently genuine things about the film, and while it obviously won’t earn her another Oscar nomination to inevitably lose, it is a solid performance.

The musical was created by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman,” so obviously there are going to be a few banger songs and dance sequences. I particularly liked “Sincerely, Me,” while is pretty comical as well as probably the most toe-tapping of the whole film. Some of the other songs are entertaining, too, but there are some that seem out of place (and a few cringe-worthy “talk-sing” monologues).

People on Twitter have questioned the morality of the film, centering on a character who exaggerates his friendship with a dead student simply to make the parents feel better, and if that offends you then I can’t tell you that you’re wrong. It never stopped me from fully enjoying things as I think it is handled as well as one could possibly expect a premise like this to be handled, but it’s worth noting.

“Dear Evan Hansen” wears its heart on its sleeve and tries to be something a little different in the pretty worn teen drama genre. Not everything sticks and you feel the 136-minute runtime (this could’ve easily ran 100 minutes and been a better, slicker experience), but if you like your movies covered in cheese and built to contrive the tissues, then this is your ticket.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Copshop’ Review

Sometimes all the pieces are there, but a film just doesn’t work for ya…

“Copshop” stars Frank Grillo as a mob fixer who gets locked in a jail alongside the hitman hired to kill him (Gerard Butler), as the pair and a rookie cop (Alexis Louder) must work together to survive an assault on the police station. Joe Carnahan directs a script he co-wrote.

I am a big fan of Frank Grillo, he has a decent B-movie screen presence and has turned in solid supporting roles in films like “Warrior” and “End of Watch,” and while I have no real opinion on Gerard Butler as an actor, I think he has made some decent films, including last year’s surprisingly good “Greenland.” I also have a love-hate relationship with director Joe Carnahan, so on paper this film should have at least in-part worked for me. Spoiler: it didn’t.

This is one of those films that knows exactly what it wants to do, but as commendable as that is, it was just never gelling for me. Outside the main trio characters are completely expendable and have zero true character traits or development, and while deep mythos and deep plots aren’t what you look for in an old-school shoot-em-up, it’s nice to have something to grasp onto as an audience member.

Grillo and Butler aren’t mailing it in, but they’ve both been better. In fact, they spend a majority of the film’s runtime spent locked up in jailcells. The real star of the show is Alexis Louder, who is likely only known for her supporting role in this year’s “The Tomorrow War.” Louder has a nice charisma about her, and while her work her isn’t enough to save the film as a whole, it is a nice calling card for her moving forward.

The action set pieces just never grab you, and a lot of the blood is clearly done in post. Again, the film is clearly going for that 90s/2000s B-movie feel, but it just feels more cheap than it does campy. For being pretty thinly written, the plot is needlessly convoluted (several plot points are introduced only to be abandoned or quickly resolved in the third reel), and this would’ve just worked better as a straight cat-and-mouse game between Grillo and Butler.

“Copshop” isn’t the kind of bad movie that makes you upset, just disappointed that it is never anywhere near as fun as it should be given all it has at its disposal. If you want a brainless time at the movies and have absolutely zero expectations, then sure, maybe toss this one a bone (it moves quick enough, all things considered). But all parties involved have done better work, and there are films out right now that are better uses of your time and money.

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ review

Phase Four of the MCU may not be the best, but so far it is the most consistent.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the 25th entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and stars Simu Liu in the titular role as a young man who is forced to face his past and confront his father, a terrorist who has lived for a thousand years. The cast also includes Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung, while Destin Daniel Cretton directs and co-writes.

After a year without any Marvel products, 2021 has given us more than our fair share with three TV shows and two solo movies, as well as two more films to come (until they inevitably get delayed again). “Black Widow” was a solid entry into the sprawling cinematic universe and while “Shang-Chi” isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, there is enough style and attention to detail to make it stand out.

Simu Liu is a decent leading man, and dropped into the Marvel formula he isn’t asked to do too much. He gives Shang-Chi a nice blend of masculinity and vulnerability, and while at times his delivery can be a bit stoic he does have some nice comedic timing and chemistry with Awkwafina, who is equally charming in her own right (albeit at this point in her career, is playing herself).

I’ve seen some lauding Tony Leung’s performance as Wenu, Shang-Chi’s father and the film’s main antagonist. I thought he was serviceable, certainly not bad, but as with most Marvel baddies I just wasn’t overly interested or threatened by him. Killmonger has better motivations and the Vulture has a cooler design; I can’t imagine many people citing him atop the MCU’s villain list once the dust settles.

The fight sequences in the film are expertly staged, and after this and “Black Widow” it is nice to see the MCU allowing their films to get a bit more violent (we get a little bit of blood and a man gets run over by his own motorcycle). Some of the combat play out more like dances than fights, with the use of gentle motions and soft music, compared to quick cuts and loud orchestras. It’s a nice touch by director Destin Daniel Cretton, and what I came away with thinking about instead of the CGI noise finale that all superhero movies have.

Aside from the visually messy finale, the film also does sag in the middle once they start getting characters into position for the climax. The first 45 minutes of the film are really great, and I appreciated how it felt more like a genuine romcom than a superhero movie. I like Marvel as much as the next guy, but sometimes their quieter, more intimate movies like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” are them at their best. Also, the film attempts to retcon the events of “Iron Man 3” and explain away how Ben Kinglsey’s Mandarin was a fraud and it’s to mixed results; I liked part of what they were going for but then the more I sat on it the more annoyed I got.

“Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings” is a solid entry into the MCU and a pretty fun time at the movies overall. Before my screening started an audience member stood up and said, “attention everyone, I just wanted to let you know there are two post-credits scenes so be sure you stick around for them!” and it just reminded me why I love going to the theater.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Candyman’ Review

Another day, another “updated sequel to a classic horror film that ignores the events of previous sequels.”

“Candyman” is a sequel to the 1992 semi-cult classic of the same name, and like 2018’s “Halloween” omits the events of the other (less well-received) sequels. The film stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as an artist who becomes obsessed with the urban legend of the Candyman, a ghost who kills anyone who says his name into a mirror five time. Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, and Colman Domingo also star while Nia DaCosta directs a script she co-wrote with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld.

I recently saw the original “Candyman” film and enjoyed it. I think it is a nice semi-detective story with good performances by Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, even if the rules and powers surrounding the titular boogeyman are a bit unclear. The 2021 film puts a new coat of paint on the franchise, with some good sound design and camerawork elevating the familiar story.

Jordan Peele is arguably one of the most synonymous names with horror films right now alongside James Wan and M. Night Shyamalan, and while he doesn’t direct here this certainly feels like a spiritual relative to his “Get Out” and “Us.” From the unnerving atmosphere to the social and racial commentary, Peele’s influences on Nia DaCosta’s film are clear. The film has a clean look to it (sometimes a detractor in the genre) but DaCosta uses that almost to trick the audience, similar to how the characters discuss how the gentrification of ghettos is a plot against the poor. Cinematographer John Guleserian implements several clever and amusing camera tricks to give us chills or increase the intrigue of a kill, though DaCosta and her crew do not turn things into torture porn like the “Saw” films.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s stock has skyrocketed in recent years, from starring in “Aquaman” to being a darkhorse Oscar contender in last year’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” He isn’t given too-too much heavy work to do here, but how he conveys his character’s growing disconnect with the real world and those around him, as his mind and body literally fall apart due to the Candyman legend, is effectively done. Colman Domingo, who was very fun in this year’s “Zola,” is creepy but charming in his few scenes, too.

The film’s biggest problems are really those of the original, and that lies with the writing. Side characters aren’t fleshed out too much outside the bare-minimum the narrative requires them to be, and the rules surrounding the Candyman are as jumbled as they were in 1992. Why does he kill some instantly and others over time as the plot needs? Unclear. While the first film’s mystery and confusion about his grab-bag of powers were somewhat bonkers and enjoyable, here I found it somewhat distracting from the enjoyment of the finale.

“Candyman” works well as a long-delayed sequel as well a soft reboot, honoring its source material while also introducing the legend to a new generation of moviegoers. This should play well in packed 8pm showings, and acts as a nice calling card for DaCosta and Abdul-Mateen to be players in the genre moving forward. We have been spoiled by the mini horror renaissance in recent years and I think that while this isn’t a game-changer itself, it is still a scary movie with more on its mind than blood and guts, which is always a welcome treat.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Old’ Review

You know society is officially starting to get back to normal when we get another M. Night Shyamalan joint.

“Old” is the latest twisty-turny thriller from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, and his first since 2019’s “Glass.” It stars Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie, and Alex Wolff as a family who get stranded on a beach with several other tourists, only to find themselves mysteriously aging rapidly.

M. Night Shyamalan has had a pretty spotty career, with three or four films on his record that have been universally accepted as good while also creating some of the most mocked films of the 21st century (“The Last Airbender” and “After Earth” to name two; “The Happening” is its own thing, that horror film is a comedic masterpiece). Here, Shyamalan finds himself somewhere in the middle of good and bad, presenting big ideas with hit-and-miss execution.

With Shyamalan’s films, much like Quetin Tarantino or Michael Bay, you pretty much know what you are going to get; the question is will it be the good version or the bad. Shyamalan has directed some terrific performances over the years (like a young Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” or James McAvoy in “Split”) but he has also overseen some terrible work, like Mark Wahlberg in “The Happening” or the entire cast in “Last Airbender.” Some of the cast is fine here, with Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps turning in serviceable work as a drifting-apart couple.

However Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie, both of whom are among the best young actors working today and have given some great performances in the past, are pretty terrible. You can put part of it on the fact they are 20-year-olds having to pretend to have the mentality of a 10-year-old, but they overact and/or undersell a lot of their dialogue, to the point of sometimes comedic results.

Now that’s not all their fault, as in true Shyamalan fashion the writing in the film is pretty bad. Characters literally introduce themselves to complete strangers with their names and occupation (“my name is Jarin, I am a nurse”) or have a perfect understanding of something completely random that just so happens to come in perfectly handy for an exact situation (“I was on my collegiate swim team!”). It gets to the point of being so eye-rolling that you chuckle, which maybe is part of the point.

The famous M. Night twist is actually solid, if not slightly underdeveloped, and did do enough for me to redeem the film in-part. I can predict that some people will have checked long before they arrive at the big reveal and for those people it may be too little too late, and that is understandable.

The problem with “Old” is that it is best enjoyed in a situation where you and some friends can openly laugh at the sheer lunacy of the events transpiring on-screen, and that is not something that is (at least respectfully) able to happen in a theater. It is dumb and only answers half the questions it raises, but I can’t say I was ever bored watching it. It is impossible to tell if M. Night is trolling audiences and making his movies dumb and ripe for parody on purpose or by happenstance, but maybe at this point in his career it is best to let sleeping dogs lie. So is “Old” worth seeing? I mean no, but also yes.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Pig’ Review

When you make a half-dozen movies every year, eventually one of them has to be good!

“Pig” stars Nicolas Cage as a recluse truffle hunter in the Oregon wilderness that sets out on a mission to recover his prized pig after it is stolen. Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin also star while Michael Sarnoski makes his directorial debut.

There once was a time where Nic Cage’s name meant something, and I don’t just mean because his actual surname is Coppola. He was starring in blockbusters like “The Rock” and “National Treasure” while also getting critical praise in dramas like “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Adaptation.” In recent years, however, Cage has become an internet meme and found himself down a similar path as Bruce Willis and John Travolta, 90s stars who opt to take a quick paycheck in a non-theatrical release no matter the quality. While “Pig” is a low-budget film, it gives Cage a seemingly rare opportunity to remind us how talented he can be, and that he doesn’t need to overact or yell to get his points across.

Overall I am a fan of Nic Cage, I think his vintage days of “The Rock” and “Matchstick Men” had him giving the exact blend of seriousness and tongue-in-cheek needed for his roles. Here, Cage plays a hermit who is perfectly content with his humble shack in the forest. We peel back the layers of Cage’s past as the film progresses so I won’t go into much detail here, but it’s clear that no one forced him into this simpler life, scoffing at cell phones and Bugattis; he chose to not live by society’s standards of “normal.”

The film has an odd, at times hypnotic sense about it, and the pacing is deliberate. Running just 92 minutes the film is certainly at times slow but it’s never boring. It knows what it has to do and who we have to meet, and rookie writer/director Michael Sarnoski doesn’t waste any of our time. 

I went into this film completely cold save for the most basic of of plot summaries and suggest you should too, but if you need the elevator pitch then this is “First Cow” meets “John Wick” (and my friend said it also features a touch of “Ratatouille” thrown in). It’s the kind of film that just gets more bizarre as it goes but you are so entranced by it you don’t mind. Once you reach the final destination, you’re left pondering topics such as loss, regret, and self-worth, certainly more than any film featuring Nicolas Cage as a man searching for a lost pig has any right to make you feel. 

“Pig” is a weird film and I can imagine won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. At times it introduces aspects of this truffle hunting world that get no full explanation or wrap-up, and for some that may be bothersome. But if you like your Cage calm and your stories entrancing, this one brings home the bacon.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Black Widow’ Review

You know what they say, better late than never!

“Black Widow” is the long-awaited (and oft-delayed) solo film for the titular superhero played by Scarlett Johansson, and follows a mission that ends up reuniting her with her family (Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz). O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, and Ray Winstone also star while Cate Shortland directs.

For years fans were asking for a Black Widow solo film, but it took the success of 2017’s “Wonder Woman” and the explosion in MCU popularity to finally have the project greenlit. It marks the final starring role for Scarlett Johansson as the character, who like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans is leaving the franchise after a decade of wearing tights, and is a fittingly smaller-scale Marvel movie that does everything it needs to while still offering some fun new surprises.

Scarlett Johansson has been one of the best parts of the Marvel Universe since her debut as Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” and it’s nice to finally get to see her run the show instead of being a sidekick or part of an ensemble. Here we get a little more intimate look at her as a person instead of an Avenger, with little moments like her quietly driving along while listening to the pop song “Cheap Thrills” by Sia. She continues to be a badass when it counts, but part of what has made Natasha one of the MCU’s most loved characters is her personality, and Johansson keeps that dry wit and warmth.

The star, however, is Florence Pugh, whose star power only continues to grow after having a 1994 Jim Carrey-type year in 2019, coming onto the (mainstream) scene with “Fighting with My Family,” “Midsommar,” and then “Little Women,” the last of which landed her an Academy Award nomination. Here Pugh plays Yelena Belova, Natasha’s younger sister, herself a member of the same assassin-training course, and steals the show. Pugh carries all the emotional scenes of the film, trying to come to terms with the fact her youth was a charade and her life has not been her own, but also has some laugh-out-loud moments (“this would be a cool way to die” she says to herself as an avalanche is approaching). Pugh is set to appear in the Disney+ show “Hawkeye” and will surely be one of the main focuses of the MCU moving forward and I couldn’t be more excited.

Overall, the action in the film is some of the best that we’ve seen in the MCU. Outside maybe the “Captain America” films (namely “Winter Soldier”), this is the most brutal hand-to-hand combat we’ve gotten. You hear bones crunch and the impact of knives slashing, and it really is one of the most enjoyable Marvel films action-wise that we’ve gotten in a long while. The special effects can be a bit wonky (there are several explosions that look right out of a PlayStation 3 cutscene), but they never take you out of the film.

The writing is hit and miss, with the banter between Natasha and Yelena being the amusing Marvel quipping but the dialogue-driven scenes between multiple characters being a tad bit slow. The MCU has also always had a problem with its bad guys and this may be the weakest example yet, with Taskmaster looking cool and being a physical threat, but the motivations and development of the villain organization being a bit lacking.

“Black Widow” is one of the better MCU solo outings, and just like how “Luca” is “lesser” Pixar doesn’t mean the lower-stakes make it bad. This is a very good Marvel film that does everything it needs to do and offers some closure to the Black Widow character while showing the impact she made on the future of the franchise. Johansson and Pugh are great and the fight scenes are incredibly entertaining, and it is just nice to see a feature-length Marvel movie for the first time in two years; it’s almost a microcosm for us all finally getting back to normal.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘In the Heights’ Review

If anything is going to bring back the theater experience, it’s this film.

“In the Heights” is based on the stage play by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and follows a young man (Anthony Ramos) in Washington Heights, New York City as he goes about his life among his community. Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smits also star while Jon M. Chu directs.

Like many a’film, this was due out last year but was delayed until this June due to the pandemic. Because it is a Warner Bros. film it now falls under the “in theaters and streaming on HBO Max” umbrella like “Conjuring 3” and “Mortal Kombat,” but I hope that audiences make their way off the couch and into a theater and experience this colorful and fun, if slightly overlong, slice of summer.

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda became a household name with “Hamilton,” he wrote and starred in “In the Heights,” a musical based in-part on his Latino upbringing in NYC. Miranda produced and has a small role here, but the show now belongs to his “Hamilton” co-star, Anthony Ramos. Ramos has shown up in several supporting roles in the last few years (namely “A Star Is Born” and last fall’s “Honest Thief”) but this is his first true starring role and he makes the best of it. He gets a range of emotions to play with but also emerges into every scene with energy and I can’t wait to see what he does next (rumors have it leading the latest “Transformers” film).

The rest of the cast is solid, too. I really enjoyed Gregory Diaz IV’s witty teenage cousin of Ramos, as well as Jimmy Smits adding some gravitas to his scenes and Olga Merediz, reprising her Tony Award-winning role as Ramos’ abuela, providing the film’s emotional backbone. A few of the other performances and singing can be a bit wonky or over-the-top at points, but no one is flat-out bad and everyone seems to be having fun.

Being a musical, the dance numbers are arguably the most important aspect of the film and for the most part they sore. While the choreography isn’t as detailed or fun as “La La Land” or the songs as catchy or memorable as “Hamilton,” the film manages to capture the spirit of summertime in New York City very well. There are a couple instances of poor CGI or simply too much going on, as well as some poor sound editing (an issue even “La La Land” has in a few spots), but I was tapping my foot on several occasions. Not every song is a bop, but the ones that hit hit in the best ways (“In the Heights” and “96,000,” especially).

My biggest complaint with the film revolves around its editing, which I’ve already touched a bit on. There are several continuity errors between takes (enough that I started to notice and felt compelled to mention here), as well as at least two occasions where the actors’ lip-synching of the songs was blatantly off. The film’s transitions between acts also aren’t very seamless, and while in a stage play you have intermissions and set changes to break the story apart, a film should flow organically. At 143 minutes I started to feel the runtime adding up, and I can think of a few musical numbers or subplots that could have been trimmed out to make this a breezier, more streamlined experience (it is worth noting that my friend I saw this with thought the film flew by, so the pacing may be a personal preference).

“In the Heights” works better in moments than as a cohesive whole, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out, especially in a (respectfully distanced) “packed” theater. Films like this are why we go to the movies and I was lucky enough to see this in IMAX and got to see every drip of sweat on the characters and hear every clank of a Coke bottle. The film will mean more to some people than others (in the same way “Black Panther” did) but there is something here for everyone, so long as you go in with the right expectations.

Critics Rating: 6/10