Tag Archives: STX Films

Second Act – Review

It is some time since Jennifer Lopez headlined a crowd pleasing Hollywood comedy. But you glance at the poster for Second Act and there’s nothing on it that suggests 2019. Indeed, it looks like a film released ten years ago. You might find yourself asking, ‘have I seen this already?’

On the face of it, you have. Back in 1988, Melanie Griffith was sandwiched between Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford in the comedy, Working Girl, about a receptionist, Tess McGill, who steals her boss’ life after the villainous Katharine Parker (Weaver) took Tess’ idea. At its heart is the struggle of a working class girl: can someone without a college education succeed in business? You could ask Diane Hendricks, the co-founder and chairman of ABC Supply, a wholesale supplier of roofing, siding and windows in America with net worth of $6.2 billion.

Image result for second act film

In Second Act, Lopez plays Value Shop assistant manager Maya Vargas. She has turned an ailing store around by allowing customers to choose cuts of meat online and providing a space with free coffee where shoppers can talk. Maya knows customer taste. When a promotion comes along (no, not a two-for-one), she is disappointed to be overlooked in favour of a college-educated white guy whose buzz words attract flies. Maya quits in disgust. Then a husband of a friend creates a social media profile for her complete with a degree from Harvard Business School and some Peace Corps volunteering experience and suddenly she has a job interview at a cosmetics company where she is hired as a consultant. Her criticism of the current line of products draws ire from some of the staff, notably the boss’ daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). The women are placed in opposing teams to come up with the next exciting revenue earner.

The writers Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas give us the set pieces that we expect, notably when Maya’s lack of coxing experience is exposed. Then there is a plot twist that is something out of a telenovella, Lopez having one eye on the Latin audience.

Does it work? Well, in spite of the twist which does at least overcome the problem of some antagonistic female-led comedies – one woman having to supplant another to be successful – much of the film feels tired. There is the guy in the firm who tries to unpick Maya’s past and a dance sequence choreographed by Mandy Moore (La La Land) that is a stand in for a fist fight. Then there a bunch of doves that are released only to collide with traffic, a gag that would not be out of place in director Peter Segal’s 1994 directorial debut, The Naked Gun 33 1/3 – The Final Insult. Personally, I prefer the police light tracking shots during a space dog-fight.

Lopez is an empathetic presence but the comedy heavy lifting is provided by the supporting cast, including Charlyne Yi as an office worker with a fear of heights and a kinky side, Annaleigh Ashton as an unconfident researcher who trips a woman over to better talk cosmetics and, best of all, Leah Remini as the straight-talking best friend, Joan. Remini has an inspired moment when during a conversation in the kitchen with Maya and to show how relaxed and ‘blown-out’ she is undoes her trouser button. Okay, it is not on a par with Marisa Tomei illustrating her body clock in My Cousin Vinny but it takes you by surprise.

The film is backed by STX, which has predominantly Chinese finance behind it, so there is the obligatory scene where, for a business meeting, Maya pretends to speak the language, having words recited to her through an ear piece by a veterinarian.

It’s not just the plot that feels retro. At one point, Maya’s trying-too-hard-to-impress make over causes Joan to remark, ‘oh my God, you look like Mrs Doubtfire’. The film has one eye on the audience who first enjoyed Lopez in Anaconda.

As far as a trip to the multiplex goes, Second Act feels second choice. It doesn’t have anything interesting to say about social media makeovers. Yet, I didn’t hate it. I know that’s faint praise, but there is something enjoyable about Maya’s Value Shop colleagues pretending to be her friends from Harvard. You’ll smile at least once – honest. If I haven’t mentioned Milo Ventimiglia as Maya’s love interest, Trey, it is because he isn’t germane to your enjoyment, though he cheer-leads well.

Second Act is in cinemas from Friday 25 January 2019

Mile 22 – Review

Mark Wahlberg’s collaboration with director Peter Berg is starting to look like a thing. Mile 22 is their fourth movie together, after Lone Survivor (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016) and Patriot’s Day (2016). Moreover these guys are in pre-production on their fifth, Wonderland, based on Ace Atkins’ 2013 novel. The latter, featuring a private eye called Spenser, could be the start of a franchise. Mile 22, which commits the cardinal movie sin of promising a sequel that is unlikely to be made, won’t.

Not that it is Berg and Wahlberg’s least financially successful film at the American box office – that would be their fact-based Boston Marathon bombing drama, Patriot’s Day. Mile 22, which co-stars Ronda Rousey, The Raid’s Iko Uwais and John Malkovich as ‘Mother’ promises and to some extent delivers slam-bang action. It offers a counter-intuitive form of popcorn movie, one where you spill it – so to speak – at fairly regular intervals.

Image result for mile 22

Wahlberg plays James Silva, a member of a disavowed elite squad that do the jobs that the CIA won’t touch. When we first meet the group, two of them are lost in suburbia, claiming that their satellite navigation lies. They are in fact preparing for an assault on a Russian safe house-turned-storage facility. The editing (by Melissa Lawson Cheung and Colby Parker Jr, who worked with Berg on Battleship and Patriot’s Day) goes into overdrive between surveillance footage and actual mayhem as the bullets fly. Berg can stage an action sequence as well as the best of them, though Silva is more often seen holding a gun than shooting it.

Silva’s squad is broadly split between men and women, with Rousey and The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan as kick-ass females. Since Rousey isn’t known for her acting skills (whatever you say about those overly choreographed World Wrestling Federation fights) the bulk of the characterisation goes to Cohan whose character, Alice is going through a messy divorce, abetted by her phone which has an app that responds to her cursing. Silva has no such technological censor. Wahlberg channels his Daddy’s Home 2 co-star, Mel Gibson, by appearing to be unhinged: fast-talking, disrespectful, issuing harsh threats; he could get a job in the White House. Putting aside Boogie Nights for one minute (RIP Burt Reynolds), Wahlberg is at his best playing a hard working blue collar guy. We don’t believe in his bravado here; it doesn’t seem earned.

The main plot involves the team going to a pseudonymous Asian country to move an informant, Li Noor (Uwais) 22 miles to the safety of an aircraft. Li Noor has information that really matters and his government are trying to kill him. In this loose riff (or rip off) on the Bruce Willis-Mos Def action flick, 16 Blocks – another box-office underperformer – Silva and his crew inch Li Noor towards his destination unaware that someone else is coming to get them.

Related image

The plot turns on the extent to which the crew can trust Li Noor. Other than that, it is ninety-odd minutes of broad action in which Silva is invited to walk away or face the consequences (Daddy’s Home 3?).

With so much Asian money going into Hollywood – Mile 22 is released by STX films, which is underpinned by Chinese cash – the movie’s attitude to the continent is ambiguous.  The film doesn’t feel grounded in America’s insecurities in the way that other Hollywood action films position themselves against the threat of the ‘other’. If anything, America, as characterised by Silva, is too bullishly over-confident. It deserves to have its balloon popped. Indeed, Wahlberg has zero charisma opposite Uwais, whose moves put the Hollywood star to shame.

Finally, there is the nominal Russian villain, not portrayed by an over-the-top European actor, rather as a slowly advancing presence. Under President Donald Trump, Russia is seen as less of a threat to US interests than China. Mile 22 is out of step with this foreign policy position. However, even liberal moviegoers aren’t buying it.

Berg and Wahlberg (together they sound like a law firm) have made what is possibly a subversive Hollywood film that invites the country to wake up and reconsider its ‘superior’ position. The ending ought to hit harder than it does, but ends as a damp squib.

Mile 22 is out 19th September!