Opening this week:
Dolittle—Robert Downey, Jr. plays the newest screen version of Hugh Lofting’s character, the doctor who can talk to the animals. Directed by Stephen Gaghan and set in a vague idea of the 19th Century, the movie has a late point of attack: The Doc has long since learned his inter-species polyglot skills and is an embittered widower, withdrawn from human society to hang out with his animal pals in his vast estate. He gets drawn into consulting in the case of the unconscious Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley), and travels the world with his critter entourage and a couple of kids to find a cure for her.
The results are kitschy and sloppy, and the movie doesn’t come together. But at its center is the authentically great actor Downey, bringing his one-of-a-kind persona of nervy nattering mixed with sad-eyed gravitas. Dolittle is a mess, but the star is always worth watching.
The villains are a pirate king (Antonio Banderas) and a rival doctor (Michael Sheen), while the animals are voiced by the likes of Emma Thompson as the parrot, Rami Malek as the chimp, Selena Gomez as the giraffe and Octavia Spencer as the duck. By far the best of the voices is the wearily menacing Frances de la Tour, coming out of the mouth of a pretty impressive CGI dragon who undergoes an indignity here that even St. George wouldn’t have wished on it. The creatures seem mostly to be rendered in CGI, a humane and ethical choice that nonetheless weakens the charm of animal movie characters. A worthwhile sacrifice.
Bad Boys for Life—In this third film featuring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami police detectives who refuse to play by the rules, the boys aren’t feeling so much like boys anymore; the jokes are about encroaching middle age. Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) is a happy family man, while Mike Lowery (Smith) is still playing hotshot young loner.
Then a chic Mexican witch/gang boss (Kate del Castillo) dispatches her lethal son to kill Mike, and there are car chases and fights and shootings and explosions, all of them extravagantly staged and none of them particularly exciting. But the two stars are still amusing with each other — Lawrence’s aggrieved kvetching bounces off of Smith’s facile suavity. And the plot takes a surprisingly gothic and complicated twist in its final third that I certainly didn’t see coming. Marcus compares it to a telenovela, and he’s not wrong.
Bad Boys for Life may represent the beginnings of a shift in how gun violence is depicted in popular movies, even action movies. There’s still a big body count, but our heroes are reluctantly steered away, by younger cops, from quite so much gunplay. This is the second movie in a row—the animated Spies in Disguise was the first — in which Smith plays a gun-toting hero who looks down disdainfully on non-lethal weapons.
Chandler International Film Festival—The 4th annual edition of the eastside fest runs from January 17 through January 20 at Harkins Chandler Fashion 20 and includes well over 100 films, shorts and features, new movies and revivals, documentaries, thrillers, horror pictures and comedies, from countries ranging from the U.S. to Mexico to India to Austria to Estonia.
There’s an opening night reception, featuring the drama Buffaloed, and an awards ceremony Monday night. Saturday night there’s an appearance scheduled by Michelle Rodriguez, at a screening of Girlfight celebrating, if you can believe it, that film’s 20th anniversary.
Tickets start at $14 for individual showings, more for the special events; various pass options are available. Go to chandlerfilmfestival.com for details.
Frozen II Sing-Along—A special participatory version of last year’s animated Disney sequel, with subtitled songs, plays on a few AMC and Harkins screens around the Valley this week. None of the numbers from the new film seems to have caught on quite like “Let it Go” from the original 2013 spin on The Snow Queen, but it still might be fun to belt out a lusty “Into the Unknown” in your best Idina Menzel impression, in the company of fellow fans.