I am writing this at the beginning of Spring Break – that time of year that everyone who isn’t either a teacher or student says to themselves, “why is the traffic so bad all of a sudden?” This week I was fortunate enough to see two movies, though this time of year isn’t necessarily known for the very best Hollywood has to offer. One of the films I saw was pretty typical of the kind of movie we see at this time, and one was a pretty big release by Disney, who sees the potential for future franchise dollars. I wish I could say that these were truly the high and low of the season, but while the low was pretty low, the high didn’t quite reach the heights I’d hoped.
The first movie I saw was “The Hurricane Heist,” from Rob Cohen, of “Fast and Furious” fame. I’ll note that it’s “THE” Hurricane Heist, as if all the other hurricane heist films were rendered obsolete by this, the ultimate of the genre. At the film’s center is Casey, played by Maggie Grace, who you’ll probably remember as Shannon from “Lost.” Casey, a Treasury agent on the outs because of a mistake she made earlier in her career, is serving time at the east end of nowhere, guarding small bill currency on the way to the shredder. Currently the coastal Mint where she is serving holds over $600 million. Naturally, someone – actually a large gang of disposable someones, plans to use an impending hurricane as the perfect cover to steal the loot and get away clean. However, they didn’t count on Casey, nor on her new friends, brothers Will and Breeze (sounds like a morning radio show duo). Will is a meteorologist who just happens to drive the Batmobile – Extreme Weather Edition, and Breeze is a deadbeat ex-marine itching for a fight.
This movie is very dumb – that’s obvious from the trailers, but what isn’t so obvious are the bizarre little details that Cohen and crew throw in for no particular reason. For one, while all the bad guys dress in your basic bad guy gear – rugged outdoor gear – you know the look, the two computer specialists, a British couple for some reason, look like they are late to a night out at the club. He’s in a sharp shiny suit, and she’s in a fancy cocktail dress. Nothing is ever made of this, it’s just strange. Another odd moment, right in the middle of the action, both of the main characters abruptly stop to pee in an underground parking garage. This moment is used by the screenwriters to give some scintillating, character building exposition. Granted, this is a moment left out of most action movies, but I’d argue that’s for the best. Beyond the bizarre choices, there are your typical issues of a film like this breaking the laws of physics (how can you run down a street in a hurricane if the wind is literally lifting cars into the air right next to you?) and the laws of common sense (you’re saying the plan from the beginning was to drive the semi-trucks full of money out of town in the eye of the hurricane, somehow keeping pace with the calm in the storm? That doesn’t sound like a solid plan.)
I was thinking while I watched this that it reminded me of action movies from the nineties like “Cliffhanger,” and “Die Hard 2” both directed by Renny Harlin. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that, in the early ‘90s, Harlin and Sylvester Stallone were all set to make a movie about a man who defends a coastal community from a gang during a hurricane. When that project fell through, they made “Cliffhanger” instead. That movie? “Gale Force.” Add a “The” on to the front of that, and you’ve got a hit. Grade: D
The other movie I watched was “A Wrinkle in Time,” which I’d really been looking forward to. I loved the book when I was a kid and my ten-year-old son has read it and is re-reading it again currently. The trailers looked like director Ava DuVernay had really nailed it, but the reality is that the film is disappointingly uneven.
This story concerns Meg, a brilliant but angry teen who’s an outcast at school and is in a state of constant mourning for her beloved father, played by Chris Pine, who disappeared four years prior. When her brother, Charles Wallace, begins acting oddly, Meg is concerned – a feeling that only grows when he introduces her to a couple of very strange women, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, played by Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, respectively. Things only get weirder when Mrs. Which is added to the mix, and Meg learns that she can transport herself through the universe on a journey to find her father.
It’s with the introduction of Which, a 20-foot tall bedazzled Oprah Winfrey, that things start to go off the rails. DuVernay obviously reveres Oprah, and why not, but her presence her only serves to pull you out of the film. The problem is, Oprah is already, metaphorically, twenty-feet taller than anyone else on screen, so making her into a giant just feels like overkill. As things go on and Which eventually shrinks to normal, it gets better, but she never stops sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s too bad. I like Oprah – she’s a good actress, and “The Butler” notwithstanding, can give a powerful performance. But it’s too late for her to play part of an ensemble. It would be like having Barak Obama show up in a movie in a supporting part. It throws off the balance. Beyond Oprah, the acting is fine and the effects are beautiful. The end of the movie is legitimately scary, so be warned when bringing little children. Somehow, though, the whole thing failed to gel for me, which was a disappointment. I still hope they make sequels, but with the critical response this is getting, I’m not sure that’s likely. Maybe this is just one of those books that shouldn’t be adapted. Grade: B-
“The Hurricane Heist” is rated PG-13 for language and violence.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is rated PG for some mature themes and frightening scenes.