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JURASSIC WORLD

Producer:  Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley
Director:  Colin Trevorrow
Writer:  Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow
Stars:  Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallaws Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus, Andy Buckley and Katie McGrath
Studio:  Universal Pictures

C

The dinosaurs are back after some sixty-plus million years or a mere fourteen, depending on your point of view. Most of the real beasties went extinct millennia ago, of course, but “Jurassic Park III” was released as recently as 2001. But the unhappy fact is that whichever mode of chronological computation you prefer, the dino return has come entirely too soon in “Jurassic World.”

Of course, computer-generated effects have progressed exponentially over the last two decades, so the reappearance of the series that Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg initiated with “Jurassic Park” in 1993 comes as no surprise in a Hollywood obsessed with follow-ups, prequels and reboots of every imaginable sort. And the dinosaurs in Colin Trevorrow’s picture are visually impressive, though to be honest those in the earlier installments still hold up pretty well in comparison. Perhaps to compensate, there are more of them here—in one scene, for example, a flock of pterodactyls descends on a crowd of tourists in an apparent homage to Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Despite that nod to another filmmaker, though, Trevorrow’s approach for the most part slavishly follows Spielberg’s, and he and his co-writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly take their lead from Crichton’s original rather than the two sequels as well. The script is based on the premise that the park envisioned by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has in fact been built on the island—as the wise black man (Omar Sy) who’s one of the employees remarks, “These people never learn”—and become a popular tourist destination. Owned by Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and managed by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), since—as one character offhandedly remarks, nobody’s awed by a regular, old-fashioned dino anymore—the place aims to maintain its edge over competitors by adding new species genetically engineered under the direction of the unflappable Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), who adamantly rejects the notion that he’s the mad scientist he so obviously is. His newest concoction is the gigantic hybrid Indominus Rex, still being kept in isolation in a heavily-fortified part of the jungle (though we’re told it will eventually be named after Verizon, just the latest example of corporate sponsorship in the product-placement-crazy park). Elsewhere a quartet of velociraptors are being trained by Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a handsome, gung-ho ex-Navy man (and sort of dino whisperer) who’s also Claire’s ex-boyfriend. Watching his work closely is park security man Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who dreams of turning the raptors into weapons for the military.

In order to provide the kids-in-jeopardy thread that younger members of the audience can identify with, enter Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), who are sent to Jurassic World by their parents Karen and Scott (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) to enjoy a vacation with their aunt Claire. She promptly deposits them with her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath), whom they quickly ditch to go out and have fun by themselves. Despite the observation by Hoskins when trouble starts at the park that “it’s grown-up time,” the emphasis on these two shows that “Jurassic World” is really aimed at juvenile viewers, a fact demonstrated by the fact the script spends a lot of time on them—telling us, for example, that teen Zach can’t control his hormones and that Gray, a dino-geek, is troubled by suspicions that their parents are about to get a divorce—and that when the inevitable dinosaur rampage gets underway, the mayhem we’re shown will be high on energy but low in blood and gore.

Of course, it’s preordained that the boys will also be among the first human targets when Indominus Rex inevitably escapes its prison (disposing of some guards in the process), setting the last half of the movie—really one long action sequence—into motion. (Actually, their first encounter with the beast, when they’re encased in a gyrosphere ride, is one of the movie’s cooler bits.) Meanwhile Claire and Owen venture into the forest to find them, and all four must elude the fearsome beast, which follows them to the park’s crowded central plaza (complete with an Imax theatre, though why one would go to a movie rather than visiting the dinosaur petting zoo is never explained). Not only do Masrani, Hoskins and the raptors join the fray, but Zara reappears as well, and though she’s done nothing to engender dislike but speak with a British accent, she becomes one of Rex’s most notable victims. That’s not a spoiler: “Jurassic World” pretty much identifies those who will be disposed of by the close as soon as they appear onscreen. (That heavy-set dude operating the controls at Indominus Rex’s place should really have a nametag reading “Lunch.”) It’s also clear as crystal which characters are simply too important to suffer even a scratch, however many times they might be at point of being crushed by Rex’s formidable foot. As for the thousands of nameless park customers, they’re treated much the same way as the hordes that are crushed by falling buildings or swept away by tidal waves in “San Andreas”—as unimportant background scenery.

The CGI critters—not just Indominus and the raptors but the other assorted dinos, including a huge underwater creature that’s central to the park’s “Sea World” exhibit (and plays an important part in the finale)—are rendered with predictable efficiency by the effects army, of course, and they’re integrated well into cinematographer John Schwartzman’s widescreen images, but while in isolation they look fairly convincing (the “Lost World”-inspired battles between dinos are fine, even if the 3D paints them in overly dark tones), when humans and dinosaurs appear together the result is little more persuasive than the exhibits in a fundamentalist Bible museum. The humans are less well realized. Pratt is like a beefier version of Indiana Jones, but his swagger doesn’t have the charm that Harrison Ford’s looser mien did. Still, he’s better company than Howard, whose transformation from scaredy-cat executive to pistol-packing heroine is laughable. Robinson and Simpkins are pleasant but unremarkable, while D’Onofrio makes a hissable villain and Wong an effete version of Dr. Frankenstein. Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus are meant to provide comic relief as a pair of workers in the park’s control room, but the screenplay gives them little to work with. Trevorrow and editor Kevin Stitt keep things moving fast enough to paper over many of the narrative absurdities and spates of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in the dialogue, and all the technical crew do state-of-the-art work.

But the impact of such CGI wizardry is simply not what it once was. What back in 1993 seemed wondrous is now commonplace, pretty much a weekly multiplex routine. “Jurassic World” tries hard, incredibly hard, to recapture the sense of magic that Spielberg’s groundbreaking film achieved. But it fails, not because it’s lacking in craftsmanship, but because it’s devoid of the inspiration that might have made it distinctive rather than a well-executed but by-the-numbers retread of its predecessor. Perhaps the best indication of its second-hand feel comes in the music by Michael Giacchino, which tries desperately—and ineffectually—to stir up up an awestruck reaction in the audience but too often falls back on simply using bits of John Williams’ 1993 score. They’re good themes, but we’re heard them before; and in the end “Jurassic World” is as well made as most of today’s summertime Hollywood blockbusters, but essentially we’re seen it before too. And unlike love—at least if you believe Frank Sinatra—it’s not better the second time around.

SPY

Producer:  Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Paul Feig and Jessie Henderson
Director:  Paul Feig
Writer:  Paul Feig
Stars:  Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz, Morena Baccarin and Jude Law
Studio:  Twentieth Century Fox

B

You might have thought that spoofs of the James Bond formula had been done to death, but Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy prove that there’s life in the old genre yet with “Spy,” a broad but funny farce played with such machine-gun rapidity that you don’t have the time to groan over a gag that doesn’t work before one that does pops up. It’s an action comedy in which the comedy is frankly better than the action, but there’s more than enough of it to compensate for that.

McCarthy, who had her breakout role working with Feig in “Bridesmaids” and moved up to co-star billing for him in “The Heat,” shows real versatility here as Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who serves as an analyst at Langley rather than in the field. Her main role is to oversee via computer screen the exploits of supercool operative Bradley Fine (Jude Law), on whom she has a not-so-secret crush. Using all sorts of high-tech equipment, she can see whatever he does while on assignment, warn him of approaching danger just in time for him to evade or eliminate the scads of bad guys pursuing him, and even call in drone strikes when necessary to save his hide. She also picks up his dry cleaning and mows his lawn, while he treats her as a chubby pal rather than a potential romantic partner. But while her equally office-bound colleague Nancy (Miranda Hart) might take blundering offense over how they’re treated by the likes of Fine and his colleague Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin), Susan is content to play the doormat, especially when confronted by witheringly uncompromising Deputy Director Crocker (Allison Janney).

Unfortunately, in his latest mission Fine accidentally kills a malevolent Bulgarian arms dealer named Boyanov (Raad Rawi) who’s stolen a nuclear device and is hawking it on the black market. Now the agency’s only hope of recovering the bomb is via the dead man’s daughter Rayna (Rose Byrne). But when Fine ventures into her estate, she kills him in Cooper’s view, in the process dropping the information that she somehow knows the identities of all the top CIA field agents. Though wild man operative Richard Ford (Jason Statham) still wants to go after her, Susan offers to take on the assignment as somebody who won’t be recognized, and Crocker reluctantly agrees.

That leads to a succession of European adventures that will pit Cooper against not only Rayna but also a bomber (Julian Miller), an assassin named Lia (Nargis Fakhri), and Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), who’s acting as Boyanov’s middleman in the projected sale but, as it turns out, has an agenda of his own. She’ll have assistance along the way from some other agency folk—most notably a lascivious Italian named Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz) and nervous Nancy, who’s sent into the field for the first time, too. On the other hand, encounters with Walker, Ford and a third operative whose identity won’t be revealed here (but comes as much less of a surprise that Feig probably hoped) prove more troublesome than helpful.

McCarthy transitions easily from the put-upon glorified secretary of the first act to the increasingly capable, though always squeamish, agent of the later reels. Her comic timing is spot-on, and she’s the beneficiary of plenty of crisp comic material from Feig—like the goofy collection of special equipment she’s provided with by the agency’s equivalent of M and the succession of uncomplimentary aliases she’s given with each new stop on her journey. The action sequences are reasonably well choreographed, but they’re clearly not the director’s forte: McCarthy’s one-on-one fights with the bomber and Lia, as well as the closing one with Sergio’s men, go on too long and include some needless unpleasantness (cracking bones, and a vomit joke that could easily have been excised); and a chase scene involving a motorcycle, as well as a helicopter sequence at the close, show some mediocre process shots. Still, the comedy makes up for the stumbles in the action department, though some of the scatological bits might have been jettisoned—though such pandering to the audience’s baser instincts is apparently obligatory nowadays.

That’s due not only to McCarthy, but a stellar supporting cast. Law has fun sending up his James Bondish persona, and Janney puts across Crocker’s hard-boiled aggression. But their contributions pale beside those of Byrne, who delivers Rayna’s archly insulting jibes with perfect pitch (and looks great); Cannavale, who gives a nutty edge to Sergio’s villainy; Hart, who carries off her nervous Nelly routine deliciously; and Serafinowicz, who makes Aldo’s Italianate lustfulness almost lovable. Best of all, amazingly enough, is Statham, who delivers Ford’s self-aggrandizing rants with a verbal aplomb one would never have expected of him. His end-credits bit with McCarthy, though, doesn’t work terribly well.

Throughout the technical credits are first-rate, with cinematographer Robert Yeoman (who also shot this week’s other opening “Love & Money” in a very different style) luxuriating in the European location shots in places like Paris and Rome as well as the interiors fashioned by production designer Jefferson Sage, the art direction team headed by Tom Brown and set decorator Kelly Berry (including the CIA’s vermin-infested office, a repeated gag that works surprisingly well). Christine Bieselin Clark contributes a great array of costumes for both McCarthy and Byrne, some gorgeous and others (like those for Cooper’s alter-egos) deliberately unflattering, and Theodore Shapiro’s score avoids italicizing things overmuch. The opening credits sequence is a nifty copy of the old Bond ones.

“Spy” proves a top-notch vehicle for McCarthy, but though she’s clearly the linchpin, it’s not a one-woman show—and is all the better for it.