Tag Archives: C+

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2

Producer: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy
Director: Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val
Writer: Brian Lynch
Stars: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Dana Carvey, Chris Renaud and Harrison Ford
Studio: Universal Pictures

C+

The first “Secret Life of Pets” was so successful—and, frankly, amusing—that a sequel was inevitable, and here it is. And as usual, it’s not nearly as good.

One can applaud scripter Brian Lynch’s decision to return to what was really the theme of the first picture—the need to adapt to new circumstances—an idea that kids can learn from. Back in 2016, it was the difficulty that Jack Russell terrier Max (then voiced by the now-disgraced Louis C.K.) had in coping with the arrival of a second dog, big, slobbering Duke (Eric Stonestreet), in the household. Now they’re pals, but are confronted with an even bigger challenge—coming to terms with the presence of their owner’s first child, who becomes the center of the family universe.

It doesn’t take long for Max (now voiced by Patton Oswald) to fall in love with little Liam and grow so protective of the tyke that he becomes obsessive to the point of scratching himself to a frenzy. That’s resolved when he and the family take a trip to a relative’s farm, where a gruff old Welsh Sheepdog named Rooster (Harrison Ford, who easily steals the show) teaches him to overcome his fears and face them with the courage of which he’s capable. Lesson learned, by Max and, perhaps, his young audience.

This thread of “Pets 2” has quite a few laughs, courtesy not only of Max and Duke but Rooster and a gaggle of other animals Max encounters there—a goofy cow, a stalker turkey, a naïve lamb called Cotton.

Unhappy, Lynch apparently concluded that there wasn’t enough material in it to serve as the basis for an entire feature—or opportunities for the other characters from the first movie, particularly Kevin Hart’s hyper rabbit Snowball, to get in on the action. So he has turned his screenplay into a sort of animated triptych, with two other story threads added to the mix.

One centers on Snowball, of course, who’s now a happy pet, but still with delusions of grandeur. He dresses up as a superhero and looks for animals to save. Enter Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a garrulous Shih Tzu. She enlists his help in rescuing a tiger cub called Hu from the cage he’s kept in by vicious circus owner Sergei (Nick Kroll), who wants the beast to perform dangerous tricks. The new duo’s efforts put them in the sights of Sergei’s nasty wolves and sinister monkey, but also draw disabled old basset hound Pops (Dana Carvey) and his brood of pups into the action.

While the frenetic Snowball-Daisy arc rushes on, a third periodically intervenes. It centers on perky Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), whom Max entrusts with his favorite toy—a squeeze ball called Busy Bee, when he leaves for the farm. Naturally she loses it, and tracks it to the apartment of the local cat lady. In order to infiltrate the place and retrieve it, she has to ask oversized, happily inactive feline Chloe (Lake Bell) to instruct her how to be catlike. Other friends, like pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and guinea pig Norman (Chris Renaud) are called on to help, too.

Throughout, the Illumination Studio animation is fine, and the voice work is uniformly excellent (although Hart, as usual, goes way big; by contrast Haddish is more restrained than she is in many of her live-action performances—though to be sure that’s a backhanded compliment). The incessantly busy, jazzy background score by Alexandre Desplat is a positive element as well, adding plenty of aural dash to the visuals.

But the movie suffers from its scattershot approach, jumping from one of the three story threads to another without ever managing to integrate them satisfactorily, though it tries to do so in the end and each has its moments—the Max section the best (a sequence set in the office of a therapist-vet is a gem), with the cat-centered elements of the Gidget segment coming in second and the rambunctious Snowball part bringing up the rear, though it could very well be the one that kids react to most enthusiastically. The closing-credits sequence, which turns to live-action footage reminiscent of “Craziest Pet” TV shows, has the misfortune of ripping one out of the world the movie’s created too abruptly.

“The Secret Lives of Pets 2” isn’t a terrible sequel, but it comes across as one cobbled together from disparate elements rather than a smoothly-fashioned whole. It will probably amuse most people even though it’s a disappointment overall.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3–PARABELLUM

Producer: Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee
Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Jason Mantzoukas, Tobias Segal, Boban Marjanovic, Cecep Arif Rahman, Yayan Ruhian
Studio: Lionsgate

C+

Even the most dedicated action junkie might find himself exhausted by “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum,” Chad Stahelski’s latest installment of the saga about a legendary hit-man brought out of retirement to take vengeance on those who messed with his dog and his car. The movie strings together a chain of flashy martial arts fisticuffs, explosively stylish swordfights and garish gun battles, some with animal partners, but by the end the excitement they’re intended to generate has mutated into something very close to tedium. One can get too much even of a good thing.

The movie begins where the last one ended—with Wick (Keanu Reeves) running through the rain-soaked streets of New York, a hunted man after he has desecrated the Continental Hotel, the “safe zone” for assassins in the city, by killing a rival there. The High Table, which runs the “union” of professional murderers and apply the rules they all must follow, is about to declare open season on Wick by excommunicating him and posting a $14 million bounty for his death. Every assassin in the city, and the world (and there seems to be a bunch of them on every block—apparently it’s one calling that never has a shortage of applicants) will be out to collect.

So after depositing his beloved canine with his old friend Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental, and Charon (Lance Reddick), the place’s unflappable concierge, Wick is off to try to save himself. After dealing with an introductory bevy of assailants—a giant in the NYC library, where he stops to collect some important belongings, a bunch of nasties in a knife-and-hatchet shop, another gang that chases him into a stable for carriage horses—and having his wounds tended to by an underground doctor just as the excommunication deadline strikes, he’s off to visit his old mentor the Director (Anjelica Huston), a menacing Russian ballet master who grudgingly books him passage to Casablanca, where he plans to meet the head of the High Table and negotiate his reinstatement.

There Wick asks for help from another old acquaintance, Sophia (Halle Berry), who holds a grudge against himself despite the fact that he once saved her daughter. Use of another of his old markers, or I.O.U.s, leads her and her capable dogs to join him in visiting Berrada (Jerome Flynn), a Table power player who can direct him to the group’s reclusive leader (Saïd Taghmaoui). That encounter results in another bloodbath, in which Sophia and her dogs play a major role, but it finally leads to Wick’s face-to-face with the leader, who offers him reinstatement if he returns to New York and kills Winston.

Winston is already being threatened for having helped Wick by the Table’s malevolent Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who has also her sights set on the Director and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), another old Wick ally. She has also hired Zero (Mark Dacascos), a sushi chef with special expertise in knives, to deal with all the Table’s enemies when Wick returns to the city. Will Wick side with Winston or kill him?

The upshot is a final battle at the Continental that involves scads of the Table’s armored soldiers, Winston’s staff, Zero and his army—and Wick, of course. The prolonged finale ends with the obligatory final face-off between Wick and Zero, though the makers have a final twist up their sleeve that promises another sequel. “Parabellum,” after all, means the preparation for war, not the war itself.

The action sequences, of course, are the raison d’être for all the John Wick movies, and Stahelski, Reeves, their army of stuntmen, cinematographer Dan Lausten, and editor Evan Schiff combine their skills to create a succession of wild set pieces. Unfortunately, even as they increase in size and trickery, they grow increasingly tiresome. There’s plenty of verve in the early ones—the initial clash in the library, the knife-and-hatchet encounter, and the carriage-horse routine are all imaginative and exhilarating (if awfully explicit in violence quotients).

By the time Wick gets to North Africa, however, overkill sets in, in every sense. The battle that Wick, Sophia and her canines engage in with Berrada’s nearly endless supply of minions goes on way too long, and grows more and more repetitive—by the twentieth time we’re treated to a shot of some anonymous turbaned henchman being attacked in the groin by a dog, the sight has lost whatever shock effect it might once have had. The final confrontation, with lots of glass and mirrors, is more than a little reminiscent of the one in the last movie (as well as plenty of other films unrelated to the franchise), and it too feels endless, though it’s enlivened somewhat by Dacascos’ jokey contributions.

His performance one of the pleasures in the picture, along with the customarily smooth turns by McShane, Fishburne and Reddick. Elsewhere the casting yields fewer rewards than you might expect. Huston and Berry sink their teeth into their roles almost as much as Sophia’s dogs sink theirs into villains’ private parts, but even what are essentially comic-book characters deserve more than that. And Dillon is an utter stick as the Adjudicator—while Taghmaoui makes a rather feeble ultimate villain.

Unlike a great many sequels, “John Wick 3” probably won’t disappoint fans of the series; to cite another picture from Reeves’s résumé, it’s no “Matrix Revolutions.” But it is a bloated chapter in the saga, one that proves that more can actually mean less.