Tag Archives: C-

ROCK DOG

Producer: Amber Wang, David B. Miller, Rob Feng, Joyce Lou and Zheng Jun
Director: Ash Brannon
Writer: Ash Brannon and Kurt Voelker
Stars: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon and Sam Elliott
Studio: Summit Premiere/Lionsgate

C-

Just a week after “The Great Wall,” the big-budget Chinese (but largely English-language) action spectacle hit U.S. theatres, comes “Rock Dog,” an animated kids’ movie from China—also in English, at least in this version—based on a “graphic novel” by a mainland singer-songwriter. Both pictures show that the cross-Pacific industry has learned many of the lessons that Hollywood has to teach—most of them dreary clichés—and this one was, moreover, directed by an American with experience at Disney and Sony Animation (unlike “Wall,” which was helmed by Zhang Yimou). But the result is still pretty flat, and unlikely to entrance even the smallest American fry.

The mercifully brief computer-animated tale, adapted from “Tibetan Rock Dog” by Zheng Jun, concerns a young Tibetan mastiff called Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson) who lives with his father Khampa (J.K. Simmons), the gruff watchdog guarding a village of haplessly goofy sheep on Snow Mountain. After a raid on the place by wolves led by the odious Linnux (Lewis Black) nearly succeeds, Khampa banishes all music from the town, considering it a distraction from the necessary work of constant vigilance and defense. But Bodi’s love of strumming a guitar is rekindled when a passing plane drops a radio from the sky, and he determines to go to the city and become a rock star; eventually Khampa, under prodding from wise old town elder Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott), agrees to let the pup go, but only under the condition that if things don’t work out, he’ll come back to Snow Mountain and follow in his father’s paw-steps.

Bodi’s adventures in the big city eventually involve him not only with a struggling band composed of an arrogant leopard named Trey (Matt Dillon), a sweet fox named Darma (Mae Whitman) and a woozy goat named Gemur (Jorge Garcia), but with a reclusive rock idol, a scrawny cat called Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). In fact, he eventually becomes a sort of muse to Angus, who’s suffering from writer’s block and needs to compose a hit single fast. Unfortunately, Bodi is also being stalked by Linnux’s inept henchman Riff (Kenan Thompson), who’s tasked with capturing him so the boss can extract information to allow him to circumvent Khampa’s defenses and take over the village. For some reason a subplot has to do with pro wrestling; it’s not only intrusive but falls flat.

The basic problem with the movie is that it’s terminally bland, the script lacking any sense of surprise or suggestion of edginess; adults will find it utterly predictable, but even tykes are likely to react to the “follow your dream” message with a ho-hum attitude. The animation by Reel FX (whose previous effort was the scrawny “Free Birds”) is no better than okay, with unimpressive backgrounds and character animation that’s unimaginative, with only Angus coming across as unusual. (There’s even a cute robot added to the mix, for no particular reason other than that kids like robots.) And though the voice cast has some starry names in it, their work is fundamentally pedestrian, though Izzard manages a few hints of sarcasm and Black does insert some of his patented hysteria into his line readings. The picture isn’t really a musical, but there are a few interludes of song and instrumental playing; they’re uniformly anemic.

“The Great Wall” was a financial smash in China but a bust in the U.S. “Rock Dog” bombed in China, and isn’t likely to score here either. Back to the drawing board.

THE SPACE BETWEEN US

Producer: Richard Barton Lewis
Director: Peter Chelsom
Writer: Allan Loeb
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Gary Oldman, Britt Riobertson, Carla Gugino, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery, Colin Egglesfield, Trey Tucker, Scott Taked and Adande Thorne
Studio: STX Entertainment

C-

What might have been an interesting teen cross between “The Martian” and “Starman” instead goes a sadly conventional route in “The Space Between Us,” making for a bland romance-on-the-run movie that might not actually be based on a YA novel, but sure feels as though it were—very much like a less grittier remake of the deservedly forgotten Anthony Michael Hall kiddie noir “Out of Bounds,” moved from the city to the desert and given a sci-fi twist.

About the sole virtue of the picture is a nice performance by Asa Butterfield, the lanky young British actor who has certainly grown up since he took the title role in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” and also starred recently in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” He plays Gardner Elliot, a boy born on Mars to the leader of the first expedition to colonize the Red Planet (Janet Montgomery), who had not known she was pregnant when she left earth and died while giving birth without revealing the father’s name.

At sixteen Gardner has grown up on Mars knowing only the other members of the small expedition, most notably Kendra (Carla Gugino), who has become a sort of surrogate mother to him, as well as a robot guardian. But becoming ever more rebellious, he longs to visit earth, and finally gets the opportunity. He has previously somehow made online contact with a New Mexico teen named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), telling her that he’s housebound on earth because of illness. After landing he contrives to escape his handlers, led by project administrator Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), and seek her out, asking her to join in his search for his father.

Their journey is complicated by the fact that Shepherd and his team, who have determined that the fact that Gardner had grown up on Mars affected the functioning of his internal organs, and have concluded that remaining in the earth’s atmosphere will lead to heart failure, are pursuing him. That leads to a series of close calls and breathless escapes, during which Gardner and Tulsa grow closer; and naturally it culminates in the revelation of who his father is—which won’t, unfortunately, come as much of a surprise to anybody.

Butterfield brings to Gardner a touch of the sense of quizzical wonder that Jeff Bridges embodied in John Carpenter’s “Starman,” as well as a bit of the older actor’s gangly, childlike charm. As written by Allan Loeb, the part is actually a pretty sketchy one, typical in that respect of the heroes and heroines of YA literature and movies, but he at least makes the fellow likable. The rest of the cast, on the other hand, is just serviceable—not just Robertson, whose Tulsa remains a pretty one-note character, but Oldman, from whom one might have expected better than this broad, frantic turn. Of course, the cast cannot have benefited much from the flaccid direction of Peter Chelsom, whose work over the past two decades has been mediocre at best, and who seems incapable of engendering much excitement even into the largest action sequences here—the ones involving cars and even an oh-so-convenient plane, which even more conveniently Tulsa can fly.

The movie also suffers from what was obviously a less than huge budget. Though some of the New Mexico locations are quite lovely (and are shot nicely by cinematographer Barry Peterson), the “scientific” interiors—both on earth and Mars—are pretty unimpressive, something for which production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli probably shouldn’t be held responsible. With more money at his disposal, he might have done better; as it is, technically the movie resembles more a telefilm made for a cable network catering to youngsters than a big-screen project.

“The Space Between Us” may not be as far from being a good teary teen romance as Mars is from earth, but the distance is still substantial. The premise had promise that unfortunately remains unrealized.