Tag Archives: C-

FIVE FEET APART

Producer: Cathy Schulman and Justin Baldoni
Director: Justin Baldoni
Writer: Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iacois
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Parmider Nagra, Emily Baldoni, Cynthia Evans, Gary Weeks, Sophia Bernard and Cecilia Leal
Studio: Lionsgate/CBS Films

C-

Yet another teen weepie in the vein of “The Fault in Our Stars” and its many imitators, “Five Feet Apart” is about two young cystic fibrosis patients who fall in love during hospitalization, even though their romance is stymied by the fact that the rules forbid them coming within six feet of one another because of the danger of potentially fatal cross-infection.

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) are the would-be couple. She’s undergoing treatment for an infection; he’s participating in a drug trial that might deal with a serious lung condition. Initially they cross swords: she’s a self-confessed control freak, obsessively following the regimen and demanding that others do likewise, while he’s a cartoon-drawing rebel, fatalistically ignoring the rules whenever he can, much to the distress of both Stella and their helicopter nurse Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). But of course opposites attract, and the two inevitably are charmed by one another.

There’s a third patient who’s an important cog in the plot machinery, an energetic gay kid named Poe (Moises Arias), who’s insistently prodding Stella to loosen up a bit, even as she retorts that he has been pushing away partners out of fear of commitment. He’ll become an important part in his friends’ eventual determination to get closer—one foot closer, as Stella decides, using a pool cue as a measuring stick—which will both stretch the rule while maintaining safety. In the process, however, a secret from Stella’s past will come into play that pushes her increasingly toward recklessness in her relationship with Will.

In the end, of course, the sad issue in a picture like “Five Feet Apart” is whether any of the characters are going to wind up, to put it crassly, six feet under. Unfortunately, when the answer comes, it poses no great surprise, since the person has been pretty much identified from the beginning for anyone who has studied screenwriting 101.

Still, scripters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis stir the pot energetically in the final reel, fashioning climax after climax that take the movie from the realm of the merely implausible to the positively absurd in an effort to roil the audience’s emotions. The picture closes, as it begins, with excerpts from a video blog emphasizing the importance of human touch. But whether after all the frantic twists of the last act it’s more likely to affect a viewer’s funnybone than heartstrings is an open question.

Still, those inclined to be moved by such stories—teen girls are the obvious targets, but others may be similarly affected—will find the movie a competent example of the genre. Though director Justin Baldoni is way too prone to follow one of Hollywood’s most appalling rules—when in doubt, throw in another musical montage!—he stages the action decently enough, and after an opening reel in which he indulges excessively in squirm-inducing handheld camerawork, cinematographer Frank G. Demarco settles down and offers attractive widescreen visuals. The picture could use a bit of tightening—it runs nearly two hours—but overall Angela M. Cantanzare’s editing is smooth enough.

As to the performances, Richardson verges on the manic, but Sprouse is nicely laid-back, and Arias balances humor and poignancy. The only other member of the cast who stands out is Gregory, who brings the necessary earth-mother note of hyper-concern for her charges to Nurse Barb. Olivia Spencer couldn’t have done it better.

“Five Feet Apart” is suitable only for those ready to tear up over soap operas about teens with deadly ailments. Others are advised to skip this weepy hospital visit.

WONDER PARK

Producer: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Kendra Halland
Director: David Feiss, Robert Iscove and Clare Kilner
Writer: Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec
Stars: Brianna Denski, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Norbert Leo Butz, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, Oev Michael Urbas, Kevin Chamberlin and Kate McGregor
Studio: Paramount Pictures

C-

Visually ambitious and riotously energetic but burdened with a storyline that’s a weird medley of irritating characters and strange messages, “Wonder Park” ends up as just another mediocre computer-animated children’s movie. It comes from the Nickelodeon network, and should have stayed there.

The picture’s petite protagonist is Cameron Bailey (voiced by Brianna Denski), who’s constantly called “June Bug” by her mom and dad (Jennifer Garner and Matthew Broderick—his character’s name is not given as George, but he’s such a selfless sweetheart it might as well be). June has been encouraged since she was but a babe to use her imagination, and the message certainly took—now a tyke of nine or ten, she’s constructed a magical amusement park out of her dreams.

June’s Wonder Park is a collection of “splendiferous” rides and attractions, which June adds to by communicating her ideas to its creative director, a chimp named Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), a stand-in for her beloved plush toy. Other animals keep the place running for its huge crowds: a practical-minded wild boar named Greta (Mila Kunis) and her porcupine buddy Steve (John Oliver); a pair of goofy beavers, Gus (Kenan Thompson) and Cooper (Ken Jeong); and Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), a wacky blue bear with a habit of going into hibernation mode on a dime.

But June isn’t content with just imagining her park. A pushy, aggressive sort, she enlists the neighborhood kids, including her subservient pal Banky (Oev Michael Urbas), to help her build an actual thrill ride, assembled from bits and pieces of stuff—like fence posts ripped from other people’s yards and even road signs (what happens at the intersection where the “Stop” sign was removed is, happily, never shown). The inaugural spin, of course, is a NASCAR-level action scene.

June’s energetic fun is, however, cruelly interrupted when her mother falls ill and has to go off for treatment for her undisclosed ailment. Thrown deep in the doldrums, she abandons her imaginative pursuits until her father insists that she go to math camp with her friends. She suddenly decides her dad can’t get along without her, and makes poor Banky fake illness to stop the bus in mid-journey. Wandering into the forest, she stumbles into Wonder Park, now derelict because of her neglect. (For some reason it’s been taken over by hordes of zombified little monkeys.) Naturally she must rediscover her sense of purpose to join with her animal friends to restore it to its former glory and get home, where good news, needless to say, awaits her.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging kids to have dreams and hold onto them, of course, but “Wonder Park” pushes the message way too hard, turning June into a really annoying child. Worse, the place she’s created isn’t terribly interesting—a ride made of glow sticks is supposed to wow us, and she seems obsessed with roller coasters that push ahead at remarkably dangerous speeds.

Nor are the animal characters that run the place especially winning: Peanut is a particularly boring sort, and Greta isn’t far behind, while Boomer, Cooper and Gus are overbearing (expectedly, with Jeong among the voice actors); only Oliver’s laid-back porcupine is somewhat amusing. As to the other human characters, June’s parents are simply dull, while Banky is a poor man’s Milhouse Van Houten.

To be sure, kids ten and under might enjoy the movie: despite the mom-in-jeopardy part of the plot, it’s generally colorful and moves pretty quickly, and they might find June agreeably spunky rather than grating. Older kids and adults, on the other hand, will probably find it a chore to sit through, despite its professional sheen.

Though not targeted at an older crowd, though, “Wonder Park” could find an audience among college-age keg-lovers who could use it for one of their drinking games. The word “splendiferous” occurs so frequently in the script that if all uses of it were erased, the movie would shed a goodly portion of its running-time. So if one had to chug every time it’s spoken, you’d probably be sloshed after thirty minutes or so. That’s not a recommendation, just an observation.

One historical footnote: the picture’s original director, Dylan Brown, was removed from the project last year after charges of harassment were leveled against him. He was reportedly replaced by David Feiss, Robert Iscove and Clare Kilner; but in the end no director is credited. This hardly rivals the Bryan Singer-“Bohemian Rhapsody” situation, but it’s yet another example of what’s become SOP in today’s Hollywood.