Tag Archives: C-

BREAKTHROUGH

Producer: DeVon Franklin
Director: Roxann Dawson
Writer: Grant Nieporte
Stars: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Marcel Ruiz, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell, Rebecc Staab, Mike Colter, Ali Skovbye, Victor Zinck, Jr. and Lisa Disrupt
Studio: 20th Century Fox

C-

There are so many emotional breakthroughs in “Breakthrough” that you could exhaust yourself just counting them, but the one that sets the story, based on a real 2015 incident, in motion is of a purely physical nature: John Smith (Marcel Ruiz), the adoptive teen son of Joyce and Brian (Chrissy Metz and Josh Lucas), a deeply religious Missouri couple, falls through the ice of a frozen lake and spends a quarter-hour in the water before being pulled out. He’s pronounced dead in the hospital after attempts to revive him fail, but when Joyce prays over him, the boy comes back to life, though whether doctors in St. Louis, where he’s transferred, will be able to save him seems doubtful.

Since this is clearly a “faith-based” film. the outcome is, shall we say, predestined; its producer previously made the 2016 movie “Miracles from Heaven,” and this one offers a similar divine explanation for John’s recovery, although it adds a small measure of complexity at the close by raising the question of why God saves some but not others, though it doesn’t consider whether that suggests a capricious deity.

Those kinds of questions, though, are secondary to the various breakthroughs the script offers on the way to the finale. For example, the support shown during the family’s ordeal by the new, “hip” pastor of the Water of Life Church the Smiths attend—his name is Jason Noble and he’s played by “That 70s Show” alumnus Topher Grace (the names of both character and actor are uncannily on target)—leads Joyce finally to abandon her hostility to his manner and methods, and the two become friends. It’s just one respect in which she moves away from a prideful faith to a humble one. The ordeal also leads to a breakthrough between mother and son, who had been going through a rough patch (the tight-lipped turmoil felt by an adopted adolescent, you know), and between Joyce and Brian, who feels that his wife is sometimes too rigid in her attitudes.

Then there’s the effect of the event on Tommy Shine (Sam Trammell), the fireman who pulls John from the water. He says quite directly that he doesn’t believe in God, and yet how else can he explain the voice he heard saying “Go back,” just as he was about to abandon the attempt to find the kid beneath the murky water? Similar is the reaction of renowned Dr. Garrett (Dennis Haysbert), who can’t explain his patient’s swift recovery as anything but miraculous? Other characters experience awakenings and major shifts of attitude as the narrative progresses as well.

One breakthrough that “Breakthrough” does not achieve, however, is the one that would move it beyond preaching-to-the-choir status.

In some respects it’s a distinct improvement over most “faith-based” movies. Some of the actors, for one thing, bring subtlety to their turns. True, Metz comes on very strong—perhaps she was unable to escape the tendency to overdo the drama that comes with starring in a TV program like “This Is Us”—but Grace, Lucas and Haysbert offer more nuanced turns. The supporting cast is variable, some barely avoiding the thin ice of amateurishness, and Roxann Dawson’s direction is too often labored, but Zoran Popovic’s widescreen cinematography is overall pretty handsome.

Sincere but heavy-handed, “Breakthrough” can serve as a sort of cinematic Easter sermon for believers, but its combination of heavy religious messaging and Hallmark Hall of Fame style will probably turn off audiences of a more secular bent.

CAPTIVE STATE

Producer: David Crockett and Rupert Wyatt
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writer: Erica Beeney and Rupert Wyatt
Stars: John Goodmam, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Dunn, James Ransone, Alan Riuck, Madeline Brewer, Machine Gun Kelly, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ben Daniels and Caitloin Ewal
Studio: Focus Features

C-

A Trojan horse motif permeates the last act of Rupert Wyatt’s would-be action movie about an earth that has capitulated to extraterrestrial invaders and a resistance movement fighting the new status quo, and that’s curiously appropriate: a cinematic Trojan horse, “Captive State” promises to be an exciting thriller, but proves stodgy and dull.

After a brief prologue in which a couple fleeing the invaders through the streets of Chicago, their two sons in the backseat of the car, are stopped by alien enforcers, the picture jumps ahead nine years, when the new regime—with the invaders in charge as subterranean “legislators” and human quislings like Mayor Lee (Marc Grapey), Police Commissioner Igoe (Kevin Dunn) and his second-in-command William Mulligan (John Goodman) acting at ground level to keep order—is in firm control.

But as in old TV series like “V” and “Falling Skies” (as well as movies like “Red Dawn,” though there the invaders were Commies), resistance continues. Though the older of the two Drummond boys from the opening prologue, Rafe (Jonathan Majors), is listed as deceased, a legendary hero of the movement, the younger, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders, failing to match the promise of his breakthrough roles in “Moonlight” and “The Equalizer 2”) survives, a surly subject of the government who works erasing the memory of digital devices that have been banned by the aliens.

Gabriel remains sufficiently opposed to the regime, however, to refuse cooperating with Mulligan—who as the onetime partner of the boy’s father, feels a sense of obligation to the kid—in helping to unmask the resistance’s leadership and mode of operation, even as the group is plotting an assassination attempt at a big “Unity Event” being staged at Soldiers Field, where the Bears are conspicuous by their absence. He rejects Mulligan’s entreaties even after Rafe proves to be still alive and captured (and tortured) by the cops.

What follows is a confused and slapdash affair as Mulligan, played by Goodman with a perpetually sleepy, world-weary attitude, works to ferret out the ring and prevent the aliens from wiping out a whole section of Chicago, the way they famously did a troublesome area called Wicker Park years earlier. Still, he occasionally takes time off from his official duties to visit a prostitute (Vera Farmiga), who gets her clients in the mood by playing a remarkably well-preserved LP of Nat “King” Cole’s “Stardust,” CDs apparently having gone the way of all “modern” things.

“Captive State” finishes up in a last act with a major revelation about the Drummond family’s past (related through some scratchy old video) and a complete explanation for the resistance’s schemes, though the payoff frankly comes like a bomb that fizzles rather than exploding.
Perhaps that’s the result of the movie’s low budget, which allows for some blink-and-you’ll-miss them alien effects (the rocklike spaceship streaking across the sky could probably have been improved by a twelve-year old at his computer, while the actual extraterrestrials look either like giant porcupines or armored versions of “Predator”). Chicago suffers desolation again, at least from a distance in faraway vistas; the actual street scenes, including the ones around Soldier Field, have just about the same visual finesse of the “Purge” series, shot by cinematographer Alex Disenhof in the drabbest shades of gray and blue.

Along with Farmiga a number of other well-known faces make fleeting appearances in the movie—Alan Ruck and D.B. Sweeney among them—but like her they’re wasted. (There’s also another rapper transitioning to acting—a fellow who uses the moniker Machine Gun Kelly, and was previously in the notorious “Bird Box”—but he merely proves he should stick to his main gig.) Wyatt, who pumped considerable energy into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” fails to repeat the trick here.

One might appreciate the effort to do something different on a modest budget, but ultimately “Captive State” resembles an elongated “Twilight Zone” episode with a twist ending that doesn’t quite come off. And it drags along so desultorily that watching it you might feel like a captive yourself.