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POMS

Producer:  Kelly McCormick, Alex Saks, Andy Evans, Ade Shannon, Celyn Jones, Sean Marley and Rose Ganguzza
Director: Zara Hayes
Writer: Shane Atkinson
Stars: Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Celia Weston, Rhea Perlman, Charlie Tahan, Bruce McGill, Alisha Boe, Carol Sutton, Ginny MacColl, Patricia French, Phyllis Somerville, David Maldonado, Alexandra Ficken, Jessica Roth and Dorothy Steel
Studio: STX Entertainent

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The message that “you’re never too old to fulfill your dreams” itself seems quite hoary when delivered as clumsily as it is in a movie like “Poms.” Though it wants to uplift us by celebrating the spirit of women of a certain age, the execution is so poor that it ends up depressing us instead. (The British seem able to pull off this kind of thing far better.)

That’s despite the presence of Diane Keaton, who gives the flimsy material everything she has as Martha, a crusty, solitary New Yorker who sells off all her belongings after receiving a cancer diagnosis and goes off to a Georgia retirement community to die. She’s appalled by the cheeriness of the place, presided over by self-proclaimed queen of the walk Vicki (Celia Weston), and is initially irritated by her intrusive next-door neighbor Sheryl (Jacki Weaver). But she quickly grows fond of the gregarious buttinski, and as she unpacks finds what is quickly revealed as her personal Rosebud—an old cheerleading costume that brings back memories of how she had to leave the squad to care for her ailing mother.

With a little prodding from Sheryl, she decides to form a cheerleading club at Sun Springs, as the community is called, much to the chagrin of sourpuss “southern belle” Vicki. She and Sheryl begin holding auditions for members, and a bunch of eccentric golden girls eventually signs up. They include mousy Alice (Rhea Perlman), whose disapproving husband’s prohibition is removed by his convenient death; Olive (Pam Grier), a tango dancer whose husband proves more receptive to her dancing; aerobics lover Ruby (Carol Sutton); yoga master Evelyn (Ginny MacColl); baton-twirler Helen (Phyllis Somerville); and line specialist Phyllis (Patricia French). But with the exception of Helen, who has to deal with a chauvinist son (David Maldonado) who’s also decided to be her “protector” (read, jailer), none of them gets much in the way of character; each is simply a walking stereotype, frequently with a “naughty” quality added.

The plot employs cliché after cliché to set up conflicts and obstacles. Vicki is a constant irritant, of course, refusing the girls rehearsal space. And when Sheryl responds by securing them a gig at a pep rally at the high school where she’s a (supremely bad) substitute teacher, their bumbling routine spawns an internet video that goes viral, bringing Chloe (Alisha Boe), one of the school’s repentant cheerleaders, on as a coach who whips them into shape. Sheryl’s geeky grandson (Charlie Tahan) not only becomes the club’s D.J., but his infatuation with Chloe turns into something more. And the squad impulsively decides to enter a competition where they can strut their stuff and become a web sensation. And lurking in the background, of course, is Martha’s illness, and the end she prepares for by watching some TV funeral commercials that are meant to be hilarious but fall flat, though they do provide a limp “triumph in the face of tears” twist in the end.

There are some bright spots in “Poms.” Despite the fact that Keaton is topbilled and milks the part for all it’s worth, it’s Weaver who really carries the picture as the sex-crazed, blunt-talking Sheryl. Both of the actresses mug furiously, as does virtually everybody in the cast—there are more reaction shots here than in a movie with a lovable dog (happily, one cliché omitted here), but without them the mixture of comedy and sentiment would be truly insufferable. Grier, Perlman and Somerville each has a moment or two, Bruce McGill is amusing as the Sun Springs security director, and Boe and Tahan are pleasant enough as the youngsters in the group.

But there are plenty of low points on the other end of the spectrum as well: the characters played by Weston and Maldonado, for example, as well as the dreadful caricature required of Dorothy Steel as Doris, McGill’s decrepit deputy, or the bug-eyed intensity of Jessica Roth as a competition official (who really should have been instructed to tone it down). Much of this can be chalked up to the lackadaisical direction by Zara Hayes, a documentarian making her first fiction film; the bland cinematography of Tim Orr; and the flaccid editing by Annette Davey.

As much as one might appreciate the good intentions behind a movie like “Poms,” you’re likely to come out of it wondering why such talented actress as Keaton, Weaver, and their comrades have been forced to struggle to breathe some life into such inferior material. They deserve better, as so does the audience.

POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

Producer: Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Hidenaga Katakami and Don McGowan
Director: Rob Letterman
Writer: Don Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman and Derek Connolly
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Bill Nighy, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Rita Ora and Ken Watanabe
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Pokémon, those little battling, babbling critters of various forms, have been around for what seems like forever, in video games, TV series and feature-length cartoons. But this is the first time they have moved into the current live-action CGI blockbuster format. They would have been better off declining the invitation to do so.

“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” continues the departure from the old franchise formula by being based not on the original games but on the “Detective Pikachu” one issued in 2016, which introduced the furry yellow fellow with a lightning tail as a shamus who can actually converse with a human—young Tom Goodman.

The adaptation by no fewer than five writers (one, Nicole Perlman, receiving only “story by” credit) explains Tim’s (Justice Smith) background: an insurance assessor, he’s long been estranged from his detective dad Harry, who has been working for years in Ryme City, a sort of peaceful urban paradise where Pokémon and humans live together in harmony. The place is the fabulous creation of mogul Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), who has unfortunately suffered an injury that has left him wheelchair-bound, and whose nasty son Roger (Chris Geere) has taken over the business.

Informed that his father has died in a terrible car crash, Tim travels to Ryme City, where he quickly meets not only his father’s cop friend (Ken Watanabe) but news channel intern Lucy (Kathryn Newton), who’s searching for leads in a story about Harry. Most importantly, he encounters Pikachu (voiced, in “Deadpool” mode, by Ryan Reynolds), Harry’s erstwhile partner, who was in the car with him when it crashed but somehow escaped, though his memory was wiped in the process. Tim reluctantly joins forces with the fast-talking little fellow to try to find out whether his father might still be alive too.

That leads to an avalanche of CGI action set-pieces, involving scads of various Pokémon that those who have played the games and collected the trading cards over the years will probably recognize, but non-adherents will simply find the sort of mostly anonymous special-effects critters, some cute and some not, they’ve encountered in similar live action-animated mash-ups like the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” movies, the nearly-forgotten “R.I.P.D.” (one of Reynolds’ earlier bombs), or director Rob Letterman’s previous mediocrities, “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Goosebumps.” And however cute they might be initially, they are inevitably affected by another plot ingredient—a green mist called “R,” which turns them into rampaging beasts. Who is manufacturing it, and why, are questions that Tim and Pikachu try to answer to solve the puzzle of Harry’s fate, but the truth will be all too obvious to anybody with half a brain very quickly.

As the plot rolls inexorably—and tediously—on, the movie becomes more and more a cluttered, overstuffed CGI mess. At one point Tim and Pikachu have to flee a gaggle of ravenous Pokémon affected by “R”—and Tim loses his pants in the process (ha, ha!); then Pikachu has to do battle in a cage fight against a huge Pokémon opponent; then they and Lucy get trapped in a terrible earthquake which turns into the movie’s E.T. moment (you know, Pikachu is injured and must be revived); and it all leads to a big finale in which the villain threatens humanity during a parade through the streets of Ryme City and our heroes must unmask him and save the day.

There is one segment in all the chaos that stands out as moderately enjoyable—an encounter with a mime Pokémon. But that’s a throwaway. Devotees of the property will probably also enjoy the presence of MewTwo, who becomes an integral part of the solution to the mystery.

As a whole, though, while “Detective Pikachu” might please fans of the franchise, it will likely leave newcomers cold. It would certainly have helped if Smith were a more ingratiating fellow, or Reynolds had been provided with better lines; he really doesn’t have much to deal with. And as with so many movies of this ilk, the CGI is adequate without being exceptional (the figure of Pikachu excepted), and the action scenes aren’t especially well choreographed, shot or edited (the cinematography is by John Mathieson, the editing by Mark Sanger and James Thomas).

“Detective Pikachu” has the feel of a tentpole start-up, and perhaps with help from the international audience it will prove the start of a series. If so, however, it will be because it feeds into the love of nostalgia that the “Transformers” movies fed into rather than any innate imaginativeness or cleverness. It’s not as bad as the Michael Bay movies, to be sure, but it’s not good either.