Tag Archives: C

DESTROYER

Producer: Fred Berger, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writer: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford, Toby Huss, James Jordan, Beau Knapp and Jade Pettyjohn
Studio: Annapurna Pictures

C

Nicole Kidman is barely recognizable in Karyn Kusama’s “Destroyer” as Erin Bell, an undercover Los Angeles detective in terrible physical and psychological shape. It’s one of those performances designed not only to upend our expectations of a performer but to attract awards consideration. Sometimes that strategy works; here it really doesn’t.

Bell first appears zonked-out in her car. Emaciated, red-eyed and slovenly, she makes her way to the site of a murder. The officers already on the scene treat her like a pariah, but when she looks at the corpse, it triggers memories that send the plot along two chronological tracks, jumping from one to the other intermittently throughout.

One is set in the present, when telltale marks on the dead man’s neck and some bills tainted with colored dye tell Erin that the killer is someone from her past. That prompts a search for the perpetrator, whose identity she keeps to herself. Simultaneously she has to try connecting with her sixteen-year old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who’s heading into such trouble with a sleazy boyfriend that Bell wants her ex to take the girl away—and when that fails, tries to bribe the guy to take a hike.

The other track is set seventeen years ago, when Erin was partnering with Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a bank-robbing gang led by a nasty thug named Silas (Tobey Kebbell). They’re a phony couple, at first just pretending to be together, but as the mission goes on they become a real one.

Bank robberies engineered by Silas feature in both parts of the film. In the earlier one, it’s the heist that Erin and Chris are involved in as members of Silas’ gang. It goes awry, of course, in the worst possible way. In the later segment, she tracks down Silas’ current operation, in part by confronting a crooked lawyer (Bradley Whitford) who’s keener on using violence than divulging information, and succeeds in taking down a member of the gang (Tatiana Maslany). But her real quarry, of course, is Silas, and a confrontation is inevitable.

There’s a certain degree of fascination in watching Kidman navigate the different facets of her role; she certainly embraces the seedier aspects of the part, including the more brutal physical bits. It’s hard to reconcile her appearance here with, for example, how she looks in other current movies—“Aquaman” and “The Upside.” That’s not quite the same thing as saying she’s entirely convincing, however. She works very hard at being grubby and unattractive, as well as beaten-down and sullen, but one never feels that she truly disappears into the character; there’s always the telltale sign of effort to what she does here. Still, one has to give her credit for taking a chance.

But despite Kidman’s bravura performance, “Destroyer” intrigues without being especially compelling. While her chameleonic turn is definitely its major point of interest, moreover, there are other facets worth noting, including an against-type turn by Whitford. Kusama shows that she can get down and dirty with the most macho of directors, and her crew—production designer Kay Lee, costume designer Audrey Fisher, cinematographer Julie Kirkwood—all contribute to the seedy atmosphere. Editor Plummy Tucker keeps the chronological shifts reasonably clear, while Theodore Shapiro—a man, for a change—adds to the dark mood.

Dark—and depressing.

A DOG’S WAY HOME

Producer: Gavin Polone
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Writer: W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon
Stars: Shelby,  Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Barry Watson, Motell Foster, John Cassini, Chris Bauer, Brian Markinson, Tammy Gillis and Bryce Dallas Howard
Studio: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

C

From the writer of “A Dog’s Purpose” comes another canine soap opera. Happily, unlike its predecessor “A Dog’s Way Home” doesn’t involve multiple doggie deaths and reincarnations, but it too ends with the reunion of master and pet calculated to bring “oohs” and “ahs” from its viewers.

The plot is an old chestnut. Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard—yes, she talks, or at least thinks loudly), a rescue dog brought up by a cat after her pit-bull mother is seized by animal control, finds a home with med student Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his mother Terri (Ashley Judd), an army veteran coping with post-service depression. Unfortunately, Lucas falls afoul of a developer (Brian Markinson), who’s trying to tear down some deserted houses where stray cats and dogs live, and he in turn enlists a nasty dogcatcher (John Cassini) to target Bella; she’s actually in violation of Denver’s anti-pit-bull ordinance if she’s found loose on the streets.

Lucas and his girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) arrange for Bella to stay temporarily with her folks in New Mexico while they search for a place outside the city limits—they’re obviously very much dog lovers. But just as they’re about to retrieve Bella, she escapes and begins a perilous journey through the wilds of New Mexico and Colorado to get home.

So long as the film keeps its focus on Bella and the animals she encounters along the way—particularly an orphaned cougar cub that she befriends and that grows up substantially as they proceed—the picture is engaging in the same fashion that earlier stories of similar treks, “The Incredible Journey” and the “Homeward Bound” movies of the nineties, were. There are a couple of sequences that are a mite troublesome—one in which Bella causes a ruckus at a grocery store trying to find food, and another where she causes a pile-up on a freeway, both of which play the destruction in entirely humorous terms, and an encounter with a wolf pack, which is too frightening for the smallest fry.

But the locations are gorgeous (and beautifully shot by Peter Menzies, Jr.), and Shelby, the dog that plays Bella, has the sort of soulful eyes that are bound to melt the heart of every puppy-lover. The other animals, whether live-action or computer-generated, are attractive critters too, especially that loyal cougar. The editing by David S, Clark and music score by Mychael Danna are also fine.

Unfortunately, there are on-screen human beings to be considered, too, and they’re a terribly pallid lot, even when played by accomplished actors; perhaps director Charles Martin Smith was so entranced by his four-pawed performers that he didn’t spend much time with them. Ashley Judd smiles a lot but offers no real characterization, while Hauer-King and Shipp offer the sort of gee-whiz, Nickolodeon-quality turns that are pretty embarrassing on a big screen. Bryce Dallas Howard, who provides Bella’s thoughts (anthropomorphism being a major factor here), is a bit whiny and irritating, too.

The people Bella encounters along the way aren’t any better. Edward James Olmos, as a homeless man who uses her as a pawn in his begging operation (and nearly causes her death), is soporific, while Wes Studi, as the Denver chief of police, has little to do; the others, like Barry Watson and Motell Foster as a gay couple who take in Bella briefly, are simply amateurish, as are the crew playing the residents of the veterans’ home where Lucas works and Bella makes friends.

As far as doggie movies go, “A Dog’s Way Home” doesn’t deserve to be sent to the pound—in fact, it’s more enjoyable than the sappy, pseudo-profound “Dog’s Purpose”—but the mediocrity of the human element undermines Bella’s quest.