Tag Archives: D+

SHERLOCK GNOMES

Producer: David Furnish, Steve Hamilton Shaw and Carolyn Soper
Director: John Stevenson
Writer: Ben Zazove
Stars: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Demetriou, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant and Ozzy Osbourne
Studio: Paramount Pictures

D+

This sequel to the first gnome-based animated picture, 2011’s mediocre “Gnomeo and Juliet,” begins with a debate about what story it should tell. One suggestion is “Game of Gnomes,” but the punning options land on “Sherlock Gnomes” instead. Presumably the choice was made on the basis of what happens to be in the public domain.

Whatever the rationale, the movie turns out to be a pretty anemic idea, connected to its predecessor only by the most tenuous of links. Boring Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and feisty Juliet (Emily Blunt) are now a couple, moved along with all their gnome friends and family to a new garden in London. No sooner do they arrive than a wave of disappearances of gnomes breaks out all over the city. Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp), the sworn defender of gnomes, and his partner Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) would ordinarily suspect their nemesis Moriarity (Jamie Demetriou), an evil plastic spokesthing for a pie-selling outfit, but he supposedly died during the team’s latest gnome-rescue.

The two teams meet when Gnomeo and Juliet’s garden-mates all vanish while they’re out on the town, and Gnomes and Watson turn up to investigate. Joining forces, after a fashion, they follow the series of clues that arrogant Sherlock works out in a number of surrealistic black-and-white montages, and eventually track the missing gnomes via visits to first a Chinese restaurant and a doll museum, and then to some London landmarks—the Museum of Natural History and Tower Bridge. (“Paddington 2” also used London locations as touchstone places, but did so much more cleverly.) The abductors are revealed to be a couple of gargoyles, but they’re in the employ, as it turns out, of not one but two villains. Their identities are not surprising.

The pursuit has a subtext in Gnomeo’s recognition of Juliet’s strength and her coming to accept his needs too. Meanwhile Gnomes must accept Watson as a friend as well as a true collaborator.

All of this is rather tedious, though the computer animation is good and the 3D effective, though the voice work by the leads and such stalwarts as Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters in supporting roles is surprisingly bland. (The exception is Demetriou, who is so frantic that he quickly becomes grating.)

But there are oddities throughout. A scampering horde of rats in a sewer is likely to disgust parents and kids alike. The Chinese restaurant sequence is loaded with old-fashioned ethnic stereotypes. And for a movie aimed at tykes, including a couple of subtitled sequences makes little sense, since a large segment of the audience can’t yet read.

Then there’s a truly weird sequence featuring Mary J. Blige as Irene, the queen of the doll shop, who sings a new song called “Stronger Than I Ever Was” by Elton John, who’s executive producer on the movie. It’s meant as an anthem to strong womanhood (a topic Irene also discusses briefly with Juliet), but it’s presented in the form of a Las Vegas casino number, and you have to wonder what kids will make of it. Their parents might find their eyes widening, too.

Frankly “Sherlock Gnomes” might have worked better if Gnomeo and Juliet had been excised from the story (along with their garden comrades). One shudders to think what their roles might be in sequels like “Gnome on the Range” and other punning titles.

Of course, stopping the series right now could bring everyone a sigh of relief. Can Mr. John be persuaded? By low grosses, most assuredly, and that’s the likeliest outcome.

LOOKING GLASS

Producer: Braxton Pope and David M. Wulf
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, Jacque Gray, Kassia Conway, Bill Bolender, Kimmy Jimenez, Barry Jay Minoff and Pascoalina Dunham
Studio: Momentum Pictures

D+

Hotels and their roadside offspring have provided the setting for many a horror movie, with “Psycho” and “The Shining” among the most notable. Tim Hunter’s “Looking Glass,” unfortunately, is nowhere near their league.

Apparently inspired by Gay Talese’s recent account of a motel owner who spied on his guests (though, unlike Norman Bates, he never went beyond looking), the movie is about a couple—Ray (Nicolas Cage) and Maggie (Robin Tunney)—who, guilt-ridden over the recent death of their daughter, opt to buy a motel in a small desert town off Craig’s List to start a new life. They find the key under the mat and the former owner, a guy named Ben (Bill Bolender) gone, leaving no forwarding address.

The locals are none too welcoming; even the housekeeper, Ava (Pascoalina Dunham), is oddly standoffish. Ray handles most of the grunt work around the place while Maggie rests, trying to find some sort of closure. But a discovery he makes changes things. He finds a crawlspace from which he can, via a two-way mirror, watch what happens in one of the rooms. It’s the room that Tommy (Ernie Lively), a grubby truck driver, always wants for his nights with a local hooker. It’s also the room in which a dominatrix (Jacque Gray) will kill one of her clients.

Ray’s voyeurism has an effect on his own lust, which finds release in a new passion withy Maggie. But it also leads to his psychological deterioration, especially after Howard (Marc Blucas), a local deputy, begins asking questions, not only about the disappearance of the recent murder victim but a previous killing at the motel—of a young girl found in the swimming pool. It’s hardly coincidental that Ray will find a disemboweled pig floating in the same pool, though his reaction—hauling the porcine carcass out into the desert and burning it—is certainly extreme. He will also go off the rails when he tracks down the dominatrix to tell her not to return to his place, getting into a fight with her protector as a result. No wonder his new neighbors, like the owner of a nearby gas station (Barry Jay Minoff), are positively hostile to the new arrivals.

The mystery of the deaths at the motel is resolved, after a fashion, when Ben finally contacts Ray and arranges to meet, though their conversation does not go smoothly. Suffice it to say that Ray must finally face down the villain and reconnect with his wife.

But the question of murder is really secondary to Ray’s emotional arc, which covers the gamut from painful resignation to renewed passion and reinvigoration of a sort. Unfortunately, that aspect of the film is no clearer than the more prosaic mystery aspect, which is burdened by so many digressions, false leads and opacities that it’s difficult to keep track of the twists, let alone care where they might lead. That’s the fault of the script, of course, but Hunter, whose best work was done three decades ago with the truly unsettling “River’s Edge,” fails to muster much tension or suspense here.

So ultimately the only pleasure to be had from “Looking Glass”—if you can call it that—lies in watching Cage going through his paces. He has a few good moments in his early scenes with Blucas, who plays Howard with a shark-like smile, but otherwise his relatively low-key performance doesn’t bring much fizz to this gloomy entry in his seemingly endless stream of made-for-the-paycheck B-movies. The technical contributions are no more than adequate, and the throbbing music score never adds the punch it’s obviously aiming for.

In sum, this is a sadly muted thrill-free thriller, starring a disappointingly manic-deprived Cage.