Tag Archives: C+

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE

Producers: Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter   Director: Matthew López   Screenplay: Matthew López and Ted Malawer   Cast: Nicholas Galitzine, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Clifton Collins Jr., Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Stephen Fry, Uma Thurman, Ellie Bamber, Thomas Flynn, Malcolm Atobrah, Akshay Khanna, Sharon D. Clarke, Aneesh Sheth, Bridget Benstead and Juan Castano   Distributor: Amazon Studios/Prime Video

Grade: C+

All romantic comedies are fantasies to some degree, but this one is truly fantastical, at least as far as plot is concerned.  Based on the 2019 novel by Casey McQuiston, “Red, White & Royal Blue” concerns a love affair that develops between Alex Clermont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar-Perez), the handsome son of the first female president of the United States, Ellen Clermont (Uma Thurman), and her senator husband Oscar Diaz (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the handsome younger son of the recently-deceased Prince of Wales—the  royal family’s Spare, as he (along with the real Prince Harry, we know from his book) describes himself. 

The two are portrayed as initially disliking one another intensely—the reason is eventually explained—and making an extravagant mess at the wedding reception for Henry’s older brother, snooty Prince Philip (Thomas Flynn); while arguing, they literally crash into a giant cake that comes tumbling down on them.  The ensuing political brouhaha leads to a PR campaign requiring them to pretend to be friends, and so Alex visits Britain for some photo ops with the prince.  During a joint visit to a hospital an incident forces the security detail to shove them into a storage closet for protection, and it’s there that they have a confessional conversation that breaks the ice between them.  Yes, they open up to one another while literally closeted, though their actual coming out as a gay couple won’t occur until much later as a result of tabloid rumor-mongering spread by Miguel Ramos (Juan Castano), a reporter who once had a fling with Alex. 

In the meantime they exchange chummy meetings with one another in the U.S. or England, depending on who’s able to make the transatlantic trip.  Encouraged by his younger sister Beatrice (Ellie Bamber), Henry is the first to make a direct approach with a kiss, leaving a confused Alex to decide how to respond.  But he too finds support in his close friend Nora (Rachel Hilson), and it doesn’t take him long to reciprocate; soon their intimacies grow more intense.  Initially they opt for clandestine nights together, but it’s not long before Zahri (Sarah Shahi), the president’s chief of staff, finds them together and must deal with the potential fallout—during Ellen’s close reelection campaign, yet.

Under the direction of playwright Matthew López, who also co-wrote the adaptation with Ted Malawer, “Red, White & Royal Blue” comes off as an extremely old-fashioned take on a scenario that could have had a lot more edginess.  Just how old-fashioned is demonstrated in the last act, when the possibility arises that the two “princes” might do the apparently expedient thing and sever their relationship.  Their decision is encapsulated in two songs (among many that interrupt Drum & Lace’s perky score): Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 “If I Loved You,” followed by “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” popularized by Elvis Presley in 1961.

That choice merely emphasizes the fact that “Red, White & Royal Blue” tells a tale that might have been told in a movie of the 1940s or 1950s, about a romance between a prince and princess of two hostile countries in some Ruritanian fantasy.  The only difference is the addition of the gay twist—and, of course, some bedroom scenes a bit (only a bit, mind you) more spicy than they would have been then.  Of course, in either case the family reactions would need to be dealt with.  Here, being good progressive Democrats, both Ellen and Oscar are on the side of true love, even assisting the lovers to enjoy time together.  Except for Beatrice, however, Henry’s family reacts negatively.  Philip is appalled and antagonistic and the boys’ grandfather King James (Stephen Fry) is worried about the public reaction, which turns out to be remarkably positive on both sides of the Atlantic.  That only goes to reinforce how much of a fantasy this story is.

But if you’re willing to accept the movie on its own toothless terms, it’s reasonably tolerable fluff.  Galitzine and Perez are both handsome, likable fellows, and the script doesn’t demand any really strenuous acting from them.  Thurman never really convinces as a savvy politico and her supposedly Texas accent doesn’t either, but she makes Ellen a pleasant presence, while Shahi gets some laughs as her harried assistant.  No one else has much to do; it’s especially sad to watch the usually inventive Fry wasted in a stock one-scene part.  On the visual side the picture possesses the requisite sheen, thanks to Miren Marañón’s production design (which makes good use of the sumptuous British locales), Keith Madden’s elegant costumes, and Stephen Goldblatt’s glossy cinematography.  There are moments when one wishes the editing by Kristina Hetherington and Nick Moore had a touch more pep, but generally the picture moves along fairly well.          

The film ends with Ellen winning her hard-fought reelection campaign by flipping Texas to the Democratic ledger, courtesy of Alex’s direction of her campaign there.  As fantastical as the whole of the picture is, any resident of the Lone Star state will certainly agree that in fantasy terms, that really takes the cake. Just ask Beto O’Rourke. 

BLUE BEETLE

Producers: John Rickard and Zev Foreman   Director: Ángel Manuel Soto   Screenplay: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer   Cast: Xolo Maridueña, Adriana Barraza, Damían Alcázar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, Belissa Escobedo, Harvey Guillén and Becky G    Distributor: Warner Bros.

Grade: C+

There’s a measure of charm, some goofy and some sentimental, infusing the domestic dynamic in this latest addition to the DC Comics film franchise, a superhero movie that’s truly a family affair (in the biological sense, not the comrade-style one of the Avengers or Justice League).  And the fact that the family is Latino earns it points in the diversity department.

But despite those elements in its favor, “Blue Beetle” emerges as a rather undistinguished example of the genre, marred by a rote origins plotline, a boring villain (played by the starriest member of the cast, no less) and mediocre CGI.

Blue Beetle has been around since the late thirties (though never reaching the top tier of DC heroes, and barely the second), but though the script by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer has allusions to the two earlier versions of he character (Dan Garrett in the earliest incarnation and especially Ted Kord in the reboot of the 1960s and beyond), it’s essentially based on the 2006 revival in the person of Jaime Reyes.  He’s a youngster chosen by the Scarab, a glistening blue MacGuffin of unspecified origin, to meld with it and thereby acquire super powers—enhanced strength, power of flight—when wearing the armored exoskeleton the Scarab encases him in.

In this telling, Jaime (engagingly genial Xolo Maridueña) is returning to his hometown of Palmera City, having recently graduated from college in pre-law.  He finds his loving family in trouble.  His father Alberto (Damián Alcázar) is not only recovering from a heart attack, but has lost his auto repair shop.  Jaime and his younger sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) get menial jobs at the mansion of weapons-manufacturing Kord Industries hard-driving COO Victoria (Susan Sarandon), but are fired by their imperious boss as a response to Milagro’s insubordination and Jaime’s impetuous intervention when Victoria’s thuggish aide Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo) threatens her niece Jenny (Bruna Marquezine), who objects to the company’s priorities.

Jenny invites Jaime to come to the company headquarters the next day in hopes of another job, but instead she accidentally involves him in the theft of the Scarab from the lab presided over by Dr. Sanchez (Harvey Guillén); Victoria had long been searching for the artifact for years in hopes of using its power to complete her project to create a super-soldier (OMAC for short) using Carapax as host.  Despite Jenny’s warnings, Jaime connects with the Scarab and becomes Blue Beetle.

That quickly leads Victoria to take aim not only at him, but his entire gregarious family—his father and sister, as well as his mother Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), his grandmother (Adriana Barraza) and hi voluble, conspiracy-theorist uncle Rudy (George Lopez).  In the ensuing melee she captures Jaime, intending to drain the Scarab’s power from him and insert it into Carapax.  His family, despite grieving the loss of Alberto in the battle, determines to rescue him, and Jenny joins in the effort, enlisting equipment left behind by her father Ted, who disappeared years ago when he was fighting crime as the earlier, non-super Blue Beetle.  Eventually with the help of his family Jaime escapes Victoria and connects with the Scarab’s essence Khaji-Da (voiced by Becky G) to access its full power, but even then his battle with Carapax, now OMAC, is a close thing that is going badly until the super soldier recalls his own childhood as a victim of Victoria Kord’s private army.

Perhaps befitting its less-than-stellar comic-book roots, “Blue Beetle” was originally intended for the streaming service HBO MAX, and its generally cheesy visuals probably reflect the original small-screen mentality, and look pretty terrible when projected onto the screen of a big auditorium.  Jon Billington’s production design is comparatively chintzy (Ted Kord’s old secret lair is no Batcave, and the literally buggy airship from his storehouse is—one hopes intentionally—comically absurd), and the visual effects supervised by Kelvin McIlwain have a sloppy quality that editor Craig Alpert tries futilely to camouflage with quick, mushy cuts, while Bobby Krlic’s score churns away beneath them.  On might add that the Blue Beetle suit, presumably designed by costumer Mayes C. Rubeo, complete with the familiar pincers protruding from the back, is surely the most ungainly such outfit since Iron Man’s, though the OMAC getup is even uglier, resembling a lumbering Transformer with porcupine spines emerging from its sides.  Under the circumstances comparisons people will try to draw to today’s big-budget superhero extravaganzas don’t seem apt; in terms of its genre portions, the movie is actually more reminiscent, in plot and execution, of a piece of schlock like 1991’s little-seen, justly-forgotten “Guyver.”

That’s exacerbated by Sarandon’s shrill, one-note turn as the ruthless, weapons-obsessed Victoria Kord, the most tiresome aspect of the picture.  Trujillo would be equally dull as her technologically-enhanced super-bodyguard were it not for a turn his character takes toward the close.  On the other hand, once freed of the shackles of the superhero portion of the plot, director Ángel Manuel Soto gives the material some of the giddy air of a Latino sitcom.  That can go overboard: Lopez is so broad that he threatens to turn things into complete farce, while the transformation of Barraza’s Nana into a ferociously grinning revolutionary as adept with a huge laser-firing automatic rifle as with her knitting needles is traded on rather too much.  And while Escobedo’s younger sister is meant to be lovably sharp-tongued, she comes across too often as simply obnoxious.  As Jaime’s mom Carrillo is pretty much wasted (as is Marquezine as his prospective love interest), but Alcázar brings a low-keyed dignity to Alberto, even if the dream sequence in which Jaime, at the point of death, visits him in the afterlife, only to be told that it’s not yet his time, is a bit of maudlin cliché that goes too far.  One can argue that here’s undeniably some stereotyping going on in the depiction of Reyes family, but the affection of the treatment compensates.

There are a couple of stingers in the closing credits.  The first suggests the direction a sequel might take in introducing an additional character, while the second seems to have little purpose but fun.  Stay for them if you like, but if so, you won’t avoid the rush to the parking lot.