We’re finally in the midst of summer. From now on there will be a blockbuster every week vying for your eyeballs, hoping to be the next big hit.
And this week was no exception as “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” tried, but failed, to dethrone “Avengers: Endgame” as the top movie at the box office, with Pokémon earning $53.3 million in the U.S. and Canada compared to Endgame’s $63.3 million over the weekend.
But “Detective Pikachu” wasn’t the only new film on the block the past week.
We also had a remake of the 1988 comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, a movie about a group of retirees becoming cheerleaders, and a biopic about one of the most renowned authors of all time.
Let’s get right to the reviews.
First up is “The Hustle.”
This film follows two female con artists who plan to prey on wealthy men in the French Riviera. The cunning and cultured Josephine (Anne Hathaway) plots to swindle her targets from her ill-gotten luxury villa in the village of Beaumont-sur-Mer. The brash and free-wheeling Penny (Rebel Wilson) pursues the same scheme although it involves far less refined methods.
Upon discovery of Penny’s presence, Josephine wants to eject the interloper from her territory. Failing that, Josephine decides to teach Penny her craft, believing she can polish her rough edges.
If that plot summary gave you a strong feeling of déjà vu, it’s because this isn’t the first time a story about competing con artists scamming rich people on the French Riviera has been put to film.
In 1988 there was a comedy released called “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin as two competing scamsters. Caine being the sophisticated genteel type, and Martin a less refined small-time hustler.
Of course that film itself was a remake of a 1964 movie called “Bedtime Story,” starring Marlon Brando and David Niven in the same roles.
As I’ve said in the past, I’m not opposed to movies being remade.
If the filmmakers behind these films have something new to add to these stories, or perhaps a different perspective on the same source material, I’m all for it.
In fact “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” did just that. That film turned the concept of the original on its head, completely changing the ending and updating it for modern sensibilities all with one simple, yet brilliant, twist.
So what does “The Hustle” do to switch up the script?
Well it makes the main characters women instead of men, they change the main character from the refined hustler to the small time swindler, and they throw in more overt sexual references.
That’s about it.
Everything else, including the overall story, entire scenes, and even the surprise twist ending was carelessly ripped from the previous film with barely a thought.
It’s basically the same exact movie, just worse and with more sex jokes.
Unlike Steve Martin, Rebel Wilson isn’t remotely convincing as a con artist.
Rebel’s doing her normal comedy schtick here. Generally her characters are incredibly blunt and overly honest to a fault.
That works fine for her in many movies, but not one where she’s supposed to be a woman who makes a living off of lying to men.
Honestly, I think she was horribly miscast. Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s a fine comedic actress. She just doesn’t fit the role here though.
Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, was perfectly cast. She plays the role of the refined chameleon con woman quite well. If there’s one bright spot in the entire film, it’s her.
It’s just a shame the film around her wasn’t up to snuff.
The whole experience felt like a cheap knockoff of the 1988 film.
Sure, most of the same events happen, but often they lack the same set up, making some scenes feel shoehorned in. Included not because they made sense in this version of the story, but because they were in the original.
For example, in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” early on there’s a scene with Caine’s character pulling a scam on a wealthy woman at a roulette table.
The gist of it being him pretending to be a prince in danger, gambling his last dime to help fund freedom fighters in his country.
The whole scam requires the “prince” to lose his bet, thus gaining sympathy from his mark.
This routine is given a comedic twist later on when Caine and Martin’s characters decide to have a competition to see who’s the best con artist.
When he tries to pull the same scam again on a different woman, instead of losing his money and gaining the mark’s compassion, he inexplicably wins over and over again.
It’s a funny scene and it works because of that setup at the beginning of the film.
“The Hustle” has the same exact scene at a roulette table during the swindlers competition, but without the first scene showing the scam work.
It seems the filmmakers didn’t understand why that scene was funny. They just saw it in the other movie and threw it in without thinking.
It’s like they told the punch line of a joke without including the setup.
So beyond swapping the main character’s genders and telling the jokes worse, this movie doesn’t have much to offer anyone who’s seen “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” In fact it’ll just be annoying to anyone who enjoyed the 1988 film.
But at the same time, if you haven’t seen “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” many of the scenes here just won’t make sense.
“The Hustle” is the worst kind of remake. One that’s both too lazy to do anything new with the concept, and too incompetent to recreate the elements which made original fun in the first place.
“The Hustle” is rated PG-13.
Next is “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.”
In a world where Pokémon and humans live side by side, a detective named Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Justice Smith) to discover what happened to him.
Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, a Pikachu with a detective’s cap (Ryan Reynolds). Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on an adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City.
Alright, I have a confession. I am one of the few kids who didn’t get wrapped up in Pokémon during the 90s.
I didn’t play any of the Gameboy games, didn’t have any of the collectable cards, and I certainly didn’t watch the ridiculously popular animated series.
I think the whole “pocket monsters” moniker, which is what Pokémon literally translates too, gave my parents pause in accepting the collectable creatures.
I wasn’t the type of kid to outright defy my mom and dad, so I basically ignored Pokémon growing up. Besides, I had plenty of other obsessions to fill my time, including dinosaurs, super heroes, and Star Wars, so I never really felt like it was missing out.
Since then, as an adult I’ve learned a bit more about Pokémon, especially from popular alternate reality game Pokémon Go, and I’ve even watched a couple episodes of the cartoon.
Still, I don’t really have a big emotional connection with the franchise. I like Pokémon fine, but since I didn’t grow up with them, I just don’t have the nostalgia many people my age have.
Which brings me to this movie.
I have to admit, despite not being a diehard fan, seeing Pokémon occupy a living breathing live action world is quite impressive.
Pokémon replace every real animal here. Instead of cattle, you have herds of Tauruses. And instead of birds, you have flocks of Pidgey and Pidgeotto.
And in Ryme City, the Pokémon become even more ubiquitous.
They’re everywhere. Roaming the streets, or sleeping in them in the case of Snorlax, coexisting with humans side by side.
As someone without a lot of knowledge about Pokémon, I thought the setting here was very well done and invited plenty of fun ideas to explore.
Unfortunately, since I’m not steeped in Pokémon lore, the overall story for this movie felt more than a little convoluted to me.
I don’t want to spoil the details, but suffice it to say the film gets pretty weird. Especially in the second half of the movie.
What started out as a detective noir-ish story, led to a bizarre ending that felt more like a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon than anything. Complete with a nonsensical super villain plot.
It wasn’t awful to the point of being unwatchable, but by the midway point my eyes had definitely started to glaze over.
Performances wise, it’s basically impossible for me to dislike Ryan Reynolds in a movie at this point.
Granted, having him voice a cute little Pikachu is a bit of a stretch. His voice does not match the cuddly looking creature at all. But I guess the contrast between his voice and character is kind of point.
Either way, Reynolds is definitely one of the biggest highlights of the movie. He basically brings all the humor, interjecting with funny lines almost constantly.
Sadly, not every actor can be Ryan Reynolds, and the rest of the performances were a bit hit or miss.
Justice Smith was okay for the most part, but lacked the emotional punch in the film’s more sentimental scenes.
And Kathryn Newton, who plays a junior reporter which helps our detective pair along the way, plays the character a little too campy for my tastes.
Again, like the middling story, none of the acting outright ruins the movie. It just doesn’t quite live up to the fantastic setting the filmmakers created here.
Overall, this is a cute buddy adventure movie. Probably the least bad video game based movie ever made. But as game enthusiasts know that’s an incredibly low bar.
I’m sure fans of the series, children and adults alike, will get a lot more out of it than I did.
Definitely worth seeing it if you’re a Pokémon fanatic. If nothing else, it’s cool to see the real world filled with all these fascinating creatures.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is rated PG.
Third this week is “Poms.”
Following the sale of her estate, Martha (Diane Keaton), decides to move into a retirement community to live out the rest of her days in peace.
But instead of peace, she winds up with a next door neighbor named Sheryl (Jacki Weaver) who insists on keeping Martha company, whether she likes it or not. Together the two of them decide to form a cheerleading squad, much to the disdain of many of her fellow residents.
This movie is kind of an odd duck.
On the surface it looks like a comedy. At least that’s what it’s marketed as. But oddly the least effective part of this film is the humor.
There laughs here were surprisingly sparse. The few that exist come at the expense of the ages of the main characters, and the rest involve Martha‘s friend Sheryl openingly discussing her sex life.
Honestly, at its heart this film isn’t really a comedy. It’s a sports drama.
You have the leader with Martha. A woman who always wanted a to be a cheerleader, but never had the chance.
Her plucky sidekick Sheryl, who always believes in her no matter what.
A group of inexperienced, yet enthusiastic squadmates who are terrible at first, but through a series of training montages become an amazing cohesive team.
And you have the over-the-top villains, who will stop at nothing to keep our hero from living her dream. In fact, this movie has a few varieties of antagonists.
There’s the de facto leaders of the retirement community, a group of snide southern women who see a group of elderly cheerleaders as a legal liability.
A group of high school cheerleaders, who just seem to enjoy abusing our main characters because they’re grumpy teenage girls with nothing better to do.
And finally, for our final villain, we have the son of one of the members of the cheer squad. An obnoxious, overprotective adult man who treats his adult mother like a child. He is by far portrayed as the most despicable.
In the end though, the most malicious malefactor that permeates the entire film isn’t a person at all. It’s mortality itself.
Death in this film is a near constant subject.
In fact, one of the first thing Keaton’s character Martha says in the film is that she moved to the retirement community to die.
Occasionally people dying is played up for a laugh or two, but it’s largely treated seriously, at least when it involves Martha. Dying seems to be the sole subject on her mind.
All that makes this movie surprisingly morbid.
This isn’t a happy-go-lucky film about a group of seniors who decide to become cheerleaders. It’s about a woman living out her dreams while she has the chance, before her expected inevitable death.
So with all that said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this movie ends up being more of a tearjerker than a laughfest.
There were definitely a few moments, especially towards the end, where I found my eyes welling up.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers here didn’t know where to draw the line, and by the very final scene the whole experience felt very emotionally manipulative.
In the end though, “Poms” is a crowd pleaser. It’s not a particularly great movie. It completely fails at being a comedy and it follows the generic “sports film” storyline to a T, but I expect most people seeking this movie out will enjoy it.
Just don’t expect a ton of laughs.
“Poms” is rated PG-13.
Finally, last this week is “Tolkien.”
This film explores the formative years of the renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien’s (Nicholas Hoult) life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school.
Their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up and weather love and loss together, including Tolkien’s tumultuous courtship of his beloved Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), until the outbreak of the First World War which threatens to tear their fellowship apart.
It’s no secret to anyone who reads my reviews that I love Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
Those movies had a large impact on me as a teenager and the behind the scenes documentaries for those films are a big reason I became interested in how movies were made in the first place.
However, I’m sad to say the books they’re based on aren’t quite my favorite.
I forget why, but in the early 2000s, back when the films were originally released, I was forced to read all “The Lord of the Rings” books before I was allowed to watch the movies.
It started out fine. I began with precursor to the the trilogy, “The Hobbit,” which is a pretty easy read. Not surprising as it was released as a children’s book.
But then I moved on to “The Lord of the Rings.”
Maybe it’s because I have the attention span of a gnat, or perhaps I’m just hopelessly uncultured, but those books felt like a complete slog to me.
I don’t remember how long it took to finish the entire series. I just remember it being an absolute struggle for me.
Even so, I do have a fondness for the stories and the fantastic world brought to life by the mind of Tolkien.
However, I’m ashamed to say, even though I watched nearly every piece of behind the scenes footage for the film adaptations, I never really delved too deep into the life of the author himself or the events that inspired him.
And for that, I really do appreciate this movie.
While “Tolkien” might not be a particularly deep dive into the famous author’s formative years, it was compelling for someone like me who was mostly uninformed.
The film is less about what inspired the fantasy of Middle Earth, and more focused on the fellowship.
The story here centers around Tolkien’s friendship with three other young men growing up, and their club dubbed the T.C.B.S., Tea Club and Barrovian Society, named for the tea shop they hung out at while discussing their hopes and dreams for the future.
The film also delves into Tolkien’s relationship with Edith Bratt, their budding romance, and the struggle to stay together despite being forced apart.
Throughout all this, the film intercuts scenes from the future during Tolkien’s time in the trenches during the First World War and the horrors of battle.
These war scenes were by far the least interesting parts of the movie to me.
The film doesn’t really explore how the war affected Tolkien. The whole time he’s just searching for one of his friends, while having hallucinations of shadowed creatures in his fevered state.
This would potentially be compelling, as the movie implies the horrors of war inspired the darker creatures of Tolkien’s fantasy world, but the film does nothing to explore this aspect of Tolkien beyond showing the creatures.
And if that wasn’t disappointing enough, from my research it seems in reality Tolkien never mentioned experiencing hallucinations and they were completely fabricated for the film.
Clearly the shadow creatures were thrown in as a nod to the fantastical elements of Tolkien’s writings, but considering how tacked on those scenes felt, I think the film would have been better without them.
Beyond that complaint, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit.
The performances were quite good all around. I especially like Lily Collins as Edith Bratt, and I thought her and Nicholas Hoult had some good chemistry together.
Sure, it’s not exactly action packed, but for the most part I found the film quite compelling.
Is this a movie I’d recommend rushing out to watch? Well, probably not. But if you have a love for Tolkien’s stories and don’t know anything about the man himself, I’d say this film is a decent starting off point. Certainly worth at least a rental.
“Tolkien” is rated PG-13.