The Forever Purge

★1/2

“The Purge is over!!! It’s done!!!”

“This is the Forever Purge! It’s never going to end.”

That’s a direct quote from dialogue 30 minutes into “The Forever Purge,” thefifth entry in the horror/thriller franchise. But it’s also how I feel about these movies now.

What was once entertaining and (at times) clever has now become tiresome and repetitive.

Basically, this movie franchise is an old bottle of hand soap. They’ve squeezed last bit out and then watered it down and shook it up and used it again. Now they’ve added so much water that there are no soap molecules left.

Quick catchup before I explain this film’s plot. The entire concept of these movies is that America has been ravaged by crime and poverty and so an ultra-rich political party takes power and implements one night a year in which all crime, including murder is legal. It’s sold as a way to reduce crime nationwide and “cleanse our souls” but it’s just a way to kill off poor people. With each sequel, the political message becomes less and less subtle, culminating in an election in which an anti-Purge candidate wins and eliminates the barbaric practice.

In the latest entry, Purge proponents have been voted back into office after illegal immigrants fill the United States. The one-night killing spree has been legally reinstated again and nothing seems to have changed.

The movie takes place in Texas near the Mexico border and focuses an unlikely partnership between Mexican-Americans (played by Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta) and a wealthy, racist man (played by Josh Lucas) who distrusts hispanics but doesn’t support the idea of a Purge. (You can already guess that his racist viewpoints are changed through their experience together…)

After Purge night ends these people find themselves the next day face-to-face with a new cult-like group that’s been causing attacks on brown-skinned people, promising to “make America pure again.” They call themselves the “Ever After Purgers” and they don’t care if the government is sanctioning their actions. They’re filled with swastika-wearing white supremacists and unofficial U.S. border guardians.

Violence in the U.S. gets so bad that Mexico and Canada agree to open their borders for six hours only and our protagonists flee south, trying to avoid murderous bikers wielding machine guns.

It sound fun or insightful to analyze the political message in “The Forever Purge” and compare it today’s current events, but there are two problems. For one: the movie is about as subtle as… well… murderous bikers wielding machine guns. Secondly, the political concepts have been repeated again and again in now five movies and a spinoff TV series. They’ve said what they had to say and they’ve said it again.

This is like your loquacious uncle who wants to tell you his opinion on the president every time you see him. It’s not that his point is incorrect. But he’s told you again and again. You’ve heard it before.

I don’t disagree with the message about racism leading to violence nowadays, but I wish the movie would explore this theme in a more interesting, creative and subtle way.

While this entry focuses more on the immigrant experience and xenophobia rather than the struggles in black communities, this movie borrows the same phrases and lines from the previous films. It’s almost as if they just copy and pasted from the other screenplays and then just changed the word “black” to “Mexican.” Click find and replace.

“The Forever Purge” seems more worried about hammering this political message home than making an entertaining movie. It takes 30 minutes before any scene of action takes place and then another 15 minutes before it really kicks into gear. It’s only an hour and forty minutes long.

When the action does take place it’s serviceable but nothing special. It’s a lot of gun violence and it’s fast paced. It’s a long cry from the creepy masked WASPs knocking on the door in the first installment. The tension is pretty much gone and none of the protagonists are as good as Frank Grillo was in parts two and three.

One positive thing is they do mix up the setting a bit. The first movie focused on the suburbs and the next three moved to urban settings. Now we’re looking at rural. It’s got Western vibes with a dash of “Mad Max” thrown in. It was wise to mix it up.

If you really, really love this franchise you might be able to stomach this one but I think most would agree that it’s the weakest in the series.

My guess is casual fans would be better off barricading themselves in their homes than venturing out to catch “The Forever Purge” in theaters.

Luca

★★★1/2

Pixar has a track record of drawing inspiration from other movies.

“Cars” has the same plot as “Doc Hollywood.”

“A Bug’s Life” is heavily influenced by “Seven Samurai.”

Their newest offering, “Luca,” doesn’t completely rip off one movie in particular but viewers will see plenty of homages in director Enrico Casarosa’s feature length debut.

The story has similar elements of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and, strangely enough, “Call Me By Your Name.” The works of famed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini are also strongly felt throughout the 96 minutes.

The look of the animation differs from other Pixar films and instead closely resembles the work of Aardman Animation, the studio responsible for characters such as Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit.

And Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (a favorite of the Pixar team) seems to be a muse as well, even referenced in the movie’s setting, a seaside Italian village named Portorosso, which sounds an awful lot like the film “Porco Rosso.”

And that’s the biggest fault with this otherwise lovable streaming offering.

“Luca” is a perfectly fine movie that I quite enjoyed during its short run time. My two-year-old daughter was glued to the screen too. But “Luca” lacks the originality of the very best Pixar films.

The animation studio has set a really high bar with all-time great movies like “Up,” “Inside Out” and the “Toy Story” movies. “Luca” doesn’t come anywhere close to those movies and frankly it doesn’t even cracks Pixar’s top 10.

It’s not anywhere near the bottom of Pixar’s output, which is where I put “The Good Dinosaur” and any sequel that isn’t “Toy Story.”

Middle ground is where this belongs. But Pixar’s middle is still very good.

Director Enrico Casarosa is best known for his animated short “La Luna” which premiered before the Pixar film “Brave” in 2012.

His debut tells the story of Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay, of “Room”) a 13-year-old sea creature who is bored with ocean life and is curious about the humans above.

His overbearing parents (voiced masterfully by comedians Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) object to him going anywhere near the surface.

Sounds a lot like “The Little Mermaid,” right? Well, it resembles that classic even more when Luca transforms into a human and has trouble adapting to human customs.

Luca runs away from home and spends the summer with his newfound friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer of the “It” movies). Alberto is also a sea monster, but this slightly older/wiser free spirit prefers to live on land and embrace human culture. He begins to teach Luca and they grow to share an obsession with Vespa scooters, making it their life’s mission to ride through Italy. In their minds, they’d be truly free.

Adding a fun visual element to the film is the fact that these two sea monsters look exactly like normal humans whenever they venture out on land. But anytime they get wet, even from a splash of water, their skin immediately changes to bright blue green, revealing their sea monster identities. Once they’ve dried, their human forms quickly return.

It’s a fun gimmick that leads to some clever sight gags as they twist and hide to avoid being detected as brightly colored marine life.

The duo encounters an arrogant bully named Ercole who rides around on a Vespa, styles his hair into a pompadour and pushes around his two dim-witted lackeys. He fits all of the antagonist cliches. He’s got the vanity of Gaston and the weaselly features of Chef Skinner from “Ratatouille.”

Luca and Alberto also befriend a fiery red-headed Italian girl named Giulia and team up with her to win a triathlon to use the prize money to buy a Vespa. The sea monsters decline the swimming portion of the race to avoid detection (despite their strong swimming skills) and instead fumble through bicycle riding and shoveling spaghetti in their mouths.

What we end up seeing is a fish out of water story — literally!

(Yes, I hate myself for making that joke and I’m sure it’s already been done.)

What sets Pixar apart from other animated features is that it deals with deep messages. “Inside Out” helped young people deal with their emotions and “Coco” addresses the issues of death and grief.

“Luca” doesn’t dive as deep as those two, but it’s a strong story about friendship during that awkward time of puberty. The kinds of friendships that help you grow and shape who you are, even if you are unsure exactly what that is at the moment.

The scenes where Luca and Alberto hide away in Alberto’s treehouse and examine their prized artifacts of human life, trying to figure out what each thing does, is something anyone who grew up before the Internet can relate to. Some older kid at your middle school might have a Victoria’s Secret catalogue and he might incorrectly explain the “bird and the bees” to you. This movie captures that youthful innocence.

Casarosa said he based it on a real life summer friendship of his and his inspiration was even at the movie premiere.

There are also some obvious LGBT themes on display in this animated kids movie. However this is in a metaphoric and not literal sense. I do not think Luca and Alberto are romantically in love, at least not overtly. Their relationship is platonic, despite the fact that Alberto appears to be jealous when Luca begins to become closer friends with Giulia.

Yet it is a story about a slightly older boy helping his new friend on a journey of self discovery. It’s about hiding who you really are and being afraid to be caught by others for fear of discrimination. Even the setting is reminiscent of “Call Me By Your Name,” the Oscar-nominated LGBT movie helmed by a director named Luca (coincidence?).

Perhaps June (Pride Month) was the right time to release this movie.

Maybe the fact that “Luca” draws inspiration from so many other movies isn’t such a negative. I can point to several Best Picture winning movies that were heavily inspired by previous works. Where do you draw the line from paying homage and ripping off? It’s hard to say.

In the end, Pixar is a victim of its past successes and “Luca” is a very good movie, just like “Onward” was last year.

But after they’ve raised the bar so many times it feels like a disappointment when their latest offering is merely “very good” instead of “amazing” or an “all-time classic.”

“Luca” will not be available in theaters and is only available to stream on Disney+. It’s disappointing that people won’t have a chance to see this on a big screen. Watching teenagers enjoy the things in life that we take for granted, such as eating a gelato or riding on a bike, is a nice reminder of the joys of youth.

“Luca” might not be a masterpiece but it certainly will crack a smile.

“Luca” is available on Disney+ for no extra charge beginning Friday June 18

In The Heights

★★★★★

I’m going to make two bold statements about “In The Heights,” the new movie adapted from 2005 stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

First: This is the best musical-movie since the Best Picture-winner “Chicago” in 2002. In fact, I personally like “In The Heights” better and it might go down as one of the best musical-movies ever made.

Second: This is the movie we needed in the summer of 2021. It’s a beautifully shot film full of joy and community celebration. After a year of being isolated in our homes, to see people on the screen who are singing, dancing and connecting to one in another — in the streets — is what we needed. It’s a cathartic release after all we’ve all been through.

Director Jon M. Chu, who previously helmed “Crazy Rich Asians,” has called this new movie, “a vaccine for the soul.” He’s not wrong.

Life is back. It’s time to dance.

In this new movie, you can see the seeds of “Hamilton,” the acclaimed Broadway musical that Miranda wrote and starred in while waiting for the movie version of “In The Heights” to finally get made (the rights were purchased in 2008 but Universal Pictures said they couldn’t find a “bankable latino star” to warrant the production budget).

And yes, “In The Heights” is less sophisticated than “Hamilton” in both story structure and songwriting, but it has a lot of heart. It’s not trying to tell a sweeping story of the founding of our nation, but rather a smaller, more familiar tale of young people finding their place in the world. People celebrating their culture and fighting against prejudice. A neighborhood being washed away by gentrification. And, overall, a story about everyone chasing their sueñito, i.e., their “little dream.”

The movie starts off with Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) rapping about every day life in Washington Heights, the mostly Hispanic neighborhood on the upper west side of Manhattan, far from where tourists frequent. With a megawatt smile on his face, Usnavi introduces us to the familiar faces who regularly pop into his bodega for a café con leche and a lottery ticket, hoping for a brighter future if the right numbers are called.

There’s Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits, who seems to never age) who owns the taxi-cab/car service and pins all of his hopes and dreams on his daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), a freshman at Stanford. There’s Usnavi’s best friend Benny (Corey Hawkins), an African American who works at Rosario’s shop and pines after the boss’s daughter. There’s Abuela (Olga Merediz, from the original Broadway cast) who acts as a surrogate grandmother to every parentless young person on the block. And there’s Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), the flirtatious artist who dreams of getting an apartment in downtown Manhattan.

Usnavi, the narrator of this story, dreams of returning to his homeland of the Dominican Republic and rebuilding the beachside bar that his father owned. There’s only one problem: that means bailing on the budding romance between himself and Vanessa, just as their relationship moves from smiles and glances into an actual official date.

There are small cameos from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson, who both starred in the original Broadway cast of both “In The Heights” and “Hamilton.” Both have aged out of their respective roles as Usnavi and Benny but it’s nice to see them anyway.

Daphne Rubin-Vega, from the original Broadway cast of “Rent,” has a small role as salon owner, backed up by Stephanie Beatriz of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and Dascha Polanco of “Orange is the New Black.”

Marc Anthony plays a tatted-up alcoholic father in a one-scene role. His character doesn’t sing but Anthony is featured in an original new song that plays over the credits.

Movie-goers can feel the heat from the screen as the summer temperatures keep rising, reminiscent of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” It all culminates in a neighborhood power blackout that shows how “powerless” our protagonists feel in their lives.

I know it’s cliche to say that “the setting is like another character” but it’s quite true in this movie. In one scene, Nina, who longs to stay in her neighborhood and not return to college, closes her eyes and just “listens to her street.” Kids splashing in an opened fire hydrant. Bicycle bells ringing. Cars honking. The sounds of summer days.

So many of us might live in neighborhoods where we don’t know our neighbors’ names. We wave to them as we get the mail but that’s about it. This movie shows us how powerful it is to be connected to where you live.

Usnavi begins the movie by saying the “streets were made of music” and the movie fulfills that promise. Shot on location in the actual Washington Heights, Chu is able bring to life what audiences had to imagine with 2D backgrounds in the Broadway production.

Probably the most elaborate set piece in the entire two-hour-plus movie comes during the song “96,000.” Each character raps or sings about what they would do if they won the lottery and the location moves to the Highbridge Pool, one of the oldest pools in New York City built along the Harlem River in 1936. More than 500 extras are used for a candy-colored, high-energy dance number that is a true show stopper. (If you’re watching on HBO MAX, you’ll want to hit rewind and watch that scene again immediately!)

Chu is also able to slow things down and make the big city feel intimate, especially during a romantic duet between Benny and Nina called “When the Sun Goes Down.” Hawkins croons in his smooth voice as they walk along skyscrapers like they were Spider-Man. It’s an inventive use of special effects that’s every bit as impressive as any of the scenes in “La La Land.”

Chu got his start directing music videos and broke into feature films with the “Step Up” sequels. He’s able to draw from the best of his music video past while still injecting heart and humanity into the characters, the costumes and the backdrops.

Where the movie starts to falter might be in his paper-thin story line. Some characters are developed better than others. Even at more than two hours, lyrics and songs had to be cut from the original Broadway show. A side plot about Dreamers and DACA was added for the film version to make it more contemporary and it works quite well. Instances of looting during the blackout are removed to sidestep that political debate (probably a good idea). And a storyline about Nina’s father being hesitant about her dating a black man is omitted. I understand why you wouldn’t want to add that storyline in if you were just going to rush it but it’s removal left Benny and Nina with an underdeveloped relationship without much drama.

While I understand these changes, the end result is a story without much conflict. Maybe that’s by design though. Miranda said when he was workshopping the original musical in 2005 that people told him that he needed to add an unexpected pregnancy or a conflict with gangs. He said the idea of finding out who you are is drama enough and if he couldn’t make that resonate with people then he didn’t do his job.

I’ll admit that not every song packs the same voltage and unlike “Hamilton” I wasn’t entranced from beginning to end. But just when I started to get antsy and check my watch, the movie kicked back into gear and ends with a bang. You’ll walk out of the movie theater with a gigantic smile on your face feeling like you can conquer the world.

I wavered between giving this movie 4.5 stars and 5 because the film isn’t perfect. But I ended up with the higher score because when this movie succeeds, it soars. Some of my favorite movies ever made aren’t flawless. And most of the few problems with this movie can be pinned on the original source material, not the cast or director.

When I say that is the movie we need right now, it’s not just because it’s an incredibly positive movie. It’s also because it tells an important story of community belonging and taking pride in your heritage.

Hispanic immigrants who have come to this country don’t always feel the open arms of everyone. Prejudice still exists, as shown in a tearful speech by Nina who recounts getting falsely accused of stealing her college roommate’s necklace.

But while the movie admits that racism and economic struggle exist, it never uses it as an excuse to give up. These characters — strengthened by their community bonds — keep on dancing and keep on fighting.

Cruella

★★★★

Cruella de Vil has to be considered one of the most hated animated villains in the Disney film world.

Sure, Scar betrays and kills his brother. Maleficent and the Evil Queen put young girls in comas in their quests for power. Gaston is just arrogant and gross (the original creepy frat bro).

But Cruella tries to kill puppies. That’s an unforgivable sin for many people.

Just mention Michael Vick on a Facebook post and see how many angry comments you get.

“Poison them. Drown them. Bash them in the head. You got any chloroform?” Cruella yells in the 1961 film. “I don’t care how you kill the little beasts, but do it, and do it now!”

People hate seeing animal cruelty in movies. Even a dog dying of natural causes leads to uncontrollable sobbing, which is why the Web site, DoesTheDogDie.com, is a real thing.

Trending in the top 10 of searches on that Web site is “Cruella,” the new origin story of the Disney villain starring Oscar-winner Emma Stone.

And not to spoil too much, but no, this newest film doesn’t display animal cruelty. We don’t even see Emma Stone’s character kick a dog, let alone show the future seeds of puppy homicide. That’s because the goal of this prequel is to portray a sympathetic look at one of Disney’s most hated antagonists.

Set in 1970s London, Estella is an orphaned drifter who makes friends with two thieves, Horace and Jasper, after her mother dies in a horrible fashion. Estella is cunning and conniving as a criminal but too meek when it comes to traditional employment.

The two-tone black-and-white mop of hair symbolizes the dual nature brewing inside of Estella’s messed up head. Ever since she was young she’s had an “extreme side,” an alter-ego that her mom nicknamed Cruella. She dyes her hair to cover up her natural hair-color abnormality, but eventually her “Mr. Hyde” bursts through.

Estella designs and sews all of the disguises that she and her bandit-buddies use on con jobs. She has a natural flair for design and longs to work in a high-end clothing store.

After a few misadventures, Estella lucks her way into a job as a clothing designer with the famed fashion icon The Baroness, played deliciously by Oscar-winner Emma Thompson. The Baroness is rude, pompous and cut-throat. Obvious comparisons will be made to Meryl Streep’s performance in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but that’s a disservice to Thompson. She creates her own character.

The Baroness abuses her employees. She toasts to herself at meals. She forcibly throws out guests at her parties that dressed too well and might upstage her. It’s a fun performance by a truly underrated actress.

“Let me give you some advice: You can’t care about anyone else. Everyone else is an obstacle. If you care what an obstacle wants or feels, you’re dead. If I’d cared about anyone or thing, I might have died. You have the talent. Whether you have the killer instinct is the big question.” — The Baroness in “Cruella.”

The relationship between Estella and The Baroness begins as one of an underling desperately seeking the approval of a cruel boss but later turns into a vicious rivalry. The back-and-forth acting tennis match between the two Emmas is a joy to watch.

Unknown to the The Baroness, Estella transforms into her alter-ego Cruella, a singular-named fashion-vandal who crashes event after event with avant-garde, focus-stealing, punk rock creations. Cruella is part Banksy, part Joey Ramone and part Lady Gaga. She’s edgy and aggressive and poses an unacceptable threat to the reserved Baroness.

I’m a straight white man who can barely dress himself (my wife often corrects me when I try to wear a brown belt with a black suit) but even I had to appreciate the imaginative costume design in “Cruella.” Audiences are treated to a fun montage of increasingly bold looks. I particularly enjoyed when she fells of a garbage truck with a dress that looked like rubbish and old newspapers. It’s not a stretch to say the “Cruella” should receive Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup.

I suspect that cosplay enthusiasts will have some fun with this film. You might even see some inspiration on display when Halloween rolls around.

“Cruella” ends on a solid note, but with a run time of more than two hours, it feels like it takes a long time to get there.

In fact, my wife had to go to bed about an hour into this one and she commented that she felt that she really didn’t get to see Estella’s transformation into Cruella. Truly it takes more than an hour for the movie to really kick into gear.

References to the 1961 classic animated film abound in this original story including Roger and Anita, Cruella’s terrible driving, how “Hell House” got its name and where her devilish last name originated.

But the main question: why does she hate dogs? That question is clumsily answered.

We find out why Cruella isn’t a fan of dalmatians in particular, but Cruella and her bumbling sidekicks actually own two very small mutts. It’s understandable. This movie wants to paint Estella/Cruella in a sympathetic light and so animal cruelty is off the table. The most we see is an off-color joke about turning the spotted dogs into a coat, which she quickly laughs off when scolded.

So how does this version of Cruella differ from the previous incarnations?

In the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella is presented as the epitome of old-money greed. She has a meek furrier husband and a malnourished Siamese cat — both removed from the movies — which are abused by her. She’s swimming in debt and is a tyrannical figure grasping on to her fading power.

The 1961 animated feature follows the novel fairly closely with a few exceptions. She’s a scrawny figure with a phony accent that reminds viewers of Tallulah Bankhead (born in Alabama but often used a fake British accent). She’s homicidal and uncaring.

Glenn Close seems to be channelling “Sunset Boulevard” in her 1996 live-action portrayal. She has more sex appeal and glamour than the book or cartoon. Close chews scenery in her over-the-top performance which unfortunately has a lot more slapstick than is needed.

Emma Stone’s version is more calculated and vengeful rather than a heartless sociopath.

“Cruella gets things done. Estella doesn’t,” she yells at Horace and Jasper as justification for her less-than-kind leadership.

She gets to flex her acting chops with a tearful, mascara-dripping monologue at the very end of the movie. She provides depth and motivation to a universally hated femme fatale.

Stone doesn’t go quite as psycho as Joaquin Phoenix in another spinoff origin story “Joker,” but remember that “Cruella” is still rated PG-13. It definitely won’t appeal to elementary school aged children but middle school and above could enjoy this mildly maniacal flick.

There’s a lot I didn’t like about “Cruella.” It’s overly long. It takes nearly an hour to get rolling. There’s unnecessary narration throughout that spouts cliche sayings and restates plot points that I already understood. The soundtrack is filled with the most overused 1970s rock songs that it almost feels like one of those generic compilation albums you used to see advertised on TV in the 1990s. And the songs seems to be thrown into scenes without much thought to how they fit into the context of what’s going on.

In the end, this is probably the best version of this movie we could expect to see given its constraints. It’s a Disney-studio movie. It’s not going to be artsy or violent. It’s not going to have a main character without any redeeming factors. It’s not going to give a writer/director complete reign to craft their vision. This was always going to be heavily influenced by notes from the studio.

But given all of that, it succeeds quite nicely. That’s mostly due to the chemistry between Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. These two Emmas certainly know how to breathe life into their characters and it’s always a joy to see them act, even in a cash grab from Disney.

Cruella is available in theaters or you can pay $30 to unlock it from Disney+. I’d say it’s worth a trip to the movie theaters, especially since COVID numbers are improving.

A Quiet Place Part II

★★★★1/2

John Krasinski quietly stumbled upon a huge hit in 2018.

Teaming up with his wife Emily Blunt, he starred and directed “A Quiet Place,” the innovative alien thriller that had audiences on the edge of their seats and earned more than $300 million worldwide on a tiny budget of $17 million.

When the studio asked him to work on the sequel, he brushed it off, saying his movie was meant to be a one-off.

But an idea began brewing in his brain and he returned to the director’s chair for “A Quiet Place Part II”

And we are glad he did but it is everything a good sequel should be.

It delivers many of the same thrills and feelings from the previous breakout hit while expanding the movie’s universe and justifying its existence in the first place.

At only 90 minutes long, there’s not much time to linger in quiet moments and there isn’t a wasted scene or moment. There’s not one thing I’d cut. And the abrupt but powerful ending leads audiences to say, “They better start filming the next one!”

(Apparently writer/director Jeff Nichols of “Mud” will lead the third installment, which hasn’t begun filming.)

After a flashback introduction featuring Krasinski, the sequel picks up shortly where the first one left off. Emily Blunt reprises her role as matriarch Evelyn, leading her two children Marcus and Regan, played by Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds, out of danger quietly. They have discovered a way to paralyze the blind aliens that can hear long distances by using a hearing aid put up to a microphone. Adding to the tension is the fact that there’s a newborn child along for the ride, one that cries at times.

(Side note: it did throw me off how much older Jupe and Simmonds look in the sequel. The first movie was filmed in 2017 when they were 12 and 14 respectively. The sequel was shot in 2019 and they clearly have grown quite a bit in those two years. Yet in the timeline of the movie maybe only a few days has passed. I got over it quickly, but it did make me do a double take.)

The trio accidentally stumble upon an old family friend Emmett, played by Cillian Murphy. They decide to hole up in his underground shelter, complete with a soundproof safe that shields them from harm. They bring along oxygen tanks so they can still breathe while locked in the airtight metal container.

Marcus discovers a song played on a loop on the radio and Regan deciphers the code and believes there’s a society of people living on an island nearby. She treks out on a journey alone while Emmett tracks her down. Mother and son have their own suspenseful side story while the two are away.

The daughter is the real star of the sequel and most of the biggest developments are driven by her character.

Blunt, who should have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the first movie, is relegated to a smaller role this time.

I had assumed that Krasinski would have received a rather large bump in his production budget but that wasn’t the case. Apparently he shot this sequel for about $20 million which is impressive given the top-notch special effects. Every penny is up there on the screen (I believe Krasinski and Blunt are earning their payday with a cut of the box office).

Unlike the first movie which took place mostly at night, you are able to see the monsters in intricate detail in bright daylight. The CGI is very well done.

The sequel has tremendous sound design, which was also the case with the first one (which was Oscar nominated). The thumps and crashes reverberate through your seats. I literally felt the vibrations in the movie theater. This is a reason to watch this at home (even if you have an amazing 5.1 surround sound system, many of us don’t want the neighbors or other people in our homes complaining about the volume.)

The first movie was much deeper than the sequel, which a richer storyline that explored themes of being a parent and accepting loss. Krasinski said he was influenced by “No Country For Old Men,” “Alien” and “In The Bedroom.”

The sequel is more about finding a home.

The opening flashback shows families watching their children play Little League baseball on a summer day in a small Appalachian town. It feels like Americana, like the town of Derry in “IT.” The characters in the movie might be longer for a world that no longer exists but audiences too remember what it’s like to have to hide in isolation and missing those lively crowds of people. While we are getting to slowly return to the world we once knew, there’s no option like that for the characters of “A Quiet Place Part II” and even an idyllic oasis turns out to be full of false hope.

Krasinski has solidified himself as a top-notch director, able to mix big budget special effects and action sequences with realistic human emotions. My only real complaint is that I’m not sure he’s found his own voice. I see influences all over in this film, which isn’t a bad thing. The opening attack reminded me of Stephen Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and the wandering through the desolate woods with wreckage behind reminded me the video game “The Last of Us.” And the mysterious radio signal, the planned community refuge and the bearded band of hostiles along the docks all reminded me of scenes from the TV show “Lost.”

And obviously many will see comparisons to the hit TV show “The Walking Dead” but to be fair that show that failed to display the visual flair to match Krasinski’s since director Frank Darabont left the series. “A Quiet Place Part II” makes you realize the potential “The Walking Dead” has squandered in its later years.

It’s possible I could be rating this movie way too high but my excitement leaving the theater was palpable. COVID-19 has hit all of us really hard and — while it’s not the most important thing — movie lovers have missed have a reason to go to a theater. Yes, theaters have been open for months but even if you didn’t worry about the risk of infection the quality of the movies didn’t justify a trip. Many of the cinematic offerings were also available on streaming and did have the grand spectacle that warranted a big screen.

I saw two movies in theaters myself: “Tenet” and “Nomadland.” The first was a massive disappointment and wasn’t worth seeing on any size screen for me. “Nomadland” was beautiful on a large screen but I think I enjoyed it nearly as much on Hulu shortly after.

This is a movie that demands to be seen on a big screen.

“A Quiet Place Part II” might single-handedly bring back the box office.

The first movie blew audiences away three years ago and it was truly an experience you had to have in a theater. It was strange to be sitting in a movie theater that was so quiet you could hear other patrons breathing. I remember I went to a 10 p.m. screening at Flix Brewhouse, which has a policy of no children after 9 p.m. I was relieved when a manager informed two parents of this rule when they brought along a talkative two-year-old. (I have a talkative two-year-old daughter myself but I haven’t taken her to a movie theater yet, let alone a quiet movie meant for adults late at night).

While it might not feel as fresh as the original, that’s no fault to Krasinski. There’s nothing he should have done different with this sequel and now it’s just time to watch for another installment.

Mainstream

★1/2

Writer/director Gia Coppola comes from a famous family. Her aunt is Sophia Coppola of “Lost in Translation” fame. Her grandfather, Frances Ford Coppola, is one of the greatest filmmakers the world has ever seen (and he makes a good bottle of wine too).

The now-34-year-old writer/daughter exploded onto the filmmaking scene when she was 27 years old and directed “Palo Alto,” a film starring James Franco based on writings by the actor. It wasn’t a perfect film by any means but for a young filmmaker’s’ debut, it showed real promise and it currently has a 70 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn’t too shabby.

For her sophomore effort, Coppola has created “Mainstream,” a purposely strange film that will possibly resonate with a select few. But for this reviewer here, it was unbearable. It’s an exhausting film full of fortune cookie wisdom and a muddled message that feels about 10 years too late to the party.

The movie is the cinematic equivalent of some overly confident and overly inebriated stranger trapping you in the corner at a party and spouting some half-baked soliloquy about how we are, “All slaves to our phones, man.”

“Mainstream” is a satirical take down of Internet fame headlined by former Oscar-nominee and one-time Spider-Man Andrew Garfield. I’m not sure how I feel about Garfield as an actor. I enjoyed him in “The Social Network,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Silence” but he was an awful Peter Parker. Something about him just bugs me. In “Mainstream,” I think he’s supposed to be playing an incredibly annoying and unlikable character, so in that sense he’s succeeded (and the casting was spot on).

To get a sense of Garfield’s character, think YouTube star Jake Paul (who has a cameo has himself) if he was imbued with the soul of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in “Nightcrawler.”

Maya Hawke, the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman that wowed audiences in season three of the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” plays a lost, broke, twenty-something bartender who hates her job and wishes for something more in life. She stumbles upon Garfield, a goofy jester who pokes fun at mainstream society and everyone’s addiction to their phones, and befriends the enigmatic pontificator. When a video she records of him going on a nonsensical rant in a mall goes viral, she hatches a plan to turn him into an Internet sensation to solve her financial woes.

His “free yourself of your phones” schtick grows bigger and bigger and he eventually gets an agent played by Jason Schwartzman, who is Coppola’s father’s cousin in real life.

As the YouTube show grows, Garfield’s character seems to lose his way (or did he really have it to begin with?) and he becomes more obsessed with being famous rather than having something to say. Nat Wolff plays a co-writer of the YouTube show who warns about ethical concerns and how the channel has become what it once satirized.

The plot is predictable and the characters are so thinly developed that you can see right through them. The soundtrack is filled with ill-fitting music that was likely selected because it sounds young and cool but feels jarring and forced.

The acting? I can’t tell if the actors are just awful or if the screenplay and the director are to blame. Certainly Garfield, Hawke and Wolff do nothing to elevate their roles beyond the dreck written on the pages.

Garfield decides to go insanely big with the role and seems to have a blast chewing the scenery. I suppose an over-the-top performance feels appropriate but that doesn’t mean I can’t hate what he did. Perhaps in an alternate universe, Andrew Garfield’s performance could have ended up something like James Franco’s in “Spring Breakers.” Big and bold and slightly brilliant. Instead, it’s merely big.

The best thing I can say about “Mainstream” is that visually it looks just fine. Coppola has a command of the camera.

I suppose my biggest complaint about “Mainstream” is that it’s so smug and sanctimonious with a “been done before” message about social media and Internet fame.

The TV show “Black Mirror” has tackled all of these topics much more intelligently. And if you want to watch a truly great movie about a media-inspired frenzy following a false messiah then watch the 1970s classic “Network.”

Literally every character in “Mainstream” is so full of shit. And it boggles the mind that Hawke’s character would every be drawn to Garfield’s techno-prophet. Even before his character “changes,” he was unbearable.

I can’t really say I disagree with the message of this movie but it’s never really clear what the movie is trying to say. It throws more things at the wall than an elephant with a paintbrush.

If you ask Coppola what the movie is ultimately trying to say, I’m sure she would spout some pretentious nonsense like, “Well, it’s really open to interpretation from the viewer” which always feels like a cop out answer for disjointed movies that try to say too much.

The central message about people being addicted to their phones? Obvious, overdone, oversimplified and about 15 years too late.

And while I agree with the premise that people evaluate too much of their self worth based on social media, the movie itself feels so out of touch you’d think that a boomer wrote it instead of a 34-year-old. There’s no real insights and the film lacks awareness. It’s like a caveman grunting, “Phone! Bad!”

There’s real irony in the making of this movie. Garfield plays a shallow narcissist who thinks everything he says is genius and the movie itself feels like it was penned by a kindred soul.

The sad thing is I know one day I will run into someone who thinks this movie is brilliant and I’ll just smile and nod because I won’t have the energy to tell them why I hated this movie.

Was this whole movie a joke on the viewers? I think that is giving the filmmaker too much credit.

In the end, I think the main reason I hated this movie is because it feels like a half baked idea that was lazily executed. I can forgive movies that try something ambitious and brave but don’t quite stick the landing perfectly, like last year’s “Promising Young Women.” I can look past the flaws of a movie if it has something interesting to say.

But to be unenjoyable and with an uninteresting message? That’s a mortal sin.

Even at 90 minutes this film is exhausting and feels overly long. That’s not a good thing.

I cannot recommend spending money to rent this movie and when it eventually is available for free on a streaming service, keep your expectations extremely low.

Golden Arm

★★★

Sometimes you can take a comedic formula that’s been done a million times and make it feel fresh again by simply casting actors and actresses who aren’t generally known to the public.

“Golden Arm” is the kind of movie we’ve seen again and again.

It’s a silly comedy about two former college roommates who travel across the country to compete in an arm wrestling competition. One wants to get revenge against the cheating champion who broke her wrist in a previous bout. The other, an inexperienced arm wrestler with the lucky gift of a “golden arm,” wants to earn money to save her struggling bakery. And, of course, along they way they find themselves and rekindle their friendships.

Cynical critics might describe the two leads as Great Value versions of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. One is frail and timid and nervous. The other is unapologetically brash and vulgar with mannerism that resemble Chris Farley.

But it’s easy to look beyond the cliches and the formula in “Golden Arm” and appreciate its charm, mainly because of the enthusiastic performances from leads Mary Holland and Betsy Sodoro.

Both are veterans in the improv comedy community and you might have seen them in sketches on the Web site Funny or Die or heard them play characters on the podcast Comedy Bang! Bang!

Holland played Jonah Ryan’s cousin/wife in the final seasons of the HBO comedy “Veep” and she just had a breakthrough performance as the strange sister in the LGBT Christmas comedy “Happiest Season” on Hulu, a movie she also co-wrote.

This time Holland mostly plays the straight man to Sodero’s wacky character. Again, Sodero is playing the kind of role we’ve seen Melissa McCarthy do again and again but Sodero is her own person and her unique vocalizations and throwaway improvisations help make the character her own.

Dot-Marie Jones, a veteran actress and weightlifter, lend her talents as a coach who teaches Holland how to be an arm wrestling champion. Interesting enough, Jones was a world champion arm wrestler in real life at age 19 and her coaching advice in the film sounds like what she would normally tell people. Jones, who was thrice-nominated for an Emmy for her performance as Coach Biest on the hit Fox show “Glee,” throws herself into her performance and the audience is a little sad that her appearance is so brief.

The biggest problem with “Golden Arm” isn’t that it’s plot is cliche and formulaic. It’s that it takes its storyline far too seriously. It tries a little too hard to make us care about the characters, their struggles and their friendship. It might have been better off just being a complete spoof of an arm wrestling movie and not take character development seriously at all.

But in the end, this is a breezy 90-minute comedy that will likely give you at least two or three audible laughs in its run time. If you’re expecting laugh-a-minute hilarity or get turned off by vulgar language, then save the $7 and don’t rent this on-demand option.

Thunder Force

★★

Normally, I’d expect a comedy like “Thunder Force” to end up in the bargain bin full of $2 movies at Wal-Mart.

The only reason that this Melissa McCarthy vehicle won’t end up with that fate is because it’s streaming exclusively on Netflix.

The comedy veteran actress is back with another comedy directed by her husband Ben Falcone. They’ve now made five movies together, all pretty much bashed by professional film critics. In 2020, they collaborated on a comedy called “Superintelligence” that premiered exclusively on HBOMax. But their three movies they made together that had theatrical runs actually made quite a bit of money, despite their disdain from movie reviewers. “Tammy” made quite a few “worst of” lists in 2014 but it made $100 million on a $20 million budget. Margins like that have kept Ben Falcone working as a director.

And it doesn’t hurt that he’s married to a two-time Oscar nominee in McCarthy. Despite the majority of her leading roles being dubbed as “rotten” by critics on Rotten Tomatoes, McCarthy’s movies (for the most part) make money.

McCarthy has been at her funniest when she’s in films directed by Paul Feig, such as “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” “Spy” and “Ghostbusters,” all of which are “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes.

With Falcone? Not so much.

But with “Thunder Force,” I actually think it’s her funniest collaboration with her husband. That’s not saying much though.

Basically, the premise of this film is: “What if two plus-sized middle aged women became superheroes?” The idea came from the fact that McCarthy and Falcone have been longtime friends with Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer. They’ve known each other back when Spencer was waiting tables and McCarthy was doing improv.

It’s actually refreshing to see two women like McCarthy and Spencer as the leads for a movie like this. Both worked in Hollywood for many years, taking small bit roles before their big breaks. They aren’t the kinds of actresses that usually earn such stardom and they both seem quite likable.

And it’s refreshing because we have larger women who don’t fit into the usual ideas of what a female superhero should look like and the movie itself isn’t just a bunch of fat jokes. In a way, it’s a body-positive kind of movie.

The story itself isn’t anything to rave about. The world has been ravaged by genetic mutations that create superpowers, but only in individuals with sociopathic tendencies. They’ve been termed “miscreants” and it’s a world with all villains but no heroes.

Lydia (McCarthy) and Emily (Spencer) are friends who have been estranged but reunite decades later. Emily was the smart one in school who has been determined to create a way for ordinary, good-hearted people to develop superpowers after her parents are killed by the miscreants. She brushes off Lydia, the loud and crazy one, because she thinks she’s holding her back from her life’s purpose.

Lydia surprises Emily at her lab one night and accidentally gets injected the super-serum that is finally complete, giving Lydia super strength. Quickly moving on from any anger and frustration, Emily trains Lydia and then eventually gives herself the power of invisibility. They team up to fight super powered bad guys in Chicago. Yada, yada, yada.

Pretty standard stuff. It’s definitely better than superhero comedies like “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “Blank Man” or “Meteor Man” but not as zany or lovable as “Mystery Men,” “Super” or “Shazam!”

The problem with most comedies about superheroes is that the studios feel the need to fill it with action sequences and special effects take away time for funny jokes. The action sequences aren’t as good as a regular superhero movie and the jokes aren’t as good as any usual comedy. Same can be said for action comedies like “Date Night” or “The Lovebirds.”

The special effects in “Thunder Force” are not amazing and I gained nothing from watching the action sequences.

There are a few moments that are worth a few laughs in “Thunder Force.” Jason Bateman steals every scene he’s in while playing The Crab, a hilariously bad villain with giant crab claws for hands. It’s such a stupid role that after they introduced him I was sure that he’d only be in it for five minute. But he kept showing up! I have to admit that I became more interested when he was on screen. Yes, it’s dumb. But sometimes you need that to coax a few laughs out of an otherwise mediocre comedy.

McCarthy is relegated to playing the slob character again, a variation on a role she’s played too many times before. It just doesn’t pack the same punch anymore.

Spencer is in most of the movie as the co-lead, but basically plays the serious one and doesn’t get anything funny or challenging to do. She’s either reacting to something that McCarthy does or she’s explaining something science-y. Many of her lines are just explaining the plot. She’s given a daughter to try to give her character some depth but it feels rather tacked on.

Bobby Cannavale, who usually impresses in everything he does, isn’t that great as the villain. He’s cartoonish, but not cartoonish enough, if that makes sense. He would have been better off if he overacted and went overboard. Apparently he’s married to Rose Byrne, who’d been in a few comedies with McCarthy and they’re friends, so that explains why he agreed to be in this.

In the end, if you can’t stand Melissa McCarthy, this movie won’t convert you into a follower. If you like her work, you know what to expect and will probably be mildly amused. Very mildly.

“Thunder Force” isn’t something I’d venture to a movie theater to see but if you’re bored and need something to watch, it’ll be good distraction in the background as you fold laundry. You might even laugh once or twice like I did. But I’ll probably forget about this movie all together rather quickly.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

★★★

It’s always impressive to see an actor or actress take a mediocre script and elevate it to new heights with a transcendent performance.

It’s even more remarkable when the actor or actress is making their feature film debut.

R&B singer Andra Day is the perfect person to take on “Lady Day” Billie Holiday the new biopic “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which is free to stream right now with a Hulu subscription. And it’s not just her similar surname that creates that connection.

She channels the legendary blues singer as if she were possessed by her spirit. She nails the emotion and the singing voice in a way that even surpasses previous portrayals of the iconic star (Diana Ross was nominated for an Oscar for playing Billie Holiday and Audra McDonald won a Tony and was nominated for an Emmy for playing her as well).

Unfortunately, Andra Day’s Golden-Globe-nominated performance is trapped inside of a mediocre film that is disjointed, unfocused and at times cliche. She deserves better and it’s a shame.

It’s a surprise that the screenplay is so weak considering it’s helmed by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Apparently Parks should stick to the stage instead of the big screen (her filmography is less than stellar and her biggest movie is “Girl 6,” one of Spike Lee’s lowest rated films).

Parks focuses on the last 10 years of Holiday’s life when the singer’s voice became hard and raspy, as did her guarded demeanor.

Even though they don’t tell Holiday’s entire life story it feels like this movie tried to tackle too much and sometimes doesn’t know what it wants to be. At times, it’s a political drama and other times it’s a story about drug abuse. It’s even a love story in parts.

During this decade, Holiday is already addicted to heroine and the FBI has targeted her because they feel her song “Strange Fruit” — which is about lynchings in the South — is dangerous and must be stopped. The government sends undercover FBI agents to nail her on bloated up drug charges to silence her Civil Rights credibility.

It’s the third film this awards season to focus on J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI targeting and discrediting black activists, following the documentary “MLK/FBI,” and the excellent film “Judas and the Black Messiah.” In this Billie Holiday biopic, the FBI is treated like a cartoonish super villain, lacking the subtlety and complexity in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” I almost expected Garrett Hedlund’s agent to twirl a handlebar mustache like he was Snidely Whiplash.

Parks gives considerable screen time to a romance subplot featuring Holiday and the black FBI agent Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes of “Moonlight” in a disappointingly flat performance). I looked it up and this romance is actually based in factual events but the way it’s written in the movie you would bet big money that it was fictionalized and contrived in order to create a narrative for the film.

Therein lies the biggest problem with “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” While the events in the film are factually accurate, it fails to feel real or authentic. That’s because too many lines in the movie are meant to just set up background information that the audience might not have or emphasize the themes of the work. Subtlety is not present in this movie.

Characters recite lines that no actual human would utter, like, “You can’t sing ‘Strange Fruit.’ Don’t you know that the government doesn’t want you singing that song because it brings up uncomfortable truths about our society nowadays?” OK, that literal line isn’t spoken, but it’s not far from what is actually written.

I’m reminded of another awards contender this year in “Nomadland,” in which Frances McDormand’s character doesn’t have to give a big speech about her inner monologue because it’s all shown in the expressions on her face. In “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” they don’t give Andra Day that same luxury and instead feed her clunky lines in which she emotionally vomits up every single feeling.

The film is directed by Lee Daniels, a former Best Director nominee at the Oscars for “Precious: based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” I’ve never been a huge fan of Daniels’ work. His film “The Paperboy” was one of the worst to come out that year. I saw not much more than melodramatic Oscar bait in his foray into political history with “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (an unfortunate and arrogant title due to a lawsuit from another film called ‘The Butler.’) I even think “Precious” is a little over the top.

But Lee Daniels’ real strength might be that as a producer rather than a director. He’s responsible for hit TV shows like “Empire” and every single of his movies — even the bad ones — are full of amazing acting performances. He absolutely knows how to cast a film and put the right actors in the right place to succeed (the one exception would be his presidential portrayals in “The Butler.” I mean, John Cusack as Nixon?! C’mon!).

Lee Daniels nails the casting by selecting little-known singer Andra Day for the lead. She is a revelation. It’s another example of an amazing acting performance in an average-to-weak biopic. We saw it last year with Renee Zellweger in “Judy” and a few years back with Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady.” Both took him Oscars for their performances while the movies themselves were not nominated.

Previously I said that Andra Day was better than Diana Ross and that might song like sacrilege but it’s true. Although it’s been many years since I’ve seen 1972’s “Lady Sings the Blues,” I never felt that Diana Ross became Billie Holiday. Her voice wasn’t as raspy (although she was playing a younger version) and I still saw Diana Ross on the screen.

Perhaps it’s because Day was unknown to me before but I really felt she inhabited this character. Her singing performances are mesmerizing and as a result Daniels inserts many, many on-stage songs throughout the film. Almost too many. There was one point where we see a three-minute performance at Carnegie Hall and then after a minute and half of story in between we get another three minutes of her singing in a smoky jazz club. It was a bit much.

There are many aspects of Holiday’s life that they barely touch on. Unlike biopics like “Ray” or “Walk the Line,” this film doesn’t feel the need to start at childhood and reenact every single event in her life. That’s a good thing though. Some audiences might be disappointed that more screen time isn’t given to the sexual relationship with actress Tallulah Bankhead. Although I was confused by Natasha Lyonne’s almost-British accent while playing the Alabama-born actress.

There are moments of brilliance in Lee Daniels movie but unfortunately they are quickly followed by scene so trite and cliche that it feels like a moment from the biopic-parody-comedy “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” I wouldn’t have been surprised if Tim Meadows offered her heroine.

Despite all of these flaws in screenplay and direction, Andra Day is so very good that she nearly erases any missteps. I hope she continues to act in feature films and next time gets a chance to work with a stronger script.

We Bare Bears: The Movie


★★★1/2

Full length movies based on animated TV series are usually somewhat of a letdown. Often, they feel like just long episodes of the TV show and don’t warrant a trip to the movie theater unless you’re dying to get your kids out of the house.

TV series like “Rugrats,” “Hey Arnold,” “Doug,” “Teen Titans,” “Spongebob Squarepants,” “My Little Pony,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” “The Simpsons” and more have all debuted in movies theaters and none of them were particularly special. “South Park” might be one of the few to actually break new ground with a feature length debut.

“We Bare Bears” has had a nice four-season run on Cartoon Network, telling the endearing and zany tales of three bear roommates in the San Francisco Bay area: a panda, a grizzly bear and a polar bear. It’s filled with jokes that children wouldn’t get about food trucks, hipster culture, viral videos and obscure movie references. It’s built up a cult following among adults who enjoy cartoons but it’s never inappropriate for young children. There’s nothing vulgar or obscene hinted at in this sweet natured TV series that actually shows up under kids’ choices in the Netflix categories.

Creator Daniel Chong has directed a 70-minute feature to serve as the series finale of the beloved show, which was released as a rental option during the pandemic and is now free to stream on HBO Max. The plan is to launch is spinoff series about the three bears as young children, which we’ve seen in the series before during flashback episodes.

The feature-length movie doesn’t fall under “must watch” territory and owning a DVD/Blu-Ray copy would only be needed for huge fans of the show, but given that there are so many terrible kids movies that bore parents to tears while entertaining only the littlest children, this is a welcome respite from the “Trolls: World Tour”s of the world.

While you don’t have to have seen the series to enjoy this movie, there a few minor references to recurring characters from the show, such as Nom Nom, the arrogant koala who is Internet famous and voiced by Patton Oswalt, and Charlie, the Bigfoot-like creature voiced by Jason Lee.

The plot of this movie is pretty simple. The entire town has grown weary of the three bears’ antics and an overzealous wildlife officer (voiced by Mark Evan Jackson, who you might know as Shawn from “The Good Place” or Kevin on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) decides to lock them up in a bear sanctuary. The three escape and go on a high speed road trip as they try to find refuge in Canada. Hijinks ensue along the way, including a hilarious detour as the stumble upon a viral video animal rave, featuring such luminaries as pizza rat, Doge the Shiba Inu, Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bub.

The three bears are voiced by comedians Eric Edelstein, Bobby Moynihan and Demetri Martin. For those that haven’t seen the show, you’ll enjoy the distinct personalities of each one and likely will want to watch the series after checking out this movie.

I have to knock a few points off because a few jokes don’t land, such as the road trip song they sing. And yes there are episodes that a lot funnier than this movie.

But the movie really distills the themes of the TV series. It’s about friendship and acceptance and being there for people.

I probably laughed more at this silly cartoon than many comedies aimed at adults. If you already subscribe to HBO Max, it’s worth a watch.