2067

★★★

I’m not certain a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick in which Earth grows increasingly less inhabitable, society’s crumbling and people can’t breathe is what we need right now, but “2067,” available in theaters and on VOD Friday, Oct. 2, is here regardless. And in spite of being of bit of a bummer, it’s a nifty albeit flawed genre exercise that makes the most of its meager budget.

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Ethan Whyte (I kept thinking of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candy and his dessert whenever the character’s surname was shown or uttered). Ethan was orphaned as a child. He’s subsequently taken under the wing of Jude (Ryan Kwanten). The two now work underground doing maintenance on an unstable nuclear reactor in a world ravaged by climate change and deforestation. Oxygen is practically nonexistent with most everyone employing masks and breathing artificial air. Many folks grow sick from not having the real thing – one of them is Ethan’s wife, Xanthe (Sana’a Shaik).

Scientists led by Regina (Deborah Mailman) receive a transmission from 400 years in the future stating, “Send Ethan Whyte.” Apparently, Earth has become habitable again. Ethan must then weigh whether he’s willing to leave his wife behind in order to save her and the rest of the world. He reluctantly agrees and is slingshotted through the space-time continuum. Steampunk grunginess is replaced by lush jungle overgrowth. What initially feels like a sci-fi-tinged “Cast Away” gives way to something more strongly resembling “Hell in the Pacific” when someone else joins Ethan in the future.

I have conflicted feelings about Smit-McPhee as an actor. I think I dug him more as a child performer in films such as “The Road” and “Let Me In.” I may also prefer him in supporting roles as opposed to lead ones like in “Dolemite Is My Name” from last year. He brings a similar energy to “2067” that he brought to “Slow West” a handful of years back – that is being a waifish whiney wimp. In spite of this, he performs admirably enough.

It was nice to see Kwanten again after not having seen him in much of anything since “True Blood” concluded. He’s not as fun here as he was there, but he has some interesting notes to play with which he excels. It’s curious that this is an Australian film, Kwanten is an Australian actor, everyone else employs an Australian accent and Kwanten opts for an American accent.

Shaik and Mailman aren’t given nearly as much to do as their male counterparts. Shaik’s Xanthe serves more as motivation than as a fully fleshed out character. The thrust of Mailman’s performance is derived primarily through the silver wig she employs.

“2067” is the screenwriting and directorial debut of special effects artist Seth Larney. Its look is more impressive than its words, but it’s a promising start to what could be a fruitful career. I’m certainly interested in seeing whatever Larney does next. Dialogue and themes are somewhat circuitously repetitive rendering the whole enterprise draggy. The sets are well appointed; the effects impressive. With as visually striking as “2067” is, I’m somewhat surprised it didn’t resonate with me more deeply. Perhaps it’s too emo? Perhaps I’m struggling with time travel fatigue after having watched “Tenet” and all three of the “Bill & Ted” movies within the last month? Either way, “2067” is a trip worth taking – it may just behoove you to do so sometime in the future … hopefully a brighter one.

Death of Me

★★1/2

You’re gonna have to bear with me on this review. I watched “Death of Me,” available theatrically and on VOD beginning Friday, Oct. 2, almost a week ago and was kinda drunk while doing so. This may actually be appropriate for the picture, as it’s a trippy fever dream of a flick.

“Death of Me” stars everyone’s favorite Hemsworth brother (Luke!) and Maggie Q as vacationing couple Neil and Christine. He’s a travel writer and they’re winding down their trip to a Thai island. On their last night in country they’re out drinking and having a good time. Faster than you can say Roofie Coolada, the duo is drugged.

They wake up the following morning with no recollection of the previous evening, their passports are missing and there’s a video recording of Neil strangling Christine to death. Strange, as she’s very much alive, but probably wishes she weren’t due to a massive hangover.

The couple seek passage on a ferry, but are denied due to lack of passports. To make matters worse, the boat takes off with their luggage. It’s safe to say they’re up shit creek without a paddle and are stuck like a coupla Chuck’s. They’re left with no choice but to stay on the island and get to the bottom of what transpired the night before. The rest plays out in a manner that’s likely gonna give the Tourism Authority of Thailand fits.

Q and Hemsworth acquit themselves fairly well with their performances, but it’s her picture more than his. It’s mildly amusing to see Q in this so soon after “Fantasy Island.” It’s like the working vacation stage of her career has kicked into high gear. Who does this lady think she is? Adam Sandler or one of the multitude of buddies he keeps employed? Hemsworth has a somewhat strange screen presence. He looks a bit like his brothers. My wife thought he looked like Matt Damon. I thought he looked like Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year.” He’s simultaneously fit and flab. I get why he’s to the Hemsworth’s what Daniel is to the Baldwin’s (to further the analogy Chris is akin to Alec; Liam is like a hybrid of Stephen and William), but he’s good enough here that I’d be curious to see him in more stuff.

“Death of Me” is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Ari Margolis, James Morley III (co-writer of the 1999 Ice-T/Erika Eleniak modern day pirate picture “Final Voyage”!) and David Tish. I’m not exceedingly familiar with Bousman’s filmography having only seen his 2010 remake of “Mother’s Day” (a movie I engaged with even if I felt gross for doing so) prior to this. I always meant to see “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” but never got around to it. I saw James Wan’s “Saw,” but didn’t dig it so I never checked out the Bousman-directed sequels “Saw II,” “Saw III” or “Saw IV.” Despite not liking “Saw,” I’m very much interested in seeing Bousman’s upcoming “Saw” spinoff, “Spiral,” but this has more to do with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement than anything else. That said Bousman and his crew do a commendable job of capturing the island’s beauty as well as the grisliness that transpires.

The movie’s a bit of a mess, but is appropriately disturbing and/or disquieting when it wants to be. It’s often disorienting (that could be the booze and my memory talking), but I get the impression it’s meant to be. You likely know if a bouillabaisse of “The Wicker Man,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and any number of vacation horror flicks is up your alley or not. Just know this hews closer qualitatively to the Nic Cage “Wicker Man” as opposed to the Christopher Lee one.

Welcome to Sudden Death

★★★

I am a Michael Jai White fan. Two movies cemented my status as one – “Undisputed II: Last Man Standing” (arguably the greatest straight-to-DVD flick of all-time) and “Black Dynamite.” Much of White’s output isn’t up to snuff with his talent – in spite of this I always tune into his stuff so long as he’s punching and kicking people … just save the Tyler Perry melodrama for your Mama!

This brings us to “Welcome to Sudden Death,” now available on DVD, VOD and for streaming on Netflix, a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme “Die Hard” in a hockey arena vehicle from 25 years ago. The movie is the latest product from Universal 1440 Entertainment – the production arm of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. These are the folks who unleash “Tremors” installments upon us seemingly every year (“Tremors: Shrieker Island” drops Oct. 20, 2020!), “Jarhead” follow-ups that have fuck-all to do with the original movie (but my boi Scott Adkins was in #3!) and a “Backdraft” sequel 28 years after its predecessor that I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if it were on fire. Despite their spotty track record, I must say “Welcome to Sudden Death” is a pleasant surprise. It’s better than Adkins’ “Hard Target 2,” but that ain’t an especially high hurdle. This new “Sudden Death” is an objectively bad movie, but it’s an entertainingly bad movie.

White stars as Jesse, a Special Forces veteran who’s reintegrating to life back home with his family. He wants to contribute, so he takes on a job working security for the Phoenix Falcons of the National Basketball League. He decides to take his kids Mara (Nakai Takawira) and Ryan (Lyric Justice) to the season opener. Unfortunately for them, a group of pissed off Geek Squad members with an axe to grind known as Alpha rig the arena with explosives at all of the exits. They’ve also taken hostages in the executive suite – the Governor (Paul Essiembre), the Mayor (Kristen Harris), a billionaire businesswoman named Diana (Sabryn Rock) and her rapper boyfriend, Milli (Anthony Grant). Leading Alpha is Jobe (Michael Eklund, who comes across like a bargain basement Craig Sheffer … then again Craig Sheffer himself is kinda bargain basement Craig Sheffer). Assisting Jesse in thwarting these terrorists is the facility’s custodian, Gus (comedian Gary Owen).

“Welcome to Sudden Death” is less a sequel to “Sudden Death” than it is a remake that substitutes hockey for hoops with a darker complexion, smaller budget and more humor. It’s directed and co-written by Dallas Jackson. The original film’s writer Gene Quintano is credited as well. I’m not sure if he wrote on the picture or if he’s given a nod since the filmmakers straight-up aped his original work?

There’s a lot to like here – White can still fight – a locker room-based skirmish between he and Marrese Crump (next set to appear opposite Nicolas Cage, Frank Grillo and Tony Jaa in “Jiu Jitsu”) is a showstopper. A sequence depicting Alpha making guns with 3D printers is cool and calls to mind John Malkovich’s shenanigans from “In the Line of Fire.” Owen can’t act, but he’s insanely likable and often very funny. Takawira isn’t anywhere near the best child actor I’ve ever seen, but she’s cute as a button, sassy as shit and can deliver one-liners like nobody’s business. Eklund has a certain presence to him as the primary baddie, but he’s no Powers Boothe. Then again, who is?

As fun as this all is, don’t get it twisted – “Welcome to Sudden Death” is dumb as a doornail. This is a movie involving basketball referencing a phenomenon that doesn’t exist in the game for the sake of name notoriety. The filmmakers should’ve just called this scrappy, crappy action flick “Overtime.” If you want another riff on “Sudden Death,” Dave Bautista’s soccer-themed “Final Score” from a coupla years back easily bests this beater.

Ava

★★1/2

The much-maligned Jessica Chastain-fronted hitwoman picture “Ava” is now available theatrically (it’s playing exclusively at Georgetown Cinemas here in Indianapolis, Ind.), on VOD and for rental at Redbox. While the movie’s not good, it’s better than many critics are making it out to be (it’s currently rocking a 22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 38 on Metacritic). Straight up, “Ava” is for folks who wanted “Atomic Blonde” to feel more like a Lifetime movie.

Chastain stars as our titular heroine, who turned her back on her father, mother, Bobbi (Geena Davis), sister, Judy (Jess Weixler of “Teeth,” a movie my wife and I watched together in the early stages of our relationship and are still making references to and jokes about 12 years later) and fiancée, Michael (Common), in the wake of familial dysfunction. She Martin Blanks ‘em all by joining the Army and later becoming a hit person under the tutelage of Duke (John Malkovich).

Ava returns to her family and hometown of Boston eight years later following her father’s passing. Michael and Judy are now an item. There’s no love lost between mother and daughter, but Ava has bigger fish to fry in maintaining her hard-fought sobriety and keeping a target off her back for breaking agency protocol. The black ops organization she works for (embodied by Colin Farrell’s Simon) is gunning for her after a botched job.

“Ava” reunites Chastain with her “The Help” director Tate Taylor. The results are a mixed bag, but I find it kinda funny that Taylor keeps dipping his toes into genre filmmaking with the leading ladies of “The Help” after having made horror flick “Ma” with Octavia Spencer last year. (I’m eagerly anticipating his Emma Stone Western and Viola Davis sci-fi vehicle. Hell, maybe he could remake “Salò” with Bryce Dallas Howard?) “Ma,” a movie I enjoyed more than most, is better than “Ava” … which I also seem to enjoy more than most.

Many of the movie’s shortcomings stem from its script by actor-turned-writer/director Matthew Newton (he played Armand in the 2002 Aaliyah-fronted Anne Rice adaptation “Queen of the Damned”). “Ava” is the first film Newton’s written that he didn’t direct. It wants to be an action movie, a character study and a domestic drama and doesn’t totally succeed at any of these avenues. It’s mostly just cliché city.

Newton isn’t done any favors at times by his director (employing speed ramping when filming Chastain doing karate kicks in her hotel room looks ridiculous as opposed to cool) and leading lady (Chastain brandishing a machine gun lacks the authenticity of Charlize Theron doing the same and is downright laughable). Chastain comes across better sporting a pistol, knife fighting and especially in the hand-to-hand combat sequences. She’s an actress I’ve always liked and admired, but she seems above this even if she steered the project creatively serving as a producer.

The supporting cast are hit-or-miss. Malkovich and Farrell (bringing BIG Tom Skerritt in “Top Gun” energy with his haircut and mustache) are fun. They too get in on the fisticuffs and appear to enjoy working with one another and with Chastain. Davis is crackerjack casting as a clever nod to Renny Harlin and Shane Black’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” As nice as it is to see Davis again after a prolonged big screen absence – the filmmakers should’ve given her more to do, though she does solid work with one meaty scene opposite Chastain. I like Common. He seems like a cool dude. But he can’t act. The cat is a charisma void on screen and often just stares blankly when delivering dialogue. He may be at his absolute worst here. Promising young actress Diana Silvers (“Booksmart,” the aforementioned “Ma”) is kinda wasted playing the daughter of Farrell’s character who’s following her father into the family business. (He’s old enough to play her Dad?!!! Man, I’m getting old.) She figures prominently into a final scene that either hints at a sequel that’ll likely never happen or concludes the picture on a foreboding open-ended note. I’m OK either way as I wasn’t mad at the $2.14 and 96 minutes I spent watching “Ava,” and that’s about all it’s worth.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels

★★

My interest in Japan and its culture and my baser, more prurient instincts led me to “Lost Girls and Love Hotels,” which is now available on VOD. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

“Lost Girls” focuses on Margaret (Alexandra Daddario), an American expatriate living in Tokyo and teaching English pronunciation to aspiring Japanese flight attendants. Margaret spends her evenings drinking and joking with fellow expats Ines (Carice van Houten) and Liam (Andrew Rothney). She makes cracks about other people’s problems with the bottle, but it’s eventually revealed that she’s the one with the issue. Margaret often shows up late to her gig, disheveled and hungover, which draws the ire of her boss, Mari (Mariko Tsutsui), but Mari gives Margaret slack because she likes and even empathizes with her.

Joking and drinking aren’t Margaret’s only nighttime activities – she often closes her evenings by talking strangers into renting rooms at love hotels where they’ll engage in anonymous sex and BDSM. During one of these sessions she actually makes a connection with the Yakuza-tattooed Kazu (Takashi Miike veteran Takehiro Hira).

Why is Margaret in Japan? Who or what is she running from? Why is she so damaged? These questions are answered in the most cursory sense via throwaway lines. Catherine Hanrahan adapts her 2006 novel of the same name to little fanfare. I imagine this story worked better as a book where you’re provided the inner workings of our heroine’s mind. This is a character piece with little to no character. I know very little about Margaret besides the fact that she likes to drink, smoke, fuck, get choked out with a belt and has a predilection towards Asian dudes. That’s it. Swedish director William Olsson and screenwriter Hanrahan feel as if they took “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Lost in Translation” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” shoved ‘em in a blender, hit puree, dumped the contents into a pan and began photocopying them until almost any individualistic and/or interesting attributes of the original works become fuzzily indiscernible.

Daddario is serviceable as Margaret. She’s de-glammed in the role, but still lovely. I feel as though the writing and direction of her character did the performance a disservice. Van Houten is given an absolute nothingburger of a role. I actually think if she and Daddario had traded roles the picture might’ve been better, as she’s proven in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book” and on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” to be an actress who can plumb the depths of a part. The most interesting performance and character of the lot is Hira as Kazu. His character changes the most through the course of the movie. He’s mysterious and yet I feel like I know him much more than Margaret.

There’s not a whole lot to recommend about “Lost Girls” aside from Hira’s performance and some really striking opening and closing credits. It’s not sleazy enough to be guiltily entertaining nor substantial enough to be a true character study. It ends in an open-ended fashion that’s open to interpretation … I wasn’t invested enough to care much either way.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

★★★

You’ll likely know whether “The Babysitter: Killer Queen,” now available for streaming on Netflix, is for you prior to firing it up. Did you see its 2017 predecessor “The Babysitter?” Did you dig that ditty? “Killer Queen” is more of the same only bigger, longer and dumber. McG returns to the director’s chair, which will either entice you or fill you with dread … either reaction is perfectly understandable. I’m a bit of a McG apologist having enjoyed “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), “We Are Marshall,” “Terminator Salvation,” “This Means War,” the first “Babysitter” picture and “Rim of the World,” but make no mistake … “Killer Queen” feels every bit the work of the dude who helmed the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” music video.

Judah Lewis reprises his role as Cole, a nerdy kid who survived an attempted cult killing at the hands of his babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving), and her cadre of cronies – Max (Robbie Amell), Sonya (Hana Mae Lee), Allison (Bella Thorne) and John (Andrew Bachelor). Cole vanquished his foes, but was too open and honest about what transpired and has subsequently been labeled as crazy by the police, his classmates, his teachers and even his own parents, Archie (Ken Marino) and Phyllis (Leslie Bibb). Cole’s only friend is his neighbor, Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), on whom he harbors a crush. Unfortunately, she’s dating a musclehead by the name of Jimmy (Maximilian Acevedo). In spite of this, Melanie invites Cole along for a weekend excursion on a houseboat where he runs into Phoebe (Jenna Ortega), the new girl in school with a dark history and an accompanying rap sheet. Figures from Cole’s past reemerge, things become complicated and the bloodletting begins.

Lewis is a talented young actor who’s made a name for himself in genre fare such as these “Babysitter” pictures and “Summer of 84” after having broken out opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Demolition.” He kinda reminds me of Giuseppe Andrews, who some of y’all might remember from the Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” music video as well as “Detroit Rock City.” The kid’s reliably good here, but I’m curious whose decision it was to dress him like Max Fischer in “Rushmore.”

Lind is memorable here much in the way she was in last year’s “Doctor Sleep.” It’s safe to assume this young lady has a bright future in horror flicks if she wants one. I wasn’t familiar with Ortega prior to “Killer Queen,” but liked her well enough that I’m looking forward to seeing what she has up her sleeve in the upcoming “Scream 5.” As good and lovely as these young lasses are, the movie’s sneaky standout is Carl McDowell as Dr. Big Carl McManus, the guidance counselor/nurse at the kids’ high school. Some of y’all might remember McDowell as TTD from HBO’s “Ballers.” He brings much of the same manic comedic energy to this role and a lot of it seems improvised. Humorously, McDowell’s McManus and the movie itself are strangely preoccupied with whether or not Lewis’ Cole is gonna get laid.

“Killer Queen” is a horror comedy that skews far more towards the comedic, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its fair share of gruesome gore. When the jokes hit – they hit hard. When they miss – it’s brutal. The movie is chock-full of pop culture references ranging from “Deliverance” to “Risky Business” (going so far as to borrow its theme) to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” There are a ton of cool needle drops including the Queen tune from which the movie lifted its subtitle and “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, which many would now understandably say belongs to Edgar Wright and “Baby Driver.”

“The Babysitter” clocked in at a svelte 85 minutes. “Killer Queen” feels flabby at an hour and 42 minutes. Brian Duffield, who wrote the first film, serves as Executive Producer this time out, having been busy making his directorial debut, “Spontaneous.” Duffield was replaced on scripting duties by McG, Brad Morris, Jimmy Warden (who’s engaged to Weaving) and Dan Lagana (showrunner of “American Vandal”). The writing-by-committee didn’t result in as clear of a vision as its predecessor, but it’s still pretty fly for a bunch of white guys. Hell, I’d even happily watch a third installment of “The Babysitter” franchise.

Tenet

★★★★

Writer/director Christopher Nolan is in rarified air amongst modern filmmakers. He’s one of a few big name auteurs who have yet to make a bad movie – the only other ones springing off the top of my head are Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Ryan Coogler. There are huge expectations resting on Nolan’s shoulders as theaters reopen. He’s like Michael Jordan calling for the rock late in a playoff game during the ‘90s – he’s more than happy to put everything on his back, doesn’t really give a damn if his actions harm others and is ultimately gonna win.

“Tenet” is my second least favorite Nolan movie to date … and I still really enjoyed it. My least favorite Nolan flick is his first effort “Following,” which is also good. There have been many complaints lodged against “Tenet” – it’s too long (it kept my attention), it’s too loud (I only noticed dialogue getting drowned out a time or two), it’s overly serious (guilty, but leading man John David Washington lends levity), it’s overly complicated (probably true, but if you can tune out the excess it actually becomes pretty simple).

Washington stars as Protagonist, a CIA agent in pursuit of Russian arms dealer, Andrei Sator (a scenery-chewing Kenneth Branagh). He’s aided in his pursuit by Sator’s estranged wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), and Jack-of-all-trades, Neil (Robert Pattinson). They get further assistance from soldiers named Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson … I didn’t even know he was in this!) and Wheeler (Fiona Douriff, Chucky’s daughter!), lab rat Barbara (Clémence Poésy) and a fixer named Mahir (Himesh Patel, a welcome presence after his charming turn in last summer’s “Yesterday”).

I don’t want to delve into the plot much more than I already have. “Tenet” is ultimately a simple story told in a complex manner. The movie’s time travel elements are less a necessity and more a stylistic flourish. This may be Nolan at his most Michael Mann-ish and the dude straight aped Mann’s “Heat” with “The Dark Knight.” In the world of “Tenet” what somebody does for a living says a lot more about them than who they actually are. In this respect, the film reminded me a lot of recent Mann efforts “Miami Vice” and especially “Blackhat.” Sure, Nolan farts around with time travel, but ultimately this is a story about a lone professional who falls under the charms of a woman entangled with a dangerous man and the lengths he’ll go to in order to extract her from the situation. Hell, the movie is also reminiscent of “Mission: Impossible II” and JDW’s Daddy’s own flick “Déjà Vu” too for that matter.

The performers generally excel. I’ve always liked Washington. He was good on “Ballers” and in “BlacKkKlansman.” He’s more convincingly badass here than he’s been before. The dude sounds exactly like his Pop and looks a lot more like him Mama. It’s probably not the time or place to say it (seriously, utmost respect and RIP to Chadwick Boseman), but I could see Washington being a decent replacement for the role of T’Challa if Coogler and Marvel proceed with a “Black Panther II” at all or one that isn’t fronted by Shuri (Letitia Wright).

I get the sneaking suspicion Nolan was a big fan of Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” which led to Debicki’s casting in this picture. He saw her play an abused woman who finally stands up for herself and plugged her and that vibe into this flick. Debicki is a talented actress whom I’ve enjoyed in a variety of projects (“The Great Gatsby,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” AMC’s “The Night Manager”). She’s not given a part as meaty as her “Widows” role, but she does an admirable job with it.

Pattinson doesn’t make the splash here that he did a coupla weeks ago with “The Batman” trailer, but that’s not to say the reliably consistent performer didn’t register. I just assumed there might be more to his character due to a resemblance between Neil and one of Pattinson’s castmates as a younger man.

“Tenet” is undeniably goofy and often falls into video game pitfalls that you’d assume Nolan was beyond at this point (the whole enterprise devolves, albeit entertainingly, into “Red vs. Blue” at the end, Taylor-Johnson’s essentially playing Captain Price from “Call of Duty”). I’ve really admired the direction Nolan’s gone in with his last few efforts – “Inception” and especially “Interstellar” show the depths of a parent’s love for their children and the lengths they’ll go to for reconciliation; “Dunkirk” was IMHO for all intents and purposes a horror movie that clearly conveys the terrors of war. These are my favorite Nolan features due to their level of feeling – something that’s often been seen as lacking from the filmmaker’s chilly oeuvre. “Tenet” is handsome, entertaining and leaves itself wide open for a sequel. I suppose I’d just say, “One more time with feeling!”  

Rogue

★★

Megan Fox has had an interesting go of it in Hollyweird. She exploded onto the scene as a full-blown sex symbol in Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” She was jettisoned from the franchise after she made comparisons between Bay and Adolf Hitler. She did some good, interesting work in the Karyn Kusama-directed and Diablo Cody-scripted horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body,” which wasn’t well-regarded upon its 2009 release, but has gained converts and a certain cult cache in recent years. Fox and Bay eventually reconciled when she was cast as April O’Neil in the two “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” pictures he produced. Fox claims to have been the victim of Hollywood misogyny … I believe her.

This brings us to “Rogue,” now available on VOD. Sporting a blacked-out Yankees cap and brandishing a machine gun, Fox plays Samantha O’Hara, the leader of a lively and diverse mercenary squadron (Philip Winchester of Cinemax’s “Strike Back,” Lee-Anne Liebenberg, Brandon Auret, Greg Kriek, Sisanda Henna, Kenneth Fok). Their mission is to retrieve the Governor’s daughter, Asilia (Jessica Sutton), from sex traffickers. They can’t in good conscience leave without also rescuing Chloe (Calli Taylor) and Tessa (Isabel Bassett). While they’re escaping criminal ringleader Zalaam (Adam Deacon), his right-hand hatchet man Masakh (Tamer Burjaq) and scads of other rebels give chase. The mercs’ extraction gets bungled and they’re munsoned out in the middle of rural South Africa where they’ll have to contend with the sex traffickers and a pissed-off lioness.

Fox is surprisingly adept in her action heroine role. I only rolled my eyes at her a handful of times. Honestly, she’s better than the material she’s been given. The real standout however is Winchester, who injects the proceedings with much-needed humor by repeatedly singing Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” Winchester played the stoic Stonebridge on the aforementioned “Strike Back.” Here he gets to harness his inner Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) by being a character who’s equal parts badass and smartass.

It’s a “Strike Back” reunion of sorts as “Rogue” is directed by M.J. Bassett (mother of Isabell, with whom she co-wrote the script), who helmed 15 episodes of the series. My interest in “Rogue” mostly stemmed from my “Strike Back” fandom and having dug a handful of Bassett’s other films “Deathwatch” (2002), “Wilderness” (2006) and the Robert E. Howard adaptation “Solomon Kane” (2009).

Bassett began her career in horror before evolving into action. The horrific elements of “Rogue” don’t work nearly as well as the action ones do. There’s a chase/shootout sequence early on that’s truly impressive in spite of being a little too reliant upon computer-generated imagery for my liking. Bassett opted to gild the lily by also making this a creature feature. Her intentions are noble as she’s trying to shine a condemning light on South African poaching, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The lioness is a sub-PlayStation 2 CGI gobbledygook of weightless pixels. It’s hard to feel for or be horrified by her when she’s so entirely unconvincing. A massive uncanny valley also exists when the lioness is shown side-by-side with actual lion cubs, though they’re certainly a welcome and adorable presence.

If you want to watch a movie about a merc busting up a sex trafficking ring check out “You Were Never Really Here.” If you want to watch a “when lions attack” flick opt for “Roar” (totally fucking bugnuts!) or “The Ghost and the Darkness.” “Rogue” has its charms, but they’re fleeting at best. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.

The New Mutants

★★1/2

A long preamble to my review of “The New Mutants:” The movie was originally supposed to come out Apr. 13, 2018, was pushed to Feb. 22, 2019 to avoid competition with label mate “Deadpool 2” and then to Aug. 2, 2019 so as to not compete with “Dark Phoenix.” It was later moved to Apr. 3, 2020 after Disney acquired Fox. COVID-19 hit and the movie was jettisoned from Disney’s release calendar altogether before finally being pushed to Aug. 28, 2020. Having finally seen the movie – I can say I didn’t hate, but it wasn’t great. Disney-owned streaming services such as Hulu or Disney+ would’ve been perfectly serviceable homes for this picture.

Additionally, I will say I felt safe seeing “The New Mutants” in a theater. I went to the AMC Traders Point 12 on Indianapolis, Ind.’s Northwest side. The theater was operating at 40 percent capacity, but attendance was well below that. The staff wore masks. Patrons were in masks. There were sanitation stations littered throughout the complex. The audience I saw the film with was one of the best-behaved I can recollect in recent memory because we all legitimately wanted to be there – even if none of us seemed particularly high on the picture itself. Maybe I have fewer reservations about seeing a movie theatrically than do some of my colleagues because I’ve also been bartending throughout this pandemic? My best advice to y’all – don’t go if you don’t feel comfortable; go if you want to and feel comfortable. We all – both sides of the aisle – need to work on not politicizing the situation we currently find ourselves in and not judging others for doing what they’re comfortable doing so long as they’re being safe about it – even if their actions are counterintuitive to your own.

OK, I’m hopping off my soapbox now. “The New Mutants” is directed by Josh Boone (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and features an impressive cast comprised of Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga and Adam Beach. The movie itself plays like a weird hybrid of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Glass” (Maybe that’s mostly Taylor-Joy’s presence and the institutional setting?) and your run-of-the-mill “X-Men” flick with a dash of horror thrown in for good measure.

The cast is uniformly good. No real surprise as Boone showed a deft hand with actors before in “TFiOS.” (Admission: I drunkenly watched “TFiOS” in bed on HBO a handful of years ago while my wife slept. The movie had its way with me and I wound up ugly crying like a little bitch.) Boone’s latest works best when trading in character. Williams kinda comes across like a young Angela Lansbury meets Teen Wolf, but she exudes the same charming grit she brought to Arya on earlier seasons of “Game of Thrones.” Taylor-Joy is enjoyable even with a Natasha Fatale accent. Heaton, looking strikingly like River Phoenix, is more likable here than he is on “Stranger Things” despite a questionable “Kentuck-eee” accent. Braga is a good actress and does what she can with a role that seems like it got hacked to pieces. Hunt is the film’s lead and does a decent enough job headlining. Zaga has a presence and I could see him going places due to his physique if nothing else. Beach is briefly on hand as Hunt’s character’s father – he doesn’t have a whole helluva lot to do, but it’s always nice to see this cat after his turns in “Joe Dirt” (“hoosker doos, hoosker don’ts”) and as Ira Hayes in Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers.”  

I enjoyed “The New Mutants” most when it was evoking “OFOtCN,” and that’s likely what kept getting it postponed. People aren’t going to this movie for McMurphy and Chief – they wanna see mutant mayhem. The horror feels more “Goosebumps” and less “Fear Street.” The action isn’t especially deft. Graphics often aren’t rendered particularly well. A buddy I went with suggested the film’s photography was too dark – I didn’t agree per se – but this is often a technique employed to camouflage budget deficiencies. Long story short – the picture has its charms, but it’s my least favorite “X-Men” film to date and you can wait six months to a year to watch this at home on Hulu or Disney+ – and that’s whether you feel safe going to the movies or not.

Random Acts of Violence

★★★1/2

I’ve always been a bit of a Jay Baruchel fan. I dug him on Judd Apatow’s Fox series “Undeclared.” I felt for him when he was getting his ass whooped by Anthony Mackie in “Million Dollar Baby.” He was funny and relatable in “Knocked Up,” “She’s Out of My League” and “This Is the End.” I enjoyed “Goon,” which he co-wrote and co-starred in. I enjoyed to a lesser extent “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” with which he made his feature directorial debut in addition to co-starring and co-writing. This brings us to “Random Acts of Violence,” now streaming on Shudder, Baruchel’s sophomore directorial effort.

“RAoV” concerns Todd (Jesse Williams), a writer who’s made his bones crafting a comic book based around real-life serial killer Slasherman (Simon Northwood). Together with his girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewster), his publisher, Ezra (Baruchel), and his assistant, Aurora (Niamh Wilson), the quartet return to the scene of the crimes in order to give Todd inspiration for the final issue of the book’s run. Upon their arrival, bodies begin piling up.

Williams isn’t an actor I’m especially familiar with. I know him primarily from “The Cabin in the Woods” … and for kinda looking like Derek Jeter. He did good work there … as he does here. He’s probably too cool and too good-looking to pull off being this nebbish, but he surprisingly makes it sing.

Brewster is an actress I’ve never been especially fond of despite having liked many of her movies, i.e. “The Faculty” and “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. I’ve always kinda thought of her as “Baby Ali MacGraw” due to her resemblance to the “Love Story” and “The Getaway” actress. Brewster does some of the best work of her career here. (Shallow Dude Alert: I also tend to find her much more attractive in glasses for whatever that’s worth.) The way in which her character eschews fear shows courage and makes a monologue she’s given especially powerful. (Props also to Baruchel and his co-writer Jesse Chabot (with whom he collaborated on “Last of the Enforcers”) for giving Brewster dialogue this juicy to sink her teeth into.)

Baruchel and Wilson aren’t given nearly as much to do as Williams and Brewster, but they acquit themselves well enough.

“RAoV” was produced by famed writer and inker Jimmy Palmiotti and is based off his 2010 comic of the same name. The picture does occasionally falter in its adherence to comic book stylings. Some of the cell-shaded animations employed echo Nintendo GameCube games of almost 20 years ago more than they do graphic novels.

I’m sure Baruchel had a limited budget and he does hit some stumbling blocks as a result of this. For instance, the dummy that’s supposed to be the carcass of one our primary characters reappears late in the flick and it’s laughably bad. That said there’s a tableau of multiple victims that’s shot and depicted in such a way that it’s insanely effective. Moments such as this make me think Baruchel has a real future ahead of him as a horror director. For the most part, the kills are staged and shot for maximum impact.

I liked “RAoV” a good deal. It’s an effective and affecting horror-thriller. I’m not sure I’d want to see the picture again as it’s brutally violent and somewhat emotionally draining, but its tale is told compellingly enough in a brisk 80 minutes.