‘Magic Mike XXL’ is more like ‘Magic Mike ZZZ’

Channing Tatum and his bunch of merry men are back for another go-round in “Magic Mike XXL.” You’d think that would mean more thongs, more skin and more fun. No such luck.

Here’s five questions for “Magic Mike XXL.”

What’s it about?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you’re really searching for some sort of plot, it’s about a bunch of buddies rekindling their bromances on a road trip to one last male stripper convention. Yes, a male stripper convention.

I know that the screenplay isn’t the highest priority in a male stripper movie. But come on, at least try to put together a story of some sort.

Who cares about the story! Is there a lot of the hot guys dancing?

Honestly, if “Magic Mike XXL” featured a lot of smooth moves and smooth skin, I could have forgiven the lack of plot. After all, audiences are looking to films like these for pure fun and escapism. But there’s a serious lack of both flash and flesh. There are a few dance teases in the film’s first hour — one by Tatum and the other a hilarious scene with Joe Manganiello seducing a convenience store clerk by dancing to a Backstreet Boys song. Other than that, all we’re given is a bunch of scenes of the guys hanging out. You’d think that male strippers would have some wild times and lots of crazy stories to share, but these guys are amazingly dull.

Even the grand finale at the male stripper convention is a huge letdown. The dancers barely do any bump and grind and show surprisingly little skin. Tatum’s last number features more of the moves we’ve been waiting for, but even then he shares the stage with another dancer. It’s a damn shame because when Channing Tatum shows his moves … whoo boy! That white boy can dance!

mm1Is the movie taking itself too seriously?

Come on, it’s about male strippers. We should be seeing biceps. We should be seeing pecs. We should be seeing flopping appendages shoved in the faces of drunk sorority girls. Instead, we get conversations about employee health care and healing auras. This sequel missed a great opportunity to make fun of itself and the first film’s success. It is one slow, boring mess.

What’s with the DJs and why are they so important?

Do these guys really need to travel with their own DJ? Is this a vital role in warming up an audience of drunk, horny women? Apparently so. Comedian Gabriel Iglesias is back as DJ Tobias, but when he gets injured on the way to the convention, they replace him with Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), an old friend of Magic Mike. Then at the finale, Smith gets more screen time than the dancers. Really? We’ve been waiting two hours for the hot finale and we have to suffer through Smith’s overly long intros? What makes it worse is that she outdoes her terrible overacting in the TV show “Gotham.” She’s just plain horrible in this role.

mm2So what’s the final rating for the film?

There are several options when being entertained by a stripper. You can tip them a dollar, get a lap dance or even go to the champagne room if you’re really into them. For “Magic Mike XXL,” I’m talking to the person next to me and waiting hopefully until the shift changes and a better dancer appears.

 

‘Ted 2′ is more than bear-able

It’s a comedy about a talking teddy bear. No need to read too much into it.

Her are five questions for “Ted 2.”

What’s it about?

After experiencing some marital problems, Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and Tami-Lyn decide to salvage their relationship by having a baby. But Ted has some anatomical shortcomings, so they look into options such as artificial insemination and even adoption. That’s when Ted learns that according to the government, he’s considered property and not a person, which leads into a battle for his civil rights. Of course, Ted’s thunder buddy for life best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) is there to support him every step of the way.

How funny is it?

Comedy is such a subjective subject. What makes one person laugh out loud makes another roll their eyes. That being said, I thought it was hilarious, especially in the first half. There are some really creative and funny bits that had me rolling, most notably a conversation about cereal between Ted and a well-known action star in an inspired cameo and the genius use of the score from “Jurassic Park.” Some gags feel forced, and at times, the film feels like an episode of MacFarlane’s “The Family Guy,” where jokes are just thrown at the audience like machine gun fire, hoping that some are hits. But overall, there are more hits than misses.

ted1Should I give the sequel a chance even though I hated the original?

I had to really fight hard to get my girlfriend to watch this with me because she thought the first film was absolutely ridiculous and stupid. But as we watched, I definitely heard her laugh numerous times. When I told her after the film that I knew that she would laugh, she replied, “Yeah, only because it was so stupid!” She won’t admit to thinking the film was funny, but laughs don’t lie.

Does it have rewatch value?

I often judge the quality of a comedy by its rewatchability. There’s a reason why films like “Home Alone” and “There’s Something About Mary” are constantly replayed on cable television. We’ve heard all of the punchlines before, but we watch anyway because the films hold up. So would I watch “Ted 2” if it popped up on TV? If it was on HBO, yes. If it was on TBS, then no. Lots of the film’s identity is tied in with its language and purifying the film by editing out the swear words is really pointless. But even on a premium cable channel, I’d probably only watch the first half. The second half of the film slows down quite a bit with a civil rights trial and road trip that don’t have the same frequency of successful gags.

ted2Where does Ted rank among other bears?

5) Smokey Bear – Always teaching us how to prevent forest fires

4) Gentle Ben – A giant bear with a heart to match

3) Fozzie Bear – Waka waka waka!

2) Ted – Slacker, silly and stoned

1) Po – Come on, he knows kung fu!

‘Inside Out’ is genius

Animated films always work best when they speak to both kids and adults, and Pixar has always been one of the best at doing just that. After a few money-grabbing, sub-par sequels (“Cars 2” and “Monsters University”) it’s really refreshing to see them come back strong.

Here are five questions for “Inside Out.”

What’s it about?

We learn that a person’s mind is controlled by five basic emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. The emotions inside of 11-year-old Riley start to lose control when she’s forced to move from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, sending Joy and Sadness on an adventure through the different dimensions of Riley’s mind while the other three emotions try to keep Riley’s emotions in check at the control center.

If you had to review the film in one word, what would that word be?

Genius. We’ve all seen many versions in TV and film of how our brain controls our actions, but writer and director Pete Docter takes it to the next level, and the word I kept thinking to myself as he revealed each dimension was “genius.” From the introduction of the five emotions to the revelation of the different memory islands to the random other characters Joy and Sadness encounter on their journey back to the control center, I had to admire how he was able to portray something so limitless and complicated in a simple way that totally makes sense. “Inside Out” really made me think, “Ah, so that’s how my mind works!” Amazing. The visuals are stunning. The comedy is gold. Even the musical score is spot on. “Inside Out” takes a brilliant concept and executes it flawlessly.

insideout1How were the voice actors?

Perfect. The five emotions played by Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), Lewis Black (Anger) and Bill Hader (Fear) are perfectly portrayed with fun, animated performances, but with enough restraint to avoid going over the top. I also loved Richard Kind as the imaginary friend Bing Bong.

Does the film appeal to adults?

Indubitably. There are tons of gags for the kiddies, but adults will enjoy the more layered and mature references as well. There’s even a nod to the film classic “Chinatown” that kids will have no clue about, but film buffs will totally appreciate.

“Inside Out” also allows adults to reminisce about younger, innocent times and might even give them some insight to how their kids think. I really think this film wouldn’t be a bad instructional tool in Psych 101 classes. Oh, and bring a tissue. I haven’t heard adults bawl that much since I saw “E.T.”

insideout2That good, huh?

I’ve stated numerous times that I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. But somehow I have a pretty strong feeling that “Inside Out” will be on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. Yes, it’s that good.

 

No hope in ‘Dope’

I love urban stories. I love high school coming-of-age films. I love hip-hop culture. I should have loved “Dope.” Nope.

Here are five questions for “Dope.”

What’s it about?

Malcolm, Diggy and Jib are three best friends who are perfectly comfortable with their geeky love of ‘90s hip-hop, retro dress code and other eccentricities. But after attending a drug dealer’s birthday party, they’re stuck with a backpack full of drugs that they’re forced to sell. All the while, Malcolm has high aspirations of escaping the hood and attending Harvard.

Sounds like fun. Is it?

At times, yes. There are some really effective sequences, such as a multiple POV shootout/chase scene set to “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. I wanted to see more of that kind of creative unpredictability. Unfortunately the film is just all over the place. Scenes don’t transition well from one to the next and the tone is too inconsistent. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster mash up of a film made up of various ideas that together don’t really pay off. It’s a teen comedy. Then it’s a drug war film. Then it’s a coming-of-age film. Then it’s a sex romp. It’s like the film itself is on drugs and can’t focus on any one thing.

dope1So it’s not another House Party?

And perhaps that’s where I had the wrong expectations going in. I was hoping for a zany, funny adventure, where stupid but amusing and charming characters get in over their heads and have to get out of all sorts of pickles. I was looking for some “House Party” mixed in with the stoned out feel of “Friday” and the high school hijinx of “Class Act.” Sadly, “Dope” doesn’t stand up to any of these films. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments here and there, but the film drags terribly between those moments.

How’s the soundtrack?

The music is the best thing about the film (other than the old school high top fade that Malcolm sports). Nineties hip-hop classics such as “Hip Hop Hooray,” “Scenario” and “Slam” pepper the film and had me bobbing my head and tapping my feet.

dope2So all that’s memorable is the music?

Besides the retro hip-hop music, I did love the individual characters, especially the three friends. Shameik Moore does a convincing job of playing a geek who is also ambitious enough to sell drugs and carry a gun. Kiersey Clemons is fun as his lesbian BFF and Tony Revolori, who also displayed his comic chops in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is fresh as Jib, who provides much of the comic relief. But this is clearly Malcolm’s film, and his two friends are quickly relegated to background status.

After hearing that “Dope” was the festival darling at Sundance, I certainly had high hopes for the film to fill a growing void in Hollywood for quality black films. Sadly, there’s no hope in “Dope.”

Crowe delivers too much ‘Aloha’

Filmmaker Cameron Crowe is known for classic films like “Jerry Maguire” and “Say Anything.” So when he gathers an awesome A-list cast and sets his latest film right here in our backyard, of course interest will be high, so let’s just jump right into it.

Here are five questions for “Aloha.”

What’s it about?

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor who returns to Hawaii to help an eccentric billionaire (Bill Murray) launch a private satellite into space. The US Air Force assigns Allison Ng (Emma Stone) to watch over him during his stay. It also just so happens that his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) lives in Hawaii and is now married to a pilot (John Krasinski) and has two children. Sounds overly complicated? You’re right.

That great cast though! How are the performances?

Cooper has recently shown his strength and versatility as an actor and does a great job of proving that he can carry a film as a romantic lead as well. McAdams also brings a surprising amount of depth to a very thinly written character, and Krasinski does a lot with a few words as her husband. Stone, however, was the biggest surprise of the cast. Coming off an outstanding performance in “Birdman,” she regresses quite a bit in “Aloha.” Her cheerfulness and peppiness gets annoying fast and it’s as if Crowe basically told her to smile as much as possible the entire film.

aloha1

So where does “Aloha” fall when ranking all of Crowe’s films?

Cameron Crowe is a master of creating relatable characters who aren’t romantic comedy clichés. He also has a great gift for amazingly brilliant and quotable dialogue. “Aloha” however lacks much of those qualities and even feels a bit awkward at times with some questionable character choices and uneven editing. The film’s tone is inconsistent and feels disappointingly generic at times. While there are a few specific scenes where Crowe’s unique charm really stand out and remind you of how talented of a filmmaker he is, “Aloha” is my least favorite of his films.

Will Hawaii residents recognize any of the locales in the film?

The majority of the film takes place on Hickam Air Force base, but the characters do venture out a few times to Chinatown. But other than a visit to a mountain camp where some native Hawaiians live, there’s not much else to see.

aloha2

So here’s the real question we all want to ask. Does “Aloha” do Hawaii right?

In a word, no. But it’s definitely not for the lack of trying. And man, does Crowe try. He tries so, so, so hard!

I wrote a blog a few days back about my concern of the all-white cast, and in that blog I wrote that I understood that the stars have to be crowd-drawing Hollywood names, but hoped that at least some of the supporting characters would be more reflective of our diverse population. But as stated above, the majority of the story happens on base and rarely involves characters outside the ones shown in the trailer, so I guess the film gets a marginal pass on that issue.

My real issue with “Aloha” is how Crowe force feeds the audience aspects of Hawaiian culture in a way that has absolutely no relevance to the story. A young boy arbitrarily can’t stop talking about the legend of Pele at the start of the film, but then it never really goes anywhere. The two main characters awkwardly spout off Hawaiian words such as “mana” just to prove that they know a little bit about the language. There were other references such as the discussion of “menehune,” where I literally rolled my eyes because its inclusion was just so contrived.

aloha3

But the worst crime was the inclusion of Bumpy Kanahele and his sovereign Nation of Hawaii. Gilcrest and Ng visit Bumpy’s Nation of Hawaii to get him to agree to perform a blessing ceremony. At first, I was very happy to see some Pacific Islanders on screen and the genuineness they brought to the movie. The audience is introduced to Bumpy (playing himself) and is treated to a nice kanikapila with one of my favorite musicians, slack key legend Led Kaapana. It was a very nice scene and at the time; I was actually smiling in my seat, hoping there would be more of that later in the film.

But then the scene ends and Gilcrest tells Ng that while the Hawaiians will talk on and on about the importance of the land and their spirits, all they really want is property and money. Wait… what? Did I hear that right? Yes, I did. Bumpy has stated in the media that he’s given his blessing to the film, but he wasn’t in that scene, so I’m wondering if he knew it was in the script. Sure, Gilcrest’s character has to have some flaw so that he can redeem himself later in the film, but I thought this was highly inappropriate. It just isn’t right to show the beauty of Hawaiian culture one minute, then basically call them all fakes and sellouts the next. What makes matters worse is that the entire episode with Bumpy proves irrelevant as the story unfolds. The whole scene could have been taken out of the film and it wouldn’t have changed anything.

Crowe obviously did his homework on Hawaii and it’s as if he couldn’t wait to show off all he learned. But a writer as talented as he is should have been able to blend in the cultural aspects of Hawaii in a natural way that lends to the story rather than awkwardly shoehorning them in. Cameron Crowe calls “Aloha” his “love letter to Hawaii.” It hurts me a lot to say this because I’m a huge fan of his work, but it’s more like he dropped some money on the dresser on his way out to thank us for the good time.