Bumblebee Movie Review

Steven Spielberg has executive produced all five Transformers movies prior to Bumblebee and he holds that title here. Yet it’s in this prequel/spin-off that his influence feels the most pronounced. In the case of this franchise, that’s a welcome development. Michael Bay’s quintet of loud metal on metal action orgies that began in 2007 are generally nonsensical explosion excuses with occasional jaw dropping moments. Travis Knight, taking over directorial duties, gives Bumblebee a heart and the loudest audio belongs to the terrific 80s soundtrack.

This is a prequel and the happenings occur in 1987, which explains The Smiths, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears providing the tunes. A prologue on the planet Cybertron shows our title character (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) being sent to Earth by Optimus Prime in order to escape death by The Decepticons. He crash lands, of all places, right in the middle of a military training exercise in California where no nonsense Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena) assumes him to be a hostile creature. Bumblebee manages to transform into that iconic 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, but not after being rendered mute when his voice box is disabled. By the way, this all happens in like ten minutes. Pacing is not an issue in this picture, unlike other bloated Transformers flicks.

That Beetle ends up in a junkyard frequented by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a gear head who’s just turned 18. It’s her storyline that brings the Spielberg vibes front and center. She’s experienced parental loss as her beloved father has passed. She’s an outcast in the suburbs. Charlie has an awkward pending romance with her neighbor (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). There’s also a resistance to diving (even though she’s a terrific diver) that we correctly assume will figure into the plot. She also works at a low rent amusement park that looks straight outta Adventureland. When she commandeers the Volkswagen, she discovers the giant yellow extraterrestrial and befriends him. Their relationship is quite E.T. like, if that alien had tires strapped to his back and communicated through radio waves playing Steve Winwood.

Knight, maker of the acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings, is making a Transformers experience that could have been made in the 80s. And it mostly works. There’s only so much he can do with the fight scenes after the Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee to this planet. The tech team here manages to make them easier to follow than Bay’s mashups. So when Colonel Burns and other dumber than they should be government types get involved in the plot, I found myself actually caring a bit. That’s due to screenwriter Christina Hodson’s establishment of Charlie as a full fledged character and Steinfeld’s work elevating her. Her charming interaction with Bee is enough to warrant something the Transformers epics don’t get and that’s a recommendation.

*** (out of four)

Keeping Up with the Joneses Movie Review

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher are two performers that made themselves known to the moviegoing masses with some outlandish roles where they got to let their freak flags fly in The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, respectively. So it’s a bit disconcerting to see them playing the typical dull suburban married couple in Keeping Up with the Joneses. Typical is a word that can be applied to a lot of what we see here. The film isn’t bad. It’s just ordinary. The leads aren’t bad either. They’re just more boring than we’re used to and a by the numbers screenplay doesn’t help them any.

The aforementioned actors play Jeff and Karen. He is a Human Resources manager whose daily routine consists of handing out stress balls and initiating trust exercises. She is mostly obsessed with the home decor of their lovely abode in a cul-de-sac, including the chic installation of a urinal. Some needed excitement comes to them when new neighbors move across the way and they’re the interesting and impossibly good looking Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gil Gadot). Tim is the handsome travel writer. Natalie is the gorgeous cooking blogger/social media consultant who also rescues orphans (her LinkedIn page wins).

It’s not long before Karen’s nosiness has her thinking maybe they didn’t quite hit the neighbor jackpot. Turns out she’s right as the Joneses are actually secret government agents investigating nefarious happenings at Jeff’s workplace.

The Joneses real careers means we’re treated to a threadbare subplot involving tracking an arms dealer and some rather tepid action sequences. Yet this is mostly about the chemistry between the four leads as their marriages and friendships develop. It’s just too bad this is contained in a completely unimaginative formulaic manner.

The PG-13 rating does leave the raunch factor to a surprising minimum. This is a script where the sight of two women kissing (oh my!) is treated as a big punchline. Gadot does manage to hold her own playing against these three others known a bit more for the genre (as anyone who’s watched Hamm on SNL can attest to). We see some potential in moments as the bromance between Galifianakis and Hamm grows, but not enough. Greg Mottola, who’s made some fine comedic efforts with Superbad and the underrated Adventureland, is not at the top of his game here. This is the type of picture that the content yet slightly bored suburbanites depicted here might view with some contentment but mostly be bored. And not talk about it much afterwards.

** (out of four)

Keeping Up with the Joneses Box Office Prediction

Some familiar faces populate the action comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, out next Friday. In fact, one of those faces is Zach Galifianakis, who just appeared in Masterminds, which performed poorly. Joneses and Masterminds have this in common: both were delayed by their studios, which usually isn’t a good sign.

This one costars Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, and Gadot in a tale of a bored suburban couple whose lives are spiced up when a couple of secret agents move next door. Greg Mottola, director of Superbad and Adventureland, is behind the camera.

Keeping Up was originally scheduled to come out in April before its push back. Even with the talent involved, I’m not so sure the marketing campaign has been strong enough (or the trailers quite funny enough) to cause it to break out. There’s not much direct competition in the comedy genre, but there are a host of other pics clamoring for the attention of adult audiences.

This should hover right around low double digits. It should do better than the $6.5 million premiere of Galifianakis’s aforementioned early October effort Masterminds. Unfortunately, that’s not saying a whole lot for this late October release.

Keeping Up with the Joneses opening weekend prediction: $10.1 million

For my Jack Reacher: Never Go Back prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/11/jack-reacher-never-go-back-box-office-prediction/

For my Ouija: Origin of Evil prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/ouija-origin-of-evil-box-office-prediction/

For my Boo! A Madea Halloween prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/boo-a-madea-halloween-box-office-prediction/

American Ultra Box Office Prediction

A lot has happened in the film careers of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart since they starred in 2009’s Adventureland. Eisenberg earned an Oscar nod for The Social Network, starred in 2013’s summer sleeper hit Now You See Me, and got himself cast as Lex Luthor in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Stewart furthered her star status with more Twilight pics and Snow White and the Huntsman. Now the pair reunite for American Ultra, an action comedy out next Friday. I am highly skeptical this movie will be among their big earners.

Ultra has a supporting cast that includes Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, Bill Pullman, and Tony Hale. The pic seems to be flying a bit under the radar. Solid reviews could assist yet I wonder whether this manages to even post double digits in its opening. Ultra should have no trouble topping the $5.7 million debut of Adventureland (at least I think), but I will project it falls just under $10 million and likely fades fast.

American Ultra opening weekend prediction: $9.8 million

For my Sinister 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/13/sinister-2-box-office-prediction/

For my Hitman: Agent 47 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/13/hitman-agent-47-box-office-prediction/