Black Adam Review

In 1993, NBA superstar Charles Barkley famously told the world in a commercial that he was not a role model. Nearly three decades later, cinematic superstar Dwayne Johnson tells us repeatedly in Black Adam that he is not a hero. This latest offering from the DC Extended Universe kind of has a mid 90s vibe when it comes to comic book adaptations. That was a weak time for the genre prior to its explosion in the 21st century. As far as quality, this has more in common with 1996’s Kazaam, which starred Barkley’s Inside the NBA colleague Shaquille O’Neal. Adam may have a connection to 2019’s Shazam!, but shares little of its entertainment value.

A prologue in 2600 B.C. introduces us to the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Kahndaq. A young boy enslaved by an evil ruler chooses to take a stand against the oppression (even as his elders discourage it). He is rewarded by the Council of Wizards – hence that Shazam! tie-in as he’s given the immense powers of that character.

Flash forward 5000 years and Kahndaq is under a different kind of oppression from a crime syndicated known as Intergang. Archeologist Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) is in search of the Crown of Sabbac, which turns its wearer into a demonic being. Intergang is looking for it as well. When they clash, she manages to awaken Teth-Adam. He’s believed to be that heroic rebel from 50 centuries ago. Dwayne Johnson is the awoken being. Adam insists that’s he not a hero and keeps saying it.

The presence of this superhuman relic attracts the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who you may remember as The Suicide Squad‘s recruiter. Adam is looked at as a potential threat. The Squad doesn’t intervene. Neither does Superman or Batman or The Flash (though they’re glimpsed on the bedroom wall of Adrianna’s teenage son). Instead the Justice Society books passage to Kahndaq to investigate just how dangerous Adam is. Pierce Brosnan is the clairvoyant Doctor Fate, Aldis Hodge is Hawkman, Noah Centineo plays Atom Smasher (think Ant-Man but he can only grow big), and Quintessa Swindell is the twirling Cyclone. If this sounds like the B list of the DC pages, that’s certainly how it feels. That superficiality extends to the villain (Marwan Kenzari), the Intergang leader who dons the devilish crown. He might be more forgettable than Justice League‘s baddie Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and that’s saying a lot.

Jaume Collet-Serra directed Johnson in the pretty enjoyable Jungle Cruise. That collaboration was a better ride than this. Johnson is saddled with a hero (wait… NOT a hero!!!) who’s often a sullen bore. Very little of the actor’s dynamic personality comes through. It break through on occasion but not nearly enough. We’re cooking at a low boil. Everything in Black Adam has been done with more pizzazz in other DCEU and especially MCU pictures. Dwayne Johnson (and Tina Turner) are right in this case. We don’t need another hero.

*1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Space Jam: A New Legacy

Lebron James will not become the first NBA superstar to score a Best Actor nomination and no, his former teammates Shaquille O’Neal (Kazaam) and Kyrie Irving (Uncle Drew) didn’t do so. #23 headlines the long in development sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy this Friday and reviews only have the live-action/animated mix at 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.

There is, however, one category where Oscar attention is at least feasible and that is Visual Effects. Even some of the negative critical posts mention the solid special effects. The original Jam 25 years ago couldn’t manage to get in the VFX derby. Back then, there were only three nominees and 1996’s winner was Independence Day over Dragonheart and Twister.

Could the expansion to five give LeBron’s iteration a shot? Doubtful. Warner Bros. already has three stronger hopefuls with Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, and the fourth Matrix and it’s questionable whether much of a campaign would be done here.

Bottom line: Legacy could make the shortlist of possibilities for inclusion at the end of 2021. I would be surprised if it makes the starting lineup. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 1996: The Top Ten Hits and More

Well, it’s officially summertime and that means on this blog of mine, I recount the top ten movie hits of the season from 10 years ago and today… 20 years ago. When it comes to the film that ruled summer 1996, there’s a major connection to a sequel coming this very weekend…

As I have in years past, I’ll count down the top ten and then also mention some other notable pics, as well as big old flops. Let’s get to it…

10. The Cable Guy

Domestic Gross: $60 million

It may have managed to place in the top 10, but The Cable Guy (with its darker tones than any of his previous material) was considered to be Jim Carrey’s first flop. This was coming after a quintet of hits that included Ace Ventura and its sequel, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Batman Forever. Critics and audience didn’t know what to make of this Ben Stiller directed effort at first, but it’s since gained a deserved cult following.

9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Domestic Gross: $100 million

It couldn’t match the earnings of previous 90s Disney animated fare like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, or Pocahontas and it isn’t talked about too much anymore, but the studio did manage to get this to the century club… barely.

8. Eraser

Domestic Gross: $101 million

Arnold Schwarzenegger had his first major flop in summer 1993 with Last Action Hero and rebounded the following season in 1994 with True Lies. Action thriller Eraser falls somewhere in the middle. It did pretty well, but critics and audiences were a bit ambivalent.

7. Phenomenon

Domestic Gross: $104 million

John Travolta was still riding high on the momentum of Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, and Broken Arrow and that continued with this fantasy drama that also included the Eric Clapton hit “Change the World”.

6. A Time to Kill

Domestic Gross: $108 million

John Grisham was a serious box office commodity when Kill hit, directed by Joel Schumacher (doing his second adaptation after 1994’s The Client). The all-star cast that included Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey helped and this gave mainstream audiences their first exposure to Mr. Matthew McConaughey.

5. The Nutty Professor

Domestic Gross: $128 million

After a trio of bombs (The Distinguished Gentleman, Beverly Hills Cop III, Vampire in Brooklyn), Eddie Murphy experienced a huge comeback with this remake of the Jerry Lewis comedy. It also kicked off a series of family friendly titles that gave Eddie a second wind in his filmography.

4. The Rock

Domestic Gross: $134 million

Fresh off his Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage parlayed that buzz into the action genre in this Michael Bay directed Alcatraz shoot-em-up with Sean Connery and Ed Harris. This one’s pretty good. Much of what would follow from Cage? Not so much.

3. Mission: Impossible

Domestic Gross: $180 million

Tom Cruise got his franchise and it started here with Brian De Palma’s rendering of the 1960s TV series. Ethan Hunt and his cohorts are still rolling today.

2. Twister

Domestic Gross: $241 million

Jan De Bont followed up Speed with this high-priced disaster pic starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and that infamous flying cow.

  1. Independence Day

Domestic Gross: $306 million

Moviegoers loved their destruction in summer 1996 and they saw the White House and plenty of other landmarks blown to smithereens in this alien invasion extravaganza from Roland Emmerich. This was what really made Will Smith a superstar – so much so that he isn’t bothering with the long gestating sequel, out this Friday.

Something that struck me about those 10 highest grossing pictures? Not one sequel. Try getting away with that these days…

And now for some other notable movies in the hot months of ’96:

Kingpin

Domestic Gross: $25 million

The Farrelly Brothers followed up their smash hit Dumb and Dumber with this bowling comedy starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and a glorious Bill Murray. It flopped upon release but has since gained a devoted following.

Trainspotting

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This British import was an indie fave of the season and gave American audiences their first big exposure to both director Danny Boyle and its star Ewan McGregor. A sequel is coming in 2017.

And now – the flops of the summer and there were many:

Dragonheart

Domestic Gross: $51 million

This fantasy adventure starring Dennis Quaid and the voice of Sean Connery couldn’t make its $57 million budget back domestically and critics were lukewarm.

Striptease

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Critics and audiences alike didn’t shell out their dollar bills for this Demi Moore “comedy” set in the world of strip clubs.

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Domestic Gross: $27 million

This massive flop gave us Marlon Brando at his most bizarre in this doomed adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel. Do yourself a favor and read about the making of for this project. It’s considerably more entertaining than the picture itself.

Escape from L.A.

Domestic Gross: $25 million

Sixteen years after the well-received Escape from New York, this sequel reuniting director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell was mostly ignored.

Chain Reaction

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Keanu Reeves had a smash with Speed two summers before. Director Andrew Davis made the Oscar nominated The Fugitive three summer prior. Putting the two together for this stale action thriller was met with yawns.

Kazaam

Domestic Gross: $18 million

A few months before basketball fans turned out in droves for Michael Jordan and Space Jam, they said no thanks to Shaquille O’Neal’s entry onto the silver screen. Charles Barkley still gives him hell for it on “Inside the NBA”.

The Fan

Domestic Gross: $18 million

Between two major hits with 1995’s Crimson Tide and 1998’s Enemy of the State, Tony Scott had this bomb starring Robert De Niro as a baseball nut stalking favorite player Wesley Snipes.

The Phantom

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Comic books adaptations hadn’t quite hit their stride yet during the mid 1990s, as evidenced here with Billy Zane as the title character that couldn’t even earn half its $45 million budget.

The Frighteners

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This horror action comedy is the last major starring role for Michael J. Fox before he turned his attention back to TV and “Spin City”. This failed with moviegoers, but the director would go on to bigger things. His name? Peter Jackson.

Barb Wire

Domestic Gross: $3 million

Here’s another comic adaptation you don’t think of much – this ill-fated Pamela Anderson vehicle that proved audiences liked her better on the beach… or in other videos you didn’t have to pay for.

And that does it, folks! Your recap of summer 1996. I’ll be back next week talking about 2006…