The Jigsaw Files: Saw V (2008)

This is rather faint praise, but Saw V is an improvement over the cluttered experience that was Saw IV. We still get backstories that will seemingly never end. The loss of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), even though he returns in flashbacks, finds screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan desperate to mine material. On the hand that isn’t severed, there’s some decent work by the supporting actors in the fifth edition. On the severed hand, our two leads carried over from the fourth edition are still a bore.

The Jigsaw Files keeps swinging along and here’s the first four if you didn’t catch them:

Saw V introduces its third director in David Hackl, who did production design and second unit work on episodes II-IV. Darren Lynn Bousman’s involvement in the series had seemingly ended but he is back behind the camera for the upcoming Spiral. Melton and Dunstan, who scripted the predecessor, are back.

It was at the conclusion of #4 that we learned Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) was Jigsaw’s second accomplice to his wicked games. He’s taken center stage now as the hero who brought down Jiggy while FBI Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) suspects foul play. Naturally the departed mastermind has thought of a way to make Strahm look like the new villain.

In the meantime, the living and deceased co-conspirators have a new test. They have selected five strangers, picked to live in a dimly lit dungeon, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real bloody. It’s up to them to figure out what they have in common while trying to maintain limb and life. Hint: the quintet probably have a criminal connection. This is where we find some decent performances from Julie Benz, Meagan Good and Greg Bryk as they try to avoid catastrophic countdowns. The whole subplot is a bit of a callback to Saw II and that’s not always a bad thing in this case.

Detective Hoffman’s backstory is a predictable one as to why he got mixed up with the non killing serial killer. This franchise seems hellbent on providing motivational recalls for all its offenders and at this point it’s mostly filler.

I am, quite frankly, struggling somewhat to add more about Saw V. As stated, it is less jumbled (and a tad less perverse) than what preceded it. The scenes with the five new contestants on this Real Stomach-Churning World have an occasional sharp energy. The Hoffman/Strahm dynamic remains considerably duller. And the fifth entry is overwhelmingly average.

The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw VI (2009)…

Shazam! Movie Review

Mixing the typical comic book movie issues with a little Big and even a touch of the recent Instant Family, the DC Comics adaptation of Shazam! is able to produce crowd pleasing results. As the DCU must turn to their less iconic characters for feature attention, I would say the title hero here is somewhat equivalent to the MCU’s Ant-Man. He’s sarcastic. He’s not as serious. In fact, if the knock on this overall universe is that it’s too dark (think Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League), Shazam! is practically translucent.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid jumping between temporary dwellings after being separated from his mom as a toddler. The young teen seems to find a decent home with five other children and kindly caregivers. Yet he’s still searching from mom.

In a prologue circa 1974, we meet another youngster by way of Thaddeus Sivana. He experiences a mystical meetup with Shazam in the form of Djimon Hounsou in heavy old age makeup. Trying to find a human worthy of inheriting his considerable superpowers, he deems him not properly pure of heart. Sivana grows up to be Mark Strong with a myopic focus on battling the eventual Shazam.

That turns out to be Billy. When he is called for his own encounter with Hounsou, he gets the job. This means when he utters “Shazam!”, he turns into Zachary Levi (who could have been cast as Superman). He’s still a teen embodying a comic book strongman and that takes a lot of learning. One of his foster siblings (Jack Dylan Grazer) is in on the secret.

A lot of exposition must be established here and Shazam! probably doesn’t need to be over two hours long. The mommy and daddy issues explored are quite familiar to genre fans. The film does manage to find slightly different angles. Just as Instant Family showed the true heroism of foster parents, so does this. Levi is a hoot as our crime fighting man child. Strong is fine, but he doesn’t exactly alter the general rule that the villains in many of these pics aren’t as interesting as they should be.

Shazam! works best when it’s focused on Billy/Shazam while he works with his new family and not while grappling with Savani and his monstrous CGI creatures that represent The Seven Deadly Sins. Director David F. Sandberg has crafted an origin story with a lot of heart among the usual action and it fosters enough appreciation to make this rewarding.

*** (out of four)

The Intruder Box Office Prediction

Home is apparently where the homicidal maniacs are when The Intruder debuts next weekend. The thriller casts Michael Ealy and Meagan Good are new homebuyers whose previous owner (Dennis Quaid) goes to deadly lengths to keep it. Deon Taylor, maker of Meet the Blacks and Traffik, directs.

The pic was originally slated for April 26, but set its date back a week when Avengers: Endgame snatched up that real estate. The Screen Gems release looks to serve as counter programming to the MCU behemoth’s sophomore weekend.

It could find some success in that regard, particularly with African-American audiences. Opening against the animated Uglydolls and comedy Long Shot, this has a legit shot at having the healthiest debut in the low to mid teens.

The Intruder opening weekend prediction: $15.2 million

For my UglyDolls prediction, click here:

For my Long Shot prediction, click here:

Think Like a Man Too Box Office Prediction

This Friday we will see if Kevin Hart’s terrific 2014 continues with Think Like a Man Too, the sequel to his surprise 2012 near blockbuster. The original got off to an impressive $33 million opening two years ago on its way to a $91M domestic gross. This is especially strong considering it cost a reported $12 million to produce. Since that time, Hart’s drawing power at the multiplex has only increased as this January’s Ride Along debuted to $41 million and the ensemble piece About Last Night made $25 million out of the gate in February.

With a supporting cast including Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrera, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Meagan Good, and Taraji P. Henson – Think Like a Man Too should succeed in bringing in African-American audiences and particularly females who made up 63% of the original’s opening weekend gross. There is one difference between this and the original and Ride Along – there is much more competition with its summer release. In particular, the second weekend of 22 Jump Street will still be bringing in the comedy crowds.

I believe Man Too should outshine the premiere gross of its predecessor but won’t quite reach Ride Along‘s level. It could surpass my expectations and a gross of $45 million wouldn’t shock me, but I’m going with high 30s for my prediction.

Think Like a Man Too opening weekend prediction: $38.2 million

For my Jersey Boys prediction, click here: