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The Divergent series, aka “Adventures in Hardcore Lethargy,” continues with Insurgent, a film as boring and pointless as its predecessor.

Director Robert Schwentke chooses a lot of gray tones to go with dull dialogue and muddled, straining performances. Shailene Woodley, an actress who is impressive most of the time, simply doesn’t make an intriguing action heroine. The material seems beneath her.

After the oh-so rousing events of the first film, Tris (Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are living in a “faction-free” zone. In this film’s universe, everybody is categorized into a faction: Amity, Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Candor, Flounder and Douchebag. I would say this mess has the worst young-adult fiction premise ever, but I’ve seen the Twilight films, so I would be lying my ass off.

While living amongst the faction-less, Tris and Four have a surprise meeting with Four’s hot mom, Evelyn, played by the incomparable Naomi Watts, one of my all-time-favorite actresses. Watts is totally wasting her time in this crap, but if Kate Winslet can slum in this pigeon spooge, so can Watts. Watts’ appearance is fairly brief in this chapter, but her character figures to be bigger in future installments. In other words, I weep for Watts’ immediate film future.

Tris eventually winds up in the evil grasp of Jeanine (Winslet) again, and she is forced into a simulator that has the film trying to trick the audience into thinking things are really happening. So when Tris is being rescued, or kicking Winslet’s ass, or drinking a Diet Coke, it’s all just a hallucination. The movie spends much of its running time trying to dupe you. I assure you: If you’ve plunked down your green for this cat poo, you’ve already been duped.

One simulation has Tris trying to save her mommy (Ashley Judd, of The Identical and Dolphin Tale 2) from a broken, flying building. We are well aware this simulation isn’t real; after all, it involves a flying building. To say it lacks tension would be an understatement.

Are you noticing the talent I’ve mentioned so far? Woodley, Winslet, Watts (lots of “W” names)—and I haven’t even mentioned the great Miles Teller of Whiplash fame, or Ansel Elgort. Teller and Elgort have both had the privilege of starring with Woodley in much better movies: The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, respectively. I was hoping Teller and Elgort would get in a slap-fight over Woodley’s hand in marriage during their scenes together. It would’ve made no sense, but would’ve provided something resembling a pulse in this picture.

It’s hard to watch a talent like Woodley screech and moan her way through this dialogue. She follows in the footsteps of Kristen Stewart as a talented actress who sold out for a young-adult-fiction film series. Jennifer Lawrence has managed to make the equally ridiculous Hunger Games series watchable, but those movies also have Woody Harrelson in an awesome Kurt Cobain wig, so she has somewhat of an unfair advantage.

Taking a cue from the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games cash cows, the Divergent series will end by splitting the final novel in the book trilogy, Allegiant, into two films. This means we are only halfway through this cinematic hell ride.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Call this one The Empire Strikes Back of Dolphin Tale movies, in that it is slightly better than the original (not much—just slightly), and it has Tauntauns. (Actually, that last part’s not true.)

Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. rejoin annoying child actors Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehisdorff (yes, the Cozi Zuehlsdorff) for another round of gooey sentimentality involving dolphins. This time, the story spends a lot of time focusing on rehabbing and releasing animals, rather than confining them for human amusement, probably due to all the current issues involving whales and dolphins in captivity.

In addition to Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, there’s a awesome sea turtle and a kooky pelican that kids will love. The movie works in some ways as educational fare, but when it drifts away from the aquarium tanks, it becomes a hell ride.

Harry Connick Jr. can’t act for beans; Ashley Judd’s career has really hit the skids; and Morgan Freeman has no right being within a million miles of this film. Gamble and Zuehlsdorff (yes, the Cozi Zuehlsdorff) are, I’m sure, exquisite human beings, but watching them in a movie is an annoying, tedious task.

I love the dolphins and aquatic life in this film. It’s the humans who drive me crazy.

Dolphin Tale 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Elvis fans know that he had an identical twin brother, Jesse, delivered stillborn about a half-hour before Elvis’ birth. Ever since, people have asked: What would’ve happened if Jesse had lived?

The Identical, one of those “faith-based” movies like God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real and Jesus Loved Jellybeans, is a take on the surviving-Elvis-twin premise, replacing Elvis and Jesse Presley with the fictional Ryan Wade and Drexel Hemsley, both played by real-life Elvis impersonator Blake Rayne.

Getting the rights to Elvis’ music would cost more than three new Cadillacs, so the producers of this dreck wrote some crap Elvis copycat music and a shameless script that stars Elvis without really starring Elvis. I wish Lisa Marie Presley would sue the makers of this movie for obviously stealing her dad’s likeness, but then she would have to actually see this movie, and I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone.

Somehow, this aberration attracted talented actors like Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano. However, it’s bad. It’s so bad that one viewing could cause septic shock due to cinematic shit entering your bloodstream through the eyes and ears.

The movie starts with Rayne as Drexel, the brother who has grown up to be rich, sitting in his limo and seeing a vision of people picking cotton in a Depression-era field. It then flashes back to the Depression, when a couple decided to give up one of their twin newborn boys, because they couldn’t afford two little brats.

That boy, Ryan, is raised by a preacher and his wife (Liotta and Judd) with a big Jesus influence and a push toward making him a pastor. The film is peppered with scenes of Liotta delivering fire-and-brimstone sermons—sermons that get unintentionally funnier and funnier as his character ages under prosthetic makeup. Young Ryan loves Jesus, but, of course, he’s got rock ’n’ roll in his bones, evidenced by his sweet dance moves when he visits an evil honky-tonk bar. He dabbles in music, writing Elvis-like songs with his hip drummer friend (Green, a long way from Robot Chicken).

Ryan has no knowledge of his famous brother due to some weird pact Liotta’s character made with his birth father to not mention Elvis Drexel until both birth parents were dead. So, while Drexel lives in a house called Dreamland and makes bad surf movies, Ryan is joining the Army and singing in honky-tonk bars.

It’s worth noting that Rayne is 40, but this movie asks him to be in his teens for a good hunk of its running time. Rayne does look and sound like Elvis, but he’s missing some of that Presley bravado. Actually, he’s missing all of that Presley bravado. This guy has no business being on a movie screen playing a character who is supposed to parallel Elvis Presley. His act should be reserved for state fairs and cheap casinos.

The whole movie is bizarre beyond words, made even weirder by the fact this is a movie the producers want church groups to attend. It’s a PG film, but the only thing that makes the movie PG is a scene in which Ryan refuses beer at a bar where “reefer” is being smoked.

I watched this movie in complete disbelief—totally aghast, mouth agape, and laughing out loud at its wretchedness—while sitting in a completely empty movie theater. The music, with such wannabe hits as “Boogie Woogie Rock and Roll” and “Sunrise Surfin’” is inexcusably awful, and the “Jesus Loves You” undertones are the equivalent of somebody walking up and smashing you in the face with a Bible and then shoving its pages down your throat while you are lying on the ground, unconscious and bleeding.

This was supposed to be the movie that made Blake Rayne a household name. If it succeeds in that, from now on, when my dog vomits on the household carpet, I will refer to it as “Blake Rayne-ing.”

The Identical is now playing at the Ultrastar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at the River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews