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Fri11152019

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The Golden Age of Eddie Murphy Cinema occurred between 1982 and 1988, with the release of such classics as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

Since then, he’s had some great moments (Dreamgirls, Life, The Nutty Professor)—but he’s had plenty more duds. His forays into “family entertainment” included his enjoyable voice work in the Shrek films, but also included dreck like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Imagine That.

And then, of course, there was Vampire in Brooklyn. I’m still recovering from that one.

It was as if Eddie, the amazing movie comedian, went into hiding for more than three decades. That’s a long time.

Well, Eddie Murphy is back: Dolemite Is My Name is a movie that can stand side by side with the best of Murphy’s Golden Age. It’s a consistently funny biopic honoring comedian-actor Rudy Ray Moore, and it’s clear Murphy’s heart is in this project full-force. It’s the best performance he’s ever delivered in a movie. Period.

The film takes us on a tour of Moore’s rise to fame, starting with the creation of his Dolemite character (a campy hybrid of Shaft and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch), and his poetically profane comedy albums. Moore mixed profanity with rhyming in ways that have earned him a “godfather of rap” moniker, with rap giants like Snoop Dogg (who appears in this film as a record-store DJ) saying they wouldn’t have careers if it weren’t for the F-word maestro. Clearly, Moore also helped lay the groundwork for the likes of Murphy and his standup greatness. This makes it all the more appropriate that Eddie Murphy headlines this movie. Murphy, playing Moore, finds himself in a movie like those from his early days—a movie that is consistently funny, powered by Murphy’s infectious charisma.

Quite frankly, I’d forgotten that Murphy could command a film so completely. Whether he’s re-creating terrible kung fu antics or reacting uncomfortably as a studio guy rejects his movie, Murphy shows that he indeed remains one of the greatest screen talents alive. I must make this perfectly clear: Murphy is awesome in this movie.

Craig Brewer, directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, captures the look of the 1970s and blaxploitation with big collared shirts, pimp hats and fat furs. The re-creations of the actual Dolemite movie (currently available for streaming on Amazon—and it’s glorious on all fronts) are hilariously accurate. Brewer helps Murphy—an extremely confident comedic performer with a lot happening under the surface—capture the essence of Moore. Murphy doesn’t hit a false note in this movie, showing us a brash comic who rises to fame on the wings of the best dirty jokes in the land—and an undying desire to be famous.

Helping things mightily is a supporting cast that includes Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, most wonderfully, Wesley Snipes, in the scene-stealing role of the original Dolemite director, D’Urville Martin. Snipes—who looks like a day hasn’t passed since White Men Can’t Jump, and that’s just not fair—hasn’t had an opportunity to shine like this in decades. This film marks his grand return to form; he’s a total crack-up in the role.

As for the return of Murphy, this is just the start: He’s currently working on sequels to Coming to America (also directed by Brewer) and Beverly Hills Cop, and is preparing for a return to Saturday Night Live as a host. (He’s going to do Gumby and Buckwheat again!) Most incredibly, he’s reportedly making a return to the standup stage. If Dolemite Is My Name is any indication, he hasn’t lost a step, and we could be looking at a second Golden Age of Murphy.

Dolemite Is My Name is now streaming on Netflix; it’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Toy Story 3 seemed like a definitive end to the story of Woody (the voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and company. That movie was, in a word, perfect in the way it tied up the story of Andy and his lifelong toy companions.

I’m someone who thought Toy Story 3 should’ve been the final chapter in the franchise. And I’m now someone who is fine with one more chapter, thanks to the totally satisfying Toy Story 4.

Pixar and director Josh Cooley (making his feature directorial debut with the studio’s most-precious franchise) chose to mess with perfection and extend the story of Woody and friends. The results are less than perfect, but still very worthy of Toy Story lore; this is a welcome breath of fresh air in a summer movie season that thus far has been a series of big franchise stink bombs (Godzilla: King of the Monsters; Men in Black: International; Dark Phoenix).

After a recap in which Andy appears, the action goes to the home of Bonnie, the little girl Andy handed his toys over to at the end of Toy Story 3. Bonnie is gearing up for kindergarten and is a little freaked out, so Woody jumps into her backpack as moral support.

Woody witnesses Bonnie creating what will be a fantastic new character for the franchise in Forky (Tony Hale), crafted out of a plastic spork, pipe cleaners and Play-Doh. Woody immediately sees the importance of this new toy friend, and has himself some new missions: Make sure Forky accepts his new role as a toy instead of trash, and help Bonnie adjust to the rigors of kindergarten.

Bonnie’s day at kindergarten was only an orientation session, and her parents decide to take her on that ever-familiar movie trope: the road trip—in the family RV, no less. The family gets diverted, and the toys wind up getting themselves into trouble at an antique shop inhabited by Gabby Gabby, a deceptively adorable talking doll (Christina Hendricks). Gabby, of course, seems friendly at first (just like Ned Beatty’s purple bear in Toy Story 3), but she has evil intentions regarding a part of Woody’s anatomy—and she has an army of ventriloquist dummies to carry out her plans. Toy Story 4 ends up being as scary as it is funny when the action involves the dummy army. Damn, they are creepy!

Along with Forky and Gabby Gabby, other newcomers include Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) and, most spectacularly, stunt motorcycle-rider Duke Caboom, voiced by cinematic darling Keanu Reeves. Caboom, obviously modeled after Evel Knievel, is having his own existential crisis—low self-esteem, due to his prior child owner not being impressed with his jumping abilities.

Woody’s sweetheart, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), gets a prominent role in the new adventure. Sadly, the budding romance between Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Buzz that we saw in Toy Story 3 is not further explored. In fact, Jessie and Buzz are relegated mostly to background duty.

It’s not surprising that Toy Story 4 is the most visually impressive of the films. The folks at Pixar have had nearly a decade to hone their skills since the last chapter, so the likes of Woody, Buzz and Jessie have a new, refined beauty.

The ending of Toy Story 4 will again have fans and critics proclaiming that this must be the end for the franchise. The film certainly feels like a closing chapter, but we all said that about the last movie. The premise is still ripe for spinoffs (a Duke Caboom movie!), prequels—whatever. Heck, maybe Disney will do a live-action remake of the original, since that seems to be the trend.

Toy Story 4 is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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Well, that does it: After decades of trying, it’s become evident that nobody knows how to make a decent Predator sequel.

It’s not like the first film was a masterpiece. It was a goofy adventure pic featuring a superstar on the rise—who has been mysteriously absent from the sequels. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in fact, turned down a cameo in the new The Predator, a movie that simply needed to be just OK to keep pace with the 1987 original. Well, it’s not.

The Predator—technically the fourth Predator film (not including those Alien vs. Predator movies, which should be washed away from our collective memories)—had elements that were worthy of excitement. Shane Black, who actually played the first character to get killed in this franchise 31 years ago, is its director. This is the man responsible for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3. That Iron Man 3 credit is the main reason to think Black would be a good pick to lead a beloved genre favorite back to greatness.

Nope. In fact, The Predator actually represents a step backward from the extremely mediocre Predators (2010), the prior installment that squandered a decent idea with a cheap-looking film. The Predator is a lumbering stink bomb through and through.

Boyd Holbrook heads a low-rate ensemble cast as Quinn McKenna, a special-ops guy in the middle of an assassination attempt—interrupted when a spaceship crashes nearby and spoils his fun. After a confrontation with the dreadlocked, reptilian-faced alien pilot, McKenna scoops up some evidence (a Predator arm gun, a Predator helmet) and sends them to his P.O. box back home so he has proof when the upper-level folks label him a whacko.

Because he didn’t pay the bill on that P.O. box, the nasty package is forwarded to his home and into the hands of his young, autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Naturally, the boy thinks it’s some kind of video game from his pop (and a Halloween mask!). He dicks around with the intergalactic toys and gets himself involved in an interplanetary war. If ever there were a film that declared the dangerous perils of video-game addiction, it would be this one.

Here's something that really bothered me: In an establishing scene, Rory displays a major sensitivity to sound. He actually crumples to the ground at the mild sound of an alarm, which makes him the taunting target of elementary-school meanies. Yet when Rory is involved in alien battles later in the film, with bombs and guns going off next to his head, he seems perfectly fine. Did he put in some ear plugs? Is his sound sensitivity specific to classroom settings? Is the screenplay for this movie a colossal mess? I’m going with the latter.

McKenna winds up with other misfit soldiers on a bus, including one played by Thomas Jane, trying to provide comic relief as a silly soldier with Tourette syndrome. Others jockeying for screen time include Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera. Olivia Munn, the best thing about the movie, is also on hand as a wily scientist, as is Sterling K. Brown, as the maybe-he’s-bad-but-maybe-he’s-not guy.

They all run around in a haphazard, cheap-looking CGI shitstorm that turns up the gore factor to go with the inane dialogue, numerous plot holes and stupid-looking alien dogs. More than once, characters disappeared, and I wasn’t sure of their fate—a sign of bad editing.

There was a lot of confusion during production (including reshoots for a woefully tacked-on ending), and the movie looks like it was being shot as a potential 3-D offering. There is no 3-D, which is good news, because this movie is not worth the extra few bucks for 3-D admission. In fact, it’s not worth any of your money. It’s predatory garbage.

The Predator is playing at theaters across the valley.

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After ending their TV show after five seasons, Key and Peele have come to the big screen with Keanu, a lively kidnapped-cat comedy with a high body count.

Part John Wick and part Adventures in Babysitting, the film gives us Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Clarence and Rell, a couple of wimpy guys trying to get a beloved kitten back from some hard-core gangsters. In order to do so, they masquerade as Shark Tank and Tectonic, two badasses from Allentown who will end your life if you don’t give them their cat back.

The whole mess starts when the cat escapes from a drug den after two killers (also played by Key and Peele) murder his owner. The cat winds up at the doorstep of newly dumped Rell, who gloms on to him as his feline savior. The cat is then kidnapped and winds up back in the hands of gangsters, requiring Rell and Clarence to swing into action.

The title character is, of course, the cat, who has to be the cutest kitten anybody has ever put in a movie. Clad in a doo-rag and jewelry, the multiple cats recruited for the part make this film an absolute necessity for cat-lovers, even if you hate Key and Peele. The felines steal every scene they are in.

The movie isn’t the most original piece of work: Fish-out-of-water scenarios are a dime a dozen, and much of the humor (Clarence’s obsession with George Michael, Rell’s trouble with women) is based on stuff we’ve seen before.

That said, Key and Peele have a knack for taking familiar scenarios and playing them out to nutty, funny extremes. For example: One of Clarence’s gangsta associates, after a long George Michael-listening session, gets a “George Michael is OG” tattoo on his torso. It’s funnier than it sounds.

One of the great things about their comedy is a seemingly innocent slant—followed by large doses of nastiness. Not to give too much away, but the film has a rather shocking amount of violence, and it’s quite surprising giving how innocuous it seems at times. This is by no means a complaint; the film’s best moments are its most shocking ones.

Method Man contributes nicely as Cheddar, the criminal who has Keanu and is relatively unwilling to give him up without significant, murderous favors in return. Jason Mitchell, following up his fine work in Straight Outta Compton, gets big laughs as Bud, one of Cheddar’s henchmen. Tiffany Haddish scores points as Hi-C, perhaps the most badass person in the movie. Her violent tendencies really come to life during a cameo by a famous comedic actress.

Will Forte shows up as Rell’s next-door neighbor and pot dealer. Again, the film is treading well-worn territory here, with Forte’s character playing a white guy trying to be black. Credit Forte with making some old shtick pretty funny in this movie.

Key and Peele have been kicking around in supporting film roles over the past decade or so, but this is the first time they’ve really been able to take the spotlight on the big screen. While Keanu is not a rousing success, they definitely show promise as a big screen duo.

In John Wick, Keanu Reeves infiltrated the Russian mob after somebody messed with his dog. In Keanu, Key and Peele infiltrate a drug ring to save a cat. The short lesson here is that you don’t mess with a man’s pet.

As good as Key and Peele are in this film, the real stars are Keanu and the cats that played him. Also, huge props to the cat-wrangler and whoever else managed to pull the performances out of these particular kitties. You’ll really believe a kitten can evade rapid gunfire after Keanu.

Keanu is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews