Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. So let’s get to it, shall we?
*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*
Director: Dax Shepard
Writer: Dax Shepard
Cast: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rosa Salazar, Jessica McNamee, Kristen Bell, Adam Brody, Richard T. Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Justin Chatwin and Maya Rudolph
Synopsis: A rookie officer is teamed with a hardened pro at the California Highway Patrol, though the newbie soon learns his partner is really an undercover Fed investigating a heist that may involve some crooked cops.
Loosely based off the popular show from the late 70s, CHIPS ups the ante on the comedy and raunchiness. Basically taking the Jump Street-like tone and making it fit its overtly over-the-top comedy and a very thin plot. Needless to say, this isn’t your parents’ CHiPs.
The film follows Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), reimagined as an ex-motocross rider who is down on his luck, addicted to pain medication from his injuries and trying to repair his broken marriage with his wife (played by Shepard’s real-life wife Kristen Bell) becomes a California Highway Patrol officer. He is then partnered up with undercover FBI agent Castillo (Michael Pena), renamed Francis Llewellyn Poncherello or “Ponch” who goes undercover when a heist involving potential corrupt cops is pulled off. The two have to find a way to work together as the threat becomes more real for the both of them.
As you can see Shepard not only starred in the film, he also wrote and directed the film. I’ve personally never seen a Shepard-directed film, so this was my first exposure to him as both. The humor is a bit over the top, but exactly what you’d expect in a raunchy R-rated comedy. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t so the humor will be something that you are either on board with or not, and if you’re not then you’re in for a long ride.
However, one of the biggest highlights – and probably the main one – is the chemistry between Shepard and Michael Pena. The two start off bickering at each other non-stop but eventually, of course, find a mutual respect. Although, I’ll admit Shepard’s Baker came off as annoying at the first, while Pena is impatience came out as dick-ish. The rest of the cast don’t really standout too much, but do they best they can do with the material their given.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain, but other than one scene with Pena and Shepard, he’s really just there. Rosa Salazar plays a cop that may or may not be into Shepard’s Baker, Adam Brody plays Ponch/Castillo’s FBI partner who hates him – for a comedic/reasonable reason – while Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays the head of the FBI division Castillo/Ponch belongs to and constantly is yelling at him. Finally, Kirsten Bell doesn’t do too much to make an impact.
All in all, CHIPS is definitely not for everyone. Its best scenes are way too far apart and its humor is all over the place and sometimes outright offensive. While I wasn’t overly impressed, CHIPS is a passable enough comedy that you won’t hate yourself for watching. Maybe.
3 out of 5
The Belko Experiment
Director: Greg McLean
Writer: James Gunn
Cast: John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Brent Sexton, Owain Yeoman, James Earl, Rusty Schwimmer, Sean Gunn, David Dastmalchian, Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry
Synopsis: In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogota, Columbia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.
The Belko Experiment is, you can say, loosely based on the cult classic Battle Royale where it forces innocent people by mysterious forces to kill each other. The difference in this film is it takes it to an office space in a foreign country, and has a script by James Gunn. So, of course the question becomes does it do anything to keep itself separated from the herd? Somewhat.
The film follows employees of Belko Industries in Bogota, Columbia who are literally locked and sealed in their complex and told through the intercom that they need to kill their follow employees and friends or they will be killed themselves. To prove their point, they have installed “trackers” into their heads when they took the job which ends up actually being explosives. Of course, at first they think it’s a prank, but eventually they find out its real – and they need to kill 30 people or the voice will kill 60 at random.
As you see the set-up is rather simple, and the film doesn’t really waste too much time setting everything up, along with some of the characters. Our main leads are Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) and his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona) who are still in the early stages of their relationship. We then have Tony Goldwyn as the COO in that branch, Barry Norris, who eventually becomes our “villain,” and I put villain in quotes, because obviously good and evil are blurred in these kind of situations and that something that Barry comes to terms with, but Mike struggles with even though he’s pushed by Leandra to come to a decision.
The rest of the cast is fine, but they only have small moments and it’s easy to sometimes remember who’s alive and not. John C. McGinley is easily the second villain in the film, and one that you see coming from the beginning, Sean Gunn has a small but somewhat funny comic relief role, Melonie Diaz plays new worker at Belko, Dany Wilkins, who feels like she could play a big role, but doesn’t really. Finally David Dastmalchian and Michael Rooker play technicians who try to find a way out their own way.
A movie like this will always make us, the viewer, decide what we’d do in a situation like this. The film also doesn’t hold back on the violence, because besides the explosives going off that literally blow the back of someone’s head, once the free-for-all starts, it doesn’t let up. It’s a dark, brutal and grizzly outlook of everything. So if gore isn’t your thing, you should probably pass on this.
All in all, The Belko Experiment isn’t anything new to this particular sub-genre. While the cast does fine with what they’re given, we already know that most of these characters are going to die, so we probably hold off on making a strong connection to any of them, which is in some ways a negative aspect for the film. However, if you want to watch a bloodbath in an office, then this is your film.
The Belko Experiment
3 out of 5
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare and Ryan Reynolds
Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
One of the things I dislike about sci-fi space films with something mysterious onboard a spaceship is that it immediately gets compares to Alien. Which I guess is fair, but also not for whatever the film is because you have that thought in your mind and will not judge whatever film that is fairly. So the moment the first trailer for Life came out, everyone said it was Alien ripoff, or if you wanted to believe the crazy fan theory, a secret Venom prequel (it isn’t by the way). While Life is a genre changer, it is a pretty great tension filled thriller that keeps you engaged from start to finish.
The film follows the astronauts on the International Space Station that have discovered organic life from a sample recovered from Mars. The crew includes a CDC representative Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), doctor and long time inhabitant of the ISS David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) and captain Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya). Once they get the organism and study it, they discover that its, as Hugh puts it, “all muscle, all brain” they end up nicknaming Calvin, based off a contest on Earth. Of course, Calvin breaks frees and starts causing chaos on the ship.
Life immediately makes it known how tense this movie will be putting us inside the ship as the crew attempt to grab a probe that has Calvin in it. It never really lets up until right before the last attempt to kill Calvin where characters talk about why they came to space. It’s a good scene, but it takes some of the (no pun intended) air out of the film.
But, what makes Life great is the cast. You can clearly see they all had a great time working together, as they all have great chemistry together and their characters are fleshed out enough to make us care of them once Calvin starts moving around the ISS. Speaking of Calvin, the design of Calvin is pretty interesting and one that I would love to see more of. However, when it comes to his – its? – movement it is pretty scary to imagine that thing coming at you, especially considering how smart it really is.
All in all, Life isn’t a game changer to the subgenre, but it is a tension filled ride from start to finish that has a great cast and a formidable and scary villain.
4 out of 5