THE MEG 2: THE TRENCH. Whether because or in spite of its unrepentant silliness (stupidity?), I found a lot to like about The Meg (2018). Jason Statham plying his acerbic brand of ass-kickery against a gigantic dinosaur shark? Yes, please, and some more, if there's any. Thing is, I kind of thought I was more or less alone (at least domestically) in my appreciation; I don't know anyone who saw it, much less liked it.
Even then it was abundantly clear, though, that The Meg was designed in large part to capitalize on the Chinese box office, which it presumably did. But in the intervening half-decade, the opportunities presented by that vast reservoir of ticket buyers have diminished precipitously. So, it is interesting that Meg 2: The Trench seems even more unabashedly intended for that market. Distressingly, that's just about the only interesting thing about it, despite Statham, Cliff Curtis and Page Kennedy reprising their roles and director Ben Wheatley joining the enterprise.
Starting with Kill List (2011) and moving through Sightseers (2012), High-Rise (2015) and Free Fire (2016), Wheatley was, for my money, one of the most compelling comers in contemporary cinema. With its almost winking misanthropy, bleak humor and sure-footed style, his early catalog stands as a formidable body of work and, I hoped, would mark the beginning of a long and fascinating career. While he has continued to work steadily since then, the results have been mixed, wandering from the funny-cruel focus of his previous work. When I saw his name attached to Meg 2, it made me hopeful: Maybe he's charting his own divergent course through the intellectual-property morass that has increasingly absorbed our young directors of talent. And then I watched the movie.
In my own defense, I wasn't expecting any Godfather: Part II revelations. I showed up to watch Statham fight amphibious dinosaurs; fair's fair. But Meg 2, apart from adding a few sea creatures, does precious little to advance its own narrative. There's some lip service about Jonas (Statham) et al. protecting the environment against corporate greed and a diaphanously structured double-cross involving characters whose motivations are, if even articulated, completely incidental. That's all well and good, as long as the action takes us somewhere new and dangerous, right? If only.
I didn't like this, but I still hope it makes enough money that Wheatley and all the rest can go forth and make something better. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D).
THE BEANIE BUBBLE. I am of an appropriate age to remember rather vividly the befuddling proliferation of Beanie Babies, the heart-shaped tag adorned onslaught of speculative investment and web-borne lunacy that, for a minute, seemed all-consuming. In that moment, the little stuffed throwaways were almost literally everywhere. I even had one (it was a gift). The Beanie Bubble, the feature directorial debut of Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash, works in part as an unpacking (unstuffing?) of the practical aspects of a boom-and-bust commodity. But it is really, like most stories of late-stage American capitalism, the study of a narcissist and the people he betrayed to amass his own fortune.
The shitheel in question this time is the ostensibly cuddly Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis), who, liberated by the death of his unseen but clearly abusive toy-merchant father, sets out to pursue his dream: posable stuffed cats!
Gore and Kulash employ a Rashomon-style storytelling mechanism, shuttling back and forth between the '80s and '90s and the perspectives of three prominent women in Warner's personal and professional orbit. In the early going, it's Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), ambitious but trapped in a loveless marriage and an unfulfilling job, who is drawn in by his guileless enthusiasm and receptiveness to her ideas. After Robbie decides she's had enough of Ty's disingenuousness and money-grubbing, unwitting Sheila (Sarah Snook), a mother of two daughters who has sworn off romantic dalliance until the girls are grown, is drawn in by his apparent sweetness. And in the midst of these conflicts stands receptionist Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan), who possesses a prescient sense of the capabilities of the burgeoning internet as both marketing tool and data-acquisition resource. Ty would be nothing without these women, and he misleads and undervalues them all.
The Beanie Bubble probably suffers a little for its proximity to Barbie, attempting as it does to examine some of the same problems of economic and gender disparity within the sphere of American toy marketing. It's an unfair comparison, of course, but I don't intend it as a disservice to either movie. Barbie is the landmark achievement, but The Beanie Bubble is a competently made, surprisingly stylish and, notably, less hopeful study in the abusive, corrosive tendencies of egomania and unchecked greed. It also flirts, perhaps too briefly, with the endlessly repeating cycle of false value and scarcity that has always defined this country's economic identity. R. 110M. APPLE TV+.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BARBIE. Barbie and Ken live in a colorful, seemingly idyllic world but want to leave it behind for the real one. Where can I sign up for this version of Freaky Friday? With Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Will Ferrell. PG13. 114M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
HAUNTED MANSION. Another life for the Disney ride-inspired franchise with LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish and Jamie Lee Curtis. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. In 'Art Imitating Life' news, Nazis are back. But so's our favorite Nazi puncher. An aging Indy comes to the rescue in 1969 as the Nazis try to rise again – proving they'll never hold a torch to him. PG13. 142M. BROADWAY.
INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR. A father-son trip to college goes to Hell. Starring Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye and Rose Byrne. PG13. 107M. BROADWAY.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER. Dracula's on a boat! Starring Javier Botet, Aisling Franciosi and Corey Hawkins. R. 119M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING PART 1. Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie uphold the gold standard for superhuman stunt choreography and engaging plot in a drum-tight spy thriller. PG13. 163M. BROADWAY.
OPPENHEIMER. Christopher Nolan's biopic about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the atomic bomb." Starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. R. 180M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SOUND OF FREEDOM. Child trafficking drama/thinly veiled Q-Anon propaganda film. Starring Jim Caviezel. PG13. 135M. BROADWAY.
TALK TO ME. Aussie teens commune with spirits via an embalmed forearm handshake and things get ... out of hand. R. 95M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM. The crime-fighting brothers emerge from New York City's sewers for an animated adventure. PG. 99M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK (3D), MINOR.
Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.