DOWNSIZING. A sprawling sci-fi satire, ironically, Downsizing can't seem to shrink its ambition into a manageable story.
Alexander Payne's (Election, Sideways) take on American ambition, class inequity, climate change, consumerism, predatory dream capitalism and the end of the world might've fit if its ostensible hero Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) wasn't such a milquetoast. His struggle to find a path frequently leads to dead-ends and, as true to life as that may be, it keeps Downsizing from finding the punch it needs to land its social criticisms or maintain much interest in the world it creates.
In the near-but-recognizable future, a Norwegian scientist (Rolf Lassgård) determined to cure overpopulation and climate change discovers a way to shrink living creatures, creating humans about 5 inches tall. After overseeing a five-year experimental colony in Norway, he reveals his discovery to the world, where it's quickly set upon by capitalists who launch themed mini-resort communities where every frustrated middle class grunt can live his or her McMansion dream. The major draw — not the promise of saving the world — is the ability to turn meager savings into millions. So people flock to the small communities, even as they sign away their very stature in society.
Unfulfilled in his occupational therapy job, Paul sees one of these communities — Leisureland — as an escape from middle age ennui, but he's abandoned during the procedure by his wife, who decides to stay large (er, normal sized).
Apparently losing his income in the ensuing divorce, Paul takes a telemarketer job to make ends meet in his singles apartment complex, feeling the sting of losing the retirement paradise he was promised by downsizing. There, he's caught in the middle of a class disparity — his wealthy, hard partying upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and the cleaning crew that picks up after his debauchery. When Paul offers to help a housecleaner, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) with her prosthetic leg, she takes him back to her home in a bloc of forgotten, shambling apartments where the working class commutes to Leisureland.
Paul's disillusionment with the small life and its inequities is fueled by a cringey drug trip and his apparent desire to help the sick and ailing of Leisureland's exiled. This has the beginnings of a Metropolis-style revolution of the underclass, but that thread is never fleshed out. Instead, Paul, Dusan and Ngoc find themselves on a placid journey to the original small colony in Norway. Here, the narrative and characters' motivations lose all momentum.
Downsizing's slick production design is undercut by cheap looking effects and Payne can't seem to figure out whether broad satire or sight gags fit his vision. Worse, the central sci-fi conceit — a world where 3 percent of the population has voluntarily shrunken itself — is full of holes. I couldn't shake questions about where they got tiny wine glasses and TVs. Why was there no interaction with the remaining normal-sized population, especially when it came to manual labor? Why did a planned community like Leisureland have highways bisecting its parks and waterways?
Worst of all, it's hard to tell when Payne's teasing or sympathizing with his cast of characters. Is the dullness of his characters an intentional indictment of the Middle-American id? Or is it an attempt to capture the sadness of people with unrealized dreams? It's unclear, and as Paul's awakenings never feel fully realized, nor do the implications of Payne's satire. R. 135m. MINOR.
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. A friend recently lamented that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's charm is so often wasted. His comedic timing and self-awareness could carry a more prestigious comedy, reasonably. But if easy paychecks are his bag, we'll take what we can get. Unfortunately, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle doesn't even exploit his copious charisma.
Welcome to the Jungle sets the stage with a flashback to 1996. The assertive board game of the prequel finds its way to a high schooler's house, but he casts the board game aside for his video game console. Jungle drums pounding, the game transforms into a video game cartridge and, days later, the young man, Alex, disappears.
Cut to present day: Video game nerd Spencer has been helping his old friend Fridge with some schoolwork, but to his consternation, Fridge — now a popular football player — doesn't have time for Spencer outside of plagiarizing his papers.
When their arrangement is discovered, they find themselves in detention with self-absorbed pretty girl Bethany and acerbic smarty-pants Martha. Tasked with cleaning out a dusty storage room in the school, they discover the ancient video game console and are quickly sucked into the world of Jumanji, where they've taken on the avatars of the characters they selected: Spencer is now a hulking hero (The Rock Johnson), Fridge a diminutive zoologist (Kevin Hart), Martha an ass-kicking heroine (Karen Gillan) and Bethany a portly cartographer (Jack Black).
Hart unsurprisingly delivers Welcome to the Jungle's best lines as the crew figures out the rules of the game they inhabit and quests to save their video game world from an evil archaeologist. Johnson on the other hand, is flat, his charisma sidelined by the wimpy character inhabiting his avatar.
Welcome to the Jungle's setpieces lacked the thrill of the original and look sloppy in places. It didn't really inhabit the aesthetic of a '90s video game, an area ripe for nostalgic fun, and too many anticlimactic puzzles bogged down the action sequences.
I recall Jumanji faintly but favorably, and the book was a formative part of my imaginative youth. But Welcome to the Jungle doesn't do what the original did well — create an eye-popping and thrilling invasion of the world we know by the denizens of the jungle. Rhinos chasing our heroes through a jungle canyon doesn't have the same effect as when it takes place on a suburban street. By going to the jungle, instead of bringing the jungle to us, Jumanji loses what made it so original and fun. PG13. 119m. FORTUNA.
— Grant Scott Goforth
Editor's Note: Due to the Christmas holiday, Coming Attractions Theatres, Inc. didn't provide the Journal its schedule of upcoming showings. Check www.northcoastjournal.com to find out what's showing when at Mill Creek and Broadway.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. A glossy, glitzy musical about a complicated man. Hugh Jackman plays P.T. Barnum, an abolitionist and social reformer who made his money off "freak shows" and minstrelsy. Michelle Williams and Zac Efron also star. Statue of Barnum on the Arcata Plaza unlikely. PG. 105m.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER. Well, this looks terrifying. Another Palme D'Or entry, this one a psychological horror film starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, with Farrell playing a cardiothoracic surgeon whose new mentee Martin (Barry Keoghan) has a secret agenda. R. 121m. MINOR.
THE SQUARE. A Palme D'Or winner, this Swedish satire about performance art should satisfy your need to feel smart, when we know you're really there to watch Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, the Handmaid's Tale) tear it up, per usual. R. 142m.
THE BREADWINNER. Animated movie about a young Afghani girl who pretends to be a boy so she can feed her family under the oppressive regime of the Taliban. PG13. 94m.
COCO. Young musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) goes on a quest to the Land of the Dead to circumvent his family's generations-old ban on music in this Pixar animated feature. With Gael García Bernal. PG. 109m. FORTUNA.
THE DISASTER ARTIST. A good movie about a bad movie (The Room) in which the former gives the latter an empathetic gloss. Starring James Franco. R. 104m.
FATHER FIGURES. Soooo ... basically Mamma Mia but with Ed Helms, Owen Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Katt Williams, Terry Bradshaw and a whole lot of jokes about Glenn Close's libido? Cool, cool, cool. R. 125m. FORTUNA.
FERDINAND. A domestic bull sent to a farm tries to get home to his family in this animated adventure. Voiced by John Cena, Kate McKinnon and Bobby Cannavale. PG. 106m. FORTUNA.
JANE. Documentary about Jane Goodall's personal and professional life in the early days of her work with chimpanzees. NR. 90m. MINIPLEX
JUSTICE LEAGUE. Batman (Ben Affleck) teams up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Flash (Ezra Miller) and a butched-up Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to save the world. PG13. 121m.
LOVING VINCENT. An animated drama in the style of Vincent van Gogh created with thousands of oil paintings and depicting a man's investigation into the artist's death. Starring Douglas Booth and Robert Gulaczyk. PG13. 94m. MINIPLEX.
PITCH PERFECT 3. Farewell tour for pun-happy franchise whose talented cast (Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick) can't seem to synergize plot into satisfying fans. PG13. 94m. FORTUNA.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. An ambitious, funny installment of the beloved franchise that should satisfy both mega-fans and fair-weather Wookies. PG13. 153m. FORTUNA, MINOR.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. A sterling cast (Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek and Peter Dinklage) does admirable work in a drama about a small-town murder but the film unravels in the last act. R. 115m. MINOR
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Linda Stansberry