WEREWOLVES WITHIN. Surprise or not, I don't know a whole helluva lot about video games. I've dabbled but that particular swath of popular culture is, by and large, foreign to me. So it brought on some trepidation when, before the title card was even revealed, Werewolves Within opened with a Ubisoft logo. (I know enough to recognize the brand.) I didn't really know anything about the movie up to that point, except that werewolf titles are somehow always compelling, it stars the great Sam Richardson — with whom my wife and I recently became delightfully acquainted in our late arrival to Veep — and the script is credited to Mishna Wolff, formerly best known as an ex-wife of Marc Maron and recently risen to prominence as a memoirist and, apparently, screenwriter. The gamble paid off, though, because the movie bears little resemblance to any video game I've played (not saying much). It does, however, manage to balance self-awareness with the goofy, giddy playfulness that is the common denominator of all successful horror comedies.
To the insular, oft-snowbound New England hamlet of Beaverfield arrives Ranger Finn Wheeler (Richardson), a well-intentioned do-gooder who is, by most accounts, too nice for his own good. He clings to the notion that he might rekindle a relationship with his estranged, unseen ex-girlfriend while he listens to primal scream self-help tapes urging the repetition of the word "balls." He might be a fish out of water wherever he goes.
Decamping to an inn operated by the recently widowed Jeanine Sherman (Catherine Curtin), Finn is introduced to the town's cast of oddballs. Charming letter carrier Cecily Moore (Milana Veyntraub) serves as tour guide and would-be paramour as Finn meets the gang: antisocial trapper Emerson (Glenn Fleshler); lunk-headed mechanics Marcus (George Basil) and Gwen (Sarah Burns); crackpot syrup purveyors Trisha (Michaela Watkins) and Pete (Michael Chernus); and re-located rich techies Joaquim (Harvey Guillén) and Devon (Cheyenne Jackson). At the center of a heated socio-environmental debate are Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), representative of a gas concern with designs on buying the village and routing a pipeline through it, and environmental scientist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), who's vocally opposed to the project. The townsfolk are divided in their intentions, some salivating at the prospect of a payday and some dead-set on preserving the tranquility of their woodsy idyll.
Then bodies start piling up, the generators are disabled and everyone is thrust into the darkened inn to unravel the mystery. (Yes, there's a werewolf.)
While Werewolves Within may not achieve cult/classic status, it is self-assured and confident in its delivery, making the most of a stellar cast (I listed so many names above because nearly all of the principals are legends of the comedy scene) and offering a few charmingly surprising twists and turns. The pipeline controversy feels a little underserved by the rest of the story, maybe something of a red herring. But the movie as a whole distinguishes itself not only among video game adaptations but also among the (decidedly paltry) recent crop of scary comedies. R. 97M. STREAMING.
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE straddles a similarly treacherous boundary: part feminist treatise, part post-Tarantino pastiche, part straight shoot-em-up, it is an amalgam of influences that succeeds, like Werewolves, partially thanks to the power of its cast but also because it is smart enough to acknowledge its influences without attempting to parrot them. For almost three decades we've sat through pale, by the numbers imitations of QT's discursive dialog and beat-drop violent turns; maybe enough time has passed now that a new generation can more reflectively pay homage.
Which is not to say that Gunpowder Milkshake is only referential or reverential: it has its own distinct tone and themes and color palette. It is a product of precursors but distinguishes itself beyond that. Written by Navot Papushado and Ehud Lavski, directed by Papushado — whose Big Bad Wolves (2013) was vocally championed by Tarantino himself — Gunpowder centers on an assassin named Sam (Karen Gillan), long estranged from her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey), also a contract killer, who is employed by the Firm, a shadowy syndicate that runs ... well, everything and is represented by Sam's handler Nathan (Paul Giamatti).
When Sam is called upon to retrieve some stolen assets and neutralize the accountant responsible, she finds herself in the midst of a kidnapping plot she can't help but derail. This creates problems: Sam becomes the de facto guardian of Emily (Chloe Coleman), aged 8 and three-quarters, and must throw herself on the mercy of her mother's former colleagues (read: killer librarians), played astoundingly by Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino.
Gunpowder Milkshake moves among its set-pieces with remarkable aplomb, all the while building the interpersonal relationships that shore up the emotional center of the piece. It's a girl-power banger that doesn't feel like it's trying too hard. I'll offer as evidence: Angela Bassett dragging a baddie around after applying a claw hammer to his soft palate and Michelle Yeoh dispatching a number of his cohort with a length of chain. Nuff said. R. 154M. NETFLIX.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BLACK WIDOW. Zip up your jumpsuit for prequel action with Marvel's spy heroine. Starring Scarlet Johansson. PG13. 133M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BOSS BABY 2: FAMILY BUSINESS. Animated sequel in which adult brothers turn into babies and a villain weaponizes tantrums. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, PEACOCK.
ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS. Strangers who've all survived deadly escape rooms are thrown together to remind you how terrible going outside is. PG13. 88M. BROADWAY.
F9. The franchise and its sprawling cast motor on with a long-lost brother and long-lost Han. Starring Vin Diesel and so, so many cars. PG13. 145M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE FOREVER PURGE. Who's left at this point? R. 103M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HOW TO DETER A ROBBER. In snowy Wisconsin, a young couple's attempt to Home Alone some small-time crooks goes sideways. NR. 85M. MINOR.
JOE BELL. Mark Wahlberg stars as a father embarking on a cross-country walk after his son kills himself as the result of anti-gay bullying. R. 130M. BROADWAY.
OLD. M. Night Shyamalan thriller about a family visiting a beach that's rapidly aging them and holy Coppertone, I need more sunscreen right now. PG13. 108M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN. Bring snacks and tissues, friends. R. 118M. BROADWAY.
SNAKE EYES. Ninja action in the origin story for the most taciturn of the G.I. Joe franchise characters. Starring Henry Golding. PG13. 121M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY. LeBron James and Bugs Bunny shoot hoops before Bezos and Branson gentrify space. PG. 115M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ZOLA. A Detroit server joins a new friend for weekend trip to make quick money dancing but things spiral out of control. R. 90M. MINOR.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.