DEADPOOL. A friend helped frame my thinking about Ryan Reynolds early on, by showing me Van Wilder (2002). To some (well, many) it's a second-tier National Lampoon gross-out that doesn't merit a first or second look. But it introduced us to Reynolds, in all his mildly strange, hyper-verbal, undeniably appealing leading man-ness. As my friend aptly put it, he played Van Wilder as a completely self-actualized character, a cultivated heartthrob open to the world around him. It's an astute reading that's perhaps wasted on a movie that doesn't quite merit it, but the same could be said of many of Reynolds' performances. He's brought his offbeat sensibility and disarming charisma to a wide array of projects, none of which have brought the type of widespread success befitting People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive, 2010. While a real blockbuster seems to have eluded Reynolds (until now), his roles seem unified by his singular taste: There are romantic comedies peppering his resume, but the overall tone seems to skew toward comic book adaptations and slightly off-brand science fiction, all with a comedic bent. In light of that, it's hardly surprising to learn Reynolds has been stumping for the opportunity to play Marvel's Deadpool in his own movie for over a decade. Less surprising still to find that he is the ideal actor to play the character, at least as written for the screen.
I'll take a moment here to repeat my usual disclaimer that, despite my appreciation for some examples of the medium, I am not a "comic book guy." I have yet to read a Deadpool comic, and even in my childhood flirtation with comics, I much preferred DC. Marvel has become a movie distribution powerhouse/cash-manufacturing facility and, with a couple of exceptions, is still not all that interesting.
The vast majority of Marvel's output is, to be fair, marked by tremendous star power and production value. That being said, they are also generally overlong, over-serious, outsized and underwritten. In the transition to the big screen, most of the movies have lost the charm of comic art, the attention to composition and timing that can make a single frame seem to move on the page. Except in flashes, Marvel movies often aren't fun or funny; they're cemetery serious while they tell stories about mutants fighting aliens and it just doesn't make sense. They have also, until now, pulled back on the adult content in order to recoup some of their massively oversized budgets at the box office (kid-friendly content means twice the ticket sales, after all).
The makers of Deadpool have somehow managed to subvert this thinking. Instead of a $200-million-dollar, PG-13 spectacle engineered to sell in foreign markets, they spent less than half that on a hard-R action-comedy with a distinct style and jokes that actually require the audience to pay attention and listen to the dialogue. And it worked: Deadpool demolished the box office last weekend, families attended, R rating notwithstanding (a father and 7-year-old son sat next to me at a Saturday matinee), and it's violent, foul-mouthed, sexy and funny. What's not to like?
Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a special ops button-pusher retired to the world of for-profit Robin Hooding — kind of a mercenary with a heart of gold. He meets his match in the lethally sexy Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and falls deeply in love. Because nothing can be easy, he's shortly thereafter diagnosed with terminal cancer. He accepts the offer of a nefarious weirdo to undergo experimental therapy to cure the cancer and possibly turn him into a superhero. As nefarious weirdos will, this guy withholds some information about his real motives, and Wade ends up spending weeks in a torture chamber until the "therapy" has scarred his entire body and imbued him with superhuman healing powers. Thus Deadpool is born, and sets out for revenge against his tormentors. Along the way he'll have to try to reconnect with Vanessa, negotiate some sort of truce with the X-Men and bandy withering ripostes with his bartender sidekick (T.J. Miller). It's good fun.
There is some hope, with the success of this movie, that the studios will reconsider their irrational fear of R-rated comedy, and maybe even consider widely distributing a few more "small" action movies like it. That all remains to be seen, but for the moment, we have Deadpool to enjoy. Bloody, clever, distinctly adult in its subject matter and an ideal vehicle for Reynolds' weird, compelling charisma. R. 108m. FORTUNA.
ZOOLANDER 2. The first Zoolander movie never did anything for me. I even returned to it, years after its release, to see what I had missed. It wasn't much. As much as I like Ben Stiller as an actor, I enjoy his performances more when someone else is directing him. And this material, with its cocky, winking dumbness, hasn't aged well. That said, the crowd I saw it with seemed to enjoy themselves.
After the events of the first movie, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) had a son, accidentally killed his wife, lost custody of his son and went into self-imposed exile. All these years later, Billy Zane materializes out of the wilderness to reunite him with one-time nemesis Hansel (Owen Wilson) and re-enter the world of fashion. Mugatu (Will Ferrell) once again provides the comic highlight, but it's not nearly enough. PG13. 102m. FORTUNA.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards's Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE LADY IN THE VAN. Maggie Smith stars as the eccentric and troubled woman who parked in playwright Alan Bennett's van for 15 years. PG13. 104m. BROADway.
RACE. Stephan James stars in this Jesse Owens biopic centered around his politically charged victory at the 1936 Olympics. PG13. 134m. BROADway, MILL CREEK.
RISEN. Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton play Romans on the hunt for Jesus' body after the crucifixion, hoping to dispel resurrection theories. R. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE WITCH. A New England period horror with baby snatching, creepy kids and edge-of-the-woods dread. R. 93m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
BOY & THE WORLD. Oscar-nominated, animated tale of a boy in search of his father. PG. 120m. RICHARDS' GOAT.
THE CHOICE. Canned seaside romance from Nicholas Sparks. PG13. 111m.
DIRTY GRANDPA. Fine. Watch Robert DeNiro sling homophobic slurs at recovering Mousketeer Zac Efron in an unfunny buddy movie. R. 102m. BROADWAY.
THE FINEST HOURS. Chris Pine in a true-story drama about Coasties attempting to rescue oil tankers in a New England winter storm in 1952. PG13. 117m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HAIL, CAESAR! The Coen brothers' ensemble comedy about an old-Hollywood fixer isn't their best, but it's still full of period back-lot fun and intrigue. With Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson. PG13. 106m. BROADWAY.
HOW TO BE SINGLE. New York rom-com with Dakota Johnson as a dating newbie and Rebel Wilson as her bawdy Yoda. R. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KUNG FU PANDA 3. Jack Black returns to voice the buoyant Dragon Master in an enjoyable take on the hero's journey with some genuinely pretty animation. PG. 95m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife who can mow down hordes of the undead. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE REVENANT. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier survivor in a gorgeous, punishing Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film that offers little beyond beauty and suffering. R. 156m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. The faithful writing and visuals work in this nostalgic return. PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THEEB. A Bedouin boy follows his brother on a desert crossing with a British soldier during World War I in this Oscar-nominated Arabic language film. NR. 100m. RICHARDS' GOAT.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill