HAPPY DEATH DAY. I was reticent at the prospect of another PG-13 horror movie. More often than not, the tamer rating means the movie has been defanged just enough to sell tickets to unaccompanied minors, which almost inevitably means something of substance has been removed, reinforcing that commerce will always trump art. Or it could be I'm just cynical. But my misgivings were offset by my completely unexpected enjoyment of director Christopher Landon's last project, Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015). Obscured by its intrusive, ill-conceived advertising campaign, Scout's Guide retained its R-rating while telling an incisive, funny, succinct story about growing up and growing apart, set against the backdrop of zombies getting splattered. It seems no less surprising now that the movie ever saw the light of day. It must have been more successful than I thought, though: Landon's Happy Death Day saw a wide release and keeps earning at the box office. Hopefully he gets to keep working.
On her birthday morning, caustic sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) awakens in an unfamiliar dorm room, where abides sweet, well-mannered Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). The night before, she, being forceful and drunk, had convinced him to take her home where he, being deferential and less-drunk, tucked her in to sleep it off, retiring to his roommate's bed for the night. Impatient in the harsh light of day, Tree ransacks the Tylenol and sets out. She has a meeting with her bitchy, superficial sorority sisters to attend, a birthday lunch with her dad to blow off, grief over her mom's death to subvert and an affair with a married professor to carry on. And then, at the end of the day, she will be murdered, only to wake up and live it all again, ad nauseum. (Don't worry, Groundhog Day gets its requisite name-check). Tree somehow gleans that she must solve and prevent her own murder in order to escape the time loop and, in the process, learns a lot about who she really is.
While the violence of Happy Death Day may play too tame for some, the fact that Landon handles it with such humor and humanity is what really defines the movie. Without being a "message movie," without proselytizing, Happy Death Day touches on themes of kindness and compassion, toward oneself and others, all the while playfully and stylishly sending up slasher movies. Like Scout's Guide, it combines broad genres with sensitivity and care in a way I've become unaccustomed to seeing; it's nice. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE FOREIGNER. I knew his name, of course, but I first came to understand the relentless fun and force of Jackie Chan with Rumble in the Bronx (1996). The stunt work and fight choreography were so breathlessly compelling that I set aside the threadbare plot and the fact that the boroughs of New York are not actually surrounded by snow-capped peaks (minor stuff, really). Chan's screen-presence, the resourcefulness and imagination of his hand-to-hand combat sequences were like nothing I had ever seen before — revelatory. Ever the boorish authority, I exclaimed to an older classmate the following Monday that it was the greatest action movie I had ever seen. Time and experience haven't been that kind to the Chan canon, much of which suffers for production value and the tendency toward slapstick, but his work as a star, a fight stylist and a stunt player remains indelible.
So the conundrum within The Foreigner (based on a Stephen Leather novel called The Chinaman) is this: Chan swallows all of his charisma, his humor and his broad geniality. He trades most of what has made him globally famous for withdrawn, slumping sadness punctuated by violence and we have to decide if it works. On the whole, I'd say yes: The man has lived most of his life on screen and knows how to conduct himself there. And this is probably the most appropriate way to transition into more "serious" roles, underpinned as it is by his trademark fighting. I'm just not sure Jackie Chan can step out of the shadow of Jackie Chan.
In present day London, an unassuming restaurant owner, Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan), drops his teenaged daughter off at a dress shop so she can buy an outfit for the school dance. At the same instant, a rogue IRA operative detonates a bomb outside, killing dozens, Quan's daughter among them. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister of Northern Ireland Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) works at brokering pardons for his brothers in arms and an uneasy peace with Britain. Quan — who's had American Special Forces training, worked as an operative in Vietnam, was imprisoned there and later lost his entire family, mostly to violence — identifies Hennessy as a man who can name names. He pursues his quarry relentlessly, eventually exposing the individuals responsible and a potentially destabilizing political controversy.
Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, 2006), The Foreigner is a solid, sure-footed enough action picture with a compelling central cast. But the movie loses its way a bit among the thread of its narrative, as Hennessy betrays his wife, who betrays him and blames him for not being blood thirsty enough. It's too much plot for the script's relatively shallow characterizations to sustain, and I found myself waiting impatiently for the next action sequence. R. 114m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— 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; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BREATHE. Based on the true story of a man with polio (Andrew Garfield) who, with the help of his wife (Claire Foy) and a specially made wheelchair, embarks on a life outside a hospital for himself and others. Get vaccinated, folks. PG13. 117m. BROADWAY.
GEOSTORM. Those weather-controlling satellites the guy on the plaza is always talking about finally berserk and attack Earth. Gerard Butler stars and presumably saves the day by tossing rolls of paper towels. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
GHOSTBUSTERS (1984). The original, starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd in a New York real estate nightmare. PG. 105m. BROADWAY.
MARSHALL. Chadwick Boseman stars as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in his younger and evidently badass years, defending a black man (Joseph Spell) accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson). PG13. 118m. BROADWAY.
ONLY THE BRAVE. More painfully relevant than expected. Josh Brolin and Miles Teller star as members of the real-life firefighting crew the Granite Mountain Hotshots in their battle against a wildfire. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY.
TYLER PERRY'S BOO 2: A MADEA HALLOWEEN. Perry pulls the wig back on as the mouthy matriarch in a slasher send-up set at a haunted campground. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY.
VICTORIA AND ABDUL. An aging Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) bonds with Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who becomes her adviser, tutor and confidante. PG13. 111m. MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Do the Time Warp again. R. 100m. MINOR.
AMERICAN MADE. Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman find their groove in this entertaining true story of a pilot in over his head with cartels and the CIA in the 1980s. Cruise adds self-doubt to his usual bravado and Sarah Wright and Domhnall Gleeson shine in supporting roles. R. 115m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES. Emma Stone and Steve Carell nail their roles as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in a movie saturated with 1970s color and style. If only King's personal struggles had been presented with the same intensity. PG13. 1121m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BLADE RUNNER 2049. Director Denis Villeneuve cleaves to the DNA of the original — talky and broody, but gorgeous in its decrepitude, which will surely please hardcore fans more than general audiences. With Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. R. 163m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
FLATLINERS. Back from the dead, this time with Ellen Page heading up the team of rogue med students killing and resuscitating one another for science and, inadvertently, bad juju. PG13. 109m. BROADWAY.
IT. True to the spirit of the Stephen King novel, if not the letter, director Andy Muschietti wrests touching performances from child actors in a horror that blends old-fashioned jump scares with the dramas of early adolescence. And Bill Skarsgård is deeply creepy as Pennywise the Clown. R. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. Director Matthew Vaughn's spy comic adaptation sequel is cartoonish, ultra-violent and silly. It's also gorgeously constructed and uniquely entertaining. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. R. 141m. BROADWAY.
THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE. The sharp little ninja figures you keep stepping on in the living room have an animated movie now. With Jackie Chan and Kumail Nanjiani. PG. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba crash survivors stranded in the wilderness. Smart money says she doesn't push him off a raft like Leo. PG13. 104m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE. Ride-or-die pals Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity defend Equestria against a punk who brings dark powers to a magic-of-friendship fight. PG. 104m. BROADWAY.
RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD. Documentary about the unsung role Native musicians have played in shaping American music. NR. 103m. MINIPLEX.
WELCOME TO WILLITS. Well, this looks batshit. Pot farmers, alien abductions and Dolph Lundgren in the Willits woods. Expect to see lots of Louisiana and Los Angeles. PG. 82m. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill