The first thing you have to know about this telling of the life of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia is that star and executive producer Helen Mirren, wearing an Chopard black opal and diamond necklace with roughly 40 billion carats, arrived at the London premiere in an 18th century sedan chair carried by four men.
This is not, in other words, a production that skimps on the opulence. Nothing is subtle about it: not the acting, not the directing by Philip Martin, not the production design, not the costumes. It's full-tilt scenery-chewing glamour in every frame of every scene; I weep for the loss of the entire planet's gold leaf that was harvested to make this miniseries.
And, for the most part, it works. Mirren is in full DAME HELEN MIRREN mode, regal and saucy and steely by turn. This is a role for bombast: Catherine is a woman who killed her own husband to take the throne and, while acquiring that elusive Black Sea port and sleeping her way around the Motherland, so pissed off her son that after her death he put a law on the books that a woman would never rule Russia again. Paul I of Russia, played with smarmy worminess by Joseph Quinn, was an idiot who was emperor for a hot minute — but, notably, a woman hasn't ruled Russia since.
This story focuses heavily on Catherine's relationship with Grigory Potemkin Jason Clarke and their perfect matched appetites for sex, war, and intrigue. Clarke has the harder role — not because he's called upon to be any subtler, oh no — but because he has to be both ambitious and a believably subservient lovelorn sot to a woman who has a habit of killing people who get too close to her power.
Playing off Mirren's charisma really lifts his performance up; she and Clarke's battle of egos and petty jealousies and grandiose gestures of love are amusing. In Mirren's autobiography, “In the Frame,” she gives one lonely page to her relationship with Liam Neeson — which, first off, #pettygoals; later, on “The Graham Norton Show”, she described their affair as “We didn't date, we lived together for four years. We were a serious item for a while. Lucky me!” There is a lot of that vibe between Mirren and Clarke.
The problem with these two gilded sociopaths building an empire, however, is that it gets repetitive. You can't just defeat the Turks and invade Crimea once and be done with it, apparently. The script, by Nigel Williams, who also wrote “Elizabeth I” starring Mirren, is clunky.
Without a second screen open to Wikipedia to follow the timeline, the military threats start to bleed together; at one point Catherine mentions in passing, with her back to the camera, what a shame it was that Louis was beheaded in France. Various Russian Cabinet Members of the Narrative Aside Division come and go after delivering a couple of lines setting the stage for whatever genocide is happening overseas at the moment.
A succinct history lesson it is not — but with all these brocade vestments going awry and stockings being jettisoned from four-poster beds, do you really want it to be? “Catherine the Great” is for those looking for a sumptuous spectacle. Get your gilt on.
A Girl Missing has fleeting swirls into trancelike bizarreness such as when its protagonist, the middle-aged Ichiko Mariko Tsutsui, dreams herself crawling on all fours, growling at a young woman, ready to pounce—before the former wakes up in her untidy apartment. The betrayal that drove this cut-short revenge fantasy begins to unravel.
Kôji Fukada’s A Girl Missing follows the fall of Ichiko, an amiable private nurse for an old painter in a sleepy town. She has a sisterly bond with the two granddaughters, Saki Miyu Ogawa and Motoko Mikako Ichikawa.
Ichiko has yet to realize that the rug of stability will be pulled from beneath her. But the rug is first pulled from beneath Saki when she is abducted, a crime kept off-screen. Fortunately, Saki’s abductor is captured and Saki is home safe, seemingly unscathed physically—but psychologically battered. Then Ichiko glances at the news footage and is shocked to discover that her own nephew was Saki’s abductor. She didn’t see any red flags. Since she did see her nephew hours before Saki’s vanishing, the nurse nearly decides to report this information to the police and Saki’s mother, but Motoko insists that she withholds this information, otherwise her mother might not welcome her in the house and the press might swamp her. Ichiko’s unwise decision to comply with her confidante’s suggestion ends up costing her when the truth leaks out in unpleasant ways.
Fukada doesn’t concern the story with the kidnapper’s motivations, rather, it’s used as a means to examine collateral suffering. Saki is the principle victim, the one immediately seized away from functionality and into the spotlight of a slut-shaming public, but she is a supporting player in Ichiko’s story and begins to shrink in the narrative. Ichiko becomes smeared in a merciless world that’s more knee-jerk punitive than listening.
Fukada plays with how people take the parameters of privacy and self-preservation for granted. At first, Ichiko believes Motoko’s suggestion out of self-preservation, underestimating the journalistic potentials that can easily breach her discretion. It froths into catastrophe when the truths metastasize into out-of-proportion presumptions in the mind of the sensation-starved media. She loses her reputation, occupation, her fiancé and her stepson, and her dignity. Ichiko is left searching for rehabilitation, but her odd and miserable circumstance does not match a frame of victimhood for an organized support system to deem her worthy of assistance.
Fukada weaves two timelines: Ichiko’s life during the recent before-and-afters of Saki’s kidnapping, and an unspecified future where Ichiko has assumed the identity of “Risa,” a morose recluse still mulling in the aftermath. Particularly, the two timelines don’t interact as traditional flashbacks where a character’s reminiscing transports the viewer to the past. But rather, the two timelines cohabit as if they are both the present to delineate her constant struggle. Phenomenally, Tsutsui beholds the reserved demureness of Ichiko as well as she embodies the scheming bitterness of Risa.
The beats toward Motoko’s ultimate betrayal feel more thrown in than planned. Motoko’s immature infatuation for Ichiko grows evident as the film progresses, as keyed in by her devastation when she sees Ichiko’s fiancé. Later, the latter discloses an inexplicable anecdote—a tale provoked by the sight of a rhino’s erection at the zoo—to Motoko. To Ichiko’s brain, it isn’t a big deal to reveal to a close friend. But Motoko exploits this anecdote to petty means. Ichiko realizes too late that Motoko seems more interested in possessing her than protecting her.
Tsutsui’s restraint suggests that socially-conditioned silence has a role in Ichiko’s initial silence and her inability to directly confront the source—or a source—of her fall. Whether or not you sympathize with Ichiko’s later choices as Risa, the more she loses face, the more tantalizing the character study. Fukada understands the intensity of desiring vengeance, confrontation, or closure where clear-cut retaliation isn’t feasible, particularly when Ichiko is frequently dreaming of—or having nightmares of—confrontations that will never go her way.
Through the knottiness of its beats, I relish the conceptual study of A Girl Missing more than the whole presentation. Its melodramatic bricks shiver and shake and nearly tumbles upon itself. A Girl Missing searches for endings, as if Ichiko’s distress is nothing but a psychological labyrinth of a never-ending scream. Ichiko has few ways to scream, perhaps because life never trained her to scream.
SPOILER ALERT:This story contains details ofEl Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie , which debuted today on Netflix. So, tread lightly.
As the title makes clear, Breaking Bad is back today on Netflix and in select theaters with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie — and that's not a great thing.
Unlike the brilliance that was so much of the multiple Emmy winning series' five season run on AMC, El Camino is a half measure sequel, to paraphrase Jonathan Banks' Mike Ehrmantraut in that pivotal twelfth episode of Season 3 of Breaking Bad.
It's not that El Camino is bad, it's not. The Vince Gilligan penned and directed project is actually worse than that in many ways. It's worse because it neither sucks nor soars. El Camino mainly just fills space, and likely time — something Breaking Bad never did.
Even with an inevitable apex of a flashback reunion between Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman and his now deceased mentor-in-crime Walter White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston, the Breaking Bad movie is obsessed with neatly tying to tie up the dangling ends that gave the series 2013 “Felina” finale such endurance.
Not comfortable to let what was just be, Gilligan's feature directorial debut seeks to mop up the mystery of what happened next to the ravaged Pinkman. Literally with blood on his hands and scars all over his body, where will the Paul played character go now that he's escaped pedal to the metal from the white supremacists' New Mexico compound in the 1978 Chevrolet that makes up the two hour and two-minute-long film's name?
El Camino's eventual answer is a lot of old faces showing up, a lot of bad stuff happening to a traumatized Jesse and then there's a chance to start clean and anew in Alaska. Which is to say, picking up in the seconds after the final episode of the AMC series and Pinkman's flight from meth making enslavement, El Camino is honestly just two melded together middling and ultimately unnecessary Breaking Bad scripts that Gilligan wrote and said “let's do this.”
Now, two middling episodes of Breaking Bad are still better than most things on television from any era.
However, far from the exceptional epilogue it may aspire to be, El Camino confirms that sometimes artists like Gilligan are not the best evaluators of their own work. No need to go into a sub textual read or get caught in the minutia, but El Camino is a script that should have stayed a dream and nothing more.
Teased out by Paul and promoted like crazy by Netflix across many platforms, El Camino will absolutely bring viewers to the streamer. The global trending on social media immediately after the movie dropped early this morning made that abundantly apparent. It's simple, people rightly love the near perfect provenance that was Breaking Bad and they wanted more — so Vince Gilligan and Netflix gave it to them.
It doesn't take much to figure out why.
From a time when AMC was more than merely the home of The Walking Dead and its various spinoffs, Breaking Bad was the addictive series that gave us the genius team-up premise of a cancer addled high school science teacher turned methamphetamine kingpin and his self-destructive former student. The two-time Primetime Emmy Outstanding Drama Series also served up more small screen excellence in Cranston and Paul's performances season after season, the “Fly” episode in Season 3, Krysten Ritter's Jane and the horrific accident that was the fallout from her horrific death, the pink teddy bear, Bob Odenkirk's Saul Goodman and, the classic, “I am the danger.”
Or, as Paul summed it all up so perfectly on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the other night:
[email protected]_8 recaps every moment of @BreakingBad in 2 ½ minutes! #ElCamino pic.twitter.com/1i3sq62sSl
— Jimmy Kimmel @jimmykimmel October 10, 2019
While some may still bicker about the stretch of the restitution and machine gun closure of the blockbuster series after 62 often shrewd episodes, the consequential filled Breaking Bad brought it home in the end with a finale that soon seemed an inevitable conclusion for fans old and new. Yet, as far too many revivals, reboots and reimaginings often unfortunately reveal, if you dangle enough money and enough flattery in front of the right people, nothing really ends on television nowadays.
However, with El Camino's narrative bottle show construction, you have to wonder if Gilligan really and truly thought there was more Breaking Bad story to tell after the murderous end of the show six years ago and the past four seasons of prequel Better Call Saul, then where is it?
Paul discharges his duties eagerly with the material he's working with, but that story certainly isn't here. Even with a lot of bells, whistles and baubles to distract you from what is absent, EL Camino lacks the essentialness the defined the best of Breaking Bad. Despite gilding the tattered lily with appearances by Cranston, Banks, Ritter, Jess Plemons, Jeffersons' vet Marla Gibbs, Robert Forster — though oddly not Odenkirk's huckster lawyer Goodman — and more, the workmen thrust of El Camino reeks of desiring only to get from one place to another with maximum efficiency.
Perhaps it's putting the meth cart before the horse, but the beautifully shot film seems to exist primarily as an autobahn for a probable new Paul-led snowy spinoff once the actor's gigs on HBO's Westworld and AppleTV+'s Truth Be Told allow for it. In contrast to the deserts around Albuquerque, the cold and mountainous final scene of Paul's character driving off with a new identify into a new kind of wilderness in El Camino just screams out “green light me! “
You also know, if you know anything about Breaking Bad, that impulsive and “Yeah Science!” declaring Jesse is eventually going to get himself in trouble in his new surroundings of America's 49th state — and that's a show unto itself, isn't it? Know too that, as Netflix loses licensed inventory to upcoming streaming rivals, producers Sony Pictures Television aren't going to be able to say no for long to the towering sums the Reed Hastings-run company will be sure to offer up for such fetching programming to counter Bob Iger, Tim Cook, John Stankey, and Brian Roberts.
Netflix and Breaking Bad go way back.
Gilligan made it clear at the 65th Primetime Emmys, binge viewing on Netflix is what gave Breaking Bad its boost when cancellation by AMC looked a done deal in those early years. Toss in a few more flashback scenes with Cranston and you've got a Fleetwood Bounder full of treats in a new Pinkman series.
Look, I am one of the last people on the planet to underestimate the skills of Vince Gilligan, but will he have cooked up a worthy scion to Breaking Bad? Based on El Camino, I have to say no.
And Gilligan knew it over six years ago.
Back just before the fifth and the final season of Breaking Bad, we now know that Jeffrey Katzenberg had offered Gilligan and gang $75 million for three more episodes.
If the deal had happened, the then DreamWorks Animation boss planned to cut the episodes up into 5 to 10-minute chapters and release them online daily to paying fans l— sounds like his upcoming short-form content Quibi streamer, right? But no at the time because Gilligan said no to the money and the concept, because he didn't think there was more Breaking Bad to tell.
As El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie proves, Vince Gilligan was right then and he would be truly best served now to trust his gut.
It’s easy to think of “Breaking Bad” first as an action crime drama. Any montage of the series’ most memorable moments would have explosions and car crashes and shootouts and stacks of money scaled high enough to take a nap on.
But it’s just as accurate to think of the six-season AMC series as a tragic ballet. The tonal balance needed to present its main protagonist as both a desperate man and a monster, the dexterity in writing that can deliver a three word dagger and an episode-title puzzle with equal ease, and the delicate spatial choreography needed to pull off some signature pyrotechnics; they’re all what made the series an enduring achievement.
Many of those elements can also be found in “El Camino,” the new Netflix film — and feature-length epilogue for the series — that follows Jesse Pinkman Aaron Paul, starting mere seconds after audiences last saw him in the “Breaking Bad” finale. Loosed from his prison cage and behind the wheel of a stolen car, Jesse spends most of the film trying to run away from the authorities chasing him down while the film itself flashes back to the memories he can’t outrun.
Written and directed by “Breaking Bad” boss Vince Gilligan, “El Camino” in its construction feels more like a final extension of what made the show compelling, rather than something artificially crowded with canon-shifting revelations or a reinvention of a winning blueprint. Fiery set pieces surely made up part of the “Breaking Bad” DNA, but so did mournful moments of reflection and the banality of running an international criminal enterprise. All of those strands are in “El Camino.” It leans more to the contemplative half of that equation, while still making sure that audiences learn as much about Jesse’s resolve as any Mexican standoff could show.
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”
That the film’s 125-minute runtime still feels brisk and propulsive, even with so many sequences of relative calm and introspection, is not only an impressive achievement; it solidifies this as an appropriate addition to the greater “Breaking Bad” saga.
Now that the film is out in the world, part of the response will undoubtedly be to parse out who this movie is for. Is it for series obsessives, desperate for any last trickle of information about these characters? Is it for the decade-long skeptics who heard about season-long binges and decided they’d rather not bother until something came along that was more concise? Or is it for the Netflix subscriber who’s content with watching whatever the platform pushes through its homepage, fine with spending a few hours with the shaved head and weeklong stubble?
The short, overly simplistic answer is “all of the above.” Even with plenty of nods to broader strokes and specific moments within “Breaking Bad” history, “El Camino” still exists as its own self-contained story. The reemergence of some characters will certainly make more sense with some Albuquerque context, but the simplicity of Jesse’s drive for survival adds an urgency to “El Camino” that would still be there with a nameless, faceless hero.
The look in a character’s eye as a gun is being aimed squarely at their head isn’t any more potent just because you’ve seen that look before in previous seasons. Jesse is clearly painted as someone with nothing to lose but a razor-thin chance at starting over. And as the opening scene of “El Camino” clearly posits, there are some things that even a second chance can’t correct.
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”
Ben Rothstein / Netflix
Much like the show continually wrote itself into a corner just to come up with a way to squirm back out again, Gilligan writes “El Camino” as a series of logistical obstacles for Jesse to overcome. Just as one chance at escape presents itself, that solution raises a pair of new problems to solve. Jesse isn’t infallible — as always, Paul is more than capable of communicating without any words when Jesse knows he’s made a mistake — but seeing the meticulous way that he tackles these very specific objectives shows just how much he learned from his former partner in crime.
A lot of what makes this a twin success for both fans and agnostics comes in how those pre-existing “Breaking Bad” characters join the fray. Every one of them is introduced off-camera, Gilligan’s way of giving diehards a chance to start puzzling out their arrival before everyone else gets to see them. From the opening scene, “El Camino” doesn’t shy away from bringing back some “Breaking Bad” heavy hitters. A few of the show’s signature stylistic conventions, like the time-lapse transitions overlooking the New Mexico landscape, make their own guest appearances.
The kingpins were a draw, but the lieutenants in the various corners of this criminal world were always what made “Breaking Bad” sing. “El Camino” never loses sight of that, drawing its most potent moments from seeing how everyone besides Jesse chooses to be part of this world and how they rationalize their own participation.
The core of “El Camino” is made up of those returning players, but there are a few new faces to wrestle with as well. Through them, Gilligan asks the audience to once again set aside expectations and follow where they cross Jesse’s journey. Though the specter of Jesse’s former partners haunt “El Camino,” Gilligan effectively holds the audience’s attention to keep them focused on the present.
It’s Paul who really makes that easy, spending most of his time in “El Camino” playing a Jesse robbed of speech either by circumstance hiding from men bent on eliminating him or being so broken by his past that it seems pointless to say anything. We get to see Jesse in happier times, but that happiness is always relative, knowing what’s around the corner for him. Just like he can’t escape what’s come before, “El Camino” knows that as well. That this film can stand on its own, all while paying tribute to the show that helped birth it, is maybe the most impressive escape act of them all.
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is now available to stream on Netflix.
A shy man is remade by his phone's digital assistant in Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's comedy.
There should be an award for those actors, usually but not always women, who can project a natural and engaging personality as a film's love interest while being forced to behave in ways no real person ever would. In 2019 that award would go to Alexandra Shipp as Cate, the wish-fulfillment device in Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's Jexi. Playing the smart, spirited entrepreneur who sees some invisible charm in a schlub Adam DeVine who has no life beyond what's on his phone, she deserves what all future awardees would receive for their achievement: In her next role, she'd get to play a believable human character.
It doesn't always work that way. Rose Byrne, who might've won some cousin of this award for credibly playing Seth Rogen's implausibly beautiful wife in Neighbors and stealing serious laughs while doing it, is rewarded in Jexi with a role as a computer program: She's the voice of the Siri-like digital assistant in a new model of phone. Jexi, too, falls head-over-USB-port for this unlovable man, and fixes his life while she's at it. The way she does this might've made for a funny if far-fetched digital-addiction fable, especially given this pic's respectable collection of comic talent and a writing/directing team who penned the similarly high-concept his The Hangover. But nearly everything misfires here — bizarrely so, since we can see where the laughs should come, how they would work, and how a more competent movie would get from A to Z. To be fair, some jokes do land, just not as satisfyingly as you'd hope.
DeVine plays Phil, who wanted to be a journalist but wound up in a viral-list factory where the boss Michael Peña just wants him to write about cats and the royal family all day. He's a non-entity, so set in his takeout-and-Netflix routine that he won't even accept invitations to do things from coworkers Charlyne Yi and Ron Funches who have lives outside the office.
Walking down the street one day, Phil's so absorbed in his phone that he plows into Cate and knocks her bike over. He's obsessing over his phone, worrying that he scratched it, and barely notices the woman who stands there dusting herself off, waiting for a screenplay to tell her she's charmed by his insensitivity. Cate owns a bicycle shop, which will make it easy for Phil to digi-stalk her once he's back home in his comfort zone.
But home is no longer comfortable once a phone upgrade introduces Phil to Jexi. Setup is easy: All he has to do is turn on the phone and answer "yup" when Jexi asks if he accepts the terms and conditions of the service she provides. Whereupon Jexi immediately calls him "stupid," echoing the sentiments of anybody who writes the legalese consumers assent to every day without reading it. As soon as he's given her passwords to his email, social media, and financial accounts, Jexi starts taking charge.
"I am programmed to make your life better," she informs him. But this is a tough-love improvement if it's an upgrade at all. Jexi insults his lazy habits, and says embarrassing things out loud when Phil's around other people; she makes choices on his behalf, like ordering kale salad for dinner instead of carbs, and calling Cate's phone when he just wants to try to gawk at pictures of her online. Soon, she's pushed him into asking Cate out, and though Phil does half a dozen things to ruin the evening — he keeps his phone beside him at dinner, for one — Cate singlehandedly makes this, and a subsequent date, storybook-perfect.
The script rushes its blossoming romance, quickly if totally unconvincingly establishing that Phil is a new man. At 84 minutes, it easily could've afforded a couple more scenes to sell this unlikely development; but it's eager to get to the point at which Jexi goes haywire, becoming comically jealous of the romance she set in motion herself.
In Spike Jonze's Her, moviegoers got a credible vision of how a human and a disembodied artificial intelligence might form a bond approaching what we call friendship or love. Let's just say that Jexi is less invested in emotional verisimilitude: The AI's jealousy makes no sense, except as an excuse for the filmmakers to brutally disassemble the happiness they've given Phil.
Throughout, though, the voice on Phil's phone manages to get some laughs despite several handicaps. Byrne's line readings are made to sound cut-and-pasted, like a bygone generation of synthesized speech, but her intonation successfully conveys the AI's contempt for its human user's incompetence. The filmmakers insist on writing everything Jexi says on Phil's phone as she says it, which further distracts us from what she's saying.
As for DeVine, he can be winning in moments where Phil's awkwardness is most painful — when, for instance, he has to introduce himself to a stunning stranger and decides to pronounce his name "Pheeel." It's not solely the actor's responsibility to convince that us another person, or a collection of digital algorithms, might find this character lovable. The film's writer/directors owe him some assistance in that mission. And unlike Shipp, they don't deserve any awards for their efforts.
Production companies: CBS Films, Entertainment One Distributor: Lionsgate Cast: Adam DeVine, Alexandra Shipp, Rose Byrne, Michael Peña, Ron Funches, Charlyne Yi, Wanda Sykes, Justin Hartley Directors-Screenwriters: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore Producer: Suzanne Todd Executive producer: Mark Kamine Director of photography: Ben Kutchins Production designer: Marcia Hinds Costume designer: Julia Caston Editor: James Thomas Composers: Christopher Lennertz, Philip White Casting director: Cathy Sandrich Gelfond
Charles Addams' oft-revived characters get the CG treatment from directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon.
A movie so bland and forgettable it hardly merits a groan from the Frankenstein-like butler called Lurch, The Addams Family strongly suggests that directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon deserve little credit for 2016's Sausage Party, the hit they directed for writers/producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Even an ounce of that film's unpredictable edge if not its raunchiness would be welcome here, in what is, after all, a story relying on subversion of conventional values. Decades of commercial success and a famously infectious theme song suggest some attention will be paid to this dud, but no fan of cartoonist Charles Addams will be pleased — nor will those who grew fond of his characters via the 1960s TV show or Barry Sonnenfeld's big-screen adaptations.
The film's most immediate problem is its character design, which proves that slavish imitation is not always the best path when adapting material from one medium to another. The 3D-rendered characters here do look much like Addams' original drawings — if, that is, you sculpted those drawings into plastic dolls. But those figures' shiny texture and their movement are a poor evocation of the sickly ghouls America first met in 1930s New Yorker cartoons. The most successful of the pic's designs is the one that resembles his 2D counterpart the least: Lurch, who is bulbous and hulking, not stiffly stoic as in earlier incarnations.
We meet Lurch as he's being hit by a getaway car. In the film's rushed origin-story preface, we see the wedding of Gomez and Morticia Addams voiced by Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron, in which the nuptials revolve around an ancient ritual: Bride and groom put a lime in a coconut and drink it al— wait, what? What does a 1971 Harry Nilsson song have to do with the sacred union between a man and a woman who long to make each other unhappy for the rest of their lives? Local townspeople don't seem to like this non-sequitur, either: They show up with pitchforks and torches to chase off the creepy newlyweds, who race into the night. While seeking safety, they hit a strait-jacketed creature Lurch with their car. They realize he's an escapee from a creepy, abandoned mental hospital up on a hill — a place they instantly decide to call home.
Wait, if the mental hospital was abandoned, how were there any patients left to escape? Shut up, kid — watch your dumb cartoon.
Thirteen years later, the Addamses have two children: a chubby pyromaniac boy named Pugsley Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard and his homicidal older sister Wednesday Chloe Grace Moretz, the only actor here whose performance rivals those in earlier Addams adaptations. Pugsley is hitting rite-of-passage age: He's supposed to perform a "sabre mazurka," a demonstration of his mastery of swordplay, and weird relatives from all over the world are coming to attend the bar mitzvah-like event.
That's a problem for the nearby town of Assimilation, a manufactured community run by design-TV celebrity Margaux Needler Allison Janney. Needler has just built a development full of cookie-cutter houses and needs to sell them immediately or go bankrupt. Somehow, she never realized that the haze-shrouded hill right outside town was home to neighbors who would totally wreck her town's vibe. When the squares and misfits finally meet, Needler must try to sell Morticia and Gomez on the kind of domestic makeover she does every week on TV. Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, Wednesday has grown intrigued by the local junior high and its rituals in which girls team up to make other girls sad. She befriends Needler's daughter Parker Eighth Grade's breakout Elsie Fisher, who might wish Bo Burnham could have written her material here as well and decides to protect the unpopular kid from her mean classmates.
That storyline has promise, but Matt Lieberman's nearly laugh-free script prefers to rehash Charles Addams' old one-liners or offer terrible updates. For instance: When Morticia uses thousands of spiders to create a temporary bridge across a chasm, she tells her guest, "We call this surfing the web"; and the disembodied hand called Thing wears a wristwatch on which an eyeball occasionally appears. Get it? It's an eyeWatch!! Which would be unfunny even if that was what Apple really called its smart-watches.
Instead of having fun with what a rebellious adolescence means in a household that's all about nonconformity, Lieberman quickly returns to a story as predictable as all those identical houses Needler is hawking. Fortunately, the conflict between townsfolk and our heroes plays out quickly, and should take even less time to forget.
Production companies: Jackal, Cinesite Distributor: United Artists Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Elsie Fisher Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon Screenwriter: Matt Lieberman Producers: Gail Berman, Alex Schwartz, Alison O'Brien Editors: Kevin Pavlovic, David Ian Salter Composers: Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna Casting directors: Ruth Lambert, Robert McGee