Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Show but no dinner

On Sunday night, I did it again. I went out of town to look at a movie. This time, however, I ate dinner at home first, so I wouldn't be cast upon the tender mercies of an unknown restaurant. Also, I went to Hackensack, which is only about 30 miles east (and a little south) of where I live and yet, behold, I've never been there before. I have a vague impression that I might have been in the area once as a teenager, but I'm really not sure. I've just had no reason to go there until now, and boy, will I have a reason from now on. It's called the Bear Pause Theater (ha) and it's a big, luxurious, new-fangled movie house just outside a poky little town of 300. I live in a town of 4,000 that has a historic downtown cinema that closes in the winter. I don't get it. But now that I know it's there, I'll probably go back from time to time.

The movie I chose this time was Uncharted, though I knew (from an online review) that it's based on a Playstation video game. I also know (from the same review) that fanboys of the game are, let's say, divided about its faithfulness to the source material. But gawd, we're talking about a Playstation video game; why should I care? The movie features Tom Holland, a 20-something who's been pretending to be a high school-aged Spider-Man for three or four movies now, and whose "kid" mannerisms don't quite jive with his chiseled jaw and highly developed physique. Co-starring with him are Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas and I forget everybody else's name. Look them up, you're on the internet. Everybody in the cast was effective and the movie was totally fun in a way that would be ruined by thinking about it at all. You know, like a Playstation computer game.

Maybe you could say that it's derivative of blockbusters like Tomb Raider and National Treasure, but maybe you could also say that's becoming a legit genre and don't sweat its adherence to formula. The movie does somewhat lurch from one spectacular heist, stunt, chase, fight, or booby-trap-of-death scene to another with only the sketchiest of storylines connecting them; but again, formula. The script does land some laugh-worthy jokes without saying anything particularly clever or well, and without developing characters in whom you feel emotionally invested or who show signs of growth. But did you hear what I said about formula? Those things are all right but they're not why anyone choooses to see a movie like this. And it delivers what those people expect, in sometimes breathtaking fashion. It also delivers not one, but two teasers for a possible future franchise, one just before and the other midway through the closing credits. Without which, the formula says, the movie would seem incomplete.

Holland plays a "kid" (actually a 20-something, for once) who had a sad upbringing by nuns at an orphanage, which became even sadder when his older brother took off. He mixes cocktails for a living and picks pockets for spending money. Nate's only contact with brother Sam (did I remember the names right?), for many years, has been a series of postcards from exotic places, where Sam seems to be searching for a hidden fortune in Spanish gold. Then Wahlberg shows up, or rather a fellow treasure hunter named Sully who, long story short, manipulates Nate into joining his quest for the same treasure by hinting that if they find it, they might find Sam as well. Of course, Sully is lying, but a bunch of other folks who are hunting for the gold are even worse company – including an evil Spanish guy (Banderas) and his goon platoon, headlined by a woman whose favorite treasure-hunting tool is a throat-slitting knife. Yeah.

So their chase for the doubloons takes the (relatively) good guys and the bad guys halfway around the world and includes a slapstick heist at a New York auction house, a catacomb quest in Barcelona, aerial high jinks over the Philippines and ... huh. I've run out of storyline to synopsize. The only other thing to mention is that Tom Holland spends a night in a tropical bungalow with a beautiful girl and nothing happens between them, other than a little light betrayal between friends; so, clearly, ripped 20-something or not, he's still identifying with kids. Like, you know, the Playstation market.

Oh, well, here are Three Scenes That Made It For Me. (1) All the aerial hijinks involved in falling out of the back of a cargo plane. (2) All of the aerial hijinks involved in fighting hand-to-hand between two 16th century caravels sailing in mid-air, suspended below helicopters. (3) The weird treasure hunt through the nether regions of Barcelona, where places that haven't been seen in centuries are oddly juxtaposed with modern things like a dance club and a pizza place.

But this review would not be complete without adding Three Scenes That Unmade It For Me – things the movie could have done without, or done better. (1) Mlle. Throat Slitter performs her specialty on the character who's been built up as the villain of the piece. Not only is it one of the things you don't want to think about if you don't want to ruin the whole thing (like, what was the point of his whole character?) but it also isn't done well; the guy just keels over with amazingly little struggle or blood. It's a disturbingly undisturbing depiction of a brutal slaying, and the other characters are disturbingly undisturbed to see it. Which, I think, either suggests something disturbing about the audience this film was tailored to suit, or could have a dangerous influence on them. Maybe both. (2) The final shot of the movie, actually that mid-credits teaser scene, features the hero characters turning in shock and dismay to face ... who? You'll never know, probably. (3) The girl (not the throat-slitting one), after the friendly bit of mutual betrayal I mentioned ... never really figures in the story again. You see her realizing what's happened, but for all real dramatic purposes, she's out of the picture. I consider that a wasted opportunity on about the same level as the waste of the Spanish villain character – two instances, maybe enough to form a pattern, of the movie's writers dropping story threads that should have paid off. In a really decent story, like (say) Raiders of the Lost Ark, you would expect them to tie in, or tie up, in a satisfying way. I'm not asking for melting faces or a steamy love scene. OK, maybe I am. I'm just sayin'.

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