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Schultz reviews: “A Dog's Way Home," "Replicas" and "The Upside"

Schultz reviews: “A Dog's Way Home," "Replicas" and "The Upside"

Carl Schultz

 

“A Dog’s Way Home” Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing and Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes, Rated PG, Released Jan. 11:

 

In “A Dog’s Way Home” a Pitbull puppy is rescued from abandonment and adopted by Lucas, an earnest young Denver medical student who interns at the local VA hospital. Lucas names his puppy Bella.

 

Also the primary caregiver for his disabled veteran mom, Lucas soon runs into trouble with the villainous local animal control enforcer: It seems that Denver has an antiquated law on the books, which prohibits Pitbulls within the city limits. Lucas and his mom have angered a local real estate developer, and in retribution he intends to make sure the law is enforced. The intern and his mother live in a place, which prohibits pets anyway.

 

So with the assistance of his friend Olivia, a fellow med student and budding romantic interest, Lucas finds a temporary home for his growing dog with friends in Farmington, New Mexico. Bella will remain in Farmington, some 400 miles away, while Lucas and his mom locate more Pitbull-friendly alternative housing in Golden, Colorado.

 

Unfortunately, Bella thinks the temporary relocation to New Mexico is a big game, a variation of “Go Home,” a favorite of Lucas. So at the first opportunity, Bella escapes his interim Farmington residence and begins an arduous 400-mile, two-year odyssey across the mountains and wilderness to return to his home with Lucas and his mom in Denver.

 

Based on humorist W. Bruce Cameron’s 2017 novel of the same name and adapted to the screen by Cathryn Michon and Cameron himself, “A Dog’s Way Home” turns out to be a wonderfully effective little family film, which aims straight for the viewer’s tear ducts and scores a bullseye.

 

The picture is reminiscent of the live action pictures produced by the Walt Disney studios during the 1950s and 1960s, specifically the similar “The Incredible Journey” from 1963. But unlike the Disney films of yesteryear, “A Dog’s Way Home” is reflective of modern sensibilities, pointedly PC, and does not shy away from depicting heartache and even tragedy.

 

Among the cast of humans, Jonah Hauer-King and Alexandra Shipp are earnest and effective as Lucas and Olivia, while the top-billed Ashley Judd is appropriately vulnerable but resilient as Terri, Lucas’ emotionally-wounded Army veteran mom. An almost unrecognizable Edward James Olmos turns up during Bella’s journey as a disabled veteran who’s not quite as fortunate as Terri. Wes Studi appears late in the picture as a sympathetic Denver police captain. And actress Bryce Dallas Howard narrates the film in her best Once Upon A Time voice.

 

“A Dog’s Way Home” was directed with sensitivity and obvious affection by Charles Martin Smith, a former actor who appeared during another generation as the hapless Terry in George Lucas’ classic 1973 pre-”Star Wars” picture “American Graffiti” and also, appropriately, starred in Disney’s “Never Cry Wolf” from 1983 as the biologist who journeys into the wilderness to study the animal population.

 

Photographed beautifully by Peter Menzies Jr. and containing an evocative music score reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein’s sentimental melodies for 1962’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “A Dog’s Way Home” is receiving strong support from the critics, scoring an approval rating of 60 percent from Rotten Tomatoes and 50 percent from Metacritic. CinemaScore audiences award the picture a grade of A-minus.

 

Produced on a modest budget of $18 million, distributors Columbia Pictures and parent company Sony were undoubtedly inspired to make “A Dog’s Way Home” by the remarkable success of rival Universal’s 2017 Cameron adaptation “A Dog’s Purpose,” which earned some $204 million in revenues on an investment of $22 million. The Columbia picture’s off to a good start, earning $11.3 million during its debut weekend, enough to score a third-place finish in the box office Top Ten behind the new comedy “The Upside” and the returning blockbuster “Aquaman.”

 

“A Dog’s Way Home” is a good companion piece for Universal’s “A Dog’s Purpose” and a welcome addition to author Cameron’s growing list of screen adaptations, but not a sequel to the 2017 film. The follow-up to “A Dog’s Purpose” will be Universal’s “A Dog’s Journey,” due in May.

 

“A Dog’s Way Home” is rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and mild language concerns.

 

“Replicas” Distributed by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 107 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released Jan. 11:

 

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, what a tangled web we weave...

 

A neuroscientist is working on a project involving the transfer of human consciousness from recently deceased bodies and into alternative host vehicles--basically brain transplants into robots. But the doc can’t seem to work the ol’ bugs out of the procedure. 

 

When his wife and kids are killed in a tragic auto accident, the scientist finds new inspiration for his research. He harvests his late family’s intellects onto big flash drives, transports them to his secret basement laboratory, and then not only resurrects his loved ones but also uses a soupy artificial means to clone their original bodies as hosts for their recovered psyches. He’s able to formulate the necessary technology and accomplish all of the above in 17 days flat, but soon finds that his family's rebirth is only the beginning of his problems...

 

This is one movie that has to be seen to be believed. Destined to achieve immortality as a cult classic, “Replicas” is either the most ridiculous movie of the new millennium or a masterpiece of camp, depending on your threshold for absurdity. An over-the-top blend of science fiction and horror, the movie seems to play along the periphery of self-parody but somehow never quite manages to step over the line into flat out hilarity. The result is an unlikely combination of the 1962 midnight movie staple “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” and 1985’s “Re-Animator,” with a heaping dose of “RoboCop” thrown in.

 

Keanu Reeves has always been an honest performer. Whether in the surprisingly enduring romantic sports comedy “The Replacements,” the popular “Matrix” trilogy, or the megahit action adventure classic “Speed,” the actor invariably displays a sort of urgent and earnest truthfulness that’s enormously attractive to movie audiences, particularly his legions of fans. Even as the vacant stoner in the “Bill and Ted” comedies, Reeves seemed to passionately pursue his own imbecilic cluelessness.

 

In some weird way, this same sense of urgency works for the effectiveness of “Replicas.” In a role that cries out for a tortured and obsessed demeanor, Reeves instead conjures a sort of overwhelmed sincerity, making almost logical his character’s ability to steal every car battery in his upper-class neighborhood over the course of one single night (about 60 or so, it looks like) when he can’t find a place that sells generators at 3 a.m. But the actor’s patented earnestness is almost enough to redefine at least temporarily our image of a cinematic mad scientist.

 

Playing the Igor to Reeves’ Dr. Frankenstein is the Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch, employing the same loopy, good-natured manner he uses in his ubiquitous TV appearances as the pitchman for Verizon Wireless. As an expert in human cloning, Middleditch possesses a pretzel logic that allows him to give issues of ethics and morality nary a thought, but fret that he and Reeves will get in trouble at work for swiping several million dollars’ worth of cutting edge medical equipment that looks like it came from 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein.” And they do get in trouble, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

 

Written by newcomers Chad St. John and Stephen Hamel and directed by “The Day After Tomorrow” filmmaker Jeffrey Nachmanoff, “Replicas” throws rational thought to the wind and, intentionally or not, infuses the film with enough plot holes, narrative silliness, continuity issues and leaps of reason to delight connoisseurs of bad movies. Still, it’s never tedious or boring, it’s almost impossible to dislike, and you just can’t say it’s not entertaining.

 

Distributed by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, the independent film studio founded in 1993 by comic Byron Allen to “take the studio crumbs and make a gourmet meal,” “Replicas” is being marketed relentlessly over the television airwaves, with television commercials sometimes appearing twice or more during the same station breaks.  

 

Entertainment Studios was hoping to earn a modest $7 million from the picture during its opening weekend in 2,329 theaters across North America. In the end, including only $200,000 from Thursday night sneak previews, ”Replicas” grossed only $2.5 million during its first weekend in release, one of the worst all-time debuts among movies premiering in 2,000-plus venues.

 

Unsurprisingly, “Replicas” is being blasted by the critics, earning an approval rating of just 9 percent from Rotten Tomatoes against an average score of 17 percent from Metacritic, both indicating “overwhelming dislike.” The entertainment newspaper Variety specifically notes the picture’s “cavernous plot holes, risible dialogue, and ludicrously illogical behavior.” Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore award “Replicas” a grade of C.

 

Also starring Alice Eve from 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” and the always reliable John Ortiz, “Replicas’ is rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, brief nudity and sexual references. Warning: There’s a horrifyingly realistic automobile crash about 20 minutes into the picture, so be prepared to cover the eyes of the youngsters.

 

“The Upside” Distributed by STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment, 126 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released Jan. 11:

 

In this remake of the 2011 French film “The Intouchables,” Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart team up as a melancholy quadriplegic gazillionaire and the streetwise, cynical and irresponsible ex-convict he hires as a personal attendant. Through their professional relationship and growing friendship both men find redemption of a sort: The disabled man recovers his enthusiasm for life, and the attendant learns the value of family and responsibility.

 

Written by Jon Hartmere and directed by Neil Burger, “The Upside” turns out to be a fairly entertaining mismatched-buddies comedy, little different in quality from past films from “The Odd Couple” to “Trading Places” to “Green Book.” At first the picture resembles an almost scene-by-scene English-speaking copy of the original 2011 French film, with spare dialogue and an edgier vibe. But after a promising start, the seams begin to show: The characters are underwritten, the situations become contrived, the dialogue is clunky and unpersuasive, and stereotypes are unfortunately reinforced.

 

The final product is episodic and overlong, and eventually goes almost exactly where you think it will, with an ending right out of 1944’s “Going My Way” and very few surprises before then. Cranston and an unusually subdued Hart help a lot by contributing their considerable likeability to the product, and Nicole Kidman as Cranston’s brisk and brittle business aide lends a quality of respectability. Julianna Margulies also shows up late in the film as a possible romantic partner for Cranston.

 

Originally inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a Corsican real estate magnate and hotelier who was disabled in a paragliding accident, the project has been kicking around for quite a while. In 2011 The Weinstein Company acquired the rights to remake the French “The Intouchables” in English, with Chris Rock and Colin Firth starring and Paul Feig directing.

 

When that version fell through, the project went through several configurations of creative staff before Cranston and Hart were cast, Neil Burger was hired to direct, and the film’s title was changed to “The Upside.” The picture began filming in Philadelphia in January of 2017, and the completed picture was unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival that September. A wide release was scheduled for March of 2018. 

 

In January 2018, following the allegations of sexual abuse against The Weinstein Company’s director Harvey Weinstein, “The Upside” was pulled from the company’s release schedule. Eventually the picture was purchased by STX Entertainment, who partnered with Lantern Entertainment to distribute “The Upside.” Lantern Entertainment is the independent film studio which purchased at auction the assets of the now-defunct Weinstein Company.

 

“The Upside” is receiving mixed reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of 38 percent from Rotten Tomatoes, which calls the movie “preachy, manipulative, and frustratingly cliched.” Metacritic awards the film an average score of 44 percent. Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore, however, award the film a grade of A.

 

STX Entertainment was hoping “The Upside” would earn up to $10 million during its opening weekend in 3,080 theaters across North America. But after $6.9 million in tickets were sold for the picture by the end of opening day alone, an amount including $1.1 million from Thursday night sneak previews, the studio’s estimates were raised to $19 million. The film actually exceeded even that estimate, earning over $19.5 million.

 

“The Upside” is rated PG-13 for scenes containing suggestive content and recreational drug use.

 

 

 

 

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