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Schultz reviews: ”The Intruder," "Long Shot" and "UglyDolls"

Schultz reviews: ”The Intruder," "Long Shot" and "UglyDolls"

Carl Schultz

“The Intruder” Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, 102 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released May 3:

Actor Dennis Quaid uses his famous devilish smile to fiendish advantage in “The Intruder,” a new psychological thriller from Sony Pictures Releasing. As Charlie Peck, the departing former owner of a rustic Napa Valley estate, Quaid takes a big bite out of the scenery and chews it vigorously throughout the picture’s 102-minute running time.

In “The Intruder,” an affluent young married couple seeks to relocate from the urban squall of San Francisco to a less-threatening rural environment in the Napa Valley, and find their dream home in the palatial estate of “motivated seller” Charlie Peck. Explaining a desire a downsize during his middle age and relocate to Florida to live with his grown daughter, the widower Charlie quickly strikes a bargain with the young couple. He eventually even agrees to allow his furnishings to remain with the house.

But after moving into their new home, the young couple are dismayed to discover Charlie’s reluctance to depart: The seller continues to perform routine maintenance duties on the estate, and even objects to small renovations to the property and modifications to the decor.

And as the new residents of the home become alarmed when they begin to learn more about Charlie from their neighbors. It seems Charlie’s beloved late wife died in the home under mysterious and ominous circumstances. And there’s not really a grown daughter in Florida awaiting Charlie’s imminent arrival ...

Directed by Deon Taylor, the filmmaker behind the 2016 horror comedy “Meet the Blacks” and last year’s curiously similar “Traffik,” “The Intruder” promises suspense, emotional depth, and a challenging storyline, but struggles to deliver even rudimentary thrills ... or compelling characterizations. The disappointing script by David Loughery isn’t even adequate in a shout-at-the-screen kind of way — the characters seem too obtuse and self-absorbed to listen.

As the young couple trying to escape urban squalor for a more tranquil rustic life, Michael Ealy and Meagan Good certainly look appealing, almost like the perfect figures atop a wedding cake. But as the omnipresent Charlie grows less benignly eccentric and more menacing, the couple never really takes an initiative to compel him to depart, or even give him a real reason to. 

Ealy’s bespectacled, ineffectual characterization is little more than a lite, yuppie version of Dustin Hoffman’s role in 1971’s “Straw Dogs.” And Good as the wife is just silly and impractical: If Charlie’s such a threat, why in the world does she keep inviting him over for dinner?

In the end, “The Intruder” succeeds in delivering only a joyfully over-the-top performance by Dennis Quaid as the increasingly unstable Charlie. Quaid’s performance is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and as nuanced as a black-cloaked villain skulking around in a silent film melodrama. From certain angles, Quaid’s devilish smile resembles precisely that: The actor’s face seems Satanically malevolent, relishing with glee the notion of further mischief. 

Unfortunately, as Quaid’s Charlie descends into a kind of frenzied madness and mayhem, “The Intruder” becomes just another routine horror picture, little different in style from any of the sequels to “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th.” And the ending is an unapologetic steal from the 1991 Julia Roberts picture “Sleeping With the Enemy.”

Released to 2,222 theaters across the United States and Canada, “The Intruder” is earning disappointing reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of just 27% from Rotten Tomatoes and 38% from Metacritic. Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore award “The Intruder” a grade of B-minus.

Expecting earnings of up to $16 million during the picture’s opening weekend against a reported production budget in the neighborhood of $8 million, distributor Sony Pictures Releasing instead received a disappointing box office intake of just $11 million. The picture’s financial score was still enough to score a second place finish in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten, behind the moneymaking behemoth “Avengers: Endgame,” which in its second week of release has passed the $2 billion mark and displaced 1997’s “Titanic” as the second most successful film in motion picture history.

“The Intruder” is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality, language and thematic elements.

“Long Shot” Distributed by Lionsgate Pictures, 125 Minutes, Rated R, Released May 3:

In the Lionsgate Pictures comedy “Long Shot,” recently-unemployed tabloid journalist is hired as a speechwriter for the United States Secretary of State, who years before was his babysitter and adolescent crush. When the two discover to their surprise that the amorous attraction is mutual, they attempt to conduct a discreet romance despite the intense scrutiny of international news cameras and around-the-clock internet coverage.

Actor Seth Rogan’s patented form of irreverent and tasteless comic lunacy adapts surprisingly well to a picture which is at heart a sweet-natured romantic comedy in the tradition of “Pretty Woman.” The credibility level is low in “Long Shot,” but the laugh level is high. And despite a sagging third quarter, the picture picks up momentum in time for a rousing, if unlikely, emotional resolution.

As Fred Flarsky, the unemployed journalist who attracts the ardor of the Secretary of State, Rogan wisely does not stray far from his comfort zone, softening his usual bombastic and excitable stoner just enough to become a little more likable, or at least less abrasive. Rogan’s comedic appeal has always relied on his ability to filter the complications of contemporary adult challenges through the sensibilities of a hyperactive child, a talent which works well in the context of this picture.

It’s tough to believe, but actress Charlize Theron has been appearing in motion pictures for nearly a quarter of a century. At age 43, Theron still has her choice of film roles a full 15 years after receiving the Academy Award for a decidedly unglamorous role in 2003’s “Monster.” Still, the actress continues to select projects which challenge her as an artist. Theron’s presence lends both class and credibility to “Long Shot,” not only indulging but embracing and reveling in the R-rated antics which have become something of a calling card for co-star Rogan. 

Not that Theron is a stranger to knockabout comedy — she was outrageously funny in 2018’s “Gringo,” and was the best part of Seth MacFarlane’s disappointing 2014 western satire “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” But it’s difficult to imagine another actress of Theron’s stature fearless enough to invest spirit in some of the dialogue written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. In many ways, Theron’s appearance in “Long Shot” is not unlike seeing Ingrid Bergman or Vivien Leigh unexpectedly turn up in a Three Stooges comedy. The real surprise is that she frequently earns the picture’s bigger laughs.

Also featuring supporting performances by the reliable Bob Odenkirk as a clueless President of the United States, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Rogan’s best friend, man-of-a-thousand-faces Andy Serkis as an international media mogul who never met a scandal he didn’t like, and Alexander Skarsgard in an extended cameo appearance as the doltish but dashingly handsome Canadian Prime Minister, “Long Shot” is earning surprisingly high praise from critics, including an approval rating of 83% from Rotten Tomatoes and 68% from Metacritic.

Directed by Jonathan Levine, the filmmaker behind the 2017 comedic misfire “Snatched,” “Long Shot” was projected by distributor Lionsgate Films to earn up to $16 million during its opening weekend in 3,230 theaters across the United States and Canada. By Sunday, the picture had earned only a little over $10 million in box office receipts, still enough to score a third place finish in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten, behind the returning champion “Avengers: Endgame” and the debuting horror picture “The Intruder.”

“Long Shot” is rated R for strong sexual content (but no nudity), language concerns throughout and drug use.

“UglyDolls” Distributed by STX Entertainment, 91 Minutes, Rated PG, Released May 3:

Everybody is beautiful to somebody.

In the animated “UglyDolls,” a group of irregular toy dolls, marred by flaws during their manufacture, seek redemption through placement with appreciative children.

With a credo of “a doll for every child, and a child for every doll,” the group manages to escape their confinement to Uglyville and eventual consignment to the recycle bin. But before placement with loving children, the escapees must first compete against the venal and scheming dolls at the Institute of Perfection in a compatibility competition known as Run the Gauntlet.  

Enthusiastic voice performances, imaginative staging, and some catchy tunes are among the assets of “UglyDolls,” but they’re not quite enough to atone for the shallow plot, rudimentary writing, and inevitable comparisons with Disney/Pixar’s vastly superior “Toy Story” pictures. Probably “UglyDolls” is best viewed by very young children, who won’t be bothered by the puerile story, one-dimensional characterizations, and the absence of sparkling dialogue or funny situations. Others beware.

As the indefatigable (and appropriately-named) Moxie, the leader of the flawed dolls, singer and television personality Kelly Clarkson delivers a voice characterizations strongly reminiscent of the 1950s musical comedy star Betty Hutton. Sadly, also like Hutton, Clarkson is best experienced in very small doses. Although the singer excels at conveying an effervescent demeanor, her invariable bright optimism and one-note chirpiness becomes downright abrasive after a while: Clarkson even delivers disappointment and sorrow with buoyancy.

Adapted by Alison Peck from a screen story by eclectic filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and directed by Kelly Asbury, the filmmaker behind 2004’s “Shrek 2” and 2011’s “Gnomeo & Juliet,” “UglyDolls” is receiving lackluster critical reviews, including an approval rating of just 34% from Rotten Tomatoes and 39% from Metacritic. Still, any picture can’t be all bad when it stresses that our flaws make us what we are, and our differences make us shine. The film’s lovely final image also makes up for a multitude of shortcomings.

Playing in 3,652 locations in North America, “UglyDolls” was projected by distributor STX Entertainment to earn up to $14 million during its opening weekend. By Sunday morning, the picture was reporting box office receipts of only $8.5 million, still enough to place fourth in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten, behind “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Intruder” and “Long Shot.”

Also featuring voice performances by Janelle Monae, Nick Jonas, Pitbull, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, and Clarkson’s castmate on television’s “The Voice” Blake Shelton as Uglyville’s stolid and humorless mayor, “UglyDolls” is rated PG for thematic elements and brief action.

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