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Schultz reviews: ”Angel Has Fallen," "Overcomer" and "Ready or Not"

Schultz reviews: ”Angel Has Fallen," "Overcomer" and "Ready or Not"

Carl Schultz

“Angel Has Fallen” Distributed by Lionsgate Pictures, 121 Minutes, Rated R, Released Aug. 23:

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “What does not destroy a man makes him stronger.”

If Nietzsche was right, Gerard Butler’s character in the new “Angel Has Fallen” must be about the strongest guy in the world. Butler is Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent charged with protecting the president. And in the film series which began in 2013 with the hit “Olympus Has Fallen,” Banning — and the chief executive he protects — are invariably under siege, both at home and abroad.

Released to theaters on Aug. 23, in the third installment of the continuing “Fallen” franchise Banning’s a man in pain. Bruised and aching from the events of the two previous pictures, suffering from migraines, troubled with sleeplessness and popping pain pills at regular intervals, Banning’s about to resign from active service and tell the president to get a new guy when he instead inexplicably accepts the chief executive’s offer to appoint him as the new Secret Service director, a job even more difficult and demanding.

Ordered off shift to get some rest, Banning just misses an assassination attempt that kills the chief executive’s entire protection detail, but somehow manages to hustle back in time to save the president himself. Framed by the bad guys to take the fall for the attack, Banning needs to take it on the lam until he can nab the real culprits and clear his name. For protection while he’s on the run, the unjustly disgraced Secret Service agent travels to the wilderness of West Virginia to reconnect with his estranged father, a haunted Vietnam veteran suffering from severe PTSD and living as a backwoods forest recluse.

A combination of “Die Hard” and “The Fugitive,” “Angel Has Fallen” despite jittery camera work that often makes the action sequences difficult to follow delivers the expected explosions, car crashes and stunt choreography. Otherwise, the picture suffers from the same lazy characterizations and listless filmmaking which has plagued action film franchises from “Lethal Weapon” to “Taken.” More a showcase for special effects than dramatic nuance or film artistry, the picture accomplishes what it sets out to do, but advances the series not at all — it fills two hours, but it’s doubtful you’ll want to see it twice. And don’t forget your earmuffs.

Among the performers, Gerard Butler at age 49 is getting a little long in the tooth for this kind of thing — he’s a competent and charismatic actor and even a talented singer, and should be doing more. U.S. president Morgan Freeman, who played the Speaker of the House in “Olympus Has Fallen” but skipped the sequel “London Has Fallen,” returns to service surprisingly spry at age 82. Piper Perabo replaces Radha Mitchell as Banning’s wife, but isn’t given much to do. Disenfranchised military vet Danny Huston and vice-president Tim Blake Nelson are appropriately hiss-able as the villains. And Jada Pinkett Smith is wasted in a nothing part as an FBI agent on Banning’s trail.

In his showcase role as Banning’s troubled absentee father, Nick Nolte’s performance is vaguely disquieting. Described by Banning as “one level above the Unibomber” and looking more than ever like is infamous 2002 mugshot, Nolte with his grizzled countenance, antisocial demeanor and muttering delivery seems to endeavor to intimidate the audience. The viewer is actually glad when the character disappears from the narrative for about 20 minutes halfway through . . . and substantially alarmed when he turns up later at the door of Banning’s wife and baby, protector or not.

Directed by former stunt coordinator Ric Roman Waugh from a script cobbled together by “Taken” and “The Karate Kid” veteran Robert Mark Kamen with assists from rookie Matt Cook and the director, “Angel Has Fallen” is earning respectable reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of 41% from Rotten Tomatoes and 45% from Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes observes that the picture “rounds out a mostly forgettable action trilogy in fittingly mediocre fashion.” Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore assign the picture an average grade of A-minus.

Playing in 3,286 theaters across North America, “Angel Has Fallen” was expected to earn up to $15 million in box office receipts during its opening weekend, and brought in $7.9 on its first day alone. By the end of business on Saturday night, the picture was reporting gross ticket sales totalling $21.25 million, easily capturing the first place spot on the Box Office Mojo Top Ten, over last week’s “Good Boys” in second and the debuting “Overcomer” in third.

“Angel Has Fallen” is rated R for violence and language concerns throughout.

“Overcomer” Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing and Columbia Pictures, 120 Minutes, Rated PG, Released Aug. 23:

You’ve really gotta hand it to the Kendrick brothers.

From their humble beginnings filming 2003’s “Flywheel” in and around Albany, Georgia with one solitary digital camera on a $20,000 budget, the team has produced, written, and directed five pictures in a style not unlike their first — locally, with frugal budgets and mostly without professional performers.

Legends of independent film production, the Kendriks now have Hollywood’s attention. Their films have never lost a cent, and almost invariably make piles of money at the box office. But although their 2015 picture “War Room” for a while became the most profitable film in the entire nation over heavyweight competitors like “Straight Outta Compton” and “A Walk in the Woods,” the brothers still remain on the periphery of mainstream filmmaking.

The reason? The Kendricks’ pictures are aimed squarely at an evangelical Christian audience. Their first picture was financed and produced through donations to Albany, Georgia’s Sherwood Baptist Church, where the brothers attend worship services every Sunday. And despite their snowballing success as independent filmmakers, the brothers reportedly have absolutely no intention of making any changes to their production style, cinematic values or direction.

With Alex Kendrick as co-writer and director and brother Stephen co-writing and producing, the Kendricks’ sixth picture, “Overcomer,” is cut from the same cloth as its predecessors. Released to 1,723 theaters nationally on Aug. 23 by Sony Pictures through their Affirm Films subsidiary, the brothers with “Overcomer” place every cent of their minuscule $6 million budget on the screen, and produce a compelling and involving dramatic picture without the assistance, or the interference, of studio bigshots on either side of the camera.

In “Overcomer,” John Harrison, the basketball coach of a Christian high school’s championship team, sees his squad decimated by the closure of the local factory and exodus of unemployed families. Harrison is further dismayed to learn he’s been appointed to coach the school’s track team . . . and that his only runner is a shy and troubled social outcast, suffering from asthma and being raised by her single grandmother following the death of her parents. Coach Harrison’s next challenge — neither he nor his team of one knows a solitary thing about competitive running.

Despite their customary use of a cast of non-professionals — led by director and co-screenwriter Alex Kendrick himself as the coach and the heartbreakingly effective Aryn Wright-Thompson as his solitary runner — the Kendricks with “Overcomer” manage to craft a surprisingly polished motion picture, with rough edges but timely themes, excellent overall production values, fairly accomplished performances and a richly satisfying denouement.

And as is also usual with the Kendricks’ productions, “Overcomer” is taking a beating from the critics — the picture has received an approval rating of 38% from Rotten Tomatoes, against an excruciating 17% from Metacritic. But viewers disagree with the nation’s critics — the CinemaScore polling agency reports “Overcomer” receiving the rare audience grade of A-plus. With two previous A-plus grades from CinemaScore for earlier pictures, director Alex Kendrick becomes only the second filmmaker in CinemaScore history to earn three perfect scores from the service (Rob Reiner, the director of the hit pictures “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “A Few Good Men,” was the other).

“Overcomer” was expected by distributor Sony Pictures to earn up to $6 million during its opening weekend. The picture sold $3 million in tickets on its opening day alone, and went on to slightly over-perform at the box office, reporting a total of $8.5 in ticket sales and taking the third-place spot on the Box Office Mojo Top Ten behind the new “Angel Has Fallen” in first and the returning “Good Boys” in second. In fourth place was Disney’s “The Lion King,” now in its sixth week of release.

Although the Kendrick brothers have not yet produced a genuine blockbuster, at least by Hollywood standards, after well over $150 million in cumulative earnings from five pictures with combined production budgets of less than one-twentieth that figure, these guys are doing something awfully right, by God. As with other Kendrick brothers productions, sly references to their previous pictures are included along the way. And keep a close eye on Grandma’s earrings.

“Overcomer” is rated PG for some thematic elements.

“Ready or Not” Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 95 Minutes, Rated R, Released Aug. 21:

You don’t necessarily need to have a strong stomach to see “Ready or Not,” the new movie released by the Walt Disney Studios through their Fox 2000 division, but it’ll probably help. In fact, it should be required. In a triumph of misleading advertising, the film’s trailers suggest “Ready or Not” is a sophisticated comedy in the vein of a murder mystery dinner, or an adult-oriented version of “Clue.” It’s not.

In “Ready or Not,” a young woman marries the scion of an affluent family whose enormous wealth is based on the manufacture of board games. Unhappily, she learns on her wedding day that before being accepted into the bosom of the clan, she must first participate in an ancestral custom — an elaborate game of hide-and-seek. Playful at first, it quickly becomes apparent to the dismayed young bride that the real object of the game is survival . . . namely hers.

To be fair, “Ready or Not” has its defenders. A number of film critics insist the picture is really a laser-sharp satire of the American obsession with the very, very rich, the trouble the ruling class will go to to defend their rarefied economic status, and the people who’ll do just about anything to join their ranks. From that perspective, the picture becomes a sort of live-action reenactment of “The Aristocrats,” the infamous “dirtiest joke ever told” that inspired a 2005 documentary with the same title.

But if that’s so, the filmmakers are purposefully alienating an enormous percentage of their picture’s potential viewership, as well as limiting their picture’s audience to the select few who’ll appreciate the picture’s aggressive satire and deep, violent black humor. The rest of us are required to endure a film filled with gore, carnage and ugliness that would do filmmaker Eli Roth proud, leading to an anticlimactic shaggy dog denouement that will elicit a bitter, derisive and unsatisfying snort of amusement at best.

“Ready or Not” crosses a line early on — possibly when one character chokes to death gurgling on his own blood — that the viewer realizes the picture is never going to recover its early goodwill enough to reestablish itself as a fun movie, or even an enjoyable one. By the time the picture passes the one-hour mark, the only possible entertainment value remaining is in finding out just how outrageous it’s gonna get . . . and that’s before the Satanic ritual, the group vomiting, and the human sacrifice. When the actors’ heads and torsos start exploding, it makes about as much sense as anything else in this lurid garbage.

Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are colleagues with co-producer Chad Villella in the film cooperative Radio Silence, known for a signature filmmaking style blending elements of adventure, comedy, science-fiction and horror. The group’s interactive adventure shorts became an internet sensation that received nearly 100 million views, which naturally brought the team to the attention of Hollywood. Their film “Devil’s Due” became a minor hit for 20th Century-Fox in 2014, earning $36.9 million in revenues on a budget of $7 million.

But this picture is a different matter entirely. Despite a couple of solid, capable performances — notably by Australian actress Samara Weaving as the hapless bride and Adam Brody as her dissipated brother-in-law — ”Ready or Not” after a promising beginning turns into a nauseating mess. This might’ve been an interesting idea for a short subject, but at 95 minutes it’s just sadistic. The real tragedy is that once you buy a ticket and go in, you can’t unsee it. Viewers who haven’t yet seen the picture have an easier option — skip it, and forget you ever heard of “Ready or Not.” It likely won’t be around long anyway.

Dumped quietly into 2,818 theaters across the United States and Canada on Aug. 21 to avoid competition with the Friday releases “Overcomer” and “Angel Has Fallen,” “Ready or Not” is receiving surprisingly good reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of 87% from Rotten Tomatoes and 63% from Metacritic.

At least “Cannibal Holocaust” had a point, and gave the audience some warning. For what it’s worth, the “Ready or Not” cast reports the Karo-based artificial blood used in the movie was quite tasty.

“Ready or Not” is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout and some drug use.

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