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Schultz reviews: 'After We Collided,' 'Come Play' and 'Spell'

Schultz reviews: 'After We Collided,' 'Come Play' and 'Spell'

Carl Schultz

 

 

“After We Collided”   Distributed by Open Road Films, 107 Minutes, Rated R, Released October 23, 2020:

Given about ten seconds to think about it, most of us could probably come up with a list of seven or eight movies we’d like to watch sequels to.  And none of them would be 2019’s “After.”

Based on a work of fan fiction which originally appeared on a website inspired by the British boy-band One Direction, “After” tells the story of Tessa, a sheltered and bookish young woman who leaves home for college and falls for Hardin, a guy with a checkered reputation.  Tessa breaks up with the loyal boyfriend waiting for her back home, horses around for a while with Hardin, finds her relationship with him foundering because of various indiscretions, and eventually gives him the heave-ho.  

In other words, whatever you did last Tuesday was probably more interesting than most of what you saw in “After.”  Although reasonably well made, the most exciting thing to occur in the picture was that the heroine at one point changed her college major from business to English...although some reviewers critical of the film perceived elements of an abusive relationship in the narrative, another reason to avoid making a sequel.

But despite a sluggish opening weekend at the box office, “After” went on to earn over $69 million in ticket sales for distributor Open Road Films on an original investment of $14 million.  And as a result, we now have to contend with something which might as well be called “After, Part 2.”

Actually entitled “After We Collided”--clever, eh?--the new film takes up a month after the first one left off.  Tessa, again played by Josephine Langford, has flourished following her breakup with Hardin.  Beginning employment as a reader for a high-end publishing firm, Tessa is now more a seasoned business executive than a 19-year-old college sophomore.  The girl simultaneously moves into the professional fast lane and catches the eye of Trevor (Dylan Sprouse), a nerdish and uptight young co-worker.

Meanwhile, Hardin (again played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin) has turned into a real mess--drinking too much, keeping dubious company, etc.  None of that stops Tessa from ignoring Trevor to drunk-dial Hardin and submit herself again to his bad boy wiles.  Eventually Hardin’s mom visits from England, and believes her son and Tessa are still a romantic item.  So in a plot twist borrowed from every TV sitcom you’ve ever seen, Tessa pretends for Hardin’s mom’s sake that they’re still together.  And that’s just the movie’s first forty minutes.

The good news about “After We Collided” is that viewers who had very low expectations for the film won’t be disappointed--the new movie is every bit as tedious and meandering as the first.  The plot’s livelier and the movie contains more frequent sexual interludes than the first, and for that reason the MPAA’s been upgraded from a PG-13 to an R.  But the modifications seem calculated to increase box office receipts rather than dictated by the film’s lurid narrative, a means of patronizing maturing fans of either the first picture or One Direction.

“After We Collided” contains more tired cliches than original plot elements, and the lackluster direction adds little distinction.  The Australian Langford and the British Tiffin are attractive, but both actors seem bereft of personality or appeal and generate almost no chemistry during their scenes together.  There’s plenty of groping and panting in the picture but little charisma--the sexual interludes are about as superficial as a television commercial for a hygiene product.  The movie should’ve been titled “Fifty Shades of Zilch.”

Besides character inconsistencies, astonishing coincidences, leaps of logic, an unrealistic plot, and blatant product placements, the bad news about all this is that even before “After We Collided” was released, distributor Open Roads Films announced two additional sequels:  ”After We Fell” and the concluding chapter--wait for it--”After Ever Happy” are already slated for release next year and the year after.  And if you get a feeling the titles of the future sequels pretty much sum up their plots, as with “After We Collided,” you’re probably not too far off the mark.

Directed by Roger Kumble from a screenplay by Mario Celaya and Anna Todd (Todd is the source of the original fan fiction piece on which the movies are based),  “After We Collided” opened practically everywhere else in the world before finally arriving in the US.  The picture’s been playing since September in countries from Cyprus and the Czech Republic to the Middle East, Slovakia and the Ukraine.  Which likely speaks better of One Direction than it does about the picture itself.

Fiennes is the nephew of acclaimed British actors Ralph Fiennes and Joseph Fiennes.  Peter Gallagher and Jennifer Beals from the first picture are wisely AWOL for this chapter, so their roles are filled by Rob Estes and Karimah Westbrook.  Co-star Dylan Sprouse is the twin brother of “Riverdale” actor Cole Sprouse.  A brief mid-credit coda to the picture suggests Sprouse will likely play a larger part in the next chapter.

Filmed in Atlanta and confined so far to 460 theaters throughout the United States, “After We Collided” is rated R for sexual content, brief nudity (Hardin’s bare butt during a shower), language concerns throughout, and a lot of drinking.

“Come Play”   Distributed by Focus Features, 96 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released October 30, 2020:

Viewers who’ve faced the difficulties of evicting a virus from a cell phone might have a greater appreciation for the new movie “Come Play”... or at least have a corner on understanding it.

In “Come Play,” an autistic child who’s repressed his ability to speak and communicates through his electronic devices finds his cellphone infested by an application inhabited by Larry, a gangly interdimensional monster who purports to want the child’s friendship.  At first seeming simpatico with the boy, Larry quickly becomes both menacing and persistent.  And as the monster begins to manifest itself in other areas and devices, the boy’s estranged parents try to evict the monster, with dangerous and possibly deadly results.

Written and directed by Jacob Chase, expanded from his own short film “Larry,” “Come Play” quietly becomes a disjointed and overcomplicated hybrid of a movie.  The film piles peripheral plot developments on top of each other until they nearly topple over from the movie’s almost complete lack of pacing, and then doesn’t seem to know what to do with them all.  Seemingly intended as a modern day isolation-themed update of 1982’s “Poltergeist,” Chase’s movie just tries to keep too many balls in the air, and then trips over its own artistic ambitions.

Although “Come Play” tries to resemble, by turns, an allegory, a morality fable, a cautionary tale, a mystery, and a bedtime story, it’s really little more than just a ghost story with a gimmick.  Overlong even with a compact running time of 96 minutes, by the time its climactic scene rolls around to produce a collective “Huh?” from the audience, the picture has long since committed the one unforgivable sin for a horror movie:  It’s tedious.

Despite a fourth quarter plot twist which attempts to graft a storybook element onto the already dazed and confused narrative (turns out Larry’s made of loneliness, and can manifest himself in any of us), the viewer by that time might be looking at his watch more than at the movie screen.  “Come Play” is less scary than pointless.  As befits a film from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, there are frequent visual references to Spielberg’s iconic filmography, from “Jaws” to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to, of course, “E.T.”

Larry, the monster, is presented in now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t flashes in the blurry and unfocused backgrounds of expository scenes or appearing on the screen of a video device when he’s invisible to the naked eye.  It’s an approach which has the advantage of keeping the effects budget low, but soon becomes tiresome for the viewer.  Depicted in online storybook-like illustrations as a sort of hulking countenance reminiscent of the Slender Man, Larry during his live appearances resembles Jack Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Starring Azhy Robertson as the child and Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. as his estranged parents, “Come Play” is rated PG-13 for frightening images and some language concerns.

“Spell”   Distributed by Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes, Released October 30, 2020:

In “Spell,” a successful and upwardly mobile corporate attorney receives word that his estranged father has died, and loads his wife and two teenage kids into their one-engine Cessna to fly to rural West Virginia to make final arrangements.  

After the plane crashes in stormy weather, the attorney awakens alone and injured, confined to the attic bed of Miss Eloise, a hoodoo priestess who promises to nurse him back to health using elements of dark magic.  ”We don’t have much in the way of Obamacare,” she helpfully explains.

Trapped and isolated from the outside world, the man needs to break free, locate his family, and escape from Miss Eloise and her family before they become the guests of honor at a hoodoo ceremony during the impending blood moon.

Released just in time for Halloween, “Spell” turns out to be a real nightmare of a movie, something that would’ve been right at home as the second half of a drive-in double feature during the 1970s--that’s a compliment.  Despite obvious parallels with the 1990 Stephen King adaptation “Misery,” the picture manages to reap fresh thrills and chills through a combination of brisk pacing, persuasive performances, and makeup effects which especially during the film’s final third exceed yucky and stray toward barf-worthy.

Working from a screenplay by veteran writer Kurt Wimmer, London-born director Mark Tonderai creates an evocative variety of horror that’s more dreadful than scary.  The talented filmmaker behind the tidy little 2012 thriller “House at the End of the Street” (one of actress Jennifer Lawrence’s first starring roles), Tonderai with “Spell” admittedly won’t win any major awards for subtlety or restraint.  The picture includes few frights or jump scares per se, but contains plenty of atmosphere, tension, menace, and seat-grabbing suspense.

Filmed near Capetown, South Africa and starring Omari Hardwick as the hapless attorney and Loretta Devine from TV’s “Boston Public” and “Grey’s Anatomy” as Miss Eloise, “Spell” is rated R for violence, bloody and disturbing images, and language concerns.

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