⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content.
Robert Rodriguez is America’s most frustrating filmmaker. He has the technical chops, intelligence and do-it-yourself budgetary discipline to make original movies on his own terms, yet he devotes himself to churning out kiddie movies and action-gore spoofs.
On rare occasions (as in his adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel “Sin City”), his work is thrilling and transgressive. But nine times out of 10 Rodriguez prefers making parodies of bad movies that are themselves bad movies. He’s done it again in this Mexploitation farce, a sequel to 2010’s “Machete” that again wastes his talents and our time.
“Machete Kills” again stars 69-year-old beefcake Danny Trejo and a roster of mugging cameo players in a cavalcade of cartoon mayhem and grade-school sexism. Charlie Sheen plays the U.S. president, who persuades former federale Machete to take out two nuke-armed super-villains (Mel Gibson and Demian Bichir). Walt Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga all play the Chameleon, the master-of-disguise hit man out to stop him. Michele Rodriguez does her tough-chica thing in an eyepatch, Sofia Vergara nearly overflows her fishnets and machine-gun bra (don’t ask), and Amber Heard schemes as a diabolical spy/beauty contestant.
The acting is mostly flat (Trejo is no Hulk Hogan), the sets cheesy, the explosions and gunfire muzzle flashes deliberately unconvincing. Extras shake their bodies like epileptic jellyfish right before they die. For a while, Rodriguez’s mimickry of dodgy 1960s 007 knockoffs is amusing, but the lousy-on-purpose aesthetic soon wears out its welcome. Let’s kill Machete.
ROMEO & JULIET
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Theater: Landmark Lagoon.
Stunning locations in the Italian cities of Verona and Mantua almost make up for the rather disastrous casting at the heart of this production. How 17-year-old Hailee Steinfeld managed to look younger and more romantically innocent than she did in “True Grit,” which was filmed four years ago, is anybody’s guess.
Almost as big a mystery is why they cast this overmatched actress as the teen who inspires this immortal line: “I never knew true beauty until this night.”
Romeo (Douglas Booth) is the real beauty here, a pretty toy boy who doesn’t have a lot of camera charisma, either. The two of them make for a bland, lines-mumbling couple in an otherwise lovely and lively take on the classic play. Paul Giamatti steals the picture as the helpful Friar Lawrence, trying not to stand in the way of love.
Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) did this adaptation, with Italian director Carlo Carlei, who’s in over his head.
So as much as every generation deserves its own “Romeo & Juliet,” this latest one does nothing to make anyone older than Hailee Steinfeld forget the heat of Baz Lurhmann’s far sexier, noisier and passionate modern-dress version of 1996, starring Claire Danes and Leo DiCaprio.
ROGER MOORE • MCT
⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for some language.
The oxygen-poor region above 26,000 feet on the world’s highest mountains is called “the death zone” because it can put climbers in a miasma of disorganized exhaustion. I felt something like that funk watching “The Summit,” filmmaker Nick Ryan’s docudrama re-enactment of a disaster that killed 11 climbers on Pakistan’s K2. Interviewing survivors and relatives of climbers who died in 2008 challenging the world’s second highest peak, Ryan’s film is visually stunning and viscerally powerful but nearly incoherent in its packaging of information.
The climbers were a discordant jumble: French, Irish, Italian, Serbian, South Korean, Spanish and Norwegian, with a party of native Sherpa guides. The film plays he-said/she-said hopscotch among characters we scarcely get to know. The Koreans, who refused to be interviewed for the film, become scapegoats for several of the mishaps that snowballed into the larger disaster. Ger McDonnell, the first Irishman to reach the peak, is eulogized as a fallen hero of the 2008 expedition by his distraught, forthcoming family.
The film inserts jarring vignettes with Italian journalist Concetto La Malfa playing 1950s mountaineer Walter Bonatti, a member of the first team to scale K2. Several of his team died in the attempt, and La Malfa’s memoir seeks to settle the score against accusers who claimed he did too little to save his partners. Ryan’s film feels like a similar move to fix accountability for a tragedy. When a Sherpa remarks of his international clientele, “I don’t understand these people,” you may find yourself nodding in agreement.
⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief violence
Theater: Mall of America
“The Citizen” throws us this curve ball. Suppose the kindhearted, handsome foreigner who only wants the chance for a better life in America is a Muslim from Lebanon. Suppose the day he gets into the country, thanks to its then-lax “green card lottery” rules, is Sept. 10, 2001. How might that complicate a fairly cut-and-dried story line? Not enough.
Egyptian star Khaled Nabawy is Ibrahim Jarrah, who tells a little white lie to the customs guy as he enters the United States. Within hours, he’s made a new friend, a lovely American woman (Agnes Bruckner) whose junkie boyfriend has gone berserk on her. The next day, Sept. 11, Ibrahim, who comes off as a “That can’t happen, this is America” idealist, is caught in a roundup of Middle Eastern folks who recently entered the country. That’s where his white lies got him. But his new friend is there when he gets out, to help him find work.
By the time we reach his trial in the third act, “The Citizen” has exhausted its supply of immigration clichés and our patience.
The most moving, most chilling scenes in it are actual 9/11 footage. The rest of the film is simply a shrug, not a hint of emotion, little to suggest Ibrahim’s fervent desire to be here, nothing to stir us with his apparently dispassionate idealism.
With America debating immigration reform — who should get in, and why, and “How many is too many”? — that automatic sympathy for someone who wants to be here is not enough to make “The Citizen” pass muster.