Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e02 – Meet the Legends

Good “Legends” is both bad and obvious, and obvious. When the show hits the right notes, it keeps ringing the bell through the end of the episode. Once an episode of “Legends” clicks, it stays in that higher gear.

This first post-Crisis episode means there can be all sorts of new changes in addition to Shayan Sobhian being the new guy on the team only no one knows it because before they messed up time last season, Sobhian was Tala Ashe (who’d really gotten good on the show, even with the absurdity of her romance with hero bro Nick Zano) before. They keep the same powers. Sobhian’s likable—you can be middling on “Legends” but you can’t be unlikable. You’ve got to enjoy watching “Legends,” they work for it.

Anyway, it means there are changes to be watching for. But there’re also the first real episode of the season changes to be watching for. And then the show’s in a fake documentary form; Jes Macallan has to prove the Legends’ worth to the U.S. government so they want a documentary. The Legends are famous after saving the world least season, which is a bit of a blur. It didn’t end well. Starting with the documentary bit seems like a cop-out. Except they stop the format—the team fights a resurrected Rasputin (Michael Eklund) this episode; it’s fun. Eklund’s… a likable villain. Rasputin tries to become an influencer. It’s works just well enough. Throw in some good fight scenes for Caity Lotz, the right amount of Brandon Routh’s adorkable, occasionally Matt Ryan appearances (with Adam Tsekhman as his sidekick), and it works out well. Ramona Young becoming Dominic Purcell’s sidekick, however, is an unexpected delight. They give Young more than she tended to get last year and better material and she kills it; Macallan’s gotten funnier with being so serious, which is really nice because Zano’s only fun around Routh really, but Young’s the biggest success.

So bummer when she bows out for some of the season. A few of the other cast members go off on side missions so they can keep the casting budget down. But “Legends”’s budget constraints sometimes work out for it and having characters recur instead of loiter in the background… I’m going to be really bummed if Young’s not back soon. Like. No. They’re making Young’s not simple part—a superhero fangirl becoming a werewolf—work and they need to stick with it.

All Rise (2019) s01e13 – What the Bailiff Saw

So it looks like Peter MacNicol is going to be a regular guest star, which is fine. He exudes a lovable, not too problematic old white guy energy as Simone Missick’s new judge pal. He shows up for a single scene, to talk to her about the case she’s got going, then disappears again. I didn’t pay attention to his credit in the titles, unfortunately. “All Rise” could use MacNicol around more, especially as this episode seems to imply the initial overarching stories are winding down.

For example, the first time we get to see Tony Denison lash out at son Wilson Bethel might be the last—no spoilers. Denison’s mad Bethel thinks Denison is a murderer, with Lindsey Gort (who’s rather bad this episode as Denison’s lawyer) tries to calm things. But there are some big signs Denison’s time on the show is coming to a close. Similarly, the show’s pushing off Missick’s absentee husband (Todd Williams) for the rest of the season at least. He’s taking a job in DC to make Trump’s FBI more Black-friendly. Him taking the job comes after he introduces Missick to his white FBI lawyer friends, who are all impressed she stood up to ICE… even though they’d be defending ICE in court. And I’m not sure “All Rise” can really sell a fantasy land where Trump-BI is looking to hire Black agents who want to make justice equitable.

Besides, Williams isn’t very good. He’s bland and he and Missick always seem forced together. They really should’ve casted his part better. A modicum of chemistry would make a big difference.

The trial this episode involves Jessica Camacho defending a teen gang member (Luca Oriel) accused of murder and the D.A. bugs the room where defense attorneys meet with their clients. It kicks up a bunch of dust, including an impassioned scene from Lindsay Mendez about how gang members are people too (the show’s humanist take on it is… well, it doesn’t make up for the FBI absurdities and Mendez’s monologue isn’t great but it is a risky position, especially on CBS) and then J. Alex Brison coming down on the wrong side of the issue for girlfriend Camacho.

Not one of the show’s better episodes, but the promise of less Gore and maybe no Williams gives me hope for the future. Though I’m going to miss Denison, even if the show never utilized him well.

The Punisher (2004) #48, Widowmaker, Part 6 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  48Tom Palmer on inks this issue—he also did some of the previous issue’s inks; he makes Medina’s pencils look a lot more pensive. People are thinking, listening, far better than before. Even if maybe Palmer on inks just show off how Medina isn’t the right fit for the material. It’s mostly a talking heads issue, people standing around talking, sitting around talking. Lots of both. Along with Ennis’s very questionable AAVE with the Black female character, who’s angry this issue and speaking in a lot more contractions than before. She’s also not really thinking. See, it’s crisis time for the widows—the Punisher’s probably out there, Jenny the other widow is out there gunning for them, plus the cop (who no longer looks anything like Sam Jackson besides basic description thanks to Palmer) is questioning them. The issue opens with the questioning. Ennis going through everything a reader might have missed as far as the widows and their plan to take out Big Frank.

The exposition is some padding. It’s a decent scene thanks to Ennis’s sense of humor with the cop, but it’s all padding. Get the arc to seven issues; sure, it probably makes it easier to pick up and read just this issue, which isn’t really a usual concern for six issue arcs. And Ennis isn’t too concerned with it anyway. He’s intentionally padding here. Plus, bringing the cop in for the exposition dump with the widows and being likable makes it all the worse when tragedy befalls the cop—at the widows’ behest—to get him into position as a potential Punisher himself.

Meanwhile, Frank and Jenny spend the issue hanging out while Jenny prepares for her final assault on the widows. Frank’s healing, she’s talking about herself. He’s trying to be… sensitive, which she doesn’t have much time for. She’s got her take on the Punisher, the emotional void of Frank Castle, and she’s not off. She talks, he listens, often with these reaction shots emphasizing his baby blues; Frank’s tragedy and Jenny’s tragedy are completely different but the emotional deadness is the same. They’re similar because of circumstances, coincidences, brokenness; despite her “heroizing” him, she’s able to see him without romance. There ought to be some kind of juxtaposing with O’Brien, Frank’s previous female counterpart, but Ennis doesn’t. He stays out of Frank’s head this issue. It’s all from Jenny’s perspective and then just the observations she’s sharing (with Frank and the reader).

The soft cliffhanger—rather viscerally—sets up the next issue’s finale, while also commenting on Frank the symbol, Frank the man, Frank the not-mentor, Jenny the not-protege, Jenny the widow, and Frank the, no pun, widow maker. There’s a lot of meat to Widowmaker, too much for Ennis to chew but he certainly does gnaw here.

The Punisher (2004) #47, Widowmaker, Part 5 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  47It’s not a light issue. There’s barely any Frank; he’s just sitting around and listening to sixth widow Jenny tell him her life story. She was a mafia princess. She got married off to a full-on psychopath who, on a good night, just beat and raped her. The other mob widows knew about it, lied to her to get her into the marriage, handled her to keep her at home once she was in. Nothing changed until Frank killed the husband, just another dead crook reaching for his pistol. Then Jenny lost a husband and got diagnosed with breast cancer (what Ennis laid on a little thick in the first issue no longer seems it, not after the recounted horrors of her married life); when she decided, fatalistically, to go to the FBI, her big sister arranged to have her killed. The killers botched it. Fast-forward ten years—which seems like a bit too long but whatever—and Jenny’s back to take them out, Frank having considerably thinned the mob herd since she’d been gone.

Ennis and Medina go all in on the awfulness of Jenny’s life, the intensity and constancy of the abuse being enough to get them past any lingering questions about whether it’s too much, dramatically speaking. Or Ennis’s writing for the Jenny character’s narration being a little too light on specific personality. It’s a heavy comics, with the release valves being the widows trying to figure out what they’re going to do after failing their first shot at the Punisher.

They’re finding out the same things Frank and the reader are finding out from the narrated flashbacks. Everyone’s getting on the same page, including the not Sam Jackson anymore Sam Jackson cop, who’s piecing together the widows’ plan for the attempted hit on Frank. He only gets a page, just to remind readers he’s still around. There are two issues left, after all. Anything could be coming next.

Ennis closes it out without a cliffhanger, just a feeling of profound sadness over its broken “heroes,” Punisher Frank and the widow he made.

It’s an unpleasant read, especially for a mainstream book, even for Punisher MAX, but Ennis pulls it off. He’s able to keep the humanity, no matter the grandiosity of the awful specifics.

Becker (1998) s01e15 – Activate Your Choices

David Isaacs wrote this episode, which brings some immediate pluses. The jokes are funnier. Sometimes they’re a lot cheaper, but they’re always funny. And Saverio Guerra’s in the episode. Isaacs doesn’t give him much to do except be hilariously annoying, but it’s basically enough. If only they’d cast someone better to play Ted Danson’s ex-wife, the episode would probably have been in the black.

Instead, they got Alice Krige. Who’s got no chemistry with Danson. They can’t resist one another; while they were married, they had an open relationship… he just didn’t know about it being open. But Krige never stopped wanting Danson. Her intro is she’s written a self-help book and a lot of it is about being married to “The Angry Man” (Danson), once she’s in the episode it’s about Danson trying to resist her and not.

Krige’s got a crap character and doesn’t bring anything performance-wise to transcend it; the episode sets itself up to fail. Not making Krige at all sympathetic… it’s like the show can’t decide how misanthropic it really wants to be. Even with the problems, the Isaacs script is sturdy.

He introduces some actually interesting character details for Shawnee Smith, like her being able to speak fluent Mandarin. Otherwise, no one in the supporting cast gets anything to do. Arguably, Alex Desért and Terry Farrell get even less because the show’s brought in Guerra for the guaranteed laughs.

As I recall, the arrival of Isaacs is when “Becker” starts turning around, but I can’t trust my memory of its better days. I didn’t remember it being this middling so I’m not sure if the improvement is going to be substantial.

Maybe I’m just so nonplussed by the episode’s wastes—Guerra and then blowing a possibly good recurring ex-wife with Krige. Plus, Danson’s a really big dick to worried mom Jenny Gago during an appointment scene and, combined with Krige’s adulterous ex, it feels like the show’s saying something icky; unintentionally, maybe, but still saying it.

Evil (2019) s01e12 – Justice x 2

There’s a lot going on in this episode of “Evil” but the only important thing—the only truly important thing—is it guest stars Gbenga Akinnagbe. It utterly wastes him in a “let’s not examine this too hard” plot about him being a radio comic in nineties Rwanda who encouraged the genocide. Emayatzy Corinealdi plays a Tutsi woman who tracks him down twenty-five years later to exact her revenge. It wouldn’t be so weird if the show didn’t turn it into a commentary on 2019 America, with phrases like “punching up” thrown around. There are optics to it. And to the way the episode does exposition about the Rwandan genocide. It’s not even a lukewarm take because the show’s not actually controversial (just manipulative) and it wastes Akinnagbe and Corinealdi in what ought to be an easy to do, albeit exploitative, tense talking heads standoff. She’s got him taped to a chair in a basement, after all; it’s not like there aren’t movies to guide the writers.

The show’s big addition? Mike Colter tied up in the room too; he went to see Corinealdi because she called the Catholic Church to report… her walls telling her to avenge herself upon Akinnagbe. It’s not a good main plot, but the episode doesn’t really have strong subplots either. Katja Herbers is standing off with Michael Emerson in court, with the bad guy from the pilot back. We get some big reveals on Emerson, but then the show’s got its biggest “reveal” at the end when—spoiler but because one must—Emerson’s having his therapy session with Baphomet. Not a bad Baphomet as far as network TV goes. But if Baphomet’s imaginary, it’s just stupid and if Baphomet’s not imaginary, it’s going to have to get stupider in a different way. Just because Baphomet can look good on TV in 2020 doesn’t mean he should.

Though Emerson fits the sad old posturing incel a lot better than the seventies Bond villain with kinks for religious symbolism and too many sweaters. Will he get less tiresome? Will the family get less tiresome as dad Patrick Brammall, now getting subplots instead of Aasif Mandvi, goes away for a bit then comes back, having now been the real parent when the sick kid needs an emergency procedure to add some child in danger drama and working mom Herbers isn’t taking the call. No. No, they’ll be even more tiresome.

Then there’s Brammall’s whole Buddhist subplot where the show equates him meditating to Herbers getting back with the child rapists at the Church. Religious pluralism, big shrug. He gets some ominous foreshadowing this episode too. Not just with the possibly dying child and Herbers not having told him any information about the possible medical procedures because she’s too hot for Colter to remember.

Also a religious judges are going to be the literal death of us all moment.

It’s amazing with all the stuff “Evil” has got and has had going on they’ve never actually delivered. I’m surprised they wasted Gbenga Akinnagbe, but I really shouldn’t have been.

Troop Zero (2019, Bert & Bertie)

Troop Zero is heartwarming but not too heartwarming. It doesn’t promise the stars as much as it promises a gradual slide to fairness; it promises redemption to some but not the ones who really need it. It avoids any seriousness to instead provide consistent, constant entertainment. Often in the form of amusing montage sequences with good soundtrack accompaniment and excellent editing from Catherine Haight. But as anything other than consistent, constant entertainment? Troop Zero’s got a lot of problems.

The film’s the story of a girl living poor in rural Georgia in the late seventies (Mckenna Grace, who’s likable and perfectly fine but has any great moments; she’s a solid child actor, who isn’t doing anything special). She finds out if you’re in the Girl Scouts (they’re called something else, obviously), you might be on the gold record NASA is shooting out into space on a Voyager spacecraft. If you’re wondering why there’s not a Star Trek: The Motion Picture reference right about now, it’s because it’s too hard. Needless to say, I tried.

Anyway. Grace gets her neighbor, pre-gay Charlie Shotwell–Troop Zero has that heartwarming Hollywood take on poor rural Americana when it comes to marginalized people: everyone’s poor and no one cares if you’re gay or Black. There’s a lot of awful bullying in Troop Zero and a bunch of horrific female characters—which is all good because the directors and writer are woman but also maybe not a great look because it implies a lot more seriousness than the film’s ever willing to engage with—but there’s never any overt racism, homophobia, or even sexism. There’s some subtle racism but it’s just to make the main mean girl (Ashley Brooke) even meaner. Sorry, tangents again, which is particularly inappropriate for Troop Zero. It doesn’t have any tangents. When its subplots get attention, it always sticks out because the moments seemed forced in—like top-billed Viola Davis’s law school ambitions or her bonding with stuck-up school principal Allison Janney (who’s redemptive moments seem contractually obligated for all the good they do). So… sorry.

Grace and Shotwell set about getting enough kids for a new troop. See, the manual, which Grace can read and understand because her father (Jim Gaffigan) is a lawyer who never wins his cases but because the clients are always guilty and encourages her critical thinking skills, never specifies gender requirements. They get Christian girl Bella Higginbotham, then bully and extorter Milan Ray, and Ray’s enforcer, Johanna Colón. To varying degrees, the kids are all entertaining. Colón and Shotwell get the most situational comedy, Ray’s got a decent sort of subplot about unexpectedly bonding with Grace (which gets mostly forgotten in the third act), and Higginbotham’s always sympathetic. They never quite bond with troop leader Davis, which makes sense as boss Gaffigan ordered her to take the gig. Will the troop get over their differences and band together to take it to the finals? Will they defeat the mean girls?

Those questions might be important if Troop Zero needed them to decide anything. There’s a definite lack of conflict in the film outside the bullying. Gaffigan’s a sweetheart and in permanently in the red with his law practice, meaning Davis can’t get paid, but they’re always okay. There’s never much narrative danger. Often there’s none at all. So when the film fails to muster enough enthusiasm to seep through on the grand finale, it’s not unexpected. Troop Zero, despite the energetic montages and the directors adequate inventiveness as far as composition—cinematographer James Whitaker ably assists—never has much directed energy. Never much focus. Grace gets scenes to herself, Davis gets scenes to herself, Janney gets scenes to herself. Grace is the de facto protagonist because she narrates the film; otherwise, she’d be sharing focus with Davis, Janney, and maybe even Gaffigan.

And Grace has got a kids’ story arc. It’s got some real depth to it, but it’s still a kids’ story arc. The film’s handling of Grace clashes with its handling of the adults. Davis and Janney, for example, they don’t have kiddie arcs. Widower Gaffigan wouldn’t have a kiddie arc. My pejorative use of kiddie here is just to mean non-confrontational. Bullying aside.

Davis is great, Gaffigan’s great, Janney’s great. Grace is okay. Ray’s good. Colón’s adorable. The kids are all fine—Higginbotham, Shotwell—when something doesn’t work out for them, it’s just as often the script or direction versus the kid.

For the actors’ sake, it’d be really nice if Troop Zero was more successful, less uneven. It’s got a good (albeit unrealistic) heart and a very likable cast. And the grand finale talent show is true delight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bert & Bertie; written by Lucy Alibar; director of photography, James Whitaker; edited by Catherine Haight; music by Rob Lord; production designer, Laura Fox; costume designer, Caroline Eselin; produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Kate Churchill, Steve Tisch, and Viola Davis; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Mckenna Grace (Christmas Flint), Viola Davis (Miss Rayleen), Jim Gaffigan (Ramsey Flint), Allison Janney (Miss Massey), Charlie Shotwell (Joseph), Milan Ray (Hell-No Price), Johanna Colón (Smash), Bella Higginbotham (Anne-Claire), Mike Epps (Dwayne Champaign), Ashley Brooke (Piper Keller), and Ash Thapliyal (Persad).


Grantchester (2014) s05e02

I consider myself fairly capable with British Isles accents; it’s always been undubbed Trainspotting or Full Monty for me; I figured out Ulysses on my own; I could watch “Monty Python” and understand them; but “Sinjin” actually being “St. John?” Whatever. I mean, I knew it had to be weird because “Sinjin” seemed too much like an Indian import but the only thing the British seem proud of taking from India is their foodstuffs.

Anyway, St. John is Dominic Mafham. He’s Tom Brittney’s mom’s new boyfriend and, shocker, he’s a total dick because it’s 1955 or whatever and she’s just trying to get along since Brittney won’t quit the Church for her. Jemma Redgrave plays the mom.

The mystery this episode is an intentional hit and run. Brittney and Al Weaver are walking by when they see it, which leads Brittney and Robson Green to an unknown street in Grantchester (because before Google Maps, you could have unknown streets in the town where you’re a copper, I guess). The unknown street thing is short but does give Tessa Peake-Jones a nice opportunity to figure into the main plot. Otherwise she’s just around to be an obstacle for Weaver to hang out with boyfriend Oliver Dimsdale. Though there’s also the new TV in the vicarage (so Weaver and Dimsdale can chill, which is adorable) and Peake-Jones has a lot of thoughts on it. Her “idiot’s lantern” rant is excellent.

There’s a house on the unknown street with two older brothers who figure into the case. It’s an okay enough mystery, involving fraud, infidelity, and PTSD. The PTSD bit gives Green a couple excellent scenes. He’s busy with his home stuff—he brought in mother-in-law Paula Wilcox to tend to the house since wife Kacey Ainsworth got a union position at work.

“Grantchester” has settled pretty nicely since losing its protagonist last season. Though at some point someone needs to acknowledge Brittney isn’t very good at questioning suspects yet. The show’s also taking it slow with Brittney’s new love interest, Lauren Carse, which is fine; if James Norton’s Sidney were still around with Carse as a love interest, they’d probably have had at least one pregnancy scare by now.

Inherit the Viper (2019, Anthony Jerjen)

Inherit the Viper is an unfortunately titled but acceptably mediocre crime drama about rural siblings Margarita Levieva, Josh Hartnett, and Owen Teague running an opioid business. Levieva’s the merciless boss, Hartnett’s the reluctant muscle, Teague’s the enthusiastic but uninvolved teenager. Everything’s going fine—well, outside the occasional fatal overdose for customers—until Teague decides he’s got to go into business for himself. Only he’s not very bright and his idea is to steal his family’s product to sell on the side, forcing Levieva (who wanted to get Teague involved) and Hartnett (who didn’t) to make some tough, momentous decisions. Renewed interest from local law enforcement (Dash Mihok) and a justifiably enraged recent widower (Brad William Henke) complicate matters.

So, a fairly standard family crime drama.

Andrew Crabtree’s script throws a lot at the characters but in targeted bursts. Viper never overreaches. Crabtree and director Jerjen never do anything they aren’t sure they can successfully execute. The film’s got some great production values—Jerjen, cinematographer Nicholas Wiesnet, editors Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda put some drone shots to great use for establishing shots, showcasing the desolate, failed rural community. Jerjen’s composition for the talking heads scenes, which are most of the film until the final third or so, is usually the same parallel shot, giving the actors each their space. Even though Jerjen’s got the patience for the talking heads and showcasing the actors (really, the film often plays like a demo reel for its stars more than a serious dramatic effort), he never gets in close enough to really look. When Levieva finally shows her humanity, when Hartnett finally shows his fear, Jerjen doesn’t have any way to help the actors rise above the script, which is fairly pat as far as character motivation and development go. Both the script and the direction posit the characters as somewhat tragic, even though the point of Levieva is she would reject that tragedy and it would be consuming the soulful Hartnett, who has a much better understanding of the world—ostensibly due to his time in Iraq War II, but more because the script needs it—than his peers.

Well, except of course how the film then positions other people as the good folks just facilitating the opioid ring without actually getting their hands too dirty (special guest star Bruce Dern plays a bar owner and friend of the family’s absent, smalltime crook dad).

Instead of Levieva or Hartnett, the film focuses on Teague. It’s both a trope—the child grows up—and the most economical. Hartnett getting more of a focus would mean more to do with pregnant girlfriend Valorie Curry and, even though the film starts spotlighting Levieva, she barely gets any character development throughout. And, when she does, it feels like the film’s trying too hard. Because to transcend the material, the script would need to be better and there’d need to be more of a budget (the film looks great, moves well but it’s obviously streamlined as can be). Jerjen does what he can with the constraints the production’s got and it works. The drone shots do get tiring by the end but more because they never really impact how the narrative plays; they’re always technically solid. Especially set against Patrick Kirst’s score.

For over half the film, Viper acts like it isn’t going to rest the whole thing on whether or not Teague can carry it through the third act to the finish, then it hands it off to Teague and, sure, he can get it to the finish but… not spectacularly. It’s a pass and no pass situation. Teague passes, adequate, no reason to rejoice.

Levieva’s the film’s best performance, even with her character going off some rails in the third act. Hartnett’s good, but it’s a propped up majorly supporting role; Teague’s not compelling enough, Hartnett picks up the slack for it. It’s unclear whether Jerjen would be able to do more. He’s got a lot of technical chops as a director and he’s pretty good with the actors, but Viper never seems thoughtful enough. Jerjen’s successfully realizes the script but without any imagination. It’s like he’s too good, technically, to have to be inventive.

Inherit the Viper—the title’s even worse once you find out what it means—isn’t bad, it’s just rote, even with its cast’s solid efforts.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Jerjen; written by Andrew Crabtree; director of photography, Nicholas Wiesnet; edited by Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda; music by Patrick Kirst; production designer, Tracy Dishman; costume designer, Emily Batson; produced by Michel Merkt and Benito Mueller; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Margarita Levieva (Josie Conley), Josh Hartnett (Kip Conley), Owen Teague (Boots Conley), Valorie Curry (Eve), Dash Mihok (Kyle), Chandler Riggs (Cooper), Brad William Henke (Tedd), and Bruce Dern (Clay).


Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg)

Catch Me If You Can is a spectacular showcase for Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t exactly rise up to meet him, not the filmmaking, not the writing, not his costars. With the exception of co-lead Tom Hanks, who’s a whole other thing, the direction, the writing, the supporting cast, they’re all tied together in a less than impressive knot.

Let’s get the filmmaking out of the way first.

Spielberg’s direction is adequate, at least as far as the composition goes. It’s never too good, it’s never too bad. The film opens with these extremely cute animated opening titles, but they go on way too long and the accompanying John Williams music is some of the film’s least impressive as far as the score goes. And the score’s usually middling so to open on a low point… Not a great start. Then the movie goes into the framing device (getting ahead of myself on the script problems) as FBI agent Hanks is trying to get DiCaprio out of a French prison. There’s something very affected about the style, with Spielberg mimicking late fifties and early sixties style without bringing anything new to it. He and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski don’t show the mid-sixties through rose colored glasses as much as they artificially twinkle the past. Everything shimmers with unreality, which kind of hurts the true story angle as Catch Me rarely shows how DiCaprio is pulling off his cons. Plus the age discrepancies. DiCaprio’s twenty-eight playing seventeen playing twenty-eight. It mostly works, thanks to DiCaprio’s performance but against some of what Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson throw at him; there are significant hiccups.

Like Christopher Walken as DiCaprio’s WWII vet dad. Walken’s sixty; he looks pretty good for sixty. But he was supposed to be some kind of forty-year old grunt in WWII? Again, Catch Me’s fast and loose with its hold on reality but given it’s all about the amazing things DiCaprio’s character was actually able to do… not having to constantly suspend and re-suspend disbelief would be nice. Walken’s actually good, even if he’s a stunt cast and his part is so thin he’s just doing a generic Christopher Walken performance. Nathanson doesn’t do character development or texture. Even when the story needs it. Spielberg doesn’t help with it either; it’s DiCaprio’s movie but Spielberg’s more concerned with Hanks’s FBI agent.

Let me just use that to segue into Hanks. Hanks is not good. He does a questionable and pointless accent, presumably to make the character seem less flat, and there’s nothing else to it. First act, it seems like Hanks might go someplace—and the film does try to force him into a paternal relationship with DiCaprio, which doesn’t work—but it’s a nothing part. It’s not even engaging enough to be a caricature. Nathanson’s a shockingly thin writer.

Okay, maybe not shockingly. It’s not like the script’s ever got any more potential than it delivers. But Spielberg really does just go along with it. The female roles are exceptionally thin; they’re all dumb and easy, whether it’s bank teller Elizabeth Banks, flight attendant Ellen Pompeo, working girl Jennifer Garner, or nurse Amy Adams. Worse is when DiCaprio ends up staying longterm with Adams, it’s never clear why; especially since the movie makes fun of her so much. Though, I suppose, even worse is when Adams brings her parents into the film. Martin Sheen—in a stunningly bad bit of stunt-casting—is bad. Nancy Lenehan is mom, with zip to do, which is actually much better for her than, say, Nathalie Baye as DiCaprio’s mom. Baye gets the film’s worst part by far.

Through it all, DiCaprio manages to keep his head up and keep Catch Me working. He contends with some questionable makeup decisions, never getting to followthrough on set pieces, and the astoundingly bad pop culture reference. There’s a truly incompetent James Bond Goldfinger sequence, which ought to be a gimme but instead Spielberg completely fumbles it.

Spielberg never takes Catch Me If You Can seriously enough, from the casting to the writing to Kaminski’s silly photography. DiCaprio takes it seriously, to good effect. Hanks takes it seriously, to… if not bad effect, at least wanting. It’s a glossy, trite trifle. Could’ve been a lot more.

Though not with the same script, supporting cast, principal crew members, or director.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; costume designer, Mary Zophres; produced by Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr.), Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty), Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale), Nathalie Baye (Paula Abagnale), James Brolin (Jack Barnes), Amy Adams (Brenda Strong), Martin Sheen (Roger Strong), Nancy Lenehan (Carol Strong), Brian Howe (Earl Amdursky), Frank John Hughes (Tom Fox), Ellen Pompeo (Marci), Elizabeth Banks (Lucy), and Jennifer Garner (Cheryl Ann).


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