BD Wong

Jurassic World (2015, Colin Trevorrow)

If I had to describe a feature of Jurassic World as saddest… I might find myself hard-pressed. There aren’t a lot of possibilities—worst, dumbest, cheapest, silliest, probably some others… but saddest is something different. When the film takes a pointless detour through the original visitor center from Jurassic Park, aged some twenty years and run over with quite a bit of vine growth and so on and I definitely don’t think anyone involved with World has read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, which discusses how long it will take for nature to reclaim in layperson’s terms. Though production designer Ed Verreaux’s never impresses. Not when it’s the nostalgia trip, not when it’s the amusement park, not when it’s the control center. Of course, Verreaux can’t help with director Trevorrow’s chronic impatience or wanting composition, just like editor Kevin Stitt can’t do anything about Trevorrow’s utter lack of coverage.

Jurassic World is only occasionally bad-looking—Chris Pratt riding on the motorcycle with the velociraptors has some truly embarrassing composites (John Schwartzman’s photography is middling at best)—but it’s never good looking. Not once. Not even when it’s desperately using the original John Williams music. Though the music’s much better when composer Michael Giacchino is just using the Williams because when Giacchino does it himself? There’s better music on almost every television show. It’s terrible music.

But still not the saddest thing about Jurassic World. The saddest thing about Jurassic World is annoying kids Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson aren’t ever going to die. They’re visiting aunt Bryce Dallas Howard, who runs the park and works for owner Irrfan Khan, who only partially owns it and an evil shadow corporation really runs it. A slumming Vincent D'Onofrio (I really hope he bought something nice with the paycheck on this one) is the bad company guy. I got off track. Back to Simpkins and Robinson’s narrative immortality.

They’re visiting the park to give their parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) time to work on their divorce, which younger Simpkins has figured out is incoming thanks to Googling their attorneys’ names while Robinson is just concentrating on getting off to college in a couple years. They both give terrible performances, but it’s not their fault. The writing on their fraternal relationship is truly godawful. Trevorrow’s “direction” of the actors is also godawful, but not worse than the script. The script is really rough on Simpkins and Robinson. But it’s still sad they’re never going to die. They spend… a mildly significant portion of the film running from the dinosaurs and they’re never in any danger whatsoever and it’s obvious.

Actually, Jurassic World is always obvious about its victims. Save Katie McGrath’s torturous death sequence, played for laughs because McGrath’s character is supposed to be so terrible (Jurassic World has some issues with how it characterizes its female characters… like a lot of them for a 2015 movie)–that sequence is a vapid, albeit brutal choice from Trevorrow. He makes very few directorial gestures with the film, anything suggesting a pulse stands out a bit. He and editor Stitt take an hour until they can gin up any actual suspense in the film. The third act’s actually pretty solid with it, but the resolution’s so dumb it erases whatever ground the film’s made back up.

The end involves Trevorrow’s attempts at directing Chris Pratt like he’s Harrison Ford or something. It seems more like Ben Affleck playing Harrison Ford only not unlikable like Affleck would play it. Pratt’s not exactly good, but he’s effective and he’s affable. He’s enthusiastic and it successfully impacts his scenes. If Howard’s ever enthusiastic, either the script or Trevorrow’s direction ruins it. Howard’s never fails but she never succeeds. She’d be a good metaphor for Jurassic World if it weren’t so poorly executed, if Simpkins and Robinson weren’t so pointless, if it didn’t always look just a little too cheap. Trevorrow’s got no idea how to show the money onscreen. As a dinosaur movie, it’s completely indifferent to the dinosaurs, which is a bummer.

Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson initially seem like they’re going to be good as the control room flunkies who watch everything go to crap when the genetically modified I-Rex gets loose and starts eating dinosaurs and guests, but their arc sputters, then ends badly. Trevorrow mocks Johnson, while extolling Pratt. It’s very weird how manly Pratt’s supposed to be in the film. They should’ve named him Super-Chad.

Though he’s basically got an early nineties Steven Seagal part, which sounds like an amazing movie.

The special effects are fine. Rarely are the dinosaurs around long enough to admire any sort of creative artistry and there are often bad composite lighting messing things up so why bother looking too much.

Omar Sy’s in it so no one can say there’s not a Black guy. Simpkins and Robinson are the most annoying little White boys too. They’re so bland. BD Wong—the only cast member from the original film returning—is awesome. Shame he’s only in it for four minutes max.

Jurassic World’s much worse than I expected. Though I didn’t dislike Chris Pratt in it, which seems like a whole lot.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Trevorrow; screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Trevorrow, and Derek Connolly, based on a story by Jaffa and Silver and characters created by Michael Crichton; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Ed Verreaux; costume designers, April Ferry and Daniel Orlandi; produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ty Simpkins (Gray), Nick Robinson (Zach), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire), Chris Pratt (Owen), Vincent D’Onofrio (Hoskins), Irrfan Khan (Masrani), BD Wong (Dr. Henry Wu), Omar Sy (Barry), Lauren Lapkus (Vivian), Jake Johnson (Lowery), Katie McGrath (Zara), Andy Buckley (Scott), and Judy Greer (Karen).


The Ref (1994, Ted Demme)

Every once in a while, The Ref lets you forget it’s just a comedy vehicle for stand-up comic Denis Leary and so doesn’t need to actually be a good drama and just lets you enjoy the acting. Demme’s direction is simultaneously detached, thoughtful, and sincere. He and editor Jeffrey Wolf craft these wonderful comedic scenes. Sure, they’re usually some mixture of smart and crass and good old shock vulgar, but they’re good. They’re funny. The Ref starts as a straight-faced spoof of a hostage drama. Lovable master thief Denis Leary takes viciously fighting and profoundly unhappily married Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey hostage. On Christmas Eve. Eventually their extended family shows up and the film culminates in Leary, who’s spent the movie refereeing the fighting couple—refereeing, The Ref, a little punny but, you know, fine. Makes you think about sports not the movie actually being a Bergman spoof.

It’s not. I wish it were, but it’s not. It’s a mainstream comedy with just the right amount of jokes at people and with people, once you get over the nastiness between Spacey and Davis. The opening scene is them in marriage counseling—an uncredited BD Wong plays the overwhelmed counselor who’s just there for the eventual movie trailer… and to normalize their behavior. Their exceptionally mean comments to each other. Hateful, spiteful, so on and so forth. The film’s giving us permission to laugh at Spacey and Davis trying to manipulate and hurt one another. It comes right after an Americana intro to the rich, idyllic suburb where the action takes place. We meet the friendly, personable cops, the children looking in the window at Christmas decorations, on and on. There are a lot of disparate pieces to The Ref, like Raymond J. Barry as the weary police chief with the department of lovably dumb cops, the It’s a Wonderful Life anecdote scene with a bunch of those lovably dumb cops, or J.K. Simmons as a blackmailed military school administrator. The movie makes them all fit. Sometimes with help from composer David A. Stewart, but always thanks to Demme and editor Wolf. The Ref’s got a great flow.

So then too is credit due screenwriters Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss; Weiss has a story credit but LaGravenese is top-billed so there’s a story, I’m sure. Maybe it explains why the melodramatic writing for Spacey and Davis—because Spacey and Davis need meat, they need something they can devour. They both get various solo scenes throughout where they get to let loose. Showcases, really. Because in addition to having a lot of funny scenes, The Ref is about watching Davis and Spacey do these character examinations of what would otherwise just be caricatures. They’ve got to be funny being dramatically mean and hateful to each other, while building the foundation to support the performances when the roles finally get stripped to the bone and laid bare for melodramatic purposes. While in what’s basically a sitcom situation involving Leary pretending to be their marriage counselor while he waits for his getaway boat to be ready. See, Spacey’s got an evil mom (Glynis Johns, who’s inexplicably British) and remember it’s Christmas Eve so it’s going to be Johns, apparently Spacey’s moron brother Adam LeFevre—nothing’s more unrealistic in the film than LeFevre and Spacey being brothers; they don’t exchange any lines; it’s like the film wanted to avoid it. LeFevre’s monosyllabic and lives in fear of wife Christine Baranski, who’s nasty to their kids—Phillip Nicoll and Ellie Raab but in a stuck-up White lady sort of way. Yeah… sitcom is the way to describe The Ref, actually.

Anyway.

Then there’s Spacey and Davis’s son, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., who’s fine. The movie doesn’t ask too much of him and Demme directs him well. He’s a burgeoning criminal mastermind, a sophomore shipped off to military academy. He’s a plot foil more than a major supporting player—basically the film demotes him in the second act because it’s not fun watching Spacey and Davis berate each other in front of Steinmiller, which isn’t a great situation.

The filmmakers do what they can but there’s an inherent unevenness to The Ref. It feigns being different things—wry hostage spoof, hateful family Christmas movie—without ever trying to actually be those things. It’s comfortable just relying on Davis, Spacey, and Leary to get it through.

Because Leary’s the emcee. The film hints at giving him some stand-up rants throughout but soon makes it clear it’ll never interrupts the action for them. It’s a Leary vehicle but not a base one. He’s excellent. Not clearly profoundly talented like Davis and Spacey—which, note, is much different than their performances being profound—but excellent in the part. He’s very good at making room from his more talented, second and third-billed costars.

The Ref’s good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Demme; screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss, based on a story by Weiss; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by David A. Stewart; production designer, Dan Davis; costume designer, Judianna Makovsky; produced by Ron Bozman, LaGravenese, and Jeffrey Weiss; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Denis Leary (Gus), Judy Davis (Caroline), Kevin Spacey (Lloyd), Robert J. Steinmiller Jr. (Jesse), Richard Bright (Murray), Raymond J. Barry (Huff), Glynis Johns (Rose), Christine Baranski (Connie), Adam LeFevre (Gary), Phillip Nicoll (John), Ellie Raab (Mary), Bill Raymond (George), John Scurti (Steve), Jim Turner (Phil), Robert Ridgely (Bob Burley), J.K. Simmons (Siskel), Rutanya Alda (Linda), and BD Wong (Dr. Wong).


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