Friday, March 18, 2016


Opening this week:

The BronzeAlong with Race and Eddie the Eagle, this is the third movie in the last month or so about the Olympic Games, and all three are very different from each other indeed. Diminutive Melissa Rauch, who plays the squeaky-voiced Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory, stars in this comedy, which she co-wrote with her husband Winston Rauch. She plays Hope Annabelle Greggory, who finished her routine in Women’s Gymnastics at the Olympics in heroic, soul-stirring fashion, fighting through an ankle injury a la Kerri Strug.

Unlike Strug, however, Hope took the Bronze rather than the Gold, and the injury effectively ended her career. She returned to Amherst, Ohio (“Sandstone Center of the World”), where more than ten years later she’s still treated like a privileged celebrity—her own parking space, free stuff at the mall and the diner, her name on the sign coming into town. Unemployed, she still lives with, sponges off of, and verbally abuses her long-suffering widowed postman Dad (Gary Cole). She’s bitter, selfish, defensive, deceitful and extremely foul-mouthed.

Despite the raunchy, raucous tone, this very plausible story has a poignant edge, and for a while I thought it was going to sink the movie. An ongoing shtick on The Big Bang Theory is the steeliness and bullying threat that regularly burst out of Rauch’s Bernadette, in contrast to her superficial cuddly sweetness. The Bronze starts out as, more or less, a whole movie hinged on this gag, and while it’s funny for a while, Hope seems too mean and unpleasant to hold our interest at feature length.

When her old coach dies, however, Hope receives notice of a sizable inheritance, if she takes over the training of the promising young gymnast Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), who idolizes her. At first, fearful that her pupil will outdo her and usurp her place in town, Hope blatantly sabotages her, but eventually…

Well, you see where it’s heading. There’s even a love interest, in the form of the talented young comic Thomas Middleditch. The good news is that Rauch shades her characterization from despicable to sort-of-likable gradually and incrementally, and director Bryan Buckley keeps the proceedings lewd and crude throughout. As a result, the story’s potential sentimentality is held at bay, and sure enough, we start to care about, and develop some hope, for Hope.

 AllegiantAs with the high school romantic comedies of a decade or so ago, the futuristic teen dystopias are starting to run together in my head. It takes me a minute to be sure that I’m not mixing Divergents with Maze Runners and Hunger Gamers and Surfers of the 5th Wave.

Assuming I’m not, then this third entry in the series based on Veronica Roth’s Divergent books—it’s called The Divergent Series: Allegiant on the posters—has heroine Tris (big-eyed Shailene Woodley) and her pals fleeing Chicago, now in a turmoil of summary trials and executions. Beyond the city’s walls they find a toxic wasteland, beyond which they find a force field, beyond which they find a futuristic complex in what used to be O’Hare Airport.

Presiding over this is Jeff Daniels as a scientist who’s been studying Chicago’s various factions, trying to produce a person who is “genetically pure” instead of “damaged.” Talk like this tends to make people uneasy, but the guileless Tris thinks Daniels is a good egg. The hunky Four (Theo James), quickly pronounced “damaged,” isn’t buying it, however.

That’s just the gist of the plot of Allegiant, which is a good deal more twisted, with schemes and betrayals and redemptions spilling out everywhere. The dialogue is quite poor, but luckily it occurs mostly in little pockets, linking together director Robert Schwentke’s big, lavish action scenes. These are reasonably exciting, in their mindless way.

Alongside the pretty youth are some vets, like Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Ray Stevenson. The unctuous Daniels makes a capable if less elegant replacement for Kate Winslet, whose honking American villainy was the best aspect of the previous flicks. Or at least the sexiest.

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