Alita: Battle Angel
** A sci-fi epic directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and produced by James Cameron should have been a dream come true for fans of brazenly violent and sentimental cinema. Yet the promise of Alita: Battle Angel is trampled by an emotional hollowness that persists from its boring beginning to its sequel-teasing end. Based on a manga series by Yukito Kishiro and set in the 26th century, the film starts with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding and adopting Alita, a childlike cyborg played via performance capture by Rosa Salazar. The rest of the story is too bizarre to fully describe—suffice it to say there are bounty hunters, a motorcycle-riding hooligan named Hugo (Keean Johnson) and a roller derby-style chase that's just one of the film's many beautifully choreographed action scenes. What's missing is a narrative that's more than a stew of stale tropes—Alita's transformation into an idealistic, unstoppable war machine is both literally and figuratively mechanical. Salazar and Johnson pine and whine profusely, but Rodriguez fails to fuse spectacle and melodrama as suavely as Cameron did in Titanic. This results in a film whose director and protagonist have something in common—they're both pretenders, not the real deal. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Living Room, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Studio One, Tigard.
* It's the rare thriller that escalates in such a tactless, telegraphed way you end up duped into believing a self-aware twist must be coming. Alas, Greta is just a Lifetime movie with Champagne tastes. The latest from The Crying Game director Neil Jordan may signal indie sophistication by casting Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz, but it's really just a tired stalker parable à la When a Stranger Calls (1979, or the 2006 remake nobody asked for). Case in point: The connection between the transparently unwell Brooklyn shut-in Greta (Huppert) and her unsuspecting young obsession (Moretz) is forged exclusively through plot devices that will be cheaply flipped into torment 20 minutes later. ("Huh, I wonder if that dog they adopt will survive?!") Other hilariously ill-conceived characters include the heroic best friend who's introduced unironically promoting colon cleanses and a distant dad who we know designs boats because he always calls while standing in front of his boat designs. If Greta possessed even a hint of the genius on display in the Huppert-starring Elle—a polarizing and bottomless 2016 Verhoeven thriller whose coattails it's trying to ride—it might be fodder for an enjoyable bad movie podcast. But this is a sad, straight shot to the trash pile that didn't realize it was allowed some weird indulgences on the trip. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport.
Happy Death Day 2U
**After the surprising success of Christopher Landon’s 2017 film Happy Death Day (budget $4 million; box office $128 million), a sequel further exploring the Groundhog Day-meets-slasher-film idea presented in the original film was inevitable. Happy Death Day 2U seeks to establish the franchise as a sci-fi Scream with plans for sequel after sequel until the films’ teenage audience grows weary of the premise and stops showing up. Landon and Co. have only partially succeeded. Not as charming (or gruesome, or well-written) as the Scream films, Happy Death Day 2U doubles down on the complex multiverse premise presented in the first film—our hero repeats the day of her murder over and over until she solves the mystery behind it—by including Tree Gelbman’s (Jessica Rothe) friends in the reality-bending chaos this time around. A few of the filmmakers’ choices were a bit confounding, like the “charming” suicide montage (Rothe’s character needs to die again and again to have enough time to figure out her predicament) that sees our heroine “comically” drink drain cleaner in a grocery store, as well as a preposterous emotion-baiting subplot that forces her to choose between a reality where her formerly deceased mother is alive and one that finds her dating her beloved Carter, played by Israel Broussard. Rothe shines in this film as she did in the original, and so does most of the supporting cast, but her charms aren’t enough to make Happy Death Day 2U a multiverse you’d be happy to be stuck repeating. PG-13. DONOVAN FARLEY. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Scappoose, Studio One, Tigard, Vancouver.