JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4
**** A 169-minute shootout may be as impervious to review as the tailored suits of vengeful assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) are to gunfire, but let’s compare the fourth installment in the Wick saga to its other blockbuster franchise contemporaries. Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it features a cipher of a hero defined by garish antagonists (Bill Skarsgård’s Marquis, Clancy Brown’s Harbinger, Shamier Anderson’s Tracker). Like The Expendables, it assembles an ensemble of allies (Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King, Hiroyuki Sanada’s hotelmaster/warlord) with allusions to cinema past that are less homage than guiding purpose. Like in the Bond films, any emotional nuance has been bestowed on Wick’s rather more interesting opposite number (Donnie Yen’s blind assassin Caine), while specificities of plot have been sacrificed for extended slaughterings intercut with worshipful sequences glorifying the hyperluxe corridors of power so shamelessly that they may as well be commercials for wealth. Which poses the question: Is John Wick: Chapter 4 an obscene glorification of capitalism unbound or cutting satire that insists all money is blood money? A profoundly inane exercise in empty violence or a transcendent ballet replacing exposition with movement? A stillborn spawn of a deadened culture or the apotheosis of a self-referential interactivity rendering originality itself irrelevant? To quote Wick, “Yeah.” R. JAY HORTON. Academy, Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Eastport, Fox Tower, Joy Cinema, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard.
*** On the heels of 80 for Brady, Jane Fonda embarks on another, far darker quest in Moving On. At an old friend’s out-of-town funeral, Claire (Fonda) bluntly informs the widower (Malcolm McDowell) that she’s going to kill him…and he knows why. Alternating between conspirator and voice of reason, Fonda’s favorite screen partner, Lily Tomlin (9 to 5, Grace and Frankie), shines as Claire’s best friend in droll co-pilot fashion. And if the stars of Klute and A Clockwork Orange weren’t enough 1970s iconography, Richard Roundtree lends all the tender, still-got-it gravitas you’d want from octogenarian Shaft to his role as Claire’s ex-husband. Overall, Moving On’s mission is as precarious as Claire’s. It foregrounds a heightened, ostensibly comedic premise but mostly seeks characters’ wistful realities within the exaggerated. And while major script contrivances link the murder threat’s ridiculousness to the unspoken insecurities of a failed marriage, Moving On does the splits more ambitiously than most American indies of this dramedy ilk. The lead cast’s combined 240 years of on-screen confidence smooth the tone shifts, and writer-director Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie) smartly pins Claire’s revenge plot to inequities in memory and absolution that haunt our cultural conversations—essentially, who gets to “move on.” R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Cascade, Clackamas, Lake Theater, Living Room.
** There’s a fatal flaw linking films like The Mighty Ducks, Hardball and The Way Back: They center on hard-drinking, hypercompetitive womanizers sentenced to reclaim their souls by nudging a ragtag bunch of disadvantaged kids toward victory, but show little understanding of sports, alcohol or poor fortune. Yet for all the flaws of Champions, Bobby Farrelly’s new contribution to the subgenre, the tale of a jobless coach (Woody Harrelson) forced on a squad of intellectually disabled teens displays a solid familiarity with booze and basketball—as well as simplified narratives. Even the Dumberest Farrelly brothers comedies evoke a disarming sense of life as actually lived, given their fascination with people and places rarely seen on screen, absolute overcommitment to prepubescent gags, and a sloppily haphazard filmic style echoing cinéma vérité. While the same holds true for Champions, Bobby’s solo directorial debut, what’s the point of applying this patina of the real to the flimsiest imaginable adaptation of a supposed true story when every plot complication is papered over by hackneyed sitcom high jinks? And, for that matter, isn’t grounding a film in Iowa City’s bleak midwinter antithetical to a feel-good movie? Too foulmouthed for family viewing, too saccharine for the Farrellys’ usual fan base, and too shallow to let the measured relationship between Harrelson and team chauffeur Kaitlin Olson (deepening her weathered party girl protagonist from The Mick) take center stage, the film may well have been someone’s community service. Watching it, alas, feels much the same. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Bridgeport, Canby, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Laurelhurst, Oak Grove, Vancouver Mall, Wilsonville.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES
** Edgin (Chris Pine) is no hero—just ask Edgin. “Shut up, I’m a moron, you know that,” he declares after being cheered for battling a dastardly wizard. His avowed stupidity makes him a perfect protagonist for Dungeons & Dragons, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s adaptation of Vin Diesel’s favorite fantasy role-playing game. In their last film, Game Night (2018), Daley and Goldstein cast Jason Bateman as a man who makes peace with his utter patheticness—and in D&D, they’ve handed Pine a similar role. Edgin’s quest to steal the secret to resurrection from a foppish former ally (Hugh Grant) is a series of ghoulish misadventures, including a showdown with a corpulent dragon and a series of morbidly witty interviews with talking skeletons. These spunky, satirical scenes offer much-needed relief from Edgin’s endless brooding over his dead wife and adorable estranged daughter (Chloe Coleman), which threaten to drown the comedy in solemnity. While Game Night took the piss out of Fight Club by turning a David Fincher-inspired sequence into a game of hot potato with a Fabergé egg, D&D seeks to balance gleeful absurdity with Tolkien-style melodrama. It’s a numbingly tidy film—and a far cry from Daley and Goldstein’s Vacation (2015), which peaked when the Griswold family was nearly drowned by a deranged river rafting guide (Charlie Day). That scene may have been mean-spirited and distasteful, but it was an undeniably funny testament to a truth Daley and Goldstein used to understand: In comedy, it’s hard to score critical hits (to borrow a D&D parlance) by playing nice. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, Studio One, Tigard.