From the opening scene onward, with Liev Schreiber's titular pug prepping for barroom brawl vs. actual grizzly, Chuck tries desperately to be something more than just another boxing drama. Though it fails, damned if it doesn't end up punching above its weight. As Schreiber's swaggering voiceover reminds throughout, Chuck "The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner, a hulking stiff whose preternatural talent for absorbing punishment kept him among the heavyweight division's top tier, never took the sweet science any more seriously than family (Michael Rapaport), friends (Jim Gaffigan) and loved ones (Elisabeth Moss). The only ring scenes of significance—his 1975 title fight against an ascendant Muhammad Ali—end by the halfway point. By then, we've already been told Wepner's last-second TKO will earn the outranked fighter a symbolic victory for sheer endurance against the champ, which should ring a little familiar for even the most sports-phobic moviegoer. Still, for all the meta trappings and haute-70s biopic panache from director Philippe Falardeau, there's something sweetly old-fashioned about Chuck. While tastes may vary as to the adorability of an unrepentant coke-addled philanderer falling dick-first into salvation, the film never quite apologizes for a man who literally cannot learn a lesson until it's been beaten into his head. Sweeping aside issues of moral culpability, Chuck nimbly dances around usual trouble spots to target the irony of modern celebrity culture: With the power of fame now trivializing its origins, any bum who wants to be somebody can suddenly wake up a contender. R. JAY HORTON. Fox Tower. Critic's Rating: 3/4 stars.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
While it's painful to recommend a film that expects audiences to be delighted by the sound of poo dropping into a toilet, this crude-but-charming kiddie road movie is hard to resist. Based on the ninth book in Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series, The Long Haul is a string of zany mishaps starring the Heffleys, a bickering family on a grueling road trip to a birthday party. Some of the obstacles they encounter along the way are wittily outlandish—there is a harrowing scene involving crazed birds lusting after a bag of off-brand Cheetos—while the struggles of the peppy-but-put-upon Heffley matriarch (Alicia Silverstone) to keep the family from splintering are depicted with a measure of seriousness. You can't ignore the ugly stereotypes in this story, which include a nagging mother, a workaholic father (Tom Everett Scott) and two kids (Charlie Wright and Jason Drucker, who plays the titular wimpy kid) who are smartphone zombies. Yet the action moves at a satisfyingly brisk pace and even includes some genuinely heartfelt moments, like when the Heffleys belt out "Wannabe" with Spice Girls-worthy panache. The result is a rare children's film that offers an ode to family without talking down to its young audience. PG. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Vancouver. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars.
The final program in the Boathouse Microcinema's inaugural spring season not only showcases the work from three Portland filmmakers, but also literally involves filmmaking. Found footage filmmaker Craig Baldwin shipped Boathouse 16mm clips of political leaders from the past, to be manipulated and reorganized together. Boathouse Microcinema, 7 pm, Wednesday, May 17.
Where we'd expect dialogue, The Lovers substitutes oboes and violins. The score is a glaring, recurring manifestation of the ache inside 50-something spouses Michael (Tracy Letts) and Susan (Lesley Fera). They have no words left for each other, and depression only leaves off where denial picks up. Most importantly, each lonely California suburbanite is cheating on the other with a needy, eccentric artist (Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters), and we're dropped into this narrative mirror at ultimatum time: Either the marriage or the affairs must go. Quality sight gags punctuate the first act, mostly juxtaposing the stress of leading double lives with the mundanity of parking lots and conference calls. It'd be black comedy if writer-director Azazel Jacobs pushed a tone more, but this is more drab irony searching for chuckles. Soon, though, the anti-rhythm of what Michael and Susan leave unsaid becomes agonizing. The sparse script enables Letts, a renowned Chicago thespian, to fall into a pattern of understatement-as-showboating. It's as if the dialogue comes from a playwright who obsessed over minimalist realism but hasn't interacted with people in a few years. It leads to a study of marriage and doesn't say very much in the hopes we'll hang on its every word. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Regal Bridgeport, Regal Lloyd Center, Century Clackamas, Hollywood Theatre. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars.
Picture the worn-out gimmick of the hapless character on a mission, walking in slow motion while gangsta rap ironically scores their strut. Picture a film unimaginative enough to use that gag three separate times and you have Snatched. This spoof of Taken pairs today's comedy firebrand Amy Schumer and yesterday's icon Goldie Hawn as Emily and Linda, a vacationing mother and daughter fighting and fleeing their Colombian captors. The low bar for Snatched to reach is The Other Guys or The Heat, a two-headed parody committed to identifying and exploiting genre tropes. But the abduction movie doesn't contain that much fodder for satire, and this bit of knock-off Paul Feig dallies in realism, teeing up contrived character flaws and discussing them ad nauseum. Sure, Emily utters the occasional spiky Schumerism —"You suck Mom's dick," she roasts her mama's boy brother played by Ike Barinholtz—but most scenes feel designed and stretched for improv when no one appears to be improvising. Two summers ago, Schumer was ascendant with Trainwreck, riding the wave of her on-stage ethos. Here, she's as good a partner to Hawn as an uninspired Chevy Chase, churning out half-done studio fare just in time for the appropriate holiday weekend. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Living Room Theaters, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Tigard, Vancouver. Critic's Rating: 1/4 stars.
Winner of Spain's Goya Award for best film, which is like an Oscar except served with a small tin of smoked mussels, Truman follows a Madrid man diagnosed with terminal cancer (Ricardo Darín), whose friend Tomas (Javier Cámara) returns to visit him from Toronto to help him find a new owner for his dog, Truman. 4NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, May 19-21.
Buster's Mal Heart
While it takes audacity to cram existentialism, human waste and dead frogs into a single movie, audacity is all this drivel has going for it. It's the story of a hiply tormented soul, Jonah (Rami Malek), as told in three clumsily shuffled-together tales. In one, Jonah is a prissy hotel concierge; in another, he's a drifter with a beard that looks as if it were purchased from the Lippman Co.; and in the film's most surreal scenes, he's a tanned loner lost at sea, descending into hallucinatory madness. All of this is depicted with great solemnity by writer-director Sarah Adina Smith, who clearly subscribes to the gross-out-your-audience-until-it-pukes school of filmmaking—she likes to linger on bits of nastiness, like Jonah appearing to drink his own pee and an exploitative scene in which an elderly couple is force-fed after being tied up by Jonah with strings of Christmas lights. The combination of this casual sadism and the movie's hollow aspirations toward Camus territory makes the whole affair unpleasant and insufferable, not least of all when Jonah uses a cooking pot as a toilet. How fitting that a film this full of metaphorical shit has some of the literal kind as well. NR. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Hollywood Theatre. Critic's Rating: 1/4 stars.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Is Guy Ritchie starting a mythological zoo? You might get that impression from this grim revival, which features a super-sized serpent, magical elephants and a creature that looks like a cluster of naked women and moldy spaghetti. One would think that a film populated by such bizarre beasts would be diverting in its ludicrousness, but Ritchie clearly has a gift for making fantasy warfare breathtakingly boring. By telling the tale of how Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) pulls an impressive piece of cutlery from a rock and battles his usurper uncle, Vordigern (Jude Law), Ritchie apparently hoped to forge a crowd-pleasing origin tale. Yet the film's editing is nauseatingly rapid, resulting in something that resembles not a movie, but a monotonous commercial for medieval weaponry and Hunnam's pale goatee. It also doesn't have enough of Ritchie's trademark subversive humor—which buoyed his last effort, 2015's The Man From U.N.C.L.E.—though there's plenty of savagery, including a scene in which Law slices off a man's ear. Per PG-13 strictures, this happens off-camera, which poses the question: Why couldn't the entire movie have unfolded off-screen as well? PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON.Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, St. Johns Pub and Theater, Tigard, Vancouver. Critic's Rating: 1/4 stars.
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
With all due respect to latter-day Denzel, no Hollywood vet insists on solo missions quite like Richard Gere. Two decades into a streak of vehicle movies and you'd think the silver fox would have arrived at his destination by now. But then there's Gere's turn as Norman, an unexpected digression from his usual sleek, unethical senior taking a last shot at love and glory. From writer-director Joseph Cedar, Norman charts the ascendance of a wannabe New York fixer looking for a foothold in Israeli-American relations. Gere impressively strips back his natural polish, networking far too eagerly with hedge fund managers and foreign ministers. It's who you know, the story posits, but Norman's rapidly growing iPhone directory is a house of cards in a movie that's just as fragile. The two hours of intrigue can never answer the question why this handsome old man decided to relentlessly glad-hand through his twilight years. Norman is many things, and that's a pleasant enough surprise. It's an achievement in plotting that's an utter failure of character writing. It's borderline Israeli propaganda. It's Gere's finest performance since Chicago. If you're into pretty compelling nonsense, call anytime day or night; ask for Norman. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. R. Fox Tower. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars.
A Quiet Passion
Any Emily Dickinson biopic would require patience, and A Quiet Passion demands more than its share. The life story of this great American poet, unknown and unappreciated in her time, is one of despair and disease. Cinematically, it's a tough sell. What's beautiful about the reclusive Dickinson's biography remains inside her head and, despite Cynthia Nixon's earnest portrayal, her verse. Mostly, Terence Davies' film labors to show the battle for the writer's soul. She can't give it to a lover and won't give it to God. She might give it to the audience, but only if it's full of Dickinson superfans. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21, Kiggins. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars.