Advertisement
Movies

Review: ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ another remake nobody asked for, and more movies

Michael Ealy, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’
Michael Ealy in the movie “Jacob’s Ladder.”
(Frank Masi / Vertical Entertainment)

‘Jacob’s Ladder’

Director Adrian Lyne’s supernatural thriller “Jacob’s Ladder” was hardly the biggest box office hit of 1990 — and certainly not as massive as screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin’s other movie that year, “Ghost.” But thanks to its psychedelic interludes, openly spiritualist bent and jaw-dropping twist ending, the film developed a small but fervent word-of-mouth following.

And yet what made that picture so beloved — namely the sense of surprise, and Lyne and Rubin’s deep personal feeling — also makes it a poor candidate for a remake. The long-in-development new version of “Jacob’s Ladder” tweaks the plot and themes to try to keep the story fresh. In the process, director David M. Rosenthal and the project’s multiple screenwriters sap the film of something vital.

Michael Ealy takes on Tim Robbins’ old role of Jacob Singer, a combat veteran suffering from hallucinations. When Jacob learns that some Army buddies are having the same issues, he at first suspects a conspiracy — a feeling compounded when he’s told that the military lied to him about his brother being dead. As he investigates further, he begins to question everything about his own reality.

Ealy gives a sympathetic performance, and the existential mysteries underlying this story remain beguiling. But the original film followed a surreal logic that was meaningful to its creators, and more than a little spooky. The new “Jacob’s Ladder” is less strange and scary, and more mindlessly action-packed. It doesn’t feel like a dream. It’s more like hearing a stranger describe a dream.

'Jacob’s Ladder'
Rated: R, for language, some violence, sexuality and drug content

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Playing: Starts Aug. 23, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD
Advertisement

------------

‘Hot Air’

la_ca_hot_air_movie_49.JPG
Taylor Russell and Steve Coogan in the movie “Hot Air.”
(Walter Thomson/Freestyle Releasing)

Steve Coogan plays a mean-spirited right-wing radio host and Taylor Russell is his plucky mixed-race teenage niece in “Hot Air,” a politically charged dramedy that strands two terrific actors in a shapeless story. Director Frank Coraci and screenwriter Will Reichel have made a movie that aims to bridge some of American’s current social divides but is so focused on its destination that not much of note happens during the journey.

After an opening sequence that paints Coogan’s Lionel Macomb as the most extreme, clichéd example of a Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity type — sarcastic and self-indulgent — the movie softens the character considerably once he meets Russell’s Tess, the whip-smart daughter of his estranged, drug-addicted sister.

Advertisement

What follows is fairly predictable: Tess charms Lionel and pushes back against some of his more extreme opinions; and Lionel opens up about his hardscrabble past, earning Tess’ respect and (in the eyes of the filmmakers at least) justifying his daily rants about personal responsibility. A subplot about a sneakily successful broadcasting rival (played by Skylar Astin) is also meant to make Macomb more of a likable underdog.

But while it’s admirable that “Hot Air” doesn’t simply make Macomb the villain (nor does it ever neuter his ideology, which remains pretty hard-edged), it would’ve been nice if Coraci and Reichel had taken more advantage of their very funny leading man. Everyone in this movie is so busy making pronouncements that he or she rarely gets around to saying anything witty or insightful. That’s what tends to happen whenever characters are reduced to the positions they represent.

'Hot Air'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 23, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

‘Tone-Deaf’

Amanda Crew, ‘Tone-Deaf’
Amanda Crew in the movie “Tone-Deaf.”
(Alex Worman / Lightning Entertainment)

The fun horror-comedy “Tone-Deaf” sports the basic premise of a serial killer thriller: A stressed-out woman desperate to go off the grid rents a country house, where she’s hunted by a psychopath. But this movie was written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., an offbeat, B-picture auteur known for his films “Excision” and “Suburban Gothic.” Nothing about “Tone-Deaf” is routine.

Amanda Crew (from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) plays Olive, a disillusioned and somewhat self-deluded L.A. millennial who “cancels” her boyfriend and her job and heads into the middle of nowhere for a weekend to decompress. Robert Patrick plays Harvey, the grumpy old man who owns the farmhouse Olive rents, and plans to kill her — in part to see what murder would be like and in part because he really, really hates these kids today.

Bates doesn’t have much interest in terrifying audiences. Both Olive and Harvey and are fairly comical, and they’re surrounded by a cast of eccentrics. “Tone-Deaf” can be quite gory at times, but there’s a clinical quality to the violence, as though Bates were more concerned with showing off cool makeup effects.

The movie’s also very meta, with multiple scenes that break the fourth wall as Harvey delivers monologues more or less into the camera. “The Struggle Is Real” T-shirt that Olive wears through much of the climactic standoff telegraphs what this picture is really about. This is a quirky, cutting story of generation versus generation, refereed by a filmmaker who seems to find both sides fairly ridiculous.

'Tone-Deaf'
Rated: R, for violence, language throughout, sexual content and some drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; Available August 23 on VOD
Advertisement

-------------

‘Burn’

Tilda Cobham-Hervey, ‘Burn’
Tilda Cobham-Hervey in the movie “Burn.”
(Momentum Pictures)

First-time feature filmmaker Mike Gan excels at the setup for his intense drama “Burn,” a twisty character piece featuring the confined locations and rich performances of a stage play. The movie runs out of gas way too early, but its first half is impressive.

Ostensibly a hostage thriller, “Burn” stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Melinda, a lonely convenience store clerk who gets unusually excited when amateurish robber Billy (Josh Hutcherson) assaults her and her coworker Sheila (Suki Waterhouse). Early on, Gan shows Melinda forcing herself on customers, anxious for some human connection. Being some man’s captive is, in a way, her dream come true.

In those early scenes, Gan lets the audience know who else is in play. Sheila has a boyfriend who’s going to be dropping by the store, and Billy’s pulling this heist under orders from a biker gang. This dead spot just off the highway is also patrolled by a friendly trooper (played by Harry Shum Jr.).

So the plotting in “Burn” is quite clever … at least until Gan trips all the wires he’s set, at which point the simplistic motivations for Melinda and Billy become a liability. Their behavior is largely situational, driven by the story’s demands. When the story starts winding down, so does their raison d’être.

Still, this is mostly a strong debut film, making good use of a single set and a talented cast. Future star Cobham-Hervey is especially great, conveying the deep alienation of a young woman who’d rather have a gun in her face than not be noticed at all.

'Burn'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 23, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD


Newsletter
Get our weekly Indie Focus newsletter
Advertisement