Review: Sylvester Stallone finds nuance in superhero deconstruction ‘Samaritan’
The pandemic-delayed grim-and-gritty superhero thriller “Samaritan” originally was scheduled for release in 2020; in the years since, TV series like “The Boys” and “Invincible” have stolen some of the movie’s thunder by doing their own deconstructing and reconstructing of caped-crusader mythology. Still, taken on its own terms, “Samaritan” remains a solidly entertaining riff on classic comic-book themes, with a blockbuster polish and an indie-film spirit.
Sylvester Stallone plays Joe Smith, a garbageman in Granite City, a blighted, crime-ridden metropolis still reeling from the loss of its champion, Samaritan, in a battle to the death with his villainous brother, Nemesis. Javon Walton plays Joe’s young neighbor Sam, a Samaritan fanboy who becomes convinced Joe is secretly his dead hero — and if so, he can help free Granite City from a charismatic crimelord and Nemesis disciple named Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek).
Director Julius Avery and screenwriter Bragi F. Schut do their best work in the film’s first hour, where they establish the bleakness of their setting and capture the spark of optimism in Sam after he meets Joe. Both Stallone and the assured young actor Walton give fine, nuanced performances — as does Asbaek. The premise of “Samaritan” is the stuff of cartoons, but the actors makes the stakes feel real.
Paradoxically, the movie gets less exciting once its action sequences ramp up — after a third-act twist that anybody who’s ever read a comic should anticipate. It’s hard to make scenes of super-strong people punching each other in crumbling buildings look striking or new; and so inevitably, “Samaritan” becomes way too generic down the stretch. For most of its running time, though, this is a well-crafted and surprisingly thoughtful take on heroes and antiheroes, illustrating the problems that ensue whenever ordinary citizens pin their hopes on the powerful rather than trying to solve problems themselves.
‘Samaritan.’ PG-13, for strong violence and strong language. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Available on Prime Video
The raunchy comedy “Me Time” brings together two elements common to a lot of Netflix movies: Kevin Hart, and stories about middle-aged dudes rethinking their life choices. Hart here plays Sonny, a stay-at-home dad who micromanages his family in order to compensate for feelings of inadequacy as a man living off his more successful wife, Maya (Regina Hall). When Maya decides she needs to bond with their kids by taking them on a vacation alone, a directionless Sonny hangs out with his free-spirited, free-spending buddy Huck (Mark Wahlberg), who’s having a birthday bacchanal.
Wahlberg and Hart are good at playing these kinds of guys: the gung-ho naif and the flustered everyman. But “Me Time” writer-director John Hamburg doesn’t give his stars much of a story to work with, so their characters never develop beyond those basic types. The movie’s larger arc is about how both men need to change, but the thin plot plays out as a series of loosely connected slapstick sketches, heavy on toilet humor and enhanced by special effects: Sonny gets attacked by a mountain lion while pooping in the desert; Sonny gets jealous of his wife’s sexy male business associate and defecates on his bed; and so on. “Me Time” is less of a movie than it is a bulletin board filled with half-thought-out premises for dirty jokes.
‘Me Time.’ R, for some sexual material, language and brief drug use. 1 hour, 41 minutes. Available on Netflix
‘Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee’
The late tech entrepreneur John McAfee was one of those mega-wealthy folks convinced he knew best how the world should work — and that unless the people in charge let him run things, he was under no obligation to follow their rules. That’s how he ended up a fugitive from multiple countries, wanted for everything from tax fraud to murder. And while McAfee was on the lam — as one of the most famous criminals in the world — multiple reporters started following him, chasing a strange story barreling toward a dark end.
A lot of Charlie Russell’s documentary “Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee” is drawn from footage shot by video journalist Robert King, who was on assignment with Vice reporter Rocco Castoro when McAfee snuck across the border from Belize to Guatemala. Years later, McAfee invited King to film him as he fled again, on a boat to the Caribbean. In between those “you are there” sequences, Russell fills in some of the details of his subject’s life, from his start as a pioneer of antivirus software to his end as a radical libertarian, surrounded by drugs, guns and chaos.
It’s hard to separate the facts from the paranoid conspiracy theories when it comes to McAfee, which can make “Running With the Devil” feel a little scattered — like reading a bunch of fevered diary entries. To Russell’s credit, his film acknowledges how hard it is to know what parts of the story are true. What this documentary really offers is an immersive John McAfee experience, plunging viewers into the sometimes dangerous mania of a man determined to prove some kind of a point by living as far outside the law as possible.
‘Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee.’ TV-MA, for adult language and smoking. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Available on Netflix
It’s been 17 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, leaving a swath of destruction from which the city is still recovering. An entire generation of New Orleans kids has been born and raised since Katrina, but as filmmaker Edward Buckles Jr. (an evacuee himself) captures in his haunting documentary “Katrina Babies,” many of those youngsters’ older brothers, sisters and cousins are still shaken by the nightmare of fleeing their homes — or worse, hunkering down as the waters rose.
There have been multiple films and TV series about the institutional and cultural responses to the storm, both before and after. But Buckles goes more granular with “Katrina Babies,” recording first-person testimony from the people who at the time were among the city’s most powerless residents. These interviews are intercut with vintage footage and stylish animation. But Buckles’ greatest asset is his subjects, many of whom have never spoken before about the trauma that the adults and authority figures in their lives have expected them to endure, bravely and stoically.
‘Katrina Babies.’ TV-MA, for violence, adult language and adult content. 1 hour, 19 minutes. Available on HBO Max
The best way to describe the survival thriller “Maneater” is that it’s about two very different people — a grizzled fisherman named Harlan (Trace Adkins) and a vacationer named Jesse (Nicky Whelan) — who have to work together to kill an enormous shark that has eaten some of their loved ones. This is also the worst way to describe “Maneater,” since by the time Harlan and Jesse even meet, the movie is almost over. Before then, writer-director Justin Lee grinds through a so-so story in which a succession of forgettable folks gets chomped, in and around scenic Hawaiian beaches, while nearby Harlan methodically tracks the big, hungry fish. The film’s effects look too cheap to make the feeding-frenzy sequences exciting; and the actors never find a consistent tone. (At times the characters are dryly serious; at other times someone will throw in a “Jaws” quote as a wink to the audience.) By the end, “Maneater” has walked right up to the edge of being a fun, silly, “so bad it’s good” time-killer. But after taking way too long, it never really arrives there.
‘Maneater.’ R, for language and some violent content/gore. 1 hour, 29 minutes. Available on VOD
Also on VOD
“Top Gun: Maverick” is the highest-grossing film of the year for good reason: Tom Cruise’s long-awaited return to the role of the loose-cannon fighter pilot Pete Mitchell comes packaged within a well-plotted, action-packed throwback to ’80s blockbusters but with better-defined characters, a richer emotional range and some of the best aerial combat sequences ever filmed. The digital release adds nearly two hours of behind-the-scenes material. Available on VOD
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“Buck and the Preacher” was the 1972 directorial debut for Sidney Poitier, who also cast himself as a Civil War veteran leading wagon trains of freed slaves to a new life out west, alongside his wife (Ruby Dee) and a scheming reverend (Harry Belafonte). The Criterion Blu-ray includes both new and vintage interviews, which get into how unusual it was in the blaxploitation era for a Black actor to make such a genteel western. Criterion
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