Review: Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel create sparks in ‘Shotgun Wedding’
The action-comedy comes on way too strong in its opening 20 minutes, introducing an all-star cast in gratingly overstuffed scenes, featuring a surfeit of fast-paced, amped-up chatter. But once the plot kicks in and the characters separate (and settle down), “Shotgun Wedding” becomes much more entertaining, highlighted by the comic push-and-pull between its two leads, Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel.
Lopez plays Darcy, a high-strung lawyer who disappointed her father (Cheech Marin) and mother (Sônia Braga) years ago when she bailed on her engagement to the handsome Sean (Lenny Kravitz). When her new fiancé — a failed pro baseball player, Tom (Duhamel) — invites both their large families to an over-elaborate island wedding, Darcy starts panicking again. The couple gets back into a good groove only under extreme duress, when pirates come ashore and take the guests hostage, leaving the bride and groom to work out a way to outwit the bad guys together.
“Shotgun Wedding” peters out down the stretch, as the explosions and gunfire overwhelm the banter. But the middle hour is snappy, helped by the chemistry of Lopez and Duhamel, playing two over-analytical, over-prepared types who have different ideas on how to thwart their attackers. And Jennifer Coolidge — as she often does — gives a riotously funny performance as Tom’s chipper mom, Carol, who miraculously keeps the hostages alive by trying to befriend their captors. Carol is an inspiration, heroically determined to keep enjoying a tropical paradise, even with a rifle pointed at her head.
‘Shotgun Wedding.’ R, for language and some violence/bloody images. 1 hour, 40 minutes. Available on Prime Video
Director Jérôme Salle’s stirring melodrama dramatizes the escalating nightmare experienced by Mathieu (Gilles Lellouche), a French diplomat whose life in Siberia is upended when rumors spread that he’s a child-abusing pedophile. Based loosely on a true story, the movie tackles one of the most infuriating aspects of life in the social media age, when people who blatantly lie and manipulate facts end up reshaping public perceptions.
Salle and co-writer Caryl Ferey jump around a bit in the story’s timeline in order to grab the audience’s attention early with tense scenes of Mathieu’s arrest, prison stay and eventual escape attempts. The filmmakers then skip back to reveal details that might help explain why their hero’s been targeted. Is it because he embarrassed his Russian hosts by sponsoring a homoerotic modern dance performance? Did he get under the wrong person’s skin when he flirted with a disabled veteran’s wife, Svetlana (Joanna Kulig)? Is his own estranged wife to blame?
Ultimately, the answer doesn’t matter. The purpose of “Kompromat” is to put the viewer in Mathieu’s shoes, frustrated and confused. This is a well-crafted chase picture that doubles as a fiery warning about the dangers of an authoritarian government that can create its own reality, with no accountability for mistakes or malevolence. Salle shows how Mathieu must tap every resource he has to fight for his freedom. But his movie has just as much sympathy with the Svetlanas, who are trapped in a different way.
‘Kompromat.’ In French and Russian with subtitles. Not rated. 2 hours, 7 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Glendale
Unlike horror films, crime pictures, action-thrillers and even westerns, war movies aren’t a common genre for lower-budget productions anymore — perhaps because it’s hard to stage armed combat on the cheap. But with 2019’s “Point Man” and now “Condor’s Nest,” writer-director Phil Blattenberger has been trying to bring the stripped-down, two-fisted war movie back by eschewing an epic scale and instead telling character-driven tales with pulpy overtones.
In “Condor’s Nest,” Jacob Keohane plays Will Spalding, a World War II vet who has spent the decade since the war tracking the Nazi officer who cruelly exterminated Spalding’s bomber crew. In the process, he violently pushes away potential allies while striking deals with the morally shady, until finally he finds a secret Nazi stronghold in South America, which he tries to reach with the help of a Mossad agent (Corinne Britti) and a fugitive German scientist (Al Pagano).
The lack of explosive action hinders “Condor’s Nest,” as does the reliance on spare, nondescript locations like bars, offices and open fields. But Blattenberger can write punchy dialogue; he also wisely spends some of his money on ace character actors Michael Ironside, James Urbaniak, Jorge Garcia and Bruce Davison, each of whom pops up for a memorable scene or two. There’s a little bit of a boys playing war quality to this film, but that ultimately may prove more endearing than cheesy, especially for viewers who grew up reading old “Frontline Combat” and “Sgt. Rock” comics.
‘Condor’s Nest.’ R, for violence, language and brief drug use. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Glendale
‘Life Upside Down’
The opening scene of writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi’s indie dramedy takes place not long before the COVID-19 shutdown at an art show where hustling gallery owner Jonathan (Bob Odenkirk) impetuously starts an affair with political science professor Clarissa (Radha Mitchell), a colleague of one of his most well-heeled customers, Paul (Danny Huston). Then, they’re all separated and staying home, and their relationships become strained. Clarissa feels abandoned by Jonathan, who only ever seems to call her to complain about his sexless marriage. Jonathan can’t get Paul to commit to a purchase he desperately needs to stay in business. And Paul realizes he’s not getting the intellectual stimulation he needs from his much younger trophy wife, Rita (Rosie Fellner).
The idea of the pandemic making messy personal lives messier should be a strong anchor for an ensemble piece, even one with as small an ensemble as this one. But the changes in these characters’ attitudes and their understanding of the world from the start of this movie to the end are so marginal that “Life Upside Down” essentially says all it has to say after the first half-hour. And there’s not enough novelty and creativity in the way the picture was filmed — with the actors isolated in their own locations, handling a lot of the filming themselves — to compensate for the sparse plot. If anything, the guerrilla approach makes the movie feel only more stunted. This is a stifling film about solipsistic people.
‘Life Upside Down.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica
Tania Anderson’s documentary follows a group of college-age Mormons during a two-year missionary trip to Finland, a country where the locals are unfailingly polite but generally uninterested in a stranger’s religious testimony. Taking a fly on the wall approach, Anderson watches these kids as they try to bring what they’ve learned in church and in language lessons out into the streets, only to find that they have trouble carrying on long conversations — and that when they do make connections, the Finns would rather talk about the Americans’ personal lives, not their spiritual message. “The Mission” is less about Mormonism or Finland than it is a poignant and relatable portrait of loneliness, taking an intimate look at these good-hearted youngsters, cut off from their culture and their loved ones, who fight — and sometimes fail — to maintain optimism for an assignment that seems impossible.
‘The Mission.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 35 minutes. Available on VOD
Michael Madsen brings a much-needed jolt of bad boy energy to this dreary psychodrama that squanders good performances and a sharp midfilm twist. Hannah Christine Shetler plays Karma, a smart, hip teenager who has struggled her whole life with the knowledge that her mother, Sunny (Kimberly Alexander), conceived her with a notorious demonic cult leader, Paul De Grendel (Madsen). When Sunny flees with her daughter to a remote compound, Paul finds them and puts Karma through a series of tests to prepare her for an arcane ritual. Shetler is highly sympathetic as a kid seeing her worst fears come true as her promising future gets derailed by her mom’s terrible past. But the writer-director team of Liz Fania Werner and Carlos Montaner frame their premise more as a maudlin family drama than as a thriller. Only Madsen seems to be on the right wavelength, having fun being wantonly evil.
‘Waking Karma.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 27 minutes. Available on VOD
“Tár” has been nominated for six Oscars this year, including best picture, director and original screenplay for writer-director-producer Todd Field. But the main reason why so many people have been talking about this movie since it debuted last fall is the commanding performance of lead actress nominee Cate Blanchett, who plays a manipulative and charismatic orchestra conductor, seeing her career and reputation crumble when her messy private life spills into public view. Available on Peacock
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection” is a strikingly beautiful fusion of earthy realism, dreamy expressionism and underdog melodrama, telling the story of an elderly Lesotho villager (Mary Twala Mhlongo) who rouses herself from her deathbed to save the homes and graves of her neighbors and relatives from being destroyed by a new dam. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray includes a commentary track by director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese and producer Cait Pansegrouw, along with earlier Mosese films that showcase his uncommon artistry. Criterion
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