Mini-Reviews: Safety Not Guaranteed, Piranha 3DD, Rock of Ages
Safety Not Guaranteed:
Here’s a remedy to the convoluted science fiction and the stilted manufactured romcom that we’ve grown so used to. Colin Trevorrow delivers to us the perfect date movie, a film about releasing pre-conceived notions about what your life was supposed to be and learning to grow up. Perhaps it’s merely my age or the fact that I’m going through a transition in life myself preparing for a big cross-country move, but the film seemed to display an abundance of heart. Mark Duplass takes a role that’s impossible to play and gives it dimension and honesty, and Aubrey Plaza, primarily known for her sullen deadpan on Parks & Rec, shows the necessary range and depth to carry her own film. Even Jake Johnson, who I’ve previously never carried for in anything, carries his tangential storyline beautifully. It never really goes further than being gently affecting, but the laughs are consistent and they nail the ending. Safety Not Guaranteed provides safe haven from the hollow blockbusters studios slam us with during the summer.
While it doesn’t quite live up to the sincerely-terrific first installment, and it even never gets as blissfully awesome as its title would suggest, fans of Piranha 3D will find plenty to love in Piranha 3DD, the John Gulager video-on-demand sequel. No set piece matches the predecessor’s primary bloodbath, but we still get plenty of hilarious gore and jump scares. The teenager piranha bait, headlined by Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, and Katrina Bowden, are all charming and earnest in their simply written characters. Bringing back Ving Rhames and Paul Scheer as a buddy comedy tag team of survivors from the first was a great move, as was an extended self-deprecating cameo from David Hasselhoff. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel (though one death at the end of the film got an audible gasp followed by guffaws from me), its effects are even cheaper than expected, and there’s probably an argument to be made against deriving pleasure from films solely interested in making audiences applaud the gory horrific deaths of children with nothing to say about humanity at large. However, any creature feature aficionado (myself included) will find Piranha 3DD does the job swimmingly.
Rock of Ages:
In live theater, one isn’t thrown by characters breaking out into song. The acting is broader, your view of their performance is farther away, and the break from realism is palatable. In a movie, with tight zooms on actors, theatrical acting seems hammy and the act of breaking out into song is inherently corny– it feels disingenuous. The only way to counterattack this basic audience impulse is to have fully developed characters and fantastic songs in order to give the show heart. Sadly, Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages has neither, losing most of what made Shankman’s last musical adaptation, Hairspray, so great. Outside of Tom Cruise, who is utterly sensational as the megastar Stacee Jaxx, the characters have nothing to do and the eighties rock anthems are hollow, meaningless, and Gleeified. Julianne Hough is likable enough with a very pleasant voice, but she’s surrounded by shticky one-liners, awkward choreography and transitions, and, during one grossly unfortunate stretch of film, an unspeakably wooden Mary J. Blige. Add to that a run time of over two hours, and even though Cruise is fun to watch when he’s onscreen, this Rock feels like it takes ages to finish.