MOVIES OPENING FRIDAY
The Equalizer 2
The fourth film -- "Training Day," "The Equalizer," "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Equalizer 2" -- teaming actor Denzel Washington with director Antoine Fuqua. Washington's second appearance as former CIA black ops veteran Robert McCall finds him seeking justice, if not revenge, after thugs murder a friend and former colleague. Edward Woodward introduced McCall as an "Equalizer" on CBS from 1985 to 1989. Washington's McCall was lured out of self-imposed retirement in 2014's film adaptation after witnessing helpless people being brutalized. The new film finds Washington acting opposite Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman. This is the first time Washington has agreed to star in a sequel to one of his own films.
R: Violence, language and drug content -- Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 (includes XD) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Mama Mia: Here We Go Again
Hollywood's summer controversy: Fans wondering if Meryl Streep's character, Donna, dies in the sequel. Iin Hollywood, where there's smoke... Then again, there may be opportunities to see Streep, if only because the new film -- which focuses on the pregnancy of Donna's daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) -- appears to be written as a prequel and sequel. Lily James, in flashbacks to 1979, is cast as a younger Donna who visits Europe and winds up enjoying the company of Hugh Skinner as the future Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine as the future Pierce Brosnan, and Josh Dylan as the future Stellan Skarsgard. All three dads remain in Sophie's life, and more friends and family head her way as she spends part of her pregnancy restoring her mom's Hotel Bella Donna on the Greek island of Kalokairi. "Angeleyes," "When I Kissed the Teacher," "I Wonder (Departure)" and "Super Trouper" are only a handful of more than two dozen songs by ABBA on the soundtrack, and the identity of the person cast as Sophie's grandmother stopped being a surprise months ago. The new jukebox musical was written and directed by Ol Parker, arriving a full decade after a film with a $52 million budget that grossed more than $600 million.
PG-13: Suggestive material — Premiere Cinemas (includes IMAX), Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 (includes XD) and Movies 16.
Unfriended: Dark Web
A horrific effort from writer-director Stephen Susco, starring Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel and Andrew Lees. Twenty-something Matias (Woodell) opens up a laptop he found in a lost-and-found bin, and finds a cache of secret files on it. While on a video call with friends, he discovers the disturbing nature of these files. IThey discover that the previous owner has been watching them, and will do anything to get the laptop's files back. The film had a surprise premiere at South by Southwest in March 2018, and one month later was screened at the Overlook Film Festival with an entirely different ending.
R: Disturbing violence, language and sexual references -- Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
When avid sailors Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) agree to sail their friends' boat 4,000 miles across the Pacific to California in 1983, neither anticipated a catastrophic hurricane. Tami is knocked unconscious below deck. In the storm's aftermath, she awakens to find their boat in ruins and Richard badly injured and floating among debris. Stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the couple must navigate to Hawaii with no communication or navigation tools.
PG-13: Injury images, peril, language, drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements -- Movies 16.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (3-D/2-D)
Kerns Rating: Two and one-half stars
Few probably expected the surprise within the expected final credits sequence. It's a dandy. Nevertheless, the preceding film is so lightweight as to become reminiscent of Disney live action in the 1960s and '70s, hardly shining moments for non-animated Disney. Ant-Man Paul Rudd, just finishing his house arrest, is drawn to a bitter Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her father (Michael Douglas). Soon, there are repeated shrinkings of a huge laboratory to the size of carry-on, and easily stolen, luggage. Good Guys pull out a Hot Wheels carrying case when choosing getaway cars. Cue the cliched car crashes. Michael Pena makes silliness work for him. But on the heels of "Black Panther" and "Infinity Wars," this is Marvel for small children. At least until the very final few seconds of an ending we cannot talk about.
PG-13: Sci-fi action violence -- Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
A heartfelt comedy about four successful women in their 60s. Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys men with no strings attached. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is still working through her decades-old divorce, and Carol's (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years. The lives of these four lifelong friends are turned upside down after reading British author E.L.James controversial and erotic "Fifty Shades of Grey" for their book club, catapulting them into a series of outrageous life choices.
PG-13: Sex-related material and language — Movies 16.
The First Purge
The fourth "Purge" film, a prequel to "The Purge," 2013; "The Purge: Anarchy," 2014 and "The Purge: Election Year," 2016.
R: Violence , pervasive language, sexuality and drug use — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Kerns rating: Four stars
Ari Aster, making his directorial debut, is influenced by a number of classics, most obviously Roman Polanski's 1968 "Rosemary's Baby." "Hereditary" is not truly frightening, but Aster deserves massive kudos for delivering an increasingly creepy, tension-packed and entertaining tale about a family never given an opportunity to escape its doom. The story is connected via a series of revealing tells, most of which must be kept secret so as not to become spoilers. Anchoring the film is another phenomenal performance by Toni Collette, cast as psychologically tortured artist Annie Graham. The ensemble is wonderful: Milly Shapiro as daughter Charlie, Alex Wolff as son Peter, Gabriel Byrne as husband Steve and Ann Dowd as a somewhat obvious Ruth Gordon-type, helping Annie deal with her grief. Annie reveals early that her recently deceased mother was a secretive, abusive spiritualist. When Steve keeps a grave desecration secret, one expects a return. To his credit, Aster sidesteps expectations, even as he provides strong hints throughout, most ignored by audiences. A character's allergy is foreshadowing, but nothing prepares audiences for that person's fate, or for an unseen, chilling wail the next morning. Annie is an artist reproducing her life in miniature dioramas, the creepiest revealing a non-mother nursing. That, however, is as close as Annie comes to a miniature open house. We do know the dead matriarch took Charlie under her wing, the same child who scissors the head off a dead bird in the school yard. Aster hints at haunted houses and possessive spirits before detouring toward his own supernatural endgame, complete with subtle warnings. This disturbing, intense film will shock and satisfy most.
R: Horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and graphic nudity -- Movies 16.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (3-D/2-D)
A computer-animated comedy sequel. The family embarks on a vacation on a luxury monster cruise ship so Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) can relax from providing everyone else's vacation at his hotel. It’s smooth sailing for Drac’s pack as monsters indulge in all the shipboard fun. But the dream vacation turns into a nightmare when Mavis (Selena Gomez) realizes Drac has fallen for a mysterious human captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), who hides a dangerous secret. Again directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Other voice talents: Andy Samberg as Johnny; Kevin James as Frankenstein; Fran Drescher as Eunice, Frankenstein's wife; David Spade as invisible man Griffin; Steve Buscemi as werewolf Wayne; Molly Shannon as Wanda, Wayne's werewolf wife; and Mel Brooks as Dracula's vampire dad.
PG: Action and rude humor -- Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Incredibles 2 (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: Three and one-half stars
Hardly original, but fun regardless. The Parr family -- Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack -- continue operating under their name, The Incredibles. They successfully prevent Underminer from robbing a bank, but authorities are concerned about the level of damage. So their program is shut down, forcing superheroes to adhere once more to secret identities. Elastigirl takes part in a publicity stunt to regain public support, only to fall victim to a rather predictable villain. When Bob and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also are brain-washed, it's up to the Parr kids to save the day.
PG: Action sequences and mild language -- Premiere Cinemas (includes D-Box), Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: Three stars
Filmmaker J.A. Bayona is saddled with the most inconsistent installment in the series. Three years after the Jurassic World theme park was abandoned, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to rescue remaining dinosaurs from an active volcano. Bottom line: There are some fun dinosaur pursuits and narrow escapes, but the beasts seem to be around just to set up a story for the next sequel. Still, the CGI is quite good, and after all, dinosaurs are what fans want to see.
PG-13: Sci-fi violence and peril -- Premiere Cinemas (includes D-Box), Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
A heist comedy directed by Gary Ross as a spinoff from Steven Soderbergh's "Oceans's trilogy. Sandra Bullock is Debbie Ocean, estranged sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney). Debbie devoted her years in prison to planning a huge robbery. Upon her release, she partners with Lou (Cate Blanchett) and, together, they recruit a crew: Amita (Mindy Kaling), the jeweler; street con Constance (Awkwafina); Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a suburban mom with skills; the hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna); and fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter). Debbie's plan is to rob the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in New York City, and she also has her eyes on a diamond necklace valued at more than $150 million, expected to be worn at the gala by celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).
PG-13: Language, drug use and suggestive content -- Premiere Cinemas and Movies 16.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Kerns rating: Four and one-half stars
No, it is not as good as the 2015 original. But returning are screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, along with co-stars Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. The brutal action opens with the discovery of Mexico's powerful drug cartels now smuggling terrorists across the U.S. border. The CIA assigns them to kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), daughter of a drug cartel kingpin, in a manner designed to incite war between rival cartels. When the U.S. government decided to view Reyes as collateral damage. Del Toro commands attention by refusing kill the hostage he helped kidnap. His is a remarkable performance. And even with a somewhat shaky finale, the overall film remains intense.
R: Violence, bloody images and language — Premiere Cinemas and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Dwayne Johnson stars as a former FBI agent and disabled war veteran. While on assignment in China, a skyscraper, known as the Pearl, comes under attack by terrorists. Johnson is framed for setting it ablaze. A wanted man on the run, he must find those responsible, clear his name and rescue his family trapped in the burning building.
PG-13: Gun violence and action, and strong language — Premiere Cinemas (includes D-Box), Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: Three and one-half stars
Entertaining, at least. But then, all writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan had to pull off were: introducing Han to Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, showing the Falcon changing hands in a card game, and revealing the Millenium Falcon making the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Alden Ehrenreich also grows on viewers as the younger Han. All in all, "Solo" does not rank anywhere near the best, but works just fine as popcorn entertainment.
PG-13: Sci-fi action/violence — Movies 16.
Sorry to Bother You
A wildly original science fiction comedy written and directed by Boots Riley. In an alternate reality of present-day Oakland, California, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself in a macabre universe after he discovers a magical key -- a white voice supplied by David Cross -- that leads to material glory. As Green's career begins to take off, he loses sight of his morals while friends and co-workers organize a protest against corporate oppression. The upswing in his career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist who secretly is part of a Banksy-style activist collective. Cassius soon falls under the spell of Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), a cocaine-snorting CEO who offers a huge salary. A mind-blowing ending reveals what he would have to sacrifice.
R: Pervasive language, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use -- Alamo Drafthouse and Movies 16.
Kerns rating: Two stars
Five men, friends since age 9, try to stay young playing a children's game. Never mind the marriages, divorces, romantic regrets or demanding jobs requiring moves. As years pass, the annual game becomes not funnier, but more violent. Players plan vacations, travel cross-country, conceive disguises, commit crimes and suffer injuries, all in hopes of telling an elusive friend, "You're it." First-time director Jeff Tomsic delivers only inconsistent laughs despite a committed cast. Jeremy Renner is considered psychopathic by friends pursuing him. His planned May wedding makes him vulnerable in the eyes of best friends he did not invite. Chasing him are an obsessive Ed Helms with a secret, executive Jon Hamm, lonely stoner Jake Johnson and (standup comic) Hannibal Buress. Providing support: Leslie Bibb as Renner's fiancee, and Isla Bibb as Helms' excessive wife. Viewers can spot a difference between staying young and avoiding maturity. Their game provides more pain than fun, with butt-punching and broken bones deemed acceptable if leading to a group hug.
R: Language, crude sexual content, drug use and nudity -- Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
A sports comedy featuring former professional basketball players. Former manager Dax (Lil Rey Howery) is desperate to form a team and win the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem. He stumbles upon man, myth and legend Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) and convinces him to return to the basketball court. A road trip follows as the two try to prove certain retired players have not lost skills necessary to win a big game. Uncle Drew's old squad includes Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal), now running a martial arts dojo; Preacher (Chris Webber), a church minister; Lights (Reggie Miller), assumed to be legally blind; Boots (Nate Robinson), found in a retirement home; and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie), Preacher's wife. Retired NBA greats Earl Monroe, Chris Mullin, Bill Walton, George Gervin, Steve Nash, David Robinson, Jerry West and Dikembe Mutombo make cameo appearances.
PG-13: Suggestive material, language and nudity — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Kerns rating: Four and one-half stars
The late Fred Rogers, an ordained minister, was displeased with how television and TV advertising manipulated children. Despite his lack of industry experience, he began developing low-budget programs, and his star rose in part because he treated children with respect, never talking down to them. This documentary from filmmaker Morgan Neville uses archival recordings and contemporary interviews to examine the life and guiding philosophy of Rogers, remembered as host of popular children's television show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." Those curious about the documentary's lack of a G rating will learn that Rogers found it important to use his program to define racism, assassination and the concept of death, in ways that children could understand.
PG-13: Thematic elements and language — Premiere Cinemas.
Ratings, from one to five stars, and reviews are by A-J Media film critic William Kerns.