Monthly Archives: January 2020

Guns, Gangs & Ganja

Director Guy Ritchie returns with salty, swaggering British-bad-boys comedy crime caper


Matthew McConaughey & Michelle Dockery star in ‘The Gentlemen.’

The Gentlemen
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery & Colin Farrell
Directed by Guy Ritchie
In theaters Jan. 24, 2020

Movie lovers who love gangster flicks will love this British-bad-boys action comedy caper from director Guy Ritchie, returning to the hyper-stylized, street-tough London criminal underworld that kicked off his movie career in Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000).

That was before Ritchie went on to direct such mainstream, family-friendly films as Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 sequel, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and last year’s live-action Disney reboot of Aladdin. He seems to be having a terrific time back on his old stomping grounds, stirring up a salty, swaggering tale of vice and villainy, predators and prey and the fine, shifting lines between gentlemen and gangstas, the thin membrane separating thugs and entrepreneurs.

And he’s working with an all-star cast that certainly looks like they’re having a ball, too. The need for weed drives the story, as a group of characters coalesce around suave Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American expat who planted the seeds for what would become his eventual marijuana empire when he was a college student at Oxford. Hugh Grant is Fletcher, a private-eye snoop trying to expose Pearson and his illegal operation for the editor of a sleazy tabloid (Eddie Marsan). An aggressively ambitious young enforcer (Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians) for a Chinese drug lord, and a Jewish-American billionaire businessman (Succession’s Jeremy Strong), are competing—and maybe even conspiring—to buy him out.

You’ll probably recognize Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy (he also starred in Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). He gets a lot of screen time as Pearson’s right-hand-man, Raymond, because much of the story unfolds as a “dialogue” between Fletcher and Raymond as the tabloid flack pitches his entire story on the marijuana mogul, framing it as a possible movie—with flashbacks, subtitles, rewinds and suggestions on how it might end.

Michelle Dockery busts out of her buttoned-up, Downton Abbey period-piece properness to play Pearson’s wife, Rosalind, “the Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s cowboy Caesar,” as Fletcher puts it. She’s as sharp as her stiletto heels—and just watch how she can turn a desktop “paperweight” into a lethal weapon.

Gentleman 1 (72)

Henry Golding, Charlie Hunnam, McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Dockery & Hugh Grant

And Colin Farrell rips things into a completely new comedic gear as a dapper, fashion-plate bulldog of a boxing coach who enters Pearson’s orbit to pay off a debt incurred by some of his unruly gym students. And psssst: Don’t ever try to pull a knife on him!

There’s a swirl of menacing Russian oligarchs, slum junkies, street gangs, sexy car mechanics and fight-porn rappers. There are bullets, blood spatters, big guns, little guns and bestiality blackmail (don’t worry, you don’t see it). If you haven’t already figured it out, this movie’s not for kids.

But it’s actually a lot of fun. Ritchie, who also wrote the screenplay, is clearly working in his element and back in his groove, back in “the filth and the grime and the grub in the tub,” as Raymond notes, setting up one particularly grimy, grubby scene that ends up having all the touchstones of a classic Guy Ritchie flick—terse, loaded conversation, explosive action, dark humor, a ripping street chase and gunfire.

The dialogue zings, the action pops; it’s zany and stylish and quick-witted, and often brazenly, gleefully profane and audaciously off-color. If you take out all the, ahem, c-words—which British slang employs quite broadly as terms of disparagement—the movie would probably be about 45 minutes shorter.


Farrell and Hunnam take a look in the trunk.

And it’s sorta Tarentino-esque, especially in the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, the flashbacks and the cinephile-like salutes to other movies, including a nod to the trunk-POV scenes from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, mentions of Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather (and his 1974 conspiracy thriller, The Conversation), and even a passing shot of the movie poster of Ritchie’s own The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This is another movie for people who love movies—especially a certain kind of movie.

And this is that kind of movie, a gritty, gonzo gangster-flick parable about alpha dogs, lions, silverback gorillas and law of the jungle on the mean streets of London, where it’s high times for lowlifes, and “gentlemen” can be a relative term.

Based on how The Gentlemen wraps up, looks like a sequel might be possible. Count me in. I wouldn’t want to live there, but Guy Ritchie’s riotously raw ganja-gangland fantasy world sure is a great-escape movie getaway.

Bad Boys to Men

Will Smith & Martin Lawrence reunite and reignite buddy-cop action franchise 

Martin Lawrence, Will Smith,

Bad Boys for Life
Starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence

Directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilali Fallah
In theaters Jan. 17, 2020

Will Smith, you’re making us feel old.

First, in last year’s Gemini Man, his previous movie, he confronted a younger version of himself, a clone who outruns him, outguns him, outthinks him and generally reminds him just how many less miles than him he’s got on the odometer.

Now, in this sequel to a sequel—for which Smith also serves as one of the producers—the specter of advancing years again comes into play.

The Fresh Prince, after all, is now 51 years old.

In Bad Boys for Life, which comes 25 years after the original Bad Boys (1995) and 17 years after its follow-up, Bad Boys II, Smith reteams with Martin Lawrence as an inseparable Miami buddy-cop duo whose glory days—as well as their teamwork—may finally be at an end. Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) is a new grandfather, counting the days to his retirement with his family. Lone-wolf Mike Lowrey (Smith) has been reassigned to a new high-tech AMMO division, a “young guns” group of millennials with whom he has little in common.

Over drinks celebrating his imminent retirement, Burnett asks Lowrey why he doesn’t think about settling down, falling in love and getting out of police work. “Mike, we’ve got more time behind us than in front,” Burnett says.

But settling down, falling in love and getting out of police work wouldn’t make for much of a movie, would it?

What would make for a movie is a ruthless young Mexican cartel mob boss (Jacob Scipio) suddenly springing into action with a bloody revenge plan that leads back to something Lowrey did years ago. Frenetic car chases, a sniper who never seems to miss, a south-of-the-border sorceress, a long-ago secret, and enough ballistic, bombastic boom-boom to shake the salt off your popcorn—now that makes a movie. Just let yourself go and let the bullets flow.

Photographer Select, Will Smith,

At least it makes this movie, a high-spirited, action-packed blowout reunion that plays to the comedic strengths of its two marquee stars while giving them plenty of room to roam, lots of things to blast or blow up and a flowing stream of bickering-buddy humor. Michael Bay, the big-budget, blockbuster director (Armageddon, the Transformers series) who steered the first two Bad Boys flicks, did not return for this one, and Belgian filmmaking collaborators Adil El Arbi and Bilali Fallah try hard to please.

But their technique often feels all over the place; they love both super slo-mo and frenetic, high-speed time-lapses. The story unfolds in a herky-jerky mix of melodrama and mirth; it’s a movie melding sitcom silliness, overwrought Spanish telenovela excess and prime-time TV-procedural connect-the-dots. And the way the camera never seems to stop moving, even in extreme closeups, made me feel like I was always free-floating through every scene, like a teeny observer in a miniature Bad Boys hot-air balloon.

Charles Melton, Photographer Select, Vanessa Hudgens, Will Smith,

Smith with Charles Melton & Vanessa Hudgens

Veteran actor Joe Pantoliano reprises his role from previous Bad Boys as harried Capt. Howard, and younger audiences will enjoy seeing a couple of familiar faces (Vanessa Hudgens, and Charles Melton, who stars as Reggie on TV’s Riverdale) in the mix. Hulking Alexander Ludwing, from Vikings, seems to have fun, playing a decidedly non-Viking role as a mild-mannered hacker.

Let’s be real, though. Nothing else really matters about this movie other than the comeback of its two stars—who, in their two previous Bad Boys pairings, helped push its franchise past the $400-million mark. Smith, once one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws, and Lawrence, a standup comedian who—like Smith—successfully made the leap to TV and then movies, have undeniable chemistry and for-real movie mojo. Their banter is loose, lively and juicy with quippy, R-rated digs, disses and jive that audiences will love.

Everything tends to loosen when they’re apart, but it tightens and brightens whenever they’re together, especially when they’re roaring down streets, careening around curves or ripping up the asphalt in Lowrey’s 992-Generation Porshe, a motorcycle and sidecar or any other vehicle that’s handy. One particularly funny conversation happens in an airplane.

Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Photographer Select,And this movie has heart, especially as Lowrey and Burnett reaffirm their bond of Bad Boys brotherhood, the movie’s larger theme of family expands to something wider than you might at first imagine, and Burnett grapples—in a way that’s ultimately played for laughs—with a spiritual issue.

“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” That’s the tag to the song by the Jamaican reggae band Inner Circle, which became the theme to the movie franchise. You’ll hear it several times in this film.

And you’ll probably hear it in the next movie, Bad Boys 4, currently in the planning stages.

The “boys” of Bad Boys may be full-grown men now, but whatcha gonna do? You’re gonna want to see what high-octane hijinks Smith and Lawrence are up to this time, and probably the next time, too.

Cosmetic Comedy

Tiffany Haddish & Rose Bryne find the funny in off-color makeup romp


Like a Boss 
Starring Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne & Salma Hayek
Directed by Miguel Artela
In theaters Jan. 10, 2020

Two lifelong-bestie business partners find their friendship as well as their enterprise tested in the ribald and rollicking chick-flick comedy Like a Boss.

Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne star as Mia and Mel, two friends since kindergarten who’ve grown up to take their love of makeup from a hobby to a business. But now their storefront cosmetics shop is in major financial trouble, almost half a million dollars in the hole. Good thing a local beauty mogul, Claire Luna (Salma Hayek), wants to come to their rescue, pay off their debt and buy controlling interest in their company, right?

Hold on to your eyeliner—not so fast.

Not so fast, because this movie has to get where it’s going—and it has to touch all the bases, including stopovers for scenes of sisterhood solidarity; a steady, raunchy river of R-rated zingers; a cast of buffoonish supporting characters; and comedic interludes about an infant child inhaling smoke from a doobie, men being repeatedly stuck in their privates and a product inspired by copulating dogs.

That’s not to say it’s not sometimes very funny. Haddish is a live wire who’s quickly proving there’s almost nothing she can’t do—TV spots for Groupon, yukkin’ it up with youngsters hosting ABC’s Kids Say the Darndest Things, spewing raw hilarity on her Netflix comedy specials, and commanding just about whatever role she gets whenever she steps in front of a movie camera.

And Byrne, the Aussie actress from Bridesmaids, Spy and Neighbors, is more refined, but just as valuable in finding the funny. Often seen in second-banana roles, it’s great to watch her here, playing a character who gets to expand beyond the sidelines.

Director Miguel Artela is no slouch. His filmmaking resume dates back to the 1990s, and includes The Good Girl with Jennifer Aniston and Jake Gyllenhaal, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day and Cedar Rapids, an underrated 2011 gem starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Sigourney Weaver. Like a Boss has a certain sass, spark and spunky, feisty, grrrl-power vibe, but never quite rises out of a predictable, formulaic comedy zone and feels like it might have been written with the broad strokes of a mascara brush and highlighted in lipstick.


Billy Porter

It’s definitely meant for a girls’-night-out kind of audience; the testosterone content can be measured by the teaspoon. Broadway performer/singer/actor Billy Porter (from TV’s Pose and American Horror Story) hams it up as Mel and Mia’s gay assistant; Jimmy O. Yang (from Silicon Valley) and Ryan Hansen (he was Dick Casablancas on Veronica Mars, and Andy on 2 Broke Girls) play a duo of snarky cosmetics developers also hoping for Claire Luna’s sponsorship.


Salma Hayek

Hayek, the Mexican-American actress who became known in Hollywood in such movies as From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado and Frida (for which she was nominated for an Oscar), plays Luna as a walking, talking cartoon, a florescent gust of orange hair, gravity-defying breasts and blindingly white teeth.

Brandishing a golden golf club as a further power affectation, she tells Mia and Mel that they need to be “fiercst,” adding a “t” sound to the word in a nonsensical mangling that becomes a running joke.

Will Haddish’s Mia, who wants to earn some big bucks and live large, get the big payoff? Will Byrne’s Mel, who has for years so carefully watched the company’s bottom line, figure out a way to still come out on top? Will that bunch of hot peppers Mia accidentally eats become a barf bit—and then a diarrhea gag? Is there a surprise appearance by an instantly recognizable actress from an iconic ’90s sitcom? Will a rockin’ version of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” bring it all home?

No spoilers from me.

Like a Boss isn’t great, and sometimes isn’t even very good, but like a lot of movies in January, it suffers by comparison—to all the big, Oscar-bait films that just got unloaded into theaters in November and December. It’s like when Mel and Mia tell Claire that she doesn’t have to “worry her pretty little head” about them, and Claire replies, “Oh, my head isn’t little—it’s just that my breasts are humongous.” It’s all in the comparison, and the proximity. This little cosmetics comedy caper is no Little Women, no Bombshell, and it certainly won’t end up on anyone’s awards list for this year.

But if you and your girlfriends want some straight-up, grownup laughs with a couple of “badass babes” who get “fiercst” with a makeup-mogul takeover queen, Like a Boss can add some (off) color to your winter blues.