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Films I Neglected To Review: Fox On The Run
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Boss Baby: Family Business," "The God Committee," "Long Story Short" and "Till Death." And while I already reviewed it when it played at Sundance, "Summer Of Soul (. . . Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" hits theaters and Hulu as well and it is an absolute must.

Although I have some vague memory of having seen "The Boss Baby" when it appeared back in 2017, I confess that other than the basic concept of a business suit-clad baby speaking in the dulcet tones of Alec Baldwin, I cannot readily recall a single thing about it. That said, it couldnít have been quite as offensively idiotic and generally useless as the inevitable follow-up, "The Boss Baby: Family Business," could it? Set a few decades after the previous installment, this one finds the now-adult and mildly estranged brothers, stay-at-home dad Tim (James Marsden) and ruthless-but-lonely corporate shark Ted (Baldwin), brought back together when Tim's infant daughter, new boss Tina (Amy Sedaris), enlists their help to stop a devious plot by the head of a new progressive school (Jeff Goldblum)--the very place where Timís older daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) attends--by transforming them back into children so that they can infiltrate the school as well. Along the way, the brothers learn to love and respect each other despite their different lifestyles, Tabitha learns to develop self-confidence and kids sitting in the audience will get a chance to learn what it feels like to be ripped off by watching a rehash of an old joke that wasn't exactly a gut-buster in the first place in the service of a plot that wouldn't even be satisfactory for an episode of the kind of cheapo Saturday morning cartoon series that this feels like throughout. Yes, it is bright and noisy and colorful and yes, it will probably hold the attention of less-demanding moppets for at least most of its duration. That said, any parent who mindlessly plops them down in front of this instead of "Luca"--a film that has its own problems, to be sure, but which at least contains enough moments of creative ambition and formal beauty to put this hackwork to shame--should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

Based on the play by Mark St. Germain, "The God Committee" is a film that takes a fairly intriguing premise and a cast of strong actors and proceeds to throw both away with a script that is so cluttered and convoluted that it renders the basic drama at the heart of it all but inert. The title refers to a group of advisors at a hospital who look at the cases of patients in need of heart transplants and decide whether their past histories and current situations make them viable and worthwhile candidates for the procedure or not. As the film opens, a transplant patient dies just before their surgery is to begin, making the heart they were to receive available once again, but with only an hour or so of viability to decide and the committee--including the aging and hard-living chief surgeon (Kelsey Grammar), an idealistic young doctor-with-a-secret (Julia Stiles), and the weary hospital administrator (Janeane Garofalo)--must decide who gets the heart from a pool of candidates including a sick man with a family who is severely overweight, an elderly woman who doesn't like the idea of a transplant or the former addict son of a hospital board member (Dan Hedaya) who is pledging $25 million to the run-down institution. As the committee members struggle with their literal life-or-death decision, previously unknown information regarding both the patients and the committee members comes to light in ways that will affect everyone involved in unexpected ways.

As premises for ticking clock dramas go, this is not a bad one and if "The God Committee" had stuck to it, it might have made for a lean and mean dive into the grimy world of situational ethics and weighing the needs of the many versus the one. The problem with the film is that this narrative, set in 2014, is one of two timelines vying for time and the second one, set seven years in the future, is an increasingly silly and melodramatic one in which Grammer's character, himself on the verge of death, is trying to perfect a process of successfully transplanting animal organs into people before passing on while at the same time dealing with the repercussions of his relationship with the Stiles character that veers into slightly icky soap opera hysterics. None of this stuff works (though a couple of Grammer's lines are unintentionally amusing) and it is a shame to see the actors trying to make something out of stuff that would seem more at home in an episode of "General Hospital." This is a shame because when it sticks to its guns with the central plot thread, the film is a decently constructed and occasionally provocative look at the grim realities of contemporary medical care that ends up getting kicked to the side by all of the other nonsense.

The Australian import "Long Story Short" clearly wants to present itself to viewers as a combination of "Groundhog Day" (a film which it namecheck throughout) and the twee British romcoms of Richard Curtis (specifically the largely forgettable "About Time") but ultimately proves itself to be little more than a slightly rancid exercise in hard-sell whimsy that offers up a potentially interesting conceit and then fails to make much of anything out of it. Rafe Spall stars as Teddy, a man who is perfectly content to put things in his life off as long as possible on the assumption that there will be time enough later on. This even extends to his impending nuptials to Leanne (Zahra Newman), whom he meets in an opening would-be Meet Cute involving a nut allergy and a mild case of sexual assault, until he is hectored by a mysterious woman (Noni Hazlehurst) into setting an immediate date and to take life seriously at last. The morning after the wedding, Teddy wakes up and discovers that a year has passed that he has no memory of at all and after spending a few minutes trying to figure out what is happening, he jumps forward another year. This continues for the next few years and leaves Teddy struggling to cope with all the things that he has missed along the way (ranging from the birth of his daughter to marital problems with Leanne) while trying to figure out a way to make it all stop so that he doesnít miss anything else.

As I said, the premise is not uninteresting but writer-director Josh Lawson pretty much botches the execution. The primary problem is that Teddy is so obnoxious and annoying, right from the start, that it becomes virtually impossible to develop any interest in him and his attempts to remedy his time-jumping situation. Spall struggles to find the charm in the character but his work here is more grating than adorable--it is hard to work up much interest in whether he will be able to somehow patch things up with Leanne when you always have the sneaky suspicion that she is better off without him. As for the basic conceit, it does play out in vaguely interesting ways in the early going (and there is one inspired joke when Teddy remarks that it has been years since he's gone to the bathroom) but it soon gets repetitive and then takes a turn towards the serious towards the end that it really doesnít earn. In the end, "Long Story Short" wants to remind viewers about the preciousness of time and how it shouldn't be waste--this is ironic considering that the film itself wastes 90 minutes of time before getting to its all-too-predictable conclusion.

During the opening scenes of "Till Death," we witness clearly unhappy couple Mark (Eoin Macken), a former prosecutor-turned-sleazily corrupt defense attorney, and Emma (Megan Fox), a one-time photographer whom he met while prosecuting the scumbag (Callan Mulvey) who brutally mugged her, marking their 11th anniversary with a remarkably tense dinner and a drive out to their remote lake house in the middle of frozen nowhere. If there are any lingering doubts as to the state of their marriage, they are eradicated the next morning when Emma to discover that Mark has handcuffed himself to her moments before he shoots himself dead. Thus, Emma is forced to drag his increasingly messy body around while trying to find a way to free herself and escape, which becomes increasingly important when the final piece of Mark's elaborate revenge plan eventually turns up to put her in additional danger.

Although the premise will no doubt remind some of the Stephen King novel "Gerald's Game" or its not-too-shabby film adaptation, the title that kept popping into my mind while watching "Till Death" was "Blood Simple," the electrifying 1985 debut from the Coen Brothers that also combined genre thrills, wild plot twists and moments of gruesome black humor into an exceptionally bizarre neo-noir. In that film, however, the Coens proved that they could create nifty plots and then execute them in cinematically inventive ways that all but announced themselves to the world as born filmmakers. While the efforts from debuting director S.K.Dale and screenwriter Jason Carvey are certainly energetic enough, especially in the scenes in the midsection when Emma first tries to deal with her plight, the story is ultimately more than a little contrived (especially towards the end) and while the film is short enough and briskly paced, it still leaves viewers with a little too much time to think about what is going on, which is never a good thing in a film along these lines. And yet, even though it doesnít quite work well enough to fully recommend it, it still has enough stuff going for it to sort of keep one's interest until the end regardless. Dale approaches the material in a slick and energetic style that makes you wonder what he might accomplish some day with a stronger script. The better reason for checking it out, however, is the strong performance from Megan Fox, an actress who has never quite gotten her due from Hollywood despite her obvious talents. Here, she delivers her best performance since her turn in the underrated "Jennifer's Body" and even when the screenplay tends to flirt with the ridiculous, her fierce and determined work gives the material some much-needed focus as well as some much-needed laughs here and there. Here is hoping that her performance here gets noticed by the right people so that the long-awaited Meganaissance can finally begin in earnest.

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originally posted: 07/02/21 11:10:16
last updated: 07/02/21 12:10:09
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