Movie reviews: Vacation, Sinister 2, Theeb, Gemma Bovery
Paul Whitington reviews this week's main releases - Vacation, Sinister 2, Theeb, and Gemma Bovery
Part sequel, part remake, Vacation (3*, 15A, 99mins) reprises the low humour of the classic National Lampoon comic franchise, which starred Chevy Chase as the affable but dunderheaded Clark Griswold. In five films of varying quality, Clark and his family would strike out charged with optimism on another family holiday, only to have their expectations dashed by Pa Griswold's staggering ineptitude.
Fast forward a decade or two, and Clark's son Rusty (Ed Helms) has become a fully fledged idiot in his own right. His wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) is tired of dreary holidays at a lakeside cabin, so Rusty surprises her and their kids by taking them on a road trip to Walley World, the Californian theme park he visited as a child.
A Griswold holiday based on another Griswold holiday - what could possibly go wrong? Vacation is daft, unsubtle, wholesome American slapstick, but surprisingly likeable for all that. Christina Applegate has always had a wonderful touch for comedy, and Ed Helms fearlessly takes on the Griswold mantle, clowning about, getting it all wrong and becoming the butt of practically every single joke.
While no Exorcist, Scott Derrickson's 2012 film Sinister was a competent and atmospheric little horror film that managed to create three or four images disturbing enough to linger in your reviewer's sensitive mind. Ethan Hawke played a twitchy writer who lands his family in a world of trouble when he moves into a crime-scene house that turns out to be haunted by a bogeyman.
Sinister's secret weapon was a collection of chilling Super 8 homes movies depicting bogeyman massacres, and these flickering horror shows feature prominently in this chancy sequel directed by Irish film-maker Ciaran Foy. James Ransone returns for Sinister 2 (2*, 16, 97 mins) as the hapless Deputy Sheriff 'So & So', who's now a private detective determined to stop the bogeyman from striking again. But when he visits the scene of a recent slaughter, he finds that a young mother (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two boys are now living there, and in real danger.
Or something like that. Because if the first film made only a marginal amount of sense, this one falls to bits whenever you start trying to work it all out. Some of Mr. Foy's imagery is interesting, but the screenplay is so bereft of new ideas that it resorts to unpleasantness early and often, even using an old Japanese POW camp party trick involving a pot, a rat and a person that we need not go into here. Sinister 2 is not a good film, but it is a nasty one.
Naji Abu Nowar's compellingly stark drama Theeb (4*, No Cert, IFI, 100mins) is set on the Arabian peninsula in 1916, when the Ottoman Turks and the British were slugging it out, and oil prospectors were beginning to sniff around. When the young Bedouin prince, Hussein agrees to guide an English soldier to a remote well, his younger brother Theeb sneaks after them, and becomes embroiled in an elemental struggle in the baking desert heat. It's a satisfying film, rich in sound and detail, and works like a pared down Arabian western.
Based as they say on an original idea by Gustave Flaubert, and a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, Gemma Bovery is exactly the kind of embarrassing blancmange that almost invariably ensues whenever the French and British co-produce. The estimable Fabrice Luccini is about the only thing Anne Fontaine's film has going for it: he plays Martin Joubert, a noisy and wistful Norman baker who becomes obsessed with the complex private life of a beautiful Englishwoman who moves in next door.
Gemma Bovery (2*, 15A, 99 mins), played by Gemma Arterton, is bored and restless, just like Flaubert's indelible heroine, and meddling Martin becomes convinced she's heading for a fall. She is, but not fast enough for my liking.
Straight Outta Compton (Corey Hawkins, Paul Giamatti); We Are Your Friends (Zac Efron, Wes Bentley); Hitman: Agent 47 (Rupert Friend).