Movie Reviews: 'Sicario: Day of the Soldado' drops the art in favour of action
Published Friday, June 29, 2018 6:00AM EDT
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO: 3 ½ STARS
“Sicario,” Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 war on drugs movie, was a powerful look at a seemingly unwinnable battle and the toll it takes on its soldiers. Marked by tension and moral ambiguity, it wove complex quasi-morality and a sense of hopelessness into an edge of your seat story.
The new film, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” a sequel of sorts made without director Villeneuve or the ethical auras of Emily Blunt’s character, breathes similar air but is less nuanced. “Sicario” was an arthouse action film. The new one drops the art in favour of the action.
Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro return as CIA agent Matt Graver and assassin Alejandro Gillick. They are by-any-means-necessary black opps agents, tasked with creating chaos within the Mexican drug cartels after the president adds drug cartels to America’s list of terrorist organizations. Seems the drug lords have expanded from moving illegal substances across the border into the United States to importing humans.
Their plan is simple. Kidnap Isabela (Isabela Moner), a drug lord’s 16-year-old daughter, pin the blame on a rival, then sit back and watch the fireworks. “If you want to start a war,” says Graver, “kidnap a prince and the king will start it for you.”
Good plan, except it goes sideways when Isabela breaks free and hits the road. Gillick, who lost his family, including a young daughter, on the orders of Isabela’s drug lord father, rescues the youngster, stowing her in an out-of-the-way home where she becomes a pawn in a high stakes game.
Although the U.S.-Mexico border plays a big role in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” this isn’t a movie about a wall. Instead it’s a convoluted tale of corruption, fear, relationships, a young girl and the two men who change her life. For most of the running time it works well.
Brolin, the hardest working man at the box office this year, was born to play this amoral do-gooder. He’s a charming killer, a man who does what needs to be done, usually with a one liner and a gun. Like his other characters this summer, “Infinity War’s” Thanos and “Deadpool 2’s” Cable, he’s not above breaking the rules. Bingo. Few actors working right now could pull this off with the kind of steel jawed aplomb that oozes from his pores.
Ditto del Toro who brings an air of menace that positively drips off his perfectly sculpted cheekbones. He’s the boogeyman, a stone cold killer who lives on the edges of morality. This time around Gillick, however, has some softer edges, mostly due to his fondness for Isabela.
Herein lies the first bug-a-boo. When Gillick isn’t shooting people he’s displaying a warm and cuddly side looking after the well-being of the young girl. All of a sudden the guy who murdered kids in the last movie has a big heart. I guess it’s called character development but screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the original, sets up an almost impossible situation involving a child.
Big dollops of hopelessness and nihilism return from the first film but Isabela’s relationship with Gillick feels forced, like a plot point and not an organic narrative twist. The sense that director Stefano Sollima and Company are more interested in creating a franchise than staying true to the characters or making a statement about the mess at the U.S.-Mexican border hangs heavy over the film, particularly in the final twenty minutes.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a wild ride until it stops making sense in the last reel. Cynicism and bleakness are still the name of the game but, strangely, Sollima and Sheridan take a u-turn near the end, pushing the limits of belief to create a platform for a sequel. It’s not a feel-good movie but it desperately tries to imitate one in its final moments.
UNCLE DREW: 3 ½ STARS
There seems to be something about basketball themed TV commercials that strike a chord with Hollywood. First it was Michael Jordan vs. Looney Tunes in “Space Jam” and now comes “Uncle Drew,” a new inspirational comedy featuring starring Kyrie Irving as the character he created for Pepsi Max.
The story begins with Footlocker employee Dax (“Get Out’s” Lil Rel Howery), broke after draining his bank account to sponsor a team in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem. It is the epicenter of streetball, we’re told, “where the legends of the game you were born.”
The prize is $100,000 but more important than the money is showing up someone from his childhood, his nemesis Mookie (Nick Kroll), “the ghost of white boy past” who bullied Dax when they were players. “What’s that smell?” asks Mookie. “Is it a grudge?”
When Dax loses his best player and girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish) to Mookie he turns to an icon, streetball pioneer Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving). Now in his seventies the onetime local legend once beat someone at a game of one-on-one with only his left hand while eating a ham sandwich (with extra cheese and mayo on it) with the right. He is the “Zen master of basketball,” but hasn’t played since his team skipped the 1968 Rucker Classic for personal reasons.
Together they hit the road to recruit a sure-fire team of Uncle Drew’s septuagenarian pals (Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie all hidden under layers of make-up) to take one last run at the game on the 50th anniversary of the game they never got to play.
“Uncle Drew” is a sports movie based on a commercial but there’s more swishes than misses here. It’s a sweet natured film about respect, teamwork—“Gladys Knight ain’t nothing without the Pips,” says Uncle Drew.—resilience and second chances. It is an undeniable, if somewhat predictable, feel good movie that doesn’t aim any higher than the rim of a basketball hoop. Filled with old coot advice we learn, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and, “You don’t stop playing because you get old you get old because you stop playing,” it plays like a heavy-handed sports Successtory with loads of improv comedy.
UPGRADE: 3 ½ STARS
The new thriller from Leigh Whannell, the co-creator of “Saw” and “Insidious,” is part ripped-from-the-headlines, part “Twilight Zone.” News outlets are reporting on the trend of implanting microchips to function as contactless credit cards and key cards in humans. Whannell took that premise, ran it through the RodSerling-izer™ and added a dollop of “RoboCop” to come up with a silly and sentient piece of sci fi.
Set sometime in the near future “Upgrade” sees mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), an “unaugmented” man in an increasingly augmented world. Microchips and other human upgrades are common, but Grey is old fashioned, favoring humanity over any kind of mechanization. In a world of self-driving cars and “energy walls” he’s a DIY guy. When four strangers murder his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) and leave him a quadriplegic he is wheelchair-bound and depressed until he is offered a unique opportunity.
One of his former clients, tech wizard Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), offers to implant a chip called STEM, kind of an auxiliary brain, into Grey’s spine. The bio mechanic enhancement would leave him “ungraded, better, stronger and faster than everyone else,” and, of course, in perfect shape to get bloody revenge on the men who killed his wife and shattered his life.
Like Whannell’s other movies “Upgrade” is a dark, atmospheric and grim film. Blood flows but so do ideas about our addiction to computers and what happens when machines start thinking for themselves. But don’t worry, it’s not that heady. Like all good idea-soaked sci fi b-movies, it’s more about engaging your gut with visceral, i.e. violent, action, and even some humour. It’s gutsy and gory futurist Cronenberg-esque body horror made interesting by the speed at which technology approaches some of the film’s ideas about biotechnology.
“Upgrade” becomes conventional when the police procedural subplot kicks in but until then it is B-movie fun.
WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST: 1½ STARS
Vivienne Westwood is one of the most provocative brand name fashion designers in the world. Her early work in the 1970s came to define the ripped-and-ready look of punk rock and now, decades later, her fashion forward design dot runways all over the world.
The title a new documentary from Lorna Tucker, “Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist,” promises to showcase three aspects of Westwood’s life but instead mainly presents a portrait of an irascible person, dismissive of her legacy. It’s not exactly the stuff of great documentary.
Tucker presents a comprehensive biographical look at Westwood’s life, from humble beginnings and centre-of-the-punk-rock-storm—“We invented punk,” she says.”—to flat broke and back again to eco warrior. Supported by well chosen archival footage and featuring talking head interviews with Westwood and her inner circle, it’s good looking but never goes for the deep dive. People say things like, “She’s a punk rocker. She’s the only punk rocker,” without much substantiation.
Westwood is a legend, charismatic and an impish presence at age 77, but isn’t well served here.
“I can’t be bothered,” Westwood says in her sit-down interview. “Who wants to listen to all this stuff? If the film is only going to be a certain length I’m sure there is more interesting stuff to put in.” Unfortunately Tucker doesn’t find the really interesting stuff. “Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist” is something Westwood has never been–dull.