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Rampage/Beirut/ Truth or Dare

Rampage/Beirut/ Truth or Dare

This was not a good week for movies. In fact, the April 11-13 stretch may prove to be the worst weekend of new releases for 2018.

The curious part is that while none of them are flat out disasters, there’s a cumulative weight to their mediocrity — and the prospect that more of their ilk will soon follow, at least for two of the films — that the effect feels worse than a handful of outright misfires, which may be more easily dismissed and forgotten.

On the heels of the informative but dry Chappaquiddick, the laugh-free Blockers and the commendable yet overrated A Quiet Place the weekend before, if a default “big release” of the bunch must be identified, it’s Rampage. Based on the Bally Midway arcade game, the tale of a kindly albino gorilla named George who’s unwittingly enlarged to the size of a suburban house and, along with a similarly-enhanced flying wolf and a spiky alligator, finds himself drawn to decimate downtown Chicago is meant to deliver thrills and laughs.

We know this is the film’s intention because Dwayne Johnson plays heroic primatologist Davis, the latest in the charming yet comedically challenged actor’s long line of badass, quasi-sensitive types tasked with saving the day. Only in the subversion of this type in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Pain & Gain has Johnson achieved anything resembling onscreen likability in his flesh-and-blood form, so with yet another wheelhouse character whose survival is guaranteed amidst shoddy special effects and poorly developed supporting players, there’s little with which to engage. At least George and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s shadowy government agent display some sense for joke delivery, though each’s style may nonetheless be defined as one-note.

 Bleecker Street Media

Bleecker Street Media

Inexplicably released two days earlier than its weekend competition, there was never much hope that Beirut could make much of an impression, though hope remained for some mildly entertaining alternative programming before giving way to more predictable fare. That optimism evaporates early on in this John Le Carré knockoff, written in 1991 by Jason Bourne series scribe Tony Gilroy and seemingly minimally updated, thereby possessing sketchy relevance to modern times and reason for existence beyond a mirror for the Middle East’s continued volatility.

It’s also the latest film to suggest that Jon Hamm’s skills might not extend beyond the hallways of Sterling Cooper, at least not at the forefront of films that request a comparable charm. (The more Bridesmaids and Baby Drivers, the better — at least until his next great TV role comes along.) Flanked by a lazy Rosamund Pike (with this and 7 Days in Entebbe, period thrillers must inspire her autopilot mode) and the unintentionally hilarious sight of Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris in a toupee, Hamm’s prodigal negotiator stifles the star’s cinematic growth and leaves viewers wondering what could have been had production of the 1982-set film taken place in its intended decade and attracted the likes of Mel Gibson.

Even with the brief head start, the subpar box office of Beirut (less than $2 million) doesn’t exactly encourage the greenlighting of similar fare — a fate likely for the better as it might convince filmmakers that Hamm isn’t suited for these types of leading man roles and also challenge them to once more aim for the spy sophistication of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

 Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Last and unfortunately least is Truth or Dare, the latest budget “horror” film from Blumhouse Productions, whose track record is so sketchy that one would be forgiven for skipping last October’s pleasantly surprising slasher comedy Happy Death Day. Wrapping the staple adolescent game in an absurd demonic mythology to justify its feature-length expansion — what’s next, Duck Duck Goose? — the film packs a whopping two decent jump scares on its way to waxing a group of high school friends in watered down Agatha Christie style.

While none in the cast of beautiful people do anything to warrant further tracking of their careers, director Jeff Wadlow (he of the tone-deaf and legitimately offensive Kick-Ass 2) has his unexpectedly decent visuals wasted in the service of a boring script whose idiotic ending will almost surely inspire a sequel. Yes, the film made nearly six times its $3.5 million budget over opening weekend, but the chief accomplishment here is that Blumhouse remains plenty capable of churning out a dog, even after adding Academy Award Winner to its library with Get Out’s Best Original Screenplay win.

The explanation for the convergence of such middling cinema could be coincidence or a concerted effort from studios to get what they can before Disney starts its summer assault on the world’s bank accounts. The respectable returns for Rampage and Truth or Dare, however, are a bit troubling as they suggest there’s still a market for filmmaking that doesn’t know how to entertain within fairly foolproof genres.

(Photo: New Line Cinema)

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