FRESH POUR: Pacific Rim (2013) / Grown Ups 2 (2013)

Clint takes a look at two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

Pacific Rim / dir. Guillermo Del Toro / Warner Bros. Pictures

Pacific RimIn an age of constant sequels, remakes, reboots, and adaptations, it’s a small wonder when even blatant genre pastiches such as Pacific Rim are touted by the movie-going public as “original.” This is not a value judgment on any of these kinds of films – there are good and bad examples of all of them – but Guillermo Del Toro’s newest effort sticks out as a decent attempt to create a summer sci-fi blockbuster that doesn’t have a specific audience besides those who love its influences. Taking elements of big robot anime, Power Rangers, Godzilla and everything else Del Toro loved watching as a kid, Pacific Rim features the remnants of humanity defending the Earth from giant monsters (aptly named kaiju, after the Japanese word for “monster” and the accompanying genre of films this movie plays off of) using giant fighting robots. While the film on the whole features paper-thin characters and some questionable performances, the film’s energy and earnestness manage to make it one of the most enjoyable films this summer has seen thus far.

Many of the complaints leveled against the film are not against the big robot spectacle, but on the story and characters. These are somewhat on point: Charlie Hunnam’s protagonist Raleigh Becket is not the most layered character in cinematic history, and you have to have a particular taste in comedy to enjoy Charlie Day’s histrionics (luckily enough, I do). Clichés abound, as the rugged Raleigh is called back to the line of duty after a family tragedy (he loses his brother while fighting kaiju in the film’s prologue) to take on an untested partner, square off against a fellow hothead pilot, and face his demons – both literal and metaphorical. All of these scenes are painted with broad brushes, and the dialogue leaves something to be desired. However, there’s a gee-whiz cheesiness to the whole affair that feels birthed from the very influences Del Toro is drawing from in making this film. These oo-rah, togetherness and unity-centric speeches, the international cuddliness, the romantic notions of self-sacrifice and familial conflict combined with pseudo-science – they feel almost deliberately on the nose, as Del Toro is paying homage to the simplicity of Pacific Rim’s influences. He wanted to make a big robot anime with a big budget and an international cast, and he did it, complete with Raleigh’s constant shouting of motivational phrases to punctuate the action and announce special moves (“Let’s do this! Elbow Rocket!”), which I adored.

There’s a stellar cast here, even if some of them are not used properly – Hunnam is normally a good actor, and he’s serviceable here, especially in the aforementioned action scenes, where he brings a wonderful intensity to his movements. Idris Elba shines the most as the paternal, weathered leader of the Jaeger program, and Ron Perlman has a wonderfully showy role as a greasy kaiju organ dealer. Rinko Kinkuchi provides a great deal of softness and determination to her role as young rookie Mako Mori – her relationship with Hunnam is refreshingly friendly and caring without going all the way into romance (which is a nice switch from the normal formula).

The meat and potatoes of the film, of course, are the action scenes, which deliver in spades. The Jaegers are depicted with a real sense of scale and weight, as we see all of their moving parts, the soundtrack rumbles with each landing blow and stomp of a Jaeger or kaiju’s feet (churning along with Ramin Djawadi’s perfunctory but exciting score). While the fact that most of the fight scenes happen at sea or in the rain sometimes makes it slightly difficult to see what’s going on, the battles are filmed surprisingly cleanly, with a great sense of space and movement. One of the best scenes of Del Toro’s previous film Hellboy II was the fight with the Old One, which climbed over the city and wrecked shit as the gang had to deal with it; Pacific Rim takes the feel of that scene and extends it to every bit of violence in its two-hour-plus runtime.

Despite the overall dumbness of the film’s story and characters, the underlying themes are laudable, particularly the recurring motif of connection and unity with one’s fellow man. The concept of ‘Drifting,’ the melding of two minds, is the overall conceit behind allowing two pilots to run the Jaegers (which are brilliantly designed and have lovingly cheesy names like Gipsy Danger and Striker Eureka) is utilized deftly as a way to externalize the internal conflicts between individuals. The adoration and intimacy in Raleigh and Mako’s friendship is personified in their ‘drift compatibility,’ there’s the father-child relationship between Mako and Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentacost  (and the one between the two rival Australian pilots), and even the contentious-yet-begrudgingly-respecting relationship between the two chief scientists/comic relief in the film. Those who seek to do things on their own are punished by the film, and the biggest rewards come from those who reconcile their differences and work together.

There’s a great sense of international cooperation as well, as it’s not an America-centric film at all; the world-building Del Toro weaves throughout the film allows the kaiju threat to be something that can only be solved if all nations work together. The characters are flat, but they’re all equally flat in a charming, soap-opera kind of way, which can be rewarding if you’re in the right mindset.

In conclusion, Pacific Rim was a wonderful, fun movie to watch, with a great sense of kineticism in the fight scenes, an earnest commitment to its own world (the fact that people can call their base “the Shatterdome” with a straight face adds to its likability) and some killer production design, particularly with the Jaegers and their equipment. I would have loved a bit more variety out of the kaijus (they just end up being various blobs of grey, lizard-like mass with different neon bits to them), but their presence is still highly entertaining. Guillermo Del Toro is an expert at making movies that he would love watching – if you’re a part of that niche audience, you’re sure to have a good time. If not, I still say give it a shot.

Clint’s Verdict: Loved It

Drinking Rules for Pacific Rim:

1) Drink anytime a Kaiju roars at the screen
2) Drink each time a character exposits about their or someone’s past
3) Drink every time a Jaegar uses a special weapon (e.g. plasma cannons, arm swords)

Finish Your Drink When:
Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) says, “Where’s my goddamn shoe?”

Grown Ups 2 / dir. Dennis Dugan / Columbia Pictures

Grown Ups 2Okay, so this will be a very short review. I’m pulling a Rex Reed for Grown Ups 2: I only watched about 20 minutes of it in my screening, then promptly walked out. This very short review only reflects what I saw, but unless the film does a 180-degree turnaround (which is doubtful) I think I saved myself an hour and a half of my life.

Here is a list of things I saw in the movie:

–          A deer pees on Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek and their masturbating son, while they flail around like idiots.

–          Kevin James grimly chuckles at his child not knowing basic math, while Maria Bello simply lies to the child so as not to hurt his feelings.

–          Chris Rock acts like a robot on his way to Stepford practice, while his child walks around with a full-to-the-brim poopy diaper.

–          David Spade meets his very tall, dangerous-looking son from a one night stand with a girl named Hiccups; the one time I laughed in the film consisted of the son looking at a stick figure with a hat on a piece of paper, staring at David Spade, and saying, “Yeah, you’re him.”

–          Nick Swardson shows up as Fat Nick Swardson, the Vulgar Man with a Lisp. He promptly makes buttsex jokes and falls asleep.

After that, I left. I walked out. Granted, this had equally to do with the amorous couple a few rows behind me in the largely-empty theater, who had definitely escalated to full-on sex by the time I had walked out. They’d been making out heavily when I first sat down, but little did I know how far it would escalate by the time the movie began – suffice to say, if you can maintain an erection during the Smurfs 2 trailer, I tip my hat to you, sir. Blowjobs were happening at the same time that Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek and their masturbating son were sprayed with deer urine. Despite being impressed by the audacity of what they were doing (there were kids in the audience, for God’s sake), it was only a further motivator to skip out on this turd of a movie. I knew I wasn’t going to like it; if you’re reading this, you’re probably not going to see it. We all know by now that Adam Sandler and friends just con studios into funding their vacations and putting them into theaters to make millions of dollars.  Just don’t see it. Don’t.

(Upon further inspection, I found out that the ‘chocolate wasted’ scene in the trailer is just a scene from the first movie. There aren’t enough funny things in the movie to fill the trailer, so they had to borrow from the preceding film and hoped people wouldn’t notice. Well played, Happy Madison Productions.)

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It (Because Clint skipped it.)

Drinking Rules for Grown Ups 2:
1) Just drink whenever you feel an aneurysm coming on. Just drink.

Finish Your Drink When:
Someone in your audience decides to get freaky instead of watching Grown Ups 2.

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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