Ride juggles crudity with poignancy
There are times during Adele Lim's Joy Ride when it's obvious all involved are trying a bit too hard to be included in the Gross Out Hall of Fame. Thankfully, there's enough genuine humor and heart to offset the blatant crudity and ribald moments that are, at best, hit-and-miss. The fact that its cast is so invested in bringing the nasty – but more importantly, committed performances – is what elevates the movie just enough to make it worthwhile...that is, if you can handle the scatological jokes sprinkled throughout.
As the only two Chinese children in their neighborhood, Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) became quick friends when little girls and remain so for over 20 years. However, as they approach their 30s, they're at distinctly different points in their lives. Audrey has put in long hours at the law firm she's at and is due for a promotion. Meanwhile, Lolo still works at her parents' restaurant, trying to make it big in the art world, though her sex-centric sculptures are a hard sell. With a chance at being made a partner on the line, if she can close a deal in Bejing, Audrey askes Lolo to come along with her as a translator, as her friend understands the culture far more than she does. Unbeknownst to Audrey, Lolo askes her socially challenged cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) to accompany them; what Lolo doesn't know is they will be meeting up with Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey's best friend from college, who is now a Chinese movie star.
The adventure these four embark on exceeds their expectations and defies all logic. Before all is said and done, they travel from China to Korea, masquerade as a K-Pop band, injure an entire basketball team with their combined sexual escapades, deal with a social media scandal, search for Audrey's birth mother and speak some hard truths to one another. Much of the humor generated by their misfortunes involves bodily functions, objects being placed in places they shouldn't and some very unfortunately situated tattoos.
The quartet proves to be an effective comedic combination, the four characters each having opposing characteristics that generate some genuinely antagonistic humor. Audrey's naivete requires Park to be the straight woman throughout, her sharp timing and shocked expressions a perfect complement to Lolo's in-your-face crudity, which Cola tackles with great relish. Deadeye's lack of confidence allows Wu to be the film's secret weapon as her character comes out of her shell, while Kat's arrogance sets her up to be brought low, a fate Hsu mines for big laughs.
Beneath the lowest-common-denominator humor is an examination of existential angst. Each of the four principals are forced to come to terms with who they truly are, when the artifice they've each adopted is stripped from each of them. Aubrey, who was adopted by an American couple, is perhaps the most confused as she's unsure as to which culture she should embrace, a problem her trip complicates all the more. That we actually care about this quartet finding a degree of happiness is a tribute to the balancing act Lim and her game cast pull off, delivering cringe-inducing laughs and heart-tugging moments with equal skill. In theaters.
Dial delivers what you expect...and that's just fine
When it was announced that yet another entry in the Indiana Jones franchise was to be made, Dial of Destiny, I was skeptical. Harrison Ford, as fit as he is, in my mind was simply too old to convincingly pull off the required derring-do and would look ridiculous trying. Thankfully, he, director James Mangold and screenwriters David Koepp and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth lean into this aspect of the character, resulting in a poignant look at a man who's studied history all his life and, in a sense, has become part of it, yet fails to understand the modern world he lives in.
The most effective parts of the film are when it focuses on the anachronistic aspect of the character. Seeing Indy trying to navigate America, circa 1969, and the turmoil it contained is a hoot. Ford's resigned reactions to space fever, precipitated by man's landing on the moon, the music of The Beatles and Vietnam War protests, are the highlights of the movie, which would have benefitted from more moments such as these. As it is, Dr. Jones is swept away on a final adventure, this time by his goddaughter Helena (an inspired Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a fellow archeologist who seeks a lost artifact of which she thinks our hero knows the whereabouts.
The McGuffin in question is the Antikythera, a dial invented by the mathematician Archimedes that can supposedly manipulate time. Separated into two pieces, Jones is in possession of one of them, which soon falls into Helena's hands, while the rest of the film is a globetrotting search for the missing half, with former Nazi engineer, Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) looking for it as well.
Of course, there's plenty of action in the film – some of it works, some of it bores. Mangold goes out of his way to provide plenty of fan service, but at times doesn't know when to rein things in. An extended prologue set in the waning days of WW II, which introduces Voller and the dial, is effective but would have been more so had it been trimmed by five to 10 minutes, while an underwater sequence later in the film is so murky, it's hard to distinguish just what's going on.
Still, the hits outweigh the misses, as a chase during a New York City ticker tape parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts is fun, the climax – about which the less said the better – ends things on a high note, while another chase through the streets of Tangiers stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best set pieces in the franchise.
It's no accident that time – how we waste it, how we long to have it back – is at the core of this farewell. Jones' obsession with history and his pursuit of its artifacts have made him a man out of time, his actions blinding him to the wonders of the age he lives in and the people in it. The conclusion of Dial is bittersweet, and if you were to say it's a bit too neat, I wouldn't argue. Yet, it's the way it should end, and is not without its irony. Jones needs to be rescued and the only person who can do so comes to his aid. That he accepts the proffered help proves to be a heroic act in its own quiet way. In theaters.
Ruby drowns in a sea of familiarity
If you keep up on animated films, you’re likely to experience a sense of déjà vu while watching Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken. Shamelessly cribbing from Luca and Turning Red, this latest effort from DreamWorks Animation can't shake a feeling of been-there-done-that. The fact that this is yet another variation on an oft-explored theme – an insecure teenager comes to accept herself for who she is – certainly doesn't help.
Though she is a fish-person, Ruby (voice by Lana Condor) spends her days passing as a human, as do her parents, Flo and Arthur (Toni Collette and Colman Domingo). Just why this family has lived in Oceanside for 15 years is a question that's answered in due time. All Ruby knows is that she doesn't fit in. However, things take a dramatic turn one day when she dives into the ocean to save her wannabe boyfriend and immediately sprouts tentacles and becomes a kraken. Needless to say, Ruby has a great many questions for her mom.
What follows is a standard coming-of-age story as Ruby delves into her family's history and finds that they are, in fact, royalty. Her Grandmamah (Jane Fonda) clues her in on her heritage as well as the fact that the Krakens have been at war with evil mermaids for time immemorial. Ruby finds that her underwater alter ego suits her, as she's much more assured floating about, commiserating with her own kind and shooting laser beams from her eyes, skills that will come in handy when combating her race's mortal enemy.
The metaphor of equating puberty with feeling like a monster has been done to death, though I suppose it's a message that needs to be restated time and again. Still, I wish the screenwriters could have come up with a more original premise. To be sure, the animation style adopted by directors Kirk DeMicco and Faryn Pearl is distinctive and immediately establishes a light tone. While it may appeal to some, the rendering of the characters struck me as amateurish, as if they hadn't been fully developed. The colors are vibrant, but things become far too busy, especially during the film's climax, a flurry of battles and cutaways that prove distracting.
As it is, Ruby comes off as a Little Mermaid knock-off that, despite altering the notion that the monstrous krakens are actually on our side, there's little new here. Those 10 years old and younger will likely be engaged, and if the movie does find an audience, I'm sure a sequel will be in the offing. If that comes to be, let's hope it has the courage to blaze its own trail. In theaters.