Glen Powell shines in Hitman, Hard Miles a familiar but positive journey, Summer Camp dull and predictable

Powell shines in clever Hitman

Directed by Richard Linklater, Hitman is an inspired-by-fact dark comedy that gives Glen Powell the opportunity to show his range and make the case he’s worthy of the great expectations surrounding him. Employing a wry tone from the start, we see meek professor Gary Johnson (Powell) thrown into a dangerous situation. Moonlighting as a surveillance technician for the New Orleans Police Department, a stake-out goes awry and suddenly he’s called upon to go undercover. Posing as a hitman, he meets up with a variety of people looking for a hired killer, their desires recorded by a hidden microphone, charges brought against them soon after.

What proves most intriguing is the duality of Johnson’s character. In his college classes, he teaches Freud’s concepts of the id, ego and superego as well as other theories regarding identity. He espouses his students to question the mystery of human consciousness and challenges them to explore other aspects of their personality. Before you can say, “Physician, heal thyself,” Johnson is experimenting with a wide variety of personae when meeting his marks. He uses wigs, makeup and contact lenses to alter his appearance while employing a variety of accents, running the gamut from suave European assassin to good-ole-boy bayou killer.

It’s obvious Powell is having great fun assuming these various guises, approaching each with an arch sense of humor. The cast of characters he brings to life is incredibly diverse, each representing a different aspect of Johnson’s personality, a surprisingly smart approach. In the end, he picks and chooses various aspects from his many identities, all of them coalescing in Ron, Johnson’s id come to life. Confident and cool, he’s able to handle every situation with a slick assurance that’s beguiling, especially to Madison (Adria Arjona), who hunts our hero up as she has a husband she wants to get rid of.

There’s a spark between the two leads that’s palpable, a great asset when the film starts to seem a bit too long and suddenly more complicated than it has to be. Still, there’s a lot of humor between the two as they navigate the various lies they tell one another, as well as Johnson’s colleagues, who start to realize maybe their friend is in over his head.

I doubt Hit Man will be the film to make Powell a household name. Yet, the actor’s talent is obvious, but the key will be that he continues to challenge himself with a variety of roles as well as work with directors as talented as Linklater. By doing so, Powell may just be able to justify the hype. Streaming on Netflix.

Familiar Miles yields fruitful journey

For over 20 years, Greg Townsend has been taking a unique approach to his job. Instead of employing group therapy sessions or work-release programs to help those at the Ridgeview Youth Detention Center, he takes them on cross-country biking trips, a journey he uses to open their eyes, not just to the beautiful environment they travel through, but to the strength and perseverance many of them don’t realize they possess.

Townsend’s story is the inspiration for R.J. Daniel Hanna’s Hard Miles, a predictable but effective “sports-is-life” exercise that winds up being far more effective than it has any right to be. The charter for the center where Townsend (Matthew Modine) works is under review and in danger of not being renewed. Its director, Skip Bowman (Leslie David Baker), needs a feel-good story to help convince the powers that be that what they are doing is worthwhile. Having already planned to ride 762 miles through three states, the final destination being the Grand Canyon, Townsend suggests he take four of Ridgeview’s more troubled boys along with him, reasoning, “If they see a bigger world, they may want to be a part of it.”

At first glance, the quartet in question seems to be taken from central casting. Having been abused and neglected, Atencio’s (Damien Diaz) anger over the hand he’s been dealt is so great, it’s libel to consume him. Smink (Jackson Kelly) suffers from an eating disorder and a compulsion to sabotage himself, while Rice ‘s (Zachary T. Robbins) impulsivity and immaturity has landed him in more trouble than he bargained for. However, Woolbright (Jahking Guillory) is the hardest case of all, disillusioned by too many broken promises, his tattered self-esteem is likely to lead him to ruin.

As these five cycle through the American Southwest, trailed in a van by Haddie (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams), a counselor from the center, they realize they have much in common, come to prize loyalty, discover the power of working as a team and find they have great reserves of strength. No surprises here, but the four young actors are very genuine, finding a way to channel a degree of sympathy and humanity through the stereotypes they’ve been saddled with.

The script contains one to many crises and Townsend’s backstory concerning his relationship with his abusive father is never developed fully, coming off forced and clumsy. Yet, it’s hard not to be taken in by the grandeur of the movie’s scenery or its message. To be sure, Miles goes down a well-traveled narrative road, but Hanna and Sander prove that a familiar journey can still have a positive effect on those who take it. Available through Video-On-Demand.

Camp a dismal stay

Making a film is difficult. I’m trying to keep that in mind while reviewing Castille Landon’s Summer Camp, a movie that, unfortunately, was able to clear all the hurdles in its way and somehow gain a theatrical release. Lazy, unoriginal and dull, this is an exercise in tedium that ranks up there with watching grass grow. Doctors treating sleep disorders would do well to prescribe a viewing of this to any of their insomnia patients. Believe me, they’d be cured in 15 minutes.

Camp Pinnacle is the location where Sassafras Cabin resides, the quarters where three outcasts, Ginny, Nora and Mary were ensconced one summer 45 years ago. A bond is formed between the three girls that lasts a lifetime and now that it’s time for a reunion, the trio return to reminisce and complain. Ginny (Kathy Bates) has become a self-help guru, Nora (Diane Keaton) is a workaholic scientist and Mary (Alfre Woodard) has gone into nursing. Regrets? Between them, they have more than a few, many of them relating to men or work, none of them remotely new or interesting. However, the presence of Stevie (Eugene Levy) and Tommy (Dennis Haysbert) rekindles some hope in Nora and Mary, neither having learned that a man won’t solve your problems.

The comedy, such as it is, is forced and predictable. A whitewater raft ride includes, you guessed it, Nora going overboard, just one of many moments of awkward slapstick comedy Landon resorts to. Did I need to see a bunch of seniors involved in a food fight? Or witness another take an arrow in the behind when an archery lesson goes awry? This is the type of cutting-edge humor that’s at play here.

As for the veterans in the cast, they do what they can, but there’s no salvaging this debacle. It depresses me to think this is the only kind of material available to actors of this caliber. Movies like this often take place in a tropical location – see the recent stinker Mother of the Bride – so at the very least, the cast can while away their time in paradise. For Camp, it looks as though they had to be on the lookout for ticks and Lyme disease. Hopefully, while doing so, they all considered finding different agents. In theaters.