Video Verdict: ‘Flight,’ ‘Here Comes the Boom’ and ‘Alex Cross’

Denzel Washington plays airline pilot Whip Whitaker in the Robert Zemeckis-directed drama “Flight.”

Denzel Washington plays airline pilot Whip Whitaker in the Robert Zemeckis-directed drama “Flight.”

This week’s home video releases include a thriller starring Tyler Perry, a family film with Kevin James and a drama that netted Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination.

Flight

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence
Paramount
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Denzel Washington earned his sixth Oscar nomination for “Flight,” a film in which he delivers a brilliant portrayal of a booze- and drug-addled pilot who crash lands a disabled airplane. The great thing about Washington is his characters always have enough depth to move beyond movie archetypes, and his drunken pilot – Whip Whitaker – is no exception.

Whip gains national attention after his airline crash not because he’s a substance abuser, but because his in-air heroics saved the life of nearly every passenger, even though his plane had severe mechanical problems. Still, as aviation officials investigate the tragic event, Whip’s struggles with addiction come to light.

Ultimately, “Flight” isn’t about an aircraft crash. It’s about Whip’s demons, and the movie offers a surprisingly realistic view of addiction. Too often, drug movies focus only on characters hitting rock-bottom moments, ignoring the fact that many drug abusers are surprisingly functional and spend their days suffering in silence.

Although Washington carries “Flight,” the movie benefits from a host of outstanding supporting performances, including memorable outings from Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman and Don Cheadle. Director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins also deserve much of the credit. Gatkins earned an Oscar-nomination for the screenplay, which had the courage to abandon stereotypes, and Zemeckis transferred the words to the screen beautifully. Among other things, Zemeckis’ depiction of the airplane crash ranks among the best in film history.

The only flaw in “Flight” is a disappointing and somewhat predictable ending that seems especially trite when contrasted against everything that comes before. It seems unfair to focus on that one failing, however, because all but the final moments of the movie are exceptional.

The DVD version of “Flight” doesn’t contain any extras, but the Blu-ray has four making-of features.

 

Here Comes the Boom

3 stars
Rated PG for bouts of MMA sports violence, some rude humor and language
Sony
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray and on demand

What’s a high school teacher to do when his principal cuts funding for the music program? If that teacher is Kevin James, he becomes a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in order to raise cash for the struggling institution.

Yes, “Here Comes the Boom” is as silly as its synopsis. Fortunately, it’s also a lot of fun and, with a PG rating, the entire family can enjoy it. James plays Scott Voss, an award-winning biology teacher who has lost all enthusiasm for his job. Because of this, he shows up late, wastes class time and openly scoffs at the value of public education.

Things change, however, when his principal (Greg Germann) announces that he’s cutting the school’s band program. Distressed because the cuts include the job of the school’s inspirational band teacher (Henry Winkler), Scott decides to raise money however he can. When he learns that MMA fighters receive as much as $10,000 just to lose, he decides to put his days as a college wrestler to good use and return to the ring.

The plot is, of course, ludicrous, and it’s hard to take James seriously as a cage fighter, but that’s part of the enjoyment. It doesn’t matter that none of this could happen. Viewers just have to go along for the ride.

James is a charismatic actor who makes it easy to invest in Scott’s fights, and he gets nice supporting work from Winkler, Salma Hayek (who plays the school nurse) and Bas Rutten (who plays his MMA trainer). Director Frank Coraci also worked with James on the terrible 2011 film “Zookeeper,” but he raised the bar considerably this time. “Here Comes the Boom” isn’t the sort of movie that wins awards, but it is solid family entertainment that should leave everything smiling once the credits roll.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette, a large collection of deleted scenes and a gag reel.

 

Alex Cross

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references, and nudity
Lionsgate
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray, digital download, on demand and pay-per-view

The main question most viewers will have about “Alex Cross” is, “Can Tyler Perry play the hard-nosed lawman that the movie is named after?” The answer is, “Yeah… sort of.” He may not be everyone’s ideal vision of novelist James Patterson’s detective – especially when compared to Morgan Freeman’s portrayal in “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls” – but Perry is serviceable. The same can be said of director Rob Cohen’s entire film. “Alex Cross” isn’t bad, but it isn’t especially good either.

The film is best categorized as a standard-order detective thriller that has strong moments, weak moments and plenty of in betweens. It’s at its worst when Perry is trying to establish Cross not only as a peace officer, but as a psychologist so tuned into details that he can tell what someone had for lunch by simply looking them over. The Mark Moss and Kerry Williamson screenplay makes several attempts to convince viewers that Cross possesses this Sherlock Holmes-style genius, but each bit come up flat, primarily because they’re rushed.

“Alex Cross” is at its best when a nearly unrecognizable Matthew Fox is chewing up the scenery as the film’s chief bad guy. Fox plays a hired assassin who likes his job so well that he tortures victims and throws in additional kills at no charge. His work is flashy, but it’s also extremely creepy, and that’s what drives the movie. As much fun as it is to watch Fox, his scene stealing is a problem because a film titled “Alex Cross” shouldn’t be reliant on a secondary character.

Fortunately, none of the flaws in “Alex Cross” are so damning that they make the film an unpleasant experience. In fact, it’s reasonably entertaining as long one keeps expectations low. With supporting performances by Edward Burns, Jean Reno, Cicely Tyson and Rachel Nichols, the film also has reasonable star power. What it doesn’t have is the emotional depth and plotting of a top-tier thriller. If you’re looking for those things, skip the video rental and check out Kevin Bacon’s exceptional new television series, “The Following.”

“Alex Cross” DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Cohen.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“A Late Quartet”: Drama about the interpersonal struggles of a world-renowned string quartet. Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Imogen Poots and Mark Ivanar star. Directed by Yaron Zilberman.

“Peter Pan” – Diamond Edition: Disney is celebrating the 60th anniversary of this animated classic with a fresh digital restoration. Even better, the film is finally receiving its Blu-ray debut.

“Paul Williams – Still Alive”: Documentary movie about musician and actor Paul Williams, who had his career heyday in the 1970s. Directed by Steven Kessler.

“The Ballad of Narayama”: Criterion Collection release of Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1958 drama set in a poor village where citizens are carried to the top of a mountain and left to die on their 70th birthday. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.

“Tyler Perry’s Madea Gets a Job” – The Play: Tyler Perry may be the new Alex Cross, but he’s best known for donning a dress and portraying the tough-talking elderly woman Madea. In this latest project, he brings the character to a retirement home where she has been ordered to work 20 hours of community service.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever”: Romantic comedy about a young married couple (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) who try to remain best friends while going through a divorce. Jones also co-wrote the screenplay. Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

“Ben 10 Omniverse – A New Beginning”: Ten episodes of Cartoon Network’s new series about the exploits of Ben Tennyson, a crime-fighting youth with the ability to transform into alien species.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Verdict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s