Video Verdict: ’42,’ ‘Evil Dead,’ ‘Bullet to the Head’

Chadwick Boseman plays baseball star Jackie Robinson in the sports drama “42.”

Chadwick Boseman plays baseball star Jackie Robinson in the sports drama “42.”

This week’s home video releases include a Sylvester Stallone action film, a horror-franchise reboot and an inspirational sports drama.

42

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Writer-director Brian Helgeland delivers his best movie with “42,” a sharp, earnest tale about Jackie Robinson’s contributions to Major League Baseball. Although Robinson was an outstanding player who appeared in six consecutive All-Star Games, he is best remembered as the man who broke the color barrier.

Major League Baseball did not officially exclude black players from the game in the 1940s, but there was an unwritten rule among owners. That changed when Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey signed Robinson to a farm club in 1946 and to the Dodgers in 1947.

In “42,” Helgeland deftly tells the story of Robinson’s signing, as well as the pressure both he and Rickey faced once the color barrier was broken. There have been other sports movies about racial barriers, including “Remember the Titans,” “Glory Road” and “The Express.” Since these are excellent pictures, it would have been easy for “42” to feel stale or subpar, but Helgeland doesn’t allow that.

Robinson’s story is compelling, and Helgeland paces the film well. More importantly, he uses his cast superbly. Harrison Ford turns in one of the best performances of his career as Rickey, an aging businessman hoping to give something back to the game he loves. Chadwick Boseman, although a relative unknown, is equally good as Robinson. He appropriately portrays the ballplayer as a strong, proud man who endures racial slurs only because fighting back would hurt other blacks hoping to enter professional sports.

The title of the film, of course, refers to the number on Robinson’s jersey, which has been retired from use in all of Major League Baseball. That alone says something about the impact the man had on the game. Helgeland’s movie says even more.

DVD, Blu-ray and digital extras include a behind-the-scenes feature.

 

Evil Dead

2 stars
Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand

Rebooting a classic movie is difficult even when the original players are involved. Nevertheless, writer-director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell and producer Robert G. Tapert – all key players in 1981’s “The Evil Dead” – attempted to recapture the magic of their cult hit. The result is “Evil Dead” (2013), a picture heralded as both a loose remake of the original and a continuation of the “Dead” franchise. Eventually, the storyline and characters of the new film may be merged with those in the older “Dead” films, a concept that would be more appealing if “Evil Dead” were any good.

Although Raimi, Campbell and Tapert are producers of the new version, they left the heavy lifting to others, and the result is ho-hum. The key player is Fede Alvarez, who directed the movie from a screenplay he co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues. As in the original picture, the action centers on a group of young people who travel to a remote cabin where they discover a Satanic text. While studying the book, one member of the group (Lou Taylor Pucci) reads an incantation that unleashes a deadly supernatural force. This leaves everyone in peril, and much of the screen time is focused on Mia (Jane Levy), a young woman who traveled to the wilderness to kick a drug habit.

Taking a cue from “The Evil Dead” (1981), Alvarez allows events to play out in horrifically bloody fashion. It’s not enough, for instance, for a character to remove her own tongue. Alvarez makes sure the audience gets a look at the severed body part before moving on. By the time the credits roll, the body count is high, and all actors have been drenched in fake blood. Since some horror fans are attracted to excess, there is an audience for “Evil Dead.” The movie is not, however, for viewers who relish suspense, character development and originality.

“Evil Dead” owes everything to its predecessor, and Alvarez never tries to hide that fact, even when his movie feels painfully redundant. Raimi’s original picture became a cult classic by exercising a wicked sense of humor and establishing genre conventions that we take for granted today. This new version – although intermittently scary – is neither witty nor imaginative.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include three making-of features.

 

Bullet to the Head

1½ stars
Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use
Warner Brothers
Available on: Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, digital download and on demand

What’s a good cop to do when he hits a dead end? When he’s Washington D.C. detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), he teams up with a dangerous assassin named James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone). You see, Kwon is after the man who killed Bonomo’s partner, so he figures two guns are better than one. This is ludicrous, but it’s the sort of plotting that drives “Bullet to the Head.”

The movie, directed by Walter Hill (“48 Hrs.,” “Crossroads”), is a big, dumb action film that charges forward believing Stallone is charismatic enough to sell even bad writing. He’s not.

The thing Hill and screenwriter Alessandro Camon don’t understand is that movies that have major plot flaws can only succeed if they are a lot of fun. In other words, if an honest cop partners with a murderer, that partnership had better result in lots of laughs and some great action sequences. “Bullet to the Head” has neither.

The movie does have its fair share of gunplay. Trouble is, even the action lacks originality. Hill shifts from sequence to sequence in a predictable routine that plays out like this. Bonomo interrogates someone, roughing him up or killing him in the process. Kwon acts shocked before telling him never to do it again. Minutes later, the cycle repeats.

Apparently, viewers are supposed to see the Bonomo-Kwon partnership as similar to that presented by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in “Rush Hour” or by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys.” There are two problems with this. First: “Rush Hour” and “Bad Boys” are also weak films. Second: The chasm between the characters in those movies is much smaller than the one between Kwon and Bonomo.

The only extra feature on the “Bullet to the Head” Blu-ray combo pack is a short focused on Stallone’s preparation for the action sequences.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Damages” – The Final Season: Last 10 episodes of the courtroom drama centered on shark-like lawyer Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her former protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). In this fifth and final season, Patty and Ellen go head to head in the courtroom.

“Lord of the Flies”: Fresh, digital transfer of director Peter Brook’s 1963 movie about a group of children struggling to govern themselves while stranded on a tropical island. The movie – based on William Golding’s much-loved novel – is getting a fresh look as part of the Criterion Collection.

“Only God Forgives”: The latest movie by “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn is available on demand July 19, the same day it enters theaters. The story centers on Julian (Ryan Gosling), a drug smuggler attempting to avenge his brother’s murder. Kristin Scott Thomas also stars.

“Solomon Kane”: Writer-director Michael J. Bassett (“Silent Hill: Revelation”) tells the story of a 16th century mercenary (James Purefoy) who gives up violence when he learns that he is condemned to hell. Alas, he takes up arms again when a cult kidnaps a little girl.

“Letters From Jackie – The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson”: If the movie “42” makes viewers want to learn more about Robinson, this documentary can fill the void. The movie features uncensored letters written by Robinson, as well as interviews with people close to him.

“Eve of Destruction”: Disaster drama centered on scientists searching for a powerful energy source. When their venture is sabotaged by eco-terrorists, a black hole that could destroy the planet opens. Steven Weber, Christina Cox and Treat Williams star. Directed by Robert Lieberman.

“The Definitive Guide to the Mob”: History Channel special that considers the inner workings of the American mafia with input from former Colombo crime family captain Michael Franzese.

“Heavy Traffic”: Blu-ray debut of writer-director Ralph Bakshi’s 1973 animated movie about a cartoonist struggling to make it in inner-city New York. The movie originally received an X rating, but it has since been revised to R.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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