Video Verdict: ‘Fast & Furious,’ ‘Miss March,’ ‘Dragonball,’ ‘Green Lantern,’ ‘Spectacular Spider-Man’

Justin Chatwin portrays Goku, a young man who must undertake a dangerous mission, in the fantasy film "Dragonball: Evolution."

Justin Chatwin portrays Goku, a young man who must undertake a dangerous mission, in the fantasy film "Dragonball: Evolution."

This week’s key DVD releases include two animated treats, a forgettable sex comedy and Vin Diesel’s return to the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

 

Fast & Furious
2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references
Universal Studios
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

After eight years pursuing other projects, Vin Diesel has rejoined the “Fast and the Furious” series, and the result is predictable. His character, hot rod driving gangster Dominic Toretto, is often fast, frequently furious and always drenched in Diesel’s usual tough-guy persona. In other words, there’s little to separate Dominic from 90 percent of the actor’s roles.

“Fast & Furious” also marks the return of Paul Walker, who last appeared as law enforcement officer Brian O’Conner in 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious.” As with Diesel, he offers no surprises. Brian is now in the FBI, but his actions are just as ludicrous and unlike a peace officer as ever. Strangely, that’s appropriate for a movie so blatantly over the top.

It opens with a terrific action sequence showing Dominic and his girl, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), stealing the tanks right off of a fuel tanker in the Dominican Republic. They’re aided by a few friends, but the bit is mostly designed to bring us up to speed with Dom, Letty and their ongoing Bonnie & Clyde antics.

Shortly after they’re introduced, Dom splits, explaining that the cops are hot on his trail and he doesn’t want Letty taking the fall with him. Fast forward a few months and the lone Dom gets a call saying that Letty has been murdered in the U.S. He’s on a plane immediately and, sure enough, the guys who killed Letty are linked to a drug dealing case that Brian is working on.

That means it’s reunion time for Brian and Dom, and the rest of the movie involves the two leads tracking the bad guys, Dom to avenge Letty’s death and Brian to capture the head drug dealer. The plotting, as in the previous “Fast and the Furious” films, is relentlessly silly and predominantly used as an excuse for high-octane car races and chases. Thankfully, the latter are very good.

Director Justin Lin’s stunts are so exciting and entertaining, in fact, they almost make up for the inadequacies of the characters and script.

The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc special edition and the “Fast & Furious” 4-Movie Collection, which contains every film to date. Extra features vary.

 

Miss March
2 stars
DVD contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received an R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Despite the fact that many of them — nay most of them — are bad, producers keep manufacturing teen sex comedies.

Yes, there have been gems — “Risky Business,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “American Pie” — but the majority are like “Miss March”: over-the-top endeavors using boob shots, profanity and gross-out gags in place of creative screenwriting and strong characters.

“Miss March” centers on long-time friends with opposing outlooks on sex. Tucker (Trevor Moore) is a goofy party dweeb willing to bed any girl with a pulse. Eugene (Zach Cregger) is a buttoned-downed conservative who, along with his girlfriend, Cindi (Raquel Alessi), gives abstinence talks at elementary schools.

Alas, Cindi’s not really on board with the abstinence thing. So, after much pleading, she convinces Eugene to have sex with her.

Before they can seize the moment, Eugene falls down a flight of stairs and winds up in a coma. A year later, he wakes to find that everyone but Tucker has abandoned him and that Cindi has become a Playboy centerfold. Desperate to see his beloved again — and to find out what’s gotten into her — Eugene asks Tucker to drive him cross-country to the Playboy mansion.

As one might expect, the comedy is rude and crude, and the film is packed with nudity, foul language and sexual references. There are a number of funny sequences, but these are countered by disgusting gags about incontinence and other such things.

Moore and Cregger deserve credit — or perhaps scorn — because they not only star in the film, they wrote the screenplay and directed it. The ambition is impressive, but their performances are flat, the directing is nothing special and the writing is often bad. On top of that, the movie was pummeled at the box office. Not the result one wants when trying to break into Hollywood.

DVD extras are limited to a couple of short videos used to promote the film.

 

Dragonball: Evolution
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG for intense sequences of action/violence and brief mild language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director James Wong’s film adaptation of Japan’s Dragon Ball comic book franchise is goofy, lightweight and derivative but also surprisingly entertaining.

The story is built around a boy named Goku (Justin Chatwin) whose grandfather has schooled him in martial arts and Earth’s alternate history. This includes tales of an alien warlord (James Marsters) who attacked the planet some 2,000 years ago only to be defeated and locked away.

Just after his 18th birthday, Goku learns that the warlord has escaped and that the only way to prevent him from destroying Earth is to round up seven mystical objects called dragonballs. One is already in his possession, courtesy of his grandfather, but the others are spread far and wide.

Goku is aided in his dragonball quest by several friends, including a gun-toting femme fatale named Bulma Briefs (Emmy Rossum), a martial arts expert named Roshi (Chow Yun Fat), a bandit named Yamcha (Joon Park) and his high school crush, Chi-Chi (Jamie Chung).

The plot is simplistic, even reminiscent of Saturday afternoon serials, and the film’s rapid pace doesn’t allow enough time for the characters to develop believable relationships. Still, the actors are charming, and there’s no denying the entertainment value.

It’s probably too much to call “Dragonball” good, but it’s no sin to tag it as a guilty pleasure.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel, a martial arts workout bit, a making-of feature and a short about Chatwin’s career.

 

Green Lantern: First Flight
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The latest animated movie by DC Comics is dedicated to the origin of the superhero Green Lantern and his arch enemy Sinestro. In the comics, many Earth men have taken the Green Lantern identity, but this film focuses on test pilot Hal Jordan. He is given a powerful green ring by a dying member of an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps, but he isn’t immediately welcomed into the ranks. Rather, he must prove himself worthy.

The film is well produced and the storytelling is strong through the first two-thirds. Unfortunately, the movie starts showing its direct-to-DVD roots in the third act, which sports a climactic battle that ends suddenly and with no sensible explanation.

Part of the problem is that the limits of Green Lantern’s power have never really been clear, and that doesn’t change here. Therefore, his battles don’t have the stakes as those of a more vulnerable hero like Batman. Still, fans of animation, and superheroes in particular, should consider a rental.

“First Flight” is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 

The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season
2 1/2 stars
Unrated
Sony
Available on: DVD

Animators have offered many takes on Spider-Man over the years, and each has its lure and inadequacies. My favorite has always been “Spider-Man: The Animated Series,” which ran on Fox Kids during the mid-to-late-1990s.

“The Spectacular Spider-Man,” introduced as a Saturday morning cartoon on The CW and later moved to Disney XD, takes a decidedly child-friendly approach to the wall crawler, delivering a series of action-packed stories that are entertaining but never too dark or brooding. That’s a good thing for little ones, and my 5- and 8-year-old boys eat it up.

Adults, on the other hand, will probably find the show a bit simplistic. The stories are basic, and the Spider-Man mythology is condensed so that many of the baddies are tied together in one way or another. For instance, the Vulture becomes a criminal because he was cheated by Norman Osborn, who Spidey fans know as the Green Goblin.

Osborn also has a hand in creating Sandman and Dr. Octopus. The interrelated bits speed the plotting of the episodic show, which tells its stories in less than 30 minutes, but viewers miss out on the depth of character available in the Spidey movies and the 1990s series.

Fortunately, Spider-,Man and his alter ego Peter Parker are fully developed, as are his friends. The series makes full use of the traditional Spider-Man themes, including Peter’s quest to balance teen life with that of a superhero and his strong belief that great power comes with great responsibility.

DVD extras include two features on the making of the series.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Dollhouse” — Season One: Joss Whedon (creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is continuing his television exploits with this television series about a group of people (or dolls) whose minds are regularly wiped and then imprinted with new personality traits and abilities. The idea is that they can then be hired out for “engagements” that range from crimes to good deeds. It’s all illegal, of course, and conflict arises when one doll, Echo (Eliza Dushku), starts to figure out what’s going on. The DVD release includes all 12 first season episodes, plus the an unaired season finale and the original, unaired pilot.

“Battlestar Galactica” — Season 4.5: The Sci Fi Channel re-imagining of the original, 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” series is an undisputed critical hit, and this multi-disc set allows fans to complete their collection. Not only does it include the final episodes from the popular TV series, it boasts hours of extra features and unaired, extended versions of the series finale. Also, fans who haven’t purchased any of the prior seasons, may want to consider the “Battlestar Galactica” complete series release. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray and packs all four of the show’s seasons into a single set.

“Repulsion”: Criterion Collection release of director Roman Polanski’s first English-language film. The 1965 picture is a psychological thriller starring Catherine Deneuve as a young Belgian woman who, shut up alone in her apartment, begins going insane. The DVD release includes a commentary featuring Polanski and Deneuve, plus two features on the making of the film.

“The Alzheimer’s Project”: Four-part HBO documentary series that examines Alzheimer’s disease and the scientific advancements that are helping medical personnel battle it.

Agatha Christie — Poirot & Marple: Massive 17-disc set that includes all 21 A&E movies featuring the Agatha Christie sleuths Jane Marple (Joan Hickson) and Hercule Poirot (David Suchet).

 

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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