Video Verdict: ‘Rio 2’ and ‘Under the Skin’

Blu, Jewel and their children soar through the air with Rafael, Nico and Pedro in a scene from “Rio 2.”

Blu, Jewel and their children soar through the air with Rafael, Nico and Pedro in a scene from “Rio 2.”

This week’s home video releases are anchored by a sequel to the 2011 animated hit “Rio.”

Rio 2

2 stars (out of four)
Rated G
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital download

With the exception of an outstanding voice cast, the 2011 animated film “Rio” was rather ordinary, and its sequel is even less inspired. Both movies are visually stimulating, musically appealing and artfully made, but they suffer from mundane, been-there-done-that plotting that seems designed mainly for children.

Since youngsters are the target audience for “Rio 2,” it may seem unfair to complain about the commonplace story. Still, today’s best animators push the envelope, and audiences are becoming increasingly accustomed to children’s movies that entertain a broad age range. The “Rio” franchise just isn’t that ambitious.

There are appealing elements in both “Rio” films, most notably director Carlos Saldanha’s colorful depiction of South American wildlife and scenery. Since “Rio 2” is a musical, Saldanha also deserves credit for collecting a nice batch of tunes and working them into his feature in organic and pleasing ways. The trouble is, these strong points are saddled to a pedestrian script. The story is set after events in the original Rio, and it is essentially an animalized version of “Meet the Parents.”

The action again centers on Blu, a rare blue macaw who grew up as a much-adored animal companion in Minnesota. In “Rio 2,” Blu has adapted to life in Rio de Janeiro, and he and his mate, Jewel, are raising three children in a sanctuary. Everything changes when Blu’s owner, Linda, and her husband, Tulio, spot another blue macaw deep in the Amazon rainforest. Hoping they aren’t the last of their breed, Jewel convinces Blu to take the family on vacation to the Amazon. What they discover changes their lives forever.

Because “Rio 2” is a sequel, it contains all the favorite characters from the original movie. This includes Rafael the toucan, Nico the canary and Pedro the red-crested cardinal. The film also features the return of Nigel, the villainous cockatoo from the original film, as well as a batch of new characters.

The voice cast is, again, outstanding. Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway reprise their roles as Blu and Jewel, and they get strong support from Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno, Kristin Chenoweth and Will.i.am. If the storytelling was as impressive as the cast and visuals, “Rio 2” might have been something special. Instead, it’s another so-so sequel.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a still gallery and several making-of features.

 

Under the Skin

1 star
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Lionsgate
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast,” “Birth”) has always evaded the conventions of mainstream cinema, preferring to work on off-kilter independent dramas that feel most at home on the art-house circuit. At its best, his work is challenging and thoughtful. At it’s worst, it’s self-indulgent, perplexing and dull. “Under the Skin,” a loose adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel, is mostly the latter.

The movie centers on an alien being (Scarlett Johansson) who takes the form of a beautiful human woman, then drives around in search of human prey. She uses her assumed sexuality to convince men to climb into her van. Then, she drives them home and lures them into an oily black substance they cannot escape. The men, seemingly under a spell, never fight back. In Faber’s novel, the alien’s actions are explained, but Glazer doesn’t bother with this, and that’s one of many frustrations.

Although the setup is fascinating, “Under the Skin” never takes flight because very little actually happens. The first two thirds of the movie are focused on the alien’s hunt and, since her technique rarely changes, it grows tiresome quickly. Glazer also favors bizarre, arty visuals over realism, leaving much of his story to interpretation.

Symbolism is fine, but Glazer’s movie is so light on explanation that it feels fragmented despite its simplicity. Viewers who like puzzle films may enjoy this approach, but those who prefer that their director do some of the work will be frustrated.

“Under the Skin” touches on interesting themes. The movie is particularly engaging in its portrayal of predators – both alien and human. In most fiction, it’s a dainty, beautiful blonde who is tormented by a stronger, male attacker. Glazer flips this stereotype like Joss Whedon did with his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” character. If “Buffy” hadn’t been a huge hit, this alone would have made “Under the Skin” noteworthy. But “Buffy” was a hit, and that lessens the impact of Glazer’s work, even though his third act enters fresh territory.

Johansson is solid as the alien siren, but the role asks little of her. She spends the entirety of the 108-minute movie acting remote and shedding her clothes. This is reflective of the project’s bigger problems. In the movie, Glazer flirts with everything from suspense to eroticism, but none of it has an emotional center. Because of that, the movie feels naked and cold

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Scanners”: The Criterion Collection delivers a freshly restored version of writer-director David Cronenberg’s 1981 science-fiction film about humans – or scanners – with powerful psychic abilities. The plot centers on one particularly powerful scanner (Stephen Lack) who is charged with hunting others with similar abilities.

“Hell on Wheels” – The Complete Third Season: This AMC drama returns for a fourth season in August. Before that happens fans can bring themselves up to speed with the 10 episodes on this set. The show takes place shortly after the end of the Civil War, and it centers on a former Confederate soldier (Anson Mount) determined to avenge his wife’s death.

“Pickpocket”: Foreign film lovers should enjoy this newly restored transfer of writer-director Robert Bresson’s 1959 movie about an ex-convict (Martin LaSalle) who makes a living as a pickpocket. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“How the West Was Won” – The Complete Second Season: This Western TV series ran only two seasons, but it continues to have a following among fans of the genre. James Arness stars as a hardened, Colorado mountain man leading his family at the outset of the Civil War.

“100 Years of WWI”: This release, from the History Channel, features four separate programs focused on World War I. Special attention is paid to weapons of the era and the way they changed warfare.

“A Day Late and a Dollar Short”: This release is a Lifetime Channel adaptation of the like-titled Terry McMillan novel. The plot centers on a woman (Whoopi Goldberg) who learns that a chronic medical condition is likely to kill her, so she decides to mend her broken family. Mekhi Phifer, Anika Noni Rose, Ving Rhames, Kimberly Elise and Tichina Arnold also star.

“Deadly Eyes”: Blu-ray/DVD combo release of director Robert Clouse’s 1982 horror movie about giant rats that terrorize Toronto. Sam Groom and Sara Botsford star.

 

– 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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One response to “Video Verdict: ‘Rio 2’ and ‘Under the Skin’

  1. Pingback: Critics’ Choice Movie Awards nominees announced |

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