updated 07/02/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 07/05/2013 AT 5:00 PM ET
Skip The Lone Ranger like a stone on a lake, says PEOPLE’s movie critic.
But Despicable Me and The Way Way Back are definitely worth diving into this the holiday weekend.
Despicable Me 2
Gru (Steve Carell) and his crew return, but not to start mayhem. This time the reformed villain teams up with Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent with the Anti-Villain League, to find the thief who pulled off a daring heist of a dangerous goop that rearranges DNA.
Or, rather, Gru would be able to focus on helping Lucy if he didn’t have to deal with Dr. Nefario’s (Russell Brand) career issues, the minions’ mysterious disappearance and Margo’s (Miranda Cosgrove) new boyfriend, Antonio (Moises Arias).
With all that happening you’d think the plot would be a bit more engrossing, but the film is content to keep things light, while Carell and Wiig give their vocal performances energetic verve. But Despicable 2 is still plenty of fun, as it gives kids what they (probably) want: more minions!
The Lone Ranger
There are two ways to look at The Lone Ranger. Either it’s a ferocious satire of the American western that dismantles a revered pop-culture icon by recasting him as a buffoon, while simultaneously indicting white Americans for their savage treatment of the Native population. Or it’s a massive, steaming pile of horse poo.
All I can tell you is that it doesn’t smell like satire.
Armie Hammer plays John Reid, a.k.a., the Ranger, but this isn’t the masked protector of justice your parents (grandparents?) adored. This Ranger is a Harvard-educated twit so warped by textbook notions of morality that he, in effect, lets bad guys get away.
In fact, let’s just call him Reid, because you’ll be sitting on a numb bum for two hours before he turns into anything like the Lone Ranger of yore.
Far more interesting than Reid, of course, is Tonto (Johnny Depp), the sidekick who’s more of a main dish than the supposed star of the movie. This Tonto is trademark Depp, a weirdo covered in war paint and spouting faux-Native woo-woo while “feeding” the dead bird perched on his head. He’s also not entirely decided on how fluent his English is, sometimes speaking in full, complex sentences, sometimes just clipped phrases. (“Dumb white man” comes up a lot.)
Together, the chemistry-free duo sets off on a plan to, um, well, Reid has to get justice for his dead brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), and there’s this big silver lode somewhere, and a villain named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and – oh, who am I kidding? If director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were genuinely interested in the plot they’d have made one that was logical, and perhaps even interesting.
Instead, they pack the movie with extraneous characters (I’m not at all certain that even Helena Bonham Carter knows what she’s doing there), bizarre asides (don’t bother asking how a horse gets on top of a barn by itself), and a two-hour, 29 minute running time that gives an audience way too much time to think about how much more fun it is to do laundry.
But just to show you that I’m a decent sport, I will stick up for the film’s eye-popping action scenes. The fights staged on moving trains may not even flirt with the laws of physics, but they have a whimsy and complexity that would make Rube Goldberg proud. Plus, they’ll be delightful to kids – though parents should be strongly cautioned that the rest of the film is rather violent, including the senseless slaughter of an entire Native American tribe.
Which means I may have been wrong earlier. The Lone Ranger is an indictment of the way this country treated its earliest inhabitants and a stinking pile of manure. Glad that’s settled.
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
The pleasures of comedy concert films are relatively straight forward, and generally involve a person standing on a stage telling jokes. Few in the current crop of stand-ups can tell a joke with more charm and authority than diminutive Philadelphian Kevin Hart. Which is why it’s such a disappointment that with Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, we have to wade through a lifeless 30-minute preamble before we get to the stand up. Sure, we learn such salient facts as how many Twitter followers the Soul Plane actor has, and how smelly his tour bus gets when crossing Europe, but it would be much more satisfying just to let him bring the funny in front of an audience.
When he finally does get on stage, Hart’s most successful jokes are his most personal, born out of a painful 2010 divorce and his experiences as a dad. (His best bit involves his son’s mistaken belief that he has Spiderman’s web-slinging ability.) But there is far too little of it, and much of this decidedly blue material feels like filler of the battle-of-the-sexes variety we have all heard before.
Still, the show, filmed in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, has a real sense of occasion, aided by on-stage pyrotechnics more befitting a Slayer concert. This guy is clearly worthy of our attention, but one gets the sense that Hart – whose most high-profile movie was the 2012 sleeper Think Like a Man – would be better served with a juicy acting gig. Just as long as it’s not Soul Plane 2. – Oliver Jones
And check this out
The Way Way Back
Steve Carell may be a (redeemed) villain in Despicable Me 2, but he’s never been this big a jackass. His character in this coming-of-age film, Trent, is dating Pam (Toni Collette), but he seems bizarrely focused on bullying her 14-year-old son, prickly introvert Duncan (The Killing’s Liam James).
To escape Trent’s needling (not to mention his makeout sessions with Pam), Duncan gets a job at a water park. His boss, Owen (Sam Rockwell) is a decent sort, a man-child with a listening ear and just enough snark to keep him from being too fatherly.
While the plot may sound overly familiar, The Way Way Back stays engaging with its top-notch talent, from Rockwell, who gives his lines joyous crackle, to Collette as a heartbreakingly fragile woman, growing closer to Trent even though she knows he’s a creep.
And then there’s Allison Janney, stealing every scene she’s in as Trent’s wild neighbor, Betty, always a drink in hand and an off-key song in her heart. She’s easily half the reason the film is as funny as it is.