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MOVIES WITH DAVE

By David Stull

Directly in between the release dates of movie behemoths “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and the 2019 remake of “The Lion King,” we have this past weekend filled with a few smaller films trying to eek out an existence in the shadow of all the summer blockbusters.

There’s a new horror movie from the director of “Piranha 3D” featuring a throng of deadly alligators, a buddy comedy starring Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy” fame, and a documentary about a teenage girl who survived a life threatening shark attack.

Let’s get to the reviews.

***

First up is “Crawl.”

When a massive hurricane hits her Florida hometown, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) ignores evacuation orders to search for her missing father (Barry Pepper).

Finding him gravely injured in the crawl space of their family home, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters. As time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level is the least of their fears.

Oddly enough, this is the fourth week in a row where there’s been some kind of new horror flick making the rounds in theaters.

First was the Chucky reboot of “Child’s Play,” then the next film in the Conjuring universe “Annabelle Comes Home,” followed by A24’s latest slow-burn thriller “Midsommar,” and finally this film.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of late-June/early-July, as prime scary movie season. Obviously four seperate movie studios thought otherwise though, because here we are.

But despite an overabundance of movies in the same genre, I don’t really feel burned out on horror flicks. Partially because all of them have had very distinct concepts and styles, and up until now, all of them have at least been halfway decent.

And fortunately for me, this trend of good horror movies continued this week. In fact, surprisingly I think I may have enjoyed this creature feature the most out of the four.

First of all, the setting here is absolutely perfect.

Most of the movie is pretty much set in a single location, the crawl space underneath the old family house, but what a great location it is to make these gators as terrifying as possible.

Alligators aren’t exactly known for breaking land speed records, so to make them truly threatening you have to throw your main characters in a confined area where they can’t easily run, and under a house is perfect for that.

Not only that, but the addition of the constant ticking clock with an approaching category 5 hurricane slowly flooding the basement, giving the gators an even bigger advantage, really helps further heighten the tension.

Even though the characters were stuck in the same house for the large majority of the movie, the filmmakers found ways to evolve the circumstances of their mortal danger, keeping the setting interesting all the way up until the very end.

I also really liked the characters here.

This isn’t horror movie filled with random buffoons waiting to be brutally murdered. They don’t survive as long as they do simply because they’re lucky. Both father and daughter are highly capable, not to mention tough as nails.

Granted, the relationship between Haley and her dad might not be the most original. It’s another movie about a parent and child who’ve grown distant for one reason or another and reconnect through a series of gripping, life-threatening events.

You’ve probably seen that a dozen times, but I guess there’s a reason filmmakers keep using the same trope. It’s simple, effective, and relatable. And it works quite well here.

By the end of the movie, I was surprisingly invested in these poor characters.

Sure, the film’s not perfect. If you’re looking to nit-pick, the alligators were far from the most realistic creatures I’ve ever seen in a movie.

They looked good enough as far as I was concerned though. Even scenes where I could obviously tell the gator was fake still had me jumping out of my seat at times.

The filmmakers here did a great job building tension, regardless of how the gators looked.

Overall, I thought this was a really fun, well paced, smaller scale horror movie.

It might not be as highly produced as something like “Annabelle Comes Home,” nor does it have the backing of an auteur filmmaker like “Midsommar,” but despite that “Crawl” managed to carve out its own niche in this horror filled summer.

And surprisingly, out of all the scary movies released over the past few weeks, it’s the one I recommend checking out the most.

“Crawl” is rated R.

***

Next up is “Stuber.”

When a mild-mannered Uber driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) picks up a passenger (Dave Bautista) who turns out to be a cop hot on the trail of a brutal killer, he’s thrust into a harrowing ordeal where he desperately tries to hold onto his wits, his life, and his five-star rating.

It seems the time for Dave Bautista, comedic actor, has come.

Following in the footsteps of Dwane Johnson and John Cena, Bautista is the latest in a series of WWE performers who have turned their attention towards acting in feature films.

And through his role of Drax in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, Dave’s made quite a name for himself.

To his credit, he makes a great straight man, an essential part of any comedy group, so it makes sense that he’d get hired for other comedic roles.

In fact if it wasn’t for STX rescheduling their film slate he would have starred in two comedies in back to back months, with this film releasing in July and STX’s Bautista lead featured dubbed “My Spy” originally set to come to theaters in August.

Sadly, “My Spy” was delayed until early 2020 to avoid confusion from two Bautista comedies releasing on top of each other.

Regardless, it’s clear Bautista’s chance to shine outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come. But the question remains, does he actually have the chops to lead a movie, or is he more suited to just playing supporting roles?

Well, I hate to say it, but if this film is any indication, I’d rather see him stay more on the sidelines.

I really didn’t like Bautista’s character here.

In the movie he plays this inconsiderate cop who essentially kidnaps his Uber driver, forcing him to drive across the greater Los Angeles area. Basically he’s a brute who only thinks of himself.

It’s a role some actors may be able to pull off, but Bautista just doesn’t have the charisma for it. He isn’t a likeable jerk with a heart of gold, he’s just a jerk.

But regardless of how much I disliked Bautista in this movie, I think I may have liked the writing for Kumail Nanjiani’s character even less.

Nanjiani plays a man without a backbone. That pretty much sums it up. Just think of all the stereotypes you’d attribute to a weak, pathetic man, and you’ve more or less contrived every element of Stu’s character.

Stu is friends with a mentally abusive woman (Betty Gilpin) who constantly uses him for emotional support. To her, he’s barely one step above a pillow to cry on. Of course Stu is madly in love with this person, but keeping with our theme of “pathetic man,” he’s too scared to tell her how he feels.

She’s also been known to use Stu for sex while she’s on the rebound, further playing with his feelings.

The whole thing makes for an incredibly frustrating sub-plot, and I hated every painful second of screen time it absorbed.

The worst part of all though, despite this being dubbed a buddy comedy, Bautista and Nanjiani didn’t have the least bit of chemistry together.

Sure, Nanjiani bounced off some of the other actors fine. There’s even a few rare genuinely funny moments spread around here and there thanks to Nanjiani’s timing and delivery, but it was never due to Bautista’s character.

It’s sad. I like both actors, and Bautista is certainly one of the highlights in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, but the two of them just make for a terrible comedic duo.

And if the lackluster comedy wasn’t enough of a reason to stay from this film, the final nail in the coffin for this unremarkable action/ comedy is the action itself.

This movie is shot in the same style as many shoddy action flicks. If anything remotely exciting starts happening on the screen, the cameraman just shakes the camera around like they’re having a seizure, and calls it a day.

I swear I almost felt seasick after watching the action in this movie. Shaking the camera around is a lazy way a scene seem more intense, without actually putting any effort into the choreography. Plus it hides any mistakes that happened while filming because the audience can’t see what’s happening anyway.

All in all, there might be a couple moments of good comedy here, but they’re all buried under a mountain of annoying writing, terrible action scenes, not to mention a comedy duo with zero chemistry whatsoever.

“Stuber” is rated R.

***

Last this week is “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable.”

Bethany Hamilton is rewriting the rules on being a fearless athlete. This is the untold story of the heart of a champion and her resilience against all odds to become one of the leading professional surfers of our time.

Did you know that a documentary starring world renowned shark attack survivor and professional surfer Bethany Hamilton was being released last week? Because I know I certainly didn’t. At least not until last Tuesday night when I looked up the new movies at the Moore Warren theater.

Frankly I didn’t even know who she was until I started reading up on her. I vaguely remembered hearing about a 2011 movie called “Soul Surfer” about Bethany’s experience, but beyond that I knew very little about her as a person.

For those who don’t know, growing up Bethany was an aspiring surfer, born and raised in Hawaii.

But her life was forever changed in 2003 when a 14-foot-long tiger shark attacked her, severing her left arm just below the shoulder.

Of course this tragedy made the news, but what really shot Bethany into stardom was her unshakable determination to go out onto the waters and surf again, despite the loss of a limb.

And surf again she did. She even went on to compete in the finals of a national competition less than a year after the shark attack, and she still actively surfs to this day.

It really is an inspiring story. One that made the rounds on just about every talk show imaginable back in the mid 2000s, and of course the previously mentioned feature film.

Which kind of led me to wonder why, over 15 years since her attack, are we just now getting a documentary about Bethany Hamilton?

Well it all started in 2014, thanks in large part to the power of crowdfunding. That’s right, we’ve got ourselves another Kickstarter movie on our hands.

Like many Kickstarters, this film’s release date was ridiculously delayed. From fall 2015 all the way until just last week.

So in the context of that timeframe, this documentary makes a bit more sense. Back in 2015 Bethany was just coming off of staring in a feature film, playing herself in “Dolphin Tale 2,” and competing in CBS’s “The Amazing Race.”

But now, in 2019, I simply don’t think this film has an audience anymore. The fact that I saw this movie alone, in a completely empty theater on a Saturday night, really hammered that point home to me.

Bethany’s tale has been well told over the past 15 years, and nothing in this film really adds anything compelling to that story.

Unless you’re a dedicated Bethany Hamilton fan, there’s nothing new of note here. At least not enough to fill a 98 minute runtime.

Though to the movie’s credit, I thought the first 30 or so minutes were fine. I didn’t know much about Bethany going into this, so seeing her story for the first time on the big screen was interesting.

But after Bethany’s recovery and return to surfing, the movie just kind of meanders around for an hour.

Instead of becoming a professional surfer, she really goes on to become a minor celebrity. The screen time dedicated to that portion of her life felt more self-indulgent than anything. Like a former child actor reminiscing about how loved they were back before they grew into an old self-loathing curmudgeon.

And the rest of the movie after that isn’t much better. The whole thing feels like a big ego trip, created just to show how great Bethany still is, even though her life just isn’t nearly that interesting these days.

Sure, she’s gotten married, had a kid, and even still competes professionally here and there. But information like that should fill up an epilogue, not two thirds of a movie’s runtime.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that she’s led such happy fulfilling life after surviving such a tragedy, but at the end of the day they’re making a movie here.

Like all films, documentaries need a compelling narrative with solid story structure, and after the first 30 minutes, this movie just doesn’t have that.

If you are interested in learning more about Bethany Hamilton, I do highly recommend looking her up. She is a very inspiring person.

I can’t recommend this documentary though. Not unless you’re one of the few fans obsessed with every boring aspect of Bethany Hamilton’s life.

“Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” is rated PG.

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