Friday, 12 April 2024

‘Madame Web’ muddles along; ‘Land of Bad’ tense action scenes



‘MADAME WEB’ Rated PG-13

A reasonable judgment about a film’s possible appeal may be discerned from watching a trailer. After all, the studio releasing the movie has invested heavily in the production and hopes for a box office win.

In the case of “Madame Web,” the trailer offers little incentive to rush to a theater. A singer wails “What do you want from me?” The thought comes to mind that the recurring tone of the lyrics couldn’t be more irritating.

The idea of Dakota Johnson in the role of Cassie Webb to become a superhero is not off-putting on its own. If anything, Johnson’s Cassie is failed by a script that too often makes little sense.

The story begins with a flashback to the Amazon jungle in 1973 when Cassie’s pregnant mother Constance (Kerry Bishe) is a scientist doing research into rare spiders. Her guide, Ezekial Sims (Tahar Rahim), has his own agenda.

Tragedy strikes when Cassandra’s death occurs just about when she gives birth to Cassie. With her mother bitten by a mystical spider, Cassie develops paranormal powers as an adult.

Thirty years later, Cassie is a New York paramedic, working alongside her best friend Ben Parker (Adam Scott). If Ben’s last name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the future uncle to Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man.

A work-related accident causes Cassie to realize her hidden superpower of being able to see into the near future. Falling into the East River is a near-death experience that triggers clairvoyant powers.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel is on a hunt for three teenage girls in New York. It has something to do with Cassie having visions that Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie (Celeste O’Connor), and Anya (Isebela Merced) are marked for death.

A feasible bet to make is that “Madame Web,” for all its spider-related wish fulfillment, does not seem destined for another superhero franchise. Lacking any psychic powers, I am unwilling to place a wager because anything can happen in show business.

You may get the idea that Dakota Johnson didn’t want to be in this movie, and if so, a sequel would be nothing more than another payday. Sadly, studios have no aversion to turning out an inferior product to cash in with a sequel.

If there is going to be another arachnid-themed installment, the genre would be best served by another Tom Holland turn as the web-slinging Spider-Man, and the next chapter is reportedly in the works.

Depending on how far the appetite for more Spider-Man films exist, it wouldn’t take much effort to make a connection between Madame Web and Peter Parker/Spider-Man. A strong bond exists between Cassie and Ben Parker, but then Ben gets killed during a robbery, as we already know.

One can only speculate on the future of Sony Pictures so-called “Spider-Verse,” and this reviewer has neither the bandwidth nor desire to figure out anything more than “Madame Web” lacks merit for a sequel.





‘LAND OF BAD’ Rated R

“Land of Bad” is a high-octane action picture of a daring military operation that is almost certain to have far more public appeal than it does with many critics tired of the genre.

The awkward title reflects the title card introduction of a Southeast Asia island in the Sulu Sea that is home to “violent extremist groups” that are at war with us but we just don’t know it.

A rescue mission by a quartet of Special Forces to extract a CIA asset being held hostage by terrorists will undoubtedly discover that the war will come at them hard and fast.

Liam Hemsworth’s Sergeant J.J. “Playboy” Kinney is not battle-tested when he joins the team at the last-minute to handle communications with Sergeant Eddie “Reaper” Grimm (Russell Crowe), who is the drone pilot tracking the squad’s moves and launching missiles when needed.

Playboy’s teammates consist of tough, hardened veteran comrades, including Milo Ventimiglia’s Captain John “Sugar” Sweet, Luke Hemsworth’s Sergeant Abel, and Ricky Whittle’s Bishop.

The bad guys are personified by Islamic terrorist Hashimi (Robert Rabiah), the sadistic leader of Abu Sayyaf radical group who decapitates a woman in front of her husband, in a move designed to terrorize other innocent victims.

Getting caught up in the effort to save the village people, the team ends up in a merciless firefight where it appears that Playboy is the only survivor who then flees into the jungle while being chased by heavily armed thugs.

On the run, Playboy relies on Reaper to guide him to a spot for a helicopter rescue, but things are hardly that simple. At the Air Force base in Nevada, Reaper is so committed to the mission that he risks insubordination by arguing with an arrogant superior officer.

“Land of Bad” belongs to Hemsworth for his battlefield heroics and to Crowe for his cocky, amusing self-confidence and unwavering commitment to his job, spending his time mainly confined to a chair staring at a screen.

Easily dismissed as formulaic, “Land of Bad” is nevertheless replete with thrilling, tense action sequences for action fans to enjoy.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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