Del reviews ‘Assimilate’

Image courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

“Assimilate” Starring Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy and Andi Matichak. Directed by John Murlowski. 1 hour, 33 minutes. Not rated.

Del’s take

It was a tweet that led me to the Refinery 29 list of 130 best new movies on Netflix, and from that I made my own list because I don’t see myself watching sappy holidays flicks where the man and woman fall in love despite their political differences (The very idea bludgeons my suspension of disbelief).

That’s how I tumbled onto “Assimilate,” which shares a common trait with “Spiderman.” How?

The two are part of an endless cycle of recycling.

How many versions of “Spiderman” will Hollywood make before they finally leave it alone? Same goes for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the 1956 classic about the Red Scare. “Assimilate” is, what, the fourth of fifth iteration of that movie? I’ve lost count.

Far be it from me to criticize – I watched the whole damn thing. But honestly: Hollywood, do you need a new scary sci-fi horror movie idea? I’ve got several available if you can lay off the sequels and re-imaginings and revisions.

“Assimilate” takes place in a small town called Multon, Missouri, which looks pretty nice to me – neat and clean, with lots of well kept homes, sparse traffic and a lack of crime that allows you to leave your doors unlocked at night. And it’s those qualities that make Multon a living hell for Zach (Joel Courtney), Randy (Calum Worthy) and Zach’s crush, Kayla (Andi Matichak).

Zach can’t leave because his father lost the use of his legs in … well, I don’t remember the movie explaining that detail. But Zach must stay to help his mother take care of his dad. Randy can’t leave because he’s a loser. Kayla IS leaving and the threat of her absence might prompt Zach into revealing his decade-long crush on her … but the monsters upend that timetable.

Zach and Randy are passing the summer making a vlog about how boring their town is, which they somehow expect people to watch. The video from their cameras provides footage throughout the movie but we’re not talking found-footage; “Assimilate” is mostly live action, thank God.

Strange things begin to happen in Multon as (a) weird little bugs appear and (b) even stranger, floating spore-like organisms take to the Missouri skies, except only WE can see them. That struck me as odd – why two possible catalysts for the invasion we know is already taking place?

People begin taking on the flat affect of a telemarketer (unless it’s Candi, who calls me at least once a month to discuss how I could improve my credit score) and soon Zach and Randy are asking themselves who can be trusted, especially after Mrs. Henderson evolves from horny sex addict to prudish schoolmarm in a single evening. Kayla joins their ranks after her own father becomes robotic and unearthly.

What follows is the usual “Body Snatchers” process whereby the protagonist(s) try to make others aware of the danger and when that doesn’t work, escape themselves.

I mean, what can I say? It wasn’t awful and I don’t have many gripes – the dual-threat thing, yes. That was unnecessary. Oh, and they kept saying they would  rescue Kayla’s little brother from the pod people but leaving him with the pod people. The ending departed from most, but not all of the earlier versions, if that’s a virtue.

Other than that, “Assimilate” was nothing more than a 2019 refresh of a 50-something-year-old classic featuring young actors who might be recognizable to the current generation (Courtney starred in the JJ Abrams movie “Super 8” and Worthy was the goofy sidekick in Disney’s “Austin & Alley”). It broke no new ground, but neither did it salt the earth of its predecessors.

I watched it on Netflix and didn’t hate it, hence a C+ grade.

Stone is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

“John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum” Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Asia Kate Dillion. Directed by Chad Stahelski. 130 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

John Wick and I are a lot alike, if the essence of freshly released film, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” is the yardstick. John’s life and work in “Wick 3” are hampered by all sorts of rules, procedures, constraints and layers of management. I face those same obstacles daily.

Of course, there’s a difference between being a celebrity assassin in a wildly popular movie franchise and my often frustrating effort to keep health insurance for my family, a roof over our heads, and our cars running. I am leashed to others. Wick is not, unless he chooses to be. What the director chose for John in “Wick 3” was to leash him to the memory of his dead wife, which, thankfully, leads from one glorious scene of hyperviolence to another. But, that choice also produced a couple of chinks in the armor of the formidably entertaining Wick saga.

“Wick 3” is merely a good movie and the weakest in the franchise because of two problems, one with the story and the other with an important character.

“Wick 3” should’ve been more like its two predecessors, an intimate tale of personal redemption or, at least, a movie with a good excuse for all those heads getting blown apart and dogs attacking men’s groins. In Wick 1 we see John addressing very personal slights – a dead puppy and a stolen muscle car. I can sympathize with both. In Wick 2 he’s a hesitant, duty-bound killer honoring a marker. In those movies, John wanted out of the assassin racket. In “Wick 3,” he wants back in to stay alive to remember his wife, but changes his mind later. That wishy washiness is unbecoming of the planet’s most accomplished hitman. In Wicks 1 and 2 we see that it’s the world’s fault for keeping John a servant of the High Table, the gang of 12 thugs running Earth’s underworld. Bad people don’t leave John alone, so he has to defend himself, his property and his memories to impose order. Because of his do-rightness he, himself, is rendered ex communicado persona non grata for whacking a mob boss inside a hotel. In Wick 3, the HOTEL is punished by being “deconsecrated.”

On top of blacklisting a hotel, “Wick 3” offers other tidbits of bureaucratic and legalistic nonsense such as the notion of “fealty” to the High Table and the High Table’s dispatch of an “adjudicator” to settle its score with John and anyone who has helped him. “Wick 3” begins to meander, including a dip into mysticism, as a result. Of all the characters flowing through “Wick 3,” the adjudicator is the most frustrating. She is supposed to be a prim and proper bad ass representing the High Table’s interest, which is to keep everyone in line to make sure crime and profit go uninterrupted by rule breakers such as John. Instead, the adjudicator is a meek, stiff, uncharismatic, unintentionally droll and unconvincing enabler of the High Table’s will. Yes, the adjudicator’s flimsiness is somewhat offset by the strong female character, Sofia, in “Wick 3,” but damage to the story had already occurred by the time she’s introduced. The High Table and the adjudicator, instead of seeming to be all powerful, just seemed to be on their way toward stepping into John’s line of fire which, I suspect, will be the plot of “Wick 4.”

“Parabellum” is a dead language’s phrase for “prepare for war.” When you go see “Wick 3,” prepare to be disappointed. “Wick 3” lacks the emotional grit and gristle of Wicks 1 and 2. “Wick 3’s” bad girl is particularly unsatisfying and the film’s High Table assassin, campy. The weak motivation for “Wick 3’s” hyperviolence renders it something approaching gratuitous. I hope “Wick 4” corrects that weakness or Wick world-building will go the way of Star Wars. “Wick 3” gets a B from me. See it in a theater with vibrant projection and good sound.

Del’s take

Once upon a time there was a little movie about an undercover cop who infiltrated a car theft ring to bust the ringleader. That little movie, “The Fast and the Furious,” made the late Paul Walker a star and provided Vin Diesel with a hit on his resume.

So they made a sequel.

Then another.

Then another, where they rebooted the series.

Then another.

And another, ad finitum.

Each of those sequels required more action, bigger plots and higher stakes than its predecessor, until now Lamborghinis are being chased by nuclear submarines and Ferraris tossed from cargo planes as the “Fast and Furious” crew saves the world from (name your favorite apocalyptic nemesis).

In other words, silly.

Unfortunately that’s the trajectory being followed by the John Wick saga. What started as a personal and, dare I say, charming story of revenge by a man whose puppy got shot and his car stolen, is slowly evolving into something I no longer recognize – a bastard child of James Bond and “The Matrix.”

I don’t like it. I want the old John Wick.

That’s not to say “Parabellum” is a bad movie. It’s just not what I expected, and as Mladen pointed out, it deviated in ways I don’t think will work.

(FYI: Mladen is nothing like John Wick. I’ve never seen him chop off a person’s head with a samurai sword and he doesn’t even like dogs.)

The plot careens along as Mladen described it. I’ll further explain it picks up where the second movie left off, with Wick and his pit bull running for their lives after the ruling elite of the assassins’ guild, something called the High Table, excommunicates him and puts a price on his head. Every other phone on the street is ringing with the news that Wick’s bounty stands at a cool $14 million, which makes you wonder how all those killers manage to operate without putting each other in the unemployment line. There are THAT many. Think about it next time you’re in a crowded grocery store.

The methods of death are inventive and graphic. If I had to choose a favorite it would be Wick slapping a horse on the ass and the horse kicking an assassin into a wall, dispatching him to that great Died of a Horse Kicking paddock in the sky.

Mladen described the action as hyperviolent and he’s not exaggerating. Apart from a few slogs through muddy pacing in the second act, the movie is almost nonstop violence with people getting shot, chopped, sliced, diced, kicked, burned, or having their genitalia ripped out by vicious German Shepherds.

It was cool to see Keanu Reeves on the screen once again with Laurence Fishburne, and it was disappointing that Halle Berry’s role was so small. For Christ’s sake, she’s an Oscar winner. Put her to work.

Maybe she could have done a better job than Asia Kate Dillion as the Adjudicator, who came across as Mladen described: devoid of menace. And Keanu? Well, what can I say? Keanu was Keanu. He’s never had a lot of dialogue in these movies and “Wick 3” is no exception.

My big gripe is with the direction the movie took, with its emphasis on the worldwide mystery cult of assassins and all their rules, talismans and functionaries. It was like watching a tiger team of GS-12s stumble upon a cache of Uzis. It carries the Wick saga farther afield from its humble origins, from a man with a grudge who has payback on his mind into some kind of mystical figure fate has anointed with special powers. Maybe they should change his name to Neo Wick.

The action is exquisitely choreographed and the special effects spot on, but beware: “Wick 3” is a bloodbath, and it’s probably not what you were expecting after having watched the previous iterations.

There’s a sequel coming and I’ll likely see it. But it may be the last time I bump into John Wick in a movie theater. I like my action movies smart, not silly.

I give it a B.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.