“Anesthesia”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Anesthesia” is another ensemble film of intersecting storylines that strains just a little too hard to connect all of the tales together. It’s obvious that writer / director / actor Tim Blake Nelson has a strong personal attachment to the material and a grand vision paired with noble intentions, but none of this is fully realized in this “Crash” and “Babel” rip-off. The film plays like a thesis project on the meaning of life.

Set in modern day New York City, this pompous, self-important film focuses on six core stories that intersect over the mugging of Columbia University professor Walter (Sam Waterston). Walter’s wife Marcia (Glenn Close) and son Adam (Nelson) are at the top of the character pyramid, with secondary stories about drug addiction and homelessness (Rob Morgan, K. Todd Freeman and Michael Kenneth Williams), a cancer scare for Adam’s family (Jessica Hecht, Hannah Marks, and Ben Konigsberg) and a marriage in crisis (Gretchen Mol and Corey Stoll). There’s some compelling stuff here but in the end, the film strains a little too hard to connect all of the stories together, and Nelson’s lofty goals ultimately fall short.

There’s a lot of overly complicated smarty pants dialogue that will surely lose most average viewers while simultaneously managing to alienate the more thoughtful ones. It’s this condescending faux profoundness that’s such a turn-off. This film is nowhere near as clever, smart or intelligent as it thinks it is or aspires to be.

While Nelson might not quite be a master of screenwriting, an area where he truly excels is directing his actors. In something that you rarely see in ensemble films, the performances are strong throughout. The depth and sincerity of the actors are exceptionally effective, from the smallest background extras to the leads. The standout performance shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: it’s the grossly underappreciated Kristen Stewart in a small role as a self-destructive student who just longs to feel something in her life.

“Anesthesia” is self indulgent, contrived, and at times a bit too messily overblown, but at least it’s provocative and interesting. Worth watching for the award-worthy performances from the entire cast, especially Stewart and Waterston.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“The Accountant”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“The Accountant” is a yawner of a movie. This supposed ‘thriller’ is far from thrilling. It’s an interesting enough premise, but the film is much too bloated to make effective use of its already thin story.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is the accountant, a book-cooker for some of the world’s most nefarious crime syndicates. He’s also a stone-cold killer, a skilled assassin who was trained as a child by his tough, no-nonsense soldier father (Robert C. Treveiler). When Wolff is hired by a robotics company for an audit, he and coworker Dana (Anna Kendrick) uncover a shady multi-million dollar scam and find themselves in life-or-death danger — with the Treasury Department, headed by agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), in close pursuit.

Affleck is proficient and understated in the role as a math savant and adept executioner, and the supporting cast (including the underrated Jon Bernthal) are good enough but mostly far from memorable. In fact, this entire movie is unremarkable and also slightly incoherent. It’s a forgettable, dumb mess that’s astonishingly poorly executed in every way imaginable.

There are a few darkly humorous scenes that are well done, but mostly this is another lame excuse for a routine thriller where nothing really happens. All of this excess is intercut with violent gunplay interludes and all the standard movie clichés, from the young agent “figuring it all out,” the senior boss who’s “too old” for this s&$t, and the sweetly innocent ingénue who needs to be rescued by our shadowy, tortured hero.

Speaking of our hero, he supposedly has touches of autism. According to the film, this in turn makes him smart at math and gives him the mindset to become the perfect assassin. Isn’t that notion just a tad offensive in itself?

And can we please stop ending movies with someone driving off into the sunset with a slight smile slowly crossing their face?

“The Accountant” is as commonplace as they come, and it’s one you can skip.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“The Fundamentals of Caring”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“The Fundamentals of Caring,” adapted from the novel by Jonathan Evison, is a buddy road movie with heart. This character-driven dramedy of male bonding and unlikely friendship tells the story of Trevor (Craig Roberts), a teenager with muscular dystrophy, his caregiver Ben (Paul Rudd), and their journey on the open road. Problem is, there are more than a few scenarios that seem to have the sole intent of pulling on our heartstrings in an less than subtle play to elicit pity from the audience.

When writer Ben decides it’s time for a career transition, he chooses to become a caregiver. Trevor, a sarcastic, disabled young man who lives with his well meaning yet overprotective mother (Jennifer Ehle), also suffers from agoraphobia. He refuses to leave his house but spends time mapping out cheesy U.S. roadside attractions like the ‘Largest Bovine’ and the ‘Deepest Pit’ (bet you can’t guess where this is going)! Of course Ben convinces his new charge to head out on the open road to tick all of these sights off his checklist.

And there’s the problem with this film: it, too, feels like a checklist of indie film clichés. It’s loaded with so much predictability that I suggest you to keep a list of your own: I challenge you to find one platitude or convention that isn’t included in this story.

Roberts is effective as an uptight Brit and Rudd is as effortlessly charming as ever, perfectly cast as a grieving father who is looking for some sort of personal redemption through care giving. There’s an unfortunate awkward performance from Selena Gomez, who is more than a little distracting as a tough teen runaway. She’s horribly miscast and just can’t pull off the role.

The film is offbeat and strained at times, but the overall likeability of the two leads keeps it humming along. Everything feels far too formulaic (the duo learn about life and become better people along the way) and the material never reaches new ground, but it’s an enjoyable watch.

“The Fundamentals of Caring” was released by and is available exclusively on Netflix.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“The Birth of a Nation”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS MATT: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

No matter what you think of writer / actor / director Nate Parker and his shady personal life, it becomes clear early on in his film “The Birth of a Nation” that he must have one massive ego. Parker’s arrogant, smug direction and pretentious dialogue practically leaps off the screen and smacks you in the face. This isn’t a bad film; in fact, the first half is highly compelling and quite well done. Just brace yourself for the checklist of slavery film (and Oscar bait) cliches that are to follow.

I can’t fault the performances of Parker as real-life historical figure Nat Turner, a slave and preacher who leads an uprising against white plantation owners in the South, nor his co-stars Armie Hammer, Colman Domingo, Penelope Ann Miller, Aja Naomi King, and Tony Espinosa. All are quietly impressive — for the most part. The story is interesting and is one that needs to be told. Too bad this film presents a less than stellar delivery vehicle.

The film jumps the shark at its halfway point, starting with a ridiculous, unintentionally funny Bible quote-off between Nat and a white slave owner. It’s not meant to be funny but I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t help laughing (thankfully I was the only person in my empty theater). The self-important and pompous vibe in this scene was over-the-top awful. How I longed for something more effective and understated.

Add to that the requisite blood-soaked whipping scene that occurs soon after. Without a doubt the scene is awful and upsetting to watch, but of course at the end Nat’s spirit can’t be broken as he slowly, defiantly stands (with a rousing, swelling musical score as the backdrop) to face his abuser. We’ve seen it all before and here it just comes across as showy and self-important, which sorely lessens the impact.

The film continues to quickly derail in the most spectacular fashion, culminating with a “Django Unchained” style of a bloody, violent slave uprising and racial revenge murder in the name of religion (it will soon become obvious that material such as this is best left to the skilled hands of a director like Quentin Tarantino).

I am aware that I bring a certain mindset to films like this, and I’m not really sure if this film was intended as a condemnation or celebration of religion. There’s an odd dichotomy at play throughout. When a man’s wife is raped for the pleasure of a white man, the slave turns to Nat and asks “where is your God now?” In another scene, Bible verses commanding slaves to submit to their abusive masters (1 Peter 2:18) take center stage, while later on contrasting verses are read that preach an uprising against injustice as “God’s will.” In the typical devout fashion, the characters and filmmaker pick and choose at will which verses from the religious text to use to make their case. This is maddening to someone who is a freethinker and I wish the intention of the filmmaker was made clear. It’s a scripture-filled R-rated film, which in itself is a confusing contradiction.

The rousing, single-tear sermons get a little heavy-handed and that not one character questions Nat being willed by God to unleash a savage, brutal coup against folks of a different color is more than a little disturbing. Of course, the white slave owners hang many African-Americans as a retaliatory response (this is filmed in a very moving fashion and is one of the most memorable scenes from the entire film). What angers me most about this movie is the blatant, heavy-handed, attempted manipulation of the audience. I did not fall for it and neither should you.

“The Birth of a Nation” isn’t a bad movie. In fact, the first half is quite effective and rather good. It’s when the film reaches its halfway point that it begins to fall apart. I feel that because of the film’s subject matter, people are afraid to admit that this isn’t Best Picture material. It’s an interesting portrait of a very important historical figure, but a provocative subject doesn’t always make for a great movie.

MATT SAYS:

At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival this January, the film causing the biggest splash was Director Nate Parker‘s “The Birth of a Nation.” We missed seeing the movie at Sundance but we couldn’t miss hearing about it; the buzz reached a dull roar when Fox Searchlight bought the film for a record-setting amount of money. Based on the talk of the industry, the movie was set to be a virtual lock during awards season.

Amazing how the tides of industry and public opinion can turn. After the news of a 17 year-old rape case involving Parker came to the forefront over the summer, “The Birth of a Nation” quickly lost its position as the odds-on favorite for the Academy Awards, and ended up getting released without much fanfare or notice. Hollywood quickly turned against Parker and his movie.

What’s interesting about this story is that “The Birth of a Nation”, more than anything in recent memory, has exposed what’s wrong with awards in the film industry: they’ve become so highly politicized that very little attention is given to the only question that should matter at all: is the movie any good? Decisions about whether a film is deserving or not deserving of awards should not be made before anyone even has the chance to see it. I admit that I don’t necessarily want to see a bad person collect a golden statute (and to be clear, I’m not making any judgments about Parker), but if s/he made a great movie, why should it matter? The answer to that question is simple: film awards are based on politics, and not on their relative merit as works of art.

I say all of this because no film in recent memory has exposed this truth as starkly as “The Birth of a Nation”. But no one in the general public has paid much attention to this behind-the-scenes drama. People do, and will, continue to believe that the Oscars actually mean something and that “Best Picture” actually means that the film receiving the award is somehow qualitatively better than every other movie that was released in that year while ignoring the simple truth that judging works of art will always be subjective.

It’s impossible to be a Hollywood observer and not know the saga of “The Birth of a Nation.” In spite of the furor surrounding the film and Parker, I did my best to ignore the politics and judge the movie on its own merit — which is precisely what any movie deserves.

As a piece of entertainment, “The Birth of a Nation” is strictly middle-of-the-road. The story is certainly an interesting one: the story of Nat Turner (played by Parker), a preacher that was a slave to Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). Turner made history when he incited revolution among his fellow captives in Virginia.

“The Birth of a Nation” is a decently-made movie with a script that’s executed well, even though it directly rips off a slew of other Oscar-winning movies. I realize there’s a fine line between a homage and a rip-off, but this movie clearly crossed that line: it’s as though Parker carefully studied every other Best Picture winner from the past 30 years and tried to incorporate as many elements of them that he could. It’s been a while since a picture has been so blatantly obvious in its attempt to bait members of the Academy.

But being Oscar bait alone doesn’t make “Birth” a bad movie — it’s not. It could have been better, however. A real opportunity was missed to transform the picture from a historical drama about a particularly shameful time in American history into something that provides real insight into the human condition.

Specifically, while “Birth” did a good enough job in telling Turner’s story, that’s as far as it went. What it missed exploring was how Turner managed to resolve for himself the inherent inconsistencies in the scripture he preached.  How did a man that once used the Bible to encourage his fellow slaves to obey even the cruelest of masters continue to rely on that same book to later justify revolution? How does one make peace with accepting only certain portions of the Bible, but not others, when the book so clearly endorses the barbaric institution of slavery?

I realize these are difficult questions to grapple with. The contradictions continue to confront us even now, and perhaps there is no easy way to resolve them. But I think a real opportunity was missed in this movie when the inconsistencies are so readily apparent. If “Birth” had attempted to confront these difficult questions — or at least show us how Turner dealt with them and resolved them — the movie could have achieved greatness. But, disappointingly, it never quite gets there.

“Mascots”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Mascots” sounds like a slam-dunk idea for a Netflix original film. An exploration of the fictional, competitive world of sports team mascots from the master of satire, writer / director Christopher Guest? Yes, please. Unfortunately, this surprisingly unfunny effort from Guest is nothing more than one colossal disappointment.

The film tries to force quirky situations and lackluster humor on its talented roster of actors (including Guest alums Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, and John Michael Higgins, and the usually amusing Sarah Baker, Zach Woods, and Chris O’Dowd), and awkwardly struggles to squeeze laughs out of increasingly unfunny situations. I stuck with it, hoping that the movie would eventually find its groove and start to make me laugh. The laughs never came.

This is a dull retread of the most uninspired jokes you’ve ever seen. There’s no spark, no originality, and a complete waste of a strong premise. As with most of Guests’ films (“A Mighty Wind,” “Best In Show“), this mockumentary is mostly improvised — and it shows. The dialogue is strained and feels inauthentic, and the actors look as if they are uncomfortable (a first for a Guest movie).

The best part of the film is the actual mascot competition for the Golden Fluffy award, where it’s obvious that professional dancers don the mascot costumes and deliver wildly ridiculous routines. It’s fun for a while, but then quickly becomes stale and monotonous.

This is a strained mockumentary that isn’t worth your time.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS MATT: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

In the latest movie where the title serves as a warning to potential audiences, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is a bland, dull excuse for an action thriller. It’s doubly tragic that this sequel is so unsatisfying because the original “Jack Reacher” was such a great movie. Every ounce of fun has been completely sucked out of this stale, empty retread.

Tom Cruise returns as ex-military tough guy Jack Reacher, and he’s a good fit for the role. The usually annoying and coldly aloof Cobie Smulders is an agreeable enough match for Cruise, playing an Army honcho who has been falsely accused of treason (this is one of the rare roles where Smulders isn’t too bothersome, but she and Cruise lack any sort of real chemistry).

The decent plot (based on Lee Child‘s bestselling novel “Never Go Back”) hinges on a straightforward mystery with lots of suspicious murders, shady henchmen, and an illegal arms selling / drug smuggling scheme that pops up out of nowhere. It’s not that the story is a particularly bad one: it’s that the dialogue is, let’s not mince words here, absolutely awful. Horrible. Dreadful. The characters often state the obvious with unintentionally hilarious aplomb (“Look, a food truck!,” and “I want to know what he ate for breakfast, and I want it on my desk ASAP!“).

There’s a conventional, second-rate subplot about Reacher’s supposed long-lost daughter Samantha (an irritating performance from Danika Yarosh) that the filmmakers use as an attempt to set the story up for a sequel (while audiences everywhere surely must be hoping that’s not the case).

The sanitized action scenes are lame and most are dead on arrival. The ‘best’ action sequence, which isn’t saying much, takes place in a restaurant kitchen where the weapon of choice is a giant meat tenderizer (yep, you can look forward to ‘exciting’ bits like that).

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” and this year’s equally awful “Jason Bourne” will blend together in my mind at the end of the year. Everything about this film is mediocre, and there’s nothing memorable or distinct about it. There’s not one shred of suspense, adventure or excitement. This is Hollywood watered-down junk, and Tom Cruise is far better than this.

MATT SAYS:

As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for; you just might receive it.

After watching the first “Jack Reacher”, I wished for more movies with this character (played by Tom Cruise). That film was a contender for my best of 2012 list because it was a compelling story about a man with an interesting past working to solve a case involving a trained military sniper. That movie was scripted and directed by the talented Christopher McQuarrie and had an excellent supporting cast with talented actors. “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is a significant downgrade from the first film in virtually every way possible.

In the new movie, Jack teams up with Army Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) to uncover the truth behind why two of the people under Major Turner’s command were killed in Afghanistan. Reacher and Turner quickly find themselves the targets of a conspiracy that involves a number of high-ranking military personnel, and are forced to go on the run while they work to uncover the truth behind the plot. Yawn.

While I am a fan of Cruise, he and Smulders have no chemistry. Smulders turns in typically one-note and humdrum performance (who in the hell decided she should be a movie star, anyway?). The script (by Richard Wenk and Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz — yes, 3 different writers) is laughably bad. The direction (by Zwick) is pedestrian and unimaginative. The scenes featured in the trailer (which made it look really good!) are virtually the only things to like about this movie, and the best one of them opens the film, which means that everything goes downhill from there.

I now regret wishing for another “Jack Reacher” movie. Don’t bother seeing this one.

 

“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I think I have the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy because this movie gave me the giggles. “Middle School: Worst Years of My Life” is a cute, harmless little charmer that both adults and kids can enjoy together. It’s similar in tone to the “Wimpy Kid” series and while it never quite reaches the heights of those films, it’s still delightful.

Rafe (Griffin Gluck) is a skilled cartoonist with a wild imagination, but he isn’t too skilled at respecting authority. After being transferred to an oppressive middle school with a tyrannical principal (Andrew Daly) who is rule-crazy, Rafe and his sarcastic best friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca) decide to pull off the ultimate prank: attempting to break every single rule in the school’s Code of Conduct. The duo think up some awfully inspired hijinks, including covering the school hallways with post-it note art, swapping out the tardy bell with a fart noise machine, and turning the beloved trophy case into a full-blown aquarium. At home, Rafe has to deal with a loss in the family as well as his precocious sister (Alexa Nisenson), loving mom (Lauren Graham), and his soon-to-be idiot step dad Bear (the scene-stealing Rob Riggle).

There are some lively animated interludes that bring Rafe’s drawings to life and a genuinely touching surprise plot twist that I didn’t see coming. There’s not much new ground covered with the film’s been there, done that feeling of “let’s outsmart and principal, teachers and adults because kids are so much smarter” attitude, but this is a boisterous yet easy to swallow story that reminds adults how tough it is to be a tween.

Plus, it proves that you’re never too old to laugh at silly rude humor, a bumbling principal, or your mom’s doofus boyfriend.

MATT SAYS:

“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” is best described as a PG-friendly mash-up between “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” aimed at the pre-teen set.

Griffin Gluck is Rafe, a kid with a somewhat mysterious past that has just started at a new middle school after being thrown out of several others. His mom (Lauren Graham) warns him that this new school is his last option; he’s been kicked out of every other school, and this is the last one that will accept him. Almost immediately after starting, however, Rafe is already butting heads with Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly), who runs the school with a strict set of rules. If it wasn’t for Rafe’s best friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca), Rafe would never be able to make it through each day.

“Middle School” is a fun and funny movie and is highly relatable for both grown-ups and kids. As Rafe and Leo, Gluck and Barbusca have a nice chemistry and play off one another well. Graham is perfect as Rafe’s understanding mom, and Rob Riggle is hilarious (as always) as Graham’s boyfriend and Rafe’s nemesis, Bear. I laughed a lot, and was taken completely by surprise with a twist that I never saw coming — which hardly ever happens.

“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” is a good little movie with a heart and one that you’ll enjoy watching with your pre-teen-to-teen kids.

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“Max Steel”

LOUISA: 1 STAR MATT: 1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

Wait, do you hear that? It’s the sound of the careers of Maria Bello and Andy Garcia being flushed down the Hollywood toilet. Remember that time when Bello was respected as an indie thespian? Yeah, me too. How about Garcia? (Well, okay, maybe not). But you can rest assured that “Max Steel” securely thrusts the nail into the career coffin of these two.

In this non-starter of a superhero action franchise, teenager Max (Ben Winchell) has moved back to his childhood home with his widowed mom Molly (Bello) at the insistence of sinister looking Miles (Garcia). Miles drives a vintage Porsche and likes to sneer a lot, making it super easy to guess that — newsflash — he’s the bad guy! Max soon discovers that he holds the galaxy’s most powerful energy and evil red-eyed enemy clouds are trying to steal it from him. Are you laughing yet? Not to worry, you soon will be. Thank goodness there’s Steel, a cheesy animated alien who becomes Max’s protector, confidant and sidekick.

This movie is based on a Mattel toy (one that nobody remembers) from the 1990s. The film centers around a simplistic, hokey plot and is so poorly written that the best line in the film (delivered by Max) is, and I quote: “He’s risking his life to save the Earth, just like us!” Yes, this made me erupt with laughter. I’d like to tell you more about the storyline but I’m not quite sure what the heck was going on. The film is an odd hybrid of “Twister” and “Iron Man,” and it’s stupidly confusing all around.

The special effects are completely lousy, with most of them looking like a cheesy attempt at really, really, really bad 3D. It’s too serious to be campy and too stupid to become a cult classic. The major problem with the film is that it’s far too dorky to appeal to teens yet much too boring for younger kids. Who is the audience for this? Why was this movie released in theaters?

“Max Steel” isn’t unwatchable — but it damn near comes close.

MATT SAYS:

Apparently there is some children’s toy called “Max Steel.” For some reason, some film executive somewhere thought that it would be a good idea to make a movie about this toy. It’s awful.

Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) is a kid whose father died when he was young. Upon moving with his mom, Molly (Maria Bello) back to his childhood home, Max finds that he has the ability to manipulate power. It’s not until he meets up with the alien steel (voiced by Josh Brener) that Max is able to understand and harness his abilities. When Max and Steel come together, they can create an “Iron Man”-like super suit. And together, they are known as (wait for it)… Max Steel!

“Max Steel” is a silly (but not in a good way) with a stupid plot that makes zero sense. Upon meeting Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy Garcia) it’s readily apparent to all that he’s the bad guy and that he will want Max’s power to do… something. Whatever. This movie really isn’t any good and it’s not worth your (or your kids’) time.

“Queen of Katwe”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Queen of Katwe” is a feel good movie about chess. Yes, chess. Boring, boring chess. The film tells tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi (a delightful Madina Nalwanga), an impoverished young girl from Uganda who learns to play chess and goes on to become an international chess champion. There’s much to like and respect here, mostly in relation to the story and the real kids who have chosen to better themselves through education (Phiona learns to read when she is 13 years old). In the end, she successfully escapes a life of poverty and is able to take care of her mother and family. Who doesn’t enjoy a tale of someone overcoming adversity?

This film offers a fantastic portrayal of feminism and girl power, and places great importance on the value of education. This is a terrific movie for families, and I’m hopeful that it will inspire many youngsters who think they have limited opportunities (and also those who are already fortunate).

The kid actors are delightful across the board, and Lupita Nyong’o adds plenty of gravitas as Phiona’s overprotective, tough mother Nakku Harriett. David Oyelowo doesn’t cover any new ground with his wooden, insipid performance as youth counselor Robert Katende. Be sure to stick around for the film’s closing credits; the actors are pictured next to their real-life counterparts with a brief description of what they’re up to now.

This is a good story but not a good movie. The film’s painfully unhurried pacing hurts it greatly. It’s overly long and quite boring in stretches. Worst of all it’s trite, loaded with clichés, features a bit too much religious imagery, and is stuffed with commonplace platitudes. But I guess that’s what we all should expect from an inspirational sports movie from Disney.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“The Girl on the Train”

LOUISA:  2 STARS MATT: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

If you’re hesitant to see “The Girl on the Train” because you fear that it will be too much like “Gone Girl,” you’re on to something. The twists, turns, storyline, and general atmosphere are so reminiscent of the 2014 film that they could almost seamlessly blend together into one (my loyal readers will remember my thoughts on “Gone Girl”: it made my Worst of the Year list).

Divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt) was fired from her office job a year ago, but she still makes her daily commute via train every single day. As Rachel stares out the moving window, she begins to notice an alluring couple living a few doors down from her old house. After passing the same view every day, she begins to create names and stories in her head. When the woman of the house (Haley Bennett) goes missing, Rachel gets involved in a ridiculous story of intrigue, deception and murder.

The film is poorly written, with crummy dialogue and ludicrous plot twists that leave gaping holes in the story. There’s not even some profound theme at play either, this is a by-the-numbers thriller with too many plot gaps and unanswered questions. The silly, manufactured drama feels as though it’s geared solely to the same lonely hearts who sit around reading Nicholas Sparks books but long for some excitement in their mundane suburban existence. The characters themselves all hate their upper middle class lives and their fancy sports cars and their lovely homes. I didn’t like any of these whiny, unpleasant characters. I found all of them unlikable and grossly uninteresting.

The dreary, flat cinematography amplifies the film’s sluggish pacing and may very well aid in putting some viewers to sleep. The laughable acting from the supporting cast, including Justin Theroux as total scoundrel Tom, Rebecca Ferguson as his new wife Anna, and Luke Evans as a suspicious, abusive husband, plays like a Lifetime made-for-tv movie. Blunt is far and away the best thing here, but even she can’t carry this mediocre movie. Such a shame that her talent is squandered in this mess.

“The Girl on the Train” is a thriller that’s far from thrilling. I left the theater asking myself: “Where was the tension? Where was the suspense?

MATT SAYS:

Everything about the marketing for “The Girl on the Train” made it seem like a “Gone Girl” rip-off. A hot beach read turned suspenseful thriller, released in October, with what you know will be a big twist coming towards the end. After seeing the movie, I can tell you that’s exactly what it is. The biggest difference between “Train” and “Gone Girl” is that the lead in “Train,” Emily Blunt, is amazingly good at carrying a film that is not.

The story in “The Girl on the Train” is not exactly compelling stuff. Rachel (Blunt) is a worker whose daily train commute always takes her past a house whose residents (an apparently passionate couple, played by Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) fascinate her. Somehow, Rachel’s obsession with the couple turns into action, where she entangles herself in the couple’s lives. When the woman disappears, Rachel (whose behavior is becoming increasingly erratic) is one of the primary suspects.

There are two primary problems with this “Train.” First, it moves a little too slowly. The revelations about Rachel, the couple, and another neighboring family, are dripped out, one by one, at a pace that becomes frustrating. Second and more importantly, in Rachel the film has constructed a protagonist that is fundamentally unlikable. That’s not Blunt’s fault; I think you’re not supposed to like her. But at the same time, she’s not so unlikable that you hate her. This is a tricky line to walk in story construction: you need audience investment in the main characters. You need people to feel strongly about them in one way or another. When the moviegoer’s primary emotion is one of indifference, it’s hard to create momentum or draw a compelling narrative.

If you’re looking for a mildly entertaining weeknight watch and have no better options, I suppose “The Girl on the Train” might suffice. But it’s certainly not a movie you should seek out.