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Blockers

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Blockers – the “cock” is silent – stakes out as its battlefield the treacherous terrain that is teen sexuality, to (in)decent if uneven comedic effect. The premise is simple but nimble: three female besties – generic Julie (Kathryn Newton), sporty Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and nerdy, questioning Sam (Gideon Adlon) make a pact to all lose their virginities on prom night, but when their parents  – harried single mum Lisa (Leslie Mann), macho, hyper-competent Mitchell (John Cena), and unreliable cool dad Hunter (Ike Barinhotz) resolve to stop that very thing from happening. Hijinks of the “raunchy teen comedy” stripe ensue, only this time we get the parents’ POV too.

The narrative neatly bifurcates, paralleling the girls’ prom adventures (limo, drinking, drugs, after party, etc) with their parents’ more ludicrous exploits trying to track them down in order to interuptus their coitus. Refreshingly, the film makes no bones about pointing the finger at the overprotective parents, using Barinholtz’s character to point out that no, they shouldn’t be doing this, yes, they are acting crazy, and no, their kids will not thank them in the future for embarrassing the hell out of them in front of all their friends.

Indeed, the kids are a pretty level-headed and self-possessed bunch. While Newton’s Julie fails to register as anything except Generic Teen Girl Model 37/B, Viswanathan gets to drop one liners like a gender-flipped Superbad-era Jonah Hill as the confident, up for it Kayla, and Adlon gets to do some real emotional work as Sam, who has resolved to have sex with her pseudo-boyfriend, Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) but is wrestling with questions about her own sexuality.

The relationship between Sam and her dad, Barinholtz’s Hunter, is the most interesting and rewarding in the film, largely because of the way the script upends out assumptions about him. Introduced as the kind of lovable but embarrassing, hard-partying stuff-up archetype common to these sorts of things, he gradually reveals hidden depths and hidden traumas, winding up as the most well-rounded character in the film. Not only is he the voice of reason in the parental triumvirate, he’s also clocked that his daughter is gay, and his motives for joining the Blockers is to make sure she doesn’t do something she will definitely regret, as opposed to acting out of some puritanical parental drive.

For their part, Mann and Cena do what they do. Mann is the most experienced comedy performer here, and gets plenty of mileage out of her character’s well-meaning cloyingness and inability to tell when she’s overreacting. Cena, who somewhere along the way has become one of the most dependably funny figures in mainstream American screen comedy, milks his own staggering masculinity for all its worth. Cena’s gift, too often absent in many actors who want to be able to straddle comedy and action, is that he doesn’t care if he looks cool, he just cares if he’s being funny – it’s impossible to imagine, for example, Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson signing off on Blockers’ already-infamous “butt-chugging” scene.

Still, Blockers is hit and miss – although more the former than the latter. There’s an odd disconnect, a sense that we’re watching a movie about somebody’s idea about teenage female sexuality and not a more knowledgeable and candid take. That’s more than a bit disappointing given that the film is the directorial debut of Pitch Perfect scribe Kay Cannon, but a look at the dude-heavy roster of credited writers – Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – indicates perhaps a few too many Y chromosomes in the creative pool for this to feel really authentic.

It is funny, though, and that’s the test of a comedy in the final analysis, and occasionally taps into deeper truths and complexities than we might normally expect in this sort of thing. Ultimately, Blockers falls short of being modern comedy classic, but it’s still a good time.

 

 
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The Wall

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In the dying days of the Iraq War, a US Army sniper team consisting of gunman Shane Matthews (John Cena) and his spotter, Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are dispatched to investigate the massacre of a repair crew and their security detail at a remote desert pipeline. There, they are attacked by Juba (Laith Nakli) , a legendary Iraqi sniper. With Matthews badly wounded and lying exposed, Isaac takes cover behind… well, it’s in the title.

This is an interesting little formal exercise from Amazon Studios and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, American Made), and you can certainly view it as an exploration of the possibility of doing a low-budget film with a known cast that can compete, if not go toe-to-toe, with the blockbuster behemoths that bestride that current theatrical landscape. The Wall is budgeted at US$3m, takes place in one location, and – one sequence aside – has a cast of three, one of whom we never see, and another of whom spends the bulk of the film unconscious.

And it works a treat, due to Taylor-Johnson’s one man show as the wounded but cunning Isaac, and tense, terse direction from Liman, who isn’t afraid to reach into the horror toolbox to find something to tune up his small-scale war movie. Seeing as he’s the only active character for much of the film, our sympathies lock onto Isaac from the get-go, and the script never makes him betray them. Isaac never does anything that shifts him into the “too dumb to live” category. He’s smart, capable, tough (he deals with a leg wound in a wince-worthy but admirably stoic fashion), but he’s pinned down by an unseen assailant, low on rations, stuck under a merciless sun, and almost completely out of options. The fun and tension comes in seeing him use his brain and his limited resources to deal with his situation before either Juba puts a draft through his dome or he simply bleeds out from his wounds.

There are a couple of points that push the envelope in terms of plausibility, mostly in terms of Juba’s almost supernatural accuracy with his rifle, and the film’s final movement feels like we’ve jumped genre tracks entirely, but not enough to break the compact with the audience. This is a tight little thriller custom-made to straddle the line between cinema-worthy and streaming fodder. No matter the context you catch it in, you’ll have a good time.