Happy September! Today I’m wrapping up August with a final batch of mini reviews of new streaming releases, ranging from pretty bad (“Sweet Girl”) to pretty good (“Val”) to hey, I actually really liked this movie and all of you haters are wrong (“He’s All That”). You can read my reviews of those movies and more below.
“SWEET GIRL” (Netflix)
Few things are certain in this world right now, but at least we can always count on Netflix to, at least once a month, without fail, release an action movie that is extraordinary only in the miniscule lifespan it maintains in our memories. This August that distinction belonged to “Sweet Girl,” directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza and starring Jason Momoa as Ray Cooper, a man looking for vengeance when his wife dies of cancer after a pharmaceutical company pulls a drug from the market that potentially could have saved her. Ray goes on the run with his daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced), seeking the truth from the company’s CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) and a possibly corrupt congresswoman (Amy Brenneman), all of whom want to keep the pair silent. “Sweet Girl” contains a couple brutally entertaining fight sequences, and Momoa and Merced show some potential with their performances, but at the end of the day, “Sweet Girl” wavers so much between political and personal drama and dark and gritty action, it’s clear that it isn’t really sure what kind of movie it’s trying to be. It’s further hindered by an utterly nonsensical plot twist that changes the entire movie, and an ending that fails to really wrap everything up. Were they really betting on a sequel for this? Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated R.
“VAL” (Prime Video)
Actor Val Kilmer looks back on his life and nearly 40 year career in movies in this documentary directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo. Val’s son Jack narrates a script written by Val, who is still recovering from a battle with throat cancer that has ravaged his voice. The bulk of the film is told using Val’s own home movies (culled from over 800 hours of his own footage), encompassing everything from his childhood to auditions to school to peeks behind the scenes of some of the movies he worked on, from 1986’s “Top Gun,” which helped catapult the young actor to stardom, to the difficult and controversial 1996 film “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Val looks back on the highs and lows of his life, from losing his brother as a teenager and falling in love with future wife Joanne Whalley on the set of “Willow,” to the demoralizing experience of playing Batman and the long-held belief in Hollywood that he was difficult to work with. Being told almost exclusively from Val’s perspective makes “Val” less of a factual, non-biased documentary and more of a visual diary, but it rarely feels like Val glosses over or ignores any of the controversies and pain he has endured. Frequently poignant and personal, “Val” is a fascinating dissection of an actor whose career has had a fascinating trajectory, and whose legacy deserves much more than the lampooning it often endures. Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated R.
“JOLT” (Prime Video)
Like the aforementioned “Sweet Girl,” director Tanya Wexler’s “Jolt” is not a good movie, but it does at least have a personality, making it actually kind of fun to watch (or at the very least, hard to look away from). Kate Beckinsale plays Lindy Lewis; a clumsily narrated opening montage informs us that Lindy was diagnosed at a young age with an explosive anger management problem that makes her literally want to kill people when she snaps. Her sporadic murderous impulses can only be controlled via a vest she wears that allows Lindy to shock herself with little jolts of electricity. Lindy’s disorder has made it difficult for her to connect with other people throughout her life, so when she meets a man (Jai Courtney) who seems to genuinely like and understand her, she falls fast. But when he turns up dead right after she connects with him, a vengeful Lindy sets out to find his killer, a pair of cops (Laverne Cox and Bobby Cannavale) trying to keep up with her all the while. “Jolt” seems to be aware of how silly it is, and that sense of humor, along with its neon-lit aesthetic and likeable cast of actors led by an ever-charismatic Beckinsale, make “Jolt” a pretty entertaining ride. The film’s breezy 90 minute runtime is a blessing, although this action movie could have benefited from some more impressive fight scenes. “Jolt” is odd and doesn’t always work, but I’ll take it over generic gritty Netflix action movie of the month any day. Runtime:
“VACATION FRIENDS” (Hulu)
Somehow, this is at least the third movie I’ve reviewed in a two month span that stars John Cena. But let’s just move right on by that disturbing fact: if you enjoy raunchy adult comedies built around mildly amusing actors thrust into bizarre and frequently cringe-worthy situations, then there might be something for you in “Vacation Friends,” a new comedy from director Clay Tarver. Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji play Marcus and Emily, a low-key couple on vacation in Mexico, where Marcus plans to propose to Emily. When an unfortunate accident ruins Marcus’ proposal plan and threatens their vacation, the pair befriend Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), a wild, risk-taking couple who invite them to stay in their suite with them for a week. “Vacation Friends” has two distinct parts. The first is this sequence of the two couples living it up in Mexico, and their time with Ron and Kyla prompts Marcus and Emily to loosen up a lot. This is also the more superior and entertaining part of the film. The second half follows Marcus and Emily back home, where months later they reunite with Ron and Kyla during their wedding festivities. Ron and Kyla genuinely believe that they are still friends, but Marcus and Emily believe the other couple is too erratic to fit into their lifestyle, and the disruption caused by their arrival and the possibility Ron and Kyla revealing some of their vacation shenanigans to their family throws Marcus and Emily into a tailspin. The actors do what they can with the material, but after a while, “Vacation Friends” just becomes too stupid and repetitive to be really funny, and any attempts at building up a heartfelt relationship between these characters feels off. I more often felt bad for these characters than entertained by them, as sure a sign as any that this movie didn’t work—at least for me. Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated R.
“HE’S ALL THAT” (Netflix)
If you follow Film Twitter discourse at all, you may be aware of the onslaught of poor reviews being thrown at “He’s All That,” a gender-swapped reboot of the 1999 teen rom-com “She’s All That.” And I’m here to tell you that those reviews are wrong: “He’s All That” is entertaining, amusing, and sweet, a film that, outside of its reliance on social media as an integral plot point, feels like the sort of movie that could have been made and released in the early 2000s, and that all of you haters would have eaten up. Addison Rae stars as Padgett Sawyer, a popular social media influencer who sees her life and career start to fall apart after her breakup with her singer boyfriend Jordan (Peyton Meyer) is livestreamed and goes viral. She takes up a bet with her friend Alden (Madison Pettis) that she can take one of their school’s least popular students—nerdy photographer Cameron (Tanner Buchanan)—and turn him into the prom king. Naturally, over the course of their interactions, Cameron and Padgett start to develop real feelings for each other. Rae is…fine (she’s a TikTok star playing a TikTok star, so points for realism, I guess), and Buchanan is surprisingly very charming, resulting in the two having some pretty good chemistry that prompts us to root for them to end up together. Sure, every beat is predictable, but it’s how those beats are realized that’s important, and director Mark Waters (who helmed such beloved teen comedies as “Mean Girls” and “Freaky Friday”) brings his experience in the genre to the table. This “Pygmalion” update’s reliance on social media and messaging about how we need to live more in the moment doesn’t always work and certainly won’t work for some audiences, Alden’s fiendish intentions feel awkwardly crammed into the narrative, and Padgett is never really required to reckon with her average middle class existence that she tries to hide from the public. But this 90 minute fluff fest still managed to give me more than most of the other new streaming releases over the last month did. Is “He’s All That” a great movie? No, but if you like your rom-coms light on common sense and heavy on cheese, this one delivers. Original “She’s All That” cast members Rachel Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard appear in small roles as Padgett’s mother and the high school principal. Runtime: 88 minutes. Rated TV-14.