Today I’m recapping some of the many movies that were released in March that you can watch on streaming services right now, among them the Adrian Lyne/Ben Affleck/Ana de Armas erotic thriller “Deep Water,” which finally found a home on Hulu after it was removed from the release calendar at the end of last year, and some Sundance premieres, like the horror movie “Master” and the documentary “Lucy & Desi.” I’m reviewing those movies and a couple others below. You can also read my previously published reviews of “After Yang” (now in theaters and streaming on Showtime), “Fresh” (streaming on Hulu), and “Turning Red” (streaming on Disney Plus).
“THE ADAM PROJECT” (Netflix)
Time travel movies are almost always a mix of fun, confounding, and bittersweetness. “The Adam Project,” which reteams director Shawn Levy with star Ryan Reynolds, has all the right elements, but never quite strikes the right tone. The film opens in 2022, where 12-year-old Adam Reed (Walter Scobell) is struggling with the death of his father, bullied at school and distanced from his mom Ellie (Jennifer Garner). And then one day he meets his future adult self (played by Reynolds), a time pilot in the year 2050 who crash-landed in 2022 on his way to 2018, where he is searching for his wife Laura (Zoe Saldana), a fellow pilot who went missing on a mission. The pair reluctantly team up, ultimately traveling back in time together to stop their father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) from creating the algorithm that invented time travel, all the while pursued by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), the businesswoman who funded Louis’ research while taking advantage of it to gain power for herself. “The Adam Project” is at its weakest when dealing with the conflict with Maya, where things get a little too muddled to land quite right, and where the movie succumbs to some of the most insufferable current trends in big budget movies, including lousy computer effects and a de-aged Keener that looks just off enough to feel uncomfortable. The action scenes are fine, but lack the scope and excitement they ought to have. The film is most successful when it isn’t so much about the time travel itself as when it focuses on the family conflict facing the Reeds. Each character is fighting their own private battle: child Adam is angry and resentful that his father was taken away from him so soon, adult Adam struggles with revisiting this painful period in his life while searching for his wife, and Ellie doubts whether or not she is a good mother while still mourning her husband (“The Adam Project” fails to deliver a solid “13 Going on 30” reunion despite casting Garner and Ruffalo as a married couple, and I don’t know if I will ever get over that). Reynolds is playing the same sort of action hero with a dry sense of humor that we’re all used to seeing him play by now, and while it’s gotten tiresome, he’s found his niche and does it well. Scobell, meanwhile, does a decent job matching his performance, imbuing his own portrayal with a similar sense of humor. Similarly, Garner’s mom roles are pretty familiar by now, but she convincingly portrayals Ellie’s internal struggles and is given a much meatier role than anticipated. And some of the father/son moments between Louis and the two Adams, which force them to pull out all their resentment and anger and sadness, are quite moving. It’s just too bad the plot that wraps around all those relationships isn’t better developed, prompting the emotional moments to not land as much as they ought to have. “The Adam Project” is a serviceable slice of sci-fi home entertainment and its Spielbergian influences are clear, but it lacks the charm necessary for it to last longer in the memory of its viewers. Runtime: 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“LUCY & DESI” (Amazon Prime)
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are one of Hollywood’s all-time most iconic couples, both on and off the screen. Their story has received a lot of attention over the past year, on podcasts and film, most notably Aaron Sorkin’s drama “Being the Ricardos,” which was recently the recipient of numerous awards nominations this season for some reason. If you’re a fan of Lucy and Desi—the pair of entertainers who fell in love almost as soon as they met and later developed and starred in the most popular sitcom of all time, “I Love Lucy”—and found yourself disappointed and frustrated by “Being the Ricardos,” Amy Poehler’s documentary “Lucy & Desi” may scratch an itch. Whereas Sorkin treated the subjects of his movie less as people and more like test subjects he wanted to put under as much pressure as possible and see what happened, Poehler’s affection for the couple—she has cited Ball as one of her comedy inspirations before—shines through in her film. “Lucy & Desi” doesn’t enlighten the viewer with any information they don’t already know, at least if they are already a big fan, and it doesn’t make any big swings with its technique, which is a pretty straightforward assembly of talking heads and archival footage and videos, but Poehler uses that format to its fullest. The subjects interviewed are almost all individuals who knew Lucy and Desi well, from colleagues like Carol Burnett to their children, Lucie and Desi Jr. Poehler was also granted access to hours of never-before-seen home movies and audio recordings, which lend another dimension to the film’s intimate depiction of the pair. It’s made abundantly clear that as passionate as their romance was, there was a lot that made Lucy and Desi incompatible as a married couple, and their marriage was far from the ideal partnership that the characters they played on “I Love Lucy” exuded. Whether you learn anything new from it or not, “Lucy & Desi” is a well-crafted documentary that entertains and informs, and by the time it reaches its conclusion that reflects on the impact both of them had on the industry, popular culture, and each other (like most projects, this film leans more in Lucy’s favor, but it still puts a lot of much-needed focus on Desi’s contributions), you’d be hard-pressed not to be moved by it. Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated PG.
“DEEP WATER” (Hulu)
Adrian Lyne is the master of the contemporary erotic thriller, with titles from the 1980s through the early 2000s like “Fatal Attraction,” “Indecent Proposal,” and “Unfaithful” to his name. That latter film, from 2002, was the director’s last film, but 20 years later he’s back and returning to the genre with “Deep Water.” Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, the film stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as Vic and Melinda Van Allen, a couple with way too much time and money on their hands (Vic is an engineer who retired after the parts he developed for combat drones netted him a small fortune) and not enough love in their marriage. Melinda delights in taking lovers and dangling them in front of Vic— a threesome for dinner is apparently the norm in the Van Allen household— and Vic puts up with it to keep up appearances and avoid a messy divorce. But Vic is still frustrated and jealous, and maybe responsible for the sudden disappearances of some of Melinda’s previous boy toys. Affleck and de Armas, who were a real-life couple for a time, apparently fell for each other during the making of this movie, which is difficult to believe given that they exhibit such little affection or chemistry, spitting venomous barbs at each other for the duration of the film. While they aren’t exactly an enchanting pair combined, separately they are quite good. De Armas plays mischievous drunk quite well, and Affleck is never better than when he is playing a complete sleaze. Several scenes in “Deep Water” are made delightful just on the merits of his performance, such as when he slyly suggests that he killed a man in a way that leaves the audience as well as the characters on screen legitimately unsure whether he’s joking or serious, or— in what will surely go down as the film’s most memorable scene, waxes on about the potency of poisonous snails to one of Melinda’s boyfriends after he suggests that they cook some of the snails Vic keeps as one of his many hobbies for dinner. Unfortunately, despite consisting of all these elements that should make it a trashy delight, “Deep Water” is largely a slog that is neither very erotic nor thrilling. Vic, Melinda, and Melinda’s endless parade of lovers (played by the likes of Jacob Elordi and Finn Wittrock) circle each other, hurling cruel remarks and accusations back-and-forth without taking much action. That is until the finale at least, which ends the film in a manner that suggests that the cyclical nature of Vic and Melinda’s marriage of affairs and murder will continue. “Deep Water” is watchable, but lacks the excitement of Lyne’s previous films. Maybe that isn’t surprising given that it was scripted by Sam Levinson, who helmed last year’s insufferable relationship drama “Malcolm & Marie,” and Zach Helm, whose previous feature film credit is 2007’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” Instead of being a welcome return to a seemingly long-gone genre of movies for adults, “Deep Water” is emblematic of how staid mainstream American cinema has become. Runtime: 115 minutes. Rated R.
“MASTER” (Amazon Prime Video)
Writer and director Mariama Diallo’s first feature film is a horror movie that contains elements of the supernatural, but the real terrors lie in the layers of systemic racism its story uncovers. Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) is a Black freshman at an elite, mostly white New England college called Ancaster. She is quickly informed by the other students that the school is haunted by the ghost of a woman who was hanged for witchcraft, and that the room Jasmine moves in to was the same room occupied by the university’s first Black student, who hanged herself there in 1965. Jasmine becomes part of her white roommate’s friend group, but they not-so-subtly treat her as inferior, refusing to pay her back for snacks and drinks and making her clean up after them. Jasmine’s struggles to find a safe space at the school are compared with those of Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), a professor who is starting the year as the school’s first Black master, a sort of dean in charge of a specific resident hall. While Gail is initially less forthright when she witnesses injustices from her white colleagues, Liv (Amber Gray), Gail’s friend and a fellow professor currently applying for tenure, is more outspoken. The film’s pacing, attempts to balance these different perspectives, and inclusion of supernatural elements isn’t always the most effective, but the way Diallo (drawing from her own experiences) portrays the varying degrees of racist behavior present in both the students and staff at Ancaster is. A lot of real-world parallels can be drawn from the inclusive messaging Ancaster puts forth to hide the ways it is still perpetuating its racist history. Hall is particularly great at portraying Gail’s distress and strength, as what should be a proud step forward in her career quickly devolves into a nightmare, and she realizes that while she may possess the title of master, to these people, she will always be a maid. Runtime: 98 minutes. Rated R.
Director Charlie McDowell’s three person, one setting thriller was clearly shot under the restraints of the pandemic, but that isn’t the problem with “Windfall.” Claustrophobic thrillers have often worked wonderfully before, and “Windfall” shows a lot of promise in its cast and premise. Jason Segel plays a shaggy drifter who breaks into the remote vacation home of a tech billionaire. The opening scenes of “Windfall” see Segel wandering around the vast estate, a rare glimpse at how the other half lives. But then, the billionaire and his wife (Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins) show up unexpectedly, forcing the robber to take drastic action. He takes the pair hostage and forces them to pay him off, but they have to wait over a day for that large an amount of money to be withdrawn and delivered. The resulting film looks at what happens when the upper and lower class is forced to mingle, and the threesome engage in conversations about money, family, work, and love and relationships, during which it becomes increasingly obvious that the marriage between Plemons and Collins’ characters is strained. The performances are all solid, with Plemons the standout as the self-serving billionaire whose initial cool unravels over the course of the film (I found myself frequently wondering how this film may have been different had Segel and Plemons switched roles, but Segel is very convincing and amusing as the clueless crook). While in the end the story ends up tipping in Collins’ favor, the script’s exploration of the topics it touches on is too shallow for the finale to pack the punch it should, and it lacks the tension required to get the audience engaged in the outcome. The film just sort of chugs along despite its brisk 92 minute runtime, and leaves the audience little to take away from it other than to wonder what this was all for. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated R.