The Kid Who Would Be King (Joe Cornish, 2019). After his feature directorial debut, Attack the Block, Joe Cornish seemed positioned to jostle with a few others — including Edgar Wright, one of that film’s producers — for the distinction of evolving into a Spielberg for the new millennium, delivering rousing entertainments built with a zippy panache and a bold, cunning visual sense. Active courting of Cornish commenced, but he was evidently having none of it (a choice likely influenced by the experience of working in futility on Marvel’s Ant-Man with Wright), choosing instead to retreat from the business for a while. His return is a chipper oddity, a film about a bullied schoolboy named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is set upon a quest when he finds Excalibur on a construction site. With similar scrappy chums in his impromptu band of modern knights, Alex has to thwart the malevolent machinations of Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) and save the world from the demonic army she’s roused. The Kid Who Would Be King is pleasant enough, but there’s also an old fashioned quality to the storytelling that is more deadening than nostalgically charming. The movie feels like it could have been plucked from a major studio’s lineup of kid-friendly fare circa 1995. Generously, that quality could be seen as imparting a timelessness of the film. In practice, it feels disposable.
Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990). Like most adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s mind-bending fiction, Total Recall endured a torturous development process that pummeled out all the complexities leaving a gimmick upon which a pedestrian action story could be draped. In 2084, people can take faux vacations by getting memories injected. When a construction worker named Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) give it a go, opting for Mars as his destination, he has a strange reaction, eventually being told it triggered the emergence of his real identity of a crafty super-spy. Following up the far superior RoboCop, director Paul Verhoeven carries over some of the boisterous imaginings of a cluttered future society, but loses the keen satire. Schwarzenegger’s pronounced limitations as an actor are a major issue, eliminating any of the nuanced intrigue of flexible identity and plopping in basic action movie platitudes in the resulting vacancy. As Quaid’s wife, Sharon Stone flashes the flinty, enticingly dangerous star quality that would push her to the pop culture stratosphere a couple years later.
The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery, 2018). Drawn from the real exploits of an aged bank robber, The Old Man & the Gun is expertly designed by writer-director David Lowery to fully exploit the limited yet formidable acting talents of Robert Redford. As Forrest Tucker, Redford moves through the film with the relaxed charisma that’s always been his strongest attribute. He’s especially engaging in the handful of scenes pairing him with Sissy Spacek, as a sweet widow courted by Forrest. Lowery gives The Old Man & the Gun the unhurried pace and twilight glow of a small-scale nineteen-seventies drama, further emphasizing the elegiac sense that a whole era of good-natured movie stars and refined, human cinematic storytelling is flickering out to a regrettable extinction.