American Made (Doug Liman, 2017). Now that Tom Cruise has moved entirely into the phase of his career that involves constantly putting his own well-being in peril to the delight of the audience, more serious fare — even something as aspirationally gonzo as American Made — sits very awkwardly on his gym-sculpted shoulders, mostly because he apparently is going to operate with the same lunatic zeal no matter what. In playing Barry Seal, a pilot who both smuggled drugs and worked for U.S. government agencies during the nineteen-seventies and -eighties, Cruise can’t quite figure out the source of the character’s opportunism, amorality or pure survival instinct. Director Doug Liman is similarly confused, making no real distinction between the mounting of schemes and the points at which they’re moving recklessly forward under their own momentum. The whole movie is the Goodfellas sequence where Henry is so coked up that he gives equal import to helicopters following him and his brother tending the tomato sauce.
Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg, 2019). Having already signed his name to the screenplay of one botched adaptation of the X-Men comic book story known as the Dark Phoenix saga, Simon Kinberg evidently wanted another crack at it. And he felt so strongly about the cinematic do-over than he decided to make it his feature directorial debut, too. Using the versions of Marvel’s merry mutants established in the film X-Men: First Class, Kinberg tracks the tragic tale of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), a mutant with psychic and telekinetic abilities who is infused with the awesome power of the Phoenix Force, leading her to dabble in malevolence. Kinberg makes the same mistake as he did before, jettisoning nearly everything that made the original story work in a desperate hunt for cool movie mayhem. Perhaps nothing is more damning of Kinberg’s rendering of the story than the moral churn Jean’s friends go through in defending her is handled more artfully in a forty-year-old comic book that was created with adolescents in mind. Dark Phoenix is little more than a good guy who becomes a bad guy and everyone shouts and grimaces around her as it happens. Turner isn’t very good in the title role, but she’s hardly alone in underwhelming. All of the actors show signs of indifference, none more so than Jennifer Lawrence, playing shapeshifter Mystique for the fourth time with the benumbed spirit of contractual obligation.
Hellboy (Neil Marshall, 2019). This absolutely disastrous attempt to reboot the film series featuring Hellboy, Mike Mignola’s dandy comic book character, suffers from a lack of purpose and an even more gaping absence of creative vision. Working from a screenplay by Andrew Cosby, Neil Marshall slings a lot of stuff on screen with little feel for logic or wit. Taking over the title role, David Harbour does a lot of yelling and comes across as merely flabbergasted any time an expression of more intricate emotion is required. The movie is glued together like a broken mirror with several shards missing and others put in upside down.