Then Playing — Little Monsters; Underwater; Like a Boss

Little Monsters (Abe Forsythe, 2019). This comedic horror romp doesn’t have much to recommended it beyond the bright charisma of Lupita Nyong’o, but that just might be enough. Nyong’o plays Caroline, a sweet kindergarten teacher in Australia. A field trip she organizes takes place in a nature center near a U.S. military facility, where an experiment goes awry and unleashes standard-issue zombies upon the landscape. Caroline hunkers down with her students, one her young charge’s ne’er-do-well uncle (Alexander England), and a kiddie performer known as Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), whose obnoxiously cartoonish persona hides an even more obnoxious core of crude immorality. Director Abe Forsythe brings a nice energy and hits all the crowd-pleasing moments well, but there’s barely a wisp of a movie here. No matter how much fun it is to watch Nyong’o skate with ease through this material, Little Monsters barely qualifies as a diversion.

Underwater (William Eubank, 2020). There’s little doubt that Underwater was pitched as Alien meets The Abyss, and the film has little inspiration beyond that basic Hollywood calculus. A crew that’s working at a facility deep in the Mariana Trench encounters rumbling trouble that eventually escalates to encounters with creepy creatures. Director William Eubank labors to instill gloom and kinetic cool into the film, but the storytelling verges on incoherence. The whole cast wear the hangdog weariness of a regretted career choice, with lead Kristen Stewart the only one who occasionally signals her frustration with a cockeyed line reading or reaction, a strategy that served her slightly better in the similarly disastrous Charlie’s Angels.

Like a Boss (Miguel Arteta, 2020). The drab film is nearly free of laughs, but it so clearly exposes the mechanics of modern film comedies that it’s equivalent to one of those biology class dummies with cutaways to show internal organs. Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) are lifelong friends running a boutique cosmetics business. Their financial woes are possibly fixed when a larger company swoops in, ostensibly as a supportive partner, but the gleaming-toothed CEO (Salma Hayek) has more ruthless plans in mind. Like a Boss lopes from one friendship-testing incident to the next, being sure to deploy a crassly boisterous set piece every now and again (a dish overly stocked with ghost peppers is the film’s answer to the Bridesmaids food poisoning). Haddish had just enough genuine moments in her performance to inspire regret that her clear talent hasn’t yet been liberated from rote material such as this. Miguel Arteta directs with noticeable disinterest.

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