Following some requisite, necessary backstory, Terminator Genisys opens in 2029 Los Angeles, where resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) transports fellow revolutionary Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to 1984, where he's to hopefully prevent global apocalypse and protect John's mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) from a murderous robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Upon arriving, however, Kyle finds that Sarah doesn't need saving and the robot isn't murderous, so off they go to 2017, where the planet is still imperiled, and John Connor himself proves to be the source of the planet's eventual ruin. After one of these whisks through the decades, Kyle says, "Time travel makes my head hurt," and time-travel movies generally make my head hurt, too. But for a fifth installment in an increasingly confounding series, this particular time-travel movie is actually a fair bit of fun.
I'd say there's no good reason for director Alan Taylor's sci-fi/action outing to exist, but I really should stop saying things like that. Not only is potential profit, in Hollywood, a good reason, it's the only reason. It's hard, though, to get past Terminator Genisys' more-than-mild whiff of exhaustion. While the famed "liquid metal" CGI is still cool, especially when acid rains down on Byung-hun Lee's cyborg-in-cop's-clothing, it isn't noticeably cooler than it was when James Cameron introduced that visual marvel in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day. (A similar issue plagues the solid yet redundant effects in Jurassic World. This summer, you'd almost think big-screen technological advances ended in 1993.) And even actors new to the franchise seem oddly bored. Within their first minute together, Courtney and Clarke are already bickering like petulant, antsy high-school seniors who've been dating since freshman year, and despite his natural charisma, Jason Clarke (whom, despite their surnames, I'm pretty sure isn't related to Emilia off-screen) performs as though he'd traveled in his own time machine and discovered this paycheck gig would wind up doing nothing for his career.
Still, Taylor's fourth sequel at least moves, which is more than you can say for 2009's enervating Terminator Salvation, and better yet, it moves while also being funny. Despite his deadpan, the glint in Schwarzenegger's eyes shows he's clearly delighted to be back, and he has some choice moments, as when a Golden Gate Bridge chase sends him tumbling through a squad car's windshield, and when his 67-year-old, leather-jacketed self battles his naked, 1984 doppelgänger. (Ah-nuld's therapist, if he has one, could dissect this scene for years.) There's also an amusing and strangely touching Mexican standoff, and smart gags devoted to Schwarzenegger's "old but not obsolete" wiring, and a loony yet welcome jolt of the "Bad Boys" music cue from Cops - hell, there's even J.K. Simmons doing one of his peerless J.K. Simmons routines. (I have to believe his line "Goddamned time-traveling robots ... !" was written specifically for him.) The film may feel old hat and its perils-of-technology moralizing is a wheeze, but Terminator Genisys remains a moderate hoot, and almost worthwhile merely for the satiric rallying cry before 2017 John Conner and his associate unveil their brand-new teleportation device. "What do we want?!" "Time travel!" "When do we want it?" "It's irrelevant!"
MAGIC MIKE XXL
The most joyous scene in Magic Mike XXL - maybe, to date, the most joyous scene of the year - actually doesn't showcase Channing Tatum's Mike, but rather co-star Joe Manganiello, who plays Big Dick Richie in Mike's posse of lovable male strippers. Big Dick's been a little down, you see, because for reasons suggested in his name, no woman has had sex with him in more than five months. (As Mike says, the guy's problem is a blessing and a curse.) So his buddies, noticing a grim-faced cashier at a Florida convenience store, attempt to cheer him up through a challenge: Do what you have to, but make that girl smile. Big Dick accepts and, for the next two minutes, performs an outlandish, hilarious striptease to the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," performing unspeakable moves on a bag of Cheetos, and climaxing his act with the contents of a water bottle. "How much for the Cheetos and water?" he asks. Ver-r-ry slowly, the girl smiles. How could she not? Magic Mike XXL's audience, meanwhile, goes absolutely berserk. How could they not?
Director Gregory Jacobs' sequel isn't the unqualified success Steven Soderbergh's 2012 Magic Mike is - it's pleasant but a bit dawdling, and sure could've used some of the original's surprise, momentum, narrative involvement, and Matthew McConaughey. But good luck finding a happier movie this summer, or a movie that, for its intended audience, delivers quite this much happiness; the giggly shrieks at my Tuesday-night screening started with the first shot of Tatum's face - his face, mind you - and I'll frankly be shocked if the applause at this December's Star Wars matches the ferocity of the clapping that greeted this sequel's finale. Quibbles be damned: Enjoy the sublime Tatum's jaw-dropping moves (and abs, and pecs, and delts), and Matt Bomer stripping and crooning to D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," and our boys competing in a good-natured vogue-off, and Andie MacDowell feeling Manganiello's chest and shouting "DAY-yum!", and the vivacious Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks just being there - and our heroes' assistant Tobias saying, "All right, all right, all ri-i-i-ight!" Who needs McConaughey when you've got Gabriel Iglesias?
ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at 2015's Sundance Film Festival, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me & Earl & the Dying Girl concerns the initially forced, then very real senior-year friendship between aspiring high-school filmmaker Greg (Thomas Mann) and his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who's suffering from stage-four leukemia. If I may ask, regarding the accolades: Was the air in Utah particularly thin this year? Because while the festival's chief prize-winners seem to invariably go to quirky dramedies of this film's ilk, there must've been something else to laud beyond this insufferably self-conscious and (especially for film critics) pandering laughter-through-tears offering. It's nicely performed by the leads, and there's definite inventiveness on display. But this adaptation of Jesse Andrews' YA novel, adapted by Andrews himself, still feels mannered and oppressive and fraudulent, like something crafted by Diablo Cody's less-talented nephew, or The Fault in Our Stars remade by the Napoleon Dynamite team.
Even if you're not immediately averse to sardonic voice-over narration, which Gomez-Rejon's film employs within its first seconds, it'll only take about five minutes to figure out what kind of cutesy-poo indie universe you've landed in. Greg's parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) are introduced as eccentric buffoons, the carefully categorized cliques and mores of modern high-school life are duly established, and Greg's progression toward, y'know, Deeper Feelings is accompanied by intentionally on-the-nose, Friends-y title cards reading "The part where I began senior year" and "The part where I meet a dying girl." I'd had enough of M&E&TDG's forced tragi-adorableness even before the plot kicked in, and once it did, the movie goes about trying to have its already-eaten cake for the next 100 minutes. Rachel's mother (Molly Shannon) arrives as a grossly inappropriate, booze-swilling cartoon whom we're eventually meant to weep for. Clichéd teen-comedy stereotypes (such as the ones played by the equally wonderful Katherine C. Hughes and Jon Bernthal) are proven human long after the film has treated them otherwise. Voice-over Greg, on two occasions, tells us not to worry, everything's okay, Rachel will be fine in the end ... conveniently forgetting that, two minutes into his narration, he'd already told us she died.
I'm a notorious crier at the movies and I didn't shed a single tear over this one, although two scenes might've gotten me there if the others, more often than not, weren't so actively annoying. The first was a lengthy, unbroken take during which Rachel tells Greg she won't be continuing radiation treatment; the second was a climactic series of discoveries in which Greg realizes how little he actually knew his departed friend. Mann is excellent in these moments (and does a killer Werner Herzog impression), as is that Bates Motel sweetheart Cooke throughout, and R.J. Cyler is marvelous as Greg's titular filmmaking pal Earl, who scrapes the sentiment off his unexpectedly incidental role as if removing mud from a boot. But the dramatic highlights feel unearned after all the too-easy laughs and Gomez-Rejon's incessantly show-offy, referential detours, with his Taxi Driver homage - the camera scooting away from Greg's phone conversation in the exact way Scorsese's camera scoots from De Niro's - coming off as particularly ham-fisted. I'll readily admit that I absolutely loved the brief snippets we get of Greg's and Earl's satirized takes on film classics titled Brew Velvet and My Dinner with Andre the Giant and A Sockwork Orange, the latter opening with Henry Purcell's recognizable synth music and sock puppets enjoying a glass of milk. But here, two great scenes and several great diversions do not a great movie make. The only true power in Me & Earl & the Dying Girl lies in its creators' power to turn terminal cancer into terminal whimsy.