EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
I've loved a number of movies released over the past 10 months. But not since The Mitchells vs. the Machines have I been as over-the-moon in love with a movie the way I am with Everything Everywhere All at Once, which just might be the only sci-fi/martial-arts/time-travel comedy you'll ever see that also boasts an emotional power to make you cry – a lot.
Although those two titles would seem to have little in common beyond being composed of five words each, I don't think my nearly equal adoration for them is entirely coincidental. Both Netflix's animated comedy and this new genre explosion by writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – the duo behind Swiss Army Man that works under the moniker Daniels – are wildly clever, original, and exuberant. Both are arguably overstuffed with activity and incident, though not to the films' detriment. Both are about the reconnection of a fractured family in the wake of previously unimaginable events. Both had me roaring with laughter one moment and stifling heavy sobs the next. And both left me counting the minutes until I could enjoy the whole, wacky, wondrous experiences of them all over again. With all due respect to TMvtM, however, only one of these entertainments had the inspiration to cast the deservedly legendary Michelle Yeoh as its lead.
In Everything Everywhere, Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang. She actually plays a countless number of Evelyn Wangs. But for the time being, let's focus on the Evelyn whose life, she feels, is pretty much in the toilet. This sour, dejected Evelyn runs a struggling laundromat alongside her milquetoast husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), a man too timid to hand his wife his recently filed divorce papers. Living a dull existence in the rooms upstairs from their business, the Wangs rarely see their adult daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), due in part to Evelyn's obvious discomfort about her child's queerness. (Tallie Medel plays Joy's girlfriend Becky, whom Evelyn tolerates with the bare minimum of politeness.) The Wangs are currently seeing too much of Evelyn's visiting, wheelchair-bound father Gong Gong (James Hong), who, years earlier, all but disowned his daughter when she left China for the United States. And to make Evelyn's troubled circumstances even worse, she and Waymond are currently being audited by a supremely unpleasant IRS inspector (Jamie Lee Curtis) for, among additional offenses, insisting that a karaoke machine is a business expense. Explaining that his wife also considers herself a singer and a chef and a practitioner of other careers, Waymond says in Evelyn's defense, “She mistakes her hobbies for work.”
As we quickly learn following that remark, it turns out that Evelyn is a singer, and a chef, and innumerable other things at the same time. For just as that audit reaches its crisis point, Evelyn, during an out-of-body experience, is visited by a parallel-universe version of her husband, who claims that he has spent eternities searching the galaxies for her – “the worst Evelyn of them all.” Alternate Waymond says that he needs Evelyn's help in defeating the fearsome Jobu Tupaki, a potential world-destroyer who has created a black hole that threatens to end all life on all of the countless Earths forever. Evelyn's not-quite-hubby tells the deeply, understandably confused woman that in order to annihilate Jobu, she has to access memories from every version of herself that has ever been and continues to be, and use what she's learned over the millennia to stop the black hole from consuming everything in its path. Then Alternate Waymond gives himself a series of paper cuts, beats the ever-loving crap out of rampaging Jobu minions with his fanny pack, and sends Evelyn on her way through the multi-verses.
Although I was stoked to eventually rave about Daniels' colossal achievement, there was nothing I was dreading more than the prospect of supplying an Everything Everywhere plot synopsis, because really, how could I? Just within those two paragraphs above, I forced myself to leave out loads of crucial details: the surveillance-camera images of meek Waymond parkour-ing inside the laundromat; Evelyn's cryptic instructions scribbled on the back of her divorce papers; the mind-splintering that allows Evelyn to be actively conscious in more than one universe at a time. And even if you think you get what's going on at any given time, the writer/directors, like master chess players, are working seven steps ahead of you, planting clues for future encounters and tossing in seemingly random narrative details that will only pay off an hour-plus later. But while it all sounds overwhelming, and potentially exhausting, Daniels' latest is actually ticklish beyond belief, because the writer/directors ensure that even when the multi-verse particulars are confounding, the basics are unexpectedly yet steadfastly comprehensible.
We understand, for instance, that a new universe is created whenever someone does something so random as to defy belief. Consequently, it makes weirdly perfect sense when Waymond gives himself those paper cuts, or Evelyn chugs an entire liter of soda or snorts a fly up her nose, or one of Jobu's goons becomes obsessed with inserting a heavy paperweight up his ass. We realize that because there are literally limitless planes of existence, Evelyn might easily find herself as a fast food joint's sign spinner, or a lesbian with hot dogs for fingers, or a piñata, or a celebrity attending the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians. (That latter conceit is a killer touch for Yeoh fans.) We glean that because accidents and misconceptions can result in universes of their own, Evelyn mistaking Pixar's Ratatouille for a movie about a raccoon just might lead to a detour involving a chef with a clawed, furry, talking creature hiding under his hat. I'm not sure what, if any, mild-altering substances may have been instrumental in the creation of Everything Everywhere, but I'll attest that none are needed to rapturously enjoy it. Like a Charlie Kaufman by way of the Wachowskis, Daniels' divine genre-hopper is a flabbergastingly inventive mind-bender that never crosses over into alienating. And the key to its success, even more than its ingenuity, is the decidedly human and empathetic family at its core.
It's way too early in 2022 to anoint a film performance of the year. If Yeoh's, however, isn't it, I can't wait to see what the next eight months might bring. There likely aren't many movie-goers left who are still unaware of the actor's absolutely stunning dramatic, comedic, and action-heroine gifts. Yet I'm not sure that even the most hopeful of us could have predicted that the 59-year-old would land a leading role that so magnificently showcased all of her distinctive talents, and sometimes all at the same time; the sight of Yeoh's Evelyn kicking butt and dodging bullets Matrix-style is somehow simultaneously thrilling, funny, and moving.
Yoeh is even better, though, when Evelyn is given quiet moments of reflection, as when she's taking stock of her long history with Waymond, or trying desperately to find common ground with Joy. For my money, the smartest decision that Kwan and Scheinert made with their script was to make the Wangs relatable and empathetic from the start, as our early fondness for the family lends true weight to the forthcoming madness. (As with Alternate Waymond, there's an Alternate Joy, and she is not to be messed with.) But even Gong Gong and Curtis' IRS harridan prove to be more complex than their introductions would indicate, and the whole Everything Everywhere cast brings such rich interior life and emotionalsim to their roles that the actors don't even need to be seen, or heard, to be affecting. Ordinarily, I'd worry for my sanity for weeping at the sight of two rocks sitting motionless and “conversing” with one another through subtitles. Here, that image just felt like unspeakably beautiful par for the course.
I could go on forever detailing this film's wonders. And maybe, given the multi-verse theory, I am, my innumerable other selves spending appropriate wordage on Yeoh; and the staggeringly heartfelt Hsu; and the teasingly delayed arrival of the Everything Bagel; and the dazzling editing and effects; and the sheer delight of watching former Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom and Goonies child star Ke Huy Quan give such a mature, soulful portrayal, and one that can switch in an instant to brilliantly unbridled slapstick. Hopefully, too, one of my other selves is devoting an entire review to the film's sentimental yet wholly earned celebration of the powers of kindness, forgiveness, and love, gently delivered reminders that bring to mind one of Rooney Mara's many memorable aphorisms from her five minutes in The Social Network: "Just because something is trite doesn't mean it's not true." There's almost too much greatness here for one viewing, but that's okay – there will be others. Lots of others. Its title is Everything Everywhere All at Once, and at present, I kind of want to re-watch every bit anywhere all the time.
At separate points in Michael Bay's new chase thriller Ambulance, there are verbalized references to the Sean Connery/Nicolas Cage action drama The Rock, which was directed by Michael Bay, and to the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence action comedy Bad Boys, which was also directed by Michael Bay. I might have found this cheeky self-promotion obnoxious had his latest not been bringing additional Bay titles to mind, given that the experience felt just a little bit longer than sitting through Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and five Transformers combined.
I should've known better, but I was actually somewhat looking forward to Ambulance, because on those rare occasions in which Bay isn't trying to bludgeon us into submission – as in 2013's Pain & Gain, say, or 2016's sharp military thriller 13 Hours – his lean-and-mean ferocity can produce surprisingly effective results. And with its reported budget of $40 million, which basically makes his film the Sundance indie dramedy of the Michael Bay oeuvre, this remake of a 2005 Danish film (!) should've been nothing if not lean and mean, telling of a pair of adoptive brothers – career criminal Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and decorated military vet Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – who rob millions from a bank and try to outrun the law in a pilfered rescue vehicle. It all takes place over the course of a single day, and there's built-in tension with the hijacked ambulance also hosting an EMT (Eiza González) and a bleeding-out cop (Jackson White), and character-actor great Garret Dillahunt has a significant role as a grouchy police captain … . On paper, it was Speed with fewer passengers and an adorably slobbering dog. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, with Bay at the helm, almost literally everything. I had an inkling of what fresh hell we were in for even from the early scene establishing Will's domestic life, which was flooded with so much golden light and American-flag imagery and references to the man's unrewarded heroism that I was frankly surprised the sequence wasn't underscored by a mournful rendition of the National Anthem. (Even in his R-rated endeavors, Bay seems convinced that no one in his audience is over the age of eight, and that all of us require themes to be expressed with maximum obviousness.) But the movie became much, much worse after Gyllenhaal's bad-influence brother entered the picture, the actor's eye-popping, chatterbox lunatic already amped up to 11 before the guys ever entered the bank. I generally love Gyllenhaal, and even love his aggressive too-muchness when it serves the role, as it did in his peerlessly funny routine as Mr. Music in the Netflix special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch. Yet once the heist is pulled off and the siblings are on the lam, Gyllenhaal's incessant shouting causes Abdul-Mateen to shout just to be heard, which causes González to shout to be heard, which causes the already nausea-inducing camera trickery and Bay's typically hyper-manic editing rhythms to overcompensate for fear of audience boredom.
What follows are nearly two hours indistinguishable from a cinematic seizure, and if a kitchen sink never makes an appearance, that's only because everything else is thrown into the mix: endlessly unfunny wisecracks; Los Angeles gangsters; seemingly impossible escapes performed with miraculous ease; an NRA convention's worth of artillery; an EMT with undiagnosed Stockholm syndrome; and, for a quick goosing of Bay's fan base, a therapy session between two same-sex partners that ends with one of the men kissing the other, calling him “Boo,” and engendering disgusted groans among my fellow patrons. And it's all so boring. Witnessing a Michael Bay atrocity is oftentimes like getting a sledgehammer to the skull. Ambulance was one of those instances in which a sledgehammer to the skull might have been preferable.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2
Making my Ambulance experience on Saturday all the worse, at least in the moment, was knowing that after it concluded, I'd have only a short break before slouching into an auditorium seat for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – its predecessor being one of the last movies I reviewed pre-pandemic in 2020, and a family-friendly video-game adaptation so blandly busy and uninspired that I almost wished our nationwide shut-down had hit a month earlier. So perhaps it was just a matter of having the lowest of low expectations for this thing … but it actually isn't bad!
Director Jeff Fowler's sequel isn't by any means good, of course. The plot involving the recovery of some sort of magical emerald is beyond superfluous, and the pun-heavy gags still fail to elicit a smile, and the references are again a bizarre blend of the merely lame and the way-past-their-relevancy point. (Seriously, in 2022, do even the parents of grade-schoolers recognize the Tom-Cruise-in-his-underwear bit from Risky Business?) But I'm happy to report that while the original film appeared covered in “Are we pulling this off?” flop sweat – perhaps partially due to the loud online chatter about the original Sonic's unsightly appearance – Fowler's new offering instead exudes a relaxed, “Whew – we pulled it off!” insouciance that results in a livelier, sillier good time across the board.
Jim Carrey's goofy shtick as Dr. Robotnik feels more organic and less desperate. Idris Elba, voicing the echidna warrior Knuckles, is given a surprising number of amusing lines and makes the most of them. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, although sidelined for most of the movie, are casually endearing as Sonic's adoptive parents. There's an endearingly nutty dance-off in a Siberian tavern scored to “Uptown Funk” and boasting a truly impressive team of human break-dancers. Adam Pally resurrects his dipstick sheriff's deputy Wade Whipple and scores a few genuine laughs. The Ghostbusters-y effects at the finale are unexpectedly decent. And for a few brief, blessed minutes, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 stops dead in its hyper-active tracks to give Natasha Rothwell - reprising her role as Sumpter's incredulous sister - a few moments of disarmingly real emotion after also allowing her to be admirably funny. Truth be told, I had totally forgotten that Rothwell's character was in the original Sonic, yet instantly perked up at her presence here, having fallen madly in love with the performer in HBO's The White Lotus. Not-bad though her latest is, I'm hoping Rothwell secures stronger material than this in the immediate future. But it sure was nice to see her in Hawaii again.