My Bodyguard

*** (out of five)

On paper, it’s hard to tell if teaming Dwayne Johnson, the artist formally known as The Rock, now officially the highest-earning movie star in the world – in salary and box office – and Meryl Streep, the most awarded and respected (except by the President of the United States) movie actor in history, was a good one. In practice, it’s turned out surprisingly well. In My Bodyguard, which is a very tenuous, practically “in name only” remake of the 1980 drama, Johnson plays Sanchez, the well-meaning, dyslexic janitor at an isolated, elite private high school hired by the school’s principal (Streep) to be her bodyguard against the increasingly – and bizarrely – dangerous student population. It’s a strange hybrid of gritty (and surprisingly violent) action and sentimental May/December romance, and, somehow, it works, despite a few preposterous moments.

Happily, those moments are also some of the film’s (deeply) guilty pleasures. As with seeing Helen Mirren blow things and beat people up in Red (2010), it’s highly entertaining to watch Streep lay into one of her particularly odious charges while Sanchez sits calmly in a dark corner of the room, his presence all that is needed to keep the student from fighting back. Likewise, it is a rare joy to see Johnson go into emotional territory he simply hasn’t explored before; – spolier – yes, we see the big fella cry.

By setting the scene in an expensive private school, the film deftly – or, blatantly – avoids racial politics. All of the students turned violent are white; the few minority students, all on scholarships, are also the good ones, who pay Sanchez respect even before he puts down his broom and picks up his bat. Like The River Wild (1994) and The Giver (2014), this is Streep taking a swim in genre cinema seemingly to just give it a go, but – of course! – she also deeply commits. Watch, they’ll give her another Oscar nomination; wouldn’t it be fun if Johnson got one too?

Film Title: It's Complicated

Furious 7

UnknownFurious 7

Furious 7 ***1/2 (out of five)

Furious 7 is not quite as enormously entertaining an action-minded car-theft film as the last two instalments of this unlikely franchise. That said, within its own weird universe, it’s pretty damn good.

What made 5 and 6 so magical was, besides the spectacularly nutty plots and the out-of-this world car action sequences, the beautifully constructed “family” ways of the diverse ensemble. In this film, that ensemble and sense of family is deeply diminished. It’s Vin Dielsel’s show this time, and, although he’s a terrific action movie lead, the script doesn’t allow him to share his soul with his fellow players as it has before.

The film is extremely energetic and, after a slow burn, very kinetically engaging for about two hours on full tilt. It doesn’t make a lot of sense – which seems much to do with Paul Walker’s death causing the filmmakers to alter the film halfway through shooting  – and frankly feels like four action-inspired chapters rather than a movie with a beginning, middle and end. But those chapters are chock-full of very loud, gear-grinding action (and some excellent hand-to-hand combat) combined with the series’ now-trademark sense of its own absurdity. Jason Statham adds to the colour as a super-villain, but The Rock is unfortunately sidelined for much of the film. Diesel bears the brunt, and, like always, he bears it well.

Walker’s death is dealt with, of course, and sensitively. James Wan had a supreme challenge with one of his two leading men dying halfway through production, and, if this episode is a little less coherent than the previous two, it’s still very much a Fast and Furious movie, which means it’s two tons of fun.