Friday, March 29, 2019

'Dumbo' remake is, well . . . kinda dumb; ride on 'The Mustang' instead

I kid you not, the words "Let's get ready for Dumbo!" ring out not once, but twice in a live-action remake of the animated story about a beloved little elephant that flies.

Get ready for the only real star of "Dumbo," a cute pachyderm in a homely film.
And, so what if the announcer, Michael Buffer, is the internationally renown, in-ring voice of the championship fight game. I mean, who will get the joke, anyway? All the boxing fans in the audience?

Honestly, Buffer's cameo as a guest circus ringmaster becomes just one of many miscues in a shabbily written, oddly directed and poorly edited kids' movie, whose one and only distinction remains the star. This time our still lovable Dumbo is nicely CGI animated, of course, with huge floppy ears that allow him to get up, up and away from the crowd of mostly unlikable folks on the circus grounds below him.

They include Danny DeVito, revisiting cranky Louie De Palma territory from the "Taxi" TV series that made him a star, and Michael Keaton, shifting among various phony accents as a 1919 impresario who becomes the definitive villain of the piece. Both play key roles in separating Dumbo from his mama, the constantly put-upon Mrs. Jumbo, in this script from Ehren Kruger, screenwriter of three -- count 'em 3 -- "Transformers" sequels.

If that doesn't tell you something about the sensibilities on display here, please also know that darkmeister Tim Burton directs. Regardless, only a psychedelic bubble sequence of pink elephants on parade, which would play way out of the league of early 20th century circus-goers, and a sudden, likely severely edited visit to an apparently scary place called "Nightmare Island," show signs of Burton's usual shadowy touches.

Otherwise, the whole misguided business talks down to the audience and turns what has become a classic 1941 cartoon feature into a live-action soiree mostly ruined by dreadfully dull adults in and out of the room. By the way, Walt Disney himself might be spinning in his (supposed) cryonic chamber after this latest film from the studio that bears his name so easily also douses the dreams of money-making theme parks. Talk about biting the hands that fed you!

Rated "PG-13": peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language; 1:43; $ $ out of $5 

Schoenaerts attempts to come to terms with "The Mustang."
Also opening in local theaters today is another animal-related film that would be worth seeing even if the one above didn't fly off the rails. It's called "The Mustang" and follows "The Rider" and "Lean on Pete" as movies which succumb to the marvel of horses and their remarkable healing powers.

Here, prison rehabilitation, as initiated by the state of Nevada's so-called Wild Horse Inmate Program, becomes the cinematic vehicle that turns steeds into saviors of men's souls. At least that's the way the first feature from actress-turned director Laure Clermont-Tonnerre capably tells it, with a spotlight on silent and steely convict Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts).

After a one-sided interview with an understanding counselor (Connie Britton), rough-around-the-edges Roman gets into the program, which gives inmates experience in taming horses to be auctioned off at the end of the training trail. Naturally, our boy hooks up with the titled terror, and it takes much head-bumping for their twin temperaments to get in sync.

Before they reach full gallop, cinematographer Ruben Impens fills in the blanks with some gorgeous wild West landscapes, while the story introduces a treacherous cellmate (Josh Stewart), a grizzled old cowboy/trainer (who else but Bruce Dern), and an estranged daughter (Gideon Adlon) for Roman to deal with in ever-evolving ways.

Rated "R": language, some violence and drug content; 1:36; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

FYI: "The Mustang" might have been inspired by a 2008 documentary ("Wild Horse Redemption") about the Bureau of Land Management's real prisoner/horse program. It played at the 32nd Cleveland International Film Festival so, yes, please let this serve as a not-so-sly reminder that CIFF 43 is currently unveiling its wares right now through April 7 at various venues, including Tower City Cinemas.

Find the full schedule here.

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