Friday, April 21, 2023

'The Covenant' soars, 'Quasi' backs into laughs, 'Ghosted' disappears

So what the heck is really going on with the title, "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant"?

Has the notable caper-film writer/director (and ex-husband of Madonna) finally made a deal with the devil? Was his name really placed in the title to avoid confusion with a similarly named release? Or does Ritchie simply want everyone to know that he just might have engineered the finest movie of his career?

Hey, any answer is good with me since the tough Brit's latest seriously puts his best foot forward with a powerful Afghanistan war story, headed by ever-intense Jake Gyllenhaal and featuring a star-in-the-making performance from 46-year-old Dar Salim.

The latter plays smart, clear-minded interpreter to Gyllenhaal's equally strong and engagingly silent Special Forces Sergeant, leading the grunt unit charged with scouring the country's treacherously rugged terrain for Taliban weapons sites.

Obviously, harmful stuff comes with such nasty work, but so does the loyalty, friendship, and mutual respect that filmmaker Ritchie dramatizes just about perfectly after collecting these apparently true incidents for the big screen. 

By the way, he even finds room for a strong woman (Emily Beacham, as an Army wife) expressing both disappointment and love during a separation-scene speech that easily becomes the film's away-from-the-action highlight. 

Finally, when it comes to deciphering the film's timely politics, you are on your own. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: for violence, language throughout, and brief drug content; 2:03; $ $ $ $ out of $5

At the risk of going from sublime to ridiculous, here comes "Quasi," also opening today (though streaming only on Hulu) and filled with possibilities for potential laughs.

Alas, most of the barbs miss more often than hit when the famously titled hunchback (played eagerly by Steve Lemme) finds himself caught between the feuding fictional powers of Pope Cornelius (Paul Souter) and French King Guy (Jay Chandrasekhar). 

Each wants the other one assassinated. Thus, you might say that Quasi keeps running between the sacrilegious and the Sacre bleu! of it all in this sixth movie go-round for the comedy troupe known collectively as Broken Lizard. All five participants in that hard-working acting/writing/directing team play dual roles here, so it is no surprise that Toledo-reared Adrianne Palicki (as the somewhat bawdy Queen Catherine) turns in the film's juiciest moments.

Also of positive note, the voice of Emmy-winner Brian Cox, who hilariously headed the Vermont cops in Lizard's famous "Super Troopers" movies, opens proceedings with a humorously profane intro that certainly would make the great Logan Roy proud.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, some crude/sexual content, and violence; 1:39; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally today there's "Ghosted," streaming only on AppleTV+ as a mostly disappointing effort, even if starring Ana de Armas and Chris Evans, with a handful of notable cameos tossed into the irregular mix.

Director Dexter Fletcher ("Rocket Man") gives himself a quick appearance, too, in a final scene that actually may let us know how he feels about blending an action story that shows off nothing new with a rom-com-like pairing that simply does not produce the kind of charisma everyone might have expected.

I mean, it all becomes even more bewildering when the tepid screenplay has supporting players endlessly mention the sexual tension between Evans, as a lovesick farmer, and the lovely de Armas, who seemed much more comfortable in a similar if lesser role opposite Daniel "James Bond" Craig in 2021's "No Time to Die." It simply does not work.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: 
sequences of strong violence/action, brief strong language, and some sexual content; 1:56; $ $ out of $5

Among films opening Friday in theaters: "Beau is Afraid," "Chevalier," "Evil Dead Rise," "How to Blow Up a Pipeline," and "Somewhere in Queens." Streaming only: Judy Blume Forever (exclusively on Prime Video).

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