Kong: Skull Island
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Run time: 118 minutes
The Lowdown: When is enough Samuel L. Jackson too much?
About 30 to 40 minutes into Kong: Skull Island, that’s when.
Maybe Jackson shouldn’t be blamed – the guy seriously can’t be out campaigning to star in every single movie franchise – but someone surely deserves blame for allowing this fine actor to go way overboard in trying to create a pint-size human antagonist with as big of a mouth as King Kong has bite.
Truth be told, there’s plenty of blame to spread around when it comes to Kong: Skull Island, and that in no way means this is a bad movie. I would gladly watch Kong every day for a year than have to sit through another bloated Michael Bay-directed Transformers movie.
But Kong: Skull Island isn’t nearly as good or enjoyable of a movie as it could be either, and that is a problem.
There’s just way too much going on in the early going to allow the film to develop any sense of rhythm.
Set in the waning days of Vietnam, the film opens from the military perspective, working overtime to establish Jackson’s Preston Packard as a war veteran you don’t want to mess with and John Goodman’s Bill Randa as a government contractor you want to trust.
Throw in Brie Larson’s war-photographer Mason Weaver and Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad, a fringe-dwelling tracker and soldier-of-fortune, and you’ve already got a lot of big personalities vying for attention – in a movie about the biggest personality of all-time, the Eighth Wonder of the World!
And we haven’t even talked about Packard’s rag-tag squadron of tired fighters, which include an assorted handful of loud and brash personalities as well.
From its opening echoes of Platoon, the film quickly transitions to its core agenda, locating Skull Island, the lost land of lore where fantastic beasts are believed to live. The military helicopters deftly navigate the sudden and strange freak weather that surrounds the suspected island, and then boom, you’re there.
Before viewers can catch their bearings, a bunch of crazy stuff immediately happens, the biggest of which is the unexpectedly quick introduction of Kong himself, who is more massive and nimble than ever depicted on screen before.
This should be fun, though, right?
Giant angry ape taking on seasoned soldiers fresh from the hell of war. Instant excitement! Right?
Or the giant bugs that terrorize the stranded group or the subterranean monsters who only surface when they think the coast is clear enough to take on and topple Kong? Hella good, right?
Kong: Skull Island is like a monster truck tire with a persistent leak. Well before it gets to wreaking havoc and crushing opponents, the tire just goes flat, and fast.
There’s just too many characters in a movie that really only needs to focus on one character, the big fuzzball who rules the island. The film doesn’t need the star power of Hiddleston or the Oscar prestige of Larson. It doesn’t need an over-caffeinated Jackson screaming bloody murder at anyone and everyone in his path.
Honestly, the only character in Kong: Skull Island that you actually give a damn about is John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a World War II pilot who crash-landed on the island and has been living in a shaky truce with the island’s denizens ever since. He’s funny, he has a backstory that actually resonates and he’s freakin’ John C. Reilly!
While the special effects are pretty spectacular, particularly the long, wide shots that truly show the massive size of Kong as he’s battling helicopters or hip-tossing subterranean monsters, the real reason everyone showed up to see Kong in the first place is the post-credits tease for the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.
Please, please, pretty please, don’t screw that up.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Meh.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Creature violence, war violence.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Sir Samuel, the 800-pound scenery-chewing elephant on screen squaring off against Kong.
Buy/Rent – Rent it for the Godzilla tease.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Granny of the Dead (Level 33 Entertainment, 83 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Writer-director Tudley James’ geriatric zombie flick Granny of the Dead has some inspired bits of lunacy, but it’s no Shawn of the Dead.
The biggest issue with Granny of the Dead is its frenetic pace and reliance on jump cuts and dizzy edits, which undermine the viewing experience and distract from the rush of unfolding zombie carnage.
Not surprisingly, Granny of the Dead was executive-produced by Anthony C. Ferrante, who directed the first Sharknado. ‘Nuff said.
Still, there is a definite fanbase for this particular brand of horror-comedy, and it could find prolonged life as a stoner zombie horror cult classic.
Residue (XLrator Media, 82 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Residue, the new film by writer-director Rusty Nixon is as persistent and difficult to shake as the titular supernatural gloop that permeates an ancient, evil tome.
It’s also frustrating as hell as a viewing experience because the potential for Residue to elevate into something special clings on, offering the glimmer of hope, throughout its brief run time.
Nixon frames his film like a retro throwback to the supernatural spookfests of the 1980s. You’re never quite sure whether to take it seriously or not, which becomes a detriment during its more dramatic moments, yet there is a subversive glint of black humor flowing through a handful of scenes.
Part of the problem rests with the unnecessary and distracting voiceover by lead actor James Clayton, who plays a disgraced gumshoe PI struggling to provide a better environment for his daughter. Clayton hits the right notes at times, but overall, he seems somewhat slight in a role that needs a little more oomph to truly sell the suspense.
A bigger problem is Nixon’s script, which refuses to explain anything directly.
There’s a book that seeps black goo that two vicious crime lords want. One crime lord is played by Matt Frewer (Max Headroom himself) with the expected facial tics and Tourette’s-style bursts of dialogue. The other boss is played by William B. Davis (The X-Files), but his presence and motivation is never properly conveyed.
Supposedly, the book can summon something evil and awful. Or maybe it’s something good. The script dances around this point, at times suggesting the book might be a portal to higher consciousness and enlightenment. Whatever “it” is, it plays with time, causes hallucinations and manifestations and basically wrecks anyone who dares try to finish its story and view all its pages.
Clayton spends the bulk of his screen time either sitting, staring at the pages and reacting to whatever demons appear, or offering some of the most painfully-awkward parental advice to his barely-legal daughter.
There are a couple of well-executed fight scenes and a handful of seriously decent practical special effects, including one great, recurring gag with Frewer’s character that seems to have parachuted in from a Full Moon Features production or an early-80s Stuart Gordon film.
And that’s where the frustration resides. Residue holds your attention, but it doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. There’s no urgency, no narrative arc to be resolved. When the end does arrive, it’s convoluted and dissatisfying because, as a viewer, you’re left without a clue as to what exactly happened or why.
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