E.T. might well consider suing “Home” (wide release), the new DreamWorks 3D animated kidflick that depends heavily on Steven Spielberg’s classic alien tale for inspiration while adding a heavy dose of the Minions from “Despicable Me” to the mix.
The extraterrestrial in question is Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons with cutesy-weird inflections intended, one presumes, to recall Yoda) who comes to earth with an invading army of his Minion-like fellows to escape a predator alien that’s hot on their trail. These are nice invaders, though; they scoop up all the humans and deposit them in happy-go-lucky communities where they will apparently live lives of indolence and pleasure.
One human remains outside, though — a little girl with whom Oh joins forces after he goes on the lam, targeted for punishment after he inadvertently reveals his species’ location to their pursuers. Need we add that they bond?
“Home” abounds with nice messages about being yourself and the importance of family. They are all as familiar as the characters and the plot.
The result is a children’s movie that is innocuous but seems almost redundant.
“The Longest Ride”
Nicholas Sparks strikes again with “The Longest Ride” (wide release), another helping of his trademark romantic schmaltz festooned with countless banalities about life and love presented as though they were deep thoughts.
The young couple who come from different worlds but are obviously meant for one another are Luke, a North Carolina bull rider, and Sophia, a Wake Forest art history major soon to depart for a New York internship. Their relationship seems doomed until an elderly Jewish widower intervenes. After they have saved him from a car crash, his cache of letters, recounting his long, loving marriage to a vivacious teacher with a passion for modern art, along with the collection of paintings they amassed over the years, will make the youngsters realize their common destiny.
The juxtaposition of two romances separated in time is a Sparks standby from “The Notebook” to “The Best of Me,” and it has become a tired cliché. But his fans seem to enjoy seeing it endlessly repeated, so perhaps they will be tearing up by the time “The Longest Ride” reaches its soapy conclusion. The rest of us will be snorting derisively instead.
The death of actor Paul Walker during the making of “Furious 7” (wide release) casts a bit of a pall over the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” muscle car series. But by using old footage, stand-ins and CGI, the makers managed to keep his character an integral part of the plot to the end, and even tacked on a tribute to close the picture.
A pity that the loud, frenetic movie does not do him or anybody else — especially the viewer — justice.
The franchise has been moving steadily into more and more ludicrous James Bond territory, and this seventh episode goes full-bore in that direction, not only sending the team of L.A. street racers on a globe-trotting journey to catch a savvy ex-secret agent (Jason Statham) who is trying to kill them off, but offering a slew of action scenes featuring helicopters and drones as well as car stunts that defy gravity as well as the ability to suspend belief.
The result is a live-action comic book marked by ridiculous plotting, risible dialogue, plenty of ear-splitting racket and acting that can most charitably be described as wooden. But it does contain lots of explosions, martial arts fights and chases along winding mountain roads and city streets. For fans of the series, that is probably considered a fair trade-off.
“While We’re Young”
On the other hand, Noah Baumbach and Ben Stiller offer a mostly sophisticated, clever comedic take on mid-life crisis with “While We’re Young” (wide release).
Stiller plays Josh, a documentary filmmaker nine years into making a pretentious study of American life that his father-in-law, a revered documentarian played by Charles Grodin in perfect deadpan style, describes as a six-and-a-half hour movie that’s seven hours too long.
When Josh and his wife (Naomi Watts), feeling out of step with couples their own age, meet a hip mid-twenties one with an easygoing retro edge, they effectively adopt them as their new best friends and begin copying them. The arrangement doesn’t exactly work out.
Baumbach makes some missteps here, occasionally straying into the Judd Apatow territory of frat-boy farce, and the ending is depressingly flat. But overall “While We’re Young” is an amiable romp about people terrified of leaving their youth behind.