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Crazy Rich Asians and Mark Wahlberg in Columbus (Movie Theaters)

Hope Madden Hope Madden Crazy Rich Asians and Mark Wahlberg in Columbus (Movie Theaters)Photo still from Crazy Rich Asians, via IMDb.
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Mark Wahlberg is here to sell cars and beat the hell out of the end-of-summer movie doldrums, but is he successful? And how scary is Michelle Yeoh as a prospective mother-in-law? Most importantly, will there be better movies next week?

Crazy Rich Asians

by Rachel Willis

When Nick Young (Henry Golding) asks Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) to be his date to a wedding in Singapore, she expects a nice, but simple trip to her boyfriend’s home. She’ll meet his family, and they’ll take an important step forward in their relationship. It’s what Rachel doesn’t know – that Nick is a member of a family known as “Singapore royalty” — that sets up the comedy and drama of Crazy Rich Asians.

Director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel is an entertaining look at the culture clash that happens when Rachel attempts to fit in with Nick’s family.

“Crazy rich” is an accurate descriptor for Nick’s family and their class of friends. Born and raised in New York by a single, working mother, Rachel isn’t prepared for the ostentatious wealth that surrounds Nick’s family. Though proud of her life and career — economics professor at NYU — she realizes that she’s seen as an unremarkable outsider in this world of wealth and power, especially by Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh – outstanding as always). Efforts to sabotage their relationship begin before Rachel even leaves New York.

There are a lot of characters in the movie. Too many, really, and the important side characters suffer a lack of necessary development. A second narrative thread involving Nick’s cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), and her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), never hits the stride it deserves.

But there’s a lot to like about the movie. Nick and Rachel rank among the best – and most realistic – rom-com couples. As Rachel’s friend Peik Lin, Awkwafina provides the film’s funniest moments. She’s also the dose of reality Rachel needs when dealing with the crazy rich. And despite being 120 minutes, long for a romantic comedy, the film never drags.

Crazy Rich Asians is the kind of fluffy, fun, romantic summer fare that will leave almost everyone satisfied.

Grade: B-

Mile 22

by Matt Weiner

Equal parts John le Carré and John Carpenter, if both men were lobotomized and then let loose with a typewriter and a camera, Mile 22 spends most of its brief running time trying to figure out if it has something meaningful to say, all while stacking up a public body count so high that it’s impossible to see how the clandestine force responsible is going to stay secret long enough to become a film franchise.

And while the movie has ambitions at creating new intellectual property around the paramilitary Overwatch program introduced in the film, it’s a bit of a head fake for this first outing. For all its spy vs. spy setup and technobabble, director Peter Berg uses espionage as window dressing for a simple action setup that’s all about brute force.

Mark Wahlberg heads up the CIA team as James Silva, a prickly leader whose instability is used as a stand-in for self-effacing humor. Silva’s team springs into action when a local source, Li Noor (Iko Uwais), surrenders himself to a U.S. Embassy claiming to have information that can help stop a nuclear attack. Silva’s team of elite operatives are tasked with escorting Noor safely out of the country, which becomes a lethal mission when Noor’s own intelligence agency works to stop the extraction at any cost.

To call Silva’s team ragtag would do a disservice to the stereotype — it actually would’ve been nice if anybody rose to some level of quirkiness, or any distinction apart from fungible cannon fodder. Ronda Rousey comes close to having a compelling hook, which is: look, it’s Ronda Rousey! But the main emotional labor falls to The Walking Dead star Lauren Kerr as Alice, whose defining character trait is that she has a daughter waiting for her back home.

Thankfully, the team — and the film — have a secret weapon in Uwais. The Indonesian martial artist and choreographer best known for The Raid series gets to show off his captivating fighting style that’s a ballet of bone dislocation. The downside is that he goes underused for so long that his breakout set pieces serve mainly as a reminder that you’d be better off watching The Raid.

There’s a ludicrous nihilism underpinning the film that is almost refreshing for a Berg/Wahlberg pairing. But the script (written by Lea Carpenter) is so humorless it’s genuinely difficult to make out how much of this is Berg and company trying to make a statement about the War on Terror and how much is just the inevitable byproduct of a tight 90-minute cut that only comes alive during the brutal one-on-one fight scenes. John Malkovich’s arch turn as an anonymous and ultimately meaningless government agent, for example, is far more vital, and still relevant, under the direction of the Coen brothers in Burn After Reading than it is here, even though the two roles share an uncanny echo.

Mile 22 doesn’t offer up much replay value as anything more than a fun but forgettable live-action video game level. Although as far as meta-commentary on espionage thrillers goes, this strange blend of individualism and irrelevance might be all we have to look forward to for a while.

Grade: C-

Also opening in Columbus:
40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie (NR)
Alpha (PG13)
Elizabeth Harvest (R)
Far from the Tree (NR)
Geetha Govindam (NR)
Gold (NR)
Kolamavu Kokila (NR)
McQueen (R)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (R)
Satyamev Jayate (NR)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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