MOVIE BUFF: ‘The Upside’ and ‘Replicas’ not worth the time or effort

STX Entertainment

It’s conceivable that Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart could make a funny even touching dramedy together, but “The Upside,” the latest film by director Neil Burger, just isn’t it.

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The film is a paint-by-the-numbers effort that offers very little more entertainment value in its full running time than it does in its trailer.

This remake of the 2011 French film “The Intouchables” has Cranston (“Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm in the Middle”) playing Phillip, a quadriplegic millionaire who takes a liking to Hart’s Dell because of his brash manner and tell-it-like-it-is attitude that’s on display when Hart applies for the job of Cranston’s caretaker as one of the job contacts he’s required to make as part of his parole agreement.

Despite the concerns of Cranston’s personal assistant and love interest Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), Phillip hires Dell and hijinks and life lessons ensue.

The film could have been a solid movie, but instead it’s a crass effort in slapstick, using Phillip’s body as a prop, and the film as another opportunity for Hart to use his “little-man-with-a-big-mouth” comic personae to riff on uncomfortable situations he finds himself in as Phillip’s caretaker.

Hart is Hart in the film, and if you still enjoy his schtick, then you might like this film better than I did. Cranston is solid in what amounts to a thankless role, and Kidman is slumming even more in this movie than she was playing Jason Mamoa’s mer-momma in “Aquaman.”

January is usually a fallow time for new movies. Unfortunately “The Upside” does not buck that trend.

(PG-13) 2hr. 6 min.
Grade: C-


Riverstone Pictures

“Replicas” is just what it looks like – a schlocky sci-fi/horror thriller that acts as a warning for treading over territory that is intended only for God.

Yes, the latest Keanu Reeves’ vehicle is basically a modern take on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s classic horror novel “Frankenstein” with a little dab of “Robocop” thrown in for good measure.

Reeves’ researcher William Foster doesn’t stitch together moldy old corpses to create his monsters, but rather he uses cloning pseudoscience to resurrect three of the four members of his family — of course with a few modifications — as mechanical replicas after they are killed in a car accident.

Mona Foster (Alice Eve) was onboard with the possibility of being reanimated in such a fashion before her death, but she has more problems with the procedure once it’s actually taken place.

As always with these mad scientist stories, the plan blows up in Reeves’ face, but there are some fun twists and turns along the way for those willing to go with the flow of directer Jeffery Nachmanoff’s cautionary tale.

However, the movie lacks the nerve, inventiveness, and shock of a film like 2018’s “Overlord,” another recent re-invention of Shelly’s treatise on madmen and monsters or the intelligence and artistry of a movie like 2014’s “Ex Machina.”

If Reeves or Eve are one of your guilty pleasures, then there is some fun to be had with “Replicas,”, but you’ve probably seen similar material presented better elsewhere.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 47 min.
Grade: C-

Classic Corner

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

Universal Pictures

Before there was Batman, Iron Man, Star Trek, or Star Wars, there was cartoonists Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, the intrepid space adventurer who fought off alien warlords to keep Earth safe first in newspaper comic strips of the 1930s, but later on the silver screen in three film serials produced by Universal Studios between 1936 and 1940.

While Flash Gordon is no longer an A-list property, the comic strip and the serial’s influence on modern pop culture can’t be overstated. Raymond’s lush artistic vision and daring flair for adventure has influenced practically every super hero or sci-fi/fantasy property produced since the 1930s.

While George Lucas drew on upon many influences in developing what would become “Star Wars,” the idea initially grew from his desire to produce an updated version of the Flash Gordon serials for a 1970s audience.

For good or ill, “Star Wars” changed the film industry with its mastery of the box-office and marketing, but without those Flash Gordon serials, Lucas might not have ever taken us to that galaxy far, far away.

So why all the nostalgia Flash Gordon?

Well, Turner Classic Movies is rebroadcasting all 12 parts of the third serial “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe at 8:30 a.m. (CT) on successive Saturdays over the next three months.

Each episode is about 20 minutes of outlandish adventure and melodrama with all but the final segment ending in a cliffhanger that’s resolved the following week.

Buster Crabbe stars as the platinum-haired Flash Gordon who along with his gal pal Dale Arden (Carol Hughes) and science expert Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon) blast off to the planet Mongo once again to stop the nefarious Ming the Merciless (Charles M. Middleton) from spreading the Purple Death Plague across the universe.

The serial is cheaply made and as corny as it can be, but it certainly can be enjoyable in a Mystery Science Theater type of way.