Review: Elba almost makes ‘Beast’ bearable

Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, and Iyana Halley in Beast (Universal Pictures)

The reason to see “Beast,” the latest animal-attacks-a-family film (if there is one) is Idris Elba.

The man has acting chops and charisma galore, and he almost makes watching this by-the-numbers man-versus-nature picture compelling, but honestly there’s not an actor alive that would make this script worthy for an audience that’s seen “Jaws,” “Cujo,” “The Ghosts in the Darkness” or a half dozen other copy-cat survival thrillers.

Elba plays a recently widowed husband Dr. Nate Samuels on vacation in South Africa with his two daughters Meredith (lyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) at a game reserve where he first met his now deceased wife and mother of the two children.

While on a tour of the reserve with old friend Martin (Sharlto Copely), the group is not just attacked but hunted by a ferocious lion.

To his credit, director Baltasar Kormakur makes the interesting choice of shooting the film mainly with long tracking shots, which goes against the grain of most horror and action films. Kormakur does his best to make it work, but the clumsy script by Ryan Engle is just too pedestrian and his characters are just too feeble for the Elba and his director to overcome.

Kormakur uses silence well to build tension and to take the audience by surprise from time to time. There are some decent jump scares, and there is some shock value in Elba attempting to fend off a maniacal rogue CGI lion. Unfortunately nothing accomplished by him, his co-stars or Kormakur in the film hasn’t been done better in another movie.

If you have to go to a movie this weekend, “Beast” is a choice, but there’s probably something better on the various streaming channels available without having to leave your home.

(R) 1 hr. 33 min.
Grade: C-

New in Local Theaters

Beast (R) 1 hr. 33 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Starlight

Dragon All Super: Super Hero (PG-13) 1 hr. 40 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Starlight

Classic Corner – Grease is the Word Again on the Big Screen

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease (Paramount Pictures)

“Grease” was the word in 1978 when the throwback musical set in the 1950s topped the box office, and it’s the word this week, too.

The classic starring Olivia Newton-John, who passed away last week, opposite John Travolta plays at 7:30 and 10 p.m. this week at the AMC Fiesta Square Cinema. As mentioned above, it will also play next weekend at the 112 Drive In.

“Grease” remains a beloved movie for film fans who grew up with it. It’s a teen fantasy that shines a spotlight on the talents of Travolta at his apex, as well as on his co-star Newton-John, a pop sensation of the day. Travolta played cool gang leader Danny, and Newton-John charmed as Sandy, the ingenue who caught his eye. The chemistry is palpable between the two.

Travolta’s charisma is on full display in the musical that homages and parodies the teen B-movies of the 1950s and ’60s. The film lacks the drama of his break-out hit “Saturday Night Fever” from 1977, but it’s more fun.

Newton-John can’t quite match Travolta’s swagger, but she’s perfectly cast as the adoring Sandy, who toughens up with a little help from her friends for the musical’s climax “You’re the One That I Want.”

The film also features standout numbers “Summer Loving,” “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” and “Greased Lightning,” along with several other fun tunes that help tell the tale of Danny and Sandy’s senior year at Rydell High.

The film is uniformly well cast with Stockard Channing stealing scenes as Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies, and Jeff Conaway (from TV’s “Taxi”) turning on the cool as Kenickie, Danny’s best friend and second in charge in their gang the T-Birds.

It’s a perfect movie to close out the summer with and a fantastic selection to see on the big screen and particularly at the drive in.