New films: Home, The Gunman and Insurgent

Computer-animated fantasy Home
Computer-animated fantasy Home

Humans and cute aliens unite to save Earth in Home.

HOME (U)

This entertaining but shamelessly contrived computer-animated adventure lacks the belly laughs and heart-breaking emotion of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, but merrily rehashes elements from all three.

Thus the extra-terrestrial invaders discover they like to wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care to our music and the central duo discover that self-sacrifice is an important part of friendship.

This film has some solid gags and the colour palette is bright, although there are disappointingly few visual tricks up the animators’ sleeves to justify the increased ticket price for the 3D version.

In a neat piece of short-hand, the invaders turn out to be the extra-terrestrial equivalent of mood rings, changing colour to reflect their emotional state: yellow for fear, pink for love, red for anger, blue for sadness and green for dishonesty.

It’s a merchandiser’s dream and every parent’s nightmare: children begging for the same stuffed toy in multiple shades.

An extra-terrestrial race called the Boov invades Earth under the command of power-hungry Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin) with a view to claiming the third rock from the sun as their new home.

The Boov round up the humans and relocate the entire species to Australia.

Back in America, a resourceful 11-year-old girl called Tip (Rihanna), whose mother (Jennifer Lopez) was abducted from their apartment, evades capture and goes on the run with her rotund pet cat.

She encounters a fugitive Boov named Oh (Jim Parsons), who has accidentally sent an email invitation to his “warming of house party” to everyone in the galaxy, including the Boov’s sworn enemy, the Gorg.

Tip and Oh are poles apart: she is spunky and brave, while he turns tail at the first sign of peril.

“If probability falls below 50 per cent, the Boov give up,” explains Oh.

Working together, they forge a touching friendship and Tip helps her extra-terrestrial chum to embrace his flaws.

Based on the children’s book The True Meaning Of Smekday by Adam Rex, Home ticks all of the boxes, but does so without any obvious verve, originality or sense of urgency.

Parsons riffs on his nerdy character in The Big Bang Theory, while Rihanna lends her distinctive Barbadian tones to the plucky, pint-sized heroine.

She also has two songs on the soundtrack including the dance anthem Only Girl (In The World), which provides moments of unnecessary distraction as Tip talks over the top of the music.

At one point during the chase, Oh turns to Tip and screams, “This is not a sustainable friendship model!”

Director Tim Johnson makes it work for 94 minutes, but only just.

RATING: 6/10

THE GUNMAN (15)

If there’s one image that unexpectedly lingers in Pierre Morel’s socially conscious yet gleefully violent film, it’s Sean Penn’s gym-toned torso.

On several occasions, the camera lingers on the Oscar-winning actor’s muscular frame: bent double over a sink staring melancholically into a steamy mirror; glistening with water under a shower; contorting on a surfboard to ride crashing waves.

We’re used to seeing Penn deliver incendiary performances in heavyweight dramas such 21 Grams, Mystic River and Milk, so to see him bulking up and following the lead of Liam Neeson, who worked with director Morel on Taken, is a shock.

On the surface, The Gunman seems to appeal to Penn’s outspoken political and social views: Pete Travis’ script lambasts western involvement in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a rich source of gold and precious minerals.

However, every time the film threatens to prick consciences, the narrative puts away its moral compass and engineers another frenetic chase or running gun battle, including some bruising hand-to-hand combat that proves Penn has been training heavily with a fight choreographer when he isn’t pumping iron.

He plays mercenary for hire Jim Terrier, who operates in the Congo, where he fulfils secret contracts that would undoubtedly horrify his do-gooder surgeon girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca).

Jim’s colleague Felix (Javier Bardem), who manages these covert operations, accepts a contract to assassinate the Minister For Mining, who has just caused a political firestorm by announcing that he intends to renegotiate all mining contracts.

“Once the hit occurs, the shooter – and the shooter alone – is in the wind,” explains fellow mercenary Cox (Mark Rylance).

Inevitably, Jim pulls the trigger and he leaves under the cloak of darkness.

Several years later, Jim returns to Africa to atone for his sins by assisting a humanitarian relief agency.

He is attacked by machete-wielding assailants and fears the ghosts of his old life have returned to haunt him.

So Jim flies to London to warn Cox and gather intelligence from old pal Stanley (Ray Winstone) before heading to Barcelona to reconnect with Felix and Annie, who are now married.

Based on the novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette, The Gunman is a slick action thriller about a man of violence, who discovers that he cannot turn his back on the past.

Penn is better than the script deserves, and Bardem and the mercurial Rylance are both wasted in two-dimensional roles, the latter delighted to swap combat gear for the sharply tailor suits of the boardroom.

“I went from killer to cashier – don’t tell anyone,” he giggles.

Morel orchestrates wanton destruction with typical bombast and brio, pausing only to let his brawny leading man take off his bulletproof vest and slashed shirt.

RATING: 5/10

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT (12A)

Adapted from Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy for young adults, Insurgent is a slickly engineered sequel that moves the dystopian narrative along at pace to a startling final revelation.

Robert Schwentke’s action-packed film crams its visual pyrotechnics into the climactic 30 minutes when Shailene Woodley’s heroine Tris must complete a series of tasks to prove that she possesses the qualities of all five factions: the selflessness of Abnegation, the courage of Dauntless, the honesty of Candor, the intelligence of Erudite and the inner peace of Amity.

These trials include a visually stunning race against time to rescue Tris’ mother (Ashley Judd) from a burning building that rotates as it ascends to the heavens and fisticuffs between the heroine and her diabolical doppelganger.

Woodley accomplishes these gymnastic feats with aplomb, but it’s during the film’s quieter moments that she truly excels.

In particular, a scene of unburdening facilitated by a truth serum is a tour-de-force of raw, tear-stained emotion that bodes well for the concluding chapter Allegiance, which will be released in two parts a la The Hunger Games.

When it comes to milking cash cows, Hollywood prefers them desiccated when the end credits roll.

The second film opens with Tris (Woodley), her lover Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Dauntless traitor Peter (Miles Teller) ensconced in the pacifist enclave of Amity under the jurisdiction of Johanna (Octavia Spencer).

Tensions between Tris and Peter spill over just as the gun-toting forces of Erudite led by Eric (Jai Courtney) gate-crash the bucolic idyll.

Peter betrays the fugitives but Tris, Four and Caleb escape and head for the only sanctuary left to them: the realm of the factionless under the control of Four’s conniving mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts).

“If we were to combine forces, we’d be unstoppable,” enthuses Evelyn, sensing an opportunity to overthrow Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her cohorts from Erudite.

Allegiances are tested as Tris and Four disagree about the way forward, flanked by their Dauntless brethren including Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Tori (Maggie Q).

Meanwhile, Jeanine hunts down Divergents to unlock a box that purportedly contains the key to eradicating the misfits once and for all.

Although it lacks the sustained visceral thrills and sense of jeopardy that distinguished the first film, Insurgent confidently lays the groundwork for a fraught journey back to humanity.

While Woodley excels in every frame, many of her talented co-stars are underused, particularly Whiplash drummer boy Teller and Elgort.

James continues to brood with his shirt on or off, kindling pleasing sparks of on-screen chemistry with his leading lady.

Director Schwentke, who previously captained Jodie Foster in the airborne thriller Flightplan, safely pilots the sequel through a few moments of dramatic turbulence, knowing the best is yet to come.

RATING: 6.5/10