(US/UK - 2018)
those always turn out great), the dismal GOTTI was set to be released directly to VOD in December 2017 until Lionsgate abruptly whacked it and sold it back to the producers, who were hoping for a wide release with another distributor. It didn't quite pan out that way, with Vertical Entertainment and MoviePass teaming up to get it on 500 screens, with 40% of the people who saw it theatrically being MoviePass subscribers. Couple that with some obvious juicing of the moviegoer ratings and reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (where a suspicious number of glowing GOTTI reviews were written by people who just joined the site and reviewed nothing but GOTTI), and one might assume GOTTI is not very good. And they'd be right. It's quite terrible, actually, and you know from the start that it'll be something special when two consecutively-placed credits read "Emmett Furla Oasis Films" and "Emmet (sic) Furla Oasis Films." Travolta, one of 57 (!) credited producers, spent years getting this project off the ground, but it looks just like any other straight-to-VOD, Redbox-ready clunker, with NYC mostly unconvincingly played by Cincinnati. GOTTI, a film that makes KILL THE IRISHMAN look like GOODFELLAS, isn't very interested in telling a story as much as it is fashioning a John Gotti hagiography, being quite open in its admiration of "The Teflon Don" and his family, as if they were just hardworking, everyday folks getting a bum rap from the government. It plays like a long "Previously on..." recap from a mercifully non-existent TV series, with no drive or momentum to its narrative and instead going for a Cliffs Notes recap of major events in Gotti's life, with constant mentions of rats, respect, and "fuckin' cocksuckas!" It actually opens with Travolta in full Gotti makeup, breaking the fourth wall, standing with his back to the NYC skyline and addressing the viewer from beyond the grave like he's hosting a TV special: "This is New York City...MY fuckin' city!"
DEATH RACE: BEYOND ANARCHY
(US - 2018)
Shooting in Bulgaria, Paul makes effective use of abandoned warehouses and factories to help establish The Sprawl as an apocalyptic hellhole, but the action sequences are done in a headache-inducing, quick-cut, shaky-zoom style, there's too many annoying supporting characters (like Lucy Aarden's Carley, Frankenstein's porn star girlfriend and de facto Grace Pander by way of TMZ, a clever idea that falls flat), there's too much dated, blaring, aggro nu-metal (including too many appearances by what looks like a Bulgarian knockoff of Coal Chamber, obviously riffing on FURY ROAD's beloved Doof Warrior), and it's entirely too long at an exhausting 111 minutes. Danny Trejo returns from the second and third installments as Goldberg, who's now running a gambling den in Mexico and watching Death Race on TV, obviously knocking out his scenes in a day and never interacting with any of the other cast members. TV vet McGowan (THE 100, BLACK SAILS, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., THE WALKING DEAD) is a dull hero (he and Paul reteamed for the upcoming fifth SCORPION KING), Glover is collecting a paycheck, and Koehler is apparently waiting around in hopes that someone will write him a Lists origin story prequel. DEATH RACE: BEYOND ANARCHY is by far the goriest of the bunch and has a surprising amount of skin, but despite the set-up for yet another sequel, this series is starting to run on fumes. (Unrated, 111 mins)
TALES FROM THE HOOD 2
(US - 2018)
1995 cult horror anthology, TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 is occasionally heavy-handed, cheaply made, and could use some more polished actors, but it gets a big boost from the return of the core creative personnel--the writing/directing team of Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott, and producer Spike Lee--which helps make it more than a mere nostalgic, brand-name cash-in. With bona fides in horror (Scott produced 1987's THE OFFSPRING and 1989's STEPFATHER II) and as important black filmmakers in the early '90s (Scott produced The Hughes Brothers' MENACE II SOCIETY, while Cundieff was a protege of Lee's who co-starred in SCHOOL DAZE and wrote and directed the hip-hop mockumentary FEAR OF A BLACK HAT), Cundieff and Scott have picked the right time for a TALES FROM THE HOOD sequel, with at least two of the segments being overt responses to the Age of Trump, and another that couldn't possibly be any more timely, right down to a powerful conservative declaring "Boys will be boys" and sympathizing with a pair of male sexual predators after they're given a grisly comeuppance. A mix of humor and horror, TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 has some serious statements to make and there are times when it's a little too goofy and thus softens the blow somewhat, but it's better than it has any business being, closing big with a segment that's bold in concept and incendiary in execution.
The hokey wraparound segment, "Robo Hell" has storyteller Diomedes Simms (the great Keith David, stepping in for Clarence Williams III's Portifoy Simms) meeting with ultra-conservative weapons manufacturer, private prison magnate, and aspiring politico Dumass Beach (Bill Martin Williams as Robert John Burke as Mike Pence). Overtly racist ("Your brothers and sisters make up a lot of my profits," he sneers to Simms) and constantly groping his female assistant, Beach has overseen the development of a security robot called RoboPatriot, and needs to fill its database with stories and tales to aid in its ability to perceive and judge threats and criminal acts...from a black perspective because, of course, he thinks they're all criminals. The first segment is "Good Golly," where two clueless college girls visit a roadside "Museum of Negrosity" because one collects golliwogs and gets offended when the angry owner doesn't think they appreciate the gravity of the slave experience. The second and most comedic is "The Medium," where a reformed pimp-turned-community activist is confronted by former gang cohorts over the location of a stash of money. When he's accidentally killed before they get the information, they invade the home of a phony TV psychic (Bryan Batt) and force him to channel his spirit. "Date Night" doesn't really fit the "hood" motif, but is instead a Tinder hookup gone awry, as two dudebros meet a pair of sexy young ladies and decide to roofie their drinks and film their exploits once they're unconscious ("They probably like what we're about to do to them!" one says) only to get the tables turned on them in a way they never saw coming. The fourth and final segment, "The Sacrifice," is the standout and the only one that's played completely straight. Kendrick Cross stars as Henry Bradley, a black Republican who's the campaign manager for a white, race-baiting, "Take Mississippi back" far-right gubernatorial candidate. Henry's white, pregnant wife (Jillian Batherson) fears that some angry supernatural presence is affecting their unborn child. That presence soon reveals itself to be the ghost of 1950s teenage lynching victim Emmitt Till (Christopher Paul Horne), retconning Henry's life of oblivious privilege among wealthy white Southerners (he lives in a old, restored mansion that was once a notorious slave plantation) and making him experience the racism and violence that cost him his life and the lives of others like MLK, Medgar Evers, and the Four Little Girls. Horror anthologies have to end big, and "The Sacrifice," compared to the relative silliness of the rest, packs as sobering, audacious, and thought-provoking a punch as any top-tier BLACK MIRROR episode. Genre vet David (THE THING, THEY LIVE) has fun chewing the scenery, and Cross turns in a solid performance, and while TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 could use some better--or at least, better-known--actors, it's surprisingly decent as far as extremely tardy DTV sequels go. (R, 110 mins)