Monday 11 December 2017

At the movies: Ryan Reynolds gets his blood up in this meaty dark comedy

The Voices: Comedy/Drama. Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith, Stanley Townsend, Anna Kendrick. Directed by Marjane Satrapi. Cert: 16

The Voices
The Voices
Tanya Sweeney
Wild Card

I can't be certain that the following conversation actually happened, but I'm willing to bet good money that it might very well have.

Ryan Reynolds (to his agent): I'm sick of doing tentpole franchises and rom-coms. It's time for my own McConnaissance. I need to find a meaty role. Something offbeat.

Agent: You know what's really big in Hollywood right now? Illness. Bradley Cooper's just won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. Jake Gyllenhaal was great in Nightcrawler. And I know just the script…

And so it came to be (probably) that Ryan Reynolds, he of the wallet-busting franchises and low-cal chick flicks, found himself in The Voices.

It's a stylish indie flick in the mumblecore vein of directors like Noah Baumbach and even the whimsical Wes Anderson, but as comedy goes, this stuff is blacker than black.

Reynolds stars as Jerry Hickfang, a highly affable worker in a bath/toilet factory in smalltown Milton.

He is popular, humble and unassuming… and, we soon learn, grappling with mental health challenges. Turns out that Jerry's cat Mr. Whiskers and his dog Bosco speak to him, and not necessarily in a good, fun way.

Rather, they are the voices inside his own head.

In between visits to his therapist's office (played with aplomb by Jacki Weaver) he develops a crush on the self-appointed office hottie Fiona (Gemma Arterton). A curious love triangle develops between Fiona, Jerry and another colleague, Lisa (Anna Kendrick).

A couple of crossed wires later, and - spoiler alert - Fiona's severed head ends up taking pride of place in Jerry's fridge, talking to him.

With Bosco at the voice of reason and Mr Whiskers the devilish influence on Jerry, a very unlikely serial killer is born.

It takes a special talent and no end of skill to make a killer empathetic and likeable, but Reynolds' barnstormer of a performance ensures that, for all Jerry's, um, bad points, the audience is behind him.

Reynolds' take on the troubled, clearly unwell Jerry is pitch-perfect; we can see Jerry choose to take orders from Mr Whiskers against his better judgement.


His performance is up there with some of the most heartfelt portrayals of human fallibility in recent times, joining the likes of Julianne Moore (Still Alice) and Jennifer Aniston (Cake).

It's a sensitive and thoughtful performance given the delicate subject matter. Most Hollywood movies are careful and tactful around the subject of mental health, but director Marjane Satrapi doesn't bother to tip toe around the topic.

The film is genre-bending, moving from blood-soaked thriller to whimsical comedy within a matter of scenes. Presumably, this is meant to reflect Jerry's own unstable state of mind pre- and post-medication. Thanks to some stylistic flourishes, The Voices changes tone time and time again, resulting in plenty of gasps and 'whuh?' moments.

It's a mishmash that, whether by accident or design, leaves the audience confused.

If you don't like your comedy quirky, offbeat and onyx dark, it's quite likely that you won't have a stomach for The Voices.

That said, you're not likely to ever encounter a film again that manages to doff its cap to both American Psycho and Dr Doolittle. For that alone, it should be applauded.

Wild Card

Action. Jason Statham, Sofia Vergara, Michael Angarano, Anne Heche, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci Dominik Garcia-Lorido. Director: Simon West. Cert: 16

If Ryan Reynolds has gone against swashbuckling type in The Voices, the same can't be said for Jason Statham, who plays so faithfully to brooding action hero type in Wild Card that is almost verges on parody.

Luckily, Statham can mix the shoot-outs and high-speed car chases with a satisfying soupcon of charm. Sofia Vergara, usually seen proving her comedy chops in Modern Family, is little more than window dressing in this role.

Wild Card is a remake of the 1987 action flick, which starred Burt Reynolds as the movie's hero.

Against the glittering backdrop of Las Vegas, Statham plays Nick Wild this time around. Wild is a bodyguard whose own healthy appetite for gambling gets him into trouble with the mob.

In a bid to clear his sizeable debt, he opts for one last play, and naturally all manner of high-octane chaos ensues.

In theory, we are in good hands here. William Goldman, the writing heavyweight behind All The President's Men, Misery, Chaplin and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, is in the driver's seat as scribe. Alas, director Simon West allows the action to unfold at a bewilderingly leisurely pace. It's a departure from your common-or-garden action movie. The thrills don't come at breakneck speed.

What's perhaps most surprising here is that, even under Goldman's watchful eye, the story is a bit... well, boring. It's likely that action hero fans won't care for the languid pace or the hackneyed attempts to inject a bit of depth into an otherwise pedestrian tale. There are thrills in store, granted, but the overall story is lacking some much needed razzle-dazzle.

Statham certainly keeps up his end of the bargain, but for a truly engrossing crime caper, you're better off looking elsewhere.


Family/Comedy. Voices by Steve Martin, Rihanna, Jim Parsons, Jennifer Lopez Director: Tim Johnson. Cert: G

And so to this week's family classic-in-the-making from the award winning team behind How To Train Your Dragon. True to form, the giggles keep coming in this tale about an alien fugitive befriending an Earth girl.

As the alien race Boov, headed by Captain Smek (Steve Martin) touch down on Earth, they immediately come up against the feisty Tip (Rihanna), who has somehow managed to evade the roundup of humans. And so begins that most faithful of cartoon plotlines; an epic road trip with two unlikely friends.

Adapted from Adam Smek's much-loved book The True Meaning Of Smekday, Home is already being mooted as an animation set to sit alongside the kinetic likes of Despicable Me and Toy Story. There's no mistaking the cutesy factor.

A word of warning; many animations are clever but accessible enough to keep the whole family amused. With Home, however, parents aren't likely to find themselves drawn in.

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