For a re­view of “The Emoji Movie,”

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“Words aren’t cool,” is the courtship ad­vice im­parted by one tex­ting teen to an­other in “The Emoji Movie.” That state­ment is the ca­nary in the coal mine that “Cyrano de Berg­erac” this movie is most de­cid­edly not. Will Alex ( Jake T. Austin) choose the right emoji to ex­press his ar­dor for Ad­die ( Tati Gabrielle)? Or will “meh” emoji Gene ( T. J. Miller) mess it all up for him? Per­haps we should just throw our smart­phones into the sea and let the waves take us now.

“The Emoji Movie” is an easy, cheap tar­get for abuse. The mar­ket­ing cam­paign has cen­tered around a choco­latey brown you- know- what named “Poop” ( voiced by Sir Pa­trick Ste­wart), adorn­ing our bus shel­ters and bill­boards, for cry­ing out loud. If we are trolled in this way, the only an­swer is to troll right back.

And the truth is that “The Emoji Movie” is ex­actly what you ex­pect: There’s no need to wait and see if it sur­prises, if maybe it’s po­ten­tially great. Nope, it’s a per­fect re­flec­tion of its main char­ac­ter— meh.

If you were to imag­ine the story told by “The Emoji Movie,” it’s likely this would be the one you’d dream up. It’s just that ob­vi­ous. When mal­func­tion­ing “meh” emoji Gene starts a glitch in Alex’s phone, he goes on an odyssey from app to app, hop­ing to re­pro­gram him­self to only ex­press one emo­tion, the way emo­jis should.

But, of course, what­makes him dif­fer­ent, his “mal­func­tion,” is what makes him unique. On his jour­ney, he makes new friends, falls in love, learns to ac­cept him­self and man­ages to be­come a new, more evolved emoji, ex­press­ing a mul­ti­tude of emo­tions at once.

Di­rec­tor Tony Leondis cowrote the script along with Eric Siegel, and sur­pris­ingly, Mike White (“School of Rock”) is also cred­ited. But for a film that wants to imag­ine the world in­side smart­phones, this story just feels so unimag­i­na­tive and low­stakes. It’s tied too closely to the way we use smart­phones to cre­ate a trans­port­ing, wild new world. Ev­ery step of the jour­ney is to pre­vent Alex from restor­ing the phone to fac­tory set­tings, de­stroy­ing the world of Tex­topo­lis, where emo­jis live. But there’s no ex­pla­na­tion as to why the emo­jis can’t just come back, if it’s all dig­i­tal de­tri­tus. There­fore, it’s hard to care at all about whether or not Gene can con­sis­tently make a “meh” face and if he’ll be eaten by anti- virus bots.

There aren’t any real jokes, and most laughs come from app recog­ni­tion— Candy Crush, the Twit­ter bird, and look, now they’re tak­ing a row boat on the “mu­sic streams” of Spo­tify. It’s truly just “In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty: The Movie.” If we’re laugh­ing at sim­ple brand recog­ni­tion, then yes, it’s true, words aren’t cool any­more, and smart­phones have made us dumb.

“The Emoji Movie” isn’t ter­ri­ble, it isn’t of­fen­sive or out­right bad. It just is, and there could be far worse ways to spend 86 min­utes. But maybe, just maybe, it’d be the bet­ter choice to spend those 86 min­utes out­side, or read­ing a book, or talk­ing to an­other hu­man be­ing’s face. Be­cause “The Emoji Movie” could not be more meh.

“The Emoji Movie,” a Sony Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion re­lease, is rated PG for rude hu­mor. Run­ning time: 86 min­utes.

“Atomic Blonde”

Di­rec­tor David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde” strives to be a mys­te­ri­ous Rea­gan- age spy drama that has a 21st cen­tury feel be­cause it has been in­fused with the ag­gres­sively ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence so pro­nounced in the world of graphic nov­els. The script by Kurt John­stad is based on the graphic novel “The Cold­est City,” by Antony John­ston.

The spy thriller un­folds in late 1989 as the Berlin Wall is fi­nally taken down. While the world is watch­ing the his­tor­i­cal mo­ment, a net­work of spies from mul­ti­ple coun­tries are all wag­ing a kill- or- be- killed con­fronta­tion where the vi­o­lence never lacks for in­ten­sity.

Even with a re­mark­able per­for­mance by Os­car- win­ning Char­l­ize Theron, none of these parts con­nect strongly enough to make this a project wor­thy of launch­ing a fran­chise. It’s got enough fun mo­ments to be en­ter­tain­ing but never de­liv­ers the mush­room cloud of ex­cite­ment the name would sug­gest.

Theron does her best play­ing Lor­raine Broughton, one of the top agents with MI6. She’s sent to West Ger­many where she must work with Berlin sta­tion chief David Per­ci­val ( James McAvoy), a man who’s been un­der­cover so long he’s lost his own iden­tity. They must find a way to deal with vast dif­fer­ences so they can re­cover a list that in the wrong hands could be deadly for the good guy spies.

The mis­sion is chal­leng­ing from the start as Broughton spends as much time fight­ing for her life as try­ing to com­plete the mis­sion. It slowly be­comes ob­vi­ous that there are some deadly deal­ings be­ing made to get con­trol of the list. Most of the plan­ning gives way to the at­tacks that are the source of the­movie’s con­tin­ued use of vi­o­lence fill­ing the screen with buck­ets of blood.

Theron con­tin­ues to the show the deep skill she has at han­dling ac­tion se­quences as shown in pre­vi­ous work like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Aeon Flux.” Theron is a killing ma­chine in high heels. The work she does in an ex­tended fight se­quence that takes her through sev­eral floors of a build­ing is bet­ter than the kind of ac­tion work done by her male coun­ter­parts in their own spy thrillers.

The added bonus is that Theron can shift from a killer look to a se­duc­tive stare with a blink. She shows off that charm in a se­ries of well- chore­ographed en­coun­ters with an­other spy played by Sofia Boutella. They siz­zle to­gether.

Theron’s good but she can’t help the script that’s full of pre­dictable twists and a story where the ma­jor­ity of the char­ac­ters look to come from the “Make Your Own Spy” pa­per doll set. McAvoy’s bad boy act falls flat and the other spies of­fer the same bureau­cratic el­e­ments that have been used in other spy sto­ries.

Leitch showed with his work on the Keanu Reeves ac­tion films “John Wick” and “John Wick 2’ that he un­der­stands how to tell an ac­tion story where there’s lit­tle to no plot. Those films worked be­cause of a much bet­ter pac­ing. With “Atomic Blonde,” Keitch gives in to the ten­dency to just let the cam­era linger on Theron. That would not be a bad thing if this were a mu­sic video but as an in­tense spy drama, those scenes just slow the process.

The real prob­lem is the story. It has enough bits and pieces of ac­tion and drama to work as a graphic novel. But it’s not enough to make this movie a roller coaster ride.

Even the way the film is shot screams of medi­ocrity. The city streets, build­ings and lo­ca­tions are a study in gray in such a way that com­bined with Theron’s plat­inum locks, the pro­duc­tion of­ten feels only one F- stop away from be­ing a black- and­white movie. Con­sid­er­ing this story harkens back to the cold war, a col­or­less ap­proach would have given it at least a strik­ing look.

Credit Theron with be­ing so pow­er­ful on screen that she of­ten dis­tracts from the film’s flaws. That works for a lot of the movie but with­out sup­port from bet­ter writ­ing, a crisper di­rec­tion or more in­ter­est­ing sup­port­ing play­ers, “Atomic Bomb” never ends up be­ing blast it should have been.

“Atomic Blonde,” a Fo­cus Fea­tures re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage, nu­dity, graphic vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 115 min­utes.


Char­l­ize Theron stars in the new Fo­cus Fea­tures re­lease “Atomic Blonde.”

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