For a review of “Christopher Robin,’
Despite a similar title, “Christopher Robin” is in no way to be confused with “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” last fall’s soberly factbased drama about the relationship between “Winniethe-Pooh” author A.A. Milne and his son. (Christopher Robin Milne, as you may remember, was the inspiration for the famous stuffed bear’s human companion, a small British boy called Christopher Robin.)
The title character of Disney’s gently charming new live-action/CGI hybrid, played by an earnest and winsome Ewan McGregor, is a grown-up version of Pooh’s entirely fictional Christopher Robin, now a married father of one who works for a London luggage manufacturer. He’s disaffected, it seems: in his job, in his marriage to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and in his relationship with his young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
Disaffected, that is, until Pooh shows up in post-World War II London one day, via a Narnia-like portal in the base of a hollow tree, to remind Christopher about Just What Really Matters in Life. (Purists may be mildly irked to learn that “Robin” has somehow become Christopher’s last name, rather than his middle name. But that’s Disney for you. In terms of source material, “Christopher Robin” at times shows more respect for the movie studio’s own zealously guarded franchise, going back to the 1966 short “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree,” than to Milne’s books of the 1920s.)
But no matter. “Christopher Robin” is still a sweetly good-natured fable, with winning voice performances by Disney veteran Jim Cummings in the dual roles of Pooh and Tigger, and especially by Brad Garrett as the perpetually gloomy Eeyore (a role that seems made for him). And the movie, directed by Marc Forster from a script by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, gets one big thing very right: the Zen-like wisdom of Pooh, who is fond of uttering such things as “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” Such koan-esque aphorisms — celebrated in the not entirely tongue-in-cheek 1982 book of philosophy “The Tao of Pooh” — are sprinkled liberally throughout “Christopher Robin” and are some of the film’s greatest pleasures.
Otherwise, the film is pretty conventional Disney fare: silly, slapsticky, all-too-neatly wrapped up and punctuated by a surfeit of poignant moments, as when Christopher’s childhood stuffed animals — with whom his nowdeadened imagination once ran wild — tell him how much they miss him. (All together now: Awww.)
Children will enjoy the bone-rattling chases and pratfalls into puddles of honey, and adults (or at least the sentimentally inclined ones) will get misty-eyed remembering their own lost childhoods.
As teddy bear-based fantasy goes, however, “Christopher Robin” is no “Paddington.” In its journey from hither to yon, the movie takes us to some pretty inane places, ultimately making the argument that Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood may have been instrumental in introducing the concept of paid leave to Britain.
Am I overthinking a simple children’s fable? Probably so. As Pooh - a self-described “bear of very little brain” once noted, too much brain power is not necessarily a good thing. After all, as he once told Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever ... and that’s why he never understands anything.”
“Christopher Robin,” a Disney release, is rated Rated PG. for some action. Running time: 104 minutes. ★★½
“The Spy Who Dumped Me’’
Don’t ever question the power of a well-deployed Kate McKinnon. It’s been proven time and again that her specific brand of kooky comedy can elevate anything, from the fun and loopy “Ghostbusters” remake to the questionable bachelorette-party-gone-wrong dark comedy “Rough Night.” Wind her up, set her loose and watch her wring laughs out of any flimsy, high-concept premise, like the actioncomedy “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” co-written and directed by Susanna Fogel.
All you need to know is right there in the title, a play on the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” which was subsequently parodied with the 1999 Austin Powers sequel “The Spy Who Shagged Me.” The next logical step in this relationship? A breakup.
When the dashing but mysterious Drew (Justin Theroux) dumps Audrey (Mila Kunis) via text, she’s heartbroken, and he’s too busy battling Lithuanian thugs to return her calls. Her best friend, Morgan (McKinnon), an oddball actress whom Drew once referred to as “a little much,” tries to cheer up Audrey with a birthday party and the attention of a randy Ukrainian man, but all too soon, the girls are ensnared in the remnants of Drew’s failed spy plot. Surfacing briefly, Drew instructs Audrey to deliver a trophy to a cafe in Vienna, and soon, the women are off, globetrotting across Europe as highly untrained yet surprisingly skillful rogue operatives.
The spy story itself is the rote, standard-issue spy stuff: double-crossings, handsome MI6 agents, treacherous Eastern European assassins (Ivanna Sakhno), harried car chases and shootouts in picturesque cafes, as well as a distressing disregard for human life. But the heroes are just a pair of clueless gals. The film seems built in part around a gag in which a sniper is instructed to take out two dumb American women, but can’t distinguish who the targets are while scoping out a pairs of female tourists selfie-ing, grinding on ancient statues and puking into a river. It’s a lowest common denominator gag that ends up a cruel jab at the film’s intended audience.
But what pleases in “The Spy Who Dumped Me” isn’t the twists and turns of the plot, it’s what McKinnon fills into the interstitial moments — strange asides about how her teeth are so freakishly strong her orthodontist published a paper, some incredibly bad and prolonged French-speaking jokes about how she went to theater camp with Edward Snowden. It’s McKinnon’s general clownery — literally, her climactic moment involves a showdown on a trapeze — but it makes the lightweight material sing. Her character may be “a little much,” but that muchness is highly necessary across from Kunis’s Audrey, who is a winsome but empty cipher.
The dynamic is reflected in their CIA/MI6 counterparts, the dashing but bland Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and the smack-talking Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), who’s obsessed with his alma mater, Harvard. It’s a silly joke that’s rendered increasingly hilarious with each detail and repetition, a lot like Morgan’s elaborate acting resume.
It’s the humor housed in the connective tissue that fills up the otherwise insubstantial “The Spy Who Dumped Me.” Beloved character actors pop up — Jane Curtain, Paul Reiser, Fred Melamed — but are underused, and although Gillian Anderson cuts a striking figure as an MI6 chief (“M” prequel, anyone?), her screen time is unfortunately scanty. So thank goodness for McKinnon, who launches this middling material to greater heights through her own sheer will. Now that’s a superpower.
“The Spy Who Dumped Me,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity. Running time: 116 minutes. ★★½
The new Lionsgate release “The Spy Who Dumped Me” stars, from left Sam Heughan, Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon.