For a re­view of “Small­foot,”

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the say­ing goes. That seems to be the ap­proach taken by the screen­writ­ers of the new an­i­mated fea­ture “Small­foot.” The story is ac­tu­ally “Big­foot,” but it hinges on a clever rev­er­sal of per­spec­tive, cen­ter­ing on a tribe of Yetis in the Hi­malayas who fear the dreaded un­known crea­ture known to them as Small­foot.

The mys­te­ri­ous be­ings clad their feet in leather cases with ridged soles. They carry rolls of soft white pa­per in zip­pered satchels. That’s right, Small­foot is hu­man, and the no­tion of tak­ing a sto­ried mon­ster like Big­foot and mak­ing him the hero, and hu­mans the mon­ster, is the fun of the movie, based on the book “Yeti Tracks” by Ser­gio Pab­los. The film is cowrit­ten and co-di­rected by Karey Kirk­patrick (“Over the Hedge”), while Ja­son Reisig co-di­rects, with Clare Sera, John Re­qua, and Glenn Fi­carra as co-writ­ers.

The story it­self is one we’ve seen be­fore, just with a twist or two. Our hero, Migo (Chan­ning Ta­tum), is a happy-go-lucky Yeti who loves his small snowy vil­lage so much he sings a song about the way it works in per­fect har­mony. Yes, you may be get­ting flash­backs to “Where You Are” from “Moana,” or “Belle” from “Beauty and the Beast,” but Migo is far more loy­ally un­ques­tion­ing and op­ti­mistic than his Dis­ney coun­ter­parts. But as soon as you hear the song, we know where we’re go­ing with “Small­foot” — a young, but brave naïf who loves their home will, by some turn of events, be thrust out­side of their com­fort zone, dis­cover some­thing new, go on an ad­ven­ture and ques­tion ev­ery­thing they’ve ever known. And that’s ex­actly what hap­pens.

Migo has a chance en­counter with a small­foot pi­lot who crash lands on the moun­tain. He tries to tell his vil­lage, though he’s re­buffed and out­cast by the Stone­keeper (Com­mon), who de­nies his as­ser­tion. So Migo hooks up with the se­cret Small­foot Ev­i­den­tiary So­ci­ety, and they go hunt­ing for ev­i­dence of small­foots. In a lo­cal vil­lage, Migo scoops up Percy (James Cor­den), an an­i­mal/ad­ven­ture TV host who sees his own op­por­tu­nity in the en­counter.

Al­though “Small­foot” is for­mu­laic and pre­dictable, what sets it apart is its will­ing­ness to dive into the themes of ques­tion­ing blind faith within small com­mu­ni­ties. The Stone­keeper has great rea­son to keep the vil­lage iso­lated and psy­cho­log­i­cally con­trolled with myth and leg­end — it keeps them safe, se­cure and to the sta­tus quo. But there’s no growth, no in­no­va­tion, and Migo’s fa­ther, Dor­gle (Danny De­Vito), keeps smash­ing his head into a gong ev­ery morn­ing be­cause The Stone­keeper told him it makes the sun rise. It’s ac­tu­ally a bril­liant way to teach younger au­di­ences about fake news and gaslight­ing at an early age.

The an­i­mated de­signs are gor­geous. The Yeti char­ac­ters are di­verse in shape, pas­tel color and hair de­signs, and their goofy yet friendly forms are set against pic­turesque snowy moun­tain land­scapes and tan­ger­ine skies. It’s sim­ple, but beau­ti­ful and ef­fec­tive, while the vil­lage is lov­ingly, busily ren­dered with de­tail.

The songs, by Zen­daya, who voices Meechee, and pop stars like One Di­rec­tion mem­ber Niall Ho­ran are a bit for­get­table, but it’s rare to see a proper an­i­mated mu­si­cal fea­ture these days, and “Small­foot” leans into that. Ta­tum also turns in a charm­ing vo­cal per­for­mance as the bright-eyed Migo who learns what it means to think for him­self.

While “Small­foot” fol­lows a fa­mil­iar path, it’s what it does with the jour­ney that makes it worth watch­ing.

“Small­foot,” a Warner Bros. re­lease, is rated PG for some ac­tion, rude hu­mor, and the­matic el­e­ments. Run­ning time: 96 min­utes. ★★½

“Night School”

For years, putting feisty comic Kevin Hart across from any movie star would au­to­mat­i­cally light a fire un­der­neath an other­wise mid­dling com­edy. He was the magic in­gre­di­ent, the spice that would en­liven any­thing. But re­cently, Hart has been usurped as the se­cret sauce in any com­edy sand­wich. The chal­lenger to his throne is “Girls Trip” break­out star Tiffany Had­dish, and it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the two faced off in a war of quippy come­backs. But in Mal­colm D. Lee’s “Night School,” co-star­ring Hart and Had­dish, Hart is now the star who needs a wacky sup­port­ing cast to prop him up this time around.

Hart char­ac­ters have be­come a genre unto their own. He plays men with out­size per­son­al­i­ties, hus­tlers and sales­men who punch above their weight class when it comes to love in­ter­ests and have a ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship with the truth. In a cli­matic speech in “Night School,” Hart’s char­ac­ter, Teddy, an­nounces “I’m a liar. I’m a loud­mouth hus­tler,” and it’s one of the most hon­est mo­ments in his fil­mog­ra­phy.

Be­cause we know Hart’s cin­e­matic per­sona so well by now, what livens up “Night School” — aside from Had­dish, who plays his sup­port­ive, yet shock­ingly vi­o­lent teacher — is the band of weirdos that are his class­mates. Lee has as­sem­bled a group of beloved comic char­ac­ter ac­tors to sur­round Hart and of­fer him some fod­der off which to bounce. Rob Rig­gle, Al Madri­gal, Mary Lynn Ra­jskub and Ro­many Malco em­body a group of hi­lar­i­ously de­tailed char­ac­ters that could eas­ily carry their own spinoffs. Malco is es­pe­cially funny as the con­spir­acy the­ory-spout­ing Jalen, who fires off cou­plets about the Il­lu­mi­nati and robots so quickly no one knows what hit them.

The crew is what car­ries “Night School” through the bumpy patches. The writ­ing of Had­dish’s char­ac­ter Car­rie is par­tic­u­larly in­con­sis­tent — she’s at once sweet, self-sac­ri­fic­ing and car­ing, but she’s also in­cred­i­bly tough, bat­ter­ing her night school stu­dents with re­torts, in­sults, tough love and some­times even her fists and feet. You can just never quite get a han­dle on who her char­ac­ter is. But if any film­mak­ers have yet to con­sider Had­dish for an ac­tion film, her pow­er­ful per­for­mance in the MMA ring with Hart is a wor­thy au­di­tion.

The film’s iden­tity cri­sis may come from the six (six!) cred­ited writ­ers on the project. The pace and struc­ture are in­cred­i­bly strange, and the flail­ing ro­mance be­tween Teddy and his fi­ancée Lisa (Me­ga­lyn Echikun­woke) is for­mu­laic and bland. Hart’s on-screen ro­mances al­ways have the same con­flict — he’s im­ma­ture — and by this it­er­a­tion, it’s tired.

Thank good­ness for Rig­gle, Malco, Madri­gal and Ra­jskub, who bring enough weird en­ergy, bizarre asides and just plain moxie to their char­ac­ters. A lot of the hu­mor plays fast and loose with eth­nic and cul­tural stereo­types, and it isn’t al­ways suc­cess­ful. But the night school class­mates are what makes the com­edy work, and there are in­deed some very funny mo­ments. That’s not to say Hart and Had­dish don’t bring the laughs. They do, but it’s noth­ing sur­pris­ing or fresh, and it seems like their char­ac­ters weren’t ex­actly writ­ten, so much as room was left in the script for the two stand-ups to riff. “Night School” makes the grade, but just barely. It still needs a lit­tle bit of re­me­dial work.

“Night School,” a Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG-13 for crude and sex­ual con­tent through­out, lan­guage, some drug ref­er­ences and vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 111 min­utes. ★★½


Tiffany Had­dish, left, and Kevin Hart star in the new Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures film “Night School,” in the­aters na­tion­wide to­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.