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Fast cars beat out a bad hangover while kid visuals get totally Epic

Reviews

FAST & FURIOUS 6. Since director Justin Lin took over this then-dying series with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), it has become one of the biggest, silliest and most satisfying franchises in movies.

This time out, L.A. motorhead-turned-international super-criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew have comfortably situated themselves in nations that lack extradition treaties (financed, of course, by the $100 million Rio caper they pulled off in Fast 5). Into this life of uneasy luxury barrels Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a federal agent built like a brick shithouse. At the screening I attended, when Toretto squared up next to Hobbs the crowd let out a collective yelp of satisfaction. I don't blame them.

Hobbs wants the gang to help him apprehend some high-octane super criminals who have been rocketing around Europe, stealing classified military hardware. In exchange, he'll turn over the whereabouts of Dom's presumed-dead soul-mate Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). The team reassembles in London, bankrolled by the U.S. government, and sets to buying cars and raising hell.

In light of how enjoyable this entry is, my complaints are few and relatively minor. More than ever before, Fast & Furious 6 trades exciting automotive sequences for fisticuffs and explosions. There are a few fun racing segments, but they feel forced into the narrative. Plus, they're mostly over-the-top, computer-generated things. While exciting and fun, they're unbelievable enough to take me out of the story. And the closing set-piece, which involves a cargo plane, cars and lots of grappling hook cannons, is so frantically paced, dimly lit and overlong that it risks spoiling the two hours of excitement preceding it.

The Fast & Furious franchise has become a punching bag for movie nerds, but I'd argue that none of the current crop of blockbusters is as self-aware, or as focused on fun. And the teaser for the next installment (during the end credits) promises even more of the same. PG13. 130m.

— John J. Bennett

THE HANGOVER PART III. It's hard to be disappointed when your expectations are extremely low, but in the third Hangover movie, writer/director Todd Phillips proves that if you try hard enough you can truly carve out a new low for yourself. With the exception of the first 15 minutes, The Hangover Part III offers little more than predictable slapstick.

Zach Galifianakis returns as Alan. Following the death of his father (Jeffrey Tambor), the "wolfpack" reunites in an effort to commit Alan to a psychiatric facility. Their trip is interrupted when they get caught in the middle of a dispute between two world-class thieves, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and Marshall (John Goodman). In true road movie fashion, one mishap follows another, and eventually their misadventures lead them back to Las Vegas. Evidently this was an excuse for Phillips and his mediocre writing team to insert shenanigans scrapped during the first film.

The ensemble dynamic is thinner this time out, with nearly all of the screen time devoted to Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan. Bradley Cooper's bland reprisal of Phil provides a too-obvious counterpoint to Jeong's overbearing and uncomfortably stereotypical Mr. Chow. There's a yin and yang joke in there somewhere, but unlike the film's writers I won't blur the lines between ethnicities for the sake of a weak joke. Galifianakis and Helms are dependably comical and provide nearly all of the film's redeeming moments, though such moments are few and far between.

The silver lining to this cloud of disappointment is the rumor that this is the final installment in the series. No doubt the cast will go on to bigger and better things, but something tells me Phillips (Road Trip, Due Date) will make another road movie. As for me, I'm making that common post-hangover vow: "Never again." R. 100m.

EPIC. Given the choice between 2D and 3D, I nearly always choose 2D. Not only is it cheaper, but I generally don't find the effects worth the nausea. Epic is the first film I've ever regretted not seeing in 3D (something I plan to remedy ASAP). Even in two dimensions, though, Chris Wedge's film is visually dazzling. The animators have taken great care to envelop you in the world they've created, and they succeed masterfully.

As is often the case with animated family films, Epic appeals visually to the children, but it risks leaving adults mired in a bog of boredom. Compared to the originality and spectacle of the visuals, the plot is dull and recycled. Following the death of her mother, M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) moves back in with her estranged father, Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Though he's excited to have her back, Bomba's attention is fixed on proving the existence of tiny forest people.

One plot point later, M.K. finds herself living among the very creatures her father is trying to find, fighting desperately to thwart the destructive plans of Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). A classic battle of good versus evil unfolds, and the forest survives to live another day. Think Fern Gully, but less heavy-handed.

The banality of the plot aside, Epic doesn't fail to entertain. Beyond the incredible animation, the cast is teeming with familiar voices that add a comedic tinge to the whole affair. Epic truly has something for every family member to enjoy – but don't pass up the 3D. PG. 102m.

— Dev Richards

Previews

AFTER EARTH. Humboldt County stars as post-humanity Earth in this big-budget sci-fi starring Will and Jaden Smith and directed by (groan) M. Night Shyamalan. PG13. 100m.

NOW YOU SEE ME. The FBI and Interpol go after a group of magicians that robs banks during performances and showers the audience with money. Beat that, Oprah. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson and Morgan Freeman. PG13. 116m.

Friday at 7 p.m. at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, Bobcat Goldthwait will be on hand to present his new movie, Willow Creek, a Bigfoot thriller filmed locally. (For more, see "Ready for Our Close-Up," page 7). Disney's The Lion King (1994) plays Sunday at 6 p.m. G. 89m. And next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night creature feature is Destroy All Planets, aka Gamera vs. Viras (1968). 6 p.m.

Continuing

THE CROODS. A Stone Age family must look for a new cave in this likeable animated comedy featuring the voices of Nic Cage and Emma Stone. PG. 96m.

THE GREAT GATSBY. Baz Luhrmann's frantically schizo adaptation of the literary classic plays like an uninspired soap opera. PG13. 142m.

IRON MAN 3. Billionaire playboy/superhero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) must battle panic attacks and terrorist/stereotype The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). PG13. 130m.

OBLIVION. Tom Cruise! Sci-fi! Mediocre! Kinda pretty, though. PG13. 126m.

PAIN & GAIN. Hollywood schlock-maestro Michael Bay directs this explosive take on hostage-taking Miami muscle-heads (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson). R. 129m.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. J.J. Abrams injects more action and knowing winks in this second outing in the rebooted series. PG13. 132m.

— Ryan Burns

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John J. Bennett

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