Battle of the Sexes
Usually reliable directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) somehow manage to make this, the story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ infamous early ’70s tennis match, quite boring. King is played by Emma Stone, who brings a nice warmth to the role of King, one of the great trailblazing athletes of the 20th Century. Steve Carell labors a bit playing Riggs, the chauvinist pig who challenged the much younger King to a battle of the sexes, an exhibition tennis match to prove the superiority of the male athlete. The actual match happens in the film’s final half hour, and it’s an entertaining half hour that manages to incorporate real footage of Howard Cosell and a realistic depiction of the actual tennis play. The movie doesn’t have much of a pulse in the buildup, portraying King’s love life in a way that would seem too schmaltzy for your average soap opera. Surely, there must’ve been some fireworks when the married King started sleeping with her hairdresser on her tennis tour, but this movie goes a dull and sappy route. I expected to laugh more at this movie, but the film just sort of drags along until Stone and Carell pick up their rackets, which looked a lot like badminton racquets back in the ’70s. The movie also tries to make Riggs too likeable, and it probably would’ve been OK to make him a little nastier. No doubt, Billie Jean King is a legend. This movie doesn’t quite live up to that legend.
3 American Made The messed-up life of pilot Barry Seal gets a movie that’s not messed up enough in American Made, an entertaining film that plays it a little too safe. Drug cartels and Iran-Contra are played for laughs in a story that probably shouldn’t have us giggling all that much. The movie winds up being moderately enjoyable thanks to Tom Cruise sweating it out in the lead role. While his work here doesn’t rival his best, it’s miles better than The Mummy, that shitstorm that put his career on pause this summer. Director Doug Liman, who teamed with Cruise on the sci-fi masterpiece Edge of Tomorrow, rips off Catch Me if You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas, Blow, and many more in telling the story of the notorious TWA pilot turned pawn for the CIA. Inspired by Seal’s true story—and some of the more outlandish stuff depicted in the film actually happened—the movie starts with him grinding out flights for TWA, smuggling the occasional box of Cuban cigars and trying to support a family that includes wife Lucy (Sarah Wright). He winds up taking a side gig for the CIA, taking reconnaissance photos, delivering arms to Central America. This eventually leads to smuggling drugs for Medellin cartel. The movie is a whirlwind of activity, but skimpy on some of the details that could make it more than just a silly blast. Honestly, this story might have played better as an HBO or Netflix miniseries than a big motion picture. It feels far too slick for the source material, and needed some more meat on the bone. A 10-hour running time probably wouldn’t even be enough to cover everything Barry got himself into.