Blake Lively, whose best role until now was the secretary in that SNL “Potato Chip” sketch, is terrific as Nancy, a medical school dropout who goes to a secret beach in Mexico in the wake of her mother’s death. She sets out for a day of surfing and reflection in what she thinks is a completely solitary setting (with the exception of a couple of other friendly surfers). Turns out, there’s a big-assed Great White shark, and this is its territory, and no trespassers are allowed, even if they are as pretty as Blake Lively. As shark movies go, this is a good one, with decent CGI effects, a couple of tense shark attacks, and a constant level of terror that never lets up. The only thing really keeping this from being “very good” rather than “nice and good” is the ending, which made me laugh a laugh I shouldn’t have laughed. Even with the big flaw, this is one of the summer movie season’s more fun offerings, certainly a lot more fun than that one with aliens and Jeff Goldblum in it. Note to producers: Please don’t make a sequel where the shark’s offspring follows Blake Lively to a vacation resort, Jaws: The Revenge style. You’ve made an all time top 10 shark movie; quit while you are ahead.
3 Central IntelligenceWhile it doesn’t boast much along the lines of originality, this winds up being an above average action/comedy buddy movie thanks to its stars, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. The guys belong together. The plot feels like a bunch of parts from other movies cobbled together to make a whole. It has elements of Lethal Weapon, Grosse Pointe Blank, Just Friends and even a little Sixteen Candles, all stitched together, albeit capably, by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). It’s a well-oiled movie Frankenstein. Johnson and Hart are a strong screen duo, with Johnson actually scoring most of the laughs. Hart, who certainly chips in on the laughs front, actually delivers one of the more well rounded, warm performances of his career. He plays Calvin, the most popular guy in high school who grows up to be humdrum. Johnson plays Bob, a former obese guy who Calvin took pity on. Bob grows up to be a rogue CIA agent who looks like the Rock. The two wind up on an adventure that, of course, eventually leads to their high school reunion. This is the sort of movie that goes down easy in the summertime. I actually watched it at a drive-in, and the movie perfectly suited the drive-in experience. So, yeah, I’m encouraging you to find a drive-in playing Central Intelligence. Close your windows though. Mosquitos can ruin a flick.
4 The Neon DemonAfter the misstep that was Only God Forgives, director Nicolas Winding Refn gets things back on track with this, perhaps the most toxic and nasty film ever made about the modeling industry. Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to L.A. to become a model. She’s underage, naïve and lost, but finds a helping hand in Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who knows what it’s like to be the new girl in town. As her career begins to take off, Jesse begins to gain confidence to a fault, and a couple of other models (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee) develop sinister intentions to go with their envy of Jesse’s spectacular looks. Refn mesmerizes yet again—his Drive remains one of the best films of the past decade—combining stunning visuals and an excellent soundtrack to go with the outstanding performances from Fanning, Malone, Heathcote and Lee. Keanu Reeves has a small but memorable role as a sleazy hotel manager, while Alessandro Nivola is most memorable as a fashion designer who must have Jesse for his show. Refn is working in very dark, cynical satire here, with elements of horror mixed in for good measure. This establishes Fanning as one of her generation’s best actresses. Hers is easily one of the year’s best performances so far.