Film and drama

Screen Themes: Finding Dory vs Central Intelligence

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It’s time for some school holiday fun, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out Pixar sequel Finding Dory and slapstick comedy Central Intelligence.

Finding Dory (2016) directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

Sequels are a tricky business. While it would be lazy and inaccurate to state that “all sequels suck”, there is a reason that most people list the same films when asked for a sequel that was better than the original. Terminator 2. Godfather 2. Aliens. Still, if anyone is going to make a good sequel, it’s Pixar, home of childhood joy and characters you will remember forever. Right?

Thirteen years after the box office smash Finding Nemo, we return to the Great Barrier Reef for another “lost friend” adventure. Only a few members of the original cast are back, including Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, Albert Brooks as Marlon and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger. Unfortunately, the relocation of production Sydney to California means that there are almost no Australian animals living on the Barrier Reef, with original cast members Geoffrey Rush and Bruce Spence nowhere to be heard.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Dory is a Blue Tang fish with a serious short term memory problem. Despite this setback (or perhaps because of it) Dory is resolutely optimistic and good-natured, until the day she realizes that she has forgotten her parents. Naturally, this realisation sends Dory on a quest to find them, replete with flashbacks, dazzling set pieces and a lot of kid-friendly action.

While fairly derivative and almost entirely predictable, Finding Dory does have a certain charm, due primarily to the performance of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory. Having a character with special needs as your lead can be difficult, as Dory has the potential (occasionally realised) to be incredibly annoying, both to viewers and other characters in the film. Fortunately, Ellen imbues Dory with such an irrepressible positivity that it is difficult to dislike her and the scenes with her parents realizing that she was different are heartbreaking.

The standout character of Finding Dory is Hank, a misanthropic octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill. Determined not to be released back into the ocean, Hank provides a cynical guide for Dory as she searches for her lost family.

In terms of animated sequels, Finding Dory doesn’t reach the emotional heights of Toy Story 2, but also avoids the shameless cash-grab feeling of Cars 2. Oddly enough, the conservation themes embraced by the studio publicists are almost nowhere to be seen in the movie; while it isn’t the job of family films to tackle environmental issues, a small mention of the catastrophic coral bleaching problem might have been nice.

Central Intelligence (2016) directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

It is widely accepted that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is one of the nicest guys in the movie business, often mentioned in the same breath as Matt Damon and Channing Tatum. Having made his start in the garish world of professional wrestling, Johnson made the leap to the big screen with mindless action flicks including The Mummy Returns, Welcome to the Jungle and video game adaptation Doom. Now and again he has been able to showcase his natural charm (Be Cool is a standout example) but more often than not he stars in dreck like Hercules, San Andreas and the increasingly ludicrous Fast & Furious series (where to be fair he is the standout performer). Dwayne Johnson is a good actor who makes bad choices.

Kevin Hart started out as a standup comedian before being cast by Judd Apatow in the short-lived but high quality TV series Undeclared. He played supporting roles in a number of sub-par movies including Scary Movie 3, Little Fockers and Soul Plane, before taking the lead in Think Like a Man (2012) and Ride Along (2014). Still wildly successful on the standup circuit (the DVD release of ‘Laugh at My Pain’ grossed over $15 million) Hart is now a bona fide star, even if all of the roles he plays are almost exactly the same character. Kevin Hart is not a good actor, but he makes good choices.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re The Millers, Dodgeball), Central Intelligence tells the story of former high-school football hero Calvin Joyner, who married the prom queen and settled into a boring life as an accountant. Out of nowhere Calvin reconnects with high-school acquaintance Bob Stone, only to discover that the formerly portly loser has turned into a chiselled hunk of muscle and also joined the CIA.

As you may have picked up from the trailer, Central Intelligence is far from a good movie. The script is lazy and predictable, the supporting characters are broadly sketched cyphers and the funniest part of the movie is the closing credits. On the other hand, the film is genuinely laugh out loud funny at times, Johnson is his usual charming self and there are a couple of cute cameos (which I won’t spoil here). At the end of the day the target audience for this movie is teenaged boys, and there is probably enough here to keep them entertained.

The Verdict

For families with younger children, Finding Dory is a safe choice, filled with colourful characters, PG-rated peril and some ridiculously cute baby fish characters. The fact that the movie contains a message of accepting people no matter their disability elevates the film above throwaway rubbish like Trolls, demonstrating once again that Pixar is the most reliable animation studio in the world (even now they’re owned by Disney).

For teens and young adults happy to leave their brains at the door, Central Intelligence is a perfectly acceptable movie.

Finding Dory: 7/10

Central Intelligence: 6/10

Like what you read? John Turnbull''s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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