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Ted 2 (2015)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Ted talks, 10 July 2015

The original Ted gave us the story of a lonely boy named John who wished his stuffed bear would come alive. Jump forward a couple of decades and the cute kid had become a layabout 30-something, mirrored by his foul-mouthed, horny buddy Ted. Aside from the unusual central pairing, the setup was a typical "bros versus hoes" comedy. It had its moments and made half a billion, so here's the sequel, and for me it's the slightly better film.

John (Mark Wahlberg) is now divorced from Lori, while Ted (Seth MacFarlane) is just married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). When the teddy/human couple goes to adopt a kid it draws attention to the fact that he is not human – he's technically property. John, Ted, and newbie lawyer Sam (Amanda Seyfried) set about taking the case to court, asserting that Ted's ability to love is proof of his human status.

If this sounds like a sentimental setup that's because it is. What we have here is a strange mix of puerile humour and long monologues about what it means to be human. At the film's heart is a very sombre message which is hard to swallow when borderline race jokes run up against dead serious reminders of America's history of slavery.

As with the first movie, your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on your appetite for the Family Guy breed of comedy. I was personally pleased with the sequel's more solid plotting and unusually weighty themes, but still less-than-enamoured with the bullying tone of some of the humour. It's hit and miss: the sperm donation clinic sequence is hilarious; the celebrity cameos, less so. There's a great scene which amusingly alludes to both Jurassic Park and Contact. But then Patrick Warburton returns as Guy and his alpha aggression marks the movie's nadir.

For a scat-comedy, MacFarlane goes beyond the call of duty as director. Combined with the brilliantly bouncy orchestral score (think John Williams in chase sequence mode), with sweeping cranes and dollies and plentiful cityscapes MacFarlane evokes the formal aesthetic and adventure spirit of classic 80s family screwball – albeit with dirtier gags. I like how characters meeting Ted for the first time don't show any shock at his form, which shows admirable resistance to the modern comedy nuisance of self-reference.

The Hasbro subplot, in which Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) returns as a disempowered toy company employee, doesn't really go anywhere and basically exists as a very long build-up to a final, fantastically cruel gag involving a lethal Starship Enterprise. It's a decent joke, but by then you'll be feeling the overgenerous runtime.

Ted 2 is a worthwhile sequel, sporadically funny and at times oddly thought-provoking. Fans of the first won't be disappointed, and latecomers to the party can easily jump aboard. Its combination of vicious humour and cuddly moralising is jarring, however – a pity, because a more inclusive script which wasn't at war with itself might have made for a great modern fable.

Hyena (2014/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
You won't be laughing, 5 July 2015

Peter Ferdinando plays Michael, a bent cop trying to partially unbend himself. He's just made a deal with some very naughty Albanian gangsters, only to find they're being investigated by his division and he's being stitched up for a murder he didn't commit. He's up against it: His colleagues are a bunch of racist drunks; his arch-nemesis David (Stephen Graham) has just returned as his senior officer; and a clean-cut cop named Taylor (Richard Dormer) is on a mission to clean up the Met. Meanwhile, Michael takes it upon himself to rescue a trafficked woman named Ariana (Elisa Lasowski), while trying to keep his own girl Lisa (MyAnna Buring) from been chopped into little pieces. Laugh-a-minute stuff, then.

The film starts boldly with a heavily stylised raid, followed by a scene in which Michael's crew drink and snort and mouth off about "Pakis". The script is as visceral as the violence; unpretty but pretty authentic. The best of the dialogue – and the most engaging character dynamic – occurs between Michael and David, and the film could have done with more of their tense, skilfully acted showdowns, and slightly fewer scenes of people receiving terrible news by telephone. But that's not to deny the film's grip. There's a genuine sense of danger throughout, and the central theme of cops "crossing a line" is consistently observed throughout – even if Michael's shambolic descent is telegraphed from the start.

"This isn't the 80s," one character remarks, although the sophomore feature of writer-director Gerard Johnson owes more than a little to the crime movie giants of that decade. Its yawning cityscapes and blue hues are like Michael Mann on tour in London, while the street level stuff – all shadowed alleys and vice-filled backrooms – are straight from Abel Ferrara. Indeed, Bad Lieutenant comparisons are particularly noticeable. Its more recent influences include Gaspar Noe's stalking camera-work and Nicolas Winding Refn's doom-scored spasms of ultraviolence. If all that appeals then great, but don't go in expecting to see anything new or particularly refined.

Hyena is a decent gritty Brit-crime thriller, sophisticated in aesthetic if not in content. It's beautifully shot and lit, and the performances are strong – particularly Ferdinando in the lead, the underused Graham, and Kill List's Neil Maskell. Its preoccupations tap into (and exploit) modern fears of police corruption and immigration effectively. Yet all the way up to its ambiguous (read: mildly unsatisfying) ending it feels more like a set of long-established clichés updated to the twenty-teens than a bold new voice in home-grown gangster film.

1 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
It will be back, 4 July 2015

Quite why the marketing geniuses behind this movie chose to betray the pretty good twist in this movie (the identity of the new Terminator) instead of the pretty ordinary one (the identity of Genisys) is beyond me, as it clearly negates the impact this mediocre sequel-to-two-sequels-too-far.

The Terminator and Judgment Day were simple movies with strong themes. A future war came to 1984 and the experience made a soldier of Sarah Connor. By the second movie, she was the same brutalised machine that Kyle Reese was – and like him, throughout the narrative, she gradually revealed a core softened by hope. That's where the story ends for me, but here we are again – and judging by the sequel-bait ending, here we will be again. "Can you see the future?" asks Kyle (Jai Courtney) of John Connor (Jason Clarke). I think we all can when it comes to the franchise machine.

Unlike Jurassic World, Genisys isn't as bad as the sequels it's pretending don't exist. It riffs endlessly on the first two movies. This time around we get to see the events that led to the T-800 (an impressive digitally-youthed Arnold Schwarzenegger) being sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah (Emilia Clarke), and John sending Kyle on the chase. So, much of the first act is a shot-for-shot re-tread of James Cameron's original – which is nice and nostalgic and all, but the problem with reminding us of a much better movie is that one is constantly distracted by the memory of a much better movie.

Then the overplotting begins, and it turns out there's a time-travel unit available here in 1984, which allows Kyle, Sarah, and "Pops" (more on that later) to leap forward to 2017 to stop Skynet just before it goes online. That's right: Terminator Genisys hinges upon a fundamentally nonsensical narrative decision. Why jump to 24 hours before the machines take out humanity? They could have spent the next 30+ years carefully planning the downfall of Skynet before it ever gets off the ground, their lives dedicated to the cause of pre-correcting their own timeline. But heck, it wouldn't make much of a movie, so they choose to time-jump and set themselves against a ticking clock.

As all this is explained – and the number of key dates continues to expand: 1984, 2029, 1973, 1997 etc – you're occasionally almost fooled into thinking you're watching convincing characters playing out engaging drama. But it's a façade. This isn't smart or deep, it's just wordy, and the plot is complicated without being thoughtful or emotive or profound. At one point Arnie remarks that the bad guy "talks too much". Too true, Pops. This new Infiltration Unit's special weapon is monologuing us to death. He's like a Bond villain stuck on Evil Plan Exposition mode.

Let's talk about "Pops". Seriously, this is what has become of the remorseless Model 101. In 1991 the flipping of the antagonist/protagonist role was bold; now it's been kneaded into something silly and mild: a pantomime version of a once-great baddie. A deleted scene from T2 – that bloody smile – is used three times.

Yet Arnie is the one with the charisma here, mostly because he has the fewest lines of the main players. Emilia Clarke tries her best but she's lumbered with a script which is functional at best and laughably verbose. In Courtney's Kyle there's absolutely no sense of the weary, traumatised soldier. As he and Sarah bicker and mope like Twilight teenagers, there's no discernible chemistry between the actors.

As for the director, Alan Taylor is no better than Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3) or McG (Terminator Salvation). His style is… well, styleless. The action scenes are messily edited and confusing. Thanks to Paramount's nervous marketing splurge, we've all seen the big central setpiece with the bus on the bridge, which culminates in a rip-off of the trailer sequence in Spielberg's The Lost World, only less impressively staged and lacking tension. Just another floaty CG action scene slipping by without impact.

The final showdown takes place on a bland, busy set, and it's boring as hell. Some kind of hologram keeps taunting the heroes, and they repeatedly shoot out the projector units – again and again, ad infinitum. It's an infuriating pixel circus, and it leads to a Big Reveal, which is plain dumb and nonsensical, shamelessly assuming we'll come back for the sequel.

Which we probably will, because no matter how many times the studio gives a bunch of money to another hack director we keep watching them. Next time, though, they won't have the goodwill born of nostalgia to help them. So, perhaps they'll come up with something original, bold, exciting, and thought-provoking. Or perhaps it'll simply be another competent, soulless, machine-made dud.

A throwback to a vision of the future, 1 July 2015

In Tim Burton's Ed Wood, a cheapshot movie producer snorts at Ed's desire to create art on a shoestring. The irony is, of course, that however artistically credible he imagined himself, Ed Wood made junk anyway. There's a sweet spot where good intentions, lack of talent, and thriftiness meet, and Cannon Films regularly found it. The Asylum's mockbusters might be keeping the bad movie dream alive, but can you imagine a modern mini-studio greenlighting the likes of Superman, alongside Death Wish, alongside Shakespeare?

Cannon was set up in the 1960s but rose to prominence/notoriety in 1980 when it was sold to Israeli cousins Yoram Globus (the money man) Menahem Golan (the would-be moviemaker). This is where Mark Hartley's breakneck documentary joins the sordid story. Talking heads – directors, editors, and actors – provide snappy anecdotes and bitesized insights into the passion and incompetence of two upstarts who, for a time, upset the Hollywood establishment. And then spent $25m on an arm-wrestling movie.

Though remembered for Chuck Norris nonsense and some seriously ropey fantasy and sci-fi (Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce will make you question the value of cinema), at their peak Cannon were bashing out nearly 50 films a year. This left room for 'proper' movies from the likes of Franco Zeffirelli and Godfrey Reggio; Cannon even bagged an Oscar for Best Foreign Film at their mid-eighties peak. But for every Company of Wolves or Barfly there were five Charles Bronson Z-movies, so Cannon will always be remembered for the balderdash, churned out chiefly to take advantage of the burgeoning home video market.

Indeed, this is the perfect Eighties trash story, beginning with The Happy Hooker, the strangely apt story of a European prostitute coming to the US and sticking two fingers up to the Hollywood elite. The party ended with Cyborg in 1989, a Van Damme oddity which has little to do with cyborgs and whose creative failure rests partly on the shoulders of Albert Pyun, who would later find cinema's comic book nadir with his mouth-dryingly terrible Captain America. Cyborg was built with bits of Masters of the Universe, which gives us a clue as to the state of Cannon's finances at the turn of the decade. A brief 90s relaunch provided nothing of interest.

Perhaps there's a three-hour version of this documentary which delves into more depth and supposition about the essential culture clash that meant Globus and Golan failed spectacularly, time and time again, to grasp the mood of the nation they adored. But then the film would lose its briskness and humour, and Hartley's superb Uzi-editing would go to waste. It's a shallow documentary about men with shallow dreams, and it's enthralling for it.

The only real art to emerge from Cannon were exceptions that proved the rule. That rule being: Make 'em quick and make 'em cheap. By the time the bloated excess of Masters of the Universe was vomited into the multiplex (I recall that particular disappointment sorely) audiences expected more. Hartley's film may ultimately overstate the influence of Cannon – although with a new Terminator movie potentially about to join Jurassic World, Avengers, and Furious 7 at the top of the year's box office, the business model that spawned five Death Wishes and three Delta Forces does seem disturbingly prescient.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Terminator: Genesis, 24 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Every bit as relentless and single-minded as the latest Mad Max instalment – and possessing a similar number of car chases – The Terminator was the 1984 calling card of both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sure, the latter had a couple of lousy Conan films under his belt, but here was a role that would make him a star and give cinema an antihero every bit as iconic as Hannibal or Joker.

The story is fantastically simple. In the future, machines take over, exterminating humanity from the post-nuclear wasteland. The human resistance is led by a man named John Connor. The machines send a "Terminator" unit (Arnie himself) back through time to kill John's mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton). Meanwhile, the humans send a protector, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). The chase begins.

Imagine knowing nothing about this world. Imagine the shock of seeing Arnie laid low with a shotgun, only to rise time and time again. For the first third of the movie, beyond a title card, precious little is explained. All we're seeing is a woman stalked by two moody men. The idea for The Terminator was apparently born of a fever-dream, and with its flashback-forward structure and descending darkness it is drenched in sweaty helplessness.

It's also a masterclass in efficiency and visual storytelling. When it comes to filling in the backstory (here, a future-story), Cameron expertly brings convincing emotional weight to his exposition scenes. Reese is the emotive counterpoint to the dead-cold 101: his mission is driven by love. Not some cheesy, possessive love; Reece carries with him the hope of humanity. He loves John Connor (whom, intriguingly, we never see), so how can he not hold a near-biblical reverence for the mythic mother? Before Judgment Day gave us the powerful and handsome activist, the 1984 origin shows us the gentle, pretty Sarah. (Emilia Clarke has her eyes.) Yet her ascent to soldier is entirely believable given the unbelievable events swirling around her. Sarah is no damsel in distress; she's a warrior waiting for the right distress to unleash her potential.

The poodle-perms and mecha-synth music will either be seen as dating the film, or delivering pleasing period delights, depending on your viewpoint. But what will never date is the film's brutal purity. As we gaze at the poster for Genisys, with Arnie and Sarah pressed together in unity, let's not forget how scary and thrilling it was to see her terrorised... and then turn around and terminate his metal ass.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Unconvincing period biopic, 19 June 2015

Niccolò Paganini (David Garrett) is a virtuoso violinist, stolen from Italian obscurity by the serpentine Urbani (Jared Harris) and brought to swinging 19th century London on the request of struggling promoter John Watson (Christian McKay). There his lascivious urges and his musical genius find equal outlet, until his heart is attuned to Charlotte (Andrea Deck), with whom he shares a harmonious partnership. Tragedy encroaches, however, as those who brought Paganini to the top conspire to cast him into the gutter once more.

What is the truth of Paganini? Bernard Rose's biopic plays fast and loose, which shouldn't matter because art strives for universal truths. Yet such striving often leads to cliché, as has happened here. As an instrument the violin lends itself well to furious solos, so the transition from classical musician to rock god is easy – throw in some long shaggy hair and stubble and sunglasses and we've basically got ourselves a Georgian Ozzy Osbourne. Not that the film is terribly anarchic. Early on we get some Dogma 95-influenced hand-held camera and hack 'n' slash editing but it soon gives way to familiar period stageyness.

Rose's film exists in the same realm as Milos Forman's Amadeus and touches on some of the same themes – genius emerging from chaos, both a creative and destructive force – but it's a relatively shallow movie, and one whose TV budget cannot be elevated by its impressively crashing classical soundtrack and its smoggy capital exteriors. Forman's film had a force-of-nature at its centre in the form of Tom Hulce. The Devil's Violinist has David Garrett, who's a wonderful violinist but no actor. Alarm bells ring when a character is meant to be thinking hard about something and actually grabs their chin.

But then, could any actor have provided a sympathetic portrayal? How charming is any man this juvenile; this unprofessional? Why should we care for a man who whinges about being "misunderstood" in one breath then dismisses his fans with the next? How do we side with someone who claims to love another and then accidentally shags a complete stranger with the same hair colour? Better writing and an actual actor might have helped us answer these questions.

Garrett isn't very well-supported, to be fair. Harris turns a scheming snake into a pantomime villain. Joely Richardson is gobsmackingly miscast as a cockney troublemaker. And while Alien Isolation fans may be pleased to see Andrea Deck in her full feature debut, I wouldn't expect the scripts to start piling on her doormat on the basis of this. But then, again, Charlotte is bafflingly written: she's genuinely repulsed by Paganini – a player and a player – only to spin on a sixpence once she hears him knock out a few notes, melody apparently trumping manners.

Rose has a firm hold of his film's darkly humorous tone, and the musical performances are, inevitably, spectacular (almost worth the rental fee alone, if for some reason an actual David Garrett Live DVD isn't available). But the decision to build a movie around a real musician backfires horribly, and with a bland and over-familiar script ("Who is the real you?" one character genuinely asks) it has to go down as a handsome, tuneful failure.

Coffy (1973)
Full of fun, full of funk, 11 June 2015

Foxy Brown, the unofficial sequel to Coffy, might be slightly better known thanks to Quentin Tarantino's reference-tastic Jackie Brown (also starring Pam Grier), but it can't hold a candle to this Blaxploitation classic. Jack Hill's 1973 original is so spirited, passionate, and deliberately daft that it's impossible not to be persuaded by its cool and its convictions.

Grier is the titular "wild cat from the tropical jungle", spitting her lines with thrilling viciousness, and wielding a gaze that promises pain. Yet Coffy isn't cold and immune, she's emotionally sensitive. Sentimental, even. She's also smart, confident, principled, and outrageously sexy.

Choice theme lyric: "Coffee is the colour of your skin." Yes, the movie is fantastically dated; a true product of its era. It's lurid and ridiculous, yet boldly progressive. Other mainstream movies of the time might give us black pimps and junkies, but here we have black cops and surgeons, and it's the lascivious whites who run amok.

Coffy is a nurse. She wants revenge on the perps responsible for her little sister's drug addiction. She starts with the pushers but gradually she finds the rot goes all the way to the top: to the politicians who want to keep the common man (and woman) down, and who are just in it for the "green". It's a conveyor belt of sin controlled by men. So Coffy preys on male vulnerability – specifically the sexuality of men, via her own seductive powers.

In observing this sordid sacrifice, does the film indulge the very misogyny it purports to condemn? Here lies the essence of the exploitation genre: in exploiting, it explores, and in exploring, it exploits.

Coffy isn't a complex or subtle film. For a start, it's laughably moralistic about drug abuse. Saying that, there is some simplistic wisdom in its depiction of the drugs hierarchy: the real problem is at the top, not on the streets. In Coffy's world, it's all about the System, and ultimately it's a System presided over by evil white men.

One couldn't argue that a girl-fight in which every combatant has her top ripped off is clever satire; but at other times the satire does stick, such as when councilman Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw) slams the white patriarchy... and is immediately told off-camera by his honky PR man that he came off as "real convincing". This is a great sub-plot, wisely promoted to the main game by the final reel, leading to a tense final showdown which cautions as to the dangers of playing a System that itself corrupts its players. The ending is also a fitting moment of gender reassertion, before we're given a classic final shot.

With fabulously far-fetched plotting married to a knowing sense of humour (Coffy's Jamaican act is a keeper), punctuated by tub-thumping speeches and spasms of deeply significant violence (thugs beating a black cop; a "lynching"; a shotgun castration), Coffy is a hugely enjoyable and meaning-packed movie, and a milestone in black cinema.

Crime 'n' grime on the overcast Thames, 11 June 2015

A year on from his way-too-early death, let's revel in Bob Hoskins' magnetic on-screen presence. His ability to switch in an instant from avuncular charm to rabid menace perfectly suits his role as Harold Shand, mob boss on London's unlovely river. The final shot – surely referenced by George Clooney at the end of Michael Clayton – is as skillful a piece of wordless acting as you'll ever see.

The film opens with a series of violent killings. In a clever bit of framing, we gradually learn that the victims are Harold's goons, so we share the shock and horror he feels. Turns out that the killings couldn't have come at a worse time – the New Jersey mob is in town to sign a business deal to form a "New London". So Harold, along with his bird Vicky (Helen Mirren) and best china plate Jeff (Derek Thompson) must track down and quash the jealous culprits before the Americans turn on their heels without signing on the dotted line.

It's a propulsive plot, simple until the twists start piling up. Mostly this is a character-centric play, focusing on the love triangle between Harold, Vicky, and Jeff. Vicky is the intelligent centre around which all the fellas gravitate, while Jeff is the gentle calm who shares the centre of that storm. But Jeff isn't the picture of laid-back submission he first seems. Watch his face as those lift doors slide closed – is that a glimpse of an evil smile? The Long Good Friday is fascinatingly dated. Francis Monkman's music is a strange concoction of flute-based crime soul and Phaedra-period Tangerine Dream looping electronica. But beyond that, this is a movie locked in time: the 1980 London skyline shown at the start is from a grey English era, Thatcher's long shadow looming. When Harold makes his speech to the Americans about Britain being great again, the blank stares he receives speak volumes. His desperation to rekindle his land of hope and glory is impossibly sad.

Yet Good Friday is frequently leavened with humour. Whether it's a pub named "Fagan's", or Harold exclaiming "Diabolical liberty!" as he hears of his henchman's murder, there's an ironic vein of deadpan running through the script. There's something very British about The Long Good Friday's resistance to glorifying its blinkered thugs, however much we end up empathising.

Which we do. In a genre better acquainted with swagger than sympathy, Good Friday stands above the pack by getting behind the macho posturing and to the heart of the mob. It's not just his business interests that are being damaged – Harold is emotionally wounded by the attacks. Sure, he responds with machetes, but the point is the script delves into vulnerable places that lesser gangster movies wouldn't dare.

It might not have the grim grit of the likes of Get Carter (although one particular death is genuinely shocking), but for me Good Friday's more self-deprecating tone gives it the edge, and a timelessness that elevates this made-for-TV-for-under-a-million movie to classic status. It's the anti-operatic alternative to the glossy Godfathers and Goodfellas of this world, and an unshowy landmark in British crime cinema.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Run and Hyde, 11 June 2015

The only other time my path has crossed that of grubby auteur (urghteur?) Walerian Borowczyk was for his infamous 1975 film The Beast. Emerging from the same post-Hays Code generation as Ken Russell and Michael Winner, Borowczyk's censor-baiting specialty was sex. Another art-porn touchstone is Pier Paolo Pasolini, although at least Borowczyk has a detectable sense of humour in pursuit of his exploitation.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne – to give it the director's preferred title after it was renamed Docteur Jekyll et les femmes – is a slasher of the trashiest sort (a trasher?), focusing on the relationship between Jekyll (Udo Kier), Hyde (a devilishly creepy Gerard Zalcberg), and Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro). We first meet Jekyll and Osbourne as they are entertaining guests, come to celebrate their engagement. Then, a murder. Another. The bodies start piling up. Suspecting the not-so-good doctor, Fanny discovers her fiancé's secret... and chooses to join him in his experiments in "transcendental science".

A knowing attack on taste and decency is evident from the off: Borowczyk opens with some painterly compositions, exquisitely lit and lusciously diffused, and proceeds to intercut with images of murder and rape. There's an eerie dream-like quality to some of the early setups, aided by some grimy drone music by electronic pioneer Bernard Parmegiani. But nonsensical plotting and poor pacing stalks the shadows, waiting to pounce. And the most notable knife victim is the editing, which frequently fails at the basic task of depicting who's where in relation to whom.

Borowczyk, to his credit, is clearly aware of the preposterousness of his play, wisely employing the likes of Patrick Magee – always good value – to give us a gloriously OTT army general, who at one point shoots the wrong guy and apologises by saying, "This is war... The soldier fires; the good Lord carries the bullets." But it's not enough to defend against the onset of cheap kinkiness, bad acting, worse dialogue, and weirdly tame stabbings. Any surprise? We are talking about the guy who made Emmanuelle 5, here.

Some oddities, it seems, are better off consigned to the past. But if the promise of seeing Udo Kier writhe naked in a bath of beef stock is tempting, be my guest.

1 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Nothing shakes the Rock, 11 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dwayne Johnson reunites with Journey 2: Mysterious Island director Brad Peyton for a cacophonous crumble-'em-up in which a chunk of the US West Coast is hit by the biggest earthquake in recorded history, shaking loose all manner of clichés and stock characters. The best of them is an exposition-spouting scientist (he even has his own personal journalist to ask him direct questions) played by Paul Giamatti. It takes an actor of Giamatti's calibre to make this direlogue sound vaguely convincing. But still, he's a mouthpiece rather than a character as such.

Unlike Hercules, which was smart-bad, San Andreas is dumb-bad: a series of dramatically empty and conspicuously bloodless destruction sequences connected by a frankly boring family drama. Johnson plays Ray Gaines, an air rescue pilot whom we meet in the midst of a divorce. He and his wife (Carla Gugino) split after the death of their daughter, and now she's shacked up with a coward. But then the earth moves (literally), and Dad and Mom join forces to save their daughter (Alexandra Daddario), who's tossing and turning in San Francisco.

After a series of laughable coincidences, which give the sense that the Gaines family are merely playing a virtual reality game together and can locate each other on a mini-map, it ends with a very tedious and predictable sequence half-inched from James Cameron's The Abyss. For the most part, with its linear family rescue plot, it's a re-run of The Day After Tomorrow – but Johnson is no Quaid, Daddario is no Gyllenhaal, and Peyton is no Emmerich. Yes, really – Roland Emmerich might make mega-trash but at least knows how to frame it, and build tension, and he knows when tongue and cheek should meet.

Despite some admirable attempts at single-take immersion, Peyton's setpieces build from nothing to sudden empty bluster, suitably chaotic but shockingly weightless. There's nothing wrong with CGI – actors have been acting with nothing really there since the dawn of film – but there's no excuse for making the end of the world so boring.

This is a mostly humourless film except for some light relief in the form of Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson, playing bumbling, brave English brothers who both fancy the pants off Ray's daughter. But even this almost-fun aspect is turned groaningly earnest at the end – spoiler alert! – as Ray looks upon ground zero and says it's time to "rebuild". With the plucky-but-weedy Brits alongside him, and the Stars & Stripes draped across the Golden Gate, it's the most cumbersome metaphor for post-9/11 transatlantic relations I've seen in some time.

Cumbersome describes this film. We're promised epic and we get lumbering; we're promised adventure and we get a rote rehash of tired themes. It's a weak tremor at best, and not amusingly rubbish enough to deserve a really terrible rating.

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