Adapting video games into worthwhile feature films seems to be a prized treasure forever out of Hollywood’s reach, even when the source material appears tailer made for the blockbuster treatment. Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg star in Uncharted, the latest attempt at spinning gaming cartridges into celluloid gold.
Holland stars as Nathan Drake, a young man who grew up alone in an orphanage after his older brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow), runs away to avoid being arrested for breaking into a museum. Now working as a bartender, Drake is approached by a stranger called Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg), who tells Drake that he knows where Sam is and can reunite him with his brother if he helps locate a lost treasure that he needs to find before his villainous rival, Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas). Some globetrotting and several double crosses ensue, before a big, CGI laden finale. A dividing line of audience enjoyment may be drawn between those who have or have not played the Uncharted games. The uninitiated may find a lighthearted action film starring Spider-Man, whereas those who’re familiar with the adventures of Drake and Sully will probably just see a missed opportunity.
The story of Uncharted’s long road to the big screen is probably more interesting than the film that was finally released. The video game adaptation was consigned to development hell for over a decade, with a cavalcade of auteurs being attached to the project at one point or another, including Silver Linings Playbook’s David O. Russell. The film was eventually helmed by Venom and Gangster Squad director Ruben Fleischer, who brings his usual anonymous sensibilities to the production. Mark Wahlberg initially signed onto the film to star as Nathan Drake, but the time it took for the cameras to start rolling meant that the former leader of the Funky Bunch aged out of the heroic lead into the avuncular mentor role. Wahlberg eschews the character framework that had been laid out for Sully, who in the games is a cigar chomping, joke peddling father-figure to Drake; Wahlberg instead sticks to his usual “say hi to your mother for me” schtick, which makes Drake and Sully’s dynamic more strained and contentious in the film adaptation than it is in the source material.
Tom Holland is serviceable in a severely miscast part. The film acts as a prequel to the games’ narratives as a means of side-stepping the miscalculated decision of casting the perpetually teen-faced Holland as a dashing, Harrison Ford-indebted action hero. Even on the films own terms, Holland’s boyishness clashes with the needs for the part. For instance, early on in the film Drake is working as a bartender at a classy bar in a major city, but when Holland is in action pouring the drinks, it comes across as though an underage patron has managed to sneak behind the bar. Holland brings the right amount of charisma needed to lead a blockbuster film; however, he fails to differentiate his performance as Drake from his interpretation Peter Parker, which highlights the limits to his range as an actor at this phase of his career.
Uncharted is an immediately forgettable CGI lightshow. A derivative adventure film built from the bones a game series that was itself made in the mold of classic adventure blockbusters. It fails to illicit the fun escapism that the game series packed in with abundance, and is also unsuccessful at creating its own original thrills (it should come as no surprise that the most exciting and inventive action sequence, involving Drake and some crates falling from a cargo plane, is plucked directly from the games). Viewers may be better served pulling up a cutscene compilation on YouTube. Out now in theaters.
A programmer for an Alexa-like software believes she has heard a violent crime on audio stream from one of her company’s devices. The incredibly prolific filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Magic Mike) directs this sleek, Hitchcockian technothriller with an abundance of style. Zoe Kravitz stars as Angela, an agoraphobic programmer working on improving the response functionality on a smart speaker called Kimi by listening in on the audio streams of the Kimi users and updating the devices response to commands that do not compute. After hearing what she believes is a violent assault on one of the streams, Angela begins to investigate, which leads to further dark revelations and a conspiracy that goes to the top of the corporation.
Scripted by David Koepp, Kimi is a briskly paced thriller that feels both timeless and decisively modern. The film is set in the midst of the COVID pandemic, at the height of lockdown, which serves to exacerbate Angela’s condition, and also causes her to being confined to her apartment, watching her neighbors through her window as she solves a crime and becomes increasingly paranoid – a flagrant homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Kravitz is very good as Angela, nimbly playing every angle and emotion that the character demands. Soderbergh constructs the film so immaculately that it comes across as effortless, but the dynamic cinematography and propulsive editing would suggest that there was a lot of thought put into the film.
Kimi is a gripping thriller that plays on modern concerns of surveillance and tech overreach with a classical approach to film structure. Available on HBO Max.
From Sean Baker, the director of The Florida Project, comes a darkly comic character study about a charming dirtbag. Simon Rex, the former MTV VJ, rapper and star of Scary Movie 3, stars as Mikey Saber, a penny-less former porn star with a motor mouth. Mikey has moved back to his small-town home of Texas City, Texas, to try and stay with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), as he has nowhere else to go. While staying with Lexi and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss), Mikey starts selling weed and hanging out with their slow-witted neighbor, Lonnie (Ethan Darbone). Mikey soon becomes infatuated with Strawberry (Suzanna Son), a girl working at the local donut shop, who he believes could be his ticket out of the dead-end town.
Baker directs the film with assured confidence, as he delves into a hugely uncomfortable subject matter with ease and without holding the audience’s hand through it. Where a lesser filmmaker may have highlighted Mikey’s predacious actions though ominous musical or cinematic choices, Baker allows scenes to playout in a naturalistic style that doesn’t signal to the audience how they should be emotionally responding to what is happening. The film feels as though it is inspired by the cinema from the 1970s, with its grainy 35mm film stock and focus on an irredeemable protagonist, but it is intentionally tied to 2016, with that year’s presidential election playing out in the peripheries of the film. Like in his prior work, Baker creates an unvarnished and unjudgmental portrait of a subsection of America that is often forgotten or overlooked by most other films, and people.
Rex gives a phenomenal performance as Mikey, creating a character who is in equal parts disgusting and endearing. The decision to spend a substantial amount of time with Mikey before he meets Strawberry allows the audience to begin to like and root for him, which will then make your skin crawling as he begins grooming her towards being a star in the industry that spat him, and so many others, back out. But even after Mikey has revealed himself as a shameless manipulator that will take advantage of anyone who will let him, he is still kind of charming. Which is a testament to Rex’s onscreen charisma and acting ability, which we will most likely see more of in the future, now that the polymath has found acclaim after years of searching for his place in Hollywood.
Red Rocket is a unique film that will not be for everyone, but will undoubtedly leave an impression on everyone who watches it. Available now on VOD.