Minions: The Rise of Gru is far from despicable, but new season of Westworld is buggy
Minions: The Rise of Gru
In theaters now
If Cruella and the Joker can have their villain origin stories, so apparently can Gru. The fifth entry in the Despicable Me franchise takes the inscrutably Eastern European baddie voiced by Steve Carell back to the mini-Me he once was — somewhere circa the late 1970s, judging by the cultural signifiers (Jaws at the multiplex, Linda Ronstadt and Sex Pistols on the radio).
At 11 and ¾, Gru is still but a fanboy of the Vicious 6, a group of supervillains in search of some kind of world-altering amulet — and also a new sixth member after kicking the aging Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) to the curb. When the boy's Vicious audition goes awry, a cross-country journey to San Francisco and numerous hectic set pieces ensue, though the main reason to watch remains the celebrity-Madlibs mashup of voice actors (Julie Andrews as Gru's cantankerous mother, Michelle Yeoh as a kung-fu master, RZA as a groovy guy on a Harley).
And, of course, the ever-present Minions: In a movie that only nominally needs to make sense, those little mango-colored agents of chaos — with their thumb-shaped bodies, jaunty overalls, and inscrutable dialect ("Who are these tiny tater tots and where did they get so much denim?" Gru marvels in his own esoteric accent) — are often the best thing on screen, a loopy confluence of Buster Keaton and Evel Knievel. The rest goes down pretty easily: 90 solid minutes of semi-supervised childcare with a few knowing nods to the grown-ups, and enough dad-rock touchstones on the soundtrack to buy Mick Jagger a new townhouse. Grade: B — Leah Greenblatt
The Terminal List
Streaming now (Amazon Prime Video)
What has Chris Pratt done to himself? The laconic charmer went from sitcom sweetness to blockbuster glory with his low-key sense of humor intact. Now that's all gone in this entirely grim thriller. Pratt is James Reece, an ultra-elite SEAL with a gun garage and an axe collection. In the series premiere, he suffers astounding losses. Nearly his entire platoon dies screaming in an explosive ambush. When he returns home to San Diego, the war follows him, and it's one bloody execution after another. Reece thinks a "highly sophisticated adversary" is hunting him. But a combat head wound left him with recurring hallucinations and tangled memories. Is he losing his mind? Is a massive conspiracy out to get him? Even if there is a conspiracy, is he still losing his mind?
The concept, from Jack Carr's novel, suggests a twist on the Jack Ryan brutal-patriot model, with a strand of Memento-ish unreliable narration. In the second episode, Reece strikes back at one of his supposed assailants — and it's briefly unclear if that killing was an act of heroism or derangement. That ambiguity dwindles immediately, as the show overextends a solid revenge plot through eight episodes of okay-at-best action and endless shadowy meetings between shady military-industrial types. There's a legitimate, palpable anger here. Reece's paranoia extends from the Middle East to Silicon Valley, and from the highest branches of government to his own top brass. Taylor Kitsch actually is pretty charming as Reece's CIA pal, while Constance Wu gets all the boring gradual-investigation material as a crusading journalist.
Yet the show depends on your ability to believe Pratt as a righteous-justice monolith who suffers at random intervals from nasty headaches and tragic flashbacks. Respectfully: Nah. The actor's version of traumatized seriousness is all vacant stares and bicep rage, and once you've seen one ow-my-brain wince you've seen them all. You feel a very charismatic person has turned himself into the lead character from Call of Duty campaign — and who plays Call of Duty for the story? "There's evil in this world," Reece tells one baddie, mid-torture. "It's our job to look it in the eye, because most folks don't have the balls." Sure, but some balls are deflated. Grade: C —Darren Franich
The Princess and Mr. Malcolm's List
On Hulu and in theaters now, respectively
How far can the concept of period drama be stretched before it's all just fourth-wall winks and pantaloons? In the wake of shows like Dickinson and The Great, with their casual anachronisms and pop-feminist gloss, all historical-accuracy bets seem to be off. Mr. Malcolm's List, starring Freida Pinto as a woman in circa-1812 England with few means but many charms, and Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù as the choosy nobleman she is tasked to seduce and destroy, aims for the candy-colored Regency romance of Bridgerton. Despite the source material's similar popularity, though, the movie drags, a confluence of silly plot points and mile-wide archetypes with too little natural chemistry between its ridiculously good-looking leads.
At least no one in Malcolm gets disemboweled to the three-chord snarl of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation." The Princess largely forgoes plot and exposition for an 87-minute murder spree in which a rebellious royal (The Act's Joey King), chafing at her promised betrothal to a sociopathic suitor (Dominic Cooper), fights her way out of tower imprisonment by any means necessary. King is an engaging actress to watch, if she only had an actual backstory, but the movie is so relentlessly romp-y and blood-splattered it quickly becomes numbing: a Gen-Z Kill Bill that never stops stabbing long enough to make you care. Grade: Mr. Malcolm's List B–; The Princess D+ — LG
Sundays on HBO (streaming on HBO Max)
I will stick with Westworld until the bitter end — and at this point, I assume the end will be very bitter, indeed. After a catastrophically silly third season, the sci-fi series returns with yet another reset that shuffles characters in unexpected, uniformly boring directions. Years after the demolition of the nefarious giant human-controlling computer balls, Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and Caleb (Aaron Paul) reunite for a new mission. They're working against the machinations of William (Ed Harris), who is actually a robot duplicate now, and Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), who is a robot duplicate with someone else's brain. Meanwhile, Evan Rachel Wood plays a new (?) character named Christina, a video-game writer who meets the strangest people. Something's going on with a thing called the Tower. Something else is going on with a lot of scary flies.
Back in season 1, co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan adapted Michael Crichton's original movie into a vibrant multi-layered future universe, full of complex motivations and hot-blooded emotions. I don't know why they have worked so hard to turn their show into the limpest possible Blade Runner remix — and I don't understand why actor James Marsden returned after his season 2 escape. Newton is the only performer having any fun at all, while poor Jeffrey Wright is basically playing Season 8 Bran. Meanwhile, Thompson gets syndicated-villain lines like "She could be useful to me yet!" I've seen half the season, and one of the twists is so hysterically silly it's almost genius. Seriously, though: This is now a Scary Fly show. I'd say it's time for Westworld to die, but on Westworld nobody ever dies, they just return constantly as shabby imitations of their old selves. So actually, maybe it died already? Grade: D+ —DF
Wednesday, July 6 (Hulu)
If the creators of How I Met Your Mother had decided to make Ted Mosby clairvoyant, the result might have been something like Maggie. As with HIMYM, this pleasant sitcom about a psychic thirtysomething single is more enjoyable when it focuses on the titular character's friends.
Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse) has always been able to see the future — all she needs to do is touch another person, and key moments in their lives unfold via a quick-cut montage. "I'm not a relationship person," she announces in the series premiere, because everyone on a show about dating says something like this in the series premiere. To be fair, Maggie also knows how a relationship ends before it even begins — it's an occupational hazard. But when she does a reading for a flirty guy named Ben (David Del Rio), her anti-love resolve begins to weaken.
Created by Justin Adler and Maggie Mull (Life in Pieces) and developed for ABC before moving to Hulu, Maggie shows flashes of idiosyncratic appeal under its mainstream exterior. A decent amount of credit goes to the ensemble cast, including Angelique Cabral and Leonardo Lam as carefree (and crypto-wealthy) soulmates; Ray Ford as Maggie's glamorous mentor, Angel; and Superstore's Nichole Sakura, who puts a daffy spin on every punchline as Maggie's spirited bestie Louise. ("Ooh, I love vintage self-help books. I just miss when they used to tell you to change your personality instead of, like, honoring it.")
Maggie and Ben's relationship journey follows a well-trodden will-they-won't-they sitcom path (with a few telepath twists thrown in), so it's largely up to her pals — and her parents, played by expert weirdos Chris Elliott and Kerry Kenney-Silver — to bring the quirk. Maggie is more cute than funny, but if Hulu gives it space to develop a vision, this show could have a future. Grade: B–