Movies & TV Series

Back to the Future Part III (1990): Movie Review

One of the most touching moments in the entire Back to the Future Trilogy comes about halfway through Part III when Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty (Michael J. Fox) get their picture taken in front of the brand new clock, which will soon sit atop the new town courthouse. If there is one image that ties the three movies together, it is that clock; and seeing the two of them standing beside it in its infancy, reminds us what it is all about: time.

This installment takes place right where the second film left off. A bolt of lightning has zapped Doc and the DeLorean back to the old west. Right after the incident, Marty receives a letter from Doc, saying how he is alive and well, living happily as a blacksmith in the year 1885. He has no intentions of ever leaving 1885 and has left instructions to fix the time machine (which he left buried in an abandoned mine) only to get Marty home to 1985. However, when Marty discovers a gravestone saying that Doc will be killed less than a week after he wrote the letter, he decides he has no choice but to travel back in time and save his friend’s life.

Getting him out of 1885 should be easy, right? Just crank the DeLorean up to 88mph and “poof” they’re home. The solution is not so easy, however, because Marty has punctured the fuel tank and gas is not readily available in 1885. Now Marty and Doc must avoid the dangerous Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), while finding a way to get their car up to speed.

Back to the Future Part III may lack the immediacy of the original film and the wacky time paradoxes of the second, but it is probably the most playful and fun of all three films. In many ways, the film works as a spoof of Hollywood westerns. Director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale must have had a lot of fun coming up with ways to both poke fun at and pay homage to the deceased genre. Little did they know that thanks to movies like Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven, the genre was about to make a comeback.

Many of their best gags come at the expense of Clint Eastwood (in good humor of course), whose name Marty uses as an alias. “If you don’t go out there . . . everybody everywhere will say Clint Eastwood is the biggest yellow-belly in the west” has to be the most ironically funny line in the entire trilogy. You probably didn’t notice, but the two movies playing at the drive-in where Marty departs for the Old West were playing movies in which young Clint Eastwood had bit parts.

Part III also introduces a new love in Doc Brown’s life, the sweet schoolmarm Clara played perfectly by Mary Steenburgen. Steenburgen plays the role with a perfect balance of intelligent woman and love struck girl. Meanwhile, Christopher Lloyd proves that he has the acting chops to play a romantic character, something that has never been explored in any of his other films.

Part III is not all in-jokes and romance, however, and the movie doesn’t fail to stage its fair share of rousing action. The signature sequence, of course, is the final push to get the DeLorean up to 88mph. The threat of the incomplete bridge adds another dimension to the suspense. Suddenly are characters are dealing with time and space.

Back to the Future Part III is a worthy ending to one of Hollywood’s best trilogies. I give it an A-.

Movies & TV Series

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002): Some Facts of This Movie

There are so many things wrong with this movie that it is hard to know where to start. How about with the title? Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever might as well have just been called Ballistic, because there is not much Ecks vs. Sever to it. In fact, for most of the movie it is Ecks and Sever.

Antonio Banderas plays Jeremiah Ecks, a former FBI agent who now spends the majority of his time drinking away it bars. Suddenly his old boss comes in and informs him that his wife—whom he thought dead—is still alive. Meanwhile, a former DIA agent named Sever (Lucy Liu) has kidnapped the son of one Robert Gant (Gregg Henry), her former boss whom it turns out is trying to smuggle an assassination device into Vancouver. The film’s location of Vancouver is another problem. Where is the Canadian government and why are they letting two American government agencies riddle their city with bullets and explosions?

Bullets and explosions is all this movie really has to offer. There are two sequences that seem to serve as the crux of the story. One begins with DIA agents on the trail of Sever, who retaliates by destroying an entire city block. There are many times when Sever could get away, but she always stops so she could blow more things up. Not only is this a poor excuse to blow things up, but it makes the comment “she is not a killer, she is a mother” all the more ridiculous.

The second sequence takes place near the end of the film, when Ecks and Sever team up to destroy what seems to be an abandoned train depot. Every train in the yard is destroyed in monstrous fireballs, yet I find myself starting to doze off. There is no interest generated in the characters and no excitement. Giant explosions just aren’t enough to compensate.

Lucy Liu and Antonio Banderas would make excellent action heroes, but unfortunately they aren’t given anything to work with here. Action movies are designed to be simple, fun entertainment (ala Die Hard and Indiana Jones) but there is no fun here. Not only do Liu and Banderas never offer any good one-liners, but they don’t even offer a smile.

Director Kaos (Wych Kaosayananda) seems too concerned with imitating the styles of John Woo, The Wachowski brother and Michael Bay that he fails to give us anything we haven’t seen before . . . many times. I give it a D-.

Movies & TV Series

Better Luck Tomorrow (2003): Some Things You Might Want to Know

Directed by Justin Lin

Starring Parry Shen, Jason J. Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, Karin Anna Cheung

It’s true that Justin Lin’s new film Better Luck Tomorrow is a movie about high school students facing various coming-of-age decisions, but don’t be mistaken, this is no Brat Pack movie. This movie has a lot more in common with the films of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, than John Hughes.

The movie’s opening even reminded me of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, as two high school students Ben (Parry Shen) and Virgil (Jason J. Tobin) discover a dead body buried in the back yard. “You never forget the sight of your first dead body,” says Ben in narration. The film then flashes back four months previous to reveal the chain of events that led up to the murder. We learn that Ben and Virgil are over-achievers whose high school life seems to revolve around activities that will look good on their college applications. High school comes easy for Ben and Virgil (the question of Ivy League schools is not if, but which one), which breeds boredom; and boredom breeds mischief. Along with fellow over-achievers Han (Sung Kang) and Daric (Roger Fan), they first start selling cheat sheets, and eventually move on to bigger and badder things including theft, drugs and worse. While Ben’s criminal activities continue to escalate, a romance seems to be developing between him and his school crush Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung), unfortunately she is involved with a rich student from another school (aren’t they all?).

The love story surrounding Ben and Stephanie is charming, but this is not a lovey-dovey movie. Director Justin Lin instead focuses on what happens when teenagers—particularly intelligent and ambitious ones—are not given any guidance, or even any attention (“as long as our grades were there, no one cared”). There are no parents to be found in this movie. In fact, the only adults in the movie anywhere are a few of the school’s teachers (including Leave it to Beaver’s Jerry Mathers) and they more or less exist as background.

Of course, a lot is going to be said of the film’s largely Asian-American cast, but race is not really essential to the plot. Aside from a few one-liners (“so this is where the Asians hang out.” “Yeah, the library was closed.”), Lin doesn’t draw any attention to race. These could be any high school students. In fact, many of the characters reminded me of people I went to school with, which makes me wonder what was going on behind the scenes of my own high school.

A lot of this recognition is due to excellent acting on the part of the mostly unknown cast. I was particularly impressed with Parry Shen who, despite being almost 30 when the film was made, seems to fit perfectly as the honor student led astray by greed, excitement and boredom.

The movie does move very deliberately, slowly building to a climax that seems anti-climactic and the ending leaves a lot of holes not filled in, but I thought it was an intelligent and well made film. I give it a B.

Movies & TV Series

Before Sunset (2004): Movie Review

There are some movies that I watch with a kind of cheesy grin on my face; movies I am enjoying so much that I just can’t hide it. Director Richard Linklater’s 1995 romance Before Sunrise was one such movie and, I’m delighted to say, so is his 2004 follow-up Before Sunset.

Sunrise introduced us to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who met on the train and spent one glorious evening together in Vienna before they had to return home in the morning; her to France, him to the U.S. They hadn’t exchanged phone numbers, addresses or even last names, but left each other only with the promise that they would meet again in Vienna in six months.

Sunset picks up nine years later. Jesse is in Paris promoting his new book—based on their one night together—when he looks up to find Celine. Their time together this encounter is even shorter. Instead of the entire evening, they have only one hour until he must catch his flight back to the states. They spend that time wandering around Paris talking about everything from politics to sex, slowly working their way up to asking the questions they’ve wanted to ask for the last nine years.

The idea seems simple and some may find it boring and a little talkee, but those who enjoy good dialogue and character driven romances will really enjoy. A good barometer is to watch the original. If you like Sunrise it’s a cinch you’ll love Sunset, but if you did not like the original, then you are not likely to enjoy the sequel.

One of the things I liked most about Before Sunrise was that I felt I was watching a real romance develop between two real people; not actors. The same can be said about Sunset, aided by the fact that both Hawke and Delpy wrote much of their dialogue themselves. Yet, the movie is not so much about what they say, but how they say it. Mannerisms and body language play a big part in this movie.

So, the burning question: do Jesse and Celine stay together this time? I do not dare to reveal the answer here except to say that the movie ended on a perfect note. I would love to watch a third chapter in another nine years. I give this movie an A.

Movies & TV Series

Anger Management (2003): Some Facts of This Movie

Starring Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, John Turturro, Luis Guzman

Pairing Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson in a movie called Anger Management was a stroke of genius. Unfortunately the filmmakers failed to meet the potential of the idea and the result is a run-of-the-mill Sandler movie that just so happens to co-star Jack Nicholson.

Sandler stars as Dave Buznik, a meek New York businessman who has never been able to stand up for himself. He continues to sit by quietly by while his boss takes credit for all his business ideas, including one involving a clothing line for fat cats (literally). Dave is the type of man that anger management therapist Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson) would describe as ‘implosive’.

“Explosive is the kind of individual that you see screaming at the cashier for not taking their coupons; implosive is the cashier, who remains quiet day after day and finally shoots everyone in the store.”

Dave meets Dr. Rydell on a business trip where he is preposterously accused of assaulting a flight attendant and sentenced to anger management therapy with the good doctor.

Adam Sandler movies tend to run hot and cold with me. For example, I loved Happy Gilmore, but I hated Waterboy. Last year I took the opposite view of most critics, laughing all the way through Mr. Deeds while not being all that impressed with Punch-Drunk Love. Anger Management tends to fall about in the middle of the Sandler hit list.

The movie is just about as stupid as they get, but I found myself laughing a lot and, let’s face it, the point of comedies is to make us laugh. Sandler and Nicholson are effective. They both seem happy to go crazy after toning it down in Punch-Drunk Love and About Schmidt, respectively. I thought the two played well off of each other, and really wish the filmmakers would have done more with the apartment sharing. I thought that presented a perfect opportunity for Odd Couple-ish hilarity.

The movie is filled wall to wall with celebrity cameos including Woody Harrelson (as a drag queen), Heather Graham (as a hot Red Sox fan), John C. Reilly (as a monk), John Turturro and Luis Guzman (as two of Buddy’s patients) and anger management punch lines Bobby Knight and John McEnroe. I’ve heard many critics complain that cameos are comedy desperation, but I enjoy cameos, particularly in a wacky comedy like this. However, I must admit that the corny ending featuring Rudy Giuliani is going a little too far (Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter get a good laugh though).

For anyone hoping Adam Sandler’s career might be going the path of Punch-Drunk Love, you might want to avoid this one. But for those hoping of a return to form, you will probably enjoy it. I give it a B-.

Movies & TV Series

The Apartment (1960): Some Facts of This Movie

Nothing is more painful for a guy to hear from a woman he has feelings for than that line from Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic The Apartment and that is one of the reasons this movie breaks my heart every time I watch it. It also breaks my heart because this farcical drama is one of the most brutally honest stories of love in the modern world.

The Apartment stars the late, great Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter, a cog in the machine of a large insurance company. Baxter works in a giant building that houses no less than 31,259 employees. A brilliant opening shot—an homage to director King Vidor’s 1928 film The Crowd—shows Baxter sitting on the 19th floor, desk 861, surrounded by hundreds of fellow employees in endless rows of desks. In a terrific opening narration, Baxter informs us that his floor’s shift ends at 5:20 pm—staggered by floor so the elevators can deal with the traffic of 31,259 employees—but that sometimes he stays an hour or two late at the office. It is not that he is overly ambitious; it’s just that he can’t always get into his cozy apartment.

Baxter has been loaning his apartment out to four of his superiors for their extramarital affairs in exchange for the promise of promotion. His neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) believes that all the amorous noises he hears through the walls is Baxter himself and asks if he would be willing to donate his body to the Columbia Medical Center when he dies. Forced to sleep on a Central Park bench because one of his supervisors is wooing a woman who “looks like Marilyn Monroe,” Baxter arrives at work the next morning with a cold and in a terrifically comic scene—no one plays cold symptoms better than Lemmon—shuffles his bosses’ affairs around so he can have a good night’s sleep.

On his way up to the nineteenth floor, Baxter chats with the elevator operator, Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), a lovely young woman that he has growing feelings for. Baxter finally gets the courage up to ask Miss Kubelik out when he is given two tickets that evening for a stage production of “The Music Man.” Unfortunately these tickets were given to Baxter by the big boss Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) in exchange for the use of his apartment and unbeknownst to Baxter, Miss Kubelik is the woman who will be escorting the boss.

Up to this point, the film has been little more than a satire on office politics, but here it takes a serious dramatic turn. After learning the Miss Kubelik is the woman that has been sharing his bed with Sheldrake, Baxter heads to a local bar—on Christmas Eve no less—to drown his sorrows and winds up in the arms of another woman. After taking this woman back to his apartment—“might as well go to mine, everyone else does”—Baxter is alarmed to find Miss Kubelik lying in his bed accompanied by an empty bottle of sleeping pills. Kubelik saw no reason to live after Sheldrake’s secretary gave her the rundown on his revolving door of mistresses. With the help of Dr. Dreyfuss, Baxter is able to revive her, but the doctor orders her to stay there for 48 hours. It is over these 48 hours—or however many hours it was before her brother-in-law came to take her home and give Baxter a black eye—the attraction between the two begins to grow, although she admits that she is still hopelessly in love with a married man. Soon everyone has what they think they wanted—Baxter a cozy new 27th floor office, Kubelik a soon-to-be-divorced lover—but haven’t they discovered something better in life?

The Apartment was the last one hundred percent black and white film to win the Oscar for Best Picture (Schindler’s List had the little girl in the red dress) and it also took home awards for director, screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond), black and white art direction and film editing. Amazingly where the film failed to win was in the acting categories. Both Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated for their leading roles, as was Jack Kruschen for his supporting role as Dr. Dreyfuss. At least the director knew who he had to thank for the film’s success. When handed his Oscar for best picture, Wilder said that “it would only be proper to cut it in half and give it to the two most valuable players—Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.”

Lemmon gives the best performance of his career as C.C. Baxter. It was the film that first proved he could switch back and forth between farcical comedy and tragic drama in the same performance. Lemmon’s performance in The Apartment was sited by another actor with a talent for mixing comedy and drama when Kevin Spacey accepted his Oscar for American Beauty and watching the films together, you can definitely see not only the inspiration for Spacey’s performance, but for the entire 1999 Oscar winner. The Apartment was also a breakout for MacLaine, who had appeared mostly in light comedies in her five previous years of film work.

One of the film’s key elements that the Academy did recognize was its brilliantly constructed script. The brilliance in the construction was the way Wilder and Diamond built on lines and actions that occurred early in the film and used them again later. For example, Baxter’s repeated addition of “wise” to everything reminds us of one of his superiors, symbolizing the morally challenged ladder he is climbing (“you’re beginning to sound like Mr. Kirkeby already”). There is also an early seen in which Baxter holds up four fingers while speaking three, and the same is done by Kubelik later, while she is in his apartment.

The plot—with its many married men dashing off for their illicit affairs—of The Apartment must have been very risqué in 1960, still a good seven years before films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde would bring an end to the decency code and make way for the current ratings system. Controversial topics were nothing new for Billy Wilder, however, the man responsible for tackling alcoholism in 1945’s The Lost Weekend (also a best picture winner) and Hollywood in 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. Wilder seemed to have a definite talent for mixing a kind of dark, satirical comedy with less than reputable topics—murder in Double Indemnity (1944), gang violence in Some Like it Hot (1959) and prison camps in Stalag 17 (1953). In fact, he had already tackled adultery in The Seven Year Itch (1955).

The amazing thing about watching The Apartment today is how the film has not been dated one bit. Sure, it costs a little more than $85 a month to rent an apartment nowadays, but outside of that you could easily see this film taking place in modern day.

The Apartment ends, like Wilder’s previous film Some Like it Hot, with one of the best closing lines in movie history. “Shut up and deal” provided the film with an ending that managed to give the film a happy ending, while still maintaining the film’s toughness.

One of Hollywood’s greatest directors and greatest actors working at the top of their game help to make The Apartment a true classic and “that’s the way it crumbles; cookie-wise.” It gets an A+.

Movies & TV Series

American Wedding (2003): Some Known Facts of This Movie

I almost lost my popcorn.  The fact that I did not have any popcorn is probably the only reason I didn’t.  The raunchy American Pie series reaches the pinnacle of its gross-out history (as it should) in its third and—supposedly—final chapter, American Wedding.

A lot has changed since the first American Pie took multiplex audiences by a gross-out storm in 1999.  In fact, Alyson “This one time, at band camp” Hannigan is the only one of the lead female stars remaining from the original.  It’s a shame because have you seen Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth or Mena Suvari in anything elseof note lately?  The same can be said of the lone member of the guys who didn’t return, Chris Klein (Rollerball? Please).

The third movie, as you might expect, follows the wedding of Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Hannigan) from the embarrassing proposal to the ceremony that almost did not happen.  The wedding preparations take our characters through a gay bar dance-off, an encounter between in-laws and strippers, a distasteful new kind of cake icing and a ring caked in, um, “chocolate truffle.”  But I mean, hey, doesn’t everybody’s?

There are plenty of big laughs in this film and sometimes I almost fell out of my seat.  In fact, I laughed harder in this film than I did in either of the first two films.  Even when the film had me on the verge of losing my popcorn, I was still laughing my head off.

The only real problem that I had with the film was that it seemed to focus less on the couple getting married and more on the character of Stifler (Sean William Scott), despite Jim and Michelle’s efforts to not invite him.  I have a problem with this because I tend to find Stifler more annoying than funny, but fortunately he provides some of this film’s biggest laughs.

Also funny, as you would expect, is Eugene Levy as Jim’s Dad.  His advice scenes to Jim are some of the series’ most memorable moments and in this chapter he even gets to give advice to his new daughter-in-law.

There were times in American Wedding when I went for awhile without laughing, but the big laughs were more than enough to make up for it.  I give it a B+.

Movies & TV Series

Analyze That (2002): Some Known Facts of This Movie

Analyze That manages to keep the chemistry between Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal that made the first film, Analyze This, so funny, but fails to come up with a new and original story to go with it.

It has been a few years since Mob Boss Paul Vitti (DeNiro) first required the help of shrink Ben Sobel (Crystal). Vitti has been doing his time at Sing Sing, where he has become the prison’s most respected inmate, except that someone is now trying to kill him. To get out, he fakes mental illness, singing and dancing to West Side Story songs and then slipping into a catatonic state. Sobel is called in to evaluate. Sobel’s analysis of Vitti—whom he assumes is faking—is one of the film’s comic highlights (it even provides the best outtakes seen during the closing credits).  Convinced, the FBI leaves Vitti in Sobel’s custody. As soon as they are a stone’s throw away from the prison, Vitti returns to his former self.

The plot follows Vitti’s attempts to go legit. He begins as a car salesman (“look at the size of that trunk, you can fit three bodies in there”); tries his luck as a restaurant maitre d’ (where he tells Joe Torre that the Yankees will win the World Series this year); and then becomes a jewelry salesman (where he can’t help but think of ways to rob the place). The legit opportunity of a lifetime comes in the form of TV producer who offers Vitti a job as a consultant for a Sopranos-like TV show called “Little Caeser.” By this time, however, Vitti has become bored (and embarrassed) by the legit life and uses the TV show as a cover for a lavish heist.

Whereas the original movie’s plot seemed to flow nicely, this one seems forced. Although the film’s climactic heist played nicely, it never quite seems to fit. The scenes involving Vitti’s quest for work could have been a comic highlight of the film, but sadly most of the jokes fall flat. The same can be said for the sequences involving the TV show. Add to that, a running joke regarding Ben’s relationship to his recently deceased father runs out of gas way too early.

Such wasted opportunities keep Analyze That from becoming the laugh-out-loud comedy it could have been. Instead, we are left to chuckle at the comic teaming of De Niro and Crystal. The chemistry between the two keeps the movie enjoyable, despite the story problems. And it is hard not to enjoy De Niro’s singing of West Side Story songs. That’s right, that’s the Godfather singing “I feel pretty.”  I give it a B-.

Movies & TV Series

American Splendor (2003): Movie Review

So says Harvey Pekar, the main character/subject of the new film American Splendor.  Speaking of, this movie is pretty complex stuff itself. The film is part comic book movie, part biopic and part documentary, with a little bit of animation thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are able to bring it all together in such a concise way, that it is simple to follow, thus making it one of the most original and intriguing films of the year.

The movie sets up its tone from the very beginning. The first scene has us on a Halloween doorstep where five boys are lined up to receive their free treats.  Reading from right to left we have Superman, Batman, his sidekick Robin, the Green Lantern and . . . Harvey Pekar?  “That doesn’t sound like a superhero to me,” says the woman at the door.  Right off the bat the filmmakers are telling us that although this movie is based on a comic book, don’t expect to see any caped crusaders, web-slingers or men of steel.  “If you’re looking for a fantasy figure to save the day, guess what, you’ve got the wrong movie” Pekar’s narration tells us.

The film is narrated by the real Harvey Pekar and the movie introduces him to us through a series of comic book cells that come to life under the opening credits. Pekar than introduces us to himself, well, to “the guy who is playing me” Paul Giamatti. Every so often the film steps out of biopic form and into documentary with the filmmakers interviewing the real Harvey. There is even one great moment that starts as a scene performed by Giamatti and Judah Friedlander, who plays Harvey’s self-described nerd friend Toby Radloff, then we hear the director call cut and the actors take a short break while we witness a scene played by the real-life Harvey and Toby. This has got to be the first time two actors have ever shared a scene with the real persons they are portraying; and by that I mean playing themselves and not a cameo part (such as the real Erin Brockovich serving coffee to Julia Roberts).  It is a very odd moment, but it works very effectively for the film.

To give you a little background, Harvey Pekar was just a normal guy who worked as a file clerk for the VA Hospital, while collecting records and comic books. A chance encounter puts him in the company of famed comic illustrator Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak) and soon Crumb is illustrating Harvey’s comic book about his own life. The comic, titled “American Splendor,” became a cult fave, as did Harvey who became a regular on the David Letterman show until he blasted NBC’s parent company GE on the air. The film also follows his courtship—short and unusual as it was—and marriage to Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) as well as their struggles with his cancer.

American Splendor is a unique and entertaining film that is wonderfully written, directed and performed. Character actor Paul Giamatti (Man on the Moon; Big Momma’s House) finally gets a chance to carry a movie and he delivers an Oscar-caliber performance. The same can be said for Hope Davis, who also recently starred in the impressive The Secret Lives of Dentists. It is no surprise that American Splendor is the best reviewed movie of the year to date.  I give it an A-.

Movies & TV Series

Biker Boyz (2003): Some Known Facts of This Movie

Inspired by a story in the Los Angeles New Times, Biker Boyz introduces film audiences to the little known world of illegal motorcycle street racing. Based on the previews, the movie looks like The Fast and the Furious on two wheels instead of four; however, Boyz relies more on a sentimental father/son story than a thrilling crime plot.

For as long as anyone can remember, Smoke (Laurence Fishburne) has been the undisputed “King of Cali” when it comes to motorbike racing. A lot of his success is due to his mechanic Tariq (Eric La Salle), whose son Jaleel (nicknamed “Kid”) aspires to become a champion racer, just like Smoke. When his father dies in a freak racing accident (he wasn’t even racing), Kid (Antwone Fisher’s Derek Luke) becomes even more determined. He starts by hustling racers for money outside of Smoke’s territory. When he believes he is ready, he returns home and wastes no time making his challenge. To get to Smoke, however, he must first establish himself in the circuit. He starts his own racing club (called the “Biker Boyz,” what else) and starts working his way up through the street racing hierarchy.

As much as this movie strives to be another Fast and the Furious, its focus is off. Whereas Furious was content to be a drive ’em fast, crash ‘em and blow ‘em up movie, Boyz tries to be something it is not. The film’s sentimental story-line distracts from the movie’s promised action. The crashes are un-spectacular and the races themselves are rather straightforward. By going with a more straightforward racing picture, the film also loses the extra intrigue generated by Furious’s cops and robbers plotline.

The movie’s ending also proved very anti-climatic and far too overtly sentimental. I’m also still trying to figure out how everyone watches the final race from the start line, where they couldn’t possibly see the finish, but they still know who won. It seems like a shameless ploy to give its two stars time for a heart to heart.

Just as he did a few months ago in Antwone Fisher, Derek Luke proves he has the potential to become a big star. He doesn’t seem at all intimidated by big stars, going toe for toe with Fishburne, just as he did with Denzel Washington.

Biker Boyz has some good laughs and action, but I expected more thrills. I did enjoy Orlando Jones (as I usually do) as the biker Soul Train, who serves as both Smoke’s M.C. and Kid’s lawyer. I give Biker Boyz a C.