New releases this week feature Vin Diesel returning to a franchise–again, M. Night Shyamalan trying to return to prominence and the true story of McDonalds.
1. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (Paramount, 3,651 Theaters, 107 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer at press time: 41% fresh [39 reviews]): Vin Diesel is making a habit of returning to franchises he left. If you recall, he took a couple Fast and Furious films off before coming back, and now he returns to this franchise 11 years after his character, Xander Cage, was killed off in the last installment.
Did I say killed off? Sorry, he only faked his death. But now, there is a mission so important that he needs to come out of hiding.
Now, the world is a different place than it was in 2005, let alone 2002. The last film was essentially a flop and extreme sports’ popularity has plateaued. Diesel is a draw, but is he big enough of one to being this franchise back to life?
2. Split (Universal, 3,037 Theaters, 117 Minutes, PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer at press time: 78% fresh [92 reviews]): Okay, be honest. How many of you out there saw this film’s ads and thought it had potential right up until M. Night Shyamalan’s name came on the screen? Did you then let out a collective groan when you saw it? I did.
He had the makings of being the next artistic genre director, the next Alfred Hitchcock if you will. Then he took advantage of the audiences willingness to suspend their belief (aliens allergic to water come to a planet cover in the stuff? Sure! A village out of time hidden in a Pennsylvania State park? Okay? A water sprite living in a condominium’s pool? Um…I guess so. Plants trying to kill humans? Come on now! White actors in Asian roles? No…that’s just wrong! A thinly-veiled ad for Scientology? That’s enough!) to such a point that most people had the same reaction as the one I described above whenever they saw his name.
But Shyamalan has rebranded himself as a horror director and seems to be making a comeback. 2015’s The Visit got him better reviews than he had in a while and this one has better than expected reviews considering the premise (playing a man with 24 personalities–including a superstrong cannibalistic beast–must have been a blast for James McAvoy to play, but it’s not that easy to swallow from a plot perspective). Is Shyamalan back? Maybe.
But one final, completely different thing for you to think about. This is a film about a person who kidnaps young girls so they can be cannibalized as a ritual sacrifice…and its only rated PG-13!?!! Was the MPAA sleeping when they handed out the rating?
3. The Founder (Opening wide, The Weinstein Company, 1,115 Theaters, 115 Minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer at press time: 82% fresh [95 reviews]): I love Michael Keaton, and I think he can play any role you throw at him, but I think he’s best when he’s playing the schemer. Be it Night Shift, Beetlejuice or even Mr. Mom or Gung Ho, he excels as a man with a plan, and typically one where it benefits himself more than others.
He’s playing a schemer in this one, but a real person this time. Do you know of Ray Kroc? He’s the guy who started McDonald’s, right? Wrong. This film tells the true story of McDonalds and Ray Kroc, and it has to be seen to be believed.
This film is opening wide after being in limited release. If you are at all curious at all about how McDonald’s went from one diner to having a location in every city on Earth, then this one is for you.
Next week, we round out January with what promises to be the end of a long franchise, a balding Matthew McConaughey, and a film that has received some unwanted controversy.