Archive for the Drama Category

The Woman King

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on September 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Woman King may rest on the conventional construction of established action epics, but it innovates with an eye-opening subject. This is the 1820s story of the Agojie, an all-female warrior tribe in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin), against their adversary, the Oyo Empire. The saga is epic in scale, has a fiery heart, and features rousing battles. In that sense, it shares an affinity with popular classics like Gladiator and Braveheart. Similarly, this narrative blends a healthy dose of fiction into its historical facts for exciting entertainment.

The chronicle is titled The Woman King for good reason. General Nanisca is indeed at the center of the account. Viola Davis is a commanding presence as the lead, radiating steely resolve while exhibiting vulnerability. A traumatic incident in her past becomes an emotional plot component. However, this journey feeds off an ensemble of tributaries into a mighty river of sisterhood. Shiela Atim portrays Amenza; a spiritual advisor turned fighter who also happens to be Nanisca’s close confidant. Thuso Mbedu stars as a brash, young recruit. Nawi’s rejection of an arranged marriage will lead to a tender examination of her life. In a pot violently boiling over with fierce women, the most ferocious is arguably Lashana Lynch as an assured lieutenant. Izogie’s charismatic personality blends humor with intensity. The woman has sharpened her fingernails into razor-sharp daggers, and she isn’t afraid to use them.

The men are less important in this account, but John Boyega is a crucial ingredient as King Ghezo. His subtly affected demeanor comes across as an individual to jeer. Ghezo’s prosperous rule benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade that flourished during his reign. The practice of selling Dahomey’s prisoners of war (and some of their own citizens) won’t win him any fans. His choice does not sit right with Nanisca, and it becomes a bone of contention. Also, in one of the more cheesy developments is the character of Malik (Jordan Bolger), a half-Portuguese, half-Dahomean explorer who struggles with his identity. This is where the element of soap opera takes over. His long hair and sculpted physique would be more at home on the contemporary cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

The sheer existence of the Agojie was an anomaly. Back then, European visitors referred to them as the “Dahomey Amazons” due to their similarities to the warrior women of Greek mythology. Even today, this concept is a revelation. They were the real-life inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The Woman King is one of those fascinating records that begs for more study. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees) maximizes the screenplay by Dana Stevens based on a story by Maria Bello. Prince-Bythewood understands how to present a compelling movie. This chapter of unexplored history might have felt didactic if not for the crisp, explicit fight scenes choreographed by Daniel Hernandez (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame). They feel immediate and grounded in reality. The thrilling combat takes this informative tale to the next level into captivating popcorn entertainment. Learning can be fun!



Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on September 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disney’s reliance on making live-action versions of their animated films really kicked into high gear during the 2010s decade. As a movie critic, I approach every remake for what it is — rather than what I think it should be. I’ve been more forgiving than most. I tolerated their critically reviled (but monetarily successful) reworkings of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and The Lion King to give them mildly positive reviews. However, the first five animated releases from Walt Disney Studios represent some of the greatest ever made, so the standard is admittedly higher when replicating these classics. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, are sacred. Incidentally, 2019’s Dumbo was a dreary slog. Pinocchio isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still a hollow shell of an adventure.

To its credit, Pinnochio — adapted from a screenplay by director Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz — at least duplicates the basic plot of the original. The main character (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) does look appealing too. The developments show some loyalty to the source material. Yet there is more to art than accurately recreating the scenes using CGI and human actors. The characters need to engage our emotions. There must be some joy, some spark that unites the production and makes us care. CGI is unnecessarily used to replicate everything from Geppetto’s pets Figaro and Cleo to a titan of the sea, Monstro. I get that a real whale would have been hard to tame, but why couldn’t they get an actual cat or goldfish? Tom Hanks doesn’t embody Geppetto with sincerity either. His goofily exaggerated performance reaches a zenith in one scene. Geppetto’s shock at discovering his wooden puppet can walk and talk on its own is an excessive display that would be an embarrassment coming from a first-year acting student, let alone a talent with two Oscars and over four decades of experience.

Director Robert Zemeckis makes some misguided choices. The filmmaker relies on self-referential humor, which takes you out of this movie as it promotes others. Geppetto is a wood carver that makes cuckoo clocks based on properties that Disney owns. Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit timepieces honor the studio while referencing Woody, the toy Hanks voiced and a feature that Zemekis directed. A minor quibble, but the decisions get more egregious. I get that Pinnochio is naive and there are ways to illustrate this amusingly. Showing a closeup of horse droppings that Pinnchio approaches and then sniffs is not one of them. When Pinocchio ultimately gets to Pleasure Island, it’s meant to be a decadent isle full of illegal activities like drinking beer, chewing tobacco, and smoking cigars. None of that happens. In this account, boys and girls drink root beer, eat candy, and light fireworks in a theme park. I’m sorry, but how is this sanitized depiction any different from what goes on at Disneyland every day of the year? When the children transform into donkeys, the computer rendering is garish. It’s grotesque but because the image is implausible and ridiculous — not due to its inherent scariness.

What more is there to say? Pinocchio is a redundant, soulless recreation that dutifully mimics the plot points but without the charm, wit, or spirit. I could go on, but doing so would be simply beating a dead horse…or in this case, a donkey.


Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hopefully, one day Regina Hall will win an Oscar. Pity that she’s never even garnered a nomination. Hall has consistently been a standout in most productions she blesses with her presence. I enjoyed her work in The Best Man, Scary Movie, Think Like a Man, Girls Trip, Support the Girls, and The Hate U Give. Hall’s latest triumph is a highlight of her career. She co-stars as one half of a married duo who runs a Southern Baptist megachurch.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is essentially a two-hander anchored by a pair of hypnotic performances. Sterling K. Brown is Lee-Curtis Childs, and Regina Hall is his devoted wife, Trinitie. Together they once served a congregation in the tens of thousands. A scandal involving Lee-Curtis forces their church to close temporarily. The couple has opened their life to a documentary filmmaker to record their ostensible comeback. The two are determined to succeed like a phoenix rising from the ashes. This film invites us to laugh at their attempt. Actress Nicole Beharie as Shakura Sumpter and actor Conphidance as her husband Keon deserve a mention as rival pastors who comprise a fascinating subplot.

There’s no question that Brown and notably Hall rise to the occasion. Their depictions are a mesmerizing achievement that captivates the audience’s attention. The problem is that the screenplay by director Adamma Ebo (her sister Adanne is a producer) is so utterly generic and superficial in its handling of the material. Targets include the excessive wealth of churches that serve the poor and a contradictory sermon to spread God’s love but not THAT kind of love. Wait, a religious leader isn’t as holy as they profess to be? Dear Lord that is the most predictable take I could have expected.

Consider for a moment that a man of God might show a sincere commitment to the glory of the creator. Coming on the heels of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, it’s hard not to make comparisons. That film showed nuance as it elicited compassion for its protagonists. Here the characters are broadly drawn caricatures. Lee-Curtis Childs is an irredeemable charlatan that preens about in expensive suits and flirts inappropriately with the help. It is a testament to Hall’s talent that she — in contrast — manages to engender some sympathy along with the requisite contempt. “Why are you supporting this horrible person?” is the overriding feeling in one scene after another. Don’t get me wrong. Honoring your marriage is an admirable aspiration. Matthew 19:6 states: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Yet this movie managed to make me question that edict.


Three Thousand Years of Longing

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Romance with tags on August 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disappointment, thy name is Three Thousand Years of Longing. Director George Miller’s film had all the ingredients to be one of my favorites of the summer. The auteur is the orchestrator behind the beloved Mad Max franchise. Additionally, Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are two of our era’s most unique actors. The juxtaposition of these two introspective personalities could only produce sparks, right? Somehow the chasm between idea and execution was vast.

Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) recounts a narrative of her life which she will render as a fantasy. She is a scholar of mythology. While in Istanbul to deliver a talk, she discovers a glass bottle in an antique shop. A fellow professor (Erdil Yasaroglu) suggests another item. Yet she is fascinated by the object, so he purchases it for her. While cleaning the bottle in her quarters, she unleashes a djinn (Idris Elba) from the lamp. The genie has the power to grant three wishes, but Alithea is skeptical. Despite his offer, she clings tightly to the mantra “Be careful what you wish for.”

The foundation sets the stage for the djinn to recount four separate yarns. The result should’ve been a thrilling journey. Unfortunately, the picture is a lethargic story about telling meandering stories. The spirit regales us with tales of his life that include queens, princes, and the like. Themes of love and desire untie them all. Yet his reflections fail to maintain interest. It doesn’t help that they’re all conveyed in a hotel room which gives the production an oddly claustrophobic feel. The CGI-enhanced depictions have their moments. Some elements hint at the excitement of Universal’s costumed adventure epics made in the 1940s, like Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. However, the reflective interactions between Swinton and Elba dazzle far more than the special effects.

George Miller has fashioned a somber fable about discourse, or more specifically — two people talking in a restrictive space while wearing plush white terry cloth bathrobes provided by the establishment. Mad Max Fury Road is one of the most exciting action movies of the last decade. Some would say ever. It’s been seven years since Miller’s previous outing, so expectations were admittedly elevated. This passive meditation couldn’t be more different. Even the director himself dubbed his work “anti-Mad Max.” Respect for attempting a project made for personal reasons and not commercial success. The supernatural romance had a $60 million budget and made $2.9 million in its opening weekend. The only magic I experienced in this mystical tribute to storytelling was as a soporiferous drug that worked its spell on me as I struggled to stay awake.


Orphan: First Kill

Posted in Crime, Drama, Horror with tags on August 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In 2009, Orphan was the umpteenth offshoot of The Bad Seed. That 1956 movie started the “evil child genre,” which would inspire classics like Village of the DamnedRosemary’s BabyThe Exorcist, and The Omen.   Orphan didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, so it certainly wasn’t something I thought would ever garner a sequel. I suspect it was largely forgotten save for a cult following until now. Despite its connection to the earlier installment, Orphan: First Kill is a standalone account. Except for the titular soul, none of the individuals from Orphan appear in this chronicle. It’s also a prequel, so I’d suggest that you’d best start with this chapter if you haven’t seen the first. In fact, do yourself a favor and skip the inferior 2009 film altogether. Even the critical and audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes support my opinion.

Orphan First Kill cleverly retrofits the foundation of the previous saga and surpasses the original. In this intro, Leena Klammer is a 33-year-old woman with a rare degenerative hormone disorder that causes dwarfism. The woman looks like a 9-year-old child. Leena is also a violent patient imprisoned in an Estonian mental asylum who has no conscience and lacks remorse. Leena escapes from the facility and tricks an unsuspecting family into thinking she is their long-lost daughter Esther Albright, who went missing four years prior. Mom Tricia (Julia Stiles), Dad Allen (Rossif Sutherland), and their teen son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) welcome her home, although skepticism arises.

For slightly over half of this brisk 99-minute movie, there is a predictability to every development that hampered my enthusiasm. David Coggeshall’s screenplay is based on a story by Alex Mace and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Initially, I mockingly enjoyed anticipating the likely outcomes. “Esther is hiding in that room,” I thought when newly arrived art therapy instructor Anna (Gwendolyn Collins) is locked in a confined space to keep her safe from the murderous Leena. “Now she’s in the trunk!” when Anna later drives away. It goes on and on like this. Then something happens at the 54-minute mark (I hit pause to verify) that is so unforeseeable that I stared at the screen in shock. It was as if the screenplay slapped me in the face and declared, “Just kidding! This is the real story.” From that point on, I was invested.

The production mines an unsettling milieu. Cinematographer Karim Hussain (Possessor) admirably contributes to the eerie mood. The engineers creatively disguise 25-year-old actress Isabel Fuhrman to make her appear more believable as the child she’s pretending to be. Forced perspective and body doubles (Kennedy Irwin and Sadie Lee) assist in the ruse. Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles are talented actors. They elevate their characters with compelling performances. Sadly the climax ultimately falls victim to more hackneyed convention. Still, the middle section redeems this entertaining thriller.



Posted in Adventure, Drama, Horror with tags on August 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) ) is a single father who takes his two young daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries ), to a wildlife preserve in South Africa. While there, they are confronted by a ferocious lion determined to kill everyone and everything in sight. I don’t want to dismiss Beast as Jaws but with a feline, but that is basically the setup.

Man vs. nature can be the the foundation for a very entertaining film. “When animals attack” comprises a whole genre of cinema. Beast is nowhere near as outstanding as The Birds, but it’s decidedly more refined than the 1999 killer crocodile flick Lake Placid. Apparently, the lion is out for revenge because poachers murdered the rest of his pride. That’s a stretch. An untamed animal would never behave this way. Nevertheless, I was captivated by the various confrontations. There is a bit more drama than just a cat run amok. For one thing, Idris plays a father whose wife has recently passed from illness, so there are some unresolved tensions with his daughters. Sharlto Copley (District 9, Maleficent) also appears a wildlife biologist who is an old friend of Nate’s.

Beast is a competent thriller, a simple story efficiently told. I like that the movie knows exactly what it is – an uncomplicated shocker designed to produce thrills. As such, it was a brilliant decision to edit it down to a mere 90 minutes. Anything longer would be unnecessary. The MVP of this picture are the talenetd team in the sound department. We are frequently subjected to jump scares where the sound is so loud I literally jumped in my seat. Usually, I find those kinds of surprises a cheap way to elicit frights, but they are effective nonetheless. I’d be lyin’ if I said this was innovative, but it’s still a roaring good time.



Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on August 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

In 1719 a young Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) is underestimated as a hunter by her tribe. She tags along with the band of boys to hunt a lion. They dismiss her with a “Who invited you? We won’t be gone long enough to need a cook.” Yet she persists. They soon discover that perhaps there is an even greater threat than the lion in their midst.

“Humans hunted by an intruder” doesn’t qualify as the foundation for a masterpiece in my book, but admittedly it’s all in how you present the idea. Prey is the fifth entry (not including the two Alien vs. Predator films) of the Predator series. At first, the title and drastic change in setting suggest a complete reinvention of the franchise. The action occurs on the Great Plains within the grounds of the Stoney Nakoda Nation in Alberta, Canada, and Calgary’s Moose Mountain and Elbow River. On-location shooting makes excellent use of these stunning locales.

This prequel combines science fiction with a Native American backdrop involving touches that scream linguistic authenticity. Director Mel Gibson was lauded for having actors speak Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic for The Passion of the Christ. Likewise, this story has dialogue in the Camanche language. There’s a significant portion in contemporary English too. In addition to the alien menace, Naru and her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) must contend with hostile French fur trappers in this anti-colonialist tale. When the tribespeople are captured and tied to a tree, Naru recounts a fable where a beaver chewed off its own leg to be free. After suggesting she might do the same, she quips in a modern accent more appropriate to the San Fernando Valley, “I’m smarter than a beaver.” If this was 2022 and Naru was on Twitter. #girlboss Note: Prey is also available in an alternate all-Comanche dub on Hulu.

Gorgeous cinematography (Jeff Cutter is the director of photography) and a gender-swapped role of the lead are the unique elements in this Predator movie. When 20th Century Fox unleashed the first chapter upon the public in 1987, the film was dismissed as an Alien clone. Over the years, its reputation has grown among the cognoscenti. The latest installment is being hailed as the “best sequel since John McTiernan’s original.” That’s a pretty low bar. I’ll admit director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) shows impressive restraint. Nevertheless, the buildup to actually seeing the creature is so gradual that it’s frustrating. We don’t even witness the predator (former professional basketball player Dane DiLiegro) clearly until fully halfway into the picture. He’s portrayed as a translucent blur accompanied by chittering sounds. The beast finally becomes perceptible when covered in blood after he attacks a bear. Not many surprises in this violent game of “kill or be killed” which ultimately limps to an inevitable conclusion. Apparently, extraterrestrials underestimate women just like their human counterparts.


Jerry & Marge Go Large

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Drama with tags on July 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Books often inspire movies, but I’m intrigued when factual stories can trace their humble origins to nonfiction articles. My mind immediately goes to “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” a 1976 essay by British rock journalist Nik Cohn that was the basis for Saturday Night Fever. More recently The Bling Ring traced its roots to “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, and Hustlers was derived from “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler. Now we’ve got a new example. Jerry & Marge Go Large is a fascinating true tale based on Jason Fagone’s 2018 Huffington Post piece of the same name, and it’s charming.

A Michigan couple figured out how to beat the lottery. Recently retired Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) is a math whiz. While going through a brochure describing the details of the Winfall lottery, he discovers a mathematical flaw within the game. The sweepstake’s pool “rolls down” whenever the jackpot remains unclaimed. Subsequent prizes are smaller but easier to win in those weeks. As long as you buy enough tickets afterward, you are guaranteed a win greater than the money spent according to probability.

Discovering how to beat the lottery was difficult, but carrying out the plan was even more challenging. This would require a large sum of money. Simply buying that many tickets and then manually scanning them all for winning numbers would also involve a significant amount of time. The thing is, Jerry and his wife Marge (Annette Bening) had nothing but time on their hands. They invited everyone they knew to invest, so their little venture wasn’t so small. The endeavor became a corporation, and the profits benefited the entire town. In a late development, Tyler Langford emerges as an undergrad at Harvard who also figures out the Winfall loophole. Actor Uly Schlesinger plays a smirking and condescending villain. He goes toe to toe with the Selbees to put them out of business.

This account is an uplifting slice of life. The saga is all the more enchanting because this really happened. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening are refreshingly plain-spoken and pragmatic as the titular duo. Yet the pair is far from cloying. Jerry Selbee, in particular, lacks warmth. He’s a man more comfortable with numbers than people. These qualities subvert a quaint tale about older adults that could have veered into mawkish sentimentality. Nevertheless, Jerry still sweetly flatters his wife with, “I won the jackpot before we even started.” Ultimately their strong marriage and commitment to the community make an impression. The good vibes linger after the film is over. In this day and age, any production that dares tell a compelling story about people in their 60s is a bold decision.

Jerry & Marge Go Large has been exclusively available to Paramount+ subscribers since June 17. It has remained the #1 movie in the U.S. on that platform for the better part of a month. Distribution to other channels and streaming services is expected.



Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on July 16, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Psst!! Do you want to know a secret? The key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is — instead of what you think it should be. This simple advice can be extrapolated to movie reviews too. Film adaptations based on a famous novel are often subjected to rigid preconceived demands. Persuasion is based on the work published in 1817 by Jane Austen. It was the last thing she wrote, and while not as famous as Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, the volume does have a maturity not found in her earlier texts.

Persuasion is a work about manners. A polite demeanor can be a facade for moral shortcomings. As such, the nuances of the time period are challenging to convey to a modern audience. Oh, but this reconstruction tries. Dakota Johnson stars as Anne Elliot, and Cosmo Jarvis portrays Captain Wentworth. Both are single and unattached. They were once engaged in the distant past, but Anne was encouraged by family and friends to end the relationship. They meet again after a seven-year separation, setting the scene for a second chance at love.

The story is set around a series of clumsy encounters. Anne and Frederick are clearly smitten, but their interactions are awkward. Director Carrie Cracknell affirms period detail and costumes, but not Jane Austen’s language. The dialogue — in a screenplay adapted by Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow — has been gently updated. “It’s often said if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.” Critics savaged this update for its modern sensibilities. Yet I did not find the expressions irksome. The reinvention of the language is subtle. I am forgiving of such things. Full disclosure. I have not read the book, so I do not have a slavish devotion to the original text.

Yet the saga — as presented here — is not compelling. Anne is frequently seen glugging back wine or breaking the fourth wall. She often looks directly into the camera to signal when she finds a character’s behavior preposterous. That approach might be endearing coming from Jim Halpert on the TV series The Office, but it doesn’t serve a 19th-century heroine in a Jane Austin novel. Furthermore, the erratic fluctuations of the characters’ desires make no sense. When potential suitor William Elliott (Henry Golding) capriciously redirects his flirtations to another woman at the end, it’s a baffling development that demands an explanation. I found the story entertaining in parts. Dakota Johnson — a high point in nearly every production — is an absolute delight. The overall chronicle, however, is less captivating.


Cha Cha Real Smooth

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on July 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Cha Cha Real Smooth caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in January when it won the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Months later, it quietly appeared on Apple TV+ June 17 to little attention. In this age of streaming, it’s often hard to tell exactly how many people are watching a particular movie. However, social media can be a gauge, and the buzz after its public debut has been virtually nonexistent. It’s easy to see why.

Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff has fashioned an entire film around himself. Andrew is a directionless college graduate currently working a dead-end job at Meat Sticks. The fast-food joint is a thinly veiled homage to Hot Dog on a Stick. That contrivance reeks of a hipster’s idea of a funny career. He accompanies his younger brother David (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah. There Andrew encounters a crowd of wallflowers. The party is dying. Though he lacks the initiative to secure a job that utilizes his college education, he takes a leadership position here. While mingling throughout the soiree, he encourages kids to leave their seats and go dance. One of these children is an autistic young girl named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew bets her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) that he can get Lola to join the others on the dance floor. His clever ruse succeeds and that impresses her mom. The other mothers at the shindig all find him charming too. A burgeoning career as a DJ/emcee/standup at future celebrations is born.

The title references the “Cha Cha Slide,” a 2000 song that remains a ubiquitous staple at birthdays, quinceañeras, and weddings. Yet the story’s focus is not on his fledging business as a “party starter.” The promising setup hints at a romance between a 22-year-old infatuated with an older woman. Their flirtatious chemistry is mutual but it turns confusing. Their connection is complicated by unnecessary additions. She has a fiancee (Raúl Castillo) away on business and he has a girlfriend (Amara Pedroso Saquel) studying in Barcelona. Dakota Johnson is a capable actress, but her vague character is a baffling enigma. She confesses to Andrew she just had a miscarriage like it was a mild inconvenience, then attempts to seduce the fellow — all in the same night! She’s undeniably longing for something more in life. Maybe the spark of a loving relationship. Although, she simultaneously entices Andrew while pushing him away. Domino doesn’t seem to know what she wants, nor do we. Depression is not a crime. At the very least, Domino should seek the help of a therapist. Meanwhile, Andrew lives at home, so the cast is further stacked with Andrew’s genial mother (Leslie Mann) and a cranky step-dad (Brad Garrett).

Cha Cha Real Smooth rests entirely on the charisma of its lead. That’s a problem because Andrew’s preening demeanor and puppy-dog expressions are not endearing. Oh the screenplay is strident in its presentation that he is such a lovely, sweet human being. He’s a good guy darn it! Every character exists to reflect how wonderful Andrew is, but the act rings hollow. His cloying behavior feels like a facade he wields to serve his own demands. Since the saga doesn’t inspire any desire in the viewer to see him triumph — in life or in love — the narrative fails. There is some promise to be found in the sincerity of the rest of the production. Engaging actors sustain the chronicle with authentic performances. All of whom are more interesting than the central lead. Cooper Raiff is a talented writer and director. He shows the vestiges of a Woody Allen or a John Cassavetes, but he’s not likable as the hero. He’s the same dreary self-interested schmuck he is at the end of the picture as he was at the beginning.