NOT SAFE FOR WORK (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Joe Johnston

Written by: Adam Mason & Simon Boyes

Starring: Max Minghella, J.J. Feild, Eloise Mumford, Christian Clemenson, Tom Gallop & Brandon Keener

From the director of HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS and THE PAGEMASTER, comes a surprisingly solid thriller. NOT SAFE FOR WORK was shelved by Blumhouse and then unceremoniously dumped onto VOD/home video amongst a handful of other forgotten Blumhouse-produced flicks. Occasionally, delayed movies can be pleasantly entertaining and this is one of those films. Clocking in at just over 70 minutes, NOT SAFE FOR WORK is a thriller that’s short, fun, and silly.

Tom Miller (Max Minghella) is having a crappy day at his paralegal job. After being chewed out by two bosses and given hours of menial paperwork, Tom is informed that he’s being terminated for one little memo. On his way out of the office, Tom notices a mysterious man (J.J. Feild) with a briefcase heading in a direction where he shouldn’t be going. Because Tom is a curious guy, he decides to investigate and discovers that the man is actually a contract killer on a job. Unfortunately for Tom, he’s now trapped on the 37th floor of his former workplace with a murderous psycho. A game of cat-and-mouse ensues, bullets fly, and bodies pile up.

Seeing as there’s precious little time to waste in a movie that runs shorter than some TV episodes, NOT SAFE FOR WORK spends about 15 minutes (tops) setting up its premise and giving us some background information. It’s clear that certain things mentioned in the beginning will come back later on, but the film luckily doesn’t reveal these bits in a sloppily obvious manner. The viewer knows that stuff is going to hit the fan and the frantic pace starts chugging along as soon as Tom spots the suited stranger.

From that moment forward, NOT SAFE FOR WORK makes for an entertaining stalker thriller and gradually becomes an action-packed battle of wits. The earlier bits of this cat-and-mouse game (in which the killer is unaware of Tom’s presence) pack in impressively suspenseful moments. Something as simple as a phone ringing, a toilet flushing or a very poorly chosen hiding spot become a matter of life and death. These early bits of suspense only make the later confrontations between Max Minghella’s Tom and J.J. Feild’s killer even more enjoyable.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK features a bunch of unrecognizable faces and some performances are notably better than others. Minghella’s Tom is a bit bland in spots and makes numerous eye-rollingly stupid decisions early on. The way in which he loses his cell phone is bafflingly dumb. Still, Minghella is able to pull off a few stand-out scenes and makes progressively cleverer moves as the film moves forward. Christian Clemenson is more than a little convincing as Tom’s asshole boss. Meanwhile, Eloise Mumford is okay enough as Tom’s love-interest and a last-minute damsel-in-distress. The scene-stealer is J.J. Feild as the nameless contract killer. This psycho has a lot of confidence and charisma to go along with his soft-spoken manner. He does occasionally get over-the-top, but that seems intentional.

Though it has lots of suspense, a solid pace, and a show-stealing baddie, NOT SAFE FOR WORK encounters some hiccups during its final act. There are a few twists that make their way into the narrative. Some of these work and others uncover gaping plot holes that are too big to ignore. The final minutes also garnered a solid laugh from me and yet, left me feeling like I wanted a stronger final note. There’s a big difference between leaving things open on an ambiguous note or making a cliffhanger because the writer didn’t know how to properly end their story. This felt very much like the latter.

Even with its flaws considered, I was shocked at much I enjoyed NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Low expectations may have had something to do with that, but this movie entertained me. It moves at a fast pace, has mostly good acting, packs in well-executed suspense, and was fun from start to finish. Even as the script’s sillier problems reared their heads in the film’s final 15 minutes, I was still enjoying this film…albeit in a much cheesier way. If you have 75 minutes to kill and want a fun little thriller, NOT SAFE FOR WORK is surprisingly recommended!

Grade: B

JURASSIC PARK III (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sci-Fi Terror and Violence

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Directed by: Joe Johnston

Written by: Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

Starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola & Trevor Morgan

1993’s JURASSIC PARK has stood the test of time as an incredible adventure that has left a lasting impact on the cinematic world. 1997’s THE LOST WORLD wound up being a colossal disappointment that tried way too hard to duplicate its hit predecessor’s success (going as far as damn near replicating specific scenes from the first film). You have to hand a bit of backhanded praise to JURASSIC PARK III. This third dinosaur adventure doesn’t try to duplicate the first (or even second) film, instead this third installment feels like a Syfy Channel script somehow got thrown into the JURASSIC PARK series. Talk about a decline from former glory. I really hope that JURASSIC WORLD delivers this summer, because it has a lot to make up for with both sequels taken into consideration.

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Years after the incident at Jurassic Park (not to mention a T-Rex running loose through the streets of San Diego), Alan Grant has become famous. Unfortunately, his fame is tinged with bitter resentment that most aren’t taking his science seriously and people merely give him a celebrity status for surviving Dr. Hammond’s theme park. After a particularly embarrassing lecture, Grant is hired by the Kirbys to guide them through an air tour of the Jurassic island. Not surprisingly, there are ulterior motives for his presence. Paul and Amanda Kirby are actually parents to a child who went missing near the dinosaur-populated island. Grant, Billy (one of his students), the Kirbys and a few others find themselves running for their lives from the prehistoric monsters one last time.

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JURASSIC PARK III feels like the (three!) screenwriters and director are really just scraping the bottom of the barrel in the storyline department. The excuse to get people onto the island is possibly more ridiculous than THE LOST WORLD, not to mention that the characters have the personalities of cardboard cut-outs. For a third installment of a franchise that’s had plenty of blood and dinosaurs devouring people, JURASSIC PARK III plays it insanely safe. While I don’t want unnecessarily mean-spirited kills from THE LOST WORLD, the original JURASSIC PARK had cool death scenes in spite of you being able to count the casualties on one hand. This second sequel has uninspired deaths that don’t really show the characters turning into a dinosaur buffet. There’s almost no excitement to be had as the film rushes from scene to scene with a running time of just over 90 minutes (by far the shortest of the series).

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The dinosaurs themselves feel old and tired at this point too. There’s a T-Rex for a brief second, but the Velociraptors appear multiple times throughout. You’d think bringing back the scariest part of the original film would make for some intense scenes, but you’d be sorely mistaken. These once-terrifying dinosaurs have now been replaced by cheap looking puppets (introduced in a laughable attempt at a first jump scare). The once elegant Brachiosaurus is turned into a direct-to-video quality abomination with terrible looking CGI. There are two new dinosaurs to speak of that are enjoyable enough. There’s the Spinosaurus serving as the central antagonist and at the very least, he looks cool. Then there are the flying Pteranodons appearing in the best sequence of the entire movie. The real mystery comes from this JURASSIC PARK film having the highest budget, but somehow winding up with the worst effects in the series.

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JURASSIC PARK III is by far the worst in the franchise, but it’s not an all-out failure of a movie. Even Syfy Channel flicks can be slightly enjoyable garbage from time to time. That’s precisely where I’ll categorize this third film. The two new dinosaurs bring some mild enjoyment, even if the characters are hollow (including a strapped-for-cash Sam Neill) and the story is wafer-thin. JURASSIC PARK III at least has the good sense to be short. It almost seems like the movie is desperate to get itself over with. You could do a lot worse as far as monster movies are concerned, but you can also do a hell of a lot better!

Grade: D+

JUMANJI (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Menacing Fantasy Action and some mild Language

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Directed by: Joe Johnston

Written by: Greg Taylor, Jonathan Hensleigh & Jim Strain

(based on the book JUMANJI by Chris Van Allsburg)

Starring: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, David Alan Grier, Jonathan Hyde & Bebe Neuwirth

JUMANJI is one of three films featuring Robin Williams that I wore out on VHS as a child (the other two being ALADDIN and HOOK). It was also from an era where family entertainment took more risks and didn’t mind having an element of real danger in any threats being shown. Based on a children’s book of the same name, JUMANJI can be considered somewhat of a scary movie for children. It doesn’t feature any out-and-out monsters, but the idea of having two kids exposed to deadly jungle animals unleashed from a supernatural board game isn’t necessarily going to suit all ages. However, if a child can handle the likes of GREMLINS or HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, then this should probably be fine. Despite being nearly two decades old, JUMANJI holds up remarkably well.

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The year is 1969. Alan Parrish is a young boy bullied by his classmates and living under the name of his rich factory-owner father. One day, Alan uncovers a mysterious board game called Jumanji buried at a construction site. After beginning to play Jumanji with his best friend Sarah, Alan disappears inside of the game and Sarah is chased out of his house by a pack of wild bats. Twenty-six years later, orphaned siblings Judy and Peter move into Alan’s old home with their aunt and stumble upon Jumanji.  Two rolls of the dice later and they realize that the game possesses some kind of supernatural power and releases something from the jungle each turn (e.g. dangerous animals or natural disasters). It’s up to young Judy and Peter, a now-grown Sarah, and a returned fish-out-of-water Alan to finish the game and end the chaos.

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I didn’t know that this film was directed by the same guy who made HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS and THE PAGEMASTER. While those films aren’t perfect by any means, they inject some palpable danger into usually safe kiddie fare. This film is far from your average kid’s flick. JUMANJI is full of creativity and imagination. The story is fast-paced and danger lurks around every corner. The various threats are likely to get the intended reaction of frightening kids or even scaring adults in some cases. Besides some expected animals from the jungle (e.g. a lion, some monkeys, rhinos, etc.), we do get deadly plants and some freaky looking spiders that pop up near the end. Though the film is not nightmarish, it could easily give kids bad dreams from those spiders alone.

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The characters are well-developed, despite a couple of iffy performances. Without a doubt, Robin Williams is the stand-out as Alan. He’s not so much a comedic figure, but a hero facing his fears. There’s an element of heartbreak to his character and Williams does the best he can with that. This is a kid who’s barely returned to the modern world and is adjusting to everything around him, including one of the more emotional moments of the film that winds up strengthening the relationship between himself and the two orphaned siblings. I didn’t care too much for Judy or Peter at the beginning as they come off as stereotypical kids. After the touching moment with Williams, I bought their characters. This is all in spite of shaky acting from both Bradley Pierce and Kirsten Dunst. Bonnie Hunt is solid as Sarah and delivers more comic relief than Williams, but it’s not enough to derail how dire the circumstances are in this film. Another wise move was casting Jonathan Hyde as both Alan’s tough father and a villainous hunter from the game.

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The movie is not without a few other problems that come in two areas. The humor can be a bit much at points. A band of monkeys make repeated appearances in jokey scenes that almost feel like they’re from a completely different film. Also, there’s an extended sequence with Van Pelt (Jonathan Hyde’s evil hunter) in a store that was too forced and played like a bad slapstick routine. To be completely fair, the movie is based on an award-winning children’s book, so some of the silliness can be seen from the source material. The effects are a blend of practical and CGI. Most of these hold up, but some CGI hasn’t aged too well (e.g. the monkeys and a comical moment involving quicksand).

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Distinct deviations were made from the children’s book and these benefit the movie as a whole. The story is more complicated, rules to the game of Jumanji drive everything forward, and the end result is as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids. The soundtrack is also great and conveys the danger/emotion of certain scenes very well, but not in any over-the-top way that might annoy viewers. Another cool thing is how little details occur around the characters. The movie doesn’t stay confined to within the walls of one house. The world outside plays a big part in the story and plot elements make it apparent that the perils of the game aren’t just affecting the main protagonists. A stampede of large animals running loose on the street and deadly bugs are attacking people around the town. It’s not only the characters’ lives are at stake, but the lives of everyone in the city around them.

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As the film comes down to an exciting climax, Alan’s home is in shambles and the experience has almost worn the viewer to exhaustion in a very good way. I was sucked into the world of this movie. It felt like I had gone on for the ride with these characters. The performances aren’t stellar across the board and some of the comedy relief falls flat. Not all of the effects hold up. However, a great deal of respect should be given to JUMANJI as it’s a piece of family entertainment that takes risks and is original. Rewatching a movie like this makes me wish that more films today were original adventures that had big budgets thrown into them. JUMANJI is a rollicking adventure that stands the test of time!

Grade: B+

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