SENIOR YEAR: 2 ½ STARS
This image released by Netflix shows, foreground from left, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Rebel Wilson, Avantika and Joshua Colley in a scene from “Senior Year.” (Boris Martin/Netflix via AP)
A high school coma comedy with a fish-out-of-water twist, “Senior Year,” a new Netflix movie starring Rebel Wilson, plays like a mix between “While You Were Sleeping” and “Billy Madison.”
Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice as a teenager, Wilson as an adult) was on track to have a perfect life. As a high school star, she was a cheerleader, president of the fashion club and prom queen candidate until a head injury, caused by a tumble off the top of a cheerleading pyramid, put her into coma for 20 years.
Waking up at age 37, it is like no time has passed. As far as she knows, it’s 2002, words like “shiznit” and “bomb diggity” are still hip and she still wants to be prom queen, the pinnacle of high school success. “It’s more than just a crown to me,” she says.
But she is a relic. Social media is a new-fangled thing, political correctness is like science fiction, cheerleaders now do routines about the climate crisis and gun control, and her former classmates are now the parents of high schoolers.
To get on with her new life, its’s time for some adult education… in high school. “I can’t move on to the next chapter in my life if I am still stuck in the old one for 20 years,” she says.
With just a month before graduation, she enrolls, trying to pick up where she left off. But she finds times have changed. “I had more fun in the coma,” she sighs.
“Senior Year” is a comedy with a scattergun approach.
The coming-of-age story is meant to be a poignant look at Stephanie as she matures and comes to understand that there is more to life than cheerleading and being prom queen. The power of friendships and loyalty are examined—”It doesn’t matter who has the most friends, or likes, or followers,” says Stephanie. “If you just have one or two great friends, they will support you. Then you have got it all. That is worth fighting for.”—butted up against the notion of being true to yourself and the idea that who you are in high school doesn’t define you.
Doesn’t sound that funny, does it?
That’s because it isn’t. At least, not all the way through. “Senior Year” takes a one joke premise and milks it for humour in the first couple of acts. Funny, situational lines are sprinkled throughout the first hour or so. “You survived 20 years without solid food,” says Stephanie’s dad (Chris Parnell). “You can make it through a weekend without your phone.” But the jokes dry up as the movies goes on.
It also goes for laughs from the culture clash between 2002 and 2022. Stephanie has much to learn about political correctness and world events, but to its credit, the film doesn’t treat the teens as woke zombies spouting catchphrases, but as decent kids who care about their friends and the future.
It sounds like a lot, because it is a lot. Wilson does what she can to keep things moving along, but when the feel-good messaging begins, she is saddled with prosaic, by-the-book truisms that suck away whatever fun had been established in the film’s first part.
Talented comic actors like Mary Holland and Zoe Chao bring both humour and heart to their roles, but “Senior Year” still feels messy. Too long, it toggles back-and-forth between the sincere and the silly like it’s changing gears in a high-speed Formula One race but, unfortunately, never finds its pace.
THE LAST VICTIM: 3 STARS
“The Last Victim” (Courtesy Decal)
“The Last Victim,” starring Ron Perlman as a sheriff on the hunt for some ruthless killers, now streaming on VOD, is a throwback to gritty, neo-westerns like “Hell or High Water” and “No Country for Old Man.”
Beginning with a calculated, but brutal slaughter at a small-town southwest American
diner, “The Last Victim” follows Jake (Ralph Ineson), the vicious ringleader of the restaurant slaughter, as he attempts to dispose of the bodies from the ramshackle at the seemingly closed-for-the-season Yaj Oolal Overlook Nature Preserve.
Jake’s plan is interrupted by Susan (Ali Larter), an anthropologist with OCD, and her husband, Richard (Tahmoh Penikett), who stumble across the place on a cross country drive. The killer makes short work of Richard, shooting him on sight. Susan is luckier, disappearing into the woods. “Go see if she was dumb enough to make a run for it,” Jake tells his henchmen as their deadly game of cat-and-mouse begins.
As Sheriff Hickey (Perlman) and Deputy Mindy Gaboon (Camille Legg) begin their investigation into the diner murders, Susan must stay one step ahead of Jake to avoid becoming the last victim.
In his directorial debut, Naveen A. Chathapuram has made a stylized, tense story of survival. The film has an aura of dread, that builds as the story ticks down to the inevitable climatic showdown.
Chathapuram is aided by a menacing performance from Ineson who oozes evil, Perlman, whose presence evokes a certain, special kind of gravitas, and Larter’s authoritative work. They make up for some of the movie’s weaknesses, like some o-so-serious voiceover, a somewhat too leisurely pace in the film’s mid-section, and a tacked-on ending sequence that adds little, except for a few minutes to the overall running time.
“The Last Victim” is a very strong directorial debut that packs excitement into the storytelling, including a rather surreal climax, with enough twists to keep the story of survival compelling throughout.
FIRESTARTER: 2 STARS
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Kiera Armstrong in a scene from “Firestarter.” (Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures via AP)
It’s unclear whether or not a remake of the blistering 1984 Stephen King movie “Firestarter” is a burning concern for audiences, but here we are with a new version of an old story, in theatres now, about a young girl with pyrokinesis.
All parents think their child is special, but Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) truly know their daughter has a gift. “You’re going to change the world,” he tells her.
Years ago, Andy and Vicky were injected with an experimental serum and a side effect left them with telepathic abilities, which they passed down to the daughter, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), along with the talent for conjuring up heat and fire when angry or in pain.
For a decade they have been on the run from a secret government agency who wants to kidnap Charlie and study her superhuman power. Up until now they have trained the pre-teen to control her fiery ability, but as she grows up it becomes harder and harder to manage. “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” Charlie says. “But it feels kind of good.”
When the family’s location is accidentally revealed, a mysterious government operative (Michael Greyeyes) is sent to bring her in as Andy and Charlie look for sanctuary.
The big question about “Firestarter 2.0” is whether or not it improves on the 1984 original. That movie was unfavourably compared to “The Fury,” a 1978 Brian De Palma film that treads — more successfully — similar ground. Looking back now, the original “Firestarter” isn’t a great movie, but it does have George C. Scott in full-on menacing mode and a cool soundtrack from Tangerine Dream amid the flames and fire.
Does the new movie bring the heat?
In another cinematic multiverse (which is o-so-hip right now), Charlie could have been a member of the X-Men Jr. or a teenage Fantastic Four. So it makes sense, particularly in today’s superhero happy market, that the new movie leans into the science fiction and allegorical aspects of the story over the horror. It’s just too bad it doesn’t do much with either approach. Charlie spits fire, and things burn but, cinematically, nothing really catches fire.
The paranoiac feel of government interference is gone, replaced by long boring stretches of exposition and Greyeyes’ underused villain. Set to an interesting score by legendary director John Carpenter (with Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies), who was supposed to helm the original film, the new version gets the soundtrack right, but most everything else feels like a backfire, rather than a “Firestarter.”