Go figure: a superhero movie that would be a lot better if it weren’t a superhero movie.
That’s the case with “Blue Beetle” (PG-13, 127 minutes, in theaters).
In it, Jaime Reyes (Xolo Mariduena), a recent college graduate, comes into contact with an alien relic called a scarab, and, voila, transforms into the Blue Beetle, complete with a blue suit of armor and the ability to create super weapons.
The first time this happens, he’s in a kitchen with his extended Latino family and opens a Big Belly Burger box that he’s been given on the sly by Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine). The box contains the scarab, which Jenny purloins from her aunt, Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), ruthless CEO of Kord Industries.
Jaime doesn’t know the artifact is in the burger box, and Jenny has told him not to open it. But Jaime’s family – mom (Elpidia Carrillo), dad (Damian Alcazar), sister (Belissa Escobedo), grandmother (Adriana Barraza) and Uncle Rudy (George Lopez) – keep at him to see what’s inside. He does, the beetle-like relic latches onto his face, all hell breaks loose, and the family goes nuts.
The Reyes clan’s horrified reaction makes for the funniest scene in this lighthearted film, which is at its best when it focuses on the family, and (after the initial transformation scene) at its most uninspired when the story turns to superhero action.
In much the same way that “Black Panther” was admirably groundbreaking for its Black hero and depiction of Black culture in what traditionally has been a very white genre, “Blue Beetle” deserves attention for its emphasis on Latino characters. (As was the case with “Black Panther,” this shouldn’t be a big deal at this point in history, but it is.)
Aside from its historical significance, though, the Reyes family is just a lot of fun, especially Mariduena’s likable, charismatic Jaime; Escobedo’s wisecracking younger sister (who, noting that Jaime took pre-law in college, asks potential employer Jenny, “You guys need any pre-lawyers?”); and Lopez’s excitable free spirit, Uncle Rudy, who tools around in a pickup truck he calls “The Taco.”
“Blue Beetle”’s director, Angel Manuel Soto, and screenwriter, Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, could have concocted a family comedy with these engaging characters, eliminating the trite superhero theatrics, and they probably would have had a stronger film.
As it is, their film considers the Reyes’ economic/employment struggles, family values over materialism (“Things don’t last; la familia, that’s forever”), and related themes. “Blue Beetle” is smart, entertaining and, in its way, necessary. *** (out of four)
Dogs with an attitude
If you like dog-poop gags, you are in for a treat with “Strays” (R, 93 minutes, in theaters).
If dog poop makes you gag, you might want to pass on this one.
“Strays,” directed by Josh Greenbaum (“Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar”), is a talking-dog comedy, but not one for kids (note the R rating). The emphasis is on crude humor, with attempted laughs mined from the film’s canine characters swearing, defecating and humping, with penis jokes aplenty.
Is it funny? Occasionally. But the over-the-top schtick mostly comes across as one-note and a bit desperate.
Will Ferrell provides the voice of naive, sweet-natured Border Terrier Reggie. Reggie’s cruel owner, Doug (Will Forte), keeps trying to get rid of him by driving him to far-away locations and abandoning him there. Reggie, who thinks Doug loves him and is just playing a fun game, always finds his way home.
Eventually, enraged that Reggie has accidentally broken his bong, Doug drops him off in the middle of a city. There Reggie befriends strays Bug (voice of Jamie Foxx), a Boston Terrier; Maggie (voice of Isla Fisher), an Australian Shepherd; and Hunter (voice of Randall Park), a Great Dane. Hearing Reggie’s story, the new friends convince him that Doug is actually a scumbag, and the four dogs go on a mission of (extreme) revenge.
Meanwhile, Bug serves as Reggie’s mentor, explaining the rules of being “off the leash”: 1) You want something, you pee on it and it’s yours; 2) You can hump anything you want; and 3) You’re on your own.
As the four canines make the long trip to Doug’s, they have all sorts of misadventures, including an encounter with mushrooms that leaves them in a psychedelicized state. They wind up held in an Animal Control cell, leading to an escape that involves multiple piles of feces (a plot device no doubt stolen from Noel Coward).
A little of this goes a long way, but every once in a while the film surprises you. The great Rob Riggle provides the voice of Rolf, a German Shepherd police dog, whose final line – an apology that I don’t want to spoil by repeating here – is an instant classic. **½
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
Please like Cape Cod Wave on Facebook.
Cape Cod Wave Magazine covers the character & culture of Cape Cod. Please see our Longform stories.
Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.