Film reviews round-up: Trolls, Keeping Up with the Joneses, Ouija: Origin of Evil

An iridescent children's flick, a misfired spy comedy, and a weak horror sequel

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The Independent Culture

Trolls

★★★☆☆

Dir: Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn, 92 mins, voiced by: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, James Corden 

Trolls - Trailer 3

Made in iridescent colour, Trolls is a wondrously zany and inane animated feature. Watching it in 3D is like being submerged in candy floss. The main characters are fluffy little gonks who live in a rainbow world of singing, dancing and hugging. They are preyed on by the “Bergens”, a race of slobbering, bogeyman-like reptile misanthropes with bad teeth who think the only way they can achieve happiness, even if only briefly, is by eating Trolls. On “Trollstice”, they come hunting for their prey.

For all its hyper-cheerful humour, the film has some surprisingly macabre elements. The Bergens pursue the little Trolls with a genocidal fury. The Trolls are so distressed that some of them become incontinent (and start defecating cupcakes).

Pink-featured Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is the most optimistic of the Trolls. Whenever she’s around, cheesy disco songs play on the soundtrack and fireworks go off. Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake, who also oversaw the music) tries to warn her that there’s trouble ahead. He is the greyest, gloomiest character in Troll-land, never singing, never dancing, hiding out in his underground bunker and always expecting the worst.

Alongside the disco, Trolls is aimed at a very young audience but contains plenty of in-jokes and nostalgic references to keep the parents happy. Timberlake’s choice of music includes some very cheesy Simon and Garfunkel and Lionel Richie songs as well as a blast of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”. 

Trolls combines eye-opening visuals with plenty of frenetic chase sequences involving tunnels and roller skates. Alongside the story about Princess Poppy venturing to the kingdom of the Bergens to rescue her friends, the film includes a touching Cinderella-like romance about a buck-toothed scullery maid called Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) besotted with Gristle, prince of the Bergens. There are also some surprisingly grown-up meditations on life, love and the meaning of happiness which may leave the kids scratching their heads.

 

Keeping Up With The Joneses

★★☆☆☆

Dir: Greg Mottola, 105 mins, starring: Isla Fisher, Zach Galifianakis, Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm

Keeping Up With The Joneses - Trailer

Keeping Up With The Joneses is a misconceived comedy-thriller that can’t work out whether it’s spoofing spy movies or making fun of suburbia. Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, a jaded middle-class couple whose kids are away from home. They live in a suburban cul-de-sac alongside other equally conventional, equally jaded middle-class families.

Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot are their improbably glamorous and very worldly new neighbours, Tim and Natalie Jones. Tim claims to be a travel writer. Natalie says she works in social media. In fact, they’re both spies. They’re strangely obsessed with goings-on at MBI, the secretive company at which Jeff works as a human resources manager.

Director Greg Mottola keeps the pace brisk, combining suburban barbecues and scenes of shopping expeditions with shoot-outs, explosions and high-speed chases. Michael LeSieur’s screenplay yields a few funny one-liners. There are some good jokes about British dentistry and Galifianakis can’t stop making feeble puns which work by sheer force of attrition. The hitch is that the film is pulling in opposing directions.

On the one hand, it is trying to be a character-based comedy about two very different couples who have far more in common than they could have anticipated. On the other, Mottola wants to make an Austen Powers-like farce. The improbabilities mount and the action scenes become ever more random. Assassins on motorbikes turn up from nowhere, houses explode. 

The performances are fine. Galifianakis has some funny moments as the empathetic HR guy who loves to listen to other people’s stories. Fisher shows comic flair as the bored married woman who turns out to have a natural instinct for espionage. Hamm and Gadot are playing one-dimensional characters, both of whom seem to have stumbled out of a Bond movie, but at least they do so with a certain charm. It’s the premise here which simply doesn’t hold together.

 

Ouija: Origin Of Evil

★★☆☆☆

Dir: Mike Flanagan, 99 mins, starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Lin Shaye, Annalise Basso

Ouija: Origin Of Evil - Trailer

The title of Mike Flanagan’s horror film, released in good time for Halloween, is misleading. The Ouija board features prominently enough but this is a good, old-fashioned tale of a haunted house and of demonic possession at heart. Set in the late 1960s, it is stylishly shot but not quite as scary as might have been anticipated. Its trump card is the precocious child actress Lulu Wilson, who manages to look wide-eyed and innocent even as she channels all the forces of darkness that the special effects department can muster.

Wilson plays Doris Zander, the youngest daughter of Alice Zander, a single mum who makes a precarious living by staging seances in her sitting room. Doris and her teenage sister Paulina hide in the wings, making noises and blowing out candles to convince Alice’s gullible, grief-stricken clients that their loved ones really are getting in touch from the other side of the grave.

When Alice buys a ouija board as a “new prop for work”, matters begin to become properly creepy. In no time at all, Doris starts rolling her eyeballs and writing long letters in Polish, dictated to her from “the other side.” Alice, meanwhile, is desperate to communicate with her late husband, who died in mysterious circumstances. 

The overloaded screenplay by Flanagan and Jeff Howard throws in elements of everything from The Exorcist to The Amityville Horror. There are references to a Mengele-like “devil’s doctor” from the Nazi era who made his way to America and whose pet trick was to sew victims’ mouths shut. Skeletons are in the woodwork. Kids speak in adult voices. Kindly priests talk about getting the Vatican involved.

There are hangings, stabbings and nightmarish visions. The basement is one part of the house you most certainly don’t want to visit. With so much going on, it is little wonder that the film seems so sprawling and unfocused. A simpler approach might have chilled our blood more effectively – but there are a few moments here that should jolt you out of your seats. 

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