As more and more people are compelled to practice social distancing and encouraged to stay home, as movie theaters temporarily shutter their doors, and as studios continue to pull their scheduled 2020 films off the release calendar, we’ve decided to reformat this weekly Critics Consensus column to focus on titles that are newly available on the home entertainment market. With that in mind, our list of digital new releases this week includes an action-comedy sequel 17 years in the making, a worthwhile video game-inspired adventure, and a ho-hum horror sequel. See below for the full list.
When a film gets a sequel that comes more than a decade and a half after the last installment, with an entirely different creative team behind the camera, it’s usually not something to get excited about. But when the film you’re following is 2003’s Bad Boys II, you don’t have a particularly high bar to clear. Enter co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, a pair of Belgian filmmakers who stepped up to the challenge and came out with a film that was better than anyone expected. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett, of course, as is Joe Pantoliano as their captain. This time, Mike needs Marcus’ help when he finds himself in the crosshairs of a cartel boss with ties to his past. Critics said Bad Boys for Life effectively builds upon Michael Bay’s first two films and delivers both spectacular action and the requisite bromantic banter between Smith and Lawrence. It’s a solid action-comedy that mostly delivers everything it promises in style.
Before Sonic the Hedgehog debuted, the most interesting thing about the film was probably the fact that, after its first trailer inspired revulsion among fans for its creative interpretation of the titular character’s look, Paramount went back to the drawing board to redo the visuals. Now that it’s come and gone from theaters, though, it’s become notable for a couple of other reasons, namely that it’s now the third best-reviewed video game adaptation ever (behind The Angry Birds Movie 2 and Detective Pikachu) and that it features a rousing Jim Carrey performance that harkens back to his 1990s heyday. Carrey plays the bad guy here, one Dr. Robotnik, who seeks to harness Sonic’s power for evil, which forces Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) to team up with a human pal (James Marsden) so he can locate the magic rings that will help him get back to his home planet. If it sounds a little goofy, well, that’s because it is, but it’s all harmless, good-natured fun that will probably keep the kids occupied while they’re holed up at home.
Back in 2016, The Boy only managed a meager 30% on the Tomatometer, and earlier this year, its follow-up Brahms: The Boy II earned a whopping 10%. In other words, if you’re looking for a horror flick about a creepy doll, there are probably much better choices out there to satisfy your craving. As for the rest of you, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Katie Holmes serves as the ostensible anchor for the story this time around, which finds a young family dealing with trauma from a home invasion who decide to move into a new home on the property where the first film took place. Of course, it isn’t long before the family’s young son Jude (Christopher Convery) discovers Brahms the doll buried in the ground, brings him home, and initiates a series of dark, disturbing events that may or may not be tied directly to Brahms. The vast majority of critics found Brahms: The Boy II to be derivative, plodding, and far too tame and predictable to be scary, but if you’re just dying to see it, it’ll be available digitally on Friday.
Céline Sciamma’s acclaimed romantic drama didn’t make it to the Oscars this year, but it did get nominated for an Indie Spirit award and a Critics’ Choice Award after winning the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Audiences who missed out on seeing it in theaters during its limited run should now be able to catch up on it, as it has been moved up from its original May 12 digital release to this week. Noémie Merlant stars as an artist who is hired to secretly paint the portrait of a reluctant bride-to-be (Adèle Haenel), only to fall in love with the woman. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a powerfully acted, deeply affecting period piece that is beautifully shot and thoughtfully layered, and it should be a treat for anyone looking to have their heartstrings pulled a bit.
Eliza Hittman’s powerful drama opened in theaters just a few weeks ago, right as many of the shelter-in-place orders went into effect, but even if prospective moviegoers hadn’t gone into self-quarantine, it still would have been difficult for many of them to see Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which saw a fairly limited release. The film follows a young woman named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who travel from Pennsylvania to New York to end Autumn’s unwanted pregnancy. That in itself may be enough to turn off some viewers, but Hittman wisely avoids further politicizing the inherently political subject, choosing instead to focus solely on the two girls’ journey, portraying their stark reality in matter-of-fact detail. It won’t be an easy watch for many viewers, for different reasons, but it’s a worthwhile one, anchored by a couple of powerful performances from two young and very promising actresses.
Thumbnail images by Ben Rothstein / © Columbia Pictures