Heart of dumbness: The King-sized fiasco that is ‘Skull Island’

What I looked like yelling at the screen about midway through ‘Kong: Skull Island.’

I defy anyone to find 90 second of continuous dialogue in Kong: Skull Island that make even a tiny bit of logical sense. For that matter, I defy anyone to find 90 seconds of continuous dialogue. The filmmakers seem so unsure of their storytelling abilities, that they inject explosions as often as possible to mask the total absence of ideas or reason.

We’ve seen bad movies like this before, overloaded with scene after scene of pointless, repetitive and confusing action set pieces — usually we call them “Transformer movies” — but somehow it feels much more offensive when done under the brand of King Kong.

Skull Island does a huge disservice to the Kong legacy, which got its start with 1933’s essential original film and lovingly updated in Peter Jackson’s faithful but ambitious 2005 remake. Both of these films were divided into three acts: The Heart of Darkness-esque journey to the island; the aboriginal monster adventure once they get there, and the cross-species love story and tragedy of Kong’s demise in NYC. This film bears no resemblance to its source material at all, and the muddled result is nonsense. It’s neither prequel, sequel nor remake; indeed, it does not appear to exist in a world where prior Kong lived.

The prologue takes place in 1944, near the end of WWII, when an American and a Japanese pilot both crash-land on Skull Island, the first outsiders to encounter the land that time forgot. (There’ no indication they know of the events of 1933, which should have been known to them, which erases the original from the film’s timeline.) Cut to 30 years later, and the U.S. is involved in Vietnam. A kooky fringe scientist (John Goodman) gets military funding to investigate the newly-discovered Skull Island, and a group of Army commandos (led by Samuel L. Jackson) and civilians (Tom Hiddleston joins Goodman & Co.) delivery them to the atoll where nothing goes well.

If you didn’t pick up on the heavy-handed ‘Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now’ allusions already, here’s a shot that does the lifting for you.

Of course nothing goes well: The soldiers are lied to (why?), the scientists appear to not be interested in actual science (why drop incendiary device instead of landing) and Kong — now about the size of the Empire State Building — destroys the invaders in an over-long attack sequence that is impossible to follow. (How many helicopters are there? How many men die? And how does a strapping 20-year-old soldier expire on impact while a morbidly obese 65-year-old Goodman gets off with barely a scratch?)

If you sensed that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had the least amount of affection for Kong, or the characters, you might overlook some of the confusing carnage, but he’s clearly got a hard-on only for the special effects, which he wields like a toddler with a Tommy gun. This is pretty derivate war movie detritus at its best, like those rip-off Rambo movies of the 1970s, where the film may be in color but everything else is in black-and-white.

Even the screenplay’s lame efforts to enrobe the plot with the aura of legitimacy — HiddlestonHeart of dumbe’s character is named Conrad and John C. Reilly’s is Marlow, in a clear evocation of Apocalypse Now (the poster art connects the dots for anyone too dim to pick up on the allusions) — backfire, as this effort is half-hearted at best, and merely reminds you what a fiasco this is; it’s never a good idea to remind audiences of better films.

Hiddleston appears to be a charisma-free zone, whose body acts like a black hole of personality, dragging all enthusiasm into its gravity well and condensing it into an inky, micron-sized molecule of concentrated boring. He makes everything around him look bad.

The lone exception is Reilly, as the surviving flyboy from 1944 finally given a shot at getting off the island. His wacky comic energy (the role was originally intended for Michael Keaton, and you can feel Beeltejuice’s hands all over it) entertains when everything else does not… which is mostly all the time.

Post-credits, there’s an add-on scene (which you can probably figure out if you pay attention to the credits, which give Tokyo’s Toho Studios their due) where you finally realize why the filmmaker shat all over the Kong brand: It’s in service to a new Cinematic Universe to leverage properties into one mega-movie that goes on forever. It doesn’t matter whether the ape survives until the end — Warner Bros. killed him in the conception.

Begins previews tomorrow night in wide release.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Battle of the Year’

Josh Peck;Laz AlonsoLet’s face: No one goes into a movie like Battle of the Year because of the complex plotting, unique character development or sparkling dialogue. It’s a movie about hip-hop dancing, and that’s what you want to see.

But ohhhh … how hard it is to get to the point where that’s enough.

It’s sad to realize that screenplays for dance-off movies haven’t progressed one scintilla since Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The plot — about an alcoholic former b-boy and sports coach (Josh Holloway) recruited to assemble a rag-tag band of breakdancing punks to form a world-class team — is rife with cliches. The coach lost his wife and kid and has no purpose in life; the dancers are unruly and talk smack all the time; the major contest — the “battle of the year” in France — is fraught with problems. But the screenplay makes no effort to freshen them up. It even has an extended monologue early in the film to explain why the coach is how he is … as if we couldn’t guess from the 3,000 other movies we’ve seen like this. (It’s all complicated further because the credits note Battle of the Year is “based on” a documentary called Planet B-Boy, even though the coach keeps watching Planet B-Boy during the film. Weird.)

There is one nod to modern life: The inclusion of an openly gay b-boy, who is of course rejected by a fellow homophobic crew member. Any guess as to whether the homophobe finally embraces his gay teammate and becomes openminded and loving? If you don’t know the answer, it will be your only surprise in the movie.

So, with plot and dialogue a lost cause, the question is: How is the dancing? The answer is: disappointing.

The 3D effects don’t add much, nor does the high-speed photography the director uses to simultaneously slow down and over-edit the dances. The predictability of the plot makes waiting for the numbers more of a chore than you’d like; watching Chris Brown “act” doesn’t make it any better.

Still, I went in eyes wide open: I didn’t expect much other than to see young men school and get schooled with flamboyant dance moves. It more or less delivers that. Low expectations (and an adorable Josh Peck) are the only salvation of Battle of the Year.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie review: ‘Blue Valentine’

Although Blue Valentine is about the disintegration of a straight couple’s marriage, the themes, scenes and emotions it deals with could be out of any relationship: The awkward silences, the cold touches, the largely unspoken anger, the rebuffed affection, the meaningless disagreements. There are moments of tenderness, but they are made all the sadder because we see them in flashback. It’s over for these two.

I’ve been in this kind of relationship. I’m sure most people have. And it’s not pretty.

Sound like a happy film? Yeah, it’s not. But it is very real.

It’s also the kind of film that invites “process” reviews — that is, stories about the making of the film itself and its style: the hand-held camera and improvised dialogue resulting from weeks of off-set rehearsal with stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (Heath Ledger’s widow), who lived together as a married couple for weeks to get into the skins of the characters. That accounts for the realism — authenticity trumps contrivance, character supersedes plot.

You can’t call that a bad thing, but it can be difficult to watch. Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Gosling) are a young couple with a sweet 5-year-old daughter, but their marriage is failing. In fact, by the time the movie begins, it’s basically over. Both from working-class backgrounds — Dean is a housepainter and mover, Cindy is a nurse — but Cindy seems to feel trapped by Dean’s lack of ambition. She likes his goofy charm, his grand acts of romanticism, but she doesn’t seem challenged by him. “I thought the whole point of coming here was to have a night without kids,” she snipes when he takes her to a fantasy motel and begins making animal noises. Ouch.

Director Derek Cianfrance approximates John Cassavetes’ patented way of creating pained realism not from meaningful dialogue or fancy camerawork, but by intense observation of small moments between people. He hops between the beginnings of their courtship and the dissolve with only subtle visual cues. He also allows Gosling and Williams to sparkle in their roles. Both are likely Oscar contenders, so intense and measured are their performances.

Blue Valentine isn’t the best date movie, but it is, in some ways, an ideal break-up movie, one that makes you feel you’re not alone in that pain.

Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre in the West Village. Rated R (after an original NC-17 rating for explicit sex). 118 mins.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones