It’s all shiplap and survival in Baltasar Kormákur’s romantic drama Adrift (C), but despite the game efforts of a spry Shailene Woodley and a fetching Sam Claflin in central performances, this castaway escapade doesn’t have anywhere to go. Mostly set aboard a damaged ship on the Pacific, the film cross-crosses between a central dramatic endurance challenge and flashbacks to the burgeoning love affair that took wind before everything gets swept into disaster. The real-life characters are underwritten and the filming pedestrian, sputtering with narrative navigation and propulsion issues. It’s not clear how the movie treads any new waters; but for fans of the indomitable sea and its rejuvenating spirit even in the face of adversity, this story has a few nice moments that surge out of the ordinary.
Director Craig Gillespie’s true sports story Million Dollar Arm (B-), isn’t likely to please viewers eager to see the thrills of athleticism on the screen (heck, even Stallone’s arm wrestling movie racks up more credibility on that scoreboard); but after a lethargic start, this formulaic film finds its footing as a surrogate family drama and a bit of a redemption tale about a fallen sports agent getting a second chance. Jon Hamm’s search for new baseball pitching talent from cricket players in India and the subsequent fish-out-of-water training and scouting in California and Arizona hold only modest suspense or intrigue but are rendered enjoyable by the considerable charms of Madhur Mattal and Suraj Sharma. Lake Bell is also a pleasant presence as the tenant in Hamm’s carriage house who may just hold the key to his steely heart. Hamm and ensemble are batting average until some fairly nice travelogue moments abroad and a late-reel rally of sentimental delights. There are no baseball games in the movie and no credible training montages – just lots of fast throws for velocity points. This hardly adds up to riveting cinema. Mostly it’s a lesser mash-up masala of Jerry Maguire, Moneyball and Mr. Baseball. Although only sporadically successful, the film has just enough contemporary edge and international flair to push the Disney brand forward just a bit while still providing a safe bet for family viewing.
Shockingly efficient in its character building and its 90 minutes of sustained dread, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (A) tells a true story plucked from today’s headlines about the plight of young black men in America. Michael B. Jordan is a revelation as Oscar, a 22 year old father trying to reform after jail time, whose slow-burn collision with contemporary destiny is sealed from the film’s first frame. His charismatic demeanor – he calls everyone “bruh” – is just seconds away from reverting to his powderkeg past, and he is alternately “hella” humorous and heartbreaking throughout. Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer are outstanding as the women trying to anchor and protect him. It’s a tough and essential experience.