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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Peanut Butter Falcon

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” also new to Blu-Ray this week.

One of the great things about movies is their ability to transport us to other times and places. I don’t necessarily mean period costume dramas or galaxies from long ago and far, far away, but those are part of it. Some movies, such as “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” take place in the modern day yet the setting of the movie is so unique and so crucial to the story that, unless you live there, it is akin to being swept away to another world.

The setting for “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is North Carolina in the vicinity of Pamlico Sound. There’s a lot of water, tall grass, and open sky. Many of the men in this area make their living on boats, catching and selling crabs. It’s a distinct community with its own way of life and its own sense of justice, populated by characters who feel authentic based on the way they look, talk, and act.

Down on his luck crab fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) gets on the receiving end of that sense of justice after two other crab fisherman accuse him of stealing (rightly so, from what I can tell) and rough him up. In retaliation, Tyler sets a pile of their crab traps on fire. He’s seen running away after doing this by the two fisherman, whose names are Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf) and who more than likely have the number of teeth and number of tattoos that you expect. They give chase to Tyler, who evades them at first, but suspense is sustained throughout the movie with reminders that Duncan and Ratboy are tracking him.

Soon after escaping, Tyler meets an autistic man named Zak (Zack Gottsagen). The reason as to why Zak is wearing nothing but some tighty whitey underwear is too amusing to spoil. Zak’s goal is to get to a wrestling school in northern Florida run by his favorite ‘90s era wrestling champion, the Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Zak’s dream is to be a wrestler just like his hero. The hitch is that Zak escaped from a home (what kind of home is another discovery that should be made independently) and has social worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) hot on his tail.

While the set up for “The Peanut Butter Falcon” may be basic—it’s essentially an odd couple buddy/road movie—the execution is not, and that makes all the difference. This is a movie that cares about its characters and takes the time to establish good ones. Zak and Tyler are more than just opposites who meet and then grow to like each other and form a bond over the course of their journey together. They’re unique individuals who each act as counterpoints for the other one. Zak is sweet and naïve about the cruel realities of the world. Tyler is bitter and cynical since the loss of his brother (played in flashbacks by Jon Bernthal). Together, they combine like two halves to make a whole.

This is a very well written movie from duo Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, who also co-directed. A scene in particular in which Zak is deciding whether he wants to be a “good guy” or “bad guy” wrestler is very well done and gives the feeling that the two characters involved in it are exploring these ideas of what it means to be “good” or bad” for the first time. They’re discovering things about themselves as they talk, and we’re learning about them in the process. That’s remarkable writing, folks.

This writing and directing would be nothing without solid actors, and everyone in this movie from the lead performers to the supporting players we meet on Zak and Tyler’s journey, such as Blind Jasper John (Wayne Dehart), are memorable. It’s also great to see Shia LaBeouf back in peak form, giving one of his best performances, and ditto for Dakota Johnson. I wasn’t sure what to make of her after her lead roles in the terrible “Fifty Shades” movies, but she impressed the heck out of me in last year’s “Suspiria” remake and does so once again here. A movie like this is great proof to show to Hollywood executives that talented actors can soar if given great material.

On a personal note, I have to point out that a wrestling icon from my childhood in the ‘80s and ‘90s is in this movie. He just goes by Jake Roberts in the movie’s credits and plays a character named Sam. But after a few close-up shots I recognized him, and he is none other than Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Seeing him again was like being reunited with an old friend, and it made this movie that much more special to me. But even if he wasn’t in it, I’d still say this is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. Buy it.

Also New This Week

The title “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” requires a bit of an explanation for those unfamiliar with the 2017 movie “47 Meters Down.” In the 2017 movie, Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play sisters and we superficially get to know their most basic character traits before they’re stuck in a submersible cage at the bottom of the ocean with sharks swimming all around.

What makes “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” different is that now Sophie Nélisse and Corinne Foxx play two sisters and we superficially get to know their most basic character traits before they’re stuck in a sequence of submerged caves that they’re exploring with friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone). So no cage, hence the name. There is a shark however, and to the movie’s credit, it is a fairly creepy one. Since the shark evolved in the dark, it’s blind, and it’s clouded over eyes glow in the dark whenever someone shines a light on its face. Couple that with the murky, claustrophobic setting and the limited oxygen in the young women’s tanks and it makes for a scary scenario.

If only the movie didn’t go for the cheap thrills. What made the 2017 movie so effective was the playing with primal fears—fear of drowning, fear of being buried alive, fear of abandonment—and the need for the sisters to use their intelligence and ingenuity to survive being trapped deep in shark infested waters. This new movie at least has the decency to not be a total rehash of the first, but gone are the logistical complications of the situation and the cleverness required to overcome them.

With “47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” we get something closer to a slasher movie, with innocent people trapped in a bad predicament and a mad killer on the loose who picks them off one by one. Only in this case, the killer is a blind shark. The movie certainly has its moments here and there but mostly fails to offer anything in the way of suspense other than “Who dies next?” It’s also worth pointing out that the plot is so thin that the credits are eight minutes long just to get the movie to a ninety minute run time. That should be a good tipoff of what you’re in for should you choose to watch “47 Meters Down: Uncaged.” Stream it.

More New Releases: “Good Boys,” a major motion picture that exploits sixth grade boys for laughs involving sex and drugs—yeah, way to fight those pedophilia rumors, Hollywood; and “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” in which the flightless birds and scheming green pigs take their feud to the next level, featuring the voice talents of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Rachel Bloom, and Awkwafina.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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