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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Power Rangers

“CHIPS” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

The title says it all: “Power Rangers.” Even though this movie is based on the television series “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” created by Saban and aimed at children in the early to mid-1990s, this is a darker, more serious take on the source material. Getting rid of the words “Mighty Morphin” in the title also helps to separate “Power Rangers” from the hokey 1995 big screen adaptation “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.” Smart move.

While “Power Rangers” may not be a cheesy kids movie, the premise is the same: Five high school misfits—Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin), and Trini (Becky G)—under the tutelage of giant head on a screen Zordon (Bryan Cranston), and assisted by little robot Alpha Five (voice of Bill Hader), come together to stop evil forces who are trying to destroy Earth. The villain of choice for the opening salvo in this franchise in the making is the not so subtly named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).



The plot is simple and straightforward: There is an artifact called the Zeo Crystal, which is the source of all life on Earth. The evil Rita wants to get her hands on it so she can rule the world. The five teens—who don’t really know each other as the movie begins—must come together and learn to care for each other. Through this, and with the help of different colored crystals that each one carries, they will morph into Power Rangers who have the strength and skills to defeat Rita, her rock monster minions, and Rita’s main weapon, a destructive giant called Goldar.

While the plot may be simple, the story is anything but. Screenwriter John Gatins must have channeled John Hughes while writing this movie, because almost half this movie plays like “The Breakfast Club 2.” Three of the five Power Rangers even meet each other in special Saturday detention. Then the more we learn about each one’s home life--Zack’s very ill mother, for example--or about their personal struggles with fitting in—Trini’s coming to terms with being a lesbian—the deeper the movie gets. I was not expecting this from an adaptation of a 1990s kids’ show, and to be sure, there are many adult themes throughout “Power Rangers.” This reboot is aimed at the same teen audience as something like “The Hunger Games.” The movie goes to deep places with these kids, and I am very happy to report that it does so amazingly well.


While director Dean Israelite certainly shines with the character-oriented aspects of “Power Rangers,” the tonal shifts in the movie can be jarring. The movie abruptly transitions from angsty teen drama, to horror movie, then back to angsty teen drama. Once Rita is re-awakened, she craves gold to give her strength. The first three or four scenes with her as she gains her power back are very sinister and very creepy. The movie also kicks off with an effectively frightening car crash, which prepares us for some gritty, realistic action to come. However, when the fighting starts the movie pulls back and goes a bit lighter. While it doesn’t get as cheesy as the television series, it feels like it’s missing an extra bit of punch that it should have had.

One more note: The Krispy Kreme product placement is some of the most blatant and obvious in any movie I have seen. I understand that movies need to raise a lot of money to be made, but for the next “Power Rangers” movie, I’d like to not have any portion of it be a glorified ad. Those doughnuts are pretty awesome though. And in spite of its flaws, so is “Power Rangers.” Rent it.

Also New This Week

CHIPS

Continuing with the trend of creating unnecessarily crude and vulgar comedies out of beloved television dramas of yesteryear—a trend that started with “21 Jump Street” and more recently continues with the new “Baywatch” movie—we now have “CHIPS.” The original television series, which ran from 1977 to 1983, was titled “CHiPs.” The upper and lower casing signified that the title is an acronym for California Highway Patrol. The fact that this movie is simply called “CHIPS,” in all caps, is illustrative of its lack of an understanding of subtlety and nuance.

The movie was written, directed by and stars Dax Shepard, a man who looks like the love child of Zach Braff and Billy Drago. He plays Jon, an ex-daredevil with the aches and scars to prove it. His relationship with wife Karen (Kristen Bell) is on the rocks, and he thinks that joining the highway patrol is the way to win her back.

Jon’s partner Ponch is played by Michael Peña. In “CHIPS,” he is a Federal Agent who goes undercover as a highway patrol officer to catch a corrupt lieutenant, played with bullish menace by Vincent D'Onofrio. It’s a mis-match made for the movies, as the two partners bicker and get on each other’s nerves, then learn to appreciate what the other has to offer and become buddies. There’s a painfully unfunny and tiresome running joke about whether or not Ponch is homophobic, and that’s the height of the humor in this movie.


The plot is all over the place too. One minute D’Onofrio’s lieutenant is doing what he does to help his drug-addicted son. The next minute he’s planning to smuggle 14  million dollars out of the country using a very pricey painting. Seemingly important characters, such as Maya Rudolph’s sergeant who puts Jon on probation, show up once and are never seen again. Others, like Jane Kaczmarek’s Captain Lindel, have their will to be belittled and embarrassed put to the test. Character relationships, especially the one between Jon and young patrol officer Ava (Rosa Salazar), are contrived beyond redemption, and this movie has a mean streak in it that’s unsettling, especially in regard to Ponch’s put-upon Federal Agent ex-partner Clay (Adam Brody).

Tonally, “CHIPS” isn’t sure if it wants to be gross out, slapstick, insult, or dark comedy. It throws them all at the wall and nothing sticks. The darker comedy aspects are the harshest. In addition to Clay getting shot for laughs, various innocent bystanders are killed or injured in this movie, even on police pursuits. At one point, the plowing over of a few photographers is written off as okay because they’re paparazzi. Not funny, just like the rest of this movie. Skip it.

More New Releases: “T2: Trainspotting,” the gang from the cult hit “Trainspotting” return 20 years later for more drug fueled Scottish mayhem, starring Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, and Ewen Bremner; and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” an unidentified woman’s post-mortem reveals unsettling ritualistic abuse, starring Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox.

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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