Sunday, March 26, 2017

Low Wattage: POWER RANGERS


It wasn’t far into Power Rangers, a crude, clangorous and nonsensical attempt to make big budget franchise potential out of a live-action Saturday morning adventure show, that I felt my brain squinting to understand. So crass, ugly, and erratic, I found myself longing for the relative classicism of Michael Bay’s sumptuous visual eye and Brett Ratner’s crisp pacing. (Nothing like a terrible movie to throw under-appreciated pop filmmakers into a better light.) It’s not that I couldn’t follow it. There simply wasn’t anything to follow. Subplots are assembled haphazardly and developed in odd fits and starts. Worldbuilding careens between over-explained jargon and assumed prior knowledge of franchise lore. It’s at once punishingly faux-adult – built from buzzwords and edgy innuendo – and mind-numbingly juvenile – “They found their robo-cars,” I believe I heard the villain howl at one point. Who is it for? Why was it made in this way? Who will it delight, children’s entertainment buried under layers of phony character drama and filters of skuzzy dark grays and blues? Its incompetence is stunning, every canted angle, wooden melodrama, jumbled motivation, and confused exposition adding up to a punishingly dull chaos.

The plot, such as it is, is a generic superhero origin story, director Dean Israelite treating it much the same way he did time travel in his similarly smeary Project Almanac: as a fuzzy mess of familiar beats played off key. We meet a troubled Breakfast Club of diverse teens whose personal lives were seemingly assembled at random from suggestions drawn out of a hat labeled “sad backstory.” The white guy (Dacre Montgomery) is a former football star nearly killed in a car crash. (He happened to be fleeing police at the time and now is under house arrest, except for Saturday detentions.) The funny black guy (RJ Cyler) is on the spectrum, mourns his dead dad, and likes amateur treasure hunting. The white girl (Naomi Scott) has a confused subplot about sexting in which she’s somehow a bully we’re to think of as a victim. The Latina loner (Becky G) is maybe a lesbian. (Her subplot is half allusion, half wishful-think-piecing, if you ask me.) And the Asian guy (Ludi Lin) takes care of his sick mother, and for some reason they live in an abandoned boxcar by the railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere. Fortuitously, they all happen to be at the same quarry late one night when they accidently discover magic rocks that give them superpowers and also a massive underground spaceship that’s waited 65 million years for the Chosen Ones to find it.

The rest of the movie is simply about the teens overcoming their personal problems and interpersonal conflicts by training to become primary-colored armor people driving robo-dino-cars into battle against a green monster lady (Elizabeth Banks camping it up as the ridiculously named Rita Repulsa). She’s assembling a golden warrior giant out of fillings she rips out of the mouths of homeless people. Yes, all that and the teens are trained by a robot (voiced by Bill Hader doing a Patton Oswalt impression) and a wall from which protrudes a big Bryan Cranston face towering over them and speaking through what looks like one of those Pin Art toys. Any one bit of this has potential, but thrown together as a pile of clichés in a random hodgepodge of dim and poorly constructed images, it just grates and grinds. So humorless even the comic relief isn’t funny, it’s at once indebted to the mechanics of its source material and yet, in its muted monotonous teen-issues melodrama, also completely embarrassed of its candy-colored infantile roots. This is a movie for no one, cast expensively into the multiplex in hopes it’ll please someone. Unless you’re that someone, there’s nothing here for you.

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