Portal Power

It's official. With the release of "Pacific Rim," that gnarly crew of CGI geeks and techie mavens, who inhabit dark rooms and basements, living on day-old take-out, their pasty white faces lighted by the soft fluorescent glow of multiple computer screens, sipping endless cans of Red Bull, well, they've taken over Hollywood and are the go-to guys.

They've thrown out the writers, those retro-purveyors of the word who mumble and grumble about plot and dialogue, and character development, and backstory. The mantra of these special effects aficionados is: Dude, if we can imagine it, we can create it, and no worries about a cohesive story because we know the sweet truth — those tweens and teens relish our over-the-top shtick, garnished by visual and auditory excess, derivative of "Transformers" and "Ironman" and "Superman," with a dash of "Top Gun."

"Pacific Rim" is a quintessential example. All glove and no hit. But oh so beautiful to look at. It's the latest Armageddon film, directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring no one you will recognize.

Briefly, Godzilla-like monsters, called Kaiju (Japanese for strange beast), are passing up through a deep-Pacific portal and wreaking scorched-earth havoc on everything. Mankind's best hope are Jaegers (German for hunters), 25-story 'bots, controlled by human pilots. Headquarters have been set up in dark, damp Hong Kong, reminiscent of the now-iconic "Blade Runner" in ambience and tone.

The objective of the Jaegers is not only to battle the Kaiju, but to find and close the portal. So, the essence of the film amounts to little more than these screeching, clanging mano-a-mano encounters. For comic relief, there are two scientist-nerds offering frenetic analysis of the portal. It's all an intense video game for boys.

What "Pacific Rim" brings to mind is the tenacious fascination Hollywood has with the dystopian, end times genre: Mankind battles an invasion of E.T.s ("Battle Los Angeles," "War of the Worlds"), concluding in an epic confrontation. In the alternative, a world war/pandemic/environmental collapse has occurred and the aftermath threatens to take mankind to the point of extinction. Those who survive are locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival because all social structures and infrastructures have collapsed ("I am Legend," "World War Z," "Oblivion," "28 Days After," "The Road," "Children of Men," "The Book of Eli" and even "WALL-E").

The variations have been endless, the zeitgeist of calamity riveting. Consider only the hugely successful TV show, "The Walking Dead," wherein a rag-tag group, having survived a mysterious worldwide plague, now fights to remain alive, ever threatened by the voracious Zekes.

This angst-filled well is one that Hollywood has gone to repeatedly, buttressed by the judgment day, world-ending religions.

Regarding "Pacific Rim," it takes us to the red line of extinction. You could argue that the monsters, collectively, are a metaphor for an environmental Armageddon that threatens our planet and its people. A crisis that we would rather ignore than confront. But a metaphor? Really? Naaaah.

"Grown Ups 2"

The first "Grown Ups" grossed some $271 million worldwide. If the sequel, "Grown Ups 2," comes anywhere close to that number, if it breaks $25 million, we should all pause and weep uncontrollably for our civilization and that bizarre construct known as "pop culture."

"GU2" is awful. A train wreck of a film, absent any comprehensible plot; rather, it's just a stack of vignettes, one following the other, all crass, crude and empty, comprised of burping, flatulence, barfing, urination (a deer does most of this in the opening), simulated defecation, leering and mannish women and gay men callously stereotyped.

Clearly it's a cynical film made to cash in on what still must be the shocking number of dollars made when "GU1" was released.

The characters? Middle-aged boys, once high school buddies, now living on the same block in a small New England town. Transplant from L.A., Lenny Feder (Adam Sandler), and his friends — Eric (Kevin James), Marcus (James Spader) and Kurt (Chris Rock) — are all guys with issues, some personal, some familial, but to a man they're knuckleheads.

To create a bit of ersatz conflict, they get into juvenile exchanges with some fraternity boys from the local college who hate townies. Actually, there isn't a grown-up in the film.

Adam Sandler is a good actor. He's done fine work. Currently, he is squandering his gift in a vacuous, mean-spirited manner. If he holds his audience in contempt, well, write editorials and social commentary. Don't make movies that are drivel and call them entertainment. It's demeaning.

— Chris Honoré

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